Tag Archives: #studyabroadbecause

Overcoming Loneliness in Chile

The past three weeks of my study abroad program have been spent traveling. We spent a week in Putre and then had one day back in Arica to unpack and re-pack all of our things before we headed to the south of Chile. Our first stop was Temuco area. Here we spent most of the out time in Maquewe, which is a town 20 minutes away from Temuco. Despite it’s proximity to a city, Maquewe has no cellphone service, most houses don’t have internet, and there is no store or plaza around. It’s a very rural, spread out town that consists essentially of houses, farms, a hospital, and a school. Each day, for me to get to the hospital for class it was a 25-30 minute walk on the “highway.” There are buses that go from Maquewe to Temuco but other than that there was no public transportation system. Here is where my feeling of loneliness started. The house I was staying at was one of the farthest houses from the hospital. While I was staying with one other girl from the program, I felt very separated from my friends and I missed the ability to leave my house to just walk around small shops near the plaza.

Things didn’t really get any better when we left Maquewe to do our small group study of one of the other small towns around Temuco. I was in a group of three other girls going to Chol-Chol. Within the group, I definitely felt like I was an outsider. Most of the conversation came back to sororities or other topics of conversation that I could not really join in on. It didn’t help that in the afternoons we got trapped in our hostel because of the pouring rain. Again we had no internet but there was no cellphone service. For the entire time that I was in Chol-Chol I still had a feeling of isolation. I was really looking forward to our time in Pucón and hoping that it would be better and in reality Pucón did end up being a better situation. Maybe it was because we traveled as a group to some waterfalls, lakes, and hot springs. I was also just really excited to have a two days of free afternoons to explore and take a break from the constant class and lectures that we had the week before.

 

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Hot springs in Pucón!

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Some of the waterfalls we went to see in Pucón.

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Nicole and I on the other side of the falls.

 

After our two day mini break in Pucón, we headed to Santiago. This is where my feeling of isolation hit me the hardest. During check in, I somehow ended up without a roommate. The second night in Santiago I had spent an hour in an Entel store trying to get my phone to work since I can’t receive phone calls. I was with a group of people from the program who were also trying to fix their phones. When we got back to the hotel, the other girls I was with rushed out to go to dinner with a friend who was studying in Santiago. It was getting kind of late at that point and I was trying to find someone who was still around the hotel and hadn’t eaten yet. I didn’t have much luck and the messages that I sent out to people weren’t getting responses. After about another hour I heard back from one group of people who were in the city eating. I headed out to try to join them. I got on the metro and then was using my phone to get me to the restaurant address when my phone suddenly lost all data. I couldn’t find my way to the restaurant so I had to call my friends to find me at a street corner and I sat there for about 20 minutes.

This was really the pinnacle of my loneliness. I was sitting in front of a bank on a dimly lit street corner in Santiago at 9:00 at night alone, just waiting for people to find me. During this time I really felt alone and forgotten. However, this feeling was about to finally lift starting the next day. The next night I asked one girl to let me know what her plans for the night were, instead of trying to make last minute plans and sulking in my room. She texted me around 8:30 and we went out to dinner with three other girls and then we walked around Santiago looking at different restaurants and cafes until midnight when we returned back to the hotel. The following day, a girl came to my room and told me that she had somewhere that she needed to show me. So we put on our running shoes and she took me to a park. I was a little confused why we were there until I saw the climbing holds on a building. She had run past this the other day and thought of me. I was so happy, not just to have found a climbing wall but also I was happy to know that she had thought of me. We hung around to watch people climb and then jogged back to the hotel.

 

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Some of the climbers in the park in Santiago.

 

That night was the birthday of a girl in the program and so we went out to dinner with her at a Mexican restaurant nearby the hotel before buying ice cream at a grocery store and working on homework in the hotel conference room. However, it wasn’t really until Saturday that the feeling of isolation completely lifted. Saturday was our one free day in Santiago so eight of us decided to take a bus to Valparaíso for the day. We took the bus in the morning and made the 10:00 am walking tour of the city where we got to see the former prison, many murals, a cemetery, and hear a lot of the history of Valparaíso. The tour ended around 1:00 and we found a lunch place right by the street fair. Our lunch was very disappointing – our soup was just fish broth, and my friend’s seafood bowl tasted like nothing. But the food we found at the street fair made up for that. After touring the fair and getting little gifts for friends back home, we headed out to explore more of the city’s famous murals and see the open air museum which is a collection of murals created in the 1990s.

 

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A mural we found in Valparaíso

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Song lyrics painted on stairs in Valparíso.

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“We are not hippies. We are happies.”

 

By the end of the day, we were exhausted and ready to get back on the bus to Santiago. As I sat on the bus, I realized that I hadn’t smiled or laughed that much since we left Putre. I had probably laughed more that day than for the entire two weeks of traveling we had done before. It wasn’t that people hadn’t wanted me around or had forgotten about me, it was that I had let it get to my head. I let all the little moments, the little accidents, build up in my mind and turned them into a much more extreme situation that it was in reality. Before, I felt like I was being pushy asking if I could come along to dinner or on little adventures, but that day in Valparaíso made me realize that I needed to make the effort to be part of the group. I needed to ask if I could come because otherwise I wouldn’t do anything and that, above all, made me feel isolated and like an outsider. There was, in reality, no one stopping me from participating except myself.

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Filed under Brooke in Chile, south america

When in Rome…Don’t Go Home

One of the best reasons to study abroad in New Zealand is the long break that students get in the middle of each semester. Two weeks is standard, but spring break here at the University of Canterbury is three weeks, and it’s going on now.

Back when I had a girlfriend in California, the plan had been to fly home and visit her. After we broke up last month, it took me a long time to decide what to do with my already purchased plane tickets.

My first thought was to fly home and stay with my parents instead. They would have been happy to have me, and I had reason to visit. Besides getting to see family and friends, I could have finally replaced my lost driver license, something that has been a limiting factor here in New Zealand.

Going home would have been the safe, familiar choice. That’s why I gravitated toward it initially. But as the days passed and the time for a decision drew nearer, I realized what a missed opportunity that would be.

The comforts of home can wait. This is probably the only time in my life I will have three weeks’ vacation in New Zealand, and there’s still so much of this spectacular country I haven’t seen. With only hours to spare, I cancelled my plane tickets for a partial refund.

By the time you read this, I will be on a thousand-mile road trip with my German flatmate, Marius. I’m lucky that he recently bought a camper van for this purpose, and that he hadn’t yet found a travel companion.

Ordinarily, I would feel the need to meticulously plan for a trip like this, a trait I get from my dad and that was reinforced during my four years in the Marine Corps. For this trip, however, I think it’s important that I not overthink it. This semester, I’m learning to accept that it’s impossible to plan for everything. Even if it were possible, I’m not sure that I’d want to. Proper preparation reduces the risks involved, but it also takes away from the fun and adventure. Knowing what’s going to be around every corner makes for a sterile experience.

I credit my cycling for teaching me this life lesson. Despite a pair of recent rainstorms, I’ve now put 400 miles on my bicycle. I’m closing in on my goal of riding through every square kilometer of Christchurch and its suburbs. I carefully plan each ride to cover as much new ground as possible, but once I’m out on the road, I allow myself to detour if I see something interesting. Whether I’m on the predetermined route or wandering impulsively, I find that my best memories are unplanned.

 

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In downtown Christchurch, Cranmer Square is covered with crosses bearing the names of the thousands of Canterbury residents who died in World War I. It’s part of a nationwide effort to commemorate the fallen on the War’s 100th anniversary.

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Christchurch is home to a couple of wizards. I first saw them at a Waitangi Day celebration in February. Here they are again, this time enjoying afternoon tea on New Regents Street. The large sculpture across the street is one example of the hundreds of works of public art around the city.

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Looking west toward the Avon River from Cashel Street in downtown Christchurch. From left to right: a bike share program (free for the first 30 minutes), the Bridge of Remembrance war memorial, and a public ping pong table (paddles and balls included).

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This week I rode 12 miles to the next town north of Christchurch, Kaiapoi (population 10,200). I crossed the main bridge in town just in time to snap a photo of this kayaker on the Kaiapoi River.

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My favorite things about Kaiapoi were the pedestrian bridges across the Kaiapoi River, which connected miles of paved paths along the tops of the river banks.

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The 2010/2011 earthquakes liquefied floodplains in and around Christchurch, including land in Kaiapoi (pictured here). About 10,000 houses were condemned and demolished, leaving behind only the streets and the driveways. There is much debate over how to repurpose this “red zone,” but nothing has been done yet.

 

For example, roadwork often forces me to deviate from my route, but I love the challenge of having to find a way around it. The most creative solution I once found was to carry my bike through an adjacent cemetery, then squeeze through a fence to get back on track.

On another ride, I was passed by a portable building that was being towed by a slow-moving car. I sprinted to catch up, then drafted behind it, coasting for several hundred meters before it turned off the road.

One day, riding back from the farmlands north of the city, my route was cut off by a flooded road. Rather than turn around, I decided to pedal through the shin-deep water. It was unpleasant at the time, but it makes me smile to think back on it now.

 

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Not all cycling surprises are fun ones. Here I had to ride through a puddle the size of a pond. My shoes got soaked, but it was worth it, because I was way out in the country. Turning around would have added six miles to my ride.

The best rides have multiple surprises. A couple Sundays ago I stumbled upon an old outdoor cycling track. There was no one around, so I took it for a spin! Then, back on the road, miles later, I chased after a convoy of classic cars until I found the show where they were gathering.

 

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On a recent ride, I detoured through Denton Park, where I discovered this velodrome. Originally built for the 1974 Commonwealth Games, it is now open to the public. Zooming around its steeply banked curves was nerve-wracking, but fun!

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Back on the road after leaving the Denton Park velodrome, I noticed I was being passed by dozens of classic cars. I chased after them for more than a mile trying to find out where they were going. Just when I was about to give up and turn around, I discovered a meeting of the Canterbury Branch Vintage Car Club.

 

All these unexpected encounters have happened in the few weeks since my last blog post. Just like the improvements to my social life I wrote about then, again I am learning to embrace uncertain situations for the new experiences they offer.

 

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The fun part about cycling through an unfamiliar city is that I never know what I’ll find. This middle-class neighborhood has a street with my name on it!

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A friend invited me to try the high ropes course at Adrenaline Forest. We made it all the way to the highest platforms!

 

Wanting to be more relaxed and accepting of the unknown is what convinced me to spend my break in New Zealand, and it’s the same approach Marius and I have agreed to have on our road trip. We have a general plan, but nothing is set in stone. We’ll figure out the details as we go! For the first time in a long time, that suits me just fine. I’m finally learning to let go.

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Filed under Oceania, Trevor in New Zealand

A Home Away From Home

Often I mention the extravagant trips I take with my program or the exciting things that happen here, but rarely have I talked about my everyday life. Although occasionally the day-to-day routine can seem mundane at times, I thought it would be interesting to tell of my average week here and what it entails.

Monday through Thursday, I have at least one class per day. When I wake up in the morning I go downstairs to the quaint kitchen where three Ghanaian women work and order some of my favorite breakfast food (usually porridge with honey and bananas) or grab a fruit smoothie from the convenience store on my way to class. My host campus is quite large, so typically I try to take the school shuttle on the especially scorching and humid days as to not show up to class looking like I’ve just got out of the shower.

Classes here last two hours and they only meet once a week, so this was an adjustment for me when I first arrived. There are not many assignments either, but when there is, you can bet that it is going to be group work. This also reflects the sense of community that is evident all across Ghana. Not to mention there is a huge emphasis on group discussion and tests. Although it may not be my traditional style of education, it’s refreshing to get a feel for a learning style other than the one that I’ve grown up with.

 

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My host campus has plenty of events to attend. This one was a presentation that my friend Christian got to speak at. We all try to get involved in the local events/activities at the university.

 

After class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I usually make my way to the hospital. As a part of my service-learning class, I had to choose a location to volunteer at while I am here. Since I am a nursing major, I decided the best course of action would be to try and get some experience at the university hospital in the children’s ward. My days here are never exactly the same. Sometimes I get to have conversations with a sweet and stressed mother whose baby was born with some complication. Or occasionally I’ll get to play with restless children while their fatigued mothers attempt to get some rest. I have to admit however that my absolute favorite activities at the ward revolve around learning from the nurses. They have taught me how to check vitals, let me assist with drawing blood, and showed me how to change an IV.

 

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This is one of the mothers who I had the chance to sincerely connect with at the hospital. Her name is Edwardin and I treasure the time I got to spend with her.

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On my way home from school, I sometimes stop at the nearby market and grab some rice and chicken or goat kebabs for dinner. But maybe if I am feeling adventurous, I’ll have a bowl of banku and ground nut soup, a dish that contains fermented corn and cassava and is adored by locals. I also joined the University of Ghana swim team, so it’s typically off to practice for me! A school night usually consists of me talking with friends at the hostel, and then a refreshing cold shower on my way to bed.

 

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Myself and some other international students on the ISH (International Student Hostel) swim team! We did fairly well in this competition, and it is a blast getting to know some of the students from other halls!

 

When Friday rolls around, I have to admit it is my favorite part of the week. Often I’ll explore Accra on little day trips by trotro (the main form of public transportation) or hang around the hostel eating my favorite snack (this little marvelous packaged ice cream called FanIce.) My local friends offer neat sights for me to go and visit, and each outing always blesses me with something new to be learned. I love the life that I have made for myself here, and can not wait to see what else the future has in store.

 

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Locals usually purchase animals such as chicken or goat at the nearby markets, and then transport them on the trotros. It still makes me giggle a little when I see chickens in the seat ahead of me.

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One of Ghana’s treasures is the Aburi Botanical Gardens. These gardens are home to a variety of plants, but this carved tree was definitely one of my favorites. It had intricate designs of bodies and animals all throughout.

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As Accra is located on the coast, there are plenty of beaches to visit. This particular beach is called Bojo Beach, and to get there one has to take a canoe across to a tiny island where one can relax in the gorgeous sights, or take a dip in the Atlantic.

 

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Filed under Africa, Coryl in Ghana

Gilman Scholar Elizabeth’s Favorite Things About London

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Filed under Elizabeth in England, Western Europe

Goodbyes are the Hardest Part

Have you ever met someone and within a very short amount of time felt an immediate close connection with them? I have thought I felt something like this before but I never could have imagined just how close you could get to someone in five days.

Five days ago my program traveled to Putre. Putre is a small rural mountain town on the border of Bolivia. For our five days there we were staying with a homestay family in groups. There were three other girls and myself staying with a family in Putre. Throughout the entire time we were there, our host family was so welcoming and caring.

Our mom gave us small flutes that had llama/alpaca designs and said Putre on them at lunch the first day together. The first night at dinner we had an amazing conversation about religion. Our mom asked us if we were religious. This can sometimes be a very touchy subject but she was very open to hearing everyone’s opinions and beliefs. We talked about being spiritual without adhering to a specific religion and about Buddhist beliefs as well as Christianity. At the end of the conversation she even said to us that our differing beliefs about religion would not separate us. After dinner we even went to the Evangelical church that she is the pastor of and participated in the service. It was very different from religious services I have attended previously. The majority of the time we were in the church we were singing. For every song there was a video that accompanied it. Some of the songs we sang in Spanish and for these the lyrics were part of the video projected up on the wall of the church. Many of the other songs we sang came from a hymn book. In the book each song was written in both Spanish and Aymara, the native language of a large majority of the people who live in Putre. Because we were there, they decided to sing in Aymara for us. These songs all had videos to accompany them with images of people in traditional clothing in fields with different animals or in water playing instruments and singing. We followed along in our hymnals trying our best to sing in Aymara. For the first two songs it was really challenging but it got much easier as we started understanding the pronunciation. After singing two songs in Spanish and four or five songs in Aymara, our host-mom read a gospel passage and started her homily. Then came the Sign of Peace. After that we all headed over to another small building next to the church that had a kitchen and an dining room with several long tables. On one table there were three plates of sopapilla that had been made before church and cups of tea. We sat there for about 20 or 30 minutes just talking to the other members of the parish. They were all so welcoming of us.

 

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The view from just outside my homestay in Putre.

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A mural depicting llamas and alpacas.

 

Throughout the rest of our time in Putre I consistently felt so welcomed by our host family and also by everyone we met. Part of the program was talking to the Aymara traditional medicine providers in Putre. Señor Teófilo is the yatiri. His role in traditional medicine within Aymara culture is to communicate with different spiritual entities. He does this to read hojas de coca (coca leaves) for people. Within these readings he can tell you about your health, your job, and your love life. He can use this to help figure out if someone has an imbalance within their body that is causing them to be sick. Additionally, Señora Fausta is the qulliri/usuyiri of the town. A qulliri is the person who uses herbs to help cure illnesses and prevent illnesses as well. A usuyiri is a traditional midwife. Both of them were very welcoming and taught us so much. I even went to Señor Teófilo one morning to get my coca leaves read and Señora Fausta made me a jarabe (a solution of eucalyptus, honey, and a root of an herb called yareta) for my cough and bronchitis as well as a cream for muscle aches. I feel like I learned the most from them. Through them I saw the potential for intercultural medicine to succeed. They worked with the local health center to treat patients and they were so open to learning about and incorporating occidental medicine in their traditional practices. They used occidental diagnoses to help cater traditional remedies and medicines for their patients and they also understood which types of illnesses they were able to effectively treat and which ones they were better treated by occidental doctors. However, this system does not yet go both ways. The medics at the clinic in Putre change a lot. At least every four years there is a completely new medical team in Putre. This means that some of the doctors that come are more open and accepting of traditional medicine and its benefits than others and it presents even more of a challenge in creating a sustainable system of reciprocity between the two types of medicine to best benefit the patients in Putre and surrounding towns.

 

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Welcome pawa with the yatiri and qulliri/usuyiri of Putre.

 

The last night that we were in Putre the group of girls that I was staying with went stargazing and on the way back we saw that our host parents were in church so we stopped in. It was just about the end of the service so we stayed. At the end our host mom said that she was so happy we had come to Putre and that she hoped we learned a lot while we were here and that she had learned a lot from us. After that she asked us is if we wanted to say a few words about our time in Putre. We all said that we felt we had created a very strong connection with the people and the place in the short time we had been there and that we learned a lot about the Aymara culture. Then another woman from the parish started to close the service with a prayer. Her prayer lasted for five minutes or so. I have never heard so many well wishes for strangers in my life. A large part of her prayer was directed at us and wishing us well in life and in our studies. It was amazing to see someone who thought the best of everyone, even people she had only met twice for very brief instances. By the end of her prayer I was almost in tears and one of the other girls I was staying with was crying. The rest of that night was spent saying very heartfelt goodbyes to our host father since we wouldn’t see him the next morning. Our sister-in-law gave us hair ties that she had made for us. They were flowers made out of fabric with traditional patterns.

The next morning we left at around 9:30 but as we walked to the bus we saw our sister-in-law again. She was in a store and beckoned us in. Once we were in the store she asked us if we wanted any snacks for the ride home. As we started to get out our wallets she quickly told us no, she would be paying for whatever we wanted. It was very sweet. We each ended up getting a lollipop for the drive up Lauca National Park, where we were visiting before returning to Arica that day. It was very hard to get on that bus and leave behind Putre and our family. I don’t think I have ever connected to someone so quickly and with such strength before in my life. I couldn’t have imagined an better first trip out of Arica.

 

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Volcano of Parinacota in Lauca National Park.

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More mountains in Lauca National Park.

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Selfie with some vicuñas in Lauca National Park.

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More vicuñas in Lauca National Park.

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A viscacha in Lauca National Park.

 

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Filed under Brooke in Chile, south america

Housing Hiccups & the Scottish Rental Market

Here’s the thing about defeat: it doesn’t exist until you’re dead.  (Or if you’re a video game character, not even then.)  Defeat is just a trial leading to an error that informs you what not to do next time, for as many next times as you need until you strike upon a winning combination.  So here’s a little story of a recent pothole in the road of life, and how that’s panning out for me now.

I never intended to commit myself to the rabbit hole of student housing again.  Before I applied, I inquired with the department as to whether it would be suitable for an adult re-entry student with certain (apparently special) needs.  They were not forthcoming with information, either on the accommodations themselves or the pursuit of alternatives.  Through my own research I determined that renting privately would be impossible for a person of my means without being present in the target continent, given silly in-person restrictions like proving my corporeal existence.  So I decided to take shelter at the university as a starting point, hoping not to begin my Scottish residency on a cobble-stoned curbside.  This logic, it turned out, was perfectly reasonable and utterly impotent.  The university department of housing is a for-profit operation designed to fill as many rooms as possible with as many foreign students as possible (tuition is free to Scottish residents) and then to point to the dreaded Terms of Service (TOS) as proof of their ownership should you be sideswiped by this data.  That little note in the body of the email about a cancellation period, it turns out, refers to a 7 day window that begins as soon as you accept the offer from the safety of your home continent, several months prior to arrival.  The fallout of this is that you are locked into a living arrangement – year long, in my case – sight unseen and situation unknown.  I discovered all of this when I announced my departure within the hour of my arrival and became embroiled in a protracted battle to gain access to anyone with the authority to do better than throw their hands up and deny any authority.  This was my happy introduction to the town, the country, and the university I’d sought after for years.  It was a hostile welcome, particularly to a ragged wanderer who’d just jettisoned all manner of security, familiarity, and home comforts.

 

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The shoebox.

 

The appointed Rational Decision Maker of the housing department, as it happens, was heavily fortified behind a boss dungeon of detours and misdirections.  Repeated assurances that I would be contacted went unfulfilled for weeks until finally I was retroactively informed that a representative had conversed with me without ever revealing his relation to the department.  Needless to say, I did not avail the anonymous man as to my housing concerns.  The well-oiled engine of the adult world is missing some pivotal screws! I worked meanwhile with a Student Advocate at the Student Union to assess my tenant rights and legal footing, and by the end of a month I at last managed to jam my foot in the door of the Wizard’s palace and communicate my appeal to the man behind the mask.  I had to trot out some highly personal information to make any headway against the TOS, but in the end I emerged victorious.  Score one for the little guy.  Literally.

And all of this is merely a preamble to the main point, which is this: I have leveled up, and the rewards are sweeter for the struggle overcome in obtaining them.  I have successfully navigated the Scottish housing market and secured shelter for myself in a foreign land.  I have repelled the dragons, defied the odds, and put down roots – and I go forward with the knowledge that these intimidating obstacles are conquerable.

Once free of my TOS tethers, I began my search for a new home at the UK’s Craiglist equivalent: Gumtree.  I soon had countless tabs open to various rental aggregate and agency’s sites.  In retrospect, for a small town like St. Andrews it may have been easier to simply pop in at the agencies in person, but I was under the impression from prior experience that it was better to rent from landlords directly, where possible.  This turned out to be a less accessible option, as the strict Scottish rental regulations encourage most private citizens to outsource that fuss and bother to the professionals.

In Scotland you don’t rent so much as “let,” although I have heard the terms used interchangeably.  (Similarly, an apartment is more commonly called a “flat”, though it can be called both.  I am not sure if there are nuanced differences to when the terms are appropriately employed.)  So most homeowners employ a “letting agent” who markets the rental and manages the considerable bureaucracy.  On a positive note, the regulations appear to be designed as much for the tenant’s protection as for the lettors and landlord.  While this is ostensibly the case in the States, it is more in evidence here by certain quirks of the Scottish system, such that deposits are held by an unbiased third party organization established specifically for the purpose of protecting rights and mitigating disputes.  This third party organization also oversees the walk-through assessment of the property before and after the tenancy.

One of the first things I discovered when I began my search was that many lettors state point-blank that they do not let to homewreckers, er, students.  Of course, the single-occupancy properties I was looking at appeal exclusively to singles and young persons of which students make up a majority, so many lettors preempted these applicants by stipulating “professionals and grad students only.”  This was particularly confounding to me because as a 30-something re-entry student I am neither a graduate nor a typical undergrad, and as a homebody I maintain my abode in fairly high standing.  Furthermore, although not presently employed I have ample professional experience, both freelance and office-based.  So I determined to emphasize my professional experience and minimize my student status when promoting myself to prospective lettors:

“Hello, I’m calling about the flat at 321 Northsouthwest Humperdink?”
“Are you a student or fully employed?”
“Um, yes.”

After a brief phone interview I was greenlighted for a viewing, so I set out in my least outrageous sweater pulled over a collared shirt, trying my best to look tweedish and teacherly.  All went smoothly until the agent responded to my inquiry about property tax.  “Oh, undergraduates are exempt, actually.  Are you an undergraduate?”
“Why, yes, I am!
Woops. Gratefully it was not held against me, though the particular property I was looking at was not specifically sacrificed at the alter of “student lets.”

Proceeding with the application process, the agent took my email and sent me a list of documents they would require.  These included landlord, employer and character references, along with proof of income and enrollment status.  It turned out to be fortuitous that the cat was out of the bag, so to speak, since a financial aid document was the only proof of income I currently had.  I returned these things by email while reciting a silent mantra of thanks to whatever managerial spirit had seen to sparing the redundant requirement of a formal application.  There was a brief period of uncertainty when they inquired if I could provide local references and I cringingly confirmed that I could not.  To compensate for this deficit, I sent along some official letters of reference from former employers and waited on tinterhooks for a week or so, at which point an angelic choir of shoulder angels accompanied the happy announcement of my approval.

 

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furnished lets

 

Contrary to the informality of the application process, the walkthrough itself was considerably more formal than those I’ve undergone in the States.  When the woman from the third party organization met with me, she had already been through the property once with a fine tooth comb.  She then gave me a tour while pointing out the issues she had already found and documented.  I later received a copy of this comprehensive report, including photographs and notations on the condition of all aspects of the home, and was given a week from the time I moved in to submit corrections or additions.

One of the coolest discoveries I’ve made about renting in the UK is that it’s not at all uncommon to find a furnished rental.  There’s an option in every search filter for furnished housing, and no shortage of listings that meet this handy distinction.  Thanks to this, I was able to rent privately without having to worry about buying everything I would need for the home – a condition which would have either left me destitute or profoundly spartan.  So it was that my new home came with a double bed, bedding, couch, chairs, a television, and a fully equipped kitchen.  There was even some modest decor, which I was told I could put into storage if so desired.  Most of it is still scattered about the place, though, since clutter makes a home.  But I’ve also made my own contribution, of course, and at last have my revenge for the scrupulously decor-resistant dorm walls!

 

decor 2

decor 1

 

Prior to my departure from student housing, I had been warned that private letting in St. Andrews would be difficult and expensive.  Perhaps because I was looking after most of my fellow students had already settled in, I was fortunate to find a fair number of choices.  I also discovered that for a short bus ride out of town I could find housing for half the price of what it went for in St. Andrews.  I ended up taking a place within a 15 minute walk to the school – half the distance of the student apartments – and less than a 5 minute walk to the beach, for less than the cost of university accommodation.  Adding in private utilities, it came to about the same.  Suffice to say I was reasonably satisfied with the switch.

From start to finish, my experience renting in St Andrews was dramatically different than my last experience in the States.  Compared to St. Andrews, my home university has a student body of roughly 40,000 in a city with a population of over 100,000 in the excessively popular Bay Area of California, one of the most populous states in the nation.  Listed rentals are inundated with applicants within minutes, and the extremity of demand has prices skyrocketing and landlords clamoring to convert ANY unused space into an income source.  Most of what I looked at there was four white walls with a bed and a hotplate, some no bigger than a large closet.  They made me claustrophobic, and I have a history of living in trailers.  For all of that, the minimum monthly cost was still well over a thousand.  Due to this, I ended up commuting to school from a friend’s place about two hours north for the first four months of my university career, until at last I landed a little apartment an hour closer.  Even then, they said they had received hundreds of applicants within an hour of posting, and I was only fortunate enough to secure it by virtue of arriving at the open house early and with a binder of references.  So I just have to laugh when I hear people say that St. Andrews is a hard place to rent in.

Welcome home, wanderer.  I am living in Scotland!

 

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Everything Is Going to Be Alright

          The world is our oyster. The correspondents on this site who have shared tales from Ghana, South Korea, England, Scotland, and France are only a small sample of the more than 850 Gilman Scholars who are having life-changing experiences all over the globe. While we chose our host countries for a variety of reasons, one common draw was the challenge and adventure of navigating a foreign culture far from home.

        With that opportunity comes risk. Setbacks are an inevitable part of any journey. Some can be anticipated, others take us by surprise, but all can be overcome with the right attitude. That’s what I’ve learned these last three weeks here in New Zealand.

        One difficulty I saw coming was the different testing and grading style of a big university compared to that of a small liberal arts college. At Pomona College, my professors know me personally. They know I don’t cheat, and when I submit work that is incorrect, they can compare my answers to what they know about me as a student to figure out exactly where I went wrong. At University of Canterbury (UC), my Physics 101 professor can’t possibly learn the names of all 700 students in my class, much less trust them on a test. Similarly, graders faced with a foot-tall stack of Statistics 101 assignments don’t have time to dissect strange-looking answers.

        I was confident going into my first Physics 101 test. After studying for seven hours, I aced the online practice test with time to spare. I had so strong a memory for the material that I didn’t even bother with the reference sheet I was allowed. Instead of filling the sheet with important equations, I thought it would be funny if I made a colorful crayon drawing of a boy flying a kite. So, that’s what I did.

 

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My Physics 101 professor allowed each student to bring a reference sheet to the first test. He said I could put anything I wanted on it. This is what I chose!

 

        I got a four out of ten on the test, not for lack of a serious cheat sheet, but because the strict testing procedures made me nervous. I had to show my ID and calculator at the door, leave all my belongings at the front of the room, then sit with empty desks on both sides of me to discourage cheating. Once told to do so, I opened the booklet and had exactly one hour to finish the machine-graded, multiple-choice test.

        As soon as I hit one small stumbling block, I panicked! I remembered the formulas, but I couldn’t think clearly enough to work the problems through from start to finish. It made me miss Pomona’s casual, take-your-time approach to testing. Fortunately, it was only worth a small portion of my final grade. I’ll be ready next time.

        My first Statistics 101 assignment was a similar story. I submitted it assuming I’d get an A. Despite doing all my calculations correctly, I got only half credit because I didn’t display my data in the correct format. For example, I lost points on one of my graphs because the values on its y-axis were expressed as absolute values instead of percent values. It seemed so nit-picky, but that’s the attention to detail that’s needed here, and now I know. For my next assignment, I’ll print it out in advance and ask for feedback before I turn it in. Problem solved!

        If only all problems were so straightforward….

        My girlfriend and I had been dating for two years. We planned to marry each other someday. This month, she broke up with me.

        Long distance was nothing new for us. That’s how we had spent most of our relationship. But once she started graduate school last semester, she started to make new friends and see new career opportunities. Without either of us realizing it, she started to drift away from me. At some point, our long-distance relationship stopped being a buoy for her. It became an anchor. She didn’t want to put her life on hold for a future with me that was still two years away, so she cut the rope. I don’t blame her.

        I had a good cry the night she broke the news to me, but she said she did it for both of us and I understand that now. The longer we had been together, the more reclusive I had become. It’s hard to be present when half your heart is hundreds of miles away. Instead of engaging with those around me, I used to busy myself with solitary pursuits like reading and video games. It got to the point that I hardly had a social life outside my girlfriend. I made little effort to stay in touch with old friends, and no effort to make new ones. Not anymore!

        I had an epiphany recently that I’m afraid of putting myself in situations where I must compete for peoples’ attention. So, what am I doing now? Exactly that. I’m joining clubs left and right, chatting up strangers, making new friends, and accepting invitations I normally would have turned down. Basically, I’m pushing myself outside my comfort zone and seeing what happens. I don’t pretend to know what I’m doing, but at least I’m doing something, and it seems to be paying off.

        So far this month, I’ve joined six student clubs and attended 13 meetings. I’m cycling with UC Bike Club, speaking with UC Spanish Club, tasting with UC Wine Club, grooving with Defy Dance, and doing community service with the Student Volunteer Army. Through these activities, I’ve made several friends who I never would have met otherwise. I’m also growing closer to my flatmates, who continue to impress me with their friendliness and consideration. Things are looking up.

 

20170305 Jasper's 35th birthday

The flatmates celebrate Jasper’s 35th birthday! From left to right: Marius, me, Mathew, Calvin, and Jasper.

20170305 Morgans Valley Road

My first ride with UC Bike Club.

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Last weekend I went camping with the Student Volunteer Army. My group did trail maintenance. Others improved the campground by doing yardwork and home-improvement projects. The camp is owned by a charitable trust that subsidizes camping trips for the disabled.

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After the Student Volunteer Army was finished working for the day, we got to relax at Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa, a waterpark that is naturally heated by magma near the Earth’s surface. It was of special interest to me because one of my geology classes this semester focuses on geothermal energy!

20170304 river cruise

The Avon River winds its way through Hagley Park, a 400-acre park right next to downtown Christchurch.

20170304 earthquake ruins

It’s been six years since the deadly earthquakes hit Christchurch, but ruins are still a common sight downtown.

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Last month the city unveiled a memorial to commemorate the 185 people killed in the earthquakes.

 

         I’ll end with an update on my cycling, and mention one ride that perfectly sums up my experience these last three weeks.

        After weeks of searching, I finally pulled the trigger on a 2014 Trek 1.1 road bike that was listed online. My patience paid off. Although it’s three years old, it hadn’t been ridden at all before I bought it, so I basically got a brand-new bike for a 40% discount! In my three weeks of ownership, I’ve ridden 250 miles all over the city.

 

Trek1

I finally bought a bicycle! This is Trek’s entry-level road bike. It’s three years old, but it looks and rides like new. The previous owner hardly ever used it.

20170305 Summit Road over Sumner

Looking northeast down onto the beach community of Sumner, seven miles from downtown Christchurch.

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My longest ride so far was a 38 mile round trip to the beach at New Brighton. Little did I know, the national Surf Lifesaving Championships were going on that day! I joined the hundreds of spectators on Christchurch Pier who were watching the kayak and rowboat races.

 

        My most memorable ride was on a Wednesday night. It started as the sun was setting and continued past dark. So many things could have gone horribly wrong, but didn’t. I won’t list all the near misses here, I’ll just share the one that best describes my mood right now.

        I was on my way home riding through downtown when I became distracted by a giant neon sign outside the Christchurch Art Gallery. In colorful, all-capital letters, it proclaimed EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT. That’s when the front wheel of my bike slotted into a streetcar track, flinging me sideways. (For added irony, this happed right in front of a street sign warning cyclists of this very hazard!) I fell, but I got up again. The bike was undamaged, I was uninjured, and I have a feeling that everything is going to be alright.

 

20170315 tram tracks

This sign would have been helpful if I had seen it in time.

20170315 EVERYTHING NG TO BE ALRIGHT

Instead of heeding the warning of the sign in the previous photo, I was distracted by this bigger and brighter one across the street. I fell hard, flat on my side! Thankfully, my bike and I suffered only minor scratches.

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