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Turn on the Red Light

Time December 8th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As a college student studying abroad in Europe, it is all but a requirement to travel to one of the most famous cities in Europe, Amsterdam.  In early October, I began scouring the internet for good deals.  Unfortunately, Amsterdam is not the easiest or cheapest place to get to, so we had to settle for 110 pound round trip on KLM, a Dutch airline, because none of our trusted budget airlines had flights.  As much as Will and I have enjoyed traveling alone together, we hoped to try and get a bigger group to go with us on this trip, so, with the magic of e-mail/Facebook, we were able to get together a group of six of us: Me, Will, our Canadian friend Dylan, and three other fellow Butler students, Jenna, Kristi and Kellin. Read More »

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Thanksgiving in Scotland

Time November 30th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by


It seems to be a common, yet unfortunate theme that I have at the beginning of each blog, however I must do it again.  I would like to apologize for not getting this blog out on time.  I was planning on writing this blog last Friday before I left for Barcelona, however I misread the time of the flight as 7:15 not 17:15, which is a difference of two hours.  Consequently, the two hours I had planned on using to write a blog were quickly dissipated.  Never to fear! I will do my absolute best to get caught up on my ongoings, however given my track record, we’ll see how that goes….

As you all know, last week was Thanksgiving, and being in the UK where the holiday has absolutely no meaning, I was a little nervous that this, one of my absolute favorite holidays and one that I feel already gets overlooked, would get passed over.  However, once again, it was Butler to the rescue.

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Butler sponsored a dinner for all of the students studying in Scotland at a restaurant in Edinburgh.  So on Wednesday evening, all of the Glasgow students gathered at the main gates of the campus and boarded a bus for the trip to Edinburgh.  Unfortunately the ride was much longer than we anticipated because of a severe accident on the road that created a massive traffic jam.  In the end we made it through and only arrived at the restaurant a little over a half and hour late.

We ate at a restaurant called Ghille Du right by the castle.  We had the option of chicken, salmon or some sort of pie/tart kinda thing that I can’t really remember now.  I chose the chicken as it was closest to the usual turkey dinner.  Despite the small-ish proportions, the food was absolutely delicious.  After the main course, we enjoyed a delightful dessert of rasberries and cream with some Scottish shortbread.  It was a wonderful meal and a great chance to take a little break and reconnect with some of the other students we had met during orientation and on the trip to the highlands.

Inside Ghillie Du

On our bus ride back, we quickly realized that we had although we had brought up the idea of having our own Thanksgiving day potluck dinner, we had failed to solidify any details.  After a few minutes we determined where and when we would be having it and who was making/bringing what.  Of course, Will and I, which essentially just means me, got stuck with the chickens (turkeys are very expensive/hard to come by in the UK because they are a bird native only to North America).

Although I have cooked/grilled many a chicken breast, I had never cooked a whole chicken so when I got home I hopped on Google and did some research.  Once I had a good idea of how to do it, I came up with all the ingredients I would need and made a list to go the store the next morning after going to the gym.  Lucky for me, at Tesco that day they had a deal that was 3 chickens for 12 pounds and even had a bag of mixed veggies that were the exact ones I needed for making the stock for the gravy!  It was as if they knew I would be coming by, looking for 3 chickens and some veggies.

Me and one of my beautiful chickens.

Put in a great mood by my awesome finds and the beautiful weather, I headed back to my flat and put the goods in the fridge.  I had class that afternoon, but would still have time to cook all three chickens before our 7:30 dinner date across the way at Jonathan’s flat in Queen Margaret.  Once I got back from class I eagerly got to work.  I oiled up the birds, seasoning them with some salt, pepper, basil, and coriander and some lemon juice.  However, I soon realized that our small flat stoves would only have room for two birds so I had to run the third over to Jonathan’s to cook.

I then set to preparing the stock for the gravy.   I had read that homemade stock made from the gibblets is much tastier than stock prepared with boullion, however my chickens came with the gibblets removed so I had to run to the corner store about 5 min away for some cubes.  Luckily they had them and I quickly added them to the boiling water with carrots, celery, onions and leeks.  After cooking the chickens, which turned out quite well if I do say so myself, I gathered up all the drippings and set to making my first batch of gravy.  Although it was a little thin, I and everyone else still thought it was delicious.

Will and I then made our way over to Jonathan’s with our chickens and added them to the feast.  Everyone really came through and we managed to have a pretty amazing meal.  It had everything that I could want in a Thanksgiving day meal, chicken (close enough) with gravy and cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, rolls, and even a delicious pumpkin/squash casserole made a couple of our Australian friends who wanted to tag along for the festivities.

Carvin it up!
The group and our glorious spread.
Our feast.
The most beautiful thing I have ever seen…

Before we ate, we all went around and said something we were thankful for, may times it was for the wonderful friends we had made since coming abroad and the amazing experience we have had in Scotland and other countries abroad.  It was a great way to reflect on many of the things that had made up our quickly ending semester abroad.

After dinner, we enjoyed some delicious desserts of apple crisp and cherry pie and boy was I stuffed.

Dessert
The group post-dinner/dessert.

Our Thanksgiving dinner was an absolute success and one of the most enjoyable and memorable moments of my time here.  Although we have all integrated fairly well into the Scottish culture and consider Glasgow home, it was great to take a break from all that and the stresses of school and just relax and do something completely American.  It really felt like we were back home in the states enjoying a wonderful meal among close friends.  We were even able to stream the football games live, which was the perfect addition to the Thanksgiving atmosphere.

After dinner we did a colossal amount of dishes and then sat for another hour or two watching the game and chatting and enjoying each others company.  I was thoroughly satisfied both physically and emotionally.  Thanksgiving in Scotland may just have been most memorable Thanksgiving yet.

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What else have I been up to?

Time November 29th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Firstly, I would like to apologize for the delay in getting this blog out.  I know it may be hard to believe, but I do actually have some responsibility, and do more than just travel.  Last week I had an essay due in my Scottish Literature class, a take-home test for my Genetics class, and an anatomy quiz I had to study for because I was gone last weekend.  So, needless to say I was quite busy with other things and couldn’t find the time to get a blog up.  However, I hope to remedy that by writing two this week.

As I am sure you have noticed, the majority of my blogs have actually not been about Scotland, but other various places I have been.  This is due in part to the fact that I had already seen much of Scotland when I visited with my family.  However, I have still been up to a variety of fun things while here in Glasgow, and this blog is devoted to those little events.

The first goes all the way back to the first week of class.  My anatomy class had yet to start so I had every afternoon free.  At one of the more popular pubs in the West End, Oran Mor, there is also a theater in the basement, and every afternoon they have what is called A Play, A Pie and a Pint, which is just that; a ticket that gets you a pint, a meat pie and a seat for a short one act play.  Since we were still settling in and had some free time, Will and I, along with 3 other Butler students Jonathan, Sarah, and Michelle, thought it would be a nice cultural experience.

We went on Wednesday afternoon because the tickets were discounted at only 8 quid as opposed to the usual 12 or 14.  When we got downstairs we quickly realized that we were the youngest patrons in the room, but we didn’t let that deter us and grabbed our pints and delicious meat pies with gravy.  We chatted with a few locals who were frequenters of the Triple P and had sort of like season passes because the show changes every week.  After the show I could understand completely why someone would want to invest in that because it was a wonderful way to spend an extended lunch break.  I would have loved to go again, however once classes got into full swing it made it slightly impractical, however it was a fun experience early on that helped me get integrated into the community.

Oran Mor- Sort of a poor picture because it was surprisingly sunny that day. The halo on the steeple glows blue at night and is an excellent landmark to get your bearings after a night on the town.The next couple of events were actually not with Scottish people at all, but were very cultural and entertaining.  My flatmates are all graduate students at the uni, 2 of which are Chinese girls, Melanie and Sarah, studying finance and the third, an Italian guy, Alesandro, who is getting his PHD in aerospace engineering.  The girls are absolutely fantastic cooks and put Will and my poor excuses for meals to shame.  After a few weeks of us complimenting them on the quality of their food, they decided to have a Chinese dinner party with a couple of their other girlfriends and would cook for all of us and a friend of Alesandro’s.

We all went over to their friend’s flat and enjoyed an absolutely delicious meal of authentic Chinese food.  They apologized that the dishes were not as good as normal because of the quality or lack of ingredients they could find in Glasgow, however I think all of us were in agreement that they were being far too modest.  We chatted for a few hours about different cultural differences in terms of school structure and what it is like studying in a foreign country.  I can’t imagine essentially studying abroad my entire college career in a place that does not speak my native language.

Having dated a Chinese girl for two years and having traveled to China last January, I knew that food was a very important part of the culture, but I learned that unlike Americans and Brits, if Chinese people want to “go out” as we term it, they will go to a restaurant and spend 3-4 hours there eating and drinking.  Sounds like my kind of party!  After dinner, they begged Will to play a few songs on his guitar, having heard him countless times playing in his room throughout the day.  Once Will finished his quick set, we were also treated to a few songs by Melody, our appropriately named cook, who had an absolutely exquisite voice.  Before she sang she talked herself up quite a bit and boy did she deliver.  She sang a couple American songs and then a few famous Chinese ones.  Apparently it is also very common for Chinese young adults to do this kind of mock talent show at parties like this.  I guess it’s a more glorified and refined version of American karaoke parties.

After the immense success of the Chinese dinner, Alesandro and his friend Alberto, also an Italian rocket scientist, volunteered to host an Italian night at our flat in a couple weeks.  Will and I eagerly counted down the days for another delicious home-cooked meal.  Again our expectations were surpassed and we enjoyed honestly one of the best Italian meals I have ever had and don’t think I have ever been so full.  We had essentially 4 courses: antipasti which consisted of fresh bread and bruchetta, olives and proscuito with mozarella, 2 pasta dishes, linguini with a cheese and bacon sauce and a lasagna bolognese, and finally tiramisu for dessert.  Foolishly I almost filled up on the bread and bruchetta, but I was able to fight through till the end.

All of us at the Italian dinner in Flat 9F.We also enjoyed a few glasses of wine expertly selected by another friend of Alesandro’s, Frederico.  Will and I learned a little about the 5 s’s of wine tasting from them: swirl, sniff,  sip, swish, and finally swallow.  Once you have done all five, with a thoughtful look on your face, you authoritatively declare, “It’s red!”  We talked about the nightlife culture in Italy and learned how expensive and harsh it can be.  Apparently people don’t head out to clubs UNTIL about 12 or 1 and stay out till 4 or 5.  And if you are a guy you can expect to pay at twice as much as girls to get into a club, and might not even get in unless you are with a girl or two.  Boy am I glad I decided to study abroad in Scotland instead!

The last couple events I would like to share are in regards to football, hands down the most popular sport in the UK.  Since being here, Will and I have become pretty good friends with three guys who almost perfectly represent the UK: Allan from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Callum from Manchester, England, and Stewart from Dundee, Scotland.  We have yet to find a guy from Wales, but hopefully we can in the next few weeks to complete the collection.  They are second years at the uni and have been great friends to have made because they know all the ins and outs of social life here in Glasgow.

In mid October, we met them at Tennents Pub to watch Scotland take on world champions Spain in the European Championships qualifying rounds.  The game was actually being played in Glasgow, however, it being such a big game, tickets would have been very expensive and  hard to come to by, so we watched the game with a bunch of other die-hard Scots at a pub.  The first half was relatively uneventful and surprisingly evenly matched until the final minutes when Spain capitalized on a penalty kick.  Spain scored another goal early in the second half, and it was beginning to look pretty grim for Scotland, but they then countered with two spectacular goals within 5 min and the pub absolutely erupted in cheers.

The game was tied with about 20 min left and the atmosphere was absolutely electric and incredibly tense.  Scotland and Spain battled back and forth, both keepers making great saves to keep their team in the game.  Unfortunately, in the last 5 min, Spain’s all-star David Villa took advantage of a slight break in Scotland’s defense and gave the lead back to Spain.  Scotland fought hard and bravely till the very end, narrowly missing a few shots in the final minutes, but alas Spain reigned victorious.  However, despite the loss, all of the Scottish fans were still in high spirits and incredibly proud of their boys for showing such grit and determination against the best team in the world and arguably one of the best in the last couple decades.

Glasgow Celtic

After watching a game on tv, Will and I were eager to go to a game in person.  Allan tried to get us some tickets to see the Glasgow Rangers, but unfortunately wasn’t able to.  However, we were able to get our hands on some tickets to an away game of Glasgow Celtic, the Rangers’ biggest rival.  Celtic was to be playing St. Mirren in a town just outside Glasgow.  Will and I were accompanied by a couple of other friends  on the short bus ride to the stadium and enjoyed a great match from the second row.  Unfortunately we weren’t able to get tickets to sit with the incredibly enthusiastic and loyal Celtic fans because all of the tickets were reserved for season ticket holders, but we still enjoyed the game immensely.

Celtic was clearly the better team, exhibiting finesse and incredibly precise passing in set plays.  This contrasted with St. Mirren’s powerful, transition based offensive style of play.  St. Mirren fought off every  attack by Celtic and the score was tied at nil nil until the 91st min when finally Celtic was able to knock one in off a beautiful header.  The Celtic fans went absolutely ballistic, charging onto the field, chanting and cheering at the top of their lungs.

Great Action Shot

MOV05178

All of these little events, though only a small portion of the fun little excursions and get togethers I have had during these past few months, but they stick out uniquely in my mind and are ones that I hope to remember.  It will be these little things that I will miss most about Scotland when I leave in amazingly a matter of a few more weeks.  It is hard to believe that my time in Scotland has flown by so quickly and I hope I can do my best to take advantage of the last few weeks as best I can before I have to head home.

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Buddies in Belfast

Time November 15th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Ever since Will and I knew we were going to be studying abroad in Scotland, we had talked about taking a weekend trip to Ireland.  Originally we thought we would go the the most well known Irish city of Dublin, however once we got to Scotland and began talking to other people about it, we learned that Dublin is somewhat overrated and incredibly expensive.  Our Irish friend here, Alan, told us, perhaps a little biased, that instead we should visit his home town of Belfast, where we could still get a real Irish experience.  Belfast is a city in Northern Ireland and is thus part of the UK, so we figured traveling there would be a little easier.  So last Friday we packed up, and literally sailed off to jolly ‘ol Ireland.

We found a good deal on a train/ferry ticket to Belfast from Glasgow, so after a two hour train ride south from Glasgow to a little coastal town of Stranrear, we boarded our StenaLine ferry and were off to Belfast.

Inside the ferry.  It incredibly nice and comfortable. They had a bunch of shops, eating and gaming areas, as well as free movies to help pass time on the crossing.  Will and I spent most of our time studying anatomy, seeing as how we had a quiz the Monday after we got back.

Stunning view of the sun beginning to set as we made our crossing.

It was about 5:30 when we finally pulled into the port at Belfast, which in the UK this time of the year means that it has already been dark for about forty five min.  We caught a bus into the city center, and wandered around the city for a bit, picking up some sandwich making supplies at a local Tesco for dinner, and finally making it to our hostel.

After settling in and locking up our backpacks, we made our way into the kitchen and enjoyed our homemade sandwiches as we watched the UK version of American Idol on tv with a few other residents of the hostel.  That night was the 5th of November, which is a famous UK holiday known as Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes night that celebrates the failure of Guy Fawke’s attempt to blow up the Parliament building and assassinate King James I in the early 17th century.   Back home in Glasgow, there were to be city wide celebrations with fireworks galore, so since we were still in the UK we were hoping not to miss out on some of the festivities.  However, after talking to a few people, we learned that it is not as popular of a holiday in Northern Ireland, and they sort of lump the celebrations in with Halloween.

So, slightly disappointed, Will and I passed some time looking through a 1981 Guiness Book of World Records we found in the hostel, laughing at some of the most absurd records to have ever been broken or recorded.  Of course lots of these were out of date, but it was a fun way to pass some time before heading out for the evening.  Once we had exhausted our interest in the obscure successes of people, we made our way over to the Crown Bar, one of the oldest and most famous pubs in Belfast, and one we had heard lots of good things about from friends who had visited previously.

Crown Bar (this picture was taken the next day)

The Crown Bar has an incredibly unique and ornate Victorian decor, with intricate wood carvings and cozy booths. Once we got there, we were greeted with a voucher for a free pint of Beck’s beer after answering a few survey questions.  We were lucky enough to snag a booth after a group had left, and not five minutes after we had sat down, a family of locals asked if they could join us.  We of course happily agreed, this type of meeting exactly what we were hoping for.  The family was a couple and their son, and the mother’s father.  The grandfather was originally from Spain, but later moved to Ireland where he met is wife and settled down.  The kid was a senior in high school and ironically hoping to go the University of Glasgow and study medicine.  We talked for about and hour and a half about a whole manner of things from politics and healthcare to swapping stories about world travels.  They were even kind enough as to treat Will and I to a couple pints of Guinness, the true Irishman’s drink.  After giving us some pointers on what to see in Belfast, we all headed over to Fibber McGee’s to listen to some traditional Irish folk music, and Will and I had a song dedicated to us as the visiting Americans.  We had a great night and a wonderfully cultural experience that we will never forget.

The next morning we awoke relatively bright and early and made a plan of attack to see everything Belfast has to offer.  After talking with the manager of the hostel, he recommended we take a bus tour to see as much of the city as we could since we only had a short amount of time in the city.  Before we got our bus tickets, we first decided to go and visit the St. George’s Market, which we learned about the night before.  There we strolled around looking at all of the fresh produce and foods, as well as a variety of handmade goods.   Since it was getting close to lunch and we had only had some leftover bread from the night before for breakfast, we decided to try and sample some authentic Irish food.  We found a little kiosk that was selling cups of Irish beef stew for only 2 pounds; we didn’t need any more convincing than that.  Unlike typical stew that is more brothy, this was more like mashed potatoes with big potato chunks, hunks of beef, cut up and boiled carrots and smothered with a hardy gravy.  It was exactly what we were looking for, warmed us up and hit the spot.

Refueled, we made our way to the bus stop to pick up our tickets for a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city.  Tickets were only five pounds for the commentated tour of the city.  Unfortunately, we got there right before they were set to go, so the only seats that were open were on the second level of the double-decker, outside in the cold.  We bravely bundled up an prepared for the cold journey.  Despite the cold and lack of volume of the guides commentary, we still enjoyed the tour immensely and learned lots about Belfast and it’s troubled history.

Belfast is situated at the end of a long bay and at the mouth of the River Lagan, so it is an ideal location for shipbuilding, and was made famous for this immense industry.  The Titanic was actually built here in 1911.

Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, is home to the Stormont Estate, which houses Northern Ireland’s Parliament.

Belfast and the River Lagan.

Belfast Peace Wall

This wall was built in response to “The Troubles” a conflict which raged throughout Northern Ireland from 1969 to 2001 between two opposing paramilitary parties, the Republicans or Nationalists and the Loyalists of Unionists, Catholics and Protestants respectively.  This conflict was based upon the whole idea of Northern Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom.  The Nationalists wanted one, unified Ireland, but the Unionists wished to remain a part of the UK.  These desires, along with deep-seeded religious hatred, spurned numerous acts of violence throughout Northern Ireland.  Belfast was the epicenter of this violence, and on one day, “Bloody Friday” the Nationalists detonated 22 bombs in the city, killing 9 people.  All in all, the entire conflict took the lives of over 1,500 people.  The Peace Wall above was built to segregate the smaller Catholic neighborhood from the rest of the Protestant city, in hopes to quell the violence.  The wall instead had the opposite effect, becoming a symbol of oppression, and prompted even more acts of terror.  The conflict is considered to have ended, however tensions between these two populations are still high, and The Troubles have left a lasting impact on the city and it’s people.

After our tour, Will and I headed to a small local coffee shop to warm up after our frigid journey.  It was still only about 3 o’clock, so we decided to wander around the city on foot a bit, and went to take a look at the Ulster Museum since admission was free.

Queen’s University

Humongous Irish Wolf Hound at the Ulster Museum.  This dog was at least 4 feet tall.

Extinct Irish Elk- had the largest antlers of any known deer species.

Botanical Gardens outside the museum.  They were preparing for some sort of Indian/Irish hybrid folk music concert.

Interesting combo if I do say so myself…

Belfast Opera House

City Hall at dusk

City Hall by night.

Since it was our last night in Belfast, we decided to find a good local pub to get some food.  We went to the Kitchen Bar, enjoyed fish and chips with a Guiness as we watched the Ireland vs South Africa rugby game on tv.  Unfortunately Ireland lost by 3 points, right at the end of the game, but it was still an exciting match.  After dinner, we headed back to the hostel for a warm shower and a nap, after a long, cold, and wet day of sightseeing.

We woke refreshed and ready for another night out.  Tonight, we headed over to Robinson’s Bar and enjoyed some locally brewed ale, Smithwick’s, which we loved, but later learned was scorned by most Irishmen because it didn’t hold a candle to the true Irish beer, Guinness.  At Robinson’s, Will and I were simply standing by ourselves chatting, when a young, local couple came up to us and struck up conversation.  As it turns out, like guy, Finley, had been to the US a few times and absolutely loved it and loved Americans, and when he overheard our accents, he told his girlfriend that he had to come over and talk to us.  The rest of our night passed much the same way as the last, chatting with Finley and his girlfriend Sarah about a whole manner of things, again being treated to a couple pints, despite our willingness to pay for our own.  After a couple hours at Robinson’s we accompanied Finley and Sarah to a different bar and met some of their friends, being shown off like a couple of celebrities.  It was another wonderful night with great, friendly company.

The next morning was relatively uneventful because we had to catch our bus back to the ferry at 10:45.  We awoke with just enough time to pack up and head back over to St. George’s Market for a couple of breakfast sandwiches since everywhere else in the city was closed since it was a Sunday.  We made our bus, hopped on the ferry and started our journey back to Scotland.

Ferry Port in Belfast

Coast of Scotland

Scottish countryside from the train.

The trip back was long an peaceful, and I spent most of the time looking out the window at the countryside pass by reflecting on the events of the weekend.  I can remember before coming to Scotland to beware that lots of people may express and anti-American sentiment.  However, my experience thus far in all of my travels has been the complete opposite.  People seem to be fascinated by us, and are more than willing to strike up a conversation.  Sure they may have different political views or opinions about American policy, but all they want is an inside look into a country that dominates the media and pop culture, and it has been a definite pleasure to be able to provide that to them because I get just as much out of it in return.

As we pulled into Glasgow Central station, it was odd to me how normal it felt to be walking around the streets of Glasgow.  I have come to know them well, and it really felt like I was returning home.  I am now on the back end of my time here in Scotland and I can’t believe time has passed so quickly, and I’m sure it will only continue to speed up until I set foot on the plane back to the states.  Although I still have a few more trips scheduled before I leave, I hope to soak up as much of the Scottish culture as I can while I still have the chance.

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Munich!

Time November 8th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Now I know that I had said I would be taking a slight sojourn from the “where I have been going on weekends” types of blogs, however last week a trip sort of just fell into my lap, and I could not pass it up.  Initially when I knew I was going to be studying abroad in the fall, one of the places and events I wanted to attend more than anything was Oktoberfest in Munich.  However, I came to find out that Oktoberfest doesn’t really take place in October, but rather the last weeks of September, and because I had waited so long to try and make sure I wasn’t going to be missing class, I unfortunately missed it.  Aside from just wanting to experience Oktoberfest, I had heard from many people that Munich itself was just an awesome and beautiful city to visit, so naturally it was still on my list of travel destinations.  But because of time and travel companion issues, I did not know if I would be able to make it there.

However, last Tuesday a group of us were going out for a girl, Melanie’s, birthday, and as we were talking I found out that she and another girl were going to Munich that weekend.  I immediately expressed my desire to go, and they offered that I join them.  I knew from experience that tickets and hostels would be already booked and/or very expensive, so I was skeptical but decided to look into it.  Luckily for me as well, the two girls had already booked and paid for a hotel room and offered to let me stay with them free of charge! Now that was a deal I just could not pass up.  So the next morning I checked out ticket prices and after much deliberation and discussion with my parents, I decided that it was worth the extra travel expense to go when I knew I would have some companions and when I wouldn’t have the added cost of accommidation.  So I booked the flight and began plans to leave in a matter of a couple days.

Friday came quickly, and the next thing I knew I was on a bus to Edinburgh and on my way to Munich.  After a and hour bus ride, a quick exchange at the Mayberry Junction to the Airlink bus, an hour long flight delay, and a two and a half hour flight, we were in Munich.  From the airport we caught the O-Ban train to the Munchen Hauptbanhof (Munich Central Station).  It was getting to be pretty late once we finally got there so all of the shops and tourist information booths were closed, so I had to use what German I know (Spreken zie English?) to help orient ourselves and find the hotel.  After a few backtracks we finally found the hotel and crashed for the night.

The next morning we woke up early and enjoyed a complementary breakfast, complete with classic German sausages and pretzals.  We then made our way to Marienplatz and the Glockenspiel.

Marienplatz (Mary’s Square) and the Old Town Hall

New Town Hall

Glockenspiel

From my friends who had visited previously, I knew that there were free tours of the city offered every day, and we received the necessary info about where and when to meet from our hotel.  We had some time to burn before the tours began so we wandered around a bit and stumbled upon a wonderful open market full of wonderful looking foods and handmade goods.

After a quick look around and a few samples we made our way back to Marienplatz to meet up with our tour group.  The tours are run by a company called New Europe and the tour guides are paid based on tips only, aside from some of the paid tours that are also offered.  Our tour guide was a wonderfully enthusiastic little Irishman who knew an immense amount about German history and it was a great way to get a first look at the city and learn something in the process.

Largest Catholic Church in Munich, I can’t remember the name. Munich is a very Catholic city, and Muchen translates to something like “City of the Monks”

Inside the church is this original footprint.  Legend is that it is the foot of Satan because people believed that the builder of the church was in league with the devil because it was built so quickly.

Inside the Church. Current Pope Benedict used to be the priest of this church.

Another Catholic church we visted.  Again I can’t remember the name…

I do however remember it is known as “The White Cathedral” for obvious reasons.

Dodger’s Alley Monument

On the ground you notice a small golden strip.  During the rein of the Third Reich, a large Nazi banner hung a little further on along the road to the right.  As people passed it, they were required to do the Nazi Salute or risk getting beat.  However, those opposed to the Nazi party would cut across to the other side of the square through this alley to avoid the banner and having to salute.  This gold strip is a monument to all of those people.

Munich was the center of the Nazi movement and the repercussions are still present and something that the people of Munich deal with on a nearly daily basis.  There are multiple little unsuspecting monuments such as this scattered throughout the city as silent tributes.

Me in front of arguably the most famous attraction in Munich, the Hofbrauhaus Beer Hall.

Munich Maypole

Maypoles are a Bavarian tradition and each town has it’s own pole.  In the month of May, if a neighboring town manages to steal your Maypole, YOU have to throw THEM a huge party in order to get it back.  The tradition still exists today.

Biergarten in Munich City Center

We decided not to eat here after the tour because this particular Biergarten rotates among the seven Munich brewed beers, and at the time it was serving Spaten, which according to our tour guide and the locals was the out and out worst.

Instead, we joined Kieth, our tour guide and guy on the right, at a different restaurant where we were offered a 2 for 1 deal on drinks.  I gave his favorite, the Paulaner Original, and Paulaner Dunkel (dark) a try with my sausage and fries. I was definitely more partial to the Dunkel, but that’s just me.

The tour was incredibly informative and we all learned alot, not just about the buildings themselves, but the history behind them and Munich in general as well.  We learned about the rise of the Third Reich, Crystile Nacht or Night of Broken Glass which was the first direct targeting of the Jewish population in Munich, and that many of the buildings in Munich have been built in the last 60 yrs because much of Munich was destroyed during bombing raids during WWII.

During the tour we also learned that the company also sponsored a “Beer Challenge”, which was an evening tour in which guides lead groups around the city to different beer halls to sample some of the most famous Munchen brews.  As part of the tour you also receive two free beers.  The challenge peaked our interest and we were set on participating later in the afternoon.  We had a few hours to kill before it started, so we wandered the city by ourselves and did some souvenir hunting.

Pedestrian street lined with shops.

At six, we made our way to the Hauptbanhof to buy our tickets and meet up with the group.  Lots of other college-aged kids showed up for the challenge and we quickly made friends and swapped travel stories.  At the station we were given our first beer to drink on the way to the first beer hall.  In Germany it is legal to drink in public anywhere, anytime, with the sole exception of in churches.

Unfortunately the reservations fell through at one of our stops, and because we lost track of Mel, one of the girls who invited me along on the trip, during the transition from the 2nd to 3rd stop, we only made it to 2.  Luckily we found Mel with a few other people from the tour back at the Hauptbanhof and then we went to a bar with them for the rest of the night.  So although we didn’t fully complete the Beer Challenge, it was a great time and I suppose my 8 euros was just a downpayment on some friends for the night.

Hofbrauhaus- Stop #1

Beer #2- Hofbrau Dunkel, quite possibly my all-time favorite beer.

As it turns out, this guy, Mike, was also a member of my fraternity, DKE.  He is in the Delta Phi Chapter at the University of Alberta in Canada.  What a small world!

After 2 hours at the Hofbrauhaus we headed to the Augustiner Beer Hall, home of one of the oldest beers in Munich.

Beer #3- Augustiner Original- the current Pope’s favorite beer.   This one was definitely my second favorite.

Now the challenge was not just about drinking, but learning about Bavarian beer and beer culture as well.  We learned that there are governing laws about the purity of German beer that they can only contain three ingredients, namely barley, hops, and water (yeast was added later after they learned more about the science of fermentation, but they still consider it just the three).  Beer that contains anything other than these three ingredients was originally not allowed to even be sold in Germany, but after pressure for foreign brewries, the nation changed the law to allow outside companies to sell in the majority of the country, however the law still holds true in Bavaria.  As a result of this purity of beer, locals claim that you can’t get a hangover from German beer.  I won’t say if they were right or not…   We also learned that when cheers-ing, you hit glasses at the bottom and look the person right in the eye.  If you fail to do so, you will be cursed with seven years bad sex.

The next morning, after a glorious extra hour of sleep thanks to daylight savings, we awoke and once again made our way to Marienplatz to meet up with New Europe, this time for a tour to the Dachau Concentration Camp.  We had read that it was close to Munich and had planned on going, and on arriving in Munich learned that there we tours offered, so we once again joined Kieth for the day.

Dachau was the first concentration camp set up by the Third Reich and all subsequent camps were modeled after it.  Next to Dachau was the “School of Terror”, a place where Nazi soldiers were trained and essentially brainwashed by the Nazi’s.  The concentration camp at Dachau was a men’s only camp and originally was just for political enemies to be “re-educated”.  However, as time went on and the Nazi’s began targeting the Jewish populations more heavily, both the overall number of prisoners and Jewish prisoner percentage skyrocketed.

The camp was originally designed for approximately 2,000 men, however when it was liberated by US forces, over 40,000 men were being held their.  During the course of it’s operation, over 60,000 men were murdered.  That may seem a staggering number, however, as a work camp, it was relatively small compared to other death camps in Germany at the time such as Auswitz, which were created with the sole purpose of exterminating the Jewish population.  At Dachau, aside from the obvious factors of overcrowding, poor hygiene, lack of food/adequate clothing etc, some of the main killers were the medical experiments conducted on the prisoners.  One of the more famous examples of these were studies on the bodily effects of hypothermia and how to treat it.  Prisoners were frozen until near death and then the researchers attempted to revive them.  Men were subjected to this over and over again, driving them to madness and subsequently to death.  Although it is hard to see any good come of this, the discoveries made at Dachau in respect to hypothermia are used in the training of US Marines and Navy cadets.

Our tour lasted for about 4-5 hours and we learned an immense amount about the period and of course Dachau specifically.

“The School of Terror” where members of the SS were trained

Entrance to Dachau

“Arbeit Macht Frei”- Work brings freedom.

Main work area in Dachau

Prisoners were required to line up and stand at attention every day for up to 3 or 4 hours to be counted and to teach them discipline.  They were also required to complete pointless tasks such as building a wall, tearing it down, moving the bricks to the other side of the square and rebuilding it, over and over again.

Bunks during the early phases of the camp.  The SS attempted to control ever aspect of the prisoners lives and torment them in any way possible. A perfect example of this is the shelves above the beds.  Their sole purpose was to just remind prisoners that they had nothing to put on them.

As overcrowding began to be an issue, the beds were redesigned to try and accomidate the extra bodies.  However, when the camp was liberated, this room, designed for 250 prisoners, had over 2,000 men living in it.

Building where prisoners who misbehaved were kept in solitary confinement and tortured.

Some men were kept in a completely dark room for up to months at a time, rendering them blind once they were finally released.  Another common form of torture was to tie a prisoners hands behind their back and hang them from the ceiling, essentially tearing all the shoulder muscles and tendons.

The screams that came from this building were so gruesome and constant, that the guards themselves began to develop psychological issues.

Guard tower, electric fence and remnants of a moat that used to surround the entire grounds.  If a prisoner so much a stepped on the grass leading to the moat they were to be shot immediately.  Many prisoners, in an effort to earn back some of their “freedom” in their final moments, would run, jump the canal and attempt to kill themselves on the fence so as have some amount of control over their death.

Gas/Extermination Chamber- here the proper ratio of chemical ingredients was tested for use at other camps.

As I said before, Dachau was never an extermination camp, however a significant number of people did loose their lives in this very chamber.

“Memorial to the Anonymous Prisoner”

Expanse of the Dachau Camp. Each of the rectangles represents where a barracks once stood.

Our trip to Dachau was an incredibly powerful and heavily emotional experience, and as I sit and write, I again feel the chills I did while I was there.  Although a very somber and at times slightly unnerving experience, it is one that I would highly recommend to anyone traveling in Germany if the opportunity is there.  It makes the magnitude and tragedy of the Holocaust a real thing, rather than just numbers on a page.

When returned to Munich, we were still in a slightly dreary mood from our trip to Dachau, and the girls were exhausted both physically and mentally.  They decided to return to the hotel for a nap, but I opted to go and explore some more of the city on my own.  It was a wonderful experience to be alone with my thoughts, visiting some of the, in my opinion, most beautiful parts of the city.

Englischer Gardens

Munich skyline at sunset

Chinese Tower and Biergarten

You can’t go to Munich without getting a giant pretzel!

After wandering till dark, I met Mel and Blythe back at the hotel and we headed back to the Hofbrauhaus for dinner and drinks.  At dinner we got to talking to the two gentlemen sitting next to us, and it turns out the one of them was actually a professor at Strathclyde University in Glasgow!  What a small world indeed.  We also happened to see some of the people we met on the beer tour the night before and hung out with them for the rest of the night.

Mel, Blythe and I at the Hofbrau

Glockenspiel  by night

The next morning we had just a few hours before we needed to make our way back to the airport, so after a failed attempt to find the massive Oktoberfest fields just to say we saw them, I took the girls to the Englischer Gardens where I was the day before to enjoy the sunny weather before heading back to rainy Glasgow.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Munich and am so glad that I took advantage of the opportunity.  Germany is truly a beautiful and well developed country and this, along with my trip to northern Germany at the beginning of the summer to visit my girlfriend, has prompted me to say that it may in fact be one of my favorite countries in the world.  It is a place that, if I spoke any German, would actually consider living in.  It is a very welcoming country with a fascinating history and hardworking people and although a very modern country, it still has that old European feel that I love.  I will never forget my experience here, thanks to this mammoth of a blog (I do apologize), and I hope that I will be able to return to Germany sometime in the future.

Auf wiedersehen!

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Reflection

Time October 26th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It is hard to believe, but I have already reached the approximate halfway point of my time in Scotland.  I know the last few blogs have been heavily dominated by trip recaps, so this week I thought I would focus on some different things.

Thus far, this semester has been a series of ups and downs, stress and relaxation, work and fun, sadness and excitement, just as I would have imagined it would be.  According to many psychologists and travel experts, people tend to follow somewhat of a “W-shaped” curve when living abroad.  When the trip begins, the person is said to be in the “Honeymoon Phase”; everything is new, exciting and interesting and you are eager to go out and try new things.  As the days turn to weeks and reality begins to set in, there tends to be an emotional downward trend referred to as “The Distress Stage” as you begin to notice all of the subtle differences and miss the comfortable and familiar life you left behind.  Eventually you reach a trough that is considered the true “Culture Sock” where you may feel depressed, homesick, and struggle with new challenges you may be facing such as grocery shopping and cooking.  As the weeks turn to months, you get into a routine and “Re-integrate” yourself.  However, during this integration there can be a reversion to negative feelings as you begin to feel stretched between two different cultures, not seeming to fit in to either one.  The last stage of “Independence” finally comes as you are fully integrated to life in the foreign country, have made new friends and have come to learn and love and accept the idiosyncracies of the local culture and your daily routine.

This model by no means applies perfectly to everyone, it is a merely a general trend that most people, including myself, tend to follow.  Going to school on the other side of the country as I do, I am very used to being away from home for extended periods of time.  Just last year, I was home for only about 3 weeks the entire year, spending most of the year at school in Easton, PA and then traveling during winter break to Thailand and China, and then living in Durham, NC over the summer.  I have been in an almost constant transition of cultures, some more dramatic and some very subtle, so coming to Scotland I felt very prepared.

I am by no means a perfectly elastic nor emotionally callused person, so of course there have been times that I have been homesick, missed friends and family, or felt left out of fun, memorable activities at school.  However, I still think that I can confidently assert that I never really reached a true Culture Shock trough, or if I did, it was a very shallow one.  The thing that I have had the most trouble with, and I have mentioned it before, is accepting that my experience abroad is my own; it is unique and independent of all of my friends’ and pre-conceived notions.  It has been somewhat of a struggle for me, constantly comparing my time to the experience of those before me, and it is not until I stop, take a step back and really try and live in the moment that I have come to truly appreciate and love my time in Scotland.

It is the little every day things that hit me that seem to briefly stop time and put a grateful smile in my heart, from the sun popping out behind a cloud as I make the long walk back from campus through the Botanic Gardens, or seeing little kids laughing and playing in the fallen leaves, driving or riding a train through the dynamic and powerful countryside, an orange sunset as I walk back from the library, having someone say “Cheers, mate” as I hold open a door, seeing the majestic tower of the uni shrouded in a thick fog, sitting back in the booth of a pub on Ashton Lane just soaking in the atmosphere, overhearing two friends converse in thick, rapid Scots, getting a 1.50 small chips with extra salt and vinegar after a night out, seeing someone I met during Fresher’s Week or Orientation and catching up briefly on a walk to class, taking a weekend trip to the city center and just wandering through all of the shops and people watching, or simply just sitting in my room and thinking, “Wow, yes, I am in Scotland right now.”

I am proud of the little things I have come to learn, such as the fastest way through the Botanic Gardens is to take the path to the right, the fastest way to Scottish Literature at the Boyd Orr building is via Byres Road, but  the fastest way to Anatomy in the East Quadrangle is to take Great Western Road to Hillhead, no matter how late you may be, if you cut across and walk on the grass in the quadrangles of the main campus, you will be plagued with bad luck and won’t graduate, Iceland has the cheapest bread, eggs, meats and cheese, but Tesco has the cheapest milk and produce, the best place to study in the library is the 6th floor if I don’t need to use my computer but the 10th floor if I do, it’s not a cell phone but a mobile, the only baseball hats are Yankees (blegh), it’s not soccer, it’s football and it’s not “Kel-tic” it’s “Sell-tic”, when crossing Byres/Great Western you can cut across both streets after the cars have stopped on Byres, city center is four stops from the Hillhead station on the Outer Circle and the subways stop running at 11, if you are about to walk into someone, go left, not right, it’s not an apartment or dorm, it’s a flat, classes don’t really start at the top of the hour, but five min after and end five min before, the best time to go to the gym is between 9-11 in the morning, it’s not “Scotch”, it’s just whiskey, if it is sunny, chances are it is still chilly, and 10% chance of precipitation means “it’s definitely gonna drizzle”.

And despite being very similar, westernized countries, there are of course the little differences that always remind me I’m not at home, like the fact there are no stop signs and pedestrians NEVER have the right-of-way, a car drives by and I think for a split second that and 5 year old is behind the wheel, it’s not cents, it’s PENCE and it’s not a buck, it’s a Quid, all the lemonade is carbonated, it’s encouraged for guys to wear tight jeans and flashy scarves, it’s not .com but .co.uk, and just because something is plugged in, it doesn’t mean there is electricity coming out of the outlet.

Throughout all of these little instances, all of the nights out, hours spent studying anatomy illustrations, miles walked to and from campus, grocery trips, and moments of meditation, I have come to honestly consider Scotland a second home.  Glasgow is a truly beautiful, livable city and I am so glad to have the opportunity to do so, even if just for a matter of months.

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Highland, Haggis and Hootinannny

Time October 20th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Despite my valiant efforts two weeks ago to finally catch up and get myself on track and on time with my blogs, I have once again fallen victim to blogging a week after the fact.  But fear not, I will once again try and set myself straight this week, hopefully for good.  I would also like to pre-emptively apologize for the length of this blog, but it was such a wonderful experience I felt the need to include as many details as I could.

Two weekends ago, I joined all of the other Butler students throughout all of Scotland for an action packed weekend in the Highlands.  I had spent the majority of my time in Scotland with my family a few years ago in the Highlands and absolutely loved it, so I was eager to go back.  Unfortunately, since we were leaving from Glasgow very early Friday morning and not returning till Sunday evening, I would be missing my Anatomy class and valuable time to study for our first quiz the following Monday, however a trip to the Highlands was too good to pass up.

Will and I woke up bright and early and met our fellow Queen Margaret-ers at 7am to make the half hour walk to campus to catch the bus.  We were greeted by a luxury coach, boarded up, and since we were the first and only one’s on the bus, were able to stretch out in a row all to ourselves.  Our bus driver, Blair, introduced himself and said that he would not be offended if we all fell straight asleep…. so we did.  About an hour later we stopped in Stirling, a city to the north-west of Glasgow, to pick up about 7 more people before heading off to Perth to meet up with the remainder of the Butler students.

When we got to Perth, we stopped in the parking lot of Asda, a HUGE supermarket, and had some time to go grab some food.  Will and I knew we had to take advantage of this wonderful supermarket opportunity, so we stocked up on a loaf of bread, some meat, cheese, chips, and drinks, all for only 5 pounds!  Sure, when we got back on the bus people laughed at us a bit, but we were the ones laughing later when everyone was complaining about spending money on food.  Anyways, also inside Asda we were met by a lovely surprise; we bumped into Mike, Alex and Alexa, our friends from Orientation who were doing the internship at Parliament in Edinburgh.  Unfortunately they were the only ones to be joining us, Erika, Kush, and Megan all being held up by other engagements.

The Edinburgh-ites joined us back on our bus, newly christened “Braveheart” and we headed off to the Hermitage, Dunkeld, to take a short walk through the forest to see a gorgeous waterfall.

River leading up to the waterfall.
Hermitage Waterfall
Cool Bridge that Crosses the River

As we made our way to the waterfall, we couldn’t help but notice how many other college aged kids were around us and wondered who they all could be, surely they weren’t all Butler students right? Wrong.  Apparently Butler does seem to know what they are doing, not just in Glasgow, but all over Scotland, because we were accompanied by roughly 100 other students from all over the country!  The two largest groups were by in large those from St. Andrews and Edinburgh, but students simply studying there and not participating in the internship program our friends were.  The size of the group was a little overwhelming at first, and in a way sort of detracted from the beauty and solitude that characterizes the Highlands, but we got used to traveling in a convoy of 4 coaches soon enough (at least Braveheart stayed relatively empty and we were able to maintain our own private rows, highly conducive to napping).

After our stop at the waterfalls we had a short drive to the little village of Pitlochry.  I had visited here previously with my family and it was one of our favorite, quaint little villages.  We unloaded the bus and had lunch, Will and I making our ham/cheese sandwiches with the supplies we had purchased earlier.  After lunch we wandered the streets, looking in all the little shops that lined the main street.

Pitlochry

After our stay in Pitlochry we had about and hour journey northward for a stop at the Glenfinnan Viaduct, made famous for it’s appearances in the Harry Potter films.  The drive up was almost an event in itself as we passed through some of the most beautiful and unique countryside in the world.

Not bad for pictures taken on a bus…

Once we reached Glenfinnan, we had some time before the train was supposed to pass so we explored the surrounding area and skipped rocks on the most picturesque lake imaginable.

Simply breathtaking…

When the time was right, we made our way up the muddy trail, with only a few minor slips…, and got into position to see the Jacobite Express (aka Hogwarts Express), one of the last remaining steam trains in Britain, make it’s way across the bridge.

Glenfinnan Viaduct
Look familiar…?

My life now complete, we boarded back onto the busses and made our way to Inverness and our hostel.  I took this time to catch up on some reading Waverly for my Scottish Literature class, a story about an Englishman fascinated by Scottish and more specifically the Highland lifestyle, and consequently gets caught up in the Jacobite Rebellion of the 1740s.  It was really cool to be reading vivid, romantic descriptions of the Highlands while also experiencing them myself.  I guess being a little behind in my reading was a blessing in disguise!

Once we got to Inverness, our three superhuman Butler leaders, Ruth, Deirdra and Catherine, magically managed to group the 100 some odd of us neatly into groups of 3-6 people and get us situated into our rooms at the hostel.  We had a few minutes to freshen up before a wonderfully satisfying dinner of Pizza Hut.  After dinner we had the rest of the night free, so we asked Ruth and Deirdra where the good places to go in Inverness were, and both quickly replied that Hootinanny, a pub with live music, was the place to be.  So after some relaxing in our rooms we made our way into the city center and to Hootinanny.  It was a wonderful atmosphere with great folk and alternative-rock-folk music and we had a great night soaking it all in.

Hootinanny
As the sign said, one of Scotland’s best live music venues.
A great local traditional Scottish folk band.

The next morning we enjoyed a complimentary breakfast at the hostel before heading off to the Culloden Battlefield, the site of the last military battle on British soil.  It was the culmination, and dramatic ending to the aforestated Jacobite Rebellion.  For those of you who don’t know too much about Scottish history I will give you a brief lesson.

Many people think of the Jacobite Rebellion as a fight for Scottish independence, but in fact it was a movement to restore the Stuart line of kings, displaced by the Hanoverians in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, to the throne of the newly established Great Britain, formed by the Union of Parliaments in 1707.  It was not simply a battle between England and Scotland, but a true civil war, based more on monarchical loyalty and religion, Catholic vs Protestant.  However, it is true that the Jacobites were comprised majorily by Scot’s and the “wild, uncivilized” Highlanders in specific, and the Hanovarians, the more “aristocratic” English.  The Jacobites were led by Charles Edward Stuart, or more commonly known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, the descendant of the Stuart line of kings and heir apparent to the thrown.

The Jacobites had marked successes in Scotland, re-taking the Scottish capitol of Edinburgh, however their cause was brutally brought to an end at Culloden.  The Jacobites were outnumbered about 3 to 1 and were ill-equipped and fatigued from their march to the battle the night before.  The battle lasted only about and hour and was more of a slaughtering than an actual battle.  The well trained and equipped Hanoverian army simply mowed down the charging forces wielding their broadswords and scattered muskets.  Over 3,000 Jacobites were killed, compared to only about 300 Hanoverians.  The battle snuffed out all momentum of the Jacobite caused and ended the efforts of Bonnie Prince Charlie to take the thrown.  It was a dreadful day in Scottish history and the battlefield serves as a memorial to all of those who gave their life for a cause they so deeply believed in.  On the morning we visited, the entire battlefield was shrouded in a thick fog, creating an eerie atmosphere fitting of so sombre a place.

Culloden Battlefield
Flag marking the Jacobite lines.

This, my second trip to Culloden, contrasted heavily with my first visit with my family which was during  a sunny day at peak tourist hours.  It took a lot away from the scene and I didn’t realize it until my second visit which was much more quiet, personal and moving.  It was a very unique experience I won’t soon forget.

After Culloden, we were off to probably my favorite part of the trip, a sheepdog display at a local farm in Kinguisse.  The farm we went to actually trained the dogs for the movie Babe!  During the display, the farmer, or shephard I should say (I can’t for the life of me remember his name…), showed us how the dogs, Border Collies, responded to different whistle and vocal commands that allowed him to to guide the dogs and in turn the sheep to different areas, always keeping them grouped together.  The dogs were simply brilliant and responded immediately to the particular commands ranging from simple go right/left, to lay down, crawl, speed up, slow down, hold etc.  It was just as amazing watching the shephard as the dogs because for him to remember and produce all the subtle different sounds to guide the individual dogs to do what he wanted was I am sure, no easy task.

Dog directing a flock of sheep.
Group of dogs keeping the sheep together and calm.

Directing the flock accurately through a gap in the trees.
His dogs are world renowned and have one countless herding competitions.

After the display, he hooked one of the sheep and gave us a shearing lesson, even allowing all of us to try!

Me shearing a sheep!

After shearing, we were allowed to meet and play with all of the dogs and some puppies.  I am an avid dog lover, and being away from my Golden Retriever for so long, I start  having canine withdrawls, so this was a wonderful treat for me.  We learned that Border Collies are especially bred for herding and that as early as 8 weeks old they will begin chasing ducks and other small animals around, but if they stalk each other  or another animals as puppies, it is a good indication they will grow up to be the best sheep dogs.

Me with a 3 month old puppy.
Bucket-o-Puppies

These little guys were only 8 days old.

Me with a gorgeous Irish Setter- the housepet.

After a quick pocket check and puppy count, we were allowed to reboard the busses and headed off to our the highland town of Aviemore.  This was in fact the town that I spent the majority of my time in Scotland previously with my family, our timeshare located at the Macdonald Resort, so I knew the area pretty well.  After a lunch of fish and chips and a sample of some delicious deep-fried haggis (tastes alot like meatloaf or groundbeef) we went exploring the town.  Since we had seen a few little towns like this already and I knew the area a bit, we decided to forego the shops on main street and instead headed down a little trail down to a river I used to run when I had visited previously.  We, or I should say I, climbed trees, dipped our feet in the river, and had a heated rock skipping competition which I won with an unheard of 15 skip throw.  It was a great little break from the very touristy things we had been doing thus far and helped us really connect with the beauty that is the highlands.

The Road Less Travelled
Chillin at the river.

Sadly we left our little haven and headed back to the bus where we were whisked off to our last destination of the day, the Glenlivet Distillery.  Although this was the fifth distillery I had visited in my life, it was by far my  favorite.  Our tour guide was a delightful elderly man who was absolutely hysterical and simply in love with whisky.  We had a wonderful tour and a taste of one of the most famous whiskies in the world.

Our tour group in the dram room.

After another non-stop day, we enjoyed some well earned rest on the way back to the hostel.  Once back at the hostel we had some free time to freshen up before a lovely meal at a local restaurant provided by Butler.  We were all pretty exhausted after the long day so we stayed in that night talking and playing cards in our hostel.

The next morning we again woke bright and early and packed up our stuff before heading out, seeing as how we would be back at our respective unies that evening.  We left Inverness for good, and unfortunately we never really had a good amount of time, or daylight for that matte,r to go explore the city, so I may have to return at a later date.  Our first destination Sunday morning was Loch Ness where we took a cruise on the lake and stopped at Urqhart Castle, one of the most famous and picturesque of all of Scotland’s hundreds of castles.

Sun breaking through the clouds above Loch Ness.
That’s one big lake…
There’s Nessie!!
Urqhart Castle

Ruins of Urqhart Castle- It was common practice to dismantle a castle if it was going to be overtaken to prevent the invading forces in using it.

Having got our castle fix, we headed on down the road to the end of the loch to Ft Angus for some free time and food.  We all decided to splurge and went to a nice pub for lunch and I enjoyed a delicious venison burger and lentil soup.

River Ness flowing into Loch Ness

Lock system on the River Ness.
This is the detail than leads many scientists to truly believe the Loch Ness monster is nothing more than a myth.  They have agreed that it may have been possible for some sort of plesiosaur derivative to have survived all of this time in the deep waters of Loch Ness, evolving into a hermaphroditic species that could reproduce by itself.  However, in order to bear young, the monster would have to swim up the River Ness, out to the warmer waters of the ocean to give birth to it’s offspring, but these locks provide a pretty significant challenge for a giant water monster to slip by unnoticed…

Our stomachs full, we boarded up for the last long haul back to school.  However, the ride back was one of the most gorgeous and scenic journeys, and we even took a quick break in the breathtaking mountainous valley of Glenncoe.

Glencoe

Words and pictures truly cannot do justice to the beauty and grandeur of the landscapes found in Glencoe.  It is an incredibly humbling and moving experience to witness it because it makes you, as a single human being, feel so small and utterly insignificant in the grandness of the physical size and age of the world.

After Glencoe we stopped in one more small town for a bathroom break and quick refreshment, and had to say goodbye once again to our Edinburgh friends as the busses split of and headed to their different destinations.  The ride back to Glasgow was very quiet, everyone seeming to be in their own private reflection of the weekend.  Although I had experienced the highlands before, I was once again moved by the beauty and diversity of the land, the ancient and proud history of the region, and the deep seeded culture and kindness of it’s inhabitants, and was reminded of why it was I chose to spend a small portion of my life in the magnificent country of Scotland.

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Brussels, Belgium

Time October 8th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This past weekend, Will and I took a trip by ourselves to Brussels, Belgium.  Unfortunately because the Glasgow airport that Ryanair flies out of is about an hour south of Glasgow itself, we had to miss class in order to make it there on time.  We gave ourselves ample time for the twenty min walk to the subway station, ten min subway ride, five min walk to the Glasgow Central train station, and 45 min train ride to the airport.  In retrospect we probably gave ourselves a little more time that we needed since we ended up sitting in the airport waiting to board for about two and a half hours, but better safe than sorry!

In the airport we met another student, Zach, from the US who was also studying at the University of Glasgow for the summer.  He was going to Brussels as well to visit a friend of his who was studying there, so since he was traveling alone we gave him some company.  Once we arrived in Brussels, or more accurately Charleroi, we parted ways with Zach, he having already booked his bus ticket into Brussels city center online.  He told us the tickets were 14 Euros each way, and we thought we would try and find a more economical alternative.  We went to the tourist information desk and asked for the cheapest way to get to Brussels, which turned out to be a bus to the city center of Charleroi and then a train from there to Brussels.

We found the bus we needed after some talking with our hands since the bus driver did not speak English but only French, the main language of Belgium.  Aside from French, many Belgians also speak either Flemish or Dutch.  So we made it to the train station but then had no idea where to go or what train to take.  So again, after a lot of wandering around trying to translate French and Flemish signs, numerous inquiries of “Do you speak English?” we found the right train into Brussels.  The train ended up costing about 8.50 after the 2.70 bus ride, so after an hour or so of confusion and during the hour long wait for the train, Will and I began to wonder if the bus wouldn’t have been such a bad option…

Regardless, we finally boarded the train and got into Brussels.  However, we stopped at a different train station than we had expected, so then began another struggle to find the right direction to head from the station.  We asked a woman at a tourist information desk and she gave us a map and pointed out the area where we would find our hostel, but despite my direct asking of where I exit the station and which direction I should go, her response was only “Yes, go out the station and follow the road”…. Not much help.  So we exited the station and attempted get our bearings by identifying the incredibly confusing street names on the map.  After walking about five min the wrong direction, we were able to finally get going the right way.

Once we reached the area the woman had shown us, I pulled out the map I printed from the hostel website, showing where it was.  However, we for the life of us could not find it.  We walked up, down, and all around searching for the camoflaged building.  After about a half and hour of this, we went into a  hotel and asked the concierge to give us a little help.  He hadn’t heard of the hostel, but he looked up the address online and we soon found out that the location of the hostel on the map I had printed was incorrect and we had been looking in the wrong place…  Alas, four and a half hours after landing, we finally made it the hostel!

By this point we were starving, so we went to a local grocery store to pick up some well deserved food.

Bread, Meat, Cheese and Wine- Europe doesn’t get much better than this!

While we were eating, one of our hostel roommates came in and introduced himself.  His name was Ben and he was, lucky for us, French Canadian! (aka our new best friend).  He had just graduated college with a degree in accounting and was on a month long trek around Europe.  He had been traveling with a friend for the first two weeks but was finishing up his time alone, so was glad to meet some friendly Americans to hang out with, and we were glad to have found ourselves a translator.  However, interestingly enough, he told us that although he speaks fluent French, his first language growing up in Quebec, his accent was so thick that many times he would begin speaking to a Belgian in French and they would stop him and switch to English because they couldn’t understand him.

After dinner and with Ben’s help, we headed to the famous Delerium Cafe to try out some of the supposedly 2000 beers that they carry.

Delerium Cafe
Inside the Delerium Cafe
Trying one of the two Delerium beers, Delerium Noctornum.  It was delicious.
Ben and Will trying the second of the Delerium beers, Delerium  Tremens which was voted the best beer in the world.
I gave Delerium Tremens a try too but wasn’t impressed haha.  It was too sweet for me, but hey at least I can say I drank the best beer in the world.

We then made our way back to the hostel to rest up for a big day of sightseeing.  We enjoyed a free breakfast at our hostel and then had to pack up all of our stuff because the rules of the hostel were that everyone had to leave between 10 and 2 for them to clean.  We didn’t mind because we would have been out those times anyways.  At breakfast we mapped out a route to hit all of the things Brussels had to offer.

Great View of Brussels
The breathtaking Grand Palace
Other buildings in the main square.
Classic Brussels
Belgian Brewers Museum
Sounds a lot cooler than it was.  Despite most everything being in French we did learn that Belgian beers tend to be lighter and sweeter than other beers, but they also have a higher alcohol content of about 8-10%.
Belgian Waffles
I went all out and got one with fresh strawberries, whipped cream and dark chocolate.
The Famous Manneken Pis
Much smaller than I expected…
Sculpted in 1619, it is Brussels’ oldest inhabitant, symbolizing the town’s impudently mocking and boisterous spirit.
Belgian Chocolate.  This on the other hand definitely lived up to my expectations.
Beautiful park where we stopped for lunch.
European Parliament- the head of the European Union
All the languages of the EU
Interesting artwork at the Museum of Ancient and Modern Art.

Despite the fact that Brussels was much smaller than we anticipated and we were able to walk most of the city and see everything we wanted, we were exhausted after a good six hours of walking, sightseeing, waffle/chocolate eating, and art viewing, so we went back to the hostel and took a nap.  Unfortunately we slept a little longer than we wanted and woke up after the grocery store had closed, so we had to go in search of more expensive food.  We found a little kebab place and got some delicious gyros.

Beautiful street in Brussels loaded with restaurants and eateries.

After dinner we met back up with Ben in the hostel who had gone to the famous Atomium structure on the outskirts of the city.  The three of us played some cards in the hostel and then headed out to a club.

Main Square by night.

The next morning we had a few hours to kill before we needed to make the long journey back to the airport, and since we had seen just about everything in Brussels the day before, Will and I decided to take the subway out to Atomium.

Me in front of Atomium.
The Atomium was built in 1958 for the Brussels World Fair and has become a famous symbol of the city ever since.
It is 355 ft high and is a model of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 185 billion times.
Truly a magnificent feat of engineering…

After a good look at the Atomium, we hopped back on the subway and made it to the Central Station to catch our train and then our bus back to the airport.

Belgian countryside from the train.

At the airpot we met back up with Zach and swapped stories about our weekends.  Unfortunately our flight was delayed about an hour and half because of bad weather in Hungary where our plane was coming from.  Luckily we weren’t on a time crunch, however the added time did magnify our hunger quite a bit.  Once we made it back to the Glasgow Prestwick airport and through customs, we had just missed the train back to the city and would have to wait another hour for the next train.  Not wanting to delay our diner any more than it already had, we caught a bus back to the city and walked back to Queen Margaret, stopping briefly for a small chips with salt and vinegar.

Our trip to Brussels involved lots of traveling, waiting, and wandering through an unfamiliar city where we did not speak the language, but I still consider it was a very worthwhile and fun trip.  Although it was only a few days, we were able to see and experience a lot and met some great people along the way.

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International Orientation and Fresher’s Week

Time October 4th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

To keep with the theme of being a week or two behind schedule, I’ll give a quick update on my goings on the first couple of weeks I spent here in Glasgow.  After my homestay weekend you read about previously, we boarded up and headed off to our homes for the next four months.  We picked up  Deirdra on our way into the city and she directed the bus driver to our respective university dorms, showing us all the useful places we might need to go during our time in Glasgow, ie grocery stores, book stores, popular restaurants and pubs etc along the way.   We had to make three different stops at different residences halls, dropping Kellin, Jenna and Janna at the Murano Street flats, Sam at McClay Residences and Johnathan, Will, Sarah, Michelle, Krista and myself at the Queen Margaret flats.

I will go ahead and say now that university housing is very different than in the states, or at least my college back home.  At Lafayette everyone lives on campus in dorms, sharing a room with a roommate or two unless they live in Greek housing or are a senior and live in one of the college owned off-campus houses.  However, here most students live in flats, or apartments, of 5 to 10 people all with a shared kitchen area and single rooms with, in many cases such as mine in Queen Margaret, an ensuite bathroom.  All of these residence halls are an average of about 20 min from campus by foot.  This is very different for me coming from a small liberal arts school where you can walk the entire length of the campus in roughly 10 min.  Also, a large percentage of first year students or “freshers” live at home and commute, many living within Glasgow.

Needless to say, Will and I, who are sharing a flat, were lucky enough to meet a British dental student, also by the name of Will, living in our flat for the summer who was kind enough to show us some of the shortcuts to campus.  Will has since moved out to another building within the Queen Margaret Residences to fulfill his duties as a Head Resident, equivalent to an RA, but we have kept in touch since those first few days he was living with us and he has even invited us over for a home cooked meal which we graciously accepted.  Anyways, back to Queen Margaret.  Here are a few pictures I took of my room before moving in.  I definitely won’t be missing the luxury of this room and my own private bathroom when I return to Lafayette in the spring….

The next morning, Monday, we began our International Student Orientation with the University of Glasgow which gave us much the same information we had received from the Butler staff the week before, but with a heavier emphasis on specific things we needed to do for the University, see “Stressing Out…” for further details.  Although slightly repetitive in terms of material presented, the first day was a great way to meet other international students.  There were 250 students from around the world who had come to study at the uni.  Over 50% were from the US and I think the second largest showing was from Canada with a close third coming from China.  Some of the more interesting countries represented were Norway, Belgium, Chile, Iraq, Latvia and a variety of others.

After a day of orientation Will and I  explored the beautiful campus for a while to get our bearings.

Kelvingrove Art Museum behind the campus.
Back of the main campus building and the famous University of Glasgow Tower.
West Quadrangle of the Main Campus
University Tower
The Cloisters. This picture does not do it justice.

We then headed to the cheapest grocery store Deirdra had told us about, Iceland, to stalk up our empty kitchen cupboards.   However, we soon realized when we got back we had nothing to cook or eat our food with.  Luckily British Will had some pots and pans and a few extra plates and forks to share with us until we could get our own.  So the next day after our Supermarket Session, again see “Stressing Out…”, American Will and I took the subway into Glasgow City Center to go to Argos, a local department store, for some pots and cutlery.

I am starting a new paragraph here because I need to do Argos justice.  Argos is hands down the most unique and cool store I have ever been to.  When you walk in, there are tables all around the with huge 1000+ page magazines that contain virtually every product that you could ever want, ranging from HD big screen TVs to baby cribs to bikes to sheets to, you guessed it, cooking starter sets!  So the way the store works is that you search through the catalogues and find the item you are looking for.  You then find it’s specific product code, write it down and check an “in-stock” machine to see if its, well, in stock.  After you have ensured your item is available you take your codes to the checkout, pay for the item, get a reception number and a pick up location and are directed to a waiting area.  Once your reception number pops up on the screen you go to your specified pick up location and VUA LA! there is your item.

Naturally, Will and I being the penny-pinching students we are, picked out the cheapest set, 20 pounds or “quid”for short, for  two frying pans, a medium sized pot, spatula, serving spoon, bottle/can-opener, and two sets of silverware; just what we needed.  Since we still needed plates and bowls we hit up the dollar store for some first-class metal camping bowls and bought a pair of antique plates off our penny-wise friend Kellin who had purchased a five person antique dinette set for a mere 5 quid.  So now we finally had all we needed to feed ourselves and our cooking adventures began. But that is a blog for another day….

As part of our International Student Orientation we also had the opportunity to partake in a few “extra-curricular” activities.  Over the summer, Will and I signed up for all of them and luckily most of our newly made friends had as well.  One such activity was a bus tour of Glasgow which we figured would be a great way to get a broader sense of the city as a whole.  The tour did just that, however it was not conducive for a “sightseeing picture taker” such as myself, so pardon the following photos for not being the highest in quality.

Uni Campus from a distance.
George Square
Glasgow Cathedral in the Old City
The oldest house in Glasgow
The St. Nicholas Hospital- Founded by Bishop Andrew Muirhead circa 1471
Buchanan St- Home to some of the best shopping in the UK
The “Armadillo” Concert Hall

We also had the option later that day to go on a walking tour of the uni and the surrounding area, but since we had already been living there for a few days and had pretty much made our own mental maps of the area, we decided to forgo that and opted for a nap instead.  That evening we had a planned social event with other international students in one of the large halls in the main building of the uni, aka the really cool Hogwarts looking part of the school.  It was a great place to meet people to go out with later in the evening to socialize with.

Again, I will take a short sojourn from my narrative to give you a little cultural background.  Scottish social life can probably be summed up in one simple word, pub.  Although it may sound inappropriate that I am saying this, Scots admit to the fact that they “don’t measure a man by his size or character or skills on a football pitch, but rather how much he can drink” (a direct quote from the police officer who came to our Butler orientation to discuss safety).  He of course was joking and I am exaggerating slightly and by no means insinuating that all Scots are drunkards, but it is a well known fact, and actually somewhat of a real social issue, that alcohol is a very pervasive presence in the Scottish social culture.

It is not uncommon for a Scottish businessman or doctor or politician to finish work and have a pint of beer or a wee dram of whiskey with his mates down at the pub.  On the other end of the age spectrum, it is very common for young adults to go out to a pub most evenings and socialize before heading out to a club or other nighttime destination.  Students are able to do this because of the very different academic structure I mentioned earlier in my “Getting Oriented” blog.  Because much of the university curriculum is based in self-learning, most students spend most of their day either in class or in the library studying or researching, leaving their evenings free for socializing.

Just a few blocks from the uni is a very well known street, Ashton Lane, which is populated with a whole manner of pubs, clubs, and restaurants.  It has tons of character, a cobblestone road, old fashioned pub signs, strings of lights hanging across the road, and an overwhelmingly friendly and inviting atmosphere.  Unfortunately I don’t have a picture, but I will get one soon.  Needless to say, we spent most of our nights exploring the hot spots and meeting a variety of diverse and interesting people.

On the Friday of our orientation week we had the opportunity to go on a guided day trip for ten pounds. Will and I signed up for a trip to the Glengoyne Whiskey Distillery and Stirling Castle.  So on Friday morning we pulled ourselves out of bed and piled onto a bus of forty or so other students and headed north.  After about a half an hour we arrived at the very quaint and unsuspecting Glengoyne distillery.

Glengoyne Distillery

Mere minutes after getting off the bus we were handed a sample of their 10 year old single malt.  It’s five o’clock somewhere right….?  After our dram, we split up into smaller groups and took a tour.  When I had travelled to Scotland a few years ago with my family I went on a few whiskey tours so I had seen alot of the things before, however it was still interesting to relearn the process of making Scotland’s most famous export.

I won’t go into all of the details as this blog is already approaching epic proportions, but the main ideas are as follows.  The main players: barley, water, yeast. Step 1: Malting.  In this step the grains are turned into sugars by allowing them to germinate in water above a heat source creating malt.  Step 2: Mashing.  The malt is mixed with water, mashed up and heated, allowing the sugars to dissolve creating liquid wort which is extracted from the mash.  Step 3: Brewing. The sugary wort is then transferred into huge wooden barrels to which yeast is added to stimulate fermentation of the sugar into alcohol creating a beerlike liquid called wash.  Step 4: Distillation.  The wash is then transferred to large stills that heat the wash to high temp, boiling off the alcohol and then recondensing it.  The wash is distilled twice and only a certain middle percentage is kept.  Before the final step, the liquid is reduced from an alcohol percentage of around 80-90 to roughly 65.  Step 5: Maturation.  The liquid alcohol is then placed in casks that were previously used to age any range of spirit (sherry, rum, etc) and the liquid takes on the flavor characteristics of the wood of the cask, the previous spirit in it, as well as “the wind scents and flavors of the particular area”.  Not until the liquid has aged for at least three years can it be called whiskey.  Generally whiskeys are aged anywhere from 10 to 40 years with the quality and price of the whiskey increasing with each additional year for roughly 2% of the volume is lost every year due to evaporation (or as our guide said, “it is the whiskey tax paid to the angels”).  Once the whiskey has reached it’s desired age, it is once again watered down to an alcoholic percentage of approx 45%.

Model barrels at Glengoyne
Pond and waterfall where all the water for the whiskey comes from.
Inside the distillery.  The stills are on the right.
900 Pound bottle of whiskey from the Isle of Skye, aged 50 years.

After our tour of the distillery we headed off to Stirling Castle.  Since we were a little late in arriving, we missed the tour we were scheduled to take so we were given four hours to roam the castle and surrounding grounds to our content.

Stirling Castle from the road
Entrance to the castle.
Outer walls of the castle.
Great Hall

View of the William Wallace Monument from Stirling Castle

After a long day of whiskey tasting and castle exploring we made it back to Glasgow and an early night to bed, thus ending our International Orientation week, but setting the stage for one of the most exhausting weeks of my life, Fresher’s Week.

Fresher’s Week is a week devoted to the first year students of the university.  The best way I can describe  it is a glorified party week sponsored by the school.  Each fresher has the opportunity to buy a “Fresher’s Pass” that gets them into all of the events or special discounts at local clubs, and as international students we were given the opportunity to join in the fun.  Every day, student organizations and local clubs flocked to campus to hand out coupons and flyers advertising different events happening that day or night.  There was never a dull moment and it would take pages to tell all about all of the things I was able to participate in during the week so I will give just a few highlights.

Arguably the best part was all of the free food.  If you looked hard enough you were able to find at least one place or event that had free food, so naturally that was one of our top priorities.  We attended various student organization bbqs, picked up free pizza from Pizza Hut while also entering to win our height in pizza, and attended a cultural potluck put on by the International Society of which we are all now members.  The International Society is the largest and most active student group on campus with over 500 members from all over the world who participate in a whole range free and promotional parties and relaxing events and pre-planned trips around Scotland.

We also attended a couple of live shows.  The first of which was a stand-up comedian who was notorious for heckling the crowd, and of course we were the lucky Americans he picked on for about half the show.  However, I will say that this was actually one of the more memorable cultural experiences I have had here.  Although he spoke in English, he had an incredibly thick accent and when he talked quickly or dropped his tone for comedic effect, I completely missed the punchline because I couldn’t understand what it was he was saying.  Also, not being from the UK we missed out on alot of the slang and social idiosyncracies that he was poking fun at.  The other live show we attended was a comedic hypnotist.  I had seen a similar show at my college orientation and really wanted to be hypnotized this time, but I failed the initial test.  Apparently I am too logical and independent to be put under the spell of another person.  Although I wasn’t able to be hypnotized, a fair few definitely were and were soon convinced they were the Queen of England or Santa’s little helper or glued to a chair.

And of course we couldn’t fully experience Fresher’s Week without partaking in the nighttime festivities. At the University of Glasgow there are two student unions, the Queen Margaret Union (QMU) and the Glasgow University Union (GUU) which are essentially huge buildings that house bars and clubs and host student run events, sort of like a big frat/sorority/student government organization all rolled into one.    Every night during Fresher’s Week the two unions competed to get the most number of students at their union and we split our time between the two.

My favorite event at the QMU was a Headphone Disco.  Sounds interesting, right? Well it was.  The basic concept is as follows:  At the door everyone is given a set of wireless headphones that have two different listening channels that correspond to the music being played by two different djs.  If you don’t like what one dj is playing you switch the channel to the other.  It was sort of an eerie feeling seeing a huge group of people jamming out, and then removing your headphones and it being almost silent.  I say almost silent because what it really turned into was a contest between the djs to have more people listening to their station than the other, and the way they determined that was by how loudly people were singing along to the song they were playing.  It was a really fun and interesting experience I won’t soon forget.

Headphone Disco at the QMU

At the GUU the craziest night was hands down the Foam Party.  The club was packed with people in t-shirts and shorts or swimsuits, rocking out to great music and being blasted with a huge foam cannon that created a three foot layer of foam that coated the entire floor.

Foamless party at The Hive, club in the GUU.  I didn’t bring my camera to the foam party for fear of ruining it.

Needless to say the first two weeks in Glasgow were action packed and full of memories I will never forget.  The hardest part was getting back into work mode after two weeks of relaxation and partying.  But I have, and am now settling into more of a routine and finally starting to feel like I am a student abroad, rather than just a tourist.

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Homestay Weekend

Time September 27th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It is now almost three weeks after the fact, so I have had ample time to reflect upon it, and I think I can honestly say that the most rewarding experience I have had thus far in the UK was ironically not in Scotland, but in Cumbria, a English geographical region more commonly known as the Lake District.  I am speaking of course about my weekend with my host family.  The homestay weekend is a required part of my IFSA-Butler program, and I am so grateful that it was.

I have had a few homestay experiences in the past when I was in elementary school and in the Colorado Children’s Chorale, a professional touring choir.  I stayed with host families throughout Colorado, Wyoming, Florida, and even for a time in Italy as we made our performance rounds.  These visits were always so much fun for me, meeting local people and being treated like a king, graciously being served plate after plate of food accompanied by a “You are too skinny!”.  Not to say my own mother never fed me, but I have been given the gift of a fast metabolism and a large stomach, a gift and talent I am more than willing to put to use when the time arises.

Needless to say, when I learned that we would be given a host family despite living in dorms throughout the semester I was very excited.  I think it is the best of both worlds in terms of study abroad because it allows you to have that invaluable experience of actually “living” in the area, but in the dorm you also get a taste of what students and student life abroad is like.  I had originally assumed that our host families were Scottish and lived in or around the Glasgow area, however I soon learned at orientation that was not the case.

For all of the Scottish programs that Butler sponsors the students spend their weekend in Cumbria, a border area in the north of England.  They do this for a few reasons, namely, to expose us to a different area as well as give us somewhat of a cultural comparison.  There is by no means any hostility between the Scottish and English, however there are definite marked cultural differences between the two, and Butler wants to give us the opportunity to see that, indirectly giving us a better appreciation of the unique Scottish culture.  Sort of an ironic, around the back approach to understanding that Scotland truly is a country and culture all its own, but I suppose it works!

So the Friday after we had finished orientation we headed off to the Lake District to meet our host families.  Not going to lie, it was slightly unnerving when Deirdra, Ruth, and Katherine, our Butler guides and guardian angels for the past few days, boarded all of us up onto a bus by ourselves and sent us off on our way.  We had only a vague idea of where exactly we were going and names on a piece of paper, but I suppose that only enhanced the excitement all the more.  I had intended to stay awake the entire ride and enjoy the beautiful scenery passing by, but unfortunately my sleep kryptonite happens to be car/bus rides, so I quickly fell asleep and woke up about and hour and a half later.

We soon arrived in Penrith, one of the larger towns in the region, and were greeted by our eagerly awaiting families.  I was paired up with two girls in the group, Erika from Atlanta and Janna from my home state of Colorado.  After a few seconds of searching and name swapping we found our homestay mother, Elena Fraser, and began the difficult task of loading our luggage into her small BMW sedan.  Luckily Erika only had a small backpack, having moved into her dorm in Edinburgh that morning, but Janna and I both had all of our luggage because we would be heading off to Glasgow at the end of the weekend, so it was a bit like a game of Tetris to get everything stowed away.  Once all our luggage was securely stored in the “boot” (trunk) we headed off to the house.

We left Penrith and drove for about half an hour through progressively smaller towns until we arrived in Ormside, a little village of about 20 or so houses.

Ormside

We drove all the way to the end of the one-lane curvy country road and came to one of the coolest and most unique houses I had ever seen.  After unloading the car and depositing our luggage in our rooms we received a tour of the magnificent home we would be staying in the next couple of nights.  We learned from Elena that part of their house had been built in the 12th century!  The remainder having been added on in about the 16th century.  Elena and her husband Julian had been living in the house for over 40 years and had put in a lot of work to turn it into a wonderful living space.  Elena, as well as being a teacher, was an interior designer and walking into their house felt like walking back in time.  It was all decorated in a very Victorian (I think…?) fashion and was absolutely gorgeous.

Julian and Elena’s House
View of the house from the backyard. The 3-story portion to the left was the part built in the 12th century. The rest of the house was added on in the early 17th century.
Dining Room- The paintings in here were fit for a museum.
The Study
Kitchen- Elena hard at work cooking us dinner.
Living Room- Where we spent most of our time sitting and chatting.
My Room- The girls shared a room across the hall but I was lucky enough to have one all to myself.

Now, of course I did not start snapping these pictures right away when I got there, but rather I waited until we had gotten to know Elena and Julian a little better so as not to be too stereotypical of a rude American tourist.

After touring the house we went outside to their “Alice in Wonderland-esque” backyard for some tea and biscuits.  We sat in their lovely garden and got to know each other better, and while Elena cooked dinner we joined Julian for a cut-throat game of croquet.  Julian was far and away the most superior player, but I, being the gentleman that I am, let the two girls win and took a humble fourth place.  Julian then showed us his garden and some of his hedge sculpting work.

Backyard with the croquet court in the distance.
Julian’s garden with a whole manner of fruits, vegetables and flowers. You can see some of his birds and animals on top of the hedge in the distance. Not bad for a guy with no formal hedge sculpting training!

After our vigorous competition we sat down to a wonderful meal of pork and fresh potatoes and green beans.  With full bellies we then went to the family room and relaxed, discussing a whole manner of topics.  We learned that Elena and Julian had 3 children, 2 boys and a girl, as well as 4 grandchildren whom they are lucky enough to see relatively often as they live only a few hours away.  Before retirement, as well as being a farmer, Julian was a land surveyor and also served as sort of a county mayor for many years, so he knew quite a bit about the surrounding area, its history and its inhabitants.  We spoke also about all the places we had traveled to in the past and we learned that despite having just returned from a trip to Egypt, the Frasers had never managed to make it over to the US!

Erika and Janna had both brought a few simple gifts for them to give an idea of where we were from.  Since I had not thought to bring something Coloradan and Janna was from Colorado as well, I sort of hopped on her gift with her.  She gave them some chocolates and postcards of the famed Rocky Mountains and they were truly fascinated by the grandeur of them, being accustomed to the much smaller mountains of the British Isles.  Erika brought some Oreo’s and amazingly they had never heard of or tried them before.  They thought they were “absolutely delightful” and it was so funny to see how they treated them as almost a delicacy, serving them to us again the next day at tea on a beautiful china dish.

It was getting late and we had a long day of travel, so we went to bed to rest up for the day ahead.  We awoke early the next morning to a breakfast of fresh eggs from their chickens, toast and porridge.  Elena and a few of the other host mothers had arranged for all of us to get together and spend a day exploring some of the surrounding area, so after breakfast we piled into the car and headed off to the center of the Lake District to meet some other Butler students for a short hike to a waterfall, a cruise on a lake, and a visit to some local ruins.

Driving into the Lake District
Beautiful scenery of the Lake District
Aer of Forth Waterfall in the Lake District
Rowing on the lake- Safety First!
Castle ruins near Penrith
Entrance to old fortress ruins
Fortress Ruins

When we finally returned after our day of sightseeing, we met a surprise guest at the house.  That day while Julian was out mowing the lawn, an elderly man came down the road and said that he used to live in their house when he was a child.  They had gotten to talking and Julian invited him in to tea and for a look around the house just as we arrived.  We joined them in the living room and listened to all of his stories of the old days when he had lived there and how much the house and area had changed over the years.  It gave me a very interesting perspective on the progress of time and how far the world has come in the past half a century and it was a conversation I won’t soon forget.

After the gentleman had left we enjoyed some tea and I had a wonderful one-on-one conversation with Julian about the history of England, the relationship between England and Scotland, as well as the relationship between the UK and US.  It was so interesting to get a first hand perspective of the other side of things and to get an idea of how the rest of the world sees America.  I won’t get in depth about the politics of what we discussed so as not to offend anyone reading, but it was also a enlightening conversation that I am very grateful to have had.

After another wonderful meal of roast hen, Julian took us out to see an old church right by their house and to show us their land and cattle.  At the church we learned a very interesting fact that just a few years before Elena and Julian had moved into their house, in the cemetary of the church, a local dug up an ancient golden bowl.  As it turns out, it was one of the oldest and largest pieces of Saxon metal work ever to be found in Britain and was worth over 10 million pounds and now resides in a museum in London.  Talk about real life history right at your doorstep!

Church by the Fraser’s House
Plaque inside church commemorating the finding of the Ormside Bowl.
The Fraser’s farmland and cattle.

Warming up from our evening stroll we enjoyed more English tea and then appropriately enough watched “Notting Hill” on TV.  Soon after, we said goodnight and set our alarms to ensure that Janna and I wouldn’t miss our bus to Glasgow and Erika her train back to Edinburgh.

We woke up early the next morning and packed up and said our goodbyes, exchanging e-mail addresses.  Although we only had a few short days to spend with the Frasers, we got to know each other quite well and their kindness and generosity has left a lasting impact upon me.  It was an incredibly rewarding experience and I think I appreciated it much more than any of my previous homestays  because I am much more mature and able to converse on a deeper level.  I learned so much from Julian and Elena in such a short amount of time and wish that it wasn’t so limited.  I hope to stay in touch and will definitely never forget my weekend in the little village of Ormside.

Julian, Elena, and Myself
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Stressing Out…

Time September 16th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off on Stressing Out… by

I have unbelievably already been in Scotland for nearly three weeks, yet unfortunately have only written about the first three days of my time here.  This is because for the the past couple weeks I have been incredibly busy with different Orientation events here at the University of Glasgow, participating in Fresher’s Week (a week of events/parties dedicated to the incoming freshman class and open to us visiting international students), and doing just what the title of this blog implies, STRESSING OUT.

Rest assured, I will write about the many exciting and fun events of the past two weeks sometime in the near future, I promise.  But seeing as how those blogs will likely take up more of the time that I seem never to have, and don’t necessarily reflect upon the feelings I am having at the exact moment, the real purpose of a blog, I will jump ahead a bit before coming back to those events at a later date.

Ok, so the first thing I have been stressing out about has been classes.  Yes, I know classes haven’t even started yet, so I’m sure you are wondering how in the world that could be possible, but that is just because you have never experienced the University of Glasgow registration process.  It is hands down the most complicated process in the history of the world, not to mention determining a class schedule that actually works is like trying to put together a 500 piece home theater system from Ikea with directions only in Swedish and 150 or so parts completely missing.  You may be thinking that I am exaggerating and in all honesty I probably am, but it has been incredibly difficult nonetheless and I shall tell you why.

Our journey begins back in February when I was first applying to the University of Glasgow.  At the time of application I was required to provide a list of 8 to 10 potential courses that I would be taking in the fall in which I would be “Pre-Registered” for.  One was very easy for me, the Pre-Med Functional Anatomy course that I had mentioned previously as the reason for my selection of the University of Glasgow.  However, I then, on my own and with a little help from my Butler Study Abroad Advisor Kathleen Gordon, an angel and savior on earth, had to learn the Scottish system of credits, 60 “Scotcats” equal to one full semester course load, and then scour the massive course catalogue and find potential courses that would add up to the 60 credits I needed, while also satisfying my English major requirements at home as well as my Pre-Med requirements.  After hours of searching and emailing back and forth between professors at home and Kathleen, I finally had a solid list that I was able to send in.

But the fun was only beginning.  Then in April I had to attend a credit checking session at Lafayette where I met with department heads to get the classes approved and determine the Lafayette course equivalents.  Of course a few didn’t transfer as well as others, however I still had a good number of choices I could choose from.  Over the summer I then received e-mail confirmation from the University of Glasgow informing me that I was officially Pre-Registered for all the courses and all I had to do was enroll in the classes that I wanted when I got onto campus in a few months.  Woo! Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong.

Once in Scotland I learned that in order to complete the simple process of enrolling in a course I would first have to log on to the university network “Websurf” and add all of my classes.  I then had to attend the “Supermarket Session” and meet with the department heads and learn when and where I had to go to sign up.  But before I did that, I had to register as a University of Glasgow student and receive my student ID and number.  Once I was a registered student I could then go to the specified buildings at specified times and sign up for the classes I wanted.  And as the final cherry on top, I have to go around to all of my new professors and have them sign a form stating that I am enrolled in the class, which I turn into the office for Study Abroad students and am FINALLY registered and enrolled in all of my classes. Phew!

However, me being the lucky guy that I am, could never have that process run so smoothly.  Because the Functional Anatomy course is a new, special course only for abroad students, it does not show up on the Websurf account so I can not add it to my course list.  Ok, no problem I will just go to the Supermarket Session and meet the professor who is supposed to be there and get the necessary information. There, he tells us that the course will be three hours in the afternoon on MWF but after a few weeks it will change to MWR so that we have Friday open to travel.  Sounds great but there are a few problems.  For one thing he didn’t say what time in the afternoon! Secondly, doing so my Anatomy course now conflicts with my oddly scheduled MW morning, R afternoon English course…  So just to make sure that we heard him correctly, Will and I go to the biology department to try and get the scoop.  The receptionist at the desk is able to give him a call and he informs us that…. he does not yet know when or where the class is to take place or how we are to enroll in the course. But not to worry!  Since we are pre-registered for the course he can e-mail us when he gets the details.  Only one problem, the course still does not exist on Websurf.  So what can we do, we tried everything we could and just hope that it will work itself out.

Moving on to my other courses, Scottish Literature 3A Lectures MW 10-11 and R 2-3 with a Seminar F 10-11 or 11-12 and Essential Genetics Lectures MW 9-10 with a lab component to be assigned.  This “to be assigned part” had me a little nervous because of the way my luck had been going in regards to my Anatomy class, and my gut instinct was right.  I received my Lab assignment and what time could it have been other than F 10-12…  And finally to top it all off, I have two trips scheduled for the first two weekends in October through my program, which of course leave on Friday mornings, so now I will be missing the first rounds of my seminars and labs, critical components of the courses in which attendance is monitored very carefully.

I don’t know if you have been following my rantings and ravings, but the long in short of it is that I have some major scheduling conflicts for the courses I am set to take that I did not foresee, I do not have hardly any information about the course that I came to Glasgow in particular to take, and I have two trips that will force me to miss the first weeks of my supplementary parts of my courses which I had no previous knowledge of the timing for.  Now you understand the Ikea metaphor…

I will go ahead and stop with my diatribe about classes because I am hopefully going to get those issues ironed out later this afternoon.  Switching gears to traveling.  As I have said, I had lots of friends who studied abroad last semester and I was able to follow their many adventures to various parts of Europe with great excitement, knowing that I would be able to do the same in the fall.  Although only a fraction of the overall study abroad experience, it was the aspect that I was most looking forward to, so I was eager to get my trips scheduled.  Unfortunately, not knowing what my class schedule would be, or how complicated figuring that out would be, I waited until I got here to begin my search.

Knowing that I would be in Europe in October, I thought what better time is there to go visit Munich and experience the grandeur that is Oktoberfest.  Unfortunately, I soon found out that Oktoberfest actually occurs mostly during the second half of September and ends the first Sunday in October.  Because it was only a few weeks away, tickets to get there were absurdly high and hostels were completely booked up, leaving only the luxury hotels and 50 euro rentable tents.  As I am sure you have guess by now, the idea to go to Oktoberfest unfortunately ended rather quickly.  I then set my sights to other places in Europe I wished to travel to, Barcelona, Spain, Salzburg, Austria, anywhere in Switzerland, Amsterdam, Dublin and a few others.  Unfortunately, as it turns out, Ryanair, the budget airline that my friends used so many times last semester, only flies to a very select few cities from Glasgow, and only on certain days and up until November.

I was and still am disheartened to find out how difficult and limited my travel would be, however there is still hope that I will make it Barcelona, Dublin, and now Brussels, Belgium and Gothenburg, Sweden as those are a few places which would still be reasonable.  Will and I are looking in to finding alternate routes to get to Amsterdam, as that is a must for any college-age student in Europe.

I would like to finish with an apology to all you readers who have managed to make it all the way through this long, sarcastic post.  I know I sound very bitter about my experience thus far but I would like to assure you that is not the case.  I have still been having a wonderful time, meeting new people and participating in a variety of very fun and exciting events.  These are just some of the difficulties of travel and study abroad that I have been dealing with and I am merely trying to make light of them.

I think the biggest thing for me to overcome during my time here is to accept the fact that this is MY semester abroad.  As I have said many times before, I had a good number of friends including my girlfriend who were abroad last semester, so I heard from them all the time about what they were doing, where the went etc and I began to create an image of an ideal semester abroad and what I thought it was about, what I need to do, what I need to see, where I need to go and what I need to experience.  However, if these first few weeks are any indication of what is to come, my abroad experience is going to be very different than theirs, but in no way less exciting or less rewarding. I need to learn to accept that I am in a completely different place, with completely different people, and completely different opportunities that I need to take advantage of for myself and not for them.

Well, I think I made great progress today.  Thank you for listening haha.  I assure you my next blogs will be much more exciting and visually stimulating.

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Getting Oriented

Time September 8th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Now that I have been in Scotland for a week, I can honestly say that it is exactly as I expected: everyone is dressed in kilts eating haggis and drinking whiskey, the sound of bagpipes constantly fills the air and rain falls continuously across the green landscape.  Ok, so maybe I am exaggerating a little bit… it has only rained one day.  But in all seriousness, Scotland is exactly as I remember it from my trip here with my family about five years ago: partly cloudy and cool, green with breathtaking mountain landscapes, sprawling cities with a distinct quaint and aged quality inhabited by the friendliest people you could meet.

After one last very American meal of hot wings at the airport, Will and I boarded the plane and left without a hitch.  On the plane we met a few of our Butler counterparts and speculated as to which other college-aged solitary travelers would be joining our group in Edinburgh.  Luckily it didn’t take until we reached Scotland for us to find everyone else because navigating Heathrow airport on your own can be quite the task… When we landed in Edinburgh we were met by Deirdra, one of our Butler leaders who would be aclimating us to the Scottish culture, academic system and lifestyle that we would be leading for the next four months.

We then pilled ourselves and all of our luggage into taxis and set off to our hotel, with just enough time for me to make an American fool of myself by hopping into the drivers seat of the taxi.  We made it to the APEX International Hotel on Grassmarket street, settled into our rooms and were met with a spectacular view of the famous Edinburgh Castle.

After a quick shower and email to the parents assuring a safe arrival, Will and I met up with a few other Butler students for a quick look around the surrounding area, walking up the Royal Mile to the castle gates and a view of the city.

We made it back to the hotel for dinner and decided that the best way to fight the jet lag and prevent ourselves from falling asleep at seven in the evening was to go out and experience some of the Edinburgh nightlife.  Will and I asked two young Scottish girls on the street where the best places to go were, and luckily enough we seemed to be situated right in the middle of the college nightlife, our hotel being only about a five min walk from the University of Edinburgh campus.  So we picked the Club with the cheapest drinks and headed of to The Hive.

Fellow Butler Study Abroad Students: Mike, Kellin, Krista and Sam
Alexa, Will and Johnathan

We had a great night getting to know each other all a little better and even met a few local Scots.   We awoke in the morning and headed of to orientation.

The next three days followed roughly the same pattern, waking up at 8:30, eating breakfast, going to orientation, taking a nap, exploring Edinburgh and then going out at night.  It was a whirlwind of a first few days but I learned loads of very important information that I would be using in the coming months.  We learned about Scottish history and culture, how to stay safe and healthy, how to travel cheaply, and most importantly how to succeed in the very different UK Universities, or as the locals call them “Unies”.

Unlike in the States, colleges or universities here focus much more on the individual and self education.  Professors lecture just as they would in the US, but rather than assigning particular readings or assignments, they instead provide students with a reading list from which they pick and choose what to read and how much they want to research into the topic.  Assessment is based only on a few items, 1 or 2 essays and a final exam or essay, so there is a lot of pressure on the student to be self-motivated and do the work and research they are supposed to be doing, because the information they gather from the professor is not sufficient enough for them to pass the course.  Needless to say, we were all a little nervous hearing this because generally we are used to very structured classes with very distinct and discrete goals and assignments rather than broad topic goals.  But, I am confident that if I stay focused and put in the time I know that I should, I will be just as successful here as I am at home.

Now that I have bored you with a synopsis of the UK education system, here are a few pictures from my adventures in Edinburgh during orientation.

George V Bridge
The Elephant House Cafe where JK Rowling wrote the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
City Park with Arthur’s Seat in the distance
The Royal Mile
Edinburgh Castle
Me in front of Edinburgh Castle
Me giving Irn Bru, the Scottish soft drink of choice, a try.  It tasted like a combination of cotton candy and bubble gum. Not my favorite but the Scots sure do, with sales topping Coca-cola.
Mike, Alex, Alexa, Will, Erika and Kush
Will, Alexa, and Mike chatting with some of our new Scottish friends at Cabaret Voltaire, one of the most popular clubs in Edinburgh.
Arthur’s Seat, the highest point in Edinburgh.
View of Edinburgh from Arthur’s Seat
Edinburgh
Me at the summit of Arthur’s Seat
Lake and ruins of an old chapel at the base of Arthur’s Seat
Controversial Scottish Parliament building built by a Spainiard who died during it’s construction.  Budgeted for 4.3 million, it ended up costing 430 million dollars.  Scotland regained some sovereignty in 1999 and now has it’s own parliament.  However, their power is limited and they must still answer to English Parliament in Westminster.  Some of the Butler students we met at orientation are actually participating in a work internship with Scottish MPs (Members of Parliament, equivalent to our state Congressman) and will be taking classes at the University of Edinburgh.

After a quick few days in Edinburgh, we were off to Cumberland, England, more commonly known as the Lake District, for our weekend homestays.

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Is it really time?

Time August 30th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As I sit here finishing up packing and reassuring myself that I have everything, I find myself wondering if the date on the calendar is correct.  It is hard to believe that the time has finally come for me to leave for Scotland for the semester.  It seems that it was just yesterday that I was sending in my Butler application, receiving my acceptance, saying goodbye to my friends for the summer.  The past seven months, time has simply flown by, and I hope that the next four months do the exact opposite.

Although originally I am from Colorado, I have only been home for roughly three weeks the past year and it’s hard to believe that it will be another four months before I see those Rocky Mountains again.  My time has been spent in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina, Virginia, Thailand, and China.  It feels as though life has become one big cycle of packing, flying, unpacking, traveling, picture taking, repacking, driving, traveling, unpacking, working, repacking, traveling…. well, you get the picture.  And yet, as I reflect on the whirlwind that is the past year and the uncharted months to come, I could not be happier.  I have spend the last week back at school (Lafayette), and have seen all of my friends and somewhat gotten back into the groove of college life, despite not having any classes or a room to call my own, and although I am sad to be leaving the campus, lifestyle and people I love, I could not be more excited to begin a truly unique and exciting chapter of my life.

In many ways I already know first hand what it will be like to study abroad, having followed the adventures of four of my closest friends as well as my girlfriend last spring.  I was even lucky enough to travel to Europe for two weeks at the end of the school year to visit them and wet my appetite  for my own experience in a few months.  I picked up a few packing, lifestyle and travel tips as well as got a sense of some of the “college-age hot spots” of Europe.  I am looking forward to enjoying many of the same things and places they were able to experience with another of my best friends, Will Stern, as well as make my own mark across the continent.

However, of course studying abroad is not all about traveling every weekend and partying till dawn every night, though I do still plan on doing my fair share…  The main purpose of studying abroad is to do just that: STUDY abroad.  Though, as I said, I am thrilled to travel, meet new people, and try new foods, I am equally as excited for the studying part (and no, I am not saying this just because I was told to).  The academic curriculum that I will be following is really the reason for my study abroad program selection, ie University of Glasgow.  I will be taking a course called Functional Pre-Med Anatomy, a course which caters toward US Pre-Med students and gives them an opportunity to learn the basics of human anatomy through the study of actual human specimens.  Well, now that is just too good to be true and something that an at times overzealous future medical school applicant such as myself simply could not pass up.  Along with the Functional Anatomy course I will be taking Microbiology and Scottish Literature, a course to count towards my English major. (Pre-Med. English. Crazy, I know.)

Well, there you have it.  A little about me, the fun-loving intellectual and self-proclaimed travel guru, and a little about what my life the next few months will consist of.  I can’t wait to share my experiences with, as well as create a narrative for myself to look back and reflect on many years to come.

Next stop, Edinburgh, Scotland!

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