Tori in Spain: The Dream that was Morocco

December 29, 2016

Last January, Sara sat in my room looking up all the beautiful places in the world she wanted to visit while abroad the next semester. I still had not decided whether I wanted to stay or go, but she was all set. One of the places she showed me was a place called Chefchaouen in Morocco, better known as the blue city. When I finally committed to studying abroad and started planning out where I wanted to go throughout the semester, Morocco topped my list. I think I was attracted to it simply because it was different, and that excited me. I was incredibly curious about what it would be like, but (I am embarrassed to admit) definitely had some preconcieved notions about what a Muslim, African country would entail.

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It was nothing like I expected. Every Moroccan I met was incredibly proud of their country and their culture. They were friendly and did not try to take advantage of tourists, but rather, were so excited to share their love for their country. I was overwhelmed by their generosity. Every day of our trip someone gave us something for free, whether it be a pomegranate, an almond honey dessert, or some amazing pastries. Everyone warned me not to go to Morocco without a professional tour group, because it is “dangerous, chaotic, and everyone tries to take advantage of tourists.” Comments like these fueled a little bit of pre-trip anxiety, but when I arrived my anxiety dissipated due to the amazing people I met.

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Our taxi driver from the airport was the first Moroccan we met, and he was phenomenal. He told us that after he meets people, he immediately considers them friends and will do anything in order to help them. He added us on Facebook and told us to come to him if we needed anything during our time in his country. As we roadtripped through the Moroccan countryside, we sang Heroes at the top of our lungs together and had a great time jamming to music while soaking in the beauty of our surroundings.

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Sunset our first night in Morocco from the roof of our hostel!

We spent our first night in Chefchaouen, a little blue city nestled in the mountains in North Morocco. We watched the sunset over blue roofs and gorgeous peaks from the terrace on top of our hostel, and were in awe of the beauty of God´s creation and the tranquility of the town we had the privilege of exploring. We went to an amazing restaurant for dinner and had an amazing meal of tagines (shrimp, lamb, goat, and kebab), goat cheese platters, traditional moroccan bread, and spicy roasted eggplant, tomatoes and peppers. Our waiter was awesome and so funny… when it came time for dessert he took our menus and asked if we trusted him. We said yes, and he brought us the best yogurt dessert I have ever had in my life. It was fresh yogurt with berries and honey and lots of other stuff I couldn’t identify, and it was amazing. Our three course feast cost the equivalent of 5 euros each, which made that yogurt sundae taste even yummier. We left and resolved to return for lunch the next day.

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Fresh goat cheese, bread, eggplant, and spicy tomatoes for appetizers!

We spent our sunshiney Saturday morning on the terrace of our hostel, and then wandered the many tiny, meandering streets of the Medina. We hiked up to an old Spanish mosque that overlooked the city, and met some goats and other farm animals along the way. I naturally thanked them for providing me which such good cheese the night before. On our way up, a guy was washing and cutting fresh cactus fruit, so I got to try some! It was super sweet and refreshing.

The views from the Mosque were incredible. As I looked over the mountains and little blue town, I was hit by the truth that I was standing in another country that, although different than my own, was still created by God and for Him. My friend Michaela and I sang “Holy spirit you are welcome here” from the top of the mountain, and it was a beautiful moment in which I was certain that God was alive and moving in Morocco, as well as everywhere else in this big, beautiful world.

That evening we returned to Tangier and met some awesome people in our hostel who were full time students in Morocco. They showed us around and came out to dinner with us. Abdul is Muslim, and prayed for our meal before we ate soup, chicken pastries, and traditional cous cous. It was a really cool moment. On the way home we came across an outdoor concert of band from Cameroon. It was one of the most joyous musical groups I had ever seen, and working up the courage to sing and whirl around with Sara to their fun music will forever be one of my favorite memories. The band sang of hakuna matata and celebrated the beauty life by dancing and wiggling with abandon. It was a precious moment.

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The only thing that was strangely absent from this memory, were Moroccan women celebrating life along with us. There were very few women in the crowd, or even on the streets in Tanger. This made me a little sad, because from an outsiders perspective, it seems as if Morocco is still an extremely patriarchal country. However, I was grateful to learn that the origins of women wearing headscarfs come from a verse in the Quran that suggests women should be praised for their morality and intelligence rather than their beauty. There is a lot of value in that.

The next day, half of our group headed out, while Eker, Emily, Sara, and I stayed. We decided to head to a little beach town called Asilah about 45 minutes outside of Tanger for the day. It was an enchanting day consisting of lots of bartering, yummy food, and great company. We hoped to finish it off, by watching the sunset over the Atlantic. We saw sun sinking below the buildings while we were in the center of the city and ran to the beach quickly enough to catch the vibrant, firey globe ducking under the horizon, leaving the sky strewn in pink and purple. It felt like a dream as I twirled around, mesmerized by the reflection of the sky in the water.

My family was at the beach in South Carolina the same weekend, so it was crazy to think that we were playing in the same ocean on different sides of the world. The second we were able to tear ourselves away from the sunset, we turned around to be greeted by the largest moon in 70 years.

The next day our taxi driver picked us up to go to the airport, but on the way he look us to his favorite pastry shop in the city and bought us traditional Moroccan wedding cookies. He told us of his love for his wife and kids, that his family was everything to him, and I saw 2 girls in headscarfs skipping and dancing alongside the road. I couldn’t imagine a better ending to a better trip. Marruecos, te amo. Gracias por todo.

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The whole crew!


Tori in Spain: 2 Lists

December 15, 2016

 

As my time abroad comes to a close, I have been reflecting on all the sweet little things that have made my time so special, and a few of the things that have made it hard. To sum it all up, I made two lists. 30 things I will miss, and 5 that I won’t.

  1. When mi hermanito Juanito peeks his face into my room and I get to wake up to his sweet giggle and smile

14516527_10210754072031396_3460640273559046703_n.jpg2. KARROL’S AMAZING SOUPS: Pumpkin garbanzo, lentil vegetable, pork adobo.

3. Café con leche y cortados at fun Spanish cafes.14642467_10210754319357579_8852335988187807400_n.jpg4. Cesar hijo’s many alteregos! I never know if I will come home to Cesar hijo, superman, spiderman, a power ranger, or a caballero. I also never know if I am the good guy or the bad guy… until I am struck down by una espada. “Si, Cesar, estoy muerta… como siempre.”

5. Worshipping in Spanish

6. Local fresh food markets and Spanish grocery stores. (Huge hunks of specialty cheese for a euro or two? Yes please.)15181531_10211259135657671_4514411424490300169_n.jpg7. Walking home really late and feeling perfectly safe

8. Picnics in the many beautiful parks of Madrid, on the docks of Barcelona, or by the shore in Lake Como. No matter where in the world I am, if I had to describe by favorite part of abroad in one word, “picnics” would be a strong contender.

15109533_10211259138297737_7157100840706222617_n.jpg9. “Guapa”

10. Long breakfasts with Amalie! Avocado toast, coffee, and journaling by this roommate turned soul sister of mine are my favorite. Honestly, I will miss everything about her and know I have found a lifelong friend in this little room of ours.

11. Rooftop sunsets

14650701_10210754291796890_3615999998446205609_n.jpg12. Hushed conversation about human rights, politics, religion, and personal philosophy of life with my host mom Bela after the kids go to bed

13.Weekly coffee/philosophy/catch up dates with Dan

14. Amazing, homemade, 3 course, dinners on the terrace. With Amalie, of course.

14633000_10210754122712663_6352662603635917363_n.jpg15. BESOS! Why don´t Americans kiss each other more? It is the warmest thing ever. Try to be mean to someone after they have just warmly kissed you on the cheek, I dare ya.

16. César padre teaching me how to pronounce Spanish words and cook Spanish foods… syllable by syllable, ingredient by ingredient.

17. My bible study: Half Catholic, half prodestant…. All just trying to figure out how to love a little better and know Jesus a little more.

15493470_562548873937717_8479785988788571161_o.jpg18. “Quieres pan?” The question of the semester, honestly.

19. Churros, coffee, and looooong, unrushed conversation after the service at my church here. When I leave church 2.5 hours after I arrive, I am leaving early. That is special.

20. La gente de Iglesia Evangélica de Cristo Vive. These people are special, and I am especially thankful to Gabi and Sarah, and Yolanda and Ekir for welcoming me into their families and making me feel known here.

21. Professor Elvira, Marcus, and Molly. The most fun public health and social justice research team ever. It has been such a privilege to learn about privilege with you, and brainstorm about how to break down systems that perpetuate privilege for some and oppress others.

22. The metro. I am convinced that Madrid has the greatest public transportation system in the world, and I am returning to places where public transport is objectively horrible.

23. Saying “Claro” and “Vale” way more than I actually should to make it seem like I know what I am talking about.

24. The delicious, seedy, grainy, wheaty bread my host mom buys that I consume copious amount of every day.

25. Making lunch with Yolanda at Eker’s mountain house. I can never cut fast enough or cook well enough to really help, so my main contribution is helping eat it all. While every moment in this little refuge is special, the ones around the dinner table are my favorites.

26. My friend Elvis’s smile and greeting every day when I pass by or sit and chat with him. He is a man experiencing homelessness from Romania, and we used to chat every day on my way to and from school in the little Spanish we both know. He isn’t there anymore, and I didn’t get to say bye, which is a bummer.

27. Having a glass of wine and listening to live music at Café Barbieri while feeling very adult with Amalie, Dan, and Andrew.

28. Being able to operate without a daily planner.

29. Kirstin’s ability to sum up all my thoughts much more eloquently than I can, Maggie’s joy, Amalie’s honesty and vulnerability, Michaela’s steadfastness and obvious love of Jesus, Gabi’s infectious laugh, Ana’s depth and gentle spirit, Anna’s dance moves, Emily’s depth of humility and encouraging words, Molly’s ability to never take herself too seriously.

30. BlaBla Car. Uber for long distances is essentially the greatest thing ever. The cheapest way to travel, and best way to meet cool Spaniards.

Life was not always easy. Expressing myself and understanding others was incredibly hard sometimes, and there were a few cultural things I could not quite adjust to.

 

  1. Jamón. I am so sorry, Spain, but I neither want to see a bag of Jamón flavored anything nor a huge pig leg hanging from the ceiling for the rest of my life.
  2. Not being able to understand/make jokes (The one time I was funny in Spanish was probably the peak of my entire abroad experience… but it was literally one time.)
  3. Never being able to get quite the whole meaning of what people are saying. Major theme, no hay problema. Actual understanding of the cultural context of the exact words used and their connotations… nunca.
  4. Men speaking in bad English to me when I pass them at a bar. I don´t know why, but I hate this a lot.
  5. Sometimes feeling like an intruder or outsider because I am not Spanishç

I am excited to go home, but sad to leave. Thanks for all the little joys, Spain. You will be deeply missed.

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Olivia in Scotland: Volare

December 15, 2016

Hello everyone!

I promised to tell you all about Venice, so here we go!

My friends Susy and Tatiana and I flew out of Edinburgh International Airport to Venice Marco Polo Airport on the night of Friday, December 2nd. The craziest thing about that to me was how relatively close Italy is to Scotland. The flight only took about 2 hours and 10 minutes—I’m so used to thinking of Italy as being world away that it hardly seemed possible! I was so excited on the plane ride that I basically danced the whole way there while listening to happy, pump-up music through my headphones (sorry again for that, Susy.) Did I mention that I’ve wanted to go to Venice for basically my whole life?

When we got to the airport, we boarded a waterbus to take us to the city. That’s right, a waterbus. (How cool is that?) It took us about half an hour to get in to the city. It was too dark to see much when we arrived, but I still took pictures anyway because I was just a little excited.

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My brain at this point was basically like, “CANALS!! BRIDGES!! AAAAHH!!” Honestly, that feeling did not change that much while I was there, unless I was particularly tired and didnt feel like walking over a bridge.

We checked into our hostel and our very helpful concierge gave us tons of tips about things to see and where to eat in the city. It was 9 PM there by this time and we were starving, so we completed a very essential activity: we went to a pizza place and took my customary pizza selfie.

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Venice isn’t really the place you go to get pizza, but it was still good. I loved how there were about a million different options #pizzaselfie #venetianpizzaselfie

The next day was an extremely full one. First, we toured the Doge’s Palace near the Piazza San Marco. It’s where the duke lived and where the seat of government was, and it lies adjacent to the New Prison where criminals were sentenced. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a building quite this grand.

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This is one of the largest rooms in all of Europe. There’s real gold on the walls and ceiling and every wall is covered with some enormous work of art. 

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This is a view within the famous Bridge of Sighs, where criminals got a last look at the outside world before being imprisoned in the New Prison.

Next, we went on a gondola ride! We didn’t get a fancy one with a singing gondolier, although we did pass by a few that had those, but it was a fun way to see the city. A note on traveling to Venice in the winter, though: it really does get chilly. Over the course of the trip, we steadily put on more and more layers—I think in the beginning I was trying to convince myself that it was warmer than it actually was. The damp chill won out over my wishful thinking in the end.

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Venice by gondola #bucketlist

After grabbing some lunch, we spent the rest of the day just walking around the city. Venice makes you want to take pictures about every two seconds. Everywhere you look, there’s another bridge and another canal, and from the bridge you can see more bridges and buildings and sometimes some gondolas. It’s exceedingly picturesque and a simply lovely place to walk around. The city is so small that we were able to cover most of it in one afternoon. We also got gelato, which was absolutely delicious.

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Here’s a view from the Rialto Bridge, the most important bridge in Venice. 

That evening, we returned to the Piazza San Marco to see it at dusk and to go inside Saint Mark’s Basilica. The basilica is stunning, inside and out, and the inside is covered with mosaics and gold.

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The piazza is enchanting at night. 

To finish the evening, we went to a famous bookstore called Aqua Alta and then ate some amazing Italian food. I think the spaghetti with ragu I had that night has ruined me at least a little bit for regular spaghetti for the rest of my life.

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Sad that I can’t enjoy spaghetti quite the same way again, but ecstatic to be in Venice!

For our second and final full day in Venice, we bought waterbus passes for the day and took trips to several islands around the main city. First, we took the waterbus down the Grand Canal to a beautiful church called the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. After walking around that church with its works by Titian on the walls, took the bus to the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore in order to see the church and get a view of the city from the campanile (or tower). We hoped to attend a Gregorian chant at this church, but since they weren’t having one that day, we simply sat outside one of the smaller chapels and listened to the Italian Mass for a little while. Even though I do not know Italian, it felt very special to me to hear the priests singing and people worshiping God in a different language.

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The view from the campanile was spectacular!

After grabbing some lunch, we went on a longer trip to the North of the main city to visit the islands of Murano and Burano. You may have heard of Murano glass before; that’s where that comes from. We went to a glass-blowing demonstration there, and it was stunning. The artisan made a glass vase and a glass horse in a matter of minutes with incredible dexterity.

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They are very proud of their beautiful glass-making on Murano. I took this picture as we walked around the island a little more before heading to our next stop. 

We then headed to Burano. This island is famous for two things: its lace and its colorful buildings. It was a truly beautiful place! I bought a scarf with hand-embroidered flowers on it to remember this gorgeous island by.

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You can see a few of the colorful facades in this picture! I was just excited to take a picture with this giant piece of pizza, because #pizzaisbae

After that, we rose back into the main city, had another spectacular Italian pasta meal that ruined me for life, and that was the end of the night. It was so interesting on this day to see how public transportation in Venice really is about the same as anywhere else—they just use a boat instead of an automobile. You scan your bus pass to board the waterbus, there are seats to sit on as well as standing room, and there are speed limits just like on a regular road.

We didn’t have time to do very much the next day before heading to the airport, buuuuut I did stage a mini photo shoot near our hostel.

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When you buy a Venetian carnival mask in Venice, you gotta take some cool pictures with it, even if some people laugh at you. There were actual Italians waling by and laughing as we took these. 

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I also took a few more city photos before we headed out—this was the view right outside our hostel each morning. 

One other significant thing happened on our trip. Because I apparently don’t know much about European geography, I did not realize that you can see the Alps from Venice. I was very excited by this because I really love mountains. My family roots are in the Appalachian Mountains, which are some of the only mountains I’ve ever seen. On the plane ride home, we flew right over the Alps. I can hardly describe what that experience was like for me. I had never seen mountains that large before. They were enormous, snow-capped, craggy, awesome; they seemed full of mystery and wonder. After flying over the Alps, I am more determined than ever to return to Europe. I have to see those mountains up close!

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I could not believe how beautiful the Alps were (on the left). However, I was also so happy to see the lovely Scottish hills again (on the right). 

So, that was my trip! Venice is beautiful and I’m so happy that I got to travel there with Tatiana and Susy. It was colder and not as sunny as we expected—ironically, it was sunnier in Scotland when we got back than it ever was during our trip to Venice—but that city seems to be gorgeous under any weather conditions. If you study abroad in Europe, trips like this are within your reach! I wasn’t even expecting to take this trip and fulfill this dream of mine, but I’m incredibly thankful that I was able to do so. Studying abroad can open doors to more places than you might expect.

I will give you some more recent updates about the end of my semester and finals in my next post. Till next time!


Week 15: 焼肉 Family Dinner

December 15, 2016

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After our Japanese reading class, I asked Patrik if he wanted to go to the convenience store with me to just buy some hot coffee and hang out for a bit. We both didn’t have anything after class so he agreed. Of course, we stopped in his room first so he could drop some stuff off. As we were leaving his room, he told me to put my hand out. I did as I was told and he dropped some peanuts into my hand. Surprisingly, I’ve never eaten peanuts with the shell. I’ve always eaten peanuts from jars that were already de-shelled. He had to show me a trick on how to crack them open. Apparently everyone back home eats peanuts all the time around Christmas…his mom even sent these peanuts to him all the way from Slovakia. We ate them while walking to the convenience store and they were delicious. I’m going to have to ask my mom to buy some peanuts for us to eat on Christmas!

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Isabella surprised me with box of Wasabi Kit Kats from Tokyo. I remember trying one in high school; my friend’s mom had some and had us try it. I thought it was the most interestingly delicious Kit Kat. I always talk about it around Isabella and Annabelle because they’re obsessed with finding different types of Kit Kats. Well, while they were in Tokyo they found a store with several different types of Kit Kats, one being wasabi, so Isabella bought some for me. I had her try one too and she even admitted that it was good! I gave Patrik one as well and he liked it too. I don’t know how to quite describe the taste because it takes just like wasabi but the Kit Kat is also very sweet. I love it.

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This week, I went to my last RCOS activity with Patrik, Isabella, and Annabelle. We all decided to sign up for one together. I know Patrik and I have already gone to two together but we thought it would be fun for Isabella and Annabelle to experience hanging out with Japanese elementary school students. We arrived at Nangai Elementary School pretty early so the man in charge told us that we could walk around and explore the school. At the moment, the kids were doing work and cleaning around the school. Everyday the kids have to clean the floors, bathroom, classrooms, and well, basically do housework in the school. I snapped a picture of a couple of kids wiping down the basketball court floors. There were several other kids washing the floors. They would look up at us and see that we were international students and scream “HELLO” and “NICE TO MEET YOU.”

Instead of playing games with the kids, like Patrik and I did at Omagari Elementary School and the kindergarten, the children asked us questions in English. Each student had a sheet they had to fill out after asking us what our favorite fruit, sport, subject, country, food, and animal were. They sat in groups of four so we would each sit with a group then move onto the next group after about 10-15 minutes. The kids were surprised when I answered with Okinawa Soba for my favorite food. I explained to them that I used to live in Okinawa and they were very shocked. At the end of the interview, the kids were allowed to ask us any questions they wanted to until the time ran out. One of the groups asked me what my favorite Japanese word was and I answered with 時差ぼけ (jisaboke), which means jetlag. I learned this word for one of my vocabulary quizzes in Japanese class this semester and I don’t know why, but I love the word. You wouldn’t believe this, but after saying 時差ぼけ the children immediately asked me what that word meant. I had to have the teacher explain to them the meaning of the word. I guess I didn’t know what jetlag meant when I was in elementary school either? Who knows? Anyways, we all had such a great time interacting with the children, even Isabella and Annabelle, who don’t know much Japanese. It was a fun last RCOS event!

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After Nangai Elementary School, Isabella, Annabelle, Kevin, and I wanted to go to the mall to go grocery shopping, so we decided to eat dinner at the food court there as well. Patrik stayed on campus to eat dinner so I bought him his carton of milk from the grocery store. He always drinks a carton of milk after drinking and partying since it apparently helps prevent hangovers. I should probably start doing that…well, Isabella, Annabelle, and Kevin all got dinner from Pepper Lunch. This fast food restaurant serves the steak in a sizzling plate so you have to cook the steak yourself once you sit down. I decided to get udon because they had some spicy special and I love spicy food so, of course, I had to order it. After we ate, we shopped around in different stores, went to the pet store to see the cute puppies, and went to an ice cream shop. Annabelle and Isabella are obsessed with the matcha ice cream they serve. I also bought Kevin a 6-pack of beer to thank him for letting Patrik and I sleep over in the Airbnb they rented in Tokyo. He started drinking one of the beers immediately after I bought him the back. It’s legal to drink alcohol from a can in public in Japan; Kevin loves to take advantage of that rule.


Remember the ポスター発表 (poster presentation) I mentioned before? Well, we had our presentations on Friday. An elementary school even came to watch us present some of our posters. I was very nervous but thankfully, I was able to memorize my speech! I did mess up a couple of times but my message still came across so no worries. At the end of our speech, we are supposed to ask 何か質問はありませんか, which translates to “are there any questions?” I had a couple of people ask me about 5 questions and oh man, I loved it. I love talking about Okinawa. It made me even more excited to be going back in just a couple of weeks for winter break! Don’t get me wrong though, I’m also very upset that I’ll be leaving Akita soon.

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For her flower arrangement class, Isabella was allowed to create her own flower presentation. When I first saw it, I jokingly said it looked like Easter. Unfortunately, I never took a picture of the flowers while they were alive so here is a picture of the dying flowers. I opened the curtains and let the lighting in and I don’t know about you, but I think this is a pretty cool picture despite the dying flowers.

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For dinner on Saturday night, Patrik told us about this all you can eat 焼肉 (yakiniku) that costs only ¥2000 per person. It was a 15-minute walk away from the mall, which we were all dreading considering the amount of snow on the ground. By the time we got to the restaurant, our hands were freezing so we used the grill in the middle of the table to warm up our hands. I was so surprised with the amount of food available to us. Not only did they have a large selection of meat, they also had regular food (spaghetti, ramen, udon, meatballs, fries, etc.) and many different types of sushi. They even had a dessert section where you could make your own crepes and cotton candy. It was a beautiful sight really.


Nils and Kevin decided to take the fish from the sushi and grill some of it. Kevin ended up liking it so much that he came back with about 20 pieces of squid sushi and grilling it. Kevin doesn’t like rice so he ended up stacking the rice from the sushi in a bowl. Don’t worry though, it didn’t go to waste; Griff ate it all with his meat. Oh, I forgot to mention that there was an ice cream section as well. They had matcha flavor and oh boy, Griff went all out. He LOVES match flavored ice cream. I’ve never seen such a happy boy. All of us got full after about 30-40 minutes of straight eating. I couldn’t sit up straight. We all sat at the table and talked while letting our stomachs digest. Patrik’s crazy self kept getting more and more food though. Every 5 minutes he was sitting back down with another dessert. He really wanted to get his money’s worth.

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Here’s a selfie Patrik took of all of us. What a great last family dinner. I’m not going to lie though the walk back to the mall was probably the best part. The guy and I all had a snowball fight. We were trying to form alliances but kept going against each other. The girls were all the way in the front trying to avoid us. One minute they were next to us…the next minute they were 100 meters ahead of us. We ended up catching up to them and hitting them with snowballs.


Isabella and I decided to do laundry at 1am just to get it out of the way. We needed to change so I broke my ¥1000 bill in the vending machine and bought hot coffee for me and hot milk tea for Isabella. The snow was beautiful so we walked outside for a bit while sipping on our hot drinks. The picture above is of Isabella concentrating on the snowflakes attaching to her eyelashes. I couldn’t stop laughing because it looked like she was staring off into the distance…we were laughing so hard. Oh brother. Sleep deprivation is a wonderful thing.

15403156_10210866845014487_103781612_n.jpgThe snow just keeps piling up. I still don’t own any boots so I’m walking around with my slip on vans. Did I mention that my vans have holes in them? There’s only two weeks left here though so I think I can manage. I should probably buy a pair of boots before I return to Richmond though considering it snows there too. Oh man. Well, last week of school starts tomorrow then I’m off to Osaka. I don’t think it’s hit me that I’m leaving Akita yet. It’s hard to believe that I’m never going to see most of these people again. 11 more days and that will all be over. I’m so used to walking around, going to class, and grabbing meals with friends. It probably won’t hit me that I’m leaving until I set foot into the airport. I’m really going to miss this place.


Clara in Italy: A Concert at an Agriturismo

December 15, 2016

It’s not exactly Italian, but earlier on in the semester, I got to go to a little indie underground (like, super underground. If you didn’t have insider information that this was happening you wouldn’t have any idea it happened at all sort of underground) concert at this guy’s house/farm/concert hall/????. Dino’s place defies description. He has a lot of gnarly olive trees, three donkeys, and an absolutely absurd number of beds. Here’s a terrible photo of his fireplace area:

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And here he is, pre-concert at the massive dinner he cooked himself:

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He’s the dude standing in the brown sweater and the flyaway grey-white hair. Very eccentric and very nice.  Unfortunately, because the place had terrible lighting (seriously terrible), I only have a few not-so-great photos of the event. Here’s another of Dino, introducing the main acts.

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Very lopsided and blurry, sorry. But hey, anyways, who was playing anyways?

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Kelly Halloran and Rachael Sage! Kelly used to WWOOF for Dino some years ago, so that’s how she knew him. They’re also both American, which was kind of funny since we were in a weird underground Italian farm place in the middle of nowhere. Literally, there’s no address. He lives on an unnamed road off another road that has barely any streetlights. It’s not hard to get to, just… terrifying. At night. By yourself. (I went a lot.) Also, unseen dogs will bark aggressively at you from their yards.

Kelly opened the show with a few songs on guitar and fiddle, and let me tell you, her fiddling is bomb my friends. Super bomb. I wish she had played more songs haha. Oh well.

The she and Rachael played for a set, and then the whole thing repeated.

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much it for the semi acceptable photos I managed to get. 😦 The lighting, as aforementioned, was terrible. There was only light on stage left, so Kelly was in darkness for a lot of the show, and I was sitting far back and trying to shoot between some a lot of people in front of me. The woes of being short and socially anxious!

But anyways, thought I’d leave you with some videos of the two of them from youtube that I found. Here’s Kelly with a different band:

And here’s Rachael and Kelly together:

Admittedly with another dude and with a significantly different vibe from when we saw them, but I thought this was one of the better songs in the set we heard. 🙂 Stay determined!


Clara in Italy: Throwback to Siena

December 12, 2016

Hey everyone! I realized I never talked about a lot of the excursions that happened earlier on in this whirlwind of a semester, but I thought I’d talk a little bit about Siena! A lovely little city in Tuscany.

A quick digression: one of my favorite childhood books takes place partially in Siena. I am of the opinion that everyone should read it because it is wonderfully funny and kind of sad and touching in a weird, weird way. Here’s the cover as I always knew it:

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Unfortunately, it’s quite a small image. There are several versions of it, but in any case, I love this book a lot and I’d read it over and over if I had the time. Still would.

Anyways, Siena! Still didn’t have a proper camera, but I think I did okay with my iPhone. We started off with a quick coffee break. I hadn’t quite gotten into the swing of Italian coffee–far superior to American coffee, loathe as I am to say it because it’s so cliche, but. It’s true. I don’t really like coffee that much, but I’ll drink Italian coffee, man.

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And then off to this fountain in the main square full of pigeons!!!

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Look, I know most people think of pigeons as nuisances, but I love pigeons okay? Pigeons are adorable fat little birds of joy and everything bad about pigeons is the fault of humans. They were all really pleased to be taking a bath in this fountain. They were all puffed up and covered in water. It was great.

Anyways, to the probably best part of the trip: the ARCHIVES. I am and forever shall be a massive old books nerd, so this was a really fabulous time for me. I just love old books okay? All the time! All the people that touched it! The different binding techniques! Oh boy.

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Just look at these beautiful books.

I also took this picture while we were there, and I still rather like it, even though it’s a little pretentious or whatever.

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There were two other pretty great highlights for my nerdy little heart in this day trip, one of which was the centuries-old graffiti in the Palazzo Pubblico. (I know I’ve already posted about it, but please bear with me I love it so much.)

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It’s a little hard to see, but if you look closely on the red stripe, you can see someone’s carved “1464” right there. 1464?!! That’s before Columbus landed on the shores of America and ruined everything! That’s before Shakespeare!

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Look at that! That’s in Greek! People were making marks on the walls here in Greek. That’s incredible to me. There’s also a couple from a little later–1848 and 1902, which I still think is pretty exciting. The passage of time, and yet people keep marking the same places, even as all the people who went before them are dead.

I love stuff like this, weird little snippets of human life and imperfection. Which brings me to this next picture!

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It… admittedly kind of sucks as a photo, but look at this beautiful unfinished painting. It was too high up to take a decent photo, but man. Nero watching Rome burn. It’s a 19th-century work (my unabashed favorite art period), and there’s a detailed underdrawing and bits and pieces of completed painting. Agh. I suppose most people wouldn’t consider it great art–it’s mostly pretty, but it’s a antique-historical scene done in the ridiculously idealized style of 19th-century Neoclassicists. All my favorite things!! (That’s not actually true–I also love the Romantics dearly. Probably more so in terms of actual theme. Whatever.)

I think it’s really important to show unfinished work and drawings in museums alongside finished masterpieces, because it shows process versus product. Looking only at finished product can be deceptive. It leads to the idea that great artists were geniuses who produced things as opposed to ordinary people who worked hard on a single skillset. Art is not magic. Art is hard work. Certainly talent can play into it as well, but no one got by on talent alone. Let’s admire the unfinished work for what it is, and what it shows us we can all do. I can’t make a great painting, but I can make sketches. I can’t write a masterful novel, but I can write some crappy first drafts, and I am continuously thankful for the records of first drafts of novels now digitized online. How great to know how even the classics struggled! Ha!

Anyways, to finish the day off, we got to see a short procession of the Eagle contrada–Siena is quite unique in that it has an intensely competitive horse race every year amongst the different neighborhoods (contradas) that make up the cities: The Eagle contrada had won the most recent race.

That’s all on Siena! Stay determined.

 

 


Week 14: 東京 and Owls

December 12, 2016


For our JPL300 class, we have to create a poster and present on any topic that interests us for 5-7 minutes in Japanese. I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty nervous about this because speaking in only Japanese for that long of a period…man, I have to start practicing soon. Patrick is presenting on テレビゲーム (video games) and I’m presenting on 沖縄 (Okinawa). We worked on our posters in Isabella’s room Tuesday night. We started at around 9:30pm thinking it would only take an hour but ended up working on it till 1am. We didn’t mind though because we enjoyed working on it and listened to some music on the speakers – hip-hop/rap, hard rock, and EDM. We all have very different music tastes. In my presentation, I’m talking about Okinawan foods (goya chanpuru and Okinawa soba), the pretty beaches, and the Orion Beer Fest. I had some extra white space so I decided to draw on my poster. I was really proud of my Shisa dog that I drew (on the right of the title). I did copy it off a picture on my laptop but considering how horrible of a drawer I am, I thought I did pretty well.

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I’m not 100% sure if this is correct or not but Patrik told us that Pac-Man originated from a missing pizza slice. Apparently the man who created Pac-Man was out eating pizza, took a slice, and thought of the character’s shape right there. Patrik also said the man said to himself, “everyone likes pizza!” so everyone would then like Pac-Man. I couldn’t stop laughing when Patrik was telling us this because he sounded so animated when imitating the creator of Pac-Man. Like I said, I don’t know if this is true or not so don’t take my word on it. I still think it’s pretty cool and worth mentioning though since I didn’t know about this.


I mentioned earlier that Patrik and I went to an elementary school in Omagari to play with the kids. Well, this past Wednesday morning, Patrik and I went to a kindergarten in the same area. We each had to introduce a game to play with the kids. Patrik chose musical chairs and I chose Duck, Duck, Goose. There was one girl who was chosen as the goose who could never run fast enough to get into the new sport. After about the fifth time of her being tagged, she started crying. She cried later on as well when she couldn’t get a seat in musical chairs. Poor girl. After we played our games, the kindergartners showed us their own game. The all sat in a circle with cards sprawled out in the middle. Each card had a hiragana character in the corner. The kids would have to grab the card with the hiragana character the teacher read out loud. It got pretty intense. The kids would all just jump into the middle of the circle looking for the correct card. I was afraid some of them would bump heads. Sometimes multiple kids would jump on the correct card at the same time and because the teacher couldn’t tell who got it first, the kids did Rock, Paper, Scissors to see who would rightfully win the card. With every disagreement, Rock, Paper, Scissors was played. I thought it was adorable and smart. I think even older kids play this game to come up with a settlement.


When Patrik and I went to the elementary school, we were given the same small lunch as the kids. We were expecting the same thing again this time but in kindergarten, instead of the school supplying the food, everyone brings a bento box from home. In Japan, making bentos is a hobby. Many people, usually mothers, get very creative when making bentos. For example, one girl had a bow shaped sausage and another girl had a crown shaped boiled egg. Patrik and I even got our own bentos and wow, they were delicious. It had a variety of vegetables and meats in addition to the rice topped with an umeboshi (dried sweet plum).

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We headed to Tokyo this past weekend and before doing so, Patrik wanted to bleach and dye his hair gray. I helped him bleach his hair Wednesday night and dye his hair Thursday night. There was some leftover bleach so Patrik and I decided to put some in my hair, only a little though. It didn’t really do anything; I guess my hair is too dark. My left hand is a bit purple from the dye. Weird, huh? The hair dye also came out purple on Patrik’s hair instead of gray. Well, some parts are gray and other parts are purple!

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So, this past weekend, Patrik and I went to Tokyo! I told my mom that Patrik, Isabella, and the CO crew were all heading there to visit for the weekend. My mom then offered to buy round trip bus tickets, just as long as I don’t miss class! I took the bus with Patrik to and from Tokyo. We both couldn’t sleep on the 10 hour bus ride both ways. I just listened to music and practiced memorizing my speech for Japanese. There was a guy on the bus who talked to us during the stops. He was visiting his grandma in Akita and going back home to Tokyo. Of course, Patrik and I talked in our broken Japanese. At our last bus stop, the guy asked us for our ages and he was surprised that I was 20 and Patrik was 22; he thought we were older. I asked him for his age expecting to hear 23. Instead, he told us that he was 19! I was shocked. Right before we got back on the bus he took off two bracelets and gave one to Patrik and I. Now we have matching bracelets! I was so happy.


Patrik and I arrived in Tokyo at around 6am. Patrik had to go to the NHK TV Station at 12pm because he was invited to participate in a shooting. So, I decided to hang out with him till he left then I would go and meet up with Isabella and everyone else. We walked all the way to the Shinju Shrine (Sandy told us to not come back to Akita unless we go to this shrine). I was very shocked when walking to it because we were just surrounded by trees and green. I didn’t expect there to be so much nature in the middle of Tokyo. It was a pretty big shrine as well. There were tourist groups walking around and people taking pictures everywhere. Patrik and I threw our coins and prayed. Then we washed our hands with the water scoop. Afterwards, we walked to Harajuku and looked around. Patrik tried Mos Burger for the first time – Japanese chain fast food restaurant. Many Americans don’t try it because the name sounds unappealing but the Mos burger is actually very delicious. Anyways, Patrik ended up leaving and I walked all the way from Harajuku to Shinjuku instead of taking a train. It was about a 45-minute walk. My feet were in so much pain.

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Isabella and Annabelle were keen on going to the Owl Café so after I met up with them at H&M, we made our way to the café. It was ¥1800 for an hour…I thought it was quite expensive but these goofballs really wanted to go. When I walked in I was surprised to see 10 owls, all different kinds. The guy working there spoke broken English so I was able to hold a conversation with him with my broken Japanese as well. He put owls on all of our heads, hands, and shoulders. One of the owls looked so animated – you can see the owl on Isabella’s shoulder in the picture above. It’s eyes were just beads…Isabella kind of looks like it in that picture! The guy working there told me that he had never been to America but was going next summer for his wedding. Vegas!


On Sunday, we all slept in a bit after a night of going out so we woke up around lunchtime. Isabella found this recommended ramen restaurant called Ichiran so we made our way there. There was a line outside but we didn’t mind waiting. When we finally made it inside we were shocked to see that each chair was closed off. You basically got your own stall to eat your ramen; if you’re anti-social this place would be perfect for you! When ordering our ramen, we were asked what spiciness level we wanted. It went up to 20 but 10 was the recommended high. Isabella LOVES spicy food so of course, she put down 10. I saw Patrik put down 10 as well so I had no choice but to put down 10. Patrik likes spicy food but he doesn’t handle it well. Patrik and I were seated next to each other but Isabella and Annabelle were seated elsewhere due to lack of seating. I’m not kidding when I say Patrik and I were breaking a sweat. We stripped our jackets and hoodies off. Patrik drank 4 cups of water within 2 minutes. It was pretty great. He couldn’t finish so I finished the rest of his ramen for him. Afterwards, we waited outside for the girls. It was freezing outside but we were still so hot from the ramen that we just stood outside in our T-shirts.

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After Ichiran, we decided to go to Asakusa. I know I’ve gone there several times but Patrik, Isabella, and Annabelle had never visited before so I insisted on taking them. I didn’t think it would be difficult to figure out the train system but it was…it took us a good 30 minutes till we could figure out where we had to go. Please, never rely on me for directions.

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We were so relieved when we finally made it to Asakusa! Annabelle was so happy to see all of the shops. She wanted to buy all the souvenirs she could find. Isabella and Annabelle both bought some snacks while walking down the street. Patrik and I split a 6-pack of postcards. It was nice just walking around. Diane, the friend I visited the last time I went to Tokyo, met up with us at Asakusa. I was extremely happy to see her again, especially since the next time I see her will probably not be till later next year. We walked up to the temple and threw our coins and prayed. Afterwards, we stopped at a convenience store to buy some drinks. I was in desperate need for coffee and Isabella was in desperate need for a warm drink. Unfortunately, she has been sick for the past coupe of days – sore throat and runny nose. Hopefully she gets better soon, especially with finals coming up!

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After Asakusa, we headed to Shibuya to show everyone the Shibuya crossing. We weren’t hungry for dinner yet so we shopped around. Diane ended up buying some yoga pants from Bershka – she’s starting to work out more at a gym near her apartment. Isabella and Annabelle didn’t find anything. Patrik and I don’t care to shop as much so we just talked and walked for the most part. It started raining a bit so we decided to look for a restaurant. Again, we are an indecisive bunch so deciding on a restaurant took a while. Diane found a building with restaurants on three floors so it was easier for us to choose from that.

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The five of us had to squish into a four-seater booth. It was pretty tight but we all wanted to sit next to each other. I was very happy that everyone had the chance to meet Diane. It’s funny thinking that I have friends from study abroad that have met my high school friends AND my mom and brother. Sometimes I feel like study abroad is such a temporary thing and you meet people that you will never see again. But, for me, it’s more than that. I know that Patrik and I are going to be friends for a looong time. I mean, he’s coming to Okinawa with me this winter break. He’s going to see where I grew up and meet my friends from high school. It’s like my study abroad life and my actual life are coming together? I don’t know…it’s hard to explain but it’s a very nice feeling. I’ve made friends that I know I will see again and meet up with. Even Isabella and Annabelle. I’m sure I will see them again in the states. I do have an aunt living two blocks away from their school.

Well, there’s only two more weeks left of school. Time is ticking.


Olivia in Scotland: Falling On My Knees

December 8, 2016

Hi everyone!

You know how sometimes you think you’re finally starting to get through one heartbreak, but then another comes along? That’s where I am in my life right now. Between an unexpected death in the family and an unexpected breakup of a long relationship, I have experienced more grief while studying abroad than I ever thought I would. It’s been a difficult time in my life. However, I have learned some things about myself and about grieving, and I wanted to take a moment to share some of those things with you. If you are considering studying abroad, I sincerely hope that you do not lose someone during that time—but if it does happen, I hope that these seven things help you through that process a little bit. It’s hard to be abroad when you feel like your life is falling apart, but there are things you can do to help.

1. Make sure that you give yourself some silence and that soul-numbing things don’t make up the majority of your grieving process. We live in a world that is constantly noisy. Noise can be distracting and comforting in the ways that it helps us ignore our problems or feel less alone. Particularly since being abroad, I often fill the silence with Netflix or listening to music. In reasonable amounts, this isn’t a bad thing—sometimes I need to turn my brain off and not think about my problems for a while—but if that’s all I do, then I can’t sort through what I’m actually feeling. Silence is both intimidating and invaluable. It can make you feel even more alone when you’re far away from home, but it also gives you space to think, feel, remember, reflect, and gain insight. It may not seem like it, but silence is a gift—give it to yourself.

2. Don’t be afraid of your tears. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. It doesn’t mean that you’re not handling your life the way you should be. They’re actually helpful in processing your grief (see this post for more on where I got that idea from). This is a hard one for me because I often compare myself to other people and feel like I’m doing something wrong when they look fine and my tears tell me that I am not. But if that’s how you’re feeling, you’re not doing anything wrong. Tears help you let out emotions and then figure out how to move forward. They’re healthy; use them.

3. Be around people. In addition to giving yourself time in silence, it’s also important to go out and do things with people. It’s really easy to isolate yourself while being abroad, particularly if you’re living in a single room, but don’t stay that way. Having fun with people will help you remember the good things you still have in your life. It will help you not to feel so isolated and to get the most out of your time abroad.

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Going out and having fun with friends is an important step. You might just get to fulfill some dreams in the process, like I did going to Venice with these friends. 🙂

4. It’s not enough just to be around people—talk about what you’re feeling. I’m not saying that you should talk about your grief all the time. However, if you’re like me, I need to share a little of what I’m truly feeling with the others in order to move on and enjoy being with them. If I don’t, I feel more isolated or I feel like I’m pretending to be something that I’m not. You might feel like talking about your emotional state makes you a nuisance to the people you’re around (especially if it takes longer than you think it should to get better). If they’re really your friends, though, they will listen to you and want to help. You may be surprised just how much and how many people want to be there for you—I certainly have been! Talking about your feelings will help you process and will help you appreciate those people who care about you enough to listen and put you first.

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One of those people who has continually listened and been there for me in Edinburgh has been my friends Gianna. I hope that you are fortunate enough to find such a steadfast friend if you experience loss while studying abroad.

5. Don’t give yourself a timeline for your grief. You may feel like you should be over it in a few weeks, or a month, or a few months. Maybe that will be the case for you, but it’s entirely possible that it won’t be. It hasn’t worked like that for me no matter how much I’ve wished that it would. These tips may help you during your mourning period, but it won’t necessarily speed it up. Don’t compare yourself to other people; do your best to give yourself grace and allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling for whatever amount of time you feel it.

6. Don’t feel bad about enjoying your life. Particularly if you’re experiencing the death of a family member, you may feel like you should just be mourning and not having any fun. That’s not true.  The person you’ve lost would want you to enjoy your time abroad, and you need to allow yourself to feel happiness as well as sadness. So travel, dance, laugh, and find the sunshine in your life. It’s still there, even if the clouds are hiding it.

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I was thinking about this idea on the flight to Venice on Friday. After we took off and ascended past the Scottish clouds, I was happy to find that the sun was still up there above them, shining as brightly as it ever has. It’s comforting to know that I can still find joy and warmth and light in life again, even if it takes a while to do.

7. Remember that it’s not the end of you. It may feel like it is; it may feel like nothing good will ever happen to you again. You might just want to be home, or you might dread going home, or both. Those are all totally natural feelings. But, keep the bigger picture in perspective. You are so privileged to have this study abroad experience. You have people who care about you, whether or not they are all with you right now, and you have a whole future ahead of you that’s full of possibilities. As difficult as this time is, it really will pass. Focus on the present and on the blessings around you right now as much as you can.

I want to close with a quote and a note on the title. Matthew 6:34 says,”So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” In the midst of my fixation on details of the past and my myriad of fears about the future, it has been hard for me to just take things one day at a time. However, if you go through grieving while studying abroad, I urge you to focus on where you are and the people around you. Don’t let your apprehensions about whatever awaits you at home rob you of that joy. As you let yourself remember and reflect, also take time every day to appreciate the beauty in the world around you. It’s still there if you look for it.

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I was pulling out my phone to take this picture of the sunset when I received the bad news about my family member. I was in shock, but I till took the picture because I felt like this moment was something to remember. That sunset’s beauty was not diminished by this news. Instead, it reminded me of my Creator and His faithfulness, even when I don;t understand why things happen the way they do. 

The title of this post, “Falling On My Knees,” is the name of a song by Kokua that has become very special to me over these past weeks. It is about a person who has been brought low and is crying out to God for help. In the midst of that, he still sings,  “I lie down and rest in Your peace, / surrounded by life’s uncertainty, / as I learn to surrender all of me.” He is still able to find peace and praise God for His grace even when the circumstances of his life would seem to make that impossible. My prayer has been, and continues to be, that I can do the same. I have definitely felt God draw near to me in my heartbreak, and my faith has played a crucial role in sustaining me through this time. I don’t regret studying abroad one single bit—I feel that God put me in Edinburgh during this difficult time for a reason. I know this is where I was meant to be during the start of my grieving process.

I will tell you all about my trip to Venice in my next blog post. 🙂 Till next time!


Clara in Italy: Cats of Cortona (and elsewhere)

December 7, 2016

This is going to be a very brief post detailing some of the wonderful cats we’ve met in Cortona because I have to say they are a rather large part of daily life.

Cappuccina. She mostly hangs out on the hill between campus and the rest of town. Kind of snooty, but will consent to be pet most of the time. Generally adorable. Has a doppelganger that has a little cat house near the Mercato at the bottom of Cortona.

Regal Cat. Not sure what their real name is. One of the staff told me once (Antonella! Fabulous cat whisperer), but I unfortunately forgot it. It starts with a G I believe, but we just called them Regal Cat. 😦 They also hang out on the hill between campus and the rest of town. Too good for you.

Silly Cat. Usually pretty low down on the hill. Don’t see them too often, but they’re still pretty nice.

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Beautiful Cat. Lives with a family down by the Mercato. Unfortunately difficult to get a photo of, since she lives so far down and it’s kind of exhausting to go down all the time and isn’t always out. But look how pretty she is!

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Selena! Very elusive cat. Lives on the studio portion of the campus, but comes up to the dorms to get fed by Antonella. There’s another cat named Lucy who I think also hangs out over there, but is even more elusive. She’s grey, though.

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Mysterious Cat. Have seen them but once! Managed to get this picture, staring out of the darkness of an open window. Pretty majestic, I’d say.

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And now, the THREE GRACES: Squiggle, Eddy and Sylvester. The cats of the dorms. Sometimes they sneak into the building. Mostly pretty skittish, but have been getting along pretty swimmingly since Squiggle joined the group. I’ve been reliably informed that Eddy and Sylvester never really used to hang out until Squiggle showed up.

So Squiggle. Named for the little kink in his tail. Gang leader. Likes to roll around in the dust and dirt and makes funny meows. He also kind of pancakes himself onto the ground when you reach for him. Wants love but also tends to run. But when you get him to come to you, he’s very snuggly. Has gotten much fatter than he was when he first appeared, which is kind of a relief, but he’s also a bit resource-hoardy and kind of a pig. Will steal the food from the others. We suspect he was abandoned and this probably accounts for the way he acts. Poor Squigsquag. A student favorite.

Eddy. Constantly sick. Sneezes a lot. Doesn’t seem to be able to clean himself and seriously needs a bath. Is the neediest cat I’ve ever met. When Squiggle is getting pets from people, Eddy is not far behind and often comes meowing aggressively and plaintively from the bushes. But he doesn’t want love from you!! He’s after Squiggle’s affection. I really love Eddy. He’s a sweetheart when you can get him to trust you for a hot second. He’s a little mangy, but that seems to be no fault of his own. A classmate bought him a comb, so maybe Antonella can clean him a bit better since he can’t seem to do it without a little help. (Unfortunately, only one solo picture for him.)

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Sylvester. Definitely the prettiest cat around. Extremely fluffy and well-preened, but he can’t meow. At first we thought he was hissy and unfriendly, but it turns out he really just can’t make meowing sounds. Seems standoffish at first, but on the rare occasion you can get him to come closer, he is wonderfully rewarding to pet on account of his glorious fur. The best cat-loaf.

And, just as a bonus, here’s my art history professor with a friendly cat she met in Orvieto. Think he was just starting to get sick of being held at this point, but he was pretty amenable to it for the first few minutes.

That’s all for this frivolous post. If you hate cats, I’m very sorry. Stay determined!


Olivia in Scotland: The Final Countdown

December 7, 2016

Hello everyone!

I finished my classes today (which is Thursday December 1st as I write this). I can hardly believe it. The semesters are shorter here than they are back home and in some ways it really does feel like I just started my classes. I’ve also been behind on my work for several weeks now because I’ve been sick, and today marked the day that I finally caught up and finished my last paper for which I received an extension! It took my first all-nighter of the semester to do it, but it’s done.

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I was very tired in my final 9 AM class this morning, but I was happy to see that they’re making the school buildings look a little more festive for the Christmas season!

The odd thing is, with my English seminars, it isn’t really the end for most people in the course; although the seminars only last one semester, they don’t have their exam until the end of the spring semester, and they meet again to review the material before then. It was a strange feeling to be nearly the only one really leaving. They’re all saying, “See you later,” and I’m saying, “Goodbye.”

It’s hitting me now that I have less than three weeks left before heading back home. In that time, I’m taking two short trips out of the country, writing two exam essays, taking an exam, celebrating Advent with my church, and showing my best friend from back home around Edinburgh when she comes to see me. It’s going to be a jam-packed few weeks! In general, I’m planning to do all I can to see the parts of Edinburgh that I haven’t gotten to see yet and make the most of my time in this lovely city, as well as spend as much time as I can with the friends I have made here. It promises to be a challenge to accomplish all this, but I’m going to try my best to make the people here my priority until I leave. I feel that one of my biggest regrets would be not spending enough time with them.

Now, where am I traveling to, you might ask? Well, one of these trips is starting tomorrow (Friday the 2nd)—I’m going to VENICE! I’ve wanted to go there for as long as I can remember. I hadn’t actually planned to travel there while studying abroad, but I discovered that a couple friends of mine wanted to go there and suddenly my dream started to become a reality. It is absolutely surreal to me that I’m finally going to this place I’ve always dreamed about; hopefully it will feel a little more real to me once I’m actually there! For my other trip, I’m going to Paris after my exams with my best friend from back home. She’ll be here in Edinburgh for a few days and then we’re going to Paris together. That’s the other place I’ve probably wanted to go to the longest so I’m absolutely thrilled, and I can’t believe I get to go there with my best friend. It honestly seems too good to be true.

I wanted to take a moment to reflect and re-center as I enter these final weeks. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how much easier it is to talk about what I’m doing than it is about how I’m feeling. I’m going so many places, writing so many essays, seeing so many people. attending so many church events. There’s plenty to talk about right now on the more surface level of my life. It’s even easier to focus on that in posts like these when the past month has been one of the hardest periods I’ve ever gone through emotionally and I have struggled with how to deal without that. Going through your first breakup anywhere is really hard, but being abroad during that grieving process carries its own unique set of challenges. Although I did a lot of great things and spent time with people I care about, it wasn’t enough to heal my heart or shake the depression I’ve been feeling. However, after all this time in the dark, I think I’m finally beginning to feel the sun coming out again. (It’s ironic for this rather dark and rainy time of year in this country, but it’s true.) I certainly have not arrived anywhere yet, but I know I’m on my way to healing. I also know that I am not, nor have I ever been, alone in this—God has been with me every step of the way. He has been my strength when I had none.

As I move into the final weeks of my study abroad experience, my prayer is that I am able to fully enjoy what I’m doing and be present with the people around me in every place in which I find myself. I want the memories that I carry back home with me to be good and beautiful ones. For me, when I am actually present where I am, that is when I am most able to feel God’s presence, whether that is through a sunset, a city street, or the person across the table from me. It may be through a simple thing, but when I really look around, I can see the hand of the Creator who made it all and feel that he is right there with me. For my trip to Venice, that will probably mean making sure that I put down my camera enough to let the beauty of the place sink in and allow me to appreciate the sweet friendships of those with whom I’m traveling. It can be very hard to stop stressing about getting the perfect picture and be still for a moment. When I do, though, I am finally present in that place and can find God’s presence as well.

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I found these steps on my day trip to Stirling this last weekend: I intend to “be careful” with how I spend the remainder of my time here, and for me, that means looking around and appreciating what is right in front of me.

I will update you all when I return from Venice! (I still can’t believe I’m saying that.) Ciao!


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