Raison d’Être.

In all the whirl of getting here, moving in, trying to remember to breathe, making friends, and figuring out how to cook dinner for myself without setting the flat alight, i hadn’t really paused to think about the ultimate purpose of my time here.

Studying Abroad.

I feel, now, that the Abroad part is normalizing. The map only made its way out of my pocket once today, and that wasn’t even really a necessity. More of a security blanket thing.

The Study part, however, just kicked into full gear. Classes began today and, as ever an enthusiastic student i might be, it’s kind of come out of nowhere. Mount Holyoke has so spoiled me in giving us the whole month of January off in addition to Christmas, so to be back in classes so soon is rather jolting. As is, you know, moving to a new country. I’m terribly excited to get going on my classes – they all seem engaging and involved – but i’m still not quite ready to put a hold on wander-the-streets-for-hours-without-plans-vacation-mode.

That is, i wasn’t ready. Until i explored the interior of New College, where all my Divinity and Biblical Studies courses take place.

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As you can well see, it’s a stunning place. I confess i was nervous to bid farewell to my professors at MHC to whom i am quite close, but my lectures today were engaging and lively and i felt myself settling back into that comfortable Hermione niche. The books-were-my-first-love, perfectly-indented-notes feeling that comes when i’m scribbling down as many double-underlined ideas as possible. In some ways, being in the classroom is a relief. I may not know how to do Ceilidh dancing (yet) but i damn well know how to take exceptional notes with my preferred weapon of choice: a Pilot Precision V5 Black Ink Pen.

Easily what put me back in Hermione mode, though, had nothing to do with class.

And it had everything to do with my first-ever trip to the place where Hermione was written into existence by Her Royal Queen of the Majestic Universe, Jo Rowling. The Elephant House Café, after all my anguished and longing and unmitigated desires to visit, made its way onto my itinerary today.

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Needless to say, it was magic enough to kick my butt into gear. I only had time enough to buy a postcard, so i’ve not yet explored the Moaning Myrtle bathroom (where notes are written to JK all over the walls) or sat in her usual seat. But rest assured, i will soon enough!

current jam: ‘i will wait’ mumford & sons.

best thing: chicken with pesto & scm.

a loving encouragement: if you like the pictures, they are updated on the daily on instagram. perhaps in overdosing amounts. but, you know, castles.

 

Making Rice, Making Do.

What i lack in Southern charm, my mother makes up for with every sultry ya’ll she smooths out of her mouth like butter. When she cooks, our table is swimming in vats of her fried miracle meat masterpiece she’s fondly named “Hannah’s Second-Helpin’ Chicken.” A friend of hers recounted their initial introduction, enumerating specifically that she was wearing her perfect pearls strung around her neck. My roommate frequently remarks that my ability to curl anyone’s hair (no matter the thinness or resistance to hairspray) is my Southern Superpower. I’m always quick to share it’s a superpower i inherited from my South Carolinian mother.

But easily, one of the most Southern things i have inherited from my mother (particularities with hot curlers aside) is an abundant love for steamed white rice.

She is the master of rice. Nowhere else have i had rice that compares – not the kitchens of Mount Holyoke, not the restaurants in Uganda, nor the meals consumed at friends’ homes. My mother’s rice is the kind of food i cling to as a measure of perfection. While some rice dishes may rank on a scale of goodness, none have ever paralleled Hannah’s Second Helpin’ rice concoction.

Part of what makes her rice so delicious is the particularity with which she makes it. In the unending panicked phone calls i’ve made to her asking for cooking advice (including, once, from Uganda) she’s quick to reiterate: rice is very, very precise.

“Don’t be sloppy with your measuring cup,” she shows me in my umpteenth lesson, bending down to be on eye level with the red dashes marking ounces and liters. Often as she does this, there is a persistently misbehaving strand of brown hair (curled, of course) that she tucks primly behind an ear.”You have to make sure it is exactly 3 cups of water.”

Over the phone, she reminds me the name for the recipe: 3-2-1 Rice. Precision in name, precision in numbers. 3 cups of water, 2 cups of rice, 1 teaspoon of salt. For the longest time, i couldn’t remember whether the three was for the grains or the water. Naturally, a few pots have turned a delicate shade of brownish-black as a result of my imprecision.

Living in Massachusetts for two and a half years now has been brilliant. I’m even growing to like snow. Living there has also been a lesson in just how Southern i am – even if i’ve spent the better part of my early adulthood in denial. Sure, i don’t own anything Carhart and will never suggest a BBQ joint for lunch. But i have a strong affinity for pearl earrings and i brew my own sweet tea (à la my mother’s recipe). The longer i live in New England, the more i come to make peace with – and embrace – the roots i have in Carolina country. The salience of my differences among my peers has been a wonderful part of this path of discovery.

And in five days, i begin the next big cross-cultural expedition to Scotland.

As i frantically decide between which map of Durham, NC to bring and put on my wall, i can’t help but think about how much more i’m going to learn abroad. I intend to try Haggis, explore the bowels of Edinburgh castle, breakfast at the Elephant House Café. I hope to grow in my sense of a globalized identity and engage critically with my own assumptions.

Learning who you are while abroad is a messy process. There’s plenty of journaling and contemplating and weepy phone calls ahead. Nothing is precise about identity, i think. But that’s also the adventure of it; for every homesick day i’ll have, assuredly there will be wildly wonderful moments where i can scarcely believe the world unfolding around me. For me, the most important thing right now is to focus on making those moments meaningful by being present in the moment. 

And when the days are so messy and i feel so foreign and disembodied, i’ll go home by making a bowl of rice. In all the messiness, there is still the precision of her 3-2-1 Rice Recipe. (Hopefully, i can even find that calm without burning the pot.) And the thing is, rice is still rice even when you’re 3,700 miles away from the woman who makes it best in the whole world.

current jam: ‘toes’ zac brown band

best thing: hanging paintings.

 

 

Wandering Writes: Scotland Edition.

Throughout the course of my two decades on earth (how trite) i’ve had an innumerable list of life ambitions. When i was seven, i dreamed of nothing more than a career as a dolphin trainer who worked as an author/singer/inventor on the side. I even had an old refrigerator box in my room that i used to collect tools to use for “inventing;” a favorite creation were DIY roller-skates (tennis shoes with matchbox cars taped to the bottoms).

I grew older, and though my interest in marine life abated, the desire to write and make music did not. Middle school was filled with dreams of the Big Stage and worrying over training bras. That is, until the African Highway Project in Mrs. Bade’s 7th-grade-social-studies class. In studying a myriad of different countries that comprised the vast continent, and speaking with several Peace Corps volunteers who came to share their experiences, i caught a bug. Maybe the virus had been planted when i went to San Francisco with my dad and grandma at the age of nine. Or maybe my transient life lived in eight states prior to the age of six infected me from infancy.

Whatever the source, by the time i left Culbreth Middle School behind me i wanted to live in Africa. Particularly, i wanted to go to Mali (that’s where the cute Peace Corps volunteer had lived. Naturally, it became my favorite yet-visited destination).

At the age of fourteen, my passport was stamped for the first time. I was Africa-bound, on a pilgrimage that would teach me two countries (Rwanda and Uganda) could not be more different from one another. That “Africa” is a very, very big place and i was madly in love with a very, very beautiful place called Uganda. I never made it to Mali, because cute-Peace-Corps-person aside, i’d been called elsewhere.

If the infection was dormant before, it was in raging contagion now. Four years and three more countries later, this blog was born and my bags were packed for ten weeks of calling Uganda home.

It’s been a year and half since that incredible summer, and over a year since i was privileged and blessed enough to travel abroad. But i’ve caught a virus i think will last my life long: i need to see. I live for bruising suitcases with exuberant boardings of planes. I’ve wanted to study abroad again, this time academically, for a long while.

And yesterday i got the jubilant news that i have, officially, been accepted to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland for the spring semester!

Between now and my departure in January there are Visa applications to endure, Lonely Planet guidebooks to be earmarked, and painful goodbyes to withstand. The excitement of the impending adventure is overwhelming – grueling paperwork and all.

Fourteen-year-old me would have thought i was going to make a career out of traveling, living like this. Part of that girl is still very much alive in me. But for this semester, i aspire to take off the capital-F Future questions off the table for a little while. I intend to explore, and to let the excitement of exploration be enough. I intend to grow, pains of it and all, and i intend to embrace the change.

Right now, though, i’m just ecstatic. I can’t wait to share the photographs i’ll take, basked in nerdy wonderment, at The Elephant House Café (JK Rowling! Sat there! While writing THE BOOK!). I’m certain i’ll start slipping up and unconsciously imitate a Scottish accent (coming off as a total fake, i’m aware). I’m beside myself at the thought of learning and living in a new city with train tickets across the UK. But most of all, right now, i’m excited to share this news with all of you!

current jam: ‘then i met you’ the proclaimers

best thing: um, SCOTLAND.