Reflection #3: a love letter to Scotland

Dear Scotland:

I have fallen in love. Your rolling hills, your fields full of sheep and cows and horses, your cobbled streets, green grass, even the rain and wind (if only because the rain is the reason for the green-ness of the grass).

When I first saw you, it was like coming home, like being reunited with an old friend. I doubted my parents when they said I’d start to remember things, but now I know they were right; it’s surprising how much comes back, even fourteen years later.

I have seen Edinburgh, Glasgow, the Borders, and everything between Edinburgh and Skye. I have sung ‘Loch Lomond’ on the bonnie banks themselves, I have posed for cheesy photos by the Three Sisters of Glen Coe, I have fangirled over Eilean Donan Castle and other filming locations, and I have appreciated the beauty of Edinburgh as the seasons changed.

Having lived in Edinburgh for six months and having come back to the Borders every few years to see my dad’s family, I’ve always felt like Scotland was a part of me. But now I feel it more than ever; the cold air and surprisingly brisk wind have gotten under my fingernails and seeped all the way into my heart.

I had a lot of doubts about feeling at home in a city I hadn’t properly visited in fourteen years and about making friends and taking advantage of opportunities as a non-first year North American exchange student. I didn’t think I’d fit in, and now I can’t believe I had so many concerns. I pushed myself outside my comfort zone and told myself to seize the day; the fact that my time here always had an expiry date certainly helped with that, but I also believe that I got really lucky with the people I’ve met and the opportunities I’ve had.

I know now that after spending three and a half months here, although Vancouver still feels like my ‘forever place,’ I will always treasure the memories of my time in Edinburgh. I have had an unimaginably great experience, and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but I miss my family, my city, my university, my friends, my work, and my ‘home.’

Goodbye Edinburgh; goodbye Scotland. I’ll be back. In the words of fellow Canadian Michael Bublé (who also hails from the Vancouver area): “It’ll all be alright, I’ll be home tonight, I’m coming back home.”

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Reflection #2: turning 21

This post is literally just a list of 20 great things that happened during the year I was 20 (the last 12 days of 2015 plus nearly all of 2016). I had to pick and choose; this year has been a tumultuous one in terms of global events. It’s been shocking, interesting, and occasionally horrifying, but all that aside, my year has had some phenomenal highlights:
1: December 2015 – I started my year off right with an amazing 20th birthday (thanks to my lovely family plus Noemi and Emily!).
2: December 2015 – I had another amazing Christmas with my extended family. They never fail to make me laugh so hard I cry, and I’m sure this year will be no different.
3: January 2016 – I was accepted to study abroad at the University of Edinburgh (my top choice, and almost my university for my entire undergraduate degree). Cue the celebration and anticipation!
4: February 2016 – Noemi and I went on our first ‘cute vacation’: a spa retreat … we ate, got pampered, ate, hot tubbed, ate, pretended to do readings, and ate.
5: March 2016 – I went to the Sunshine Coast over Easter weekend for a staff retreat with my wonderful co-workers, facilitated by my awesome boss. Can’t wait to get back to working with them!
6: April 2016 – Noemi and I went on ‘cute vacation’ #2, this time we changed it up by eating fudge, writing papers, eating pasta, buying books like the true English majors we are, drinking slurpees, going to a museum, and (over)eating cheesy potatoes.
7: April 2016 – I finished my third year of university, felt weird that time passes so quickly, then reminded myself that ‘luckily’ I’m doing a fifth year, so I have an extra eight months to stress and multi-task!
8: May 2016 – I moved home to live with my family again over the summer – not #hoemi, but definitely a welcome change after my exhaustion.
9: June 2016 – I finalized acceptance details for Edinburgh and finally started properly telling people. I had no idea then that it would be so amazing!!
10: July 2016 – I biked the seawall and took in the sunshine after a couple of days ‘unplugging’ and camping with my mum and Rosalie.
11: July 2016 – I spent some much-needed quality time with Rosalie after barely seeing her since last summer. Still my #1 girl, despite all our bike adventure disasters.
12: August 2016 – I was a counsellor at the VPL Writing and Book camp (again) and remembered why I’ve always loved it so much! The written word is a tool that everyone should appreciate!
13: August 2016 – I went to Holidaze and stayed with several of my Brownies in a cabin full of girls who insisted I sing them to sleep every night (so sweet).
14: September 2016 – My co-patrol-Guider Sam and I were accepted to take a patrol of Pathfinders to provincial Girl Guide camp SOAR in Smithers this coming summer!
15: September 2016 – I began my amazing exchange journey and realized quickly that I didn’t want it to end this soon.
16: October 2016 – I cooked my first full Canadian Thanksgiving meal and fed a handful of good friends. Also this month: travelled to Bath, Stonehenge, the Cotswolds, Skye, and Hawick.
17: November 2016 – I travelled to Paris and London and turned in my first University of Edinburgh paper!
18: November 2016 – My a cappella showcase went off without a hitch and I didn’t even cry on stage. The following week, I sang a solo at the Female Voice choir Christmas concert!
19: December 2016 – I got into the holiday spirit, despite being buried in work. I went to visit my dad’s side of the family one more time for an early birthday celebration that reminded me of the power of family.
20: December 2016 – I finished my last exam on the morning of my 21st birthday, complete with a freshly broken refrigerator and an end-of-exam fire alarm.
Here’s to my 20th year being amazing and my 21st (hopefully) being even better.
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Reflection #1: a “thank you” list

I’m really terrible at goodbyes, so I’m trying to break down my thoughts a little bit as I prepare to head home after three and a half months on exchange. I wouldn’t even be here without the hand-holding, help, and support of so many people I’m lucky to have in my life. These people deserve a massive “thank you,” which is particularly appropriate now as it happens to be the holiday season. If any of you are reading this post, know that I love you and I wouldn’t be where I am today without you in my life.

In no particular order:

My mum – she’s been my #1 fan for 21 years, and without her love, support, and confidence in my abilities, I’d be nowhere in life. I hope I can be even half as good a mum to my kids as she’s been to me; I admire her tremendously.

My sister – she may communicate her love mainly through bad-angle Snapchat selfies, and she may be more than six years younger than me, but the girl is wise beyond her years and I really admire so much about her. Every day, I feel lucky and proud to be her big sister, and every day I think of another thing to annoy her with when I get back home. She truly is my best friend.

My dad – the original University of Edinburgh student of the family; he has always been supportive of my desire to come here and always wants to know how my courses are going. I hope I’ve made him proud by not only doing my exchange here, but now desperately wanting to come back to do a postgraduate degree.

My entire extended family in Scotland – they picked me up from the airport, they housed me, they fed me, they texted to check in, they’ve had me to stay twice more, lent me towels and pillows, and celebrated my birthday early. They are here to remind me of my lifelong connection to this country that’s become a second home.

My entire extended family in Canada (and elsewhere) – without the promise of a traditionally untraditional family Christmas, leaving Edinburgh would be a lot harder. However, since I love Christmas really a lot, and I love my wacky family even more, I’m feeling suddenly homesick and excited for a belated birthday and a Bake Off-themed Christmas dinner, plus stockings full of funny, worthless treasures.

My flatmates here in Edinburgh (including our honourary flatmates) – Flat 3(05), Tribe Iglesias etc., etc. – I love these girls ever so much, and I know that this isn’t the last time we’ll see each other. When you’ve seen each other first thing in the morning, last thing at night, exhausted, drunk, stressed, excited, hangry, bloated, and everything in between, it’s hard not to be friends for life.

My Vancouver roommate – she knows I love her because I keep tagging her in stupid memes on Facebook, but seriously, this girl was my emotional support system for eight months, and just because we’re not currently cohabitating doesn’t mean I don’t still think of her as my honourary sister.

My Brownie co-Guiders in Edinburgh – they made me feel welcome straight away, and I really think this is a testament to the power of Guiding. In 145 countries, I could find a unit and feel at home, but I’ll definitely miss working with this team and these girls!

My Brownie co-Guiders in Vancouver – I’ve missed them, it’s been great to hear from them, and I look forward to returning to them. I am forever grateful that they were willing to take on extra work while I was gone!

My Vancouver friends – anyone who has reached out to me, know that it is appreciated. If you’ve listened to my rants and various emotional breakdowns, you are a peach. I don’t take it for granted.

Noteorious – my acafamily, just a group of dorks who enjoy making music with their mouths. It’s been a pleasure to work with them and I am so excited to hear them continue to improve via the Internet. I almost didn’t audition because I knew how competitive it would be, and I was a little apprehensive when I went to a pub crawl having never met them before, but I had amazing luck.

Everyone in the UoE Female Voice Choir – singing with these ladies was amazing; before this, I wasn’t a great lover of treble-only choirs, but the sheer joy of this group really bleeds into their singing. They are destined for great things!

Anyone else who’s been a part of my journey, from the Go Global team at UBC, to the Ubyssey editors who published my monthly pieces, to the faculty at both UBC and UoE, thank you. To every barista who’s made me a coffee and every flight attendant who’s brought me a bland ‘special diet’ meal, to every person who’s smiled at me on the street or asked what my name was, thank you.

I am so lucky to be surrounded by this many people who are rooting for me. The senioritis is real, folks, but while my exchange journey may be ending, I know my time in Edinburgh isn’t over for good. I just have to finish this degree first (so I can forever tack unnecessary letters onto my name to prove that I finished something, finally). I couldn’t have done it alone. <3

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Study break to Glasgow!

On Friday I went on my second-to-last trip of my exchange journey – a day trip to Glasgow with a friend from my residence and a friend-of-a-friend who was visiting from Granada, where she’s on exchange. The three of us made pretty good travel companions, although we didn’t end up needing the nearly 12 hours we gave ourselves in a city whose centre is pretty compact.

University of Glasgow 1
We started our day by taking the subway to the University of Glasgow campus. When I applied to go on exchange (through Go Global), Glasgow was my second choice, after Edinburgh. Having now been to the campus, I can see the appeal—it’s a historic school, like the University of Edinburgh, and the old buildings are gorgeous—but I am glad I ended up where I did.

University of Glasgow 2
The weather was grey, but not rainy – so a lucky day by Scottish standards. The subway system in Glasgow, by the way, is very minimal; it’s a loop that goes around the city centre with an ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ line that go different directions around the loop. A quick Google search tells me that it’s just been modernized, and it is definitely very clean and organized, particularly compared to the systems in Paris and London (although much less expansive).

Glasgow Frasers (exterior)
After pretending to be University of Glasgow students for a little while, we went back to the city centre and, because we are cheesy Christmas-loving tourists, went to look at the Christmas floor at Frasers, decked out (like Harrods) in lights – I have to say that I miss the colourful lights and weird house decorations that seem to be more typical in North America. Here, it’s all white lights on stores, and the occasional house window décor, but nothing like the massive yard displays of inflatable Santas, nativity scenes, and sleighs with reindeer we get at home!

Glasgow Frasers (interior)
The inside was really magical and Christmassy, and while I didn’t end up buying anything here, it made for a good photo-op (and we later ended up at Debenhams, where I did actually buy some Christmas presents, although the interior wasn’t quite as nicely decorated).

Glasgow bridge
We decided we had to go take a couple of pictures of the river Clyde, which runs through the middle of Glasgow – one of the most striking things about the city was the juxtaposition of clean, new, well-kept buildings next to older, dirtier ones covered in graffiti. For instance, on the road that runs along the north bank of the river, there’s a beautiful church next to big boxy factory-like buildings and empty lots … and the suspension bridge that crosses the river is really cool, but the buildings on the other side look a bit unkempt.

Glasgow outdoor Xmas tree
Afterwards, we did a bit more wandering and Christmas shopping, then had dinner at Jamie’s Italian – not cheap, but good food and a worthwhile ‘UK’ experience that’s pretty difficult to replicate in Canada. (I had to Google this too, and discovered that there are in fact two Jamie’s Italians in Canada – one in Mississauga and one in Toronto. As usual, no love for the West Coast.) After dinner, we went to a Christmas market and I couldn’t resist capturing this giant decorated tree …

Glasgow Xmas market
The Christmas market is behind all the tree-shaped lights – kind of difficult to see, but it was the bigger of the two in the city, although not as big as the massive one in Edinburgh or the one in Paris that goes down most of the Champs-Élysées.

Given that I’m buried in exam studying (‘revision’ here), it feels unfathomable that I’m leaving Edinburgh in only 12 days. However, as a Christmas lover, I can safely say that I am excited for ten days to relax, recharge, and spend some time with my family before I have to start classes again on January 3rd … thanks, UBC.

Next up: going down to visit my Scottish relatives one last time, plus two exams and two papers (‘essays’), and somehow, inexplicably, turning 21.

If all goes to plan, I’ll post some kind of a reflection on my trip as a whole in the coming week! Until then, it’s back to studying ????

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London calling

Last weekend I went on my final major trip of the semester – essentially 36 hours in London. I did a crazy thing and flew there at 7am after a night out, so I didn’t sleep at all until that night. Then we took the overnight Megabus back, so another sleepless night made for a tricky day on Monday! Overall, it was a whirlwind experience, but definitely well worth it. I went with one of my flatmates and three other North American friends of ours, and we got perfect weather yet again!

I should mention that I have been to London once before, with my lovely family in the summer of 2013 (just before I started at UBC) – we did a bunch of tourist-y stuff, so between the two trips I feel like I’ve seen a lot of the big sights. Of course, if I had a couple of weeks, there are more things I’d love to do, but we packed a lot into 36 hours!

From the last time we were in London:

Tower of London 2013

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This trip in pictures:

Globe Theatre
Ah, the Globe. What more could a Shakespeare-loving girl want?! We didn’t go in this time, but next time I go to London I want to actually see a show here. The thatched roof was cool, as always, and the Christmas decorations weren’t bad either. But the only actual Shakespeare play they were showing was Othello, and I don’t know if I’d pay an extortionate amount of money for something that leaves me feeling that sad. (Hamlet? Absolutely. Macbeth? You bet. Or any of the comedies, really. But maybe not Othello.)

 

Hannah outside Westminster Abbey
My phone chose the wrong time to die, so I had my friend take a picture of me outside Westminster Abbey. Still one of the most striking pieces of architecture I’ve ever seen!

 

Natural History Museum - interior
We hit up the Natural History museum (briefly) – free entry – and I hadn’t realized how cool the main room is. Really echoey, full of people, kind of Hogwarts-y somehow … but the staircases don’t move.

 

London
As the sun was setting, we walked down the Shard … it was beautiful, but I can’t see myself ever living in London. It’s like New York, but somehow a little less friendly with just as much bustle. My flatmate, however, didn’t want to leave and is certain that she will end up living there one day. When she makes it big, I will be paying her a visit!

 

Harrods
Harrods at Christmastime is just as magical as I imagined – the lights outside are beautiful, and ‘Christmasland’ inside makes me wish Christmas could last all year.

 

London Christmas Lights
The streets of London were filled with decorations. These angels’ wings lit up and, paired with the chilly air outside and the general holiday feeling, it made for a festive time!

 

Skating outside in London
Outdoor skating was ridiculously expensive, or we’d have gone for it – but the view was still gorgeous.

 

St. Paul's
On Sunday we went to St. Paul’s and stepped inside briefly – the bells were ringing outside, which was another one of those out-of-body travel experiences. You’re not supposed to take pictures inside, so I didn’t bother trying to be sneaky but instead put my phone away and appreciated the height of the ceilings and incredibly beautiful aesthetic of the church’s interior.

 

London Ladies!
We finally got someone else to take our picture on the Millennium Bridge. Note how tired we all look – but these girls make great travel companions and I will miss them dearly.

 

View from Tate Modern
The view of the Shard (and London in general) from the 10th floor viewing platform at the Tate Modern. The museum itself was a little odd, but entry is free and the view was incredible.

I’ll definitely be back to London to visit – not only do I want to catch that Shakespeare play, but I’d also love to see a show on the UK’s version of Broadway! Speaking of Broadway, maybe I’ll have to check out New York again when I’m back across the pond…

It’s also hitting me that I really only have three weeks left here … and they’re going to be mostly consumed by studying, stressing, and eating in a vicious cycle that (hopefully) will also include a little bit of sleep.

Wish me luck!

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