Thursday, January 2, 2014

It's about what I have done ...

Recently I have been reading a lot of ranty blogs shared by my friends on social media about what tasks you should have accomplished by a certain age instead of marking your path with certain milestones. Well I'm here to tell you that in the spirit of the New Year we should not focus on what we should have done in the past, or even what we should do in the coming year. This is about what I have done in the past year, how it has helped me grow as a person, and how it has shaped my view of my world.

1. I lived abroad. This simple fact has been the catalyst for my personal growth and the changes in how I view the world in 2013. It is impossible to begin to hash out all of the details; but, broadly speaking, living abroad gave me the opportunity to expand my awareness of myself and my surroundings and to accept that sometimes things won't go your way right away, but if it is meant to happen it will.

2. I climbed a mountain. No really, I did! It was tough. I grew up hiking, but scrambling up icy boulders, watching hoar frost form on the stitching in my jacket, and ascending into the clouds was as foreign a concept as any which I had encountered over the year. A few times we contemplated going back down the way we came, but we kept going just to say that we climbed a mountain. It taught me that sometimes challenging yourself just to say that you accomplished something you otherwise wouldn't normally, is enough. Also that good shoes, fleece lined pants, and a North Face rain jacket are essential to climbing mountains in Wales.

3. I sat in a Catholic church on the night before Easter, through part of a mass presided over by a Cardinal. I am not Catholic, but my boyfriend is, and I wanted to do something special for him while we were traveling together since I felt like I was calling most of the shots. We were in Florence, Italy and went to the Duomo the night before Easter. The doors were wide open, so we joined some people walking in. It was pitch dark outside and the sanctuary was dimly lit except for the alter which we gravitated towards like bugs drawn to a lantern light. We watched a few minutes of a private ceremony before continuing our exploration of the immense worship space. I had been to Florence before, so I was able to explain some of the building from an architecture and art history perspective, yet I was unable to make sense of the meaning behind the religious aspects which were potentially more meaningful to those who practice Catholicism. Imitating those around us, we took candles from baskets and programs from tables for the service that would begin shortly. We sat through three out of seven or so readings, each preceded and concluded by choral responses, before Jon suggested that we leave. This experience taught me that even though I might not understand everything about what might be going on around me, does not mean that I am incapable of finding my own meaning or something special about the experience; nor that I am incapable of recognizing the significance of circumstances despite the distance between it and my own experience and reasoning.

4. I stood in the presence of history, and I felt empathy for those whose paths have been much more difficult than my own. Ten days before coming home I received my final visitor and we did some traveling together before journeying back to the U.S. of A. Our first stop was Amsterdam. Someone had said to me, "you should go to Amsterdam and ride bikes!" So I suggested it to Christina and she readily agreed, so long as we could make the Anne Frank house one of our stops in the city. Somehow the knowledge reached us that people stand in line for the Anne Frank house quite literally for several hours, so getting their early would be in our best interest. We jumped in line right as the doors opened, and we still waited for an hour to get in to the annex. Now, The Diary of Anne Frank, or The Secret Annex, had been required reading for Christina when she was in school and I knew many of my friends had to read it as well; somehow I had escaped that educational obligation. Being unfamiliar with the details of Miss Frank's life in the Annex, and needing to refresh her memory, Christina and I downloaded her diary on to our Kindles to read in line. It worked out perfectly that by the time I had read Anne's description of her new living arrangements we were entering the warehouse and the secret annex. At the time I had not been so attached to the idea of a teenage girl hiding with her family in an invisible house at the bak of her father's former business and writing in a diary which she someday hoped would be published. However, as I continue to pick my way through her story I am struck by the significance of a few details: Anne was not executed by the Nazi's, she got sick and died shortly after her sister never knowing that her father, whom she loved dearly, would be the only surviving family member, and desperately hoping that she would be a famous journalist and author some day. I find myself wondering if those who have gone before us are truly watching over us, and what would Anne say about her diary being published over and over again and read by school children all over the world. Simultaneously, I do not think that her diary would have had the same significance that it does now as it would have if I read it when I was 16 and had not had the privilege of standing in the rooms where she hid for years. It is important to remember those who have gone before us and to respect the efforts and sacrifices they made so that we may better understand ourselves and those around us. What I understand from Anne Frank is that having hope is often the only thing saving us from insanity, and that my own circumstances and those of my friends could be far worse than what they are.

5. I lied to my boyfriend and my best friend ... and I pulled of the greatest surprises I will probably ever be able to pull off! To briefly explain myself, for 6 months I told my boyfriend and my best friend from college that I was coming home the first week of June after living abroad for nine months. Well their expressions were truly priceless when I showed up a week earlier than they were expecting me. I have to admit that I did not learn much about myself other than the fact that I am an incredibly lucky lady to have such people in my life who will keep my secrets which are held in the best interest of others. So thank you to those who helped me pull that off - you know who you are!

6. I stood up in a wedding. When I was 24 I went to three weddings and stood up in one. When I was 25 I went to eight weddings and stood up in one. Now, at 26, I have thus far attended three weddings, been the bride's P.A. in one and stood up in one. In two and a half years I have attended a little over a bakers' dozen worth of weddings, and have more to come. It has been my honor and my pleasure to attend each wedding I have, and to stand up for each beautiful couple who has asked me. Our lives are a series of choices that we make, and I have discovered that those relationships which are the most meaningful to me are those between friends who can say, "I am happy for you, and I support you." In what ever decision is made: whether it is marriage at the age of 23 or picking up and moving to another country at the age of 26, unconditional support and empathy are the elements which superglue the best friendships together.

7. I held a baby. I suppose I am officially at that middle point of my mid-twenties when a great number of my friends are getting married and starting families. There are few things in this world more precious than feeling an infants tiny fingers wrap around mine or to have their soft heads fall asleep on my chest and I think to myself, "I was once just like you." And I wonder what great things that tiny person will do when they get older, and I marvel at the strength my friends have to raise this person responsibly and with love.

8. I did some research, and wrote a thesis. It takes a great deal of willpower to resist the call of a Wisconsin summer time, and I don't think I would have been able to if I hadn't done three things for myself: I get goals and incentives, planned out my days in half hour increments, and wrote everything on a calendar which I taped to my wall. Doing this encouraged me to work ahead and reward myself with more free time. In the research process I also learned that it was okay to change my mind if I found something that inspired me; by setting myself up the way that I did I allowed myself the freedom to be inspired which resulted in a better product than if I had left myself constrained under the pressure of procrastination.

9. I had Lasik eye surgery. This was the big incentive for finishing my thesis on time because my surgery date was fixed. But all that aside, I took a HUGE risk messing with my eyes. Again, I did my research, asked a lot of questions, weighed the risks with the benefits and made the decision myself. Five months later and I couldn't be happier with the results. Sometimes fear is the only thing that holds a person back from pursuing something that could improve their quality of life, and trust is the only thing that will actually improve their circumstances. So I trusted my research, I trusted my doctors, and I trusted myself and I vastly improved my quality of life.

10. I graduated a Masters program. I set one goal for myself last New Years - and that was to graduate from my Masters program. Mission accomplished! Instead of setting many small goals it was easier for me to set one big goal of which I was the only person who could affect the outcome.

11. I got a job. I took my time sitting around and being lazy with my time after finishing my research and having my eye surgery, but finally I decided I needed to do something a little more productive with my time. So I applied for a job at a brand new coffee shop in town and when they called me for an interview I was potentially painfully blunt. I told them that I needed something to do with my spare time and that I was looking for part-time, temporary work until late spring/ early summer when I planned on moving. Not necessarily what you would call a job winning point of view, however the owners were kind enough to take a chance on me since I had the immediate availability and the "can-do" attitude that they were looking for. So now I am a barista at a cafe, satiating the needs of caffeine and sugar addicts. Is it what I want to be doing for the rest of my life? No. But it is a fun, transferable skill, and it is satisfying "the mean time".

Many of these may not be the milestones that many would consider worth marking a life's trajectory with, but they are my milestones and not yours, hers, his, or theirs. I am the only person who can decide what is significant enough to mark my path with, and for this year these are only a few of of the many moments which have altered my life. I don't know what the coming year will bring for me, but I hope that it will bring me love, help me grow more in myself, and continue to constructively challenge me. I also hope that you also have your own unique milestones to mark your life with; even if someone else did something similar like climbed a mountain, surprised friends, got an academic education, traveled, got married, had a baby ... they sure didn't do it the way you did.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Romans and Potter and Percy, Oh My!!

Well, I actually decided to do some wandering this weekend! Saturday was spent in the country side, and Sunday was spent in a castle.

Saturday 29 September 2012

Destination: Roman Vindolanda Museum
Megan and I got off the train at Bardon Mill, and I was reminded of the scene from The Chronicles of Narnia where the children get off the train in the middle of nowhere and just stand on the platform as the train chugs away. Except there was no horse and cart to pick us up, and as our train was not steam powered there was no chugging. We wandered into the sleepy town of Bardon Mill rather unsure of which direction to take, so I pulled out my ipad and pinned our location on my google map. I think investing in 4G was definitely a wise decision, and fortunately England is well equipped with cellular towers and satellites. We wanted to find an information center with a map, but when I say Bardon Mill was a sleepy town I am not exaggerating. It was about 1:00 in the afternoon and there was no one in sight. Even the pub looked closed! Since there was no location map to be found we just picked a direction and started walking. Relying on instinct isn't always the worst thing in the world; fortunately it was the right direction. We toodled through a gap in the hedge, ran across a busy motorway and found a sign pointing up hill: "Vindolanda 2" 
   ...   except we aren't sure if that's 2 miles, or 2 kilometers. Further down the road we saw more signs that said 2 1/2 miles, so we weren't sure if we were getting further away, or closer, but they were the only signs we saw! On a side note, google maps informed me that the route we took was 3.2 miles. So someone is confused here.

The Roman Vindolanda Museum is a working archaeological site where students can go partake in excavations every summer. The artifacts are displayed in a small museum at the bottom of a valley. At the top of the hill surrounded by farm fields are the foundations of a Roman village and military fort. Rome was well on it's way to conquering all of England and to ensure the loyalty of the English tribes they took the sons of families at a certain age and enlisted them in the military. Situated close to Hadrian's Wall it would have served as an outpost for troops to easily deploy to kick the Picts back over the wall into Scotland. When their service term was up they were released from military duty and allowed to return home to their families. This type of contracting, as well as the fort/ village operation is well depicted in the 2004 film King Arthur with Clive Owen. Those soldiers who were trained down in Londinium were versed in the new Christian doctrines, however it was very apparent that Christianity took a little bit longer to get up to the wall. There are several temples dedicated to Roman Gods that have been discovered at Vindolanda, however we did not see any evidence of a church.

After we meandered through the museum we left out the back door and took the short cut back to the train station. This cut a good mile out of our journey and was all down hill. It was a pretty windy
walk, but nothing could beat the view we had the whole way down! There were a lot of sheep and cattle, and we met a nice farmer with a sweet little laberdoodle on our way up the hill. We felt like we were trying to stay just one step ahead of the rain the whole time.

We made it back to the train station with 10 minutes to spare, which was lucky because we had completely forgotten to check the return times! We figured our all around walking distance was about 7 miles. Not to shabby for a Saturday, and I'm glad I got my sneakers!

Sunday 30 September 2012

Destination: Alnwick Castle (pronounced ANN-ick)
Megan and I were joined by Cata from Columbia, and Tony from Russia on this journey. We hoped on the bus at 9:45 in the morning and alighted in the town of Alnwick somewhere around 10:30. Scattered showers were predicted for the day, which meant we were under constant threat by a blanket of dark grey clouds. Good thing I had my new rain coat and umbrella with me! Alnwick seemed to just be waking up, after all it was a Sunday and pubs were open generally from 12-2pm for Sunday roasts (lunch). The castle walls are snuggled right up next to a main road in town. I almost missed it because the stone work in the rest of the town was slightly similar.
When we walked out into the first courtyard we immediately recognized it as the courtyard in which Harry, Hermoine and Ron all have their first flying lesson in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I couldn't stop grinning, and looking around for the statue with the sword that Neville got caught on on when he fell off his broom ... that part was computer generated apparently. Sad. The managers at Alnwick Castle have certainly capitalized on the fact that Harry Potter was there, and they have made it a major kid friendly attraction by giving "flying lessons" every hour or so! We watched part of one such lesson being given, and I couldn't stop smiling at the little boy with Harry Potter glasses painted around his eyes, a lightening bolt painted on his forehead, and a little robe tied around his neck, taking his broom stick and wand very seriously.
Unfortunately you can't see him above because the munchkin in the read jacket is standing in the way, and I didn't want to be creepy and keep taking pictures of the same kids! And in this picture the flying instructors are demonstrating the correct way to "MOUNT" your broomstick. When you do so, you must yell "MOUNT!" in as loud and ridiculous a voice as you can possibly manage. I will point out that you can see an adorable little girl with blonde braids wearing her little wizards robe on the far right of the picture. She was very concerned about holding on to her broomstick as well.

This one was to confuse the enemies with how small it is and
then take them out at the shins.

Alnwick is a working, residential castle. One of the very few left, and the Percy family is working very, very hard to keep it that way. The current Mr. Percy, who holds the title "Duke of Northumbria," is working very hard to keep the castle and its artifacts well preserved and open to the public. The family feels very privileged to have a historic monument as their home, so for six months out of the year they let people stomp through their foyer, chapel, library, china cabinets, study, drawing room and formal dinning room. The dinning room boasts a beautiful working fireplace made from Carara Marble brought all the way up from Rome. It was a gift to one of their ancestors. My favorite room was the library. Not only does it have that beautiful old book smell, but we had a nice talk with the curator in the room who had a jolly time demonstrating her knowledge about the family and the room. We learned that the eldest daughter, who recently was married, is a mechanical engineer who could take apart and put back together a motorbike at the age of 12. She also has a patent on a sighting device for a gun, because she didn't like the one that came on hers. The eldest son, who holds the title of Earl, is championing research in alternative energy and the green movement. There are two other children, one of whom is still in school and the other just graduated and isn't sure what to do with himself yet. But isn't that the story of most of our lives? Their mother, the Duchess of Northumbria, has made restoring the castle gardens her pet project and has started research on building a garden for the blind. She feels very strongly about how gardens are currently very biased towards able bodied people, and has started working towards making the Alnwick Castle gardens more disabled friendly by building new wheelchair paths that go all the way up to the top of the hill and down again. I found a really good article on the duchess and her garden from the NY Times, so if you want to learn more about it you can read it for yourself. The link is below my last photo.

This one is not poisonous. I smelled it, and it was beautiful.

I also found her garden of poisonous plants to be quite fascinating. She is championing drug awareness, possibly a result of her brother in law (the former Duke of Northumberland) being found dead in his hotel room from an overdose of amphetamines. You can take a guided tour through the garden, and after doing that I don't think I will ever pick so much as a raspberry and eat it again (you never know what's growing around it)! It's all grocery store and farmers markets for me from now on!
Unfortunately my camera died halfway through the gardens, but I did get a couple nice shots.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

An Introduction to "Geordie"

Nope. "Geordie" is not a person. "Geordie" (Jordy) is a dialect derived from the English language native to Northumbria and Newcastle, and quite often not understandable to the untrained ear. I met a lovely girl from Texas at my first International Student session, and we were having dinner in a pub the other day when a couple of 'gents asked us where we were from because we "dein' nah sand loocl" (did not sound local). We started chatting with them, and I found it rather embarrassing that I had to ask them to repeat themselves a few times because their Northumbrian accent was so darn strong. Follow this fun little link to learn a little bit of "Geordie" yourself!

Who knows. Maybe by Christmas I'll be able to actually speak some. When I chose to come to England for school, I did it mostly because they are supposed to speak English! I dein' nah thank ah'd be needing to learn a foreign language!

 I'm learning lots of cute little terms and phrases as well. A "jacket potato" is a baked potato, and they put ANYTHING on them from tuna to beans and cheese. My favorite is beans and cheese. I still think I prefer my tuna on bread or with crackers. A "toastie" is a grilled cheese sandwich. I like my toasties with tom-mah-toes. And best of all, just like in the movies, a "wee bairn" is a young child!

I'm settling into my accommodations well. I have my own room with a double sized bed, plenty of floor space and a bathroom about the size of one you would find on a large airplane. I can stand flat footed on the floor, raise my hands above my head and touch the ceiling, and it's a little less than a double arms length wide. It's a "Tosinwer" (toilet, sink, shower). My room is on the lower ground level, which means if my windows opened at the bottom I could probably come and go without using doors. Incidentally the only prop open at the top. The walls have what look like three or four generations of brick foundation to them. At one place it looks like there was either a fireplace or a midget door, and in another there may have been a staircase. I also have a chest of drawers, 2 bedside tables, and a wardrobe. I have yet to see if it leads to Narnia.

Classes don't officially start until October 1st (not something I was made aware of until 2 days ago). In the mean time I am being thoroughly oriented to the campus and my program of study. While sometimes I feel it's a terribly putzy pace, the lectures they have been holding are very useful in terms of what to expect from the program as far as how my dissertation will be written and evaluated.

Well loves, I'm off to a North American Student social! Hopefully I'll have something a little more exciting to report in a week or so.


Monday, September 17, 2012

"Let's Start at the Very Beginning"

... It's a very good place to start.
When I was in my Junior year at Ripon College I took a semester to study abroad in London and Florence. It wasn't an uncommon thing to do at Ripon and since then I have thought about it and talked about it often. About 10 months ago, a year and a half after graduating with my BA in Communication and Theatre, I decided I was ready to go back to school.

Where the heck would I start?

I started googling. I knew what I wanted to do with my degree, I just didn't know what degree would get me there. If I want to be working in an Admissions office for a Liberal Arts College, what should I get my Masters in? Where should I get it from? Do I REALLY want to spend 3-4 years in Graduate School (that answer was a pretty emphatic NO). The first thing that popped up in Google was a website called Study Across the Pond ...
"hmmm ... studying across the pond?"
I've done that before. Maybe I could do it again? So, I got in touch with a recruiter and she helped me find several schools with programs that would work for what I eventually want to do. The application process went really smoothly and I got accepted to all three schools that I applied to! (What?!?!?!?!)

Next things on my list were picking a program, funding, visas, and housing. I chose Newcastle University up near Scotland. It's no where near London. I am going to be getting my MA in Cross-Cultural Communication and Education. Classes, or Modules, that I am looking at taking are 'The Social Psychology of Communication,' 'Sociolinguistics,' 'Emotional Intelligence and Leadership,' The Management of Change in Educational Organizations,' and 'Counseling, Communication and Culture.' But we will have to see how they will all fit in to the semesters. I will be assigned a tutor who will be able to advise me on my module selections, and who will help me survive them.

International Student Orientation starts tomorrow! I will get on a train at Kings Cross Station in the morning with my luggage and away I'll go! Wait ... am I going to Hogwarts?! Who knows. It's pretty far up there. Everyone keeps saying, "Newcastle! It's really cold up there." I'm not sure what they mean by "really cold," because I'm from Wisconsin. It gets REALLY cold there too.

Stay tuned for more coming soon on my next big adventure! Cheers!