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Normal, Mundane, and Other Synonyms for School

Sometimes you do pretty normal things even on a different continent.

As I said in my very first, pre-departure post, you get a lot of advice before you leave the country. You hear a lot of stories from those who have studied abroad before you and you see pictures and blogs from peers who spent semesters in Spain, Rome, or wherever the wind took them. But here’s the problem: they only tell you about the adventures. The beautiful sunrises they saw over mount-whatever; the fun nightlife in a certain city; the amazing and inspiring people they met. Yet there is a fundamental detail that is left out of all of these tales—studying abroad involves a lot of completely normal moments. No one tells you that you will still binge-watch Gilmore Girls in bed, or that you’ll have quiet nights where you do nothing, or that you actually have to study for the classes you’re taking.

While this seems like a pretty obvious part of being away for an entire semester, it took me two weeks into classes to actually be okay with it. For the first part of my time abroad, I hated any gaps of free time I had in my schedule. I felt like I always needed to be doing something to make my time here valid and worthwhile. If I didn’t do something fun every night, I wasn’t getting the full “abroad” experience. It wasn’t until I was sitting in my Wednesday morning seminar the other week that I had a huge breakthrough—we were discussing the reading we were supposed to have done for class and I sat there not knowing a thing. I didn’t do the reading because I’m a student abroad, and students abroad most certainly don’t need to do the readings. But as I sat in class in a bubble of confusion wondering why pre-Raphaelite art was considered scandalous to upper class Victorian-era citizens I realized a fundamental fact: I came here to take classes because I’m in college.

So I know what you’re probably thinking. And Mom and Dad—I’d like to address you specifically in saying that I am getting an incredible education that is so worth the price tag and emotional toll of sending your daughter to a different country for four months. But I had this stigma engrained in me that my semester should be this wild and crazy adventure the whole entire time, when that’s just not realistic. SO, here are some of the normal things that have been occupying my time here at Cardiff:

I have discovered that I am very bad at cooking. I can’t even make an omelet without the kitchen looking like a crime scene. My meals so far have been very basic and make me miss my Mom’s cooking very much. And having a semester meal plan (shout out to you, Hubbell dining center).

I’ve been watching Gilmore Girls quite a bit. I’m not a fan of Dean or Jess as Rory’s romantic interest, but she’s off to Yale now so things are looking up for her.

In my Global Environmental Politics class we have been discussing the institutional structures that cause environmental degradation (I’m looking at you, Capitalism).

In Geographies of the Developing World I learned that child labor laws are much more controversial than I originally thought, and that international laws are complicated and difficult to enforce.

In my Visual Victorians class I learned that I know nothing about art.

I read the news every day to stay up to date on American politics, and what I’ve been reading makes me thankful that I’m in a different country for the semester.

There is a small Tesco nearby my flat that has proven to be extremely dangerous for my wine, chocolate, and popcorn cravings.

There is a pretty river by my flat that I run by to work off all of the wine, chocolate, and popcorn from Tesco.

I avoid doing my laundry here just as well as I avoid it back at Drake.

I’ve been having quiet, chill nights with my flat mates and friends from Drake. Sometimes hanging out in the kitchen for an hour or the Tally Social (even though it’s “social suicide” according to my flat mates to be seen there) is enough to call it a successful day.

I grabbed lunch with a classmate on Wednesday at a very cute café called “The Early Bird.”

I’ve started working on papers due soon, but I normally end up getting distracted and researching new places to travel and fun things to do in the cities I’m taking trips to.

I’ve kept up with my age-old obsession with coffee, and my new obsession with Welsh cakes.

There are moments when I’m walking around or just doing something normal and I have to pinch myself because it’s hard to believe that I got so lucky to be able to spend a semester in an incredible place that’s now feeling like home. Seriously, what fluke in the universe gave me such a gift? This post is a big contrast from my last, but I’m starting to learn that the completely normal moments I experience here are the ones that have mattered the most. It’s where my friendships have grown, where I’ve learned things about myself, and where I’m given time to reflect on everything else I’m experiencing. The normal days are the ones that frame this entire experience. This weekend I’m heading off to Switzerland for four days, but before then I have a paper to write, laundry to do, a few laps up and down the river to run, and other normal things like those mentioned above. Looking back at the past month I’ve been here and looking forward to the next three, I’m feeling thankful.

Cheers,

Alex

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