April Playlist time! Press play and enjoy.
SCOTLAND, choosing only ten photos from this trip was rough, but these are all fairly representative of our amazing time in Edinburgh. A combination of castles, snow and gorgeous city sites. They clearly didn’t know much about heating systems, but all was well wrapped in our coats and scarves. I made it almost the entire way to the top of The Scott Monument, where I panicked at the third tier and refused to go any farther. Our hostel was a converted cathedral, which was surprisingly a lot less creepy than it sounds. A wonderful South African woman worked the desk and by the end we were all friends with promises of postcards and vows to someday return. We braved the snow even though RyanAir did not and hiked to the top of a dormant volcano to Arthur’s Seat. Along the way we met a man from Argentina who had been backpacking for two years, wandering wherever he wanted and striking up conversations with whoever agreed to take his picture at a site. After reaching the top we then proceeded to slip and fall most of the way back down. We ate a Scottish breakfast in the cafe where J.K. Rowling was inspired to write Harry Potter. The view was stunning, but by the time we finally found The Elephant House we were so hungry I couldn’t decide what view was better - the majestic castle just outside the window or the scrambled eggs directly on my plate. We took the train to Linlithgow and explored Linlithgow Palace and Blackness Castle. We sward-fought on the castle grounds and ooh-ed at the snowcapped mountains in the distance. Our attempt at mingling with the locals did not go as smoothly as planned, but we found ourselves intoxicated and laughing with the Scottish bartenders by the end of the second night. This may have been partially due to our misconception that a “malt” was a beer and not a straight glass of locally produced whiskey. Whoops. Finally on the last day we found a Scotsman with a kilt and a bagpipe. The perfect ending to a perfect trip. My only regret was having to leave so soon… By far one of my favorite cities in the world.
Step one you say we need to talk,
he walks you say sit down it’s just a talk.
He smiles politely back at you,
You stare politely right on through.
I have acquired a new frenemy. She’s uncooperative and actually painful to engage with. I’m talking about my new bike, and I’ve named her “Tundra”.
Yes, after weeks of whining and complaining about the bus system, I’ve joined the dark side. I’ve taken the leap and officially purchased a shiny new bike (just kidding, it’s used and the brakes actually squeal). I used to hate bikers. I used to give them dirty looks when they rode by, after all, who do they think they are? Speeding by, thinking they’re riding in style. Now I know why they never noticed.. because riding a bike in traffic takes some serious struggle and concentration. When every part of your legs is burning and the wind feels like it’s actually eating both your fingers and nose, you realize you actually couldn’t care less what any stupid girl on the sidewalk is thinking of you.
The first week was a terrible story of struggle to learn how to essentially “drive” on the wrong side of the road and pedal uphill less than 5 feet from traffic. Everyone uses the saying “you never forget how to ride a bike,” but they probably weren’t talking about road regulations or how well you remember to steer once you realize you’re heading directly into oncoming traffic because you thought you were supposed to stay on the right. Every intersection is a moment of panic and every block feels like I might pop a lung and actually keel over.
Lets also discuss the ridiculous safety gear that must be worn. A construction-yellow neon vest, big enough to fit three of me inside, is wrapped around both me and my backpack and velcro-ed together at the front. Que Pitbull, “I know you Want me“‘s latest remix. If anyone I know has seen me panting and pedaling and actually looking like a hunchback with my neon cape, I apologize for the eyesore. Not to mention the after-bike-ride-walk, when my thighs feel like they’re the size of a Leinster rugby player’s and I’m walking like the Tin Man because the bike seat feels like trying to balance your butt on a football.
So what I’m trying to say here is that I am sincerely sorry for ever giving bikers any less credit than they deserve. Four for you, bike warriors. You go, bike warriors.
Autonomy: the capacity to be one’s own person, to live one’s life according to reasons and motives that are taken as one’s own and not the product of manipulative or distorting external forces.
Out with the ladies, a night on the new town… drinks, dancing and even a few glow sticks along the way. It was an international party, so everyone was mingling and sharing their foreign experiences thus far. I was approached by a brown haired guy speaking with a German accent and we exchange our stories. I’m from the States, here for the semester and coincidentally he lives in a residence hall not far from me in Dublin.
I asked what school he attended before arriving, and when I didn’t give him a more impressed look, he asked if I knew the school. Apparently its a pretty big deal. “No, sorry,” I replied, hoping he’d give me a quick explanation.
"Is there anything outside of America that you Americans know? Does it exist?" he sneers.
My face drops. I’m caught off guard. A strange mixture of surprised and embarrassed. I don’t even know what to say. I’m sorry… I’m trying… I’m at a loss for words… I’m walking away.
Is it offensive that I don’t know where any of these students are from, when they can name 3/4 of the states in America without batting an eye? Apparently so. Should I have learned this in school at some point, or is this supposed to be common knowledge? I chalked it up to a rude isolated incident and walk back to my group of friends on the dance floor.
Sitting in a Political Science class today, I was furiously scribbling down notes about top-down reform when the professor pauses, and asks the class if there are any Americans present. I look up and hesitate. Should I raise my hand? Why is she asking? I’m afraid she’s going to ask me something about American politics… if I don’t know the answer, I’ll be sending a bad message. I don’t raise my hand.
"I know there used to be one in here, but she must have dropped it. She probably couldn’t handle it," she says. And the lecture hall chuckles.
I shrunk back into my seat about 9 feet and hoped to look as least horrified as possible. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. She says something about our politics becoming a joke and continues on with her teaching. Class is dismissed and I gathered my bag and rushed out the door.
What the heck?
What happened to the American Dream? The people of the free world? The leaders of the future? Or wait… was that just what we were told?
"We are the greatest nation. We are the best. Everyone else is inferior." Of course they didn’t use those exact words, but wasn’t that their point? All that independent, freedom and democracy mumbo-jumbo. That’s great and all, but they forgot to include that we have one of the worst stereotypes in the developed world.
They teach us the American revolution, American history, American politics, American economy and wars from the American perspective. What about the rest of the world? When does that come into play? If you’re not a history major, when are you taught anything about that? Never?
I’m beginning to notice it in my American friends here. They talk entirely too loud in restaurants, eating without manners and speaking somewhat offensively. They’re unknowingly inconsiderate to other views. They’re not bilingual, in fact we can barely ask someone how they’re doing in Spanish.
We’ve been raised to think we’ll be successful and that we’re unique. We think the rest of the world should be interested in us, even though we’re not particularly interesting individuals. Just because our pop culture dominates doesn’t mean they take us seriously.
As an American, can I ask my fellow Americans… can we clean up our stereotype, ladies and gentlemen?
And after a long day of navigating through campus, I finally arrived at the bus station. I sit down my bags and plop myself onto the bench. It’s raining, as usual, and there’s a crowd of students to my left, excitedly chattering about their evening plans. My friends are already back at the residence hall, waiting for me to come back so we can begin our evening as well. A bus comes and picks up the students, but as it turns out, that bus isn’t going to take me where I need to go. I turn to the bus schedule, all written in military time and get out my counting fingers. There are is a bus at 7:45 and another at 8:55. I look down at my watch. 7:56. I pick up my heavy bags and begin my long walk home in the dark.
But not every day is like that. I’ve found that throughout the day I go through just about every emotion.. from extreme excitement to utter confusion to complete despair (as mentioned above). Are there more hours in the day here or is it just me?
I’ve compiled a list of everything I’ve gathered here so far. It’s certainly not complete, and it might not even be very accurate. It’s probably just a bunch of opinions I’ve formed in the past weeks. But here goes..
1) Layer everything.
I’m serious. I don’t care what the weather forecast is telling you or even if it is the brightest, sunniest morning you’ve ever seen. Layer. There has been rain, snow, sleet, sunshine and wind consistently - in one day. Its unpredictable and frustrating and I’ve officially stopped attempting to style my hair. Can one die from a lack of vitamin d?
2) Enjoy the journey, but not so much as to miss your bus stop. Or Dart station.
Yes, that building is very pretty. And I mean, that tree.. would you look at that? Would you just look at it? But not everyone is a tourist, and nothing is going to wait for you to take that fifth picture of the cool rock. I’ve missed orientations, help hours and seminars because of being too absorbed in just “being” here. Now I’m bloody clueless and can’t find a bus pass to save my life. Way to go.
3) Stop Judging
I am an excellent judge-er. I can walk down the street and inspect outfits and hairstyles and even decide whether or not I like the person, just by what they chose to do with themselves that morning. Its a disease that comes naturally, but I am learning to stop it. The moment you stop judging everyone else, you stop worrying about what they’re thinking of you and your appearance. Its a great freedom. Middle part and mismatched prints? Don’t mind if I do.
4) When you think it cant get any worse, you’re wrong.
It can, and it will. From wrong directions to those damn sold out bus passes to impatient librarians to lukewarm showers, just when you think the worst has happened, more bad luck can (and usually does) spill in. On the bright side, even the trickiest and messiest situations seem like an adventure here. I wouldn’t trade this amazing experience for, well, anything really. It won’t stop raining and public transportation continues to prove itself unreliable. I really haven’t learned how to deal with this one yet. I’ll keep you posted.
5) Trust in humanity, but clench your purse.
There are so many people here who seem so willing to help. The general public seems generally genuine. But I have encountered the creepy, the rude and the peculiar. I’ve had the pleasure of conversing with friendly locals, eager to give me directions and excited for my trip. I obviously have a stamp on my forehead reading “lost American.” But I’ve also accidentally spoken to the polar opposite.. the unfriendly people who don’t want to waste their time on you and don’t understand why you’re (clearly) so stupid. There are also the weird guys who stand just a little too close and make you silently question where exactly your key-chain with the pepper-spray is in your bag. Just hoping for the best and trying to ignore..
6) Do not mistake polite manners for flirting.
This is my personal favorite. People are not as self-interested and cold here as they are back in the states, and telling boys you’re not interested is really awkward when they weren’t actually insinuating anything in the first place. Yikes. But thanks for carrying my hundred pound suitcase up the stairs and helping me to my room, bro. If we were in America, you’d be expecting some form of compensation.
Arrival at last! After 8 long hours of being trapped in a plane, we finally stepped off onto the Irish ground. We were tired, hungry, nervous and lost. And needless to say, tired of dragging around our insane amount of luggage. What was that smell? Oh, just us.
After an hour of mass confusion, we found the correct terminal and boarded yet another form of public transportation - the bus. Always a moment of relief followed by a moment of disgust to know you’ve gotten on the bus in time.. just as dirty as the ball pit in a McDonald’s PlayPlace.
I found a friend. She is also American, but from the south.. so I feel like I’m getting cultured in one way or another. We have formed a close bond that only comes from the sheer fear of helplessness. She has been as devastated to find that there is no Ranch dressing as I have been to find there are no filtered coffee-makers. Breathe.. Breathe. Things will work out, just a bit differently than expected. And without as much caffeine.
We have gotten ourselves completely lost and found our way back. Success. Nothing is worse than realizing you’ve been riding the wrong bus in a foreign country for the past 20 minutes.
Our residence hall is an old nun convent. My radiator makes noises only previously heard in horror movies. The lights are supposed to only turn on when motion is detected, but they are in a constant state of flickering. We have been the first to arrive, and so there are only five people occupying a building that resembles the size of Hogwarts.
To my disappointment, there are far more Americans here than I thought there would be. A few are okay, but as it turns out, we seem to be the majority in the exchange program. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with students from Belgium, Finland, Australia, Italy, Zimbabwe and Ireland. It seems the non-Americans are far more experienced with traveling than we are. They also tend to know more about the United States geography than I know about, well, any of their countries. This is embarrassing and frustrating, and I blame our education system for solely focusing on our founding fathers rather than teaching us that there is a big, wide world out there full of people who you may someday come in contact with.
Thankfully we have managed to find plates and silverware, phone lines and ATM’s. I am excited for classes to begin and to mingle with the Irish students and their adorable accents.
I miss my best friend, and I miss my boyfriend. I’m sad to have put my parents in a slight state of depression. My life has changed entirely in a matter of a few days, and I realize I asked for this, but I am going to miss being in constant contact with the people who love me. I guess this adventure is all about being enough for myself… and meeting a few new people to love me as well.
As the Irish would say, “Slong!”