Somethings

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These past three and a half months in Scotland have blessed me with so much – new friends, experiences, a home, knowledge, opportunities for growth, challenges, greater self-worth, and a profound sense of adventure and curiosity about what is around me. This last little token has been particularly surprising and important to me.

Coming to Edinburgh, I was a very orderly, structured individual who loved to have a plan. While I still appreciate a schedule and organization, my time here has transformed me into a far more spontaneous person. I still wake up with an idea of where I will go and who and what I will see each day, but have basically freed myself to explore anything and everything that I am curious about or stands out to me. I never know what that “something” that draws my attention will be, but it always pops up, often in the most unexpected places at the most unexpected times. This lenience with myself has led to the discovery of some of my favorite roads, parks, coffee shops, paths and even new friends.

Reflecting on this, I have realized my significant uptake in exploration is largely a function of free time. Back at CMC, I followed such a tight schedule because I had taken on so many responsibilities that I literally did not have time to go explore or take a different route or strike up a long conversation with someone new. With this in mind, I am committing to building some time into my life next semester back at CMC that is unrelated to classes, work, internships, meals, working out, etc.: an unlabeled space for more of these “somethings” to enter my life.

The Baked Potato Shop

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This post is dedicated to a true gem in Edinburgh: The Baked Potato Shop. Located on one of my favorite streets in the amazing Old Town, this wee shop always reminds me of why I love Scotland so much. On the outside, the shop’s bright red paint and friendly looking sign welcomes you in. The interior is quite tiny, making the entire experience feel extra cosy and warm. As for the food, the servings are Scottish-sized (aka quite large) and the food is hardy – a potato stuffed with just about anything you could want. I had a veggie haggis and quinoa stuffed potato with garlic butter and it was truly delightful. Yes, it seems silly to devote an entire blog post to a potato shop, but the shop itself really epitomizes much of what Scotland has to offer (and what I have seen throughout my time here) – friendly, big-hearted, relaxed people gathering in warm places with smiles on their faces despite the cold, rainy environment!

Bike City

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A few weeks ago, a couple friends and I spent two days exploring Amsterdam, a city full of fascinating juxtapositions – day life vs night life, canal district vs red light district, tourists vs natives. However, what stood out to me most about the city was the number of bikers cruising about, at full speed no less. In several areas of the city, I only saw bikers and walkers, no vehicles in sight. I of course love to ride bikes, both indoors and outdoors. But my fondness of cycling is not why the plethora of bikes in Amsterdam stuck out in my mind, nor was it their physical presence that mattered so much. It was what these bikes in this city represented – a replacement of cars, healthier lifestyles, a people oriented environment, an appreciation of nature, a normalization of an environmentally-friendly mode of transportation, and so much more.

Coming from a suburban/semi-rural area in the United States, I am very accustomed to cars and driving everywhere. Until my sustainable development class at uni this semester, I had never really thought about the design of the places I have lived and how they influence my decisions, but now I see that structures have huge sway and in a sense set limits to the choices we can make each day, at least in terms of how we go places. I hope American cities can follow the Dutch example of development, prioritizing bikers and walkers, which in turn benefits our health and our planet’s health (symbiotically feeding back into our own health).

Also impacting our decisions are social norms surrounding lifestyles, expectations and consumption, e.g. is it normal to bike or walk everywhere or is it normal to drive cars everywhere. A perfect example of the latter comes from my college back home, where certain students (who physically have the ability to walk) often drive their cars very short distances, such as the half mile routes from the senior apartments to main campus or main campus to Frank Dining Hall. This is seen as funny, as well as completely reasonable and acceptable, by most, as a portion of students do this regularly, but I am now realizing it is quite problematic. Driving cars, a carbon emitting activity, easily walkable distances is in a sense trivializing climate change. Perhaps this view seems overdramatic, but I think it is important to consider our everyday choices, not only to take personal responsibility within the framework we live, but also to think about how our choices affect those around us. We do not live in bubbles; people observe us and others, and what we do influences their preferences and choices whether they know and/or like it or not.

The long story short: I believe the U.S. would greatly benefit if we modeled cities in a more biker and walker friendly manner (cue engineers, city planners, urban designers, policy makers). On the individual level, we as citizens should pay more attention to our everyday choices, remembering that as humans on this Earth we do have an impact and our impact has a ripple effect amongst our peers (and their peers). If we normalize certain non carbon intensive behaviors, we would really help out our planet, and, ultimately, ourselves.

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Passion

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During an incredible trip to the Scottish Highlands with my study abroad group earlier this month, I had the chance to meet a professional sheep farmer. This man works out of Leault Farm in Kingussie alongside his herd of sheepdogs. Putting my excitement to see the working dogs (and hold several adorable sheepdog puppies) aside, what really stood out to me from this experience was the farmer himself. He spoke of his life on the farm, sharing with us that he has never gone a vacation, and never plans to. Though my words cannot capture even a fraction of his character and energy, I will do my best.

This farmer loves his work and his life, and in many ways from his perspective the two are indistinguishable, as his work defines his character and has shaped who he is as a man. This is a distinct view; in our society, work that infringes upon the “life” aspect of work-life balance is see as undesirable, unless a hefty enough salary comes along with it, making the fatigue and stress “worth it” for many people. Yet this farmer flipped that notion on its head. His case proves that one may in fact lead the most meaningful, purpose-filled, healthy life when her work is deeply influential of and interwoven into her life.

Now I do not take these initial thoughts I had after hearing this farmer’s story as an indication that I should boycott practicality, ignore financial incentives and/or jump right into solving the problems I am deeply passionate about if I do not feel prepared (in terms of both knowledge and finances). Rather, his take on life helps me remember to always bear my passions in mind, to constantly revisit these passions, and to not wait too long before diving in full force to a career that allows me to fully realize these passions. Put simply, this sheep farmer reminded me that my passions cannot (and therefore will not) just be final destinations.

Symbiosis

This weekend, I had the privilege of going on a homestay in North West England, specifically in the hamlet of Hoff, Cumbria (population: 164), along with two other girls from my program. I had high hopes for this weekend, given all the build up during the IFSA-Butler Orientation. I anticipated a fun, homey-feeling weekend. Fun and homey indeed, the weekend I spent on Nag’s Head Farm, a 25 acre home to alpacas, sheep, a cat, a social enterprise called Learning Fields, and the two people who keep it all going, A and D (not using full names for privacy purposes), yielded far more thoughts and emotions than I could have imagined.

We arrived on Friday night and shared a lovely, warm meal together before settling in for the night. On Saturday, we spent most of the day traveling about the countryside, stopping at various points of interest (such as a 12th century castle surrounded by grazing sheep) and in a few adorable towns. We enjoyed a trip to their local pub that evening and then returned to the home for another yummy meal. By far the most important few hours of the homestay occurred on late Sunday morning. During this time period, A walked us through the social enterprise she runs on their farm, which, put simply, works to reconnect people with natural environments, working off of the premise that nature is healing. A and D host any and all individuals, from children with developmental disabilities and their siblings to recovering addicts to elderly folks with dementia, knowing that no matter what state you are in or where you are in your life, nature yields a refreshing experience and an important time of disconnection from the material world.

Following A’s presentation about Learning Fields, D took us on a walk around their big, beautiful property. Moseying along, I was at first in awe of the big things – the landscapes, the animals, the pond, the treehouse, the bright blue sky and fluffy clouds. D, meanwhile, added to my sensory experience by noting the “little” things, which in reality were far more noteworthy. He pointed out a single tree near the start of the forested area, branches from which a young man with Asperger’s crafted an impressive deer sculpture during his visit to the farm. He noted the specific plants in a grove area that are used for Boy and Girl Scout troops to make art during their visits to the farm. Toward the end of D’s narration, I was struck by D and A’s profound intentions of preservation; a sense of care and attention covered every inch of their land. Their actions exemplify a high level of respect for the world, understanding nature and people’s innate value, and their symbiotic relationship.

Growing up in a culture wrought with consumption, I am often amazed by how few of us (myself included) consistently open our eyes and just soak up the natural world surrounding us. This weekend really reminded me to do just that. I think Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights sums it up nicely: “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”

360 degrees

img_0412Growing up on five acres of land in a semi-rural community, I have always appreciated vast spaces and felt revived by time spent in the outdoors. Before I came to Edinburgh, I had written up a “Don’t Leave Edinburgh Before You Do This” list, and, big surprise, climbing Arthur’s Seat was sitting (totally unintentional pun, by the way) right in the first position. And it certainly deserves that number one spot. Scaling Arthur’s Seat has been a highlight of my time in Edinburgh thus far, and I imagine that it will remain one (if not, I’ll need to change my home page photo).

The trek: Three friends from my study abroad program and I opted for the middle path to the summit on a cool but semi-sunny Sunday morning. Just about an hour and several steep inclines later, we all reached the top. Though highly aware of the possibility of being blown off the mountain by the strong winds once I made it to the lookout point, I quickly became mesmerized by the 360 degree view the trail had led to. Suddenly, up on that high place, the city centre became quite small and the deep blue water of the North Sea was in easy sight. Just like the initial descent during my flight into Edinburgh, I could not wipe the smile off my face. There is something so special about nature – it has innate value, and I was just one of many visitors to Arthur’s Seat who had the opportunity to appreciate its existence that day.

Orangevale to Edinburgh

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Why start with an airplane wing, one might ask. The firsts, of course: This is the first photo for my first blog post because it captures the first moment I really processed the fact that I am studying abroad in Scotland, the first non-North American country I have been to, for a semester.

The moment: hour 14 of flying, on the third and final plane of my long journey from Orangevale, CA to Edinburgh, Scotland. As the plane began to descend and the Earth came into sight, I saw seemingly endless, green, lush land, and upon locking eyes on it, became a child on Christmas morning. I couldn’t stop smiling, partially because a lack of sleep left me a tad delusional, but mostly because everything was setting in – I would be spending four months in Scotland!