Sunday, November 15, 2015

La Marseillaise

Friday was supposed to be a normal night.

I went into Stockholm to see a film, then I had planned on coming home and watching an hour or so of Netflix before heading to bed since I was scheduled to be at work at 8.00 the next morning.

However, Friday was anything but a normal night.

As everyone knows, Paris, France, fell victim to numerous terrorist attacks Friday night. I heard about one during my train ride back home and unfortunately didn't take it as seriously as I probably should have. When I got home, I opened my laptop and got on Twitter; Paris was the most trending topic worldwide. I skimmed the headlines to news articles provided by Twitter. It was a whirlwind of devastating words such as terrorists, hostages, bombings, attacks, among others. If it was physically possible for hearts to shatter, I think mine would have done so in that moment.

I was in a panic. I texted friends that I knew were in France, suspected might be in France, had family in France, or were from France to ensure that they and everyone they knew were safe and alive. Everyone I reached out to said that they and their loved ones were safe. The next day, I asked again to make sure and asked those I hadn't talked to the night before to ensure that the same could be said for them. Everyone I know and they know is alive and accounted for. I wish the same could be said for everyone.

The next morning, I was able to ask off work (I'm currently volunteering for a film festival, and we're always overstaffed in the mornings, so it wasn't a difficult task at all) so I would be able to attend a gathering to support France with a group of my French friends. The person that organised the rally is a Frenchman currently in Stockholm for an internship, and according to the roughly translated version of his speech that I got, he decided to create the event while he was watching the previous night's events unfold. He said he didn't know what to do at this event, he didn't know what to say, all he knew was that it was important to be together.

So we were together.

The world is in mourning...
The French anthem, La Marseillaise, was sung. Candles were lit. Swedes, Americans, Latvians, and other nationalities stood in solidarity with France. Where we were born and what our passports claimed were irrelevant; in those hours, we were all French.

After getting back from this gathering, I began to catch up on the rest of the news from the day before, and it was then that I discovered just how tragic Friday was, not just for France, but for the world. Natural disasters in Japan and Mexico. More terrorist attacks in Beirut and Baghdad. Hundreds dead all in a 24 hour period.

I was in shock. I didn't know how to react as I read tragic headline after tragic headline. For a moment, I felt like the world was collapsing right on top of me.

Sometimes, it feels like the world is too much for us. What I learned this weekend is that whenever the world starts feeling like it's too much for us is when we need one another the most. I just think it's a shame that it took a weekend like this one for me to figure that out.

Yes, we should stand in solidarity with France. The French people need all the love and support they can get right now. But we also need to stand in solidarity with Beirut. We need to stand in solidarity
with Baghdad. Despite our differences, we are all part of one human race, and we need to stand in solidarity against the attacks on humanity such as the ones we witnessed this weekend. If we stand divided, it is inevitable that our enemy will prevail.

For this reason, I stand in solidarity not only with France but with all of humanity who seek justice, freedom, and peace.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

I Love Europe

This video is 100% an accurate depiction of me.

Europe is, in a single word, awesome. As much as I love my home in the States, now that I'm here, I never want to go anywhere else. I understand that Europe isn't the right place for everyone. I want to stay in Europe as long as possible. When I go back home and return to normal life, I'll start planning my next trip here. I would love to have the opportunity to work somewhere on the continent one day. Really and truly, I love Europe so much. However, some people are content with staying where they've been their entire lives, and that's perfectly okay.

But even if you are one of those people, I think it's important to get out and see what else the world has to offer! It's fun, exciting, and life changing in the best way possible. And I'm saying this after only two and a half months abroad; I still have another 7+ months of being here!

I feel like I'm talking in circles with this blog. What I really want to drive home is the fact that I love it here. I love Europe. It's everything I've ever dreamed of and more. There's still so much I have left to uncover and explore, and I'm practically buzzing with excitement just thinking about it.

Wherever you want to go, go! I know that's easier said than done, but do everything in your power to make it happen. Going abroad for an extended period of time is oftentimes a once in a lifetime ordeal, but that once in a lifetime ordeal is guaranteed to change you forever.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more just to be among my Pamplona family...

November is here and I find myself in my third month home. I cannot believe that it has only been that long. I simultaneously feel so close and so distant to my time in Spain.

So much has happened since I've returned and honestly I haven't had much time to process my return, the differences, and all that I learned in my time abroad.

What I do know is that I often ache to be back in Pamplona. My heart strings are tugged with desire to be walking the streets of Pamplona, to be sitting in a piso surrounded by my people, to wander from bar to bar on Thursday nights eating pinxos and enjoying the charm of juevinxos, to be speaking Spanish, and to see my improvement day by day.

I miss the place and the lifestyle, the culture, and mostly the people. I miss my Erasmus family, the classmates who helped me every step of the way, and Johanna and Leslie and our nights of language exchange.

I should be studying for my comps, and I will get back to that, but as I sit here, listening to my Pamplona playlist, I can't help but to yearn for the place and people that I left behind. You don't realize until the experience of a lifetime is over just how amazing it was.

I get excited when I get to talk about my time abroad and even the thought of it all brings a huge smile to my face. There is so much that is special about the types of things that you get to do when you are in a new country alone. If only tomorrow I could hop in a bla-bla car, head to the South and get lost in charming cities, narrow streets, and incredible edifices containing the architectural and cultural influences of centuries of different groups. How I wish I had explored more of Navarra and all of the diverse natural wonders that it has to offer. What I would give to spend an afternoon sitting in the ciudadela and a night roaming in el casco viejo... These things that seemed so trivial to me at the time have become something that I wish for constantly.

I guess this post is mostly for me. To express my wish to return to times past and a chance to discuss my nostalgia. It is also a plea however, to my friends studying abroad here in Maryville or to my Maryville friends about to go abroad to make sure to make the most of every moment and to revel in the glory of these days because they will go by fast and before you know it, you will be sitting somewhere reflecting on times gone by and how they were the best days.

Monday, November 2, 2015

5 Things to do Before You Study Abroad

Written By: Study Abroad Ambassador, Joel Thornton

One of the hardest parts about studying abroad, and most important, is the preparation phase that begins months in advance. There are dozens upon dozens of things that have to be done, usually in a timely manner, in order for everything to run smoothly. I will highlight 5 key items that are crucial for preparing to go overseas:

  1. Research, Research, Research
    This is the first step to studying abroad, and allows you to narrow down what countries and/or schools are right for you. You can never know too much about your future place of study.
  2. Location
    It is of extreme importance that you choose the place that you want to go to. Do not let anyone (parents, boyfriend/girlfriend, best friend, coach, professor) persuade you from the place you truly want to go. However, it is important to see it from others’ perspectives.
  3. Credit Transfer
    It is crucial that you set up a dialogue with your academic advisor so that together you can determine what overseas classes/credits will transfer back to MC.
  4. Airline Tickets
    Make sure you purchase your tickets well in advance of the date of departure (5-8 weeks prior should suffice). Usually, the closer you get to the date of departure, the higher the price of the ticket and the lower the chance of getting ideal flight times and seating.
  5. Packing
    I highly recommend packing several days in advance (5-7 days) to give yourself adequate time, and so you are not in a panic or rush. It also allows some room for error in case you forgot something important and need to go buy it or order it online.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Estonia and Halloween

It's been a busy week! I am absolutely exhausted and am totally using this Sunday to be totally lazy; I've earned it, especially since next week will be a busy week as well!

So what have I been up to this week?

This is not from a fairytale. This is from Estonia.
I went to Estonia! Specifically, I went to Tallinn, which is the capital of Estonia. Now Estonia is a pretty cool place with some pretty awesome history. During my fine arts class freshman year, we watched a documentary called The Singing Revolution, which is  about how Estonia earned their independence from the Soviet Union. They used songs and their song festival to gain independence in a non-violent way! The Soviets forced them to speak Russian and sing only Russian patriotism songs, but the Estonian people refused. They sang their own anthem, they waved their own flag, and they, unarmed and peacefully, took on Soviet soldiers who rolled into their tiny nation in tanks with fully loaded guns. I cry literally every time I watch this documentary, so of course, the opportunity to actually visit Estonia wasn't something I was about to pass up.

My travel companion and I are so cute.
First of all, Tallinn is beautiful. It's very, very, very different from Stockholm. Almost everywhere you look, you can still see the mark the Soviets left on the country. Almost everything is written in both Estonian and Russian. Every church has services in both languages. But all of the old buildings and statues are marked in Russian. It is in these places that you really remember what Estonia was going through not even 25 years ago. Because I had the documentary on my mind, these moments ended up making me pretty emotional, but I'd say it was in a good way. I wasn't necessarily sad, yet I don't know how to describe what exactly I was feeling. Was I feeling happy for the Estonians who bravely and tirelessly fought to gain their freedom? Was I feeling proud of them for doing so? Whatever it was, it brought tears to my eyes. I'm not ashamed to admit it.

You do you, Estonia.
The friend that I went to Estonia with seemed equally in awe of its beautiful. I told her about their history, and she seemed to gain even more of an appreciation for the young nation after that. Even though it was exhausting, I'm glad we went.

Daredevil! Or burglar...
Right after we got back from Estonia, it was time to get spooky and celebrate Halloween! I kind of put together a costume last minute because I didn't realise others would be dressing up. So I decided to go as a genderbent Daredevil. The only problem with that? Not many Europeans are familiar with the TV show, and that caused a lot of confusion. Most of the conversations I had with people went something like this:

Other person: You look cute! What's your costume? A burglar?
Me: Well, uh, have you seen Daredevil? The TV show?
Other person: No... I've never heard of it.
Me: Okay, well let's just say I'm a burglar then.

Close enough, I guess.

What a beautiful drag queen!
Everyone else had really cool costumes, though, so it was fun to see them dressed up! We went to a club for a while, but a lot of people had partied last night and were tired so we left kind of early and hung out at McDonald's instead. All in all, it was a really fun night! I'm so happy I got to spend it with my friends here.

You wish you had a squad this cool.
Other than school, not much is going on next week, but I have to finish a final paper for the class I'm taking now, then my next course starts the next day. AND I have a meeting for the Stockholm Film Festival, which starts 11 November, and obviously I'm super excited for that! Have a great week, everyone!

Hüvasti! (That's Estonian for goodbye!)
- Lee

The times I'm having...

Monday, October 26, 2015


Titles for blog posts are so difficult. Hence why the title of this one is literally just Norway. Because I went to Norway. At least it gets the point across.

Bryggen, which is located right by a port.
Anyway, Norway is beautiful! We went to Bergen, which is a quaint little place with that old European charm I love and surrounded by nature, particularly fjords. Honestly, I felt like I was in heaven. Bergen is the place people picture whenever they think of Scandinavia. There was one place
in particular, a spot downtown known as Bryggen, that feels especially Scandinavian. The street is lined with colourful buildings and inside the buildings are shops filled with all kinds of Norwegian goodies!

We spent the morning walking around downtown. We went to Bryggen, of course, and walked down a few alleys to see where they led us. We also went to a fish market, which is apparently Bergen's top attraction. There, we got the chance to try whale (it actually tastes kind of good!) and buy freshly caught salmon to cook for dinner that night.

If you go somewhere and don't
have a photoshoot, did you
really even go to said
After that, we took a trip to the highest point in Bergen, and we were able to see the entire city and marvel at its beauty. We easily spent two hours there just gawking at how incredibly beautiful is. I
don't think I'll ever forget the view from that spot.

Silvia and Ana, two Spanish girls I couldn't imagine
my life here in Sweden without. And behind us?
The GORGEOUS view from the random
village we accidentally went to.
The next day, we took a very long bus ride to a small village where we could see the fjords. The only problem? We got off at the wrong village. We walked around a bit before we stopped for lunch and started trying to decide on a new game plan. Some people wanted to go to the right stop, but others didn't want to pay to get on the bus
Check out this cool waterfall
again (the bus ticket had cost $30 one way!); in the end, we decided to visit a waterfall that was fairly close to the village we were in instead of the fjords.

To get to the waterfall, we had to walk through at least three miles of farmland. Since I grew up in a farming town, I felt completely at home and even told a few stories I had from working on a farm. It was a great way to pass the time. And the waterfall itself? Gorgeous! But even better than the
waterfall was the view! From the waterfall, you could see all of the farmland you'd just trekked across, and it, again, was absolutely stunning. Really, Norway is just a gorgeous place. I am quite fond of it. I wouldn't say no if someone asked me to go again.

A truly picturesque sunset :)
But now I'm back in Sweden - for now, anyway! Tomorrow, I'm leaving for Estonia with a friend who's currently visiting. And during the second week of November, I'll hopefully be going to Germany to visit a friend from back home who's currently studying abroad as well! And on the 12th of November, I begin working as a volunteer for the Stockholm International Film Festival. I am so excited!!!

Farvel! (that's Norwegian for goodbye!)
- Lee

Friday, October 23, 2015

Ten Things I Learned In India

By: Kristin Kimberlain 

  1. Things as simple as crossing the road can be exhilarating but difficult. There’s tons of crazy traffic with no lanes in big Indian cities, and crossing in front of four or five lanes of cars, trucks, motorcycles, and stray animals is an acquired skill. Once you learn how to do it, you feel like you can do anything.

  2. Never wear your shoes in the house. Or in a religious space. We don’t think much of it here, but it makes sense because shoes get really dirty.

  3. Smells are a really important part of the experience. Walking down the street, it’s typical to pass by a heap of garbage and feel really disgusted by the smell, but when you turn the corner just a second later, the air can smell entirely like jasmine and camphor—absolutely heavenly.

  4. Cows are amazing animals. Whether you’re encountering a cow on the sidewalk in the middle of a bustling city or grazing by a lake in a wildlife reserve, it’s nice to be able to pet them and talk to them. They’re so docile and can really help center your nerves in an unfamiliar place.

  5. South Indian food is delicious. Meals are always an experience because of the diversity in flavors and spices that you experience every single time you eat. Using your hands as utensils is really fun, and fluffy Keralan rice is a hundred times better when it’s covered in ghee (clarified butter!)

  6. Bargaining is an art form. Don’t get ripped off in the market or by a rickshaw driver! Know the price you’re willing to pay and stick to it. Once you’re a good negotiator, you feel like you can run the world.

  7. Indian laundry services are enviable. It’s so nice to be able to send your clothes away for half a day at a hotel and have them come back crisply folded and neatly organized. It’s also incredibly cheap!

  8. The friends you make in India are really important. Going to India with a group of students was an awesome bonding experience. We had so many hilarious encounters and overcame challenges together, and the friends that I made there are still encouraging me and laughing with me in my life back at home.

  9. Learning about people who are different from you is incredibly fulfilling. South Indian culture is really different from US culture in so many ways that I could never imagine before actually going there. India is an extremely diverse and really complicated place, and knowing about differences makes the world so much richer.

  10. “Fearlessness is heaven even in a moment”. This was painted on a wall along with lots of other inspirational phrases outside of a church in Chennai that we walked by almost every day. India teaches you  to be fearless and know yourself, which is the most valuable lesson you can learn for being the best person you can be both abroad and at home.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

So Tired...

I feel really guilty for not posting here every week like I'm supposed to be doing. I'm trying, I promise, but it's really difficult with such a busy schedule. Even though I only have class a few times a week, my planner is packed full of things i have to do and places I'm going. I don't want to complain, but, quite honestly, I am so beyond exhausted that I feel like I can't keep going at the pace I've been at since I got here.
A look at my planner this month...
I've been calling it the month from hell.

Studying abroad is really a lot of fun. You have the opportunity to do and see things you never imagined you'd be lucky enough to do and see in your life. You get to experience new cultures and potentially learn new languages. Really, I'm having the time of my life here, and if I had to go back to the States today, you'd have to force me back kicking and screaming.

But it's also really, really draining. Especially as an introvert, which is what I am. Being with large groups of people and social outings leave me mentally and sometimes emotionally drained. I need days to just sit in bed reading a book or watching Netflix to recharge my batteries, and I recently realised that I haven't done that since I got here. And that's something I really, really need to do. I owe that much to myself.

I started a new class the day after I got back from the Netherlands and then a few days later my friend from Finland, Ida, came to visit me. Ida left today, and tomorrow I'm heading to Norway with a group of friends for the weekend. Two days after I get back, a friend from home who is currently studying abroad in London is coming to visit, and while she's here, we're going to Estonia. But once my friend leaves, I will have about a week and a half to myself before I start volunteering for the Stockholm International Film Festival, and during that precious week and a half, I plan on relaxing as much as possible because I know I'm going to be completely drained when this hectic month is over.

So this point of this blog post?

Studying abroad is fun. It's great. You should definitely do everything you want to do while you have the opportunity to do it! But please, please, please, don't forget to take care of yourself as well. You won't be able to fully enjoy what you're doing if you're exhausted, both mentally and physically. Don't be afraid to take mental health days where you stay in your pyjamas all day eating Nutella and binge watching Netflix. I promise that that one day to yourself every now and then is not a waste of time and will make all the difference when you begin adventuring again.

I promise I'll have something more interesting next week, what with going to Norway and all... :)

- Lee

Monday, October 5, 2015

5 Things I Learned in India

    After returning home from my three week journey across Southern India, I was frazzled, exhausted, and craving absolutely anything fried and greasy. It took a while for my mind to digest all of the information that had been brought to my attention throughout my study abroad experience. I was well aware of the fact that I had just experienced a once in a life time opportunity. I was also aware that I had gained knowledge which would stay with me for the rest of my days, but I hadn’t yet processed or made all of the connections necessary to see the big picture, or the grand scheme of what I had learned during my time abroad. It has been 8 months since returning from India and I am happy to say that I am still learning and drawing new connections between my experiences abroad and other aspects of my life. Read on for 5 of the major lessons I learned from studying abroad in India:

  1. Attitude is everything! While my experiences in India were absolutely amazing, there were many aspects of the program that were also quite challenging. Hot days, odd food, traveling on crowded overnight trains, and trying to blend into a culture that I had never experienced before were not always bright and cheery endeavors. During the program, our professors would emphasize the fact that we had to adjust to each new situation. “Adjust.” When you adjust your attitude towards a situation, it really helps everything fall into place.
  2. The Value of Friendship: Building friendships is an important part of life, but traveling abroad really made me consider the true value of friendship and the bonds that you can create in a new country. I traveled abroad with 22 wonderful students from both Maryville and Elon University and most of them I had never even met before entering the program. While in India, we all developed close bonds that helped us have fun and allowed us to work through our experiences together. Even after returning we have stayed close. It’s a great feeling to share such a life changing experience with a great group of people.
  3. Discovered new passions! While abroad, I not only discovered a new found passion for travel, but also one for psychology. I had always been interested in this field of study but after experiencing a new culture and their customs, beliefs, and ways of thinking, I decided that I wanted to gain further knowledge in the field. My experience abroad inspired me to minor in psychology. Since I am a marketing major, learning more about the psychological processes of people around the world will allow me to better market towards many people across cultures in the future.
  4. Navigating: After having to negotiate the rugged streets of India as the sounds of honking horns and racing rickshaws flooded my senses, having to communicate with locals for directions, and even becoming lost in the city of Kochin, I now feel more confident than ever in my ability to navigate a new country!
  5. Cultures are different and that is a good thing! I’ve always wanted to learn about different cultures, but traveling to India was my first experience actually submersing myself into one. It was amazing to see how vastly different yet shockingly similar life was in India. All of the things that made India different also made it unique and helped to bring my fellow travelers and I knew perspectives on culture and the world.

All of these are lessons that I now try to incorporate into my everyday life. I will never forget the experiences or the things that I have learned through my studies in India. I encourage anyone and everyone to study abroad!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Time to Travel!

This week I went to the Netherlands.

It was kind of a spur of the moment thing. I noticed that I wouldn't have class for a week so I started texting friends in other countries and asking if I could sleep on their couch for a few days. After a bit of decision making, it was decided that I would spend my week off in Rotterdam, Netherlands, where my friend Elisa lives and goes to school.

I love Rotterdam! I know that Amsterdam is the first place everyone thinks of whenever they think of the Netherlands, but for me, it'll always be Rotterdam. I'll admit that I knew next to nothing about the city when I arrived, but I loved it as soon as I stepped off the train. It seems to find a really nice mix between old European charm and modern styling, which can be said for most of the country, actually.

My days in Rotterdam were mostly just spend wandering around, hopping on the tram whenever I felt
like it and hopping off in the same fashion. I don't really know where I went, and I probably couldn't
I'm constantly surrounded by water.
Pretty different in comparison to Texas!
get back to those spots if I tried, but it was still a lot of fun. It was nice to be able to explore like that, and I hope I have the opportunity to explore another city like that again soon.

My final day in the Netherlands was spent in, of course, Amsterdam. You can't visit the Netherlands without going to see Amsterdam, I think. It's like an unwritten rule. Amsterdam is
a really cool city, too. There's something for everyone, it seems. Sure, there's legal marijuana and the red light district, but there's also art and history, and pretty much everything anyone could ask of a city. Really, it's great. I love the Netherlands, and I love the Dutch.

Everything was so aesthetically pleasing

So here are a few things I learned about the Dutch during my week in the country:

  • Questionable but delicious condiment choices. Apparently eating mayonnaise with your fries is a popular thing there. I'll admit that I was disgusted when I was served mayonnaise with my fries, but Elisa convinced me to try it, and I don't think I'll be able to go back now. Hot sauce with fries though? Yeah, still not with you on that one.
  • Really good English??? Like, better English than we speak in the States. And the Dutch don't really seem to have their own accent, as odd as that sounds. Their accents sound more like British accents than any accent in Central Europe, though many Dutch people seem to have a bit of an American accent going on.
  • Very, very, very Americanised. They have all of the shops and fast food restaurants we have. Solo cups are called American cups. Everyone loves KFC. It's very weird. But also kind of cool. In a weird way.
Next week, my friend from Finland is coming to Stockholm! I'm very excited to spend the week with her! And then the day after she leaves, I head out to Norway with a group of friends to spend a few days there. It's going to be a busy month, but I'm ready for it!

Vaarwel! (That's Dutch for goodbye!)