FOMO

Fear of Missing Out. It’s an expression you will hear pretty frequently if you are considering studying abroad. It is also the reason most of my peers at home have given for why they are choosing not to study abroad. Now, the intention of this blog IS NOT to criticize choosing not to study abroad or to discredit FOMO as a legitimate reason for staying on campus for all of your college career. The truth is that if you choose to go abroad, you will surely miss out on things at home. And, if you choose to stay home, you will surely miss out on experiences you could have had abroad. The intention of this blog IS to make you think about the REAL FOMO and the way you go about your daily life, regardless of where you are.

Since the second I arrived here, I have been actively seeking out things to do in and around the city of Aberdeen. I have gone to museums, tried new food and new restaurants, joined clubs for sports I have never played, and travelled around the area. I have already created a pretty close group of friends with some other students studying here from the U.S., Canada, and Switzerland. All of these students are doing the same thing as me: going out and trying to see as much as they can while they are here. It is nice to have a group like this, because we can travel together, making it cheaper and more fun.

The first excursion we took was to a city just south of Aberdeen named Stonehaven, home of Dunnottar Castle and The Bay—a delicious fish and chips shop. It’s about a three mile walk from the train station to Dunnottar castle, but it feels a lot shorter because of the beautiful view of the Stonehaven bay and lush green cliffs scattered with nesting sea birds. The next weekend, we headed even further south to a town named St. Cyrus with the University of Aberdeen’s Conservation Society. We hiked a couple of miles from the bus station to a trail that wound back and forth down the face of a cliff leading to the beach. We made our way down the coast to an estuary filled with all different kinds of ducks and birds before walking back to the cliff-side trail. On the way back we spotted a couple of seals poking their heads out of the water not too far from shore and stopped to climb some coastal rock formations where we found a few star fish and crabs.

Me on a cliff with Dunnottar in the background
My girlfriend Gabbi (also from Hope and studying at Aberdeen) and me at Dunnottar Castle
Stonehaven Bay
Cliff with nesting seabirds at Stonehaven
The walk to the coast at St. Cyrus

Last week, my flatmate showed us around “Fittie” or Footdee as it is now known, a historic fisherman district in Aberdeen. Then, we were all able to catch a free tour of the Aberdeen Maritime Museum. Both of these experiences were helpful in understanding the history of the area we live in, which I will be sure to include more about in a future blog.

Fittie

This past week I went to visit Loch Kinord in the Cairngorms. The Cairngorms is a mountain range and nature reserve east of Aberdeen. A couple of my friends and I made a fairly last second decision to catch a bus and head out to hike the area. Unsure of exactly where the trail that we were supposed to be hiking was, we walked 2 miles north along the side of the road and cut through a cold, wet bog to stumble upon a path toward the visitor center. As we later found out, the bus stop is no more than 100 feet from the start of the Loch Kinord trail, but none of us minded emptying out our boots and wringing out our socks too much. After picking up a couple of maps from the visitor center, we hiked west on a trail to see the Burn O’Vat, which is essentially a really large hole in a rock formation formed by running water. We climbed up the side of the waterfall that poured into the stone canyon and hiked a ways down the stream that ran underneath fallen trees and dodged between moss-covered rocks before spilling out into the Burn O’Vat. Then, we doubled back and sat on the rocks at the base of the waterfall to enjoy the lunches we’d packed before continuing our hike out and around Loch Kinord. Remnants of a church and of village hut circles marked the path around the loch which wove in and out between a woodland landscape, a bog, grassland, and some surrounding farmland.

Loch Kinord
Celtic cross (relic from old church at Loch Kinord)
Stream running to Burn O’Vat
Burn O’Vat cascading water

I am amazed at how much northeast Scotland has had to offer so far, and I am excited to continue exploring until the end of the semester. However, all of these little excursions and adventures have also made me think about the way that I go about daily life at home. What all would West Michigan have to offer if I were to bring home the same adventurous mindset I have here? How many gems of natural beauty and preserved history have I been surrounded by for the past three years and not taken advantage of? That’s my real FOMO—the fear of unknowingly missing out on opportunities every day. As a result, when I come back home I will be challenging myself (and would encourage anyone who reads this) to be more aware of and to take better advantage of the opportunities around me.

 

Czech This Out

Nervousness seemed unable to find me as I finally reached Prague, Czech Republic, on the peaceful morning of January 30th.  This tranquility is likely connected to a few aspects of my arrival.  Minutes before the plane touched down, the sun ascended from the horizon and danced across the city.  The yellow-orange rays continued to provide me with reassurance as they radiated through the windows at the quiet airport’s baggage claim.

The initial impressions of beauty along with the anticipated profundity of spending time on a different continent for months caused the first couple of days to seem completely surreal.  Six days later, the fact that I am living in Prague remains incomprehensible.  I consider myself practically the opposite of a city-slicker and frankly never imagined I’d live among a population 37 times larger than that of Holland, MI.  Quaint shops, residential streets, and Lake Michigan have been replaced by tall buildings, the bustling metro, and Vltava River.

The rich history and impeccable architecture generate curiosity and wonder as I stumble around this enchanting place.  I have happily fallen into a handful of tourist traps without much regret.  Despite being warned about the overpriced ‘chimney cakes’ by our super-awesome Czech flat buddy, my flatmates and I found ourselves being asked whether we wanted ours with chocolate or ice cream.  Warm chocolate seemed the logical choice given the 40-degree weather.  After scarfing down some of the baked dough cylinders, the hours of exploring continued.  We discovered an old clock tower and trekked up to the top where we received a breath-taking view of Prague.

The change may sometimes feel overwhelming; however, the stellar people I’ve encountered make the transition fluid and exciting.  When in Prague wear comfortable shoes, grab an adventurous companion, and be prepared to be captivated by this lovable city.

View from airplane window during descent

Vltava River

Chimney cake filled with chocolate

Being touristy in Old Town Square

View of clock tower from the street

View from top of clock tower

Flatmates Jillian, Emma, Ariella, & Pankey (left to right)

Emprendiendo Viajes: Starting Journeys

Español:

Hoy llevo ya unos días aquí en Madrid. La verdad es que se me ha hecho mucho que procesar porque solo hace un par de días estaba en la ciudad de México y hace unos cuantos más en Austin, Tejas. Voy un poco atrasado en lo que he querido escribir sobre todo desde antes que llegara a Madrid pero ya que estoy un poco mejor situado en la ciudad quisiera darles una probadita de lo que ma ha sucedido estas últimas semanas. Si quieres seguir leyendo quiero que sepas que este blog se tratará sobre mis experiencias mientras estudio en el extranjero y mis reacciones a diferentes experiencias, sean buenas o malas. Has quedado advertido. Sea como sea, espero que sí te guste lo que escriba y quizás se te haga hasta placentero leer mis blogs. 

Dejando Michigan: 

Como muchos de ustedes sabrán, yo estudio en Holland, Michigan, en una escuela privada llamada Hope College, o sea Colegio de Esperanza, un nombre muy poético, yo creo. Si no la sabías ahora los sabes.

He estudiado allí por un poco más de año ya. La verdad es que me ha gustado vivir en un pueblo que es bastante diferente a la ciudad de donde provengo porque me ha permitido ver el estilo de vida Americano desde otro punto de vista. La verdad es que el patrimonio Americano se vive más profundamente en el pueblo que en la ciudad. En los Estados Unidos los puntos de vista del gobierno son muy prominentes en el carácter de uno. Lo que pasa es que en los EEUU hay dos partidos que predominan el país. Esto causa una situación que no se vive en muchos otros países. Por decir, en México históricamente el PRI ha dominado la mayor parte del gobierno de la república. Lo mismo sucede en muchos países. Por eso la gente se ha acostumbrado a tener el mismo punto de vista de la política en estos países, un punto de vista que suele ser uno de cero importancia hacia la política. Mucha gente en estos países consideran a su gobierno corrupto y sin escrúpulos en todo caso. Esta es la realidad en muchos países. Por lo tanto yo muchas veces pienso que es una bendición que en los EEUU tan siquiera tenemos la posibilidad de elegir entre dos partidos que tienen el mismo nivel de importancia. Pero bueno a final de cuentas solo menciono esto porque lo veo como una gran diferencia entre mi vida en Austin a lo que he vivido este año y medio en Holland. También es un tema que quiero explorar en España. 

Quise tomarme una ultima foto antes de salir del ártico de Michigan. I wanted to take one last picture in the Michigan arctic.

Volviendo a Austin:

Bueno, me desvié un poco. Pero si acabé mi último examen en Michigan el 15 de diciembre y me fui con un amigo que vive en Detroit para quedarme la noche porque mi vuelo salía por la madrugada a Austin al siguiente día. 

Alrededor del medio día, tiempo de Austin, llegué a los brazos de mi mamá tan querida. Nos abrazamos y le dí un beso en su mejilla como vengo haciendo desde chiquito. Llegué a ver a mis hermanos que llevaba tanto tiempo sin ver y sí me dio mucha alegría ver a mi familia que tanto había echado de menos mientras estaba en la universidad.

La navidad se celebró como es típico en mi familia, todos mis tíos y nosotros reunidos en la casa de mi tío en noche buena. Tomamos muchos ponche y comimos chivo y pasamos un buen rato. 

Mis hermanitos tan hermosos. My beautiful brothers.

Al igual el año nuevo se paso muy bien entre familia en nuestra casa como se hace todos los años. Todo fue muy bueno al regresar a Austin, pero lo mejor fue estar de regreso con mi familia que tanto amo y que ya extrañaba tanto de no ver en Holland. 

English: 

I have now spent a few days here in Madrid. The truth is that it has been so much to process, because a few days ago I was in Mexico and a few days before that I was in Austin. I’m a little behind on what I wanted to write about even before traveling to Madrid, but now that I am a little more situated in the city I wanted to give y’all a little taste of what has happened to me over the past few weeks. If you want to keep reading this blog it will be over my experiences while I study abroad and my reaction to different experiences whether they are good or bad. You have been warned. Either way I hope that you like reading what I write and perhaps it may even be pleasant.

Leaving Michigan: 

Like a lot of y’all know I study in Holland, Michigan, at a private school called Hope College, a name that I believe to be pretty poetic. If you didn’t know, now you know.

I have studied there for more than a year now. The truth is that I have liked living in a small town that is so different from the city I am from because it has allowed me to view the American lifestyle in another way. The truth is that American patriotism is much more prevalent in a small town than in the city. In America your political views are very prominent in your personality. In the U.S. there are two parties that dominate the country. This is a situation that is not as common in other countries. For example, in Mexico historically the PRI (a Mexican political party) has dominated most of the country’s government. The same happens in several countries. That is why many people in other countries have the same political stance, they really don’t care about politics. Most people in these countries consider their government as just corrupt and without morals. This is the reality for many countries. For this reason I think sometimes, although the political system isn’t perfect in the states, it’s a blessing to have at least two options. The only reason I bring this up is because I see this as a big difference between life in Austin and what I have experienced over a year and a half in Holland. It is also a topic that I want to explore while I am in Spain.

 

Returning to Austin:

Well, I got a bit off topic. Anyway I finished my final exam in Michigan on the 15th of December and I left with a buddy who lives in Detroit to stay the night, because my flight left very early the next morning.

Around noon Austin time I arrived to my beloved mom’s arms. We hugged it out and I kissed her on the cheek like I have done since the time I was very little. I arrived to see my brothers that I hadn’t seen in so long, and I was so happy to see the family that I had missed so much while I had been in college.

Christmas was celebrated with family like we typically do, all my uncles and us congregated at my uncle’s house on Christmas Eve. We drank a lot of ponche (Mexican drink), ate goat’s meat and had a very good time.

Todo mundo viendo a diferentes lados, como es costumbre en mi familia. Everyone looking in a different direction, as is typical with my family.

Likewise, New Year’s was spent in an awesome fashion with my family at our house like we have done for years. Everything was great upon returning to Austin, but the best part was that I was back with my family, that I love and missed so much while I was in Holland.

Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Hola Compañeros,

As I mention in my bio I was not originally looking to come to a university in a large city; now I am very happy I did. Not only because Puebla is a beautiful, lively city and UPAEP is a very welcoming university, but also because of how this experience is helping me mature as a person. For many of us that choose to go to school close to home, being “close to” our families can be a big priority. And once you are in one school for three years you develop strong relationships that you hope will last forever. At least that is how I felt while at Hope College this past semester and I was honestly worried all that would change because of my decision to study abroad.

It didn’t take long for me to realize studying in Mexico would not destroy the relationships I had at home; in fact, it would help me realize that these relationships are very strong. After just my first day here in Mexico I realized my friends and family would always be there for me. Although they didn’t completely understand the challenges I was experiencing of navigating a new place as a foreigner, they have shown me that I will always have their moral support and advice in tough situations. By being intentional in contacting friends and family I have felt less homesick and more motivated to bring stories back with me.

 

Hostels for the Holidays

This past Thanksgiving was the first time I have spent a major holiday away from my family. Chileans may be familiar with “el día de la acción de gracias,” but it is certainly not celebrated here. Seriously, I couldn’t even find a box of stuffing or a butter ball turkey on the shelf of the local supermarket. It was definitely strange to be away from home on such a significant holiday.

All semester I have pushed myself to learn and adapt to Chilean customs and traditions. This is something I really enjoy doing and is a large part of the study abroad experience, but it can be exhausting being out of your comfort zone for so long. Sometimes you just want someone who understands, who you don’t have to explain things to, and who relates to the feeling of misplacement and homesickness on a day like Thanksgiving.

Throughout Thanksgiving day,  I  yearned to be with my own family on one of my favorite holidays of the year. I even felt guilt for not being home– who else was going to make the sweet potato casserole, or set the table, or take care of all those leftovers in the fridge? I can’t even bear to think of how lonely the dessert table must have felt without its most loyal visitor.

Despite my wishes, I had set very low expectations for my Thanksgiving in Chile. It was supposed to be a travel day from Puerto Natales, Chile to Calafate, Argentina. However, we ended up not being able to get seats on any of the buses, so we learned mid-day that we would be stuck in Puerto Natales for another night. After scrambling for space in a hostel, we finally found a couple spots in a dorm and made our way over.

We set our things in our room, met our American roommates, and I hopped on Instagram and began scrolling through stories of food spreads, full plates, and family games. It was practically taunting, but was the dose of FOMO I needed to realize I didn’t have to miss out on one of my favorite holidays just because I wasn’t in the US.

We went to the grocery store, bought chicken, instant mashed potatoes, and ingredients for pebre, a Chilean salsa served at nearly every lunch (so maybe our meal wasn’t exactly “traditional,” but it worked for us!). After preparing everything in the hostel’s shared kitchen, we took our plates into the living area and joined the other guests snacking on salami, peanuts, and other trail snacks as they prepared for their Torres del Paine treks. Realizing we were all Americans, everyone raised a glass in the air and exchanged a “Happy Thanksgiving!”

It sure wasn’t my normal celebration, but I certainly was thankful.

More than a tourist

Well, that’s a wrap! I have finished my classes and exams and am off to do my own personal travel for the next month! I am currently writing from Puerto Natales (check me out on a map, I’m practically a skip and a hop from Antarctica!), which is a touristy city that the Torres del Paine trekkers base out of. I, too, will start an 8-day backpacking trip tomorrow, so I have spent the past three days preparing, packing, and meeting fellow trail mates.

Although I am still in Chile, I haven’t heard this much English since I was departing Detroit-Metro Airport back in July. Walking into stores, ordering at restaurants and cafés, and meeting fellow tourists— it’s assumed that English is the mutual language. Although I used to find comfort in the Chileans and extranjeros that spoke English, I have become quite stubborn with insisting on Spanish.

Being blonde-haired, fair-skinned, and blue-eyed, it is no secret that Spanish is not my first language. I have learned not to take offense when spoken to in English, but rather, see it as a kind attempt to communicate and connect with me in the way that seems fit. However, it is an act of self-confidence and discipline to reply in Spanish. I have found that when I do this, natives take interest… they realize I am not like any other tourist. It begins the conversation with where I’m from and where I learned Spanish, and I get to tell them about how I studied in Santiago all semester and am now spending the time traveling and getting to know other parts of the country. They are captivated and humbled, and I think more than anything it makes them proud to be where they are from. It is a special connection and a mutual understanding of the other. I am not just another tourist.

Zoom Out

Posing in front of spectacular view of Madrid at sunset.

What is the best way to capture the life and grandness of Spain?” I would ask myself. I can almost visualize the days flying by to my departure from this treasured land. How can I make it last? How can I portray a general overview of this place that greets me with a load of surprises?

One answer I have found is overhead shots of the cities. From such a high perspective, analyzing the “big picture” or capturing the general atmosphere of the places I have been to comes much easier. It makes the pieces easier to put together. That one moment I got lost in that one neighborhood will make much more sense when I see how its buildings fit in with its nearby locations. That one friend I met on that one street will become more memorable to me when I see the architecture and street life that surrounded our encounter.

“Zooming out” has really made me appreciate how interconnected my experience has been. It makes me see that whatever struggle I was facing at that time, outside my bubble, there was still beauty, life, and hope surrounding me, whether or not I chose to see it at that moment. Please enjoy these wonderful over-head shots of Spain and be reminded of how interconnected your experiences are with the world around you. Click on the photos to view in slideshow format with their descriptions!