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Home Sweet Home?

As I write this, I am waiting inside a train sitting motionless on the tracks in the middle of nowhere. I have spent the last two days attempting to make my way home from various airports and train stations after this amazing month in the United Kingdom. This homeward journey has now extended to over 47 hours and is only lengthening. But through it all I am trying to remember that it is this trip home that marks the end of my study abroad experience, just giving me more and more memories to attach to this incredible opportunity.

A view of the coast of Lake Michigan from my flight

Now that it has come to my attention, I have realized that travel has been a critical part of the study abroad program and my experiences during it. In this short month, I have ridden six planes, two taxis, two double-decker busses, three tour busses, one Uber, four trains (or “Overgrounds” as they are called in London), two “Undergrounds,” or subways, one public transit bus, two ferries, three cars, and walked all around the cities of Edinburgh and London. Before this trip, I had not traveled much in anything other than a car, so I was nervous at first about navigating the airports, subway stations, and train stations and finding the correct platforms or terminals in time. But I am now confident in my ability to make it anywhere after such an extensive immersion. This skill is vital to have, as I could only make it so far on my feet or in an automobile. But I feel like the whole world has now been opened to me after gaining such experience with nearly every possible method of transportation.

My total time spent on this final train home was seven hours (It was supposed to be four).

It is also during these times riding various vehicles that some of my best memories have been made. The sightseeing tours on double-decker buses in Edinburgh and London gave me the opportunity to see and learn about each city’s most iconic buildings, statues, and natural landforms. The first two Fridays, I traveled with my classmates in tour busses to places like the ruins of Jedburgh Abbey, the important Scottish author Walter Scott’s home, and Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns’ hometown. The various plane, train, and subway trips on my weekend trip to London helped me to become closer with two of my best new friends who came with me. Perhaps most notably, being stuck on a tour bus with all my classmates and our professors for a week traveling around the Highlands and a couple Isles has given us a bond unlike any other, including subtle annoyances with each other but more importantly a unique sense of community that will last in our memories and hearts for a lifetime.

So as I read blog postings from other students about what it feels like to be back home while I’m stuck here on the tracks for another two hours now, I am remembering the wonderful memories and experiences each mode of transportation has introduced. In a way, these delays have given me a gift by allowing me time to reflect on my experiences and develop a deep gratitude for them. I am eager to get back home and share with my family and friends the memories I have gained, but for now I have found a way to become content waiting and reminiscing on my own.

 


Kathryn Smith is a freshman at the University of Missouri- Kansas City majoring in Psychology and Pre-Medicine, with the goal to become a psychiatrist. During the month of July, Kathryn is participating in the UMKC Honors College Program in Scotland.

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.

Alone in a City of 8.8 Million Residents (Plus Thousands of Tourists)

Big crowds scare me, especially if I do not have someone I know with me to help distract from my

A model of Stonehenge made from the rocks along the coast of the Butt of Lewis lighthouse

imaginings of all the potential things that could go wrong and cause widespread panic. So why would I ever dream of or even feel excited for a day spent all by myself in one of the most crowded cities in the world? I can’t seem to answer this question, but somehow I ended up convincing my friends to leave me behind in London as they traveled to Bath and Stonehenge without me during our weekend excursion.

 

A wax figure of Mary, Queen of Scots, a subject of our studies, at Madame Tussaud’s

The first thing I did on my solo adventure was find my way to and attend Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. I could tell during our first night in London while we were planning our weekend that my travel companions were not too excited about this suggestion, even though they tried to conceal it and not disappoint me. So I was happy to go to this attraction by myself and spend the time I wanted there without feeling rushed or sorry for making my friends spend valuable time and money on something they didn’t want to do. Afterwards, I returned to the hostel we were staying in and was surprised and happy to find our 20-person dorm room quiet and completely empty, giving me a great opportunity to finish writing my speech for class without any distractions.

With the weight of an incomplete assignment off my shoulders, I found myself with quite a bit of free time. I decided to just wander around and explore the city, and eventually found my way to a tea shop in a district of the West End of London called “Soho.” The shop was incredibly busy, so I barely fit my way into the door and up to the counter to order. Once I got my pastry and pot of tea and sat at a newly vacated table, the charming shop owner asked me if I would mind another customer sitting with me. I spent the next hour or so talking to a gentleman who had lived in London for around five years, who told me all about the hidden treasures of the city most tourists would never discover. After warming back up from the rain and sharing a table with yet another local customer (although he was much quieter), I walked across town to the London Eye, where I would eventually meet back with my friends.

A view from the top of the London Eye, a giant ferris wheel

The crowds of visitors eventually became too much for my nerves, so I wandered away and eventually found myself talking with another Londoner, this time an older gentleman being treated at the hospital I was seeking refuge from the rain in. He asked me what I was studying and what career I eventually wanted to have, and he told me his experience with England’s healthcare system after I expressed my wish to become a doctor. Speaking with these local citizens showed me their perspectives, teaching me much more about the city than I could ever get from simply visiting the most popular attractions.

 

Another view from the London Eye showing Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

Even though I began the day alone, I ended up meeting and chatting with three other young travelers from Canada and Australia, as well as three people from London. I think what gave me the opportunity to meet them was the fact that I was by myself and therefore open to interacting with people I didn’t know instead of focusing on prior friends. The best part about this “lonely” day, however, was that I could do and see what I wanted without worrying about making others miss out on what they wanted to experience. I was able to get a much more in-depth experience in London by taking the time to explore the city and meet new people, and my friends and I each formed new stories during our time apart to be able to share with each other.

 


Kathryn Smith is a freshman at the University of Missouri- Kansas City majoring in Psychology and Pre-Medicine, with the goal to become a psychiatrist. During the month of July, Kathryn is participating in the UMKC Honors College Program in Scotland.

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.

“Do You Fancy a Cuppa?”

Some of the most pleasant surprises can be found in the strangest places. In this case, a couple friends and I discovered Forsyth’s Tea Room hidden in a narrow alleyway between The Wee Gift Shop and a pharmacy on The Royal Mile, a road with Edinburgh Castle on one end and Holyrood Palace on the other. I would have walked right past it if I had not earlier read a review online mentioning the alley. When we entered the small teashop, the charming owner, an older woman in an apron behind the counter, warmly greeted us and the gracious host showed us to a table. The intricate carpet, patterned tablecloths, teacup-lined walls, and beautiful decorations made the narrow room of brick and stone walls exceptionally cozy.

 

Charming decorations at Forsyth’s Tea Room

Deciding against the full all-day breakfasts and “Traditional Afternoon Tea,” which included both a sandwich and a large sultana scone served with butter, preserves, and whipped cream, I made my way to the counter to choose a lighter option. I learned later that afternoon tea was originally a mini meal meant to hold busy workers over before dinner was served at 8:00 PM, explaining why such hardy options made an appearance on the menu. With my mouth watering, I stood staring at the counter filled with every kind of sweet and light dish you could imagine—Dutch apple pie, carrot cake, lemon meringue pie, key lime pie, chocolate fudge cake, coffee walnut cake, toffee pecan pie, fruit cake, apricot pie, Scottish shortbread, cheese pasties, and traditional Scotch meat pies (just to name a few)—and tried to decide which one to have as a compliment to my tea.

After considering each of these bountiful options, I eventually decided to order the classic “Scottish Oaties,” a sweet biscuit (or “cookie” as we would refer to it in the U.S.) similar to the oatcakes (recipe here) available at almost every restaurant serving traditional Scottish dishes. Almost immediately after we returned to our table, the courteous host brought our pastries on a delicate platter with a teapot painted to look like a house with children peeking in the window. With the tea and desserts warming us from the chilly, damp weather outside, we had a very pleasant couple of hours just visiting around the table, slowly sipping from our exquisitely painted teacups.

Although the website reported that the teashop was casual, I felt just a bit underdressed in my capris and tennis shoes, however, the comforting atmosphere created by the lovely staff quickly made me forget my embarrassment. It also allowed us, as unfamiliar customers, to thoroughly enjoy our first experience participating in a traditional British afternoon tea. I like to drink tea every so often while at home, but this was the first time I had it served with milk alongside the sugar, and my first cup since I’ve been in one of the largest tea-drinking countries in the world! One of my friends, who much prefers coffee, was also able to enjoy a couple cups and the new experience. The combination of friendly service, delicious food, delightful decorations, and, most importantly, hot, strong tea made our first teatime especially memorable and an experience I just may have to repeat at least once while I’m here.

 


Kathryn Smith is a freshman at the University of Missouri- Kansas City majoring in Psychology and Pre-Medicine, with the goal to become a psychiatrist. During the month of July, Kathryn is participating in the UMKC Honors College Program in Scotland.

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.

Eating Around the World while Already Halfway Around the World

As I prepared to travel to and live in the UK, I never imagined I would participate in French, Indian, Mediterranean, and Italian culture by eating their cuisine. Although I have enjoyed traditional Scottish foods like bangers and mash, fish and chips, shortbread, and tablet, I have also been introduced to foods like tandoori chicken, baklava, and paninis. I have walked by countless stores, markets, and restaurants celebrating the many cultures residents share with each other. Restaurants I have seen include at least twelve different cultural cuisines: Italian, Indian, German, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Irish, French, Greek, Thai, Nepalese, and Middle Eastern. In this way, Edinburgh reminds me of Kansas City in its great diversity.

My first meal in the UK was at a restaurant named Café Jacques. Even though the name is French, the menu includes food from all over the world. Along with traditional British fare, like a full English breakfast, fish and chips, scones, and haggis, I could have chosen from French, American, Greek, Italian, and even Mediterranean dishes. I ended up selecting a traditional “jacket potato,” which is what we call a baked potato in the States, but I appreciated having so many options to make everyone feel like they’re at home.

Different Types of Baklava from Sweety House

After finishing a fresh French baguette from an outdoor market in the famous Grassmarket of Old Town Edinburgh, my next unexpected culinary adventure took place as my fellow students and our professors shared dishes at a potluck dinner last Friday. One flat brought tandoori chicken from the nearby Mosque Kitchen which everyone enjoyed, including myself, who hasn’t tried much Indian food. I learned recently that the panini I had for lunch that day at The Hoot ‘n’ Cat Coffee shop in Kelso during our field trip to the abbey ruins also originated in another country: Italy. This sandwich didn’t feel quite so different from meals I’ve had at home, but it was still my first time eating an actual Italian panini.

Finally, after hours of working on my research essay on Wednesday, I decided that I needed a break. So, one of my flatmates suggested that we stop into Sweety House, a Mediterranean pastry shop. Although I couldn’t pronounce any of the names and had never seen these kinds of pastries before, they all smelled and looked divine. We decided to split a sample plate of all different types of baklava, including some that looked like little bird nests, and packed it up to bring home. Once we sat around the small table in our kitchen and started trying pieces, the short homework break that was meant to last twenty minutes turned into two hours as we talked and got to know each other even better, bonding over a shared new experience.

As I reflect on how many new foods I have tried in only my first two weeks abroad, I think it says a lot about Edinburgh in how many traditions are represented and accepted in the city. It may not seem like these global experiences tell much about Scottish culture, but they really have taught me a lot about Edinburgh because the way a city celebrates and includes other cultures is an important part of its own.


Kathryn Smith is a freshman at the University of Missouri- Kansas City majoring in Psychology and Pre-Medicine, with the goal to become a psychiatrist. During the month of July, Kathryn is participating in the UMKC Honors College Program in Scotland.

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.

Not-so-Easy Bake Oven

Cooking is an art. Anyone can try to follow a recipe, but it takes a lot of time and practice to get it right. Unfortunately, the skill and experience required do not come quickly, so the first few times may not yield the desired results. For me, this process of trial and error starts over every time I try to cook in a new kitchen and has been especially difficult overseas.

I received a recipe for a family member’s famous chocolate chip-m&m cookies a few years ago, and have been using it at least once every couple months since. Besides one blunder (also in an unfamiliar kitchen), I have been able to pull this recipe off rather well to the enjoyment of family and friends.

This streak ended, however, when I tried to make these famous cookies for a potluck my classmates had organized a couple days ago. After speedily contacting home to have the recipe sent and shopping at Farmfoods and Tesco for the ingredients, I returned to the flat ready and excited to get baking. As soon as I began, I faced several unforeseen challenges. First, the kitchen didn’t have any measuring cups or spoons and I couldn’t find any at the store, so I had to estimate amounts by comparing the size of the ingredients to household objects and parts of my hand. For example, one cup is about the size of a fist or a baseball. The next difficulty to present itself was the absence of an electric hand mixture, so I had to try to mix the ingredients, including shortening, by hand. I spent about half an hour feverishly stirring and still wasn’t able to get the shortening completely mixed in. Combining the wet and dry ingredients, I noticed that the dough never got thick enough, resulting in flat, crispy, ugly cookies.

To resolve this problem, I added more flour to my next batch to thicken the dough. This method did not help, but produced even worse cookies cooked well around the edges, but very little in the center. This dozen even had a gross aftertaste, which I guessed was due to an excess amount of flour. Starting over from scratch, I recalculated all my measurements, but found no errors. I did notice, though, that I had been using plain flour, so my flatmate graciously offered to run back to the store to buy self-raising flour instead, wondering if the flour was my problem. This change again led to no avail, even after adjusting the amount of baking soda and powder to compensate. After one last attempt using butter instead of the shortening I had completely used up, I gave up because this batch ended up the same as the others. Utterly stumped, I came to the conclusion that the plain and self-raising flour must be different somehow from the all-purpose flour I use at home, or that I was unable to use the unfamiliar oven correctly.

Because I do it so often and enjoy it so much, baking cookies has become part of who I am and one of my favorite activities. For this reason, not being able to make them successfully to share with my classmates really deflated my spirits. But with the encouragement of my new friend, we were able to make a back-up dessert (recipe link here) together that I think was just as well enjoyed as the cookies would have been. This baking disaster just served as another reminder to me to practice the crucial skill of staying flexible while abroad, as surprises (good and bad) can come at any time!


Kathryn Smith is a freshman at the University of Missouri- Kansas City majoring in Psychology and Pre-Medicine, with the goal to become a psychiatrist. During the month of July, Kathryn is participating in the UMKC Honors College Program in Scotland

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.

Little Shocks

When you think of “culture shock,” what comes to your mind? I always imagined a scenario in which a traveler to an exotic, distant country becomes incredibly confused and anxious about customs extremely different from home, leading to a miserable experience until he or she can adjust. Well, that was until now. My experience with culture shock has not been nearly as drastic as my imagination led me to believe, but just a series of little, everyday things slightly different from what I expected.

The first differences I encountered happened while I was buying my airline tickets a few months ago. I remember having to count on my fingers in order to figure out what times my flights departed and arrived because the U.K. uses a 24-hour clock.  I also had trouble figuring out why the clock only moved two hours from my departure time in Edinburgh to my arrival in Toronto on my trip home when the itinerary said the flight lasted for seven (there’s a 6-hour time difference). After this initial confusion, I soon found simple ways to figure out the time in the afternoon and back in the U.S. using subtraction.

My next surprise greeted me as I entered our flat: separate faucets for hot and cold water. In almost every sink and even the back of the shower, hot water comes out on the right, and cold on the left. This difference will still take some getting used to, because the streams of water can’t combine, forcing me to choose between steaming hot or ice cold. I also had to acquire a new skill as I tried to make my bed for the first time. I had never heard of a duvet cover, and only saw “duvet” a couple times in the U.S. to mean the same thing as “comforter.” But this true duvet replaces a top sheet and is like a big pillow—It has stuffing and needs to have a case over it. After looking up a couple websites for instructions, I’m pretty proud to say that I was able to properly make the bed, even if it did take a while.

The last few differences I’ve seen so far occur every day as I walk around town. Even though I expected this change, I still forget sometimes to walk on the left side of the sidewalk. I’m constantly finding myself jumping from side to side between local city-dwellers on the left and other visitors on the right. It is also still somewhat confusing to remember what lanes and directions cars will turn into as I watch for them before crossing the street. One really nice surprise is that it stays light outside until 10:00pm or later at night, so I’ve never had to try to find my way around in the dark (although it does make it a little difficult to wind down and start getting ready for bed).

As you can tell, these little culture shocks have been minor. Even so, I notice them every time I look at the clock, wash my hands, or walk down the street. These experiences really show how engrained small habits become in our thoughts and actions. The little changes serve as a constant reminder of how I am in a new environment, and of how grateful I am for it.


Kathryn Smith is a freshman at the University of Missouri- Kansas City majoring in Psychology and Pre-Medicine, with the goal to become a psychiatrist. During the month of July, Kathryn is participating in the UMKC Honors College Program in Scotland.

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.

Retail Therapy

Retail therapy. I’ve never felt the need to participate in it, or even particularly liked shopping, but it’s surprising what little things will offer comfort while away from home. I didn’t go on a shopping spree yesterday, but stopped into Tesco, a popular convenience store, to pick up a few items I forgot to pack. I made my way through the aisles, all categorized the same way they are at home, put my items in a basket, and finally headed to the front of the store where the cashiers were checking customers out. The familiar experience was a welcome, unexpected respite from the busyness of exploring a new city. Walking around the little shop almost identical to one in the United States, I felt like I was back at home, simply buying groceries on my shopping list.

This feeling didn’t last long, however, as I began to make my way back to the flat. I soon found myself in every traveler’s nightmare: I was lost in a large, busy, unfamiliar city I had only been acquainted with a day before. I swiveled my head back and forth, but only found shops and street names I had never seen or heard of and pedestrians hurried to get to their destination before the rain came. Not giving in to panic, I pushed myself to just keep walking. Thankfully, I actually found the flat on my own, even though it did take quite a while.

As soon as I got settled in for the night, I realized that I forgot to look for another item while I was at the store. After spending about an hour reading maps and looking up different routes, I finally found the courage to return to the store. This time, I found my way with no problems and a big sigh of relief. Even in the cold rain, this second walk marked a huge accomplishment for me. I finally felt a surge of confidence and like I was starting to learn my way around the area.

Although it may seem illogical, I think what saved me from feeling too anxious was Edinburgh’s unfamiliarity. I believe that if this nightmare had happened a year ago when I started studying at UMKC, I would have felt much worse. When I found myself lost, I was able to keep my head clear by thinking about how lucky I was to be in Scotland in the first place. I am super grateful to be able to have this experience abroad, and feel that even being lost in this incredible city is a gift. I hope that I can maintain this perspective through the remainder of the trip when I will undoubtedly encounter additional problems and stresses, and maybe even bring it home as a lasting souvenir more valuable than anything I could buy.


Kathryn Smith is a freshman at the University of Missouri- Kansas City majoring in Psychology and Pre-Medicine, with the goal to become a psychiatrist. During the month of July, Kathryn is participating in the UMKC Honors College Program in Scotland.

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.