Olivia in Sweden: Flogsta Cat and Chocolate!

March 14, 2017

I’ve met a celebrity here in Sweden!

His name is Ingefära, which means “ginger” in Swedish.



He is a cat that lives here in Flogsta and he is known for traveling. He even published a book about his travels and he’s only 2 years old! What were you doing when you were 2?



We were pleasantly surprised to open the elevator door outside our corridor only to find him waiting inside! We played with him, fed him, and provided him time to sleep before he took off on his next journey. I look forward to seeing him again.



Since he’s been gone, I’ve kept myself busy with a new job. Last week was my turn to take out the trash! Sweden is very environmentally conscious and we have 6 different containers depending on the type of trash being disposed of: plastic packaging, colored glass, metal packaging, newspaper, cardboard, and clear glass.

Looking forward to not having to deal with that for a while!



Thankfully I didn’t have to spend too much time wallowing over Ingefära’s absence or my trash duty. Last weekend, a nation hosted a “Chocolate Gallop” with over 40 different chocolate treats. We arrived late but were still able to make off with some delicious treats. Woo-hoo! Until next time!


Olivia in Sweden: Screaming and Food!

February 3, 2017

I’m a little biased but I’m pretty sure I live in the best student residential area in all of Uppsala University.

To prove it, here’s a little tradition I’d like to share:


The Flogsta Scream occurs every evening at 10 p.m. sharp. Students open their windows and scream out into the night. Simple, right? The tradition goes back decades! Though I haven’t measured the decibels, I think the loudest screams occur on Sunday nights.


In addition to traditions, I have made some wonderful friends in Flogsta. In the Flogsta residential area there are several apartments. The apartment I live in has 7 floors. Each floor has two corridors on opposing sides. Each corridor has one kitchen shared by approximately 12 people. I share a floor with native Swedes and other international students hailing from Brazil, Australia, the Netherlands, Japan, Canada, and USA.



Swedes really love cabbage. I tried a stuffed cabbage roll, which proved to be very savory.



It’s also been confirmed by some Swedish friends that they like to put bananas in almost anything. It can be found on pizza or mixed with some rice and chicken. I had the latter, which made my dinner subtly sweet.



As I’ve been introduced to food from Sweden, I’ve also been introduced to food from other areas of the world.



Here is some fairy bread, which is sliced white bread spread with butter and covered with sprinkles. Apparently, it has to be cut into triangles and the Australians are quite proud of this delicacy!



This is a Dutch Stroopwafel. It tastes best when placed in a microwave for 2 seconds! This lets the caramel inside melt. It was heavenly!



We also had a sushi night on Sunday hosted by my Japanese friend. I got to roll Sushi for the first time in my life! We were all proud of our handiwork.


It’s nice to know that wherever you go, you can discover other cultures!

Clara in Italy: Naples, Pompeii etc

January 19, 2017

I’m home now, have been for a while, but have only just contracted some kind of horrible cold and am full of aches and shivers. It sucks, but oh well. The price you pay for a properly cold winter here in western New York!

For the very last part of my semester abroad, we traveled down south towards Naples, staying in a little town called Vico Equense some miles away. Vico borders the sea, and the beach was good fun for me! Found a wonderful hagstone that I somehow managed to cram into my suitcase intact.


It was rather obnoxiously heavy, I don’t deny it, but totally worth it.We also found a bunch of hermit crabs! This one was really nervous. I felt sort of bad for scaring it, but we released it after about a minute, so I suppose no harm done.


And on our way, we met a really cute cat that followed us for a little bit before running off.


Not to mention the actual beach.

All in all, a lovely town, though we didn’t get to stay for too long.

In Naples, we went to the Capo di Monte museum, which, if I am honest, was too much art for me to handle. I was arted out. Like, there was so much art this semester, I could barely function at this point. Nevertheless! Some cool, cool stuff to be seen, such as some of the most beautiful drawings by Raphael I’d ever seen??

I don’t even really like Raphael, I’ll admit that right now, but oh BOY, look at how pretty that is the photo doesn’t do it justice.


Like. Listen guys. Listen. This is the sort of drawing that I WISH I could create. Holy crap. I cry a thousand tears.

Anyways, besides that, I also got to see this painting of Atalanta???? I didn’t know it was here??? Oh man?????


Atalanta! My idol. Sort of. Well, I don’t know, I respect her anyways. And I really like this painting and one time I created a graphics set using it and anyways, this painting is cool and I like it a lot and I got to see it in person. That’s what I was really trying to say. Photo is still pretty terrible at doing justice to the painting, but anyways. There it is.

But here’s my favorite thing I saw in the museum. I have no idea what it really is, but I’m guessing a sort of writing set/table and?? It’s gorgeous. Look at it.


So much mother-of-pearl and the fineness of the details in it. It was really stunning, not gonna lie.

And finally, some cute little porcelain figures that imitate curly fur ridiculously well. Dang, right?

Yes, you heard me right, that’s porcelain. What kind of nonsense.

I’m getting carried away, because that wasn’t even my favorite museum during this visit. I’m only going to post one picture from my favorite because I actually didn’t take that many photos. In a sort of backwards way, it’s a testament to how excited and awed I was, okay? The Archaeological Museum. Oh my god.


Look, I’m not going to show you any more because my photos are abysmal. Just. If you ever have the chance and you are as much of a nerd for classical art as I am, go here. I’m not kidding. This stuff is incredible. I just want to touch all of it, oh man. This stuff is thousands of years old!!! And it’s so NICE. Like WOW. Do you see that?? That’s not a painting, that’s a mosaic and it is amazingly preserved. From Pompeii. This whole exhibit gives a really human character to the city and the people that died. Again, I cry a thousand tears. Art man. Art is incredible.

I loved this museum. It was one of my favorite places in Italy. I mean, besides Pompeii itself, which was also incredible and a weird transcendental experience for me, the adult who was once a small child fascinated with the Greeks and Romans. (Not quite as incredible as visiting Delphi a few years ago, which just???? I still can’t quite wrap my mind around the fact that I’ve been there. But I digress.)

I have almost no pictures from Pompeii itself, same for Naples, which is sort of a shame because that was a mistake on my part. But here are just a couple notable things.

1. Pompeii

Some really human graffiti, and an incredible restored painting. I couldn’t deal with this okay. It was so cool.


2. Naples



I think that’s an appropriate place to leave you all because hey, why be so serious about it? Giant plastic snails are just as artsy as some classical paintings, and they bring me around the same amount of joy. (Okay, maaaaaaybe the classical paintings bring me a little more because they appeal to my inner child, but still.)

Stay determined, y’all. Hope you enjoyed what I had to say about the joys of Italy.


Clara in Italy: Isola Maggiore

October 21, 2016

Soooooo, it’s definitely been a while since I posted anything. I have a super compressed semester (like, half the time or something? Ten weeks??), and the crunch is sort of unbelievable sometimes. So here we are, and I really do want to write about a lot of stuff! But I suppose I will start with my drawing class’ trip to Isola Maggiore, a little island out on a lake not too far from Cortona.

There’s the lake in the distance!


Fair warning, this post might be a bit over-detailed and boring, mostly because I just really, really loved this trip. I had a really lovely time.

Our first stop was a little town called Passignano sul Trasimeno right on the shore. Also a very lovely place, where I found lots of tiny enamel pins of American alternative bands from like the early aughts/90s? what.

(Did I buy them? Yes. Yes, I did. Because I’m trash.)

And then there was a ferry that we had to ride to get to the island itself, which has a permanent population possibly in the single digits.

I just think people are really lovely when they’re looking off of a ferry. Maybe that’s a bit weird. Anyways, here’s a first view of the island itself!


So full of trees and rocks! And there’s a castle (which I’ll get to later, but like seriously, the castle). To be totally honest though, my very first priority was getting myself to the lace museum, which was definitely worth it.

From what I can gather, this is actually a form of Irish crocheted lace, which you can see from the close-ups. Just. Crocheted with extremely thin thread. I totally want to learn how to do it. It’s just so lovely and incredible. I took a bazillion pictures of all the patterns I thought were really cool. To be honest, it doesn’t look particularly difficult in terms of pattern–just… size. And execution. Pretty sure I understand how it works for the most part, but dear lord. Thread thread thread!

There was also a door at the very top of the stairs that led to an empty attic room that I perhaps should not have been in, but it was definitely open, so…?

Back to the lace. Apparently, the woman who brought it to the island wanted to teach the women of the island a viable trade to make a living there in the first half of the 20th century. It’s actually a practice that’s mostly died out by now, but there are still maybe three or four women who still do it. They’re really nice and very skilled. I mean, they’ve been making this lace for longer than my current lifespan several times over, so I suppose that’s not surprising, but damn.


Seriously. How. I bought a piece of her lace since she was selling. It’s a little soft beige piece.

Back to the island. And the great photo opportunities! Just look at the textures of the wood and all this interesting stuff! Is that a fairy ring on the ground? Did the wood grow into a circle that way or is it magic? Or both?? Who knows!


Cool lizards on a burnt tree! Rusty… thing! (feat. lens flare)



And castle. Which was apparently forbidden. But there was a gate that was wide open with no signs on it that just looked like a road, so half the class wandered over apparently. It’s easy to see why it’s forbidden. The whole thing looks like it’s about to come down around your ears.


And there was this abandoned boat just sitting there?


Anyways. Really cool place. Kind of terrifying. Very fun. Glad I went. Also found lots of nice bones on this island that haven’t been cleaned yet, or I would definitely post pictures. Someday! When I’m not being slowly crushed under the weight of academia maybe!!

Also I made this little watercolor of the landscape. It’s all right, I think! I should have definitely done more actual drawing, but man, the island was just too exciting.


I think I’ve talked enough about this island. Basically, I highly recommend it for anyone like me who likes weird and pretty stuff! And spending some time alone. That was nice too. I’ll leave you with a final view from Passignano sul Trasimeno of the lake itself. They said it would rain, but! We had a really wonderful day.


Until the next time I manage to get enough time to sit down and write. 🙂 Stay determined!


Naomi at Akita Week 4: 東京 chillin’

September 30, 2016

This past week/weekend, I took an overnight bus to go visit my close high school friend, Diane, in Tokyo. I was on the bus for about 11 hours and you would not believe this, but I forgot my earphones back at the school. I almost cried when I reached into my empty pocket. I ended up buying earphones at ドンキホーテ in Shibuya for the night bus back. Anyways, the first day I got there Diane had work from 11AM-5PM so I headed to Asakusa to meet up with some AIU peeps that also decided to head to Tokyo. We walked around Sensō-ji, an ancient Buddhist temple. I just learned it’s actually Tokyo’s oldest temple, as well. After walking around, we had time to spare, so we walked around and found a barbershop for Nico to cut his hair. He ended up paying half the price because the barbers were too afraid to cut his hair too short. They were really sweet though. One of the barbers asked Jeremy, Thomas, and I to come sit inside since it was sprinkling. We decided to sit outside though, as you can see in the picture above.


After a long night out, Diane and I decided to head to Yokohama. My mom suggested we go there since they have a Cup Noodle Museum. It was only a ‎¥500 entrance fee. One of the floors even had a workshop where you could make your own cup noodles. Unfortunately, there were too many children and Diane and I were too hungry to wait. We ended up heading to Chinatown and eating there! There was so much panda merchandise and stores selling Baozi (steam filled buns). After walking around everywhere, Diane and I headed to her rehearsal – she’s in a startup band with Avex. I brought my camera with me because she wanted me to take videos of them performing so they could look over it. I couldn’t help smiling the entire time I was recording. They were killing it. Diane is the vocalist, along with another girl. She has always been a good singer. Going to karaoke with her can be intimidating sometimes because she belts the songs out, especially when Lady Gaga comes on. We actually went to karaoke the night before though and we all sang Jackson 5. Well, she sang it and the rest of it just yelled obnoxiously.


Unfortunately, it rained the entire time I was in Tokyo so I didn’t take many pictures. BUT, on my last day the sun decided to come out. We woke up in the afternoon after a night out and headed straight to the Sky Tree. The picture above doesn’t do it justice. It’s the tallest structure in Japan at 634 meters. I wanted to go to the top despite the price (¥4000) but there were too many people. You had to stand in line to get a ticket to make a reservation to buy a ticket. We didn’t have enough time to wait and we didn’t want to wait either so we headed to Tokyo Tower. This is definitely worth mentioning though, the train from Sky Tree to Tokyo Tower was wonderful. The air conditioning was so refreshing and the felt seats felt so nice (lol). The entire time I was there, Diane and I made sure to stand in the area where the AC was blasting on the train. Thankfully the trains weren’t too crowded most of the times we went on. Anyways, we arrived at Tokyo Tower after the sun had set. It was definitely not as tall as the Sky Tree but we went up to the 250th floor and the lights were beautiful. It was crazy seeing the concrete jungle below us.


Just wanted to show you guys this picture. I took it from Diane’s balcony – she lives on the 12th floor. If you look very closely, like super closely, on the top left you can see the Tokyo Tower. Oh, one other thing I wanted to mention: the new earphones I bought at Shibuya? Yeah, I already accidentally washed them in the laundry…

Tori in Spain: The Story of Madrid

September 22, 2016

People keep asking me what my favorite parts of life abroad have been so far. Honestly, it isn’t the crazy, spontaneous trips, Instagram-perfect moments, or even the yummy tapas.  The simplest, slowest moments have been the sweetest. Watching the sunrise and set on my back porch, sipping espresso in the morning with my roommate, talking with my host mom after the kids go to bed, and snuggling with mi hermanito Juan. Long dinners, long conversations, and long days spent in solitude have made this time special. I feel like a story is being formed here, and every moment I remain in Madrid and am very present here, that story gets richer and richer.



The more I fall in love with my family and friends and the story being told here, the less I am tempted to country hop all over Europe, because I want to discover more of what God has for me here. I think that places are significant, and investment in a place can lead to seasons of growth and deep connections. Even more than that, I think that people are important. People are what make places so special, and my family here has done that for me. Allow me to introduce you to the people who have added depth and dimension and wonder to the Story of Madrid.

My host mom Bella is absolutely amazing. Our conversations about Spanish politics, religion, food, favorite things, and our philosophies of life have truly been my favorite times of my entire trip. I love to learn from her and she is the only Spanish person who I feel fully understood by, since the language barrier often makes it hard for me to express myself to others.


We just celebrated the first birthday of my little brother Juan(ito), whom I love dearly. He crawls into my room with a huge smile on his face, just wanting to play and love on me. He has a mischievous and adventurous personality, and has never met a stranger. He is constantly smiling and giggling and truly has contagious joy. I want to be more like Juan. My other little brother, Cesar, is 3 and he can’t decide if he loves or hates me. Regardless, we love to play pretend “caballeros” (knights) and engage in ferocious duels “encima de caballos con espaldas” (on horseback with swords). I always end up dead, but never before we swap some serious trashtalk in Spanish.

Last, but not least, my roommate Amalie! She has become one of my dearest friends here, and I am incredibly thankful for her. She is very committed to learning as much Spanish as she can and truly doing life within the culture of Spain rather than having a typical “Americans in Spain” study abroad experience. This has really helped shape my perspective on my time here and helped me learn so much. I love her philosophy of life, and treasure our many meals together, long walks in the park, and jokes about how intimidating and cool Spanish young people are. She is very special, and I’m not sure how I got so lucky to have been placed with her randomly.


A couple days ago, I tripped on my way to school, my things went flying, I face planted, and my knee got bloody, swollen, and bruised. I couldn’t fully express myself to the man who was trying to help me and I had a breakdown. Here I am, injured, bleeding, and crying in a place where I still sometimes feel like I am not known and cannot make myself known due to the language barrier. However, when I got home, I talked to Bella about how I was feeling, Amalie checked out my knee, and I snuggled with Juan. Even Cesar was concerned, and I did not die at the hand of his sword that night. I am so thankful for a family here that loves me, knows me, and allows me to rest and lean into the simple moments of life alongside of them.


Naomi at Akita: Week 3: Raw Egg

September 19, 2016



On Monday, my History of Pre-Modern Japan class took a field trip to the Yayoikko Village in Goshono – about a 15-minute drive away from the school. The Akita City Board of Education excavated this Jizouden Site, from Jomon and Yayoi Periods, in 1985. Four pit dwelling houses were found but only three were restored. The style of the houses is called “Kabe Tachi Shiki” which stands for Wall-Stand Type, as you can see in the two pictures above. Professor O’Reilly (pictured above – yes, he has blue hair) actually told us about 50 people lived in each house, which I found to be unbelievable. Our class consisted of about 30 students and when we all went into one house, it was already too stuffed. There was a small museum near this site that exhibited pottery, stone tools, and clay figurines. Some of the pieces of pottery we saw were used as children coffins and several clay figurines found were used as good luck.



After a long day of classes and napping, our friend Isabella invited us over for dinner. She lives in the University Villages so her kitchen and bedroom are very spacious even though it’s only two people to an apartment. Isabella is actually half Japanese, a quarter Brazilian, and a quarter Italian so she made us Brazilian Strogonof with a side salad. とても美味しかった!We all ended up lying on the ground, listening to music, and teaching each other different words in different languages – Japanese, English, Portuguese, Slovak, etc. I’m telling you guys, you meet people from around the world when you study abroad. People from various countries meeting up in a small, close-knit community in Akita International University talking about things ranging from differing prices of beer to conflicting habits among cultures.


On Saturday, the school organized a day trip for all of the new students, including international and first-year students. The day consisted of going to a historical Japanese town full of samurai houses in Kakunodate. This historical town was first located in Mt. Furushiro. However, due to floods and fires, the town relocated to Kakunodate, an area with natural terrain, surrounded by mountains. The town is actually split into two parts between Hiyoke (fire shield): the samurai district and merchant district. Before we walked around to look at samurai houses, shrines, and temples, we decided to get something to eat, as none of us had eaten breakfast yet (we had to check in for the buses at 8am). We found a tiny restaurant that served soba, udon, and ramen. I practically inhaled my soba (pictured above); I’m sure you can guess what the best part of the soba was. We ran into a couple of souvenir shops as well and as you can see above, Okkasan had a grand time with a traditional Japanese straw hat.



After eating, we headed towards the samurai houses that didn’t require an admission fee. We walked along a narrow street called Bukeyashiki-street – designated as a preservation district for nationally important historic buildings. Bukeyashiki translates to warrior mansions. The first picture is of a well from the Iwahashi Samurai House, which was a typical middle-class samurai house. We ended up walking to the front of a shrine, pictured above. Unfortunately, we were unable to go in, as a monk made an X with his arms. We kept walking and passed the Boshin War Graves as well. Of course, I did not take any pictures, as that is seen as disrespectful. As we had to head back towards the buses for our next destination, we walked across the Uchikawa and Yokomachi Bridges, passing several fishermen. The picture above of the fisherman was taken almost two seconds before he caught the fish. Takao, the guy with the grey shorts and glasses, saw the fish flying around. Naturally, we all clapped and the fisherman started smiling.



One of our last destinations was Lake Tazawa, the deepest lake in Japan – 423.4m deep! The statue pictured above is the Statue of Tatsuko. There’s actually a legend behind her and it’s quite confusing. Apparently, Tatsuko, a very beautiful girl living by the lake, wished to retain her beauty forever. So, the god told her to drink the water from a spring in a nearby mountain. She did what she was told but instead, became a dragon. She then lived in Lake Tazawa regretfully. That’s it. It’s very interesting and short. Anyways, the lake was very beautiful and calm. Some of the students started skipping rocks. There were a few fish jumping out of the lake. Unfortunately, a lot of fish have become extinct due to agricultural promotion but there were still a few swimming around. After the lake, we headed to Ando Jozo, a store specializing in miso and soy sauce. They even had soy sauce soft cream – it tasted like caramel. By the way, look closely at the first picture…do you see Patrick? I yelled at him to jump and this is what happened.


%d bloggers like this: