Friday, November 23, 2018

Less than Four Week Themes

This past week and some been pretty hectic for me. I left for a volleyball tournament on Wednesday, which ended Saturday evening. Then, I saw a few gigs (concerts) in Belfast on Saturday and Sunday. Then, had another match on Monday; the match was 1.5 hrs away. Then, I went surfing on Wednesday sponsored by the "Surfing Project". Yesterday was Thanksgiving, so the international students had a potluck. I made green bean casserole, and it's safe to say it wasn't my mothers... In about an hour or so, I'm going to be leaving soon to volunteer at the nonprofit Corymeela. In addition to this hectic schedule, I had two exams this week.

Some themes:
-I'm still not used to public transport; I still very much miss my car.
-The holidays aren't the same, but life goes on.
-There are only 24 hrs in a day, so I should spend my time wisely. In other words, if I'm feeling like going out and my pals aren't--- that doesn't mean I shouldn't. Traveling alone is a whole different, interesting experience. I should take advantage of that more.
-I can't believe I've never surfed before. I am a new person.
-I'm so thankful for my v-ball family.

We went to UCD in Dublin and played a v-ball tournament, representing all of Northern Ireland as Ulster University. It was a great experience, played a total of 7 games. We had lots of free time. Unfortunately, it was 45 min away from town center, so we couldn't site-see much. But during a 4 hour game break, I went on a run to the nearest lighthouse beach and had a great time. It was one of those eyeopening experiences where I lost in my thoughts and very thankful for this study abroad experience.

The surfing experience at Portrush!!! It was a whole day ordeal, left campus at 13:30 and got back at 17:00. They fed us dinner and gave us tea afterwards. It's run by the Surf Project, a christian, nonprofit community. I'm not especially religious but was very thankful for their generosity and surf lessons. The water was warmer than the air outside actually, so it wasn't as cold as I expected. It was exhilarating and addictive even.  

Our International, student-run Thanksgiving. I made GB casserole with my mom's recipe. They didn't have the crispy french onions or condensed cream of mushroom, so I fried my own onions and added flour to the mushroom soup... I was especially proud, but it did not taste the same. My pals didn't care or notice though. Left with my tummy and heart very full.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Berlin: Poor but Sexy

Visited Berlin with two of my flatmates, Amelia and Arturo. We had no idea what to expect out of this trip. Amelia and I asked for recommendations on FB and got quite a lot of responses, but we had no idea where things were in relation to each other. We figured we'd make the most of our time by going on tours and museums. PSA: free tours are popular in Berlin, but they expect you to tip. Also, if you're traveling as a student, take your ID card! They'll discount your museum/tour prices. Another way to save money would be couch surfing!!! Would highly recommend. Granted, I have only heard good things, but the concept of it still blows my mind... People offering up their place for free just for the sake of the traveling community... in a cruel world that we live in today? What?
Also, the title was quoted by Berlin's major that reigned for 14 years. He is very progressive and a huge supporter of the arts. Though the quote was interesting and turned out to be accurate, based on what we saw for 4 days. 
Us the first night in front of the Berlin Wall murals. Saw this image at least 5 times on our trip. It's supposed to represent the agreement of 2 communist leaders before the world wars I think.. But I have a theory it is painted here to support gay rights. After all, Berlin has the 3rd largest gay population, after San Fransico (2nd) and Sydney, Australia (1st). This was highlighted during our fat tire bike tour :-) 
The remains of the Berlin Wall is the largest, free art museum to date. 

Typically, you're supposed to gift your couch surfing host. We ended up making him a traditional dinner and buying drinks for our last night here. We made Spanish omelettes, fried rice, and Moscow Mules for our host :-) He really enjoyed it. This is also the room where we slept. He had a really comfortable pullout couch and a blowup mattress. Also, he let us use anything from the kitchen. Really nice guy

Us in the East Side Art Gallery doing a little exploring after we went to the Otto Weis free museum.
Left to right: Arturo, Amelia, Me, Lukas (the couch surfing host)

In addition to our bike tour, we went on a "free" alternative street art tour. This was one of my favorite places. It was very Berlin-esque. 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Over Halfway Realizations

A few themes: I've finally found a routine and a close circle of friends. I'm noticing some religious//political differences. Also, I'm just ready.
I have my volleyball crew, my flat/neighbors crew, my Parkrun crew, my hiking crew, my studies crew, and my Reaching and Teaching Ministries crew (will post pics of them at a later date). Featured here is my Halloween neighbor/flat crew. I am/was on a budget, so a few buns on my head and some whiskers would have to do for a cat LOL. Londonderry is known for their Halloween bashes. They had an elaborate parade, fireworks, and even a fairgrounds with roller coasters. It was nice, don't get me wrong, but the sky was spitting rain all night and it was unbearably cold. Here is the Benavenagh Mountain Trail. We couldn't find the trail up, so just found some paths mapped out by sheep and ended up following some at one point. It was incredible.

As for the religious issues I've noticed, you can't just mention religion to anybody. My first day here I asked some British people what they thought about the issue, and they told me to not speak to loud... and then ignored my question completely. Then, I told my boss at the charity shop I volunteer for that I met a guy who played on the Coleraine Gaelic football team, and she said that she wasn't offended but that the word "Gaelic" here wasn't widely accepted. I've noticed any time I talk about the issues, I haven't found a safe space really. Except for my Irish Women's History Class. In this course, we talk about how women were not only separate from men in school, but they were also separated by class and religion. Their "religion" was just something they were labeled by after birth. It had nothing to do with their actual beliefs.

I totally get it. Bloody Sunday is still SO new; there's a museum in 'Derry for the whole incident, and it is ran by relatives of those who were murdered... I understand the tension. Also, just a side note, I haven't talked to anybody who is for Brexit happening, despite the Great Britain-Derry tensions.

Also, I've reached this point in my study abroad experience that I'm ready. I have so many plans. I only have a few free weekends left and am looking forward to them and to making the best of them. I want to take everything in as much as I can because who really knows when the option will arise for my return (which I have every intention in doing).

I'm ready tackle these next 6 weeks.

And I'm also ready to be home in 6 weeks. Does that even make sense?
Halloween in 'Derry

Pic caught of me in pure bliss

Loved the way the sun was hitting the landscape


Taken from where we ate our packed lunch

Trying to capture the waves of grass created by the incessant wind

One of the many species of mushrooms growing at high elevations

Took the road back down to the train station because the way up was way too strenuous and underdeveloped

Wow. amiright
First sighting of wild sheep. ended up following them for a little

They said there was a lake on top of the mountain. We found it hard to believe them for the first hour of straight incline.

Believe it or not, we started all the way down there.


My pal Amelia and I booked a flight to Glasgow because it was relatively cheap and a part of the UK a few weeks ago. This is us pictured on the plane. We had no idea what to expect and had little to nothing planned before the trip, aside from the cheap hostel we were staying at. A few friends bought their tickets a week ago and joined us. One of our neighbors from Glasgow gave us a few points on bars, cafes, and parks to see, but we had no idea what to expect. I had fell a little ill towards the beginning of the week, but for some reason, the side effects were starting to show its true colors towards during the trip. I lost my voice for a few days, and Noah who joined us last second burst an eardrum... Despite all of this, we still had an amazing time! We took our Scottish friend's word and tried to visit as many places as possible in Glasgow, including bars, donuts shops, cafes, museums, cathedrals, and cemeteries. The other friend who joined us last second, Marlene, had an inkling to go to Edinburgh, which was just a 45 min bus ride. This turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Not only was the Gothic architecture admirable anywhere you went, but also, THAT'S WHERE HARRY POTTER WAS BORN!!! We visited the cafe where JK Rowling started writing it, walked the street that influenced Diagon Alley, and saw the school that influenced Hogwarts. My seventh grade self came out and was geeking with excitement.
Sure, losing my voice did affect my trip. But the crew that I ended up going with was amazing and basically navigated the whole thing. I was just kind of along for the ride with my never ending stache of cough drops.

Best unplanned trip ever. I would have been totally at ease if a dragon popped out of nowhere or if people were flying around on brooms playing quidditch.

Me sitting on Arthur's seat. I got a kick outta this one

Victoria's Street aka Diagon Alley for my Harry Potter peeps

Our view from Pavillion Park. The clouds parted just for us.

Panoramic view from Arthur's seat. It was a quite the climb but so worth it.

Cool looking architecture in Glasgow

Tea during the day
Beers at night (everyone was of age, I promise)

My pal Amelia and I on the plane. Sitting together b/c we bought our tickets simultaneously


I have a remarkable community on campus. Volleyball in and of itself is awesome. We have matches, practices twice a week, and team bonding includes beach volleyball on weekends, bowling, cliff jumping, dinners, and pumpkin carving! Also, without volleyball, I wouldn't have known about the Parkruns hosted on the beach. The Parkrun is a free 5k run fully run and developed by volunteers that takes place all over Europe--- and one just happens to take place a few miles from me. A few volleyball pals and I go nearly every Saturday, and this is followed by tea and coffee supplied by the Parkrun and maybe a cafe for breakfast afterwards.

I love that I've developed a few communities here in Northern Ireland. The first Geography and Environmental Science meeting is this Wednesday at noon. Hopefully I'll have the same immersive experience with this club as I did with volleyball :-)
Mine was the Simba at the beginning! From this carving session, I've roasted pumpkin seeds and made pumpkin pancakes and muffins :-)
My first match against a neighboring school Bangor. We took the W: 3-0. 

At Parkruns, we celebrate their 50th run, 100th run, 150th run, ect. We're holding up our pal Spence who just finished his 50th. B/c he's the one we're celebrating, he's required to bring a cake to celebrate :-)
He's a good baker, that Spence.
thumbs up and a weak smile right before the finish

The Valley

Ok... so I've caught my first wave of homesickness.

It has accumulated from a combination of things. To start, I had a few too many to drink on Saturday and woke up with an excruciating hangover. I am aware that I could have just called up my neighbors and that they'd be there to help me any second and they even offered to... but it's just not the same as home. My best pals in the States surely wouldn't have taken "no I'm fine" for an answer, considering my condition. In addition to this, I woke up with a rash the other day. I must've had an allergic reaction to something. In my home cupboard, I'd have all sorts of emergency medications and creams to deal with this head on, but here I'd have to walk a mile and a half up the road to buy something I'd only use once. Also, my brother and sister-in-law just had their first child yesterday, and she's precious as can be! Part of me wishes I could've been there.

But luckily that wave is over and done with. Even if it felt like the incessant migraine was here to stay- I slept off that hangover. The rash ended up going away on its own within a few days. And I have pictures of my niece that I can print off for when I geek out.

No worries.

On a happier note, I've gotten involved in a few things and have bought a few plane tickets since I last kept you guys updated. I joined the volleyball team, and they're more serious than i expected. We have regular practices and games, and the coach wants me to be the first string! I can't make some of the regular season games because I've already bought a few plane tickets. But being an international student, I'm sure they understand. They're gonna have to just deal if not (lol). Bought a few tickets with my flatmates to Glasgow, Scotland and Berlin, Germany. They were remarkably cheap, only 50 and 28 pounds respectively. Would recommend RyanAir and EasyJet for all of you's flying within the EU or the UK! Also, I just purchased Mumford and Sons concert tickets in Belfast. I've already seen them at a festival in the States, but it's gotta be more epic seeing them in the UK... right? At least that's what I'm telling myself. I've also signed up for an International Friends organization that allows me to hang out with local families in Coleraine. You tell them your interests, and they set you up with a family who's willing to show you around. Ideally, I'd like to go on hikes or go to museums. Hopefully I get an email back soon.


Some differences I've noticed so far: the weather, the roads/driving, the walking culture, the transit systems, the language

The weather: I think the makers of this town took into account how frequent Coleraine is both "cold" and "rainy." It's always windy, and the sun is bipolar. It'll be sunny one minute and raining the next. If it's both sunny and rainy, the locals say it's "money's pajamas," and when I ask them why, there is no explanation LOL. If there were to be an expectation of rain in Tennessee, I would make plans with my cozy couch, hot tea, and a book to read or a netflix show to watch. But if that were the case here, I would never leave my apartment. That being said, I never leave without my raincoat, rain or shine, because I know that at some point, it'll shower at least a little bit.

The roads: THEY DRIVE ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE ROAD/CAR. I knew this coming in, but it still throws my brain off a little bit when I cross. I make sure to triple check most times. I'm starting to get used to it though.

The Walking Culture: Sure, I can pay for a few pounds for a bus to drive me 1.5 miles or a three kilometers away to the nearest town, but I don't mind walking. And neither does anybody else. I walk a lot a whole lot more than I used to in the States, and I don't mind that at all. They have pedestrian/bike paths everywhere, unlike in the US.

The Transit Systems: I know that compared to the rest of Europe, some people aren't happy with the bus/train system here because they claim that it's not prompt enough or too expensive, but compared to the States, I LOVE it. I got here a few days early without knowing I couldn't stay on campus and just traveled on my own for a bit. Once I arrived at the airport, I asked a friendly person who was more than willing to lay out the bus/train system for me, and since then I have mastered the routes... Or at least that's what I tell myself . I had no idea what I was doing or going to when I got there, but a guy I met on my second bus said I should stay at the hostel he was staying at. The bus dropped us off at our hostel instead of at the bus stop (how nice!). Luckily, it was a kilometer from one of Northern Ireland's main attraction, the Giant's Causeway, which is a story for another time.

The Language: They may speak English, but some people's accents are very heavy and difficult for me to understand. I volunteer at a nonprofit thrift shop in town, and some of them mumble and talk so fast I can't understand them. But they do so with a smile on their face, so my default response is a "yeah... me too" with a mirroring smile back. They also have different phrases and words to identify certain things. "pants"=underwear, "trousers"=pants, "wee"=little, "What's the crack?"=what's up?, "He's the crack"=He's a good time/fun. By the end of this exchange, I want to be able to speak like the locals because so far, people have been able to identify where I'm from in a matter of seconds. Oops.

I'm loving every minute of my exchange so far and haven't gotten homesick just yet... Fingers crossed I won't.


Once Upon a Time

Before this trip, I told myself I didn't want to hang out with people from the States because I wanted to broaden my mindset and learn about different cultures. My flatmates are from Italy, Spain, and Canada.. and what are the odds that the last guy shows up a few days ago from my hometown in Nashville?!? We've never me, but we know the same people. Weird. But he's very nice so I can't complain. Everyone here is nice honestly. Anytime I want to be social, there's a international program going on that night. But I've recently been noticing that I need some alone time... being social all the time has really taken a toll on me.I just lock myself up in my room to journal, draw, or watch netflix all night to recover if I've had a big day of meeting new people and being social. Also, I've picked up running here too. I haven't met anyone who likes it just yet; I figured I'd just find them running on the street by now. But within three miles of my flat is the beach. HOW COOL! Maybe I could run a race here or something. Or join a local running club at least. They had a club fair last week. I joined the Ulster Geography and Environmental Society that does frequent beach cleanups, the Volleyball club that just practices every week, and Gaelic Football because when in Ireland ;)

I'm not homesick yet, and I still don't think I will be. The though of leaving in a little over 2 months is sad to think about. So I try to make the most out of my time here. My flatmate from Canada flew into Dublin instead of Belfast, so she doesn't have a visa and has to fly out of the UK within three months. We're looking up flights now to see what is cheap. Anything under 100 pounds is cool with me, and believe it or not, IT'S POSSIBLE!!! I'm only taking three classes this semester: 19 and 20c Irish Women's History, Microbiology, and Environmental Systems. They've all agreed to me taking my exams in the States when I get back. It's just the second week of classes, but it seems like a breeze to me :) Hopefully I can find time in my day to do the things I want to do. That'll be my biggest challenge.
Here's a pic of my flatmates and the place I went hiking this past weekend about 30 minutes from my uni!!!
This is a random guy I met a few days before uni started at the train station. I had no idea where to go or where to stay before orientation, and he happened to be my savior. His name is Christopher. He was backpacking from Spain and mentioned he was on his way to the Giants Causeway. I hopped on the next bus with him and stayed at the hostel he made reservations for. It was called "Fin McCools" for the folkstory associated with the Causeway. He was my first real friend.

The pics featured above were taken on my 10 mile hike with Christopher.

Left to right: Mar Lene from Germany, Noah from Nashville, me, Jolein and Hanne from Belgium, and Lisa from Germany. Finished off the hike that Christopher and I started. At this point, I've seen the whole north coast.

Day trip to Portstewart before the madness of school started. It was awfully windy that day.

Flat 6 Fam!!!! We have a shared kitchen/living room area, toilet room and shower room. We're kind of fit tight, but I wouldn't have it any other way. We're technically "off campus", but we're very, very close to the uni. We all leave our flat 5 minutes before class. It's quite nice :) reminds me of Mville