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Bittersweet Homecoming

Time January 11th, 2016 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

Bittersweet. That’s the word that describes coming home after an amazing semester abroad. Yes, at times I wanted to snuggle with my pets, had cravings for Chick-fil-a, and had twinges of jealousy when I saw pictures of friends at home, but the closer my departure date came, the more I wished I could stay a little longer. While abroad I recognized I was in a unique situation, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Being so far out of my comfort zone was (not surprisingly) uncomfortable at first. Trying new things is an unavoidable part of spending a semester in a foreign country. I gave a shot at driving on the wrong side of the road, navigating with real, paper maps (gasp!), planning/booking my own trips, and even tasting octopus for the first time. My semester abroad expanded my comfort zone to make the uncomfortable situations not only comfortable, but something I grew to crave. Don’t get me wrong, I never wanted to be in terrifyingly difficult situations, but I enjoyed pushing myself to see just what I was made of.

As a history major, I signed up for two history classes and an art history class for fun. Specifically, I took a history course on Medieval Europe, a history of art from 1700-1900 course, and an American history course. I laughed, too, when I was placed into the latter and thought, “oh great, this will be boring, why couldn’t I have gotten into something else?”. But I gave it a chance and the American history class ended up being my favorite class, in part because it offered a new perspective on a subject I’ve been hearing about since I first heard about George Washington chopping down the cherry tree. The lesson I took out of my academic experience is to give everything a chance, and to cherish learning. For the first time in my college experience I got to learn for the sake of learning, not because a course was required or I had to make a perfect grade. This allowed me to really appreciate the opportunities given to me to study at the university level and at such a renowned institution.

Coming home where everything is familiar really was a culture shock when I realized that though everything stayed exactly the same, I had changed. The change isn’t obvious on the outside; I didn’t join a clan and start wearing their tartan pattern or go on a haggis, neeps, and tatties-only diet, but it’s obvious to me on the inside. I hope that I can take what I’ve learned: the independence, the ability to push myself, and learning to appreciate the moment, and use the aspects of myself that have changed to benefit myself in my next endeavors and in the way I approach my day-to-day life.

Returning after a semester of incredible travels, memories, and lessons is an adjustment. But Scotland and my semester abroad gave me an unbelievable experience and for that, I am forever grateful.

 

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Learning Experience

Time December 21st, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

It seems like just yesterday I was getting on the plane to come to Edinburgh. Due to rainy weather in Chicago, I had to take completely new flights and didn’t make it to the group flight. I was nervous that everyone would make friends and that I wouldn’t be able to navigate the airports. My semester abroad has had its share of nerve-wracking moments and times when I was unsure if I could handle the pressures. But one of the things I’ve learned while being abroad is that I can deal with the curve balls thrown at me, and I succeeded at surviving on my own this semester.

One of the skills I’ve picked up while abroad is the ability to adapt. I came to a new city knowing no one. I couldn’t tell you which way was North or South and couldn’t understand the Scottish accent. But with all things, you learn to adjust and I picked up the accent, found great friends, and can now confidently tell you which way the sea is, where Edinburgh is in relation to other Scottish cities, and even where the best restaurants are around town.

Another skill I’ve learned is to always be prepared. In Scotland it rains. A lot. So always be prepared and carry an umbrella. The same thing goes for having a backup plan. You never know what problems might come up and it’s always good to have a plan in place for the moments you can’t predict.

I have learned to appreciate and enjoy the little moments. Sometimes the best moments I’ve had while abroad are the ones where I stop and look around to take it all in. I recently had this moment as I was walking back from class and stumbled upon the Edinburgh Christmas Market. I stopped and got a cup of cider and walked around the tents thinking to myself how happy I was to be in the moment and to have the experience of a lifetime in Scotland.

I think the biggest thing I’ve gained from studying abroad is independence. I’ve mentioned that I have navigated trips by myself, figured out new cities, and adapted to new things. Through all my various experiences abroad I have not to be afraid to do things on my own, and I know that I will succeed if I put my mind to something. Furthermore, I know that not only am I able to do things on my own, I have grown to enjoy doing things on my own.

Adapting, being prepared, appreciating the small things, and valuing independence are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned abroad. These lessons were helpful in molding my study abroad experience and I know that will serve me well in the future.

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Thanksgiving Abroad

Time December 3rd, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

When I spoke to my flat mates about my excitement for Thanksgiving, I was greeted with blank stares and “What does that celebrate exactly?” I was shocked. I figured the Scots didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, given its cultural history and ties to America, but I did assume that people in Europe would know why it was celebrated. Wrong. I explained to them the basic story of the Native Americans helping the pilgrims survive their first winter in America and how they all gathered together to give thanks and had a big ole feast. I told them how some of the story had been exaggerated and it was unlikely that pumpkin pie was served at the first Thanksgiving. Despite my initial surprise, I made sure they knew what Thanksgiving was and how that it is only properly celebrated by an enormous amount of food, visiting with family and friends, and the nap that inevitably follows.

 

Living in a country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving feels wrong. Going to class instead of watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was a strange experience. But since I chose to study abroad during the fall semester, I didn’t expect to have the traditional Thanksgiving. However, I made the best of it and did what every abroad student should do: Find other Americans and eat. Luckily, I came with a program where it was easy to find other Americans who were also missing the turkey festivities. We decided to have our own Thanksgiving and fortunately the parents of one of my friends were in town. They did most of the cooking, but the girls and I made pumpkin and apple pies, potatoes, and homemade rolls. We all sat down and said what we were thankful for this year and were reminded of how grateful we are to be studying abroad.

 

My program also helped us celebrate the day by hosting a Thanksgiving meal with a Scottish twist. After being served delicious turkey, sweet potatoes, haggis, and minced pies, we had a ceilidh. We learned traditional Scottish dances and hopped around the room until our full stomachs could take no more. While it was strange to be away from home on this holiday, it was nice to commemorate it and incorporate Scottish culture into the celebration. If you’re ever in Scotland on Thanksgiving, grab a friend, some turkey, and maybe even some haggis and party like the Pilgrims!

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10 Tips To Be A Savvy Study Abroad Traveler

Time November 18th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

There are many things that make one a smart traveler when studying abroad, some of which must to be learned through trial-and-error.  I have compiled a list of the tips I find most valuable when traveling during a semester abroad:

  1. Remember your passport and important documents to get back into the country. This is pretty self-explanatory but in order to get anywhere it is necessary to bring these things with you.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I met one of my good friends by asking her for directions. It turns out that she was going to the same class and we instantly bonded over our lack of orientation. Had I not stopped to ask for help, I might never have found my classroom and I wouldn’t have met a great friend!
  3. Explore on your own. While making friends is essential to having an enjoyable study abroad experience, it is also important to be able to be independent. I enjoy walking through the city, exploring new places, and wandering into unique shops.  The feeling of setting out on your own and successfully navigating a new city or happening upon a beautiful sight is extremely rewarding.
  4. Be flexible with your travel plans. Although having an itinerary, purchasing tickets, and making reservations are important for efficient travel, things do come up and sometimes you have to go with the flow. It can be inconvenient, but being able to adapt to travel circumstances (missing a train, having a delayed flight, etc.) is an important part of learning to be a savvy traveler.
  5. Know something about the place you are going before you visit. I am occasionally guilty of showing up to a new location and not being educated about the culture or history of the place. Upon Googling the place after the fact, I learn interesting facts that would have been useful had I known them when I was there. Guidebooks and a little preparatory research have made my trips both enjoyable and culturally fulfilling.
  6. As fun as traveling throughout Europe is and jet-setting every weekend, it is also nice to relax and enjoy the country you are in. Scotland has so many beautiful spots to visit and after taking trips to St. Andrews, Inverness/Glencoe/the Highlands, the Isle of Skye, and Glasgow, I feel connected to Scotland and I have a much better understanding of the country.
  7. Keep a journal. I don’t always write as often as I should, but writing in a journal is a great way to record your experiences and memories.
  8. Stay in touch with people you meet. By studying abroad, you are given the opportunity to meet so many different people from all over the world. In this technology-driven era, it is easy to keep in contact with people met along the way. You never know when these contacts will come in handy!
  9. Be spontaneous and participate in as many cultural activities as you can. It is tempting to be lazy and spend the day watching Netflix, especially when the weather is freezing and the rain won’t let up. But it is days like these that are perfect for jumping out of bed and going on a random adventure. Whether it is discovering a new museum, stumbling upon the quaint shops of a city, or popping into a cozy coffee house, there are always places to explore.
  10. Make sure to stay in touch with friends and family back home. The Facetimes, text messages, and postcards are all appreciated. And considering your parents are letting you roam around Europe for four months, the least you can do is call them and brag about how much fun you’re having!
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Cultural Differences

Time November 3rd, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

Scotland shares similarities with the United States, but there are some cultural differences that stand out. Differences in politics, food, culture, and every day life are found and while there are many, I have compiled a list of some of the most significant and interesting ones.

One intriguing difference is that only 2% of the police force in Scotland carries firearms. Even so, this 2% is only called out to respond to specific threats. Scotland is a very safe country with very little crime. While I already feel safe in Scotland, the lack of guns contributes to a general sentiment of safety, since there is rarely a need for the police force to carry them.

Next, the Scots are extremely friendly people. While there is a lack of forwardness in some, the average Scot is talkative, helpful, and genuinely interested in speaking to you.

One of the most noticeable differences between Scotland and America is that the Brits drive on the wrong side of the road (that is, on the left). Crossing the street, something that is second nature back home, has to be double checked to make sure one won’t get run over.

Before coming to Edinburgh, I was nervous that all I would find to eat was haggis, neeps, and tatties (turnips and potatoes). However, I have been pleasantly surprised and have yet to find a meal I don’t enjoy. Coffee shops are around every corner and offer unlimited options for bagels, tea, and sweets. Restaurants I’ve visited have ranged from pubs to ethnic restaurants to the equivalent of a fast food chicken eatery. Haggis was surprisingly not too bad, if one doesn’t think about what it is made of (lamb heart, liver, and lung). Irn Bru, Scotland’s unofficial national soda, is a bright orange drink that tastes like liquid bubble gum…less tasty than your average soft drink.

Sports culture is different, in the sense that football (soccer) and rugby are the two main sports. Coming from the South of the United States, where SEC Football is a religion, this took a while to get used to. I will admit, as much as I love learning about rugby and embracing the Scottish culture, I do miss football season.

The cultural differences are significant, but are easy to adjust to. While football season, fall foliage, and home-cooked meals are definitely being missed, it is hard to ignore all the wonderful aspects of Scotland that make it so unique!

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Inverness and the Highlands

Time October 20th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

I recently visited Inverness and the Scottish Highlands thanks to a group trip sponsored by IFSA Butler. We left on Friday morning and drove about an hour and a half to our first stop, a sheepdog farm. We arrived to roughly 10 dogs and two fairly young puppies running and playing. Immediately we began petting and holding the dogs, which were more interested in playing with each other than us. The man who owns the farm gave a presentation about how to train the dogs, what their job is in regard to the sheep, and the sheepdog system. The dogs demonstrated their skills and rounded up several sheep. The man grabbed one and began shearing it. I was lucky enough to get to help him shear the sheep. The wool is very thick and rough and the technique of shearing sheep is simple: hold them and cut their wool with thick scissors. After this demonstration was complete, he showed us puppies only 12 days old!  They were adorable and I debated putting one in my purse to bring back to Edinburgh!

Our next stop was to go on a tour of a Glenlivet whisky distillery.  It was neat to see the process that goes into making the whisky.  Our tour guide told us they were selling a bottle that had been aged for 50 years for 18,000 pounds!!  At the end of the tour we tried a sample, which was strong and not my favorite, but was worth trying nonetheless.

The next day we went to Dunrobin Castle, which was beautiful.  Parts of the castle were built in the 1200s. It was fully furnished and helped us get an idea of what life in the castle would have been like. While we were there we saw a falconry display.  The demonstration included a hawk, an owl, and a falcon.  The birds soared over our heads and came so close to us that we sometimes had to duck our heads to get out of the way!

Next we went to the Culloden Battlefield, where the British army defeated the Highland clans in 1746.  The markers and monuments gave us an idea of the significance of the battle to Scottish history. This was the last battle to take place on Scottish soil.

The final day we drove to Loch Ness, where I tried to spot Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster. Unfortunately she did not want to be seen, but the views were great regardless.

Our final activity was driving through Glencoe, an area of the Highlands with picturesque views of the hills and mountains. We were lucky on the weather, as it was sunny and moderately cool all weekend, which helped make the views even better.

Our trip to Inverness and the Highlands was a great experience and I got to see parts of the country I might not have otherwise been able to visit. While Inverness is a fairly small town with not too much to do, the surrounding areas were full of history and culture, which I enjoyed. This trip provided some of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen in Scotland thus far.

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Homestay Visit – Shap, England

Time October 7th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, England | No Comments by

A chocolate factory, a castle, and alpacas – oh my! This sums up my homestay weekend in Shap, Cumbria, England. On Friday afternoon a group of students loaded our things onto a bus and rode 2.5 hours to Penrith, England, where we were met by our host families for the weekend. Due to illness in my original homestay family, I was fortunate enough to be able to stay with another family, the Chalmers. There were six girls in total who stayed with this lovely family.

Upon arrival the Chalmers were waiting for us and without even introducing ourselves, Mrs. Chalmers recited each of our names by memory and learned who was who. We drove about 30 minutes to their home, a cozy farmhouse originally built in the 1700s. The barn had undergone renovations several years ago and was equipped with four bunk beds, a kitchen, bathrooms, and a room used for teaching when their Learning Farm is in use. We had dinner and chatted and were off to bed for our busy day ahead.

We woke up and went to the Kennedy Chocolate Factory, where we were treated to the richest hot chocolate I have ever tasted. Peering through the windows of the shop we could see chocolates being made and later watched a video telling us more about the process. I had no idea the level of intricacy involved in making chocolates but after my observation I learned that there is a real art in how the delicious chocolates are made.

Next we took a tour through the countryside. It was an extremely foggy day so visibility was limited but we did manage to see many cows and sheep (which outnumber the people here 4:1). We had lunch at a local café, where I had steak pie. On the way home we drove by Pendragon Castle, which was the castle of King Arthur’s father. It is privately owned so we could not go inside, but the fog and the castle created an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue.

The afternoon consisted of squealing girls, sheep, and alpacas. We were sad to learn that the male sheep are soon going to be sent off to be slaughtered, but before they go, must be given medicine to kill the parasites that might be in their bodies. Each of us got to give the sheep their medicine, by holding down their tongues and inserting a syringe into their mouths. We then fed them all and (unsuccessfully) attempted to chase them around and pet them. The alpacas are fed apple slices daily. The Chalmers have a handful of apple trees and they picked apples for us to give to the alpacas. These were shy animals and while we wanted them to feed out of our hands, our patience ran thin and we resorted to tossing the apple slices on the ground for the hungry alpacas.

After this we went on a walk around the area and built up an appetite for dinner. We took their dog, Ginny, on the walk through a nearby wooded area where the leaves were begging to change colors. We went to a local pub for drinks and came back to the farm, where Mrs. Chalmers prepared chicken curry for us. The home cooked meal was very much appreciated by the starving college girls and three servings later we were all very content. We said goodnight and went to bed.

The next morning we were given a PowerPoint presentation on the Learning Farms, the Chalmers’ business, which aims to provide a safe place for anyone, ranging from children to those with special needs, to come and learn about farm life and participate in therapeutic activities. We then walked around their acres, including One Oak Wood, their miniature forest. This forest had a walking path and even had a tree house, built by volunteers from the Army. Our afternoon was completed by a drive through the Lake District where we glimpsed a view of one of the lakes made famous by the area. The lake had pretty scenery and its calm blue waters stunned me. We arrived back at the bus and said our goodbyes to the Chalmers.

The homestay weekend is one of my favorite parts about studying abroad so far. Getting to remove myself from the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh city life and learn about the farming life of the Chalmers was a treat. Getting to meet such a kind and special family is something that I will remember long after I leave Edinburgh. Learning about how they live and gaining insight into the local area was an enjoyable part of the visit. I am extremely glad I had the opportunity to experience this homestay and encourage others to participate in a homestay visit, should they ever get the chance.

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Day Trip to St. Andrews

Time September 29th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

Last Saturday I took a school-sponsored day trip to St. Andrews. We rode on a bus and arrived mid-morning. Several people gave us recommendations for food, including Fisher and Donaldson, which has the world’s best donuts, and Jannetta’s Gelateria. The first stop we made was to get the infamous fudge donut, which definitely did not disappoint. I played the role of tour guide the next few hours, following a self-guided walk around the town thanks to my Rick Steves Guidebook. We first visited the 18th hole of the Old Course, the world’s first golf course. Sitting nearby is the Royal and Ancient Golf Club Clubhouse. Until recently women were not allowed to enter the building and today no one, no matter the gender, is allowed to go in unless he/she is a member.

After buying a souvenir golf ball, we continued the trip to a monument dedicated to those who lost their lives during the Scottish Reformation. The obelisk stood near the ocean and from this spot we could see the beach where scenes from Chariots of Fire were filmed. We continued walking down the narrow streets until we found one of the University of St. Andrews dorms. Dorm is one word to call it, although I think that castle is a more accurate term for the beautiful building.

After this we went to the Glass House for lunch, where we sat on the second floor overlooking one of the three main streets in the town. Once fortified, we visited the castle, which hardly can be classified as a castle, as it was mostly ruins of stone. It was small but intriguing. Next we visited the Cathedral, which included a graveyard, ruins of what once must have been a magnificent church on a hill, and a tower. We climbed 160+ narrow, spiral stairs to reach the top of the tower, but the magnificent views justified the climb.

Once we made it down the spiral staircase, we walked along the pier. The smell of the saltwater and the views of the extremely blue sea made me almost wish I had gone to the University of St. Andrews instead of the University of Edinburgh. That said I rationalized that while St. Andrews was a neat town to visit, Edinburgh is bigger and has more to offer.

Our final stop of the day was at Jannetta’s Gelateria. There was a long line out the door, but we finally made it to the front of the line where there were dozens of flavors. I ended up getting a scoop of chocolate fudge brownie and scotch (because why not!) gelato. They were both excellent. Our day was completed and we headed home. St. Andrews is a quaint town that I would like to visit again before I leave, but for now I will continue exploring Edinburgh.

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First Impressions

Time September 21st, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

After several flight delays, having to re-route my entire flight plan, and one lost bag later, I made it to Edinburgh and today marks the first day of classes! It’s been a whirlwind week and a half of living in Edinburgh. I am beginning to find my way around the city and get settled in to my new apartment, which is conveniently located about ten minutes from school and from a local pub area.

As I was driven to the hotel for orientation, my taxi driver pointed out local landmarks and I immediately knew this was a city full of friendly individuals. This was further proven by the man at Reekie’s Smokehouse who gave us free dessert (homemade by his wife), as well as the barista in the Elephants and Bagel coffee shop who provided me with a list of must-dos in Edinburgh.

The feeling I had when I went exploring on my own the first time was incredible. Although slightly terrifying, the sensation of independence was thrilling. I have done several of the “tourist” activities in Edinburgh, which have already enriched my short time here. Last week I visited the National Gallery of Scotland, where I saw many Renaissance paintings, including one by Leonardo da Vinci. The National Museum of Scotland was a collection of Scottish relics and world history, including a large exhibit about animals and their development over the centuries. Additionally, I took a peek inside St. Giles Cathedral, located in the heart of the Royal Mile, which has beautiful stained glass windows. Our orientation trip took us briefly to Calton Hill where we saw spectacular views of the city and sights of “Edinburgh’s disgrace,” a failed attempt at a recreation of the Parthenon of Athens. On one of the sunnier days, I climbed Arthur’s Seat, where the entire city of Edinburgh can be seen. Although I have only lived here for a small period of time, I already feel a connection to this place and I am looking forward to the adventures that lie ahead.

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How to Pack Four Months in One Suitcase

Time September 8th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

So how does one pack a single suitcase to study abroad for four months? The thought of having to pack your entire life for a semester into one bag seems daunting. There are clothes, shoes, electronics, travel books, and an assortment of miscellaneous necessities to pack into one bag that cannot exceed 50 pounds. It’s nearly impossible, but can be done with a few steps. First things first – make a packing list. Include all the clothes you want to take, chargers and laptops, travel journal, and nail polish. Your packing list might be as specific as including 14 pairs of socks, 5 ink pens, and 2 hair brushes, or you might simply group everything into large categories: shirts, pants, shoes, etc. Either way, the list helps give you a mental note on what you are taking and a reminder as to what has been packed and what needs to be thrown in at the last second. Step two – sort your things and make piles. Determine which sweaters to take, how many pairs of jeans to bring, and decide if you really need to bring that extra pair of heavy boots (but of course you do, they are the only ones that match the new scarf you bought!). Once you have made an organized inventory, you can move on to step three – packing it in the suitcase. The piles are in order, you’ve eliminated unnecessary things, but somehow your suitcase is still exploding and you have to sit on it to force the bag to zip. You’ve included what you deem essential, but something still feels a little off. What about your great-grandmother’s handmade blanket, your adorable pets, tailgating season with your friends, or your parents’ unsolicited but always valuable advice?? These things can’t be squeezed into a bag to be taken across the Atlantic Ocean… Reality hits you as you realize you are really leaving for a whole semester to go into a complete unknown. You don’t know the city, you don’t know the school, you don’t know your roommates, and you don’t even know if you can find crunchy peanut butter at the grocery store. But when you put aside the fear of the unfamiliar, you realize you are moments away from embarking on one of the greatest journeys in your life. Even though you can’t take everything you want in a suitcase, you can still carry it with you in your heart. And hey, if you can’t live without something, there’s always a carry-on.

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