Document Your Life – May 2017

My last month in Scotland. So thankful for all of the experiences I had and all of the people I met, and I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.

Document Your Life – May 2017

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Document Your Life – January 2017

This isn’t so much a blog post as me saying “hey look I made a thing here it is!”

I heard about this project called Document Your Life a long ways back, which calls for you to make a video capturing the small (and big) moments in life that make you happy every month, putting it to music, and sharing it with the world. I’ve always wanted to start but never got around to it, and Scotland seemed like the perfect opportunity so here I am. It might become a monthly thing and it might not. We’ll see.

Anyway, here’s Wonderwall hey look I made a thing. Here it is.

P.S. I also made a video a while back for my adventures in Peru, if anyone’s interested. You can find that here.

On Being an American Abroad

We interrupt your (somewhat) regularly scheduled lighthearted and faintly snarky blog posts with a much more serious one. I wasn’t planning to write about politics on this blog – and in fact I’ve been trying to avoid even knowing about the current state of affairs in American politics – but recently it’s been affecting my time here to such an extent that I can’t not address it. If you’re tired of hearing about it, or if you think this blog is no place for politics (which, agree to disagree), feel free to skip that section.

But first, a brief recap of this past week in bullet points and pictures:

  • Wednesday was Burns Night! It’s a night devoted to celebrating the birthday of Scotland’s most famous poet, Robert Burns. He’s most well-known for writing Auld Lang Syne, which you’ve definitely heard even if you’ve never heard of it. I ate haggis and drank some whisky.
  • I had my second aerial dance class on Friday. More about that in my goals post, which should be published relatively soon. I also went to a concert Friday night for Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival. The first group sang songs in Gaelic, and the second group performed some songs on the bagpipe. ‘Twas a very cultured night.
  • We went on a day trip to Dundee, Aberdeen, and Dunnottar Castle (the castle that the one in Disney’s Brave is based on)!

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The North Sea at Aberdeen

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Dunnottar Castle

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  • On Sunday we went to Pollok Park in Glasgow, and then to a Hippo Campus concert that night.

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Okay, that was it for the brief recap of my week, so if you’re not into politics now is the time to bail.

Still here? Okay.

One of my goals for this blog has always been to be as honest as possible, to let you guys know when things are okay and when they’re not, because I’m really tired of reading sugar-coated articles that say “don’t worry!” and “everything will be okay in the end!” Sure, maybe it will be, but that’s not helpful. I don’t want to know that everything worked out for you and you loved your study abroad experience, I want to know that you were homesick and had moments of doubt; I want to know that I’m not alone. And I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting that. So, from the beginning, that has been my goal with this blog.

Things are not okay. I mean, they are, until I log onto Facebook and see the newest executive order penned by a man I still can’t believe actually managed to get into the White House. They are, until I scroll through my news feed and very nearly start crying in the middle of a cafe while eating lunch.

It’s difficult watching everything happen from afar. I’m thousands of miles away and across an ocean, and I feel absolutely powerless as I watch the vast amounts of progress we’ve made in America over the last few years – equal rights, environmental protection, work to decrease gun violence, among many others – begin to come crumbling down in just two weeks. I feel ashamed to be an American, and to be honest, at the moment I don’t even want to be American.

One of the things I’ve noticed about Glasgow over the past month is that it’s not a very diverse city. I might even go so far as to say that it’s less diverse than Boston which, if you’ve ever been to Boston, you know is saying something. This is nothing against Glasgow, but it’s made me realize how truly amazing it is that America is as diverse as it is. Diversity is what makes America great, what sets us apart from other nations – our diversity is what makes me most proud to be an American. You don’t “make America great again” by closing our borders (and our minds), putting up a wall, and taking away our diversity. That’s just really not how that works, and it’s breaking my heart to watch.

I’ve always tried to live my life with the philosophy that compassion is the ultimate show of strength. It takes a lot less energy to be kind to someone than it does to be mean, and kindness will take you farther in life anyway – so why do we insist on being so harmful to one another? The world needs compassion more than it needs anything else. Love has always and will always trump hate, and I know this, but it still breaks my heart to see so many people’s hearts filled with so much hate, and to then see their hate fueled by the now-president of our country. To see their prejudices and discrimination and hate supported and encouraged by the leader of our nation – to see our country do an about-face on my principle ideals and core values – and to watch it all happen from a place where I cannot do anything about it (or at least not as much as I’d like to)… it’s difficult.

As much as I’m hurting watching the news and seeing the terrible things done in the American name, I am still able to find pride in my country. Seeing the hundreds of thousands of people rallying all over the country, marching in the streets for women’s rights and crowding the airports in support of refugees and those detained, seeing lawyers flock to airports to volunteer their time to help people – good people – being held on the basis of their country of birth and their religion, seeing the press fight back against censorship and bias and discrimination – seeing all of these people not back down from Donald’s intimidation tactics is amazing and fills my heart with hope. All is not lost.

It’s hard, being away from my home country at this difficult and heartbreaking moment in history. It’s hard not having an easy way to make my voice heard, to feel powerless to help. Part of me wants to just move to Scotland permanently, but a larger part of me knows that that would be the ultimate display of the very privilege that has blinded us and gotten us into this mess in the first place, the very privilege we’re seeking to dismantle. So instead I watch the news, and I watch the protests, and yes – I feel helpless and lost and like crying some of the time. But I also feel pride in my country and in the knowledge that we will not sit quietly and let years of progress be undone without a hell of a fight.

If you are involved with the protests, please stay safe. I will join you as soon as I can.

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(Not my photo – a sign from an anti-Donald rally in Glasgow being held even as I write this post)

A Wee Bit o’ Magic

Once upon a time, giants and witches (and wizards) roamed a wee piece of land known as Scotland. They lived in relative harmony, until the giants decided they no longer had to watch where they stepped and started squashing witches (and wizards) left and right. This, as you can imagine, caused a bit of a problem for the witches (and wizards). These magical beings called a gathering to figure out what to do about their giant problem. After much deliberating, they decided to combine all of their magical powers and use them to defeat the giants, once and for all ridding the land of such a plague. Some among them dissented, wishing to keep their magic for themselves, to keep living a hidden and perilous existence alongside the giants.

The rest of the witches (and wizards) gathered up their powers and, with them, slew the giants. The magic they used was so great and powerful that not a single giant was left standing – but it came at a cost. The witches (and wizards) had used up every last drop of their magic, and so they became mortals. Humans. And as the giants fell to the ground they shook the earth, and their bodies, too big to move without magic, became a part of the landscape. Today, if you look out the window while you’re driving, or scan the horizon from the top of a munro, you might see a funnily shaped hill or landmass, one that looks like it could almost be a giant’s arm, or foot.

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And what of the witches (and wizards) who didn’t use their magic to defeat the giants, who stole away and kept their powers for themselves? Well, their descendants are still roaming the lands today, giving Scotland just the wee bit o’ magic you see nearly everywhere you go.

An Deireadh. (“The End” in Scottish Gaelic. At least according to Google).

A tour guide told us this story while on a tour around Glasgow a few days ago. I couldn’t find much more about it on Google, so he may have made it up – but whether or not he did, I think it perfectly captures the magic of Scotland. I wanted to start this post off with it, because this week was a particularly magical one (even if it didn’t start off that way).

I hurt my ankle at the beginning of this week. Not badly, but in a walking city any ankle injury is bad news. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I think it was some combination of wearing my new Sperrys and my jeans getting bunched up inside my sock and pushing against my ankle – whatever it was, I bruised my ankle and possibly my tendon and didn’t get to do much exploring of the city. Thank goodness for Epsom salts, ice packs, and online grocery ordering and delivery.

Despite this minor setback, I did still manage to do some fun stuff this week. I went to a whisky tasting (yes, that’s WHISKY without the e, because Americans are wrong), had my first aerial dance class, and tried Indian food for the first time.

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I didn’t say I liked whisky, I said I tried it.

And I saw more foxes. Foxes are apparently the pest equivalent to raccoons here, but that doesn’t make seeing one flash across the sidewalk in front of you at night any less magical. I have a theory that foxes may be a faerie’s preferred form, because every time I see a fox run across my path, I look to see where it’s headed – but it’s gone. Vanished. Even that one time it was running down the middle of the street and there shouldn’t have been anywhere for it to go. So. Foxes = faeries. The magic of Scotland.

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Saturday was without a doubt the most magical day of the week – of my entire time here so far. A couple friends and I went on a tour of the town of Oban and the Isle of Seil, both of which are situated in the southern highlands. Driving through the highlands, the landscape was unreal. Like, it actually didn’t look real. The hills and munros (Scottish word for mountains) rising into the fog, the brass and golden grasses sweeping across the countryside, the craggy rocks peeking out and dotting the hills. And, of course, the sheep. Sheep everywhere.

There really aren’t words to describe the beauty and magic of this trip and the places we explored, so instead here are some photos:

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Chilling in Scotland’s answer to the Colosseum, as one does.

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SHEEP!

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This forest in Oban is one of the most magical places I’ve ever been. We were basically in faerie land. Also we found a rope swing.

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Apparently, in Scotland, an “easy 15 minute hike” means a steep hike up the side of a very muddy cliff that yes, sure, only took 15 minutes.

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Worth it.

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While this week wasn’t without its hardships (more on that in a later blog post in which I talk about Goals and The Like, but suffice it to say I don’t deal all that well with change), it’s hard to be down for long in such a beautiful and magical place as this.

Carry on, Scotland.

P.S. I’m attempting to make butternut squash risotto for dinner tonight wish me luck I’ll need it.

Week One (& a half) in Glasgow

This week has gone by so quickly! Classes started on Monday – that is, if you were registered for classes. Which I (along with a lot of other study abroad students) was not. I could point fingers (and oh boy have I been) but for now let’s just leave it at the fact that finally, on day four of the semester, I have all of my classes figured out.

I’m taking four classes. Most students here take two or three, depending on the number of credits each one is worth (I’ll do a whole blog post on the Scottish education system once I understand it myself), so when I list off my classes people sometimes look at me like I have two heads. Or maybe it’s just the funny accent.

Anyway, these are my classes:

Comparative Literature: Heroism in Slavonic Cultures – which is basically exactly what it sounds like. We get to read a lot of cool books.

Theatre Studies: Theatre and Society – also exactly what it sounds like. We read plays and talk about how theatre has been perceived in society throughout the years.

Intro to Scottish History and Culture – this is a course offered only for visiting students. We’ll be learning about Scottish history, archaeology, literature, and gaelic (pronounced “gah-lic,” like “garlic” in an English accent, contrary to what the Irish would have you believe).

Darkroom/Film Photography – I’m probably most excited about this class, if I’m being honest. I love photography, and I think it’ll be a great motivator to get me out and exploring every inch of the city.

I’ve only been to the history class and the theatre class so far, but I loved both of them so I’m optimistic about the rest.

Living in Glasgow… where to start? It’s definitely been an adjustment. I’ve been juggling so many different things at once – figuring out where to buy food (and what food to buy), figuring out what I need for my flat and where to buy that (where’s a Target when you need one??), figuring out how to get around this city despite my constantly malfunctioning GPS, figuring out classes (don’t even get me started), figuring out phone plans and health care and every tiny logistical thing you never knew existed – all this while dealing with the weather. Let me just say – horizontal rain? It’s a thing. And it’s not super fun.

The more time I spend in the city, though, the more I’m beginning to like and even love it. I love hearing the Scottish accent everywhere I go. I love seeing dogs in nearly every restaurant I go to. I love asking someone in a store for help and ending up hearing about how their whole day has been. I love the parks and the university. I love learning more about the culture and the history every day. I love the people and their sense of humor – when my friend asked a stranger for the quickest way to get to the train station, “helicopter” was his answer.

The other day we were walking around trying to find decorations for our rooms, and we stumbled across this little cobblestone lane off of one of the main roads of the West End. There were some cute restaurants with fairy lights strung up outside in the first half – but the second half was by far the most interesting. It was just a network of antique shops, most of them neatly organized but one of them positively overflowing with items – guitars and silverware and old telephones and furniture and matchboxes and trinkets and, in one corner, two heaping boxes of old photo projector slides from the ’60s and ’70s. Holding slides up to the light, you could see tiny images of people and landscapes from those years – a marina, a river, an old couple standing in a doorway, a group of bagpipers in kilts. And they were only 50 pence each, so I’m planning to go back there eventually and buy some! And maybe bring my own camera.

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On Saturday we took a trip up to Loch Lomond and the town of Balloch – a  forty-five minute train ride away for under six pounds round trip! We wandered around the town for a bit – which was really adorable and quaint and exactly what you’d expect from a lakeside (loch-side?) Scottish town, found some neat playgrounds that I would have loved as a kid, and explored the shores of the loch a bit. The coolest part by far though was the abandoned house we found in the woods.

Just barely peaking out from the woods at the edge of a field was the stone face of an old house. It was only accessible by going up an overgrown dirt road that had a chain running across it – but, fun fact, Scotland has a law known as the Outdoor Access Code which basically allows the public to wander wherever they please, even private property, so long as they’re respecting the environment and the privacy of the landowner. So the chain didn’t stop us.

The house was so cool! There were actually two separate structures, both with roofs collapsed and vines and moss creeping across the stones. Rubble – wooden beams, piles of stone – filled the structures, making exploring the inside more of a challenge. Open doorways led to dark rooms and basements that we didn’t have the time (it was getting dark) or the nerve to explore, but maybe next time. And the forest around the ruins was cool as well – dense, low-hanging and crowded branches covered in moss made for darkened caves. The whole place could very well have been a faerie den – it definitely felt creepy and magical enough.

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If you squint you can see the house in between the trees.

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Here are some more highlights from the week, in picture form:

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Kelvingrove Park near the university

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The Hunterian Museum in the university

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Glasgow Cathedral (oldest cathedral in the city, surviving from before the Reformation in the 16th century), the Necropolis and silhouettes of the graves, and a full moon.

I’ve yet to do much exploring – usually when I venture out of my flat it’s with a specific destination in mind. I’m excited to have the time, now that my class schedule is under control, to wander around and see what I can find.

I’ll let you know if I find anything interesting.

 

 

Edinburgh and Beyond

I’m absolute rubbish at starting these things, so I’ll just start by telling you that I’ve only been in Scotland for four days and I’m already starting to pick up some of the slang. Like absolute rubbish.

The first two and a half days here were spent in Edinburgh, at an inn in the middle of Old Town and right by the Royal Mile. So, you know, basically a lot of really old and really beautiful buildings. Every building there looked like it could be a museum or a church, and most of them ended up being convenience stores.

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Speaking of buildings that aren’t what you’d expect, we ended up wandering into this little church that had been converted into a market inside, with open stalls and people selling jewelry, clothes, kilts (of course), and other homemade and thrift goods.

Well, I say little:

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Here’s a shot of the inside:

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We also did a bunch of other things – we walked around a cemetery (according to the program director, it had been closed for renovations for a while because the gravestones had been falling onto people)


We went up Calton Hill for a very windy 360 view of the city

We went to the National Museum of Scotland and learned a bit about the country’s history or rather, we were supposed to, but we were all so dead from jet lag that I don’t think any of us absorbed any information other than that Mary Queen of Scots was kind of badass.

By far one of the coolest things we did was take a ghost tour of the city and the underground tunnels at night. It was at ten o’clock at night and the sun sets at around 3:50-4:00 (and doesn’t rise until almost 9:00!), so it was about as dark as it was going to get. Our guide took us around the city a little and told us about some of the history – the creepier history, of course. Prisons and executions, mostly.

Then he took us underground to the tunnels that run under a lot of the streets in Edinburgh. The tunnels, he said, had been used as prisons and torture chambers, until the government abandoned them and the poor moved in. It was cold, dark, wet, and criminals lurked in every corner. So a prime place for ghosts.

I don’t think I’ve ever been quite as scared in my life as I was under those tunnels. Our tour guide was amazing – the stories he told us about the stuff that happened down there and the ghosts people had seen were enough to make me constantly turn my head over my shoulder. He didn’t even use any jump scares (well, once) or props or anything – just his stories and the atmosphere of the cramped, damp stone corridors and rooms with their minimal light and stale air was enough to scare me.

My mind started playing tricks on me, too (at least, that’s what I’m telling myself). One of the rooms (dungeons would be a more accurate description) we entered had little alcoves in the far left and right corners. I’m sure it was just the uneven tones of the stones, but it I could have sworn I saw a face in the alcove opposite me. I refused to look directly at it, though, so who knows.

Another room we entered was supposedly the darkest of the rooms. The guide had us all gather in a circle and put his hand over his flashlight beam so only a little light got through. The weak beam illuminated the faces of the few people standing next to the guide – but there was one point where it seemed to skip a couple people before reaching one more person. In that spot it almost looked as if there was the outline of a person’s head and shoulders – standing directly in front of me, of course. Also, the guide told us that was supposed to be the coldest room in the place, but when we left one of the other people on the tour was sweating, and said he’d been so warm he’d felt like he was going to pass out.

There were a few other things that happened, like creepy disembodied (and very faint) whistling, but in the interest of not making this post too long I’ll stop there for now.

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On Wednesday, we boarded a bus for Glasgow! Initially, we didn’t get to see much of the city because by the time we’d dropped everyone off at their accommodations it was dark out (again, sun sets before 4:00), but we did a lot more walking today and got a better sense of the city. From what I’ve seen so far, I can say this: Glasgow kind of reminds me of a much smaller, slightly older (and by slightly I mean the university was built in the late 1400s so…) and much quieter New York City. On second thought, that doesn’t sound much like New York City at all.

It is more modern than Edinburgh, though, so maybe that’s where I’m drawing the comparison from. A good bit of the city was destroyed in World War II, so there are a few newer areas. The west end, where I’m living, has this interesting mix of old and new – the buildings are built in the same olden style as Edinburgh, but there are also modern storefronts everywhere. I’ve really only seen the areas around my route to campus from my apartment, which is about a 25-30 minute walk (the farthest away of most of us, not like I specifically put “close to campus” as a preference on my housing sheet or anything, but it’s fine :p ), so I can’t say much about the city yet. I’m looking forward to exploring more!

This post is getting to be really long, so I’ll just say like two more things and be done.

  1. The University put on a ceilidh (“kay-lee” – Scottish celebration and dance) for the incoming international students tonight, and it was so much fun! They had some people playing traditional Scottish folk music and teaching us some different traditional dances. The dances are great because you don’t have to be a good dancer at all – you just have to be able to skip around in time to the beat. Sounds simple, but the routines are actually kind of complicated and also really really good cardio. I think I’m covered for the rest of the month.
  2. I’m going to make a post about Scottish culture later, but for now let me just say this: dogs in restaurants seems to be a thing here. We went to a restaurant in Edinburgh and there was a dog sitting next to a booth with its owners. And the two pubs we went to today (the first one didn’t have food, so, oops) both had people with dogs just chilling at their feet. I wholeheartedly support this and think restaurants in the US should follow suit immediately.

Here are a few more pictures:

University of Glasgow:

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My room:

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