Monday, October 31, 2016

LOVE!

“I fall in love with Britain every day, with bridges, buses, blue skies... but it’s a brutal world, man.” 
Things I Love About Living in the UK:


Puppies, everywhere. They're very often off the leash and roaming free and excited but still ever-attentive to their owner. Every time I leave the house I meet a pup on the street. I LOVE IT. The beach is especially popular for dog walkers and it's honestly distracting -- How am I supposed to focus on the beauty of nature when new dogs are romping past in all directions?! The picture above might look like a stunning sunset, but really I was trying to capture the majesty of that little black dog attempting to tackle and chomp wave after wave; consistently the cutest thing I've ever seen is replaced every day by a different dog.

I love the linguistic regionalisms, I love getting to say things like "flat," "cheers," and "quid." My fellow Americans and I actually sat around and practiced casually saying "Cheers" one day early on -- As you're expected to thank the bus driver every time you get off a bus, that is a lot of opportunity to offer up a "Cheers." I've gotten pretty good at the jargon, not gonna lie.

I love being surrounded by accents. It's such a simple thing but being in a place where everyone sounds different than everyone back home is just exciting. It's new and different. I've always been fascinated by language and passionate about the written word but the History of the English Language class I took with Dr. Stallard last semester seriously changed my life a little bit. I love the history of language. I, being a total slacker loser, arrogantly shirked the foreign language requirement in high school, so I could've found out I love foreign languages, too, before I took French in college and came abroad and experienced immersion in a foreign language first hand. I loved being surrounded by unintelligible Portuguese and Spanish. I love hearing conversations in tones and dialects unfamiliar to me. It makes me eager to learn. The satisfaction of even just being able to communicate the most basic concepts is exciting enough to make me want more.


Relatedly, I love being the only American in a room! That is 100% a room I want to be in. I want to hang with people from different backgrounds, I want to hear their different perspectives. Of course, interactions very often begin with the question: "Who're you voting for?" Obviously I can't blame them for caring, everyone has stressed the unfortunate global impact of American politics. It only sucks when it becomes an uncontrollable political firestorm of passion and frustration and downright nasty rhetoric, which happens everywhere, but it is different here when I'm The American in the conversation. Otherwise, it's cool being the only one in the room with an "accent." It makes it super easy to start conversation; people have loads of questions, and I do, too. I love the American friends I've made, I love that we're so close, but I came here for international experiences, you know? I want to talk about what Welsh life is like with Welsh people, I want to find out what I should do and where I should go on my trip to Bath from an English person raised there, only Swansea-ians know the best cafes/bars/student discount hotspots.

The beautiful bookstore, Waterstones. I can't even walk by without popping in and doing a lap. It smells perfect, the mix of books and coffee from their cafe; they've squeezed so many display tables piled high with books that it's almost hard to navigate; it's all cream colored and warm and cozy. It's exactly what a bookstore should be and it's so hard to find back home with book shops closing at every turn over the years. I'm all about supporting independent bookstores, but you really can't beat the Swansea Waterstones atmosphere. They've had Christmas decorations out all month and I'm such a sucker for Christmas, always.


The rainy days, perfect for settling into a cafe or reading in bed. Perfect for cwtch. Not as perfect to get caught outside in, but that's not always a bad thing either! The atmosphere feels essentially British when it rains.

THE SUNNY DAYS! Today was the epitome of a perfect Welsh day, just over 60 degrees Fahrenheit (basically as warm as it gets here) and not a single cloud in the sky.  Everyone's out and about in t-shirts and going tights-less in shorts and skirts. The bay is pretty magical sunny or cloudy, but it just feels right getting that vitamin D with your toes in the sand.

Traveling has always been my number one goal in life and it's hard to believe I'm finally doing it -- even still, two months into my trip. It really hits me sometimes the proximity I'm in to so much of the world I've dreamt of seeing. In the back of my mind I doubted whether or not I'd ever be able to make it happen, so to live on this continent, even temporarily, means so much to me in and of itself.

Potentially most of all, I love being in a place with so much history. Not just history, everywhere has history, but see-able, touch-able history. There is so much that is SO old here and still intact. It can be so easy to imagine the past as far gone and unfathomable but then you're stared in the face by a 600 year old building or a 5000 year old tomb and there's the past demanding to be remembered and felt and experience as something Real and Concrete. Plus, as one of the rowdiest former colonies, we never learned that much about British history, or at least we barely scratched the surface of it. This forces me to do a lot of googling as independent research in order to make sure I have my monarchy facts and timelines straight. Which rebellion happened under which monarch? Who came before whom? Who did they colonize and when? (The English Crown has existed for a VERYYYYY LONG TIME, Y'ALL. I don't even know for absolute certain the names and order of all the US presidents.) And, as I suspected, studying British history and politics is so much more fun in Britain. American politics is fascinating here, too, they literally have an entire American Studies department.

Next Tuesday, you know what it is, their hosting an all-nighter to watch the election results come through at the student union bar (I love that, too) -- which will definitely be a unique experience.



Thursday, October 27, 2016

Differences!

“Appreciation for cultural diversity is essential for our co-existence.” 
― Lailah Gifty Akita

'What's different?' is a question I'm often asked, and often pondering naturally without even being prompted. It's literally the reason I'm here: to live and learn in a place that's unfamiliar. Growing up in one place sets you up with solidified expectations for daily life, so when immersed in a new environment you immediately start to pick up on everything.

It's really a collection of tiny differences, but it's the minute details that are the most fun of life, right?

Like spelling: Today a kid next to me asked aloud to me and the girl beside me, "Is 'defense' spelled with an 's' or a 'c'?" He was genuinely unsure, small details like this is easy to mix-up, we've all done it. I immediately replied, "S." Then hesitated, "Or, at least it is in the States..." The girl beside me kindly chimed in, "It's a 'c'," and he nodded and continued writing. I laughed because I thought it was an amusing interaction, but I in no way believe that with an 's' is the CORRECT spelling of "defense" (I mean, except let's be real, it looks better. Colour looks better with a 'u', defense looks better with an 's.' One language can't win them all) and I see how I was definitely the Annoying American in that instance. My b; Annoying American runs in my veins. (Proud and embarrassed all at once like a True American!)

Fashion is much more relaxed than I anticipated; when discussing European clothes, everyone warned about the faux pas of wearing leggings or looking at all not put together. But at least in Wales, while it is more common than not to be surrounded by people purposefully dressed well daily, there are still a lot of leggings on campus! It's really not that weird. I suppose it may be more the athletic types that sport this kind of (blegh) 'athleisure' look, but what do they know? I could be on my way to or from the gym in my leggings, as well. Just in general Wales is an extremely relaxed country. No one ever seems to be very worked up about things like bus schedules or service in restaurants, let alone pants. (Or, trousers?)

Boy, is service in restaurants different. It is very European for meals to be a long, relaxed experience rather than an American get-in get-out, but it is something that takes adjustment. I'm really not accustomed to being served slowly and lackadaisically and so it initially comes off as feeling very rude...but it's just different. They don't stop by the table more than maybe three times, unlike me who's been trained to be attentive to every whim of a patron and generally coddle them. In turn, I'm used to being coddled and so when my waiter is distant and hard to keep track of it really feels like a slight. I know it's not, I've been told it's considered rude for the waiter to be on top of you like they're rushing you out, so I'm working on giving myself over to the relaxed atmosphere. Restaurants are the definition of chill and man, that is so un-American. I never realized. It would definitely help if I stopped waiting until I'm absolutely, angrily starving to go out for a sit down meal...because it's going to take a while.

One of the strangest differences is that, despite the presence of four different types of garbage and recycling bins conveniently stationed beside every door on campus -- which is awesome, love the commonality of recycling -- people will leave trash laying around literally everywhere. It's not considered weird or impolite or basically littering to simply leave your trash where it lay when you get up and walk directly past the trash can on your way out. I was in the student union for a Halloween Movie Night (Hocus Pocus!!!!!!!!!!) and on my stroll to the bathroom I passed the Great Hall and it was buried in trash. Just piles of student garbage lining the walls waiting for some poor cleaning crew to come around and put it right again for the next day.

It's just interesting that my British peers seem to be so focused on the necessary politeness of thanking the bus driver for driving you home (great!!! Love it!) but so thoughtless to how simply throwing away your trash makes other peoples' job easier. Also, I'm sorry, it just makes sense and it doesn't leave your surroundings a mess. I just don't get it.

Currency is obviously different! While the exchange rate's not bomb all the time, it is exciting to collect a small (vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv small) fortune in several different currencies. Basically as long as there's someway to exchange currency before you get stuck in a British taxi with no way to pay the driver because you literally just got off a bus in the middle of no where an hour ago and its 4 AM and they don't have any ATMs within the vicinity...you're fine! It may be because I flew into Ireland first (aka the greatest country on Earth) but I'm super biased for the Euro and I don't even really know why or have a reason to be.

These are only little things I pick up on because they're just different enough to notice; It's not a drastically different culture here in Wales. Everyone is incredibly nice and I'm really thankful to have ended up here specifically. I'm loving it :)

An extra list of differences my American housemates added when I asked:

- children are eloquent as heck here, it's not just a British stereotype, they really do say things like "delightful"
- tight ass jeans on everyone all the time
- no ranch dressing
- paying for public bathrooms?!
- boys are way more aggressive at clubs
- they don't do ice here

Monday, October 24, 2016

Sport!?

“Document the moments you feel most in love with yourself - what you’re wearing, who you’re around, what you’re doing." - Warsan Shire

I went windsurfing!

Four years ago I took Freshman Advice very seriously; I threw myself into new waters, diving into a new school, town, environment, chapter of my life on my own and determinedly forced myself to talk to anyone and everyone that happened to be within earshot. This is one thing that hasn't changed over the course of my collegiate experience: when in doubt, I'll chat it up. (Though honestly it is always more fear [fear of loneliness, fear of missing out] than confidence that pushes me to this, but the end result is the same, either way.) That same instinct was put to good use again as I embarked on this term and one of the reasons why I chased after a man on the street because of his hoodie.

"Excuse me!" I called out, tailing a tall dude in wave-emblazened black. "What's your hoodie about?" He was clearly taken aback but politely and enthusiastically told me about windsurfing, anyway. They go every Wednesday, beginners welcome. Sign me up. It took two weeks to get to it, but I managed to recruit my housemates and thus four American amateurs threw themselves into the freezing waters of a Welsh lake. Literally. We threw our bodies into the lake over and over and over again. Turns out windsurfing takes a lot more muscle than anticipated -- I never envisioned how the sail got upright, in my mind it always just was...but, no, you have to pull it up yourself. Then you have to hang on real tight and steady or the wind betrays you and everything goes tits up from there.*

I loved it, though, at least with all the parts of my body that hadn't gone numb from the cold. (My toes weren't a big fan but they'll get over it. "No one's ever lost an appendage doing this, right?" I asked the crew that was corralling us all back to shore via a small motor boat. "We have had people missing a few fingers do it!" They replied, taking a suspiciously long time to confirm it wasn't during windsurfing that the loss of fingers occurred...) During the few precious moments of standing upright, shoulders back, and gripping the angled sail without immediately losing balance I forced myself to take a deep breath and gaze ahead at the horizon. The sky was a clouded grey, thankfully dry, but smeared like dirty paintbrush water. Just above the tree line was a bright white as the sun began its descent, contrasting the forest green trees in a way almost prettier than on sunny days. The ocean lay just beyond the trees and behind me sat a small castle on a hill, as they often do in Wales.

It's these fleeting moments of serenity that I often try to solidify in my memory, "This is my life. I'm 22 in Wales and I'm windsurfing." Somehow stating the facts quietly to myself and blinking really hard and purposefully brings me fully into the present. I keep these small snapshots of myself at various ages (normally high peaks of emotion because obviously those are the most poignant, but really any moment can be infused with emotion and isn't that cool!?!?: passionately sobbing at 11, watching the sunrise at 14, clinging to my best friends at 17) in hopes of remembering at least snippets of what it felt like to be me at that age. I want to fully be able to respect my past and present self by preserving her as best as I can at least in my own mind. The fear of a failing memory is definitely one of the many reasons I'm so drawn to journaling, and even blogging. Maybe it's narcissistic -- what's so worth preserving? But fuck that, we should be important to ourselves. We're the only self we've got to know and love and enjoy and remember for our lives. Especially as constantly changing individuals we're all interesting AS HECK. Honestly, I generally love people's thoughts and feelings. I want to get to know you like I want to get to know myself. Being a person is pretty inherently interesting, everything else only adds to it.

I guess the goal is to be eighty and still be able to feel the Welsh wind on my face that I felt at twenty-two while windsurfing.


*Actual charming quote from a girl in my Medieval to Postmodern Lit class, referring to The Lais of Marie de France but it works here, as well, I think!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Iberia!

Last Wednesday saw me in my professor's office on the first week of school. I was there to anxiously inform him that, however amped I was to study Dylan Thomas, I would be missing the first two lectures of the term...because I was taking a week off to galavant through Portugal and Spain...because I'm an uncultured American who's never been anywhere and a girl whose life mottos are sometimes too heavily influenced by Hilary Duff...

"Enjoy Iberia!" He exclaimed as I left, relieved he'd been so understanding. I smiled and thanked him and perhaps threw a 'thumbs up' at him because for some reason Europe's done that to me?? It wasn't until I was on the other side of the door I realized it wouldn't have been ridiculous for me to ask him what "Iberia" was instead of contemplating on my own the word I'd never heard before. It's nice that even though I've yet to have a class with him, the prof's still managed to teach me something (with a lil help from Google.)


My Iberian adventure was unbelievable.

I bought myself a bottle of wine (rose, not the normal plane size bottle -- imagine a toddler size bottle rather than the teeny tiny baby kind) on the flight in while the man next to me taught me a few key Portuguese phrases. The airport shuttle ride was me and five middle aged vacationers who I informed, very excitedly, that it was my 22nd birthday in one hour, can you believe it?! The hour long ride from Faro to Armação de Pêra soundtracked by a night club kind of Portuguese/Late 2000s hits mix and I was in awe of Portugal at every turn. They dropped me off in front of a cyber cafe/convenient store (yes...for real) when I realized I had no idea what the actual apartment number was...Also I was apparently in the wrong place entirely...After an anxious 10 minutes the sight of Alexa and Gwen running towards me from the down the street, while the two kind Portuguese store clerks looked on in amusement at the wild American girls hugging and yelling, filled me relief and elation.

Birthday excitement flowing through my veins it wasn't even that difficult to get out of bed for a beach sunrise. The serenity of a deserted oceanfront at daybreak, soft sand, warm water, everything awash in oranges, pinks, blues, yellows; I've never known colors that vibrant. It was the perfect start to an absolutely perfect day.

Dranks In The Ocean
We returned to the beach a few hours later properly packed to settle in for the day, equipped with enough wine, beer, and snacks for the afternoon...Not enough sunscreen, however, I literally emptied my bottle right then and there, which left all of us burnt in unfortunate and strange patterns across our bodies.

It was six hours of laughing, bonding with new friends, catching up with old ones, discussing the future and the past, eating everything, briefly going topless because we could. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and I didn't have a care in the world. (This is not a normal feeling for me, a constant ball of anxiety.) It was the most relaxed I've ever been in my life.

I treated myself to a birthday steak dinner, obviously, and extremely overpriced Sangria, then we hit Albufeira for the night clubs. As the area's a tourist spot, the bars were mostly middle aged Brits on holiday (seriously Brits get to go on SO MANY HOLIDAYS; jobs here just let people have time off...all the time. Like, every year. It's bonkers. Get that together, America), but one club played "Gasolina" followed by "Jai Ho" and then Shakira's anthem "Waka Waka" and it was the highlight of my night.

happy girls
The next day took us to Lisbon, where we stayed at the world's greatest (medium-sized) hostel, according to HostelWorld and according to ME out of all the hostels I've stayed in so far. It's literally called HOME, it's cozy AS HECK, with a patio, living room, and full-experience three course home-cooked meals every night made by the owner Mamma for only 10 EURO. She literally takes everyone's personal dietary restrictions into consideration. It was incomparable. We saw Lisbon's open-air church and museum, the Castle of St. Jorge, and unreal views from a couple of the cities' miradouros. One of Portugal's 'things' is free shots upon welcoming someone and with every dinner and it is one of my favorite countries in the world, so far. Portugal and Ireland have absolutely stolen my heart.

Cheetah Girl's 2 gave me high hopes for Barcelona, and it met them, but October in Iberia means winter's coming and that means rain season. It absolutely poured straight through our first day in Spain, the kind of storm that doesn't allow for great exploration. I managed to see a lot of the Gothic Quarter though, and honestly, it was some of the most incredible and oldest architecture I've ever experienced, so, cool. I ate patatas bravas either with or in substitute of every meal and mixed a lot of wine and cerveza.

The overcast skies didn't deter us from what I came to Barcelona determined to do: Monserrat. It's a serrated mountain ridge, with an old church and abbey built into it, and Spain's first National Park. Astonishing doesn't begin to describe the entire impact of being there. It was by far the peak of the trip and potentially my entire life -- Four years in private Catholic school, forced to go to church at least once a week, and I've never felt closer to religion than literally above the clouds, sitting atop a Spanish mountain.


Gwen, Ashley, and I then braved the extremely aggressive club promoters of La Rambla and Plaça Reial and spent the night bumpin' and grindin' in an undeniably hip but small, sweaty basement. I'm pretty sure we left around 2/2:30, but the club showed no signs of slowing down. At all. The clubs literally stay open until the party dies and sometimes the Barcelona party don't stop until, like, 7 AM. I was busing to the airport Saturday morning at 7 and actually watched hoards of drunk people crawling from clubs to cabs with the sunrise. It was honestly kind of beautiful.

The third day was finally sunny and warm and we hit the dry pavement, covering over half the width of the surprisingly large city, passing by Gaudí's Sagrada Família and spending the afternoon wandering Park Güell. It's been hard to say goodbye to every city so far, but the end of a trip is always a confusing co-mingling of relieved exhaustion, disappointment that it's over, and excitement to move on to what's next.


Swansea welcomed me home again with clear skies and a huge group hug from my lovely new Swan friends.