Olivia in Scotland: How Far I’ll Go

January 12, 2017

Hello everyone!

I’m back in the United States now. There are times when that’s still not real to me yet; you could say that my head carried some of the fog home from Edinburgh and it hasn’t quite cleared yet. In the midst of the readjustment and the holiday season, however, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned from my past few months abroad. Here are ten things I’ve learned about travel, about myself, and about life, in no particular order!

  1. I love discovering new places more than I ever realized I did. I found out that the walking and navigating aspect of travel is really fun for me; I like learning where things are and feeling like I’ve at least sort of figured out how to get around a city before I leave it. I never traveled to a place I didn’t like while I was abroad. There were things to enjoy everywhere I went.
    2237.jpg

    Here’s a picture from one trip that I didn’t get to talk much about in my blog posts— I took a day trip to Stirling, which is about an hour away from Edinburgh. It’s a pretty small city, but it has an amazing castle and is surrounded by beautiful hills. It actually reminded me of a mountain town where some of my family lives back in the States.

    Like other study abroad students, I feel that this time away has given me the travel bug. It will be hard not traveling as much in the spring, but I also think it has expanded my horizons as I think about my future. Seeing new places helped me see new possibilities for my own life and helped me see how much I like traveling.

  2. I would always rather travel with other people than travel alone. My 4-day sojourn in London taught me that. I love being along for shorter periods of time, like my last morning in Paris, for instance, but I do not enjoy being alone for extended trips. It shaped how I traveled for the remainder of my time abroad and I’m glad of that.
  3. I love living near hills. This is a bit of a random one, but it’s true! To me, living near a big hill or a mountain feels like having something to rest your back against. I might feel connected to hilly places this way because my family has roots in the mountains. Ideally, though, I would love to live in a city like Edinburgh that has both hills and sea so close together.

    6130.jpg

    It somehow felt comforting that Arthur’s Seat and the Crags were so close to where I lived this semester (those are the hills you can see behind the buildings). I don’t totally know why, but ut made it feel even more like home. 

  4. Sometimes bad things happen, maybe even your worst nightmare, but it’s not the end of the world. When I think about the tickets I messed up, the things I forgot, the transatlantic flight I missed, and so many other things, I am surprised that I made it home. More often than not, though, I found that there were things I could do to clean up the mess I made. That doesn’t mean that my mistakes didn’t cause me trouble, but I think that I learned more about being a responsible adult through my mistakes. When you’re on your own, you do have to clean up your mess yourself—but it’s more doable than you might think.
  5. Sometimes bad things happen, maybe even your worst nightmare, but you survive. Nope, I didn’t accidentally make the same point twice. This is about the things that happen that you can’t control. So many things happened that were abroad that were beyond my control, whether that had to do with sickness, relationships, or deaths. Life hit me hard while I was away. But, every day, the sun came up. I saw over and over again that the circumstances of my life do not stop the world from spinning. They make life painful, they make it a struggle, but they don’t have to define everything about you. For me, this meant giving each day to God and asking Him to help me through. Today, by the grace of God, I’m still here.
  6. You can go through the most difficult time you’ve ever gone through and still come out of it with amazing memories. Even as I look back through my various journal entries and blog posts and clearly see how much pain I went through, I also know that I legitimately enjoyed so much about this past semester. I know that it was absolutely worth it for me to go abroad. The people I met and the places I got to explore were truly unforgettable, and I feel so privileged to have gotten to experience all of this.
  7. Travel means encountering the unexpected. Sometimes you’ll be happy with the results, and sometimes you won’t be. For example, I was pleasantly surprised when I hardly ran into any rain during my travels through the stereotypically rainy U.K., but a little disappointed when my trips to Italy and France weren’t much warmer than Edinburgh (and sometimes substantially colder!). You might enjoy some major tourist sites more or less than you expected to. That’s all okay—it’s part of what transforms your travel from a mere trip into an adventure.

    4968.jpg

    I didn’t enjoy learning about Loch Ness as much as I expected to and I didn’t like the ultra-touristy atmosphere there. However, I also didn’t expect the loch to be quite so beautiful! I ended up getting one of my favorite pictures from the trip there. 

  8. You can find family all over the world. These might be people with whom you share a common background or interest, or it might just be people who are going through something similar to you with whom you find understanding. Either way, these people are the ones who bring warmth and light to your journey once you find them.

 

 

Image 19.jpg

Here are two of those people for me! My Friends Gianna and Tyler and I share similar faith backgrounds. As brothers and sisters in Christ, that gave us a strong bond and helped us be there for each other when we needed it. It makes saying goodbye harder, which is what we were doing in this picture, but it’s still a treasure to know that I have these family members praying for me in their own corners of the world.

9. Feel what you’re feeling and don’t let anyone make you feel bad for that. I’ve talked a lot about this, but I’m still learning the importance of this now as I go through culture shock returning to the US. Wherever you might be, don’t tell yourself what you’re supposed to be feeling or not feeling; think, talk, create, whatever helps you to process and understand what you’re feeling, rather than become desensitized or let emotions build up. That will only hurt you and keep you from growing!

10. Travel makes some things less scary than they were before and does the reverse with other things. Before studying abroad, I was much more scared of traveling alone or living in a city where I didn’t know anyone than I am now. So many of the logistical things that intimidated me so much before no longer do so. To explain the scarier things, though, I’ll tell you a story.

On my last morning of my trip to Paris, I realized something. I had decided to go to Notre Dame before flying back to Edinburgh. I had already been inside once, but it was just so beautiful, and it seemed like a good place for sorting through all the things I was feeling on that particular morning. I walked alone through the streets, over the bridges, past the cotton candy clouds, until I got to the imposing cathedral. As I sat inside, it hit me: I’m less scared of staying here, in a country where I don’t even speak their language, than I am of going back home.

It seemed so strange. I could never have seen myself saying something like that just a few short months ago, and why should I be so scared to go home? Well, there were a lot of reasons for that—I was terrified of how I might feel while readjusting to life at home—but so much of that fear was because I’m not the same person I was when I left the United States back in September. I have become someone new. This new person is more independent while simultaneously knowing how much she needs people; she’s not afraid of traveling alone, she’s experienced so many new things, and she’s been through the refining fire of heartbreak. That morning, much of what weighed on my mind was how to be this new person in the old, familiar places, around people I already know. Would I be able to be a new person and still keep the friendships I had before? I knew that this was something many study abroad students face, but in that moment it still felt impossible.

I sat in the cathedral for a few more minutes, soaking in the atmosphere of the sacred space. I pulled out my phone to read a little bit of Psalm 84, which talks about the sanctuary of God’s presence and how blessed those people are who trust in Him even through the difficult times of their journey. What came to me then was a glimmer of peace: a sense that, while it would be difficult, I wouldn’t be alone. I recalled my belief that the same God to whom this awe-inspiring cathedral was built would actually be with me all the way across the ocean. If anyone can handle the impossible, it would be Him. As I walked back out into the rosy morning, I felt the strength I had drawn from what I believed to be God’s presence in that place stay with me, pushing me forward and into the unknown. With Him beside me, I can face the old and the new, and there’s no telling how far I’ll go.

img_6106

Beautiful Paris Morning, walking into a hopeful future 🙂

That’s all for my life lessons, folks! We’re coming to the end of this final blog post. If you want to hear a playlist of all the songs from my blog post titles this semester—because all but one of my titles were from songs—you can listen to that here! (Good on you if you caught on to the song titles trope already.)And now, I’ll close this post with a few pictures from my last days in Edinburgh, where I took pictures of some things I would miss about the city. I loved living here so much and will definitely be back someday soon.

IMG_6118.JPG

Bustling Princes Street and the majestic Scott Monument, with or without the Christmas Market

IMG_6132.JPG

The colorful door to my flat!

IMG_6157.JPG

The Georgian architecture and general feel of New Town, where I spent a lot of time with my church.

img_6196

Lovely Old Town and the lights on Edinburgh Castle at night!

img_6156

Possibly most important: THE TEA!

Thank you for being a part of my journey this semester! I hope you’ve been encouraged to explore, to feel, and to appreciate the people and places around you, whether you’re at home or abroad.

As the Scots would say—cheers!


Olivia in Scotland: Hello, Goodbye

December 29, 2016

Hello everyone!

These past few weeks have been crazy, full of finals, reunions, journeys, and farewells. I even traveled from Edinburgh to Paris and back to Edinburgh again before returning to the United States. Before I write one last post reflecting on my time abroad in general, I wanted to take this time to tell you about how my final weeks have been.

Finals: Honestly, it was very difficult to muster up the motivation to work when there were so many places and, more importantly, people I wanted to see. I had one final exam on Saturday the 10th and spent the following week working on my two final exam essays for my English seminars. My solution to the problem of my academic burnout and the need to spend time with friends was primarily to see people during the afternoon/evening and then stay up late at night working on my essays—it was a weird schedule, but it worked for me. I finished my last essay with 12 hours to spare, and I have to tell you, it was a great feeling.

Reunions: In addition to wanting to spend time with all the friends I’ve made here in Edinburgh, I also saw a few friends from home during my last two weeks. I met up with a couple fellow Spiders on Monday and Tuesday of my exam week. It was wonderful to see these friends and start getting excited about being back on campus. In the midst of all my mixed emotions about returning home, it was helpful to remember the great things and people I have waiting for me back in Richmond. In addition to these Spider friends, on that Wednesday night, my best friend Taylor from my hometown arrived here in Edinburgh to visit me!

IMG_5805.JPG

Hot chocolate + reunion with an old friend = huge smiles 🙂

Journeys: After I finished my final essays late on that Thursday night, I got to spend the next few days showing Taylor the sights of Edinburgh. It was great having a friend in town during my last full days in the city because it always gives you extra motivation to go out and really see the city. Here are some  of the highlights from those few days:

IMG_5851.JPG

We went to see the Scottish National Ballet perform Hansel and Gretel–it was AMAZING!

IMG_5819.JPG

I introduced Taylor to Indian food for the first time ever! There is a lot of good Indian food in Edinburgh (which I’m really going to miss back home). You might not think it from her face here, but she loved it as much as I did. 

IMG_5915.JPG

We visited the Royal Yacht Britannia, which the Queen used to use to sail around the world before it was retired in 1997.

IMG_2892.JPG

We visited Leith, the norther part of the city that borders the Firth of Forth. It was a beautiful place to see one of my last Edinburgh sunsets.

IMG_5929.JPG

I finally had a full Scottish breakfast! This is a signature thing to do in Scotland. This one featured haggis, a tattie scone, a grilled tomato, toast, beans, sausage, a fried egg, and mushrooms. It was quite good!

IMG_5948.JPG

I got to climb up Arthur’s Seat one last time with Taylor on that Sunday morning. Spectacular views of a spectacular city ❤

After all our Edinburgh sightseeing, Taylor and I flew to PARIS together on Sunday night! We had two full days there and saw some absolutely beautiful things. This was our first trip to Paris for both of us, and it was incredibly surreal to be walking around Paris with such an old friend. I’m so glad we got to have this trip together. I could talk about this trip for a very long time—we saw a lot in a very short period of time, and it was truly amazing to go somewhere that you’ve heard about and seen in the movies your entire life. Here are just some of the highlights from that journey:

IMG_3021.JPG

Notre Dame, a.k.a. one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Its beauty is truly awesome. 

IMG_5987.JPG

Freezing, but we did the thing—we saw the tower, waited in line, and went up!

img_3221

The Palais Garnier, also known as the Paris Opera House! I have dreamed of going here for years because it is the setting of Phantom of the Opera. On Box 5, there is a sign calling it the Phantom of the Opera’s box. I pretty much died of happiness. 

IMG_6089.JPG

I spent my last morning in Paris walking alone by the Seine near Notre Dame. There were pink fluffy clouds floating along that you can see here, and it looked just like something out of a movie or off of a postcard. 

Farewells: On the Sunday night before Taylor and I flew to Paris, we attended my final Sunday service at my church in Edinburgh. It was a carol service and it was very special. I had the privilege of being involved in the music for it, and it was nice to participate so much on my last Sunday there with the people I have played music with this semester. I could hardly believe as I sat there that I might never see the people in that room again on this earth. As bittersweet as that service was, however, I know that I will see those people again eventually, in the next world if not this one.

IMG_5934.JPG

Some of my closest church friends whom I will miss very much. The three of us actually performed an a capella version of The Little Drummer Boy at that last service, which was a really fun way to end our time together. 

Saying goodbye to my friends and to this city was difficult. It was odd to be bidding these friends farewell even as I was also being reunited with several friends from back home. I felt so torn between the two worlds. I wish it was possible for me to combine both of them and have all the people I love in one place—if only the world worked that way. Even with my final trips of the semester, I felt as though I had to say “hello” and “goodbye” in the same breath to the places I was visiting, like Paris. In any case, though, I feel so blessed to have made such wonderful friends in Edinburgh and to have seen so many beautiful places, and I am also excited to spend time with my family and see my friends back in Richmond again.

Actually, it was so hard to say goodbye to Edinburgh that I almost failed to do so. Remember that post back in the beginning of my time abroad where I mixed up a lot of dates and times and had to switch trains and all of that with my trips to London? I’ve been pretty honest about my travel mistakes on this blog. Well, I made the biggest travel mistake yet the other day: I missed my flight home. Yep. Just imagine the heart attack I had when that happened. Thankfully, and I still don’t know how, the United airlines staff switched me to the exact same flight the following morning and didn’t even charge me anything extra! I was absolutely astonished but so happy about it. It was extremely stressful, but it did give me an extra day in the city and allowed me to go home on the same flight as one of my closest study abroad friends from Edinburgh. All in all, I’m actually glad that it happened.

image1 (17).JPG

I got to spend time with my friend Gianna on that extra day in the city, and because we were on the same flight home, we even got to hang out briefly on the American side of the Atlantic. I was glad to have some surprise extra time with such a great friend. 🙂

And on that note, I’ll close this whirlwind of a post. Stay tuned for one last reflection on my time abroad. Till next time!


Olivia in Scotland: Volare

December 15, 2016

Hello everyone!

I promised to tell you all about Venice, so here we go!

My friends Susy and Tatiana and I flew out of Edinburgh International Airport to Venice Marco Polo Airport on the night of Friday, December 2nd. The craziest thing about that to me was how relatively close Italy is to Scotland. The flight only took about 2 hours and 10 minutes—I’m so used to thinking of Italy as being world away that it hardly seemed possible! I was so excited on the plane ride that I basically danced the whole way there while listening to happy, pump-up music through my headphones (sorry again for that, Susy.) Did I mention that I’ve wanted to go to Venice for basically my whole life?

When we got to the airport, we boarded a waterbus to take us to the city. That’s right, a waterbus. (How cool is that?) It took us about half an hour to get in to the city. It was too dark to see much when we arrived, but I still took pictures anyway because I was just a little excited.

IMG_2351.JPG

My brain at this point was basically like, “CANALS!! BRIDGES!! AAAAHH!!” Honestly, that feeling did not change that much while I was there, unless I was particularly tired and didnt feel like walking over a bridge.

We checked into our hostel and our very helpful concierge gave us tons of tips about things to see and where to eat in the city. It was 9 PM there by this time and we were starving, so we completed a very essential activity: we went to a pizza place and took my customary pizza selfie.

IMG_5453.JPG

Venice isn’t really the place you go to get pizza, but it was still good. I loved how there were about a million different options #pizzaselfie #venetianpizzaselfie

The next day was an extremely full one. First, we toured the Doge’s Palace near the Piazza San Marco. It’s where the duke lived and where the seat of government was, and it lies adjacent to the New Prison where criminals were sentenced. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a building quite this grand.

IMG_2398.JPG

This is one of the largest rooms in all of Europe. There’s real gold on the walls and ceiling and every wall is covered with some enormous work of art. 

IMG_5529.JPG

This is a view within the famous Bridge of Sighs, where criminals got a last look at the outside world before being imprisoned in the New Prison.

Next, we went on a gondola ride! We didn’t get a fancy one with a singing gondolier, although we did pass by a few that had those, but it was a fun way to see the city. A note on traveling to Venice in the winter, though: it really does get chilly. Over the course of the trip, we steadily put on more and more layers—I think in the beginning I was trying to convince myself that it was warmer than it actually was. The damp chill won out over my wishful thinking in the end.

IMG_5528.JPG

Venice by gondola #bucketlist

After grabbing some lunch, we spent the rest of the day just walking around the city. Venice makes you want to take pictures about every two seconds. Everywhere you look, there’s another bridge and another canal, and from the bridge you can see more bridges and buildings and sometimes some gondolas. It’s exceedingly picturesque and a simply lovely place to walk around. The city is so small that we were able to cover most of it in one afternoon. We also got gelato, which was absolutely delicious.

IMG_5530.JPG

Here’s a view from the Rialto Bridge, the most important bridge in Venice. 

That evening, we returned to the Piazza San Marco to see it at dusk and to go inside Saint Mark’s Basilica. The basilica is stunning, inside and out, and the inside is covered with mosaics and gold.

IMG_5546.JPG

The piazza is enchanting at night. 

To finish the evening, we went to a famous bookstore called Aqua Alta and then ate some amazing Italian food. I think the spaghetti with ragu I had that night has ruined me at least a little bit for regular spaghetti for the rest of my life.

IMG_5534.JPG

Sad that I can’t enjoy spaghetti quite the same way again, but ecstatic to be in Venice!

For our second and final full day in Venice, we bought waterbus passes for the day and took trips to several islands around the main city. First, we took the waterbus down the Grand Canal to a beautiful church called the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. After walking around that church with its works by Titian on the walls, took the bus to the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore in order to see the church and get a view of the city from the campanile (or tower). We hoped to attend a Gregorian chant at this church, but since they weren’t having one that day, we simply sat outside one of the smaller chapels and listened to the Italian Mass for a little while. Even though I do not know Italian, it felt very special to me to hear the priests singing and people worshiping God in a different language.

15232176_1798098503741692_1994488636415600061_n.jpg

The view from the campanile was spectacular!

After grabbing some lunch, we went on a longer trip to the North of the main city to visit the islands of Murano and Burano. You may have heard of Murano glass before; that’s where that comes from. We went to a glass-blowing demonstration there, and it was stunning. The artisan made a glass vase and a glass horse in a matter of minutes with incredible dexterity.

img_5662

They are very proud of their beautiful glass-making on Murano. I took this picture as we walked around the island a little more before heading to our next stop. 

We then headed to Burano. This island is famous for two things: its lace and its colorful buildings. It was a truly beautiful place! I bought a scarf with hand-embroidered flowers on it to remember this gorgeous island by.

image1 (15).JPG

You can see a few of the colorful facades in this picture! I was just excited to take a picture with this giant piece of pizza, because #pizzaisbae

After that, we rose back into the main city, had another spectacular Italian pasta meal that ruined me for life, and that was the end of the night. It was so interesting on this day to see how public transportation in Venice really is about the same as anywhere else—they just use a boat instead of an automobile. You scan your bus pass to board the waterbus, there are seats to sit on as well as standing room, and there are speed limits just like on a regular road.

We didn’t have time to do very much the next day before heading to the airport, buuuuut I did stage a mini photo shoot near our hostel.

15349818_1798573320360877_4589231602949765647_n.jpg

When you buy a Venetian carnival mask in Venice, you gotta take some cool pictures with it, even if some people laugh at you. There were actual Italians waling by and laughing as we took these. 

image1 (16).JPG

I also took a few more city photos before we headed out—this was the view right outside our hostel each morning. 

One other significant thing happened on our trip. Because I apparently don’t know much about European geography, I did not realize that you can see the Alps from Venice. I was very excited by this because I really love mountains. My family roots are in the Appalachian Mountains, which are some of the only mountains I’ve ever seen. On the plane ride home, we flew right over the Alps. I can hardly describe what that experience was like for me. I had never seen mountains that large before. They were enormous, snow-capped, craggy, awesome; they seemed full of mystery and wonder. After flying over the Alps, I am more determined than ever to return to Europe. I have to see those mountains up close!

image2 (6).JPG

I could not believe how beautiful the Alps were (on the left). However, I was also so happy to see the lovely Scottish hills again (on the right). 

So, that was my trip! Venice is beautiful and I’m so happy that I got to travel there with Tatiana and Susy. It was colder and not as sunny as we expected—ironically, it was sunnier in Scotland when we got back than it ever was during our trip to Venice—but that city seems to be gorgeous under any weather conditions. If you study abroad in Europe, trips like this are within your reach! I wasn’t even expecting to take this trip and fulfill this dream of mine, but I’m incredibly thankful that I was able to do so. Studying abroad can open doors to more places than you might expect.

I will give you some more recent updates about the end of my semester and finals in my next post. Till next time!


Olivia in Scotland: Falling On My Knees

December 8, 2016

Hi everyone!

You know how sometimes you think you’re finally starting to get through one heartbreak, but then another comes along? That’s where I am in my life right now. Between an unexpected death in the family and an unexpected breakup of a long relationship, I have experienced more grief while studying abroad than I ever thought I would. It’s been a difficult time in my life. However, I have learned some things about myself and about grieving, and I wanted to take a moment to share some of those things with you. If you are considering studying abroad, I sincerely hope that you do not lose someone during that time—but if it does happen, I hope that these seven things help you through that process a little bit. It’s hard to be abroad when you feel like your life is falling apart, but there are things you can do to help.

1. Make sure that you give yourself some silence and that soul-numbing things don’t make up the majority of your grieving process. We live in a world that is constantly noisy. Noise can be distracting and comforting in the ways that it helps us ignore our problems or feel less alone. Particularly since being abroad, I often fill the silence with Netflix or listening to music. In reasonable amounts, this isn’t a bad thing—sometimes I need to turn my brain off and not think about my problems for a while—but if that’s all I do, then I can’t sort through what I’m actually feeling. Silence is both intimidating and invaluable. It can make you feel even more alone when you’re far away from home, but it also gives you space to think, feel, remember, reflect, and gain insight. It may not seem like it, but silence is a gift—give it to yourself.

2. Don’t be afraid of your tears. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. It doesn’t mean that you’re not handling your life the way you should be. They’re actually helpful in processing your grief (see this post for more on where I got that idea from). This is a hard one for me because I often compare myself to other people and feel like I’m doing something wrong when they look fine and my tears tell me that I am not. But if that’s how you’re feeling, you’re not doing anything wrong. Tears help you let out emotions and then figure out how to move forward. They’re healthy; use them.

3. Be around people. In addition to giving yourself time in silence, it’s also important to go out and do things with people. It’s really easy to isolate yourself while being abroad, particularly if you’re living in a single room, but don’t stay that way. Having fun with people will help you remember the good things you still have in your life. It will help you not to feel so isolated and to get the most out of your time abroad.

image1 (13).JPG

Going out and having fun with friends is an important step. You might just get to fulfill some dreams in the process, like I did going to Venice with these friends. 🙂

4. It’s not enough just to be around people—talk about what you’re feeling. I’m not saying that you should talk about your grief all the time. However, if you’re like me, I need to share a little of what I’m truly feeling with the others in order to move on and enjoy being with them. If I don’t, I feel more isolated or I feel like I’m pretending to be something that I’m not. You might feel like talking about your emotional state makes you a nuisance to the people you’re around (especially if it takes longer than you think it should to get better). If they’re really your friends, though, they will listen to you and want to help. You may be surprised just how much and how many people want to be there for you—I certainly have been! Talking about your feelings will help you process and will help you appreciate those people who care about you enough to listen and put you first.

image2 (5).JPG

One of those people who has continually listened and been there for me in Edinburgh has been my friends Gianna. I hope that you are fortunate enough to find such a steadfast friend if you experience loss while studying abroad.

5. Don’t give yourself a timeline for your grief. You may feel like you should be over it in a few weeks, or a month, or a few months. Maybe that will be the case for you, but it’s entirely possible that it won’t be. It hasn’t worked like that for me no matter how much I’ve wished that it would. These tips may help you during your mourning period, but it won’t necessarily speed it up. Don’t compare yourself to other people; do your best to give yourself grace and allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling for whatever amount of time you feel it.

6. Don’t feel bad about enjoying your life. Particularly if you’re experiencing the death of a family member, you may feel like you should just be mourning and not having any fun. That’s not true.  The person you’ve lost would want you to enjoy your time abroad, and you need to allow yourself to feel happiness as well as sadness. So travel, dance, laugh, and find the sunshine in your life. It’s still there, even if the clouds are hiding it.

IMG_5439.JPG

I was thinking about this idea on the flight to Venice on Friday. After we took off and ascended past the Scottish clouds, I was happy to find that the sun was still up there above them, shining as brightly as it ever has. It’s comforting to know that I can still find joy and warmth and light in life again, even if it takes a while to do.

7. Remember that it’s not the end of you. It may feel like it is; it may feel like nothing good will ever happen to you again. You might just want to be home, or you might dread going home, or both. Those are all totally natural feelings. But, keep the bigger picture in perspective. You are so privileged to have this study abroad experience. You have people who care about you, whether or not they are all with you right now, and you have a whole future ahead of you that’s full of possibilities. As difficult as this time is, it really will pass. Focus on the present and on the blessings around you right now as much as you can.

I want to close with a quote and a note on the title. Matthew 6:34 says,”So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” In the midst of my fixation on details of the past and my myriad of fears about the future, it has been hard for me to just take things one day at a time. However, if you go through grieving while studying abroad, I urge you to focus on where you are and the people around you. Don’t let your apprehensions about whatever awaits you at home rob you of that joy. As you let yourself remember and reflect, also take time every day to appreciate the beauty in the world around you. It’s still there if you look for it.

image1 (14).JPG

I was pulling out my phone to take this picture of the sunset when I received the bad news about my family member. I was in shock, but I till took the picture because I felt like this moment was something to remember. That sunset’s beauty was not diminished by this news. Instead, it reminded me of my Creator and His faithfulness, even when I don;t understand why things happen the way they do. 

The title of this post, “Falling On My Knees,” is the name of a song by Kokua that has become very special to me over these past weeks. It is about a person who has been brought low and is crying out to God for help. In the midst of that, he still sings,  “I lie down and rest in Your peace, / surrounded by life’s uncertainty, / as I learn to surrender all of me.” He is still able to find peace and praise God for His grace even when the circumstances of his life would seem to make that impossible. My prayer has been, and continues to be, that I can do the same. I have definitely felt God draw near to me in my heartbreak, and my faith has played a crucial role in sustaining me through this time. I don’t regret studying abroad one single bit—I feel that God put me in Edinburgh during this difficult time for a reason. I know this is where I was meant to be during the start of my grieving process.

I will tell you all about my trip to Venice in my next blog post. 🙂 Till next time!


Olivia in Scotland: The Final Countdown

December 7, 2016

Hello everyone!

I finished my classes today (which is Thursday December 1st as I write this). I can hardly believe it. The semesters are shorter here than they are back home and in some ways it really does feel like I just started my classes. I’ve also been behind on my work for several weeks now because I’ve been sick, and today marked the day that I finally caught up and finished my last paper for which I received an extension! It took my first all-nighter of the semester to do it, but it’s done.

image1 (11).JPG

I was very tired in my final 9 AM class this morning, but I was happy to see that they’re making the school buildings look a little more festive for the Christmas season!

The odd thing is, with my English seminars, it isn’t really the end for most people in the course; although the seminars only last one semester, they don’t have their exam until the end of the spring semester, and they meet again to review the material before then. It was a strange feeling to be nearly the only one really leaving. They’re all saying, “See you later,” and I’m saying, “Goodbye.”

It’s hitting me now that I have less than three weeks left before heading back home. In that time, I’m taking two short trips out of the country, writing two exam essays, taking an exam, celebrating Advent with my church, and showing my best friend from back home around Edinburgh when she comes to see me. It’s going to be a jam-packed few weeks! In general, I’m planning to do all I can to see the parts of Edinburgh that I haven’t gotten to see yet and make the most of my time in this lovely city, as well as spend as much time as I can with the friends I have made here. It promises to be a challenge to accomplish all this, but I’m going to try my best to make the people here my priority until I leave. I feel that one of my biggest regrets would be not spending enough time with them.

Now, where am I traveling to, you might ask? Well, one of these trips is starting tomorrow (Friday the 2nd)—I’m going to VENICE! I’ve wanted to go there for as long as I can remember. I hadn’t actually planned to travel there while studying abroad, but I discovered that a couple friends of mine wanted to go there and suddenly my dream started to become a reality. It is absolutely surreal to me that I’m finally going to this place I’ve always dreamed about; hopefully it will feel a little more real to me once I’m actually there! For my other trip, I’m going to Paris after my exams with my best friend from back home. She’ll be here in Edinburgh for a few days and then we’re going to Paris together. That’s the other place I’ve probably wanted to go to the longest so I’m absolutely thrilled, and I can’t believe I get to go there with my best friend. It honestly seems too good to be true.

I wanted to take a moment to reflect and re-center as I enter these final weeks. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how much easier it is to talk about what I’m doing than it is about how I’m feeling. I’m going so many places, writing so many essays, seeing so many people. attending so many church events. There’s plenty to talk about right now on the more surface level of my life. It’s even easier to focus on that in posts like these when the past month has been one of the hardest periods I’ve ever gone through emotionally and I have struggled with how to deal without that. Going through your first breakup anywhere is really hard, but being abroad during that grieving process carries its own unique set of challenges. Although I did a lot of great things and spent time with people I care about, it wasn’t enough to heal my heart or shake the depression I’ve been feeling. However, after all this time in the dark, I think I’m finally beginning to feel the sun coming out again. (It’s ironic for this rather dark and rainy time of year in this country, but it’s true.) I certainly have not arrived anywhere yet, but I know I’m on my way to healing. I also know that I am not, nor have I ever been, alone in this—God has been with me every step of the way. He has been my strength when I had none.

As I move into the final weeks of my study abroad experience, my prayer is that I am able to fully enjoy what I’m doing and be present with the people around me in every place in which I find myself. I want the memories that I carry back home with me to be good and beautiful ones. For me, when I am actually present where I am, that is when I am most able to feel God’s presence, whether that is through a sunset, a city street, or the person across the table from me. It may be through a simple thing, but when I really look around, I can see the hand of the Creator who made it all and feel that he is right there with me. For my trip to Venice, that will probably mean making sure that I put down my camera enough to let the beauty of the place sink in and allow me to appreciate the sweet friendships of those with whom I’m traveling. It can be very hard to stop stressing about getting the perfect picture and be still for a moment. When I do, though, I am finally present in that place and can find God’s presence as well.

image2 (4).JPG

I found these steps on my day trip to Stirling this last weekend: I intend to “be careful” with how I spend the remainder of my time here, and for me, that means looking around and appreciating what is right in front of me.

I will update you all when I return from Venice! (I still can’t believe I’m saying that.) Ciao!


Olivia in Scotland: Celebration

November 29, 2016

Hi everyone!

Last week was a big one for me—it was my 21st birthday and Thanksgiving right in a row! I got to experience what having these celebrations in a foreign country is like, and despite all the ups and downs, I ended up having an amazing time.

On my birthday, which was Wednesday, November 23rd, I took snapchats of all my birthday-related activites (I kind of like using snapchat if you haven’t picked up on that). Here’s what my birthday was like for me in Scotland.

First, tea.

image1-10

Good start to a day of celebration 🙂

I spent time with both older and newer friends on my birthday, and after class in the morning I spent time with one of my closest study abroad friends I’ve made here in Edinburgh.

image2 (3).JPG

One thing you’ll find when you have your birthday in another time zone is that your celebration gets extended! My birthday started here before it did back home and ended later back home than it did here, so that means a longer amount of time for birthday wishes from family and friends. In fact, my first real birthday activities were my family and my best friend from home FaceTiming me to wish me happy birthday, despite it still being the night beforehand in their time zone. Even though I really missed the people who were far away, it was kind of nice to have an extended birthday 🙂

 

Next came the best part of my whole birthday this year: my best friend from UR flew in from her study abroad program in Europe to visit me!!

image3 (3).JPG

It was so very nice to be with someone who knows me so well on such a big birthday. It made me feel a little bit like I really was home. I got to show her around the city on my birthday and over the next couple days, which included going on the Potter Trail together. (That’s the free walking tour of all Harry Potter-related Edinburgh locations.)

image4 (2).JPG

Then Faith and I tried out a tea place in New Town called Eteaket that I had been wanting to go to for a long time. I highly recommend it! It was also a great place to catch up with an old friend.

image5-1

We went to my church’s weekly connect group together where we had dinner, studied God’s Word and talked about Advent, and Faith got to meet a lot of my friends here. It was fun being around so many people I care about on this special day.

You may have noticed that I drank a whole lot of tea on my birthday. Being here in the U.K. has definitely fed the flames of my tea obsession. I’m actually not sure how many cups I had already drunk that day (at least 4 I’d say between breakfast, my rather large tea latte with Gianna, and my entire pot of tea at Eteaket), but did that stop me from having another cup at connect group? Nope.

image7

To finish out the night, I took Faith back through the Christmas markets and we got Nutella donuts from a stand there called the Nutella House. The Edinburgh Christmas Market is incredible. There are all kinds of food and rides and gifts and Christmas music. You can hardly help but feel happy and get in the Christmas spirit when you walk through that market. It was a great way to end the night—before Faith and I stayed up talking for hours and hours, of course, because that’s what best friends do.

image8.JPG

That’s about everything I did on my actual birthday. The next day, however, instead of having a traditional Thanksgiving, I actually had a birthday party at my flat with all of my friends here. One thing to note about turning 21 in most foreign countries is that you can already purchase alcohol there by age 18. It does take the impact out of your birthday a little bit and you might have to remind some of your friends why it’s such a big deal to you. However, I did get the experience of being carded for the first time when I bought some wine from the grocery store for my wine and cheese-themed birthday party, so I feel like I pretty much experienced that side of turning 21 about as much as I needed to.

image9.JPG

The party was a success, full of food, laughs, Cotton Eye Joe, and also music that was actually good 😉

So, that’s how my birthday was over here in Scotland! I really enjoyed celebrating with my sweet friends here in Edinburgh. It didn’t feel quite as perfect as it might seem, perhaps; especially leading up to it, there were moments where I wanted nothing more than to be home with my family, particularly since my twin brother was celebrating his birthday as well and this was one of the first birthdays where we weren’t together. Like much of my study abroad experience, the pictures make it look more clear-cut than it actually is. You will feel lonely at times if you celebrate your birthday away from home. However, you can still do everything you can to find home where you are. That’s what I tried to do for this special day. For the most part, I think I succeeded in this, but I can’t really take any of the credit for that. God has blessed me in incredible ways here with friends who feel more like family. In all the ups and downs, these people who God intentionally placed in my life have been there for me. I’m so very thankful for that. I’m thankful for the bright spots of light that my friends were for me on these cold Edinburgh nights.

To close, I actually did get to have a real Thanksgiving dinner here with my church! They held an outreach event on Sunday night where we a dinner of American-esque Thanksgiving cuisine followed by a ceilidh, or Scottish dance. I loved the multiculturalism of having an American activity followed by a Scottish activity—like being home, but with a twist! It was such a fun night. It reminded me of a few things that I’m thankful for: my family and friends back home, my church family here, everyone who came to the ceilidh, good food, good tea, ceilidh dancing (because it’s super fun), and the love of Christ. He is the source of all good things and I am so thankful to Him.

image10.JPG

Some of my friends from the ceilidh! I danced a little too hard, because my legs hurt a lot now, but it was still totally worth it. I had a wonderful time.

Happy belated Thanksgiving! Till next time!


Olivia in Scotland: A Day in the Life

November 18, 2016

Hello everyone!

This week I decided to take one pretty ordinary day and chronicle everything I did so you could see a little bit more what my life here is like—all with the help of my good friend, Snapchat. So, here was my Wednesday!

I got up at 8:15 so that I could eat my breakfast and drink my cup of tea before heading to my 9:00 class. On Wednesday mornings, that’s my Scotland and Orality lecture.

image1.JPG

I’ve been under the weather for about a week and a half now, but on Wednesday I finally felt well enough to get to class!

The way my class schedule is here, I’ve got a class every day of the week, but it’s usually just a 9:00 class and then I’m free for the rest of the day. After my 50-minute lecture, I headed back to my flat and took some pictures and videos along the way of things that I normally see.

 

I went back to my flat to work on an English essay for a few hours and also to make sure I was there to sign for a package from my parents that was supposed to arrive that morning. My birthday isn’t until next week, but my mom ended up telling me I could open it early!

image3

It was fancy birthday tea and choocate from London!

Then at 1:00 I headed back out to meet a fellow study abroad friend, Meghan, who I know from back home and was visiting for a few days. We got soup from a place called Union of Genius (which I would definitely recommend for good cheap eats in Edinburgh). It’s so nice to see friends from home when you’re far away!

image4.JPG

After lunch I headed back to my flat, but since it was a sunny moment and I was on the lookout for things to show you all, I took a detour through George Square gardens.

Two other things I saw on the way back to my flat:

image5

The church at Buccleuch Place looked really pretty as the sun started to go down.

image6

The sun goes down reeeeally early here tis time of year!

After doing some more schoolwork (I work at home a lot here because the library is very crowded), I got on a bus to head to my church’s connect group. We meet every Wednesday evening at the pastor’s house for dinner and a bible discussion. This week we were talking about how we live out the true meaning of Christmas in a commercialized world (it’s already the Christmas season here because there’s no Thanksgiving!). It’s one of my favorite times of the whole week and I get to be with some of my favorite people here. Unfortunately, I was having so much fun eating food and hanging out with people that I forgot to take a picture of it! But I did have a good time there before hopping on a bus back to my flat and ending the night by Facetiming with a friend from home.

There you have it! I learned something from this blogging experience: documenting my day makes me look out a little more for the beauty in the everyday things around me that I might not notice otherwise. I really enjoyed doing that, and I hope to take that mindset with me on the days when I’m not blogging about everything. 🙂

Now, to make up for not taking pictures of my Wednesday night, I’ll tell you a little bit about my Thursday night. I went out to the midnight premiere of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them! (That’s the new movie from the Harry Potter universe for those of you who don’t know.) I was so excited to see this movie, especially since I didn’t get to see any of the Harry Potter movies in theaters and ESPECIALLY since I’m currently living in the city where most of that series was written! A couple of my friends and I took a bus to the theater to go see the movie in IMAX 3D. We discovered that, while there were definitely some Potterheads there decked out in their wizarding wear, midnight premieres in the U.K. are much quieter affairs overall than they are in the U.S. People aren’t very rowdy and they don’t get to the theater hours beforehand like they do back home. Even so, we were so excited, the movie was amazing, and we had a blast!

IMG_5130.JPG

We’re dorky but we’re fabulous. I’m so thankful for friends like these to have fun with!

Here’s my snapstory from last night. Enjoy! Till next time!


%d bloggers like this: