Clara in Italy: Le Celle (and light)

December 29, 2016

AKA he really should have been called St. Francis of CORTONA guys am I right (also I really like sunsets)

Basically, one thing I learned in Italy was that St. Francis of Assisi actually first set up in Cortona. His first monastery was established at Le Celle, just outside Cortona. You have to walk even further up the hill from where we were established, up to a different town called Torreone. It’s a very small town with a small coffee shop that serves GIANT COFFEES. Like, the size of your head. (If I’m being suuuuuuuper honest, the giant coffees are not… that… good………. but they’re giant, and that’s what matters.) Here’s a picture of the fountain just outside that for some reason I’ve always liked. Maybe it’s the lettering or something.


Anyways, the view on the way to Le Celle is honestly pretty killer, as are most views in Cortona, but like. Especially, since we’re even higher than usual.


But before I get too sidetracked, here it is. Le Celle!


It’s quite a magical place. There’s a little waterfall and some lovely stone rooms.

I have to admit though, it really was a perfect day for lighting, especially for someone like me that likes darker photos and weird sunlight. And of course, being the nerd I am, I took a lot of pictures of the effects of light on things in the forest and scenery around Le Celle instead of a lot of the stuff inside Le Celle itself. The whole area is, as I said, quite magical.


We actually didn’t spend nearly as much time as I wanted to spend there in all honesty, but it got dark really fast and also rather cold, but it meant that as we walked back towards the school, we had a great view of the sunset among all the black shadowed trees.


We had been waiting (well, I guess I’d been) all semester to visit this place, so I’m glad I finally got to go at the end of the semester, though it wasn’t quite as long as I wanted it to be. Stay determined!




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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


The whole crew!

Tori in Spain: 2 Lists

December 15, 2016


As my time abroad comes to a close, I have been reflecting on all the sweet little things that have made my time so special, and a few of the things that have made it hard. To sum it all up, I made two lists. 30 things I will miss, and 5 that I won’t.

  1. When mi hermanito Juanito peeks his face into my room and I get to wake up to his sweet giggle and smile

14516527_10210754072031396_3460640273559046703_n.jpg2. KARROL’S AMAZING SOUPS: Pumpkin garbanzo, lentil vegetable, pork adobo.

3. Café con leche y cortados at fun Spanish cafes.14642467_10210754319357579_8852335988187807400_n.jpg4. Cesar hijo’s many alteregos! I never know if I will come home to Cesar hijo, superman, spiderman, a power ranger, or a caballero. I also never know if I am the good guy or the bad guy… until I am struck down by una espada. “Si, Cesar, estoy muerta… como siempre.”

5. Worshipping in Spanish

6. Local fresh food markets and Spanish grocery stores. (Huge hunks of specialty cheese for a euro or two? Yes please.)15181531_10211259135657671_4514411424490300169_n.jpg7. Walking home really late and feeling perfectly safe

8. Picnics in the many beautiful parks of Madrid, on the docks of Barcelona, or by the shore in Lake Como. No matter where in the world I am, if I had to describe by favorite part of abroad in one word, “picnics” would be a strong contender.

15109533_10211259138297737_7157100840706222617_n.jpg9. “Guapa”

10. Long breakfasts with Amalie! Avocado toast, coffee, and journaling by this roommate turned soul sister of mine are my favorite. Honestly, I will miss everything about her and know I have found a lifelong friend in this little room of ours.

11. Rooftop sunsets

14650701_10210754291796890_3615999998446205609_n.jpg12. Hushed conversation about human rights, politics, religion, and personal philosophy of life with my host mom Bela after the kids go to bed

13.Weekly coffee/philosophy/catch up dates with Dan

14. Amazing, homemade, 3 course, dinners on the terrace. With Amalie, of course.

14633000_10210754122712663_6352662603635917363_n.jpg15. BESOS! Why don´t Americans kiss each other more? It is the warmest thing ever. Try to be mean to someone after they have just warmly kissed you on the cheek, I dare ya.

16. César padre teaching me how to pronounce Spanish words and cook Spanish foods… syllable by syllable, ingredient by ingredient.

17. My bible study: Half Catholic, half prodestant…. All just trying to figure out how to love a little better and know Jesus a little more.

15493470_562548873937717_8479785988788571161_o.jpg18. “Quieres pan?” The question of the semester, honestly.

19. Churros, coffee, and looooong, unrushed conversation after the service at my church here. When I leave church 2.5 hours after I arrive, I am leaving early. That is special.

20. La gente de Iglesia Evangélica de Cristo Vive. These people are special, and I am especially thankful to Gabi and Sarah, and Yolanda and Ekir for welcoming me into their families and making me feel known here.

21. Professor Elvira, Marcus, and Molly. The most fun public health and social justice research team ever. It has been such a privilege to learn about privilege with you, and brainstorm about how to break down systems that perpetuate privilege for some and oppress others.

22. The metro. I am convinced that Madrid has the greatest public transportation system in the world, and I am returning to places where public transport is objectively horrible.

23. Saying “Claro” and “Vale” way more than I actually should to make it seem like I know what I am talking about.

24. The delicious, seedy, grainy, wheaty bread my host mom buys that I consume copious amount of every day.

25. Making lunch with Yolanda at Eker’s mountain house. I can never cut fast enough or cook well enough to really help, so my main contribution is helping eat it all. While every moment in this little refuge is special, the ones around the dinner table are my favorites.

26. My friend Elvis’s smile and greeting every day when I pass by or sit and chat with him. He is a man experiencing homelessness from Romania, and we used to chat every day on my way to and from school in the little Spanish we both know. He isn’t there anymore, and I didn’t get to say bye, which is a bummer.

27. Having a glass of wine and listening to live music at Café Barbieri while feeling very adult with Amalie, Dan, and Andrew.

28. Being able to operate without a daily planner.

29. Kirstin’s ability to sum up all my thoughts much more eloquently than I can, Maggie’s joy, Amalie’s honesty and vulnerability, Michaela’s steadfastness and obvious love of Jesus, Gabi’s infectious laugh, Ana’s depth and gentle spirit, Anna’s dance moves, Emily’s depth of humility and encouraging words, Molly’s ability to never take herself too seriously.

30. BlaBla Car. Uber for long distances is essentially the greatest thing ever. The cheapest way to travel, and best way to meet cool Spaniards.

Life was not always easy. Expressing myself and understanding others was incredibly hard sometimes, and there were a few cultural things I could not quite adjust to.


  1. Jamón. I am so sorry, Spain, but I neither want to see a bag of Jamón flavored anything nor a huge pig leg hanging from the ceiling for the rest of my life.
  2. Not being able to understand/make jokes (The one time I was funny in Spanish was probably the peak of my entire abroad experience… but it was literally one time.)
  3. Never being able to get quite the whole meaning of what people are saying. Major theme, no hay problema. Actual understanding of the cultural context of the exact words used and their connotations… nunca.
  4. Men speaking in bad English to me when I pass them at a bar. I don´t know why, but I hate this a lot.
  5. Sometimes feeling like an intruder or outsider because I am not Spanishç

I am excited to go home, but sad to leave. Thanks for all the little joys, Spain. You will be deeply missed.


Olivia in Scotland: Falling On My Knees

December 8, 2016

Hi everyone!

You know how sometimes you think you’re finally starting to get through one heartbreak, but then another comes along? That’s where I am in my life right now. Between an unexpected death in the family and an unexpected breakup of a long relationship, I have experienced more grief while studying abroad than I ever thought I would. It’s been a difficult time in my life. However, I have learned some things about myself and about grieving, and I wanted to take a moment to share some of those things with you. If you are considering studying abroad, I sincerely hope that you do not lose someone during that time—but if it does happen, I hope that these seven things help you through that process a little bit. It’s hard to be abroad when you feel like your life is falling apart, but there are things you can do to help.

1. Make sure that you give yourself some silence and that soul-numbing things don’t make up the majority of your grieving process. We live in a world that is constantly noisy. Noise can be distracting and comforting in the ways that it helps us ignore our problems or feel less alone. Particularly since being abroad, I often fill the silence with Netflix or listening to music. In reasonable amounts, this isn’t a bad thing—sometimes I need to turn my brain off and not think about my problems for a while—but if that’s all I do, then I can’t sort through what I’m actually feeling. Silence is both intimidating and invaluable. It can make you feel even more alone when you’re far away from home, but it also gives you space to think, feel, remember, reflect, and gain insight. It may not seem like it, but silence is a gift—give it to yourself.

2. Don’t be afraid of your tears. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. It doesn’t mean that you’re not handling your life the way you should be. They’re actually helpful in processing your grief (see this post for more on where I got that idea from). This is a hard one for me because I often compare myself to other people and feel like I’m doing something wrong when they look fine and my tears tell me that I am not. But if that’s how you’re feeling, you’re not doing anything wrong. Tears help you let out emotions and then figure out how to move forward. They’re healthy; use them.

3. Be around people. In addition to giving yourself time in silence, it’s also important to go out and do things with people. It’s really easy to isolate yourself while being abroad, particularly if you’re living in a single room, but don’t stay that way. Having fun with people will help you remember the good things you still have in your life. It will help you not to feel so isolated and to get the most out of your time abroad.

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Going out and having fun with friends is an important step. You might just get to fulfill some dreams in the process, like I did going to Venice with these friends. 🙂

4. It’s not enough just to be around people—talk about what you’re feeling. I’m not saying that you should talk about your grief all the time. However, if you’re like me, I need to share a little of what I’m truly feeling with the others in order to move on and enjoy being with them. If I don’t, I feel more isolated or I feel like I’m pretending to be something that I’m not. You might feel like talking about your emotional state makes you a nuisance to the people you’re around (especially if it takes longer than you think it should to get better). If they’re really your friends, though, they will listen to you and want to help. You may be surprised just how much and how many people want to be there for you—I certainly have been! Talking about your feelings will help you process and will help you appreciate those people who care about you enough to listen and put you first.

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One of those people who has continually listened and been there for me in Edinburgh has been my friends Gianna. I hope that you are fortunate enough to find such a steadfast friend if you experience loss while studying abroad.

5. Don’t give yourself a timeline for your grief. You may feel like you should be over it in a few weeks, or a month, or a few months. Maybe that will be the case for you, but it’s entirely possible that it won’t be. It hasn’t worked like that for me no matter how much I’ve wished that it would. These tips may help you during your mourning period, but it won’t necessarily speed it up. Don’t compare yourself to other people; do your best to give yourself grace and allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling for whatever amount of time you feel it.

6. Don’t feel bad about enjoying your life. Particularly if you’re experiencing the death of a family member, you may feel like you should just be mourning and not having any fun. That’s not true.  The person you’ve lost would want you to enjoy your time abroad, and you need to allow yourself to feel happiness as well as sadness. So travel, dance, laugh, and find the sunshine in your life. It’s still there, even if the clouds are hiding it.


I was thinking about this idea on the flight to Venice on Friday. After we took off and ascended past the Scottish clouds, I was happy to find that the sun was still up there above them, shining as brightly as it ever has. It’s comforting to know that I can still find joy and warmth and light in life again, even if it takes a while to do.

7. Remember that it’s not the end of you. It may feel like it is; it may feel like nothing good will ever happen to you again. You might just want to be home, or you might dread going home, or both. Those are all totally natural feelings. But, keep the bigger picture in perspective. You are so privileged to have this study abroad experience. You have people who care about you, whether or not they are all with you right now, and you have a whole future ahead of you that’s full of possibilities. As difficult as this time is, it really will pass. Focus on the present and on the blessings around you right now as much as you can.

I want to close with a quote and a note on the title. Matthew 6:34 says,”So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” In the midst of my fixation on details of the past and my myriad of fears about the future, it has been hard for me to just take things one day at a time. However, if you go through grieving while studying abroad, I urge you to focus on where you are and the people around you. Don’t let your apprehensions about whatever awaits you at home rob you of that joy. As you let yourself remember and reflect, also take time every day to appreciate the beauty in the world around you. It’s still there if you look for it.

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I was pulling out my phone to take this picture of the sunset when I received the bad news about my family member. I was in shock, but I till took the picture because I felt like this moment was something to remember. That sunset’s beauty was not diminished by this news. Instead, it reminded me of my Creator and His faithfulness, even when I don;t understand why things happen the way they do. 

The title of this post, “Falling On My Knees,” is the name of a song by Kokua that has become very special to me over these past weeks. It is about a person who has been brought low and is crying out to God for help. In the midst of that, he still sings,  “I lie down and rest in Your peace, / surrounded by life’s uncertainty, / as I learn to surrender all of me.” He is still able to find peace and praise God for His grace even when the circumstances of his life would seem to make that impossible. My prayer has been, and continues to be, that I can do the same. I have definitely felt God draw near to me in my heartbreak, and my faith has played a crucial role in sustaining me through this time. I don’t regret studying abroad one single bit—I feel that God put me in Edinburgh during this difficult time for a reason. I know this is where I was meant to be during the start of my grieving process.

I will tell you all about my trip to Venice in my next blog post. 🙂 Till next time!

Naomi at Akita Week 12: 黒い舌

November 28, 2016

It was a beautiful day and I had an hour break before my next class so I decided to go on a walk. I’ve noticed we only get about two nice days per week here in Akita. The other days it’s either pouring rain, constantly pouring, or simply cloudy. I walked off campus, passing Banafi (the only convenience store for miles), and headed to a bridge that overlooked some rice fields. It took only about 5-10 minutes to walk to the bridge. I was listening to Chance and enjoying the cold wind hitting my face. While I was looking over the bridge I heard someone call my name. My friends Toshi and Ria were driving past me. Ria stuck her head out the window and kept yelling my name. Toshi messaged me immediately on LINE afterwards asking me how the weather was. It was a good way to start the week. I’m glad I ended up going on a walk because, as expected, it rained the next few days.

Here’s a selfie I took on my walk. My friends always get mad at me for making this face: the Nomi face. I don’t like smiling in pictures so I always end up making this face. I would also like to mention my mom sent me that FILA sweater I’m wearing in the picture and I can’t emphasize how thankful I am. It’s only November and it’s already so cold here that you need all the sweaters you can get.



After my walk, I still had time to spare so I went to the IT lab and kept Patrik some company. He goes there a lot since his laptop is broken. I know in the picture he’s obviously scrolling through YouTube but he was actually working on his five haikus for Japanese literature class. Listening to music inspired him to come up with some haikus. He wanted to write them in Japanese and translate them into English. I helped him with one of the haikus – the squid ink one, you can see it in the picture. I ate a squid ink riceball for the first time in Okinawa a while ago and wow, it was delicious. My tongue was super black afterwards. I told Patrik when we go this winter break that I would make sure he tries one. The other picture is of one of the haikus he came up with. I couldn’t stop laughing because I’m not kidding when I say Patrik has had a constant cold since he first got here. He gets sick all the time and carries nasal spray around him because his nose is never unstuffed. Poor guy. It makes for a great haiku though!

Patrik and I went to the IT lab again to print out our third draft for the ポスター発表 (poster speech). At the end of the semester, all students in JPL300 have to give a 5-7 minute speech about anything they wish. I’m tremendously nervous for it because it’s just a lot to remember in just Japanese. I’m talking about Okinawa though so it should be fun! Anyways, I snapped this picture of a girl passed out at the computer – a good representation of the life of an AIU student. Just kidding, people here are so lively, full of energy and on top of their studies at the same time. It’s a wonderful community, really.

I Facetimed Madison, my friend from UR, this week! I’m not good at keeping in contact but she is, thankfully. She messages me and makes sure we Facetime biweekly to update each other on our lives. She’s studying abroad in Madrid right now so the time difference isn’t too bad, only 8 hours. We give each other advice on our dilemmas, of course. Unfortunately, she’s studying abroad in Spain for the entire year so I don’t get to see her when I return back to Richmond this January BUT I might visit her in the summer and travel around Europe with her for a bit. I’m not sure though, it’s up in the air. I miss her!

Annabelle and Isabella are both in JPL101 and they had to give a short speech in Japanese for class. They talked about their vacation to Korea this past summer. I listened to them and corrected them when they made a mistake. The participles threw them off a bit but they went over it about 5-10 times and had it all down by the end. Annabelle made a PowerPoint full of pictures from their vacation and it was fun to look through. They went to a Dog Café while they were in Korea and there was a picture of Annabelle with a huge smile spread across her face next to a pug. The pug looked terrified and its eyes looked like they were about to pop out of its head. It was wonderful.


Oh man, don’t get me started on Japanese Reading class. I don’t remember if I have mentioned but with our JPL300 class we are able to take supplemental classes, such as reading and kanji – I’m in both. Well, for Reading class, we are assigned a reading per week and have to answer questions based on the reading. Recently, the readings have been getting increasingly hard with all of the vocabulary and grammar. This week we read a story about an old man calling for a priest, monk, and minister to pray for him before he passes so he can go to heaven. He gave each of them ¥10,000 ($100) to come and pray for him. However, before he dies, he asks each of them to place ¥2,000 ($20) in his coffin so he has money in heaven. At his funeral, the priest and minister each place the ¥2,000. The story ends with the monk taking the ¥4,000 from the coffin and placing a check inside for ¥6,000 ($60)….do you get it?

Patrik and I took a while to finally understand the story. Our friend Sandy who is also in our class helped us translate it. When we finally understood what the monk had done we cried full of joy. Not really, but it felt like we were about to…we were so relieved to finally understand the story and answer the questions. Sandy, from Taiwan, comes to my LDIC sessions to improve her English so I’ve gotten close to her. She comes every week now and it’s great. I can tell she’s improving in her English and becoming more confident in speaking it!

Michelle, another friend from Richmond, sent me a postcard this week. We wanted to be pen pals but after our first letters she stopped because she became too busy to write a letter. Instead she sent me this postcard, which is totally fine because I love postcards as well. She actually just started working at the gym on campus so I’m glad I still get to see her often despite her graduating this past year!

We had another nice day this week so I asked Annabelle and Isabella to join me on a walk. My friend Isshin showed me this open space in the beginning of the semester so I decided to go there. The goofballs made me walk in the front just in case there were spider webs. I brought my camera with me and told them I would take photos of them. I guess they were so excited for a photo shoot that they even wore matching sweaters. I played some music from my iPhone and they just started doing random poses.

They did several cute poses, as you can see in the first picture. Isabella asked Annabelle if she could touch her toes for a picture and Annabelle couldn’t do it. She claimed to be inflexible and I kept telling her to straighten her legs for the picture. We all couldn’t stop laughing. Then, Isabella reached over and said, “Annabelle, I can touch your toes.” That’s when we all lost it. My stomach actually hurt from laughing so hard.

My iPhone shut off because it was too cold outside so Isabella started playing music until her iPhone also shut off due to the cold. Annabelle pulled a weed from the ground and started playing with it so Isabella did the same. They both started practicing their dance for the dancing event next weekend. My mom and Tyler, my younger brother, are visiting next weekend so we’re all going to go and see them perform! We ended up walking back to campus as the sun was setting. We used the flashlight from Annabelle’s iPhone to make sure we wouldn’t walk into any spider webs and thorns. By the time we got to the cafeteria for dinner, our fingers were numb. We couldn’t even use our chopsticks correctly.

I tried getting a nice picture of the sunset yesterday but my camera skills are lacking. I just wanted to say that a lot of us are starting to get upset knowing that the semester is coming to an end. After this weekend, we only have four weeks of classes left. It’s unbelievable how quickly the semester has gone. It feels like yesterday we were all meeting up at the beach, singing our hearts out at the karaoke place. Instead of getting upset over it, I’m going to enjoy the rest of the time I have here and make the best out of it.

Week 11: Crepes and Kraft Mac & Cheese

November 14, 2016

1I appreciate Patrik so much. I’m so used to drinking five cups of coffee at Richmond because it’s so easily accessible so I appreciate Patrik letting me make coffee in his room. I was having a hard time staying up in my International Trade class so Patrik brought me a cup of coffee during my class break, before my History of Pre-Modern Japan class. やさしいね〜 (he’s very kind, huh?)!

Isabella and Annabelle finished writing their speech about their Korean trip for JPL100 and I finished my grammar homework for JPL300 and this was the outcome. We were all very tired so we continued to hang out in Annabelle’s room in Sakura Village. I was also messing with my camera a bit. Trying new lightings and what not.

Do you all remember the Draw Something app that came out maybe…four years ago? Well, Griff, Patrik, and I were hanging out in the Komachi Lobby and rediscovered the game. Some of our other friends joined in and we soon found out that Griff is actually Picasso. How do you even draw that nice of a toilet and blender? I want his drawing skills.

Griff even drew me…I don’t have a neck but it’s still a pretty good drawing considering he drew me with only his index finger on his small screen.

We had our first snow this past week. I still can’t believe the snow stuck. It’s only the beginning of November. I woke up and heard the hail hitting the ground and immediately fell back into bed…very unwilling to walk outside in the cold. Thankfully I bought a winter jacket from UNIQLO though and it actually keeps me very warm. Now I have to buy some snow boots though or else I’m going to injure myself.

Saturday, a group of us took the bus to AEON to eat lunch then walked over to Yotsugoya station to head into Akita City. I had the directions up on Google maps but closed the app when I realized where the train station was…you could see it in the distance. Unfortunately, the rode split into two and we didn’t know which road to take. Everyone yelled at me for closing the app then proceeded to split up. Patrik, Griff, and I walked on a path that led into the fields while Isabella, Annabell, and Tristan took the actual road. We ended up meeting up five minutes later as the roads met up! We made it to the station five minutes to spare before the train arrived.

You wouldn’t believe this but we actually ended up getting on the wrong train. It took us in the opposite direction. That’s the life of AIU international students: reading the schedule wrong and getting on the wrong train/bus. The train took us to Wada Station so we had to wait there for an hour before the train came to take us to Akita. It was fine though. We listened to some music on Patrik’s speakers and took a couple videos of us doing the mannequin challenge. If you don’t know what it is just look it up online and it should pop up as it’s trending right now. We had to retake one shot at least 10 times because I couldn’t stop laughing. Anyways, we went into the city and went to Karaoke for about 3-4 hours. Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures but just know we sang our hearts out to 80s music and Michael Jackson songs. We took the last train from Akita to Wada Station and walked for an hour back to campus.

I’m super proud of all of my friends for expanding their collection of beer stickers. Most of the time Japanese beer cans have a sticker on them so I decided to start collecting them on my phone. When I got to Akita, I influenced people to start collecting the stickers as well. Everyone has more than me now though and it’s upsetting. I took off all of my stickers recently so I have 0…

Sunday afternoon, everyone came to Isabella’s apartment to make crepes. Griff and Patrik had been planning this out for about two weeks now. It was originally supposed to be pancake day but Griff told us that the pancakes wouldn’t be as good without baking powder, so crepes it was. Patrik went all out and bought whipped cream, chocolate sauce, strawberry jam, canned peaches, and canned pineapples for the crepe toppings. We didn’t have a whisk so Griff, Annabelle, and Patrik stirred as fast and hard as they could with the forks and chopsticks. It was pretty intense.

I FaceTimed my mom asking for help on how to make the whipped cream since none of us could read the directions. She told me that we needed a whisk or else it would be very difficult to make. So, Patrik actually ended up running to the Komachi kitchen and finding a whisk. The whipped cream was almost impossible to make with just a fork. Kevin had been stirring it for about 20 minutes and the consistency was still very liquid. Tristan took the whisk and stirred for only about 5 minutes before it turned to actual whipped cream.

We actually had a can opener but I guess it didn’t work out too well…I turned my back to help Isabella with the crepes and by the time I was done the can was opened like this. Super dangerous…we should probably invest in a nice can opener.

The first one was pretty rough but Isabella looked up a tutorial on YouTube and after that the crepes came out perfect. Patrik sprinkled some brown sugar on his crepe. He had the first one and Kevin commented on the placement of the whipped cream. All of us put our whipped cream inside the crepe and Patrik found it super weird. I guess that’s just a minor culture difference in the way we make crepes. Everyone had 1-2 crepes and we were still very hungry so Isabella ended up making some Kraft Mac and Cheese that my mom sent me recently. Eating American food was a nice change. My mom is visiting at the end of this month so I’m going to have to ask her to bring some more mac and cheese with her!

Clara in Italy: Settling in??

September 19, 2016

This is probably one of the fastest-paced programs I’ve ever been in, in that every day feels packed and it is in fact almost a month shorter than a typical semester. So here we are cramming a semester of work into about 80 days! Woo! That does make it really hard to keep up with everything that I’m supposed to be doing, I have to admit.

We’re here in Cortona, a hill town in Tuscany, and the view is super killer.


Admittedly, walking up and down the hill multiple times a day is also kind of killer… Oh well, I suppose it might balance out the gigantic Italian meals that we keep eating. Not gonna lie, all I want is a simple, one-course meal with rice and Chinese food. D: Not that everything isn’t delicious or anything, but dang. I feel quite squishy and sleepy every night when we hike back up to our dorm immediately after dinner. It’s honestly one of the weirdest parts of being here. I could definitely stand to have dinner last a little less time. Three hours is very long and exhausting.

Pretty much every Saturday, we head off to a different city in Italy to talk about art history, which is very cool. (Also exhausting.) In the last two weeks, we’ve already been to Siena, Assisi, and Perugia, and seen some really pretty amazing stuff. Especially this 13th century graffiti on the walls of the Palazzo Publico! What!!


If you look closely on the upper red strip in the first picture, there’s a “1464” scratched into the stone. Above it to the left on the white, there’s a “1482”. There’s stuff in Greek in there! And also some stuff from the 19th century–at least one little inscription from 1848. I’m always here for traces of humanity and imperfections. Masterpieces are all well and good, but I’m more interested in scratches on the wall and personalized inscriptions in books. And unfinished paintings, because understanding process is so valuable, you know?

And reliquaries of course! Well, those are a special interest to me too I suppose, since I think bones are super cool. There was a lovely one that had a partial skeleton arranged nicely with a flower crown and a lot of jewels. Bury me like this. Feed my flesh to the plants or whatever, but make me into a nice mantelpiece with flowers.


… that’s kind of weird, isn’t it. But I think he looks pretty good for being dead all these years.

Speaking of bones, I’ve already amassed a nice little collection of natural history stuff since we got here! A lovely starling skeleton, some juvenile pigeon bones, a whole bowl of empty snail shells, and some very interesting insects, including a full grasshopper shed and a cicada shed. Oh, and two snake sheds that were inside a hole in the wall! Plus a convulvulus moth and a fiery hunter beetle. The faculty resource room has some really amazing insects as well, with some seriously giant beetles. Cool as heck!!

At least look at my starling skull. I think it’s quite beautiful.


Classes are going well, but a  little stressfully. I’ve almost filled a whole sketchbook since I got here, and the number of photos I’ve taken is sort of staggering. But hey, I’ve got a flickr now and I think I’m getting a little bit better at taking pictures. Sort of. It’s a little up in the air. Follow me or something. I’m doing my best.

To finish, here’s a picture of darling Squiggle, our newest stray University cat with a bent tail and the guy bringing harmony to the cats.


Seriously, he’s the cutest and the best.

Stay determined!

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