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.