All about IES London Theater Studies

Class Experience

As a theatre studies student at IES London, the majority of my classes were theater-based, including Playwriting Workshop, Text and Dramatic Imagination, Theatre Industry, and Acting Then and Now. I loved all of these classes and highly recommend them to anyone interested in studying theatre. One of the highlights for me that came with working through this coursework was my time at RADA. 

This blog is long overdue, but for the first 6 weeks of the semester, as part of my two-part acting course through IES, I trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. This was such an enriching experience as RADA is one of the best drama schools in London with notable alumni like Alan Rickman, Tom Hiddleston, Ralph Fiennes, and Kenneth Branagh. For the course, we looked at 6 different time periods/types of theatre: Medieval, Elizabethan, Restoration, Victorian, Absurdism, and Immersive. The courses were laid out so that everyday started with a workshop, followed by a lecture, and ending with sight reading and working through course material. 

Going into RADA for the first time was really nerve-racking. I saw how renowned the school was and I saw that each class was 10am-5pm, thus leading me to believe that they would be “traditional” in their methods of teaching. I genuinely thought that I was going to get ripped to shreds, ruining my confidence in acting forever. Luckily, this was not what happened at all. 

On the first day, the first thing that we did was a vocal workshop. For this, we were led through various movement/vocal activities to help us loosen up to the point of feeling free in our own bodies. When you feel loose, you are able to do a lot more with your voice than when you feel anxious and tense. This was the perfect way to start the class because it allowed us to release the tension that we had going into the course and thus we were able to do our best work. The course at RADA overall was so fun and enriching.

Besides the learning aspects of the class, I also enjoyed getting to know my peers. There were only 7 of us, so the experience was very individualized and so we all grew substantially. And, this group of students was particularly fun because we are all intelligent and compassionate about acting and we all were very supportive of each other. 

So, instead of feeling completely overwhelmed by what I was taught and instead of the class stripping away the confidence that I had, I felt built up, with a new tool kit to carry and new friends to support. 

On top of the RADA acting class, I also learned so much in my other classes. One of my favorite aspects of my theatre course load was that we went to a different play every week and then discussed them in class. We saw a total of nine plays including God of Carnage, Beautiful Thing, Anthropology, Pygmalion, As You Like It, Guys and Dolls, Owners, Lyonesse, and The House of Bernarda Alba. We also saw a performance from Dance Umbrella at the Barbican. This was such a great way to experience the theatre atmosphere in London and to see a diverse group of plays. 

Rushing Plays

One of my favorite things that I did in London was rush plays. If you don’t know that this is, this is when you can get tickets for plays the day of for a really reasonable price. The way that I did this was I would go on TodayTix and see what shows were offering rush tickets for that day (this normally opens at 10am the day of) and if they did offer them then you can click “get rush tickets” and this will take you to checkout, where it has pre-selected a seat for you. Rush tickets for me tended to be anywhere from 25 to 30 pounds. You can also enter the lottery for tickets, but it is normally pretty unlikely that you will win these. I saw four shows doing this– Grease, Frozen, The Mousetrap, and Ocean at the End of the Lane

The only downside to rushing is that not every production offers this and also sometimes it is virtually impossible to get them. For instance, I tried to rush SIX at exactly 10am multiple times and every time it said that all seats were currently being held. With that, there were a couple shows that I did spend full price on– Macbeth at The Globe and Peter Pan Goes Wrong

To sum that all up, studying theatre in London for a semester was one of the best decisions that I ever made. I was given the chance to deeply immerse myself in the theatre culture, having seen a total of 15 plays. I was also given an enriching education through my courses and made great new friends!

Ecuador, At A Glance

If you’ve been following me along with the semester so far, you’ve probably noticed a gap in my posts upon arriving to Ecuador. Time (as well as my 15 page research paper) caught up to me, but I’ll do my best to recap the whirlwind of the last month now!

45 straight hours of travel from Nepal to Ecuador left me utterly wiped and badly in need of a mind and body reset, and fortunately the program brought us to just the perfect place: a beautiful resort with everything from three hot tubs to a zipline to wandering alpacas. This, in tandem with the comfiest bed and some killer meals was more than enough to get me feeling both back to normal and incredibly optimistic about the month ahead. 

We spent this month stationed in Quito, living once again with homestay families in the community. I was placed with my incredible friend, Aniela, and the most caring and welcoming couple, Felix and Chari (as well as Gati, their perfect cat). Being able to speak Spanish made all the difference in the world when it came to connecting with our family and sharing our thoughts over delicious, home-cooked dinners about topics such as food and farming, the state of the world, and the value of open communication, among other things. Chari’s cooking was certainly a highlight of the month, since it’s pretty hard to top starting the day with fresh fruit juice and yummy spreads on warm bread and ending it with hearty soups and homegrown veggies. Other special moments with the family included a Thanksgiving Day ceramics class, Felix’s powerful orchestral concert, a potluck with some family friends, and a lovely morning park walk that featured gorgeous flowering trees and so, so many hummingbirds.

driving with the fam

I started off my time in Quito by exploring the Old City with a small group of friends, seeing sites such as the Basilica de Voto Nacional and the Iglesia de la Campania de Jesus while snacking on a phenomenal piece of fresh watermelon. Quito was probably my favorite city we visited throughout the semester and had endless things to do, including:

  • Peddle boating, playing volleyball, and strolling through the beautiful botanical gardens in La Parque Carolina
  • Visiting the beautiful art museum of Guayasamín 
  • Accidentally stumbling upon a sketchy but incredibly fun amusement park featuring bumper cars, an arcade, a roller coaster, and a slingshot ride
  • Taking the teleférico cable car up over the city and admiring the view from a swing 
  • Getting daily almond croissants and chai lattes at our go-to cafe, FANKOR (perfect fuel for essay writing, especially with a touch of pumpkin spice)

Outside of Quito, we had a variety of excursions, many including some truly unforgettable hikes. Our first field trip was to an organic farm, Chaupi Molino, where we met an incredibly wise and passionate farmer, Pacho, who gave us a farm tour and taught us about the power of organic practices. We also had what was hands down the best meal of the semester: a vegan lunch packed full of just-harvested veggies and rich seasonings, topped off with fresh juice and a wonderfully delicious banana dessert. For our next trip, we headed out to Antisana for a day hike and some more community building. Being at such high altitude, it was more challenging of a hike than I anticipated, but the warm sunny weather coupled with the unique sierra terrain (and I can’t forget the phenomenal tamarind lollipops) made for a lovely trek.

Our next excursion was an overnight trip to the rural village of Yunguilla, which was an inspiring example of how community-based ecotourism can be an alternative economic model. In Yunguilla we toured the town, learned about their local businesses, stayed with homestay families, and had a quasi-Thanksgiving dinner, complete with dancing. We topped everything off by taking a beautiful hike up into the hilltops, through some muddy troughs, and along some winding bends. 

The next day we took yet another hike, this time up the famous volcano Cotopaxi. The walk — once again fueled by tamarind lollipops — through the snow and ice above the clouds was truly gorgeous. It was the highest I’d ever been at an elevation of nearly 16,000 feet and left me absolutely breathless (but in the best way). We ended it off with a picnic lunch back down at the base of the mountain, before walking around a lagoon dotted with beautiful shrubbery and horses and then busing back home. 

Our main excursion for the month was to the Galápagos Islands. Here we learned all sorts about biology, evolution, ecology, and ecotourism while spending tons of time in the sun. The afternoon of our arrival we were taken on some guided tours through twin craters, lava tunnel caves, and a giant tortoise reserve. We spent the next morning swimming and kayaking around Tortuga Bay after a beautiful stroll through a cactus forest, and we spotted creatures such as sharks, turtles, and blue-footed boobies. We also had two separate snorkeling excursions, definitely the highlight for me. I was able to swim through schools of colorful fish, look sea lions in the face underwater, and spot more turtles, sharks, iguanas, and eels. A truly magnificent moment was when we boated to what is considered one of the prettiest beaches in the world and spent an hour wading around and swimming together. During the evenings, we spent several hours dining at a fancy establishment on the waterfront, watching the sun set over the crystal blue water. All in all, an incredible getaway. 

To wrap up classes, we all gave short presentations on our research papers for the semester. For my topic, I had decided to look into the politics surrounding food waste in Morocco and Nepal and how this subsequently affected food sovereignty in these countries. I feel incredibly grateful to have been able to research the food systems of such places so different from the US firsthand, and I ended up gaining a lot of valuable insights into how building agroinfrastructure and incentivizing youth in agriculture can really affect the amount of food loss in a nation. 

As I write this, I’m en route to Baños de Agua Santa for our final retreat before we say our farewells and head our separate ways. You can expect to hear from me once more, with one last post featuring my final reflections as well as a video compilation with snippets from each day of the semester. 

Hasta pronto!

Country Havens to Hidden Homes

The places I once called Rome’s havens are now mine too. This morning on the way to class I stopped in with my guy friend at my favorite sweet little Sicilian-style bakery to get an overpriced fluffy cornetto on the walk to our last final (and truthfully treated myself to two cornetti instead of one). Now after completing the last final, I am sitting at my cafe just above the Tiber River staring out at Castel Sant’angelo while I sip on a cup of te caldo (hot tea) and read the book Eat, Pray, Love. These two havens and others as well are attached to memories of my time here in Rome which I will never forget. At Bibliobar, my cafe, I would go once a week after classes to get a beverage and cornetto with one of my friends and at times others would join us on this journey too. This book cafe on the water became the place to decompress after a week of classes, dive into our excitements for the weekend, and open up about the realities of being abroad. It may not be the most authentic Italian joint but it is a slice of paradise to me.

(Left to Right: Sipping tea at Bibliobar, Cutie friends at Bibliobar)

Before I came abroad, I sat in on a student panel at Hope College, and a former study abroad student gave the advice to find a coffee shop to go to every week which every other panelist agreed with almost in unison. They spoke about the benefits of finding a place to call “yours” while abroad. They said it has the opportunity to allow you to grow in a new language because the longer you are there the more you learn so you can track your own progress, you will meet locals in your country (and eventually appear as a local yourself), and create place reinforcement. I may not have met many locals at the book cafe near the water but over time I have learned how to order my beverage by saying “vorrei un…” and say for here “qui” which is more than what I knew 3 months ago. These simple phrases hold more power than I thought they would.

To anyone planning to study abroad, I will give you the same advice I was given before departing to an unfamiliar place: find your country’s havens to turn into your homes. Whether it is a cafe you go to weekly, a tree in a park to paint under, or simply an americanized restaurant that helps you miss home a little less, these tiny meaningless spots to the untrained eye give meaning to your experience abroad.

Here is a list of my places and their meanings for any Rome goers or whom it may interest:
1. Bibliobar Cafe – the book cafe near the water where friendships were deepened and afterschool laughs were had. A calming spot near the water to decompress.
2. The steps in Vatican Square – sitting on these steps with friends while we watched the sunset and ate gelato were personal favorite memories of mine. The Vatican was also my “aha I am in Rome” moment every day I would pass it.
3. Mammo Street Cafe – the food I missed most of all while I was abroad was not pickles or raspberries but bagels. Mammo provided the comfort of home through food and their bagels in my humble opinion are out of this world! When you miss American food, go to Mammo.
4. La Salumeria – a personal favorite lunch spot near school. They have the best sandwiches in Rome! I recommend the Contadino or the Yankee.
5. Nannarella – a must-go-to dinner spot at least once during the semester. A popular and delicious restaurant in Trastevere with a Piazza outside usually playing live music. For the tiramisu connoisseur – like myself – this holds the number 1 spot for the best tiramisu I have had in Rome.
6. Le Altre Farine del Mulino – my sweet little Sicilian cafe I mentioned above. Delicious pastries 10/10! A quick place for an on-the-go snack or a nice spot to sit and read with the Vatican out the window.
7. Scholars Pub and Restaurant – fairly americanized with Monday night trivia, good music to dance to, and classic fries to fill your belly. If you are looking for something to do, they have events here and there so keep up to date with what’s going on. My friends and I started going here for trivia on Mondays and although never winning a single game, we tested our knowledge and came up with goofy names each week.
8. Margot – a restaurant I went to during orientation and had my first three-hour dinner with friends. Good food, good service, good company. Our waiter made us laugh when he tried to teach us Italian and made us feel more comfortable with not speaking the language.
9. Santa Marinella – a beach nearby if there is a nice day and you are craving the water. Bring goggles to see what’s out there and a towel to lay on in the sand! A great place to try a solo trip if you are nervous about traveling alone but want to give it a go.
10. Castel Sant’Angelo – you HAVE to check out the view from the top and if you like history, it has stories associated with each part of the castle too. I went here on a class field study but going on your own or with friends can be just as fun!
11. The Churches – the Vatican and Basilica di Santa Maria di Trastevere are my two personal favorites but there is a wide array of churches to check out around every corner of Rome. The Vatican is where I went my first few weeks in Rome but then I stumbled upon Santa Maria di Trastevere while walking around with my study abroad bestie one afternoon and started going there.
12. Lastly, music – as someone who adores dancing whenever music comes on, I love roaming the streets of Rome discovering the next underground Taylor Swifts. Most commonly found in Piazzas or outside the Roman Forum, from violinists to harp players I am constantly impressed by these musicians. One night in particular, my friends and I were listening to a jazz band in a piazza when these strangers began pulling people into the circle to dance and suddenly there were about 40 of us dancing on the cobblestone streets under the moonlight. It truly felt like a movie moment.

(Left to Right: Friends dancing, At the Vatican, and Margot)

Am I Not Altered?

What we need is here. And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. What we need is here. – Wendell Berry

I have two short, short weeks left in Oregon, which will be filled with cookie parties, dancing with whole hearts, and lots and lots of love spilled out. I am grappling with the idea that as soon as I go home I will revert to the person that I was before coming to this place. Isn’t that so opposite to the point of studying off-campus? Isn’t the purpose to go, explore, learn, and reflect? I have gone across the country, explored an entirely new ecosystem, learned with abandon, and now it’s time to reflect.

It’s hard not to feel that I need this place. I need this place to be the person that I have grown into here; The person who laughs and cries, who wanders and frolics and sits and listens, who truly thinks and writes in new languages.

To put four months of experience into words is unattainable. I simply don’t have the language to wrap up the experience of confronting nature, community, sustainability, and myself.

my cohort headed to town for the Halloween parade

This week I wrote…

I pushed it away and now I try to grasp it back again. Like the moon changes the tides. The moon. Run in the moon light. A full moon. A heist. A spin in the street. A zoom. A dance. A throw. A scream. A bandage made of dirt and leaves placed over my tender heart, with spoken words to quiet my swirling, my running.

Why did I think I could push a mountain out of my way? Why did I run? Why am I running again? Why am I scared?

I will grasp. I will hold on to anything I can.

I will start the wood stove again. I’ll wash the dishes to wash the dishes. I’ll make a loaf. I will take for granted the only time I have in my life to live intentionally, to live differently.

Read. Respond. Write. Discuss. Laugh. Cry.. Mourn…Weep.

How can I not be torn apart by this place? My tender heart ripped into strips of newspaper placed in my wood stove. How can I not be put back together? My heart strips used to ignite flame. How can I not chase the sun?

Chase the sun. Run after it. Feel the joy radiating out of it. Fill up on that joy and overflow. Spill it out to the boys across the street. Dump it into the Creek, the Mill Pond, the Trout Pond. Jump it around. Hug with it. Laugh with it. Spill it out in any way you know how.

morning view of cabin 8!

Am I not altered? By the sweet memories around the Thanksgiving table, by the hugs and cuddle puddles in cabin 8, by the smell of the smoke of a warmed up cabin. All of these alter me and they will continue to alter me as I venture back home.


Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about returning. I got back from Jordan about seven months ago, but I’m finding now that the return process isn’t something with a clear beginning and end.

So while I’m currently on a different off-campus study program, in this post I would like to talk about the return process that I’ve been through already, as well as look ahead to returning for a second time at the end of this semester.

Image credit: Mental Health Abroad | International Center University of Florida (

If you’ve thought about studying abroad you’ve likely seen some version of this graph. It’s meant to provide some rough expectations for what the wave of culture shock might feel like as you leave and then return to your home country.

What the graph doesn’t show is that culture shock is much more unstable and unpredictable. It might trend in a general direction, but you will probably also experience multiple ups and downs in a single day. It also doesn’t have a clear end upon returning home—you might think you’ve successfully managed the reverse culture shock and reintegrated into your home country, but then a new challenge might hit you out of the blue.

Lately, I’ve been missing Jordan a lot. Part of that has to do with the situation in Gaza. I’ve been doing my best to stay up-to-date with the news, and it’s hard to watch everything unfolding from so far away.

It’s also been difficult to engage with Jordanian or Arab culture here. I’ve fallen out of practice in speaking Arabic, and I haven’t been able to find Arab restaurants or stores in Ashland.

Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco: this definitely reminded me of the Roman Citadel in Amman.


You don’t have a home until you leave it and then, when you have left it, you never can go back.

Baldwin, James. Giovanni’s Room. Vintage Books, 2013.

So how to deal with feeling homesick for a place that isn’t quite home?

It’s been helpful for me to stay engaged with Jordanian culture in whatever ways possible here. I cooked Jordanian food for my cabin one night and got a little taste of Amman! I’m also trying to keep my Arabic language skills from completely disappearing. I put sticky notes all over my cabin bedroom with the names of furniture in Arabic, and when I have wifi on the weekends I often listen to Arabic music or Al Jazeera news in Arabic to keep my ears used to the language.

There is a fine balance between holding onto the lessons and growth you experienced while abroad, while at the same time not making studying abroad your entire personality. I certainly don’t always succeed in striking the right balance, but I’m grateful for good friends I’ve made here who are willing to put up with me on the days when I feel the need to bring up Jordan a little too frequently.

Back to Hope

Don’t believe our outlines, forget them

and begin from your own words.

As if you are the first to write poetry

or the last poet.

Darwish, Mahmoud. “To a Young Poet.” Poetry, March 2010.

The semester is coming to an end, and in just over a month I’ll be back on campus! I’ve definitely struggled with competing feelings about the return process. Thinking about returning as an opportunity to incorporate the new lessons I’ve learned and person I’ve become into who I am back at Hope has been a positive way of thinking ahead.

Maybe I won’t be directing Uber drivers in Arabic or milking goats back at Hope, but I’ve learned skills during my time off campus that will be important when I return. I’ve become more confident and better at placing myself in challenging situations. I’ve learned how to deal with conflict and speak up for myself, but also making sure that I’m considering other people’s perspectives. I’m willing to try new things that I might not be good at. I’m more patient with others and myself.

All of this to say, studying off campus has been incredibly rewarding, and I certainly haven’t stopped learning from it even after returning to the U.S.

Here’s a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge for making it all the way to the end! Thanks for reading!

Treasured memories: my time on the UK DiscoverIES field trips

A few weeks before I left for my semester in London, I was sent the UK DiscoverIES field trip sign up. For IES London, the field trips were to Bath and Stonehenge, Canterbury and Dover, Windsor, Edinburgh, and Oxford. At first, I was hesitant to go on many of them because I knew that there were other places outside of the UK that I wanted to visit and I was worried about time. But, after having gone on four of the five field trips, I can say that I am happy with my decision. Here are five reasons why I am pro-IES field trips: 

1. Making Friends

I was pleasantly surprised with how many friends I made during orientation week. So, when it came to the field trips, I was happy to be able to hang out with people that I had met. Studying abroad can get really lonely at times, so it is important to make an effort to see people. The field trips were a great opportunity to do this. 

On top of seeing people that I had previously met, I was also able to meet new people that maybe I wouldn’t have met at all. For example, IES was partnered with another study abroad program for the field trips, and I felt like we were divided into our groups for a lot of the activities. But, when I was in Edinburgh, we went on a deer safari and a hike with them. From this, I was able to talk to a few new people and even made a new friend! I also met a few people from an IES dual enrollment program that weekend as well. 

I was also able to foster new friendships while on the field trips. For example, our first trip was to Bath and Stonehenge. In our freetime, I went out with quite a few new friends, where we just hung out and talked for hours. We were enjoying ourselves so much that we missed the last bus back to the hostel and had to walk all the way back. And then in Dover, I hiked around with a different friend. We ended up getting lost and were nearly late for the bus. Even though both of these experiences came with learning lessons, they were some of my favorite memories from the field trips because I now have some fun stories to tell about time spent with cherished new friends. 

2. Planning trips on your own can be hard

Planning your own trips can be really stressful. For instance, the first trip that I did on my own without the help of IES was with my roommate Emily. We went to Fort William, Scotland to ride the Hogwarts Express (The Jacobite). This trip was wonderful, and the train made the whole thing worth it, but there were many downsides as well and it was overall an exhausting trip. 

The nice thing about the IES field trips is that pretty much everything is planned out for you, so all you have to do is pack and show up!

3. You don’t lose your whole weekend 

Both Canterbury/Dover and Oxford were day trips. This was really nice because then I could take the rest of my time that weekend to explore London and catch up on homework. This was also nice because normally not all of your friends go on the field trips, so having only a day of travel allowed for time to catch up with them. 

4. Learning opportunities

On all of the field trips that I went on, there was some sort of walking tour that covered the history of the town that we were in and we visited many historical sites such as the Canterbury Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle, Dover Castle, and the University of Oxford. These tours were really interesting because we could learn about the town while enjoying the architecture and taking pictures. 

5. They’re fun!

Overall, these field trips contain some of my favorite memories from my time abroad thus far. It is so fun getting to explore places that I’ve never been before throughout the UK alongside my new friends.

Some of my favorite memories include: 

  • Going to the top of Dover Castle with Bri and Emily and making up a song all the way up the stairs. 
  • Getting lost at the Cliffs of Dover with Kiki. 
  • Visiting Harry Potter sites at Canterbury Cathedral, Edinburgh, and Oxford. 
  • Seeing Bridgerton and Jane Austen (Persuasion) filming locations in Bath. 
  • Getting rained on in Stonehenge and Edinburgh. 
  • Punting in Oxford. 
  • Going to an arcade-themed bar with Bri, Emily, Catherine, and Lauren. 
  • Talking so late that we missed the last bus back to the hostel with Maeve, Emily, Maura, Trevor, John, and Alex in Bath. 
  • Feeding deer and hiking in the highlands of Scotlands. Getting my shoes absolutely drenched. 

All and all, my recommendation is to have fun during your time abroad and do what makes you happy because chances are, you won’t get the opportunity to live abroad again. I believe that one way of having fun and seeing a lot is through the field trips. 

Student Life, Cats, and Small Victories

I’m a couple weeks past the halfway point in my semester at Nanzan University here in Nagoya. Since it began, my semester has been full of exciting, new, and immersive experiences, but most days I’m just an ordinary student: attending classes, grabbing lunch with friends, finishing up a reading for class, and heading home to cook a quick dinner. I’ve become accustomed to my daily routine here at Nanzan, and while it’s completely different from my life back at Hope, it’s been a nice change.

Student Life

Life at Nanzan compared to life at Hope has quite honestly been more manageable and less stressful for me. I have 1-2 classes per day, and us study abroad students get Wednesdays off, which has been a great way to break up the week. Weekends have been mostly open, apart from daily Japanese studying.

My mornings are spent in my Intensive Japanese language class, divided into two periods and totaling 3.5 hours of intense language instruction. It’s not a difficult class if I prepare, but the class requires prolonged focus, so my friends and I often feel tired by the time we’re done.

After a bite to eat at one of the cafeterias, I have around 2 hours to study (or nap) before my next class: Ikebana (Flower Arrangement) on Tuesdays, Japanese Religions on Thursdays, and Japanese Society on Fridays.

Ikebana is conducted entirely in Japanese and each week we work with different flowers to create an arrangement as instructed by the professor. It’s not easy, but I’m so grateful to experience such a unique class! Below are some of my arrangements:

Japanese Religions is a lecture-based course that focuses mostly on the two major religions of Japan: Shintoism and Buddhism. I expected to have lots of outside reading, but apart from a group presentation for the midterm, there’s been no other assignments! Japanese Society is a discussion and reading-based course, where we go over various topics like life courses, schooling, and ethnic minorities in Japan as well as our own countries and cultures. It’s been very informative, and my classmates come from all over the world, so I get a diverse range of perspectives, and share my own, too.


A few weeks ago, my friend and I decided to visit a cat cafe. Cat cafes are incredibly popular here in Japan, and unlike the I’ve been to in the U.S., I find Japan’s cat cafes a bit more exciting. We decided on Cafe Mocha, which is about a 30-ish minute train ride from Nanzan.

Cafe Mocha is home to a multitude of cats, and is an open space where you can study, play video games or board games, read, take a nap, and enjoy refreshments. The cats were enjoying their mid-afternoon nap when we arrived, so they weren’t the most social– that is until we purchased cat treats. Suddenly everyone was wide awake and willing to socialize.

Small Victories

Celebrate the small victories. Studying abroad is a great time to explore and experience new things, but it’s also a great time to discover new things and work on aspects of yourself. Since I came to Japan, here are some of my new developments, or small victories:

  • Cooking for myself. This is something I never had to worry about at Hope, as a quick 3 minute walk to Phelps twice a day eliminated the need for it. Now I spend evenings parked in my shared kitchen with my living group in the evenings, experimenting with dishes and expanding my palette.
  • Asking for help. It’s far too easy to maintain the Do-it-yourself mindset, but there are times where that’s just not possible. I’ve gotten more comfortable being willing to let go of my pride and approach people to ask things like: Does this train go to _ stop? I can’t read the kanji for it or Is there a store named _ here? I can’t seem to find it…
  • Developing a study method for language learning. I’m not the best studier and I don’t enjoy it, but I’ve recently commit to developing a study routine that works for me. Cramming and ‘winging it’ only get me so far.

All of these are small victories, but valuable ones that have enhanced my experience in Japan. My December departure date is steadily approaching, so I don’t want to leave with any regrets.

Nepal Vol. II

After the main two days of the Dashain festival were over, we jumped back into classes with a few exciting site visits. First, we headed to the Nepali World Wildlife Foundation headquarters to learn about their mission and projects as an NGO. Afterward, we headed to what was probably one of my favorite site visits so far at ICIMOD, or the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. At this mountainside facility, we got to witness agroecological solutions to the changes in land, water, and energy that Nepal has been experiencing under the pressures of climate change. 

Our next excursion was to begin shortly thereafter, but fortunately, before we left, Jaime (my homestay partner) and I were able to have an amazing day full of activities with our homestay mom and sister, Pari. We spent the bulk of the day getting our nails done at a local salon together, trying (and falling in love with) some Nepali snacks, and then getting henna (a first for me!). In the evening we fumbled our way through learning how to make momos, the popular Nepali dumpling, but enjoyed every bite of the delicious result. 

The following day we woke up bright and early, ready to embark on another day-long bumpy bus ride full of long chats, pretty mountain views, and unsuccessful attempts to sleep. This time we were headed to Pokhara, a city located closer to the mountain ranges of Nepal. When we finally arrived there in the evening, we enjoyed our dhal bhat dining over the city while soft live music set the ambiance. The following morning after a brief orientation about the area, we loaded into jeeps and began our three-hour, equally bumpy trip up into the mountains while jamming out to some songs the whole ride there. The jeeps brought us up to Sikles, a remote village in the mountains with some of the most stunning views of the semester thus far. It was from here that we embarked on a two-day trek to Kapuche Glacial Lake, the lowest glacial lake in the world by elevation. The trek was 12 miles in each direction and was rarely flat, making it undoubtedly the hardest hike of my life, but it was certainly the most rewarding one. We crossed numerous suspension bridges, drank out of waterfalls, and had a beautifully restorative lunch lying out in the sun watching the clouds float over the mountains. 

By the time we made it to Kapuche, the sun was already beginning to set, casting a beautiful light over the pristine lake and throughout the peaks of the surrounding mountains. As I breathed in the fresh air, dipped my face into the freezing waters, and basked in the accomplishments of the day, I remember feeling a peace unlike any other I had ever really known. Just as the hike was indubitably the hardest of my life, this moment was undoubtedly one of the best. We spent the evening warming up around a fire, singing songs in the kitchen, and snacking on fresh popcorn, tea, and of course, dhal bhat. When you’re cold straight to your bones, there truly is nothing as special as the comfort of hearty food or the warmth of friends when falling asleep. Another highlight was waking at 2 am, scrambling outside with friends, and being met with a stunning lunar halo lighting up the sky above us. 

post face dunk

The following morning we went down by the lake again to take another dip (I wasn’t so bold as those who fully jumped in and instead opted to just dunk my face) and warmed up with more tea and stew with bread for breakfast. We then began the long trek back, which included lots of solo time as well as a couple close calls with some angry bees. By the time we made it back to Sikles, I was truly wiped but got some energy back after chowing down a delicious bowl of noodles and taking one of the best showers of my life. To cap off our time in Sikles, we visited the local school the next day, complete with more mural painting, and then had another lecture about sustainability in and the history of the area. Back in Pokhara the next day I indulged in some Korean BBQ, did some shopping with a few friends, walked around the town, and caught yet another beautiful sunset over the lake. 

Later that evening, much to our surprise, we were hit by another earthquake around 11 pm. Although less severe than the one in Morocco, we still felt the shaking and the quake was still deadly, particularly for those in more remote villages. Despite the amazing past few days out in this part of western Nepal, the earthquake brought us back to reality as a stark reminder of the inequalities of the region and the injustices of the world. 

Back in Kathmandu, we began to wrap up our time by presenting our findings on the state of water, land, and energy management in Nepal that we had been researching thus far. Outside of class, I tried to squeeze the most out of the last few days by getting another incredible massage, indulging in plenty of tea and samosas, and attending a live concert that blended jazz with traditional Nepali music (so so fun!). On our final day, I did one last yoga class with some friends, checked out the Museum of Nepali Arts, and packed up my stuff before heading to the farewell dinner where we were to say goodbye to our homestay families over one last dinner. It was a bittersweet moment — hard to say goodbye to the family but filled with excitement about our travels ahead. 

If it wasn’t clear from the wording of this post, Nepal was full of a lot of “the bests,” new experiences, and big changes. I never could have predicted what this month had in store for me, and a lot of this change goes far deeper than what I can touch on in this post. If there’s just one single thing that stands out to me, however, it is without a doubt the value in connection — with new cultures, with nature, with friends, and with myself. In the end, we don’t really have anything without it. 

Signing off until Ecuador.

Sprig O’ Fig

It is from our roots that we draw sustenance (Maathai 293). Waters of life swirling amidst microorganisms, bitter dirt, and waste. Waters of life rushing, carrying the burdens of the soil, punching at the tenderness of root walls. Flowing, cleansing water pushes through roots, knocking on the tenderest spots of fragile walls. Tapping, drumming, pounding until a gush of water springs out, rising to the surface of the underground story. Reservoirs of grace made of flowing, cleansing water are life-givers to the tree that rushes up to the sky to proclaim the story of the underground.

Roots burrowed deeply in soil packed with nourishment signify the connectivity of the Giver and Receiver. The Giver of life penetrated by the Receiver of sustenance. In this moment of interconnectedness is home, safety, and warmth. Imagine being a root surrounded by the very necessity of your survival. Imagine snuggling up amidst the very source of your life. Imagine the potential of Root sustained by soil flourishing into Tree bursting up out of the ground.

No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine” (John 15:4). The story of burrowing down into shelter and rising up in fruitful proclamation is the story of root to tree top.

To burrow is to snuggle up, to get comfortable, so that receiving from the vine becomes the only source of movement or change. To rise up is to proclaim the experience of burrowing.

Burrowing and fruiting are gifts of life to the Receiver; the gift is the responsibility.

What happens to one happens to all. We can starve together or feast together. All flourishing is mutual (Kimmerer 15). Mutual sustenance prunes away selfish ambition. It is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit (John 15:8). The gift of fruit-bearing insists on a tangled up and indistinguishable mess of mutual flourishing.

In Wangari Maathai’s Epilogue, she reflects of the importance of trees throughout her life. It tells us that in order to aspire we need to be grounded, and that no matter how high we go it is from our roots that we draw sustenance…It signifies that no matter how powerful we become… our power and strength and our ability to reach our goals depend on the people…who are the soil out of which we grow” (Maathai 293).

To be grounded in the depths of soil and nourished by the rushing of water through my thin walls is the gift that pulls me toward flourishing.

My mom visited me this past week and I got to show her the place that I’ve begun to give a sliver of my “Home” pie to. Throughout college, I’ve realized that home is more than just a place, but mostly people. As I experience growth in Oregon, I have expanded my “Home” pie to include a new place and a few new friends. In my homesickness, I have been reluctant to expand my circle of loved ones because of contentment with relationships I already had.

The fact that this experience is temporary has not been far from my mind. I have used this as a shield for vulnerability and as a hesitancy in giving space for more people to love and be loved by.

Our cohort spent 2 days on the Oregon coast (and stopped by the Redwoods!) and this trip allowed me the openness and the encouragement to find space for the possibility of life-long friendships that are (rightly) common in this place. A specific moment I will cherish is sitting on a rock by the Pacific Ocean, thinking about the qualities of water that my pastor instills in me each baptism he celebrates. It goes, baptism is a visible sign of an invisible grace. The sign is water and we use water because it cleanses and refreshes and gives life. We use water because Jesus said, “I am living water”. The water points to the promise; God’s promise to forgive us our sins, to send the Spirit to us day after day, and to bring us into a whole new family.

As I sat on a rock, contemplating these words, talking to God, and listening to the waters rush over the sand, I began to praise God for my new friends Sophia and Cait. I thanked God for their resilience in opening me up, in showing me love, and in being examples of life lived in joy. As I was speaking these words over them, a wave crashed over the rock I was sitting on and washed over me completely. At that moment, I was filled with joy and connection with my completely joyful friends. We proceeded to frolic in the waters like we were 6 years old again.

Temples, Terai, and Tranquility

On paper, a month can sound like a long time, but based on how fast my time in Morocco flew, I was determined to squeeze every last drop out of my month ahead in Nepal right from the moment our plane landed, and fortunately our orientation gave us an exciting insight for just how much this country had in store for us. After a winding bus ride up the hillside out of Kathmandu at 3:00 am, we were greeted with hearty bowls of soup at a resort in Nagarkot where we were to spend a few days resting and getting oriented. Besides catching up on sleep, I used this time to reset my mind and body with long walks (including a cloudy hike-turned-run-in-the-rain with friends), yoga sessions overlooking Kathmandu valley, and organizing my plans, assignments, and fun activities for the month ahead. 

After our few days long retreat up in the hills, we took a winding bus ride down into Kathmandu valley to begin the next leg of our time in Nepal. For our time in the city I was paired with my sweet friend Jaime as a homestay buddy, and placed with a Newari family made up of a host mom and dad, our 19 year old host sister, and our 10 year old host brother. The home is six stories tall (meaning we have quite the hike to our room on the fifth floor) with a rooftop terrace that makes for great views of the city (and even the Himalayas on a clear day!). In the spirit of seizing the day, I spent my first full day exploring the city by checking out the farmers market, trying some yummy veggie momos, stopping by a film festival, and getting the most incredible Ayurvedic massage at my first ever spa. 

The following day Jaime and I switched to a more cultural and historic focus by spending the morning exploring Patan Durbar Square nearby our home. The square is packed full of historic temples, buildings, sculptures, and art, all with a rich, lengthy history. What stood out most to me was the concept of “living history” in how despite the great age of these structures and the massive destruction they’ve faced from earthquakes over the years, they still are well preserved. Communities have prioritized their upkeep through the generations and still see as much cultural value in them even when they are totally destroyed and must be rebuilt, which I think is really beautiful. In the afternoon we had our renowned guest lecturer take us along the river and to the Boudha Stupa temple and nearby monastery to learn about water and city planning, Buddhism, and culture. 

A short bout of sickness put me out of commission for the next few days, but once I felt better I immediately jumped back into exploring by checking out a local art gallery, visiting the so-called “monkey temple” (which was indeed full of monkeys, some a little too friendly) and watching the sun set over the city, and enjoying some live jazz with friends into the night. 

The first of two excursions of the month was to the Terai lowlands, a region that paints a very different picture of Nepal than the typical mountainous perception that comes to mind. Full of waving plains of rice and rhino-filled jungles, the lowlands were a long, winding, bumpy seven hour bus ride out from the city. We spent the next couple days learning about the history of conservation, human-wildlife conflict, and research ethics. By interacting with the gracious local community, we learned how to harvest rice, came to better understand the impacts of nearby Chitwan National Park, and experienced a beautiful cultural dance performance. My favorite part of the excursion was without a doubt the safari, where we saw wild rhinos, peacocks, endangered crocodiles, and more, which we followed up with some community building on the riverside as dusk settled over the lowlands (see picture of our impressive human pyramid).

a wild rhino getting its afternoon snack
moments before collapse

After an equally bumpy bus ride back out of the lowlands into the city, we were given the following two days to rest up and enjoy the nationwide holiday for the Dashain Festival, an extensive religious holiday celebrating good harvest and worshipping certain religious deities. To celebrate, Jaime and I learned (rather unsuccessfully) how to fly kites over the city with our homestay family, dressed up in traditional Nepali clothing, and went with our homestay sister to get a blessing from the kumari, or living goddess — an important religious figure in the Nepali Newari Buddhist community. 

Needless to say, I think I’ve been doing well on my intent to squeeze everything I can out of this month. I would be remiss, however, to gloss over the moments of rest and peace during these two weeks. All good adventures must be balanced out with restoration of the mind and body, and living in a majority Hindu country that places such high value on this has made this quite opportune for me. Remembering to take rests is something I must constantly remind myself of, but I’ve found that being in Nepal has made it easier for me to find these moments of peace, whether it’s through a yoga class, during a meditation in the morning, when reading outside in the courtyard, or while enjoying all the stunning nature. As with all things in life, walking this line between rest and adventure is a delicate balance, but a journey worth every second.