Friday, November 27, 2015

     My time here in Swansea is officially winding down.
Monday I will go with friends to see the Russian Ballet perform Nutcracker.  Next Saturday I will go to the Bath Christmas Markets, and then I will have a little over one week left in Swansea before I head home.
     I am excited to see my friends and family at home, but the more I think about it, the more I realize how much I will miss Wales.
     Wednesday my flat had an International Food/Thanksgiving Night.  There were around 20 of us there, and it was wonderful.  Everyone brought food from his or her home country, or just something yummy, and we had a huge spread!
     I made Pumpkin Pie and Stuffing.  We had a Caribbean dish called Bakes (fried dough with a delicious cheesy stuffing), a Finnish Apple Tart dessert, a variety of Spicy Chinese Dishes and Curry, and lots of other interesting new things. 
     When talking with another American, we decided that having international food at Thanksgiving was very proper as the first thanksgiving consisted of food that would have been foreign to the Pilgrims.
     After a delicious meal, we began to play games and even had a mini Salsa Dancing party.  And as we broke apart later with people heading to their various homes, I realized that this might have been my favorite Thanksgiving. 
     My normal Thanksgiving at home consists of my family going to a family friend’s house, and eating and watching football all day.  I love that time with our two families, but this was special because it was so many families coming together.
     Laughter and accents flew around the table, and food was plenty.  No one was worried about what they were wearing, whether or not the dish they had brought was perfect, or strategizing for shopping the next day.  We were just a group of friends living and loving life together.  It is moments like that one that I will miss.
     The next day, yesterday, a big group of friends and I went to Mumbles, a little local area near Swansea, to a Christmas Parade.  It was not overly fancy, and the turning on of the lights was, quite honestly, a little disappointing, but trying to walk to a bus stop along the coast was a lot of fun.
     Again, nothing special happened, except fun.  The weather was just cool enough to keep you from getting overly warm as you walked, the clouds were low over the city lights across the bay, so the lights twinkled on the buildings and then again in the clouds.  There wasn’t much of a breeze, so the ocean looked like black glass with occasional bumps and ridges.
     It was a beautiful evening filled with laughter and fun.  Again, I will miss these moments.
     I don’t mean to say that I cannot have that type of fun in the States, but the people will be different.  My friends here are returning to their home countries shortly after I do.  I am sure we will all continue to stay in touch, but our laughter will echo through a computer instead of down a crowded street to the beach.
     I have learned so much since coming to Wales, quite a bit of it academic in nature, although I know this blog hasn’t focused on the academic side as much.  I know I will return home in a few short weeks a changed person.  More confident, more courageous, more willing to “go with the flow”, and perhaps more willing to embrace each moment in life as they can be so precious.   

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

     The Emerald Isle is rightly named.  Driving through the countryside of Ireland, the green seems almost fake.  Do you remember the long neon green grass that is used in Easter Baskets?  I always wondered what person thought grass actually looked like that.  Now I think that person has been to Ireland.
     Because it is finally getting VERY cold, some of the flowers are starting to die, just enough that they are faded around the edges, but still vibrant in the middle.  With all the colors, Ireland seemed like a painting.  It doesn’t seem like one place could lay claim to so many colors.  Even the houses were bright! 
     They ranged from yellow, to blue, to green, to pink, and every color in-between.  Yet they didn’t stick out.  The bright colors blended perfectly with the landscape.  Ireland is a different kind of bright.  It is not the happy bright of the Caribbean or the sophisticated bright of an Art Gallery.  Ireland is a natural bright.  All of the colors are a reflection of the world around them.
     Although the pink houses may at first seem odd, the hills and rocks change colors under the constantly moving rays of sun that peak through the clouds over head.  And in those rays you can watch the world change colors, and in the rocky out-croppings and the broken down old castles you can see flashes of a natural pink, so suddenly the pink houses don’t seem as strange.
     The same is true for all of the colors.  And as you explore you find the odd ‘normal’ colored house, be it red brick or white paneling, and suddenly that is the building that doesn’t fit with the rest of the view.
     Even more impressive than the greens and the multi colored houses are the sheer drops to the sea.  If you were to look as far into the distance as you could anywhere else, you would see the earth give off a gentle cover, and you would see the land as if it was rising to meet that curve.  Not so in Ireland.  When you look as far as you can go, you see the world curving and you the land coming to an end.  And you know at that end there are mighty waves and gigantic cliffs.
     I got to visit some of those cliffs, the Moher Cliffs, and was completely stunned.  It was freezing and windy, but it was beautiful.  You could see the stratifications in the rocks, but they weren’t the sandy browns and reds of the US, these were black and grey and green, and when the waves came up to slap the face of the cliff they blended with the water as if they were one.
     Because the water was not blue, or green, or clear.  It was the oddest combination of all of those.  It was as if all the green from the Irish land was combined with all of the blue of the visible sky and transformed into a near translucent heaving body that lapped at the cliffs and at the horizon.
I felt as if I should be able to see down to the bottom of the ocean, but also as if the water was roughly blown glass, thick enough to walk on.
     The sound of the waves hitting the cliffs is indescribable.  Less sharp than a gun shot, but bass drums are deeper.  Not the slap of a hand to a face, or a pat from hand to leg.  Loud but gentle.  Firm but not disagreeable.  And when the waves hit the cliffs, the water droplets would fly up, if they managed to beat the wind, and form an incandescent shower when they passed through a beam of sunlight. 
     Standing on the edge of the cliffs was perhaps the most beautiful thing I have ever witnessed, with the raw power of the ocean below, the breathtaking height of the cliffs, and the sprinkles of seawater that seemed to float through the air.

     So in short, Ireland was beautiful.  The group I was with was wonderful.  Our guide was fantastic.  I have enjoyed every part of my trip ‘across the pond’ but the Irish leg of my adventure will almost certainly stand out as one of the best parts.
The view approaching Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle

The beautiful Irish Countryside

The Cliffs of Moher

A little rebuilt Medieval Village outside of Bunratty Castle 

Bunratty Castle 

The front of Bunratty Castle

Thursday, November 19, 2015

     I had an epiphany today. 
     I visited the Cliffs of Moher, on the Irish coast.  It was incredibly windy and cold, my cheeks were stinging in the freezing air.  Below, near the surface of the water, birds flew back and forth, but the wind was so loud I could not hear the cries I am sure they were making.
     The whitecap waves, a hundred feet below the walkway, broke with such force against the cliff walls that to stand in certain places meant a seawater spray would soon hit you.
     As I stood there, cold only where the wind ripped the fabric away to reveal exposed skin, I realized that I am at peace.
     However much I may hurt over recent events, I am at peace.
     When I first learned what was happening in Paris on the 13th, I broke down and wept.  That man could commit such heinous crimes hurts my very soul.
     Since hearing about those attacks, I have been focused, unknowingly, on the negatives of this world.  After an event such as that, it is so easy to look at your fellow travelers and wonder, what if they are like that too?  And in doing that, I worried needlessly.  Not because my fears are invalid, but because there are certain things that I cannot control.
     This is one of those things.
     However much I would like to, I cannot bring back all the people who died, throughout on the world, in the past several weeks.  Nor can I help them or their families by focusing on how I feel.  Because when I do that, my motives all become selfish, and I do nothing to help heal this broken world.
     So my epiphany is this:  I am not in control, and that is okay.
     Just as I can have no control over the waves breaking on the cliff walls, I can have no control of other people’s choices.  I can make suggestions, but have to leave the ultimate decision up to them.
     That is a terrifying thought for this stereotypical oldest child, A-type personality, but it is something I must embrace.
     I am not sure why the waves at the Cliffs of Moher brought this all to mind.  Regardless of the reason, it was a moment of clarity I needed. 
     I have so enjoyed my trip to Ireland, and will be posting pictures soon, but first I wanted to address this topic that has been weighing on my heart since last Friday.
     I miss you all dearly and would, if I may, leave you with a few words of advice.  Wherever you are, and whatever you are experiencing, be it joy or tornadoes, new babies or earthquakes, enjoy today.  Surrender control, and love others deeply.

     I can’t wait to see you all in December!!!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

     I have struggled with writing this post because as of Monday, I am in the second half of the semester.  It seems silly as a date as a societal construct for marking time, but I feel it.  I can feel my time here drawing to a close.  And I don’t want it to end; Swansea has become home.
     I don’t remember the first time I called Alva home.  I am sure it was sometime in my freshman year, probably in a text to my roommate.  But I don’t have a distinct memory of a time I identified Alva, a place where my family did not live with me, as home.  The same can be said here in Swansea.  Suddenly, Swansea is home.  Of course, I miss my family and friends, but Swansea is no longer a place I am visiting on vacation.  It is somewhere I live.
     Maybe Swansea is home because I have friends who love and care for me.  Maybe Swansea is home because I finally have several assignments due and I am using every standard excuse to procrastinate.  Maybe Swansea is home because my flat mates have become true friends.  Or maybe, Swansea is home for all of those reasons and so many more.
     It seems silly, but I think the things I will miss most about my time here are not the opportunities to travel or the new adventures, but the everyday things.  I will miss laughing with my flat mates when a cat jumps through our kitchen window at lunchtime.  I will miss my professors here who know so much and are so kind.  I will miss hearing all of the accents.  I will miss my home.
     I know I have more than a month left here, but the time is growing short.  I am officially in the second half of my term here.  I don’t know that I am ready for that.  I miss my family, but I am starting to realize that I have more than one family.  I have the family I was given at birth, complete with a mom, dad, brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  I have my Northwestern family made up of friends, acquaintances, and professors alike.  And now, I have a Swansea family.
     Just as I miss my family while I am here, I will miss my Swansea family while I am away as well.  This experience has been so wonderful.  I don’t want it to end.  I know, believe me, I know, I have plenty of time left, but I also know that my time is finite.  That is so clear here because I know when I will be leaving.  The plane ticket is booked.  I know when my time here will end.
     But, that is not the only time that will be ending.  Soon, my time at Northwestern will end.  Then my time in a post-grad program and as a PhD Candidate will end.  One day, even my time on earth will end.  I know that seems rather deep and possibly silly as I was just talking about a cat jumping through the window, but it is true.  I am not guaranteed a certain amount of time here on this earth.  So I have to make every moment count.
     That means repeating myself (and remembering to slow down) when I accidently speak “American” instead of English.  Making every moment count means laughing and enjoying this time with my flat mates.  It even means doing my best on every assignment that comes my way, working hard and putting effort in on everything, because I am not guaranteed time to come back and try again. 
     But most importantly, living to make each moment count means celebrating the special moments in each of my families.  I always heard the adage “home is where the heart is” and thought it meant that my home would always be where my family lived.  But now I know that is not true.  My heart is now spread across the world; it is in Enid, Alva, and Swansea.  By the time I finish with school, I don’t know that I will be able to count all the places I count home.  And that’s okay.

I miss you all dearly, and can hardly wait to be back with you all again.