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Dancing With the Scots!

I can attest to falling in love with your dance partner, but I never expected the same effect to apply to an entire city.

Falling for Edinburgh began the first day I had the opportunity to explore the city. Full from our traditional Scottish breakfast, (haggis and all!) Victoria and I decided to walk around town. We passed by a vintage shop, and our brief moment of window shopping ended. A stunning sundress stopped me in my tracks, but the event flyer posted on her door lured me in.  The store owner was hosting a small 50’s themed fashion show, followed by jitter-bug swing lesson… and she had two tickets left!

There was one small problem.  The night of the Carnival Jive was the same night of our study abroad welcome dinner. Victoria and I were so torn.  We did not want to miss the first change to bond with the people we would be spending the next month with. On the same note, this was an amazing opportunity to connect with locals while doing two things I was passionate about.  We took the day to consider our options… and make sure skipping dinner was even a possibility.  After a tiny bit of convincing, our wonderful professor set us free for the night!

But first, a search for the perfect outfit.

As we stepped into the small boutique, we were immediately transported into a 50’s cocktail party.  Victoria and I quickly realized we were not dressed for the occasion.  A 20% discount for every item in the store provided the perfect excuse to… um… invest! After some time of working my way around decades of fashion, I found the perfect skirt to complement the evening.

After the host ensured all the guests of age had a 50’s themed cocktail in hand, the night’s festivities kicked off!  A series of evening gowns and sundresses were strutted down a make-shift runway. Twirls and spins were met with oohs and awes.

 

The rest of our evening was met with challenging dance moves and a lot of laughter. Being that women were the main attendees, Victoria and I became dance partners for most of the night.

I was given a run for my money after a chance to dance with one of the instructors for a few songs.  When he asked where I had learned to dance, I was proud to tell him Kansas City had taught me everything I know about swing.

Just before parting ways, the instructors invited me to their summer Thursday night swing lessons.  I gladly accepted the invitation, knowing this could be my cure for a future case of homesick blues.

I have been known to coin ‘dancing’ as my love language, so I’d be wrong to say I was surprised, but the Thursday night after dance lessons sealed my love Edinburgh.  None of my classmates had been interested, so I set off to dance on my own.  My small time of solitude was very welcomed after an overwhelming week in the city.  After hours of lessons in a small neighborhood church, I started my walk home. I think I smiled to myself the entire way. The ‘movie moment’ I had been waiting for the entire time I had been away suddenly washed over me.  I felt like Frances Mayes from “Under the Tuscan Sun” or Julia Roberts in “Eat Pray Love”. It hit me that I was living in another country… and thriving!  It was 10pm, but the sky was still a lively blue, the weather was perfect, and I was walking through the most beautiful neighborhood.  I loved this city and its warm people.  I couldn’t think of any place I would rather be.


Serena Baker is a junior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City studying Chemistry with a minor in Entrepreneurship. Serena is spending the summer abroad with UMKC Honors Summer Program in Scotland. Taking full advantage of her trip abroad, Serena will make a stop-over in Iceland and visit Germany after the program to improve her language proficiency.

Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.

To Stay In Iceland, Or To Go?

Iceland’s midnight sunsets

How does anyone bring themselves to leave this beautiful country?  How was I driving away from Hermann’s farm at 1am to make the four hour journey to a plane that was going to take me away?  It could be due to not having slept more than seven hours in the past two days, but this was a very challenging moment.  Iceland had been filled with so much adventure and I was very aware of the mere fraction I had seen.

Of my favorite experiences, I had made a friend. Marta, from Poland, was working for my airbnb host for the summer.  On top of Hermann’s home constantly being booked through airbnb, he guides tours on his Icelandic ponies, and is a butter and cheese maker in town.  Being the only one manning his home, he found it was very hard to keep up with his frequent guests.  So, he found Marta, and I’m so glad he did!  She’s on her way to becoming the very best tour guide, and this summer job in Iceland was a great way to get some experience under her belt (as well as a fabulous excuse to live in Iceland for a summer).  When I arrived my first evening, she immediately took me under her wing.  I could not have asked for a better spontaneous travel partner.

 

Melting in a pot of Germans, Icelanders, Americans, and Polish.
It was the crazy Americans who convinced us to hop in the neighboring waterfall.

 

Night One:

Over the dirt roads and through the pastures, to hot pools and waterfalls we went!

 

 

 

 

Castle of Elves in Dimmuborgir!
Caught in awe at Godafoss

Day Two:

I discovered that Icelandic people do, in fact, believe in elves!  We refer to them as gnomes back in the states.  Many construction catastrophes or setbacks in Iceland can be due to building on land elves inhabit.  It’s best to respect their territory and build somewhere else 😉

 

 

Eyes on the prize at Hverir.

It seemed like Marta and I shared a similar passion for beauty and adventure.  So much, in fact, that when we saw an opportunity to climb the mountain at the geothermal site, we went went for it!  Half way up this lone mountain, we realized rain had eroded the path up. Usually, this wouldn’t be a big deal.  A little rough terrain ain’t no thang… but the sediment that made up this mountain was like soggy chalk.  To make matters worse, I chose to wear my rain boots for the day’s adventures.  I wanted to make it to the views at the top so bad, but I quickly realized there was no hope in gaining a foothold.  This made sliding all the way down the slope a very real possibility.

 

 

The smart decision would have been to go down, but we could see a couple who had made it to the top.  This provided enough evidence to convince Marta, (the more sensible of the two of us) that we could do it too! We happened to be a mere 5 feet away from the only boulder in sight, if we could get to it, we figured there may be clearer path up.  After a lot of strategizing and teamwork, we both made it to the boulder. Sadly, the way up only became more daunting.  By the time we gathered ourselves, we saw the lovebirds making their way back down.  This was perfect! Now, we could trace their steps to the top.  This, too, was a bust.  Their way down was the way we agreed not to go up.  They quickly passed us at the boulder, and descended safely down the mountain.

Deciding we wanted to leave the geothermal site intact and in time to see more of Iceland, we decided to let dreams of the summit go.  Getting down was even harder, but working together, I’m proud to say we made it!

After one last stop, we ended our eventful day listening to the beautiful sounds of a choir. We wandered up to the Akureyri Church just as a women’s choir was performing “Hallelujah”.  And oh, did this day deserve a hallelujah. I was leaving Iceland, but I was leaving with a full heart. I had been humbled by beauty, blessed with a new friend, and encouraged having survived my first solo adventure abroad.  Next stop, Scotland.

Cheers to adventure and new friends.

See you soon, Iceland.

Serena


Serena Baker is a junior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City studying Chemistry with a minor in Entrepreneurship. Serena is spending the summer abroad with UMKC Honors Summer Program in Scotland. Taking full advantage of her trip abroad, Serena will make a stop-over in Iceland and visit Germany after the program to improve her language proficiency.

Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.

“þetta reddast!”

“It will all turn out okay!” – as the Icelanders always say. So it did, despite my late arrival and early leave, my two days in Iceland were unbelievable.  Stepping into the Keflavik airport set the tone for my entire stopover.  In chatting with two other Americans in line for customs, we all agreed the entire airport had a soothing sense of serenity to it.  Everyone was calm and quiet, the people were kind and there was no rushing about.  I had left the Chicago airport at 7:30 PM on a flight that lasted six hours. I found sleep almost impossible, but it was dawn in Iceland, meaning I had a full day ahead of me.

Highway N1 views

It took me nearly two hours to find the center of the capital, Reykjavik.  The GPS I was given had been set to English, but every location had Icelandic titles, making my supposed 30 minute drive a fun game of trial and error.  My interesting detours did lead me to the infamous Icelandic gas station hot dog, for which I have no regrets!

Upon finally arriving in the city, I grabbed the first spot available to park.  After a bit of exploring, caffeinating, and finding food that wasn’t given to me by a flight attendant; it was time to start the drive to my airbnb four hours North.  This is where the fun began.  My convenient parking spot just so happened to be on a hill… facing up…and I was driving a manual for the first time in years. I quickly realized not hitting the car behind me was going to be yet another challenge.

Just me, Icelandic sheep sweater, and the Golden Circle

 

Up to this point of pulling out of my parking spot, I had driven a manual for a grand total of 2.5 hours in the last three years.  After some pep talking, I took a deep breath and started releasing the break.  In fear of revving the engine and making a scene, I didn’t give it enough gas and rolled closer to the car behind me.  I gave this a go two more times before I gave up, deciding I was far too close to my neighbor’s car.  What was I supposed to do?!  I was in a car that did not belong to me and in a country that wasn’t my own.  Today was not the day I would dip into my emergency fund.

 

It seemed everyone here drove a manual, so I decided to seek help. The first potential candidates were two construction workers, but after taking some time to muster up the courage to ask, I decided they were too busy.  I started walking up the residential street and came across an older man smoking in his doorway. He seemed nice enough, so I approached him and began to explain my dilemma. He listened intently, but when I was done speaking, he made motions and mumbles signaling me to stay put.  He disappeared into the doorway, yelling something up the stairs. A younger woman came down and they exchanged a few words in Icelandic.  She turned to me, asking for more explanation and I recited my whole situation again.  With a look of relief and annoyance, she translated my woes to the old man.

Simple beginnings

 

His eyebrows lifted and he threw his hands up in a way I assumed meant, “Okay, I can fix this! Show me your car!”  In relief, I lead him over to the sight of my predicament.  Putting his cigarette out on the wheel of my back tire, he took a minute to assess the situation. I tried to hand him my keys, but he motioned for me to get in my car instead.  This was not my plan, but the language barrier prevented me from insisting otherwise.  So, I dutifully got in my car and started the engine.  Hesitating, I looked back at him, but he didn’t need words to urge me to continue.  Next, he simply said “Okay!” instructing me to start moving forward.  I turned the wheel the correct way, squeezed my eyes shut and shifted my foot from the break to the gas a quickly as I could.  … I was out!  This may have been the best thing I had done all day!  I looked back at him, almost laughing, and thanked him with the most grateful smile I was capable of.

Waterfall 1: Painting 1

 

I guess all I needed was emotional support from a grumpy Icelandic grandpa.  As I drove away, more confident that ever, I couldn’t help but be thankful for his persistence and encouragement.   The rest of my day went on without a hitch!  I constantly found myself fighting the urge to stop and capture each breathtaking view upon rounding a new corner.  I had come to Iceland to paint, but I could tell it was going to be nearly impossible to sit in one place when I knew the entire continent was a masterpiece I hadn’t discovered.

Until the next adventure,

Serena

 

 


Serena Baker is a junior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City studying Chemistry with a minor in Entrepreneurship. Serena is spending the summer abroad with UMKC Honors Summer Program in Scotland. Taking full advantage of her trip abroad, Serena will make a stop-over in Iceland and visit Germany after the program to improve her language proficiency.

Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.

Unexpected Adventures

Farewell to my favorite girls.

So, here I was, sitting in the international terminal of Chicago O’Hare, hiding my tears from the two Italian men beside me.

Today was the day. The day I would leave the country for the very first time. The day I would set off on my first solo adventure before studying abroad in Scotland. In a mere six hours I was supposed to be on the Golden Circle, searching for the first breathtaking view I would paint in Iceland.

As the man at the baggage check counter handed me a torn piece of paper with a number scratched on it he simply said, “Sorry, this is all we can do for you”.  I dialed the number, explaining that I had missed my flight to Iceland due my previous plane’s delay. At the end of that phone call, I not only had 24 hours until my next flight, but the four day stopover I had been looking forward to the most had now been cut to a mere hour layover.  Instead of a window seat and nervous butterflies, I now had two Italian strangers and a broken heart.  Being that my little solo adventure was, in a way, an attempt to leave a broken heart behind, this was not a welcomed alternative.

Cutthroat games of Uno.

 

I quickly realized self-pity and tears were going to get me nowhere.  It was time to put on my big girl pants and find a solution. Though I hadn’t seen them in years, I had amazing family in Chicago.  After some searching, I found my aunt’s number and gave her a call. Within 45 minutes, a car full of family was at the curb of the international terminal embracing me.

 

Every girl needs an aunt with a background in law.

 

I did not get my four days in Iceland, but I got a day of laughter and love with people I had waited far too long to visit.  My lovely aunt, being the bold woman she is, called that number back and got me a whole two days in Iceland.  The next day, I was back en route for my adventure, full of love and without a lost day.

 

 

 


Serena Baker is a junior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City studying Chemistry with a minor in Entrepreneurship. Serena is spending the summer abroad with UMKC Honors Summer Program in Scotland. Taking full advantage of her trip abroad, Serena will make a stop-over in Iceland and visit Germany after the program to improve her language proficiency.

Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.