Welcome to WOU’s Photoblog for Students Abroad!


I’m pleased to introduce you to WOU’s photoblog for students who are studying or interning abroad.  I  invite you to follow our students on their journeys from pre-departure preparation through the return home.

Photoblogging is a wonderful way for students to share what they are learning, observing, and discovering in their new environments.  Enjoy the journey with them!

WOU’s photoblog is modeled on the Australian “Bringing the Learning Home” project developed by Jan Gothard, Greg Downey, Tonia Gray, and Linda Butcher, and with their permission, utilizes some of the materials from that project.  http://ozstudentsabroad.com/

Ecuador Update: Week 2

Even though only a week has passed, it feels like at least 3. Every day is so jam-packed that it’s hard to remember everything that has happened. Unfortunately, the reason I finally have the time to blog about my experiences is because at the moment I’m in bed with a stomach bug. It could have been the food, but I’ve had it since Sunday morning.

Thursday we went around La Ronda where I took pictures of the amazing architecture. We toured churches, got food, and went Salsa dancing. Shakira would probably be disappointed in my moves, but we had a lot of fun. There’s something liberating about trying new things in a new country…especially when you know the people here will probably never see you again so it really doesn’t matter if you look stupid :)

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Also, this is not an elephant ear people. This is a giant empanada with cheese on the inside and sugar on the outside. And yes, I had hot chocolate too.


This weekend we traveled north of Quito to Otavalo, Cochasqui, Ibarra, and Cotocachi. (I’m not promising that those are spelled right).

First we stopped in Cochasqui, where we got to chill with some alpaca’s and see pre-incan ruins. We also stood at the highest point in the middle of the world, so you could say we were slightly out of breath.

Our guide spoke only in Spanish (obviously) so I didn’t pick up everything he was saying. But the trip was well worth while and I enjoyed witnessing remnants of a history so long ago.



In Otavalo they have one of largest hand-crafts markets in South America. You can find everything from Alpaca fur scarves, blankets, and sweaters (alpacas are not harmed by the way), to jewelry, baked goods, pottery, instruments, paintings, etc.

It was here that I found out that I have a gift for haggling down prices in Spanish. I think this is due to me not understanding the majority of what they’re telling me, so I feel no pressure or guilt from requesting outrageously low prices. I also know I’ll be here a while, so I don’t feel pressured to buy anything that very moment because I know the opportunity will present itself again, and I have no problem walking away — which REALLY gets them to drop the price. :)


I ended up getting a handmade alpaca blanket for $11, a handmade alpaca sweater for $15, and a hand painted oil painting (just barely able to fit in my suitcase) for $25. I still have my eye on some painted bowls and a small vase that seems to be pretty common, but I’m holding out for a deal.

Otavalo also has an animal trade/market in the mornings, which I was able to go see. It wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, especially considering I JUST gave up vegetarianism (and plan on going back to that after I leave here), but it was a good experience to have.


It was not uncommon to see animals tightly packed in small spaces, often sitting on top of each other. Most people were walking around with bags of live chickens (multiple in just one bag that is tied off without holes). This was somewhat uncomfortable because you could hear them squak and see the bag move. We also saw live pigs dragged by their feet.

I had to remind myself that the factory “farms” in the US are just as bad, if not worse, as far as treatment. And from what I can tell, most of these animals grew up in a healthy/nicer environment then the one they were presently being sold in. I don’t consider this a negative experience, just a learning opportunity. It would be hard to treat an animal as your pet if it was your livelihood or your dinner.

Otavalo and the surrounding areas were a good reminder of the poverty that many people face in this country. It was a bit of a reality check after visiting the beautiful streets of La Ronda with cathedrals filled from head to toe with real gold.

While in Otavalo, we visited a rescued bird sanctuary. There were amazing species to look at, and tons of owls, which I loved. There was also a fantastic view of the mountains that you’re continually surrounded by if you live pretty much anywhere in Ecuador. The tall mountains and beautiful cloud cover are a constant occurrence.


Otavalo, Ecuador


Oh, and as we left there were some random cows in the road.



We also got to hike to a waterfall called the Cascada de Peguche. Here you could see lots of couples showing their affection (PDA is a much more common occurence here. These people just seem to be very passionate in general. I think its kinda cute). You could also crawl through tunnels made in the rocks (terrifying by the way) to little spots behind the waterfall that you wouldn’t be able to walk to.



Cascada de Peguche


A few miles away we got to visit a stone solar calendar and a small market with food and crafts. So here is a picture of me, and not of the calendar or the food or crafts. haha woops.


Yesterday, Monday the 5th, was the first day that we started work. I went to the preschool, Rebecca went to a women’s service clinic, and Lauren went to a dental office. (I’ll be going to the hospitals in 4 weeks)

While I was at the preschool there was some miscommunication with the teacher. As in, as soon as I got there she left me alone with the classroom of kids for the entire time. She didn’t even come back when class was over, and I had to send them off with people that I hope to goodness are their caregivers. Luckily, they had wifi so I could use a translator on my ipod if I needed to say something I was unsure of. The nice thing is, kids speak slower and have pretty simple sentences, so I understood them better than I do adults here. But if there was ever a time when I didn’t understand them, smiling and nodding did the trick. I think for the most part they were just telling me stories about siblings and pets :)

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Being on the playground with these kids is terrifying. First, they all wear the same uniform and are the same height and skin tone. And I didn’t know all their names. So trying to keep track of everyone was exhausting. Especially when the playground is 3 levels from the school being built on a hill.


Second, the equipment on this playground I’m sure has long since been banned in the US. Old mary-go-rounds, rusty teeter-totters, wooden structures with nails sticking out. And third, the way they played almost gave me a heart attack. 3 students would lay on the slide while one up climbed over them (stepping on their backs) and another tried to slide down them (running into the one climbing up) and from what I can tell, the goal was to knock the other person OFF THE SLIDE. There’s no photo of this because I was too busy tearing my hair out.

When this kind of play was happening, I would look around to other students and teachers, who didn’t seem at all phased, or were doing the exact same thing. I made the decision to not step in, because I didn’t know if this was just a cultural difference. The US schools do tend to be extra paranoid, so maybe I’ve just been engrained like that. And maybe this kind of play is what creates the type of driving the adults seem to partake in here 😉

In the end, no one got hurt (not even a scratch–maybe we need to relax a little in the US), I shuffled them off to the bus or parents, and went on my way to Spanish class. After talking to my director about the teacher leaving, she called the lady and we got the situation straightened out. Today was MUCH better, but only for the hour that I was there…considering I slightly ruined the fun day by throwing up and having to go home…not sure how she explained that one.

Other things I’ve noticed:

-Money is not nearly as private of a matter here than it is in the US. It seems to be very casual to ask people what they make. I’m constantly asked by teachers or even cab drivers how much I’m paying to learn here. I just try and avoid the questions because I don’t want to put myself in a vulnerable position, seen as a wealthy American girl traveling alone in a foreign country. I’m sure they are just genuinely curious. However, the minimum wage here is like $1.50 an hour so I’m sure anything I told them would sound extravagant.

-Everyone is so relaxed. Like relaxed to the point that it gives me anxiety. Whenever I ask a question people laugh and go “tranquila” which basically means chill out. So I must come across very stressed. Haha but everyone is also very nice, warm, and welcoming. And if they don’t know an answer to your questions, they will try to find another way to help. (When I got sick out of town, the lady who managed the hostal we were staying in brought me a homemade electrolyte drink with lemon and sugar and salt and some other stuff. She even checked in on me. so sweet.

-All the advertisements are of white people. Most with light hair. Which I find to be just SO odd when literally no native here is remotely light skinned. It makes me sad that as humans we’re fixated on unreachable beauty standards. And it makes me even more sad that in a nation that is SO BEAUTIFUL, with gorgeous people, they’re constantly told through media that they need to idealize western culture/people and are pressured to be like them. Even the bathroom passes for the girls and boys in school had blonde-haired, blue-eyed children. I can’t imagine how it feels to be out-casted, even when you’re the majority!

That’s it for awhile, I’m going to try and sleep off this darn stomach bug. Chao from Ecuador!



Dublin, Ireland – Week 1: Why Can’t I Sleep Like a Normal Human?

From my first journal entry in Ireland:

“I could have talked about going to Ireland, dreamed about it, even planned it and backed out. But I didn’t just think about it or talk about it. I’m there (here), right now, and it’s scary and unbelievable and exhilarating and I’m doing it, and that’s the best part.”
My first week in Ireland was filled with tiny inconveniences, minor confusions, physical orientation, physical exhaustion, and luckily, no doubt or regrets about what I’m doing here. Nathaniel and I arrived late Saturday afternoon, September 12 and Sunday was for rehabilitation and relaxation, though we went with our roommate Zach to a shopping centre (of which there are many) to buy a few things like towels, for the apartment. We learned a few things on our short trip. We started to learn how to use the city bus transit with lots of help from the Dublin Bus app and realised just how necessary coin purses may be here since European currency involves a lot of coins. There are 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent coins, as well as 1 and 2 euro coins. So far, 2, 5, 10 and 20 cents all seem fairly useless, much like our U.S. penny. Malls seem very much the same as in the U.S. and nothing there struck me as overtly unusual or unique.
We did find an American 50’s style diner that we ate at (not very exotic for our first foreign meal I realise). There we heard only American music, and we came to find over the next week that American music is pretty much what you hear no matter where you go, mall, restaurant, pub, taxi, etc. Also, this diner, Eddie Rockets, is also not a single unique restaurant as I first suspected. They are everywhere, I’ve seen probably twenty in Dublin since.
We also got our first lesson in tipping in Ireland, which we hadn’t thought about yet, though I knew tipping practices varied in Europe. We left on our table what we’d consider at home to be a reasonable tip, but were surprised when the staff seemed so shocked by it and wondered whether we meant to leave so much money behind. We later looked up tip etiquette in Ireland online to see what was said about restaurant and taxi tipping. Neither is common, but rounding up taxi fare a euro or two will not usually be met with any argument.
Tipping instigated my first real cultural reflection about the U.S. and how it’s sad and strange that we have so many jobs where people rely on tips because their pay is not sufficient for their work. It’s just one of the many factors that result from “poverty-wages” in the U.S.
On Monday we toured Dublin with our program coordinator, John, and the other ten or so people studying at DCU from the U.S. through CIS abroad. He pointed out many of the good areas for shopping and dining, which bus stops we’ll use often, which areas are “sketchy” or “dodgy” at night and where we should “taxi in, taxi out,” (of which there are many, being a large city), and of course, all the neat places we should check out, the more touristy sites. This included The Guinness Storehouse (which we already, or rather Nathaniel already planned for us to visit), Trinity college, St. Stephens Green, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and more.
After our tour, which got me excited for exploring the city, we had our introduction at Dublin City University. Throughout the week they held some events to, much like New Student Week at WOU, get us acquainted with the campus, each other, and student life at DCU. Orientation was not rigorous and I didn’t end up meeting anyone new during the week, but I did start to get used to the campus, which is small and even more condensed than Westerns, but very modern, and it is only a five minute walk from our apartments, very handy.
During the week Nathaniel and I explored a bit, found some shopping centres, went to our first pub The Back Page and had our first pints of Guinness, watched The Visit at a movie theater close by, saw our first play “Vernon God Little” at the Mill theatre–the Irish/Texan accents were quite amusing– toured the Guinness storehouse and had our pints in the Gravity bar overlooking Dublin and it was beautiful.
Unfortunately, we didn’t do or see as much as we might have liked that first week, partly because we slept for most of it. It was difficult to get our bodies used to the time difference and caught up on the sleep we’d lost. Every day we’d plan to get up by a decent hour, maybe by 8 or 9am, but found it almost physically impossible to wake up earlier than 11. This is an aspect of traveling I’d considered before, but one that I never thought could be such a interference. Besides that, our power went off every night in our apartment which meant important navigational devices would not get charged and we’d have no hot water for showers, I waited to do laundry and then the laundry room was out of commission for the better part of a week, and then we learned that buses don’t always come when they are supposed to. Luckily those were the biggest issues we faced here, but at the same time we were dealing with some difficult news from home we got the day after we arrived, which I won’t discuss, but definitely made the start of our adventure more psychologically challenging.
Some things I learned from this first week were: making friends will be difficult and I’ll have to learn how to put myself out there more, I have to use the crosswalk signals because I don’t trust myself to look in the right direction for cars when crossing, there is no root beer in this country so I’ll have to do without for three months, Dublin is a city I think I could really like, despite not really liking cities ever, and classes and schoolwork are going to be hard to do because I only want to explore.
Ireland is new and different, but I’m fairly comfortable already and I’m so excited for my time here.


Streets of Dublin


The Spire on O’Connell street


First pint at The Back Page


The set of “Vernon God Little” at the Mill theatre


On DCU campus


At the Guinness storehouse, Nathaniel’s favorite place


In the Gravity bar overlooking Dublin from the Guinness storehouse



Week 3 London 2k15


I learned the origin of that term this past week. It is quite interesting- you should look it up!

Anyway, this weekend was really incredible. Yesterday we went to Bath and Stonehenge as a part of the social programme. Both places were AMAZING. I highly recommend Stonehenge if you ever come to the United Kingdom. It is so simply and yet so incredibly beautiful. Bath was very interesting as well, but in a different way. There is a place at Bath where you can drink the water- it is supposed to have magical properties. Personally, I thought it tasted awful, but that may also be due to the fact that it was hot.

One interesting thing I saw in Bath that I have not seen elsewhere is that most of the street performers were teenagers and children. There was one boy who looked about 12 years old who was doing tricks with his soccer ball. It made me wonder if the parents knew their kids were out doing this or if it was something they did on their own just to have some extra money. I was amazed at how much he had earned after just a few minutes. Emma (the social programme leader) said that usually the performers are closer to our age and that the performance often has to do with music. So I guess this boy and Bath was a rarity, but I still found it really cool.

It also shows how safe places are over here. There have only been a few times late at night, walking home alone, that I have even been remotely worried about safety. From what I have been told, most people around here feel the same way. Although there are obviously certain places which are best to avoid at night, crime is fairly low here. Which is even more surprising because I very rarely ever see cops driving or walking around.

I learn and experience something new every day and it is so exciting (well except today- it is 4pm and I am still in my pajamas).


P.S. I am still having a pretty hard time making friends. If anyone could give me some suggestions as to what they did that helped them, that would be greatly appreciated.


Week 2 London 2k15

Hello everyone,

I hope you are all having a wonderful time in your respective countries. This week has been tough for me. Things have calmed down and the homesickness has hit. It is not so much that I miss Monmouth itself, but I really miss the people. I have made friends here, but it is just so different because they know you are leaving. Another thing that makes it difficult is that everyone’s schedules are radically different. I only have class twice a week which means I have quite a bit of free time on my hands. I am a total extrovert who loves to have people around me so it is hard for me to sit in my room alone most days. My flat-mates are not very interested in hanging out with me.

I finally stepped out of my comfort zone this week and went to explore the city by myself. It was surprisingly nice, despite being alone. I went to Tate Modern and Tate Britain which are two (FREE) museums here in London. They were absolutely stunning. The only time I really wished I had another human to interact with was on the walk between the two museums. When I was looking at the artwork though I was totally immersed in my own world and did not need someone there. I plan to do this more often, rather than staying in my room, as I think it was actually quite good for me to be alone and be ok with it.

The classes here are really different from at home. You only have lecture once a week per class and it usually lasts about two hours. One of my modules (classes) has one lecturer for the first have and then another for the second. Neither of which are actually the person who runs the class. I still haven’t figured out why this is so I will come back to it when I have an answer. So then on top of lecture you have these things called tutorials which honestly I do not understand one bit. During the one I went to this week the man spent the entire hour talking at us about plagiarism. As a third year college student, it was quite hard to sit through. Overall, the classes are MUCH more independent than at home.

As I already said, you only get one two-hour lecture once a week. The rest of the week you are expected to complete readings and sort of “teach” yourself. The entire grade for the course is based on two essays and a final exam (different for me because I am only here for a term). I don’t know about you, but that would seriously stress me out. Especially since on the second day here they tell you that a 70% is probably the best mark you will ever receive. Obviously the students from here are used to the way it works and do not know any different, but it is definitely hard to go from one uni to a completely different one. Oh and did I mention my classes have 300+ students in them. If you already didn’t believe me when I said it was much different from WOU.

Another interesting thing about being a study abroad student- everyone here considers you a first year regardless of what you are back home. Sometimes it can be useful because people are much more understanding when you have silly questions. Other times though it can be frustrating because no one believes that you know what you are doing even though you have been at university for 1-3 years already. It feels like you have to start all over and completely reestablish yourself.

I apologize for my post being so much about academics, but it has been really difficult for me to adjust. I love school at home, but I am not so sure if I like it here yet. I guess we will have to see. I have only had each of my classes twice, so there is time for improvement. I promise to write a more exciting post next time!

Until then, cheers.



Note: It is not letting me add more photos. It keeps saying error. Can anyone help?



One month in Florence

I have officially spent a month in Florence and have about two and a half months left to go! Though I am still getting over a cold I caught two weeks ago, I am still enjoying myself. The highlight of this past weekend was being able to spend a day in Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest. I have always enjoyed the county fairs back home, so experiencing this was similar to a very, very large fair with tons of people. There were rides and more food stands than I could count! It did get cold, but it was a great opportunity to attend an iconic event and explore Munich a little bit. I also got to go on a ferris wheel for the first time, it is pretty neat that it was in Germany. I also joined something at my school called Italian family club, and was matched with a family! It is a really neat way to spend time with locals in Florence and learn more about the culture firsthand. I have already had dinner with them and plan to spend more time with them throughout the term! I am hoping this will also be a good opportunity to practice my Italian language skills. Hopefully I will have more to say about this next week as well. It is hard to believe that I first arrived here a month ago. While it feels like I have been here forever, somehow it also feels like I just got here. I have experienced so much and yet have so much more exploring left to do!

Ciao for now!


The Costa Rican Wanderer..

The days have become weeks and the weeks are slowly turning into months on this adventure of a lifetime. Costa Rica continues to amaze me with all its beautiful beaches, where I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing the most beautiful sunsets that I have ever seen. The past month has been filled with completing an advanced conversation Spanish course, visiting the national soccer stadium for a friendly game (Costa Rica vs Uruguay) exploring different parts of the country (where we were able to kayak and see bioluminescent lights in the ocean) , horse back riding, waterfalls, hikes, visiting Panama, and experiencing Costa Ricas independence day like a true local.

As the first month is coming to a close, I start my second month at my internship with Fundacion Rahab and I can already tell that it will be an experience that I will remember for many years to come. Being placed at the child care center these past couple of days has given me an enormous amount of gratitude for people that are able to be so patient with children and watch over them as their own.

The food is good, the people are friendly, and the adventures continue.

Until next time! :)


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20th Birthday in Ecuador

My second blog post in three days! Each day is packed with so many new things that it feels like a week has gone by.

Last night, me and my two roommates, Lauren and Rebecca, went to an area of Quito called La Ronda for dinner. While there, we stopped at the Plaza de San Francisco. Words can’t describe how beautiful it was. The picture is blurry and doesn’t do it justice, but it’s too cool not to show.


While there, we realized everyone was interested in getting as much money out of us “gringas” as possible. Taxi rides that should have been $2 were given to us no cheaper than $6. Even if we explained we knew that was too expensive, we could never bargain cheaper than $5. If we argued, our ride would drive off. While eating dinner, we listened to amazing live music (with a $6 cover charge I may add. I highly doubt the locals were paying that, but it was worth it.). During dinner I had my first epenada…AMAZING. Something less amazing that I also tried was cow liver. I know now that it would have been extremely difficult to be a vegetarian in this country, because all their meals are surrounded by meat and grains. However, it’s definitely difficult to have meat at least twice a day. I’ve learned to not ask what meat I’m eating, or what part of the animal it comes from, and everything works out just fine. I applaud them for using every bit of the animal and not letting any go to waste.

Today was my first day of Spanish classes. 7 hours! I forgot my sunglasses this morning and on the fifteen minute walk to class my eyes got sunburnt! So all day my eyes have been burning like crazy. I should have realized it could happen that fast, Ecuador is 2 miles closer to the sun than Oregon.

On our break we stopped at a market for lunch. Here, we got to try traditional “almuerzos.” For $2.25 you got a glass of freshly made juice (today’s was cantaloupe), a large bowl of soup, then a plate filled with rice, your choice of meat, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, and some sort of homemade pickle. The soup I like the most so far has a cheese broth with homemade noodles, potatoes, seasonal vegetables, and cilantro. They also bring out homemade hot sauce you can add to the soup-so good! I decided I wasn’t ready to try the cow’s feet soup just yet.

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When we walked into the tightly filled market and it’s food court, one of the waitresses kicked out some locals from a table so our big group could fit. I’m guessing they assumed we would be spending a lot of money, but either way this didn’t make us the most popular group sitting down for lunch. I felt really bad once I realized what had happened.

While we were eating, a little boy no more than 7 years old came up and begged for food. Before we could react, our Spanish teacher shooed him away. Although we had plenty of food to offer, we have been told not to give away food or money. According to our mentors, the minute you give out food or money, you are never left alone by all those in need. Still, I’m almost wondering if it’s worth it. I think the most difficult thing this far in the trip was denying a child food. It feels criminal. I wish I had ran into him again so I could sneak him some. However, someone DID benefit from our left overs. As we were finishing, an older homeless man snuck up beside us and grabbed what was left of our chicken. He was incredibly gentle about it and had a kind smile on his face. I felt relieved that our food wasn’t going to go to waste when so many people go hungry in this country.

The market had the most amazing produce. We plan on going back tomorrow because eating out twice a day, everyday, is already getting old. Around the market there were little shops that were hidden in what looked like small garages. Here you could find handmade goods, cheaper alcohol (although it’s still more expensive than in the US), bouquets of flowers, and even freshly made slabs of chocolate! (Also chicken’s feet if you’re into that)

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That’s the chocolate people! $2 for a piece twice the size of your head! and off to the right is homemade peanut butter.

My Spanish teacher insisted on ending class 20 minutes early to teach us some salsa moves for my birthday. He told us to go home and practice and to plan on going to a salsa dance club this Wednesday to celebrate. I can’t wait!

As far as celebrating tonight, we’re having our first homemade dinner with our house mother. Then we’re probably going out for dessert epenadas (I’ll post a picture) and my first legal drink! Although, it will likely be just one because wine is like $5-$7 a glass. (which will probably be more than enough in this altitude). In comparison, that $7 drink could get me 28 trolle rides, 3 lunches, or a hand painted piece of pottery. However, beer can be bought for about $0.85 a bottle here, but I haven’t heard great things about those. At some point I’ll have to try it though.

Well that’s all for now :) Thank you everyone for the wonderful birthday wishes. I’m very lucky to have such loving and supporting friends, family, mentors, and coworkers in my life :) <3


First Week in London

It is always the first couple weeks in a new place that are the hardest: the lack of skill, knowledge, or in-person support I’ve come to rely on at home take their toll on my day to day life. Whereas at home I am very organized and efficient, generally knowing what I am doing on a day-to-day basis, here my routine is not so stable. It is Tuesday, do I still do yoga even though I’m no longer at my gym and have a to-do list a mile long? At home the answer was simple: yes. Here, not so much. Every day I have to choose how I will spend my time and things are complicated by the fact that everything takes a little longer because I am not familiar with the system here. So without my routine or close friends to comfort me, it is easier to feel discouraged and frustrated. So rarely, during the first couple weeks, do my grand adventures look anything like I imagined they would before I came.

Thankfully, I have a six-week study abroad experience in México to draw from, so I am able to more easily talk myself down from the ledge, understanding that what I’m going through is just a part of the process and things will come together in time.

So, this week I’ve spent my time getting acclimated to London, becoming familiar with the transportation system and getting to know some of my fellow students. Thankfully, Roehampton has an extensive social program, so getting to know other students has been relatively easy, even with my daughter tagging along with us. This past week, the study abroad office organized a “Photo Frenzy Scavenger Hunt,” which was an awesome way to get to know London and some of the other students. Going out with my camera was fun, but I was especially grateful to get to know another student from France, who seems to have some similar interests to me.

I’m looking forward to the start of term and some externally enforced structure to my day. My class modules have been selected and my classes look interesting. I am especially looking forward to my American Literature class: Reading the American South Through the Lens of Race, Gender, and Memory. It should be pretty great to get perspective on American literature and culture through the English frame of reference.


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Arrival in London

After so much traveling this past year, I’ve gained a little confidence in navigating unfamiliar territories; and, therefore, wasn’t too concerned about my arrival in London. However, it was interesting having to navigate the London Underground with my nine-year-old daughter, Sydney, and three suitcases in stow. Thankfully, many a kind stranger stopped and offered help, getting my luggage on and off the trains as well as up and down stairs. It was a beautiful introduction to what would become my home for the next 3 months.

Sydney and I made our way home, well past midnight, by foot from the underground. It wasn’t until well into our walk that I thought it might not be all to safe to be walking to our new home, dragging our luggage behind us, so late into the night. The reality was, I didn’t know the conditions or safety of our new neighborhood.

Yet, the streets were quiet and clean and I felt safe. We made it home with no problems, ready to sleep and rest after a 24 hour trip from the states. Sydney and I decided that after the busyness of our last couple months, we would take some time to recuperate and do our exploring later. So, instead of going out and about, we made a list of things we would like to see and do and made a plan for our upcoming weekends. We focused our time and attention on getting to know our own neighborhood and learning how to navigate public transportation, rather than exploring all of London.

It turns out, London transportation is quite confusing! There are different rates for buses, the underground, and the national railway. To add to the confusion, the underground has different rates depending on which zone you are traveling in and the time of day you use the card. All of the transportation is paperless, so you have to put money on your “oyster card” before you can take any trips. I tried figuring it out online, but once again had to rely on the kindness of strangers to get me through the task.

Also, figuring out the best way to do things is tough. I’ve had to go to a variety of different stores to try to find the most affordable one. Without any previous shopping experience here, it is hard to know what a reasonable price is. It has really made me aware of how much I rely on a variety of previous experiences to make everyday decisions. Without any background knowledge, even the most mundane activities take on a certain level of challenge. I am looking forward for the day that my activities are more second nature and I will be able to spend my energy doing more of the things I like to do.

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From a plane somewhere over the western United States

Departure & Arrival in Dublin:

I’m writing in my journal on a plane, perhaps the fourth I’ve ever been in, sitting with Nathaniel on my left and the wing out the window to my right. We’re skipping several hours of our day as the sun gets farther and farther behind us and we’re headed toward Philadelphia. I’m only just now having time to reflect and consider this start to my journey. We’ve been going nonstop since 7 this morning packing and saying hurried goodbyes (where I didn’t cry as I suspected I would), driving 2 hours to the airport, and running to our flight gate on last call, nearly missing it because we just had to stop and buy some neck pillows (it wasn’t that close though, we made it just fine).

Now I’m thinking about the next two days, arriving in Philly, my first time on the east coast, spending our 23 hour layover there, and finally flying 6 hours straight to Dublin where the real adventure will begin. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the whole idea of physically being in a new country for three months. I’m not too worried about homesickness (perhaps naively) because I’m not alone. Sometimes that makes this seem like less of a character-building exercise than I might like, and I have to remind myself, that whether or not I’m with my boyfriend, it still takes some kind of guts to move somewhere new across the world and live a different life for awhile. And I don’t think the experience will have any less of a profound effect on me. In fact, I’m betting on the opposite, that it’ll be better, more rewarding and educational and memorable to do it with someone else.

I’m making a list (I really like lists) of what I expect from my time in Ireland, it’ll be something to compare when I’ve returned home. Here are a few, not all, of the thing on my list:

I expect…

-to drink a lot (however I’m not much of a drinker at home, so we’ll see)

-to be slightly disappointed by the amount of things familiar to me (like McDonalds, for example)

-to have something take my breath away

-to get lost

-to hit every stage of culture shock at some point abroad, and perhaps even more when returning home

-to make a few friends (and even more facebook friends)

-to have my name spelled wrong many times (the Irish Shannon, instead of Shannen)

-to have a lot of conversations with strangers

-to ask “what?” a lot, because accents are hard and I don’t want to get stuck doing the awkward thing when someone asks you a question you don’t understand and you just laugh.

-to pick up a tiny bit of an accent

-to learn a lot of Irish lingo and new curses

-to regret how much I packed

-to wish I studied French better the last two years

-to eat something gross

-to eat something (or more likely many somethings) awesome

-to spend a lot of money

-to be inspired to live in Europe

-to see a lot of plays

-to have a really fun halloween

-to take too many pictures

-to be amazed at how old the country, history, architecture is there

-to learn random things about myself and my culture I haven’t thought of yet

-to do something crazy and unexpected

-to stay in touch with home a lot less than I said I would

-to change, in good ways

-most of all, to be surprised.


When I think about Ireland I always have this picture of the beautiful country landscape and of small villages not quite situated in the 21st century, and of old pubs when locals sing songs and ask you lots of questions because Irish are supposedly nosy and extremely friendly people. I know very little about the country and I don’t often think about its more modern developments, in Dublin especially, its largest city and what will be my home for 3 months. Because of this idea, I expect to have a certain experience in Ireland but honestly know how different and probably unidealistic it may actually be. After all, I’m not going to experience the country as a tourist, I am going to experience as a sojourner, and as much as possible, as a local. I know I’ll often be uncomfortable, if for no other reason than I am not comfortable in large cities, I will be shy but try to make friends as best as I can, and as much as possible I will try to get uncomfortable for the experience of it, and try to see the part of Ireland I never even dreamed of before, even if they shatter every idea I had of it before this trip. That is one of the ideas of traveling, right? To make the exotic familiar.



We’ve made it, finally. After our first 5 hour flight and a day exploring Philadelphia, followed by a 6 hour delay, exhausted, we landed in Dublin around 2pm local time. At immigration we wait in line, separated from the line of European union passport holders, and a rude Australian man cuts us. The immigration worker is the first of (I’m sure many) to comment on my name, “Shannen with an ‘e’ huh?”, “Yep.” immigration check goes smoothly and is less scary than I thought, but we struggle with the Irish accent. We find luggage, and get our first euros from an ATM, and they are so colorful. By a payphone, right where he said he’d be, is our program coordinator John here to meet us. Because of our delay we’re the last to arrive, and John who has been up since something like 4 or 5am looks just as tired as we are. We make casual conversation, he makes some jokes and welcomes us to the country and we head toward our small bus. I’m pretty overwhelmed, reminding myself of where I am, really, because so far nothing looks too different. It’s a beautiful day and we all comment on how lucky we are to arrive with the nice weather. At the van, John and our driver have an exchange that reminds me of every Irish exchange I’ve ever heard or read, complete with Irish humor and cursing, and it me excited. We meet an intern from Seattle, Audrey, in the van and she is so nice. We drive to our apartments and I look at everything I can, the traffic moving in opposite directions from home, and the color of the grass, I see a few old buildings, most are new and modern looking, we arrive soon to the apartments. We’re dropped off and told, see you Monday. We go into the office and get our keys and information. Our apartment is 4 bedrooms with a kitchen, and they look just like residence halls at home, and I feel like a freshman again. We catch our other roommates, Zach from Colorado, and Hannah from California. We take a minute to appreciate the start of our journey, because we made it, we are so far from home, and then we fall asleep for 15 hours.


Our first photo in Ireland