Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Edinburgh is gorgeous.  There are so many gorgeous buildings, all of them seeming to be hundreds of years old.  With many having hosted famous historical people.  As I have come to expect from big cities in the UK, Edinburgh has a castle!  It is huge.  It is at the top of the tallest hill and dominates the skyline.  It looks like someone chopped the top of the mountain off and placed the castle on top.  All around the outside walls are steep cliffs, making it a very defensible castle. 
Although the castle may have been the most striking building on the skyline, it was not the only unique one.  There is a GIGANTIC monument to Sir Walter Scott (a fabulous Scottish Author perhaps best known for Ivanhoe and the Waverly novels), and hundreds of churches all bearing impressive steeples.
However beautiful Edinburgh was, nothing could have prepared me for driving through Scotland by coach.  It was stunning, awe inspiring, and truly amazing.
I had never really considered what the landscape of Scotland looked like before this weekend.  I knew it was pretty, and that in the spring the hills are covered with heather and lambs.  But that was the extent of my knowledge.
In the fall, the hills are covered with brown heather, but it is until gorgeous.  The texture of the land is incredible.  Every section of land is unique.  The trees have their fall colors on and the cloudy skies would part occasionally letting streams of sunlight highlight the rich reds, yellows, and oranges of the fall leaves.  The evergreen trees were enormous, row after row of them can be seen as you drive up to the highlands, and they are truly Christmas Trees for giants!
Once we got to the highlands, the texture changed.  Although Scotland could not be called flat by any means, the highlands are incredibly high (I know that seems obvious, but the change from the lowlands to the highlands was VERY obvious), going down the roads on the coach was like riding a roller coaster, complete with moments of the “floating stomach feeling” that makes roller coasters so much fun.
The color of the highlands was also different, because there is such much water, everything was green and vibrant.  Everything was beautiful, but the best part of the day was Loch Ness.
My only understanding of Loch Ness was Nessie.  I had no idea it was so big, deep (more than 900 feet!!!!!!), and beautiful.  We were there on a rare sunny day, with only a few bouts of sprinkling rain.  It was perfect.  The breeze coming off the loch was chilly, but the sun on my face kept me warm.
We even saw rainbows while we were there!  One was a double rainbow.  And while we were cruising Loch Ness, we saw a complete rainbow.  You could follow it from the water on one side, up all the way across the sky and to the lake again on the other side of the boat.  It was so vibrant, at one point I could even see the rippling reflection in the water. 
It was a fantastic trip, and as such, I would love to give a huge shout out to the International Friends touring company.  If anyone is traveling in the UK or Europe, I would highly recommend going on a tour with International Friends.  Our guide was amazing, everything was well organized, and the accommodations were perfect.
I have loved my time in the UK.  Every time I go somewhere I ask myself if I have found my new favorite place, but I think I have decided I don’t like one place more than another.  I love that they are all unique and as such have my favorite things in each of them.  Paris is gorgeous but in a refined way, Scotland (at least the Highlands) are untamed and breath taking, Wales is beautiful and filled with the nicest people you could ever hope to meet, and London is a bustling city where everyone and anyone can belong.
              This trip has been so interesting because I am learning almost as much about myself as I am the world.  When you are in an all-new place, you have the opportunity to change who you are, as no one know what you were like before.  But I am realizing that I like being me.  The book nerd, coffee addict, talks to everyone parts of my personality are who I am.  I don’t have to apologize for my opinions or beliefs, I still have to be respectful, but a disagreement is not the end of the world, it is the start of a wonderful conversation.
              On my trip to Edinburgh, I met so many wonderful people and have made lifelong friends.  Even though I occasionally (read ALL the time) had trouble understanding the thick Scottish Accents, I know I was blessed by this trip and, just maybe, my overly friendly Oklahoma smile blessed someone else too.
              I miss you all dearly and can’t wait to see you again, but for now I am going to enjoy this adventure with every fiber of my being, because it truly is a once in a lifetime experience.  J    

Looking down on Edinburgh 

Edinburgh Castle!

The best Gelato in the WORLD!!!

One of many Bag-Pipers!

Edinburgh by night.

Waterfalls cascading off the mountains in the low lands.

Hamish cows (as the Scottish say "coos" or as I say, "fuzzy cows")

Slowly climbing to the Highlands.

I love the varying colors!!!!

Loch Ness!


It was so vibrant it was reflecting in the water!

Double Rainbow!

Back in Edinburgh

Sir Walter Scott Monument

Edinburgh National Gallery, I only had 45 mins there, but it was beautiful!

The oldest Pub in Edinburgh. est. 1516.  Also where I had a yummy lunch.  :)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

     My inner English Literature Nerd is happy!  Yesterday I had the great pleasure of going to Thomas Hardy’s birthplace and home in Dorchester.  For those of you who don’t know Thomas Hardy, he is a Victorian Realist Novelist.  He has written many famous works, of those, my favorite is Return of the Native
     It was a very long day.  I spent around 8.5 hours on the train, and only around 3 in Dorchester.  In between train delays, ticket mix-ups, and various other incidents, the trip was considerably longer than I anticipated.  Despite the length, it was worth it.
     The Hardy Cottage Center was much smaller than expected, but I loved the chance to visit it.  I first read a Thomas Hardy novel the summer before my Senior Year of High School.  I remember thinking how wonderful it would be to visit Egden Heath where the novel took place.  The thought was a passing one, I never thought I would actually make it there, but I did.
     This adventure has been so wonderful.  Despite the constant allergies and homesickness, I am so thrilled to be here.  I am learning so much about the world and my place in it.  It is so refreshing to know that even once we are gone, the world remembers us by the people we influence.
     We don’t know about Thomas Hardy’s bad days, the times he burnt toast, broke a plate, or felt lonely, although I am sure all those things happen.  Instead, we know about his life’s work, his dedication to art, and his love towards his family.  Those are things he is remembered for and the things we will be remembered for.
     So, even when one ear is stopped up, you sound like a smoker from so much coughing, and your nose refuses to stop running, don’t give up.  The world won’t remember the answers you got wrong, or the scary hair days you had.  The world, the people around you, will remember the positive impact you had on the world.
When you have a bad day, brush it off.  Bad days do not matter in the end; all that matters is the love and kindness we share with the world.  :)

In front of Hardy's Cottage.

Rocking my Ranger Pride in Dorchester.

The Thomas Hardy Center

The most beautiful rose I have ever seen.

Hardy's Cottage

Max Gate

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Have you ever had one of those days when you just can’t sleep?  I have tried all the tricks in the book, but my brain simply refuses to shut down, so, instead, I am writing to all of you.

This week hasn’t been too busy, but I have still managed to have fun.  On Monday, I saw the Welsh Ballet perform Cinderella.  It was enchanting.  I don’t think I have ever used that word, “enchanting” before, but it is the only one that fits.  The dances were beautiful, the costuming simple, and the story captivating.  It amazes me how stories can be expressed simply through movement.

I have always been told that very little of our understanding of other people comes from the words they say, and that our impressions and communication relies more on the reading of body language than the hearing of sound waves.  I never quite believed that.  Until the ballet.

I am of course familiar with the story of Cinderella, both the Disney version and the original by the Grimm Brothers.  But, I believe that even if this were my first experience with the story, I would have understood what was happening.  It was magical and beautiful and mesmerizing all at the same time.

Unfortunately, however fantastic Monday was, Tuesday was not as much fun.  If you know me, you know that I am, for whatever reason, blessed with allergies to all of nature.  Really, if it is green, produces any sort of pollen or dander, or has fur, I am most likely allergic to it.  As a lifelong allergy sufferer, I thought I was used to them.  Welsh allergens are apparently stronger than Oklahoman allergens, however, or at least more foreign to me.

After a great deal of medicine and quite a bit of tea, the allergies are back under control.  Just in time for my next adventures.  Tomorrow I am going to the Dylan Thomas Museum in Swansea.  For those of you who don’t know, Dylan Thomas is a fantastic poet and a native Welshman.  One of his most recognizable poems contains the lines “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

Dylan Thomas was not only fantastic at description, but also was a master with structured poems.  The quote from above is a line from a villanelle, a terribly tricky kind of poem as the structure is so specific.  As a (learning) poet myself, I have experimented with different forms of poetry, but this one is especially difficult, and I have not yet made a (decent) villanelle, making Dylan Thomas, to me, all the more impressive.

Next week, on Saturday, I will be going to Dorchester to visit Thomas Hardy’s museum!!!  I cannot begin to express how excited I am for this!  I first read Thomas Hardy’s work in the 12th grade, and fell absolutely in love.  My favorite book by him is Return of the Native, in which a native returns to his home (as may be apparent by the title).  At the time, I read the descriptions of the land to which the character returned and thought (wishfully) that it would be fascinating to see just where he was.  Never in a million years did I think I would visit that place in person!

Time and time again, I am reminded of just how wonderful of an opportunity this is, so I must, once again, offer sincere gratitude to all who have allowed me to take on this adventure.  Firstly, I am so incredibly grateful to Governor Henry for giving so generously to allow this opportunity.  I am grateful to NWOSU for choosing me to represent them.  I am thankful for my parents allowing me to go (and helping fund me) on this incredible journey.  And finally, I am thankful for every friend, relative, and professor who has so encouraged me whilst I have been here.  However much I may be enjoying myself, there are, or course, brief moments of homesickness, but thanks to the support I have at home, those moments are brief, and surprisingly sweet, because I know that I can enjoy my time here freely because I have a warm welcome awaiting me at home.

I miss you all dearly!  I will post pictures of my upcoming literary adventures!
I promise I was excited for Cinderella, even if my eyes are REALLY squinty.  ;)

Getting ready for Cinderella.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Classes have officially started!  I am doing two classes.  Although I was hoping to do more, I will get the necessary credits and will have time to be very involved on campus.  The first class I am taking, and perhaps the one I have been looking forward to the most is “Approaches to Gender in English Literature.”  Of course, I am excited simply because we will be studying English Literature; however, I am also interested to study the interplay between Genders.  I am far from being an expert; however, even my 21-year-old limited experience in life brain has been able to notice the disparity of the treatment of genders in literature.
              Having noticed this, and/or had it pointed out to me by many a teacher, I am excited to take this class and find out more about what society thinks (both in the present and in the past), and even more than that, I am excited to discover assumptions I have made, or have been taught, simply because they are a societal norm.
              The second class I am taking is one I am also excited for, although I never thought I would be taking it here.  Broadly speaking, the class will cover various genres of fiction writing and the technical aspects that separate those genres.  We already had our first assignment, and I am waiting to hear back on my (very) short story.
              As both of these classes are designed to be for first or second year students, (Swansea advises exchange students NOT to take the final year’s classes) I am discovering that there is a certain amount of repetition in these classes compared to what I have already taken.  This is very similar to what I experienced my freshman year. 
              I was blessed to attend an academically challenging High School, so there were many classes my freshman year that were simply a repeat, or perhaps a slight expansion, of what I had done in High School.  I think that speaks well for OBA, but not at all badly for NWOSU.  In nearly the same way here, many of these classes are a repetition of what I have already learned, at least in the simplest condensed form.  Of course, I have taken most of the lower level English credits, but I think it is more than that.  Here, the classes are very structured and in that limited.
              Structure is wonderful, as an A-type person, you will likely never hear me complain about the presence of structure.  However, because so many of Northwestern’s classes are discussion rather than lecture based, I think we cover a wider area of ground, allowing for both specifically topic related and general learning.  With this in mind, I am not saying that Swansea is in the wrong, not at all in fact.  I think it is an excellent institution.  I do however, know that Northwestern is preparing me as a student, and am so happy to have been placed in that learning environment.  I know people often say that distance gives you perspective, and from someone who is an ocean away, I can certainly attest to the fact that Northwestern is a quality institution which inspires learning and creativity.
              I must apologize for running on, but I am afraid two things have hit me at once:  “Fresher’s Flu” and homesickness.  For those of you, who like me are generally unfamiliar with the idea of “Fresher’s Flu,” the phrase alludes to two things, first the concept of a “Fresher,” essentially an individual who is new to campus, so a Freshman or an Exchange Student.  The second idea “flu” is self-explanatory.  So in its entirety, “Fresher’s Flu” refers to the consequence of throwing a LOT of people (each bearing their own germs) together into various social and academic events:  widespread sickness.  Seriously though, the class rooms are littered with coughing, the buses must be a breeding ground for death, and even my constant handwashing/sanitizing, refusal to share drinks, and tendency to avoid (most) social events has not prevented my partaking of this wide spread virus. 
              The other issue this week has been homesickness.  It is a strange concept, and one I have experienced before.  Camp was always difficult for me, as a child, being away from home for more than a night or two always seemed to induce an all-encompassing ache to be with family.  The homesickness I have been experiencing here, however, is different.  Perhaps it is a consequence of more maturity (hopefully) than was displayed at 6th grade camp, or perhaps it is the knowledge that this time the absence spans months rather than weeks.  Regardless of why, the homesickness has been more of a pressure than an ache. 
              I would describe it much like having a bruise on your leg.  The bruise doesn’t necessarily hurt, but there is a slight pressure on it.  The pressure is of course easily ignored, but in the silent moments throughout the day the pressure becomes more noticeable, only to slip below the consciousness again when the mind is distracted.  And, the bruise will hurt occasionally, but only when pressed upon.  This is the homesickness I have experienced.
              Even among the stress with arranging classes, the sniffles, and the pressure, I am glad to be here.  I have met so many people from so many other walks of life.  I am being forced to examine my beliefs about my own culture, because here American culture (specifically certain aspects of it) are out of the norm rather than expected.  Every day, I am challenged to step outside my shell, to ask questions, and to enjoy this experience. 
              Of course, I miss my family, and I miss my NWOSU family.  I so look forward to being on a campus where I recognize (most) of the faces I walk by.  I look forward to conversations in the lunch line at the Student Center, English classes where we somehow manage to get completely off topic yet learn so much, and family dinners that end with a hug and kiss goodbye.  But, however much I may miss those things, I am not ready for my time here to end.  In the silent moments the pressure to long for those things does sneak up, but even in the silent moments, I know that the plan for my life, at least for now, is to enjoy these precious moments at Swansea and remember with joy (rather than longing) my families waiting for me at home.
God Bless!