Tuesday, January 7, 2014

last day in Edinburgh

a.k.a. crying nonstop and waiting until 20 hours before my flight to pack and mail two massive packages home but oH WAIT the post office is closed.

I could end this blog post there as that is potentially the most accurate description I have written for this blog, but it's 9 degrees outside and I'm feeling nostalgic so I'm gonna ramble away.

As I said before, I didn't even think about packing until the day before my flight. Chaos ensued. To distract my mind from the horrible thought that I was taking apart my little home, I watched Elf. Five times. Somehow over four months I managed to obtain a lot more sh#@ than expected- I'm like a sponge. Between shoving my belongings in either my suitcase, a box, or the trash, my friend Craig came to keep me company during my dramatic packing state. It's amazing how much the company of someone who is completely separated from your stressed thoughts can calm you down. It will always be so high on my list of things I'm grateful for.

After managing surprisingly well, I took a break from packing to get dinner with my closest friend in Edinburgh- Rico. I met Rico on my flight from Heathrow to Edinburgh, she was in the seat next to me and I said I'd liked her glasses. We chatted the whole way, she's from China studying in Edinburgh for a year to get her masters. When we landed we dropped our stuff in our separate flats and met up for dinner at a Malaysian restaurant. So, to be embarrassingly corny, we got dinner at the same place on that last night. Despite my lack of appetite, it was a lovely meal that her flatmates joined us for, complete with laughs and gifts and reminiscing.

Back to packing, Craig returned and helped me take out the trash, clean, and make 3 trips taking my luggage/unwanted belongings from my flat to Rico's. It was surprisingly devastating to leave my freezing, crappy flat all empty as if I was never there, but I had to remember that I was, and that it was good to me. Once all my stuff was at Rico's, I had to say another heartbreaking goodbye to a great friend, Craig. At this point, it was about 12:30 AM- Rico and Monica had a flight to Heathrow at 7AM that I was going to try to get on (mine was at 9), and then they both were off to Mexico from there for the holidays. This meant that we had a taxi coming to get us at 4 AM. Cry. Since Rico was going to be up all night packing, I got to steal her bed for a whole 2 hours! I remember feeling so grateful to have a warm place to sleep, surrounded by excited people awaiting another adventure as I said goodbye to my own, thinking about all the lovely souls that held me close even knowing I'd be gone in a few months. What was once going to be a horrifically sad night alone turned into one of my favorite nights in Edinburgh, feeling more loved and lucky than I could remember. I chatted to friends awaiting my arrival at home, read a letter from a friend I had to leave, talked on the phone to another friend who had already left, and slept a very short, but beautiful dream for that final night in my favorite city.

Thursday, December 26, 2013


A large part of the reason why I chose Edinburgh to study abroad in was because my dad grew up not too far away, in Belfast, Ireland, so the majority of my relatives on his side are still living in the UK. This was massively reassuring when I was preparing to leave for four months because I knew I wouldn't be far from family, and a visit wouldn't be out of the question. So, not long after arriving in Edinburgh, I was in contact with my Aunt who lives in London planning a trip! We chose the weekend after my birthday, and on November 8th I headed to England.

The flight there was miserable, but it made arriving in her cosy home all the more wonderful. I got there late Thursday night, and on Friday we embarked on the hour train ride journey into London city center to be tourists for the day. The rain made it a bit difficult, but it was just an excuse to seek refuge in overly expensive shops and spy on people we predicted were shopping for the Queen. We plopped down in Fortnum & Mason for tea and scones, then braved the rain for more wandering before heading back to her home.

When we arrived, her son (my cousin) was there with his fiance and their adorable daughter. We turned the heating on, ate vegetarian chili at an unreasonable hour, and chatted before heading to sleep.

On Saturday we woke up early to head to Brighton for the day! Brighton's a seaside town about an hour and a half south of my Aunts town. Somehow we managed to stroll down the Brighton pier, play a game in the arcade, and eat traditional fish and chips (my first while in the UK!) before the rain hit. Not sure how we got so lucky, but the second we walked into the sea life aquarium right before the pier, it started to downpour. The aquarium was fun, but what made it enjoyable was watching the reactions of my cousins 2 year old daughter, Orla, to all the creatures. She kept responding to the fish by making fish faces and pressing her face to the glass. It was painfully adorable. After that, we headed home and arrived just in time for us girls to leave again into London to go see The Book Of Mormon at the West End!

We faced a few obstacles along the way that made the trek interesting and put us a bit behind schedule, but once we got off the tube and sprinted up a crowded escalator to then run to the show, we only arrived 20 minutes late, received an informed debrief on what we'd missed by the people who work there, we were showed our seats and enjoyed a hilarious and impressive show.

On Sunday, my cousin and his little family left, so my Aunt and I headed back into London to do the touristy festivities that we'd missed on Friday due to rain. We saw Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Oxford Street, etc. Later, we met up with her other son and him and I went Ice Skating outside the National History Museum. Unfortunately, I found out that I hadn't gained any coordination skills since the last time I'd been ice skating, while my cousin was practically an olympian. We bit the bullet and both got little penguin boosts to lean on. It was a dignified and sophisticated skate.

After that, we headed to a pancake shop for dinner, then to my Aunts for another cringe-worthy episode of the X Factor, had a late night to bed only to wake up 4 hours later to take me to the airport, say our goodbyes and have me back to Edinburgh in time for a morning lecture. Whew!

It was a wonderful trip and one of my favorite weekends from my time abroad. Cannot wait to go back.

Monday, November 25, 2013


I think it's safe to say I'm rubbish at documenting my life. To be honest, it is just a pain to upload pictures on here, and I felt scared that anyone could be reading this, and I have had loads of course work to do-- excuses, excuses. But I've only got one month left here (something I'm still refusing to believe) and figured I'd should post some sort of update before it's Christmas.

Since I last posted, I've been to Bath, England to visit one of my greatest friends and roommate from home, Lauren. She's studying there for the semester and we'd both reserved a weekend to meet up, so she let me stay with her in her cosy flat. While I was there, we climbed to the top of the Bath Abbey- which involved walking (hiking, stumbling, nearly getting our heads bent in by pipes sticking out) up 212 narrow, steep steps in a tiny winding staircase. Our claustrophobia was showing. Despite that, the view at the top was beautiful and put into perspective how quaint and gorgeous the city was.

Inside the Bath Abbey
View from the top

That evening, we went and watched a football game in a pub, which was such a casual thing to do, but seemed so surreal given everything that had to happen to get us both there. Very strange how time works. Anyway, we mostly toured around looking at the beautiful scenery, ate at local shops, went to the delicious Bath farmers market, ate too much free fudge, watched films, spent time with her flat mates and other people in her program, laughed hysterically for at least an hour straight at old photobooth pictures and had a lovely time that felt altogether not long enough. On my last day there, though, I got to explore the Roman Baths on my own while Lauren worked on some course work- and I wish everyone could get the chance to tour them. Even going by myself, I was provided with a free handset that I was able to listen to the whole time as it told me in extensive detail everything I was seeing.

The layout of the tour was brilliant, and they really smack you over the head with how much the Romans have influenced us, and how historic those little baths are. There was a whole exhibition to it with headstones, coins, steps they'd walked on- it was a proper experience, and the best way to spend 11 pounds.

After that, it was off to the train, then bus, then plane, then taxi finally to my flat in Edinburgh. Thus successfully completing my first solo traveling experience while abroad!

Since then, I've had Halloweens (multiple- Edinburgh goes crazy for Halloween), a birthday, Guy Fawkes day, assignments, a trip to London and Brighton, a new found love for cooking, Portobello beach in the rain, etc. but I will save those for another post! Before I end this, though, I've just stumbled upon some pictures from my first successful hike up Arthurs Seat (the first UNsuccessful one involved getting lost on the side of the mountain and attacked by pigeons). My friend Rico and I hiked it on a gorgeous Friday afternoon, and here are some sunny snaps:


Write soon!


Friday, September 27, 2013

Lectures, Calton Hill, and Loch Katrine

Heya people. Maybe one day I'll decide to write posts at normal hours and not at 11pm whilst simultaneously watching About A Boy. But alas, here I am. So it'll have to do for now.

Right. So, since I last posted, I've started lectures! And that's not a sarcastic exclamation point! I was genuinely excited for my lectures to start. After all, they're the main reason I'm here. Usually the first week of class is the most stressful week of my semester- I panic all week long about what intimidating people will be in my classes, how much prior knowledge my professors expect me to have on the various subjects, if I have to delve through my brain for "interesting facts" about myself to share with the class, etc. But this time, I had NO nerves! Or, at least, not an overpowering amount.
Along with not having my usual first-week-of-class fears, my schedule here is also different from a normal schedule at UMW. For instance, at UMW I'd have 150 minutes of each separate class per week. Class could consist of lectures, group activities, or the professor calling on individual students, whereas here courses are split into lectures and tutorials. Lectures are run by lecturers, not professors, and they're essentially just that: a lecture. The amount of lectures per week varies based on the course, but most courses' lectures are accompanied by tutorials, which are smaller groups amongst the class that meet once a week to discuss a previously chosen topic relating to the course. I had my first tutorial this week for my course Religion, Violence, and Peace-building. I found it slightly uncomfortable at first since nobody wanted to be the first to talk, which created an expanding bubble of awkwardness in the room until someone brave spoke up. Once the conversation became slightly natural, I found it surprisingly thought-provoking and captivating. I'm looking forward to more tutorials so I can decide if I actually prefer them to the style of teaching that I'm used to.

Walking down the Royal Mile on my way back from lectures.

To take a break from lectures and readings, I ventured out to Princes Street last Friday to do some shopping for warmer clothes. Princes Street is an insanely busy (aka tourist-y) street full of all the best shops. I'm happy it's a 2 mile walk away otherwise my money would disappear quite quickly. Whenever I get to Princes Street, I usually turn left to where the shops are, but this day I decided to take a right instead and see where I wound up. Turns out, I was only a short walk away from the entrance to the Calton Hill walk. At first, I thought it might be weird to hike up it by myself, but I'm learning through this trip that it is okay (maybe even better, sometimes) to do things alone. I don't mean that in a pessimistic "meeeh I hate the world and people and all the things" way - just sometimes there's a higher feeling of accomplishment when you know you did something on your own. So anyway, I walked the short path, was nearly sent tumbling back down the hill by the wind, and then reached the top and its' indescribable view. There are many monuments on Calton Hill, so it was an informative and overall pretty incredible hike. I sat on a bench that faces Arthurs Seat and the city and tried to fully wrap my head around how historic this place is, but it's difficult to fathom all the people that have already stood on your ground, so instead I just marveled at the sights.

After my first week of lectures, the International Student Centre (ISC) at the University of Edinburgh scheduled a trip to Loch Katrine on Saturday. Loch Katrine is an 8 mile long loch (lake) in Stirling, Scotland- less than two hours away from Edinburgh- and was the inspiration for Sir Walter Scotts poem The Lady of The Lake. The ISC scheduled two busses to take students there for the day, and it was well worth waking up at 7 am on a Saturday after only getting four hours of sleep. The short journey there mostly consisted of sheep, fields, winding roads, sheep, a giant bull called Hamish, mountains, and sheep. It was wonderful. Once we got there, we basically had the day to wander around on our own, so some friends and I decided to pay the extra few pounds and go on the optional cruise (not as fancy as it sounds..) around a portion of the loch.

Although we didn't travel the full length of the lake, we were able to see most of the mountains that surrounded it. I felt so, so small in comparison. The clouds were low, the water was calm, and it all felt very serene. Afterwards, we walked along one of the paths surrounding the lake towards a two mile marker, took pictures, and quickened our pace when walking back to seek refuge from the cold at the Loch Katrine cafe.

While it wasn't an extravagant trip by any means, going on it was one of the best decisions I've made since being here. Having been in a city for two weeks, I forgot what fresh air felt like, and the wonders it does for your psyche. Plus, the mountains were beautiful and my eyes were happy.

So that's week 2 in a "nutshell" even though I feel like I've rambled on for ages. I know I said this in my last post, but I really will start posting more often now! I think I'm finally settled, as hard as that is to believe since it feels like I've been here for months. I have so much planned for October and cannot wait for it all to begin. I will write SOON. Have a lovely weekend!


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Dear Edinburgh,

Happy One Week Anniversary.

This place has already become my favorite city. Every street has endless historical significance (and also someone in a kilt). I love the cosy pubs, coffee shops, hills, cobble stones, stunning castle, The Palace of Holyrood place. Edinburgh quite literally has everything you could ever want- charm, character, originality, and good people. My feet are perpetually sore from doing so much walking, but it is very worth it. I'm looking forward to seeing much much more and learning about everything to do with Edinburgh (and Scotland!). So excited for this semester to fully begin.

Write soon,


Friday, September 13, 2013

First Week in Edinburgh

HelloOOOoooOOO! Today is day 6 of being in Edinburgh, which means so much has happened since I last posted, and since I got here- so I'll just go ahead and start rambling about all the living and stuff I've done.

My last few days at home were mostly spent in the sun (and in Bodos), neglecting all the clothes, chargers and shoes that needed to be packed. I didn't really start packing until Friday, the day I left, which was a terrible decision, but I somehow managed to shove most of my belongings into two suitcases (one that was purchased only hours before I left- thanks mom), each less than 50 lbs! My parents drove me to Dulles- and I must say that flying at night is truly the way to go. Dulles at 10 pm was freakishly calm, which allowed time for a fruit bowl and some chatting before I found myself tearfully blowing kisses to my parents from the other side of the security gate and officially, finally, on my own.
As flying is one of my biggest fears, going it alone was the most terrifying thing to embark on. I know it's something people do daily and it's the safest mode of transportation yadda yadda- I was still horrified. But thanks to Mozart and a letter from one of my best friends, I was a lot less panicked than expected.
I slept little on the plane, missed my connecting flight from Heathrow to Edinburgh, spent the day in a busy airport waiting to get on the next plane, and eventually boarded my flight (at 5pm.. 6 hours later than my original flight.. it's still a sore subject). Despite how exhausted I was, it was impossible to not appreciate how beautiful the flight from London to Edinburgh was, and I remember thinking that the stressful day I'd had really didn't matter so much because it put me above this view.

Once we landed, I got into taxi with two other girls I'd met on the plane, and somehow found myself on a throne of suitcases staring at the Edinburgh castle. I wish I'd taken a picture, because it was the best welcoming I could've asked for.

Although it's only been 6 days since I got here, it feels like weeks. I don't know why time does that. All the days sort of blend together into a blur of porridge and free pizza and asking questions and getting lost and trying to summarize in casual conversation what America is really like. My flat is essentially in the Arctic, but I got ridiculously lucky with my flatmates- one is from Cambridge, one from about an hour north of Edinburgh, and the third from China- they're outrageously kind and I'm so grateful to live with them. We live on a main street, so thankfully we don't have to venture out too far for food or shopping.

Something that I didn't really begin to consider before coming here is the fact that I'd be living alone, for the most part. Which means that I have to cook my own food, and things that I'm so used to just having at home, like olive oil and pasta drainers, I now have to purchase. It sounds superficial, sorry- I simply never thought of it. That being said, I'm drowning in lists of things to buy so hopefully I'll have everything set and settled in soon.

So, right, Edinburgh. The city itself is absolutely breathtaking. It says a lot that this city can be so majestic and beautiful even in its cold clouds. As far as Edinburgh's landmarks go, I live close to Arthurs Seat, which I still gawk at every time I see it. I don't know if it's because of the time of year or if it's always like this, but the grass on Arthur's Seat has large yellow patches which make it look like the sun is always shining on it. I haven't been on a tour of the Edinburgh castle yet, but it's near where I have two of my classes, so I'll get a nice view of it most days. I hope I never get used to it.

Speaking of, those two courses are in the School of Divinity, which looks like this:

It's also a 30 minute walk away from my flat, during which I always manage to get lost. Classes start on Monday, so hopefully I'll have it memorized by then. It's on a street called The Mound and looks so historic and gothic that I feel like I'm in the wrong time period.

Because this week is Induction week (or better known as Freshers Week), there's been a ridiculous amount of activities going on that simply reading them makes me feel like I need to catch my breath. It's weird to have so many First Impressions packed into one day, but it's such a diverse area and University that I'm constantly fascinated by everyone's life story. The other night, I attended a International Student Potluck in which I was the only American, but everyone there spoke in English to each other. It really blew my mind at how brilliant they were, while I sat there only knowing two semesters of Spanish and some common French words. I think when I go back home I'll take learning languages much more seriously, because it'd be a shame to miss out on seeing different parts of the world just because I don't how to speak in them.

Every time I walk outside or meet somebody new, I feel so fortunate to be here. It's weird knowing that something is going to impact my life greatly before I even get into it, but I think that might be the best thing about this whole experience. In just this week, I feel like I've already surprised the hell out of myself and learned more than I have most weeks, which is all quite surreal. I wish I could adequately describe how wonderfully different it feels to be here and how grateful I am for all of this. I'm looking forward to classes starting and getting into some sort of routine- but hopefully nothing too predictable as I like seeing things everyday that are new to me.

Sorry this post has been pretty scattered- I kept putting off writing on here for so long that there was too much to say and I knew I couldn't pile it all up. Plus, there's more I want to write but not enough time or words to write it all. Anyway, I hope you've all had a wonderful week, and I'll try to post more regularly! Here are some of the pictures I've taken while trying to look as least tourist-y as possible:

An extraordinarily poor quality picture of the Edinburgh Castle! It was much cooler in real life. Think I might move in there. 

On a stroll after a meeting

Today I ate lunch in The Elephant House- for those Harry Potter fans out there, this is where JK Rowling (allegedly) first began writing Harry Potter. And after seeing the view this little cafe has of the castle, I completely understood why she was so inspired.

From inside The Elephant Cafe

Talk soon!


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Pre-Departure Thoughts

As it gets closer and closer until I leave, I find myself wishing there was a way to bottle up moments and put them in my pocket to take with me. I'm assuming homesickness would be a lot easier to handle if I could re-live attempting to watch a rom-com with my mom (ha) while my dad sings a Johnny Cash tune, eating s'mores by a fire with friends, or sitting at the top of my porch steps watching my blind and deaf dog slowly and adorably fumble her way to me. I know this sounds dramatic- I don't mean it to, I just think it'd be nice thing to have. This doesn't mean I'm any less excited to go, it just means I've resorted to other ways of bringing pieces of home with me- like getting a duffel big enough to stuff my dog in. Jokes. No, I've only been thumbing through what seems like an endless pit of pictures (all hilarious and embarrassing) and choosing some of my favorites. Obviously, I can't complain about packing. Yet.

^^I wrote that a few days ago and saved it as a draft. Currently hating three-days-ago Sara for not at least thinking about what to take. Suddenly I've gone rampant, flailing around my room, not even knowing where to begin. It looks like Goodwill threw up all over my floor. At least all this stress is distracting me from remembering that I'm not gonna be home for four months.. but that's just a fact I plan on unhealthily pushing to the side until it smacks me like a bus (er.. let's hope that doesn't happen). Such is the joy of studying abroad.

Anyhoo, pre-departure thoughts: Leaving is sad, but going is very very exciting. And packing is just inevitably horrible.

Here's hoping that these next two days are as stress-free as possible! And that I don't forget anything important. Yikes.

Talk soon!