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Month: November 2015

Ellen Quist | Copenhagen, Denmark | Post 5

Ellen Quist | Copenhagen, Denmark | Post 5

While we haven’t yet had Thanksgiving (in either the United States or Denmark – more on that in a second), it is now definitely Christmas season here in this little Nordic country.  To the Danes, Christmas is almost entirely a secular holiday, called jul, which is where we get the word ‘yuletide’ (juletide), but not pronounced quite the same as in English.  Some of the city bars have been decorated with garlands and fake snow for a few weeks now, and the presence of lights and pine bough-like decorations is growing.  The Christmas markets have opened in various city squares and Tivoli, Copenhagen’s big amusement park, is all lit up.

I have a plane ticket back to Minnesota for twenty-one days from now.  My Danish residence permit expires on Christmas day.  The weather forecast is predicting snow today and tomorrow.  Time here is running out.  I suppose this is the time to start asking myself what other things I want to do, what else I want to see in my last three weeks, and whether or not I’ve gotten out of this experience what I wanted.  

I’d like to think I have; I know how to get around and function in this society (don’t talk to people on the bus/train, check twice before you cross the street so the bikers don’t get you), I can have brief exchanges entirely in Danish (this is especially easy at the grocery store, where the amount of money you owe is displayed on a screen and you can just say tak – thank you – when the cashier hands you your change and receipt), and my body knows to jerk itself awake when the ticket checkers come by on the train asking for passes and travel cards to make sure we’ve all paid for our trip.  I know my way around both Hillerød and Copenhagen, and my pronunciation of Danish words and places has improved markedly (though I still can’t say rødgrød med fløde).  And I have made some Danish friends that I know I will miss next semester.

Next weekend, the Americans here at Grundtvigs Højskole are preparing a big Thanksgiving dinner for all of our residents.  Obviously the Danes don’t do Thanksgiving otherwise, but the Americans that stay here tend to do the meal each year, and we wanted to do that too.  We’ll be spending all day in the kitchen, but I think it will pay off.  There are whispers of a jul lunch or dinner before we all go our separate ways, and possibly also a Christmas party (one benefit of the Christmas season starting so early – celebrations before the day itself are perfectly acceptable).  While we sit down and have meals together three times a day as it is, I like the idea of purposefully gathering everyone on a weekend, when they wouldn’t necessarily be here at school, to spend time together as this semester is ending for all of us.\

The Danish Symphony Orchestra performing at DR Koncerthuset, the Danish Radio Concert Hall.
The Danish Symphony Orchestra performing at DR Koncerthuset, the Danish Radio Concert Hall.

It’s the waning number of days that has been keeping me home more so than the increasingly colder and wetter weather.  When classes finish every day, I’m on the first possible train home.  When I have free days, I contemplate going to the city to explore, but the appeal of a warm fire, tea, and good company has an allure that I can’t really top with wandering around Copenhagen in the cold.  I’ve been trying to partake in højskole activities instead of staying holed up in my room watching movies.  Two days ago I went with them to see the Danish Symphony, and today Grundtvigs is hosting its own music festival, which I will no doubt spend a good deal of time at (though I should be doing homework, as we’ve reached that point of the semester).

To all of you in the US, enjoy Thanksgiving with whomever you are with.  I’m excited to have it with my friends here, in this hyggeligt community.

Fra Hillerød, vi ses!  Hav det godt!

Lizzie Bennett | Samoa | Post 5

Lizzie Bennett | Samoa | Post 5

Mālõ lava!

Presently, I have no fun excursions to write about. That’s because it’s time for independent research! Yay!!!!!!!!!

We have three and a half weeks allotted to conduct research and write a 20-30 page paper about a subject or organization of our choice. I’m doing my research on the Museum of Sāmoa, known in Sāmoan as the Falemata’aga. My paper focuses on the challenges that the Museum of Sāmoa faces in terms of preserving and interpreting tangible and intangible aspects of Sāmoan culture. The good thing about having chosen this topic is that the museum faces many challenges, mostly relating to money and infrastructure. I’ve been volunteering at the museum periodically: both to acquire data and help them out with day-to-day tasks.

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To get to the museum, I either have to take an Apia-bound bus, get off, and walk for 45 minutes, or take a bus into town, wait for up to two hours, and take a Moto’otua bound bus. The buses here alternately great (not only do the buses blast Christmas music starting in October, the fare is usually one or two tala for trips around and just outside of Apia. That’s about 38 and 75 US cents.) and my own personal hell.  Concepts of personal space here are, well, different. For instance, the bus from the main bus terminal in Apia to the Savai’I ferry (Pasi o Va’a, or bus for the boat) is only supposed to fit 33 passengers, but often fits more than 60. This is because people will sit in each other’s laps (this process is affectionately called ‘stacking’) and stand in the aisles. For a cagey east-coaster like me, it’s both endlessly amusing in its absurdity and not fun at all.

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But back to the museum- the Sāmoan government operates it but it relies heavily on aid, in the form of exhibits, money, and equipment from foreign governments or other museums. Unfortunately for the museum, there is a widely held attitude that, since Sāmoan culture has been able to adapt to changes brought about by European contact and subsequent globalization, that preserving aspects of Sāmoan culture in a museum is redundant and a waste of time. What I’m trying to argue is that a great museum of Sāmoan culture doesn’t have to be a room full of artifacts that have been alienated from their uses and cultural milieus- museums can be places where indigenous knowledge and experiences can be centered, where Sāmoan frameworks of knowledge can be preserved and replicated.

All that remains of my time here is writing this paper, presenting it, and spending a few days running errands before we head back to the States. It’s been a very busy and reflection-filled two weeks, and I anticipate that the next two weeks will be even more busy and reflection-filled. 16 days is not a long time at all, but by the end of it I’ll feel like I’ll have spent a whole lifetime here. Time passes very strangely here- there are weeks that fly by, as if I simply dreamt them, and days that are glacial in their passage. It doesn’t help that the rainy season is upon us. The near-daily rains, coupled with abysmal Equatorial heat and humidity, cast a veil of sleepiness over our corner of Alafua.

Kelsey Quinn | York, England | Post 3

Kelsey Quinn | York, England | Post 3

This brief pause to reflect upon the last two weeks since I’ve blogged is welcome. As soon as I finish this, I will hurry to my last class of the week, where I will then hurry to the airport and begin a weekend in Dublin, though I just fully unpacked from last weekend’s trip to Amsterdam yesterday. I still can’t believe I have the opportunity to do all of this; saving all year and working full time has paid off a much as I hoped it would.

 

Amsterdam
Amsterdam

Amsterdam was the one place outside of the UK I wanted to be sure that I visited while I was here, and after going I do not regret that goal in the slightest. It’s an amazing city. The canals loop around everywhere, and the Dutch architecture characterized by adorable tall buildings squished together looks so nice next to the water. I think they have a lot of things right there. For example, they seem to have almost eliminated dependence on personal motor vehicles. There were hardly any cars on the road; instead, the streets are dominated by buses and trams, and the sidewalks are always full of people walking to their destinations. That’s not even to mention the bikes. They’re everywhere. All of the streets have separate bike lanes, and the stoplights have different signals for cars, pedestrians, and bikes. I applaud it in theory, but in practice I secretly thought it was really annoying, because they are coming constantly from what feels like every direction and make it really difficult to cross a street or navigate anywhere, really. Amsterdam is also experimentally liberal in a lot of other ways that everyone knows about. Despite this, they are also remarkably backwards in other ways. There’s a big focus on weed and sex work, but also a pervasive undercurrent of racism and ignorance of the disabled, a disregard for important issues in favor of more accessible “liberal” ones that made me feel uneasy. Keep in mind that I was only there for 3 days, though, and I could be missing a lot of detail in my tourist’s impression of the city.

 

Amsterdam
Amsterdam

Overall, though, Amsterdam really felt like a different world. I’ve come from there back to England this week, and that is the context in which I’ve been watching all that’s happening at home at the University of Missouri and elsewhere. I feel completely removed from it in an eerie way. In fact, I’ve felt completely removed from any social movement since arriving here. The English in general, from what I’ve seen, just do not have a good sense of social awareness, and it horrifies me because I know the same issues exist here. It’s one thing that I have really come to appreciate about the United States: horrendous things may happen on a large scale, but they are never ignored. People are activists who engage in discussion and work for justice. I don’t mean to romanticize tragedy or injustice in any way, but I just miss being around people who care.

 

That got solemn, but I am otherwise in love with my life here in England. I’m so happy and comfortable in York and with my housemates. Before leaving Amsterdam, I found myself thinking that I couldn’t wait to go home, with home being York. Amsterdam was nice, but after a weekend I was exhausted and ready to get out of there. England, on the other hand, I would be happy if I never left. I’m starting to count down my last weeks. But if you’ll excuse me before I get too emotional about that, I have a plane to catch to Dublin.

Lizzie Bennet | Samoa | Post 5

Lizzie Bennet | Samoa | Post 5

Ni sa bula!


We left the country for the last time, until we leave for good. Our excursion, this time, was to the extraordinarily beautiful and diverse country of Fiji. Fiji is comprised of over 300 islands, many of which are uninhabited. The main island, Viti Levu (Greater Fiji) is where most of the population and economic activity takes place. We spent most of our time there. Our group took a hop, a skip, and a jump over the 180th meridian to Suva, the bustling capital of Fiji. Although Suva is a relatively small city as far as capitals go, it is considered to be the most cosmopolitan, bustling city in all of the island Pacific. I had forgotten what it’s like to be in a big, busy town, so being in Suva was a bit overwhelming. What’s interesting about Suva, and Fiji in general is how diverse it is- after Fiji was ceded to the British empire in the late 1800s, the British administrators brought over people from India as indentured servants to work the sugarcane fields. The Indo-Fijians make up about half of the population, and the other half is mostly Indigenous Fijians, Rotumans (Rotuma is an island about two hundred miles away from Viti Levu, and is populated by a culturally, linguistically, and ethnically distinct group of people.), Chinese, and people from all over the Pacific. Suva has great food, friendly people, and overlooks a mountain range across the bay!

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After two nights in Suva, we took a ferry to Ovalau Island, east of Viti Levu. Ovalau is where the first colonial capital, Levuka, is located. Levuka is where Fiji was ceded to the British, and was the capital for three years, until the capital was moved to Suva. Because of a lack of economic development on that side of Ovalau, there was no need to demolish the old buildings. In 2013, Levuka was made a UNESCO world heritage site. This development has increased tourist traffic to Levuka, and it seemed that everywhere I turned was a sandles-and-socks bedecked tourist. Levuka is a beautiful little town, nestled along the shore of the gentle sea, at the foot of high, rocky mountains. A few days after our arrival in Levuka, we went to visit Tokou, a small village a few kilometers south of town. We were greeted with a kava ceremony and conversation with the chief and the rest of the villagers. Kava is a ceremonial beverage made from the roots of a pepper plant, and when consumed, relaxes you and makes your tongue numb. After that, we were escorted around the village, seeing the primary school, the church, and the meeting house. The villagers were super nice and so willing to welcome us into our homes. It was awesome.

A few days later, took the ferry again to the northern side of Fiji, where we stayed with a faith-based NGO called Compassion for Fiji Children. The NGO has spaces for families to live in case they become homeless. The spaces to live are safe, clean, and the families are given opportunities to work until they get back on their feet. At the moment, there were no families living there, save for the family that runs the NGO. After one night there, we drove to Nadi, the tourist hub of Fiji, where the main international airport is. On the way, we drove through the interior of Fiji. Did you ever think that Fiji could be scrubby and dry, almost like a mountainous savanna? I sure didn’t! Also, we spent a whole week in Fiji and didn’t go to the beach once. What??

 

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Fiji is amazing, and I feel like I was there for too short of a time. Hopefully, I can come back and experience it at a more leisurely place. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to go to the beach.


Ni sa moce!

Ellen Quist | Copenhagen, Denmark | Post 4

Ellen Quist | Copenhagen, Denmark | Post 4

Fall has come to Denmark.  But as the locals warned us Americans upon our arrival, it’s a swift descent toward winter.  While the temperatures are still quite mild (40’s to 50’s in Fahrenheit), the wind and rain are beginning to have a bite and the hours of daylight are waning fast.  After all, it is November, though I thought I was hallucinating when I looked at the date a few days ago.  Didn’t we just get here?  Didn’t classes just start?  Having every third week off for travel makes the time just fly.  Two weeks ago I was just getting back from Prague, Budapest, and Stockholm, and now tomorrow morning I’m off to Krakow.  The two weeks of classes in between was the blink of an eye.

 

Rainy autumn mist over the skyline of Copenhagen.  Danes love wearing black; maybe it’s because for a good chunk of the year, all the color leaches out of their world.
Rainy autumn mist over the skyline of Copenhagen. Danes love wearing black; maybe it’s because for a good chunk of the year, all the color leaches out of their world.

While my last trip was great, I realized the price I pay for such adventures.  I come back tired, having only maybe gotten more sleep and certainly having spent much more of each day on my feet exploring.  When I return to class on Monday morning, it doesn’t feel like I’ve just had a week off.  Sure, I had no classes, which is always a nice reprieve, but my body doesn’t recover much.

 

The physical drain I’ve decided I’m willing to deal with.  It’s hard to go and adequately experience a travel destination if you spend all day sleeping or lying on the couch trawling Facebook or Buzzfeed.  But I also realized last time that I actually lament taking so much time away from home.  By which I mean time away from my højskole in Denmark.  During a normal week at school, at least I come home for dinner with the other students, and on the days I don’t have early class I can join them for breakfast as well.  Evenings provide hours to sit with friends, American and Danish, playing Werewolf (their version of Mafia) or Cards Against Humanity, or watch movies, or just talk about whatever comes to mind.  I miss them when I’m away, since it’s weighed on me from the beginning that my time here is so limited.

 

Starting tomorrow I have two weekends with a week between them free of classes. Tomorrow I fly to Krakow for four days on a class study tour to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau.  But after our return flight lands in Copenhagen, I’m not dashing off again to use up the rest of my week.  Instead, I intend to come home, and be lazy, and spend time with the Danes and what Americans will be here for a day or two at a time between their own trips.  If I can muster the energy, I may explore more of Copenhagen or northern Zealand (the island we’re on), or even venture across the Øresund to Malmö, Sweden, for a day.  But more than any of that really grabs me, I just want to stay home.

 

Autumn comes to Denmark, dropping beautiful leaves in Roskilde, Denmark.
Autumn comes to Denmark, dropping beautiful leaves in Roskilde, Denmark.

Because this place has become home to me.  I know it’s not permanent, but home is more of a feeling in my view, and so the permanence of my stay here is irrelevant.  There’s so much about this place that I simply love: the mist that rises on cool wet days, how the sky seems so close even though the elevation of the land is right at sea level, the red S-tog trains, the masses of bicyclists during morning rush hour, Danish babies in their heavy-duty identical prams, and the list goes on.  I understand more written and spoken Danish now, so conversations amongst the Danes I live with aren’t always total gobbledygook anymore.  I feel less like an outsider than I did at first.

 

One of the most popularly mentioned words in the Danish language for which there is no English translation is hygge.  It’s often simply described as coziness, but more than that, as that’s the easiest way to define it without giving a long-winded account.  And true, part of hygge is being cozy, but that isn’t quite enough.  It’s like sitting with your friends around a fire on a cold night, sipping hot chocolate, and knowing you belong there.  In my mind, it’s kind of what home should feel like.

 

On the nights when the Danish wind blows cold and the sun sets at 4:18 PM even though it’s barely November, home is definitely where the hygge is, and exactly where I want to be.

James Falino | Rabat, Morocco | Post 3

James Falino | Rabat, Morocco | Post 3

After a long flight and travel, we stumbled off the bus with our unruly luggage and filed through a short, narrow entrance between two buildings. Inside, a labyrinth of streets unfolded before us; blues, reds, and purples lined the walls, interrupted only by murals, tile fountains, and storefronts. We established our home base in Rabat, the capital city, with classes held at the Center for Cross Cultural Learning (CCCL) located in the Médina. Médinas are the old, walled-in cities and inside is an active, close-knit community of homes, shopkeepers, and food stands. Half of the experience has been getting lost, while the other has been discovering new sights while finding your way home.

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The lectures at the CCCL have focused on government structure, civil society and political protests such as the Arab Spring, water management, and the agriculture industry in Morocco. We tackled the role of neoliberalism and international trade on Morocco’s development. In particular, we discussed the necessity to preserve its precious water resources in the face of increased demand, drought, and desertification.

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The highlight of my trip so far has been my homestay family with Addison ‘17. My parents, Assia and Khalid, live in the Medina close to CCCL with their two boys. They learned English from hosting abroad students for the past few years. Our little brother is beginning to learn – “goal” and “crazy boy” are his go-to phrases; I suspect past students taught him. In the house there is the standard mix of French and Arabic, with English added to fill in the gaps. I had begun to speak with Addison in Spanish to practice for Bolivia and on one of the first days, our host cousin came in and addressed us in Spanish. Coming from a single language household in the U.S., I was truly in awe at the mix of four languages bouncing around the dinner table.

Assia and I have had several conversations about social and political life in Morocco. I am impressed with her political involvement and recent move into local governance, with a dream of receiving a PhD. We spoke of the role of religion, gender, and the interplay of government and the monarchy. She told me how working for women’s rights and other marginalized communities has been her personal call into politics, and I shared how it mirrored my call to combat climate change. Khalid was the mastermind behind our daily tagine, a meal cooked in a clay pot on the stove and slathered with spices. The tagine is shared and informally split into “zones,” where bread as a vessel for food takes precedence over silverware. Each time we asked for a recipe, he replied with either “aunts” or “secret of the kitchen” and a sly grin.  They fostered an open environment where questions were encouraged, and I was happily challenged about my perceptions of Moroccan life, monarchy, and Islamic countries such as the changing gender roles and the personal preference that determines what women wear in public.

A typical meal at my homestay
A typical meal at my homestay

A class excursion was to Ben Smim in the Atlas Mountains for a week. After being in dispersed homestay families in cities for the past few weeks, we were happy to be living in close quarters while sharing open space and fresh air. The views were breathtaking, with rolling mountains and daily admiration of the sunset and stars. One night, a student led us in some sunset yoga as orange and purples bounced over hilltops and a crescent moon began to rise. It was a time where we all got closer as a group, let loose, and is among my most memorable experiences.

During our stay in this village, we saw the mechanized production of water bottles at a plant that had moved in to use a local water source. The next day, we met with a woman who was fired from the company and later led protests against the labor exploitation and the company backing out on their promises to employ and support the local community. She informed us how the water usage resulted in unreliable flow and blocked access to homes at higher altitudes. This has been a conflict, especially considering the agriculture dependence of this region.

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The next week we packed up and headed to Agadir, a town in the south of Morocco, that was rebuilt in the 60s after an earthquake. There, we enjoyed some nice weather and lectures on the Moroccan Green Plan, the fishing industry and labor unions, and the role of Morocco in international climate talks. We visited COPAG, an industrial farming cooperative, and observed firsthand the goals of the Green Plan to consolidate small farmers into cooperative structures to improve Morocco’s role in the international market. Next, we met with the former Moroccan delegate to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), he spoke of the hectic environment and alliance building with other North African countries that he’s experienced at past COPs. We then debated the role of multilateral agreements on climate change in contrast to a need for technological innovation.

A view of Chefchaouen
A view of Chefchaouen

We returned to Rabat for a night with a farewell dinner and party with our homestay families. A local band played traditional Moroccan music and we danced with families and staff, concluding our time with the CCCL. This marked the beginning of our week break, where students venture out on their own. Some have opted to WWOOF, a working arrangement on an organic farm near the Algerian border, while some other students and I chose Fes, a desert tour, and Asilah. I write to you all from the train to Fes, feeling torn between my desires to experience Morocco to fullest and my excitement for a new culture in Bolivia. Thanks for listening! I’ll have lots to report soon from our next lessons and locations.

Christa Ventresca | Glasgow, Scotland | Post 3

Christa Ventresca | Glasgow, Scotland | Post 3

Experiencing Halloween while abroad in the UK has probably been one of the more interesting times of my life. Since people here usually go out to pubs nearly every night, there have been events happening with different clubs for the past week. But it has also been the equivalent of midterms here (they call it Reading Week, most classes have papers due so they cancel those classes all week so that you can focus on writing your paper) and as a result I do not know anyone who has actually been out for every night all week. And being a science student, I do not have that many papers due and still have class. Anyways, it makes walking back home from the library interesting.

Other than that, celebrating Halloween in the UK seems to be pretty similar. People are still dressing up and kids are trick or treating and pumpkins are being carved. The US is definitely more gung ho about Halloween, since it is not quite as huge of a celebration here, but overall very similar. For example, there are a few houses and shops around here with an oddly carved pumpkin or witch decoration out, but it is pretty unlikely to see anyone going wild with the decorations or creating a haunted house in their backyard.

However, an unrelated difference between the two is that in the UK the clocks go back an hour a week earlier than in the US. Which means that there is an extra hour of darkness on Halloween in the UK, but we also do not get an extra hour of sleep to recover from Halloweekend, so it is a bit of a mixed bag. Personally, I do not understand why the weekends are different, but there you have it.

Besides holidays, I have managed to do quite a bit of exploring around. Last weekend I went on a day trip up to the gorgeous Glencoe valley in the highlands. Historically, Glencoe is known for being the site of a medieval massacre that wiped out an entire clan. There are still pretty strong emotions connected to it, especially since it was started by the English wanting to punish this clan for not properly swearing loyalty, and has never been fully apologized for. (Scotland has a bit of a love-hate relationship with England.) Besides the rocky history, it is an incredibly gorgeous area. On the day I went, it had rained that morning and the clouds were hanging low in the sky. I expected it to look sad and gloomy, but everything looked beautiful anyway. The ground was like a painting, with patches of green, yellow, orange, and even a little purple that would change as the sunlight started to come through. And the clouds obscured just the top of the mountains, making it look as though they went on forever. It was incredible to see.

 

The Scottish highlands are gorgeous, I could spend forever here.
The Scottish highlands are gorgeous, I could spend forever here.

It is also very easy to get to England from Scotland. London is in the southern part of England, so I flew down for the weekend. It was essentially a whirlwind tour featuring me trying not to look like a hopeless tourist as I walk between different tourist destinations. There is so much to do in London that it is impossible to see it all in a few days, but I gave it my best shot. I think I also gave myself a blister. The British Museum by itself has an incredible amount of artifacts in it; it would be impossible to see it all in a day. And then there are all of the necessary trips to places that are a bit more touristy, but still great to check out (like 221B Baker Street or the Big Ben). It would not be a trip to London without that. The city itself felt a lot like New York City, since it is so international. While walking around, you can hear all sorts of accents, not just English ones.

 

Just a typical sunset in foggy London with Big Ben in the background.
Just a typical sunset in foggy London with Big Ben in the background.

Another place in England that felt more “English” to me was Liverpool. It is not as well-known of a city so you hear more English accents and get a more authentic English experience, in my opinion. I really liked Liverpool, originally I went down there because it is the hometown of the Beatles, but it is an incredible city in its own right. It is a port, so there is a lot around about ships and sailing, including a Maritime Museum and a Museum of Liverpool that talks a lot about that aspect of the city’s history. The culture there is very vibrant with plenty of local bands and quirky public art. My personal favorite were the Super Lambananas, which are everywhere in Liverpool!

 

The Super Lambananas of Liverpool!
The Super Lambananas of Liverpool!

Being abroad and having all of these experiences has been eye-opening as well. This is probably the most active that I have ever been, since now I am making an effort to go to different events and travel around. Compared to when I am at home and staying within the Vassar bubble, it is a pretty big change. It makes you realize how much more you could be doing in your home country. It also has been really empowering. For example, I managed to navigate my way from the London Eye to my hostel in the dark without getting lost. It requires so much more than just Google Maps, and I am still amazed that I managed to do it.

 

The London Eye skyline.
The London Eye skyline.

I guess what I am trying to say is that you learn so much about the world and yourself when you start travelling. I never expected to do half of these things, and I never expected to find out so much more about myself in the process. I hope that I can continue to have that mentality, that life is a huge adventure, back at home and at Vassar.

Kelsey Quinn | York, England | Post 2

Kelsey Quinn | York, England | Post 2

York is an amazing city. It’s not massive, but it is a beautiful northern English town that is always buzzing. I can’t get enough of the cobblestone roads and the cute shops, and I think I could live here forever. It just has personality.

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I’m learning a lot of things in England, with perhaps the most egregious being that what the English call “lemonade” is basically Sprite. I can forgive that, though, because I’m only here temporarily. The only thing I really miss from home is Target.

Something I’m learning about myself: I can’t cook. I can’t necessarily say that I’m a bad cook, because I haven’t really tried. The most elaborate things I’ve made for myself are burritos. I can’t cook in the sense that I can’t bring myself to cook. I just never feel like it’s worth the time to cook something complicated. Despite this, I wouldn’t say that I’m eating badly, if we ignore the four boxes of Cadbury Fingers and excessive, undisclosed number of chocolate bars I’ve consumed since arriving. The Brits may not know lemonade, but wow, can they do chocolate.

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When I first started here, I hated the English school system. Now that I’m about halfway through the term and have had time to reflect critically upon the reasons for my feelings, though, I’m not so sure that the system here is at fault as much as I am. Obviously, I am having a specific experience at a specific university, and I have no concept of how it compares to the English school system as a whole. However, I feel like I have a good grasp on student life at Vassar and other similar liberal arts colleges in the United States, and I’m starting to look at it with mild horror. For the first time in my college life, I am able to finish all of my homework, and I still consume a lot of material and get enough sleep. My gut instinct is to hate this and get bored. But lately I’ve been thinking that perhaps it’s not healthy that my concept of normal school is staying up until at least 2 a.m. every night and still being physically unable to do everything that is required of me. Responsible students here are just as likely to have a fun night out of drinking on a Tuesday as much as they are on a Friday, and the school encourages it. As much as I am presenting myself as a critic, though, I have to say that I’ve already been created into a monster that runs on constant productivity, and I know I would get bored if I were doing my whole degree in England. Education is more independent here, but I like the American way of having more class time so I can get out and do something with my day instead of sitting in bed and reading all the time.

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Luckily for me, though, the decreased demands of the English schooling system mean that I can easily travel around and keep up with my school responsibilities. The biggest trip I’ve done so far was a weekend trip to Llanberis, Wales. It was beautiful in a way that can only be felt. Sounds cheesy, but being surrounded by nature for a few days in a town that had very few people and buildings settled my insides and made me feel calm–or whatever.

Wales
Wales

I also took a random day trip to London, where I did the Harry Potter Studio Tour, which has every major original set and prop used in the films. When you first enter, they show you a video that reminds you how much you love Harry Potter, and the screen dramatically is lifted into the ceiling to reveal the Great Hall. I actually cried. No matter what else I do before leaving, I know that experience will end up being one of my most memorable. The excessive amount of money I spent on souvenirs will always guarantee that.

Harry Potter set tour
Harry Potter set tour

I’m doing most of my traveling in November, so I’m sure my next post will be all about that. I can’t believe I only have about a month and a half left before I fly home. I’m already sad about leaving!