Olivia in Scotland: The Deep Breath

September 9, 2016

Hello, everyone! My name is Olivia. I’m a junior, I’m an English major with a minor in Film Studies, and I am about to leave to study abroad at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland for the fall semester!

A little bit about me and things that drew me to Edinburgh: Like pretty much all English majors, I love reading great books. My reading is part of what led me to apply to study at UoE (University of Edinburgh). Three of my favorite authors studied there: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the Sherlock Holmes novels), J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan), and J.K. Rowling (the Harry Potter series!). Imagine getting to write in a coffeeshop where the author of Harry Potter often wrote. In preparation for my journey, I watched all eight of the Harry Potter movies again, this time paying special attention to the scenery. Most of the film locations are in Scotland so I am really hoping to go to some of these places!

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While there’s no castle up on the hill, the Black Lake in Harry Potter isa real place in scotland called Loch Shiel. 

Two of the other biggest things about me that will likely influence this blog are my identities as a musician and a Christian. Beyond analyzing literature and film, these two things are my life, and they greatly determine what I am drawn towards in my travels. I am very interested in the music and dance of Scotland and I plan to attend a ceilidh, or Scottish folk dance, during UoE’s Welcome Week. I have no idea how to do those kind of dances yet, but we’ll see if I can learn it! Scotland was also historically a stronghold of Presbyterianism; it was a place where Christianity informed the lives of every person and sometimes inspired uprisings, particularly towards the English when they tried to alter the way the Scottish Kirk, or Church of Scotland, operated. While much less of the Scottish population attends church today, this colorful religious background may still impact their culture today. I am excited to see how the churches in Scotland differ from my experience in American churches and to see how my own faith develops during my Scottish sojourn.

If you’re a student considering studying abroad at University of Edinburgh or many other UK institutions, be forewarned: the semesters start a few weeks later than the semesters at University of Richmond do. That might sound like an ideal situation to you; you get a longer summer that way, right? That’s certainly true, but I can now personally attest to the fact that a summer that is three weeks longer than everyone else’s can feel pretty strange. I’ve mostly been at home with very little to do for the past few weeks. Like many students in today’s world, I thrive on being busy and making sure that I’m not missing out on anything, so it has been a weird feeling. I have seen all of my friends, UR and otherwise, posting pictures and talking about their new semesters, whether they’re going abroad like me or just being back at their colleges with their friends. While I have treasured the extra time I was able to spend with my loved ones at home, I have also really wanted to be out there doing something with everybody else. I actually went back and visited UR for a day last week to help out with the activities fair; again, it was wonderful seeing my friends, but I definitely felt out of place.

Now, I’m going to very briefly quote from Lord of the Rings, but don’t let me lose you if you’re not a Tolkien fan!—In The Return of the King during the silent period before the big battle starts, Gandalf says to Pippin, “It’s the deep breath before the plunge.” That’s what the past few weeks have felt like to me. I’ve taken in a lot of information about Scotland, I’ve gotten plenty of lazy days, I’ve said goodbye to so many people multiple times, I’ve packed my suitcase so many different ways.

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Yes, I said “suitcase,” singular. Because I’m bringing my ukelele with me, I have to bring my backpack as my carry-on and fit everything else in my larger checked bag #thestruggle #musicianlife

The good thing about the extra time for a deep breath is, I think I’m ready to breathe out now. I’m still really scared about navigating a new place where I don’t really know anyone and I’m sad that my loved ones won’t be with me, but I’m excited, and I’ve done about as much as I can do to prepare. The next time I post, I will finally be in the city of Edinburgh and experiencing their orientation week. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. —now it’s time to dive into my Scottish adventure!

Wish me luck or keep me in your prayers!


Emily in Samoa: a Fiafia, a Fale, a Fresh Dose of Zika

March 15, 2016
Our host mothers await our turn at the fiafia

Our host mothers await our turn at the fiafia

 

Do you ever have a feeling that your whole life has been leading up to a single event? That everything you have learned, practiced, and hoped for may culminate in a single night? Maybe it’s a graduation ceremony, a wedding, a race…or maybe you are dressed in feathers and leis, with makeup smeared on your cheeks, surrounded by village women in a Samoan fale.

If you’re not visualizing this moment yet, picture this: myself, dressed as aforementioned, seated in the middle of an open building. A group of women sit on the other side, singing traditional songs to the accompaniment of a guitar. Their music stops, and they look expectantly at me and the other students. It’s our turn. Now picture a melodica, bright pink with zigzag designs on the edges. I play a jazz riff, and my friends begin harmonizing to Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog.”

Yes, my life was truly building up to this moment—all my piano lessons, theater camps, high school lectures… They all culminated in this melodica- and lei-filled evening. But allow me to explain how we ended up here.

 

The family gets me ready for the fiafia.

The family gets me ready for the fiafia.

 

The fiafia marks the end of our village stay, and is a noncompetitive dance-off between the students and their host mothers. The entire village comes to watch, cheering constantly regardless of performers’ talent. Between numbers, the mothers put on palagi songs, and drag us onstage individually to dance. Samoan-style dances, to melodies like “Watch Me Whip,” and “Summer Lovin’” from Grease.

The fiafia is not only a good zenith for my life in general, it is also a great end to this week’s adventures. When we were not playing with siblings, relaxing with parents, or going on excursions to gorgeous waterfalls, we immersed ourselves in various aspects of Samoan tradition. We attended a fa’alavelave, and were able to see a plethora of fine mats and cans of corned beef be exchanged in the gift ceremony.

One of the most memorable experiences we’ve had was building an umu, or traditional Samoan fire. With the umu, we participated in activities like making palu sami, a Samoan dish that is made of coconut cream wrapped in breadfruit leaves, wrapped in taro leaves, wrapped in banana leaves, and cooked over a fire. Our meal also featured dishes like beaten octopus, fresh shark, and a sweet pounded breadfruit dessert.

Breadfruit cooks on the umu. Right insert "octopus" caption: beating the octopus

Breadfruit cooks on the umu.

 

Beating the Octopus

Beating the octopus

 

The dish least for the faint of heart was the main attraction: the pig. I now know just how to kill and eviscerate one, though I don’t think I’ll be doing so in the near future.

I suppose the pictures say it all, but this week was an adventure, and we’ve had some experiences that I’d never thought I’d be a part of…the pig especially. And just when I thought there couldn’t be more surprises, I got the biggest one of them all: the Zika virus.

Don’t worry. When you aren’t pregnant, all that results from the virus is exhaustion, followed by a rash that made me look like an ambulatory Chicken Pock. Many people (including one of our directors) have gotten the virus, though I was the first in the village and in the entire SIT program to do so. It caused a bit of a stir, but once we all realized that nothing major was going to happen, we moved on. It’s quite amazing that the media in far-off countries has not been able to do so, but I’m sure it looks much more exciting from thousands of miles away.

So there you have it. I can disembowel a pig, I can play the melodica to meet anyone’s Samoan dance-off needs, and I have hopefully developed some immunity to the newest mosquito-borne sensation. It’s been quite a week!

One of our side trips to the volcanic crater, To Sua

One of our side trips to the volcanic crater, To Sua


Dan in Argentina: Playing the Tourist Role

September 23, 2015
Ahh, el Tango... The Tango is not only a seductively romantic dance but also a popular type of music. In Buenos Aires, although the Tango may be becoming antiquated to everyday culture, it is still very much alive for the tourists and those authentic porteños (residents of Buenos Aires) who wish to maintain the tradition. I went to a traditional milonga where the locals go to dance, and it was amazing. The sounds of the accordion and violin create the perfect backdrop to the most beautiful dances you can witness.

Ahh, el Tango… The Tango is not only a seductively romantic dance but also a popular type of music. In Buenos Aires, although the Tango may be becoming antiquated to everyday culture, it is still very much alive for the tourists and those authentic porteños (residents of Buenos Aires) who wish to maintain the tradition. I went to a traditional milonga where the locals go to dance, and it was amazing. The sounds of the accordion and violin create the perfect backdrop to the most beautiful dances you can witness.

 

As one might expect in Latin America, the fruit is very fresh. At the bottom of my apartment building is a fruit and vegetable shop. Every day, my host mom buys fresh vegetables for that night's dinner and fresh fruit for the next morning. Every day, when I get home, I always peer over and smile at the vibrant colors and amazing smells!

As one might expect in Latin America, the fruit is very fresh. At the bottom of my apartment building is a fruit and vegetable shop. Every day, my host mom buys fresh vegetables for that night’s dinner and fresh fruit for the next morning. Every day, when I get home, I always peer over and smile at the vibrant colors and amazing smells!

 

From the steps of the Central Bank, you have a beautiful view of the modernity of great skyscrapers and the history of the Casa Rosada (Pink House). The Casa Rosada holds the executive offices of the President. I toured the building and got to see all its beauty inside and out. While some old wallpaper held small stains and the original floors looked a little beat up, these imperfections added to the authenticity of its history. Interestingly, the building is pink because at one point it was believed that, to protect against the summer humidity in Buenos Aires, it was good practice to preserve the exterior walls with a mixture of lime and cows blood.

From the steps of the Central Bank, you have a beautiful view of the modernity of great skyscrapers and the history of the Casa Rosada (Pink House). The Casa Rosada holds the executive offices of the President. I toured the building and got to see all its beauty inside and out. While some old wallpaper held small stains and the original floors looked a little beat up, these imperfections added to the authenticity of its history. Interestingly, the building is pink because at one point it was believed that, to protect against the summer humidity in Buenos Aires, it was good practice to preserve the exterior walls with a mixture of lime and cows blood.

 

The Colon Theater is ranked as the third best concert hall in the world. Its acoustics are unmatched and its beauty is ridiculous. I am unsatisfied with the photos I got inside because they do not properly display the grandeur of the building. I plan to go back with my friends from UR and we'll be sure to get a group pic!

The Colon Theater is ranked as the third best concert hall in the world. Its acoustics are unmatched and its beauty is ridiculous. I am unsatisfied with the photos I got inside because they do not properly display the grandeur of the building. I plan to go back with my friends from UR and we’ll be sure to get a group pic!


KyungSun in Scotland: Scattered

March 26, 2015

Things that have been on my mind lately: homesickness, booking flights, buying Edinburgh concert tickets, prescription waste, Harry Potter Pub Quiz, and what I’m having for lunch today. These are a reflection of the many things I am juggling this week. If there was a way to see my thoughts, it would certainly look like a scribbly 2 year-old doodle. So perhaps the best way to give you a better picture of my thoughts is to sketch them out separately. Here goes:

When you’re trying to move on…

Homesickness is like the cold that refuses to go away. It gives you a headache, it’s all you think about, and even when you find a distraction, it still lurks underneath. It’s persistent because when you’re dealing with problems, you usually want to do three things: shut down, shut everyone out, or let everyone in to help you. I think the best place to do all three is at home with your family. I’ve mostly been missing the ease and comfort of home. Being abroad means you have to make a lot of decisions on your own, and lately, I’ve had to make some headache-inducing money decisions. Numbers already stress me out (social sciences all the way!) and after a stressful number-crunching session, takeout and staying in bed become very attractive options.

If you just booked a budget-flight…

Like me, you’d probably be a bit scared. Germanwings’ latest crash struck my heart for the 150 people that were on board and their families. I pray that they find strength during their time of grief. I can’t even imagine how shocking it is knowing that your loved one is gone unexpectedly and how infuriating it is not knowing the cause of the crash. The pilot was experienced, there was no distress signal, and I pray that they find the other black box soon. It could have been anyone. I recently booked two flights to Athens and Rome from a budget-airline before the crash. It’s nerve-racking and another source of stress, but I’m trying to remind myself to have hope in all things – hope that everything will eventually be okay.

Here is a good summary to the story in case you don’t know about it yet: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-32035121

Finding good music to keep you sane…

Despite the difficulty in managing money, I’m reminding myself what exactly I’m buying. One of those things are concert tickets. My goal is to visit as many theatres and performance venues in Edinburgh as possible. I hear they are beautiful! Some of them are in old churches or historic buildings which will also make it an even more unique experience compared to performances in the States. Now, as much as I love that Usher is coming to Glasgow (Scotland’s biggest city), I’m also a big fan of musicals and classical music. I know, I know. It’s “outdated”. But I instilled a deep appreciation for it by growing up singing classical music. Plus, contemporary and classical instrument fusion is awesome (see link below for proof). I’m also using UR’s cultural reimbursements, which has eased the burden that I may be coming home broke.

 

 

When you go against the World Health Organization….

My MSP told me earlier this month about a life-changing health idea: donating unused medicines to developing countries. I was immediately intrigued and he said he wanted me to look into how to set up this program in Scotland. Success! I now found my topic for my 5,000 word internship research paper. After looking more into it, I discovered that there is a lot of prescription waste in both Scotland, the UK, and the US. This is not to say that our countries are inefficient. Less than 50% of this waste is actually unavoidable due to for example, people switching treatments or passing away before finishing their medicines. However, the avoidable waste is what I’m most concerned with, especially if they are caused by inefficiencies in our prescribing practices. Of course, like with all foreign aid, I have to be careful of the unintended consequences that may come from drug donations. Apparently the World Health is not a fan of donating medicines abroad. However, hopefully my research will lead me to discover some safe, sustainable, and legal practices!

When you’re breathing the same air as J.K. Rowling…

I have yet to see Ms. Rowling herself. I haven’t checked if she’s out on tour, but my friend does know where she lives…Despite the fact that J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter in Edinburgh, HP it’s not a big tourist hype here. There is, however, a lot of local and campus-hype for HP. So far I’ve come across an Azkaban ceilidh, the Harry Potter Society, and tonight is the Quizzard (Harry Potter Pub Quiz) hosted at the local pub. I’m hoping the triwizard cup will be the victory prize. Fun fact: Rowling drew inspiration for some of HP’s famous places like Diagon Alley from alleyways and places here in Edinburgh.

Finally, the most important meal of the day….

Today’s special is the pulled pork sandwich. Sold.

My thoughts may seem scattered, but they’re all pieces of my abroad experience. Yes, lately, I’ve mostly been tired, homesick, and stressed. But I like to take these moments to re-focus where I am. I zoom out from how I’m feeling in that particular time and see all the things that’s happened so far. Doing this has made me realize that despite the stress right now, I am also paving the way toward cool and memorable experiences.

And when even this doesn’t work, I always have Leslie Knope and Indian takeout.

harry-potter

 

 

 


KyungSun in Scotland: Getting Plugged In

March 23, 2015

Sometimes I forget that I’m not a typical exchange student.

This past week, my other exchange friends reminded me that essays, tutorials, and societies still existed. These three things about Uni (University) life had far slipped from my mind once I began my internship. Although I do not miss the workload, the one thing I do wish I did was to join more societies. I did do the Music Society, but I unfortunately wasn’t able to attend the concert. I had booked trip to Ireland and realized at the next rehearsal for that concert was that same weekend. #fail

I admit, I do have a lot more free time compared to the other exchange students. But let me dispel your first worry that I probably sit in my room all day. I wrote in my first blog post that if I have spare time, I would spend it going out to explore a new part of the city. I am happy to say that I’ve been keeping up with this promise.

Things I’ve discovered so far on my spontaneous walks in the city include:

Some extreme and strange street performances. Its not uncommon to hear bagpipes on the streets, but my ears perked up when I heard Leonard Cohen’s, “Hallelujah” (one of my favorites). It was played via the flute pipes by a man wearing a Native American headdress. I also saw a man eating fire and another playing the violin while on a suspended line.

Street performance on the Royal Mile

Street performance on the Royal Mile

Delicious local food. The best food can always be found at farmer’s markets. I found a great one in Stockbridge that had some noteworthy Kenyan Samosas and Spanish paella. Yum.

Stockbridge Farmer's Market

Stockbridge Farmer’s Market

Celebrity sightings. I only noticed that fame was in our presence when I saw the traffic commotion of…the Irish Rugby team in front of the Balmoral, aka the most expensive/grandest hotel in Edinburgh. I looked them up later and discovered that they are currently 3rd in the World Rugby rankings (as of 3/2/2015).

Irish Rugby Team Sighting on Princes Street

Irish Rugby Team Sighting on Princes Street

Each time I go out, I see more of why all my friends, professors, and advisors have told me that Edinburgh is one of their favorite cities. There is always music somewhere, the people in general are reserved, but friendly, the buildings are beautifully historic, and the city is so alive in its own Scottish culture, but also in other cultures. Its not uncommon to see an Indian restaurant, Pizza Hut, a Scottish tourist shop, and French pastry shop all in one row.

While it is easier to get plugged into Edinburgh city, it definitely has been more difficult to get plugged in at Edinburgh Uni. There aren’t many social events that unifies the campus like a football game or a Pig Roast would on a given Saturday. Rather, it’s a more common part of the European uni life to be part of the campus by being part of the communities already within the campus. Aka, by joining multiple societies.

One of the many overwhelming pamphlets I recieved during orientation

One of the many overwhelming pamphlets I recieved during orientation

But joining a society while doing the internship has been semi-difficult. There are interns who are actively part of societies; one of them recently had a show that we attended through the Opera Society and another two are part of the Sports Unions. But for me, the key to getting more involved at school and meeting more Scottish people has been to go to society events.

Just last night, I went to the Improverts Show, an improvise comedy society, and it was one of the best Friday nights I’ve had. My flatmate and I were warned that we probably won’t get tickets unless we bought them ahead of time. But fortunately we got in line early enough before they sold out. And I could see why we were warned. It was packed and hilarious. Its also a very popular Uni event because apparently, they sell out for every Friday show. That’s a pretty good track record.

The Improverts!

The Improverts!

Here is a snapshot of what the pre-show looked like:

 

 

There is never a shortage of events here at Edinburgh. This week, I’m going to a Harry Potter themed pub quiz, a theatre festival for social change, and my Scottish neighbor invited us to see her play, Candlewasters. I find out about most of these events through friends or my kind Scottish neighbor. There is no convenient “Spiderbytes” equivalent here at Edinburgh and you really have to dig through Facebook and read the posters throughout campus. But despite the sheer number of events, this has also meant that I’ve also been able to find a lot more entertainment/fun things to do that fit me better. It’s definitely one of the things I’ll miss most about Edinburgh.

P.S. If you want to check out the list of Edinburgh’s 240+ awesome societies for anything and everything, check out: https://www.eusa.ed.ac.uk/getinvolved/societies/findasociety/.


KyungSun in Scotland: Ready or Not

January 13, 2015

Sometimes we’re not ready for everything. When I arrived in Edinburgh, I came in with an open mind ready to be filled with new experiences. Yet I quickly learned that being mentally and physically prepared are two different things.

Here is what I wasn’t ready for:

Source: Google Images

Source: Google Images

The first night of orientation was a welcome dinner that promised good haggis. Haggis is one of Scotland’s traditional dishes and made from sheep heart, liver, and lung. Yum? The meal didn’t sound or look very appealing. However, I decided to just dive into the cultural experience on day one. I was ready. I slowly took a bite and thought, Hm, this isn’t too bad.

It wasn’t until the other exchange students finished their cup that I realized I had only eaten a quarter of mine. The tatties, or mashed potatoes, were gone, but the haggis remained. In the end I couldn’t fully push the image of eating sheep organs out of my head. One of the exchange students chuckled and said, “Are you done already?” He was going back for seconds. I told him I hadn’t warmed up to haggis quite yet.

Here is what I was ready for:

Ceilidh was my favorite event during orientation. I highly recommend it to anyone whether you like to dance or not. I promise this is a great dance to learn for people who especially don’t like to groove. You just need to be able to do three moves: forming circles, skipping, and cheering. It’s very simple!

The best part was messing up the rhythms because you saw how eager everyone was to make the formation work. I also saw the rush of proud satisfaction from our group once we finally got the dance right. I love that dancing is a way to communicate without words. I didn’t talk much that night, but I got a good sense of who everyone was even without the usual introductions. I slept for 13 hours that night and woke up feeling sore. This was enough to convince me that my body needed time to catch up with my eagerness to try everything.

What I was definitely ready for:

Nicholson Street

Nicholson Street

City life in Edinburgh is too cool. At first, I would walk down a street thinking everything looked the same as the States. Then further on ahead, I would suddenly come across these dark historical churches, cobblestone streets, or Arthur’s Seat peaking behind the skyline. I am constantly in awe of how the city changes before my eyes.

The spirit of the city is also very visible here. Just the other day, I explored Princes Street. I felt like I was walking in NYC as I passed this long row of commercial stores. Cars were honking as people J-walked, double decker buses sped by, and lights lit the way ahead. I almost forgot I was abroad. But then I looked towards my right and saw the Edinburgh Castle standing high above. To me, the castle was like an authoritative figure, reminding everyone below never to forget the history that had shaped the country. I love that I can see the cross between history and modernization, Scottish culture and diversity of other cultures present everywhere.

What I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for:

View from the castle entrance

View from the castle entrance

I now understand the true meaning of being cold. Yes, it’s definitely cold when temperatures are freezing and the chilly air seeps into your bones. But now also imagine the rain pouring on you, constantly dampening the little warmth you’re trying to kindle. Then gusts of wind fan the cold flame already spreading throughout your body. My usual attire is four layers, a down jacket, thick socks, rain-poof boots, scarf, and gloves. Even then I’m never warm enough.

Mainly, I keep reminding myself that I need to rest. Even though I want to tackle everything – exploring the city, trying new foods, going to all the social events – I’m often more tired than I realize. It’s more than the jet lag. The cold, the constant walking, and living adjustment adds onto the tiredness I get after meeting so many new people in one day. However, I’m enjoying soaking in the city day by day. The cold is certainly uninviting, but it doesn’t stop me or anyone else living here from parading the streets every day.


Kimberlee in Mongolia: International Women’s Day

March 17, 2014

Even though I barely heard about it in the US, International Women’s Day is a big deal here in Mongolia. Everyone from my host family to the SIT staff kept reminding me of the “big day”. Up to a week before the “big day”, I saw many people buying roses, cakes, and fancy chocolates! The way Mongolians celebrate Women’s Day seems to be a combination of a Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day in the US.

My host sister Tuugi had a school concert in the outskirts of the city on Women’s Day, so our family headed out there for most of the day. It was great to get out of the city for the first time! It’s amazing how a short drive outside of the city can drastically alter the landscape. The drive gave me a taste of what I will get to see later in the semester during our excursions and nomadic homestay! I must’ve been oohing and ahhing a lot because after a while my host brothers started pointing at random things and shouting “WOW!”

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One of the many scenic landscapes I witnessed

Once we got to the concert, we were so late that we only got to see Tuugi perform for a few seconds. It was kind of like a school-wide talent show, and we missed almost all of her portion. Thankfully, the rest of the show was interesting, even though I had no clue what was going on. There was an array of acts, and it was interesting to see what was acceptable in the school environment. For example, there was a student-made video that humorously portrayed a middle-school student that came in to shoot/beat up weak students. There’s no way that that would be acceptable in the US, but it got a lot of laughs here. Another surprise was when a group of students performed traditional Irish-step dancing. There was also a fashion show that had an interesting mix of traditional Mongolian accessories with western-style clothing. I especially enjoyed the performances that included traditional Mongolian instruments.

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To the far right is a student wearing a traditional headband with her western-style dress.

After the concert, my host mother pulled over to the side of the road to give us the chance to run around and enjoy the fresh air outside of the city! It was great to play outside with Temuujin and Tulga for a bit- they were especially excited by the jet we saw in the sky.

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Chasing after the jet

Once we got home, we celebrated Women’s Day together. After dinner, we ate cake and passed out the candy we had bought for each other.  I think that when I look back at this picture, I’ll always remember what an exhausting, yet wonderful day it was.

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I got Temuujin to take a picture of all the women, and we even got Undral to hysterically laugh at exactly the right moment.


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