Thursday, June 25, 2015

William and Hangnail in Wales!

Cyfarchion pawb!

My dragon, Hangnail, and I spent the past four months in beautiful Carmarthen Wales! And, if I'm going to be completely honest, we both wish we were still there. The hill dotted landscapes, the gorgeously overcast sky, the cultural trips we took to castles, beaches, coal mines, and a little place called London!! This past semester has easily been one of the most fulfilling and wonderful experiences of my college career, possibly my entire life. I'm sure in this post I'll be echoing thoughts from my dear friends Rachael Bechtel, Amanda Neff, and Marissa Sarver; but bear with me because... why not? Could be fun.
Hangnail (and dinner!)

Actually, that last sentence sort of described the best parts of my experience. There's something about being a student studying abroad that releases your inhibitions and helps you ignore that part of your brain that says 'hey, maybe we should just stay in bed and do nothing all day.' And that doesn't require having a plan every night or an activity every moment of the day. In fact, some of my best memories were when I thought to myself 'I should just wander around Carmarthen and see what happens.' When I did so, I would meet people I recognized, even if I barely knew them, and we'd strike up a conversation. I was foreign, so they were naturally curious about me, and of course I wanted to get to know them. Even during Easter Break, when I wandered three of the biggest cities in Europe by myself (except Hangnail, who was with me through it all!), that attitude of 'let's try something new' gave me the fondest memories and most worthwhile experiences that I wouldn't trade for all the gold in the world! I ate a hot dog in a baguette in Paris, hiked the seven hills of Rome, sat in a Greek coffee shop reading plays, and spoke with some of the most interesting people I have ever met. Even the days when I got lost (and sometimes when I say days, I mean days) I was still discovering things about the cities I was in, the people who I was with, and more importantly myself.

And more important than the things that I did, were the people that I got to share my time with. Though I spent very little of my Easter Break with other people, I spent the majority of the semester surrounded by the most loving and caring individuals that one could ask for. Without question the highlight of my study abroad experience was the people that I shared it with. From my classmates, who were supportive and caring, to my teachers, who brought me new perspectives on my craft and career, to my flat-mates, all of whom were study abroad students as well. That last group especially was something that took my by surprise. As many of you, I have had roommates in the past and while I've always been fond of them, I never cared for them much more deeply than as a friend. I expected the same from my time in Wales. But there's something about studying abroad, and living with people who are also studying abroad, that makes people want to latch on to each other. By two or three weeks in I was genuinely shocked by how much I cared for these people and, even more surprisingly, how much they cared for me. We really became like a family, we even organized ourselves into what order we were as siblings! (I was the middle child, and it was startlingly accurate.) Our flat family studied together, partied together, celebrated birthdays together, and even had dinner together every Sunday! I got to know those seven people in four months better than I know some people I've been friends with for years! In all honesty, I consider them my sisters, I would drop everything if they asked me to. They are what kept me going all semester, them and the wonderful people I got to work with every day.
Good friends

Good travel companions
Now I'm not going to lie to you. Every day is not sunshine and rainbows. You're going to have bad days and good days. And for those of you who haven't studied abroad yet, I'm gonna spoil it and tell you what the two hardest days are. The day you arrive and the day you leave.
The day I got to Wales was exhausting to say the least. Eight hour flight, seven hour wait for the bus, five hour bus ride, and ultimately a very late arrival in a brand new place. To make matters worse, the outlets in my room didn't work, so my phone was dead and I had no way to contacting my loved ones other than a voicemail from the main office desk. 30 hours of no sleep, no way to communicate with family, and a brand new environment was enough to make even the boldest person scared, and I am not the boldest person. I was even contemplating how angry my family would be if I called them and asked for a plane ticket home! Needless to say, I'm thrilled that I didn't. But it was a rough night.
But it was nothing compared to my last day. Saying goodbye to my classmates was hard, soul crushing in all honesty. But saying goodbye to my flat-mates, as well as the other Americans who were put in a different flat, was... well, many a manly tear were shed. These were people I came to think of as family, as people I could rely on even in the worst of circumstances. And I'm supposed to say goodbye (to all but four of them) possibly forever? It was a brutal day, and the next few days of being home were no picnic. Nearly every day I woke up in hot-as-hell, sunny-as-hell, sure-not-Wales North Carolina, I counted how many possessions I could sell to afford a plane ticket back. And even today, Hangnail and I miss our sheep-infested, cool, silver-skied homeland. Because it did become our home, and a place that we are determined to return to one day, as soon as we can!

Some of you heard all that and thought 'well jeez! That sounds emotionally exhausting! I can't handle that!' Well Ted, that would be just about the stupidest thing you could do with your college education. Yes it's hard, and yes it's emotional, and yes (depending on where you are) food is expensive, but those are all just tiny blemishes on the glorious, golden beauty that it studying abroad. Wherever you go, I promise you that you will find amazing people to befriend, experiences that you could never get here in <insert city> North Carolina, and (to use a ridiculous cliché) you will find yourself. Wales gave me a precious gift, confidence and pride in myself. I grew as a human being over there, emotionally, intellectually, maturity-ally, and it wasn't just me. Everyone I studied with left Wales as vastly different people than who came. Some gained perspective, some gained self-discipline, and most (like me) gained confidence and self-respect, two of the most important things every person needs to consider themselves an adult. So here's my advice to you: try as many things as you can, go as many places as you can, talk to as many people as you can, and if you ever feel like you're not good enough to do something or if you are afraid to try something then remember the words of the immortal Shia LaBeouf and just DO IT!
Intrepid travelers
William Yates
Trinity St. David
Carmarthen, Wales

Monday, June 22, 2015

Ashley in Scotland!

Hi, everybody! I’m currently writing this at the airport as I wait for my flight home, giving me the chance to really look back on the last five months of my study abroad experience in Glasgow, Scotland. Study abroad is so many things and since I’m writing this at the end of my experience I’m not even really sure where to start. In general, Scotland is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever been to (and thanks to study abroad I have been to a few now!). The natural scenic views you can get in Scotland by simply taking the bus or even looking out your window always surprised me, even up until the day I left. Also, people in Scotland are very friendly and especially so when they find out that you’re a foreigner. In general, they also have a sense of humor that while hard to describe or explain never the less always makes me laugh. My favorite place in Scotland is called Glencoe and it was one of the first places I went to when I arrived. It had recently snowed and the mountains were covered and the lochs glistened- it was truly magical. 

Glencoe, Scotland

However, what really made study abroad so great, and what is probably my favorite thing about study abroad, was spending it with all the amazing people I met, my flat mates in particular.  Obviously traveling and trying new things was amazing, but to be honest, some of my favorite memories of study abroad are hanging out in my flat with my amazing friends and flat mates. 

The famous Loch Ness
The ruins of Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven

Study abroad also gave me the opportunity to travel to different parts of Ireland, Poland, and England which were all incredible experiences. I went to Ireland during the St. Paddy’s day festivities which was definitely an experience I will not soon forget, however I particularly loved the views from parts of Northern Ireland. 

The Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland

I went to Poland next and it was an interesting trip to say the least. There was a lot to see and do which was exciting, however it was the first time I went somewhere alone where almost no one spoke English. However, as nerve-wracking as it may have been at times it’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything because I learned so much about myself and another culture in just six days. 

King Sigismund's Column in Warsaw, Poland

My next trip outside of Scotland was England, which I loved. There is just so much to do and see and so much history to explore, which is right up my alley. 

Palace of Westminster and Big Ben in London


Nonetheless, no place will be as special to me as Scotland, and Glasgow in particular. If study abroad has taught me anything it is that if you want to do something then you have to go for it- you can’t let fear stop you, and you have to learn to take things as they come. This is a concept that while it sounds good and obvious, I think it takes an experience such as study abroad to really help you learn it. I’m so grateful for my experience and the country I called home for five months. 

Ashley Hodges
Strathclyde University
Glasgow, Scotland