Robert Burns Night

As an aspiring poet and avid reader of poetry, I was familiar with Robert Burns and his work before coming to Scotland; however, I was not familiar with the celebrations hosted on and around January 25th (Burns’ date of birth) to commemorate the famed Scot. “Robert Burns Night” or “Robbie Burns Night” is a very big deal in Scotland, apparent in the number of people that gather to partake in a myriad of traditional festivities memorializing Burns and his work.
On January 25th, I joined in the festivities by attending a ceilidh with several friends that was hosted by a society on campus. The traditional ceremony began with a number of Gaelic folk dances which allowed me to parade around my two left feet. Luckily, I was not alone in this; and, everyone had a good time whether they remained standing when the music stopped or lay twisted and tangled on the ground. As tradition dictates, the dancing was followed by a ceremonial haggis being “piped in,” or ushered in by a man playing the bagpipe. Once the bagpipe player and haggis reach center stage, a Burns poem, entitled “Address to a Haggis” is recited as the haggis is ripped open. The ceremonial haggis was followed out by a tray of “haggis, neeps, and tatties.” Neeps, I believe, is simply another term used for rutabaga, and tatties are mashed potatoes. Haggis, on the other hand, is a unique treat.
My only other run-in with haggis up to this point was at a restaurant I went to during my first week here. I had heard a lot of talk around the food but wasn’t sure exactly what it was. All that I knew was that it was some kind of meat, but I didn’t want to know what kind until after I’d eaten it. Having detected my American accent in ordering, the waiter asked if I had ever tried haggis before and I explained the situation. He responded, “you either love it or you hate it” (a statement I have heard used by many people here in reference to haggis). On the contrary, I was somewhere in the middle. While I did not enjoy my first experience with haggis too much, I did manage to finish my plate before the waiter returned.

“Okay, now you can tell me. What’s in it?” I asked.

“I’m just going to let you look it up on your own,” he replied (always the response you hope to hear when questioning what kind of meat you have just eaten).

After looking it up later I came to the conclusion that it tastes much better than it sounds, though that is not saying much. If you would like to know what is in it you can do the same as I had to and look it up on your own.

Nevertheless, I tried haggis again at the ceilidh, and I was pleasantly surprised! At the ceilidh, the haggis was served in smaller portions with the neeps and tatties, and it all tasted really great together! My friends and I even returned for second servings (and some of us thirds). I left shortly after the food was gone with a full stomach, the memory of an evening I will never forget, and a new life-goal: to one day have some type of meat musically ushered into a room and cut into while a poem of mine is recited. Although, I am thinking that maybe we could do a nice cut of steak or a juicy hamburger for mine.

School is different here

The view out my window on the train. You could see the cordillera of the Andes the whole way there.

School is different here. For example, my art class today was a field trip to the south of Chile. We spent about 9 hours in train, and 3 in bus so we could appreciate a mural painted in the small town of Chillán.

We weren’t allowed to take photos of the mural we went to visit, but here’s one from outside the library where it was located.

This smaller mural was painted by a Mexican artist and says “Gobernar es educar” (to govern is to educate).

I went with my 5-person class, made up of students from 4 different countries. Funnily enough, none of them are Chilean. Apparently the exchange students are more interested in learning about Chilean art than they are.

Regardless, the topic of education came up while we were waiting for the train. I was very curious; “como es la educación en tu país?” (What is school like in your country?)

I learned that in Ireland, computer science students learn at a slower pace than their Chilean counterparts. In Colombia, few scholarships are available, and most majors last 5 years. In Mexico, community service and internships are required for all degrees.

One thing we all agreed on is that school is different here. For me, one of the biggest changes to get used to has been their grading system. In Chile, they use a scale from 1-7, with a 4 being a passing grade. Most students strive for 4’s, rather than 7’s, which are rarely handed out.

This is not the same as our inflated grading system in the United States. A 4.0 GPA is the ideal back home, and was achieved by at least 15% of my high school class. The GPA is also an important measure in terms of deciding a student’s future. However, here, the important thing is that you get a degree. Employers don’t care much about the grades you get in school, just that you pass.

This leads to highly different cultural attitudes about school. At Hope, which is admittedly more academically rigorous, there’s a fixation on the exact number you are given and a competition to out-perform other students. In Chile, though, there’s a relaxed nature about school, and much less of a student’s identity is wrapped up in their performance.

This is also likely related to the fact that most Chilean university students still live at home. They participate a lot in family life. Though they are less independent, they often have responsibilities that have nothing to do with their schoolwork. My classmates have to run errands to buy things for their parents or pay the bills. This is something I never have encountered with American classmates, but I think it helps create a balance in life where school isn’t all-consuming.

There are other differences, like the way professors communicate, the structure (and sometimes lack of structure) of classes, and the frequency with which my classes meet. Now that I’m about half-way through my semester, I think I’m adjusted to this Chilean version of school. And I like it a lot.

I’ve had fun opportunities to travel; I’m working in groups with Chilean students; we visited the aquarium for marine biology; I crushed my first big exam; I got a compliment on my Spanish after a nerve-wracking presentation. All these things and more are what make studying abroad totally worth it!

Here are my notes and study materials from my first marine biology exam.

 

The final slide of a presentation I gave.
Las estrellas del mar, or starfish, in a tidepool at the aquarium. We even had the chance to touch them, which was really cool!

Where Is God When You Study Abroad?

If you go to Hope, you know that it’s basically a Christian Bubble.

You know multiple people going on mission trips this summer, tons of your friends work with Young Life, and you’re probably a part of at least two Bible studies and a house church. And this is all great! Hope is a perfect environment to develop and strengthen your faith before heading out into the “real world” after graduation. I’m extremely thankful for what Hope has taught me about God and myself.

But it’s incredibly hard to leave this Christian Bubble, and I realized this as soon as I arrived at the University of Aberdeen.

It’s not like I thought God wasn’t here. I knew God was here and everywhere, but studying abroad puts you outside of that Christian Bubble and into the dead center of that “real world” everyone talks about. You’re in a new environment with a new culture. The friends you make probably don’t talk about Bible studies and mission trips. Drinking culture is also huge over here since the legal age is 18, not 21. You’re suddenly the odd one out.

So where have I found God? Has stepping outside of Hope’s Christian Bubble been a blessing or an obstacle for me?

When I first arrived, I made it my mission to find God. I went to a bunch of Aberdeen Christian Union events, including a weekend retreat, and joined a Bible study on campus. I also decided to take a New Testament class so that I would keep reading my Bible. Now in a more secular environment, I wanted to prove to myself that I could still be a “good Christian” without Hope’s help.

But what I didn’t realize would happen is just how much God would find me. In some of these cases I didn’t even really have to try and seek him out. After praying for a loyal friend group, He gave me four friends (one of whom is a Hope student) who respect my beliefs and ask about them. I’m able to evangelize and have fun, even if not every one of my friends knows that Paul and Saul are the same person.

I think God has also used this study abroad experience to mature me and help me understand things about Him that had been bothering me for a long time. This came through in a lot of different aspects, mainly in the way I approach relationships, and He also used my growing maturity to dive me deeper into an understanding of sin, repentance, and grace. It was here in Aberdeen that God finally got through to me about some chronic sins in my life and urged me to confess those sins, repent, and move forward. I’m certainly not perfect, and I fall back into my mess from time to time, but this was a huge moment for me. I honestly don’t think this would have happened if it weren’t for this study abroad experience.

And overall, I think it’s been beneficial to take my faith to this new place. A lot of times at Hope I get stuck on one of those “Jesus highs”. It usually ends up during church at Moran Park. I’m always the emotional person crying during altar call at the very end, waving my hands in the air, and exercising my spiritual gifts. But here, I’ve learned that real life isn’t composed of mainly “Jesus highs”. Instead, I’ve had to realize that my day-to-day interactions and walk with God is just as, if not more, important than my “drunk in the Holy Spirit” moments. God hasn’t left me this entire time, and He has quietly nudged me towards understanding, confession, and joy. He’s allowed me to experience this part of His world for myself and use my adventures to teach me and show me His love. He’s matured me so much, and I know I will not be returning home the same Christian I was when I left. Now, I’ve seen that God truly follows us to the ends of His earth.

If you’re worried about your faith life when traveling abroad, don’t let it stop you. Seek God and places of worship, but also trust that God will find you, too. It can’t be all up to us. If it were, then why would we need Jesus? Jesus says that if we knock, the door will be opened for us, so trust that He will open that door.

Pretending to be wizards in Glasgow and Edinburgh

Hi, everybody!

A while ago my friends Jordan and Kate (another Hope student) and I decided to take a trip to Glasgow and Edinburgh. The trip was so much fun, and we got to do a lot of cool stuff, like see museums, get gorgeous views of the Edinburgh Castle, and, of course, visit almost every J.K. Rowling/Harry Potter site we could find. I took videos along the way and combined them into one vlog. Here’s a little taste of what our adventure was like!

 

Why Soccer Players Should Study Abroad

Hope Soccer

Balancing academics, athletics, and social life is no easy feat. Student athletes certainly have a lot of on their schedule and often overlook studying abroad as it is seen as something unobtainable. The thoughts of, “My coach would not allow it” or “I would be missing spring workouts” often come to mind. This blog is to share my real experiences as a student athlete abroad through highlighting three main points on why athletes should study abroad… Especially in Barcelona!

  1. You’re not alone. In my IES program in Barcelona, I have met countless student athletes going through the same journey as me. To illustrate, there are college athletes from Wofford College, Virginia Commonwealth, University of Redlands, St. Thomas, Connecticut College, Augsburg, the list goes on and on. Most of these student athletes, female and male, are soccer players. This mixes well with the city of Barcelona, which boasts a handful of leagues from professional to semi-professional, thus allowing every college athlete to not only watch the most elite players in the world, but also find a place to play and improve their craft.

    Los Chicos Americanos
    Los Chicos Americanos
  2. You are challenged in different ways than before. It is no secret that the college soccer game revolves around fitness and athleticism. In Barcelona, these attributes fill the background as skill and craft lead the way through the Spanish “tiki taka” style of play. This challenges student athletes to sharpen other tools of their game, such as technical and tactical abilities. When returning to the college game, this will help make you a more complete player.

    Watching some of the best - Messi, Neymar, Suarez
    Watching some of the best – Messi, Neymar, Suarez
  3. You can play outside, all year round. In my two months in Barcelona so far, it has rained three times for a total of approximately one hour. There is no snow or bad weather to stop you from training outdoors and on a full size field. Also with the sun out every single day, you will have a little extra energy in your step to get through your workouts… Especially during the February blues.. which do not even exist here!

    Pitch of 3rd tier side CF Montañesa, where we have play are games. This photo was also taken in late February!
    Pitch of 3rd tier side CF Montañesa, where we play our games. This photo was also taken in late February!

These three points have been reiterated through my continuous experiences as a student athlete studying in Barcelona, Spain. I would not change this semester for the world and hope to inspire more student athletes to study abroad.

Shredding the Pyrenees

From the beach one day to the mountains the next, Catalonia is full of surprises. Earlier this week I travelled north to La Masella, a Catalonian-Pyrenees Alp that stands just above 8,000 feet tall. With bluebird skies, stunning panoramic views, and solid company to ride with, this trip could not be any better… Then again, we did the whole trip – transportation, day pass, and rental gear – for less than the price of a full tank of gas from the Holland Bp station. Not a bad way to spend your Friday.

Trae (right) Jimmy (middle) and myself (left)
Trae (right) Jimmy (middle) and myself (left)

Although the mountain is located way up in the Pyrenees, and a short drive from Barcelona,  it is not a tourist location. La Masella is survived by many locals, with Spanish actually being the second language of the mountain; to Catalan (Catalan is the local language, a mix of French and Spanish). Oh, and no one spoke English. Because of these “locals only” vibes La Masella expresses,  I found this trip culturally enriching. Encompassing myself in the tranquil mountainous spaces of northern Catalonia was an excellent change of pace from the hustle and bustle of the Cosmopolitan city of Barcelona.

Just above 8,300 feet are views of Catalonia, France, and Andorra
Just above 8,300 feet are views of Catalonia, France, and Andorra

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Words cannot describe how much fun I am having this semester abroad. Do not get me wrong, I absolutely love Hope College and miss family and friends dearly, but learning and adapting to an entirely different lifestyle is a new challenge that I will never forget. Cheers to you, Barca!

 

 

Resting the legs after a fun day on the slopes. Not a bad rooftop view either
Resting the legs after a fun day on the slopes. Not a bad rooftop view either

Fútbol, Football, Soccer

Camp Nou. The vibrance erupting through the stadium, the echo’s of yelling fans, the articulate yet free flowing style of Barcelona football, is all simply magnificent. A few days ago I had the pleasure of experiencing this firsthand as Barcelona FC played Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey quarterfinal. Barcelona triumphed Bilbao 3-1, winning the quarterfinal 5-2 on aggregate.

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Watching the likes of Messi, Neymar, Suarez, and Iniesta, whom are all some of the greatest soccer players of the modern era,  has been the highlight of my time abroad. I will certainly be back!

Charlie and I after the game
Charlie and I after the game

A few days after the Barcelona game, I traveled to Leeds, England to visit and watch a proper “football” match with two Hope College Alumnus: Will Morlock and Connor Kogge. We watched a Championship League match between Leeds United and Nottingham Forest. The Championship division is the 2nd division in England, underneath the Barclays Premier League. It is said to be the “real football experience” as these clubs are typically smaller in stature, but have a stronger, more centralized fan base than Premier League Clubs.

 

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Leeds Stadium just after the 2nd half kickoff

This stadium’s atmosphere differed entirely from Camp Nou (Barcelona FC’s stadium). First off, it is much smaller, holding just under 40,000 fans. Second, the style of football being played is completely different. Leeds played a very direct style with many long balls forward and over the top of Nottingham’s defence. The  Leeds United fans actually booed their own players whenever the ball was passed backwards. Finally, there were no tourists (besides myself), only locals at this game. Leeds United fans bleed Leeds football until they die, and have a deeper passion for their team than Barcelona’s fans do for Barca FC.

Experiencing these two games, totally different in culture and location, represent the possibilities available to Hope students through studying abroad. One day you’re in Barcelona, and the next you are halfway across Europe on a flight costing you less than $40. I could not fathom doing this at any other time in my life, especially while in school. To be able to experience theses tastes of different cultures firsthand is a memorable experience and one I recommend to any and all.

Week Two Complete! Park Güell, Tarragona, and so much more

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Hello everyone! Week number two is complete here in Barcelona and I could not be more excited to share my recent adventures with you. Just yesterday, I visited Park Güell, a masterpiece of the famous Catalonian architect, Antoni Gaudí. His work primarily was created around the early 1900’s, when Barcelona was flourishing after expanding rapidly through the Industrial Revolution. Interestingly enough, Park Güell is declared a Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Please view the slide show below to see more of Park Güell!

The weekend prior, I went on a mandatory school field trip to the coastal city of Tarragona (I know, a mandatory, free, weekend trip… sounds awful right? (; ). Tarragona is about an hour south of Barcelona and is one of four Spanish Provinces in Catalonia. During the existence of the Roman Empire, Tarragona was the main hub for Romans in all of the Iberian Peninsula.

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View of the Mediterranean Sea from Tarragona.
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Amphitheatre of Tarragona

I found this trip not only educational, but also an excellent way to build relationships with other students. I was able to meet Garrett and Charlie, two soccer players from Wofford College in South Carolina, whom to no surprise, I have a lot in common with (For those that do not know, I play soccer at Hope). I also met a lot of students from the Midwest, since nearly one-third of my entire IES program are business students from the University of Indiana.

At the end of my previous blog, I set a few goals for myself. One of these goals, was to find a soccer team to play on. After jumping through a couple of hoops, I have managed to achieve this goal. I am now officially a member of FC Lokomotiv Chill. The team has Amateur status and plays in the BIFL – Barcelona International Football League. Players in the league vary in age and ability; some being former professionals and others, well, not so much. All and all it is an excellent way to further my craft as a soccer player and participate in a game that I love, soccer.

We had our first friendly this last weekend. Although we did not get the result, it was great to finally get out and play; especially at a wonderful stadium of a 4th Division side, CF Montañesa. I am looking forward to the challenges and adventures that will arise in the next week. That is all for now, hasta luego! IMG_1007

Barcelona: First Thoughts

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What’s up guys! I have finally made it to my study abroad destination, Barcelona, Spain. The time change has taken some getting used to, as well as the lifestyle of Catalonians. For instance, mornings last until 2 pm, dinner is at 9 pm, and the daily dose of tapas is a bit overwhelming. Tapas, for those that do not know, are Spanish appetizers that are a blend of culture and deliciousness. They are eaten just about every day. Below, you can observe shellfish tapas – one of the most flavorful dishes I have had since arriving in Spain.

Shellfish Tapas
Shellfish Tapas

I have also taken the pleasure of visiting Camp Nou, the compounds of Barcelona FC. Here, they have a soccer stadium, ice rink, restaurants, bars, and a three story megastore where you can buy anything and everything related to BFC. Barcelona FC has not only a professional soccer team, but also basketball and handball teams as well. Pretty cool stuff!

Camp Nou, is the sports compound for Catalonian giants, Barcelona FC. It is also only a 20 minute train ride from my homestay!
Camp Nou, is the sports compound for Catalonian giants, Barcelona FC. It is also only a 20 minute train ride from my homestay!

I have also been blessed with the most lovable homestay grandmother, Margarita. She is kind, caring, and full of smiles and joy. She is in her 13th year of hosting American study abroad students. The largest struggle we have is communicating, as she does not speak any English and I speak very little Spanish.   Below, is a picture of her.IMG_0888

There is so much to see and do in Barcelona. Looking ahead, I have a few goals set for myself for the next couple weeks.

  1. Find a soccer team (equipo de fútbol) to play on
  2. Go to a Barcelona FC game!
  3. Complete all my homework (This one is for you, Mom)

It’s Almost Adventure Time!

“Are you excited?” “Are you packed?” “Are you nervous?” “Are you ready?” The four questions I don’t seem to mind responding to. The answers? “Do you want this week’s or last?”  Truth is, my emotions about leaving for Alicante, Spain are all over the place. I am thrilled, nervous, confused, worried (a little), happy. All of those things. And they change daily. From the travel time, to the arrival, to my life transitioning to Spanish, to moving in with a family I’ve never met, to starting classes in a foreign land, to being completely independent in a place far, far away. You could say there is a lot going on in my mind. This week- I’m mostly excited, if I am honest. Why wouldn’t I be? I’m about to embark on the greatest adventure I’ve ever taken- that’s for sure. I’m excited for a new culture, family, cuisine, school, group of friends, set of opportunities, way of life. And I’m sure I will discover more new things to enjoy.   Since I am a Holland resident, I have frequented Hope’s campus this past week to spend a few more hours with my friends as they trickle into town. It’s been both a blessing and a hardship. A blessing to enjoy their presence and see them one or two times more before I leave, and a hardship as I watch them unpack their dorm rooms and cottages knowing I won’t be able to share in the joy of the Fall semester and greeting new faces on campus. All the while, I feel extremely joyous to be stepping out of my comfortable Holland, MI bubble. I’d be lying if I denied that I was feeling lots of different things. But I’d also be lying if I said I wanted to stay. I guess I should say- I’m sad to leave, but I’m so ready to go. And I may or may not be packed. 🙂