The flatmates and I eat chicken, discuss our Argyll adventure weekend experiences, and uncover the mystery of “quince.”
The flatmates and I eat chicken, discuss our Argyll adventure weekend experiences, and uncover the mystery of “quince.”
As I entered my freshman year of college, I remember I was so nervous about sitting by myself at lunch. I wasn’t afraid of the coursework or the large campus, but the idea of being alone worried me the most. On the very first night at school, my entire floor ate dinner together in the dinning hall and my fears were suddenly gone. I realized that I was surrounded by people experiencing this new, strange stage of life together. I wasn’t alone. (and if I’m being honest, after a while I actually enjoyed the lunches when I could eat and read a book by myself!)
Starting study abroad made me revisit some of those fears. I approached this semester much like my first semester at UVM. I’d be with a new crop of students at a brand new school. However, this time around I knew from experience that I wouldn’t be alone so I wasn’t as nervous.
Throughout this past semester, I have found myself doing many things that I never thought I could do or wanted to do before because I was afraid or nervous. Usually I’m quick to say no before I say yes, and I’m beginning to notice this more and more. Before I left for Belfast, my mom told me to say yes to everything instead of missing out on once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. That really stuck with me and now I think carefully before I say no, or I just say yes before I have the chance to think about it and change my mind. This new mindset has really changed my semester for the better, and as a result I’ve been able to conquer some of my fears along the way.
I’m back in Cardiff sat at my desk, alternating between writing this blog, editing an essay I have due Tuesday, filtering through pictures to post, and unpacking my suitcase. Earlier today I spent 5 hours traveling from North Wales, into England, and back to South Wales, even though I wish I could have stayed in Snowdonia for another month. This past weekend was the big IFSA Adventure Weekend, and it was probably one of the most amazing weekends of my entire life.
Each semester the IFSA office puts together an extended weekend trip for students which involves tons of options for activities throughout the weekend. Our weekend was in Snowdonia, which is located in Northern Wales and about 4.5-5 hours away from Cardiff. We all headed to the train station to meet up with some other students who had trained in and were sharing a bus with us for the trek North. The drive was immaculate as we went winding through mountain ranges, past sheep farms and through a multitude of towns. This was my first time really venturing outside of Cardiff besides going to London, so the scenery was much appreciated!
For the weekend the whole lot of IFSA students from the UK (including Leeds, Wales, Bristol and London to name a few) stayed at The Royal Victoria Hotel. Dinner there was incredible, but the queues got long quick! We learned fast that arriving early to breakfast and dinner was a must if we didn’t want to get stuck waiting around for forever.
Saturday was our first day of adventure for which we could choose either one full-day activity or two-half day activities. The full-day activities included things like going through mines or hiking to the top of a local mountain, while half-day activities consisted of mountain biking, visiting a castle, a high ropes course, rock climbing, hiking and go-karting. Wanting to try something new I opted for rock climbing and the high ropes course.
I can easily say that I have never tested my courage as much as I did that day! I figured being pretty athletic and coming from a gymnastics background the two activities would be challenging but nothing major. However, when I was in the situations of scaling a towering rock wall and attempting to walk across wires 150 or so feet in the air, with brutal winds to increase the challenge, I found myself testing my endurance, self-confidence and courage. Although I shook like a leaf at points (in all honesty more from the cold temperatures than the fear, ha), I was extremely happy with my choices. I felt so proud at the end of the day to be able to say I had made it to the top of a difficult climb and that I had jumped off a huge totem pole to catch a trapeze bar. The adventures were an awesome experience to force myself out of my comfort zone.
The following day we all went into a city where we got to explore tourist shops and venture to the beach of the Irish Sea. It was cool to finally see the water (a part of home I am missing daily). After some time in the city, we were due to head home. However, this proved to be easier said than done as the “adventure” wasn’t quite over yet. Prior to leaving we realized that our turbo had gone, so we planned to travel around the hills rather than through them. But as we began our journey and drove to a petrol station we quickly noticed the small bus smoking. The latest discovery that our mini-coach wasn’t having it meant a rapid change of plans to get us all home (which on a Sunday afternoon is not an easy feat). Our IFSA leader did some quick problem solving and got us on a train to Cardiff instead.
The weekend was full of adventure from start to finish. It challenged me in ways I would have never imagined, and ending up being an unexpected growing experience for me. The extension toward the out-of-reach rock and the initial step onto a wind blown wire proved to parallel my experience with studying abroad. The idea of leaving family, comfort and normality is frightening and overwhelming. The courage to take the first step makes us question our choices, while the challenges in the middle force us to go beyond our comfort zone. But the ending, a euphoric moment of accomplishment and pride, makes us wonder why we were even scared in the first place. As I face challenges throughout the coming months, I know at the end of this amazing journey of adventures there will be no regrets, tons of accomplishment and growth to reflect upon as well as memories to last a lifetime. So, although adventure weekend may be over, the reality is, the adventure has only just begun.
It’s hard to believe that it is almost September. In a way, I feel like I have been in Australia forever. Everything in the Smithfield/Cairns area is starting to become highly familiar to me. I know the paths to bike to the beaches. I have my class schedule down. I know how to navigate confidently through the malls and grocery stores. Basically, I’m beginning to discover what really works and what truly doesn’t in my newfound lifestyle.
Just because I am becoming familiar with everything doesn’t mean that I still don’t miss aspects of home. I haven’t gotten incredibly home sick since I’ve been here, but there have been days when I wish that I could be with family and friends that are thousands of miles away, or just go back to my home school for a weekend. But then, there are days here where I’m sitting on the beach surrounded by palm trees and bright blue oceans that I remember- there is never going to be a time in my life again where I will get to do this. Have this time all to myself. And I know, inevitably, I am going to miss this experience when I return to the US.
These past weeks have been great. We’ve all settled in to a sort of schedule trying to get adjusted to schoolwork and what not. We are hoping this weekend to plan spring break (we are flying out to Brisbane) and other trips, like scuba diving, deep sea fishing, and skydiving.
Two weekends ago, we went on our IFSA-Butler Adventure Weekend, which was so much fun! The weekend was exactly what was needed- a chance to get away from our rooms and explore Cairns. We (my entire IFSA-Butler Group) left early Saturday morning on a taxi that was sent to pick us up at the Cairns Student Lodge. My IFSA-Butler group then headed to the Kuranda Skyrail, where we met up with our awesome SSC (Student Services Coordinator) Lalena. We then boarded the Kuranda Skyrail, which gave us spectacular views of Cairns and the many buildings, fields, and oceans in the distance. We got off of the skrail on two different occasions before reaching Kuranda, which allowed us to hike around in the rainforest and also see Barron Gorge, which was spectacular.
In about 45 minutes, we found ourselves in the village of Kuranda, a cute little town tucked away in the rainforest, filled with people, shops, eateries and a bunch of different little zoos. Our first stop was Birdworld, which was a pretty cool place because the birds actually landed on you and you could feed them and interact with them. Needless, to say, I was pretty excited. We were warned to take off all jewelry because the birds were super curious. My friend Sarah and I came across a very friendly green parrot that liked to sit on our shoulders and climb up and down our arms, and also knew a few select words. However, when we went to put the parrot down because we had to leave, it proceeded to bite both of us and latch on to my backpack until a lady who worked there came over and took the parrot off me. Her only response was “yeah, he doesn’t like goodbyes.” The parrot only gave me a bruise, but he actually drew blood on Sarah’s hand. So, needless to say, I’m not too too fond of parrots anymore.
Then we went to a zoo with a few koalas and wallabies, and had lunch and just explored around Kuranda for the afternoon. We came across some cool places, including a homemade candy and ice cream shop. We also found an opal jeweler who gave us some pretty awesome deals on our purchases and also went in to a twenty-minute conversation on different kinds of opal and what makes certain opal more expensive than others.
Next, we met up with our SSC and walked to our driver’s house (he was going to take us to our next destination- the campground where we were staying for the night). The driver had just gotten a new puppy (Lucy) that he had us meet before we departed. We were all thrilled and insisted that she come in the van with us. So, before we knew it, all twelve of us (and Lucy) were piled into the van and headed for the campground. We made a quick stop at the grocery store on the way and picked up food and supplies for breakfast and lunch the next day.
When we arrived at the campground, we were housed in Kookaburra Lodge. That evening, we went out to dinner at a local restaurant. Of course, we were all completely ecstatic that we could have real food. On the downside, Kuranda was FREEZING. According to our driver, who had lived in Kuranda for most of his life, it was the coldest night he had ever personally experienced. And do you think any of us packed appropriately? Nope. Haha. And, naturally, the restaurant we ate at was half indoors/outdoors so we froze. When we got back to the lodge, we made a campfire and then settled in for a very cold night.
But, like anything, it was an experience. The next morning we woke up and ate breakfast, made our lunches, and set off on a van ride to hike to a swimming hole. The water was freezing, but four of us (including myself) decided that we needed to jump in. ICE COLD. Haha but totally worth it! I also cliff jumped for the first time….probably something I won’t do again because hitting the water hurt like crazy but I’m completely glad I tried it out.
Next, we were off on our rafting tour- suited up in bulky life vests and helmets! We had the craziest tour guide- literally two minutes after we got in the raft he started swaying back and forth to flip it, then proceeded to take us down the first mini waterfall “his way” (not the safe way apparently), which was sideways. We almost flipped- again. Then, at one point, he made us all get out of the raft and float through rapids in the river. There was one part of the river that was almost like a whirlwind under the water and it sucked us in as we floated down. It was kind of scary haha- and we were floating fairly fast. But so much fun! Overall, rafting was one of my favorite activities I have done so far in Cairns. It was very fast-paced at points, and we also got spectacular views.
After rafting was over, we said goodbye to our SSC and headed back to the Cairns Student Lodge to start another week of classes. That Tuesday one of my roommate’s friends from home came to visit for a week and a half, which was awesome! It was a pretty chill week- classes, work, some rain, a few nice beach days, and also my first dinner out at a really nice Brazilian steak house in the city of Cairns. I’ve found that it’s hard for me to realize that I’m actually living here and that I have to do homework and laundry and clean my room. I am almost in constant vacation mode where I think I need to be doing something adventurous every second of the day. But, slowly, I’m getting used to the concept that I’m here for awhile. It’s kind of crazy I’ve almost been here two months- time is truly flying by! It’s incredibly surreal- just looking around and remembering oh….I’m in Australia.
And each day, I tend to remember the quote : “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” –Confucius. I mean, you really do need to commit your whole heart going abroad so you can get the most out of your experience. It’s hard, because you’ll find you’ll have days where your heart just doesn’t feel that into it and you find yourself being torn between the comforts and familiarity of home and the new and unique opportunities of being abroad. I think the moments here, in Australia, when I feel that I am being abroad with all my heart is when I’m out there doing something- whether it be hiking, going to the beach or any sort of activity or trip, and I feel like I am totally immersed in the experience and truly living it up to the fullest. That’s when I feel like I “go” with all my heart. Those moments when I feel like I never want to leave my new home and the temporary lifestyle I have here.
I know a lot of people blog only about their travels, but I have to say I’m so glad that I’m here, in Lancaster. I am increasingly more glad that I didn’t go to London (because that was a conscious choice for me), though I think it is a great city. I love living in the countryside, and we travel a lot. I have the incredible chance to be involved with a group of kids here who belong to the same church that I do, and they are all local-ish (some of the Uni kids are from other cities, but there is a hefty chunk of people who have lived in Lancaster their whole lives). Anyway, I love where I am, right here. I do love to travel, but I love my little community here.
Trip to Blackpool to visit Show-zam’d, a little carnival:
The coast in Morecambe:
Back alley behind the bus station in Lancaster:
I love BBC News. I’ve been following the news in the Middle East the past few weeks (Go Libya!), and have appreciated it more than all American news channels which I try to avoid.
I love when people try to have me speak with a British Accent. My friends’ favorite thing is to make me say, “I just can’t be bothered!” It’s so honest. In the US, we’d be more inclined to make something up as an excuse (“Oh I can’t reach it”, “I don’t want to wash another dish”, “I might be busy that day”) but the English just tell you they don’t want to do whatever.
So you might think it’s funny to poke fun at British spelling of things, people actually get kind of offended. They are very quick to point out that “you speak ENGLISH. We invented the language.” I was trying it out just as a social experiment, and I think I’m over that one. Yeah, they don’t like it. Another social experiment I tried was asking the boys playing Call of Duty in my flat if they’d ever fired an actual gun as opposed to a gun in a video game. One of them had, during a visit to is sister in America, but the rest had never even touched one (I come from gun-happy Idaho). I think I earned some street cred with them for saying that I’ve been shooting before. And then, just as Andrew an Lynn said, they asked, “Have you shot anyone?” Nice joke. Real original. Hahah.
I’ve had to do my housing application for next fall at GW already, and I am registering for classes in just a few weeks. This makes me sad. I’m not ready to think about being back in GW, and rightly so! I still have 17 weeks left here. Nobody better ask me about it.
We decided this weekend, on the IFSA-Butler Adventure Weekend, that we were 3 degrees removed from reality. Reality is a stereotypical salaried job etc, once removed is Uni, twice removed is studying abroad, and then three times removed was being on vacation. (Wales, as you can seen from the pictures below, was stunning/spectacular by the way. If you’re a future IFSA student, please please please make sure you go. SO much fun. Oran and company did an excellent job planning it all out.)
View from castle ruins in Llanberis, Wales:
Coastal view from Llandudno, Wales:
Caernafon Castle, Wales:
Our Next Top Model winner, Wales: