Our truck broke down yesterday, which means that we are still stuck in Texas.
Don’t worry, it’s all in accordance with family tradition. My family can’t drive through Texas without some variety of minor catastrophe. And as far as catastrophes go, this one was manageable.
The moving truck ran out of diesel faster than expected (due to the harsh West Texas winds) and refused to restart after mom and I brought extra fuel from a nearby town. So it was, we were stuck in the middle of nowhere.
As we waited for a repairman to come take a look, we decided to have an ice cream picnic.
Ice cream ended up being dinner, but shhh, don’t tell anyone cause that’s naughty (and also my favorite kind of dinner).
Note: I am kinda a lil bit overtly obsessed with ice cream. Have you ever tried Bluebell? Apparently, it is made only in Texas. It might be my favorite ever (don’t tell Joe’s Ice Cream in Wales). What’s your favorite brand?
As if ice cream amongst the cacti wasn’t good enough, as we waited *hours* for the repairman, the sun began to set.
You can complain about the flat barrenness of the West Texas landscape, but the lack of hills, trees, and everything else makes the sky that much more dramatic. Rather than sit on top of the land, the sky encompasses you, as if you were in a dome theater or planetarium.
Sunsets and sunrises around here are like Disneyland quality light shows.
(Fun fact: When I was a wee middle-schooler, my obsession with the Texas Sky inspiredme to write a romantic short story that ended up getting published by TeenInk… that’s embarrassing. You can check it out here if you are interested)
We didn’t get out of Texas yesterday, but I did get to wake up and witness another incredible South West sunrise this morning.
Here’s to hoping we can make it across the border today without any more surprises.
I earned my driver’s license two days before the trip started and have found that I really love driving. Which is surprising, considering that one time I turned down a police officer who asked me to drive illegally before I had a license… but that’s a story for another day.
Today we found Texas. My little sister couldn’t believe that we entered Texas on day two.
“Isn’t Texas like halfway?!?” she exclaimed.
“Yup, Texas is 1/4 of the way there, 1/2 of the way there and 3/4ths of the way there, so hang on”.
Course, sis and I have already had our share of adventures. From impromptu guitar busking in Georgia…
…to singing parking lot duets at the top of our lungs in Alabama.
And then there are the lazy periods in between rest area jump rope breaks.
I’ve been studying real estate to prepare for my February class (so excited to jump head-long into a new career!) and my mom and I are listening to a lecture series on Winston Churchill.
In between the learning, singing, and driving, there is still too much time to think. The lull of the car on bumpy roads against a backdrop of fastly changing scenery offers a perfect environment for reflection.
Within the vast hazy nothingness of my future, a few cloudy something-or-anothers are forming. In other words, I still don’t have a 5-year plan (shocker!). I have a one week plan.
This coming Friday my parents and lil sis will be driving across the United States. We’ll be helping my brother drive his moving truck across.
I’ve ridden across The States 20 times, but this is going to be the best trip yet.
*You know you’ve road tripped one too many times when gas stations in Illinois and rest stops in the heart of Texas seem vaguely familiar.
It is the perfect time for roadtrip number 21. There is nothing like traversing the great plains of the United States with books, family, and long periods of music-listening nothingness.
This Friday we will start the 5 day journey. I’m hoping to blog regularly throughout the trip. So watch out for a whole lotta crazy sister-to-sister singing, caffinated tirades, and, most likely, a good bit of soul searching.
P.S. Yes, the title of this blogpost is a reference to a great book I read last year about living a life that matters.
At the end of 2016 I found myself facing some pretty tough decisions.
As you know, I was scheduled to spend Christmas Recess in Germany. I did get to Stuttgart for a week and had a lovely time. However, less than halfway into my time there I ended up traveling home to the US unexpectedly. Now it looks like I will be staying here in The States indefinitely.
Yes, that means I am dropping out of university. And yes, in a sense it means that my adventure in Wales is over for good.
I loved everything about living and studying in Wales. I am going to miss my British friends and professors dearly. I learned much from studying in another country, and even more from just living there.
I am extremely thankful for the opportunity I had to live abroad for a year and a half. I consider my time in Wales to be one of the most glorious chapters in my life thus far. It ended sooner than I expected, but that does not in any way detract from what it was while it lasted.
I am still unclear where life will take me in the coming months. I know this much:
I may be helping my brother’s family move across the country (road trip anyone?).
I will be spending lots of time with my younger siblings, homeschooling them and making up for the time lost while abroad.
So you can see, there are a whole lot of uncertainties. Thus, this blog will have to evolve quite a bit. I understand that if you started following me because you were curious about studying abroad, our journey together may be coming to an end. That’s fine! Thanks for joining me!
However, if you’ve enjoyed following the mishaps and stupid mistakes that make up my life, I welcome you to stay on for the ride.
I don’t know where I am going. I cannot promise international travel; in fact, I don’t expect any. Still, I’ve got a feeling that there are a lot more exciting turns of a new kind on the horizon. I am ready to embrace them as they come. And I am sure that the adventure is only beginning.
I’m hoping you didn’t notice that life updates, blogposts, emails… have all fallen into an abyss this term. Last summer my bestest friend (and incredible blogger over at Crafted Fragments) taught me that it is okay to not be okay. So I guess I am here to admit that
*drum roll please*
*actually just kidding, it really not that dramatic*
I haven’t been okay.
Second year has been much more challenging, academically, spiritually, and emotionally than first year.
It would be unfair for me, as a blogger and public promotor of studying abroad, to pretend that studying abroad is all roses and sunshine. I still think that studying abroad is a worthwhile experience, but I am learning more and more how challenging it can be.
I like to blog about the embarrassing and hilarious mishaps, and yet I’ve been in such a stinky mood lately that I haven’t been able to turn misadventures into blogposts.
*Can someone interrupt here and say “THAT IS OKAY!”… Nope? Nooone. Kay, I’m just gonna pretend someone did and keep on…*
Despite a fair amount of stress, confusion and general moohoomooness, I’m surrounded by incredible people who make my life worth waking up to live each morning. And I’ve got the support of my incredible family and friends back at home.
Despite the challenges, I’m still having the adventure of a life time.
So, as I get back onto my feet after a rough term, expect to see more blogposts (amazing guest post coming up this week!), more adventures, and more positivity.
I’ve realised that figuring things out all on my lonsesome is no way to live. So, for better or worse, this blog is going to continue to be my channel to turn those embarassing face-palm moments into (hopefully) entertaining and/or inspiring (don’t wanna get too ambitious) blogposts.
In other words my grumpiness, moohoomoo, emmbarassing moments, and other emotional garbage is making a comeback. So brace yourselves.
This past weekend I celebrated my first Bonfire Night.
When I moved to the UK last year I swore off Guy Fawkes day because celebrating a 400 year old execution (or any execution for that matter) seemed vulgar. I have since been convinced by friends that they aren’t celebrating the execution of Guy Fawkes per se, they are celebrating the fact that parliament DIDN’T get blown up as planned and that the King DIDN’T get assisinated. So I’ve decided to overlook the #notsubtle tradition of burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes each year, becuase despite my high horse moral objections… FIREWORKS!
So it was that the family I live with took me to their farm to sing over campfire food (you’ll be glad to know that there was no scarecrow burning involved). Those of you who know me know that I have an oddly intense obsession with fireworks. It was glorious.
I also learned how to chop wood with an axe. Which was, surprisingly enough, almost as exciting as setting off rockets. Guys, I think I missed my calling to be a lumberjack.
What is Bonfire Night?
Bonfire Night, (also known as Guy Fawkes night) is a lovely British tradition in which families come together for an evening around an outdoor fire. The origins come from the 5th of November 1605 when Guy Fawkes and other plotters were discovered attempting to lay gunpowder under the House of Lords. The people of London were given permission to light bonfires to celebrate that the assination attempt against thier king had gone bust. Ever since the British have commemorated this day with fireworks, campfire food, and burning scarecrows of ‘Guy Fawkes’.
The verdict is in, Bonfire Night is (minus the effigy burning) is something I could definitely get into… maybe I’ll bring it back to The States with me. I feel I understand more about childhood in the UK. I mean, nothing beats family time under the nostalgic autumn breeze.
Admittedly folks, it has been a rough couple o weeks. I love my history classes, but keeping my head above the water with non-school related commitments is a full-time job. Now I’ve got two essays almost due that, no matter how much I research and plan, are refusing to come out easy.
Enough with the moohoomoo…
I woke up this morning and decided to kick off Reading Week with some much-needed spontaneous exploration. I pulled on my warmest clothes and headed into the misty morning drizzle to my favorite park.
Normally I stop about a half a mile into the park at a lovely bridge, my favorite thinking spot after difficult lectures or bad days. This time I kept walking…
I walked farther than I ever had before. A gorgeous cathedral spire broke through the mist ahead of me and I walked toward it.
After about another half mile of walking, I ran into a huge house. The sound of singing nuns drifted through the trees. I was pretty sure I had walked right out of real life into a fairytale.
Outside of the cathedral lay quaint rows of houses and businesses, a tea room and a butcher shop.
I realized that I was in a village. A real, legit, non-touristy, and yet still way too picturesque to be true Welsh village.
Around the corner from the cathedral stood what looked to be a castle gate-house. Kids and teens in school uniform marched through the gate.
Naturally, I figured I’d wander in behind them… Keep wandering til you get kicked out right?
Inside the gate was a public green space. Down a narrow path the most mystical of doors leading to a cathedral school.
Could this be real? There was a legit old-fashioned bike with a basket parked outside the gate. Young good-lookin teachers followed students into the school. Everyone in the town was dressed in sweaters and hats and cozy looking vests and boots.
Fun Fact: when I got home I looked up the village and found out that the cathedral school I found was one that Roal Dahl (author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) attended.
After checking around for cameras (this has got to be a movie set, right?), I continued to meander the the tiny town. Guys, it was heavenly. When I had had my fill I walked back past the house of singing nuns (they were still singing), down to the trail that had led me there, and home to the loud dusty streets of my city.
This morning reminded me that if I am to stay sane this year I need to take a bit more time out of my schedule to wander. Something about getting out of the city, out of the rigamarole and rat race of a competitive fast-paced life, into the fresh air… following a path you’ve never been down before with absolutely no expectation of where you are going…
Ah yah, so therapeutic. As I walked I thought about what is most important to me. I considered why I am in Wales. I wondered about what I am doing with my life.
Spoiler alert, I didn’t get any answers. Yet somehow I picked up enough of an energy to face my own reality again.
I hope you enjoyed, despite my notable lack of photography skills.
So there is this museum in my adopted city. It is the most classic of classic museums. You know what I’m talking about?
Think grand marble steps, an impressively over-priced gift shop, exhibits filled with mediocre biology facts and a few cool Van Goh paintings, a busy lobby populated by a healthy mix of sophisticated people and people pretending to be sophisticated.
As a humanities major, I feel obliged to be familiar with the best attractions in Cardiff, particularly the museums. However, the dirty truth of the matter is that I hate museums. Really, I can’t stand them.
I tried countless times in high school to enjoy them and consistently came home feeling sick to my stomach (either from looking at too many naked Greeks or from standing behind a fur-coated woman wearing way too much perfume… sometimes both).
All of last year, I told myself I was going to go to the museum. All of last year I never did. So on a lazy rainy day last week I put my foot down and decided I was going to that museum and I was going to enjoy it.
Guess what folks? I had a major epiphany about art, life, and the way to enjoy a museum. I learned that while museums in themselves are not interesting to me, the museum experience can be delightful. In other words, if you don’t like going to museums maybe you aren’t going to museums in the right way.
Here are five steps I designed to help you make the most of your museum experience, even if you hate museums:
Step One: Dress for Success!
The first step to a successful trip to the museum is to get into fancy mode. Dress up a little (for me this meant covering my t-shirt up with the only non-thrifted coat that I own). Do your hair (for me, this meant putting my hair in a pony-tail, which is basically the only hairstyle I know how to do). Maybe even put on some of that perfume you received as a birthday present two years ago!
Now that you look and smell sophisticated, pull out your most romantic umbrella and walk to the museum.
Step Two: Choose A Viewing Strategy
There are two main strategies to choose from:
Walk through the museum as the struggling/starving artist looking for inspiration (you know, the one who only has enough money in the bank for one more cup of coffee and is saving it for the perfect moment in which coffee and genius will meet and produce within the masterpiece you’ve been struggling for since college).
Walk through the museum as the rich woman who walks through art galleries because it is the only natural thing to do on a Monday afternoon.
I forgot to bring my worn journal with me (an essential prop for method #1), so I decided to opt for the second method and put on my best “I’m fancier than you” smile as a slowly meandered through the exhibits.
Guess what? I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Maybe it is cause I skipped the naked Greeks and was lucky enough not to get stuck behind a lady with dizzying layers of perfume.
Step Three: Be Willing To Learn Something
Seriously folks, in high school I reveled in the fact that I had/have no artistic talent or ability whatsoever. Any appreciation of art was limited to the my-goodness-how-is-that-even-humanely-possible-cause-I-could-never-do-something-like-that variety. While that is definitely a healthy feeling in small doses, walking through an entire museum and only appreciating art at that surficial a level gets dreary pretty fast.
I had to stay open to enjoy art in a new and hopefully slightly deeper way. I’ve been thinking about aesthetics a lot recently. I’ve been trying to incorporate ideas about aesthetics into my life (i.e. designing my room, simplifying my to-do list, and organizing my life, school, and the food on my plate in a visually appealing way). All this thought about aesthetics gave me a new way to look it paintings. Something about the Van Goh collection made my heart feel a little warmer:
The spacing, lighting, and use of color struck me as it never had before. I realized that I know nothing about art and/or art history, but a few paintings inspired me to want to learn more:
Then, of course, there was the portrait gallery. Imagine if you were rich enough to spend a gabijillion dollars on a commissioned portrait? How would you want to present yourself to the world? What background, body language, and props would you use? It is like a majorly amplified version of analyzing people’s facebook profile photos…?
I have an embarrassingly juvenile understanding of art, but by dropping my I-just-don’t-care-whatsoever attitude, I was able to appreciate it in my own way.
The contemporary art still jarred me pretty bad. I’m not on that level of art appreciation yet, but can’t you see I’m improving!?!?
Step Four: Don’t Forget The People
I am quite happy to have had a *major* epiphany about the glories of art, still, however, the best part of the museum was (as it always is for me) observing people observing art. Let me try that again… in non-creepy terms:
It isn’t just the Van Goh alone, it is the two high schoolers non-subtly prowling around the Van Goh looking for the best angle for an artsy profile picture of their own.
It isn’t just about the Vermeer, it is about the young couple holding hands as they gaze at the Vermeer, giggling about how they happen to have just the same sort of analysis of every painting they’ve seen so far! It was meant to be!
It isn’t just about the Polack, it is about the fancy old woman who can look at that painting and draw inspiration from it for the 1,000th time.
In other words, it isn’t just about the artifacts, it is about the way that we interact with the artifacts and use them to make sense of the world.
Step Five: Take time to reflect
Don’t let the observations, feelings, thoughts, and questions that undoubtedly ran through you as you observed the galleries go to waste! Sit down, if you have money enough, buy an over-priced black coffee in the cafe and let the inspiration whirl. If not, just sit on a bench for a minute and give yourself time to process. Note any major revelations or BFOs (blinding flash of the obvious) that you may have had.
And there you have it! How to enjoy a museum. All in all, I felt that it was a worthwhile use of 20 minutes of my Monday afternoon.
What is your favorite thing to do when visiting a fancy museum?
In the first week or so of your time abroad, it may seem as though the world has opened unlimited opportunities. However, once you fall into a semi-normal routine and fall in love with your new home, your time will undoubtedly begin marching into an invisible black hole, never to return (true story, not joking).
I know, I know, you are having the adventure of your life! You need to stay flexible to last-minute invitations and off-the-cuff adventures. Still, if you don’t schedule your time, you’ll be on the plane home before you blink twice, wondering how you got through the entire study abroad without ever visiting the castle five minutes from your house or trying that peculiar food you saw in every shop?
If you were just traveling, you’d have a little more wiggle room to be flexible all the time. However, the glory of studying abroad is that you get to LIVE in a new place. If you don’t ever have a semi-normal routine, it will never feel like a home. If you just let life come at you, you will very soon find yourself swimming unsatisfied in school projects and half-baked friendships.
Okay, let’s just say you are. Now, how do you go about scheduling the ‘adventure-of-a-lifetime’?
For me, it came down to creating a list of priorities and making sure I balanced my time according to my most important priorities.
Time to Study
Relationship with professors and academics
This seems stupidly obvious, but guys, it is easier than you think to get overwhelmed with life itself and all the changes and kinda-sorta forget that you are here to learn something and earn some college credit. Don’t let your school assignments fall by the wayside til the last minute. Do you know what that leads to? That leads to stressing and cramming on assignments at the end of the year when you finally actually have friends that you could be doing cool stuff with.
Time to Explore
Exploring your city
Exploring local attractions
Don’t just live in a new place, explore every inch of it. It helps a lot if you research before you go. Make a bucket list of the coolest attractions in your city and the best day trips nearby. Use your bucket list to schedule out your weekend and school holidays.
Time to Make Friends
Don’t forget, building lasting relationships take time. What does that look like? It might mean offering to cook one of your favorite American dishes. Seriously folks, who could turn down a chance to try pumpkin pie, root beer floats, or some other famous speciality from your home region? Also, politely ask for help in assimilating to your friend’s culture. Be open to discussing things with coursemates and acquaintances. Meet up before or after class to share a coffee and a language lesson. Give yourself time to hang out with friends, focusing on building a few deep relationships rather than trying to meet every single person in your course.
Time to Stay Connected
Letter writing/pen pals
Staying connected to friends and family
You don’t need to totally abandon your friends and family back at home, but schedule your time on FaceTime and social media so that it doesn’t get out of hand. You are here to have new experiences and meet new people. While your family will really appreciate you staying connected to them, don’t bring your whole life with you across the ocean… trust me, trying to balance two lives at once is gonna leave you depressed, lonely, and exhausted.
Time to Stay Healthy
A lot of people gain a ton of weight while studying abroad. It is shockingly easy to let your health habits slide when you are busy taking in a new place. It will take time, effort, and planning, to stay on track.
Time to Reflect
Be conscious about your experiences, don’t let life just slip by you. Journaling helped me to consider the changed that were going on around me and in me. Taking time to articulate the kind of cultural confusion and pains and joys I experienced helped me to gain more out of it all in the end.
To summarise, keep track of your goals (including schoolwork, friendships, and bucket list of attractions), relax, and spend time to reflect on what is going on.