Cheers Scotland

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Finals have ended. I had said tearful goodbyes to all my friends just a few hours earlier. Everything was in order as I prepared to depart. Since I refused to sleep through my last precious hours in Edinburgh, I sat in the meadows at 4 am, all packed up and ready to go to the airport, and watched the sun rise over the castle for the last time. It was the most beautiful sun rise in the world. This was my last moment of Scotland, watching the silent sunrise over the sleepy city and shine onto the very castle that greeted me 5 months ago. It took every ounce of strength in me to stand up from that bench and say goodbye to the city that became my home.

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With every hour that I am away from Edinburgh, the whole experience seems more and more distant, like a dream. It was only three days ago that I was across the Atlantic Ocean with some of my best friends enjoying one of the greatest places on earth, and just like that, I’m back in the real world… which would explain the current depression.

To keep my mind off of the idea of the life I’ve left behind, I’ve thankfully been able to swiftly jump into working on my summer research project. And I am not kidding when I say ‘swiftly.’ Upon landing in the United States, and just after a single, exhausting night at home, my already packed bags and I moved down to campus  into my new apartment to start my summer research project. In addition to starting my new job, I was happy to come home to a fantastic reception from my family, all my friends and of course, the superb brood of cicadas that have infested the East Coast. They come every 17 years… thank goodness I came back in time. They. Are. Just. Great.

So everyone knows that the next step of the study abroad experience is reverse-culture shock. I have recruited a couple friends to be on depression duty; meaning that they are on call at all hours of the day in case I happen to see a piece of tartan in my everyday life and start having a ‘Scottish Moment.’ Keeping busy keeps my mind off of the sadness. I’ve been alright so far, but not going to lie, every time I hear ‘Flower of Scotland’ I get a wee bit emotional.

And it doesn’t help that I downloaded this onto my ipod and have listened to it an unhealthy amount of times.

I can’t believe that nine months ago I couldn’t even begin to point out Edinburgh on a map. Studying abroad has been an absolutely life-changing experience that I will never forget. I have grown as a person as well as a student. Learning through immersion and direct, foreign interaction is priceless and more rewarding than any classroom I’ve ever been in. My education has been enhanced through travel, sculpted by my peers, and cemented with memories.

As I stood up from that bench and left the meadows that day, I turned my back to the glorious Edinburgh castle and said goodbye to the greatest semester of my life, but I left knowing I will return.

After all, this is only the beginning.

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Edinburgh – Fifty Shades of Grey

“I leave in two weeks…” was the depressing realization I woke up to two days ago. Springtime has finally made it to Scotland, making the city even more beautiful and lively. One fact that I forgot, then realized, then forgot again was how far north Scotland is. The days went from having a total of eight hours of sunlight to sixteen! I don’t know what to do with all this daylight! The sun rises at 5 am and sets at 9 pm. Sometimes I forget to eat dinner! I am so confused all the time!

Finals month is halfway done and I’ve finished only one of my four exams. It also happened to be my easiest exam, Visualising Scotland. Final exams at the University of Edinburgh are administered quite old school, in that the uni gathers hundreds of students from a few different classes and puts them in a huge lecture hall to administer their tests. No phones are allowed in the lecture hall and no one is allowed to leave during the first 30 min or the last 15 minutes of the examination period. I felt like I was taking the SAT again, except in a much more formal environment. Though it was beyond intimidating, the exam was rather straightforward. Afterwards, some fellow American friends and I celebrated the conclusion of our favourite Scottish course by hiking Arthur’s Seat and eating Shortbread Cookies and haggis rolls at the top (when in Edinburgh right?).

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With only two weeks left, what else would I do with my precious time than study for my Pure and Applied Analysis, Pa for short, and Geometry and Calculus of Variations, or GCV, exams? Since most of the semester consists of purely lectures and considerably less homework than I am used to, I found myself slacking off and not paying much attention to my classes for the past 3 months. I am indeed regretting it now. Fourier Transforms and Schwartz Functions are taking a toll on my sanity.

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To pump myself up for the inevitably difficult Honors exams, I just repeat the magic words “I only need a 50 to get a C and pass…”

I have been studying for a week now and have one more week until the PA exam, followed shortly by the GCV and ToM exams (which happen to be in order of descending difficulty). Then I will be en route back to the States…. but again, that is something I try not to think about.

In the mean time, today I will be taking a break from cramming math into my head to play a wee round of golf with Line, Kelly, Freddie, Melanie, Ines and Berber. I already have my golfing hat and tartan scarf ready to go, so it will make for a nice break.

Tomorrow, the crew is having a farewell party. It is considered one of the last times we will all be able to hang out and enjoy Scotland together. The plan is to meet at Jakob’s garden or, since this is Scotland and you must always have a rainy day plan b, Melanie’s flat, and we are all having a good ol’ fashioned European BBQ. While I’m excited to see everyone together for the first time since exams started, the gathering will be bitter/sweet. I enjoy living in denial that I have to leave soon, so the fact that this party is happening tomorrow is very sad.

20 Days in Europe

I could spend hours or days talking about my trip through Europe, or I could sum it up with a few pictures…

Rome:

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Hostel Life

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The Vatican

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The Colosseum

Florence:

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Statue of David

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Bella Firenze

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Chianti Wine Cellar

Zurich:

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Swiss Chocolate

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Streets of Zurich

Munich:

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A Night in Munich

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German Market

Prague:

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Bustling Prague Square

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Astronomical Clock

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Train to Berlin

Berlin:

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East Side Gallery, Berlin Wall

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Berlin Architecture

Brussels:

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Delirium: All Should Go

London:

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Big Ben

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Tower Bridge

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Tea Time in Bath

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Cadbury World

Back Home:

Studying-math

My life back in Edinburgh from now on…

This journey has fostered in me an incredible passion for learning and traveling, the likes of which I could never have imagined. Every city, street, building, restaurant, and market I went to, I found myself saying “I can’t wait to come back here.” I will return to these wonderful places one day, maybe a different person, but with the same precious memories of my first epic European excursion, and hopefully create new stories and experiences.

In the mean time, unfortunately,  I should start studying for my final exams. I have one month left of this semester, and it will be dedicated to studying, pr at least that is what I keep telling myself. I know a lot of my time will be spent enjoying the last weeks I’ll have in the wonderful city of Edinburgh and with the incredible friends I’ve made.

March Madness

I apologize for the lack of posts this month. The past 2.5 weeks have been quite busy. I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland with Charlotte, Line and Leeor then came home to Edinburgh to greet my family who visited for a week; all the meanwhile working on two term papers, which each counted for 50% of my final grades, which were due a couple days ago. I know I know, who the heck has homework while studying abroad?

….me

St. Patrick’s day was so much fun. It was exciting to celebrate the holiday in its homeland with the Irish, though honestly I couldn’t understand a word any of them said. Even between two Danish girls, and Australian and an American, we just could not figure out what anyone was saying to us half the time. We got by on a lot of smiling and nodding. Line and Charlotte had never celebrated St. Patty’s day before since, outside of Ireland, the U.S. and Australia, it isn’t a very popular holiday. It was nice to celebrate their first, proper St. Patty’s Day with them. I would upload some pictures of the trip, but unfortunately during the festivities, I lost my camera…

I did manage to steal this picture of the Belfast city parade from Charlotte:

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St. Patty’s Day Parade

The day after I returned from Ireland, my whole family including my godmother, Joan, came to Edinburgh! It was so nice to see them. I felt pretty bad that a few of the days they were here I had to work on my term papers and a math problem set and couldn’t spend too much time with them. It was a stressful week being my family’s tour guide, working on homework, planning my April Europe trip and seeing my friends. My brother, Chris, celebrated his 24th Birthday while he was here last Friday. I took him to the student union house where all of my friends were hanging out and they sang him drinking songs and bought him some very nice whiskey. Chris absolutely loved it and had an awesome birthday in Scotland.

With my family being here, I had an excuse to do some touristy things in the city. We went to pubs, tried some nice beers, visited Roslyn Chapel, went to the Scottish National Museum and had tea time almost everyday. Roslyn Chapel was my favorite part of the week. My mother, Joan and I took the number 15 bus behind the snow-covered mountains just south of Edinburgh to the small 13th century chapel. Roslyn Chapel is the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen. It’s interior is almost completely sculpted with statues, designs, symbols and stories. While there, I met the coolest cat! his name is Sir William and he’s been hanging out in the chapel every day for nine years. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the chapel, but they let me take pictures with Sir William.

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It was sad seeing my parents go, but they took comfort in knowing that I will be back in only 2 months. Thinking about this makes me sad, cause I don’t want to leave in 2 months. I could spend forever in this city.

This week I finished all of my work for the rest of the semester, so now all there’s left to do it study for finals in May. The university’s final exam schedule was just released a week or so ago and it appears that my first exam is on the 11th of May and my last one is on the 21st of May. Indeed, the exam timetable at the University of Edinburgh spans an entire month! This is because there are no exams in December for fall (or semester 1) courses. All of the exams for every class for the whole year occur in May. I just can’t imagine taking a class in the fall then having to wait half a year to be tested on the material; and to add to the stress, throw in a few more courses in between to really screw ya up. I salute the full time students at this school, for that is some academic madness that I am happy to have no part of.

But there is hope for these students, for the whole month of April is set aside for self study and revision. This upcoming week will be my last week of lectures and practicals, then I start my April ‘study’ break, which means I will be traveling for 20 days starting Thursday. Lindsay, Sophie and I have booked the rest of our hostels, scheduled tours and are ready to backpack through Europe next month. We will start in Rome, then train it to Florence, Zurich, Munich, Prague, Berlin, Brussels, fly to London then finally home to Edinburgh. (See Map Below)

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The Plan

This has been a dream of mine since I was a kid and the fact that it’s finally going to happen is such an incredible feeling.

With my last exam day being the 21st, I was set to leave on the 25th of May, however, I recently received a research job to work with Dr. Esunge in the math department back at UMW this summer, and it requires me to be back on the 20th of May. It breaks my heart to do it, but I must cut my study abroad experience short by three days to make it back to Mary Washington to start my research project with the Summer Science Institute. It will be an awesome opportunity to study and practice math in a research setting… but I will be very, VERY upset to leave.

The Only Way I’m Leaving is Through Forced Deportation…

Happy Mum’s Day! Today is Mother’s Day in the UK… but not in the States. I was unaware of holiday date difference, so my mother will be quite confused when she receives a very thoughtful card in the mail in a couple days.

My whole family is coming in a week! My parents, my brother, and our family friend Miss Joan are all flying over and spending a week in Edinburgh. My brother Chris will be spending his 24th birthday in Scotland and he is more than pretty excited. He’ll be able to meet all of my friends and I’m planning on taking him to some really cool pubs  and restaurants! It’s going to be a proper good time.

Uni is getting hectic. March is a busy month since most term papers are due before Easter Break in April. With my family visiting, traveling, and planning my April trip, my plate is getting full. This week will be dedicated to planning Easter Break with Lindsey and Sophie. We are spending 2 weeks backpacking through Europe! I can’t freakin wait!

Summary of Study Abroad this far:

What I miss the most from America: Big American Breakfasts
What I’ll miss the most from Scotland: (besides all of it) 3am kabobs
Favorite Memory [so far]: Meeting the infamous craig in Fort William
Something I’ll never forget: Australia Day. I have the scar to remind me everyday.
Something I’ve learned about the US while abroad: Our country is HUGE
Something I’ve learned about Scotland: It is home to some of the nicest people in the world
New Habits: afternoon hot chocolate and saying ‘Football’ instead of ‘Soccer’
New phrases that will be hard to shake: “Uni”, “Flatmates”, “Proper”
Most Frustrating Math difference: Magnitude symbol is the same as abs value | |
What I’m really looking forward to: My upcoming tour of Europe in April
Biggest difference in Uni: The grading scale. 75-100 is an A, but apparently it is nearly impossible to achieve.
Hardest transition: Looking right first before crossing the street
False rumors about Scotland and the UK: There’s no peanut butter. No one likes Americans, so tell people you’re canadian. Haggis is gross.
Favorite Picture: 

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Facing the Highland Winds

This has been the best semester of my life. I cannot be more upset about how fast time is flying by. Scotland has healed me, fulfilled me, inspired me, contributed to my happiness and given me a whole new outlook on life.

A little more than a week ago, a friend’s younger brother died in a car accident. I met him a few times through the swim team and I graduated high school with his sister. This tragedy has affected my entire community back home and I just wanted to take time and say that my heart goes out to her and her family. Though I don’t say it often, I love and appreciate my brother and best friend, Chris.

Proofs on Proofs on Proofs

Math is the universal language,  but in the UK, it is taught a wee bit differently. The basic process hasn’t changed: 1. Theorem  2. Proof  3. Example(s)  4. Move on. It is around step 2 that I’ve noticed the difference between math taught in the States and math taught in the UK.

The emphasis on proofs is more intense in the the classes I am taking at the University of Edinburgh than at home. Here, every theorem a professor puts on the board is instinctively proven for the students in a mandatory fashion. I’ve noticed through previous classes that the proofs, though important, don’t always help with homework or seem useful at all. My professors have acknowledged this in the past and have catered to this, leaving out long extensive proofs during valuable lecture time. I know when I skim through notes I naturally pass over the proofs, but it seems very different here. My Pure and Applied Analysis  class, for instance, consists of only theorems and proofs that can easily fill an entire lecture period, leaving maybe a minute for a quick example (if we’re lucky).

This leaves me worried for two reasons. 1. I am quite inexperienced with learning directly from theorems and their proofs  and usually rely on examples, replication, and experimentation. Using raw theorems to construct solution and deriving proofs on my own will be a whole new level of examination that is a bit nerve-racking. And 2.  The exams for my math classes count for 80% or more of my final grade, meaning if I don’t figure out how to translate this style of teaching into a format I can understand, May finals are going to be a little more stressful than I had previously imagined.

Overall, this ins’t a bad thing. I believe in challenging one’s self and pushing personal limits. I came to the University of Edinburgh not only to explore another country and culture, but to explore a brand new educational environment. To go from

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The true test comes in May, and let’s hope my posts don’t sound too hysterical then.