Janus in Singapore: Which God?

March 20, 2017

The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd – Singapore’s oldest church, right across from the SMU Library

Something struck me when I was going through the various photos I’ve collected from my time here in Singapore – there are quite a number of religious buildings in the city. I’ve never thought of Singapore as a particularly holy place, unlike certain parts of China or the Philippines that I’ve been to with comparable numbers of religious buildings, nor did I think that an extremely industrialized and advanced city would have such a strong presence.
There are five religions that have a significant presence in Singapore. According to the 2015 census, 33% of Singaporeans practice Buddhism, 18.8% practice Christianity, 14% practice Islam, 11% practice Taoism, and 5% practice Hinduism. These numbers make sense to me; a majority of Singaporeans are Han Chinese, with Malay and Indian groups representing about 10% of the population, each. It makes sense that Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and Hinduism play such a big role in the lives of Singaporeans – these religions are the religions in the various ancestral homes of the people living in this city.

The Masjid Sultan

I didn’t expect such a large Christian presence, though. While I was in China, I didn’t encounter many Chinese Christians, nor do I know of a large enough presence of Christianity in Malay and Indian countries that could explain the 18.8% figure, a percentage that has apparently increased in recent years. According to census figures, 12.7% of the population was Christian in 1990 and 146% in 2000. While one I can understand that there should be a a small presence – Singapore, after all, was a British colony – I’m not quite sure why Christianity has a growing presence. You would expect that the Singaporeans’ ties to religions more closely related to their ancestral homes would increase in popularity, rather than a religion that was introduced by foreigners that no longer have a strong hold on the country.

One of the larger Buddhist temples/museums in Chinatown

Another interesting aspect of religion in Singapore is that the number of highly educated Singaporeans practicing a religion, particularly for Taoism, Hindiusm, and Islam, is increasingly noticeably. This goes counter against a fairly commonly observed phenomenon where religion becomes less and less important the higher the level of education. I’ve seen this myself at SMU – the various religious clubs are very active in the community, and it isn’t uncommon for me to run into classmates at Sunday masses during the weekends, or even the odd weekday mass that I attend. Practicing my Catholic faith has definitely been much more easy to do in Singapore, simply due to the number of parishes that make it almost impossible to not attend Sunday mass. There’s a church a 10-minute walk away from my flat, and on weekdays or Sundays spent at the library, Singapore’s oldest cathedral is simply across the street.
There’s much more to learn about religious life in Singapore, particularly for the non-Christian religions. While I feel like I’ve touched the surface of what can be learned – living in Little India lets me experience many of the Hindu religious holidays, my many visits to Chinatown have allowed me to enjoy the various Buddhist temples, and the largest mosque happens to be on my favorite food street in Singapore – I do plan to eventually attend a service for each of the major religions in Singapore. It’s an opportunity that I wouldn’t necessarily have elsewhere, and my fellow exchange students who have done the same say that it’s a truly interesting experience to have.

Decorations outside a Hindu building in Little India, a minute or two’s walk from home.

St. Joseph’s Church – another relatively large Church in Singapore. Unfortunately, the building isn’t very well kept, and almost seems like a relic of a past decade.


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!


Olivia in Scotland: Hello, Goodbye

December 29, 2016

Hello everyone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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: Returning to Como

November 7, 2016
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Lake Como, Italy. 2016.

Italy may be my favorite country in the world. The summer after I graduated from high school, my best friend & I backpacked through this beautiful country for a month, and it changed my life in a lot of ways.

It was in Italy that I was away from home, on my own, for a month, for the first time. It was in Italy that I was first able to drink legally. It was in Italy that I had to figure out who I was when no one else was around to tell me what to be. It was in Italy that I made some really big mistakes that eventually taught me how to live for God instead of living to bolster my own ego and prove myself to others.

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Backpacking through Menaggio in the summer of 2014 with my best friend Claire & her sister Emily.

Italy taught me about the beauty of cultural difference, how to navigate conflict and disagreement, and how I prefer to travel. Italy taught me about how I am different than others and how that is okay. Italy prepared me to enter into college equipped with more knowledge of who I am and who I want to be.

The most beautiful place I visited in Italy was a town called Mennagio in Lago di Como. It is a small village nestled in the Alps on the shore of a big, beautiful, clear lake. The scenery is breathtaking. Every second feels like a movie because it is just that awe-inspiring. Last weekend, I had the privilege of returning to Mennaggio and staying in the same hostel I stayed at 2 and a half years earlier with my best friend from high school.

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Back at Ostello Menaggio 2.5 years later.

This village was where I made the biggest mistakes of my trip to Italy, and it was cool to return to such a crucial place in my story under such different pretenses. While I used to look back at the person who did those things in disgust, I can now see how the Lord was moving in my story and drawing my heart closer to Him in even my darkest moments. I do not feel the need to disassociate myself from the person who did those things, because they are beautiful proof of the story of redemption and healing that the Lord has been telling throughout my life. I was Tori then, and I am Tori now, and I will never be “good” on my own, but will always have a God who takes me as I am and loves me through the process of becoming.

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Little ‘ol me looking out at God’s breathtaking creation (2016)

It was fun to return to such an important and beautiful place and do things differently. I went with Kristina, my roommate at U of R, as well as Amalie, my roommate in Madrid, and three of our other good friends. We picnicked on the shore of the lake, went out to a nice Italian dinner, and hiked up to a church with a beautiful view of the city. Additionally, there was FALLLLLL in Como. The leaves were vibrant and the weather was crisp. I had been deeply missing North Carolina autumn, so this was a welcome change from the one day summer next day winter seasonal transition in Madrid.

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Picnic number 123912 of abroad!

One night we had drinks with some Australians that were staying at our hostel, and the wine made me “extra passionate” (Kristina’s words, not mine) about effective altruism, privilege, and human rights. Me and my new Australian friend fed off of each others comments and got fired up about social justice over wine. This is a hilarious contrast from the high school girl who didn’t know what a mature relationship with alcohol looked like when she arrived in Como 2.5 years earlier. Jesus is faithful.

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Lago di Como, Italy. 2014.


Olivia in Scotland: Autumn Leaves

November 3, 2016

You can feel it in the air. People are beginning to hunker down for winter. It’s already been chilly, but now I’m seeing the addition of hats and gloves to the ensembles of people I pass on the streets (scarves, of course, have been in since I got here). The days are getting shorter, the coats are getting thicker, and the urge to stay inside with a mug of hot tea and a warm blanket grows greater every day.

I had been warned a bit before coming here that it would get really dark and cold and windy as the semester went on and that this would take a toll on my psyche. It’s true; I’ve seen since coming here that I tend to get sadder as the sun goes down and the days get darker. It’s one of those strange sensations that I feel I should be able to control, but it’s almost impossible to do so. I can see why this has been the land of storytelling and ceilidhs for hundreds of years—when the night and the cold seemed as though they were going to blot out everything else, the people here gathered around their fires with the people they loved and found some way to push back the darkness.

I’ve found some of my own ways to do this. The best way is, just as Scots have done for generations, being around friends and family. This may sound odd because I don’t have any blood relatives over here, but I don’t think that means that I don’t have a family here. I mentioned in my first blog post from Scotland that faith makes a family. The truth of this has only increased in my mind over my time in Scotland. My church here has a lot to do with that. It’s called Bridge Family Church for a reason: it’s small, it’s very close, and the people in it treat you like you’re family. These people have been such a blessing to me. As I’ve gone through the extremes of good and bad times here, they have been there for me to listen, laugh, cry with me, pray with me, and show me the love of Christ. I cannot thank them enough or emphasize enough how helpful it has been to have their presence and support.

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Here’s a lot of my church family from our day trip to Cairnie Fruit Farm!

These same friends and family have helped me get out, do things, and see the beauty in the world around me, even when I felt more like isolating myself. This could be as simple as having a movie and sleepover night or going out for tea. I keep seeing over and over again that the simplest gestures let me know that other people care about me, and I should do the same for them.

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The ingredients for a perfect movie night with my friend Gianna #americaneedsjammiedodgers

These are the people who traveled with me to Linlithgow earlier this week to see Linlithgow Palace and Blackness Castle. I had so much fun exploring these beautiful places with such fun people. For me, the most stunning part of these places was the natural beauty of their surroundings. I don’t think anything will ever surpass Richmond fall, and I think all Spiders reading this will agree with me, but I did find some stunning fall foliage that day.

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When you find perfect fall leaves, you take a picture. It’s Instagram law. Then the dogs ran in and made it perfect!

As I see the leaves changing and feel the world around me following suit, I’m learning about letting myself feel what I feel. You may have seen some this struggle in my post about loneliness. I want so badly to be able to control all of the things that I’m feeling, but I see more and more that I can’t really do this and that that isn’t the answer. If I don’t first accept what I’m feeling, I can’t move on from that emotion, and then I end up isolating myself. This may sound rather Inside Out to the Disney lovers out there, but I’m learning firsthand that I have to let myself feel sad and angry before I can feel happy again. In the midst of all my emotions, though, I have felt how fully I can rely on God. He has not left me here for one second, no matter what I’m feeling. I’m so thankful for someone on whom I can completely rely in every situation and who cares how I feel. I’m so thankful for the love He has shown me through the people He has placed in my life.

This holds true for me through all the winds of change “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).

There’ll be one more post this week with my latest travel updates. 🙂 Till next time!


Tony in Switzerland: Swiss you were here

April 19, 2016

Hello readers. It’s been a busy week for me here in Lausanne: classes, dissections, and a day trip thrown in the mix. Fortunately, the weather worked out in my favor. It rained while I was in classes, and as I walked out everyday, the sun started shining.

 

 Between a presentation, an essay, and biological literature, I've taken to doodling to de-stress a little bit.

Between a presentation, an essay, and biological literature, I’ve taken to doodling to de-stress a little bit.

 

Spring is here, which made for perfect timing to make a quick visit to Geneva after a stressful week of assignments. Out of all the Swiss cities I’ve visited thus far, Geneva appeared to be the most energetic.

I toured the city with a group organized by the Erasmus exchange student network. We stumbled upon a carnival as we walked to the old city section of Geneva.

I toured the city with a group organized by the Erasmus exchange student network. We stumbled upon a carnival as we walked to the old city section of Geneva.

 

As we approached the older quarter, the classic European aesthetic started taking shape. The post office was decorated with beautiful sculptures.

As we approached the older quarter, the classic European aesthetic started taking shape. The post office was decorated with beautiful sculptures.

 

We eventually arrived in the old quarter where we learned about Geneva's Protestant history. This chapel is found beside the former home and workshop of John Calvin, a contemporary of Martin Luther who sought to deviate from Catholicism.

We eventually arrived in the old quarter where we learned about Geneva’s Protestant history. This chapel is found beside the former home and workshop of John Calvin, a contemporary of Martin Luther who sought to deviate from Catholicism.

 

Our tour guide emphasized how the Protestants opposed the corrupt nature of the Catholic church, notably its market of selling indulgences to absolve sins. To that end, the Protestants refused to decorate the interior of their chapels in the same way as a Catholic cathedral: no gold, no paintings, no stained glass.

Our tour guide emphasized how the Protestants opposed the corrupt nature of the Catholic church, notably its market of selling indulgences to absolve sins. To that end, the Protestants refused to decorate the interior of their chapels in the same way as a Catholic cathedral: no gold, no paintings, no stained glass.

 

We ended the tour of Geneva in the central square in front of this monument built in honor of the Protestants, including John Calvin (second from the left).

We ended the tour of Geneva in the central square in front of this monument built in honor of the Protestants, including John Calvin (second from the left).

 

I appreciated taking this tour of Geneva and being reminded of events in world history that I learned about in high school. I can’t wait to discover more of Switzerland’s cities as I transition to the second half of the semester.


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