Olivia in Sweden: School and Flowers!

April 13, 2017

One thing I miss from UR is our dining hall, which is a sentence I thought I would never write. Students here don’t have a meal plan, and must frequent the local grocery store for all their eating needs. Thankfully, there are some eating areas to be found in the multiple academic buildings on campus.

 

 

The building I frequent the most is Engelska Parken! Here is a picture of the eating area. Not as much variety as our dining hall, eh? But the coffee and food is always delicious.

 

The style of teaching here is also a little different from back home.

 

 

It is very discussion based. Usually, we read an article for class, and then the professor breaks us up into smaller groups to discuss what we read. To finish up the class, we come together as a class and share what we learned. Much of what we learn is self-taught. This has taken a lot of getting used to. I am also enrolled in a class that never meets until the final exam!

 

 

The self-motivation for academic pursuits will only get tougher as the weather keeps getting more and more beautiful. At last, some flowers are beginning to bloom! So excited to see the full impact as spring gets closer!

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Clara in Italy: Le Celle (and light)

December 29, 2016

AKA he really should have been called St. Francis of CORTONA guys am I right (also I really like sunsets)

Basically, one thing I learned in Italy was that St. Francis of Assisi actually first set up in Cortona. His first monastery was established at Le Celle, just outside Cortona. You have to walk even further up the hill from where we were established, up to a different town called Torreone. It’s a very small town with a small coffee shop that serves GIANT COFFEES. Like, the size of your head. (If I’m being suuuuuuuper honest, the giant coffees are not… that… good………. but they’re giant, and that’s what matters.) Here’s a picture of the fountain just outside that for some reason I’ve always liked. Maybe it’s the lettering or something.

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Anyways, the view on the way to Le Celle is honestly pretty killer, as are most views in Cortona, but like. Especially, since we’re even higher than usual.

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But before I get too sidetracked, here it is. Le Celle!

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It’s quite a magical place. There’s a little waterfall and some lovely stone rooms.

I have to admit though, it really was a perfect day for lighting, especially for someone like me that likes darker photos and weird sunlight. And of course, being the nerd I am, I took a lot of pictures of the effects of light on things in the forest and scenery around Le Celle instead of a lot of the stuff inside Le Celle itself. The whole area is, as I said, quite magical.

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We actually didn’t spend nearly as much time as I wanted to spend there in all honesty, but it got dark really fast and also rather cold, but it meant that as we walked back towards the school, we had a great view of the sunset among all the black shadowed trees.

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We had been waiting (well, I guess I’d been) all semester to visit this place, so I’m glad I finally got to go at the end of the semester, though it wasn’t quite as long as I wanted it to be. Stay determined!

 

 

 


Clara in Italy: Throwback to Siena

December 12, 2016

Hey everyone! I realized I never talked about a lot of the excursions that happened earlier on in this whirlwind of a semester, but I thought I’d talk a little bit about Siena! A lovely little city in Tuscany.

A quick digression: one of my favorite childhood books takes place partially in Siena. I am of the opinion that everyone should read it because it is wonderfully funny and kind of sad and touching in a weird, weird way. Here’s the cover as I always knew it:

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Unfortunately, it’s quite a small image. There are several versions of it, but in any case, I love this book a lot and I’d read it over and over if I had the time. Still would.

Anyways, Siena! Still didn’t have a proper camera, but I think I did okay with my iPhone. We started off with a quick coffee break. I hadn’t quite gotten into the swing of Italian coffee–far superior to American coffee, loathe as I am to say it because it’s so cliche, but. It’s true. I don’t really like coffee that much, but I’ll drink Italian coffee, man.

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And then off to this fountain in the main square full of pigeons!!!

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Look, I know most people think of pigeons as nuisances, but I love pigeons okay? Pigeons are adorable fat little birds of joy and everything bad about pigeons is the fault of humans. They were all really pleased to be taking a bath in this fountain. They were all puffed up and covered in water. It was great.

Anyways, to the probably best part of the trip: the ARCHIVES. I am and forever shall be a massive old books nerd, so this was a really fabulous time for me. I just love old books okay? All the time! All the people that touched it! The different binding techniques! Oh boy.

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Just look at these beautiful books.

I also took this picture while we were there, and I still rather like it, even though it’s a little pretentious or whatever.

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There were two other pretty great highlights for my nerdy little heart in this day trip, one of which was the centuries-old graffiti in the Palazzo Pubblico. (I know I’ve already posted about it, but please bear with me I love it so much.)

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It’s a little hard to see, but if you look closely on the red stripe, you can see someone’s carved “1464” right there. 1464?!! That’s before Columbus landed on the shores of America and ruined everything! That’s before Shakespeare!

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Look at that! That’s in Greek! People were making marks on the walls here in Greek. That’s incredible to me. There’s also a couple from a little later–1848 and 1902, which I still think is pretty exciting. The passage of time, and yet people keep marking the same places, even as all the people who went before them are dead.

I love stuff like this, weird little snippets of human life and imperfection. Which brings me to this next picture!

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It… admittedly kind of sucks as a photo, but look at this beautiful unfinished painting. It was too high up to take a decent photo, but man. Nero watching Rome burn. It’s a 19th-century work (my unabashed favorite art period), and there’s a detailed underdrawing and bits and pieces of completed painting. Agh. I suppose most people wouldn’t consider it great art–it’s mostly pretty, but it’s a antique-historical scene done in the ridiculously idealized style of 19th-century Neoclassicists. All my favorite things!! (That’s not actually true–I also love the Romantics dearly. Probably more so in terms of actual theme. Whatever.)

I think it’s really important to show unfinished work and drawings in museums alongside finished masterpieces, because it shows process versus product. Looking only at finished product can be deceptive. It leads to the idea that great artists were geniuses who produced things as opposed to ordinary people who worked hard on a single skillset. Art is not magic. Art is hard work. Certainly talent can play into it as well, but no one got by on talent alone. Let’s admire the unfinished work for what it is, and what it shows us we can all do. I can’t make a great painting, but I can make sketches. I can’t write a masterful novel, but I can write some crappy first drafts, and I am continuously thankful for the records of first drafts of novels now digitized online. How great to know how even the classics struggled! Ha!

Anyways, to finish the day off, we got to see a short procession of the Eagle contrada–Siena is quite unique in that it has an intensely competitive horse race every year amongst the different neighborhoods (contradas) that make up the cities: The Eagle contrada had won the most recent race.

That’s all on Siena! Stay determined.

 

 


Week 11: Crepes and Kraft Mac & Cheese

November 14, 2016

1I appreciate Patrik so much. I’m so used to drinking five cups of coffee at Richmond because it’s so easily accessible so I appreciate Patrik letting me make coffee in his room. I was having a hard time staying up in my International Trade class so Patrik brought me a cup of coffee during my class break, before my History of Pre-Modern Japan class. やさしいね〜 (he’s very kind, huh?)!

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Isabella and Annabelle finished writing their speech about their Korean trip for JPL100 and I finished my grammar homework for JPL300 and this was the outcome. We were all very tired so we continued to hang out in Annabelle’s room in Sakura Village. I was also messing with my camera a bit. Trying new lightings and what not.


Do you all remember the Draw Something app that came out maybe…four years ago? Well, Griff, Patrik, and I were hanging out in the Komachi Lobby and rediscovered the game. Some of our other friends joined in and we soon found out that Griff is actually Picasso. How do you even draw that nice of a toilet and blender? I want his drawing skills.

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Griff even drew me…I don’t have a neck but it’s still a pretty good drawing considering he drew me with only his index finger on his small screen.


We had our first snow this past week. I still can’t believe the snow stuck. It’s only the beginning of November. I woke up and heard the hail hitting the ground and immediately fell back into bed…very unwilling to walk outside in the cold. Thankfully I bought a winter jacket from UNIQLO though and it actually keeps me very warm. Now I have to buy some snow boots though or else I’m going to injure myself.

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Saturday, a group of us took the bus to AEON to eat lunch then walked over to Yotsugoya station to head into Akita City. I had the directions up on Google maps but closed the app when I realized where the train station was…you could see it in the distance. Unfortunately, the rode split into two and we didn’t know which road to take. Everyone yelled at me for closing the app then proceeded to split up. Patrik, Griff, and I walked on a path that led into the fields while Isabella, Annabell, and Tristan took the actual road. We ended up meeting up five minutes later as the roads met up! We made it to the station five minutes to spare before the train arrived.


You wouldn’t believe this but we actually ended up getting on the wrong train. It took us in the opposite direction. That’s the life of AIU international students: reading the schedule wrong and getting on the wrong train/bus. The train took us to Wada Station so we had to wait there for an hour before the train came to take us to Akita. It was fine though. We listened to some music on Patrik’s speakers and took a couple videos of us doing the mannequin challenge. If you don’t know what it is just look it up online and it should pop up as it’s trending right now. We had to retake one shot at least 10 times because I couldn’t stop laughing. Anyways, we went into the city and went to Karaoke for about 3-4 hours. Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures but just know we sang our hearts out to 80s music and Michael Jackson songs. We took the last train from Akita to Wada Station and walked for an hour back to campus.

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I’m super proud of all of my friends for expanding their collection of beer stickers. Most of the time Japanese beer cans have a sticker on them so I decided to start collecting them on my phone. When I got to Akita, I influenced people to start collecting the stickers as well. Everyone has more than me now though and it’s upsetting. I took off all of my stickers recently so I have 0…


Sunday afternoon, everyone came to Isabella’s apartment to make crepes. Griff and Patrik had been planning this out for about two weeks now. It was originally supposed to be pancake day but Griff told us that the pancakes wouldn’t be as good without baking powder, so crepes it was. Patrik went all out and bought whipped cream, chocolate sauce, strawberry jam, canned peaches, and canned pineapples for the crepe toppings. We didn’t have a whisk so Griff, Annabelle, and Patrik stirred as fast and hard as they could with the forks and chopsticks. It was pretty intense.

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I FaceTimed my mom asking for help on how to make the whipped cream since none of us could read the directions. She told me that we needed a whisk or else it would be very difficult to make. So, Patrik actually ended up running to the Komachi kitchen and finding a whisk. The whipped cream was almost impossible to make with just a fork. Kevin had been stirring it for about 20 minutes and the consistency was still very liquid. Tristan took the whisk and stirred for only about 5 minutes before it turned to actual whipped cream.

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We actually had a can opener but I guess it didn’t work out too well…I turned my back to help Isabella with the crepes and by the time I was done the can was opened like this. Super dangerous…we should probably invest in a nice can opener.

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The first one was pretty rough but Isabella looked up a tutorial on YouTube and after that the crepes came out perfect. Patrik sprinkled some brown sugar on his crepe. He had the first one and Kevin commented on the placement of the whipped cream. All of us put our whipped cream inside the crepe and Patrik found it super weird. I guess that’s just a minor culture difference in the way we make crepes. Everyone had 1-2 crepes and we were still very hungry so Isabella ended up making some Kraft Mac and Cheese that my mom sent me recently. Eating American food was a nice change. My mom is visiting at the end of this month so I’m going to have to ask her to bring some more mac and cheese with her!


Jack in NZ: Regular

October 27, 2016

“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day. Unless you’re too busy, then you should sit for an hour.” – Unknown

“To be, in a word, unborable…. It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish” – David Foster Wallace

“There is a story of a man fleeing a tiger. He came to a precipice and catching hold of a wild vine, swung down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above while below another tiger growled and snapped waiting for him to fall. As he hung there two mice began to gnaw away the vine. Just then he saw a big wild strawberry growing nearby. Reaching out with his free hand he plucked the strawberry. How sweet it tasted!” – Joseph Goldstein

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The coffee is lukewarm.

It’s the dregs from yesterday morning my flatmate has left in the pot to condense overnight, my first cup in 72 hours. I spent the previous several days hiking the Kepler Track, staying in huts lacking electrical outlets and precluding the convenient preparation of caffeinated beverages lest a maker with 60-kilometer extension chord in tow be lugged for the duration of the trip. The surface interval has done me good, offered me a gulp of fresh air before plunging back into the caffeinated depths of exam week. The ‘how many shots in a long black?’ and ‘yes I’d like an extra’ surely in my near future, hooked on black ambrosia and a gradual acceleration in life’s pace that will bring me to the exam desk and airplane terminal in two-shakes of a freshly birthed NZ lamb’s tail.

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Today marks the beginning of the end. I can practically smell the salty sea air of the Malaysian beach where I will sit and luxuriate in post-finals freedom. I can feel my feet digging into the sand and the equatorial rays on my skin. I can taste the strawberry daiquiri. And the second one. I can hear the waves lapping at the shore and the inoffensive tropical music over the hump that is the next week.

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On Halloween I will sit for my remaining exams. Two days later, I will leave New Zealand for a cheeky jaunt through the South’s of East Asia and Africa. If all goes to plan, this trip will continue to add hours to the time of my life.

But I’ve got a long way to go.

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My first order of business is to dig myself out of the academic hole in which I have wallowed for far too long. Baring a mad scientist tainting the water supply with amphetamines, it seems as though this project will consume most of my remaining time. The odds I go on another backpacking trip are slim, the chances I see the stars at Lake Tekapo dubious. So be it. I may never return to check them off my bucket list, but the experiences I’ve had so far more than compensate.

My second task involves gradually extracting the roots that have begun to take hold. I need to find homes for all the stuff I’ve acquired over the past few months. I’ve got books to read, camping gear to sell, and a cactus in need of adoption. I’ve also got 20-odd liters of homebrew to humanely dispose of, a confounding variable I could probably do without. And of course there are the goodbyes, the U.S. phone numbers, and the hugs to exchange before I can step on the plane.

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The flatmate has brewed another pot this morning, leaving a half-cup a few degrees hotter than the previous one. Impossible to resist, I refill my mug.

The law of diminishing returns applies in spades to the bitter liquid; coffee is a crazy new girlfriend, an initial rush of euphoria in exponential decline, creeping resentment brewing with every minute together, a reluctance to break things off given the threat of an unknown but definitely not good subsequent several days and because my goodness is she seductive. A constant teeth gritting of which one can never quite determine the origin concomitant in each study session, bouncing one’s leg up and down to the erratic scribbling of notes, work a means to the end of going home and passing out so you can wake up and do the same thing the next day. It’s perversely enjoyable, finals a sort of free pass to stay up at odd hours and embrace a strung- and stressed-out lifestyle with a clear end in sight.

This week is the climax of my semester. Rather than enjoying the perfect cadence of a contemplative and restful study abroad denouement, I will race toward the finish line. I will ignore the birds in the botanical garden and I will not stop to smell the flowers. I will spend hours in the library and consume tepid cups of methylxanthines and fit in travel planning and friends at the margins. The hectic state of mind is all too familiar, and perhaps unavoidable, but at least I know it’s coming. I will do my damnedest to enjoy it.

The last sludgy sip has been consumed, straggling grinds and all.

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Tori in Spain: The Story of Madrid

September 22, 2016

People keep asking me what my favorite parts of life abroad have been so far. Honestly, it isn’t the crazy, spontaneous trips, Instagram-perfect moments, or even the yummy tapas.  The simplest, slowest moments have been the sweetest. Watching the sunrise and set on my back porch, sipping espresso in the morning with my roommate, talking with my host mom after the kids go to bed, and snuggling with mi hermanito Juan. Long dinners, long conversations, and long days spent in solitude have made this time special. I feel like a story is being formed here, and every moment I remain in Madrid and am very present here, that story gets richer and richer.

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The more I fall in love with my family and friends and the story being told here, the less I am tempted to country hop all over Europe, because I want to discover more of what God has for me here. I think that places are significant, and investment in a place can lead to seasons of growth and deep connections. Even more than that, I think that people are important. People are what make places so special, and my family here has done that for me. Allow me to introduce you to the people who have added depth and dimension and wonder to the Story of Madrid.

My host mom Bella is absolutely amazing. Our conversations about Spanish politics, religion, food, favorite things, and our philosophies of life have truly been my favorite times of my entire trip. I love to learn from her and she is the only Spanish person who I feel fully understood by, since the language barrier often makes it hard for me to express myself to others.

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We just celebrated the first birthday of my little brother Juan(ito), whom I love dearly. He crawls into my room with a huge smile on his face, just wanting to play and love on me. He has a mischievous and adventurous personality, and has never met a stranger. He is constantly smiling and giggling and truly has contagious joy. I want to be more like Juan. My other little brother, Cesar, is 3 and he can’t decide if he loves or hates me. Regardless, we love to play pretend “caballeros” (knights) and engage in ferocious duels “encima de caballos con espaldas” (on horseback with swords). I always end up dead, but never before we swap some serious trashtalk in Spanish.

Last, but not least, my roommate Amalie! She has become one of my dearest friends here, and I am incredibly thankful for her. She is very committed to learning as much Spanish as she can and truly doing life within the culture of Spain rather than having a typical “Americans in Spain” study abroad experience. This has really helped shape my perspective on my time here and helped me learn so much. I love her philosophy of life, and treasure our many meals together, long walks in the park, and jokes about how intimidating and cool Spanish young people are. She is very special, and I’m not sure how I got so lucky to have been placed with her randomly.

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A couple days ago, I tripped on my way to school, my things went flying, I face planted, and my knee got bloody, swollen, and bruised. I couldn’t fully express myself to the man who was trying to help me and I had a breakdown. Here I am, injured, bleeding, and crying in a place where I still sometimes feel like I am not known and cannot make myself known due to the language barrier. However, when I got home, I talked to Bella about how I was feeling, Amalie checked out my knee, and I snuggled with Juan. Even Cesar was concerned, and I did not die at the hand of his sword that night. I am so thankful for a family here that loves me, knows me, and allows me to rest and lean into the simple moments of life alongside of them.

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Clara in Italy: Rome (aka thank god we’re out of there)

September 8, 2016

The last week has been a bit of a whirlwind! I feel like I haven’t stopped walking since I landed in Rome. I sound like an old woman, but seriously, my knees and ankles and hips are all feeling pretty creaky and sore. All that cobblestone is taking its toll.

Before I get to Rome though, look at this poster in the Dublin airport!

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One of my top musicals! The first I ever saw on Broadway when I was fifteen and I cried buckets. It was a good time. Wish I could see it again.

To be honest, I don’t really want to talk about Rome that much. It was certainly very cool, but it was also super draining and crowded. Walking through the Vatican museum was honestly awful. Very hot, very crowded etc. etc. I know the highlights there are The School of Athens and the Sistine chapel ceiling, but here are two of my favorite pieces: the Van Gogh Pieta and a bust of Keokuk.

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I know these are terrible pictures but then again, what isn’t a terrible picture in a museum?

We also went to the Borghese Gallery, which had some breathtaking Berninis. I’ve been dying to see those in person since I came across images of them. I know there’s other cool stuff there, but you’re only allowed to stay for two hours and it was terribly stressful to try and rush through a museum full of fabulous Berninis. As I’ve said, photos do no justice, but I guess at least look at this angle of The Abduction of Proserpine:

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Especially that hand. How does he do it? That’s solid rock, and I’m still very suspiciously ready to poke it to make absolute sure.

Also look at this delicious coffee:

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I generally dislike coffee, but this was tasty as heck.

But then! The highlight of Rome (for me, anyways) was definitely this exhibit though:

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An ENTIRE EXHIBIT dedicated to Alphonse Mucha??? The most fun I’ve had in a museum in ages!

Look I know liking Mucha is kind of cliche or whatever, but I couldn’t care less. His linework and figures are absolutely breathtaking. All we ever see are his posters and graphic print art, but his paintings and pastels are also just incredible.

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If I could do figures as well as he could, I think I’d be happy. I definitely bought the catalogue and it was less than 30 euro so I’m counting it as a really good win.

Time to leave Rome with a parting photo of a 3-wheeled car in our hotel:

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Honestly, how do you even drive these around corners? There’s a great video on Top Gear about that. Do yourself a favor and watch it.

And finally, a small picture of the locks on one of the bridges over the Tiber with an ancient Roman structure in the background. I hope the love charm worked for these people.

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Enough from me! Have a good week everyone. Stay determined.


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