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Igloos and Ice Shots in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden »

Chilling in the Arctic Circle

Traveling to the north of Sweden was a breathtaking adventure from seeing the Northern Lights to dog sledding and a night filled with frozen shot glasses. Nothing prepared me for the beautiful frozen tundra with colorful lights dancing across the snow. If I had been told a year earlier that I’d be visiting an indigenous group of Swedish natives and drinking reindeer stew from a wooden bowl I would’ve told them they’re crazy. That was what my study abroad experience in Sweden was filled with – new and unexpected experiences. When I took this photo it represented everything that it meant to be away from home. I was standing atop the balcony at the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjarvi just a few kilometers south of the Arctic Circle. The day before had been spent dog sledding and snowmobiling and then ended with heating up in the sauna and cooling off in the nocturnal ice lake. Ya, it was pretty damn cold. That was back in February. Having survived the ice lake and my study abroad experience I can say that when I returned to the States in June I felt empowered and changed from only the few months spent out of the country. I felt refocused and refreshed after the experience. I was away from many people I loved and care about which motivated me to seek out new relationships. Among the many lessons I learned is to cherish those who deeply care for you. They’ll miss you when you’re gone.

Don’t look them in the eyes! »

This is a photo taken on a mountain called Arashiyama in Kyoto, Japan.  This mountain is a Japanese macaque monkey sanctuary.  From the base of the mountain it is 30 minute hike to the top, where you can purchase bags of peanuts and apple slices to feed their troop of over 170 macaques.  These little guys are known for stealing from visitors, so watch out!

Hiking Mt. Fuji »

While in Japan a group of us JSP students decided to hike Mt. Fuji or as they refer to it in Japanese, Fuji-san.  The hike went over the course of two days.  We took a bus to the 5th summit where everyone starts hiking.  We left there around 12-1pm and were immediately drenched by a sudden downpour of cold mountain rain.  We pressed on,  hiking until around 4pm where we stopped at a Yamagoya (mountain hut).  We stayed in the mountain hut, dried off, ate dinner and rested until 11pm where we left and continued our trek with the goal of reaching the summit of Mt. Fuji by sunrise.  We made it to the top with about 20 minutes to spare.  The sunrise from the top was amazing and seeing the sun’s rays slowly pierce through the sea of clouds was truly an enlightening experience.  I definitely recommend hiking Mt. Fuji  o anyone staying in Japan for a period of time.  That being said I don’t think I would ever do it again, as they say “everyone should hike Mt. Fuji once, but only a fool would hike it twice”.

A Day in Hiroshima, Japan (Spring 2014) »

This photo was taken at the river by the A-bomb dome in Hiroshima, Japan. On the day my group and I visited Hiroshima, hundreds of middle school and high school students thronged the park and museum grounds. Many of these students were organized and singing like a choir. I took special notice of this particular performance as it was being filmed and conducted in a very organized and formal manner. Their voices in song floated over the river and added an odd serenity that contrasted greatly with the sight of the A-bomb dome. It was interesting and a little sad, considering the horrors Hiroshima faced as a result of the atomic bomb. Yet in the voices of these students one could detect something like hope for a better future, if not one free of nuclear weaponry.

(Definitely click on the image for better resolution).

Prague, Czech Republic (Spring 2014) »

Shimmering

I decided on this photo largely because it was taken in naivety, within my first week abroad. We had been walking as a group through the hustle and bustling commotion of the city and all the while I was too awe-stricken by the sheer beauty of Prague to even notice. I took this photo with the intention of capturing the beauty of Prague on the water and conveying the sentiment of serenity that is ever-present in such an environment, as it is certainly one of my favorite features of the city. Nevertheless, it is important to note that in hindsight I find that while this image is certainly a start, it does not even begin to scratch the surface of how gorgeous, dynamic and captivating Prague truly was.

Coming Full Circle »

Cliffs of Moher 2011 & 2014

When you study abroad in the spring at University of Leicester, you are fortunate enough to get a full 5 weeks off for Easter break. I didn’t know what to do with myself besides travel! I was able to connect with my Willamette friends and traveled to France, Italy, Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic, England, and ended my trip in Ireland. This was one of the reasons I had gone abroad. I am a dual citizen with the US and Ireland because my father grew up in Ireland and didn’t move to New York until he was my age, 21. Unfortunately, my grandfather passed away in 2008, but my step-grandmother still lives in the same house that he lived in right outside of Dublin. My mission when I went abroad was to meet my grandmother and I did.

It was an amazing experience to be able to hear stories of my grandfather, who I had only met at a young age and have no memory of. She was excited to hear about my travels, sharing her own stories of backpacking around Europe when she was my age. She asked me questions about hostels and how unsanitary they were – and of course I censored my answer after some not-so-nice experiences that were probably my fault. We shared an afternoon together, getting to know each other, and I even got to meet her son.

I also got to visit Cork, where my sister studied abroad in 2011. She gave me a list of places to go see in the area and I even was able to visit her old campus. So this picture is of me at the Cliffs of Moher and on top is a picture of my sister at the Cliffs. I spent a week in Ireland after three weeks of intense traveling and it was my favorite experience. I am happy that I was able to study abroad in Leicester, England because of the great media-oriented classes I took, the energy of the school, the people I met, and the city itself. However, I am glad that I got to spend time in Ireland for that was the real reason I went abroad: to reconnect with my family, my roots, and to come full circle.

My First View of Central London »

This picture was taken from my first day in Central London and about a week into my study abroad trip. The American students of Roehampton University broke into groups to run around Central as part of a scavenger hunt to get to know London. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this picture perfectly represented London in a way that I didn’t understand the first day. It was beautifully sunny which never happened when I was in London but highlighted the fact that London can make you hate it when it is cold and rainy and yet make you love it again the moment the sun comes out. The view of the Parliament Building and Big Ben show how rich London is in its history and how this can be juxtaposed to the trendy Southbank I was standing on when I took the shot. London is a mix of the old and new in a way that makes it endearing. The Thames represents the booming industry which made London the international metropolis it is today.

On my last day in Central London, I sat in relatively the same spot and, again, watched the sun go down on. I remember feeling the same mix of excitement and worry that I felt on the first day although this time the feelings were about leaving, not coming, to London. For this reason, this spot will always have a warm spot in my heart tucked in with everyone and everything else I love in London and which now makes it feel like home to me.

February »

What a CRAZY month. I really enjoy writing these travel posts but things have literally never been more busy, and unfortunately stressful. There’s been some shit going down within the program, but it’s finally getting resolved, and I’m doing this to remember some good moments throughout this month, so here’s a condensed version.

First of all I just have to say that it’s been a very long time since I’ve felt so happy with a group of people, the friends around me are my foundation, and countless moments with them make me appreciate them infinitely as people. I’m super grateful to be able to spend the time I have here with them, and I’m so glad we have each other when shit hits the fan.

Last I wrote I had seen Cillian Murphy at my uni (still freaking out) the day before my birthday, which kicked off an awesome birthday weekend! We got a full Irish breakfast on Saturday for my bday, went around the market on Shop St, and later all gathered at my place for a little party before getting drinks and bowling. Honestly I can’t remember what I did on Sunday but I remember the whole weekend was lots of fun haha

By that point all of our seminars and lectures had begun, so class really got going. I’ve already had several papers, presentations, and books to read just in this month. I’m taking a seminar on death in the contemporary novel, which while interesting, could be so much better. Sadly the teacher has a very narrow view of death, and all the books she picks reflects that. We’ve read Pure by Andrew Miller and I’m currently reading Everyman by Philip Roth, which is slightly based on the morality play. I’m bracing myself for the wave of SEVEN final papers all due within a couple weeks… But I’ve been going to zumba and salsa classes during the week, which are a good distraction. I’m still surprised by how much I enjoy salsa, I pick up the steps pretty easily and, especially when I have a good partner, I can kick some dancefloor butttt

Anyway, the weekend after my birthday we went to Northern Ireland! Our trip didn’t include the Giant’s Causeway, which is pretty much the only thing I NEED to see in all of Ireland, but I’ll make it there on my own at some point. So as we traveled we stopped at Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, which has over 60 of Ireland’s oldest tombs. The grounds were gorgeous, you could look out to other mountain ranges far away and be able to spot tomb markers from where we were. There was also a huge hill/mound not far off that’s said to be the tomb of Queen Maeve, and there was definitely something magical about it. It was incredibly windy and cold though, so that tour was yet another added to the list of tours that ended in us wanting to collapse. But there was a pony there. He was pretty cute.

We stopped in Sligo for about an hour, then continued to Co. Derry where we got to stay in a hotel!!! That is a big deal!!! We were glad we experienced staying in an uncomfortable and sketchy hostel so we could truly appreciate this one-time experience. We had to pay for the meals there, but at breakfast it was basically buffet style so we gorged while we could and stashed the rest in our purses hahaha. They had a pool and gym there, but it wasn’t heated so I just hung out with people around it later that night. We ended up befriending the nice pool bar guy, who was pretty young and chatted with us about a lot of things, mostly country-specific stuff. He wants to move to Boston actually, because he hates living there. We asked about going to Belfast the next day, and he gave us some valuable insight. As someone who grew up around there in neighborhoods that were still highly segregated by religion (which almost equates to political position), he said that they will have us believe that after all the civil war and riots there is now peace. There is not. Tensions are still quite high, and people, police, etc are still being shot and killed as a result. We knew to stay aware as we went about our touring the next day.

Thankfully we didn’t spend too much time out on our own, because we had a guided bus tour. We picked up our guide and he narrated as we went. We stopped to walk around various historical towers, castles, docks, etc. We also got to sign our names on one of the many murals on the Peace Wall. The Titanic was actually built in Belfast, and at the docks where it was made were the Titanic Studios where they film Game of Thrones!! They don’t allow tours inside, but it was kinda crazy to know that stars from the show had walked in that area, which is so industrial and very different from the world of GoT. By noon we were at the Parliament Building (Stormont), where an official tour guide from it took us around. He said something like “watch out for this one!” when I answered that my relatives were from County Mayo. Maybe we’re known rebels or something. Beware.

A few of us walked around the Belfast City Center, which is kind of like the Grove at home, a giant shopping area. That felt safer and more insular, as everywhere else we were had spikes and armoring. We finally made up our minds on where to get dinner, then managed to go to the top of the center to the lookout over all of Belfast. Some pretty good pictures were taken with the cityscape, and then we went back to the hotel.

The next day we did a walking tour of the town Derry, which had closed itself off to the world when there was all the fighting happening. There were murals everywhere of the riots, of people who had fought, of people who had died. If I remember right, one mural showed a little girl, who was the first victim claimed by the riots. We walked along the Derry City Wall, which was how they shut themselves away, and from there we could look out and see the tiny, gorgeous city tucked into this corner of the world. Wind and hail be damned, it was worth it to see a rainbow arcing over the jampacked houses and cemetery for the split second that it lived.

On our way back to Galway we stopped at a beautiful little cemetery in Drumcliffe where W.B. Yeats is (maybe) buried. I spent every second I could walking around the muddy grass, trying to read the moss-grown engravings, and leaning in close to say hello to the blooming snow drops. I wish we spent more time in places with less grandeur and history, and with more nature.

This is quite long isn’t it? The second half of February will be continued in another post. It’s 3 am, so I’ll say goodnight~

My Days in Prague »

I will start off by saying that it is very difficult to write down what it’s like to be in a foreign country for three and a half months of your life. But I will do my best to describe being in one of the most amazing cities in the world. The first day I was in Prague, I took as many photos as I could because I was in complete awe of what I was seeing and I never wanted to forget it.

The first picture I took in Prague.

I walked around Prague that day with my jaw on the ground. What I hadn’t anticipated was how amazing the city would look. I knew that Prague was beautiful from pictures I had seen online, but what I didn’t realize was that once I had inserted myself into the city, it would feel different. I suddenly knew that I wasn’t in a place I was familiar with. I didn’t know the people, I didn’t know the language, I didn’t know the customs. People try to prepare you for the differences that you’ll experience abroad before you leave. Sometimes, it sounds like the adjustment will come slowly and gradually, but, for me, it came extremely quickly and suddenly. It’s important to realize that everyone adjusts differently and you never know when the adjustment will hit you. It could be three weeks in, or it could be the first time you step out into the city and take your first picture.

The Bullfight »

Opening Ceremony

Brandon Guyton Photo Submission

I went and saw a bullfight in Spain, also known as “una corrida de toros.”  This image depicts the opening ceremony, before they bring out the bulls.  There were six, separate bullfights in total, although I only stayed for three.  While it was an interesting cultural experience, I do not believe it is something that I would enjoy watching again.  Photo Submission by Brandon Guyton