working title.

Is the magic of studying – or even being – abroad a feeling that we ourselves produce?

Last year, I got my first tattoo, cut off all my hair and gallivanted around Europe for a semester. And now I’m walking through slush. A year ago, I daresay that I would have marvelled at slush – how magical, how wonderful, how positively incredible slush is! At least when it’s in England, eh? Indeed, as forty-eight percent of Gonzaga students know, the aftereffects of returning home from time spent away from our beloved campus carries back with us quite the harrowing feeling.

Our lives, or more our Facebook feeds, were once filled with exotic locales and daring adventures. I could wake up one morning and walk beside the Thames, if I so desired. And then post it to Instagram and smile as people across the pond expressed their jealousy and wish to be where I was. And now I am that person across the Atlantic, gazing at pictures of faraway friends and wishing that I were there too. I realized soon enough that this was quite the sad picture I was painting for myself, and as I walked through the decidedly dreary Spokane slush, I began to wonder if slush was really that different a couple thousand miles away.

After many very scientific studies, my colleagues and I have concluded that slush is actually much the same no matter the location. I admit, when I first heard the results, I was aghast. Why, then, did it feel so much more satisfying to splash through the sludgy substance with glee and enthusiasm over there while I manage to bear a striking resemblance to Grumpy Cat over here?

After another slew of backbreaking research, I have come to find that because we are expected to have fun every second, minute and hour of our lives abroad, we become our own self-fulfilling prophecy. We have told ourselves in anticipation over and over again that the coming five months will be the most exciting of our lives, that it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, that fun must be had at all times or else that opportunity is being frivolously wasted. And as a result, we end up finding joy in slush and rain and cold weather merely because we have forced ourselves to do so. Which brought up another intriguing question: why aren’t we doing that here, too?

Going abroad isn’t necessarily about the city that you’re going to, but the experience that you’re expecting to have, the things that you can learn, the people that you can meet. This might sounds crazy at first, but honestly we can do a lot of that here, as well. Shocking, I know.

To be clear, I am not discouraging going abroad – I had a hoot and a half over there – but more, I am questioning how those of us who are not currently engaging in the pleasure of gallivanting around a foreign country can see Spokane, or any city, as a place where just as much discovery, magic and enchantment can occur. This column intends to address this question throughout the semester – investigating how everyday life can turn into the same highlight reel that the folks across the pond are producing.

My initial instinct is this: to be able to view every day as one filled with magic, one must first believe that it is possible. And I’ll take my first step by eyeing the slush around my car as a splendid opportunity to test out my new rainboots. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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how to summarise?

The last of the fourteen columns that I wrote for my school newspaper during the Spring 2013 semester from London.

LONDON – I worried, fretted, thought about backing out. Wondered how easy it would be to kindly ask for my visa back. Knew I had to go.

Went.

Met my future best friends on the first night. Almost all got run over by a car coming from our right instead of from our left. We were leaving McDonald’s. Oops.

Did touristy things. Wondered if I’d ever have alone time. Had alone time. Didn’t like it when I was alone. That was different.

Thought about how long four months is. Planned trips with my new best friends. Went on trips with my new best friends. Cooked in the kitchen with my new best friends. Sung in the kitchen with my new best friends. Drank in the kitchen with my new best friends. Cried in the kitchen with my new best friends. Four months can be short too.

Longed for when I could start my internship. Tapped my toes impatiently. Started my internship. Wondered where all my free time went. Found out what next year is going to be like. Tried to stop time. Time can’t be stopped.

Found out my friends and I have the sleeping patterns of our grandparents. Discovered we were okay with this. Talked about life, experience, the future. Tried not to think about the very near future.

Three months can be short too.

Crossed my weeks off until work would be over. Realized I was counting down until London was over. Stopped crossing off weeks.

Introduced my new best friends to my home best friend. Thought about how people are the same all over the world. Wondered why we have to be separated by things like time, distance, religion, prejudice. Still haven’t found the answer.

Started replacing Zs with Ss in words like ‘realise’. Changed my settings to British English. No more red lines. Realised I had shin splints from walking to work every morning. Thought about how I drove three blocks to Safeway last semester. Resolved to walk more. And buy more comfortable shoes.

Flourished at work. Found that my eyes were clouded when looking at myself. Learned to accept compliments. And give them too. Saw that confidence drives success. Puffed my chest out. Got pooped on. Kept my chest where it should be. Saw that humility actually drives success. Didn’t get pooped on again.

Went to a work party. They ordered too much champagne. Stumbled home from a work party. Saw them all through my sunglasses the next morning. They offered me their Advil. Wished I could take back the crossed off weeks.

One month is a short time.

Talked with my friends about things we still need to do. Didn’t do them. Instead did stupid things with my friends. Wondered if I was getting the “full” study abroad experience. Turned on my iTunes. “It’s not where I am, it’s who I’m with”. Didn’t wonder anymore.

Last day of work. Had a picnic and talked about my future. Realised the picture I’ve been painting for 21 years has been erased. Found out I’m okay with that. Learned to embrace it. Thought about painting London there next. But a year is a long way away. It’s goodbye for now. Who’d have thought work could be so fun?

Travelled too much. Packed too much in my backpack. Packed too much in my schedule. Time raced away from me. Tried living in the past and in the future. Found out that the present is the only place to be. Time slowed down. Life is bittersweet.

And a week is too short.

Or is it?

Soon, London won’t be my home. Soon, I won’t be surrounded by my new friends. Soon, my Google app will call Spokane my home and my iPhone will call Pacific my time zone. Soon, I’ll get to climb again. Soon, I’ll cry when I think about my new friends. Soon, I’ll long for London. Soon. But not now.

Now, I live.

You can’t be what you can’t see

Why living and working abroad is important

LONDON – As my loyal readers (my dad and my cat) will know, I have spent the past eight weeks working at an arts marketing firm in Southeast London acting as an intern and second pair of hands for the five person crew.

Since being brought on mid-February, I’ve had the opportunity to live tweet the launch of a UK-wide project, draw up a consultancy brief for an up-and-coming client, offer my views on event names and attend meetings for large-scale projects.

And to think that on my first day, I was stressing out about messing up their tea.

Before I came abroad, I thought I’d pieced the puzzle together. Everything seemed to line up – what I wanted to do, where I wanted to live, how my future would probably play out. It was neat and tidy and, in my mind, there was definitely a pretty little bow on top.

That was, until I started work at The Cogency. Led by two powerhouse women, the five person arts marketing company takes on projects that a huge corporation would cower over. But “I can’t” simply isn’t in The Cogency’s vernacular. Except maybe, “I can’t resist another cup of coffee”. Seriously, the coffee is overflowing there.

As you can imagine, it was a pretty intimidating office to waltz into.

But quite contradictorily, I was suddenly laden with the thought of “I can’t” after my first harried week of work. I’d never worked in the arts before, much less in arts marketing, much less in the arts capital of the world! How am I supposed to know how to advise clients on what they should and should not do? How is my view valid amidst my dedicated and intellectual coworkers? How is some 21-year-old small town American undergraduate qualified to be working and living in London?

And what if I mess up their tea?

However, I signed a contract that solidified my eight-week commitment in cold hard legality, so I ignored my feelings of inferiority and allowed myself to become a part of The Cogency team – eliminating “I can’t” from my vocabulary and thoughts.

And now here I sit, finished with my time at The Cogency and wondering where I would have been had I had the freedom to walk out of the door. Probably back where I was before – thinking that my puzzle was perfectly arranged, painting glue over it to seal it in all its puzzling perfection.

To work abroad is to shine a light on a darkness that you didn’t even know was there.

After my time at The Cogency, my puzzle pieces are scattered about – lost in unknown imaginations and possibilities. And that’s just the way I like it. If I’ve learned anything from my time here, it’s that there is no possible way of nailing down fate.

Every plan and vision and idea is just a human attempt at making sense of the real confusion that is the future. It’s only natural. But the real fun rests in the knowledge that you shouldn’t even try to figure it out – you’ll probably end up restlessly searching for invisible pieces while the reality sits in front of you, waiting to be put together.

My semester working in London has left me more confused than when I came. I don’t know where I want to live or work or travel. I don’t know what I want in the next year or five or ten. And I don’t think that I should be trying to find that out.

The future will always be the future but the present only happens once before it becomes the past.

So I’ll be happy with my constantly ruined puzzle, piecing things together only to have them scattered again. It’s like a game – one that rewards those with patience, open mindedness and not a bottle of glue in sight.

stubbornness abroad

PRAGUE – It’s three o’clock in the morning and I’m sitting on the curb of a deserted street in Prague – backpack beside me, friends to my right, river below me. And there is a smile on my face. Maybe it was the delirium setting in, but there was indisputably a smile there.

Rewind to nine o’clock. My friends and I sit divided in our hostel room. It has never happened to us, but we are in disagreement about how to carry on with our night. Tensions rose and eventually we set out of our hostel door with no plans and heightened sensitivity.

We walk the cobblestoned streets and talk like strangers. Eventually, we say nothing at all. It’s my last night in Prague and I have to catch a bus at three o’clock in the morning – so no clubs for me. Or pubs. Or anything alcohol-related. But still we follow our friends who didn’t have our unfortunate flight time on a pub-crawl.

It started out predictably sketchy – an alleyway meet up with a middle-aged dude whose English is shaky at best followed by a five-minute walk to a smoky pub.

I’m still holding on to my resistance to this plan. I am almost determined to not have fun – to be the martyr of The Night Out, living proof that nothing good is to come from the events of this night.

But then I thought about those words that are flashing across my mind. I am actively snubbing fun, enjoyment, Prague – I am consciously making a decision to ruin my night to prove that these plans would ruin my night.

How backwards is that?

My hand was clenched around what I wanted, what I thought was right, what I, I, I… So much so that I couldn’t grasp anything else. Holding on to my stubbornness wasn’t going to make my night any better. So I decided to let it go (cue readers to start singing “Let It Go” in their head…) and see what this night in Prague held for me.

It started out with an overly drunk guy waddling over to our table and hitting on an engaged friend and ended in a five-story club dancing to eighties hits with my raincoat tied around my waist like the 2000s never happened.

We walked the Prague streets – through historical squares, past ancient clock towers, over legendary bridges – thinking not of a plan or what we wanted to do or anything else except the fun that can be had between good friends.

Joy knows no circumstance. It is wherever you want it to be, so long as you choose to look for it. Had I stuck to my stubborn ways, the drunk guy would have been too annoying to be funny and the club would have been too loud to be able to stand.

But it didn’t end up like that. I ended up having the time of my life doing things that could have gone either way – and they didn’t go the wrong way because of luck or circumstance or coincidence, but because of a personal choice to readjust my outlook on the events playing out in front of me.

It’s three o’clock in the morning and I’m on a curb in Prague waiting for the bus that comes in fifteen minutes. It starts to rain. My friends and I look at each other and laugh. We’re in Prague, we just danced on a disco floor to the Macarena, we have a flight back to our home in London. Why hold onto something when you can reach for so much more?

My hands unclench and open up to the world of possibilities.

a weighty issue

LONDON – “And they say English food isn’t good.” We think we’re being hilarious, defying the widely held belief by stuffing our faces full of perfectly delicious English food. Fish and chips, bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, with the added diversity of London ushering dishes from India, Lebanon, Holland, France, Spain, Italy…In short, you can trust me when I say that the food here is utterly divine.

And twelve weeks in I can tell you something else about it. Something we all whisper about when our friends go abroad and what all of us over here joke about, pout about, fret about, eventually decide to do nothing about.

Pounds. And I’m not talking about the currency.

At first, I tried to ignore it. Then I was justifying it – “it is my second week abroad, after all”. And slowly, slowly I couldn’t ignore it anymore. My jeans were getting decidedly smaller and belt notches had to be reversed.

As with most things, it was joked about a lot. But underneath my self-conscious jokes lay real anxiety. My lifestyle had been completely uprooted when I came across the pond. I’d climb often and do yoga twice or so a week, had an entire gym and riverside trail at my disposal, my meals were well planned out, and I had a comfortable university schedule, complete with a car, a ten minute walk from home to classes, the works.

But that kind of activity simply couldn’t be kept up here. A gym membership was £40 a month, a climbing one similar. I didn’t even bother looking at the prices of yoga classes in my posh Chelsea neighborhood.

To be fair, I did try to be active when I got past the “denial” stage. I’d do yoga from a free app on my iPhone (thanks, Starbucks!) and climb at a place that took me an hour to get to and cost me £7 each time I went.

But every time I’d have to block out time to climb or do yoga, I’d be missing out on a fun London trip with my newfound friends. It was a choice between fitness and friends. And I chose friendship. I chose experiences and sightseeing and discovery.

That choice didn’t come without a cost. As vain as it sounds, gaining weight isn’t an easy thing to come to terms with. And it’s something that we’ve been taught to fear – tainting occasions such as going to college with labels like the ever-ominous Freshman Fifteen.

But I didn’t choose to study abroad to be comfortable or to have an easy path. I wanted a challenge and I got it. Even if it is my own mindset.

As I see it, London is a town marinated in culture – it is all around. From the narrow towering town houses to the gold covered statues to the hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant with specials on weekdays from 5-8. Culture is not merely holed up in a museum or encrusted in sculptures, it lives and breathes and, coincidentally, eats on the streets of London.

To truly live here, to call this place my home, I found I have to treat each inch and pound as a souvenir.

Because, really, it is.

What is the St. Patrick’s Day parade without a Guinness or two (or three) or a hard day of work without a biscuit to dip in my tea at tea time or a football match at the local pub without a cold pint to accompany me as I pretend to understand what’s going on? What is a stroll through Borough Market without picking up a sample or two (or three) or a day walking in the rare London sun without an iced coffee from our favorite French café or a visit to Shoreditch without checking out its frenzied food stalls?

To fret and worry and stress about a couple of extra pounds is to deny myself a true cultural experience. And while I’ve managed to find more balance here – I do try to use that yoga app after work – I don’t tie myself to it over an experience that can truly only be seized here and now and with the people that I’m with.

Friendship, culture, life is more important that an inch or two (or three). I promise.

shit happens.

in battersea park, luckily not being favoured by the bird population.

in battersea park, luckily not being favoured by the bird population.

LONDON – Well it finally happened. I’ve been trying to calculate what the odds were that I could pass through the city without it happening to me. I guess I can put away my calculator watch, because it has happened.

 

That’s right, on Thursday a bird pooped on me. Twice. On my way to work.

 

In a cruel twist of British irony, I had begun that day with a simple epiphany: that mindset can guide your day to be whatever you want it to be. Life is life but your experience is your outlook upon life’s happenings.

 

So onward I marched to work – bumbling my way through the shaky Tube, tripping up steps, tripping down steps, purposefully directing my thoughts toward the positive. And in response, the things that usually cause me to scowl brought a smile to my face. The sun was shining and I was singing – a little louder than usual, which drew stares. But hey, I was thinking positively. And the results were grand.

 

Bring it on, I dared the world.

 

And promptly, the world responded. With a quick splat, my entire mantra was brought into question. My experiment of sorts was brought to its crux. The hilarity of it all overwhelmed me and I laughed under the bird-filled tree in the empty walkway to work.

 

“It’s good luck!” A straight-faced passerby yelled to me, “Think of it as a good omen.”

 

With this in mind, I went to work, washed off thoroughly, and went about my day – periodically laughing at the absurdity of my morning.

 

This, I’ve come to learn, is a symptom of London culture. People simply don’t take things personally here. It’s smart, really. If you latched on to everything that could ruin your day, every day here would be a nightmare.

 

When you travel on a stuffed-to-the-brim Tube to get to work every morning and have to navigate across honking streets with cars that don’t stop, taking things personally is a doomed path to take.

 

It explains why, when I walked into the office with white streaks down my front and in my hair, my coworkers barely gave pause. When I told them the (what I thought was) hilarious and exciting story, the thrilling conclusion was not met with shocked gasps and exclamations of, “No way!” As it would have been in any self-respecting American office, but rather with casual stories of their own under-bird misfortunes around London’s best known landmarks.

 

Apparently, getting pooped on is just another bit of London life. Much like being perennially delayed on the District line, getting caught in the rain without an umbrella, or realizing that tights are a mandatory part of the British wardrobe even in 65-degree weather.

 

As they say in the edited-for-TV version of Forrest Gump, “Stuff happens.”

 

While studying abroad, it’s easy to get caught up in the rollercoaster of emotions that encapsulate your experiences. It’s easy to forget that stuff just…happens and that it’s not personally aimed to destroy your day. Forgetting this fact seems to be an art perfected by sensitive Americans and, as a result, perfectly good days can be ruined by a stranger’s glance, a malfunctioning iPhone, a bird pooping on your head.

 

This city is full of beauty and beasts alike. The key is to not take the beasts too seriously.

 

After all, it’s not personal – it’s London.

Friendships abroad.

MARCH 2014

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LONDON — It’s a strange thing, making friends abroad. There is, quite literally, a ticking clock counting down the days until your only contact with these people is via Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. It’s depressing and whenever one of us mulls over the idea, we quickly shush them and go on living in forgotten frenzy.

When I left Spokane, I’ve come to find, I left more than a city. I left familiarity and family. I left friends who knew what I was thinking with just a glance. I left behind hours spent laughing, days spent lounging, months spent trying to find Spokane’s hidden treasures.

And after 10 hours on a plane, it was all gone.

I stood in Heathrow Airport, alone and small, and felt a rush of independence. Fear soon followed. The knowledge that I knew nobody here and that nobody here knew me was enough to make me want to run back onto the plane and beg them to take me back to what I knew.

But border security already let me through. No going back now.

I waited at the baggage carousel and let the prospect of making new friends weigh me down. I mean, truly, it is a very daunting task. Fake laughter, fake questions, worrying about first impressions, then after you bomb those, worrying about how you can redeem yourself the second time around.

It was only until I was thrown into the tourist-tour-extravaganza of an orientation that I realized that I didn’t leave anything behind in Spokane. A plane ride doesn’t make experiences had and laughs laughed disappear. Those are pieces that have added to the whole of me, but surely there’s room for more. Even my old friends had to once be new.

And so, with my new pack of friends, I tromped around London taking pictures, singing songs about Stonehenge, laughing at yaks, complaining about classes, running to Waitrose to get food and drinks for late-night kitchen parties. I was building around me the familiarities of friendship.

But, as I said earlier, friendship abroad is a strange thing. I knew that the days spent getting closer and closer with them was also time inching closer and closer to another 10-hour plane ride leaving behind these new additions to my life.

I tried to think of solutions. So I looked at costs of planes. Strike one. Three-day road trip, anyone? Strike two. How about everyone just transfers to GU! OK, strike three. I felt like that mouse in Cinderella that tries to stuff as much corn into his mouth as possible only to lose it all. Fine, I know that his name is Gus-Gus. I felt like Gus-Gus.

And then I found it – the perfect solution. I was reading “The Screwtape Letters” on my lunch break at work and a piece of it practically jumped out at me: “Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; only fear, avarice, lust and ambition look ahead.”

The way to love my new friends is not to live in the future, trying to solve the unsolvable and worrying about the unchangeable. Love is living with no preoccupations. Love is ignoring the tick-tock of the four-month clock. Love is singing along to ’80s songs in the kitchen oblivious to the existence of anything else in this world but that kitchen, those songs, and these people.

The friendships that I’ve made here won’t disappear after that 10-hour flight home. They’ll come out in stories and memories and pictures. And with gratitude I’ll look back on these moments, with love I’ll bring them into my present life, with love I’ll refuse to look ahead.

To love is to live.

London Bridge is falling down.

MARCH 2014

Flowers in the springtime on my walk to work.

Flowers in the springtime on my walk to work.

LONDON – I walked through the garden on my way to work and breathed in deeply, steeling myself for another eight-hour day. I inhaled. The usual scents of car exhaust and cold weather weren’t there. I inhaled again. Spring. Light and floral mixed with a deeper hint of forested musk. I looked around me and noticed cherry blossoms in bloom, purple sprouts peeking out of the green earth, families walking about with nowhere particular in mind.

 

It fell upon me like the first drop of spring. The beauty of it all, the innocence, the joy. It was enough to buoy me through my research-laden day and have me skipping all the way home.

 

Spring has sprung! I excitedly thought as I lay down at the end of my day. Spring has sprung! I sang as my eyes closed for another night’s sleep. Spring has sprung! I dreamt the whole night through.

 

And just as quickly, spring rescinded its floral promise as I looked out of my window the next morning to a chilly, frosted picture of King’s Road. I buttoned up my winter coat and headed out into the honking mess.

 

This, I have come to learn, is the story of London.

 

Throughout London’s massive history – dating back to 43 AD – it has been thought of as a city of contradictions. It has known both glory and shame, peace and revolt, rain and fire. And its citizens reflect this same fluidity – often combating tragedy with humor and finding beauty amid the dirt and grime of the reality of their city.

 

In my British Contemporary Culture class the other day, we watched a BBC film called A Picture of London (2012). It explored London through the centuries and found a common pattern seen in people’s reactions to the city.

 

Time and time again, beauty was found artificially – forced upon London in inaccurate paintings or romanticized writings about her. Every time the city found itself in ruins, grand plans of restructure and order were put into place. And every time, London resisted and narrow twisty streets, dark gothic buildings, and chaotic markets thrived while orderly architect’s designs withered out of sight and mind. True beauty, the film finds, is borne of the city’s unplanned and muddled nature.

 

While watching the film, I was reminded of Victor Hugo’s Preface to Cromwell in which Hugo states that “it is of the fruitful union of the grotesque and the sublime types that modern genius is born”. He means to prove that the grotesque things in life, the evil, the horrific, the ugly, are not merely parts of life – they are necessary for beauty to exist at all.

 

Without the dirt and grime and muddle of London, its beauty would cease to exist as well.

 

The picture of London is this, then: a delicate balance of the sublime and the grotesque. Beauty is at the mercy of the ugly. Had I not have smelt car exhaust and cold weather for two months, the beautiful moment of spring could not have given me so much joy and warmth.

 

This story weaves throughout London and now that I’m privy to it, I see it. Complaining about late busses makes the on time ones feel like a special surprise. Grumbling about the rain makes the sun seem brighter and feel warmer. Thinking, “Why am I not in a pub right now?” makes being in the pub that much better. Or maybe it’s just the beer.

 

Nonetheless, this story of London is still being written, and now I am a contributor. This is a city that I call my home – even if I only occupy about 15 feet and 4 months of it. It is with this in mind that I press onward, embracing the ugliness in the beautiful and the sublime in the grotesque.

 

That is what London is. That is what life is.

Same old, same old.

FEBRUARY 2014

The Cogency's office space.

The Cogency’s office space.

LONDON – Nervously, I stood outside the gated doors and collected my breath before pressing the simple white button labeled, “The Cogency”. I had been here twice before. Once make sure I knew how to get there and a few days later to interview with the team.

 

Now for the third time, I press the button. A faint ding-dong rings inside the building and after a short wait my future colleague opens the gate for me with a smile and a “You must be Mary!” And so my life as a working student living abroad in London began.

 

The week went on as first weeks most often do – the first day is overwhelming, the second slightly boring, the third you’ve got your feet on the ground, and by day four your email is full, your to-do list is impossibly long, and you’re longing for that fabled thing referred to simply as ‘The Weekend’.

 

I found that my honeymoon phase with London was over.

 

The dull grey skies that once looked mysteriously, invitingly eerie now just looked dull and grey. The Tube with its whooshing doors and ability to carry me wherever I needed to go throughout the city now was an every-person-for-themselves ordeal as I’ve had to throw some ‘bows to get a place to and from work. And my days, once so open and free, were now laden with heavy numbers that read NINE THIRTY TO FIVE THIRTY.

 

It’s funny, this study abroad thing. When I departed on the plane, my eyes were full of stars and head full of dreams and everything had a romantic air about it. When I signed up to do an eight-week internship in London, I suppose the word, ‘London’, crowded out all else. Work, I thought, surely couldn’t be the same in London – this historical, grand, beautiful city – as it is in Spokane.

 

But, to be honest, it’s not that different.

 

No matter where you turn in this world, people are people, work is work and school is school. There may be different quirks and customs inherent to each, but the essence remains the same. And while, during my first week of work, I was frustrated at this newly found principle, in retrospect (yes, a word I learnt from Freaky Friday) it is actually the summation of what studying abroad is all about.

 

Learning that people halfway across the world are griping on about work just like I am, laughing over stupid things with their friends just like I am or trying to understand modern art just like I am is a constant reminder that studying abroad does not provide us with a new life, per se, but more a new outlook upon our lives.

 

The cultural nuances that we encounter as study abroad students gives us different perspectives on how different societies tackle the same entities. This, in turn, gives us insight into what different cultures value and what we can learn from that.

 

At Gonzaga, the amount of assignments dictates that I can only look a week in advance, while here we are given one assignment that must be worked on all throughout the semester. American values are seen in the quickness and efficiency that is needed for the large workload that students have to navigate while British values of creativity and autonomy are shown in the massive span of time given to complete one assignment. Same entity, different perspective.

 

This, truly, is what is to be gained from a study abroad experience. To be able to open your eyes and see the quirks of humanity – its similarities and differences, its ups and downs, the good and the bad. And after all of that, to accept these things, add them to your growing tapestry of understanding, and be able to further observe and question and live.

 

I know that we’ve all seen it on Pinterest, but Saint Augustine once said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

 

It doesn’t have to be to London, Florence, Paris or Bangkok, it could simply be going outside your comfort zone or speaking to someone whose views you wouldn’t ordinarily hear. But it’s a step we can all make to gain a slice more of understanding in this great big world.

 

So whether you’re abroad or in Spokane, try turning the next page of the book this week. Maybe it’ll reveal a new paragraph or a new chapter or perhaps just a new sentence. But it’s all we can do to try.

Laughing at Yaks.

FEBRUARY 2014

a selfie in scottish woods.

a selfie in scottish woods.

LONDON – It’s almost embarrassing to admit, but six weeks into my experience as a student living independently in London, I am sitting in a Starbucks sipping a caramel macchiato through a green straw. Besides the accents swirling around me and the double-deckers rushing by, I could be in Spokane for all that my environment denotes.

 

In my defense, amidst all the excitement and sightseeing and new people comes a strange sort of feeling. Behind every look and conversation and walk, an uneasy buzz lingers and interrupts. It took me a while to identify it, but it is discomfort at its most disguised. Disguised because who expects discomfort whilst living out your supposed dreams?

 

But there it lies. It’s quiet and likes to surprise me at the most inopportune moments. It erodes the little comforts I’ve built around me until I’m left standing amidst all of it – surrounded by an ocean of discomfort. What else can I do but find a way off my deserted island?

 

CLADICH, SCOTLAND – We are standing on the brick platform of a dilapidated train station watching the two-car machine that we rode in from Glasgow disappear behind an old arch. It’s our last weekend before we start our eight-week internship and my three cohorts and I found ourselves in need of a relaxing holiday. So Scotland it is.

 

Feeling tired, excited, and adventurous, we roam into the small town of Dalmally – from which Google Maps said we could catch bus 497 to the even smaller town of Cladich where we could reach our booked Scottish cottage after a two mile walk. Because that sounds valid, right?

 

It only took a few moments before we realized that bus 497 would not be coming. It took a walk into a nearby B&B where not a soul was detected before we realized that this town of Dalmally is smaller than small. It took a short walk back to the train station and one last desperate glance down the tracks before the anxiety started to trickle down my spine and make me wish for the boring comfort of my small white dorm room.

 

But I remembered my earnest desire to find comfort within the discomfort and I knew that whatever was about to happen would be an adventure at best, a dreadfully hilarious story at worst. Fearing the worst but hoping for the best, my friends knocked on the door of the one sign of civilization on this stretch of land.

 

A woman answered dressed in a charmingly clashing suit of knitted attire.

 

“Ah,” She sighed in an Irish brogue, “More strays. Well, come in!” She waved us inside her eclectic felt shop, gave us tea and coffee and cookies, and called up the landlady of the cabin that we had booked weeks before.

 

A half hour later, we were stuffed full of stories and coffee and being whisked away by Sally, our matronly landlady, over the twists and turns of Scottish countryside, through the small town of Cladich, and into our chilly lakeside cottage. Sally noticed our lack of food and assured us that her husband could grab some for us in the village 30 minutes away.

 

She made us promise to head over to the pub by the end of the night, a promise we were eager to make and see through. If we’ve learnt anything abroad, it’s that a drink is always a welcome addition to any night. Or afternoon.

 

ON-THE-TRAIN-BACK, SCOTLAND – The weekend that followed was the most spontaneous, carefree, and unplanned event that has transpired in my experience abroad. After many faulty transportation, food, and directional decisions, the collective group effort to find comfort in the uncomfortable led to a discovery that is vital in life – everything will be fine. Poetic, eh?

 

But in all seriousness, we found ourselves hiking two miles this morning to catch a bus that only comes once a day to take us to a train that only leaves once a day to take us to another bus that is the only one going into London tonight.

 

Before this weekend, I would be shivering in discomfort instead of writing an article and making faces at my friends on the train right now. I would have been expending unnecessary energy worrying about things that cannot and will not change instead of laughing at yaks and admiring the scenery the whole two-mile hike to our unmissable bus this morning.

 

It took a lot of things gone awry to help me understand that things are only wrong if you think they’re wrong. Life goes on and busses are missed, trains break down and plans are changed.

 

Finding comfort abroad does not come through an impeccable knowledge of British culture, a flawless execution of plans made, or even the making of easy routines to balance out your life. Comfort abroad comes in the knowledge that you’re always going to get where you’re meant to go – broken down trains and all.