As soon as we pulled into Salzburg, the bus dropped us off right beside a line of taxis. Ingrid handed us each envelopes containing the addresses of our room assignments and a 5 euro bill to help pay for the taxi ride. I reluctantly said goodbye to Sandy and split a cab with a girl named Gena, also living in I.K. By this time, the butterflies in my stomach felt more like butterfly monsters.
As we pulled up to I.K., the snow was swirling all around us. I stepped out of the cab and saw 4 buildings all around us: a blue one, a green one, an orange one and a red one, with a courtyard in the middle. A girl in a green puff-coat stood on the curb, waving somewhat timidly. She had curly blonde hair, and henna tattoos on her hands. She greeted me with a half smile and said, "Hi, I'm Caroline." I paid the driver and gathered all my belongings, and then turned to really face her. "Hi, I think I'm your roommate." "Yeah, we're in the blue building. 220," she told me.
Gena and I fumbled up the stairs (her room was directly above Caroline's and my room) and I cursed the fact that (1) this dorm had no elevator and (2) in Europe, 220 means the equivalent to an American third floor. Wearing my overstuffed backpack, I helped Gena with one of her suitcases as we trudged up the stairs; my shoulders actually felt like they were going to pop out of their sockets. When I got to room 220, I entered cautiously, even though it Caroline was still downstairs waiting for the rest of the incoming IK group (she had told Ingrid she would help direct them all to their respective buildings). I took a good look around; there were pictures on the wall depicting Caroline at various music festivals and other concerts, dressed in festive clothing, with wild hair and makeup. I surveyed all the photos and artwork hanging around her bed and surmised to myself, "She is a total hippie."
In just a few minutes, she had returned back upstairs to our room, having seen everyone off to their respective buildings and rooms. That's when she started, just, giving me things -- like tons of things. Lotion, shampoo, a cell phone, a cell phone charger, books, face wash, etc. Apparently, her last roommate had left all of this stuff and Caroline saved it all for me. We quickly began talking about our upbringings, trying to get to know each other a little better. I knew she was from Idaho and that she had been living in Salzburg since September, but that was it. When she told me that she hadn't been home since she moved here, I was shocked. "Not even for Christmas?", I asked. "Not even for Christmas," she told me. I learned that her aunt had come to visit for Christmas and that they'd gone to Morocco. I also learned that she had been so lonely waiting for the new group to arrive and I could tell she was so genuinely excited to have my company. Suddenly, all of the fear I had about my roommate dissipated. I had an inexplicable peace about everything, in such a way that, all at once, I was so excited to be living there, which seemed totally crazy since 10 minutes prior, I had been plotting my escape to St. Sebastian.
As we talked more, there was one thing that stuck out to me about our conversation: the way Caroline talked about her group of friends last semester. She described how close the group had become, and how, on the last night of the semester, everyone in the group was in hysterics at the thought of leaving, and that the boys were crying the hardest. She told me how, when you have share such an amazing experience together with a group of friends like that, it really hurts when the group has to split up. It immediately dawned on me: "This is what is going to happen to you; you are going to have the time of your life over these several months and you are not going to want to leave." Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy? Maybe. Maybe not. But either way, I sat down and wrote my parents an email and said, "I don't think I'm going to want to leave this place."
For dinner tonight, Caroline took the group of us -- all the American I.K. students, at least -- to Rossbräu, a restaurant down the road that's open on Sundays. Not only had Ingrid given us money for our taxis, but she'd also given us money for dinner and a 24 hour bus pass to help us get settled.
What's even cooler about this set-up is that the IK population is assembled not only of American students but Lithuanian, Spanish, Hungarian, Polish, German, Irish, and English students, and I'm sure many more additional countries.
I've been here for less than 24 hours and have loved every minute.
And I already really, really, really don't want to leave this place.