Time can go by so quickly that it's often hard to come to grips with it and several weeks can go by before you realise what's going on... And then you stop to think about what you've done and have a hard time remembering... Funny isn't it? That's what my last few weeks at UAF felt like. I was kept busy with the mad rush of last minute work to do - essays and final exams - and trying to make the most of my time in Alaska before I left to come home. My work went really well, and I actually found out today that I got straight A's in all my classes, which I'm really happy about. To be honest though, work at UAF wasn't half as hard as it can be at Sussex, and so I got good results for a much lesser amount of effort required than I what usually put in... Which is great, cos it meant I was able to enjoy my time in Alaska and not worry about the workload too much. Two weekends before the end of the semester, we held a "goodbye" international party up in one of the appartment complexes on campus. As part of the committee (Vice Pres!) I got together with Matthias and Denis (Treasurer and President) to get stuff ready and buy food and drinks for later on that night. It turned out to be a great success, as loads of people showed up and seemed to have a good time... And so the party lasted till the early hours of the morning. The following night, there was an end-of-semester 'Borealis Ball' up at the Hess Rec (a big hall on campus), which Jenn and I went to (you've probably already seen the photos). We had a great time dancing the night away - how I'm gonna miss those college dances... we don't have anyting like that at Sussex - but it was over with way too soon, so we continued our party down in Jenn's room, where we were joined by a bunch of other people (Katie, Mark, Eric, Shane, Ryan, and random drop-ins...), making it another late night, and since Sunday was the usual "homework day", we ended up really tired and exhausted by Monday morning.
I had a busy week that week, since I had to give a summary of an article to my Ethics and Society class, and a presentation on my research paper topics for Native Cultures of AK, and Native North American Women - the latter of which I hadn't even started yet! Still, I managed to get it all done in time. On the Wednesday night, there was a Date Auction event held up at the Hess Rec as a fund-raiser, which I got talked into participating in by a girl in one of my classes. Since Mark, Eric and Ryan were taking part too, I thought it'd be fun to join in with them. I managed to get Katie to sign up too, and it did end up being a laugh... The only problem was that people in the audience only bid on their friends, so the bids weren't always that high. I, however, was unfortunate enough to go after an extremely gorgeous, slim, highly attractive and stylish girl, who was "auctioned" for $62! Not much of an ego-booster to step on stage after her and after walking the catwalk (yes, they made us do that) have the bids on me reach $11 and then pause for a painfully endless time while the audience simply stared blankly back at me! Luckily, Caleb, a good friend of mine, was there and stepped in to the rescue, raising the bids to $20, which were then progressively raised between him and Mark to $28.50 (I actually thought I was worth $28.75, but oh well...), which Mark ended up paying. Apparently the reason he kept on placing higher bids was because he didn't realise Caleb knew me and he didn't want me to be stuck with a complete stranger... Bless! So despite going for under half the amount the previous girl had gone for, I did get a higher final bid than most other people, which meant the situation wasn't as cringe-worthy as it could have been. It was all for fun anyway, and we ended up winning free movie tickets, so it was definitely worth it after all!
The following weekend was quite relaxed, as I had to spend most of my time preparing for a major Ethics & Society exam I had the following Monday. On Saturday night, however, I went to the last ice hockey game with Mark, George and Dylan, which was good fun... I'm definitely gonna miss going to them! Then on Sunday morning, I had told Deanna, a friend of mine who lived on my floor, that I would go to church with her. She's African American and her father is a pastor who preaches at her church. She'd told me that they did a lot of gospel singing, so I was really interested in going along one day to see what it was like. Since I'm not a church goer myself, but have attended mass in Spain and England before, I thought it would be interesting to go to a service in the States. Francis, a really sweet Puerto Rican friend of Deanna's, also came along that day. I really enjoyed myself, especially since I love gospel singing and the whole atmosphere in the church was very lively and joyful, and the people were friendly and seemed very happy to have us "visitors" there that day.
The following week went by too quickly for my liking - probably cos it was my last one in Alaska. I had an exam on the Monday and another one on the Wednesday, and handed in a final paper that day too. My final class was Wednesday night from 6-8pm, and then I was done with everything. I was really pleased to have everything over and done with several days before leaving, since it gave me a chance to enjoy myself without worrying about work, and get all the bizillion and one things done in time, including the major issue of packing (which as we all know is never half as fun upon departure as it is at the start of a trip). Many of my friends had exams all the way up until Saturday evening (my flight left that night), so I felt really lucky to be done as early as Wednesday. I spent Thursday pottering around on campus, then got a bus down to the local convenience stores to have a last look around and see if there was any last-minute stuff I needed to pick up. On Friday, I got a number of chores done, and spent quite a while up at the University museum chatting with one of the girls who works there while trying to decide what souvenirs to buy. Later that night, Katie, Meredith, Jenn and her friend Amanda, Jon, Ryan, and I all went to the Chena Hot Springs to celebrate and enjoy a last night together. The first lot all went up in Amanda's car, but since Ryan and I had a couple of things we needed to buy along the way, we rode up with Jon in his super-cool 60s hippy van and ended up arriving 1 1/2 hours after the others did. To our disappointment, they left about 20 mins after we arrived, but we stayed on till they closed at midnight. The hot springs are so much nicer at night, especially when it's really cold outside (about -20 degrees C or so), with snow piled on top of the surrounding rocks. The only other time I'd been was in mid-October during the day, when the temperature was much warmer. At night, the stars are out and the contrast between the outside air and the heat of the water creates a mist and making people around you barely visible. It was so relaxing and peaceful, and I'm such a fan of hot water - I love hot baths - that it was a perfect end to an busy week (or should I say semester?!). It was fun spending the night with Jon and Ryan too, since I'd been hanging out with them more and more over the course of the semester and was getting to know them better and really like them. Jon's really into hunting and trapping for animals - something many people seem to do as a hobby in Alaska - so on our way back home, Ryan and Jon stopped off at several spots along the way to check and collect their traps, in order to bring them home before the the Christmas hols. It was freezing cold outside by then, so I stayed bundled up in Jon's van underneath two fleece blankets trying to keep warm. I wasn't too much of a problem at first, but the last half hour got really cold, so on the last stretch home, Ryan took over and Jon came and snuggled up beside me in an attempt to warm me up - which worked! They're such great guys, I'm so glad I got the chance to get to know them, and I'm gonna miss them so much. One thing that struck me about American guys (at least the ones I got to know) is that they are not only really open and friendly - same as most people in the States in general - but also really caring and respectful towards you, making them great "friend-material" - something you don't always find that easily in Europe.
Saturday was spent in a frantic rush to get everything packed and my room sorted and tidied up... And crying my eyes out towards the end when it suddenly hit me that I was leaving.... Which was not helped by Katie balling her eyes out too - you put the two of us together and we just couldn't stop! By the time I had to leave for the airport, I was so physically and emotionally drained that I had no energy left to cry and passed out the moment I got onto the plane! Jon gave me and Katie a ride to the airport at 11.30 pm; we'd found out that night that Katie's flight had been changed and she was on the same one as me down to Seattle, which was nice, even though we didn't get to sit together because the plane was so packed. Mark and Ryan had already left earlier that night, and the others were either leaving the following day, or within the next few days. However, upong arriving at Seattle airport, we bumped into Ryan again, which was a surprise. Apparently he had a long lay-over before his next flight to Arizona, so we all hung out - along with Pertti too, the Finnish guy also on his way back to Europe - for an hour or so before the time came to each go their separate way.
I'd thought it would be harder to say goodbye to everyone - especially Jon back in Fairbanks - but as I said, I was so tired when the time came to saying our goodbyes that I was only half awake. It was only later on, once I was half way across the Atlantic ocean, that my emotions swept in and I was overcome by nostalgic feelings of sorrow and regret at having had to leave everyone behind after the most amazing time that I had had in Alaska. Still, everything has to come to an end at some point, and I'm just extremely thankful for the wonderful people I met and got to know, the places I got to see, and the expericences I got to live. I could go as far as saying that these past four months were some of the best in my life - I certainly think I had the most fun in one go - and I'm never going to forget my stay in Alaska. Although part of me was dying to return to Faribanks for the spring semester, the other half of me knew that I had a lot waiting for me to get back to in Europe. And coming home was great - it was lovely to see my family again, and spend a few days just relaxing (well, sleeping off my jetlag mainly!) and allowing myself to settle back down into what I can only call "normality"... Because during the four months I spent in Alaska, my life seemed to have switched itself to fastforward and everything turned much more intense and crazy and "full", so to say. Which is why it's nice to now have a couple of weeks over Christmas in which to relax before I move back to Brighton. Now that I'm home again, I've reallised that I am really looking forward to seeing everyone again back in England and to continuing my degree at Sussex. And despite how much I'm going to miss everyone and everything about Alaska, I know that I'll return one day (soon hopefully), and when you make such good friends, you know that distance - even when it's as great as several thousand miles - cannot break those friendship bonds. And it's comforting to know that, someday, somehow, I'll see them all again.