Take Me Home, Country Roads

One of the most incredible sights in Scotland is the Isle of Skye. The Isle of Skye, or ‘Cloud Island’ in Old Norse, is the second-largest of Scotland’s islands located in the highlands. It is only 50 miles long thus many famous sites can be explored in one trip. So, when my boyfriend came to visit last week, that is exactly what we did. 

Many of my friends studying abroad have had members of their family come out to visit them. Being so close to my family I wanted them to come visit me so badly so that I could show them all the amazing things I have seen since being here. However, some of my family do not have passports and the others can’t afford a trip to Europe. But, by saving money and doing extensive planning my boyfriend was able to go on a week-long trip to see me. Of course I showed him around Glasgow by going to our favorite restaurants, museums, and exploring the University. We took a trip to Edinburgh to see the Christmas Markets and even though I had just been there the week before I still bought more gifts for myself and others. I also tried mulled wine for the first time and fell in love with the fruity drink. 

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Glasgow Riverside Museum, Tall Ship

In the middle of the week we took a bus to Inverness where we stayed for two nights. Inverness was a beautiful town in the Highlands and I fell in love with it the minute we got off the bus. The buildings were old like Glasgow but since it was a town in the country it was much less crowded, cleaner, and more small-town. Being from Montana, I love the country small-town vibes. There were Christmas decorations everywhere on the streets, the people were so kind, and the shops were incredible. We found an old bookstore that is nearly as old as the town itself. When we walked into the shop with all wooden walls and floors I instantly smelled the wood furnace heating the place. It reminded me so much of my great-grandparents’ ranch in Montana, I couldn’t help but smile and stare at the fire while my boyfriend sifted through the old books.

Inverness, Scotland

We stayed at the Kingsmills hotel near the edge of town which was just as beautiful. The staff was so nice and let us check into our room early since we took the morning bus into town. Our room was big and a part of it was in one of the small towers coming off the building.

The second day in Inverness we took a bus tour through Isle of Skye. We saw the Urquhart Castle, Eilean Donan Castle, Kyle of Lochalsh, River Sligachan, Portree, Old Man of Storr, and the Kilt Rock. It was a beautiful trip and our driver stopped at a few places to allow pictures of the amazing gorge and cliffs near the sea. The driver also brought a huge bag of carrots and stopped to let us feed some highland cows near the road. I can’t decide which part of the tour was my favorite because every small excursion was amazing. It was the best thing I have seen in Scotland so far and it meant so much to me that I could share the adventure with my boyfriend. 

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Eilean Donan Castle
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Isle of Skye, Scotland

The highlands were interesting to me because even though the basic Scottish culture is still the same I noticed differences between the people in Glasgow versus the people in Inverness and Portree. The highlanders had more of a small-town attitude. I am not sure how to describe it best, but it reminded me of my cousins, aunts, and uncles in Montana. They took so much pride in the place they lived and it seemed like when you grow up in the highlands you never leave and to them there is nothing wrong with that. It seemed like accents were a bit thicker and just different than people in Glasgow but not harder to understand. Though, I may just be getting used to how people talk in Scotland.

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River of Sligachan

My boyfriend and I’s two-year anniversary was on November 21st and he came to visit just a week later. We said the trip was to celebrate our anniversary and Christmas since he would be out of town visiting his family for Christmas when I return to the States. At first, I was worried that it would bug me not getting him a Christmas or anniversary present, but that was not the case at all. This trip is the best present we could have ever given each other and it is memories we will carry forever.

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Highland Cow in Isle of Skye
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Halfway

My sixth week in San José is coming to an end, meaning that my time here is halfway up. It’s bittersweet to grapple with my simultaneous homesickness and the sense of comfortable normalcy my life here now holds.

“Ay, el tiempo pasa muy rápido,” my host mom says nearly every week as she realizes how long we’ve already been staying with her. I feel the urge to tick as many things as possible off an unwritten bucket list but I try to remind myself that every moment here is valuable, whether I’m on the beach in one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful spots or simply sitting with my friends at school, drinking coffee and studying, as I’m doing right now.

As I reflect on the last six weeks, here is what I’ve learned so far:

Look up. When I go to Thursday night dance classes on campus, I’m always reminded to take my eyes off my own feet and look at my partner’s face. Dancing salsa comes a little easier when you’re focused more on moving together with the music rather than not tripping. This is a good tip for hiking, too. Costa Rica is famous for its dense rainforests – meaning that animal species here are usually high above your head in the canopy. Ironically, its hard not to trip over your own feet or a tree root when you’re walking through the jungle trying to spy a sloth, but it’s well worth it if you do see one.

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Sloth we spotted at Cahuita National Park.

Let go of some of the things you usually rely on as part of your routine. I love a scalding hot shower at home, but that’s rarely an option here. I’ve learned to accept tepid but not freezing. Costa Ricans are also not fond of iced coffee – it’s not Europe, so it can be found in some more Westernized restaurants, but seven times out of ten you’re going to have to settle for a steaming hot mug. Ticos don’t throw ice into everything like we do in the States.

Don’t be hard on yourself when learning a language. This one is much easier said than done, but as a perfectionist I truly had to learn this the hard way. I’ve gone many times with my mouth shut rather than attempt to say something I fear will be conjugated incorrectly, or that I lack the vocabulary for. Not anymore – I try to start speaking first and figure out the rest later. It helps that here I often don’t have the option to speak English or to not speak at all, especially when trying to order food or get around the city.

Learn to be okay spending some time alone. This one is from my friend Krissy, who doesn’t have a housemate at her homestay, but I think it’s applicable more generally. Living in another country requires a certain level of independence and resourcefulness that can be uncomfortable at times. Everything is unfamiliar here at first – even just figuring out where to buy soap can be a thousand times more complicated than it is at home. You need to navigate language barriers and differences in cultural norms, and oftentimes you learn by trial and error, and often you navigate those learning experiences by yourself. However, I will say that I love my community of friends here and I’m never truly alone.

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My friend Izzy and I at Irazu Volcano

I’m not trying to impart any life-changing realizations here, but I do feel like I could tell my pre-study-abroad self some things I didn’t know before I got on the plane. Everything feels a little higgledy-piggledy here at times and it feels good to remind myself that every day I’m doing hard things, and succeeding.