The Final Post

January 12, 2017

I don’t even know where to start. I get it now…how study abroad can be the best time of your life. You change; you come home a completely different person. I’ve moved around quite a few times throughout my life – New Jersey, Germany, Italy, Okinawa, Virginia – and I have always considered Okinawa to be home. It’s where, for the most part, I grew up, I took care of my family without dad around, made stupid decisions, and maybe even learned from my stupid decisions. Going back every summer and winter break is what keeps me going during the school year, honestly. Knowing I can eat Okinawa Soba, chill with friends at the seawall, and swim in the clear ocean again. Okinawa is home, no doubt. This was the first time that returning home to Okinawa felt unfamiliar. It almost felt wrong. I was leaving home to go to Okinawa.


Immediately after spending two days in Akita, everything became…light. There’s something about Akita. I felt more like myself in Akita. It’s not really the actual place of Akita that made me feel like myself because man, I’m not going to lie, we all hated that we were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by rice fields. But honestly, if given the chance to study abroad at Tokyo or Osaka, I would choose Akita every single damn time. You could walk 5-minutes off campus and see older people working on the rice fields. These older individuals were all very sweet and had no problem speaking to us despite our broken Japanese. You’d hear a car pass by you every 10-minutes so walking around with the sun beating down on your face was such a nice way to relax. There were shrines nearby that we would walk to, always placing a 5-yen coin and praying at the entrance.

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I’m never going to forget the quick walks to Banafi, the convenience store right off campus. The amount of riceballs and beers bought there was endless. The older guy that runs that store is so dedicated to his job. Working from 7am to 7pm almost everyday and remembering our faces. He even brought his dog into the store sometimes – an old, fat beagle. The dog would slowly wobble over to me and hint for me to pet it. Sitting on the benches in front of Banafi while eating our bentos (boxed lunches) during the summer and drinking our hot cocoa from a can during the winter.


Or the quick walks to aBar right next to Banafi. Since we were in the middle of nowhere, the only bar near us was this one. It was made for the international students, although Japanese students would go as well. There were karaoke competitions, DJ nights, band performances, etc. that students would participate in, hoping to win a free drink by the end of the night. Everyone would go so you’d obviously talk to students you wouldn’t talk to otherwise in class. Oh man, the nights spent there were too fun.


The one and only Shimohamahimehoma beach trip during orientation week is still my best memory from Akita, well, everyone’s best memory. We had only been in Akita for about 5 days and we all decided to go to the beach together. All of the international and first-year students since none of the other students had arrived on campus yet. Waking up super early, riding the train (after missing the first train, of course), swimming for hours, drinking beers and blasting Chance The Rapper, singing karaoke at the shack with the wandering dog, Udon in the city afterwards…we were all so tired and red by the end of the day but full of so much joy. It definitely set the tone for the rest of the semester.

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Train 2.jpgSpeaking of missing trains, you become a true international student at AIU once you miss at least three trains or even buses due to reading the schedule incorrectly. I can’t tell you how many times I have been yelled at for messing the schedule up HAHA it was fine though because honestly, the memories made while waiting for missed trains are some of my favorites. Creating videos of the Mannequin Challenge because of the nonstop laughter or the photoshoots I did with my friends around the entire station.


I’m so thankful the school planned out field trips for us. I know that sounds like a cliche high school thing but these bus trips definitely gave us the chance to explore Akita more. All of the international students signed up so once again, you’d spend time with students you wouldn’t otherwise talk to during class. We went to a samurai town, aquarium, deepest lake in Japan, Oga Peninsula, and watched a Namahage performance. Not only did I explore around Akita, I was also able to travel to Tokyo twice and Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara once. Meeting up with high school friends in Tokyo, walking around Shibuya at 4am, and eating ラーメン in individual stalls are a few of my favorite memories from Tokyo. And Osaka, wow, watching Isabella get rammed in the butt by a deer begging for food was absolutely hilarious. I couldn’t breathe from laughing so hard. Or the time Isabella went running ahead of me, desperately searching for a bathroom for me at around 12am, and us ending up going to a club and dancing for 3 hours solely because I needed to use the bathroom.

The small, close-knit community and campus brought us together – eating the set lunches together everyday, chilling in Komachi lobby, staying up till 4am every night. I could list all of the wonderful memories but there’s too many to list. You wouldn’t have the sense of family at any school as we did in Akita. We were all there for each other. It was the people, definitely. Especially Patrik and Isabella. The both of them changed the course of my study abroad experience.


Patrik, man, I don’t know where to start with this guy. Be honest, right? He actually went back to Okinawa with me for the couple of weeks of winter break. We became friends after day 2 in Akita. He complimented me on my smile and I thought he was an arrogant boy. Funny how quickly things changed. Surprisingly we were in the same Japanese class (his Japanese is 10x better than mine), and as a result we were always together, studying Japanese, eating meals between classes, learning the lyrics to Childs Play, talking for hours about the meaning of life…he really loves asking people what the meaning of life was. I still remember the first time he told me about this “beautiful sadness.” I’ve always been told that sadness is a bad thing but now I understand that it’s the complete opposite. We have all gone through pain but it’s only made us aware of ourselves. Patrik made sure that I understood how sadness helps you grow. Without sadness, we wouldn’t appreciate the happiness. Every time I was down, he would come in with this dorky smile, raise his voice, and bounce his shoulders and explain to me that because I was sad now, I know that I was happy before. I made great memories and now I have those to cherish. A beautiful sadness.

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I want to share with everyone that I fell in love with someone while studying abroad. Making myself vulnerable to her seemed like a risk knowing we would only be together for a short time. But, it was a beautiful risk, creating the space for her to make me feel more protected. I experienced the most intense feelings with her…confusion, desperation, pain, heart-exploding joy, and passion. She made me happy. It has been two weeks since I last saw her smile. You know, if it’s meant to be, it will be. We might come back to each other, but we might not. You can’t let the uncertainty stop you from doing anything. Fall hard and deeply in love. Go all in, man, because when are you ever going to have the chance again? Just live in the moment and let things play out the way it’s supposed to. I’m so happy that I fell in love with her while studying abroad. My time in Akita wouldn’t have been what it was without her by my side. Thank you for being vulnerable and letting me be a part of your life.

Like I said, it was all the people. I’m not sure what I was expecting from Akita. Maybe to speak Japanese fluently, meet some cool people from Europe, and leave knowing I had “ the best time of my life” as most people claim study abroad to be. I do have to say, Akita far reached my expectations. Akita has become one of my homes to me. Thank you Akita, for the confusion, heart-exploding joy, pain, constant excitement, and beautiful sadness.


Olivia in Scotland: How Far I’ll Go

January 12, 2017

Hello everyone!

I’m back in the United States now. There are times when that’s still not real to me yet; you could say that my head carried some of the fog home from Edinburgh and it hasn’t quite cleared yet. In the midst of the readjustment and the holiday season, however, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned from my past few months abroad. Here are ten things I’ve learned about travel, about myself, and about life, in no particular order!

  1. I love discovering new places more than I ever realized I did. I found out that the walking and navigating aspect of travel is really fun for me; I like learning where things are and feeling like I’ve at least sort of figured out how to get around a city before I leave it. I never traveled to a place I didn’t like while I was abroad. There were things to enjoy everywhere I went.
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    Here’s a picture from one trip that I didn’t get to talk much about in my blog posts— I took a day trip to Stirling, which is about an hour away from Edinburgh. It’s a pretty small city, but it has an amazing castle and is surrounded by beautiful hills. It actually reminded me of a mountain town where some of my family lives back in the States.

    Like other study abroad students, I feel that this time away has given me the travel bug. It will be hard not traveling as much in the spring, but I also think it has expanded my horizons as I think about my future. Seeing new places helped me see new possibilities for my own life and helped me see how much I like traveling.

  2. I would always rather travel with other people than travel alone. My 4-day sojourn in London taught me that. I love being along for shorter periods of time, like my last morning in Paris, for instance, but I do not enjoy being alone for extended trips. It shaped how I traveled for the remainder of my time abroad and I’m glad of that.
  3. I love living near hills. This is a bit of a random one, but it’s true! To me, living near a big hill or a mountain feels like having something to rest your back against. I might feel connected to hilly places this way because my family has roots in the mountains. Ideally, though, I would love to live in a city like Edinburgh that has both hills and sea so close together.

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    It somehow felt comforting that Arthur’s Seat and the Crags were so close to where I lived this semester (those are the hills you can see behind the buildings). I don’t totally know why, but ut made it feel even more like home. 

  4. Sometimes bad things happen, maybe even your worst nightmare, but it’s not the end of the world. When I think about the tickets I messed up, the things I forgot, the transatlantic flight I missed, and so many other things, I am surprised that I made it home. More often than not, though, I found that there were things I could do to clean up the mess I made. That doesn’t mean that my mistakes didn’t cause me trouble, but I think that I learned more about being a responsible adult through my mistakes. When you’re on your own, you do have to clean up your mess yourself—but it’s more doable than you might think.
  5. Sometimes bad things happen, maybe even your worst nightmare, but you survive. Nope, I didn’t accidentally make the same point twice. This is about the things that happen that you can’t control. So many things happened that were abroad that were beyond my control, whether that had to do with sickness, relationships, or deaths. Life hit me hard while I was away. But, every day, the sun came up. I saw over and over again that the circumstances of my life do not stop the world from spinning. They make life painful, they make it a struggle, but they don’t have to define everything about you. For me, this meant giving each day to God and asking Him to help me through. Today, by the grace of God, I’m still here.
  6. You can go through the most difficult time you’ve ever gone through and still come out of it with amazing memories. Even as I look back through my various journal entries and blog posts and clearly see how much pain I went through, I also know that I legitimately enjoyed so much about this past semester. I know that it was absolutely worth it for me to go abroad. The people I met and the places I got to explore were truly unforgettable, and I feel so privileged to have gotten to experience all of this.
  7. Travel means encountering the unexpected. Sometimes you’ll be happy with the results, and sometimes you won’t be. For example, I was pleasantly surprised when I hardly ran into any rain during my travels through the stereotypically rainy U.K., but a little disappointed when my trips to Italy and France weren’t much warmer than Edinburgh (and sometimes substantially colder!). You might enjoy some major tourist sites more or less than you expected to. That’s all okay—it’s part of what transforms your travel from a mere trip into an adventure.

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    I didn’t enjoy learning about Loch Ness as much as I expected to and I didn’t like the ultra-touristy atmosphere there. However, I also didn’t expect the loch to be quite so beautiful! I ended up getting one of my favorite pictures from the trip there. 

  8. You can find family all over the world. These might be people with whom you share a common background or interest, or it might just be people who are going through something similar to you with whom you find understanding. Either way, these people are the ones who bring warmth and light to your journey once you find them.

 

 

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Here are two of those people for me! My Friends Gianna and Tyler and I share similar faith backgrounds. As brothers and sisters in Christ, that gave us a strong bond and helped us be there for each other when we needed it. It makes saying goodbye harder, which is what we were doing in this picture, but it’s still a treasure to know that I have these family members praying for me in their own corners of the world.

9. Feel what you’re feeling and don’t let anyone make you feel bad for that. I’ve talked a lot about this, but I’m still learning the importance of this now as I go through culture shock returning to the US. Wherever you might be, don’t tell yourself what you’re supposed to be feeling or not feeling; think, talk, create, whatever helps you to process and understand what you’re feeling, rather than become desensitized or let emotions build up. That will only hurt you and keep you from growing!

10. Travel makes some things less scary than they were before and does the reverse with other things. Before studying abroad, I was much more scared of traveling alone or living in a city where I didn’t know anyone than I am now. So many of the logistical things that intimidated me so much before no longer do so. To explain the scarier things, though, I’ll tell you a story.

On my last morning of my trip to Paris, I realized something. I had decided to go to Notre Dame before flying back to Edinburgh. I had already been inside once, but it was just so beautiful, and it seemed like a good place for sorting through all the things I was feeling on that particular morning. I walked alone through the streets, over the bridges, past the cotton candy clouds, until I got to the imposing cathedral. As I sat inside, it hit me: I’m less scared of staying here, in a country where I don’t even speak their language, than I am of going back home.

It seemed so strange. I could never have seen myself saying something like that just a few short months ago, and why should I be so scared to go home? Well, there were a lot of reasons for that—I was terrified of how I might feel while readjusting to life at home—but so much of that fear was because I’m not the same person I was when I left the United States back in September. I have become someone new. This new person is more independent while simultaneously knowing how much she needs people; she’s not afraid of traveling alone, she’s experienced so many new things, and she’s been through the refining fire of heartbreak. That morning, much of what weighed on my mind was how to be this new person in the old, familiar places, around people I already know. Would I be able to be a new person and still keep the friendships I had before? I knew that this was something many study abroad students face, but in that moment it still felt impossible.

I sat in the cathedral for a few more minutes, soaking in the atmosphere of the sacred space. I pulled out my phone to read a little bit of Psalm 84, which talks about the sanctuary of God’s presence and how blessed those people are who trust in Him even through the difficult times of their journey. What came to me then was a glimmer of peace: a sense that, while it would be difficult, I wouldn’t be alone. I recalled my belief that the same God to whom this awe-inspiring cathedral was built would actually be with me all the way across the ocean. If anyone can handle the impossible, it would be Him. As I walked back out into the rosy morning, I felt the strength I had drawn from what I believed to be God’s presence in that place stay with me, pushing me forward and into the unknown. With Him beside me, I can face the old and the new, and there’s no telling how far I’ll go.

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Beautiful Paris Morning, walking into a hopeful future 🙂

That’s all for my life lessons, folks! We’re coming to the end of this final blog post. If you want to hear a playlist of all the songs from my blog post titles this semester—because all but one of my titles were from songs—you can listen to that here! (Good on you if you caught on to the song titles trope already.)And now, I’ll close this post with a few pictures from my last days in Edinburgh, where I took pictures of some things I would miss about the city. I loved living here so much and will definitely be back someday soon.

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Bustling Princes Street and the majestic Scott Monument, with or without the Christmas Market

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The colorful door to my flat!

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The Georgian architecture and general feel of New Town, where I spent a lot of time with my church.

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Lovely Old Town and the lights on Edinburgh Castle at night!

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Possibly most important: THE TEA!

Thank you for being a part of my journey this semester! I hope you’ve been encouraged to explore, to feel, and to appreciate the people and places around you, whether you’re at home or abroad.

As the Scots would say—cheers!


Tori in Spain: Dear Elvira

January 11, 2017

This semester, I had the privilege of taking a class called Public Health and Social Justice with an amazing professor named Dr. Elvira. I really liked her from the beginning because she challenged us to question all of the assumptions that our society is constructed on and is a warrior for social justice. She pushed us to think very deeply, which is something I love about my classes at U of R and was not sure I would find in Spain. A couple weeks into school, I emailed her to see if she would be interested in attending the European Public Health Conference with me in Vienna this semester. To my surprise, she messaged me back and asked if I would be interested in presenting at the conference and joining in on her research.

Throughout my time in Madrid, Elvira was a constant support for me. She and the other two students that were researching with us became some of my closest friends abroad. After our abstract was accepted by the Global Health and Innovations conference, we had to record a video presentation for the next round of competition, and Elvira and I realized that we had done it wrong the night before it was due (claaaassssssiiiccc). Due to the time difference, we had until 6am to turn the project in, so we rushed to school at 10pm to get working. We stayed up until 3am to finally submit the video, getting more delirious every hour. She kept joking that she couldn’t speak English after midnight, and when we were almost done we listened to the song Breaking Free from High School Musical together (she had never seen it!) because we were finally breaking out of the closed university. Everything is funny at 3am, and we bonded deeply that night.

When my laptop and most of my belongings were stolen, Elvira selflessly lent me a laptop to use until the end of the semester. She didn’t even hesitate. She had the means to help, so of course she would. Just one more way to lay down her privilege and love someone, something she hopes to do with every action in her life. I think she succeeds.

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One of my attempts to make Tortilla this winter break!

Elvira showed me the best tortilla Espanola in Madrid (Las Rosas, es la verdad, este sitio tiene el mejor tortilla del mundo), a dish I have tried to replicate 3 times since I have been home.  One night she, Marcus, and I went out for Indian food and talked for 3 hours about faith, gender roles, family, animal ethics, responsibility to society, what we are created for, and fertility. She told me she had never felt the need to have kids because fertility is much bigger than the mere ability to bear children. Fertility is about helping things grow, investing in ideas and people that will change other things of import. Although she has never been pregnant, Elvira is one of the most fertile women I know.

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Good food, good conversation

One of my hardest experiences of my time in Madrid was leading a BocaTalk run one night, and getting verbally berated by a homeless man who was fed up with the rich trying to fix his situation without understanding it. I felt so ashamed and confused, and she was the one I came crying to. I was so upset because I knew he was right, I would never understand, and I knew my stupid sandwich and “sacrifice” of 2 hours sitting on the street would do nothing to solve his lifetime of struggle. I felt like I deserved the emotional violence I suffered at his hands due to my privileged position in society that I had truly done nothing to earn. I was frustrated because there were a thousand things I wished I had said, and a thousand more I could never communicate in Spanish. She reminded me that no matter what, no matter how deep the injustices of ones past or the level of poverty a person is experiencing, no human never has the right to rob dignity from another. Acts of violence, emotional or physical, are never deserved, regardless of the levels of inequity. I walked out of her office with a greater sense of peace in my heart, knowing the truth that I did not deserve what had happened to me, but also understanding what I symbolized for that man (power, wealth, privilege) and desiring to change the oppressive forces that have pushed him down to where he sits.

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Dear Elvira,

I am so thankful to know you.

Thank you for your wisdom. Thank you for looking for ways to surrender the power and privilege you have been given in every moment.

Thank you for demonstrating deep humility and selflessness to me.

Thank you for reminding me that it is not my fault that I was born into the privileged position I hold, and thus, I do not deserve abuse for that position.

Thank you for being my shoulder to cry on when I could not take the injustice I am surrounded with and when I felt guilty for not doing enough.

Thank you for teaching me that life is an adventure, and I don’t ever have to ascribe to societies ideas of who I should be.

Hasta pronto amiga, estoy agredecida para conocerte.

Besos,

Tori


Clara in Italy: The Mostra

January 9, 2017

This isn’t so much about Italy as it is about the culmination of my semester at UGA Cortona, which just happens to be in Italy. I’ve been in four studio classes for over 10 weeks and we put on a final show at the end exhibiting our best work from each class! It was really fun to set up–maybe that’s the theater kid in me, but I like working together on a show. I was on the matting team, so I was helping to frame all the flat works that were going to be hung on the wall. Starting bright and early at 8:30am woo woo! Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of pictures of that?? Or any?? I was really tired and out of it, but I still think I did a bomb job along with the rest of the team. 😀 Worked until 2pm, and then had to run off to the Italian language exchange (which I also have no photos of because I suck). But anyways, it was a really cool learning experience! Unsurprisingly, all the materials for matting cost way more than I want things to cost, but that’s the #artlife for you I guess. (Ten euro a board??? RIP wallet if I ever need any of this for the future.)

Anyways, the most important pictures first. Me as a cthonic monster entering the premises.

Taken by my friend Angel, the photo champ.

Actually I might post a bunch of her pictures, since she did a much better job than I did of documenting the ridiculousness of opening night.

Still there are a few good ones (or halfway decent ones idk). Such as this picture of horrible (jk I love her) roommate Hannah pointing at Angel’s sketch of the David.

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Hannah please.

If you were curious, by the way, here are three of my pieces. (I did take these ones.)

We also all received flowers from our professors who are the sweetest, and I somehow ended up with two, so I stuck them both in my hair.

Super crappy lighting, I know. Sorry. I get really awkward while taking selfies in public, which is why I look like I’m dying slightly on the inside even though I was actually having a great time.

There’s not much to say about the actual show except that I was really proud of our work and it was also really really really cold!!!! I was so cold. Most people spent a lot of time eating snacks in the sideroom where it was slightly warmer and shielded from he wind.

Here are a couple shots of the hall with people in it:

And now, a showcase of Angel’s photos (with permission):

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There’s Angel in the middle, with our art history professor Eva and Hannah the Roommate all making the Hannah(tm) photo expression.

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Me in front of my oil painting.

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Me, UNCOMFORTABLY CLOSE HECK YEAH.

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The hall empty and looking very respectable.

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Our book arts professor Julie and Hannah posing grumpily next to Julie’s piece.

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Jeff, our photography professor, ALSO UNCOMFORTABLY CLOSE HECK YEAH (but I think it’s a pretty adorable photo and he thought so too)

Anyways, that’s about it. It was a really good academic culmination. Stay determined guys! Happy holidays!


Olivia in Scotland: Hello, Goodbye

December 29, 2016

Hello everyone!

These past few weeks have been crazy, full of finals, reunions, journeys, and farewells. I even traveled from Edinburgh to Paris and back to Edinburgh again before returning to the United States. Before I write one last post reflecting on my time abroad in general, I wanted to take this time to tell you about how my final weeks have been.

Finals: Honestly, it was very difficult to muster up the motivation to work when there were so many places and, more importantly, people I wanted to see. I had one final exam on Saturday the 10th and spent the following week working on my two final exam essays for my English seminars. My solution to the problem of my academic burnout and the need to spend time with friends was primarily to see people during the afternoon/evening and then stay up late at night working on my essays—it was a weird schedule, but it worked for me. I finished my last essay with 12 hours to spare, and I have to tell you, it was a great feeling.

Reunions: In addition to wanting to spend time with all the friends I’ve made here in Edinburgh, I also saw a few friends from home during my last two weeks. I met up with a couple fellow Spiders on Monday and Tuesday of my exam week. It was wonderful to see these friends and start getting excited about being back on campus. In the midst of all my mixed emotions about returning home, it was helpful to remember the great things and people I have waiting for me back in Richmond. In addition to these Spider friends, on that Wednesday night, my best friend Taylor from my hometown arrived here in Edinburgh to visit me!

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Hot chocolate + reunion with an old friend = huge smiles 🙂

Journeys: After I finished my final essays late on that Thursday night, I got to spend the next few days showing Taylor the sights of Edinburgh. It was great having a friend in town during my last full days in the city because it always gives you extra motivation to go out and really see the city. Here are some  of the highlights from those few days:

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We went to see the Scottish National Ballet perform Hansel and Gretel–it was AMAZING!

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I introduced Taylor to Indian food for the first time ever! There is a lot of good Indian food in Edinburgh (which I’m really going to miss back home). You might not think it from her face here, but she loved it as much as I did. 

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We visited the Royal Yacht Britannia, which the Queen used to use to sail around the world before it was retired in 1997.

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We visited Leith, the norther part of the city that borders the Firth of Forth. It was a beautiful place to see one of my last Edinburgh sunsets.

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I finally had a full Scottish breakfast! This is a signature thing to do in Scotland. This one featured haggis, a tattie scone, a grilled tomato, toast, beans, sausage, a fried egg, and mushrooms. It was quite good!

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I got to climb up Arthur’s Seat one last time with Taylor on that Sunday morning. Spectacular views of a spectacular city ❤

After all our Edinburgh sightseeing, Taylor and I flew to PARIS together on Sunday night! We had two full days there and saw some absolutely beautiful things. This was our first trip to Paris for both of us, and it was incredibly surreal to be walking around Paris with such an old friend. I’m so glad we got to have this trip together. I could talk about this trip for a very long time—we saw a lot in a very short period of time, and it was truly amazing to go somewhere that you’ve heard about and seen in the movies your entire life. Here are just some of the highlights from that journey:

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Notre Dame, a.k.a. one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Its beauty is truly awesome. 

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Freezing, but we did the thing—we saw the tower, waited in line, and went up!

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The Palais Garnier, also known as the Paris Opera House! I have dreamed of going here for years because it is the setting of Phantom of the Opera. On Box 5, there is a sign calling it the Phantom of the Opera’s box. I pretty much died of happiness. 

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I spent my last morning in Paris walking alone by the Seine near Notre Dame. There were pink fluffy clouds floating along that you can see here, and it looked just like something out of a movie or off of a postcard. 

Farewells: On the Sunday night before Taylor and I flew to Paris, we attended my final Sunday service at my church in Edinburgh. It was a carol service and it was very special. I had the privilege of being involved in the music for it, and it was nice to participate so much on my last Sunday there with the people I have played music with this semester. I could hardly believe as I sat there that I might never see the people in that room again on this earth. As bittersweet as that service was, however, I know that I will see those people again eventually, in the next world if not this one.

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Some of my closest church friends whom I will miss very much. The three of us actually performed an a capella version of The Little Drummer Boy at that last service, which was a really fun way to end our time together. 

Saying goodbye to my friends and to this city was difficult. It was odd to be bidding these friends farewell even as I was also being reunited with several friends from back home. I felt so torn between the two worlds. I wish it was possible for me to combine both of them and have all the people I love in one place—if only the world worked that way. Even with my final trips of the semester, I felt as though I had to say “hello” and “goodbye” in the same breath to the places I was visiting, like Paris. In any case, though, I feel so blessed to have made such wonderful friends in Edinburgh and to have seen so many beautiful places, and I am also excited to spend time with my family and see my friends back in Richmond again.

Actually, it was so hard to say goodbye to Edinburgh that I almost failed to do so. Remember that post back in the beginning of my time abroad where I mixed up a lot of dates and times and had to switch trains and all of that with my trips to London? I’ve been pretty honest about my travel mistakes on this blog. Well, I made the biggest travel mistake yet the other day: I missed my flight home. Yep. Just imagine the heart attack I had when that happened. Thankfully, and I still don’t know how, the United airlines staff switched me to the exact same flight the following morning and didn’t even charge me anything extra! I was absolutely astonished but so happy about it. It was extremely stressful, but it did give me an extra day in the city and allowed me to go home on the same flight as one of my closest study abroad friends from Edinburgh. All in all, I’m actually glad that it happened.

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I got to spend time with my friend Gianna on that extra day in the city, and because we were on the same flight home, we even got to hang out briefly on the American side of the Atlantic. I was glad to have some surprise extra time with such a great friend. 🙂

And on that note, I’ll close this whirlwind of a post. Stay tuned for one last reflection on my time abroad. Till next time!


Naomi at Akita Week 16: Finals

December 29, 2016


Isabella invited a couple of us to come over around 10pm since she was making a huge pot of stew. The stew came out soupy but it was still super 美味しい (delicious). It was a very chill night. We became pretty nostalgic knowing that it was the last week of classes. Isshin started playing the guitar and we sang some songs together, including Sorry by Justin Bieber and Closer by The Chainsmokers. I found out that Isabella bought the guitar on the “AIU Buy & Sell” Facebook page for only ¥1000. I was surprised considering Isabella doesn’t play the guitar; she said she always wanted to learn though which is why she bought it. Turns out Isshin wanted the guitar too but someone had beaten him to it. He found out it was Isabella when we got to the room HAHA!


I’m really going to miss my Japanese classes – JPL300, Reading, and Kanji. We all had such a great time joking around and attempting at understanding Japanese grammar. Our JPL300 teacher never spoke English so it made us try harder in speaking Japanese. We all struggled together with the exams, ポスター発表 (poster presentation), and endless amount of homework. I’m feeling sentimental just writing this all down. I’m most likely never going to see any of these people again but we all became a family. It was nice meeting so many people that shared the same interest as me in learning Japanese. Man, what a great semester.


Isabella and I decided to get dinner together at the AEON mall as a goodbye, although I’m going to see her again next week before I actually leave Akita, thankfully. We got McDonald’s for dinner…I was planning on getting the エビフライ (shrimp burger) but when we got up to order Isabella pointed at the Mega Mac picture. She told me I should get it and I felt up to the challenge so I ordered the burger with four patties in it…oh man, I was so full. And to top it all off, Isabella practically forced me to help her finish her food. I ate four more chicken nuggets and finished up her fries. I couldn’t walk afterwards. After McDonald’s…oh, by the way, I don’t know what it is exactly but McDonald’s in Japan is so good. Compared to the states, it’s more flavorful. Like I said, I don’t know what it is but man, I love Japanese McDonald’s. Okay, so after McDonald’s, we took プリクラ (sticky pictures) together! I look so funny in the pictures with my big eyes and weirdly shaped heads. I love taking these pictures though because you always turn out looking super girly. Also, you get to design the pictures and write/draw whatever you want on them. We walked around the mall some more, looking in shops, and ended up buying some Mister Donut. Oh, and Isabella asked a random mom to take our picture in front of the Christmas tree. We’re trying to get in the holiday spirit so you know.

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This is a funny story. Annabelle found a bug in her room; apparently it jumped on her hand while she was writing her paper. She immediately freaked out and started messaging everyone to come to her room and kill it. No one was willing to do it because everyone else is also afraid of bugs. I asked her if it was a cockroach before going over to kill the bug for her because if it were a cockroach then I wouldn’t want to kill it. Cockroaches creep me out…along with centipedes. Anyways, when I walked in her room, I found her standing 6 feet away from her desk (where the bug was), staring at the bug to not lose sight of it. I immediately started laughing. I took some tissue and killed it. I held it up to her to show her that the bug was harmless but she started trying to get into the suitcase and wow, I laughed so hard tears started rolling down my face. Turns out the bug was a stink bug and it actually started smelling a bit.


This past week has just been snow…everywhere. I don’t have boots so walking around has been quite the struggle. To top it off, my shoes have holes in them so my toes are basically frozen by the time I get back inside from walking outside. The snow looks very beautiful though. I couldn’t believe it when I woke up one morning and walked to my morning Japanese class. I was in awe.


Sandy and I got lunch together at the restaurant near campus as a goodbye lunch (I’m also going to see her again next week before I leave though, thankfully). I never thought to go to the restaurant because I have a meal plan on campus. All students from AIU get a discount from this restaurant though so that was nice! Sandy was craving meat so she got pork cutlet with a small bowl of udon. I decided to follow and ordered pork cutlet with egg. The egg was still bubbling when it got to the table and it was absolutely delicious. Sandy enjoyed her meal so much she literally said “yum yum” after every bite. You know, after knowing her for this long, I still don’t know her age? She won’t tell me. She said she’s going to wait until we say bye to each other to tell me….oh brother.

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Well, this post isn’t as eventful since it was just finals week. Many people are leaving tomorrow to go back home or go on trips before they leave Akita. Next week is finals week but many students were able to get their finals pushed up, like me. I was able to move up my International Trade final to this week; thankfully all of my other classes had finals scheduled for this week. Since I have another 6 days till I leave Akita, Isabella and I decided to take a trip to Osaka! We leave tomorrow morning and will be there till the 21st. We come back to Akita on that day and leave the following morning. So, I’ll still be able to see my friends when I get back on the 21st. I can’t believe this semester has come to an end. Time flies when you’re having fun, huh? I’m trying not to get to nostalgic and upset about leaving Akita…yet. I’m going to enjoy my time in Osaka – sightseeing, shopping, and eating good food! I’m super excited! I also definitely have to buy some birthday and Christmas gifts for my mom, Tyler, and Patrik. Like I said, Patrik is going home to Okinawa with me this winter break. They all have December birthdays….can you believe it?


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!


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