Where I’m From and Why I’m Here

Katherine Poore is a Third Year English and French major, who studied in the UVA Exchange: University of Edinburgh program in Fall 2017. She has her own blog where this post was originally posted. Check out the link and post below!

wanderingthroughwilderness.wordpress.com

I write this to you all fresh from an eight (!) day journey with my friend Anna Lee, where we hopped from Marseille to Aix-en-Provence, France to Florence and then on to Rome, Italy,before heading back here to face the end of our semester abroad, brave final exams, and soak up the remainder of our time across the pond.I spent my Thanksgiving going to French class and then hopping on a plane to Prague, Czech Republic, before tuning in via FaceTime to say hello to family at 1 am, when Thanksgiving was already, technically, over for me. Two days later, I took a train to Vienna and spent a whopping 24 hours there, exploring Christmas markets, touring Schonbrunn Palace, and going to a Mozart performance that was so surreal I can’t put it into words. **
Over the course of these trips, I’ve stayed in many a hostel or Airbnb and run into Americans, Italians, Slovakians, South Africans, Australians, Chinese, the French, Brits, and a number of other nationalities. Some of them are doing the same thing as me—taking a weekend, going on a trip while they’re already on the continent and airfare is cheap. Some of them are there for work. Some are there for personal journeys, or school, or they’re just trying to stay over here and travel until their Visa runs out and they have to go home. Everyone’s exact narrative varies, although some are similar enough, but we’ve all got one thing in common: we’re not from here, but we arehere.
And this, if I had to compile a list of personal FAQs from this semester abroad, would be one of the chief questions posed to me: Where are you from? Why are you here? (or, sometimes, why Edinburgh? or Why not France ? or any of that question’s grammatical variants). Of course, there are others: What are you studying, what year are you, how are you finding it here,and soon and so forth. But it’s these two—where from, and why here—that linger with me a little longer than the rest.
I’d say it’s because they don’t have clear-cut answers, but they do (Tuscaloosa, Alabama,and It just worked out better this way). Invariably, there are more complicated answers; I could launch into my backstory (born in North Carolina, a short stint in Alexander City, then Tuscaloosa, and now Charlottesville, Virginia), or I could—and sometimes do—recount the fraught saga of my hopes to study in Lyon, France or London, England, summing it up with the conclusion that God had different ideas than I did, and now here I am, in Edinburgh, Scotland, spending too much money on coffee, hiking up Drummond Street every morning, and somehow ending up at Christmas markets when I should really just be studying.
So it’s hard to pinpoint why I think about these questions so much, when it’d be easy enough to not think about them. I’m here because I’m here. I’m from the States. Which one,you ask? Alabama—yes, the one with Forrest Gump and that one Lynyrd Skynyrd song. Do you know much about football, the American kind?
But perhaps there’s something more to these questions, besides the potential complexity of an answer. These questions trace a journey, from point A (where I’m from) to point B (where I am now). They ask for a story, a narrative of movement from one place to another, that is rarely as straightforward as the words used to ask for it.
But I’m all about journeys, and trying to uncover why they happened, what I’m supposed to learn, and who I was when I started compared to who I am now. And this where-and-why only asks about the journey of before, of how I got here and not what has happened since. The sequel to these questions, the How has this changed you? hasn’t been asked yet, mainly because I’m not finished with my time here and so cannot yet fully employ that simultaneous gift and curse of retrospection to examine what has been good and what has been bad or strange or funny or hard.
That being said, I think it’s interesting at this point, before these next two weeks are up and I’m on a flight back stateside, to think (briefly) about how I got here, and what I wanted, and where I came from.
In the most literal sense, I came from the Providence, Rhode Island T.F. Green Airport,on a ridiculously cheap Norwegian Air flight. Before that, it was the Atlanta airport, and then, of course, my home in Tuscaloosa.
But what I really came from was a long,beautiful summer in the Blue Ridge mountains,where I’d returned to a summer camp I’d called home so many years ago as a lonely, quiet middle-schooler. Before that, it had been an anxiety-riddled semester of existential questions,flourishing friendships that challenged how I look at love, and personal doubt. I came here from a place of trying to prove something, of wanting to see more, of wishing to test my limits and revel in another tiny corner of this world the Lord created for us. I wanted to get away, because that’s when I think best,and that’s when I can see myself, and the people and places I’ve left,more clearly. I wanted a reprieve from the wonderful and loving, but also physically and emotionally taxing, world of UVA, with its over-busy lifestyle and obsessive comparing of hours slept during the night.
I wanted to keep moving, because it’s something I’m good at, and something I like, and mobility—and the chance to see more of the world—has an allure I just can’t ever seem to shake.I wanted to rec-contextualize myself again, to get another angle for the exploration of what and who I am.I wanted to take the tiny, tattered fabric of my life and sew it someplace new on the tapestry of the world, to see how I fit into a new part of the pattern.
I recognize that, ostensibly, this is all emblematically youthful, romantic, naïve, and probably grandiose—that these are big words that are difficult to translate into everyday life—but youthful questions are important questions,if only because they are big and difficult to translate.I’m not trying to paint myself as some deep thinker here, as some tortured artist or restless soul that tosses and turns at night while grappling with the deep, dark question of humanity, or who traverses the world without ever looking back or missing her mom.I wouldn’t call myself any of these things, because they’re tropes, and they’re not real, and I don’t think the questions I’m asking are terribly unique ones.I am one of hundreds of thousands of college women who decided to skip town to spend a semester in Europe, and I’m probably not the only one who came for these reasons.
But I think that’s a more honest answer for where I came from, and also why I’m here: I came from a place of questions and uncertainty and restlessness,and I’m here so I can take a better, different look at these questions, so I can experience someplace new, and so I might burst the bounds of my own localized understanding of the world and see the different parts of the world’s pattern, whether I fit in to them or not.
Next time I post, I’ll be back in the States, feeling the numb sort of whiplash that comes with the quick, unceremonious uprooting of life from one lifestyle, community, and place to another. There will be a lot I’ll want to say, and a lot I won’t know how to express, but if there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that I won’t have answered these questions. I’ll probably keep seeking, and moving, and wondering, and sewing my fabric into new places on the tapestry. Sometimes it will fit, and sometimes it won’t, but at least I’ve seen a new part of the pattern.
**For those of you wondering: yes, I have still managed to make it to class, and school does exist, and I am doing it!
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Learning the Rules of Life in Aix – En – Provence

Margaret Jewett is a 3rd year studying Global Security & Justice and French at AIU College: France this semester. Check out her post about her arrival in Aix-en-Provence below! 

On the first day of my wine and food pairing class (yes, that’s actually a class I am taking here), my professor opened with an unfamiliar sentiment. “In wine and food pairing,” she declared, “there are no rules, except for one: pleasure.” This idea seemed strange to me – a rule governed only by enjoyment didn’t seem like a rule at all. But a week in Aix-en-Provence, a small city in the heart of southern France, has shown me that here, this rule does not only apply to cuisine, and learning to follow it is a lesson in itself.
The Aixois, as the locals are called, are not consumed with the constant need to be busy and productive that characterizes many Americans, myself included. While the streets of Aix are often bustling with activity, the energy of the city is lively, rather than stressed. Pedestrians window-shop along the store-lined streets, dogs run unleashed on the cobblestone roads, and mopeds periodically part the crowds as they navigate the narrow passageways of the medieval city. Locals are constantly eating and drinking outside, no matter the weather. Outdoor cafés are equipped with wide umbrellas and heat lamps so that Aixois can enjoy their pre-dinner apéritifs even in the rain and cold. In Aix, the general consensus seems to be that enjoying the pleasures of daily life is both encouraged and expected.
While I am beginning to learn and appreciate the Aixois way of life, the stress-free mindset has not yet completely taken a hold of me. In America, I would feel lazy sitting for hours over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee, and after only a week here, I am still learning not to make mental to-do lists when I’m enjoying a drink with friends. The enriching effects of this lifestyle are, however, beginning to influence my state of mind. Already, I am starting to walk more slowly, to take in the picturesque world around me. I feel less and less guilty about lingering over my dinner in the evenings, or watching the world go by for hours at a café. It might take me some time to fully embrace this new philosophy, but mastering the rule of pleasure is one lesson I look forward to learning during my semester abroad.

Freiburg Green City

 Holland Cathey is a current 4th year student who studied abroad in Germany for Environmental Studies and Sustainability in the spring of 2017. Check out her experience below!

Okay, I know I’ve said this about a million times, but Freiburg is SO GREEN!  My first impressions were very positive—I knew that the culture here was much more centered about environmental stewardship and protection, but I had no idea exactly how far ahead Freiburg was until we started my class, Freiburg Green City.

Hotel Victoria’s rooftop solar and wind panels

My classes here are formatted in three-week modules, so we really have a chance to focus on one at a time.  For the first part of the day, we have lecture and in the afternoon we usually go out and see the things we talked about in lecture!  A few days ago, we went to Hotel Victoria in the city center of Freiburg, one the most sustainable hotels in the world!

 This hotel has been green since before being “green” was good for business.  The energy used to power the hotel is renewable—from wind and solar mostly.  To heat the water, they burn the byproduct of the local logging industry—further preventing the creation of waste.  There are multiple parking spots under the hotel, all with the capability to charge electric cars.  And, to promote the use of the fantastic public transportation that Freiburg offers, the hotel provides guests with a free unlimited pass to the regional public transport while they are in town in addition to bike and electric car rentals.

Landfill covered in solar panels!

The next day, we visited a landfill that’s been sealed for years now, so that the city can harvest the methane gas that’s produced by the decomposition of the waste.  This gas is burned and used to heat an entire district of Freiburg! I find it absolutely amazing that waste is used so often to create energy here. Oh, and the entire mound is covered with solar panels, because why not??
My favorite part of sustainable Freiburg is a district called Vauban.  The former French military barracks were turned into an ultra-sustainable and Hotel Victoria’s rooftop solar and wind panels autonomous housing community; it’s super unique.  The citizens of Freiburg decided that they wanted to rebuild this area as a relatively dense, urban area that feels like a forest oasis.  There are trees and playgrounds everywhere.  Bikes and playing children dominate the streets because very few people that live here even own cars. Those that do, must park their cars in one of the three parking garages on the periphery of the district, so that more space is left open for living!
The result is a gorgeous, cohesive, and friendly district where citizens have had a significant say in the planning and upkeep of their community. It’s practically impossible not to fall in love with Freiburg after seeing the kind of autonomy the citizens have and the standard of life they enjoy.  Now, I just need to

The streets of Vauban

figure out how to bring this back to the states.  One of the biggest differences is that the community is the driver of environmental change in Freiburg.  The citizens of Vauban are the ones that asked for parking to be limited on the periphery.  In fact, people overwhelmingly support laws that make it more difficult to own and drive cars in the city.  Most of the downtown area is a pedestrian zone, so cars have been replaced by efficient trams, safe bike paths, and good walking paths.  For those rare times where a car is necessary, you can easily participate in car-sharing and use an electric car.

When I come home, I think I’ll have an interesting perspective and critical eye for city planning.  I didn’t even realize how much space cars took up until there were no cars to be found! I’d love to try and implement some of the ideas that I’ve observed here in Freiburg and especially try to get the community involved.  People often have this antiquated idea that “green” energy and lifestyle is more expensive. But if done right, it can save a significant amount of money in the long run!  Our lifestyles are often unnecessarily wasteful, and living here has made me realize just how many things we could change to make a difference.

Another weekend, another trip

Katherine Poore is a Third Year English and French major, studying in the UVA Exchange: University of Edinburgh program in Fall 2017. She has her own blog where this post was originally posted. Check out the link and post below!

wanderingthroughwilderness.wordpress.com

This Monday morning, I woke up in an overwhelmingly purple hostel room, along with four friends of mine, at 5 in the morning. I stirred slowly, turning off my first alarm, knowing the second would come in another five minutes. Sure enough, five minutes later I hauled myself out of bed, wincing as I jumped the last rung of my bunk ladder onto the floor. Three days walking miles in unsupportive shoes, exploring London, is not kind to one’s feet, and I sighed as I slipped the same sneakers back on. I hadn’t brought any other shoes—I had to fit everything into a backpack, after all.

Within 30 minutes, we’d vacated the room with minimal conversation (because pre-coffee conversations are a unique form of torture, and also, mornings are hard, even when they start at a more palatable hour). A short walk to the Tube station came next, then the Tube ride itself, then another walk to Liverpool Station to catch a train to Stansted Airport. In the airport, we took a train to our terminal, boarded a flight, and then split off in Edinburgh. I took the tram to Princes Street and then walked the rest of the way home, while my friends—who lived near one another on the other side of the university—hopped on the 300 bus and went back to their accommodation. By the time all was said and done, it was noon. I had four hours before my only Monday class—a 4 pm lecture—so I unpacked, ate lunch, watched some Netflix, and started in on some readings.

The chief sensation of this day was exhaustion (and also aching feet). Our trip to London wasn’t long, but it was full, and there’s something draining about flying, even if that flight is only an hour long.

Last weekend was not of nearly the same magnitude, nor did it involve quite so many modes of transportation (just a train, some walking, and a bus ride). I spent most of Friday and Saturday in St. Andrew’s, visiting a friend of mine, meeting friends of his, and wandering the beautiful university town (we even walked by the café where William and Kate allegedly met—something the café advertises proudly in their front window). After an evening at home, I took off Sunday morning with a flatmate, Julie, to ride the bus into Alnwick, England, to see Alnwick Castle (fun fact: the broomstick lesson scene of Harry Potter was filmed here, as was part of Downton Abbey). We had a late afternoon tea together and then bee-lined for Barter Books, the second-biggest secondhand bookstore in the U.K. (and honestly, guys, this place was amazing—I could have spent hours there).

I’ve used my free time well, then, taking advantage of each day to see something new of this country. Weekends have rapidly become the busiest parts of my week, and the wallet on my phone case, rather than being stuffed with debit cards and gift cards, is bursting with train tickets, boasting promises of a return journey between their bold orange borders. And while this is incredibly rewarding, I’m grateful that I’ll be spending the next two weekends in my host city, taking time to catch up on work, to explore Edinburgh more, and, most importantly, to take a breath and reflect on the past several weeks.

And that, I suppose, is something I’m trying to learn how to do while I’m here: to reflect, to seek stillness, and to ignore, on occasion, the incessantly ambitious part of my mind that wants to capitalize on every free day to go somewhere. It’s easy to get carried away in planning trips, and this makes perfect sense (I’ll never be this close and it will never be this cheap again, my mind whispers), but it also makes perfect sense to be present where I am, to embrace the time I have here, and to invest in this city instead of using it as a jumping-off point for other, shorter, more romantically spontaneous excursions. No, I’m not going to discontinue these excursions entirely, because my mind is right: I probably won’t be this close and it probably won’t be this cheap again (or, perhaps it might, but I can’t count on that now). But there’s a balance to be found here. There’s value in being stationary, but there’s also value in embracing the opportunities this geographical position offers, in seizing the day, as my all-time favorite Robin Williams character, Mr. Keating, might say (and also Horace, I guess, but that’s beside the point). It’s just hard to find where the compromise lies, to decide what will be more fulfilling, and to sort out what exactly I want from this semester.

do know, however, that I’ve been craving some time for reflection—a good two hours to sit and journal, and a clear schedule conducive to wandering, and an evening where I’m free to open a new book or to try dinner somewhere new or to watch a movie with flatmates. Because movement is wonderful, and, perhaps, more immediately associated with ideas of adventure and experience, but there’s something to be said for contentment in staying, in spending days doing much and yet nothing at all, in being aimless but satisfied.

I still have a fierce desire to visit, essentially, the entirety of the European continent, but it’s easy to forget that Edinburgh isn’t just a home base—it’s an exciting, beautiful, adventure-filled city in its own right, with far more to offer than a nearby train station and an easy tram to the airport. And so, over the next two weeks, I’m hoping I’ll see more of this city, that I’ll meander more, that I’ll embrace the schedule-lessness I’ll have, and that I’ll build a better understanding of where, exactly, I am, and what it is that makes this city so worth staying for (and, also, I have some papers due soon).

 

Architecture in Venice

Emma Hendrix is a 3rd year student majoring in Urban & Environmental Planning in the School of Architecture. She is spending the fall semester on UVA’s Architecture program in Venice, Italy.

Grand Canal. Situated between the Middle East, North Africa, and Northern Europe, Venice was primarily established as a center for commerce and trade. Before the road and train track were created for easier access to the Italian peninsula, boats were the only mode to transport goods and people. Still today, boats come in and out of the city to transport goods, as shown here.

San Giorgio: Showing the (high water) – flooding on Venetian islands. Venetians watch the acqua alta forecast in order to be ready to walk through high levels of water. Some tourists will find the acqua alta exciting being something they usually don’t experience, but in reality the flooding is not good for the city. Speed limits for boats around the lagoon are one way the city tries to control the flooding, which in part results from the constant motion of water hitting Venice.

Bressanone, Italy: Students met with Sandy Attia (an architecture graduate of UVA) to visit her architecture firms’ projects. The town is situated in the valley of the incredible Dolomites, a section of the Alpine Mountain Range.

Grand Canal. Another vaporetto stop in Venice located on the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal (Canal Grande) is the canal that stretches through the main conglomeration of islands, which creates the left and right side of the city. To determine left and right, one stands facing away from the source of the water.

The vaporettos lined up Fondamente Nove (a street on the northern coast of the island).

À Table!

Lillian Harris is a Third Year, majoring in Art History, who is attending the Fall 2017 UVA in Lyon program. 

Since arriving in Lyon three weeks ago, I’ve come to associate this phrase – which means “dinner’s served” – with all things that are good:

  1. The comfort of a home-cooked meal after a long day à la fac (slang for “at university”)
  2. Hours of banter with my host family in French… and the occasional miming (due to language barrier!)
  3. And *most importantly* lots of cheese

I knew that food was important to the French. I read online that Lyon is considered the capital gastronomique de l’Europe. And my host family even mentioned in an email one time this summer that their meals usually last at least two hours. So I should have been prepared for this pomp and circumstance of the French dîner.

But I don’t think I realized all of this – the sanctity of mealtime, the relevance of the kitchen table, and the nuances of the French dining experience – until I got here and was christened on my first night at approximately 9pm with the resounding call of « à table ! »

That first meal was a blur of floofy soufflé and and lots of butter and some stinky cheese that I couldn’t catch the name of.  I was nervous, having just met my host family, and wanted to make a good first impression; but I threw polite nibbles out the window and ate so much not only because it was 9pm (at home I usually eat around 6:30), but also because the food was good. Dinner lasted until I couldn’t keep my jetlagged eyes open any longer, and then I went to bed feeling stuffed and bien acceuillie (welcomed).

The transition from American everyday life to the French mode de vie has been interesting and tough and funny and overwhelming (more details later), but luckily I was able to cling to some common ground – a taste for la gastronomie – as soon as I got here. So I’m going to continue eating my freshly baked baguettes and pain au chocolat and any other bread/cheese/chocolate combinations I can find until I get the full lay of the land.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A reflection on the grocery store

Katherine Poore is a Third Year English and French major, attending UVA Exchange: University of Edinburgh this semester.

Check out her blog, where this post can also be located!

https://wanderingthroughwilderness.wordpress.com/posts/

Week one (plus a few days!) in my new city has finally come to a close. It was a blurry time-warp, populated by an enormous number of new faces (and accents), relentless Facebook-friending, and everyone’s favorite collection of small talk questions (that is: What’s your name?  What year are you?  Where are you from?  What are you studying?).  I’ve relived the first-year experience, attending Welcome Week events, waiting in line for a student ID, and struggling to decipher a new online interface for my student account (it’s beginning to seem to me that universities make these intentionally user-unfriendly, although I cannot for the life of me decide why).

It’s been quite a challenge for me to figure out what to write about now, after this first week abroad. I have, unsurprisingly, developed a laundry list of ideas, thoughts, and observations I’d like to share, ranging from the strangeness of my role as a third-year-first-year hybrid to the surprisingly visceral response I had to learning that Scots, apparently, don’t refrigerate their eggs (guys, I could write a whole blog on this).  Of course, one’s first week in a new country usually entails an inundation of newness and, as a veteran overthinker, this makes picking one topic incredibly difficult.

So, where to begin?

I weighed my options, half-wrote and then abandoned a number of topics, and finally settled on the aspect of this experience that has, so far, presented the greatest form of culture shock I’ve experienced: grocery stores.

Many of us could probably agree that the U.K. and the states are not, in the simplest terms, that different; we speak the same language, we’re both shaped by primarily western cultural influences, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what seems to be a thriving coffee shop presence around Edinburgh (this gives me, perhaps, an alarming degree of comfort; nothing feels more like home than coffee).

But still—the differences here are slight, if you get beyond the obvious disparities, and it’s these differences that lead to feelings of displacement, that remind me I am elsewhere.  I am not from here.  I am not home.

Part of this, I suppose, is my being mentally prepared for the big differences.  I knew tipping was not common practice, and that my accent would stick out more, and that the weather would be unpredictable and mostly cold.  But I didn’t consider the minute differences, like the different clothes sizing system, or the extra charge for a plastic bag to carry your purchases at any given store.  And the grocery store, I suppose, is where these minute differences come together in greater numbers, presenting themselves in a way I can’t ignore.

My favorite brands are absent.  There’s no Chobani yogurt, or Jif peanut butter, and the Quaker oatmeal flavors are different.  They sell milk in different sizes than we do.  The nutrition labels don’t look the same.  It’s fun, yes, to explore these new foods, to try something different, but this is also the place where I feel the least at home.  The avocados are in the refrigerated section, and the fruit containers are different, too.  Instead of plastic boxes, with those snap-shut tops, they’re covered with a plastic film.  Even though it’s September, there’s no canned pumpkin anywhere.

The fact that these are the things that remind me over and over again that I’m a foreigner here speaks, perhaps, to how finely tuned my senses are to what feels like home.  I can handle the weather just fine, or the currency shift, because I knew these were coming, and I’d considered them beforehand.  But the absence of pre-minced garlic? That was jarring.

I could probably go on about how deeply food culture has an impact on national identity and how grocery stores themselves tend to be significant community establishments, but, to me, this experience has pointed toward a more personal realization.  Home—for me, at least—is a far more detailed and specific concept than I’d thought.  It has nuances, and parts of it seem incredibly shallow (the fraught search for baby carrots, for example, should not make me feel as out of place as it does). The micro aspects of daily life, I’ve realized, color my perceptions of place and belonging just as much as the macro ones.

The point of this whole drama, I suppose, is to say this: this place has a lot of resonances with what I’m used to at home.  To say I feel like a fish totally out of water would be misleading—I’m getting along fairly comfortably, although I encounter new cultural gray areas each day, and it’s easy enough to conduct everyday life here relatively smoothly.  But, because I’m in a place where my mind doesn’t have to be occupied by the big differences of lifestyle and culture, I’ve had more room to examine what—beyond the people—makes this place different, and unique, and unlike the country in which I grew up.  I’ve started thinking about what makes home feel like home, and all the parameters of home we consider.  There’s home as a sense of familiarity, or as a university, or as a structure.  There are perceptions of home built solely on the foundation of friends and family, or there’s home as a nation, a state, or a town.  We have homes that aren’t homes at all, that are places we rarely live—like, say, summer camp—to which we feel deep connections.  Some homes bring out different parts of us and aid in our own self-discovery.  Some homes, in both the very abstract and highly concrete uses of the term, challenge us more than others.  There are countless ways to think of home, and there are countless ways we discover it wherever we are.

To me, it would seem grocery stores are a significant part of my perceptions of home.  American accents signal home.  Coffee, as I’ve said, feels like home.

So, in writing all this, I simply mean to be saying: this place will, as most places in which we invest ourselves do, become a sort of home.  But what kind of home, I wonder, will it be, and what will make it different, and how will God use this home to help me grow in ways my other homes can’t?  What parts of this city and this experience will become home, and what will stay foreign, or uncomfortable, or disconcerting?  I, of course, can’t provide answers to any of these questions yet (although I certainly have hopes for what those answers might eventually be), but I’m glad I’m thinking about it now, before I’m pulled into the whirlwind of academics and weekend travel that I sense heading my way.

It is a gift to be here, in a new city and country, with new friends and new foods and new opportunities.  It’s overwhelming at times, and exhausting, too, and questions of what I’m here to discover and who my friends will be often take away from the sense of peace I want so badly to have.  But these are good questions, and productive questions, and Edinburgh, I suppose, is not such a bad place to be asking them.