Olivia in Sweden: Ducks and a Birthday!

April 3, 2017

I have been sick this past week so I haven’t been as active as I’ve wanted to be.

However, I was able to briefly enjoy the last bit of snow with some friends I made.

 

 

A herd of ducks swarmed me down by the river. What a delight!

 

I also couldn’t miss a birthday dinner with my international friend from Japan. We decided to give her a taste of home and took her to Yukiko’s Sushi, a popular restaurant here in Uppsala.

 

 

When we got home there will still surprises to be had! Look at this beautiful cake adorned by friends.

On the cake is written: Happy birthday Haruna! (in Swedish, of course!)

 

 

Hopefully, I’ll be better soon.

 

Til next time!


Olivia in Sweden: Abroad at Last!

January 27, 2017

Hi! I’m Olivia and I am a junior at University of Richmond. I am majoring in Biology with a minor in Healthcare Studies.

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I’ve never been to Europe before and, as the baby of the family, never experienced much independence either. I set out to form new experiences by studying abroad in Uppsala, Sweden. Uppsala University is a leading international research university, and I was anxious to join its numbers.

Postponing the inevitable of being alone in Sweden, I was joined by my mom and aunt in Uppsala on January 11th. This was a sneak peak of my new home from the window of the airplane. Frozen ice and snow never looked so appealing!

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Before I could move in, I had to explore Stockholm with my family. On a train, Stockholm is only 40 minutes away.

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This is one of the many busy streets of Stockholm. We went on a Hop-On Hop Off, which is an all day bus service that provides tours of cities. My mom and aunt were too tired to explore the royal palace, libraries, and museums of Stockholm, but I imagine since the city is only 40 minutes away, I’ll be back soon to explore properly.

This is a peak into my room. At Uppsala University, the rooms for students are owned by different housing companies. You pay rent each month. It is typical to have a single room with each room having a private bathroom. Each hall shares a kitchen.

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Classes started this week, and while many people feel comfortable biking (in icy cold weather!) I prefer the bus. The city buses in Uppsala are extremely punctual. They have an app that provides timetables, and if you enter your location and where you wish to go, there is always a bus ready. While it’s simple enough, I’m still getting used to it as I have fallen victim to being at the wrong bus stop many times!

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Alas, practice makes perfect, right?


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


Week 14: 東京 and Owls

December 12, 2016


For our JPL300 class, we have to create a poster and present on any topic that interests us for 5-7 minutes in Japanese. I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty nervous about this because speaking in only Japanese for that long of a period…man, I have to start practicing soon. Patrick is presenting on テレビゲーム (video games) and I’m presenting on 沖縄 (Okinawa). We worked on our posters in Isabella’s room Tuesday night. We started at around 9:30pm thinking it would only take an hour but ended up working on it till 1am. We didn’t mind though because we enjoyed working on it and listened to some music on the speakers – hip-hop/rap, hard rock, and EDM. We all have very different music tastes. In my presentation, I’m talking about Okinawan foods (goya chanpuru and Okinawa soba), the pretty beaches, and the Orion Beer Fest. I had some extra white space so I decided to draw on my poster. I was really proud of my Shisa dog that I drew (on the right of the title). I did copy it off a picture on my laptop but considering how horrible of a drawer I am, I thought I did pretty well.

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I’m not 100% sure if this is correct or not but Patrik told us that Pac-Man originated from a missing pizza slice. Apparently the man who created Pac-Man was out eating pizza, took a slice, and thought of the character’s shape right there. Patrik also said the man said to himself, “everyone likes pizza!” so everyone would then like Pac-Man. I couldn’t stop laughing when Patrik was telling us this because he sounded so animated when imitating the creator of Pac-Man. Like I said, I don’t know if this is true or not so don’t take my word on it. I still think it’s pretty cool and worth mentioning though since I didn’t know about this.


I mentioned earlier that Patrik and I went to an elementary school in Omagari to play with the kids. Well, this past Wednesday morning, Patrik and I went to a kindergarten in the same area. We each had to introduce a game to play with the kids. Patrik chose musical chairs and I chose Duck, Duck, Goose. There was one girl who was chosen as the goose who could never run fast enough to get into the new sport. After about the fifth time of her being tagged, she started crying. She cried later on as well when she couldn’t get a seat in musical chairs. Poor girl. After we played our games, the kindergartners showed us their own game. The all sat in a circle with cards sprawled out in the middle. Each card had a hiragana character in the corner. The kids would have to grab the card with the hiragana character the teacher read out loud. It got pretty intense. The kids would all just jump into the middle of the circle looking for the correct card. I was afraid some of them would bump heads. Sometimes multiple kids would jump on the correct card at the same time and because the teacher couldn’t tell who got it first, the kids did Rock, Paper, Scissors to see who would rightfully win the card. With every disagreement, Rock, Paper, Scissors was played. I thought it was adorable and smart. I think even older kids play this game to come up with a settlement.


When Patrik and I went to the elementary school, we were given the same small lunch as the kids. We were expecting the same thing again this time but in kindergarten, instead of the school supplying the food, everyone brings a bento box from home. In Japan, making bentos is a hobby. Many people, usually mothers, get very creative when making bentos. For example, one girl had a bow shaped sausage and another girl had a crown shaped boiled egg. Patrik and I even got our own bentos and wow, they were delicious. It had a variety of vegetables and meats in addition to the rice topped with an umeboshi (dried sweet plum).

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We headed to Tokyo this past weekend and before doing so, Patrik wanted to bleach and dye his hair gray. I helped him bleach his hair Wednesday night and dye his hair Thursday night. There was some leftover bleach so Patrik and I decided to put some in my hair, only a little though. It didn’t really do anything; I guess my hair is too dark. My left hand is a bit purple from the dye. Weird, huh? The hair dye also came out purple on Patrik’s hair instead of gray. Well, some parts are gray and other parts are purple!

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So, this past weekend, Patrik and I went to Tokyo! I told my mom that Patrik, Isabella, and the CO crew were all heading there to visit for the weekend. My mom then offered to buy round trip bus tickets, just as long as I don’t miss class! I took the bus with Patrik to and from Tokyo. We both couldn’t sleep on the 10 hour bus ride both ways. I just listened to music and practiced memorizing my speech for Japanese. There was a guy on the bus who talked to us during the stops. He was visiting his grandma in Akita and going back home to Tokyo. Of course, Patrik and I talked in our broken Japanese. At our last bus stop, the guy asked us for our ages and he was surprised that I was 20 and Patrik was 22; he thought we were older. I asked him for his age expecting to hear 23. Instead, he told us that he was 19! I was shocked. Right before we got back on the bus he took off two bracelets and gave one to Patrik and I. Now we have matching bracelets! I was so happy.


Patrik and I arrived in Tokyo at around 6am. Patrik had to go to the NHK TV Station at 12pm because he was invited to participate in a shooting. So, I decided to hang out with him till he left then I would go and meet up with Isabella and everyone else. We walked all the way to the Shinju Shrine (Sandy told us to not come back to Akita unless we go to this shrine). I was very shocked when walking to it because we were just surrounded by trees and green. I didn’t expect there to be so much nature in the middle of Tokyo. It was a pretty big shrine as well. There were tourist groups walking around and people taking pictures everywhere. Patrik and I threw our coins and prayed. Then we washed our hands with the water scoop. Afterwards, we walked to Harajuku and looked around. Patrik tried Mos Burger for the first time – Japanese chain fast food restaurant. Many Americans don’t try it because the name sounds unappealing but the Mos burger is actually very delicious. Anyways, Patrik ended up leaving and I walked all the way from Harajuku to Shinjuku instead of taking a train. It was about a 45-minute walk. My feet were in so much pain.

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Isabella and Annabelle were keen on going to the Owl Café so after I met up with them at H&M, we made our way to the café. It was ¥1800 for an hour…I thought it was quite expensive but these goofballs really wanted to go. When I walked in I was surprised to see 10 owls, all different kinds. The guy working there spoke broken English so I was able to hold a conversation with him with my broken Japanese as well. He put owls on all of our heads, hands, and shoulders. One of the owls looked so animated – you can see the owl on Isabella’s shoulder in the picture above. It’s eyes were just beads…Isabella kind of looks like it in that picture! The guy working there told me that he had never been to America but was going next summer for his wedding. Vegas!


On Sunday, we all slept in a bit after a night of going out so we woke up around lunchtime. Isabella found this recommended ramen restaurant called Ichiran so we made our way there. There was a line outside but we didn’t mind waiting. When we finally made it inside we were shocked to see that each chair was closed off. You basically got your own stall to eat your ramen; if you’re anti-social this place would be perfect for you! When ordering our ramen, we were asked what spiciness level we wanted. It went up to 20 but 10 was the recommended high. Isabella LOVES spicy food so of course, she put down 10. I saw Patrik put down 10 as well so I had no choice but to put down 10. Patrik likes spicy food but he doesn’t handle it well. Patrik and I were seated next to each other but Isabella and Annabelle were seated elsewhere due to lack of seating. I’m not kidding when I say Patrik and I were breaking a sweat. We stripped our jackets and hoodies off. Patrik drank 4 cups of water within 2 minutes. It was pretty great. He couldn’t finish so I finished the rest of his ramen for him. Afterwards, we waited outside for the girls. It was freezing outside but we were still so hot from the ramen that we just stood outside in our T-shirts.

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After Ichiran, we decided to go to Asakusa. I know I’ve gone there several times but Patrik, Isabella, and Annabelle had never visited before so I insisted on taking them. I didn’t think it would be difficult to figure out the train system but it was…it took us a good 30 minutes till we could figure out where we had to go. Please, never rely on me for directions.

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We were so relieved when we finally made it to Asakusa! Annabelle was so happy to see all of the shops. She wanted to buy all the souvenirs she could find. Isabella and Annabelle both bought some snacks while walking down the street. Patrik and I split a 6-pack of postcards. It was nice just walking around. Diane, the friend I visited the last time I went to Tokyo, met up with us at Asakusa. I was extremely happy to see her again, especially since the next time I see her will probably not be till later next year. We walked up to the temple and threw our coins and prayed. Afterwards, we stopped at a convenience store to buy some drinks. I was in desperate need for coffee and Isabella was in desperate need for a warm drink. Unfortunately, she has been sick for the past coupe of days – sore throat and runny nose. Hopefully she gets better soon, especially with finals coming up!

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After Asakusa, we headed to Shibuya to show everyone the Shibuya crossing. We weren’t hungry for dinner yet so we shopped around. Diane ended up buying some yoga pants from Bershka – she’s starting to work out more at a gym near her apartment. Isabella and Annabelle didn’t find anything. Patrik and I don’t care to shop as much so we just talked and walked for the most part. It started raining a bit so we decided to look for a restaurant. Again, we are an indecisive bunch so deciding on a restaurant took a while. Diane found a building with restaurants on three floors so it was easier for us to choose from that.

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The five of us had to squish into a four-seater booth. It was pretty tight but we all wanted to sit next to each other. I was very happy that everyone had the chance to meet Diane. It’s funny thinking that I have friends from study abroad that have met my high school friends AND my mom and brother. Sometimes I feel like study abroad is such a temporary thing and you meet people that you will never see again. But, for me, it’s more than that. I know that Patrik and I are going to be friends for a looong time. I mean, he’s coming to Okinawa with me this winter break. He’s going to see where I grew up and meet my friends from high school. It’s like my study abroad life and my actual life are coming together? I don’t know…it’s hard to explain but it’s a very nice feeling. I’ve made friends that I know I will see again and meet up with. Even Isabella and Annabelle. I’m sure I will see them again in the states. I do have an aunt living two blocks away from their school.

Well, there’s only two more weeks left of school. Time is ticking.


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.


Naomi at Akita Week 13: Mission Impossible

December 2, 2016

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Remember how it snowed for the first time a couple of weeks ago? The snow melted right away and since then it hadn’t snowed. Well, it started snowing again this past week and it was actually pretty bad. Some of the snow melted and froze during the night; the next day I could barely walk. I was basically ice skating everywhere in my slip-on Vans since I wanted to refrain from slipping and falling on my butt. I really need to buy some snow boots…

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Thursday evening, my mom and brother, Tyler, landed in Akita! They stayed in a hotel near campus – only a 5-minute walk away. My mom decided not to get a rental car in fear of sliding on the icy roads. Practically all of the ice had melted by the second day they were here but she insisted on using the buses and trains for transportation. We all got dinner in the school cafeteria since my mom wanted to try the food they served there. I was surprised to see that there was a Thanksgiving special considering we’re in Japan! The turkey was actually very delicious when drenched in gravy. Since we had nothing planned for the night, we took the bus to AEON so my mom could buy some food for breakfast. We met Patrik there – he went earlier to get a haircut before the shop closed. After the mall, my mom and Tyler headed back to the hotel. They were tired from traveling and Patrik and I had to work on Japanese homework due the next day.

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After my 10:30 Japanese class, I walked to the hotel. My mom’s friend and husband from Iwata (different prefecture) drove about three hours to visit us. My mom has been a friend of this woman since 3rd grade – they’re pen pals. The last time they saw each other was in 1993…that’s 23 years ago. She lives in the area that was affected by the tsunami in 2011. My mom wanted us to visit her there but since we didn’t have a car we would have had to travel by train and it would’ve taken 6 hours. For lunch, we ate at the restaurant in the hotel. I got the Lunch Set with the ハンバーガーステーキ (Hamburger Steak) and it was delicious. Afterwards, we decided to walk around my campus. We showed them our beautiful library and stopped at the only café on campus for some coffee. They left around 4pm so my mom and Tyler just sat at one of the tables outside of the café. Patrik and Isabella both ended up coming to hang out with us before Isabella left for dance rehearsals. They both kept asking my mom and Tyler for embarrassing/funny stories about me, giving Tyler the opportunity to make fun of me. All of us were laughing so hard, especially Tyler and me. The both of us even started tearing up – it was great.


After Isabella left, we got on the bus and headed to AEON for dinner. Tyler wanted to go to 焼肉 (grill in the middle of table so you cook your own meat) and Patrik found one that was a 15-minute walk away from the mall. However, while on the bus, Patrik admitted to not wanting to go because it was cold and snowing outside. So, we walked into the restaurant area of the mall not knowing where to eat. We looked at the menus of all the restaurants there and then stood in the middle of the walkway trying to figure out where to eat. It was very inconvenient that the four of us were all very indecisive. Thankfully, Patrik had made an earlier comment that he hadn’t eaten pizza in a while so my mom said we should go to the Italian restaurant. Once we sat down we realized that the pizza given to us wasn’t that big, it was more of a side of pizza – only 15cm wide. The four of us ended up getting spaghetti with a side of pizza. Patrik and I both got spaghetti with squid ink – it was a Black Friday special. Patrik got honey pizza and I got pizza with spicy pollock/cod roe. It was obviously a Japanese-style Italian restaurant! After dinner, my mom insisted on going to Baskin Robbins so she could get a free scoop of ice cream with a coupon she got from her phone company. Once she got it, she took two bites, said it was too sweet, and gave it to Tyler to finish. Oh brother.


On Saturday, Patrik and Isabella joined us to head into the city. My mom was on me about making Christmas cards to send to family and friends. I told her we could use pictures that we took together during the summer in Okinawa but she was persistent in taking some pictures here. While I gave my camera to Patrik and he proceeded to take some pictures of us.


Oh, here are some pictures of me throwing a snowball at Patrik. I missed. BUT, I missed intentionally because I didn’t want to hit my camera.


We got to Akita Station and saw some guys dressed as Namahage! My mom told us to run over and take pictures with them before another group of kids jumped ahead of us. I felt like an elementary school student being forced to take a picture with one of the scary movie characters at Disneyland. After we took that picture, we walked towards the city and passed a souvenir shop with a big stuffed bull. Isabella started freaking out and I could tell she wanted to go hug it so I told her I would take a picture of her with it. Tyler ended up jumping in too and the both of them look so happy! It makes me happy.


We walked to a fish and vegetable market. There was a guy chopping off fish heads. We saw puffer fish and lots of cheap ikura (salmon roe) – Tyler’s favorite. I actually really love going to fish markets. I don’t know why. I love seeing all the different kinds of fish and as weird as this is going to sound, I appreciate the smell. We walked outside and saw someone selling different kinds of mochi – a Japanese rice cake. The rice is pounded for several hours until it turns into paste and then shaped. In Akita, zunda mocha is popular so my mom bought a package of four. Tyler and I shared one. It tasted nothing like the mochi we are used to; it was super sweet and soft to chew. I guess the rice was pounded for a longer time.

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After the market, we walked to Senshu Park. Isabella and Patrik have never gone so I decided to take everyone there since there isn’t that much to do in the city here. Tyler’s a senior in high school so he needs senior casuals for the yearbook. I offered to take some pictures for him. He found a bunch of leaves sprawled on the ground under a naked tree. The leaves matched with his hoodie and shoes so we thought it would make for a nice set of photos. I told him to throw some leaves for a couple of the pictures and it turned out looking pretty cool. There’s a castle at the park that I wanted to show my mom but we had to climb up a pretty steep hill. Tyler had to help her out and we were all laughing, even my mom. She felt like a grandma hanging out with us kids, she said.


After the park, my mom treated all of us to some ラーメン (ramen). The place was very small and only had maybe 15 seats altogether. Each table only seated three people so we had to sit separately. You had to order at a machine, which allowed you to receive a ticket you give to the cooks. I was shocked when my mom told me the only sizes they had were regular, large, and extra large. We all got the regular size but the bowl was still so huge. I’ve never eaten so many noodles in one sitting. Isabella couldn’t even finish her bowl. Tyler was still hungry and ate some of hers before we headed out. His stomach is bottomless, apparently.


Saturday night, we went to Isabella and Annabelle’s dance performances. There were 24 dance teams performing at Dance Virus. It was the last dance event for the semester so it was very emotional for the seniors graduating soon. It was a lot of fun to watch though and I’m glad my mom and Tyler came this weekend to see everyone perform. Even dance teams from other schools came to perform. The last performance was very exciting though. A bunch of people danced to “You Can’t Stop The Beat,” the song from Hairspray. Not many people know this about me but I love watching musicals. My mom watched them while I was growing up so it has rubbed off on me. I was rocking out in my chair when the song played.

 

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My mom and Tyler had to leave for the airport at 10am today but Patrik wanted us to complete Mission Impossible before they left. We met up at 8am and Patrik gave us that first paper shown above and told us good luck. There were 7 missions and we had to walk around campus looking for the next clue. I was laughing throughout the entire game. It amazes me that Patrik made this for my mom and Tyler; he’s such a sweetheart. He even created mp3 files that we read with a QR scanner on Tyler’s phone. We had to guess the national anthem of different countries to find the next location. We used Shazam to find out some of the anthems – we couldn’t figure out the Italian national anthem. We told Patrik that and he told us they sing “Italia” in the song….I guess we have bad hearing. At the end, my mom and Tyler were rewarded with maple cookies and syrup from Canada. Patrik’s sister lives in Canada so he asked her to send that over for us. What a wonderful weekend. It makes me happy that Patrik gets along with my family so well considering he’s going to Okinawa with me this winter break.


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