Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A New Dawn

At a mere 3:00 in the morning today, Anja, Eline, Helen and I made a voyage up to the top of the hill to watch one of our last sunrises at Dollar Academy. We've been planning this trip for weeks now, and we were going to do it whether rain or shine. Turns out it was a bit wet at first, but that didn't stop us experienced hikers. And I'm glad it didn't, because the trip up to the top of our own world was like any other.

It was obviously quite dark at first, but as we ascended up the steep path, we passed through the clouds and were able to enjoy the rising sun in its tranquility. By the end, our pants were soaking past our knees-- and our socks were audibly squishing-- and yes, we were more than exhausted. We were so proud of ourselves, though, especially after so many of our friends saying that we wouldn't even make it out of bed. And as soon as we decided that it was sufficiently light enough outside to be considered daytime, we headed back down, had a cup of tea, and fell right back asleep.

As we trekked and panted up the slope, I couldn't help but reflect more on what this year meant to me. That is, as much as you can at 3 in the morning. It was harder not to; after all, Anja's leaving the day after tomorrow and I only have 8 days left. I'm considering this my final reflection of the year, at least on this journal, to record some of the more pressing questions I asked myself about this morning.

What will I miss most about Dollar?
-Apart from all the obvious answers-- friends, boarding, etc--there are quite a few special things I experience in daily life that I will miss when I'm gone. I'll miss a friendly "are you alright" in the morning, which is the common greeting here instead of "how are you." I'll miss the entrenched daily schedule that is so typical of secondary school, which I've always found comforting. I'll miss the normality of eating beans on toast with ketchup for breakfast. I'll miss hearing nice Scottish, English, German, Serbian, and Montenegrin accents every day. I'll miss going to Edinburgh on the weekends, or maybe Glasgow. I'll miss house meetings, wearing the Form VI Tie, Morning Assemblies, and register in the mornings. I'll miss being a Dollar pupil, and the pride that comes with it.

What am I taking home?
-I've brought back a few souvenirs for my loved ones, and lots of British goodies to feast on upon my arrival. That's sort of expected, though. What I'll cherish the most are probably the hundreds (thousands?) of pictures I've taken-- and, of course, the memories that come with them. More figuratively, I'm bringing back my newfound knowledge from school: random statistics of the British welfare system, glaciation processes, Luke's three faces of power, and who knows what else has been crammed in my brain during weeks of study leave. I also can't forget all the traditional recipes I've tried here and loved, like scones, yorkshire puddings, shortbread, and cranachan. And I am so bringing home some British slang to annoy everyone with in Culver. Cheers, hiya, soz (sorry)posh, and banter are first on the list. Trust me, they are all cute and wonderful words, and they sound awesome intertwined with Hoosierisms.

What were my greatest accomplishments this year?
-Similar to my experiences at Culver, I find myself most satisfied with my academic work, likely because I put so much pride and effort into it. This doesn't sound too humble, of course, but I can't help but feel pleased when I reflect on how well I did in Advanced Higher Geography despite "crashing" the class without passing any Highers. Or, for that matter, impressing the Modern Studies department with my knowledge and passion of politics from AP Government. Being accepted into Chamber Choir was also a significant achievement for me, as was being chosen to play for the Rector's Burns Night gathering and a wedding. Lastly, I'm proud of how well my practicality skills have improved as a result of traveling so much.

What was the best place I visited?
-This is one of the hardest questions I've asked myself so far. How do you choose between the ancient ruins of Rome, the gorgeous memorials of Berlin, the class of London? After visiting so many internationally acclaimed monuments, museums, cities, and natural wonders of the world, it's almost impossible to pick my favorite destination. However, I think Kary would agree with me when I say that Paris was a particularly remarkable and memorable visit: as Audrey Hepburn has famously stated, Paris is always a good idea. Not to mention, it's been my life goal to make it to France for years now. It is the center of so many historic events, culture, and famous artifacts, so it is extremely difficult to not be entertained. I'd like to go again sometime, hopefully when it's a bit warmer, to enjoy the banks of the Seine again.

What was my happiest moment?
-This one is quite easy for me, actually. There were undoubtedly countless "happy" moments, but one stands out in particular: the Form V/VI Christmas Ceilidh. I remember dancing in a circle, surrounded by my closest friends, all of us twirling and jumping and laughing to the live folk music. The only way I can describe my feelings at the time? Pure bliss. Some honorable mentions were almost winning the Battle of the Bands competition, running around Circus Maximus with Hamish, seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time, and performing "Carmina Burana" during the Usher Hall Christmas Concert, but honestly, I can't imagine anything beating what I felt at that particular time.

How have I changed?
-This might be better answered by others other than myself, so I guess I'll find out upon my return. I'm not the best judge of myself, but I do feel more relaxed and laid-back than I did at the beginning of the year. Through my first days alone in the country, I was one big bundle of nerves, and now I feel more able to go with the flow. I'm definitely more comfortable with myself, both with my personality and my body, and much more independent than I was before. As mentioned in a previous post, I feel like I'm getting better at catching my biases before they show, showing less judgement overall. These changes will undoubtedly manifest themselves when I get to college, which is one of the reasons why I am so glad that I took the opportunity, but they also simply help me enjoy life more. I'm the happiest, most motivated, and most determined I've ever been in years, and I don't see that going away anytime soon at all.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

An Attitude of Gratitude

WARNING: extremely cheesy blog post ahead. Proceed with caution. Beware of nostalgia, cliches and a few tears.

11 days, 4 house meetings, 1 exam, and 1 weekend left. That's it, and that's all. I feel as though I've been here so much longer; it doesn't feel like just 10 months at all. But that's all it was. Still, there are so many people to whom I am indebted because of my many adventures in Europe. It's amazing how much I was able to accomplish in so little time, and I couldn't have done so alone. So, it's time to show these people some deserved appreciation one last time. This is not an exhaustive list, since there are so many wonderful individuals who have made me the person I am today, and who have equipped me with the skills to succeed. But I assure you, I am eternally grateful to every single person who has done so.

Thank you, Mom and Dad. You've been so, so, so supportive and forgiving and trusting-- I couldn't have asked for more. It is because of you both that I was able to take a gap year in Scotland (which I still can't believe I did!!), and visit, like, seven other countries. I was able to see my wildest dreams come true, from complete recovery to having a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower, while knowing that you were at home cheering me on and making sure I was safe. It's been hard to not contact you as much as I would have liked, or being constrained to short calls and emails. Let's just say I'm very much looking forward to seeing you both in person.

Thank you, Elise, Nicole, and Alex. It hasn't been easy to go so long without you. I can't wait to come home and see how much you've all changed. You have no idea how much I've missed marathoning House M.D., going to the Culver gym, playing crap-your-pants hide and seek, riding bikes to the library, all those things that siblings do. You guys all mean so much to me, and I couldn't have asked for better siblings. Thank you for being patient, kind, and supportive. Counting down the days until I see you-- and you bet that I'll be bringing back tons of weird Scottish food for you to try!

Thank you, Culver friends, for being by my side no matter how many miles away. It was so great to see you all blaze your way through your first year of college, changing the world with your charm and ambition. Clare, Anne, Suraag, Kary, Morgan, Katie, G, Reina, and all the others, you are wonderful, powerful people who can and will change the world. I am proud to call you my friends.

Thank you, Dollar friends: Becca, Amy, Alek, James, Alisha, Silas, Nathan, Ali, Anja, and everyone else. Y'all Tip Top Hats were so gracious to take me in under your wing, and I have learned so much from each and every one of you. Whether just going to the Co-op together, hanging in Alisha's hot tub, or dressing up in full-out Dia de los Muertos costume on a school day, I enjoyed each and every minute with you. This is not the end for us: we will meet again someday, and I know that you all will exceed expectations wherever you end up.

Thank you, Dollar teachers. Mrs. Young, Mr. McConnell, Mrs. Scott, Mrs. Fitzpatrick, and Ms. Sharp, you have been especially supportive and understanding to me throughout the school year. Thanks to you, I have met all of my academic goals on my exchange year, plus much more. I was so blessed to have teachers that cared about me, and truly wanted me to succeed.

Thank you, Heyworth girls, Mr. Duncan, Mr. Duncan, Liz, Julie, Eileen, and the rest of the Heyworth House Crew. Most of my favorite moments this year took place in the boarding house: Heyworth is a kind, welcoming, homely environment because of all of you. It was so nice to know that no matter what, I will be welcomed with a smile and a nice conversation at the end of the day. You made me feel comfortable and safe, and all of your hard work does not go unnoticed. I'll miss every single one of my sisters.

Thank you, breakfast gang: Anja, Eline, and Helen. Starting off every day with you has been such a pleasure, and I hope someday you will realize how much it means to me. You made me feel welcome in the boarding house, like I belonged somewhere. I'll miss playing Uno, pictures of Fish Boy, fawning over fluffy cows, and mourning the cleaning of the yogurt door with you all. Your intelligence, humor, and thoughtfulness will take you far. We'll definitely have to plan a reunion sometime in the future!

Thank you, Hamish. I keep wondering how I'll get through next year without our top-notch memes, movie nights, and deep political conversations. Going with you to Italy during Christmas break is something that I will remember for the rest of my life, and I hope that you agree. Thank you for dancing with me at the Christmas ceilidhs, being an excellent listener, and an open-minded friend. Also, you're coming back inside my suitcase to Indiana. Sorry, I don't make the rules.

Thank you, Kary. I hope one day you will realize your immense value to me, how glad I was that you were only an hour away from me this whole time. Seeing your face, even just once in a while, was enough to make feel better. I really enjoyed all the times crashing your dorm in St. Andrews, meeting your friends, seeing your play, and showing you around Dollar. And going to Paris with you-- one of the best decisions I've ever made, no joke! I'm so glad you have been there for me, and I hope I've done the same.

Thank you, Rattray family. Your hospitality has been greatly appreciated, and just knowing that I had trustworthy guardians five minutes away was a blessing. I should have shown more gratitude throughout the year, and for that I'm sorry. Please keep in touch in the future-- I know that Emma and Peter will do great in their years at university! I hope we meet again sometime.

And lastly, thanks to all those who have supported me by reading my blog, praying for me, and keeping engaged in my adventures. I haven't forgotten any of you. Of course, I'll be making a lot of thank you cards in the next few weeks, but I thought it was appropriate to make a list of those who really made the year worthwhile. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: this was the best decision I've ever made, even if it was challenging. So, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Monday, May 22, 2017

On the Bonnie, Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond

I've mentioned in at least one previous blog post that I was going to climb a munro (a Scottish mountain) with Hamish this weekend, mainly because I was so excited about it. This trip was vital to me because it was one of my last times to go out and see the country-- at least, this year. I've been hearing about the beauty of Loch Lomond and its national park in particular all year (even the Rector suggested it)-- it's the largest loch in Scotland, and Ben Lomond is said to be one of the easiest munros to climb. There's a well-known traditional Scottish song about it, so I knew that I had to check it out before I returned to Culver.

Loch Lomond's location in relation to Paisley and Dollar.

On Friday the 19th of May, Hamish and I left Dollar to spend the night at his brother's flat in Paisley (as marked on the above map) so we could easily get to our location in the morning. Climbing up a munro can take as long as eight hours-- we had to get an early start if we wanted to be back by dinner. In our calculations, we would have to rise at a mere 5:30 in the morning if we were to successfully conquer Ben Lomond. So, we dragged ourselves out of bed the next morning doing our best to prepare our bodies for the long journey ahead.  However, it became clear to us while at the train station that we wouldn't make the bus up to Ben Lomond in time for the boat, which was unfortunately the only one that morning. For such a famous national park, the public transport was severely lacking. Because we had nothing else to do, we decided to take the train up to Balloch anyway, which is right on the southern tip of the loch. We had made it that far, so we might as well explore the park even though we wouldn't be able to climb the munro.

A friendly otter outside Balloch's aquarium.
This turned out to be a great decision. We were expecting all sorts of bad weather-- wind, rain, cold, all those Scottish things-- so we were pleasantly surprised when the air was pleasantly cool and the Maine rain barely bothered us. This time of year is perfect for going hiking in the country. The environment is vibrantly green and fresh, but the tourists don't begin to visit until the warmer months of July and August so they can golf in comfort. I must say that Loch Lomond is one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited-- yes, that's including Notre Dame and the canals of Amsterdam-- and the views were absolutely unforgettable.

In fact, it was so nice out that we decided to rent bicycles in a moment of spontaneity. Upon the suggestion of the rental consultant, we enjoyed an hour-long trail up the west coast of the loch to a quaint little village called Luss. The ride was quite physically taxing, actually, due to all of the altitude changes-- something that separates Scotland from the Midwest. Luss did remind me of Culver, though-- a relaxing lakeside hideaway dotted with coffee shops and unique souvenirs. It was more crowded than one would think, with happy families walking up and down along the coastline, and little kids fully enthralled in some Scottish homemade ice cream. We stayed here for about an hour, having a picnic and trying to find a scarf for Hamish with his clan's tartan, before heading back down the coast to catch the next train to Glasgow.

Our bike route, which took about three hours with picnic included.

A slightly dangerous bike selfie? Yes please.
So, the trip didn't quite go as planned. I was a little upset that we weren't able to climb the munro, but that just gives me an excuse to come back in the future. And technically, I did climb a munro in the most literal sense: Hamish's last name is Munro, and he gave me a piggy back ride. Close enough, right? Anyway, it was still a really nice way to relax after my Modern Studies exam, as well as prepare for my geography exam this Friday. And then, in 16 days, I'll be enjoying the shores of Lake Max again-- but who's counting the days?

Monday, May 15, 2017

"...Oh:" A Detailed Illustration of Arielle's Many Misconceptions

Well, the countdown is on: 21 days now to enjoy the beauty of Scotland. My next posts will likely be of the more reflective nature, so I can fully assess the completion of my goals that I set for my exchange year. I'll try and throw in some pictures taken this year, too, just for a more visual experience. This post's topic: being proven wrong. A lesson in humility, if there ever was one.

There's a famous legend in our family that sets a precedent for my built-in blondeness. One time, when I was about 7 or 8, I heard my father using one of his favorite phrases at the dinner table: that "the whole famn damily" was going to do something together. I look up at him, proud of the chance to finally correct him about something for once-- and I say, "No daddy, you mean... Oh." Let's just say that it's not uncommon for me to think something, totally confident about it, and then realize my mistake later (sometimes mid-sentence). It's just part of my natural blondeness, I guess. Even today, when I have a misconception that usually ends in an "...oh," my family will repeat the story and laugh.

This year is no different. I began my adventure with some innocent and not-so-innocent preconceived notions about myself, my new home, and the world around me. It's strange to think that I might not have ever have realized these flaws if I had not taken an exchange year, which is why I'm so glad that I did. As usual, I have reflected on some of my more recent realizations, and have compiled them in a list of no particular order for your enjoyment. Enjoy the pictures, too-- I hope they illustrate the productiveness of study leave accurately.
Kary and I together for the last time in Scotland, dodging the rain on a hike through the Ochil Hills.
1. I'm sheepish to admit it now, but one of the misconceptions I had about British people is that they put milk into every type of tea. It was only when Mr. Duncan looked at me strangely for pouring milk into my peppermint tea at the beginning of the year when I learned that it was just black tea that was supposed to be all nice and creamy. I also learned that there's a specific art about making said cup of tea, and this usually varies from person to person. The ratio of water to milk in the cup, the heat of the water, even the way you take out the tea bag are only a few of the variables that go into making the perfect drink. Who knew it would be so complicated? Definitely not me at the beginning of the year.

2. A more serious yet unexpected misconception I discovered, one I only realized about halfway through the year, was that I found myself valuing and trusting American sources and information  more than those of other countries. Allow myself to illustrate with an example: given the choice in Modern Studies of citing either the British Medical Association or the US Department of Health and Human Services, I would always choose the latter. And this choice was for studying health inequalities... in the UK. I also find myself leaning towards American books, TV shows, even clothes brands. Is this my own manifestation of the "America is the best" mentality? That even though I am thousands of miles away from my homeland, I am willing to go to greater lengths to keep ties with it?
I've partially overcome this fallacy by enjoying some solely British media, such as QI (Quite Interesting), a quiz show which might just be my favorite way to relax now. Realizing the value in what other countries can offer has been a perspective-widening experience for me, and I hope to continue using this skill in the future.

April showers bring may flowers!
3. We all know of the legendary food, Haggis-- a compilation of oats, sheep's insides, and who knows what else, served with a nice side of "neeps and tatties" (turnips and potatoes). I thought this was a normal weeknight meal, but as usual, I was mistaken. Haggis is eaten a few times a year at most for the majority of the population, and from what I have experienced, it's not actually that popular of a choice anyway. What a surprise, right?

4. Other people just do not see the world the way I do, and they didn't grow up in the same situation as me-- and vice versa. A few weeks ago, I was shocked at the fact that Hamish had no idea what "Veggietales" was (it was pretty funny to see his face after hearing of a 90's show with singing Vegetables teaching kids about Christianity). Then again, I was clueless about the TV show "Peppa Pig" until this year as well. This goes for more somber examples, too, like how I grew up in a country where firearms are legal and most people here haven't. When someone told me that they were scared to travel for the US for this very reason, I scoffed at first. That's ridiculous, I said-- you're not going to get shot at the airport, or any place for that matter. Upon further reflection, however, it made more sense to me. If you know America allows lethal weapons, and hear on the news that almost everyone has one, why would you not be scared? They simply live in a society with polar views about the issue to America, so that's all they know. So, I've stopped saying, "What? You haven't seen/heard of/done that?"  and have accepted others' lives as an entirely different experience. And that's definitely not a bad thing.

Hamish being a nerd at the Glasgow Science Centre.
5. One of the most divisive issues currently in the UK is that of Scotland's independence (and Brexit, for that matter); experiencing the conflict here has allowed me to understand and empathize with each viewpoint in a way I would never have been able to otherwise. Before, I had partially envisioned Scotland as the poor, enslaved land under the cruel, tyrannic rule of Westminster: who would ever want to turn down the chance of sovereignty? The truth is, many Scots would jump at the chance. But there are also those who consider the benefits of staying with England-- like security benefits and tax deductions-- more valuable than complete freedom in decision-making. To me, both are valid viewpoints, and the same can be applied to Brexit. No issue is as simple as it seems, so no decision will be the "no-brainer" one. It's funny, but I find that in general with studying politics: the more I learn, the more I am indecisive about my own views. More precisely, the more I realize that I don't even know what I don't know.

6. I thought I would see a lot more men wearing kilts this year. But the truth is, I've really only seen them worn A. for tourism purposes in Edinburgh, B. for sacred occasions at school, and even then only some pupils and C. on a rare, super traditional/nationalistic old man. When they do wear them, however, I appreciate the unashamed way that Scotland's customs are shown. I can see most American males I know being way too self-conscious to rock the tartan, even if it was considered as "traditional," and it's always nice to see some national pride. And another thing about kilts: I never knew that they were so expensive. Like, worth a couple return flights to Greece expensive. I promised some people a kilt upon my return, which was a big mistake on my part. Sorry, Major Brandt-- a picture's going to have to do this time...

Lots and lots of lavender..
That's all I can think of for now-- a short list, but an efficient one. The weather has been perfect and sunny for this study leave (another misconception about Scotland?); we have been cherishing the chance to explore the outdoors in between revision sessions. With only three weekends left, I really have to prioritize what I do with my time here. But hey, at least I don't waste that time drinking peppermint tea with milk anymore!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

"No Ragrets!"

A few weeks ago, I was faced with an agonizing decision. I could stay in Scotland until the end of the school year on June 29th, attend the Form VI programme full of trips and seminars, and play in the orchestra for the Spring Musical, or I could leave early to accept a job offer for Culver Summer Schools, see my family again for the first time in 10 months, and enjoy some time with some much-missed Culver friends. Both options were honestly of equal value to me, and it was painful to choose of the two. But since I had to be back in Culver by the 10th of June to accept the offer, I had to pick one of the two.

In the end, after contemplating, reflecting, and admittedly crying a little, I decided to come home early. It was the first time that I had actively thought about returning home, which made me more homesick than I've ever been here (funny-- doesn't that usually happen at the beginning of a journey?). I've worked at Culver for the past three years, and I couldn't bear being left out of it this year. Plus, it was hard enough not seeing my siblings for this long: when presented with the two options, I can't be blamed for choosing the one that would enable me to see them again.

So, is there anything I wish I could did--or didn't do-- on my gap year? Honestly, not too much. In other words, I definitely wasn't this guy:

Okay, back to seriousness. I do feel as though I could have taken harder classes this year. A small part of me had thought at the time that I wasn't smart enough for the course load, but I was pleasantly surprised at my academic efficiency that I had gained from Culver. If I had to do the year again, I would have taken Advanced Higher Modern Studies instead of just Higher, and maybe taken another new course like Psychology instead of staying safe with a Politics class. I guess I'll have to wait until IU to be really challenged, but it was nice to have a "year off" studying.

Even though I was still actively involved in musical activities at Dollar, I do regret not taking private music lessons here. It wouldn't even have to be cello-- I could have picked up a new instrument, like the flute (or, dare I say it, the bagpipes). I don't feel as though I improved that much musically, and my hands are visibly less calloused than they were at the end of my Honors in Music concert last year. But I don't worry about it too much; music is always there for me. My own cello is waiting patiently for me in my room in Culver.

Lastly, I wish I had kept in better touch with my Culver friends. It was great to be so close to Kary and I thoroughly enjoyed our visits, but I could have reached out more to so many people: Clare, Anne, Katie, Morgan, everyone. Although it doesn't feel like it, it's been almost a year since we walked through the famed gate and arch together. One of the first things I am doing when I get home is call them all up, head straight for the coffee shop, and have a nice, long conversation. The best thing about Culver relationships is that they are always there, no matter how long it's been, so I'm not too worried about this either.

Of course I wanted to end the year strong, dance at the summer ball, attend the house barbecue. I'll dearly miss all my friends here, and I'll miss Europe's culture that made me feel at home for so long. But the thing is, I truly feel like I've accomplished all that I wanted to on my exchange year. I don't have any burning desires to experience anything else, and I feel like I've gotten everything I can out of being here. The items on my bucket list are virtually all checked off. I was able to make irreplaceable friends...

Finally see a precious highland cow...

...Travel to a bunch of famous places...

...Feel content with myself...

...And in the next few weeks, I'll hopefully be able to climb a Scottish munro, something that I really wanted to do here.

So all in all, I'm content with my decision. As cheesy as it sounds, I feel in my heart that this is not the last experience here: someday, I will return. It could be the Dollar Class of 2017 10-year reunion, or it could be in my future career. Who knows? I'll thoroughly enjoy enjoy the last month I have here, just as much as I will enjoy finally coming home at the end of the year. This is not the end. In fact, I think it's just the beginning.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Boarding School Showdown

When I was touring the highlands with Mrs. Rutledge, Paul, and Evan, we fell a few times on the topic of comparing American and British boarding schools. Both Evan and I are ESU scholars that attended Culver Academies for four years, so we definitely had much to say about the subject. I remember Paul asking Evan and me, "if you had to choose, then, which would you say is better? If you had to pick one?"

It's a reasonable question to ask. One of the main reasons for a secondary school change, after all, is to develop the ability to compare international school systems. However, both Evan and I had difficulties directly answering the question. Paul's inquiries were admittedly answered with a lot of well's, um's and sort of's. We didn't want to respond with a cliché "they're both good in their own way," but that seemed the most accurate way to put it. As always, the answer is much more complicated than it seems.

So, which one is better: Culver or Dollar?  It's impossible for me to say that I hated one or loved the other, because boarding encompasses an immeasurable number of aspects in one's life. I've constructed a list of seven of these aspects to make the question a bit easier: academics, extra-curricular activities, boarding life, location, school spirit, freedom, and personal development. It's far from a comprehensive list, but it's a good enough start. I can't speak of Evan's experience with his own boarding school, nor can I speak on behalf of all British boarding schools (or American ones, for that matter); this is simply what I've personally observed in each administration. So, don't take it too seriously!

Category 1: Academics

This is obviously an important one, especially for me. It was one of my top priorities at Culver, not to mention the reason I applied for ESU. Culver's curriculum was undoubtedly more rigorous than Dollar's, as I have mentioned in previous posts: my homework time halved upon my arrival at Dollar.
Although I had next to no free time at Culver, I feel as though my hard work was setting a strong, firm basis for a successful life. In addition, it's where I developed my passion and curiosity for many of my interests: politics, French, and writing. Perhaps it is because I enrolled in less challenging courses at Dollar, or because I am older now, but the majority of what I learned here was not in the classroom. It was in the boarding house, or travelling outside the country, or in the books I read outside of class. Many courses are lecture-based anyway, and are therefore a bit less engaging compared to Culver's competitive Harkness discussions.

Winner: Culver

Category 2: Extra-curricular Activities

I must mention that I always considered sports at Culver were extremely intense, almost too much so: most of them would hold practice two hours a day, for five days a week, some expecting additional weekend (or even weekday) workouts. Sure, that's great if you want to become a professional athlete, but not for a nice after-school activity. Culver's clubs had the opposite problem: the Human Rights Club, for example, met rarely and was generally underfunded. With Dollar's sports and clubs, I can participate in multiple activities without worrying that I am "betraying" another: there's time for everything. I went to orchestra on Mondays, ran on Tuesdays, Choir on Wednesdays, Yoga or Amnesty International on Thursdays, and Friday to relax. It wasn't the end of the world if I was too tired or too caught-up to go one week, and it is almost unheard of to be kicked off a team. The flexibility worked well with my schedule, and I enjoyed the ability to try so many new activities.

Winner: Dollar

Category 3: Boarding life

Dollar and Culver share few similarities in boarding life; it is difficult to compare them. Linden housed close to fifty girls, while Heyworth has about fifteen. Roommates are a necessity at Culver, while in my House the majority of rooms are currently single. CGA featured dorm moms and counselors, while Dollar has house families. If I had to make a choice, though, I would have to lean towards Heyworth. A small house and a single room allow for quiet study time and more privacy, which are both rarities in a dorm hall. At 8 PM on the dot, we are all downstairs, enjoying a snack and each other's company. We are more like sisters than housemates, a relationship difficult to achieve with dozens of girls. And then there are the tiny-but-not-insignificant perks: Heyworth is a close walk to the dining hall, it has cats, and the house ladies wash and fold our laundry every day. Oh, and we don't have a stealing problem like we did in Linden sometimes, which is always nice.

Winner: Dollar

Category 4: Location

I thought I had this one all figured out. For the first few months, I kept thinking, "how am I going to go back to boring old Northern Indiana after spending almost a year at the foot of some of the most beautiful hills in Scotland?" But then I remember Culver's beautiful 1300-acre campus on the legendary shores of Lake Max, and remember that some would give an arm and a leg to live where I lived for 18 years. It's where General Lew Wallace wrote the famous chariot race chapter in his book Ben-Hur, calling it "the most beautiful place in the world," and it's where Kurt Vonnegut spent much of his life. Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed the change of scenery, and I will undoubtedly miss the opportunity to go on a hike--or even climb a mountain--at my leisure. Spending ten months away from Culver, however, really has led me to realize that there is no place like home.

Winner: Tie

Category 5: School Spirit

I will always hold a special place in my heart for the Culver Academies: it's a unique, wonderful place full of unique, wonderful people. It's easy to take the Friday night football games, the Thursday Retreats and the Sunday Parades, the drill teams, the Black Horse Troop, Officer's Figure, even the uniforms for granted. I still feel the pain of sentimentality when I remember my own graduation, with all of us in our white dresses or uniforms ready to throw our bouquets/hats into the air. Dollar has its moments of pride, of course, especially with its world-class pipe band and remarkable rugby team. But there's no equivalent to hearing "The Eagle Rumble" at a basketball tournament, or the, well, thrilling "thrill" of the Culver Song booming from a crowd with the ultimate amount of enthusiasm. I think it's because the majority of pupils here are not boarders, so Dollar is "just a school" for many. But Culver is a lifestyle, there's no doubt about it.

Winner: Culver

Category 6: Freedom and Independence

Sorry, Culver, but this one is obvious. At Dollar, I can go to town whenever I want. I can change out of uniform after school, and I don't have to wear it to the dining hall for dinner. On the weekends, I can jump on a bus to Glasgow or Edinburgh for the day. I don't have to prepare for Sunday inspection, and I don't get an infraction for having my top button unbuttoned. I don't have to worry about being expelled if I drink alcohol (which I would never ever do); instead, the boarding house trusts us and teaches us how to drink responsibly. This year, I've appreciated the trust that the school has given me and have used it wisely. That said, however, Dollar is quite strict on its no-jewelry-little-makeup policy, which can get a little annoying. I guess no place is perfect...

Winner: Dollar

Category 7: Personal Development

I end with a category that I consider the most important, even more than academics. I feel as though Culver instilled in me its values over my four years the most, and I owe my diligent work ethic to it.
Despite its tediousness, all that leadership paperwork and training did pay off in the end. CGA's leadership system can be almost as rigorous as its academics, but I learned countless invaluable skills in all the workshops and council positions: how to cooperate, compromise, and overcome challenges. If it weren't for the emphasis on personal reflection, I would not be writing this blog.
It's not as though Dollar did not help me personally develop, but I do miss the effort that Culver made to help its students from Dr. Boys' talks on gratitude to Mentor-Mentee Time.

Winner: Culver

Sorry if you were expecting a direct, concrete "___ is the best school," but you're not going to get it. The truth is, I hold both schools dearly close to my heart. I'm proud to wear the CGA crest as much as the Dollar coat of arms; similarly, the Ochil Hills and Lake Max have equal value to me.And in the years to come, in Indiana University and beyond, I'll look fondly on each school-- the good and the bad-- and the memories I created at both of them.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Arielle's Travel Tips!

When I was younger, I used to commiserate with the pitiful George Bailey from the movie It's a Wonderful Life: trapped in a small rural town, yet with an insatiable desire to see the world, except Bedford Falls was actually Culver and I'm not deaf in one ear. Even though Georgie is still one of my favorite fictional characters, I can't really compare myself with him anymore since I've been to the UK, France, Italy, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, and the Czech Republic (I'm counting flight stopovers, just because I can).

A lot of my time overseas has been traveling over breaks, so I've decided to make a compilation of advice I've picked up on my adventures. Most of these tips will be particularly useful for young frugal travelers who prefer seeing cities, with the obvious reason being that I was one, but others will apply to anyone who wishes to see more of the world. Enjoy!

1 Scarves are my go-to garment while travelling because they are just so versatile. I have a nice oversized one that has served as a pillow, a blanket, an extra layer, a bag for dirty laundry, you name it. Mini towels are also nice to have on hand, if you have room, so you don't have to rent one.

2. If you're travelling on a budget and are using a hostel, just make sure that it has hot water. And heating. No need to elaborate on this too much.

3. Traveling alone is an incredibly rewarding and relaxing experience, but it takes some getting used to. I find travelling with someone more stressful, actually, because I'm always afraid that said person is not enjoying themselves. In Europe, it's incredibly safe to make a journey on your own, with most other big cities being acceptable too. Just make sure that you communicate often so that someone knows where you are, just in case. You don't want a worried parent frantically calling your hostel because you forgot to keep in touch for one too many days (sorry, Mom).

4. Take less of your clothes on long journeys, so you can wash them when you need a break from sightseeing. It's not that expensive, but even better, it saves room for souvenirs or shopping you may want to bring home. A warning about souvenirs, though, in tip #7.

5. Go grocery shopping to save money on food. It doesn't have to be boring or conventional things either-- this is the time to experiment with the recipes you've always wanted to try! I do, however, have some go-to ingredients that are especially travel-friendly. Look for longer-lasting, easy-to-transport foods such as apples, tortillas for wraps, carrots, mushrooms, chickpeas, pesto, hard-boiled eggs, and pasta. Cheese tends to go with pretty much everything, too, so I always have some on hand if I have access to a refrigerator.

6. McDonalds and Starbucks almost always have free WiFi. So, instead of buying an expensive SIM card for overseas communication, as suggested in tip #3. just enjoy a WhatsApp call with a morning latte. Great way to start the day!

7. Buy less souvenirs and more experiences: a snowglobe is nice, but a trip to a national museum will be much more memorable. If you really want something tangible to bring back home, boarding passes and tickets work just fine. On the same subject, pictures are invaluable: take as many as you can. You can always delete the ones you don't want later, but the feeling of regret for not capturing a special moment is the absolute worst.

8. It sounds silly, but bring a first aid kit with you on your travels. You don't want to be stuck without it, even if chances are you won't, and it doesn't take up that much space anyway. On my last day in Prague, I sliced my finger open with a butter knife cutting open a roll, and it was the one trip that I didn't bother taking any band-aids or antibacterial cream. It's also nice to have some aspirin, cough medicine, and peppermint oil (it helps with stomach problems, headaches, and pretty much every other ailment!).

9. If you ever find yourself in a significant city (at least in Europe), Sandeman tours are THE ABSOLUTE BEST. They're free tours that usually last around three hours, and they are incredibly entertaining. All of my tour guides have been absolutely wonderful, and it's where I've gained the most information about the location I'm visiting. I've been to ones in London, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Berlin, and Prague. It's an excellent way to become acclimated to a city and see all the major sites, so I like to do one on the first or second day.

10. Don't take any risks with pick-pocketing. Thankfully, it's never happened to me, but people have attempted-- got into a scary situation at the Basilique de Sacre Coeur one time. I always wear a vest with numerous inside pockets, which makes my passport/visa/cash/cards/phone/etc much safer than they otherwise would be. I would suggest the same for any other traveler, especially in a crowded city.

11.  Walk as much as you can, because you will enjoy the city much more than you would on a subway. Hamish and I found the most interesting sites in Rome while just wandering around the city, and it really minimizes your transport money too.

12. Bring something that will help you relax, because travelling can actually be quite stressful. I keep a journal to calm any racing thoughts, as well as to document my activities, and it really does help. If knitting, reading, crossword puzzles, or music helps you enjoy yourself more, then it earns a place in your suitcase.

13. If you're visiting a particularly popular monument or museum, booking online is the best option. Not only is it often cheaper, but it saves you from standing in line for hours. Trisha and I didn't have to wait at all for the Rijksmuseum or the Van Gogh museum-- we just waltzed in with our tickets! It's especially useful during winter months where you don't want to be in the cold for hours.

14. Plan, plan, plan (continuation of tip #13?). It's key to having a really good travel experience. While it might be tempting to say, "I'll just play it as it goes" (especially with hostel-hopping), There is almost always an event or setback that you will not expect. In order to make sure that I will have a place to stay for every night, I make my plans weeks in advance-- and accommodation rates are way lower this way too.

And that's all I can think of, for now at least. I'm sure I'll wake up sometime in the middle of the night within the next few days and say, "gosh darn it, I should have mentioned that," but so be it. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to share this information from my own experience, even though I had to learn some of them the hard way. That's part of the experience, I guess, and I'm looking forward to many more in the future!