Unaware

break the silence of the unknown

Day 32

I’m beginning realize how much I really don’t know about other cultures and customs. It is quite embarrassing to enter a conversation about football, and realize too late that people are not referring to American football, but rather “soccer.” I never realized how ignorant I could be until I met someone from another country that I have never heard of before.

In my European Societies seminar last Thursday, my class spent an entire hour discussing the European dream. There are about twelve people in my class from different areas of Europe and me, the only one from the outside. My classmates discussed the EU’s potential collapse, Brexit, and the EU’s questionable human rights policies. During the discussion, I felt a little useless- I didn’t know much more about the European Dream than the assigned readings.

Throughout the class discussion, I began to realize that the world is more complicated that I thought. As much as I enjoy micro-level thinking by focusing particular place, I recognize that global thinking is important as well. I tried to absorb every new piece of information about Europe, making notes of the terms that I did not know. Despite my valiant note-taking efforts, I felt a little disconnected at times during the conversation. Can I really understand other students’ arguments if I do not know some of the basic policies they are mentioning?

Soon after I realized that I felt lost in the conversation, the professor looked at me, switching the topic from the European Dream.  She asked me a question: “Do you believe that the American Dream is collapsing?”

The whole class turned towards me, intently awaiting my response. I started to answer this broad question based on my experience and education in the US. Then, I mentioned a little bit about the current US political campaign with Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again”, the good ol’ US meritocratic system of inequalities, and the unrelenting capitalist society.

This moment felt like I was a bag of popcorn in the microwave, spitting out ideas faster and faster until I would run of ideas to share. As the only person who has ever lived in the US, I knew I was the expert in the room and I was thrilled to share my observations.

About two minutes into my ramble, I saw a hesitant girl raise her hand to ask a question from the corner of my eye. I immediately stopped my train of thought in its tracks, ending my sentence with a long pause.

How did I get so carried away by talking about the US? This class is titled European Societies.

The room grew silent. I felt everyone lean from their seats, overwhelmed from the break in my thought. My face felt hot, sweaty. After a slow inhale, I mustered the courage to speak again. Nodding towards the raised hand across the room, I nervously admitted to the class that I have been rambling too much about the American Dream, and it probably should get back on topic to focusing on Europe. I told the student to go ahead and ask her question to the class.

There was another stillness and I looked down at my notes. I just wanted to sink into the old carpet beneath my chair to hide from my embarrassment. One of my fears could now be reality- being identified as the US girl abroad that only talks about the US.

Gradually, the class turned their attention to the student across the room. She lowered her hand, looking briefly confused. Then, she chuckled.

She told me that she’d like me to elaborate on the current political environment in the US- mostly about how people could possibly choose to vote for Trump. She said that she didn’t know much, and just wanted to learn beyond her Europe bubble.

The rest of the class quickly chimed in their questions, seemly relieved to move off the heated topic of the EU for a while to learn more about the US. They were just as curious to learn as much as I am, and just as afraid to break the silence of the unknown.

I did not waste the class’ time and I started answering their questions. So, I shared some more of my “insights” with the class and fielded some more political questions until the seminar was over.

I left class with a smile, excited that I survived and thrived in my first seminar about a region that I have been ignorant about for years.

Travels

For those who are curious

Day 16

Studying away for only a semester is an odd feeling. I am in Scotland for that short amount of time that warrants enough of a glimpse of the history and culture, yet not the full immersion that I would expect of living in a new country. I’m here for only three and a half months. I guess it takes a while to get to know a new culture, just like meeting new people.

Despite the pretty pictures of food and places, the life of college students still exists. It feels like a delicate balance which I try to constantly travel to explore Scotland, yet have to keep convincing myself that every day is not vacation. I eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch almost every day to save up a few extra dollars for transportation costs. I chose to walk fourth-five minutes to the far end of town instead of paying £2.50 in bus fare. It’s still the same old college lifestyle, but with the added bonus of being in a unique environment.

I finally feel like I am settling down into my college routine of studying and exploring Scotland on weekends. I’ve been to quite a few places already, but I’ve been trying not to post about every single place I’ve been.

To be honest, I am not a fan of writing where I’ve been, but rather what I’ve learned. As a typical self-absorbed writer, I like to write about the little moments that made my brain spin with ideas for the future, brought back memories from the past, and help me get a better grip of imagining the bigger picture of society. I like to ask myself abstract questions like: How did that experience happen? Why did you feel that way? How does this experience relate to my other past experiences? Who else is involved and did they react the same way? And the list of questions can go on and on.

Don’t worry, I will be writing about those moments and learnings on my study abroad experience. But for now, I will write for those who are curious about my travels and where I’ve been. Here is my list of places I have traveled so far (with my added notes):

Stonehaven

It’s a small town about thirty minutes south of Aberdeen by train.

                – hiked to Dunnotar Castle

It was incredibly beautiful and I was lucky to have warm sunny weather. Towards the castle, there was sparkling ocean and jagged cliffs. Facing away from the castle, there was farmland with bales of hay and cows. Nature was everywhere. And to my surprise, near the beach there were tidepools with little creatures swimming about.

When I visited the castle area, I had the option to enter the castle and touch the walls, but I decided to stay back and enjoy the view. I felt far too overwhelmed by the nature around me. It was all so breath-taking and I didn’t want to forget things by seeing everything at once. Don’t worry, I will definitely go back- it’s only a £3.20 train ticket away.

                – ate coffee ice cream from Aunty Bettys

If you ever go, eat this ice-cream. It was so very delicious, I would definitely come back in a heartbeat.

                – witnessed others eat fried mars bars at the Carron Fish Bar

Since it was a 75°F day, it was too hot outside for me to want to eat hot chocolate, despite chocolate’s alluring tastiness.

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Dundee

It’s a three hour scenic bus drive south of Aberdeen.

– Went to the Discovery Museum

The Discovery Museum was one of my favourite museums so far in Scotland. As a student of the humanities and social sciences, I wouldn’t say that ships are my thing. However, I really enjoyed learning about the history and science of the making and expeditions of the Discovery. Basically, it was a boat that made an expedition from Dundee to Antarctica in 1901 for a couple of years to gather scientific information. Quite fascinating history, and if you are curious to read a little bit about it, click on this Wikipedia page . This museum had the restored ship, which I got to go in, which was pretty cool.  

-Hiked to Dundee Law

Dundee Law is a giant hill, or to be more exact- it is the hardened magma on the vent of an extinct volcano. I started from the very bottom of the hill near the water and it definitely looked like an intimidating hike to the top (which is the tall WW2 memorial). After a twenty minute steep walk uphill, I reached the top and was greeted by a view. You can judge for yourself if you think it was a good view or not.

                – Ate a fabulous fudge doughnut at Fisher and Donaldson

I bought the doughnut, put in my bag, then hiked to the top of Dundee Law. It was definitely worth the wait.

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Downtown Aberdeen

Its only a twenty-five minute walk from the university campus.

                – history tour from a local

It was led by a recent university graduate who lived in Aberdeen her whole life. I learned so many cool facts about the development of the city and some of the unique traditions. Aberdeen was first granted a charter in the late 1100s, so the city has been around for a long time. In the past, Aberdeen has had tremendous wealth, especially due to its harbour which makes trade accessible, the abundance of granite in the land, and the oil industry nearby. With great wealth came a strong infrastructure, and those who committed a crime would receive hefty punishments. There are quite a few stories that I could share, but I figure if you want to learn about the dark times, you could google “Aberdeen punishment” and you could read some stories for yourself.

                – Maritime museum

The Maritime museum, also known as a museum filled with boat replicas, was quite interesting if you like boat replicas. It was a great free museum, but I was not so keen on learning about the differences of the construction of different boats.

                – Tolbooth museum

This museum is an old jail from the mid-1600s, where they specifically held prisoners waiting for their court hearings. The Tolbooth in Aberdeen is quite small, so it did not house criminals for long periods of time. They would either be shipped to other jails or sold to the U.S. as indentured servants (only until 1776- then they switched to Sydney, Australia). The museum is quite creepy. As a person who adores Halloween and horror novels, I was pleasantly surprised (pun intended) to see wax figures of some prisoners in the rooms.

Also, I had the privilege to hear a talk from the curator of part of the Tolbooth exhibit about the 400th anniversary of the building, which was quite interesting!

                – Walked along the beach

What more can I say, I love the ocean!

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A Typical Day (So Far)

Day 10

Note: this blog post is (mostly) funny. If you are looking for a deep emotional story, this is not the one. There will be more serious posts with pretty pictures soon, I promise.

As someone who has never left North America, I am constantly surprised during my stay in Aberdeen, Scotland. For starters, I keep forgetting to first look right when I cross the streets, leaving me momentarily panicked of which lane cars drive in (which is the left side). Crossing streets are scary, but not nearly as confusing as figuring out which side of the sidewalk to walk on when another person is heading towards me. For a little bit of context, Aberdeen has a large international student body, so many students tend to walk on the right side of the sidewalk. However, locals always walk on the left side of the sidewalk. It’s confusing, right?

Throughout my stay in Aberdeen, I am constantly amazed how consistently friendly the people are, even after they realize I am from the United States. Normally two questions are asked during the typical introduction to other students: “What is your name” and “Where are you from”. There is no avoiding the question during introductions, but the answers are fascinating. The University has an incredibly large international population and I have met students from across the world, like the Philippines, Slovenia, and South Africa. It is so interesting to learn about other people’s hometowns and how we all seem to bond with our collective confusion of cars being on the opposite side of the road.

And I am surprised how much I learn about myself, like how I can hide my accent during short conversations well enough that people do not directly ask me if I am from the US. Don’t get me wrong- I am not afraid to tell people where I’m from1. However, sometimes the questions about Disneyworld and Trump are endless. It’s probably how the people from the UK feel when someone casually mentions Brexit.

To those who do not know, I’ve been doing well in Scotland so far. I made it through my first two days of classes, which went alright. It’s a little odd taking all lectures when I am used to discussion-based classes. At one point, my linguistics professor asked a question to the 150+ audience of first-years and exchange students, about voiced and nonvoiced phones. I was super excited that knew the answer. I barely describe2 how quick my hand shot up to answer the question, but it was not quick enough because forty students raised their hands just as fast. So, it will definitely be a great semester in my linguistics class. One of my goals is to be called on to answer at least one question someday during the semester. Maybe I need to work on my fast reflexes. On the bright side, at least there was ample participation from the class, and it wasn’t one of those awkward silences when everyone thinks the professor asked a rhetorical question.

To anyone who has made it through this post, congratulations. You made it through my attempt at comedy.

1Just for fun, I once told someone that I was from Canada (which is true since I was born there and have dual-citizenship), but then they started asking about the Canada’s prime minister and government, and I sheepishly replied that I don’t know since I moved to the US when I was nine months old. Not a good strategy.

2Maybe like the speed of a mountain lion?

Top Down

I pictured myself permanently living near this library window.

Day 3

Yesterday at 9:00am, I climbed up seven flights of stairs to the top of the library, itching to see the view of Aberdeen from one of the tallest buildings on campus. The many stairs were definitely not a barrier to my determination. I just wanted to see the view badly, so badly in fact that I was nearly speed walking by the last flight.

When I got to the top, I felt like a little kid who managed to stand on top of the playground equipment at recess- the type of climbing that is dangerous, but not scolded by the tired recess teachers. Even though I am a short-term student at University of Aberdeen, this triumphant feeling was not unjustified. My ID card was not yet activated, so I was not able to enter several academic buildings, including this library. By the kindness (and possible pity) of the librarian, she had swiped me in, giving me access to ascend all seven floors. I was able to roam around, look at the books and views, without having the electronic trail of my journey throughout the building. To make it even better, the library was nearly empty, since classes do not start until next week. I always love exploring new libraries and this was a treat to independently explore each floor without the flurry of students and faculty.

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In the Aberdeen library, also known as the Sir Duncan Rice Library, there are seven large floors, in addition to the ground floor, which are designed for students to research both in groups and individually. Populating the walls, large floor to ceiling windows provide great views for students who like to peacefully study independently.

When I got to the highest floor, I immediately gravitated towards one side of the library- the side with the lounge chairs. I gladly took a seat by the window. The view from the top was picturesque like an impressionist painting. Yesterday, it was an unusually sunny morning in Aberdeen and I could see dozens of granite buildings, deciduous trees, and sail boats. Below me, the people were miniatures, walking about and admiring the modern library, some even taking pictures, while I stared below watching them like an unnoticed security camera.

Naturally, I pulled out my journal and started to write about what I saw and what I felt. As I planned for this semester abroad in Aberdeen, I did a lot of goal setting and mental preparation for the great change that was ahead of me. One of my goals during this trip to write as much as possible. I figure that after lots writing, I will be able to put some of the puzzle pieces together of who I am and what I want to do with the rest of my life. I need to start mapping out the blank canvas of life after graduation. But, I wasn’t worried about my future as I wrote. Instead, I was enthralled by seeing the entire city before my very eyes.

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I felt like I was flying on top of the world. The observation seat was like home- and I could sit there for hours on end. In elementary school, I would sit on an ottoman facing the five foot window in my living room, thoroughly entranced by the dissonance of the cotton trees bending in the Pacific Northwest wind against the solid dark green evergreens. There were quite a few dog walkers on my street and the occasionally hummingbirds outside that kept me watching when there wasn’t any wind. Across there were three houses, painted in similar colors of my own, which were always silent with barely any activity outside. During the evenings, I would watch the sun slowly settle below the trees, creating a burnt sky of colors against the wispy clouds. I loved watching outside, especially when my mother went on errands. I would intensely wait by the window until her shiny tan car parked in the driveway. Then, I would shout “mommys home” to alert my eager younger video-gaming brothers when she arrived, or when she didn’t arrive (in my devilish desire to see their embarrassed faces after the false-alarm).

The more I reflected on these moments, the more I realized that I cannot even try to count how many hours I stared out that window in my house, for it is far too many. I would stare out the window forever if I could.

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As I kept sitting and writing, my thoughts slowly shifted from past memories of home to a utopian future. I pictured myself permanently living near this library window as a casual observer with free meals delivered to my lounge chair. I could watch the seasons change, the people walk, and just write my days away, perhaps switching off to read a book every once in a while. I would be able to live in the library as a fly on the wall, the gorgeous transparent wall next to me.

I sat writing for an hour and a half or so, and to my surprise, the fire alarms tests went off. First, the automated lady on the speaker carefully repeated twice that the alarms were going to be tested and people do not have to exit the library building. I immediately shifted uncomfortably in my chair, tentatively waiting for the loud outburst. After about thirty seconds of uneasy anticipation, she finally sounded her screechy alarm twice. It wasn’t as loud as I expected, but it was still unsettling to sit during a fire alarm drill. Finally, she calmly told us that it was all over and it was just a drill.

It was just a drill, but I exited the building a couple of minutes after that. My journal writing was interrupted and it was too difficult to keep going. As I walked down the stairs of the library, I decided that it is nice to be grounded in the present every once in a while.

The Beginning

It’s a new country, a new culture, new people.

T – 86 days

I need to be honest. I bought my plane ticket this week and it still doesn’t feel real. In less than three months, I will be studying away at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

I’m excited to have the opportunity to take classes abroad and immerse myself in a new culture. For those who don’t know, Aberdeen is located on the east coast of Scotland bordering the North Sea. Aberdeen is a medium sized city, the third largest city in Scotland. For comparison, Aberdeen is 1/2 the area and 1/3 the population size of Seattle, WA. Some other fun facts is that Aberdeen is also called the “granite city” and its major industry is oil.

scotland pic

I feel incredibly privileged that I have the opportunity to study in a completely new country for several months this year. Growing up, I never imagined that I would study abroad, let alone in Scotland. I’ve only dreamed what I’ve been exposed to—the ideas within local books, pop culture, and music. I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. Two years ago, I started attending college at Pacific Lutheran University, only an hour away from home. I’ve been content in my community at college and at home. Throughout my life, local has been my comfort zone.

During high school lunches, I would sit on the rigid wood benches in the hallway. I wanted to avoid the rush of cafeteria traffic and the stress about finding a seat in the swarms of students. With a couple friends and a book, I quietly ate my food, swallowing my worries and fears. The crowded lunchroom was claustrophobic. The sounds and distractions were overwhelming.

I felt like I was shrinking under the pressure to find a big group of friends, to get the best grades, and to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. It was too much. I couldn’t, I wouldn’t dare to step out of my comfort zone. It was too scary.

Naturally, I attended a college where I felt safe. Pacific Lutheran University had the small class sizes I craved for. I had the ability to choose my environment, my major, my residential hall to surround myself with others who share my interests. Over the past two years, I’ve became friends with the most incredible people ranging from Alaska, Minnesota, and the local Seattle area. I plopped myself in various clubs and organizations on campus, hoping, just hoping, that I would find a community that I relate with.

I was nervous, but I shouldn’t have been nervous. Whether it be mentoring at Keithley Middle School or hanging out in the Residential Hall Association office, I’ve found that I can feel comfortable by expanding my perspective. I just need to be willing to let go of expectations of perfect experiences. I need to listen to new ideas. I need to step out of my comfort zone.

So, I decided the next step in my journey is to study away. And temporarily leave my home in North America to leave the continent that I have never left.

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I never imagined I would have the opportunity to study away. Somehow, I managed to find room my busy academic career as a double major in Sociology and English, and minor in music. It’s a great new journey, but it is nerve-racking not knowing exactly what’s in store. I’ve always been someone who loves control. I enjoy every moment of filling my g-cal and updating my planner. Over the past two years, I’ve created dozens of four-year plans, just in case. I always treasured knowledge and knowing every little thing that happens on-campus, at home, and with my friends.

I know next semester will be different. It’s a new country, a new culture, new people. I’ve chosen to study abroad because I know it will be scary. It will be a change – and I’m ready to try something new.