When Monday Comes

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At the risk of sounding like a long-winded yearbook signing, I devote this particular blog post to the end of the Oxford era.

 
In a few short hours, my fellow cohorts and myself will be venturing our separate ways for travel break. Though most of us will (hopefully!) be meeting up in Berlin this week, there will come a time when we must part yet again for our respective homes. And though [most] of us will be back at APU come fall, it won’t be in the intimate setting of a pub, café, or kebab van, nor with the same community of people.

 
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me if I thought I would continue my friendships with the people I’ve resonated with in Oxford, back at my home uni. At the time, I responded with the somewhat elusive “I don’t see why not,” partly out of fear of being one of those phantom “yearbook friends.”

 
And by that, I mean one of those people that either a) say something along the lines of “OMG we NEEEEED to hang out this summerrrrrrrrr and in falllllll!” but suddenly go AWOL, or b) are on the receiving end of the previous sentiment, but ultimately find that the sentiment was probably half-baked.

 
But as I look back, I hope Monday doesn’t come. And by THAT, I’m referring to the cult classic Breakfast Club film.

 
I pride myself in honesty – or at least maintaining polite quietness when necessary. I won’t ask you to stay in touch if I don’t mean it, and wouldn’t expect any differently from you. But as I’ve been pondering over the prospective, metaphorical Monday, I’m not afraid to say that I genuinely hope that the genuine friendships and connections I’ve made abroad will carry over back onto our home continent.

 
Now to directly address my Oxford cohorts: It’s been an honor, pleasure, and the bee’s knees doing life together Oxford-style with such an array of people. Whether we spoke or interacted regularly or rarely, I think we’re bound at least by the fact that we did this together, even when apart on our separate schedules. THAT we have in common, despite what other differences we may have.

 
For privacy’s sake, I’m leaving out names, but the people who I most resonated with – I hope you know who you are. I sincerely thank you for unconsciously challenging me to better myself spiritually, academically, and otherwise. For traveling with me to various regions, and absorbing the panoramic views in peaceful silence. For the random, warm embrace that was totally unexpected at first, but needed, and for listening to my late-night philosophical-type ramblings. For encouraging me to venture down a different side of town than I was used to, walking with me all the way to Botley and telling me you liked a particular blog I penned. And perhaps most importantly, I must express gratitude for being your good, wonderful selves, as that is the best gift you can offer the world.

 
Referencing yet another classic 80’s movie, I hope that we can effectively avoid a “case of the Mondays,” skip straight to Tuesday, and occasionally endure our Oxfordian withdrawals over afternoon tea. Or drown our sorrows at the closest thing to an authentic pub we can find (since I’ll be 21 by the time fall semester rolls in), haha.

 
I’ve never been great with drawn out goodbyes, even as the occasions call for it. I like to do everything, whether I’m having my last stint in the New College corridors, downing my last Café Nero Americano, or strolling past the little grocer’s shop towards my flat, with perhaps a false sort of mentality that I will do these things again shortly. I could close this with a beautifully-crafted, Shakespearean “Parting is such sweet sorrow” sort of goodbye, but I think a simple but well-intentioned “Cheers!” will suffice for now.

 
Now, how to pack for two weeks of backpacking…

Braveheart

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If you keep up with my blogs, first of all, a massive THANK YOU to you, and secondly, you’ll know that in between finalizing travel break plans, preparing for both a new tutorial and the end of term, and hosting family here for a bit, things have gotten a bit hectic (hence my 2+ week hiatus from blog entries). On top of all that, a friend and I took a ten-hour overnight bus ride from Oxford up to Edinburgh, Scotland last Friday night. Take that, Katy Perry.

The title for this entry is not only applicable due to the fact that I was in beautiful, bonnie Scotland this past weekend, but for what I’ll eventually reveal. Stay with me, now.

Aside from a not-so-stellar bus ride and an even more unpleasant hostel situation (thank you mid-20s tourists for having the decency to ask us if we were “disturbed” by your having the lights on late at night while popping bottles of what was definitely not apple juice), Edinburgh itself was incredible. “Incredible” is actually not a sufficient enough word…I’m an English major, and finding a word accurate enough to describe the whole experience is a challenge.

In a similar style as my Dublin post, I’ll start off with the touristy aspects of our Edinburgh weekend:

Sleep deprivation was no deterrent to our desire to explore the city. Our hostel was located in the heart of the Royal Mile, where we explored St. Gile’s Cathedral (which is absolutely breathtaking; unfortunately no photography was allowed inside), Edinburgh Castle, and other equally important-looking buildings.

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I also discovered that I quite like cemeteries. I apologize if that sounds dark, creepy, or morbid or all of the above, but I think there’s something wonderful about being in the presence of the most peaceful souls you’ll ever encounter. They’re good listeners.

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THE HILLS ARE ALIVE…with the sound of bagpipes.

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Day 2, we went on a bus tour through some of the lowlands, particularly the “lochs” (lakes) of Loch Lomond, Loch Katrine, and the Trossachs National Park. See the snow-capped hilltops? We might not have been in the highlands, but it was good enough for me! I’ll definitely have to hit up the highlands next time around, because I do plan on there being a “next time” in Scotland.

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Our last stop was at Stirling Castle, with panoramic views of the city of Stirling and the William Wallace memorial (yes, William Wallace as in Braveheart).

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Our final day, before taking yet another overnight bus, I insisted to my friend Michelle on breakfasting at The Elephant House, which may mean something to you depending on how avid of a Harry Potter fan you are. In short, this swanky little café is where J.K. Rowling began writing the Harry Potter series, back when she was a single mother living with her sister in Edinburgh. Long before her literary success, Rowling was simultaneously rocking her little one to sleep while typing up the magical world of Hogwarts for posterity. Possibly sitting at the same table where one of my literary hero(ines) might have sat was…I actually have no words. But the oatmeal and coffee I do have words for – they were superb.

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As it was St. Patrick’s Day, we wisely avoided the more crowded Irish pubs and settled on The Wee Pub – the smallest pub in Scotland, which was surprising less crowded than the bigger Irish ones.

But before leaving Edinburgh that same night, the view of Scotland that will always remain with me is the one I found at the top of Carlton Hill.

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Just towards the horizon, I captured not with my camera but with my mind the view of the sun’s rays breaking through the fog, shining gold upon Edinburgh, something like El Dorado. To my right, I observed part of a rainbow hovering through the clouds. This – I should mention – was the second rainbow I’d seen that weekend.

In Ireland, I (re)learned the concept of my life having purpose. What this ultimate purpose is, I’m not quite sure. I keep imagining and re-imagining myself back in the United Kingdom within the next year or two because I have this strange, insuppressible feeling that I’ll be back again – perhaps not for just a holiday, I hope.

But as it is now, I don’t know. And that scares the HELL out of me. As the weeks pass, I am being continually reminded just how fast the curtains are drawing closed over this term, and not just because my classes end almost a full month earlier than last than they normally would (thank you English university system!). Despite the cold temps, spring is indeed arriving, soon it will be summer, and then fall, and with that my second-to-last semester at APU.

As I have to keep explaining to people who ask what year of school I’m in, technically speaking, I’m in my second year of college, but will conclude my undergraduate career a year earlier than I initially expected. Which is both good and scary, and convenient time-wise and financially, but a bit of an inconvenience at the same time. It means having to make some major life decisions sooner than I’d prefer, and setting foot into the “real” adult world that much faster.

Eight years ago, I wanted nothing more than to be an author. Soon realizing the improbability of being able to live on that alone, I considered an added career as a publisher or editor. Then columnist. Then public relations specialist. And now, more recently, English teacher/professor/tutor, or teacher at an international high school, or English language teacher at an international level. AND also looking at the slim possibility of continuing my studies via M.A. or English Teaching Assistant position through Fulbright-type scholarship programs.

All of this meaning – I have to keep my grades up, polish my resume, start looking at internships/volunteer opportunities, basically do everything in my power to better myself to prove myself. While I don’t think I’ll be stuck in my first job or first post-grad situation for the rest of my life, I still don’t want to find myself in the wrong place right off the bat. And while I know that one circumstance – be it ideal or not – can lead to multiple, different ones down the line, there’s still this inherent fear in the possibility of starting off “wrong.”

Being abroad for an extended period, I’ve been forced to let go of some of the situations closer to home that I can’t be in control of right now. That’s been one of the harder aspects of studying abroad.

I’ve discussed the topic of bravery in previous blog postings. How it’s not the absence of fear, but rather how it takes into account the anticipated end goal being more important than the fear. Not knowing what exactly my next move is going to be is frightening for me.

Going back to the rainbow, though. I think there’s a reason why I saw it twice in two days. Whether or not you believe in the biblical meaning/symbolism behind the rainbow, just admit – it’s amazing what light can do. But the rainbow also symbolizes a promise. Back in the Noah Arkian days, it entailed God’s promise of NOT flooding the entire world again, but in my case, it remains a mystery to me. Based on some less-than-pleasant matters that I’ve been handling here and from an ocean away that I will not publish, perhaps the promise for me is that eventually – I’ll get to where I need to be. I know not where that is at this moment, but everything will be okay (more than “okay,” I would hope) in the end. And as they say, if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

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An added element of bravery is going forward not just because of the recognition that something is more important than fear, but in spite of maybe not knowing where the path leads. I’ve learned to exercise that first definition of bravery, but need more practice in being at peace with NOT knowing all the steps I have to take going to a destination that I also don’t know much – or anything – about.

Being a “braveheart” is what I would like to be. To not feel the need to rationalize and plan and strategize every move of mine, and simply embrace the unknown.

InTRUDEing Americans

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Because the British have been making an invasion in America within the realm of music, television (DOWNTON ABBEY!), fashion etc., I decided it was high time that my Trude clan return the favor by invading the English shores.

But in all seriousness, I had the pleasure of hosting my “mum” and sister here for a few short days. Despite the fact that our spring breaks don’t line up, we covered a lot of ground and had a brilliant time “inTRUDEing” what’s been my home for the past few months.

Although I was the “tour guide” for a good chunk of our excursions, I thoroughly enjoyed being that “didn’t-I-tell-you-this-would-be-awesome?” person, as well as admittedly showing off a little bit my tips and tricks for navigating London and avoiding some weirdos.

In light of the fact that I really should be writing a paper instead of blogging, I’ll keep the commentary brief, and insert more photos – I mean, a picture’s worth a thousand words, right?

DAY 1: LONDON

I dragged my poor family through Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, and the London Eye despite the fact that they had just flown in that day. Oops. #iregretnothing

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IMG_3631Photobomb level? Benedict Cumberbatch

DAY 2: LONDON

My sister was particularly enthralled by the Westminster Abbey service we attended Sunday morning, and while  the service was indeed beautiful, I was more captivated by the gruesome yet fascinating history of the Tower of London. Having seen many a documentary about King Henry VIII and his numerous wives as well as having read a fictional adaptation of the story of Lady Jane Grey, I was floored to have walked the same grounds and stroll through the same prison rooms as Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, and others.

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If you know me well, the subject of BBC’s Sherlock has probably come up, and in enthusiastic tones. The Speedy’s café and 221B Baker Street setting is actually in the most obscure location – quite easy to miss. And while I thought we would look rather silly to passer-byers who don’t understand the significance of this spot, I was happy to find a few other tourists doing little photo shoots there as well. Also, the reason why I look crazed in the second photo is because I had just realized that while posing with the door handle, I accidentally let go of it, knocking on the door. People do live there…but no one answered. They’re probably used to ding-dong ditching Sherlock fans.

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And no trip to London is complete without a stop at Platform 9 ¾ at the real-life King’s Cross Station.

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DAY 3: PARIS

Fully expecting to be written off as ignorant, non-French speaking American tourists, I was pleasantly surprised by the hospitality by which we were received in Paris. With less than 24 hours to spend in Paris, we hit the essentials – Eiffel Tower, River Seine, Arc d’ Triomphe, Bastille, and passed by the Notre Dame Cathedral on our river cruise. Oh, and ate some cheese. I would definitely need to spend more time in France to a) better appreciate the culture, and b) see the sights we didn’t have time to see, but it was a jolly good time. I prefer London, though.

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The rest of the week was spent showing my family just snippets of Oxford, and leaving them to their own devices while I slaved away in the Bodleian in preparation for my new British history tutorial (which is proving to be a helluva lot harder than my previous tutorials). Everything was so new to them, so I had to remember to slow my pace down, and forget the itinerary. I’ve had the privilege of living – yes, LIVING – here for well over two months now, and wouldn’t admit this to them at the time, but found renewed joy in watching them be amazed by all that is Oxford.

To See the Face of God

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This past Friday, I went down to London again to see Les Miz at the Queen’s Theatre. I enjoyed the 2012 film adaptation, but this was my first time actually seeing it onstage. Even as one who didn’t really have any of the songs down by heart prior (except for a few lines from “I Dreamed a Dream” and the song of the angry French revolutionaries), it was a phenomenal experience, and of course – as a frequenter of theater productions – it’s always an out-of-body experience for me to watch a compelling story come to life on the stage.

As you probably already are aware, the musical is derived from the Bible-sized novel of the same name by Victor Hugo. I’ve never read anything by Hugo (though [the abridged version of] Les Miz is on my book list), but what not everyone may know is that he is also the author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame – among several other works. Needless to say, Hugo is well versed in the art of appealing to the heart within humanity by writing tragedy. Disney’s take on Hunchback is – shall we say – much different than the original. I believe that in both Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the famous lyric “To love another person is to see the face of God” is applicable.

Hugo is also credited for the following quote: “The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, in spite of ourselves.”

Lately, I’ve been told how “lucky” I am to be doing what I am. I would first just like to point out that I had to bust my bum to get here, so please don’t discredit the work involved in getting to where I’m now able to enjoy the rewards. Secondly, I don’t post photos and blogs to brag about anything I’ve done. I do it mostly to let my friends and family know where I am and how I’m doing, and perhaps more importantly, to instill the idea in whoever comes across my digital footprint that there exists a world beyond the ordinary that needs to be seen.

But I digress.

As of late, I’ve come to the conclusion that one of my main outlets for joy is being given the opportunity to do something. So while I’m consistently reminded that I’m “lucky” for doing x, y or z, I must remind you that while all these activities bring me pleasure, perhaps – going back to the words of Hugo – it would mean nothing without the caring and support of those who make me feel loved “in spite of myself.” There are a few close and perhaps sometimes unlucky ones in my life who have seen me at my worst – and yet they choose to stay. How can anything compete with the feeling of being loved, regardless? I only hope that I have been able to return the favor to those in my life, because is not affirmation from our fellow humans what we ultimately strive for?

This affirmation – not synonymous with “approval” – is what Hugo speaks of. To freely be the recipient of acceptance and affirmation, without even necessarily having done anything to “earn” it – is “to see the face of God.” Exercising the giving (and hopefully, receiving) of this affirmation should be man’s first happiness; everything else comes in second.

I mean, there’s a reason why a whole musical dedicated to this idea, right?