KyungSun in Scotland: Falling in Love

April 7, 2015

Love came unexpectedly. It creeped in slowly and hit me this past week. I am in love. It’s the kind that flutters your heart, makes you smile at the thought, and draws you in to drown you in it more and more. Of course, it didn’t start out this way.

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Opening scene: When I first arrived in Edinburgh, everything looked bleak. I was welcomed by the city with ice cold wind, miserable rain, and slippery cobblestone streets. But I kept telling myself it would get better. Edinburgh was my perfectly ideal city with its cross between modernity and history and nature. I just had a rough start. Conveniently, my first shopping outing ended up being an episode of my bag ripping and my food spilling out on the streets. It was the perfect beginning to my Scottish romantic comedy, where everything that happened was ridiculous and silly.

Yet I still found joy in the little things. I marveled living next to a castle, trying different restaurant with friends, dancing at ceilidhs, and seeing breathtaking views straight out of National Geographic. I was energized by the freshness and newness of everything I saw and did. Every little decision I made from buying my own food, to cooking my own meals, to booking my own flights were also small moments of empowerment. I felt like I was growing more independent and despite the occasional detours, everything was working out well.

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Loch Lomond

 

The Climax: I got hurt. It hurt realizing that some friendships weren’t as strong as I thought, it hurt when I was going through a tough time and had to bear the burden alone, it hurt that my exchange friends couldn’t sense my pain or comfort me or that I couldn’t even open up to them out of fear, it hurt that I missed friends and family back at home and am now realizing and appreciating that friendships take a long time to build.

While I’ve been here I’ve been changing, growing, morphing into an independent adult while some people remained the same. Part of the change meant realizing when I shouldn’t waste my time with people who weren’t worth it, moving past the disappointments, and interacting with different types of people. Part of the growth meant being okay with savoring moments on my own when there wasn’t anyone around to share it with or when people back at home didn’t understand what you saw or did. It also meant being vulnerable with people I’ve only known for two months and yet taking that step to open up to them that I would normally only do with close friends. Taking that chance meant some people responded well to it while others didn’t. Yet because I took that chance, I’ve made close friendships faster than I have ever before.

Lindy: My friend, flatmate, & hiking partner

Lindy: My friend, flatmate, & hiking partner

The (Near) Ending: Now I’m in the process of emerging from the things I’ve went through from the homesickness to changes in friendships to developments in new friendships to discovering my passion and to learning more about my strengths and weaknesses. Spring break is now here and these past two days have been nothing but sunshine. I see shorts, dresses, sunglasses, flowers, and changes that I welcome.

More importantly, I found love again. I see the place that I live in as my home, as a place where pain happened, but also endurance, and character through endurance, and hope through the character. Now I fear leaving. Time is running out and I feel like I still have so much to learn, so much to see, do, and experience. I will miss being able to travel with friends, learning, and stumbling upon beautiful landscapes.

Loch Ness

Loch Ness

I love Scotland. I love it because of what it is but also what it has done for me. Although I’ll have to leave all this behind soon, slowly, with time, I’m preparing to let go. Rather than think of the fear and anxieties of leaving, I treasure the moments of spring, friends, and traveling all the more. Love is freedom and the love that my parents had for me enabled me to come here and love is what drove my growth during my time here. Now, it’s my turn to show my love for Scotland.

Calton Hill

Calton Hill


Diana in Copenhagen: Final Reflection

January 5, 2015

As I sit and write this from my bed in Massachusetts I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I’m home. After one hundred and twenty eight days, thirteen cities, ten countries, four classes, and countless memories, my time abroad came to a close and I could not be more grateful for the experience.

As I look back on the semester I decided to revisit some of the questions I asked myself before embarking on the adventure. I was unsure about living in a single room for the first time in college, but doing so certainly had its perks. I liked having my own kitchen and not having to work around someone else’s schedule, but I’m not as concerned as I was about having to go back to having a roommate in the future. As much as I liked living alone, having a roommate can be a lot of fun and it’s nice having someone to hang around with all the time.

I was concerned about Copenhagen being so expensive, and it really is, but I like to think I handled my budget well. I became pretty obsessed with saving money on day-to-day items so I could instead spend on things like traveling that were more important to me. This meant shopping at the discount grocery store for only the cheapest items, cooking in for nearly every meal, rationing instant coffee, and not buying many souvenirs. I also saved a lot of money on public transportation by having a bike. I’ll be honest, it was hard to part with my bike, Gwen, but I sold her at a good price causing it to only have cost me $32 for the entire four months. I feel like I got much more value out of putting my money towards experiences over material goods, and think that contributed to a much fuller and happier experience.

One last thing I voiced concern for in my first Travelogues post was how my directionally challenged self would manage getting around a city. While I’ve gotten slightly better in this arena, I would be lying if I said I was much more capable now. I decided to purchase a phone plan in Denmark providing lots of data, so I sadly still used Google Maps as a crutch to get around. I didn’t have phone service when traveling though, so I did do better job navigating from memory and by using with good old fashioned maps out of necessity.

Beyond these few concerns, my semester abroad made me exponentially more independent, which is best evidenced by my final trip of the semester. Since I wanted to book my Copenhagen flights round trip, I picked a date to fly home before knowing my finals schedule. As it turned out, I had enough time between my finals and my flight home to take advantage of the ease of European travel one last time. After failing to find someone to travel with me though, I decided to take a chance and book a trip to Spain alone. You might remember I traveled alone in London, but Spain was different, considering this time I had no one to meet up with when there. As the trip neared closer I started to get pangs of regret thinking I should have just pushed my return flight up a few days, but now I am so happy I followed through.

Beautiful benches at Plaza de España in Seville

Beautiful benches at Plaza de España in Seville

A view from the Alhambra in Granada

A view from the Alhambra in Granada

The trip was the perfect culmination of my experience abroad. It forced me out of my comfort zone more than others had because I was completely solo, had few things planned since I lacked time to do so during finals week, and had a language barrier to deal with. While this trip was indeed more challenging than others, being by myself made me deeply appreciate everything I saw and let me reflect on everything I’d done in the four months leading up to it too. I was able to be more observant, think about and process things on my own time, more readily meet other travelers, demonstrate the highest degree of independence, and do everything I could to appreciate a culture different from mine for the last time before coming home. Comparing this trip to my others, especially my solo trip in London, made me realize the true growth I’ve undergone from living abroad. In a post from a few weeks ago I wrote about using my little notebook to not feel uncomfortable when eating alone. I brought the same little notebook to Spain and put it to use again, but for a different reason this time. While having tapas alone one day in Triana, a neighborhood of Seville, I wrote, “This time I’m writing in the notebook while sitting alone not because I feel awkward, but because I don’t want to forget a single thing.” Being alone that day in Seville was probably one of my favorite days abroad, and it made me realize how far I’d come in such a short time.

Diana food
While the trip to Spain was an amazing way to culminate my experience abroad, the entire four-month span I was away had a profound effect on me. There are many reasons why I’m happy to be home, but am forever grateful for the friends, lessons, and memories from my semester in Denmark.

Thank you all for reading. Farvel!

Me, at the Alhambra in Granada

Me, at the Alhambra in Granada


Oliver in Spain: Transitioning back to the States

January 5, 2015

I have now been back Stateside for a little under two weeks, even though it feels like I’ve been back for much longer than that. I figured I’d have a pretty easy transition back to this culture after having traveled so much throughout my life but every now and again there are certain things that remind me I’m no longer living in Spain.

I think the biggest difference I have noticed so far is the food culture. In Valencia I would sit at a café and 20 minutes later a server would ask me if I would like anything to drink or eat. In the States there is a server at your table within two minutes of sitting down. Give me a second to settle in! Similarly, in Valencia I’d finish whatever I was drinking or eating and stay seated chatting with my friends for a couple hours. In the States I feel uncomfortable staying more than 15 minutes after paying the check. It feels like I’m being quietly encouraged to get the hell out. I don’t mean to sound angry with this difference, and I’m not, it is just a very big difference between the two cultures. The US is all about efficiency and profit. The cafés here are thinking, “how many customers can I get in and out of my door in one day?” In Spain you are treated like a family member coming back for a drink. If you frequent the place, it is not unusual for the server to sit with you for a quick chat. I definitely prefer that laid back feeling.

On the other hand, the efficiency of the US was something I missed while in Spain. Sometimes you just want something done, and fast. That simply doesn’t exist in Spain. People will work on their own time and will shut down for three hours every day for a siesta. Going to a store in the early afternoon seems like such a novel idea now!

I haven’t had an overwhelming feeling of missing Valencia just yet. I’m still in the recovery stage of being back with the family. The biggest thing I miss from being abroad is the constant excitement. Living back in the Philadelphia suburbs feels so…lacking…after a semester trailblazing through Europe from one ancient city to another. That being said, it’s very nice to have access to Netflix again!

I’m half way through this break and I am already counting the days to get back to UR. I have seen a few friends here and there and will be seeing a lot more during or New Years Eve celebrations. I can’t wait to get back into the swing of things at Richmond after a nice semester of memories.

Valencia will always have a place in my heart and I am looking forward to going back the next time I’m in Spain. I think I will miss my host family most, but there will be a whole lot to miss in the weeks to come. I imagine it will all hit me hard when I am back into the regular routine of school. I will never forget all of the things I have been able to do through the past four months. It almost seems like a dream but I am pleased to see all of the pictures and words I will have forever as documentation of my experiences. Europe, I’ll see you soon. US, it’s good to be home.


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