“SO glad I didn’t go to Paris!”

…was the quote of the weekend. A few weeks ago, I booked trips to Paris and Interlaken, Switzerland, and I’m thanking the gods/ my gut for choosing the latter.

Everyone who has studied abroad will tell anyone who does study abroad that he/she will return a totally different person. Of course, travelers should expect change, but so far I have shrugged off any epiphanic, life-changing expectations because I consider myself to be a pretty self-aware person.

This weekend was my game-changer.

I had “that” moment. That, “wow, I’m seeing and experiencing things that I’ve never even imagined, and that so many people will never experience” moment. It’s thrilling, sad, surreal and incredibly humbling. My world has grown so much in the past four weeks, and it makes me question my identity in it.

Interlaken, Switzerland opened my eyes. Lauren, Lydia, Erika and I took a bus to the small town between two lakes in the Swiss Alps during the coldest weekend of the year. The average temperature was zero degrees Fahrenheit, and it would have been miserable had it been anywhere else in the world. I have never seen anything so beautiful as the Alps. Small wooden cottages sprinkle mountains whose majesties dwarf the Rockies, and more than a foot of snow covers everything — even the pine needles.

The Swiss rural folk are angels compared to most city folk in Florence (especially drivers). We spent Friday nearly dumbfounded by — but very grateful for — kindness that broke language barriers. We explored, saw a Swiss chocolate show and went to a club that looked like a frat house from the 90s.

We learned how to make different kinds of Swiss chocolate, and got lots of free samples.

I also spent a few franks (not all that’s pictured above) on chocolate to bring home, which later melted on the bus. Franks are equal to U.S. dollars, but everything is much more expensive because Switzerland is not part of the European Union. One girl spent 17 franks on a burger!

We had lunch on the top floor of the tallest hotel in Interlaken. The view was a bit clouded but beautiful nonetheless.

Saturday morning, we jumped off a 300-foot cliff!

I have never experienced so many extreme feelings in such a short period of time. Anxiety, fear, excitement, dread and intense pain from the cold were rushing through me simultaneously. I had been daydreaming and nightmare-ing about that moment for weeks, and I could hardly process reality when I was standing on the platform, with a heavy rope tugging at my waist and nothing to stop me from slipping over the icy edge.

Two Korean girls who spoke little English but were waiting behind me kindly filmed one of the most vulnerable moments of my life:

I was by far the biggest baby of my group of friends (who all jumped before me), but I am SO proud of myself. I still can’t believe I did it.

We parked here to begin our hike to the canyon.

11:30 a.m. jump group

Signing my life away…

Notice the last line. 😉

“We can do this!”

Four seconds of free fall…

…until the rope catches and you swing

I asked Ziggy, the instructor on the platform, if I was going to die. He said, “We’re all going to die, but not today.”

He was right! After recovering from the cold and processing what we had just done, we ventured out to both lakes that surround Interlaken, and savored the beauty for as long as our bodies could bear.

I feel like I have found the best place on Earth, and I can’t believe I still have three months of discovering (plus the rest of my life) to go.

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