Geneva, Paris, Giverny, Normandy
Prayer requests: returning home and my family
L'Écosse et Les Autres Aventures
Being the responsible student that I am, I decided to take a weekend away in Scotland a week before Final exams. Was it the best decision? No. Was it still worth it? We’ll see when I get my final grades back. My friend and fellow photographer, Natalie, and I spent French Labor Day traveling to Edinburgh, the Highlands, Loch Ness, and Glen Coe in Scotland. It was a magnificent photo adventure, which is my favorite kind of adventure. When we arrived, we quickly realized that perhaps with all of the essays, presentations, and tests we have in the next two weeks, traveling and becoming even more sleep deprived really wasn’t a good idea. However, it was too late to back out and we were determined to have a good time, which we did.
We crammed in a lot into such a short visit. We saw Edinburgh Castle, which is an incredible castle on top of an ancient volcano in the middle of the city. We heard tales of tragedy and determination that characterizes Scottish history. Then we went to the famous Camera Obscura: a fun museum of optical illusions with a working camera of Victorian technology on the roof. The next day, we went on a walking tour of the city to get some more inside scoop on the mostly dark history of Edinburgh. We passed a lot of Harry Potter sites, too! J. K. Rowling wrote her first two Harry Potter books at The Elephant House café, which we went into. She got much of her inspiration from the city, including the inspiration for Hogwarts from a local private school (George Heriot’s School) and Edinburgh Castle. There is a graveyard near that private school; when we walked past some of the headstones, we couldn’t help but notice names like “McGonagall,” “Thomas Riddle,” and “Moodie,” which served as her inspiration for her famous characters. The graveyard is also from The Goblet of Fire. We walked through Victoria Street, which is a colorful and windy street which was the inspiration for Diagon Alley. There are many shops there that look very Harry Potter-esque. Later, we went to Grassmarket, which used to be a site of public executions, including the one of Maggie Dickson, who was the inspiration for Nearly-headless Nick. Now, the street is a scene of fun pubs and a lively market. After our fangirl sides were satisfied, we visited St. Giles’ Cathedral, which is the only cathedral to portray angels playing the bagpipes! Fun fact as if this place couldn’t get any cooler, the unicorn is the national animal of Scotland!
The next morning we left the hustle and bustle of the city to go on a quest for Nessie at Loch Ness. Unfortunately, Nessie was nowhere to be found, but we did get some fun pictures! Our day trip involved lots of photos in the Scottish Highlands and Glen Coe. I was overwhelmed by the immense beauty of the Highlands. It’s no wonder why so many authors, movie producers, and artists are obsessed with the area. My favorite show, Outlander, is about 18th century Scotland; much of it is filmed in this region. I felt like I stepped into another world when I looked out the window. All I wanted to do was ride a gallant horse across the landscape and pretend I was on a fantasy quest. We also passed Doune Castle on our drive, which is one of the locations in Outlander and the taunting frenchman scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (my favorite movie).
For our last night, Natalie and I met one of my friends who is studying abroad in Edinburgh. It was really fun seeing her and catching up. We met her boyfriend too, who is Scottish and was a photographer in the British army. He told us some crazy stories when he was in the army, including how he used to live in Edinburgh Castle! Apparently there were not enough military housing, so they put up some of the men in the castle. When he would take a taxi “home” after a night at a pub, the taxi drivers would constantly turn him away and say: “get out; you’re drunk. No one lives in the castle.” Yet, when the castle gates would open in front of him, the taxi drivers were astonished!
I am finally getting closer and closer to understanding my family history. As a mix of many ethnicities, it’s hard knowing where I come from. I spoke with a man at a name history desk who helped me research a little more. We could not find a "Hulan," but lots of names similar to it, which could be variations based on moving to different countries. "(O) Hulane" is from Cork, Ireland. There is also "Hulin," which is English or Welsh. There weren't any that were close enough to anything from Scotland, but we believe our family moved between the UK and Ireland over the years before coming to America.
Before my trip, Liliane and I were invited to her friends, Anne Marie and “Chri-Chri” (the best spelling I could manage on how to pronounce his nickname in English), for dinner. They are the host parents to three Americans, including my friend, Caroline. Two of their neighbors joined us too. The neighbors just moved here from San Diego and are learning French. Eating a long and many-coursed French meal while switching between English and French was so much fun! We had a dinner similar at the beginning of the semester, and I was happy by how much I’ve improved in the French language since then. Although I am nowhere close to fluent, it is fun to be able to somewhat communicate.
Now, I really feel like my time abroad is coming to a close. Not only do we have finals this week to end the semester, but we also just had our CEA Au Revoir Dinner. This semester has been a tough one, but I'm so grateful that finding good friends has not been part of the stress. My program, CEA, has done an amazing job on every aspect of my experience abroad (don't worry, I'm not getting a scholarship for saying that). I love our small group of CEA kids, too. I feel like we all got along super well from the beginning and I'd say we're like a little family. We're all very different, but I think the diversity combined with our similar stage of life has been very beneficial. I'm very ready to go home, but this dinner made me realize how much I'm going to miss the new friends I've made over here.
In other news, Emmanuel Macron has been voted the new French President. Also, I went to the L'Olympique de Marseille vs. OGC Nice game in Marseille yesterday. It was the coolest sporting event I've ever been to. We won 2-1 (not that sports are really my thing...)!
"It feels like an ocean of sorrow is under my skin
Even the ocean eventually meets with the sand
Sorrow on sorrow, I’m waiting
Heavy, I’m anticipating
Trusting the current, will carry me"
-All Sons & Daughters
Prayer requests: Finals, going to the Word
Spring Break Part 2
Thessaloniki is a city in Greece many people know by its ancient name: Thessalonica. The Apostle Paul visited this city for three Saturdays during his missionary journey. He also wrote two letters to the church at Thessalonica. Their church was known as “the good church” by Paul. Paul and Silas fled Thessaloniki at night in order to escape people wanting to kill him by climbing the walls of Thessaloniki. There is a spring where Paul allegedly stopped to drink out of as well near the Church of Aghios Pavlos (Church of St. Paul). Besides the Biblical history, Thessaloniki has been a center of conflict for many different empires throughout time. Macedonia, the Byzantine empire, the Ottoman empire, Rome, Greece, the Frankish Kingdom, and Nazi Germany are only a few of the influences on the city. We visited this city of hardship for four days. We saw the historical sites around the city, including the places I just mentioned. We ate extremely well, and I even tried some new foods like vine leaves and rabbit. Of course, eating gyros with french fries inside (the closest thing I've gotten to a Cali burrito this semester) and tzatziki was a daily pastime. One day, we rode on a pirate ship bar around the port and soaked up the sun. The boardwalk around the port is the most scenic aspect of Thessaloniki. Tons of cool restaurants and bars line the waterfront and it is a great place to hang out. On the northern end of the boardwalk stands the White Tower, where people were imprisoned and tortured during the days of the Ottoman Empire. Before coming to Greece, I had heard of the Greek Orthodox Church, but I didn't know anything about it. I still don't know very much, but it was very interesting to see such a different culture of worship throughout my stay. We went inside a few churches, and they were unlike any church I've ever seen before!
The stereotype that Greeks are kind is, fortunately, very accurate! People here really are nice and helpful. Quite a few times people would approach us and ask if we needed help (we often look very lost and confused). One girl even offered her phone to use her data for maps. People there also have a lot of pride and love for their city, which is so cool!
No trip would be complete without an adventure, right? We had two. The first was canyoning on Mount Olympus! We didn't see any of the gods, but I understand why people believed they lived up there. The mountain seems to rise magically up from the otherwise flat, yet beautiful landscape. Canyoning consisted of hiking, rappelling, swimming in snow melt, sliding down natural waterfalls, and cliff jumping! It was one of the most amazing things I've ever done. The second adventure was sailing in the Aegean Sea, which felt like very luxurious.
Being an American girl studying abroad, I clearly had to make my pilgrimage to Rome. What we didn't realize when planning the trip was that we would be arriving in Rome on Easter weekend. This was a very cool thing, but also a very bad idea. I've been to Rome once before, and I was overwhelmed by the amount of people there were. Now, we were exploring the city with even more tourists than ever celebrating the Holy weekend. We visited the Vatican, which blew my mind with its beauty and scale, even though I was shoulder to shoulder with people the entire time. We saw paintings and sculptures normally only read and dreamed about. The history in this capital is fantastic. Later in the day, I was surprised that we could actually squeeze our way to the front of the Trevi Fountain to be able to toss a coin in and enjoy some gelato. In front of the Colosseum, we attended the Good Friday torchlit service by Pope Francis. After all of the terrorist attacks on Christian churches the week preceding, the service was very moving, even though I couldn't understand what they were saying in Italian.
Our next stop was Florence, Italy. After a hectic and crowded Rome, Florence was a Tuscan vacation. Florence is incredibly romantic and adorable. I really enjoyed the city a lot and would strongly recommend visiting. In all of my history classes, I learned Florence was the capital of the world for a very long period of time. It was so surreal imagining walking in the Medici family or Michelangelo's footsteps. Back then, anyone who was anyone lived, worked, or studied in Florence. My friends and I had our own personal tour guide: a history major friend who is studying currently in Florence. She showed us around the town and gave us history lessons wherever we went. We visited the esteemed Duomo and Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, which was the most unique cathedral I've ever seen. It was jaw-droppingly beautiful. We saw Michelangelo's original sculpture of the David, got a great view of the city on the Piazzale Michelangelo, and shopped for leather goods at the famous leather market. Of course, we stopped for gelato multiple times, drank delicious wine, and ate tons of pizza and pasta. One thing I didn't expect was that Florence is a very American city. There are tons of American students studying abroad there. In fact, everywhere I went, I heard more English than Italian.
Cinque Terre is a stunning landscape in northern Italy which holds five little cities. For our last stop, we visited one of them: Riomaggiore, which was probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. The colorful buildings are built into the side of the jagged rocks which line the rough Mediterranean Sea. There is one main street with only about six restaurants, otherwise the city streets are narrow and steep. We got quite a workout when climbing all the stairs as we explored the quaint town. My friends and I sat on the rocks and terraces overlooking the sea as we snacked on delicious beach food and gelato. There was not much to do in town besides explore, lounge, and eat, but that was fine by me! If we had more time there, we would have hiked the coastal path that connects all five cities. For dinner, we ate more pasta and then had a fun night sitting on the rocks near the sea. Before catching our trains and buses back to Aix the next morning, we ate a long brunch and played cards at a local cafe.
Yet, out of all the beautiful places on Earth I've seen, my favorite remains in the arms of the one who heals my soul as it's breaking. Despite the exciting adventures I've experienced this semester, what goes mostly unspoken are the challenge and difficulties I've faced. Studying abroad is a mixture of extremes: both highs and lows, none of which one could predict. Things I never thought I would have to deal with, I now struggle in. This has undoubtedly been the most exhausting and difficult time in my life. I don't seek pity by saying this, but I want to be honest about the whole of studying abroad for those who are considering the feat or those who want more than what's on the outside.
"I found strength but it wasn't what I thought
I found peace in the places I forgot
I found riches ain't the things that I had bought I found out
The day I lost myself was the day that I found God"
Two Italian high school students joined our two bedroom apartment a few weeks ago. The girls were very nice and it was fun living in a crowded house again. Our dinners with Liliane were interesting and like a fun game of charades as we tried to communicate with each other. Just imagine: Liliane only speaking French, me speaking English and a bit of French, and the girls speaking Italian, a little bit of French, and one speaking some English. It was funny switching back and forth from three different languages in order for us all to understand something…especially when we were talking about politics. We also spoke about the different accents common in each region of our respective countries. I talked sports with the two girls too. They thought rugby and American football were the same thing. I had to explain the difference even though I don’t know much about sports. I also told them about SuperBowl parties. They were amazed by the kinds of food we eat as part of the festivities. One surprising thing I learned from them revealed the truth: Italians don’t twirl their pasta on spoons! They twirl it against their plate or bowl.
Fun fact: Bradley Cooper attended IAU College (my school) when he studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence!
On another note, I haven't spoken about my addiction to Nutella. I don't know what it is that makes it so good. In America, I didn't understand the craze about it. Now, I have to eat it every day otherwise I crave it. I feel like a drug addict. I think it must have to do with my palette being used to things that go well with French food. My record is six days without Nutella-- this was not by choice because I was traveling and couldn't bring a jar in my carry on. However, I did manage to bring a jar for my trip to Ireland so I could get my fix 😬 . Once I went through an entire jar in a week. I am not ashamed at all. Yesterday, I even looked up if Nutella has addictive properties; I don't think it does, but I would not be surprised to find out later that it's secretly made with nicotine or something. Next I'll start writing poetry about my love of that creamy chocolate 😋 .
Prayer requests: Finals!!!
More Than Conquerors
I remember coming home one day to my mom cooking in the kitchen. She was making lefse, a Norwegian flatbread. I remember how happy she was to be making and eating it. Our family is not as in touch with our Norwegian heritage as some, but I think it is really cool that she likes our ancestor's culture. I never thought that I would ever be able to go to Norway, but my friend, Shay, and I found some cheap flights to Oslo, the capital city, for last weekend (casual...)! I had no expectations for this trip, and it was a bit last-minute, but it ended up being a great adventure!
When we first arrived, we immediately noticed a huge difference between Norway and France. Comparatively, France almost looks like a second-world country. Everything is so much smoother, more efficient, and clean. Everything makes sense! Getting through the airport, buying train tickets, and going to the city center took me off guard: everything is so easy! C'mon France, you can do better than that 😜 . America has a bit to learn as well. Oslo is a very clean and modern city. It was also very beautiful and unique; although there was a lot of construction getting ready for tourist season. Everything is very expensive there. Personal income tax there is 55% as well!
Shay and I explored around the city on Saturday and Sunday. We were staying right next to the famous opera house, which is an architect's dream. It was built to look like an iceberg jutting out of the waters of the Oslofjord. People are also able to walk, bike, and skateboard on the roof! We went inside, and it was insulated so well that we couldn't hear anyone walking around up top. In the summer, they set up concert stages on boats in front of the opera house, and music-goers sit on the roof to listen to the show! After that, we visited the Royal Palace and watched the changing of the guards. There, we also walked along the main street and saw some beautiful restaurants and stores. They have a giant TGI Friday's and Hard Rock Café, which was quite hilarious to see. We stopped for ice cream (the weather was heating up) and played in a bubble/foam fountain! We also had to see Munch's famous painting, "The Scream," which is displayed in the National Gallery. The gallery has quite a few Picasso's too. In the afternoon, we took a walk through the Akershus fortress and its castle, which was the inspiration for Arendelle from Frozen. In addition, our Airbnb host was from a real town in Norway called Arendelle! The fortress was beautiful and overlooked the fjord. It was lovely being able to rest on a bench and soak up the sun for a few hours. This semester has been so "go go go" that I haven't had time to just "be." It is so necessary to rest, and I haven't gotten nearly enough of it. Finally, we had to leave there because it was starting to get a bit chilly. The weather there was quite interesting. I did not know what to expect. We decided in the end it was similar to Aix: Google could say one thing, but you never really know. One minute a cloud will arrive and a wind will make it feel like an ice block for a few hours, (I'm not kidding-- sometimes I've had to wear three jackets because of this in Aix...) but as soon as the cloud passes, you'll be wishing you were in a bathing suit. It's the weirdest thing ever.
I guess Norwegians really like BBQ, because for every meal there, it ended up being BBQ. I wasn't deliberately choosing to eat BBQ: it just ended up happening! That night after our BBQ dinner, Shay and I stumbled across an ice bar. We had to go inside; who could say they've been to an ice bar in Norway?! It was a super cool experience. The entire interior was made of ice, including the benches, tables, walls, and drink glasses!
The next day we spent the morning in some of the many museums in Oslo. One of them was all about the famous expedition lead by Norwegian hero, Thor Heyerdahl, called the Kon-Tiki expedition. He sailed from South America to Tahiti in a wooden raft in order to prove that the Polynesians could have migrated from South America. The history of the expedition was riveting! We also went to "Norway's best museum," aka the Fram museum. This museum was all about polar expeditions. The Fram ship sailed further north and further south than any other wooden ship. During their Arctic exploration, their ship got stuck in ice for three years and the crew had to survive on penguin and seal meat. Crazy! Both museums had replicas of what the original boats looked like. They used the original interior of the ship in the Fram museum, which we got to see when we walked around inside. Outside, there was a lighthouse made entirely out of trash found in the Oslofjord. The artist made it to spread awareness of ocean pollution. It's insane how we destroy the Earth without thinking about it. As an ocean-lover, art-lover, lighthouse enthusiast, and Sustainability Studies minor, this was my favorite thing in Oslo. Later, we walked around the Norwegian culture center, which is an outdoor village showcasing the traditional architecture and lifestyle. I never realized how unique traditional Norwegian architecture and culture was! I've never seen anything like the Gol Stave Church there. We also saw some women making lefse in one of the open-fire kitchens. For our last stop, we went to Vigeland Sculpture Park, which is a massive park with hundreds of statues of humans which portray different aspects of life. All of the statues are made by the same artist! Many of the statues are very strange, including the most famous "Angry Boy" sculpture and the tall Monolith in the middle of the park.
Multiple times throughout our trip, people in restaurants or stores would start speaking norsk to us instead of english. It always threw me off, and I caught myself almost speaking French back to them a couple times, but I'm glad we fit in enough for them to think we were locals!
It's my goal to do a longer trip to Norway in the future. I would love to photograph the northern lights and hike the beautiful fjords one day.
When Shay and I were in Nice coming back from Oslo, we drove on the same street where the terror attack happened last year. It was crazy to feel like I can never really be safe. Also, I just found out about the bomb the police found in Oslo today. I can't believe we got so lucky as to have gone last week and not this week. It is such a difficult thing to want to have fun and travel places but also understand that another attack can happen anytime, anywhere, to anyone. I especially feel like a target being white, Christian, and American. I am living almost in a war zone, even though it doesn't feel like it until I see something on the news. Just this week alone has been too much for one world to bear: Stockholm, Egypt, Syria, Oslo. Our world is a scary place. Luckily I don't have to be afraid of men because my hope is secure in Jesus (although I'll still try my best to be safe 😊 ).
hear my plea, because I know you always do.
Prayer is powerful, and I have your Holy Spirit.
Be with our brothers and sisters
rescue your people
restore your Earth
bring light and love into this dark place
soothe the broken hearts and calm the minds of the hurting
heal the wounded and the sick.
You are the Prince of Peace.
I am sorry for my wandering heart and not living in obedience.
Come into me; change my heart and spirit to be tender towards you.
I beg this in your Holy name
“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do." -Luke 12:4
"No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." -Romans 8:37-39
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." -Philippians 4:8
Prayer requests: Safety during spring break next week, God's Kingdom come
Some of you remember when little Bree would prance around on horses. Last Sunday, I relived those memories in France!!! There's a beautiful national park just south of Arles, only about an hour and a half from me. My friends and I ventured over, after stopping for a crêpe, to a horse ranch/hotel. We sat around the pool and relaxed in the perfect weather before riding the ancient horses. The small, white horses are indigenous to the Camargue area and have lived in these marshes for thousands of years! They are perhaps the oldest breed of horses on Earth. Camargue is also known for their wild pink flamingos, which we also saw on our ride. It was a perfect day!
This week, my mom and Darrin came to visit me! I feel so fortunate to have all these people visiting me this semester. With all of my homesickness, it was wonderful having them here. It was such a happy reunion. Most of the trip didn't go exactly as planned, but we didn't mind because we just wanted to be together. We spent lots of time exploring Aix, eating lots and lots of food, shopping, and I showed them what my life has been like so far. It was rainy the whole time they were here, but that didn't stop us. Every time someone from California visits, they take the grey and rainy weather here from California: ironic, non?
Wednesday night we were invited by the daughter of my host mom (Liliane) to eat a real French meal at her house. We were pretty nervous because we assumed they didn't speak English. We would then have to rely on my minimal French to translate a six hour dinner party between four French people and three Americans. When we showed up, we were relieved when Lili's son-in-law and daughter spoke English! We had a wonderful time. I attempted to translate the English into French for Lili and her grandson, Killian. We truly ate like the French and spent six hours at the table with five courses. Everything was delicious! We ate appetizers, foie gras, chorizo, a sausage and chicken soup, cheese and bread, caneles, and pear cake. I even tried a digestif! We had an amazing time with them, talking about everything from travels, to food, to business. It was great having my real mom meet my French mom!
Thursday was a bit of a bust. I was planning on going to classes that day as my parents visited Cassis. Last minute, my mom convinced me to skip classes that day, so we drove off. Ten minutes before reaching Cassis, I realized I had an essay I needed to turn in during class! We rushed back to Aix so I could hand in my essay, and no one got to go to Cassis that day 🙁 . However, we went back on Friday and had a great time! The south of France is quiet during the off-season. Without all the tourists, Cassis is very relaxing. We got into a conversation with our lunch waiter there. One noticeable difference between Europeans and Americans is that they are willing to discuss politics openly, even with strangers! In America, people often either want to avoid the topic at all costs, or people will lash out in dramatic debates about their views. However, in France, countless times, strangers have asked me my opinion on the recent election. More often than not, people dislike Trump, but I have met quite a few people that like him too. It is interesting hearing their views. So far, it seems people here pay more attention to policy than they do the things he says (which, to me, more people in America pay attention to the latter). It is interesting being an observer of these differences.
For anyone planning on traveling to France, just know that "gazole" is diesel, not gasoline. We ran into this problem on Saturday, where we were taking the only full day we had to do a trip. We were on our way to Tain L'hermitage to go to some wineries and a chocolate factory on the Rhône river. We had rented a car, but when we stopped for diesel at the station two hours into our road trip up the Rhône, we had a problem. There were two different color pumps: two green, two yellow. Of course, we thought: "green means diesel in the US, it must be the same here." Plus, the yellow ones read "gazole," which clearly means gasoline. We filled up our diesel car with the green one, only to find out that gazole is actually diesel, and we just filled our car with gasoline. We then had to pull over and call the rental car company to figure out what to do. Then we had to call a tow truck, all while relying on my terrible French to get us through, as not many people speak English in the south. When the tow truck came, he had us drive up onto the truck and ride in our car on top of the tow truck! Weird as it sounds, this has been on my bucket list since I was a kid... I'm not sure why... Then, the nearest replacement car was 100km away, so we instead took a taxi to the train station and took a TGV back to Aix. Luckily, we paid for insurance so we didn't have to pay for a dime! Also, rental car company paid for us to get first class on the train, which was really cool! Even though the day was a bit of a bust, we at least it wasn't all bad. Afterwards, we went out for a nice final dinner and I got two desserts! 🤐 😋 Moral of the story: Google is your best friend and always pay for insurance!
On Sunday after mom and Darrin left, I went to church for the first time all semester. Saying it was overdue is an understatement. I didn't realize how necessary being in a body of believers and reading the Bible is. My soul was thirsty and I didn't do anything to quench its thirst until this Sunday. Obviously God wants a personal relationship with us, and not going to church does not make you a "bad Christian." However, He also calls us to be in communion with each other, and it is so refreshing and full of healing. Also, it is wonderful worshipping Him with others; Heaven is a big worship party, so should Earth be. A couple friends invited me to an English-speaking church in Aix, where a lot of IAU students go. It was very similar to a normal American church. God being who He is and knowing exactly what I need, the first song we sang was "10,000 Reasons." This is a song I know all too well; it is a favorite at my home church and at my school's chapel. It is a song of familiarity and of comfort for me. It brings me a lot of peace and makes me feel like I belong, no matter where I am. I immediately started crying right then. Then, as if God was proving to me a second time that He hears me, the band played a song I've never actually heard played in church, but it is one of my favorite songs of all time because I swear it was written just for me: "My Lighthouse." We also sang one of Geoff's favorite songs in French, reminding me of GVC. After worship, we heard from people speaking on actions taking place in Marseille about the huge prostitution and human trafficking problem. We also heard about a Christian school in Aix that is attempting to bring Jesus into the school system. France is very secular, more so than I thought before. In a public school, you are not allowed to show any sign of religion. No crosses, no kippahs/yamakas, and no hijabs. In America, that would be infringing on our Constitutional rights. On Saint Patrick's day, I met some French boys who were telling me a little bit about France's relationship with religion. I asked them how they could be so secular if they have so many churches everywhere. The boys said that they only have churches around Europe because of history; it is no longer a symbol of religion for people, but it is about their culture. The boys also told me that everyone has sex before marriage, and it is almost impossible to find someone who has not.
My friend told me a story that stuck with me. He once met a girl who was on the verge of tears when talking to him. This is because of how envious she was of him because he was born with his first language being English. She said just by having English as a first language, you are instantly in a better position to make it far in life. Speaking native English opens up your world. This made me feel so grateful for being born in America. I think a lot of Americans take it for granted or don't realize how hard it is for other people around the world. The least we can do is take advantage of our privileges and help those that don't. We should also learn other languages so we can better understand our neighbors.
Prayer requests: Christ to take over as King in every nation, the women forced into prostitution through human trafficking in Marseille, my dry bones
I have the greatest boyfriend in the world. This last week was my spring break, and Gavin flew to Dublin to spend six days with me. Spending seven weeks without him has been hard, so seeing him was incredible. Now, I am back in France and I won't see him until the end of May. We explored tons of things around Ireland, but I will try to keep it somewhat short for this post, otherwise you'll be reading for hours!
The first two days were spent getting over jet lag and exploring the touristy stuff around Dublin city. On the night of our arrival, I had packed a meal of all regional French food for us. Many of the things we ate he had never tried before! We visited Trinity College where we saw the beautiful library and the famous Book of Kells: an exquisitely decorated manuscript of the Gospels from the 9th century. Dublin Castle, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the National Gallery of Ireland were also on our list of things to see. Gavin was sweet enough to take me to Nando's, a chicken restaurant I'm obsessed with because of One Direction (some of you know the importance of this pilgrimage 😜). We also drank Baileys coffee and ate Beef and Guinness stew at The Brazen Head: the oldest pub in Ireland dating back to 1198AD. We also went to Dublinia, an interactive Viking museum all about Dublin. It was our favorite tourist thing in the city. We discovered that unlike the French, the Irish eat dinner at 6:30pm and the pubs stop serving dinner at 8pm, so we went to the only pub in the area that still had food, which was The Porterhouse. We got a tasting tray of ribs, wings, onion rings, sausages, and fries as well as a tasting tray of Irish beer. There was a live band called "The Dingleberries," who were the most talented live musicians I've ever seen. They had all of us dancing soon enough, and we even joined a conga line around the whole pub. One night we went to The Temple Bar and tried Guinness for the first time. To our surprise, we liked it a lot! There, we also met a lovely British couple who bought us pints because they noticed we were Americans. We had a ton of fun with them; it was interesting learning their perspective on Brexit as well.
On Tuesday, we took a day trip across the country to the west coast to see the stunning Cliffs of Moher. The weather was better than expected, but it was still a little bit rainy and the wind was outrageous! The cliffs were unreal and we had a ton of fun trying not to get knocked over by the wind. Later we visited the tiny village of Doolin, the ruins of an old cathedral, and the "mini Cliffs of Moher," which are beautiful limestone rocks over the sea. The next day, we took another day trip to the fishing village of Howth, about 20 minutes from the city center of Dublin. This was my favorite part about the whole trip. When we arrived, the weather was absolutely perfect. The sun was out and it was warm. We walked around the port for a little while before heading to Baily Lighthouse on the opposite end of the island. I have an obsession imbedded deep within my heart for lighthouses, and this was the most amazing one I've ever seen. I'm so grateful Gavin and I could be together to take in the beautiful scenery (and, of course, some photos). We shared a magical moment just laying in the tall grasses overlooking the Irish Sea.
Leaving the busyness of the city, Gavin and I took a relaxing day off walking through Phoenix Park, the largest urban park in Europe. I didn't realize how massive it actually is until we tried walking to the other end, which we quickly gave up doing. It is twice as big as Central Park! There are monuments, gardens, a zoo, the President's mansion, wild deer, and the US Ambassador's home. We enjoyed taking a leisurely stroll through the park and the beautiful sunshine. We visited Farmleigh, which is a huge mansion where the Guinness family used to live. It was one of the most beautiful estates I've been to. We also had a lovely time sitting in the gardens, feeding the ducks, and watching the horses.
To end our amazing trip in Ireland together, we spent the last day on a tour of Wicklow and Glendalough. Our first stop was by the water; Gavin got to skip some rocks and I collected big chunks of sea glass. Then, we stopped at a cute restaurant, where Gavin and I ate massive eclairs. We also passed Bono's house! Next, we drove through the peat fields in County Wicklow and stopped at Loch Bré to take some pictures (it's basically my name, therefore it's my lake). The view from the top of a ridge looking down at the lake was incredible. Then, we ventured to the "valley of the two lakes," aka Glendalough. This area is as scenic as a Lord of the Rings movie, and apparently it has been a place subjected to a ton of attacks and raids over the centuries. There's some amazing history here! On another note, Braveheart was filmed at this lake. We also got to visit the bridge from one of the scenes in P.S. I Love You, which is one of my favorite movies. Our bus driver was crazy-- he was belting Irish songs over the microphone speakers in the bus the entire drive. Sadly, the week had to end there, but all in all, it was the best week of my life <3
A few interesting parts about the trip:
Everyone assumed we're Irish until we started speaking with our American accents. We've always stuck out with our blonde hair and light skin; it's kind of nice to finally fit in haha!
The stereotype of drunk Irishmen skipping down the street arm in arm is real.
Prayer requests: To learn more, to give up control, and to be pursuing Christ
Mon Cœur est avec la Mer
My friend Melissa is much more social than I am. On a train back from Paris, she struck up a conversation with the girl next to her. The girl turned out to be a French-Tunisian student living in Aix. Melissa has been hanging out with her and her friends, but last Friday was the first time I met them. We had her and one of her friends over for dinner at our Friday friends cooking night. It was their first time trying stir fry! We had so much fun and the girls are amazing. It was so cool learning about their lives and the culture in Tunisia as well as France. Before this, I couldn't even tell ya where Tunisia was on a map. I love meeting new friends in such unexpected places!
Before last Friday, I used to consider myself a cheese enthusiast. But when CEA set up a stinky cheese tasting for us students, I realize I am about as basic as cheddar. Yes, I may sprinkle mass quantities of parmesan on top of my already three-cheese pizza and eat sharp off the block, but now I know just how ignorant I am when it comes to cheese. But hey, at least I tried (almost) every kind they offered. They taught us about the cheese regions of France, how it's made, and how to properly slice each cheese. Of course, they made me slice up the brie, just so they could make the joke (like I haven't heard that one before 😜). For those who don't know, I don't like brie cheese. Ironic, huh? I also discovered Roquefort is the nastiest thing on the planet and goat cheese tastes like how feet smell. And any cheese that comes in triangles is not for me. I'll just stick to my Babybel.
Many of you know how much I love the ocean. The ocean and I have a pretty deep connection (get it, deep?). If you were to read my journal, you'd notice half the things in there are about the ocean. To me, the ocean is a symbol of God and what it's like to live. Its vastness is incomprehensible. The waves are a tremendous expression that power and love can coexist. When I stand at the shore, I look out and see massive forces of water. Sometimes I get scared that they are going to knock me over, but then I remember that when they reach me, they will only be an inch tall. I like to think of this as a metaphor of the obstacles in life. When we look forward, we see these huge things that could destroy us in an instant. However, by the time they reach us, we often think why we were so worried in the first place. But sometimes still, the waves are big enough to toss us around a little bit, sometimes even start to drown us. Then also, when I just float, I feel the freedom of being in communion with God. He loves us so much. I feel this love when he carries me in the water. When I swim, it gets harder and harder to stay above the waves, but then once I get passed the break, all is calm. Even the act of swimming through it is freedom. I think my love for the ocean also was strengthened in 8th grade when I was baptized in the sea. I feel like I can be completely myself when I am there, and I don't need to hide anything from it, kind of like when I'm with God. I know this all seems super spiritual and maybe a little weird, but what's wrong with a little romantic thought?
Being right on the water is also one of the reasons I love Point Loma so much; obviously, who wouldn't? Going back to the water last weekend was much needed. My friends and I visited Calanques, which is near Cassis and Marseille. We hiked Mt. Puget, which overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. It was the most beautiful view I have ever seen in my entire life. We climbed to the top of a cliff and watched the beauty of the clear, teal water against the white, jagged mountains. Just take a look at the pictures below for yourself. Also, I have this weird thing about peninsulas, so I was going crazy looking at the dream-worthy one right in front of me. To make things even better, the weather was absolutely gorgeous, too. We also took a detour to see the water up close. (other photos from the fish market in Marseille)
Two weekends ago, we also visited the Orange Velodrome, aka the soccer stadium for the team Olympique de Marseille. I don't know anything about sports, much less soccer, but it was still awesome doing a tour and getting to sit in the stands. One stat I could remember is that OM has won the championships 10 times!
My cousin, Chloe, visited me in Aix this weekend. We ate so many crêpes... On Friday, we saw La La Land in theaters (English, French subtitles). I highly recommend seeing it if you haven't. We also took a day trip to Arles on Saturday to visit the locations where Vincent Van Gogh painted some of his most famous work! All around the city there are replicas of Van Gogh's paintings next to where they were painted. It was interesting to see how he portrayed each scene. Even the most normal places, like bridges, were made into works of art. When we returned from Arles, we waited until 1am to go to a Jazz club we found in Aix. We had to conform to the French culture of going out super late. The club was underground in what looked like an old wine cellar. The live band didn't play jazz; they played classic American rock! I was freaking out when they played Lynyrd Skynyrd. This isn't the first time I've heard Europeans playing classic rock; I guess America really does have an impact on the world in every way. Once, on a metro in Paris, my mom got a man to play "Sweet Home Alabama," and another time in Croatia a guy was singing "Hotel California" on the street.
The weather is warming up, finally! This California girl got to wear short sleeves and ditch the coat yesterday! Woohoo!
Prayer requests: going deeper with God, hope for the Land, my lovely roommate's mom who is in the hospital
"His love is deep, His love is wide And it covers us His love is fierce, His love is strong It is furious His love is sweet, His love is wild And it's waking hearts to life"
I realize that my last post brought up some different views about what it's like to travel. I just wanted to mention that if anyone feels differently than what I was writing about, please let me know! I honestly would love to understand your views as well as perhaps clear up what I was trying to say. I realize many of you have not been talking to me personally throughout this journey, so it may just be a contextual thing (and I know tone can get lost through text). Shoot me an email and we can chat!
In general, I did not mean to say that a desire to travel means you have a hole inside yourself. In fact, I do not think that's what it means at all! I just meant that it has been easy for me to lose sight of God by using the concept of travel to fill the place God should be. I am not saying everyone does this ☺️. Most, certainly, do not! For me, I have been getting caught up on taking pictures and trying to "having the time of my life" that I have let myself get stressed and not actually enjoy myself while here. I have been worrying and feeling guilty if I don't constantly leave my town every weekend to do something different. I have also lost sight of God's purpose for these adventures and I haven't been looking for His beauty throughout it. My body has been here, but my heart, mind, and spirit have not been. That's what I want to change. I want to be fully present. I want to see God's beauty everywhere when I'm here and not worry so much about "looking" like I'm having a good time. I just need to get my priorities straight, that's all! :) Also, don't get me wrong, I am certainly extremely grateful for this opportunity that I have and I wouldn't trade it for anything! I did not want to come across as ungrateful. Hope this clears up any miscommunication (see? look at me! I'm a Communication major and I can't even get this right sometimes haha!). ♥️
Prayer requests: waiting on God, honoring Him with my words, and wisdom
The Lie of Fulfillment
Travel is not the answer. Trying to find meaning and joy through the countries you can highlight on a map does nothing. Going on an adventure does not fix the brokenness within a soul. The memories you'll make don't make a difference. The pictures you take don't matter. Making people wish they were you doesn't lift you up. You can have the time of your life, and still waste away inside. It is not all that it's cracked up to be.
I've been reflecting about why I love traveling so much. There are many reasons why I love it, and not all the reasons are bad, but I do admit it is easy to get caught up in the 21st century disease of wanderlust. Don't get me wrong: I love living in France and being abroad, but I also want to share what I believe God has put on my heart to say.
So many people, myself included, get absorbed in the mentality that you aren't "living" if you stay in one place or if you're not constantly posting cool photos of your adventures. But the thing is, life isn't about where you've been or how much fun you've had.
People often have a romanticized view of traveling. We think we will come back forever changed and our perspectives altered irreversibly. This may be true to a certain extent, but I don't think we should be assuming this will happen every time in a drastic manner. We pretty much remain the same no matter which gps coordinate we stand on. For me, there was no epiphany as soon as I stepped off the plane. My lifestyle might be different here, but on the inside I am still the same person. Same struggles, same strengths, same heart. Only God can truly change us from the inside out. I'm not saying we shouldn't travel, or that travel doesn't impact people. What I mean is we shouldn't look to that to fill us up as humans.
I never want people to be "jealous" of the opportunity I have, because in the end, none of it matters. In the present, it's not easy all the time either. It's not all baguettes and roses. Truth is, I often feel like I am missing out on everything going on at home, and I often question why I decided to leave in the first place. Leaving everything I love only to fall in love with something else and then leave that love too is challenging to deal with sometimes. I honestly have no idea why God gave me the desire to travel, but he did. Even if it won't be revealed to me, I still hope in Him and that perhaps he would use me for whatever He wants to do.
Galatians 3:27-29 says: “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Somehow I don't think anyone is gonna care what we've done when we are all made equal in Heaven. We have all we need in Jesus. We are one in Jesus. Our identity is set in Jesus. Nothing else matters. We can make a difference staying in the same city we were born in. We don't have to have a cool story to honor God. We don't have to constantly be seeking worldly adventure. I suffer from this need for adventure. However, it does nothing but attempt to fill the gap only God can fill. No adventure compares to the adventure God promises to go on with us.
Let us be overwhelmed by Your presence and underwhelmed by the world. Amen.
On Saturday my friends and I visited Nice (French Rivera) to attend the Carnaval de Nice festival of lights! The Nice Carnaval is comparable to the ones that happen in Brazil and Venice. I was really worried at first about going because of all the terror warnings about attending large gatherings in Europe. We took as many precautions as we could; luckily, nothing happened. There was a ton of security and the whole parade was fenced off, as well. My friends and I had fun singing and dancing to some classic American music like Grease and my favorite, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, which they played over the loud speakers. The parade was a once-in-a-lifetime event. I'm super glad I went, even though we got back to Aix at 2am and now I have a cold 🤧. I took too many pictures, and some are posted below (click on one of them to go to the entire gallery or to see them full screen).
Prayer requests: He would help me honor Him, take away the idols I have set in front of Him, Gavin get into the research program at PLNU
This weekend, our school took us on a snow trip to the French Alps! We are staying at a ski-in, ski-out resort called Les Orres. Before this weekend, I didn’t know ski-in, ski-out places existed! We just walked outside, put on our skis, and the slope was right there! I was actually very nervous for this trip for a couple reasons. First of all, Aix is already pretty cold for this California girl, so going skiing in 10 degree weather was a little frightening. Also, it was supposed to snow all weekend, and none of us came prepared. Luckily, I had ski pants, gloves, googles, and boots, but my none jackets are water-proof! I bundled up with every pair of pants and jackets I own and hit the slopes. When we arrived in Friday, it was snowing and foggy. We couldn’t see anything around us, so it looked like a lone hotel in the middle of Antarctica or something. When we went skiing, my body was overheating, but the snow was blasting my face off. An hour later, the fog lifted and the snow stopped falling, revealing the most beautiful mountain landscape. Before, we had no idea any of it was there! It was absolutely stunning and from there on out, the weather was perfect. At the top of the highest peak, the snow blew in the breeze. The sun was out and the snow was all fresh powder (freesh powda, mate). It was a little hard for me because I’ve never skied in powder before, especially ungroomed, deep powder. It felt lovely, though, like slicing through a cloud. The only thing that would’ve made it better is if Gavin were there to ski with me; he would have had a blast (it also would have been great if I hadn’t fallen as much as I did)!
Here, the colors of the slope are different from American slopes. They use white, green, blue, red, and black to indicate levels. White is equivalent to the bunny slope, greens are the same as America, European blues are American green-blues or regular blues, red is similar to a double blue or a low-level black, and blacks are expert-level.
Everyone talks about other cultures abroad, but what I didn’t realize was how cool it has been meeting other Americans from different parts of the country and learning about each other’s cultures while here. America is so huge; I always forget that it is about the size of Europe and we have so many different cultures within our own nation. All my friends are from different states, and they think it’s super funny that I say “stoked,” “bro,” “gnarly,” and “dude” as often as I do. It’s also great that one of my friends from Tennessee actually plays the banjo.
Tonight I went to a wine tasting through CEA with some of my friends. Because wine is such a fundamental part of French culture, I've been wanting to learn all I can from the people here. Just don't tell Point Loma I did this ;)! We got to taste rosé, white, and red wines, as well as some bread and cheese. Wine is very complex and there is a lot that goes into making and tasting it; I did not realize the extent of this until now. We learned about the different wine regions, which wines go with certain foods, and why you should never ever put ice cubes in white wines. We also learned how to test for acidity and pick up the aromas of the wines. What a cool experience!
Stay tuned for my trip to the Carnaval de Nice!
Prayer requests: Gavin to get in to PLNU's summer research program, safety during the carnival, discernment, and spiritual growth
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11
I feel extremely fortunate this week. My cousin, Chloe, is also studying abroad this semester in Lyon, so I took a TGV on Friday to visit her! How crazy is it that we both picked the same semester to study abroad only 1 1/2 hours away from each other?! Additionally, my aunt and uncle were also in Lyon last weekend, so I got to be with them too! Having family so close was a comfort much needed. Lyon used to be the capital of Gaul, and when you look it up you'll see the beautiful basilica overlooking the city. The first thing we did was visit Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière. The basilica was built on private funds and was finished in 1884. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary to thank her for peace with the Prussians. On top of that, the official choir of the basilica is the same choir from one of my favorite movies: "Les Choristes." Both the views from the outside and the inside of the church were unreal!
One of the things Lyon is known for is the puppet character "Guignol." My family surprised me with a showing at the local puppet theater (Chloe's brilliant idea). The theater was built in 1808 and was packed with both kids and adults. It was such a unique experience. The puppet show starred Guignol and his friends in a samurai bunny-themed show. It was so cute hearing the kids interact with the characters. There's a video below!
We ate very well in Lyon-- of course, it's the gastronomy capital of the world! Gerard made sure I tried the common dishes traditional to Lyon: tarte aux pralines, Bresse chicken, gratin, fried pig fat, and saucisson with cornichons. Everything was delicious (except I didn't care for the pig fat)! On Sunday, Chloe and I also went on a huge ferris wheel and got some cool shots from up top!
One interesting thing about France (and all over the world really) is the prevalence of... well, nothing... on Sundays. I think one store was open in the entire city. The bus wasn't even running, as I discovered after waiting at the stop for 45 mins! I'm all for observing the Sabbath, but it has been weird getting used to things being closed (usually it's only Chick-fil-A that isn't open on Sundays). Also, on multiple occasions, I tried to run errands during my lunch break at school, only to find out the French take lunch breaks too! And what I mean by "lunch breaks" is they close their entire businesses and leave for three hours at a time. Most often, they don't even mark it on their business hours in their stop window.
It has been very interesting being in Europe with all the craziness happening in the US. I pray that God's will be done in the world, for he is the righteous and loving king. I pray that people will choose love over hate in everything, myself included.
Today is national crêpe day (of course France would have a national crêpe day...)! This holiday is called "Chandeleur" and originated from the festival of lights and the blessing of the Church's candles. There's a tradition of cooking lots of crêpes on this day. When doing so, you're supposed to flip the crêpe while holding a coin in your other hand. If you can flip it, your family will be prosperous that year!
I finally got the photos edited from our Luberon trip. View a few below or click on an image to visit the gallery.
Prayer requests: God be glorified through me and through all situations. Prayers for my friends and Pastor Geoff who are going back to Uganda in two weeks to continue with the work we did this summer at the Emmaus School (Omuto Uganda).
"Bring your sorrows and trade them for joy From the ashes a new life is born Jesus is calling O come to the altar The Father's arms are open wide Forgiveness was bought with The precious blood of Jesus Christ"
Thanks to everyone who has been praying. I am eons better physically and emotionally. I can finally start to enjoy my time in France! I've been quite occupied this week, so I'll share some of the things I've done so far.
I've been getting along very well with my host mom, Liliane, as well as the other CEA kids in my program. One night, Liliane and I went over to her friend's house for dinner. Her friend is also hosting a girl in my program. We spent hours eating bread and fois gras, quinoa salad, quiche, cheese, and king's cake. One cultural thing I learned was French people put their bread directly on the tablecloth and they don't put their napkins on their laps.
On Sunday, CEA went on a day trip to the port cities of La Ciotat and Cassis as well as the medieval village of Le Castellet (click on "Photos" > "Travel" to see the full galleries). Le Castellet was so cute and romantic. It is a village on a hilltop overlooking the beautiful French countryside. I told God on the drive that it would be super cool if we could see a rainbow. Being the God who loves to blow our minds, He delivered the biggest and most beautiful rainbow I've ever seen. I've never seen an entire arch before until now! Next, we went to La Ciotat to eat lunch at a restaurant on the water. We also drove past the oldest movie theater in the world where they premiered the first film ever created. After La Ciotat, we visited Cassis. If you ever get the chance, go to Cassis! It is absolutely stunning. The water is so clear and blue and the buildings around the marina are so colorful. There's a chateau on the cliff overlooking the village as well as lots of sea glass to collect on the beach. That night, some of my friends wanted to find a pub that would stream the Packers vs Falcons game. We figured an Irish pub would be our best bet, but when we arrived at O'Shannon's, the bar was packed with French people watching the Marseille soccer game. There's no way you're gonna get a European to stop watching soccer, so we stayed for a bit. At the bar, was sure I was going to get in trouble or something for being there. It felt so weird being a legal adult!
France has two big sales a year, unlike in America where we have sales all-year round. Currently, all the sales are going on, so my friends and I went shopping one day to get warmer winter clothes. It has been super cold! I've never lived anywhere besides San Diego, so it has been strange adjusting to real weather. This morning it even hailed on my 40 minute walk to school.
On Tuesday, we went on one more excursion before classes starting on Wednesday. I don't have the photos edited yet, but I will make sure to post them soon. We briefly visited Gordes, Lourmarin, and Colorado Provençal. Colorado Provençal gets it name because it looks like the US state, with its huge formations of red sand. It was hard to believe we were in France.
Yesterday was the first day of school. I almost forgot that's the reason I'm here! IAU College is very different from any other American school in the way it looks. There are three buildings in the city center that house classrooms, libraries, and even dungeons (aka the student lounge). I'm taking 6 units of French, Ethics, Global Environmental Politics, and a European Novel class. For lunch today, I bought a baguette, nutella, and a clementine at the market. I also brought a huge jar of peanut butter from the US to make a glorious sandwich. I'd say it was a pretty good first day.
Prayer requests: praise God for answering my prayers, help in learning French
Click here for the photos
Le bien et le mal
God moved today. Not even 1 hour into my flight, I witnessed the woman behind me give her life to Christ. To those who have been praying for me: God has already answered and done even more than I could imagine. I’m not sure where to start…
On Monday night, the associate pastor at my church gave his testimony during my college church group. One of the things he talked about was how he would talk to people on airplanes and on beaches and in frat houses about Jesus, and that many people came to be saved through those encounters. For a very long time now, I have been praying I would be able to build the courage to do that. That God would give me the words. That he would use me… and not make it weird or awkward. How the heck do I do that?! I can’t lead people to Christ. I have no idea. I don’t want to turn people away from the good news. I asked my pastor how he did it. “Just love people,” he said. But, like, how? I need to see it in action!
God answered my prayers on this plane-- I sat next to a woman when our plane took off. We start chatting. Long story short, the guy in front of her was rude so she moved to the row behind me (side note, the plane was super empty so I had the whole row to myself mwahaha). A few minutes later, I heard another woman behind me randomly ask her if she liked music and played any instruments. The first woman was shocked. “Yeah I love music. I play guitar, sing, and write music; how did you know that?” The other woman explained she knew that because of “words of knowledge” from the Holy Spirit. She asked God to show her something about the first woman. Their conversation went on as they talked about spiritual things. It was the most amazing thing to overhear. It got pretty crazy; I don’t want to share too much because a lot of it is personal for the woman, but let’s just say she now truly knows how deeply Jesus knows her and loves her. They prayed together and she received Jesus into her life. I couldn’t bear it any longer, so I turned around and joined their conversation.
We spent 3 and a half hours talking about how good God is and the new believer shared a lot of her life story with us. You could tell God has been working in her forever. We talked about what the Bible says about her and what it says about Him. You could tell she was being blown away by almost everything we said. It was quite emotional and 100% awesome. When she received the Holy Spirit, she said she felt so much more alive, like there was a fire inside her chest. She also spoke a little bit in tongues! Seriously, God is sooooo good!!! I also spoke in tongues for the first time in my life. I felt so much peace and joy in my body. It was almost like I was floating. She said at one point: “we are not in this plane right now. We are in Heaven. This is Heaven.” She was so right.
"For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” -Matthew 18:20
Unfortunately, the trip goes downhill from there. My anxiety levels were at an all-time high and stayed high for two days straight. I had a panic attack in the Paris CDG airport bathroom and couldn't get myself to calm down. All I wanted was to get on a plane right back to California. When I prayed for God to help me, He gave me a beautiful and personal gift, so I knew it was His doing: "La Vie en rose" started playing over the speakers in the bathroom. This is a song that my mom and I share and it's a song that represents my love for France. I almost immediately stopped crying and I went to board my next plane to Marseille.
Throughout the entire flight, I had to concentrate to keep my breathing steady. The panic attacks were far from over. I'll spare you most of the gross details, but I did get sick in the cab from the airport to my homestay. I met my host mom (Liliane) in the most lowly state and continued to be sick throughout the evening into the night. I felt super impolite, but Liliane was very kind and understanding with me. Liliane is an older woman who lives in the suburbs of Aix. She doesn't speak very much English, but she is very friendly and wants to help me learn French. I am actually quite satisfied with myself because I can understand almost everything she says to me in French (Madame Dugo would be proud)!
Anxiety, jet lag, plus being ill has taken its toll on my body. I have felt very off every day since I've been here. It has been hard so far and I'm not at the point where I would say I am enjoying my time very much. I hope and pray I will start feeling better emotionally and physically.
But it hasn't been all bad. The city is beautiful; it almost feels unreal, like Disneyland. The other American students are fun and nice. I can tell we will become close quickly. My program directors are absolutely amazing as well. They have done a fantastic job giving us all kinds of important information and helping us feel situated here. We've done historic tours of the city as well as café meet ups and scavenger hunts to get to know the city on our own. Tomorrow we are taking a day trip to Cassis on the Mediterranean. Hopefully there will be lots of cool pictures coming!!!
Prayer requests: good health and peace (lots of both plz)
Today marks a new beginning. Living in France has been something I've dreamed of for a long time. When I was picking through colleges in high school, a viable study abroad program was one of the things I wanted most out of my college experience. After tons and tons of stress, paperwork, financial battles, anxiety, and a million different meetings, and lots of help from my family, finally I am ready to depart for my study abroad semester. It hasn't been easy getting here, but some of the best things in life are produced from difficulty.
One of the biggest lessons I've learned in my young life has been that God blesses you when you work hard in his direction. He doesn't usually give you things just because you're awesome. He does in fact expect you to take steps for yourself, but of course He is there with you side-by-side. I've also learned that God puts dreams inside you for a reason.
As awful and ungrateful as it sounds, there was a long period of time where I was not excited at all to study abroad, even though I've dreamed about doing it forever. I was scared out of my mind. Even though I've had my fair share of travel, I've never done it alone for 5 months. What crazy person leaves her family, great friends, amazing boyfriend, school that she loves, the beachfront dorm room, and every comfort of being in California to live in a strange country where she doesn't speak the language, can get pick pocketed at any time, get lost, get taken, find herself in the middle of another terror attack, may not make any friends, has to live with a stranger who may or may not be a lunatic, or doesn't feel like she can afford this trip in the first place?! I was at a place where if the tuition deposit were refundable, I would have dropped out in a heartbeat.
I can't stop it now. I'm still nervous, but I can confidently say that I am excited for this trip and finally I have those nasty feelings under control. Now, I'm on a plane to Aix-en-Provence, France with one suitcase, a carry on, and my camera bag to spend 5 days a week at IAU College. I'm going to be staying with a local woman who lives about 40 mins away from my French University. Luckily my classes are in English, but I will be taking 6 units of French while there. I'll be writing about my adventures here from now on for those who are curious. Stoked for what's to come!
Prayer requests: that I would fall more in love with Jesus, safety, spiritual growth, finding a Christian community, glory to God in my actions, finding friends, strength against loneliness, bless those I encounter, and that I represent my nation well. Thanks in advance for your prayers!
My heart breaks for the people of Uganda. I just received an email from my friend in Uganda who was telling me about his dreams. He said:
"I have a dream of helping other people who are in situations like we have been in for instance like the kids of Gulu. We have been in a bad situation but those in Gulu live in a worse situation. The education is poor, [and there are no more] virgins in Gulu; they were all raped by Kony."
He also says Museveni, who has been "voted" in as president 7 times, has been in power for 31 years. They just "celebrated" his government this week. My friend says there is nothing they can do about him being president, as he is very corrupt. The war has been over for three years, but the people are all still suffering. Please keep your prayers with the people of Uganda, especially in the northern region.
07.20.16 Uganda Mission Cont. #3
Stars One night Moses treated us to a dinner on one of the islands on Lake Victoria. We had to take a boat there, and it was already dark outside. I looked up and saw the most beautiful stars as the cool breeze blew across my face. The Milky Way was bright and completely visible. The planets looked giant because we were near the equator. Since we were technically in the Southern Hemisphere, I saw stars that cannot be seen in America. I’ve always dreamed of seeing a million stars in the African sky. Every time I looked at the stars, it blew me away how big the universe is, yet we know so little about it. I find it completely unfathomable, and I see how beautiful and huge God is. God’s creation is incredible, and I remember that although so many things seem more incredible to me than mere broken humans, God calls us his most prized creation. He says we are more beautiful than the stars in the sky, and he loves each of us more than all of them combined. How special is that?
Church On Sunday, we opened up the "chapel.” Humble as it seems, there is no way people could get to a church in the village, so now one of the classrooms is acting as a church on Sundays. Church is super fun here because the people clap and dance a lot more than they normally do in America. We also visited a “clinic” someone bought for us. We are hoping to make it fully-functional soon. As of right now it is just a brick house.
Meeting my sisters As many of you know, I am very passionate about Watoto, a Christian nonprofit that gives orphaned children a home, family, and a Christian education that strives to build up Uganda. My family has been sponsoring two girls since I was about 11 years old, Scovia and Anthea. We have been writing back and forth to each other all these years. Lord knows they have been on my heart for so long. On July 5th, I found myself with Geoff and Anna at the Watoto Suubi (which means "hope") village. I had the privilege of meeting both of my sponsor sisters. It is indescribable the love we have for each other, and finally we met face to face. It was like I met a long lost friend. We never thought we would be able to hug each other, but God provided a way for his children to be together in his name. How it all worked out was a total God thing. When I left that country, I left a part of my heart with them. I will never forget that moment. Scovia cried the whole time. She is 17 and training to be a hairdresser. Anthea is 14 and is in Primary 7. She might want to become a nurse. I showed them pictures of my family, friends, and where I live. They didn’t know where the Pacific Ocean was.
We also got a tour of their sustainable farm, both of their homes (we also met their house mothers), and the Baby Watoto facilities. Watoto has really thought of everything and has changed so many lives in all aspects. I would love to volunteer next summer at Baby Watoto.
Sponsorships One of my purposes here was to take photos of all 519 kids for sponsorships. Because their parents can’t really afford to send their kids to school, Moses wanted to allow people to sponsor kids for a small amount every month to pay for their tuition and lunchtime porridge. It took hours, but I finally got each kid photographed.
"Goodbye Party" and a unique surprise The last day at the school was one of my favorite days. School was not in session, but all of the teachers came to have a “goodbye party” for us. We gave speeches of gratitude, cried a lot, laughed a lot, sang songs, and danced. It was the most fun, but also the saddest day. Julie, Anna, and I cried the most. Some of the teachers got emotional too. It is amazing how even after only a few days how we really feel love and heartache for each other. Whoever says God doesn’t bring deep connections between people clearly doesn’t know what they are talking about. The teachers were all very thankful for us coming, and we shared some of the important things that happened in our hearts over the week to each other.
Gift giving is very important in their culture, so of course, they presented us with incredible gifts. I find this interesting: when I think of missions trips, I think about us going to give, give, give to others. The problem with that is we sometimes forget that the people want to give back to us too, even though we might “feel bad” because they are extremely poor and don’t have much to give. However, life is a give-and-take. We gave our hearts, and they wanted to give theirs. Besides, it would be rude not to accept what they wanted to give, especially in their culture. The teachers gave us beautiful handmade baskets, bags, “Ugandan footballs,” and… wait for it… a chicken. One of the most honoring gifts they could give. The chicken has a name: Mr. Michelle. We had to bring Mr. Michelle home with us in a box in the back of the van. He did a good job back there— didn’t cluck or try to escape or anything. Like a well-trained dog ;). If we were in America we might have gotten in trouble for animal abuse because we had to keep him in the van overnight…
Then, the real fun began. The teachers brought in traditional African drums and played for us. The other teachers danced for us (here’s the video link if you want to check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPBvcfIeHSA). It was so much fun! I could not stop smiling and laughing. I have seen tourists going to see African dances before, but I think this one was better than all of them simply because these were real people (not pro dancers) that we knew well. It’s like watching your aunts and uncles do karaoke!
PDA Like I talked about before, the people here love my camera. Of course the teachers all wanted millions of pictures with all of us before we left. I think we spent an hour at least just taking pictures. The way they take photos is really funny too; they don’t look at the camera, but they look at you. They also will strike funny poses and hold your hand in really awkward positions. Ugandans hold hands in a friendship manner, rather than in a romantic way, like in America. Men hold hands with men, women with women, and men with women. However, public displays of affection is very inappropriate. Absolutely no kissing. When Julie told them that in Mexico people kiss each other on the cheeks when saying goodbye, the teachers thought it was the funniest thing. When we finally said goodbye, they grabbed our hands and kissed us on the cheeks. They giggled like middle schoolers that just got a kiss from their crush.
Safari Time! We took a drive to Queen Elizabeth National Park to go on a one-day safari with Moses’ safari company (Kisa Safaris)! We went on a game drive and saw kob (antelope), warthogs, birds, herds of buffalo (different from American Bison), hippos, and lions! Three lions (two females and one male) were sitting by a tree! We were only 15 feet away from one of the females who walked right past us. We also went on a boat cruise tour on the Kazinga channel connecting Lake Edward and Lake George. We saw tons of birds (600 species belong in this park), more buffalo and hippos, alligators, big lizards, fish eagles, baboons, and elephants! It was amazing to know that they were wild, especially as a San Diego native used to going to the zoo and safari park. One of Moses’ employees, Kenny, came with us. He speaks 14 languages fluently! I took tons of pictures to promote Kisa (which means "grace") Safaris for Moses, as they don’t have access to good cameras.
The Last Supper The last night before leaving for the airport we went to Moses’ house. The route through Kampala involved a two hour drive to go 15 miles on a bumpy, crowded dirt road. We almost died like 6 times. Moses’ wife, Dorothy, made us a beautiful spread of traditional Ugandan food. Bill seemed puzzled when he looked at his food. He asked: “is this Mr. Michelle on my plate?” Moses answered: “yep!” Good job, Mr. Michelle; you were delicious. Thank you so much for supporting me in prayers and funds for this trip. It was immensely life-changing and inspiring for me; I hope you feel inspired too. Thanks for reading. God bless.
07.14.16 Uganda Mission Cont. #2
I returned from Uganda on Monday and decided to share with you some more stories of my trip.
While I was there, I learned a lot about their culture and even a lot about America. The first is about mission trips. I am actually extremely critical about mission trips and nonprofits as a whole. I think the popular trend surrounding mission trips and nonprofits needs to change. I believe a lot of nonprofits and short-term mission trips do things that actually make life worse for the people they are trying to help. People often seem to only fix the symptoms, not the sickness (I do not mean every charity or mission group does this, but I have discovered many that do). When we help, we really need to look deeply into our motivations, what we are actually doing, and make sure we are not just putting the “God” sticker on it. We need to do things that do not promote dependency. We cannot give tons of handouts, change their culture, or do things for the people that they could do by themselves. Instead, we need to promote their culture (not ours), educate them on things that they cannot reach on their own, share the gospel without abandoning them as soon as they accept Jesus, build real relationships that extend past the duration of the trip, encourage the people, and give them tools that help them help themselves. I see many organizations that feel like they need to go “Save Africa” and help the “helpless” people there. I believe this is arrogant. We just need to go in and help people understand their own power to change their lives. They need to understand their own importance in making their world a better place. Many people in Uganda believe they are stuck and that they need others to change their situation for them (the latter opinion was created by nonprofits that go in and give handouts that promote dependency). I have also met Ugandans who have changed their situations and are positively contributing to their society because someone gave them a push. We need to be that push. We cannot change their situation for them, but we can be the gentle drive that will give them hope and help them help themselves. They can do it, let’s not take away their opportunity to thrive because we want to feel good about ourselves.
As the week went on, I began to realize more and more what the trip was really about. It was about celebrating what has already been done in this village and community. We were there to encourage Moses and the people in the village. We have known Moses for so long and have seen this evolve from the start. I still remember three years ago when Moses visited our youth group to give his testimony and about his plans to buy a bus for Kisa Safaris. Moses is truly an amazing man with a huge heart. He obeys God and showers others with blessings. Moses has a crazy testimony. His family walked to Uganda all the way from Rwanda to escape a war there. Both of his parents died when he was 14 (Mom died of HIV/AIDS), so he had to move in with his aunt and uncle. They were Muslim, and when he became Christian, they kicked him out. He was living in Kampala on the streets until his other aunties (the same aunties that live next to the school, raise kids from their family as well as kids they find abandoned, and who fed us a traditional meal) walked from the village to find him (that’s about 60 miles). He then lived with them. They even paid for him to go to high school, which is very expensive and hard to do in Uganda. A few Americans sponsored him so he could go to University, and he came to America for the first time three years ago so he could start his safari business. Here, he got the funds he needed, plus met Bill and Geoff Horn (who came on this trip with me), who heard his story and felt the Holy Spirit move in them. They then fostered a relationship with him; this school is a result of that! Moses knows firsthand how important education is and how it brings people out of poverty. This is why Moses had the desire to build a school through Omuto Uganda. This is why we came: to celebrate the fruits of Moses’ labor and suffering. It is good to celebrate with friends and encourage them in their accomplishments. At first, I asked God: “why did you bring us here only to celebrate? Don’t we need to actually help these people?” He answered me. Celebrating IS helping people, especially Ugandans. To them, Americans are kind of like celebrities. When we came, they saw that Americans actually care about them. They gained confidence and understood that we loved them. The fact that we took our time to get to know them is a huge blessing for them. They saw that we wanted to celebrate their accomplishments and encourage them to keep changing their country, and they were blessed. To them, our celebration is tangible.
But celebration was not the only thing we did. We spent an entire day training the teachers at the school. Julie, Geoff’s sister, is a dual-language elementary school teacher in San Diego. She met with the teachers so they could gain from her knowledge. Although English is the universal language in Uganda (there are over 1,000 tribal languages that people speak), many of the kids in the rural areas (like our school), do not speak English. You see, the people here think that to be educated means you know English. Many schools here have signs that say “speak English only.” They believe speaking their tribal language at school is bad. Knowing this, Julie emphasized the importance of dual-language curriculum. We tried to show them that speaking their native Luganda is good, that it does not make them less educated when they teach subjects in their own language. In fact, she told them, students score higher if they are being taught in their first language and another language as well. She also stressed that it is crucial for scripture to be read in Luganda, not English, because it is better to hear the Word in the language of your heart. God speaks Luganda, too.
At the school, we also built great relationships with the kids and the teachers. It has been awesome getting past basic conversation with people and actually getting to know them. Unlike America, Ugandans are very open with who they are. I feel like in America, there’s hesitation to be vulnerable and honest. There, honestly is normal. It is simple and natural. If you ask, people will tell you about their lives, what they struggle with, and what they want. We wanted to understand their culture and lifestyles so we could better help them. Bill and Geoff looked into future plans for the school based on the teachers’ requests. My friend Anna and I focused a lot on the kids, sharing love and laughter.
I had no idea I could please the Lord with a camera (“photography ministry,” I call it). God certainly uses what you love to show his love. When I walked around with my camera, one child made hand signals that he wanted me to take his picture. I showed him the photo, and he started cracking up. Another kid wanted a picture, then another, and pretty soon I was being swallowed by a hundred kids all wanting me to take pictures of them. Every time, they all laughed and smiled. I had no idea that a piece of glass and some metal would bring people so much joy. If I hadn’t had my camera, I don’t know what I would have done, because only a few of the kids spoke English. I realized then that God’s love overcomes language barriers and anything else.
In addition to photography ministry, I quickly learned that ministry is so much more than showing Christ’s love. It’s about being with someone in the midst of their life and joining them. To join them, one day after the kids got out of class, we walked one mile to an empty grass field to play soccer. There was a calf running around in the middle of the game! It was great being able to have fun with the kids and teachers.
07.02.16 Uganda Mission #1
Ki kati mukwano gwange (hello friends)!
Thank you all so much for supporting me through prayers and donations on my trip to Uganda. I have been journaling a bit about my adventures so far, and I thought it would be fun to share a little bit about what is going on in this part of the world. I hope it isn't too long, boring, or grammatically incorrect :0
Today is first official day in Uganda! It was quite the journey making it here, starting with a 16 hour flight and layover in Dubai which led to me getting motion sick and needing to get wheelchaired off the airplane and through the terminals. The next day, we made it to Uganda after another 6 hour flight. We met up with Moses (our host and friend from Uganda) at the airport and continued our journey. We landed in Entebbe, and then drove to Kampala for the night. The drive to Kampala from Entebbe is only supposed to take a half an hour, but because of the insane traffic (there is only one main road in the capital city), it took almost two hours. Kampala is a crazy city. Everywhere you see boda bodas (motorcycles), wooden and metal shacks, motake (plantains) stands, and tons and tons of people. I expected to see skyscrapers and nice stores in Kampala, just like I would in any other city. I could not have been more wrong. The city looks like something you would see off a Unicef campaign or National Geographic.
The next day we woke up at 4am in order to beat the Kampala traffic, from which we headed out to Jinja in the Buikwe district to participate in the opening ceremony of our school, the Emmaus Nursery and Primary school in the Kizigo village. The sunrise on the drive was incredible. It looked like the intro to The Lion King. I stuck my head out of the sunroof to take some pictures of the beautiful scenery as the landscape became more and more remote. Finally, we arrived in the Kizigo village, which was very rural. You could tell that the people there were extremely poor. Many of the children we passed did not have shoes. The houses were either made of brick or mud and sticks, with either thatched or corrugated metal roofs. As we drove down the banana tree-lined dirt road, kids waved and yelled “hi mzungu!” which means “hi white person!” When we pulled up to the school, were greeted by over 450 students aged preschool to sixth grade. They were all very excited to see us and promptly ran to their classrooms to show us their new buildings. The school is very lovely and I can tell it is already blessing so many people. A well has been built in the last month or so from kind donations, which now brings clean water to the entire village. People used to have to walk for miles in order to get water, and most of the time it wasn’t even clean. God is doing a great thing here by helping people get the resources they need to survive and thrive.
The real fun began when we had a parade down the village streets. Moses wanted to walk around the village like how the Israelites walked around Jericho. He wanted to “take the village for the Lord.” It was so cute seeing the kids march. The entire village showed up to the ceremony after. The children sang and danced for us, speeches were given, and a ribbon was cut. The kids were so precious to me. They all crowded around me when I walked by them: I think they liked my camera because they laughed and laughed whenever I would take their picture.
After the ceremony, we walked to Moses’ aunt’s house, which is next door to the school. Moses’ aunt raised him and put him through school after his parents died when he was very young. His aunt prepared a feast for us (one typically only eaten at weddings), which consisted of chicken and beef cooked in banana leaves, motake, rice, and beans. At his aunt’s, one of the children is named Samuel. He is seven years old, but he looks only two because his growth was stunted by neglect and other things before he came to live with Moses’ aunt.
Tomorrow we are going back to the school to deliver supplies, train teachers, and bless them in any way we can!