Friday, December 18, 2009

Barcelona and Prague

I spent American Thanksgiving with my friend Charlotte having the closest thing we could find to turkey (a chicken burger) at a local pub. Charlotte recently spent a month in Ghana and is fully aware of the safety concerns I have about my upcoming move to Sub-Saharan Africa. Spontaneously, Charlotte suggested we go to Morocco. "Sure," I thought. We paid our tabs and went to the library to purchase tickets. Morocco wound up being a bit pricey so instead we booked tickets to Barcelona for about 6 USD round trip.

Barcelona was such a quirky and eccentric city. We flew into Girona and spent a few hours exploring the city. We walked along the river and enjoyed the architecture. In the evening, we took the train to Barcelona. Around eleven we started looking for dinner and were limited to a greasy Chinese restaurant where for 7.75 each we got an awful three course dinner. We went to a Spanish dance club that evening. The next morning we woke up quite early and rented bicycles to ride around the city. It has been a few months since I rode a bicycle and at first I was stumbling everywhere. I also have never ridden a bicycle on the road with cars and found it a bit scary to allow cars to pass me. We rode all the way down the main street stopping to pose in pictures with some of the craziest of the human statues. We rode our bikes along the pier and decided to go swimming in the freezing cold water. The beach in Barcelona is primarily designed as a surf beach and several surfers were out (in wet suits) and were definitely shocked to see Anglo girls in bikinis thinking it appropriate to swim in the water. After declaring that I would get only my legs wet I was sucked under by a wave and fully immersed in the icy water. After our swim we rode our bikes in our swimming costumes along the pier and then visited a few noteworthy places in Barcelona. In the afternoon we found ourselves in the middle of a Brazilian rally. We had lunch at a paella and tapas bar along the main street. That night we hung out with the people staying in our hostel.

It was nice to get to spend my last weekend in England with such a great friend just relaxing and having a good time in Spain. After returning from Barcelona I had two days of intense finals preparations, packing, moving out, a final kayaking session, and one last night with Cat, Laura, and Amy. Time moved so fast that I could barely realize how depressing it was to leave. I think that my finals went well and I believe I will receive a "first class" which means perfect grades. I can't believe how much stuff I have collected over the term: loads of other people's costumes that I nicked, random things I wore for fancy dress themed nights, and massive amounts of things to include in my scrapbook. When I get back to the United States I'll proudly display my Uncle Sam bow-tie, Amsterdam tulip, and other mementos as tangible elements of my European memories. I can't believe how much I already miss England.

On Wednesday I left to begin a month long journey through Eastern Europe and the Middle East with one of my best friends from the United States. I flew from Birmingham to Prague and am currently in Bratislava, Slovakia. Tomorrow night I will go to Vienna to meet my friend Sahara and then we will go to Egypt, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, and Switzerland together. Prague was very very cold but lovely. The first night in the hostel I met a girl from New York studying "Race, Class, and Revolutions" at Hampshire College. We realized we had a lot in common and spent most of our trip together. The buildings of Prague were a combination of many different structural styles and most of them were yellow. It was interesting to see the remains of Nazi control over Prague and the ruins of communism together in one geographic location. It was so shocking to me that Prague became democratized only twenty years ago, the same year that I was born. Most of the residents of Prague remember communist control and, I don't think I've ever met a more "anti-communist" group of people! Prague has made a remarkable turn around into capitalism. Just like any other city, Prague is lined with McDonalds, casinos, and designer clothing. Relative to the rest of Europe, Prague was a very inexpensive city. I think that I really like the "chill" and "eccentric" vibes of Eastern Europe. Prague has been open to tourism for only twenty years which has preserved much of its original culture.

I don't know a single word of Czech but quickly discovered that the younger generation of Prague speaks English and the older generations speak Polish. I was shocked that the Polish I know was enough to get me by in Prague! The Slavic languages are all so similar that even those who speak different languages are able to understand each other. I think if I became really fluent in Spanish and Polish and learned Chinese I would be able to talk to almost anyone in the world. This week so far has really showed me how valuable my study of Polish language can become if I continue.

Bratislava is just as cold as was Prague. I have yet to fully explore the city but am enjoying a chance to check in with friends and warm up for a bit before I traverse the six inches of collected snow. Just this year Slovakia adopted the euro which means that shop keepers and bankers are just as uncomfortable with the currency as are tourists. Near every till a sign is posted explaining the exchange rate with the euro and some shops still accept traditional Slovakian currency. For lunch I had an interesting sandwich of grilled onions and cabbage on bread. I tried to ask for tomatoes but apparently the Polish word for tomato "pomidory" does not translate into the tongue of Slovakia. I do need to learn how to say tomato; I have eaten three tomatoes everyday since September and don't feel quite as right without such a tomato-rich diet.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Italy, Greece, and Saying Goodbye

“Closing time. Time for you to go out to the places you will be from. Closing time.
This room won't be open till your brothers or your sisters come. So gather up your jackets, move it to the exits. I hope you have found a friend. Closing time. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end” –Closing Time, Semisonic

Since my last post I have ventured east to explore Italy and Greece. Both countries were magical. I went to Italy by myself and toured Rome, The Holy See, Florence, and Venice. I studied Latin at Central High School and it was very moving to see the things that I had studied. I began my trip at the Vatican museum. There were many rooms with different collections of religious art that led to the Sistine Chapel. As I walked into the Chapel I was overwhelmed by it’s beauty. Michelangelo’s work is magnificent and the textbooks just can’t seem to capture the feeling of being face to face with historic depictions of Jesus. Embarrassingly, I was so overwhelmed by the Chapel that I collapsed onto the floor and cried a bit. The Chapel guards came over to offer help and I had to explain that I was just a bit overwhelmed. I wouldn’t call myself emotional, but there was something about standing in the midst of Roman ruins that made me seem like a babbling idiot. “I am in Rome!” I thought to myself, but more importantly, this was an adventure that I created and paid for by myself. My traveling has made me more independent and accountable.

I met some interesting people in Italy and even ran into Ivan, a bloke on my swim team. Florence was equally impressive. The David is so much bigger than I imagined and has a towering presence within The Academy. I wasn’t as impressed with Venice, it seemed to be a bit of a tourist trap that hides the fact that there is nothing to do under an illusion of being “romantic.” I discovered that I love gelato and had gelato 12 times over the course of the weekend.

I spent the past weekend in Greece. Carlie, my Canadian friend whom I met on an airport shuttle, met me in Preston and we joined Sabrina (Kentucky) and her three friends from Connecticut to fly to Athens. The ruins of Athens were impressive. From the Acropolis we could see the whole of the city. In the evening of our second night we hiked up a mountain to watch the sun set over Athens. The sunsets of Europe are remarkable. It was a cloudy day but I was still amazed by the gradient of the light and the colours. One day we went to the city of Delphi to explore ancient ruins and to see the mythical center of the Universe. On the way back from the trip we stopped at a quaint Greek village. I think I ate my weight in feta cheese over the course of the weekend.

In England and in Western Europe people are very quick to recognize my American accent but I discovered that the Greeks could not differentiate my accent from a British accent. I literally said “We’re from England, where are y’all from” and people were convinced! I’ve recently dyed my hair blonde and apparently the change led many people to believe that I am Dutch. I tend to see Europe as such a small continent; a journey to Germany or France can happen over the course of a weekend. I wasn’t expecting that my flight to Athens would take five hours. There are so many differences between Eastern and Western Europe. It is strange to think that Europe is about the size of the United States.

I’ve been really busy lately getting things done and preparing to leave England. I have finals, papers due, packing to organize, goodbyes to say, trips, an epic winter journey that commences on Wednesday, and final details to organize before I move to Ghana. This semester has gone by so quickly and I look forward to long plane rides that will allow me to process everything that has happened in the past few months. England feels like home to me. I will never forget all of the experiences that I had here. I’ll never forget my first Full English breakfast, my first night out, the first language barriers I experienced, or my first time in a kayak. This week at kayaking practice I rolled the kayak and was infinitely proud afterward. I’m going to buy a kayak in America and I’m going to paddle as often as is possible, I love being in a kayak. After I rolled that kayak and took my Polish final I realized that I had accomplished all of my goals for the semester.

I could write pages about my favourite memories of England: the Megabus ride home from Scotland, “Monday Tuuuuesday”, Halloween at 53 degrees, the swim team graffiti party during Fresher’s Week, all of Katie and Amy’s quotes that I recorded, meeting Lawrence and Roni camping in Wales, Alex the Rat, learning about gypsy culture, learning the English language, the word “cheeky”……. The list is endless.

When I chose to study abroad I hugely overestimated by ability to say goodbye to the people that I would come to love. I never imagined that such intense friendships could be formed in such a short amount of time. I never imagined that I was capable of embracing so many people knowing that the relationships will be finite. I hate finitude. I wish that life could be described by a graph of a quadratic function, a process that exists for all of eternity. Saying goodbye to my friends in England is so different than saying goodbye to friends in the United States; the final hugs that I share with people who are dear to me are followed with the rain cloud of recognition that I will never see these people again. To borrow from Shakespeare, most of the people I have met in England will become merely players in the stage that is my life- characters who play a dynamic role and then exit the stage never to be seen again. I wish I had more time. I wish that goodbyes didn’t have to be forever.

How does one say goodbye forever? I haven’t found a way to express my gratitude in words. It all just seems like verbiage: “have a wonderful life, make good choices, smile love laugh and learn everyday….” It’s not enough. I’m searching for a human expression that encapsulates all of my emotions in a way that can be understood by another. I know that as I set foot in Ghana the memories will fade and England will be merely a distant memory- that is the most tragic part. I wish I could live in this moment forever and experience the past few months like a C.D. on repeat.

I have become a different person since I have been in England. For the first time in my life I feel completely free. I am happy. I believe England to be a land where dreams come true and spirits run free. Being abroad is the best therapy. I want to preserve the sense of self that I have found situated on this island in the Atlantic Ocean forever. Embarking on a month-long journey of a lifetime through the Middle East and Eastern Europe feels like a tragedy. Moving to Ghana, an adventure for which I was once very excited, feels like cold hands prying me from a place that I love.

Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. Somehow I managed to get the best piece of chocolate I can imagine this time. I’ll cry myself to sleep and be an emotional wreck for a few weeks and then I will reach my hand back into that box of chocolates and take another piece. It will be good.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Spain and Thanksgiving

“Work like you don't need the money; dance like no one is watching; sing like no one is listening; love like you've never been hurt; and live life every day as if it were your last.” –Irish Proverb

I’ve spent the past week and a half in Spain volunteering with a programme entitled “Pubelo Ingles.” The programme is oriented around helping Spaniards who are already proficient in English to attain a greater level of fluency. Each day I met with different Spanish people who were business leaders, telecommunications personnel, and leaders of other fields and discussed idioms, phrasal verbs, and other fine points of the English language! The group was an interesting mix of Anglos and Spaniards of a wide variety of fields, backgrounds, and ages. I was considerably younger than the other participants. It was interesting to see how people who are so different can come together in a short amount of time such that those differences are insignificant. A few jokes were made about my age but beyond a few cultural references that I didn’t understand, I barely recognized that I was so young compared to my teammates.

I had an interesting journey to get to the village in which I volunteered. Long story short, I missed a plane and had to take the next plane the following day. At the last minute I had my thirteen year old sister book a hostel for me in Madrid such that I could depart the following morning on an eleven hour bus ride to the village of Cazorla. I got off the metro stop in the far south of Madrid and followed my sister’s directions for a walk of about an hour and a half. Eventually I arrived at my hostel that was supposedly in the city centre. I approached the desk and asked if the employee spoke English; he did not. I began speaking in Spanish when I was abruptly stopped, “No Espanol.” I motioned to ask what language he spoke and was directed to a sign with various African flags. Unfortunately, I don’t (yet) speak any tribal languages. When the employee asked where I was immigrating from I knew that this wasn’t an average hostel! He was surprised that I did not have papers from the Red Cross and explained that I was the first American, and only womyn, to be staying at this hostel. The hostel was a refugee camp for Somalis. The windows double-locked and there were dead bolts on the door of my single room so I wasn’t afraid. I spent the evening talking with the first Somalis I have ever met. The Somalis explained to me that the Red Cross allows them to come to Madrid for six months to escape their country but they are not able to work while in Madrid. The refugee camp has a dvd player and only three dvds which many of the refugees remained fixated upon for the duration of my stay. The refugees remain in the hostel for six months with nothing to do. I think that they were impressed with my knowledge of Somali politics. I was equally impressed with their stories of fleeing the Aided regime and watching their families be killed by Aided supporters. One of the men showed me scars on his arm from a time he had nearly been captured by Aided’s people. I asked about gun culture in Somalia, khat, and the United Nations and they had interesting stories to tell. I was so glad that I had studied Somalia with Dr. Rutherford at Missouri State University such that I could converse with these people. I was so glad to have been able to speak enough Spanish to convey my ideas and questions. Language truly does open doors. I wonder how many opportunities like this I have missed out on by not speaking the mother tongue.

The next morning I embarked on a long journey through the countryside of Spain. I had layovers in several villages and I got to see much of Spain through the windows of the coach. I saw one of the most beautiful sunsets of my life in the mountains of Jaen. On the coach it felt like I was riding through history- that I was a passive participant in my surroundings. I was able to observe Spain in a natural setting and not as a tourist.

I was really excited to arrive in Cazorla and to begin the programme. I had expected that my colleagues, both Anglo and Spaniard, would be very serious and stuffy but instead found a bunch of really folksy and fun people. I had expected to teach language using rote methods but instead found that the participants improved their English most through participation in casual dinner conversations, nights in the lounge, and theater. We didn’t conjugate verbs; but we did do skits advertising products such as “More than Viagra” and “Perfect Man Cream.” Unlike Spanish classes that I have taken at home where oral presentations are marked by competition and boredom, the Spanish students seemed to all want to improve together. I began to see learning language as something that is fun and allows the knower to have more material for jokes! Together the Anglos and Spaniards shared a lot of laughs and inside jokes. The group really came together as a family and I was very sad to leave my new friends. It was clear to me that there is something within us by virtue of being alive that brings us together and allows us to unify with all people regardless of race or background. I think if more people spent at least a week within a new culture we could create a world of greater understanding and unity. If we are to live in an industrialized world then I believe intercultural programmes are the only way the world can be sustained; we have to do something to weed out indifference.

The difficulty that I had saying goodbye to my colleagues at Pueblo Ingles foreshadowed to me how difficult it will be to say goodbye to England. Though I will always be an American, right now Preston feels like home to me. Every time I fly back into the United Kingdom and can see the lights of Liverpool below me I breathe a sigh of relief of being home. When I pass a “now entering Lancashire county” sign I get a warm tingly feeling inside. Its challenging to accept that most of the people I have come to love in Preston I will never see or even speak to again. I have a false illusion that Skype, Facebook, and snail mail will be enough to maintain relationships but I know that it wont. It is hard to imagine moving to Ghana in less than two months and having to start all over again. There are people I’ve met here that I will think about every day for years. Everyone I have interacted with has on some level left an indelible mark within me. As a result of my time in England when I return to the states I will be a better leader, debater, Model United Nations representative, and person. In my final three weeks in England I will continue to pretend that the relationships I have formed here will never have to come to a close- I think it is best that way.

On a less sad note, it has been especially interesting in my courses this year as students discuss the role of the American government in international affairs. Many of my course mates I feel make very broad generalizations about the actions of my government that have little evidentiary support. I’ve heard people say things like “American’s aren’t political active”, “No one protested Vietnam until five years after the war”, “American’s don’t care about health care”, and “American is full of religious fanatics.” Not only are all of these statements broad generalizations, they are also completely unfounded. I don’t care how much Noam Chomsky my colleagues think they have read, there were definitely protesters of the Vietnam War as soon as the draft was initiated. I am the first to admit the faults of my government, but when people make such evidentiary irresponsible claims I can’t help but be offended. Perhaps I am lost in a daze of patriotism, but these insults hurt just as much as if someone had said these things about my own mother. On the flip side, I struggle making conclusions in my British Politics course about the British Government. When asked to answer questions such as “Should monarchy be preserved in Britain?” I can’t help but realize that everyone else in the classroom has a tie to the queen that I will never feel. I believe that we can come to conclusions on each other’s governments, but we should be aware of the implications of the words that we use to describe our thoughts. I think I have become much more responsible in my speech in the past four months as I feel the critical gaze of my course mates as I place their leaders under the microscope.

Today my family and American friends celebrate Thanksgiving, one of the most important American holidays. I am somewhat opposed to the celebration of Thanksgiving as I feel it is rooted in American imperialism and celebrates the near extermination of a native population… but I do appreciate the chance to say thanks for the things that have blessed us in our lives. I’m thankful for the ability to wake up each day and create for myself exactly the life I want to lead, I’m thankful for the range of emotions that I have experienced this year and what I have learned from them, I’m thankful for my family and our journey through the American Southwest this summer, I’m thankful for every moment I’ve spent really alone and the travel stories I have from traveling alone that I will always laugh to myself about, I’m thankful for the apartment sisters (Jessica, Joslyn, Sahara, Erin, and I) and the adventures we had, I’m thankful for the times I played board games and shared a hotel room with Jarid and Anneli and the long conversations I had with Chris over the summer, I’m thankful for the people who may be oceans away but who still make an effort to stay in touch, I'm thanking for people like Hillary Clinton, Claire McCaskill, and Crystal who are making American politics better day by day, I’m thankful for the generosity of the leaders of the kayaking team to teach me to kayak, I’m thankful for every moment I’ve spent with Lawrence and the ways he has made me into a more actualized person, I’m thankful for nights with Charlotte and the ways she challenges my perceptions of the world, I’m thankful for everyone in Europe who has shared their world with me, I’m thankful for Katie, Stacey, Laura, Cat, Amy, and Amy who are some of the most fun people I’ve ever met, I’m thankful for Carlie who always seems to be able to give the best advice, and for Roni and every lunch we have made together, I’m thankful for the people I have met while traveling and the sunsets that I have been witness too, I’m thankful for every randomer who has been willing to engage in conversation with me and who has taught me something about the world that they experience, and most importantly I’m thankful that I have too many things for which to be thankful.

I have twenty days remaining in England of which I will spend time in Italy and Greece. I hope to spend the rest studying, writing papers, kayaking, swimming, and being with the people that I care about.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Kayaking and York

At the risk of sounding repetitive, it has been another great week in Europe! My classes are picking up a bit and I’m really glad that I got such a head start on my papers. Last Thursday I celebrated Bonfire day (Guy Fawkes Day) with my flatmates and our friends. The celebrations associated with Guy Fawkes Day seem to be very similar to those associated with American Independence Day. There were bonfires and fireworks all around the city and the celebration lasted a few days. We went for a long walk around Preston and surrounding cities watching fireworks as we walked.

Friday morning I went into the laboratory to observe my Ecology professor conduct research on earthworms. It was really interest to see the results and progress of decades of research. My professor is one of the leading earthworm researchers in the world. He taught me a lot about the various species and showed me some earthworms that were far larger than what I had seen in the United States. He told me about ways that earthworms divide into new species and that upon reintroduction can sometimes merge two species into one. Humynkind too may have at one point become multiple species and then became merged back together. I’m really interested in the study of speciesism which addresses the normative tendency of humynkind to place humans above other species. If humyns were at one point divided into two different species it seems evident to me that the barrier between a humyn and another species is very small.

I spent most of the weekend on a kayak trip with the University of Central Lancashire Kayak Club of which I am a part. We camped in Hexham, England and kayaked the Tyne River most notably through Warden’s Gorge. It was really cold outside but the trip was one of the most fun weekends I have had since I’ve been in Europe. On the second day the water levels were kind of low and there were hundreds of huge rocks to dodge. This weekend was the first time that I had kayaked rapids which was a great experience. I was so scared during parts of the trip! I swam once: I got pinned on a rock and then pulled myself off it and got stuck on another rock with a fellow teammate. She flipped my boat over and I went through part of the rapids upside down until I caught myself on a rock and waited for help; the adrenaline rush was amazing. On the third day we kayaked the same stretch of the river, the water was much higher and the waves seemed enormous. The stretch seemed a lot easier and our coach explained that “we were just more experienced and better.” I made it all the way through the difficult parts of the river without swimming but then ran into a concrete wall and got sucked under a tree, it was embarrassing! I wouldn’t have had to swim if I had made a decision; sometimes making any decision is better than making no decision. At night our team hung out in the car park playing a game called “Tally Ho” and Hide and go Seek. It was a great weekend. I was really impressed by the camaraderie of the group and how kind all of the older members seemed to be. The team leadership did most of the work loading the trailer and van and the chairperson woke up first each morning to make breakfast for everyone. Someone was always offering to help me carry my kayak and there was a general spirit of working for the common good that I don’t always see in clubs in the United States. I’ve learned a lot about leadership from observing the leaders of the kayak club. My arms and legs are covered in bruises from the weekend. My flatmates were disgusted by the blue-nature of my upper arm. I’m kind of proud of the bruises, they show that I did something really cool this weekend. I’m so glad that I randomly decided to start kayaking. It is so impressive to me that people who have never before been in a kayak can just show up and join the kayak team and be given so much instruction and attention. The leadership of the kayak team is very selfless and funnels so much time into novice members of the team. Most of the really good kayakers want to someday be kayak instructors and I know that they will be good at their trade. I really respect the good kayakers on the team.

On Monday my friend Carlie Wardell and I went to York. I was much impressed by the city and its Roman and Viking ruins. We saw a humyn turd that had been preserved from the Viking days and an ancient Roman pillar. We toured the Jorvik Viking Center, the Castle, and saw the York Minster. We had a nice lunch in a local pub too and chatted about our upcoming trip to Greece. We learned that in the tower of the castle we toured 150 Jewish people had burned themselves to death 900 years ago so that they wouldn’t be tortured. It was eerie to see the burn marks on the concrete and imagine the thought process that led to those decisions, the experience foreshadowed for me how I’m sure I will feel while touring concentration camps later in the year.

One of my minor courses of study in the United States is “Womyn’s Studies” and I have enjoyed exploring gender through the perspective of another culture. Unlike the United States, Britain has equality in pay between the genders, equality in voter turnout, the NHS provides free birth control, and maternity leave is significantly longer. Womyn are treated so differently here than in the United States. I’ve seen so many examples of British womyn who challenge all gender standards. As awkward as it is to talk about people over a blog… my friend Charlotte is one of those womyn. Charlotte is gorgeous, a bright student of Outdoor Leadership, volunteered in Ghana, a killer kayaker, a great dancer, and a soldier. She tells me stories of telling off cheeky boys in the military and isn’t afraid to tell people where to go. She is one of those womyn who has conquered the world and seems to be good at everything. She is one of the people that I have met in England that I really hope to remain friends with for years to come. Womyn here seem to be able to participate in any field they choose and are respected for their contributions. In my experience, chivalry is present in England but is not a guise for lust as it sometimes is in the United States. Humyn relationships just seem a lot easier in the English social setting!

Tomorrow I head out to Madrid to participate in a program called “Pueblo Ingles” wherein I will foster intercultural communication between native English speakers and Spaniards in the international relations setting. It should be fun!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Norway, Sweden, and Manchester

“I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and
danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love. I felt in myself a superabundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet life” –Tolstoy

Life never seems to slow down! I spent the past weekend in Norway and in Sweden exploring two very eccentric cultures and beautiful landscapes. It was interesting to see how homogenous the population of Scandinavia seemed, locals explained to me that Norway is very resistant toward immigrants which helps to preserve the unique nature of the population. As I found in Holland, the native languages of Norway and Sweden seem to be dying as fluency in English becomes more and more necessary. While globalization enhances our ability to understand new cultures it also erodes the very presence of those cultures. While I would consider myself very much in favour of immigration it was interesting to see a community that has maintained its historic genealogy.

I toured the Resistance Museum housed within the National Castle. The Museum chronicles the efforts of Norway to resist German occupation and then to support the Allied cause during World War 2. I had never before realized what a significant role Norway had played in World War 2 history. It was shocking to see images of the Nazi flag flying over the city in which I had spent my weekend. I can’t imagine the bravery of the Norwegian people as they hoped and prayed that once again their country would be liberated. Since I have been in Britain I have developed a considerable amount of respect for the British military and especially their role in World War 2.

In Norway I also toured the Nobel Peace Museum which contained an exhibit equating Barack Obama to Martin Luther King Jr. I found a picture in the exhibit of Senator McCaskill with Obama which brought back fond memories. I’ve found a resounding sentiment of support for Obama throughout Europe. Though I have some personal disagreements with some of his policies, I am absolutely convinced that image of the United States abroad has significantly increased since the Obama administration. Though it is unsubstantiated evidence, friends who studied abroad during the Bush administration have told me of being treated far differently than is my experience and I think that a part of that is the Obama presidency. The United States is not the country that we were even one year ago.

From Oslo I took the train to Karlstad Sweden to visit my friend Liz who is studying through the same program of which I am a part in Sweden. Even though we are a part of the same program there were some major differences between our experiences. It was neat witnessing someone else’s experience while studying away. Liz lives with other international students who all get together each night for family dinner. I loved the communal spirit of the group. One night we had traditional German food and the following night made sushi together. I am very fascinated with communal living and would like to experience it someday. At night we shared travel stories and sang along to folk music on the guitar. I think my favourite four things to do are paint, canoe/kayak, play board games, and participate in sing-a-longs. I love the way that people come together over a guitar, I really wish that I were able to play.

On my second day in Sweden I went for a hike with some of Liz’s friends through the nearby woods. The views in the woods were lovely and I loved hearing the sound of the birds and woodpeckers, sounds that I don’t experience that often in Preston! On our hike we came across a village situated in the woods with signs of life but no people. We hopped the fence and explored a bit. We found some foot prints and even a house that was stocked with food but could not find any people. It was a bit scary.

It was really nice to have a chance to chat with Liz about the ways we have grown and changed since leaving Missouri. I discovered things about her that we had in common and developed a connection with her of which I wasn’t previously aware. We discussed ways that being abroad has helped us shed new light on concerns or issues that we felt we had in the United States. Travel and distance really are the best medicines. I am happier than I ever realized was possible in England. I feel in control of my life and have matured since my arrival. I don’t think I am the same person that I was over the summer, returning to Missouri will be very challenging and the relationships that I have there will not be the same.

I spent the first part of this weekend visiting my friends Roni and Guy Samuels in Manchester. On Friday night I had Sabbath dinner with their family. It was very interesting to see people operate within a different religious setting and also to see the setup of their kitchen with separate areas for dishes that hold meat and cheese. Roni and Guy’s grandfather is a Holocaust survivor and I was on the edge of my seat as he accounted for some of his experiences in the camps. I have always wanted to meet a Holocaust survivor and am lucky to have had the opportunity. We played many games of Backgammon and Othello and spent Halloween morning playing a very intense game of Risk. Guy and Roni were formidable opponents. In the afternoon we visited a friend of Roni’s for a birthday party and went to a nightclub to celebrate Halloween. I wore a cheeky Uncle Sam costume.

A friend loaned me a copy of the book “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer which has become one of my favourite books. The lead character, Chris, leaves his Emory education and wealthy family behind as he explores the wilderness of Alaska. In some ways I kind of feel like Chris; I am alone in a sense exploring a land previously unknown to me, and I have a fixed place to live but am also a nomad. I am struggling between so many different choices for what to do this summer and in general how to live my life. I have found a way to study abroad next year in Mexico and in China and am very interested in the possibility yet the chance also frightens me. I explained my fears to Liz in Sweden and she retorted “if you’re going to let a fear of not having friends in Springfield stop you then you’re not the person I thought you were.” She’s right. Life just seems to be a game of infinite opportunities of which I must select a choice and be happy with the opportunity cost. The future is very bright, I will be happy in whichever direction I choose to tread. Below are some quotes from the book that stuck a note for me:

*”He was alone. He was unheeded, happy, and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and willful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the seaharvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight. “-James Joyce
*”It is the experiences, the memories, the great triumphant joy of living to the fullest extent in which real meaning is found. God it’s great to be alive! Thank you. Thank you.” –Chris
*”The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched” –Thoreau
*”But for some reason incomprehensible to me you wanted to bolt for home as quickly as possible, right back to the same situation which you see day after day after day. I fear you will follow this same inclination in the future and thus fail to discover all the wonderful things that God has placed around us to discover. Don’t settle down and sit in one place. Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon.’ –Chris
*”It may, after all, be the bad habit of creative talents to invest themselves in pathological extremes that yield remarkable insights but no durable way of life for those who cannot translate their psychic wounds into significant art or thought” –Theodor Roszak
*”The physical domain of the country had its counterpart in me. The trails I made led outward into the hills and swamps, but they led inward also. And from the study of things underfoot, and from reading and thinking, come a kind of exploration, myself and the land. In times the two became one in my mind. “ –John Haines
*”I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbor- such is my idea of happiness. And then, on top of all that, you for a mate, and children, perhaps- what more can the heart of a man desire?” –Tolstoy
*”There are no events but thoughts and the heart’s hard turning, the heart’s slow learning where to love and whom. The rest is merely gossip, and tales for other times. “ –Annie Dillard

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wales, Lake District, and Ireland

“It is good to realize that if love and peace can prevail on earth, and if we can teach our children to honor nature's gifts, the joys and beauties of the outdoors will be here forever.”
Jimmy Carter

Last weekend I joined a group from the University to go camping in Northern Wales. The trip was oriented around learning survival skills. We hiked down to the beach where we found large cliffs and a rocky beach area. We learned to make water potable and to find food on the beach. Several members of the group and I were responsible for building a shelter in which our group would reside. We built a stone wall to block the wind and then tied our tarp to an abandoned boat to shelter us from rain. Sleeping directly on the rocks was not nearly as bad as I had imagined. I met a lot of really interesting people on the trip including Roni and Guy, a brother sister duo who spent gap years working in communes in Israel. Also interesting was Lawrence who has spent summers working in camps for imprisoned youth in the United States. Lawrence has a keen interest in the outdoors but also gender issues and politics; I didn’t know that people like that existed! I’m going skiing with Roni over part of Halloween weekend.

Having grown up in a land-locked state, I continue to be impressed by sights of the sea. There is nothing in the world as calming or as beautiful as the crash of water against the beach and the view of an orange sunset. The outdoors is therapeutic and rejuvenating. When I am outdoors I serve as witness to something so much greater than humanity; I see a world with many component parts that function together in equality. Nature is everything that I wish society could be.

I joined the kayak team for a canal session wherein we learned a bit more about paddling and entering/exiting the boats in a beautiful (though polluted) canal in Preston. In the canal we had relay races wherein we had to launch ourselves in the water, paddle across the canal, and then get out of the water. We also played tag with wet sponges. Kayaking is so different from canoeing but I think I really like it. I’m looking forward to the Tyne Tour that the team is attending in early November.

Swimming practices continue to motivate and to challenge me, it has only been two weeks and I can already feel myself getting stronger. One of my swim friends was explaining to me her study of sign language. I noticed that some of the signs that she used were different from the signs that I have learned. She explained to me that every country has a very different form of sign language. Though American Sign Language (ASL) is popular, many countries find that ASL cannot describe the world as they know it and accordingly create their own sign language. As more and more of the world converts to English and ASL I fear that we are losing so many of the terms that previous cultures used to describe their world. I’ve heard that Inuits have many different words to describe snow: as the Inuit language dies off do those explanations of snow also die? I’m so afraid of globalization and it bothers me that so many countries are turning away from their previous languages to favour English. Many of the people that I met in Ireland did not even know how to speak Irish. Some people explained to me that Irish is taught only in the countryside.

For the first part of the weekend I went to visit a girl that I met in Liverpool on my way home from Paris a few weekends ago. Carlie is Canadian and works in a hotel in the lake district. On Thursday night she introduced me to all of her fellow employees and we went dancing. Sitting in the employee lounge was like a mini-United Nations. The lounge saw representation of Canada, USA, Jamaica, Spain, Brazil, Poland, Romania, Latvia, and others that I don’t remember. On Friday we visited the Beatrix Potter sights and took a ferry across the lake to a nearby village where we hiked around a bit and saw some wonderful views of Lake Windermere. The superimposition of the mountains and the lake was wonderful and reminded me of Lake Tahoe.

On Saturday morning I flew to Dublin for a three-day visit. I went on a walking tour of the city, saw much of the historical monuments from the 1916 Revolution, learned about the potato famine, went to the National Gallery to see an exhibit on Edward Munch, saw the Dublin Castle and gardens, saw the tomb of Saint Valentine, toured the James Joyce Centre, and went to the Chester Beatty library. Some of the most interesting things I saw included original letters from Paul to the Romans, and ancient illuminated manuscripts. I also attended services at Christ Church which is home to the Cathedral Choir which first performed Handel’s Messiah. As the choir processed during Saturday evensong I was overwhelmed with the beautiful music. I didn’t recognize any of the hymns that were song, but the service was an amazing experience. I went back to the Cathedral for services on Sunday and was once again impressed. I was invited to the coffee fellowship and was surprised to find that the coffee fellowship was held in the old dungeons of the church. The coffee fellowship is to me such a mundane part of fellowship, it was so interesting to experience coffee fellowship in the midst of one of the most lovely places in the world. The dungeons held a lot of the artifacts of the church including communion sets that had been provided by kings and queens of England. The church was absolutely lovely. I love the intersection of Protestant and Catholic tradition within the Anglican Church. I do not consider myself a Catholic, but I find repeating the Nicene Creed and various Catholic prayers to be a very important part of my prayer life. Some of the people I met at the coffee fellowship told me a bit more about the Anglican faith, explaining that the term “Catholic” means “unity” and that in Europe the Catholic church is much more of an umbrella than it is in the U.S. The members of Christ Church also told me a lot about religious struggled between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in which Christ Church had played a role. The man ended by saying, “you know, there seems to be a lot of religion but not a lot of Christianity going on around Ireland.” Interesting.

My study of Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France” has raised many questions for me about the role of revolution and independence in the international community. Spending a weekend in the midst of a relatively newly independent state helped me to better contextualize those questions. In Ireland I witnessed a political protest to Spanish control of the Basque. I also chatted with a Filipino womyn about independence movements of the Muslim population of the Philippines. Is the search for independence a mechanism through which we refuse to negotiate with a dominant government or is independence necessary for the development of different political interests? How do we justify the American Revolution while also denying a right for the Confederate States to secede in 1861? I’m going to continue studying these questions and maybe allow them to become my senior thesis.

I am happy to be back home and to face a brand new week.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


"I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I'm free" Anne Frank

It has been another wonderful week in England! I’ve gotten involved a wide variety of clubs and societies at the University including: newspaper, Christian Union, Law Society, Swim Team, Mountaineers, and Kayak team. I am hoping to soak up every bit of Europe that is possible on my short four-month stay. My days are busy and filled with enriching experiences.

I have always enjoyed sports and exercise and through college I have really missed my experiences swimming for a competitive team in high school. There is a sense of motivation and team spirit that comes only when exists a team. I believe I am naturally very determined, but having a team behind me encourages me to push myself a bit harder. The first swim practice was yesterday, it was tough and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to walk afterward. I’m really excited for practice tonight and the adrenaline rush that goes hand-in-hand with swimming. I think I like sports so much lately because sports alone mirror the intensity that I take toward life.

Last week was my first day of rock climbing practice with the mountaineers. I have always been so afraid of repelling down rocks. I know that I will be safe, but the substantial drop gets me every time. From the top of the climbing gym I told myself, “If I can go to Paris by myself then I think I can repel 60 ft.” I leaned back and allowed myself to be pulled down the cliff. Slowly but surely I am debunking every fear that I have in life. Every challenging workout or experience that I have had is just weakness leaving my body. I don’t have to be afraid anymore.

Last weekend I went to Holland to visit my close friend Sahara Meyer who is studying abroad in Leiden, Netherlands. Sahara and I went to Amsterdam for the day on Friday. We saw the general tourist sights: Homomonument, the Royal Palace, the National Monument, the Red Light district, and we toured the hiding place of Anne Frank during the Second World War. The business where Anne Frank hid was quite spacious. The floors creaked with each step I took, the eerie nature of the home still present. I read Anne Frank’s diary in 4th grade and had an image in my mind of a cramped dank attic where the family members were crammed together. The hiding place was actually quite large, providing spacious living areas and bedrooms. Anne’s diary does a phenomenal job of describing the horrors of being in hiding; of remaining quiet throughout the day and treading lightly at night. Anne writes about wishing she could play outside, or have access to more books. The psychological impacts of isolation become so evident in Anne’s writing. It is strange to think that such a wise and candid writer could have been only sixteen years of age at death. Perhaps the most moving part of the exhibit was a picture of Anne’s Father in the house a few years after the end of the war; in the photo Otto braces himself against one of the walls and holds his hat over his heart. Anne died just weeks before Auschwitz was liberated. Anne’s friends are quoted as explaining that Anne believed her entire family to be dead and lost her own will to live, “she died when she choose not to live.” Maybe that is true outside of war situations as well.

I was lucky to be in Holland for the celebration of “Leiden Day” which is a Dutch independence celebration. Leiden was blanketed in roller coasters, hot dog stands, carnival games, and dances. On Saturday morning we went to the Leiden Day parade. Each year, Leiden selects a different country’s movements toward independence as the theme of their parade, celebrating independence throughout the world. This year the theme was “The American Dream” detailing historical events in the United States since colonization. There were floats for Native Americans, Amish, and other immigrant groups. The parade ended with a tribute to American pop culture including floats representing High School Musical and Titanic. I don’t think that I have ever seen a more high quality parade of American history than what I saw in Holland! The celebration of the independence of other nation’s on Leiden Day reminded me a proverb I learned in Haiti that, “my independence is intrinsically connected to yours.”

In England, students attend high school for a few years and then go to “college” which is the equivalent of the upper years of American high school. Sometimes my flatmates will reminisce about their “college times” and it always startles me. I can’t believe that I am already more than halfway finished with University. Someday I too will speak of fond memories of college… I just don’t want that to happen quite yet!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain

It has been another week of tremendous adventures in Europe! I visited the grocery store last Monday to stock up on food for the month. The aisles of the local Aldis were quite different than the Aldis where I shop at home; there is an aisle for Indian food, an aisle for vinegar and salt, a freezer for chips, and seemingly thousands of choices of cheeses. I selected all of the necessary groceries and then wandered the store looking for some brownie mixes or something to satiate my sweet tooth. Finding no high calorie snacks on my own, I asked for help and was directed to a small stand of desert products with unfamiliar brand names and ingredients. The packaging for one cake-like product said “sugar icing” so I figured it would probably be a winner. I walked home from Aldis to open my sweet treat and discovered that it was… a fruitcake. I don’t know anyone who enjoys receiving fruitcake, but more so, I don’t know anyone who would be pleased to get a fruitcake when one had expected a traditional cake. I took a bite of it and was surprised to discover that I actually really like fruitcake. Life is full of times when we get fruitcakes while expecting something better. I don’t know why I jumped to the conclusion that the fruitcake was bad when really, I had never before tasted fruitcake. Perhaps instead we should be open to all types of foods that come in strange packaging: we never know what life will give us but, maybe it will be better than we expected.

My flat mates are continuously surprised with my lack of recognition of popular British foods. One dish that my roommates all enjoy is called “cheese on toast.” I asked Katie, one of my roommates, how to make cheese on toast and was told, “well… you make toast, and then put cheese on it.” So I did just that- I toasted a piece of bread and then placed cheese on it. Katie saw my creation and told me that I failed at making cheese on toast. Apparently, I am supposed to toast the bread, and then place the cheese on the bread and put the bread in the oven.

Over cheese and toast and fruitcake the other night, my flatmates and I were chatting and I was asked about reclamation projects (where certain words that have negative connotations are “reclaimed” by groups to become words with positive connotations). I explained the many angles of reclamation and why I chose to avoid the “N” word. I was surprised that it took my roommates about thirty seconds to realize what is the “N” word. England treats people of African descent so differently than does the United States. I believe that racism is prevalent in the United Kingdom, but it is so interesting to me that an African person can move about the city without being questioned, stared at, or otherwise singled out. This society is proof to me that a world without hatred toward people of African descent is possible. I still believe that the United States can overcome our legacy of slavery. I hope too that my grandchildren will know the “N” word only in a historical sense.

This weekend I traveled throughout Paris. I spent Friday and Saturday in Paris and Versailles and then on Sunday travelled in Normandy to the city of Caen wherein I was able to visit the D-Day beaches. I saw all of the traditional French sites on foot on Friday and then spent the evening in the Louvre. On Saturday I explored Versailles, took a cruise over the Siene river in Paris, and spent the afternoon at a rally against land mines and cluster munitions. Never before have I been in a country that speaks a language foreign to me all by myself. It was kind of scary to be limited to the phrases “hello” “goodbye” “I am American” and “I live in England.” I didn’t even know how to say that I didn’t speak French! When I learn to successfully navigate a new town I feel so invincible, that I can do anything. The world is my playground and all I have to do is hop on the swings.

In the youth hostel where I stayed in Paris I met several interesting people. The first night my roommates were boys from Japan, the second night I shared a room with a girl from Spain and a girl from France. The Spanish girl challenged me to work harder on learning Spanish. She told me, fairly bluntly, that there is no excuse for me to not be fluent. I am so self-conscious about my American accent when I speak Spanish but my travels have shown me that everyone speaks foreign languages in their own native accent. I will probably never be able to roll my R’s, but if I stop worrying about sounding American and just speak I am sure that I will improve. I really crave the opportunity to live in a country for the purpose of learning a language. I am researching ways to study or to live at some point in a Spanish speaking country to push my Spanish to the level of fluency that I so desire.

One day in Paris I was leaving the metro card purchasing station and heard a loud scream at my feet. A gypsy womyn had positioned herself between my legs and I had not heard her pleas for money. In stepping away from the station I had stepped on her toes. I said I was sorry several times while concurrently wondering why she had decided to sit below my miniskirt. She began moving her hands like the wizards in Harry Potter muttering a curse in my direction. From the position of my studies of race relations, I am very intrigued by the Gypsy populations. I am continuing to read all of the literature I can find about the Gypsys. I haven’t found any remedies to a Gypsy curse online, but I have a feeling that I will be okay. One of my flatmates has also been cursed by a Gypsy and everyone I have met seems to have a very negative image of the Gypsys. At the Tour Eiffel around twenty Gypsy womyn were wandering around with a piece of paper that said, “My mother has been killed and my brother is starving. Please help.”

My main intention in going to Paris was to see the D-Day beaches off the coast of Normandy. I am very interested in World War 2 history and… I love beaches. I bought a train ticket to Caen, France where my guidebook said I could transfer to a bus for the beaches. I got to Caen expecting a developed city that was accustom to English speaking tourists looking for the beaches, instead I found the train station to be surrounded by fields and the nearest stores (about 1 mile away) to be closed on Sundays. I didn’t find a single person in Caen who spoke English. I wandered around the town pointing to the words “D-Day Beaches” in my guidebook hoping that someone would be able to direct me to the correct beach. At one point I was asking a family leaving church and a homeless man came up and indicated that I should follow him. I followed the homeless man for several blocks in totally desolate areas. Eventually we got to a bus stop and I thanked the Lord that this guy hadn’t caused me harm! On the bus I had no idea which stop I should get off at to access the beaches and performed a reenactment of D-Day in the front of the bus until someone figured out what I was talking about. Eventually I got to the beach. First, I went to a museum that was created by D-Day veterans and gave personal accounts of the invasion from the British perspective at Sword Beach. I found the accounts to be very eerie and it was difficult for me to think of so many soldiers and bodies as being real people. The pictures of the graves show the names of boys aged 19-22, boys that are my age. It was eerie to think that those names could have been the names of my school friends, my brother, and people from my community. The World War 2 generation is a generation that I believed showed unprecedented patriotism and dedication to fighting for a cause that they believed to be just. The World War 2 generation certainly is the “greatest generation.” From the museum I made my way to the Casino that was invaded and became a temporary Allied bunker, and to the beaches where thousands of British landed, broke into France, and died. I was surprised to find that the beach was not covered in memories of the war. Unlike the American beaches, no military equipment remains on the beach. Now the beach is a place for people to swim, lay out, fly kites, and ride horses. I have never seen such a happy post-war area. I believe that the message of Sword Beach is that bad things happen but that we can overcome those resentments and deaths. I stood on the beach with German tourists, descendants of the Nazi party, remembering such a horrible atrocity but also enjoying the sun on our faces and the water hitting our legs. It was nice. As I walked along the beach I felt the sand between my toes, sand that could consist of the crushed bones of our Allied brothers. A beautiful world has been given to us by the sacrifice of our sisters and brothers in uniform and we should not forget that sacrifice, but we should also enjoy the legacy that we have been given. One of the German tourists offered to take my picture on the beach. I felt uncomfortable smiling in such a somber place, I think that the Germans sensed my discomfort as they said, “No, smile- the battle is over.” Smile. The battle is over.

After being in a country for which I did not speak the language, any sight of a British flag was much appreciated as it generally indicated that an English translation was nearby. England feels completely like home to me now. When asked about my residence I find myself quickly saying that I live in Preston, England. As my airplane flew back into England I felt like I was coming home after a long weekend away. “Back to my country,” I thought, a place where I know the language and am completely comfortable! A feel a sense of nationalist pride when I see the British flag that I did not feel before arriving in this country. I will always be American and will hold the American flag closest to me, but I never realized that I could have such a connection with multiple countries. I have a feeling that when my parents read this paragraph I will get some very concerned e-mails.

Things are wonderful in Preston as well. While I am gone each weekend my flatmates have managed to get 2 warnings from security meaning that another visit from security will leave us all on the streets. My flatmates are a lot of fun and all very nice. They definitely enjoy sleeping in quite late, sometimes I am eating dinner when I hear the first one wake up. I am lucky to have been placed in such an accepting and welcoming flat. Classes are going wonderfully as well. Today I had three hours of Modern Political Theory and three hours of Ecology. I am infatuated with my ecology course! My ecology professor is one of the leading worm researchers in the world, today he lectured about reproductive habits of worms. My Modern Political Theory course has only four students. At Missouri State the Political Theory courses involved a short lecture and significant amount of time in seminar, in England the course is half lecture where we study the events of the time and history that affected the writing of the theorist (i.e- today we studied the effects of the story of Judith in the Bible and the uprisings against the Medici family on the writings of Machiavelli) and then half seminar. Tomorrow I have Polish and Thursday I have British Politics. I’m off to Amsterdam this weekend and will update upon my return.

All my best,

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Scotland and Church

"If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live." --Lin Yutang

I was online Thursday afternoon when I received a message from an acquaintance, “Hey… I met you in line the other day. I know we don’t know each other, but do you want to go to Scotland with me this weekend?” We planned our adventure and determined we would leave just 8 hours later, at 3:50 in the morning. I referenced the upcoming trip in my facebook status and another acquaintance who I met at the Christian Union asked if she could join. The four of us met up early Friday morning in the courtyard of our flat complex, introduced ourselves, and started walking through the night to the bus stop. The formation of our relationship was so beautiful, I want to live in a world where strangers can trust each other to travel together. The friendships that I have created in England are so different from my friendships at home; here we are all “strangers in a strange land,” we have been thrown together and must grow from each other.

We arrived Friday morning in Glasgow, Scotland where we wandered for a bit and then took a train to Edinburgh. In Edinburgh we walked through the Edinburgh castle, stopped in a few shops, and went on a walking tour of the city. I have discovered a tour company called “NewEurope” which offers tips-only tours in every major city. I have found these tours to be incredibly informative and plan to engage in these tours throughout my travels. The tour showed us several locations that were critical in the formation of the Harry Potter book series. We had lunch at “The Last Drop” which is the location where those about to be executed would enjoy their final meal and drink. That night we had dinner together in a pub and stuck around a bit to meet people in the pub. We ran into some Australians who are in Scotland on business, Irish celebrating a bachelor party and birthday, Irish on holiday, and some Scottish advertising executives. I believe that I have learned more from talking with people that I meet in pubs than I have learned from city tours and classes combined. Everyone has a story and tales of living in Europe and it is easiest to hear a more organic version of those stories when people are feeling “socially liberated.” The next morning we took the 6:30 am train to Inverness. We had some difficulty getting our tickets as the credit cards on which we had purchased our tickets did not contain a “chip and pin” which is commonplace in European cards. It is amazing how many technological differences exist between the United States and Europe. The US is quite far behind!

Inverness was truly amazing. I have always been interested in the legends of Loch Ness and had dreamed of traveling to the Loch. As I stood on the shore of the Loch I felt a sense of accomplishment, that I had sincerely wanted something and then had done what was necessary to accomplish that goal. In the rush of the waves I felt so in control of my life and its outcome; I believe I can craft myself into the person that I want to become and I believe I can shape the world into a better place.

For about an hour I sat on the bank of Loch Ness. I felt the warm sun on my face in the cold morning and watched each wave ripple and fall against the shore. It was quite lovely. My brother Samuel would have loved the Loch. The splatter of the waves was both violent and peaceful. I really love the pictures of me at the Loch. The pictures from the Loch capture a version of myself with whom I am not strongly acquainted; a “Judith” who is organic, grungy, happy, and natural. I like who I was at the Loch. In the afternoon we went on a cruise through the Loch and then toured a Jacobite castle. The castle was amazing! We saw a traditional Scottish wedding at the castle.

So much of the world, and many members of my own family, will never get to experience Scotland. The challenge that I have is conveying to my family these things that they have not and perhaps will never experience. Pictures are helpful, and I can draw many analogies to experiences that I shared with my family in the USA, but holistically- I cannot convey the grandeur of Loch Ness in words. I can’t justify why I should get to have these experiences and so much of the world not. I do believe that I have been commissioned to at least make an attempt to convey my perceptions of the world to those that I encounter, but also to use my time in Europe to learn how to live “the good life.” I will use my spiritual rejuvenation and new understandings to make my world at home a better place. What a huge and fulfilling goal!

That evening we took the Megabus from Inverness to Preston. The bus was full of grumpy old men and young people returning from a football game. We happened to sit next to some quite drunk Scotsmen who entertained us the entire ride. The boys led a sing-a-long on the bus and told us about hating the Killy. One of the boys thought my friend Sabrina looked like Katie Holmes and consistently referred to her as “Katie” and the rest of us by the states in which we reside. We switched busses in Perth and one of the boys was accused of “being the ring leader and stamping his feet.” The boys walked throughout the mega bus to inquire if anyone was from Killy and to do a survey of who hated the Killy. One of the boys “married” my friend Vanessa on the mega bus and a business man traveling a few rows back was commissioned to be the ring bearer for the wedding. Those boys were completely obnoxious, but so funny.

This morning I went to church at the “Freedom Centre” and attended a student luncheon afterward. The church was quite different from my church at home, praise band music was the norm and the theology was not as progressive as I would appreciate. I found the people to be genuinely warm and welcoming, I felt like a long-term member during the service. I didn’t feel an awkward presence as a visitor. Though church in the parts of England in which I have traveled may be conservative, I have found church members to be so genuinely compassionate. The Christian Union (campus ministry) on the University campus made very developed meals for any International student or Freshman every night for two weeks. I can’t imagine committing the heart and the time to providing for new students in the way that the Christians on this campus have! There is a sense of generosity, genuine interest, and compassion in the Christian Union that I don’t often find in the States. I hope that my continued involvement in religion in England will make me a more compassionate and generous person. I see the friends that I have made in the Christian Union as being inspirational and Godly people.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

London and "Freshers Week"

It has been another great week in England! Over the weekend I met up with my good friend Meggie Mapes and two of her friends who are involved in the St Cloud State University study away program in England. After a 5.5 hour bus ride I arrived at the gates of the Victoria Coach Station Underground stop to navigate my way to a “Pizza Express” in an unknown location. There I was, a girl from “unconsolidated Greene County, Missouri” in the middle of London trying to figure out where to go. I was surprised to find myself unafraid. When I look back on my trip to London, I feel that if I can plan a trip to the largest city in Europe by myself… maybe I am capable of more than I ever imagined. Thus far, this semester has been a game of discovering my fears and beating them; fear of being in a new place, fear of knowing no one, fear of isolation, fear of leaving Missouri State. And through the London Underground sometimes I made a wrong turn, or I got on the wrong train, but in the end these mistakes didn’t matter.

On Friday Meggie, Jamie, Kristen, and I went to a nice dinner together and went back to the hostel to get ready for the evening. We hadn’t made any plans and decided to take the Underground and see what we could find. At random, we decided to get off at the Piccadilly Circus stop. WOW! As we came out from the underground station Times Square-like lights and ornate London buildings surrounded us. We got tickets to see a comedy show where we met several groups of interesting people that wanted to show us around London. I had been told that London wasn’t a friendly city but I was surprised that we were treated so kindly. I believe London was far more friendly than any city I have ever experienced. Saturday afternoon we went on a walking tour of the city with views of Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, St. James Garden, Cabinet War Room, Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. Toward the early evening we parted ways so that I could attend a tour of East London highlighting the history of plague, death, overcrowding, poverty, and Jack the Ripper murders of the city. Later that night we went back to Piccadilly Circus to find something to do and saw pedicycles which are bikes with a open area where passengers can sit. Meggie described riding the Pedicycles as being, “her dream!” The Polish pedicycle drivers drove us around London racing our two bikes. Almost everyone on the street high-fived us! I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as hard or had as much fun as I had on that stupid little bike. Sunday morning I said goodbye to the St. Cloud girls and went to church services at Westminster Abbey. The cathedral was breathtaking, I struggled to pay attention to the service as my eyes feasted upon the mosaics and arches. We sang the familiar hymm, “O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come!” Anytime I have missed home while abroad, I have turned to the church. Hymns, and favorite Bible verses create a sense of comfort in me like nothing else. Regardless of where I am God will be my “hope for years to come.” Wherever I go I feel that God is truly with me. After church I wandered through a London street festival, saw the Globe Theater, and spent several hours in the Tate Modern art museum.

It was great to get to reconnect with Meggie in such a wonderful city. It’s hard having friends move away and I’m consistently afraid that I will lose touch with the people that I love, but standing together in front of Trafalgar square was just like old times. We may not have seen each other in a year but our friendship is still there. Every once in a while Meggie would say to us, “Hey… we’re in London!” Living in England has become so natural to me that I forget that I am not at home.

This week is Freshers Week which is a week long orientation and celebration for new students. Because I am an exchange student and not enrolled in a program at the University, I have absolutely nothing official to do. I’ve been a bit stir crazy! I feel kind of like this whole week has been wasted, that nothing productive has been accomplished. I’ve been sitting in my room on facebook or studying for the LSAT everyday and then spending time with my roommates at night. Orientation week here is far different than orientation week at Missouri State! At Missouri State there are events to get to know Greek organizations, clubs and activities, and to listen to music in the student union. Here, the University sponsors parties every night that students are expected to attend. Each campus group also hosts a party or event that new students must attend to get to know the organization. New students bounce between the various events to meet other students and get to know the city. Orientation today was accompanied by free liquor on campus… in the middle of the day. It is a bit ridiculous to me how much focus is placed on these events, but on the other hand students are excited to learn more about the school because it is done in a fun way.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

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"The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature."
-Anne Frank

I've been in England now for just over two hours. I flew first from Kansas City to New York, and then from New York to Manchester. The flights were not nearly as tiring as I had expected, the plan came equipped with tens of movies, games, and t.v. shows and two complimentary meals. The girls I sat with were 21 year-olds from Liverpool who were returning from a eight week trip through the United States. After I enjoyed all of the free entertainment that I could bear, I allowed myself to drift off into rest against the wall of the airplane. A few hours later I woke up to the most beautiful sight that I have ever witnessed. A pink, orange, and yellow sunset arose at the horizon level with my line of vision from the plane. Soft, white clouds dusted a surface that may have been more clouds, an iceberg, or an ocean. I could see ridges within the surface and something that looked like a mountain range. I don't know what that "thing" was... but it was beautiful. The view from my plane window became to me something of a metaphor for God's beauty in nature; we may not know the "purposes" that an item can serve, we may never understand the depth of reason within another being.... but it is beautiful, and that is enough.

The most important thing that I have learned thus far in my trip is that I do not and will not understand everything. I've strained myself the past two days in airports to make out words from language, or to overhear nearby conversations and daydream about where fellow passengers are headed; but as hard as a try I can't translate a single word in Japanese or Chinese. So instead, I relax at the train station absorbing the beauty of that which I do not know. I listen to the inflection of the Indian language spoken by the womyn next to me... and am content.

Soon I will board my train to Preston, England and will settle into my flat on the campus of my University. I will write again soon.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


"What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dissapearing? It's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's goodbye. but we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies."
--Jack Kerouac, On the Road

I suppose that the year ahead of me is my "next crazy venture beneath the skies." I have spent the summer interning for U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, traveling cross country, and attending a wedding and a family reunion. I leave in just 18 short days for England. I intend to use this blog as a tool to share my experiences with my friends and family back home. Feel free to read as much or as little as you would like.

Zillions of thoughts scurry through my head as I prepare for my imminent departure; I am nervous, fearful, exhilarated, confused, and excited. This is one of the few times in my life where I have embraced the near future which a recognition that I really have no idea what I am getting myself into. I don't know who will be my roommates, I don't know how I will be getting from the airport to the University, I don't know where are the local grocery stories- but perhaps there is beauty in this ignorance. What I do know is that I will soon have answers to each of these questions and that I will be stronger for having to find answers.

So... here I go again on my own.