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!


Naomi at Akita Week 17: Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara!

January 9, 2017

I’m going to briefly go over each day in Osaka. I just want you all to know that I had a wonderful time there; it was a great trip to end study abroad. Isabella and I even made it out to Nara and Kyoto as well with the hour-long train rides. I’m so excited to share my trip with you all! Okay, here we go…it may be a lot but just bear with me.

DAY 1
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So, the first day we got to Osaka we arrived at our Airbnb place at around 4pm. We unpacked and rested for a bit before heading out. Since we didn’t have the whole day we decided to walk around our area. The Shinsaibashi shopping arcade was only a 4-minute walk away so we decided to head there. Isabella and I were both pretty hungry and ended up finding the Luke’s Lobster place that was recommended as one of the foods to try in Osaka on Facebook. Oh my gosh…I don’t even know how to describe how delicious this lobster sandwich was…it was drenched in butter and the sandwich was just filled with fresh lobster. My mouth was watering…man, now I want it again.


After walking a little longer, Isabella and I ended up in Dotonbori. We were pretty surprised since we weren’t expecting everything to be so close in walking distance. But look! This is the running man I was talking about in my first post! Apparently it’s not an actual person but just an ad created by Glico to inspire and motivate athletes. It was so surreal being in Osaka. I always look up the city online and see pictures of it on Google images. I always thought the huge displays of food and the flashing lights were super cool so actually being there and seeing it…wow. Isabella and I stood on some benches and took sooo many pictures.


You know we had to get some たこ焼き (takoyaki). I mean, Osaka is famous for this food. Isabella and I were mesmerized watching the two women cook the takoyaki, putting the octopus in, and flipping the balls around. It was a true art form, really. Let me tell you, it tasted delicious. I’ve eaten takoyaki before in Tokyo and Okinawa and it does not compare to takoyaki in Osaka. Man, this was only the beginning of all the good food we ate during our trip.


After eating takoyaki, Isabella and I walked around even more and bought some お土産 (souveniers) for our family and friends. Then, I made her try だんご (dango), similar to mochi, covered with a sweet sauce. THEN, after walking around even more we got pretty hungry (again), so we decided to eat ラーメン (ramen). There was this one outdoor restaurant that seated only about 15 people at a time. There was a very long line but ラーメン is a very important food to Isabella so, of course, we were both willing to wait in line for about 30 minutes. It was well worth it. The restaurant even allowed you to top the ramen with unlimited kimchi…Isabella and I both really like spicy food so you can imagine how much we piled on.


I thought the lighting everywhere was pretty cool. There was one street lined with lit up trees and it was beautiful. There were also several street performers playing holiday music. Man, I still can’t believe Christmas is so soon.

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Isabella and I ended at the river at Dotonbori. It took me so many tries to take this picture. Kevin messed with my camera and changed the settings, forcing me to learn how to take more creative pictures. So, I have to mess with the settings in order to figure out the correct aperture, ISO, and what not. I’m grateful he did that for me but Isabella had to wait for about 5 minutes before I could get some good pictures. I actually yelled out “KEVIIIIIN” while taking pictures, making Isabella laugh but also roll her eyes. Oh man.

DAY 2
We took several trains to Nara solely to feed some deer. We didn’t eat until we got to Nara (it took us about an hour to get there) and guess what we ate? McDonald’s!! I know we should try eating all the Japanese food we can but let me tell you, there’s nothing like some Japanese McDonald’s. I got the エビフライ (shrimp burger) and man, mouth watering, again.


I was surprised to see how big Nara Park really was…I mean there were temples and shrines everywhere, some of them even classified as UNESCO world heritage sites. I tried taking a picture of the five-story Kofuku-ji but it was almost impossible. That’s the best picture I could get and still, the first story is cut off a bit. Isabella and I walked for a bit until we finally caught sight of one deer. Isabella immediately started freaking out. When she got close to one and tried petting it for the first time she actually jumped. She was terrified but after we bought deer snacks sold at the stands, she felt comfortable petting and feeding the deer. Isabella found out online that the deer can actually bow so she had some of them do that before feeding them. Also, after feeding one deer we wanted to go feed a different one but the deer would refuse because it wanted more food. One ended up even ramming its face into Isabella’s butt. I couldn’t stop laughing.


After Nara, we headed back to our area and went to the Kuromon Ichiba Market, trying even more delicious food. Originally, we wanted to try sea urchin and clams but decided against it because it was a bit pricey. Instead, we tried crabmeat mixed with corn and melted cheese. We also bought some Toro sushi…oh man, I’m sorry I keep saying that but wow, my mouth was watering once again. You all just need to go to Osaka. They have such a variety of delicious food. Isabella did most of the research on food so she told me that we had to find quail egg stuffed octopi. I was so eager to try it when she first mentioned it to me a couple weeks back. When we finally found it we decided to eat the octopi tentacles first. After we both ate the head in one bite and WOW, the egg taste was overwhelming…in a good way, of course.

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After the market, we walked to アメ村, an Americanized shopping area. My friend Ami, the one who visited me in Akita, recommended the area to us. Once again, we were surprised by how close it was by foot. We ended up walking into several stores solely for the music. It was nice hearing American music again. In Japan, you’re allowed to drink in public so we did that and ended up sharing a pizza later that night. Isabella had been craving pizza for a while now. Well, and pasta…just any Italian food in general.

DAY 3
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On our third day, we headed out to Kyoto to Arashiyama. My mom’s friend recommended this place as she used to live in Kyoto. We had to take several trains to get there – about an hour ride again. Our friends from AIU, Annabelle and Chris, came to Osaka as well and decided to meet up with us there. So, Isabella and I walked to Lawson to buy some riceballs and instant pho to eat breakfast before they came.

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When Chris and Annabelle finally arrived we started making our way to the bamboo grove. It’s a popular tourist destination, as the walkway is just surrounded by long bamboo sticks. It was beautiful. I bet pandas would be in heaven if they lived in Arashiyama. Afterwards, we walked around the area a bit more, passing more UNESCO World Heritage sites, such as temples. We decided to head to the bridge and found ourselves next to a river. There were several trees lined up next to the river. I bet during the fall the color of the leaves look absolutely beautiful. Despite it being December, some of the trees had orange and yellow leaves clinging on.


After Arashiyama, we made our way to Iwatayama Park…the monkeys. We had to climb up thousands of stairs to get to the park, as it was secluded from civilization since monkeys just roamed around the area. I’m telling you, after this trip I never wanted to walk up stairs again. Anyways, when we finally got to the top we found ourselves surrounded by monkeys. Some of them even started fighting around us. I thought one of the angry monkeys was going to run into me – thankfully, it didn’t. There was a feeding area where people had to go inside and feed the monkeys through cages. It was only 100yen for a bag of either peanuts or apple slices. Isabella fed some monkeys and even fist bumped one of them. Another monkey grabbed Annabelle’s phone but it was too big to go through the cage so the phone was saved!

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We started to get a bit hungry so we rushed over to the Nishiki Market via train. Thankfully we made it before closing time. We tried some black sesame mochi, fried vegetables, and matcha ice cream. I found this well-known, yet secluded, soy milk doughnut shop. This is a cool display I saw in the market. I waited for this guy to move so I could take a picture of it but he stood there for about 10 minutes. My lack of patience got to me though so here’s a picture of the guy standing in front of the display!

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To end our day, we headed to the Fushimi-Inari Shrine! We passed only about 5 people while walking through the gates. Going at night was definitely the move, despite having to change my settings on my camera for 10 minutes. We wanted to walk all the way to the top of the mountain but we realized we did not make any movement on the map after climbing up stairs for 20 minutes. We were all very tired from walking around so we went to a local restaurant and ate some ramen, which was delicious by the way, and headed home!

DAY 4


WE WENT TO UNIVERSAL STUDIOS ON OUR LAST FULL DAY IN OSAKA! It was super cool. I felt like a kid again. Isabella and I did research beforehand and discovered that going on more than 2 rides at USJ was nearly impossible due to how busy the park gets. Knowing that, we decided to head straight to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to ensure we would get on the ride inside Hogwarts. We waited in line for about two hours – this was after entering the park about 30 minutes after opening hours. No worries though, I brought a deck of cards with me so we played war while waiting in line!


Here are some pictures of what we ate and rank at USJ. I don’t know what I was expecting from Butter Beer but wow, it was sweet and tasted like caramel. We got a hot and cold one and just shared both drinks. Of course, we had to make sure to get the moustache going on. We also ate chocolate filled matcha churritos, turkey legs, and this chowder…I forgot the name of it. All the food was very delicious. I know it’s typical to eat turkey legs at carnivals and theme parks but this was actually my first time trying one and I gotta say, I regret never buying one before.


Altogether, Isabella and I made it onto three rides. In addition to the HP ride, we rode the Flying Dinosaur and this Jurassic Ride, similar to Splash Mountain. I saw the waiting line was only 30 minutes for the Jurassic Ride so I dragged Isabella along even though she was adamant about not getting wet. You wouldn’t believe our luck. We were placed in the first row so of course, we got soaked!


I didn’t know this till later at the park but apparently the Christmas tree there holds a World Guinness Record for having the most lights on an artificial tree…yeah, something like that. There was a performance before the lighting of the tree and I felt like the entire park had come to this one area just to see the tree. I could not move an inch without rubbing against someone else. The lights on the tree kept changing colors after it was lit. There were fireworks. It definitely put us in the holiday spirit.

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After USJ, we headed back to our area to show Annabelle and Chris Dotonbori. It was around 915pm when Isabella decided she wanted to go to the small animal café we had passed the first night we got there. It closed at 10 but she really wanted to go. Chris and Annabelle were both down to go. Tristan decided to stay back and find some food – vegetarian options. Well, you wouldn’t believe it but for about 10 minutes we sprinted through the shopping arcade, through Dotonbori, and through several crowds. I almost ran into some people as the streets were crowded. I was in the lead so Isabella followed me while Annabelle followed her. Chris couldn’t run as fast because of his heavy shoes and backpack but thankfully, we never lost him. We finally made it to the café, ordered our strawberry flavored drinks, and played with some animals. It was crazy holding a hedgehog, chinchilla, ferret, rabbit, rat, and rabbit. The woman working there brought a closed hand over and told Isabella to open her hand but Isabella ran behind me knowing there was something bad in her hand. I held my hand open instead and she placed a baby rat in my hand. It was so cute with its small tail!

DAY 5


I have to say, this Osaka trip was one for the books. I’m pretty sure I like Osaka more than Tokyo. Osaka has more to offer with food and UNESCO World Heritage Sites…also, Kyoto and Nara are easily accessible by train so you have even more to see! I was upset to say bye to Chris, Annabelle, and Tristan. They stayed in Osaka for another day and flew out from there to go back home to America. Isabella and I headed back to Akita before heading back home. The Colorado Crew were the first people I had to say bye to so it started to hit me that study abroad was indeed coming to an end. What a bittersweet feeling. Isabella and I headed back home to Akita and got ready for our departure our following day. I will be writing my last post soon, writing about my last hours in Akita and the travels back home to Okinawa. Anyways, Osaka was a great time and a great trip to wrap up study abroad! If you’re ever in Japan, please do yourself the favor and go to either Kyoto or Osaka, and make sure to take the day trip to Nara.

By the way, look at my cool socks that I bought in Osaka! All sushi!


Olivia in Scotland: Celebration

November 29, 2016

Hi everyone!

Last week was a big one for me—it was my 21st birthday and Thanksgiving right in a row! I got to experience what having these celebrations in a foreign country is like, and despite all the ups and downs, I ended up having an amazing time.

On my birthday, which was Wednesday, November 23rd, I took snapchats of all my birthday-related activites (I kind of like using snapchat if you haven’t picked up on that). Here’s what my birthday was like for me in Scotland.

First, tea.

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Good start to a day of celebration 🙂

I spent time with both older and newer friends on my birthday, and after class in the morning I spent time with one of my closest study abroad friends I’ve made here in Edinburgh.

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One thing you’ll find when you have your birthday in another time zone is that your celebration gets extended! My birthday started here before it did back home and ended later back home than it did here, so that means a longer amount of time for birthday wishes from family and friends. In fact, my first real birthday activities were my family and my best friend from home FaceTiming me to wish me happy birthday, despite it still being the night beforehand in their time zone. Even though I really missed the people who were far away, it was kind of nice to have an extended birthday 🙂

 

Next came the best part of my whole birthday this year: my best friend from UR flew in from her study abroad program in Europe to visit me!!

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It was so very nice to be with someone who knows me so well on such a big birthday. It made me feel a little bit like I really was home. I got to show her around the city on my birthday and over the next couple days, which included going on the Potter Trail together. (That’s the free walking tour of all Harry Potter-related Edinburgh locations.)

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Then Faith and I tried out a tea place in New Town called Eteaket that I had been wanting to go to for a long time. I highly recommend it! It was also a great place to catch up with an old friend.

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We went to my church’s weekly connect group together where we had dinner, studied God’s Word and talked about Advent, and Faith got to meet a lot of my friends here. It was fun being around so many people I care about on this special day.

You may have noticed that I drank a whole lot of tea on my birthday. Being here in the U.K. has definitely fed the flames of my tea obsession. I’m actually not sure how many cups I had already drunk that day (at least 4 I’d say between breakfast, my rather large tea latte with Gianna, and my entire pot of tea at Eteaket), but did that stop me from having another cup at connect group? Nope.

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To finish out the night, I took Faith back through the Christmas markets and we got Nutella donuts from a stand there called the Nutella House. The Edinburgh Christmas Market is incredible. There are all kinds of food and rides and gifts and Christmas music. You can hardly help but feel happy and get in the Christmas spirit when you walk through that market. It was a great way to end the night—before Faith and I stayed up talking for hours and hours, of course, because that’s what best friends do.

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That’s about everything I did on my actual birthday. The next day, however, instead of having a traditional Thanksgiving, I actually had a birthday party at my flat with all of my friends here. One thing to note about turning 21 in most foreign countries is that you can already purchase alcohol there by age 18. It does take the impact out of your birthday a little bit and you might have to remind some of your friends why it’s such a big deal to you. However, I did get the experience of being carded for the first time when I bought some wine from the grocery store for my wine and cheese-themed birthday party, so I feel like I pretty much experienced that side of turning 21 about as much as I needed to.

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The party was a success, full of food, laughs, Cotton Eye Joe, and also music that was actually good 😉

So, that’s how my birthday was over here in Scotland! I really enjoyed celebrating with my sweet friends here in Edinburgh. It didn’t feel quite as perfect as it might seem, perhaps; especially leading up to it, there were moments where I wanted nothing more than to be home with my family, particularly since my twin brother was celebrating his birthday as well and this was one of the first birthdays where we weren’t together. Like much of my study abroad experience, the pictures make it look more clear-cut than it actually is. You will feel lonely at times if you celebrate your birthday away from home. However, you can still do everything you can to find home where you are. That’s what I tried to do for this special day. For the most part, I think I succeeded in this, but I can’t really take any of the credit for that. God has blessed me in incredible ways here with friends who feel more like family. In all the ups and downs, these people who God intentionally placed in my life have been there for me. I’m so very thankful for that. I’m thankful for the bright spots of light that my friends were for me on these cold Edinburgh nights.

To close, I actually did get to have a real Thanksgiving dinner here with my church! They held an outreach event on Sunday night where we a dinner of American-esque Thanksgiving cuisine followed by a ceilidh, or Scottish dance. I loved the multiculturalism of having an American activity followed by a Scottish activity—like being home, but with a twist! It was such a fun night. It reminded me of a few things that I’m thankful for: my family and friends back home, my church family here, everyone who came to the ceilidh, good food, good tea, ceilidh dancing (because it’s super fun), and the love of Christ. He is the source of all good things and I am so thankful to Him.

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Some of my friends from the ceilidh! I danced a little too hard, because my legs hurt a lot now, but it was still totally worth it. I had a wonderful time.

Happy belated Thanksgiving! Till next time!


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