Studying Abroad: Weeks 1-9

Hello! I’ve been studying abroad for 9 weeks now, and I am currently writing from Birmingham. I haven’t had much time to blog but I have a little more time now. I’ll go through the highlights and include some journal entries. (Disclaimer: these are journal entries, not edited essays!).

My journey started in London.

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I travel with a group of 16 students and two professors. Week one, I was pretty terrified of how group dynamics would work, whether or not I would find people I really click with, if I would spend the semester alone. Once I got there it was pretty quick pace, so I didn’t have too much time to dwell on being scared. We went to quite a few plays that first week, the first being Othello at the Shakespearean Globe. But my absolute favorite was a play called “The Jungle.” It was based on refugees in France. It was chillingly bold, and it touched me deeply. I highly recommend the screenplay book of it. Some of my favorite spots from the first week were the Sherlock Holmes Pub, The British Museum, The British Library, and Bankside. My favorite experience might’ve been the service we attended at St. Martin in the Fields. It was the first touch of church I’d had in two weeks and it was humbling to take communion with 30 or so strangers in another country. Here’s a journal entry from that week:

Tube Fiasco 

Alexa, Carolyn, Katy and I were on our way back from the British Museum and it was evidently rush hour. Two of us squeezed on the tube and two of us didn’t. Suddenly Alexa and I, being left behind, were bombarded with people. I became anxious and overwhelmed as I already hate the tube, let alone the crowded tube. We eventually got on but immediately hopped off at the next stop since we were both feeling pretty claustrophobic with strangers touching every inch of us. I could feel their breath! Once we got off, even more people arrived. So we made our way to fresh air and decided to find a bus stop. After standing around with trying to make use of google maps, we realized there was no bus stop that would take us where we needed to go. So we walked back down into the madness. Finally got on one and made it safely back. I DO NOT enjoy any aspect of the underground. 

Our next stop was Rostrevor, Ireland.

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Rostrevor was an absolute dream. This was mine and five other girls’ adorable cottage in the middle of hills and greenery. Upon arrival we all oooh’d and ahhh’d and took a walk along one of the pathways. We picked flowers, came across some local horses, it was amazing. We had our own kitchen, TV, bathrooms, it was the dream. I wrote of my first day:

My breath is taken away from the beauty of this place. I immediately fell in love. The green mountains surrounding us, the fresh air, the rain, the wild animals, the horses. My heart is infinitely happy. Today marks one of those special days you just never forget. The kind of day you remember when times are tough.

I will narrow down to my favorite memories – oh there are so many.

Rain; Family dinners; Ceili’s; trip to Dublin; yoga; hikes & bikes; late night talks.

Rain: Rain in Ireland was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It was breathtaking the way the droplets hung off of branches, the way rainbows took over the entire sky in vibrant color, the way the mist/raindrops fell on my face. I called them “little touches of love from God.” It rained on our first day in Rostrevor, and my friend Phoebe and I ran outside and stood on the picnic tables, “arms wide and heart abandoned, in awe” of God’s love for us and His beautiful creation. It seemed as if the rain fell harder the more we sang. It was a heavenly seen; one I’ll never forget.

Family dinners: Our house had quite a few family dinners. We went grocery shopping weekly, and were able to cook all our own meals. We had some amazing cooks in the house, it was a delight for me. I did the dishes. We’d most often put on jazz, gather around the table and share a delicious meal and laugh and talk. It’s where I really bonded with my household. I’ll never forget the sight of a bustling kitchen and the sound of jazz.

Ceili’s: Ceili was a music night we’d have mostly once a week. We would all gather and Irish musicians played for us and we all sat around and sang along. It took place in the “Ceili Cottage.” We sang classic Irish folk music, and I’ll never forget the beautiful sound of 20 or so voices singing together, hands clapping, feet stomping.

Dubln: Dublin was my favorite trip while we were in Ireland. I fell in love with the long hall of books in Trinity College Dublin, and the atmosphere of the city was my favorite. Irish folk music played at every corner while Republic flags waved in the air in every alleyway. The book stores we visited on that trip were exceptional. Besides the place itself, the adventures we had there are pretty much un-rivaled. It was quite the exciting adventure. I’d wander around Dublin at 9pm lost as all sec over and over again if I could.

Entry from one of the bookstores:

We found a gem book shop called Rare Books and boy was that title accurate. I’ll try to capture the place – when we walked in it was quite small and cramped. But the beauty  was not defined by the space. The minute I stepped in I knew it was special. It was filled with books held by people throughout the ages. Opening each book was like opening up someone’s life. They were filled with little memories. Touches of adventure. Filled with emotion and passions. The way I feel about old books is similar to how Alice feels in Wonderland. It feels like a portal into another world. A beautiful, tragic, strange, lovely one. We went down to the basement of the bookstore and pondered at the beauties neatly packed into shelves. I bought an old book of Irish poetry, but oh how I wanted to take them all home! I stumbled across a first edition, second imprint of Prisoner of Azkaban. I nearly cried. I felt like a child on Christmas morning…

One museum stood out to me in Dublin: the Chester Beatty Library…

We wandered into a few displays, and eventually found our way to the Christian display. In Phoebe’s words, I totally “fangirled over the Torah.” Right when I walked in I saw what was the oldest surviving coptic copy of Pauline epistles. My heart sank and then fluttered with excitement. The copies that were right in front of me are considered the “fathers of all books.” They are the first design for all books that have ever been made. They are the most valued objects in the entire collection. As the curator put it, “if there was a fire these would be the first things we’d grab.” Wow! 

Yoga: We were able to do yoga on the tennis court which overlooks fields of green that go on and on. Once it got too cold we did it in thic-berry house (which was my cottage). It was incredibly refreshing and the views were absolutely ridiculous.

Hikes and Bikes: One of the most rewarding things I’ve ever experienced was the hike and bikes we went on. The first one was absolutely exhausting, I was so out of shape, I thought this is the worst thing ever; but once I got to the top that first time, my breath was taken away. I’d never experienced something quite like it. That was the Cloughmore hike, and many followed. My favorite biking experience was Inishmore. That was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. Once we got to the top we overlooked the ocean and saw mountains in the distance. We walked right up to the edge and got on our hands and knees and peeked over. My friend Phoebe and I raised our hands and closed our eyes in worship because we had never seen something more beautiful. I’ll never forget that day. God’s beauty overtook me.

Entry from Inishmore:

These cliffs were amazing. Astonishing! My how my heart churned. The excitement and yet comfort within me was unmatched. It was easily the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I felt immediately connected to Christ. Eternity dwelled in my heart. The breeze blew me into a childlike state as I looked over the edge at the big blue sea, at the sun shining in the distance. A thrill went through my body like a chill. I wondered how I’d ever doubted our wondrous Creator, and words that I’d read over and over again in the Word, I understood. They made a deeper impact on me than ever before. My soul longed for Him. I could almost taste the sweetness of His glory and I found myself longing for more – desperately. A favorite moment of mine was lifting my hands in reverence and worshipping on this hills.

Late night talks: I got really close to all of the girls in my house, and we’d always stay up late talking. The subjects varied, but the company was always welcomed. Those memories are some of my favorites.

Rostrevor was, is, a place I’ll never forget. It will always be a home in my heart. This is a place I gained deep and valuable friendships. A place where my prayer was answered – I couldn’t, can’t shake the inability to deny the clear picture of existence God painted for me day after day. A place where I fell into adoration for those around me. A place where I wrote the first papers of the semester. A place of comfort. Jazz nights; rom-coms/wine/cheese/chocolate. Rebelliously lit candles. Where I went on hikes and reached hilltops, falling more and more deeply in love with God. Hot cocoa and dance parties late into the night. 50-downed cans of sour cream and onion Pringles. Tears. Laughter. Fears. Comfort. Love. I’ll never forget those couches that looked out at the most beautiful, exquisite place. The couches where we sat for hours on end, cozied up under blankets with cups of tea. I’ll never forget the funny little memories this-berry cottage holds. I’ll never forget the late nights of Irish music; family. This place where I read the Word of God by babbling brooks, the sunlight just reaching beyond the hills, the smell of fresh mountain air. At peace. In love. Adoration. Frustration. Bewilderment. Awe. Wonder. Longing. “Will you go lassie go? And we’ll all go together to pluck wild mountain thyme all around the blooming heather. Will you go lassie go? 

Our next destination was Grasmere, England’s Lake District. 

 

Grasmere was a quaint little town in England’s Lake District. It was beautiful. Rainy, dark, but beautiful.

Favorite memories from Grasmere: SHEEP; cafe’s; Peter Rabbit; book stores; Ambleside; World Series

SHEEP: Oh my word, the sheep in the Lake District are the cutest thing I have ever seen. They were my little buddies. Every day I passed them, and I miss them! Baaaaaah.

Cafe’s: Ok, if you’re ever in the Lake District, you must go in every cafe you possibly can. I spent majority of my time in cafe’s while there.

Cafe’s are a release for me. Because life moves, people drink their coffee, eat their scones, but they don’t care who you are or what you’re doing – glorious. Thank you, cafe’s, for being a safe place. 

Here are a few of my favorites from the Lake District:

Heidi’s, Sheila’s Cottage, Poppi Red, Potting Shed, Copper Pot, Baldry’s, The Apple Pie

Peter Rabbit: Ok mostly Beatrix Potter, but Peter Rabbit is the best. Beatrix’s Hill Top was absolutely adorable. I loved every second of that tour and walked away with a full bag of souvenirs. I also had the opportunity to visit her Tea Room. I love all things Beatrix Potter and definitely wrote an essay about her.

Book Stores: So we’ve already established that buying books is a weakness of mine, but I went a little crazy in the Lakes with all the spare time I had. Besides my obsession with books, I found at least three very cheaply priced stores with the best books! My two favorite stores from the Lakes were Fred Holdsworth Books where I bought at least two books, and Sam Reads – at least three. Mind you, I only have one suitcase and one sturdy back pack – someone help me.

Ambleside: I spent most of my time in Ambleside. I never got tired of the book store and cafe’s there. I went there at least three times a week maybe more. There was one week where I went out every day. The town was just the cutest. Everyone knows everyone, and it became very familiar to me.

World Series: One of the coolest things, as a major baseball fan, was to watch the World Series while studying abroad. I stayed up with a friend from 1 am to 5 am nearly every night, and I got to witness baseball history in the third game with 18 innings. It was just the coolest.

Overall, the Lakes brought many challenges, it certainly wasn’t easy. I cried in my tiny nook of a room many times, and definitely had to work through a lot. Missing my family and home hit me hard, the lack of space hit me hard, and social dynamics between 16 people became very complicated. Still, I found that I ran to God more than ever in the span of those three weeks. I also exercised the independency I’d been needing desperately.

Grasmere: Well it has been a hard few weeks. Friendships have changed, been tested; social/group dynamics have changed. I’ve cried. Sobbed. Broken down. Shut down. I’ve felt lonely yet simultaneously desirous of being alone. Yet, I feel even closer to God. I’ve prayed more deeply than I ever have. I’ve learned to rest in silence and enjoy the presence of God more. I’ve regained a sense of self. Relationships have grown. God picked me up, surrounded me with love. I’ve learned how to effectively communicate with friends and family at home. Through every up and down, twist and turn, from lying at the bottom of the stair well curled up in a ball throwing myself a pity party (I’m not exaggerating) to laughing, smiling, appreciating, loving, through it all I have consistently felt this: Child of weakness watch and pray. Find in me thine all in all. He is good. 

So, I’m now on week 10, and I have 40 days left in England. I can say with certainty that everything this experience has brought me so far has grown me in ways I never expected. God has been SO good. My relationship with Him has grown deeper, and I suddenly am more sure of His goodness than ever before. He has been with me from the day I got on the plane to now, writing to you from Birmingham, and I have full confidence He will be with me through to the end and beyond. I’ll never forget what England and Ireland have given me this far, and I’m excited to see how my journey ends, and I much look forward to returning home. I miss everyone and I can’t wait to see you all!

Much love,

Emily

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