Olivia in Sweden: A Swedish Easter!

April 17, 2017

Happy (Belated) Easter!

 

I hear that it’s common for many Swedes to travel to their holiday cottage in the countryside for a family celebration.

For those more comfortable in the city, its not uncommon to see these beautiful trees on balconies, or in this case, the city center. (Usually, they are much smaller!)

 

 

Here in Flogsta, we had our own little celebration!

 

 

We all brought meals and desserts that we had prepared.

 

We even put up our own little Easter tree.

 

 

And finished the day with a successful egg hunt, which we had all hidden in our rooms!

 

More spring festivities are on its way! Until next time!


Olivia in Sweden: Joining a Nation!

February 13, 2017

I joined a nation!

As a student attending Uppsala University, it is crucial to join at least one.

Nations are made up of students, and the organizations hold events and offer a large variety of clubs so one can get involved with other students.

There are 13 nations, which are named after regions in Sweden. They have been around for centuries, and while previously students were only allowed to join the nation that represented their region, now the rules are much more relaxed.

I joined Södermanlands-Nerikes nation, nicknamed Snerikes. Founded in 1595, it is the oldest nation of Uppsala University.

I attended the Recce Reception where there was a mini fair with tables promoting the activities they offered, followed by an informal dinner.

 

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Shown above is the appetizer provided before our dinner. Some crackers with the option of butter or cheese as a topping! By the candles were some mustard, rosemary, and oregano to have with our yellow pea soup.

 

During the dinner, they showed us their choir, their improv group, and their band. All three are open to any students, regardless of the nation they chose to join!

 

Here are two videos of their band because I couldn’t pick between the two:

 

 

This song may sound familiar for any Aladdin or Broadway fans!

 

 

This is more of a traditional song played by the Swedes. It’s also common to start ball-room dancing while they play!

 

This week I went to two activities sponsored by the nations.

Kalmar nation holds a mixtape circle every other week. For the mixtape circle, the group picks a theme. For the next meeting, each person has picked a song that they feel goes with that theme. We all share and discuss the music. Because we are all so different, the mixtape circle is a great way to discover other music that maybe you wouldn’t usually listen to.

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To the right is a journal that is passed around as each person shares a song. We all write down the name of the song and the artist, and this list is then shared through a Facebook group. The big sound system to the left is the magical box that we hear it from.

 

I’ve also started attending an improv group hosted by my very own nation. I fell twice during the acting exercises and am currently recovering from the pain.

 

I have to bounce back quick because there’s so much to do!


Tori in Spain: The Dream that was Morocco

December 29, 2016

Last January, Sara sat in my room looking up all the beautiful places in the world she wanted to visit while abroad the next semester. I still had not decided whether I wanted to stay or go, but she was all set. One of the places she showed me was a place called Chefchaouen in Morocco, better known as the blue city. When I finally committed to studying abroad and started planning out where I wanted to go throughout the semester, Morocco topped my list. I think I was attracted to it simply because it was different, and that excited me. I was incredibly curious about what it would be like, but (I am embarrassed to admit) definitely had some preconcieved notions about what a Muslim, African country would entail.

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It was nothing like I expected. Every Moroccan I met was incredibly proud of their country and their culture. They were friendly and did not try to take advantage of tourists, but rather, were so excited to share their love for their country. I was overwhelmed by their generosity. Every day of our trip someone gave us something for free, whether it be a pomegranate, an almond honey dessert, or some amazing pastries. Everyone warned me not to go to Morocco without a professional tour group, because it is “dangerous, chaotic, and everyone tries to take advantage of tourists.” Comments like these fueled a little bit of pre-trip anxiety, but when I arrived my anxiety dissipated due to the amazing people I met.

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Our taxi driver from the airport was the first Moroccan we met, and he was phenomenal. He told us that after he meets people, he immediately considers them friends and will do anything in order to help them. He added us on Facebook and told us to come to him if we needed anything during our time in his country. As we roadtripped through the Moroccan countryside, we sang Heroes at the top of our lungs together and had a great time jamming to music while soaking in the beauty of our surroundings.

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Sunset our first night in Morocco from the roof of our hostel!

We spent our first night in Chefchaouen, a little blue city nestled in the mountains in North Morocco. We watched the sunset over blue roofs and gorgeous peaks from the terrace on top of our hostel, and were in awe of the beauty of God´s creation and the tranquility of the town we had the privilege of exploring. We went to an amazing restaurant for dinner and had an amazing meal of tagines (shrimp, lamb, goat, and kebab), goat cheese platters, traditional moroccan bread, and spicy roasted eggplant, tomatoes and peppers. Our waiter was awesome and so funny… when it came time for dessert he took our menus and asked if we trusted him. We said yes, and he brought us the best yogurt dessert I have ever had in my life. It was fresh yogurt with berries and honey and lots of other stuff I couldn’t identify, and it was amazing. Our three course feast cost the equivalent of 5 euros each, which made that yogurt sundae taste even yummier. We left and resolved to return for lunch the next day.

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Fresh goat cheese, bread, eggplant, and spicy tomatoes for appetizers!

We spent our sunshiney Saturday morning on the terrace of our hostel, and then wandered the many tiny, meandering streets of the Medina. We hiked up to an old Spanish mosque that overlooked the city, and met some goats and other farm animals along the way. I naturally thanked them for providing me which such good cheese the night before. On our way up, a guy was washing and cutting fresh cactus fruit, so I got to try some! It was super sweet and refreshing.

The views from the Mosque were incredible. As I looked over the mountains and little blue town, I was hit by the truth that I was standing in another country that, although different than my own, was still created by God and for Him. My friend Michaela and I sang “Holy spirit you are welcome here” from the top of the mountain, and it was a beautiful moment in which I was certain that God was alive and moving in Morocco, as well as everywhere else in this big, beautiful world.

That evening we returned to Tangier and met some awesome people in our hostel who were full time students in Morocco. They showed us around and came out to dinner with us. Abdul is Muslim, and prayed for our meal before we ate soup, chicken pastries, and traditional cous cous. It was a really cool moment. On the way home we came across an outdoor concert of band from Cameroon. It was one of the most joyous musical groups I had ever seen, and working up the courage to sing and whirl around with Sara to their fun music will forever be one of my favorite memories. The band sang of hakuna matata and celebrated the beauty life by dancing and wiggling with abandon. It was a precious moment.

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The only thing that was strangely absent from this memory, were Moroccan women celebrating life along with us. There were very few women in the crowd, or even on the streets in Tanger. This made me a little sad, because from an outsiders perspective, it seems as if Morocco is still an extremely patriarchal country. However, I was grateful to learn that the origins of women wearing headscarfs come from a verse in the Quran that suggests women should be praised for their morality and intelligence rather than their beauty. There is a lot of value in that.

The next day, half of our group headed out, while Eker, Emily, Sara, and I stayed. We decided to head to a little beach town called Asilah about 45 minutes outside of Tanger for the day. It was an enchanting day consisting of lots of bartering, yummy food, and great company. We hoped to finish it off, by watching the sunset over the Atlantic. We saw sun sinking below the buildings while we were in the center of the city and ran to the beach quickly enough to catch the vibrant, firey globe ducking under the horizon, leaving the sky strewn in pink and purple. It felt like a dream as I twirled around, mesmerized by the reflection of the sky in the water.

My family was at the beach in South Carolina the same weekend, so it was crazy to think that we were playing in the same ocean on different sides of the world. The second we were able to tear ourselves away from the sunset, we turned around to be greeted by the largest moon in 70 years.

The next day our taxi driver picked us up to go to the airport, but on the way he look us to his favorite pastry shop in the city and bought us traditional Moroccan wedding cookies. He told us of his love for his wife and kids, that his family was everything to him, and I saw 2 girls in headscarfs skipping and dancing alongside the road. I couldn’t imagine a better ending to a better trip. Marruecos, te amo. Gracias por todo.

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The whole crew!


Tori in Spain: ¡Feliz Cumpleaños Yolanda!

December 5, 2016

The first time I walked into Iglesia Evangelica de Cristo Vive, I was greeted by a lady who talked a mile a minute and never stopped smiling. Although it was my second week and I was extremely overwhelmed by Spanish, she was patient, and we started to get to know each other. Yolanda and I chatted every week after church, our conversations always beginning with her scolding me for not arriving early enough to chat before church. “¿Por que tú siempre llegas tarde?” She later introduced me to her son Eker, who has become one of my closest friends in Madrid. He taught me how to salsa dance and came to Morocco with me… he is the best!

3 months later, my week would not be complete if I did not have a mínimum of 3 texts from Yolanda reminding me that God is in control and that she is praying that He will guide me. Last weekend, I had the privilege of celebrating Yolanda´s birthday at her brother´s mountain house in la Sierra de Madrid, and it was an incredible day.

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View from Eker’s uncle’s mountain house!

Me, Eker, Kristina, and Amalie arrived at 10am, and Yolanda was in the kitchen, making all sorts of things that smelled wonderful. We met Yolanda´s brother, and he gave us a tour of the house. It was the highest in the village, so it had an amazing view of the mountains and pueblo below. It was breathtaking. Two dogs ran around and a huge garden of veggies and fruits surrounded the house. Yolanda, being a typical Spanish woman, then began insisting we eat everything in the house… They do hospitality well here. We ate some integral cake and a platano pineapple drink that was super yummy, and then went off to explore the beautiful mountains.

Our quick hike turned into a 3 hours affair because we decided to forge our own path instead of following the trail. By decided, I mean we were forced to because none of us had any idea where we were (don´t tell Eker I said that, if he asks I had full confidence in his ability to get us home the whole time). We found a beautiful lake and some even more incredible views. I breathe easier in the mountains, and being surrounded by sunshine and trees was good for my soul.

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I’m in awe of this place!

The house in the mountains was a place of peace, and the tranquil atmosphere made the presence of God almost tangible. They use the house for lots of church retreats and dinners, and I can see why. It is a special place of rest and rejuvenation and recalibration of the heart. A rock lies outside the house that says “Jesus es el camino” in honor of Tio´s wife who died 6 years ago. It served as a beautiful reminder of the creator of the beauty and peace we experienced that day.

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When we returned from our hike, the feast began. Most of Eker´s family is Peruvian, and the relatives started rolling in to celebrate. We collected firewood for the wood burning stove outside, and Tio began cooking every type of meat imaginable. Even though it was her birthday, I am pretty sure she only left the kitchen to make sure everyone else was comfortable and having a good time. Her joy and energy are contagious, and her constant thankfulness to God a beautiful reminder of what is important, and what isn´t.

There were about 18 of us there to celebrate Yolanda, from age 12 to age 90. It was a really fun mix. Eker´s sisters absolutely blew me away, they were kind and beautiful and wise beyond their years. I am constantly in awe of their whole family. We feasted on lamb, AMAZING chorizo, pork ribs, yummy cilantro salad, and a delicious rice and chicken soup, while sipping pineapple wáter. It was one of the greatest meals of my life, and was followed by roasted SWEET POTATOS, platanos, platano bread, and an amazing dessert called leche asado (cooked milk). Every minute of the day I was in awe… it didn´t feel like real life.

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The whole fam!

The day ended with 3 content, sleepy girls trying to play UNO in a group of what felt like a gagillion Spanish speakers and understand their jokes. Most of the time, we just laughed along and played our cards, content to be with this amazing family, and so thankful to have gotten to spend such a special day with them. Yolanda and Eker, thank you! Being a part of your family this semester has been incredibly sweet. I will never forget you.


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.

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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.

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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!!

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!


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