Tori in Spain: Saying Yes to Hard Things

February 2, 2017

“How was abroad?” “Did you love Madrid?” “Your semester looked amazing, tell me about it.”

These are the questions I returned to. I have found it incredibly hard to sum up such an impactful experience, and honestly since being on campus abroad has felt like a distant dream. I lived in a faraway land for 4 months, got to learn a different language, and developed friendships that I wasn’t quite able to pack up in my suitcase and take home.

The one theme that has permeated my thoughts and reflections on abroad is how rich life is when we say yes to hard things. “Say yes to hard things” has become my slogan of the semester, and it is my biggest take away.

Showing up at a Spanish speaking church alone was not the most comfortable thing in the world. The prospect of leading a group of students, into a city I barely knew, to speak with strangers living on the street, in a foreign language, left me feeling unequipped and frustrated. Walking into the little bar next door to Amalie & I’s apartment on our last night in Madrid felt very inconvenient due to the flight I had to catch in the morning. Stopping to chat with Karrol when I was late to class seemed unproductive. Initiating conversation with the woman next to me on the subway felt awkward.

None of my sweetest memories abroad came from choosing to do what was the most convenient, socially acceptable, or comfortable. Life begins when we get out of our comfort zone and push ourselves. This can manifest itself in big ways or little ways, but it always involves leaning into the moment and being present. Even when I said yes to hard things begrudgingly, it lead to really special times. I need to ask, Lord, what do you have for me here? And it will lead me to love and think in a way that is more people-conscious, out of the knowledge that God is enamored with every soul I encounter on the street. Every little human bopping along in Madrid, Richmond, Winston Salem, or wherever I am, is created in the image of God and so in my every interaction I am interacting with one whom is dearly and sacredly loved by God.

 

 

 


Clara in Italy: Naples, Pompeii etc

January 19, 2017

I’m home now, have been for a while, but have only just contracted some kind of horrible cold and am full of aches and shivers. It sucks, but oh well. The price you pay for a properly cold winter here in western New York!

For the very last part of my semester abroad, we traveled down south towards Naples, staying in a little town called Vico Equense some miles away. Vico borders the sea, and the beach was good fun for me! Found a wonderful hagstone that I somehow managed to cram into my suitcase intact.

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It was rather obnoxiously heavy, I don’t deny it, but totally worth it.We also found a bunch of hermit crabs! This one was really nervous. I felt sort of bad for scaring it, but we released it after about a minute, so I suppose no harm done.

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And on our way, we met a really cute cat that followed us for a little bit before running off.

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Not to mention the actual beach.

All in all, a lovely town, though we didn’t get to stay for too long.

In Naples, we went to the Capo di Monte museum, which, if I am honest, was too much art for me to handle. I was arted out. Like, there was so much art this semester, I could barely function at this point. Nevertheless! Some cool, cool stuff to be seen, such as some of the most beautiful drawings by Raphael I’d ever seen??

I don’t even really like Raphael, I’ll admit that right now, but oh BOY, look at how pretty that is the photo doesn’t do it justice.

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Like. Listen guys. Listen. This is the sort of drawing that I WISH I could create. Holy crap. I cry a thousand tears.

Anyways, besides that, I also got to see this painting of Atalanta???? I didn’t know it was here??? Oh man?????

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Atalanta! My idol. Sort of. Well, I don’t know, I respect her anyways. And I really like this painting and one time I created a graphics set using it and anyways, this painting is cool and I like it a lot and I got to see it in person. That’s what I was really trying to say. Photo is still pretty terrible at doing justice to the painting, but anyways. There it is.

But here’s my favorite thing I saw in the museum. I have no idea what it really is, but I’m guessing a sort of writing set/table and?? It’s gorgeous. Look at it.

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So much mother-of-pearl and the fineness of the details in it. It was really stunning, not gonna lie.

And finally, some cute little porcelain figures that imitate curly fur ridiculously well. Dang, right?

Yes, you heard me right, that’s porcelain. What kind of nonsense.

I’m getting carried away, because that wasn’t even my favorite museum during this visit. I’m only going to post one picture from my favorite because I actually didn’t take that many photos. In a sort of backwards way, it’s a testament to how excited and awed I was, okay? The Archaeological Museum. Oh my god.

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Look, I’m not going to show you any more because my photos are abysmal. Just. If you ever have the chance and you are as much of a nerd for classical art as I am, go here. I’m not kidding. This stuff is incredible. I just want to touch all of it, oh man. This stuff is thousands of years old!!! And it’s so NICE. Like WOW. Do you see that?? That’s not a painting, that’s a mosaic and it is amazingly preserved. From Pompeii. This whole exhibit gives a really human character to the city and the people that died. Again, I cry a thousand tears. Art man. Art is incredible.

I loved this museum. It was one of my favorite places in Italy. I mean, besides Pompeii itself, which was also incredible and a weird transcendental experience for me, the adult who was once a small child fascinated with the Greeks and Romans. (Not quite as incredible as visiting Delphi a few years ago, which just???? I still can’t quite wrap my mind around the fact that I’ve been there. But I digress.)

I have almost no pictures from Pompeii itself, same for Naples, which is sort of a shame because that was a mistake on my part. But here are just a couple notable things.

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Some really human graffiti, and an incredible restored painting. I couldn’t deal with this okay. It was so cool.

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2. Naples

THE TRAIN STATION FULL OF PLASTIC SNAILS. IT IS MY FAVORITE THING.

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I think that’s an appropriate place to leave you all because hey, why be so serious about it? Giant plastic snails are just as artsy as some classical paintings, and they bring me around the same amount of joy. (Okay, maaaaaaybe the classical paintings bring me a little more because they appeal to my inner child, but still.)

Stay determined, y’all. Hope you enjoyed what I had to say about the joys of Italy.

 


The Final Post

January 12, 2017

I don’t even know where to start. I get it now…how study abroad can be the best time of your life. You change; you come home a completely different person. I’ve moved around quite a few times throughout my life – New Jersey, Germany, Italy, Okinawa, Virginia – and I have always considered Okinawa to be home. It’s where, for the most part, I grew up, I took care of my family without dad around, made stupid decisions, and maybe even learned from my stupid decisions. Going back every summer and winter break is what keeps me going during the school year, honestly. Knowing I can eat Okinawa Soba, chill with friends at the seawall, and swim in the clear ocean again. Okinawa is home, no doubt. This was the first time that returning home to Okinawa felt unfamiliar. It almost felt wrong. I was leaving home to go to Okinawa.


Immediately after spending two days in Akita, everything became…light. There’s something about Akita. I felt more like myself in Akita. It’s not really the actual place of Akita that made me feel like myself because man, I’m not going to lie, we all hated that we were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by rice fields. But honestly, if given the chance to study abroad at Tokyo or Osaka, I would choose Akita every single damn time. You could walk 5-minutes off campus and see older people working on the rice fields. These older individuals were all very sweet and had no problem speaking to us despite our broken Japanese. You’d hear a car pass by you every 10-minutes so walking around with the sun beating down on your face was such a nice way to relax. There were shrines nearby that we would walk to, always placing a 5-yen coin and praying at the entrance.

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I’m never going to forget the quick walks to Banafi, the convenience store right off campus. The amount of riceballs and beers bought there was endless. The older guy that runs that store is so dedicated to his job. Working from 7am to 7pm almost everyday and remembering our faces. He even brought his dog into the store sometimes – an old, fat beagle. The dog would slowly wobble over to me and hint for me to pet it. Sitting on the benches in front of Banafi while eating our bentos (boxed lunches) during the summer and drinking our hot cocoa from a can during the winter.


Or the quick walks to aBar right next to Banafi. Since we were in the middle of nowhere, the only bar near us was this one. It was made for the international students, although Japanese students would go as well. There were karaoke competitions, DJ nights, band performances, etc. that students would participate in, hoping to win a free drink by the end of the night. Everyone would go so you’d obviously talk to students you wouldn’t talk to otherwise in class. Oh man, the nights spent there were too fun.


The one and only Shimohamahimehoma beach trip during orientation week is still my best memory from Akita, well, everyone’s best memory. We had only been in Akita for about 5 days and we all decided to go to the beach together. All of the international and first-year students since none of the other students had arrived on campus yet. Waking up super early, riding the train (after missing the first train, of course), swimming for hours, drinking beers and blasting Chance The Rapper, singing karaoke at the shack with the wandering dog, Udon in the city afterwards…we were all so tired and red by the end of the day but full of so much joy. It definitely set the tone for the rest of the semester.

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Train 2.jpgSpeaking of missing trains, you become a true international student at AIU once you miss at least three trains or even buses due to reading the schedule incorrectly. I can’t tell you how many times I have been yelled at for messing the schedule up HAHA it was fine though because honestly, the memories made while waiting for missed trains are some of my favorites. Creating videos of the Mannequin Challenge because of the nonstop laughter or the photoshoots I did with my friends around the entire station.


I’m so thankful the school planned out field trips for us. I know that sounds like a cliche high school thing but these bus trips definitely gave us the chance to explore Akita more. All of the international students signed up so once again, you’d spend time with students you wouldn’t otherwise talk to during class. We went to a samurai town, aquarium, deepest lake in Japan, Oga Peninsula, and watched a Namahage performance. Not only did I explore around Akita, I was also able to travel to Tokyo twice and Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara once. Meeting up with high school friends in Tokyo, walking around Shibuya at 4am, and eating ラーメン in individual stalls are a few of my favorite memories from Tokyo. And Osaka, wow, watching Isabella get rammed in the butt by a deer begging for food was absolutely hilarious. I couldn’t breathe from laughing so hard. Or the time Isabella went running ahead of me, desperately searching for a bathroom for me at around 12am, and us ending up going to a club and dancing for 3 hours solely because I needed to use the bathroom.

The small, close-knit community and campus brought us together – eating the set lunches together everyday, chilling in Komachi lobby, staying up till 4am every night. I could list all of the wonderful memories but there’s too many to list. You wouldn’t have the sense of family at any school as we did in Akita. We were all there for each other. It was the people, definitely. Especially Patrik and Isabella. The both of them changed the course of my study abroad experience.


Patrik, man, I don’t know where to start with this guy. Be honest, right? He actually went back to Okinawa with me for the couple of weeks of winter break. We became friends after day 2 in Akita. He complimented me on my smile and I thought he was an arrogant boy. Funny how quickly things changed. Surprisingly we were in the same Japanese class (his Japanese is 10x better than mine), and as a result we were always together, studying Japanese, eating meals between classes, learning the lyrics to Childs Play, talking for hours about the meaning of life…he really loves asking people what the meaning of life was. I still remember the first time he told me about this “beautiful sadness.” I’ve always been told that sadness is a bad thing but now I understand that it’s the complete opposite. We have all gone through pain but it’s only made us aware of ourselves. Patrik made sure that I understood how sadness helps you grow. Without sadness, we wouldn’t appreciate the happiness. Every time I was down, he would come in with this dorky smile, raise his voice, and bounce his shoulders and explain to me that because I was sad now, I know that I was happy before. I made great memories and now I have those to cherish. A beautiful sadness.

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I want to share with everyone that I fell in love with someone while studying abroad. Making myself vulnerable to her seemed like a risk knowing we would only be together for a short time. But, it was a beautiful risk, creating the space for her to make me feel more protected. I experienced the most intense feelings with her…confusion, desperation, pain, heart-exploding joy, and passion. She made me happy. It has been two weeks since I last saw her smile. You know, if it’s meant to be, it will be. We might come back to each other, but we might not. You can’t let the uncertainty stop you from doing anything. Fall hard and deeply in love. Go all in, man, because when are you ever going to have the chance again? Just live in the moment and let things play out the way it’s supposed to. I’m so happy that I fell in love with her while studying abroad. My time in Akita wouldn’t have been what it was without her by my side. Thank you for being vulnerable and letting me be a part of your life.

Like I said, it was all the people. I’m not sure what I was expecting from Akita. Maybe to speak Japanese fluently, meet some cool people from Europe, and leave knowing I had “ the best time of my life” as most people claim study abroad to be. I do have to say, Akita far reached my expectations. Akita has become one of my homes to me. Thank you Akita, for the confusion, heart-exploding joy, pain, constant excitement, and beautiful sadness.


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.
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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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

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The colorful door to my flat!

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

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

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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!


Tori in Spain: Dear Elvira

January 11, 2017

This semester, I had the privilege of taking a class called Public Health and Social Justice with an amazing professor named Dr. Elvira. I really liked her from the beginning because she challenged us to question all of the assumptions that our society is constructed on and is a warrior for social justice. She pushed us to think very deeply, which is something I love about my classes at U of R and was not sure I would find in Spain. A couple weeks into school, I emailed her to see if she would be interested in attending the European Public Health Conference with me in Vienna this semester. To my surprise, she messaged me back and asked if I would be interested in presenting at the conference and joining in on her research.

Throughout my time in Madrid, Elvira was a constant support for me. She and the other two students that were researching with us became some of my closest friends abroad. After our abstract was accepted by the Global Health and Innovations conference, we had to record a video presentation for the next round of competition, and Elvira and I realized that we had done it wrong the night before it was due (claaaassssssiiiccc). Due to the time difference, we had until 6am to turn the project in, so we rushed to school at 10pm to get working. We stayed up until 3am to finally submit the video, getting more delirious every hour. She kept joking that she couldn’t speak English after midnight, and when we were almost done we listened to the song Breaking Free from High School Musical together (she had never seen it!) because we were finally breaking out of the closed university. Everything is funny at 3am, and we bonded deeply that night.

When my laptop and most of my belongings were stolen, Elvira selflessly lent me a laptop to use until the end of the semester. She didn’t even hesitate. She had the means to help, so of course she would. Just one more way to lay down her privilege and love someone, something she hopes to do with every action in her life. I think she succeeds.

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One of my attempts to make Tortilla this winter break!

Elvira showed me the best tortilla Espanola in Madrid (Las Rosas, es la verdad, este sitio tiene el mejor tortilla del mundo), a dish I have tried to replicate 3 times since I have been home.  One night she, Marcus, and I went out for Indian food and talked for 3 hours about faith, gender roles, family, animal ethics, responsibility to society, what we are created for, and fertility. She told me she had never felt the need to have kids because fertility is much bigger than the mere ability to bear children. Fertility is about helping things grow, investing in ideas and people that will change other things of import. Although she has never been pregnant, Elvira is one of the most fertile women I know.

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Good food, good conversation

One of my hardest experiences of my time in Madrid was leading a BocaTalk run one night, and getting verbally berated by a homeless man who was fed up with the rich trying to fix his situation without understanding it. I felt so ashamed and confused, and she was the one I came crying to. I was so upset because I knew he was right, I would never understand, and I knew my stupid sandwich and “sacrifice” of 2 hours sitting on the street would do nothing to solve his lifetime of struggle. I felt like I deserved the emotional violence I suffered at his hands due to my privileged position in society that I had truly done nothing to earn. I was frustrated because there were a thousand things I wished I had said, and a thousand more I could never communicate in Spanish. She reminded me that no matter what, no matter how deep the injustices of ones past or the level of poverty a person is experiencing, no human never has the right to rob dignity from another. Acts of violence, emotional or physical, are never deserved, regardless of the levels of inequity. I walked out of her office with a greater sense of peace in my heart, knowing the truth that I did not deserve what had happened to me, but also understanding what I symbolized for that man (power, wealth, privilege) and desiring to change the oppressive forces that have pushed him down to where he sits.

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Dear Elvira,

I am so thankful to know you.

Thank you for your wisdom. Thank you for looking for ways to surrender the power and privilege you have been given in every moment.

Thank you for demonstrating deep humility and selflessness to me.

Thank you for reminding me that it is not my fault that I was born into the privileged position I hold, and thus, I do not deserve abuse for that position.

Thank you for being my shoulder to cry on when I could not take the injustice I am surrounded with and when I felt guilty for not doing enough.

Thank you for teaching me that life is an adventure, and I don’t ever have to ascribe to societies ideas of who I should be.

Hasta pronto amiga, estoy agredecida para conocerte.

Besos,

Tori


Clara in Italy: The Mostra

January 9, 2017

This isn’t so much about Italy as it is about the culmination of my semester at UGA Cortona, which just happens to be in Italy. I’ve been in four studio classes for over 10 weeks and we put on a final show at the end exhibiting our best work from each class! It was really fun to set up–maybe that’s the theater kid in me, but I like working together on a show. I was on the matting team, so I was helping to frame all the flat works that were going to be hung on the wall. Starting bright and early at 8:30am woo woo! Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of pictures of that?? Or any?? I was really tired and out of it, but I still think I did a bomb job along with the rest of the team. 😀 Worked until 2pm, and then had to run off to the Italian language exchange (which I also have no photos of because I suck). But anyways, it was a really cool learning experience! Unsurprisingly, all the materials for matting cost way more than I want things to cost, but that’s the #artlife for you I guess. (Ten euro a board??? RIP wallet if I ever need any of this for the future.)

Anyways, the most important pictures first. Me as a cthonic monster entering the premises.

Taken by my friend Angel, the photo champ.

Actually I might post a bunch of her pictures, since she did a much better job than I did of documenting the ridiculousness of opening night.

Still there are a few good ones (or halfway decent ones idk). Such as this picture of horrible (jk I love her) roommate Hannah pointing at Angel’s sketch of the David.

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Hannah please.

If you were curious, by the way, here are three of my pieces. (I did take these ones.)

We also all received flowers from our professors who are the sweetest, and I somehow ended up with two, so I stuck them both in my hair.

Super crappy lighting, I know. Sorry. I get really awkward while taking selfies in public, which is why I look like I’m dying slightly on the inside even though I was actually having a great time.

There’s not much to say about the actual show except that I was really proud of our work and it was also really really really cold!!!! I was so cold. Most people spent a lot of time eating snacks in the sideroom where it was slightly warmer and shielded from he wind.

Here are a couple shots of the hall with people in it:

And now, a showcase of Angel’s photos (with permission):

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There’s Angel in the middle, with our art history professor Eva and Hannah the Roommate all making the Hannah(tm) photo expression.

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Me in front of my oil painting.

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Me, UNCOMFORTABLY CLOSE HECK YEAH.

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The hall empty and looking very respectable.

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Our book arts professor Julie and Hannah posing grumpily next to Julie’s piece.

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Jeff, our photography professor, ALSO UNCOMFORTABLY CLOSE HECK YEAH (but I think it’s a pretty adorable photo and he thought so too)

Anyways, that’s about it. It was a really good academic culmination. Stay determined guys! Happy holidays!


Naomi at Akita Week 17: Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara!

January 9, 2017

I’m going to briefly go over each day in Osaka. I just want you all to know that I had a wonderful time there; it was a great trip to end study abroad. Isabella and I even made it out to Nara and Kyoto as well with the hour-long train rides. I’m so excited to share my trip with you all! Okay, here we go…it may be a lot but just bear with me.

DAY 1
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So, the first day we got to Osaka we arrived at our Airbnb place at around 4pm. We unpacked and rested for a bit before heading out. Since we didn’t have the whole day we decided to walk around our area. The Shinsaibashi shopping arcade was only a 4-minute walk away so we decided to head there. Isabella and I were both pretty hungry and ended up finding the Luke’s Lobster place that was recommended as one of the foods to try in Osaka on Facebook. Oh my gosh…I don’t even know how to describe how delicious this lobster sandwich was…it was drenched in butter and the sandwich was just filled with fresh lobster. My mouth was watering…man, now I want it again.


After walking a little longer, Isabella and I ended up in Dotonbori. We were pretty surprised since we weren’t expecting everything to be so close in walking distance. But look! This is the running man I was talking about in my first post! Apparently it’s not an actual person but just an ad created by Glico to inspire and motivate athletes. It was so surreal being in Osaka. I always look up the city online and see pictures of it on Google images. I always thought the huge displays of food and the flashing lights were super cool so actually being there and seeing it…wow. Isabella and I stood on some benches and took sooo many pictures.


You know we had to get some たこ焼き (takoyaki). I mean, Osaka is famous for this food. Isabella and I were mesmerized watching the two women cook the takoyaki, putting the octopus in, and flipping the balls around. It was a true art form, really. Let me tell you, it tasted delicious. I’ve eaten takoyaki before in Tokyo and Okinawa and it does not compare to takoyaki in Osaka. Man, this was only the beginning of all the good food we ate during our trip.


After eating takoyaki, Isabella and I walked around even more and bought some お土産 (souveniers) for our family and friends. Then, I made her try だんご (dango), similar to mochi, covered with a sweet sauce. THEN, after walking around even more we got pretty hungry (again), so we decided to eat ラーメン (ramen). There was this one outdoor restaurant that seated only about 15 people at a time. There was a very long line but ラーメン is a very important food to Isabella so, of course, we were both willing to wait in line for about 30 minutes. It was well worth it. The restaurant even allowed you to top the ramen with unlimited kimchi…Isabella and I both really like spicy food so you can imagine how much we piled on.


I thought the lighting everywhere was pretty cool. There was one street lined with lit up trees and it was beautiful. There were also several street performers playing holiday music. Man, I still can’t believe Christmas is so soon.

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Isabella and I ended at the river at Dotonbori. It took me so many tries to take this picture. Kevin messed with my camera and changed the settings, forcing me to learn how to take more creative pictures. So, I have to mess with the settings in order to figure out the correct aperture, ISO, and what not. I’m grateful he did that for me but Isabella had to wait for about 5 minutes before I could get some good pictures. I actually yelled out “KEVIIIIIN” while taking pictures, making Isabella laugh but also roll her eyes. Oh man.

DAY 2
We took several trains to Nara solely to feed some deer. We didn’t eat until we got to Nara (it took us about an hour to get there) and guess what we ate? McDonald’s!! I know we should try eating all the Japanese food we can but let me tell you, there’s nothing like some Japanese McDonald’s. I got the エビフライ (shrimp burger) and man, mouth watering, again.


I was surprised to see how big Nara Park really was…I mean there were temples and shrines everywhere, some of them even classified as UNESCO world heritage sites. I tried taking a picture of the five-story Kofuku-ji but it was almost impossible. That’s the best picture I could get and still, the first story is cut off a bit. Isabella and I walked for a bit until we finally caught sight of one deer. Isabella immediately started freaking out. When she got close to one and tried petting it for the first time she actually jumped. She was terrified but after we bought deer snacks sold at the stands, she felt comfortable petting and feeding the deer. Isabella found out online that the deer can actually bow so she had some of them do that before feeding them. Also, after feeding one deer we wanted to go feed a different one but the deer would refuse because it wanted more food. One ended up even ramming its face into Isabella’s butt. I couldn’t stop laughing.


After Nara, we headed back to our area and went to the Kuromon Ichiba Market, trying even more delicious food. Originally, we wanted to try sea urchin and clams but decided against it because it was a bit pricey. Instead, we tried crabmeat mixed with corn and melted cheese. We also bought some Toro sushi…oh man, I’m sorry I keep saying that but wow, my mouth was watering once again. You all just need to go to Osaka. They have such a variety of delicious food. Isabella did most of the research on food so she told me that we had to find quail egg stuffed octopi. I was so eager to try it when she first mentioned it to me a couple weeks back. When we finally found it we decided to eat the octopi tentacles first. After we both ate the head in one bite and WOW, the egg taste was overwhelming…in a good way, of course.

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After the market, we walked to アメ村, an Americanized shopping area. My friend Ami, the one who visited me in Akita, recommended the area to us. Once again, we were surprised by how close it was by foot. We ended up walking into several stores solely for the music. It was nice hearing American music again. In Japan, you’re allowed to drink in public so we did that and ended up sharing a pizza later that night. Isabella had been craving pizza for a while now. Well, and pasta…just any Italian food in general.

DAY 3
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On our third day, we headed out to Kyoto to Arashiyama. My mom’s friend recommended this place as she used to live in Kyoto. We had to take several trains to get there – about an hour ride again. Our friends from AIU, Annabelle and Chris, came to Osaka as well and decided to meet up with us there. So, Isabella and I walked to Lawson to buy some riceballs and instant pho to eat breakfast before they came.

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When Chris and Annabelle finally arrived we started making our way to the bamboo grove. It’s a popular tourist destination, as the walkway is just surrounded by long bamboo sticks. It was beautiful. I bet pandas would be in heaven if they lived in Arashiyama. Afterwards, we walked around the area a bit more, passing more UNESCO World Heritage sites, such as temples. We decided to head to the bridge and found ourselves next to a river. There were several trees lined up next to the river. I bet during the fall the color of the leaves look absolutely beautiful. Despite it being December, some of the trees had orange and yellow leaves clinging on.


After Arashiyama, we made our way to Iwatayama Park…the monkeys. We had to climb up thousands of stairs to get to the park, as it was secluded from civilization since monkeys just roamed around the area. I’m telling you, after this trip I never wanted to walk up stairs again. Anyways, when we finally got to the top we found ourselves surrounded by monkeys. Some of them even started fighting around us. I thought one of the angry monkeys was going to run into me – thankfully, it didn’t. There was a feeding area where people had to go inside and feed the monkeys through cages. It was only 100yen for a bag of either peanuts or apple slices. Isabella fed some monkeys and even fist bumped one of them. Another monkey grabbed Annabelle’s phone but it was too big to go through the cage so the phone was saved!

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We started to get a bit hungry so we rushed over to the Nishiki Market via train. Thankfully we made it before closing time. We tried some black sesame mochi, fried vegetables, and matcha ice cream. I found this well-known, yet secluded, soy milk doughnut shop. This is a cool display I saw in the market. I waited for this guy to move so I could take a picture of it but he stood there for about 10 minutes. My lack of patience got to me though so here’s a picture of the guy standing in front of the display!

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To end our day, we headed to the Fushimi-Inari Shrine! We passed only about 5 people while walking through the gates. Going at night was definitely the move, despite having to change my settings on my camera for 10 minutes. We wanted to walk all the way to the top of the mountain but we realized we did not make any movement on the map after climbing up stairs for 20 minutes. We were all very tired from walking around so we went to a local restaurant and ate some ramen, which was delicious by the way, and headed home!

DAY 4


WE WENT TO UNIVERSAL STUDIOS ON OUR LAST FULL DAY IN OSAKA! It was super cool. I felt like a kid again. Isabella and I did research beforehand and discovered that going on more than 2 rides at USJ was nearly impossible due to how busy the park gets. Knowing that, we decided to head straight to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to ensure we would get on the ride inside Hogwarts. We waited in line for about two hours – this was after entering the park about 30 minutes after opening hours. No worries though, I brought a deck of cards with me so we played war while waiting in line!


Here are some pictures of what we ate and rank at USJ. I don’t know what I was expecting from Butter Beer but wow, it was sweet and tasted like caramel. We got a hot and cold one and just shared both drinks. Of course, we had to make sure to get the moustache going on. We also ate chocolate filled matcha churritos, turkey legs, and this chowder…I forgot the name of it. All the food was very delicious. I know it’s typical to eat turkey legs at carnivals and theme parks but this was actually my first time trying one and I gotta say, I regret never buying one before.


Altogether, Isabella and I made it onto three rides. In addition to the HP ride, we rode the Flying Dinosaur and this Jurassic Ride, similar to Splash Mountain. I saw the waiting line was only 30 minutes for the Jurassic Ride so I dragged Isabella along even though she was adamant about not getting wet. You wouldn’t believe our luck. We were placed in the first row so of course, we got soaked!


I didn’t know this till later at the park but apparently the Christmas tree there holds a World Guinness Record for having the most lights on an artificial tree…yeah, something like that. There was a performance before the lighting of the tree and I felt like the entire park had come to this one area just to see the tree. I could not move an inch without rubbing against someone else. The lights on the tree kept changing colors after it was lit. There were fireworks. It definitely put us in the holiday spirit.

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After USJ, we headed back to our area to show Annabelle and Chris Dotonbori. It was around 915pm when Isabella decided she wanted to go to the small animal café we had passed the first night we got there. It closed at 10 but she really wanted to go. Chris and Annabelle were both down to go. Tristan decided to stay back and find some food – vegetarian options. Well, you wouldn’t believe it but for about 10 minutes we sprinted through the shopping arcade, through Dotonbori, and through several crowds. I almost ran into some people as the streets were crowded. I was in the lead so Isabella followed me while Annabelle followed her. Chris couldn’t run as fast because of his heavy shoes and backpack but thankfully, we never lost him. We finally made it to the café, ordered our strawberry flavored drinks, and played with some animals. It was crazy holding a hedgehog, chinchilla, ferret, rabbit, rat, and rabbit. The woman working there brought a closed hand over and told Isabella to open her hand but Isabella ran behind me knowing there was something bad in her hand. I held my hand open instead and she placed a baby rat in my hand. It was so cute with its small tail!

DAY 5


I have to say, this Osaka trip was one for the books. I’m pretty sure I like Osaka more than Tokyo. Osaka has more to offer with food and UNESCO World Heritage Sites…also, Kyoto and Nara are easily accessible by train so you have even more to see! I was upset to say bye to Chris, Annabelle, and Tristan. They stayed in Osaka for another day and flew out from there to go back home to America. Isabella and I headed back to Akita before heading back home. The Colorado Crew were the first people I had to say bye to so it started to hit me that study abroad was indeed coming to an end. What a bittersweet feeling. Isabella and I headed back home to Akita and got ready for our departure our following day. I will be writing my last post soon, writing about my last hours in Akita and the travels back home to Okinawa. Anyways, Osaka was a great time and a great trip to wrap up study abroad! If you’re ever in Japan, please do yourself the favor and go to either Kyoto or Osaka, and make sure to take the day trip to Nara.

By the way, look at my cool socks that I bought in Osaka! All sushi!


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