Friday, April 25, 2014

So long, farewell and goodbye to my bonnie Scotland

"You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place."
Today was the last day of my internship and tomorrow morning shall find me leavin' on a jet plane. This past week has been filled with indulgence- spending every free moment with friends, never declining dessert (because, well, when in Scotland!) and allowing myself to feel every feeling that comes. It has been a very strange mixture of sadness and euphoria, nostalgia and excitement. But one thing I haven't been feeling is regret, and that is because studying abroad this term was the best choice I could have made. There isn't a single thing that I would change nor anything that I wish played out differently. Before you study abroad, you constantly hear that the experience will change you and you won't come home the same- it's crazy how true this is!

On my first day in Edinburgh, Arianne and I dined at a fancy restaurant for lunch and since then have sworn we needed to return for dinner at some point. We decided to do that last night to finish this experience right where we started, and it was such a surreal thing to laugh and think about how this all began! [Getting the first class treatment there was also quite surreal but, that's a story for another time]
Part of the gorgeously decorated dome ceiling that gives the restaurant its name! 
That first experience was overwhelming and I spent most of the time struggling to understand accents, slang and how the restaurant experience worked over here. But the second experience was one of confidence- I knew what I was doing, I was confident in all areas and was able to fully enjoy myself and my time with Arianne. I can see quite clearly how much this experience in so many areas- professionally, personally and spiritually.

I've been reading up on the stages of reverse culture shock/readjustment so that I'll know what to expect when I'm home, but something tells me I'll have a hard time getting used to having less tea and not using terms like trousers, treek and knackered! They say that it's just as hard as it was adjusting to your culture abroad, which seems crazy because it's home, but I can already see it will be a challenge to not constantly compare it (in both good and bad ways) to the UK. We'll find out soon enough!

See you soon, America!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Fun around Edinburgh

Since I'm heading home in just a few days (ahhhhhhhhhhhhh) I used part of this weekend to soak up more time at my favorite spots in Edinburgh. I'm going to miss this place so dearly, and I cannot believe how fast time has flown by! It's almost time to say goodbye to this amazing adventure and head back to CMU to graduate - next round of adventures to begin!

It feels a bit like I just got here, but I'm so thankful I got to see so much of Scotland and really acclimate myself to the culture here. Because of the Easter holiday, Edinburgh has been much more popular and crowded than usual lately; any time someone asks me for directions or for recommendations on something, I feel like such an insider and no longer a tourist! I suppose this means I get to go out on top of my Scottish game, so it's alright ;)

atop Calton Hill

With the nicer weather, hundreds of people flock to the Princes Street Gardens every day - such a fun sight to see! And a great spot to have a picnic lunch or stroll through with friends (and milkshakes/ice cream), if I do say so myself :) The other day there was a crepe and ice cream van at the end of my street. Not only an AMAZING combination but so exciting that it's finally ice cream truck season!

Found this fun shop off of the Royal Mile the other night; brings to mind more Harry Potter references (Fred & George, anyone?) :)
Who says you can't have ice cream with your sugary sweet waffles at breakfast? The Scots certainly know how to indulge- and I love it.

Day trip to Stirling!

I had an extra long Easter weekend, so a friend and I took a day and went over to Stirling-- a small town about an hour away from Edinburgh. We hopped on the train and had the most fabulous day exploring the town, Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument. It was such a gorgeous day so we actually got quite sweaty with all the walking around - NOT a problem I thought I would ever face in Scotland! Ha!

Stirling Bridge - site of the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297

One of the workers at the castle told us that the yellowish (technically gold- I referred to it as peach and caused some offense. Whoops) building on the right is the original color of the castle; the dark, dingy colors are due to time and weather strains on the buildings. This does make a lot more sense to me, when you think of how majestic a big, gold castle sitting atop a hill would look!

I found my knight in shining armor at the castle! Ha!

...but not before we pretended to be royalty in the Grand Hall ;)

View of the city from the Wallace Monument

William Wallace Monument - his famous sword is kept inside

The castle is on the hill in the middle there; can't imagine how it would look without all of the buildings and modernization surrounding it! Wowza.

A lot of castles here have huge displays set up in the 'Great Kitchens' to show you what a process it was to cook for royalty and so many guests. At Stirling, the Great Hall once hosted an actual ship inside the building- just to serve seafood.  While I love learning facts like these, I did not love this creepy statue aggressively posed in the kitchen. Eek.

Definitely not used to having sun in my eyes (I mean, it's Britain. Not a common problem) but you can see the monument on the hill in the middle!

An estate home from the 1600s that we toured - accidentally photobombed by Katie :)

Not sure what I'll do once I'm back in the US and weekend trips to castles are no longer an option!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Mind your manners

I'm not exactly sure how I've failed to notice this in its entirety, but yesterday it really hit me that not everyone has the same measure of politeness and manners. You're probably reading this and thinking well DUH, especially if you've just left the grocery store where someone cut in line, or a restaurant where your dining partner was chewing with their mouth open or texting during your entire conversation.

I noticed these differences a bit when I was doing basic activities in Scotland, like grocery shopping or picking up a coffee. British people have a reputation for being unfailingly polite, and I've found that stereotype to be true; people would apologize to me if I bumped into them, or for lingering longer than 35 seconds at the vegetable section. At work, I would find my colleagues saying sorry for sneezing or for accidentally dropping a pen. It was one of those things that I found a bit strange at first, but got used to because it seemed like everyone behaved in the same manner. But alas, this is not entirely true.

I took an anthropology class during my freshman year where we discussed cultural norms within societies; how you act and think based on how your society does. How you interpret manners, then, is exclusively based on how your surrounding culture does. So while the British cultural standard is to be very polite, other cultures don't necessarily maintain that same rigid standard. My friends from other parts of the world think, behave and feel differently about a lot of things...obviously! For them, what is and isn't polite is a whole different story. For instance, a friend from Italy thinks its incredibly rude if your goodbye is abrupt; it generally is a more drawn out process for her.A friend from Germany feels that if you order water at a restaurant (an exclusively American practice, I've learned) you are insulting not only your dining partners but the restaurant too. Yikes!

During our study abroad orientation, we did an activity where we all were given pieces of paper with cultural norms written on them to stick to our foreheads. For example, mine said that making eye contact with your conversation partner was rude.We were instructed to go around the room and have a conversation with our peers; if they violated the cultural norm written on their forehead, we were to give them a toothpick and not say a word about it. It was such a struggle, because you had no clue what was written on your own forehead and how you were offending people! In real life, adjusting to a new place is a lot like this- you're sort of blindly going in based on what you know and trust, hoping other people share the same values and norms as you!

It has been a very compelling thing to realize just how much my new cultural surroundings have influenced what I deem to be polite and socially acceptable. Yesterday I found myself feeling uncomfortable by something and realized that had I been in the U.S., I wouldn't have even noticed what was going on. But now that I'm here, I very much noticed and wasn't a fan. Similarly, situations that I would previously have spoken up about are instead met with a quiet tongue, because it would be the rudest thing I could do, to suggest I don't like something or am  unhappy. I'm curious to see how I feel about things once I'm back in America, and if my newly adopted British behaviors and thoughts linger for a while!

Adventure is a muddy, muddy path

Adventure is a path. Real adventure –self-determined, self-motivated, often risky– forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. - Mark Jenkins 

We had a rare day of sunshine in Scotland, so some lovely (if not a bit muddy) adventures were had.

Not bad for a bus view, eh?

The puddle that drenched my shoes. *Sigh*

Managed to snap this from the window, just in time as we climbed a bridge

Friday, April 11, 2014

Captain America, international edition

My dear friend Leah, currently studying abroad in Mexico, mentioned that she went to the cinema the other day to see the new movie Captain America 2. Which is funny, because so did I. Once arriving back home, I got a text from a friend in Michigan who was just heading to the cinema to see... you guessed it, Captain America. How funny that we are living all over the world and yet still flocking to see the same movie at around the same time! You learn something new every single day when you're studying abroad, and today I'm learning that some cultural aspects don't waver all that much from country to country; even when it comes to superhero preferences!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Part 2: northern England and Alnwick Castle

If the Scottish highlands left me speechless, the trip to the borders, Alnwick Castle and northern England (Northumberland) left me with just one word to describe them- magical. Our tour guide for this trip was a very enthusiastic, heavily accented Scotsman who told stories of William Wallace (well known patriot, Braveheart is about him), medieval Scottish king Robert the Bruce, and told jokes about the rivalry between England and Scotland. At one point, he began singing a song written about his hometown in the borders, Kelso, which we ended up passing through on the tour. So it goes without saying that it would have been a fun tour without even getting off the bus!

But luckily we did, and our first stop was in a quaint little town in the southeast of Scotland. There we saw the ruins of an abbey and explored the sleepy village, despite the rain pouring down. After this, we stopped in another town to meet Hamish the Highland Cow. Yes, a cow. A cow whom has a cafe of his own as well as his own Facebook page, I should note. 

Hamish was in no mood for pictures so I didn't get any, but Arianne had a great time laughing at my excitement over seeing a cow! It's funny, during my time at CMU I met so many people from towns and upbringings different to my own-- for instance, one of my best friends grew up on a vegetable farm! I'm from the Motor City and very much a city girl in every way; I've never set foot on a farm and I can count on one hand the amount of times I've seen sheep, cows and horses in person. But it turns out that coming to another country you still have those differences in upbringing added on top of the regular cultural differences. Arianne lives on a farm as well and she studies agriculture, so Hamish was probably the least exciting attraction she could've seen; but for me, I was quite smitten. Highland cows are not particularly cute, and yet something about it was just so novel and fun to me to see one in person! Dorky, I know :)

Abbey ruins
Next stop: heading southbound to England. At the stretch of land we drove through, England and Scotland are separated by just a river. Our driver let us out in Scotland to head to the other side-- so I can officially say that I have walked to England! Once here, we went to Alnwick Castle (pronounced Annick, confusingly enough). It's privately owned and has been in the same family for 700 odd years, so inside they have the most intricate, beautiful architecture and artifacts from English history. They also have family photos right next to many of these, so you'll see Queen Elizabeth's gloves right next to a modern photo of the Percy family playing golf. Definitely a surreal experience, and just like at Inverary Castle I cannot wrap my mind around the idea of growing up somewhere like this!

They used the castle for the first two Harry Potter movies, so as we walked around they had broomstick lessons, Harry Potter memorabilia and more! I'm a bit gutted that I didn't have fake glasses and a wand on hand for better photo opportunities, but the one million planted daffodils provided that anyway. Whoa!

Senior pictures, anyone? ;)

On the castle grounds they happen to have a fully functioning tree house, that operates as a cafe and restaurant. The COOLEST place!

After this, we drove through Berwick upon Tweed, a "gateway" town that changed hands between England and Scotland more than a dozen times during history. We then arrived in the seaside village of Bamburgh, where yet another majestic castle awaited us. Driving along the coast, you see the castle in all its might and wonder how intimidating it must have looked to those arriving via the sea! It's crazy that these castles all played such an active role in the history of Scotland and England, especially in their conflicts with one another. 

Scotland is voting to be independent of England -and the United Kingdom- this upcoming September, so the rivalry/history issues are often in the news and in discussions. Hearing more about Wallace and Bruce and their efforts to become independent nearly 700 years ago, and how it is still being discussed and 'fought' over now in 2014 really blew my mind. Castles and towns were fought over and changed hands so many times back then; today there aren't castles up for grabs, it's more about pride, business and economics. We'll see what September has in store for Scotland, as a "yes" vote doesn't necessarily guarantee independence. People I've spoken to all have varying views on the topic, but ultimately it will be very interesting to see how things play out. Our tour guide described it all in a way that seems to be very accurate for most Scots-- "It's not that we're anti-England, we're just very pro-Scotland."

We encountered quite a bit of rain throughout the two tours, yet every morning we left Edinburgh the sun was shining and the weather was quite warm. When we returned, the same was true. I don't know that I would have taken advantage of the nicer Edinburgh weather had I been there, but I can't say I was upset to have this view on my walk back home that evening!