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The Dream is Finally Over

Time January 3rd, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | 1 Comment by

The last week of the semester blew through rather quickly; I stayed up writing essays, studying for my exams, and bidding farewell to friends. Before I knew it, I was packed and making my way through the cobbled streets to the Airlink service bus to the airport. I knew this day would come; I didn’t realize the utter finality of the situation though.

I remember it like yesterday when I first arrived here, in Edinburgh. The weather was serene, humid even. I wandered the streets to find stores to get bedding for my new accommodation, amazed at the archaic buildings and busy-bustling roads. I had never commuted in such close proximity to the inner city – though at first scary, I came to enjoy how it took only ten minutes to walk down to the grocery store, or to get to my classroom. I made friends, met interesting people and forged everlasting memories. I sat in both dull and riveting lectures. I ate food that made my taste buds dance. I saw magnificent sights that I had only seen on laptop wallpapers. In Edinburgh, I had fallen in love.

Basically how I felt conveyed through physics:


The months came by quickly, but the days seemed to linger. With each passing day, I tried harder to hold onto the moment, to embrace the different lifestyles carried out in this town. I wanted to take notice of everything – of faces, of architecture, of the general feel of being here. I didn’t want to forget it.

My last day in Edinburgh was a bittersweet one. I would be going home to my family and friends whom I’ve not seen for four months; but I would also be leaving this wonderful country.

One last look at Edinburgh before I go…


As I sat in the airport with my boarding pass in my hands, I thought about how much I’ve grown from this experience. I thought about what I would say to my friends and family when they asked how Scotland was. I couldn’t help it; my heart felt heavy, and my hands began to shake. I knew there wouldn’t be any way I could have described this experience to anyone else who hadn’t been there. For a moment, between leaving Scotland and going back to the States, I felt so alone; like waking up from a dream, you want to be able to relay to someone else the events of something so surreal and fantastical but you know that words will fail you, and that the audience may not grasp completely what you want to fully convey to them.

That was what it was like coming home. I didn’t know where to start when people asked me about my study abroad experience; it was too much to be fully encompassed in a few mere words and hand gestures. I gave people the highlights of my study abroad experience, hoping I could impart to them how meaningful it was to me, difficult as that may be.

Even though I had a grand time in Scotland, it was good to be back. My friends excitedly began to make plans to reconvene and meet up; my family eagerly welcomed me back just in time for the holidays and I myself enjoyed a return to familiarity that I have not seen for a long time.

I will miss Edinburgh, no doubt. I will think fondly of my time overseas, but for now, I will return to my life in Minnesota.



An Average Day in My Shoes

Time December 9th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

In a usual week, (and my weeks vary greatly!) I have classes several times a week (one First Year course is usually three times a week, along with mandatory tutorials interspersed between those lectures, while one Fourth Year course is usually just once per week for a couple hours). Reading for these courses take up a chunk of my time (unfortunately), while other times there are special events/socials/gatherings that I often allot time for. I usually work best under a quiet circumstance, so the library basically became a second home to me. As you can imagine, academics is no small factor in determining how time is spent.

Food plays a vital role on how my days go, so I usually plan ahead of time to make sure I have time to cook and eat. Typically, I go grocery shopping the weekend before and plan out meals for the rest of the week. Cooking takes a good hour of my time… for preparation and for cleaning – I take probably ten minutes to eat so as not to waste any time!

I try my best to make time to socialize online, Skype friends and hang out with people (in real life) on my time off. However, I also make a point to go to the gym several times a week – so that makes things difficult.

While in Scotland, I’ve taken a great fancy to the University of Edinburgh’s Boxing club as well as their Muay Thai (thai boxing) club. I strive for attending those classes three times a week, and because they take a lot of time and effort, I have to be as time-efficient as possible. It’s a wonderful way to destress while getting fit! Staying healthy and getting stronger has played a central role in my life for the past couple of years, and I intended to maintain that track record while abroad. Of course, naturally, that means I have to be even more time-conscious.

As my time here dwindles towards finals, I am finding myself settled in more and more at the library here. This is my final full week here in the U.K., so I’m going to try to make it worthwhile!

This was just a general idea of how my day goes – though not incredibly exciting all the time, still very chaotic!



For Future Reference

Time December 9th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

The time is finally upon us: Finals. I’ve got my first final exam tomorrow morning as I anxiously write this blog. I’m a little nervous, but I like to think that writing is a strong suit of mine. I’ve been thinking a lot about things I could have done better – for the sake of my own future, as well as others. So I wrote this list for future reference.

Things I Wish I Had Done:

In terms of academics: Every year, around this time, I regretfully look at my notebook, scrawled with meticulous details about lectures and wondering where it all connects. I haven’t been as diligent as I’d like to be, but what I usually do is review notes before and after class, or at least on a daily basis. It’s been shown in research studies that simply devoting time to something will greatly increase one’s familiarity with the subject; I wish I had looked more into topics that I was interested in that the professors didn’t always cover. And even though it’s nearly impossible to do every single reading assignment across all my courses, I wished I would have at least done some research and look over slides more often; the resource is there, the students just have to help themselves, that’s all. Furthermore, doing the reading ahead of time (maybe even in the summer!) would have been a great idea to reduce study abroad time, since the readings are indeed available online as well. I cannot emphasize how important it is to look at previous exams! It might have done me some good

In terms of prioritizing things: I wish I had been more militantly decided on how much time I would devote to travelling, socializing/club activities and academics. Of course, I knew that I would have some difficulty travelling, considering that I wouldn’t be working or having a steady income of money. I’m thankful for my friends and family who have sent their support my way, in contributions of dollars and kind words. In the future, I think I would like to have allotted myself a weekly stringent budget, while allocating specific funds for travel and special occasions. Before coming over here, I knew that I would want to consider a gym membership, club fees (boxing & Muay Thai), as well as just some extra spending money for clothes, books and food. Once I got a feel for how much I would be spending on a regular basis, I should have just given myself a limit. Ah, well; lesson learned!

As for things that I should’ve packed… hm, well, I think an extra layer of warm clothes would do – and also, I really didn’t need those shorts and skirts that I brought instead! Furthermore, having a travel-savvy backpack would have been ideal (I, instead, brought along a regular canvas bag that I normally lug around school – should’ve brought a comfortable, sportier bag). In terms of sports, I cannot believe I forgot to pack RUNNING SHOES! I brought regular canvas shoes and heels… I really didn’t need the high heels – the combination with cobbled streets just doesn’t do. Edinburgh tends to indeed have ridiculous rainy drizzle, but buying a cheap pair of rain boots over here would have been sufficient. I think that’s about it; otherwise, comfort is key.

Thanks for reading – I hope my own pitfalls can be a lesson learned for someone else. Wish me luck on my final tomorrow! It’s a 9 a.m. one, so I’m gonna need it!

Here’s a fun pic for you! Doing laundry in my room as I type this. The dryers here didn’t work too well, so I had to resort to this.



Rewind, Revise and Recoup

Time December 4th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Fresh out of my last week of lectures and tutorials, it’s time to settle down and study – or, as the Uni students over here say it – ‘REVISE’. In the last stretch of the month, I’ve been looking forward to this week of revision; it means I get one last chance to do this right! For the next couple of weeks, I’ve got three essays to write and one sit-in exam and I am determined to succeed!

In my time of need, friends and family alike have been showing their support through social media; in fact, I Skyped my parents for the first time last week! It was amazing, considering I hadn’t talked to them in so long. Needless to say, they were enthusiastic to see me, wished me luck on my exams and encouraged me to study hard (and of course, they said this along with the usual, ‘are you well-fed?!’ and ‘don’t be spending money on things you don’t need!’). I saw my little brothers, one in elementary school, the other going through his first year of middle school – both inquiring about Christmas presents and my return.

Friends have been messaging me to make sure the Thanksgiving holidays weren’t too lonely. The run up towards Christmas, however, has been stressful. With lack of money and lack of time to buy gifts and presents, essay and exam season isn’t the most exciting time right now. The days have gotten colder, the winds chillier and the trees more bare – and I am sitting here in Starbucks, watching the rain-stricken streets under heavy pressure of essays and exams. All I can think is: this is the final hurdle; time to buckle up and make one last jump over this obstacle and you will have done it!

Here’s a picture of someone’s interpretation of my name while warming myself up with a cup of peppermint mocha at Starbucks! :)


So close, and yet, so far away. Because of finals, I haven’t been too excited to go home. I’m scared of being met with familiar faces but new attitudes. I know that a lot has changed with me, but I’m sure those in the States have changed as well. I wonder what I will tell people when I get back about my study abroad? Ah, it is so awfully disheartening to sum up one’s experience in a few brief words…

I will continue to contemplate as the year of 2013 closes. For now, my mind is on autopilot.



Holidazzle in Edinburgh

Time November 27th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

It’s that time of the year again – THANKSGIVING! Normally, I’d be spending it with my beloved extended family, enjoying a dinner prepared by all parties.We also, shortly after, then celebrate at the annual Hmong New Year River Centre event in Minneapolis held every year the day after Thanksgiving. Depending on what sort of deals are around on Black Friday, I’m also usually fervently waiting in the cold to snag a good purchase in anticipation for Christmas. Though I can’t partake in such festivities now, I’ve been met with some wonderful opportunities to enjoy the holidays here.

I just came back today from a great Thanksgiving event hosted by IFSA-Butler Scotland: at their office, they provided us with delicious, catered food as a little Thanksgiving dinner get-together. We had apple/turkey pie, apple pie, pecan pie, couscous, caeser salad… just a wide range of yummy food! Even better: they all generously gave us a goodie bag full of ingredients to make pumpkin pie! Without question, I ate heartily for the first time in a while. Maybe not quite the same as Thanksgiving with the family, but it was certainly an appreciative gesture of the office to extend an invitation out! It reminded me that although I’m out here studying abroad away from friends and family, so are all of these other students. It was refreshing to be able to sit down and talk about what all of us would normally be doing this time of year with people who were in similar situations as myself.

The city of Edinburgh during this time of year is also packed full of gleeful opportunities for fun! Every year, Princes street is crowded with kids, teens and parents who are all dressed up in cozy coats and animal hats, sipping hot drinks and looking in awe at Edinburgh’s beautiful sights. There is a ferris wheel that gets set up near the Scott Monument, along with an ice-skating rink, an attraction called the Star Flyer, as well as a merry-go-round carousel. In addition, little shops for toys and candy, chocolate, hats and mittens are all set up; the best part? There are bright, lovely Christmas lights all around! Though I won’t be spending Christmas here, I felt some terrific holiday cheer as I weaved my way through the crowds to look at the dazzling attractions. Here are just a few of the pictures from the beautiful sights as I think about home in Scotland:

2013-11-24-17-20-05   2013-11-24-17-37-17   2013-11-24-18-07-20

Amidst all of the season attitude, what I’m missing most right now is food – and in partifcular, my mom’s cooking! Around this time, I usually enjoy voluptuous portions of food without rest… (and usually I would regret it a little) but certainly I can’t wait to get back home to enjoy traditional Hmong food, more than anything! Rest assured, once I get back, I have a list of foods that I will be enjoying when I get back!



Advice for Young Travelers While Abroad

Time November 27th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

During my stay here, I’ve developed some fundamental tips for anyone wishing to travel abroad! This is a simple, watered down list of things to keep in mind, but I hope you find this helpful:

Keep a journal. In what will seem like the very brief time that you study abroad, stuff will happen. Not just stuff – but a lot of stuff. In fact, I can most definitely promise you that a barrage of stuff is going to befall your path no matter how little or how much you plan for that stuff to happen. In the event that stuff happens to you, you will not always feel inclined to sit down and write about it; because, quite simply, it’s tedious work to document stuff. However, I cannot emphasize enough how much you will regret not taking record of the amazing things that will happen to you. Keep a journal, because not only will you thank yourself later for it, but others may be just as interested in what you have to say about your adventure abroad. Trust me, it’s worth the ten minutes of divulging your thoughts onto paper.

Take pictures. Wherever you go, there’s bound to be aesthetic beauty in your every direction. It can get easy to get lost in the daily drone of everyday life – the hundred year old buildings and riddled cobble streets may get tiring after a while, but do your eyes a favor and take notice of the way the sun falls on the trees, the way the leaves complement the street and the way your path to class meanders through the meadows. Or just take spontaneous photos of things that might look like something you’d like to remember. Your pictures don’t have to include the Scott Monument or Loch Ness; just make sure they are memorable, meaningful photos. There will be a point in your life where you’ll want to see things the way they were when you were there.

i.e. just happened to walk through this lovely bridge. I could not have imagined this photo to turn out so amazingly well!


Read. Read. Read. As an English, Psychology and Philosophy student, the amount of reading assigned is ridiculous. Thankfully, most, if not all of your lecturers will do their best to supply you with those readings at the start of the semester. Once you start to fall behind, you will not just fall behind – you will continue to stumble on until Revision Week and – what do you know! Finals is here! So, as the slogan for our lovely goddess of Victory-named brand Nike would say: Just do it. Reading isn’t always fun, but if you do it, you’ll understand the lectures much better and be able to follow along. Furthermore, you can participate in discussion in your Tutorial groups and be able to ask questions. Not only that, you can have a look at lecture handouts and presentation slides to get a heads-up of what is to be expected. Being better prepared overall has never hurt anyone.

Be open. The semester is going to fly by – FAST. Before you know it, it’ll be the end of your study abroad program. It can be easy to get stuck in mundane routine ways of staying in your room or at the library, studying and only coming out to eat. Instead of keeping yourself closed-off and your options limited, let yourself be flexible. One of my most memorable times here has included an impromptu trip to Amsterdam with a friend from the States who decided to visit me in Scotland.

i.e. my first week here, I tagged along to any event that sounded remotely interesting. My wrist ended up looking like this after that first week:


Your time abroad will vary based on where you go – and will most definitely reflect your attitude. Whatever you do, remain upbeat and stay optimistic! You’ll be sure to have a grand time.


Thinking Ahead

Time November 25th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

As an undergraduate student in my final year of study, I’m getting ever anxious about returning back to the States. During my time at the University of Edinburgh, I’ve taken on a number of courses in Philosophy, English and Psychology – so a wide variety of subjects. An area of interest of mine has always been involved with a mixture of these; likewise, during my time here, I’ve decided to take on Psychology courses regarding consciousness.

Though I’m definitely not a complete stranger to this realm of discussion, I’m still relatively new to the scene. The two courses I’m taking involve mind and body, as well as perceptual awareness in regard to consciousness. I’ve never taken Psychology courses like these before (as my home university did not offer any of the sort), so it’s been a lot of delving into unknown territory. However, I’ve been drawn more and more towards the study of Psychology in a therapeutic sense.

Just this previous summer, I had taken an introductory course to counseling. I entered this new school year thinking that perhaps that is something I may consider in the future. So imagine the pleasant surprise I received when I learned that my Mind, Body and Consciousness course lecturer was someone highly interested in counseling and therapeutic listening/hearing. Furthermore, my Mind, Body and Consciousness course revealed to me a phenomenological stance of Psychology that I hadn’t considered before (I had always imagined I’d continue to trek in the familiar territories of cognitive, developmental and social psychology).

Similarly, my current Consciousness and Perceptual Awareness course has been rife with discussion about clinical research in patients who may not be exhibiting behavioral signs of awareness, but may still have some sort of residual conscious processing. Thinking ahead, I had always considered continuing education in graduate school and doing some clinical research. Though still uncertain, I think this path’s appeal is reopening itself to me, and I hope it goes in a positive direction!

Honestly, the possibilities are endless! But between my English, Psychology and Philosophy courses, I still feel like there is so little that I have uncovered in context of the greater information to be absorbed. I’m definitely considering graduate school at some point in the future, but where – who knows? I’ve attended some info sessions about graduate school information, but I’ve yet to decide on anything definite – which, of course, is a bit nerve-wrecking!

I’ll be walking down the graduation aisle this May and can hardly wait. For now, I think I will continue to contemplate the infinite choices that have yet to be made!


Thinking of You, Wherever You Are

Time November 19th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | 1 Comment by

I’ve been counting down the days until I go back home – not because I’m tired of Edinburgh, but because though I’ve been having an amazing time here and I was wishing that my friends and family could know what an eye-opening experience it has been for me. I’ve only got one more month left here in the United Kingdom; part of me is happy for that, part of me doesn’t want to leave at all… but I know there are people back in the states waiting for my return.

Since I’ve been gone, I’ve felt the love for my family grown – quite a bit actually. Never, in the most cob-webbed, dustiest corner of my imagination would I have thought that my dad would get a Skype account, let alone a Facebook account. Everyone has been making an effort to keep me in their thoughts; my mom is constantly checking up on how my finances are doing, and my brothers have been communicating news to me from the States.

I really miss them. I’ve been thinking a lot about how far I am from my family, and how much I’ve grown because of them, and how much I’ve grown without them. It’s funny how being away from something makes you appreciate it more. It makes me sad that I’m here by myself, sitting in a coffee shop, sipping on my over-priced coffee while my family awaits for my return. They’ve all been incredibly supportive of my journey – each of my brothers sending me money – even when I don’t ask them for any. Whenever I set off on a new journey, I think a lot about where I came from, and how I got here; and then I think about how much my family would have loved to see the sights that I’m seeing, eat the food that I’m eating, enjoy the sun that I’m soaking in. I’m looking forward to going home and hugging the bejeezus out of my lil bros when I get back and play some hardcore Mario Party!

As for my friends, they have all been keeping tabs on where I’ve been and where my  next destinations will be. I’m thankful, because though I’ve been gone for so long, I still have so many friends asking me how I’m doing, when I’ll get back, when we can hang out again. They’re all happy for me, but I’m also wishing they were here with me.

I can certainly wait to go home, but I also can’t wait to go home.


Mid-Semester Madness

Time November 4th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

How could two months have passed already!? I’ve only been here since September, but my time here is quickly dwindling. It’s been academically intensive as essays and due-dates intermingle with social events and itineraries! But first, let’s touch bases on the academic rigor:

It’s essentially expected of the ideal student to rise and shine at a reasonable hour – regardless of what classes are underway that day. Contrary to what I’m used to in the United States; it’s a 9 – 5 work day ; so even if I don’t have classes, the day needs to be devoted to studies and revision. Now, since I’m studying the social sciences (Scottish Literature and Philosophy, along with my Psychology major), I have copious amounts of never-ending reading that is expected of me. However, that means I won’t always get to all of those readings. And honestly, I don’t like feeling like the ignorant kid who didn’t do her work before class. I don’t like having just a vague  idea of what we’re learning.

To amend this, I recently attended an induction ceremony specially for international students on on how to prepare myself for the mid-semester essays. I’m relieved to have seen other students overwhelmed by the amount of reading we have to do (one professor on the panel even admitted that she assigns more work than she expects students to do) – but at the same time, still antsy about the academic expectations over here.

I’m not used to having various lecturers, additional tutorials and few assessments to determine my mark. I’m used to being able to have time for all my extracurricular activities and hobbies while maintaining a job and keeping up with studies. Doing work for courses is constantly running in the back of my mind as I go about my daily activities; when I’m cooking, shopping, hanging out with friends or planning for a trip, all I can think about is how much work I should be doing. I try to be thorough in all that I do, so it’s tough to feel powerless; it’s tough to be told that I’m supposed to feel like this.

So far I’ve turned in two essays and am anxiously awaiting marks, while another essay will be due in 2 weeks. Though this is my last year in university, I think it’s time to go into turbo mode! It’s been tough, but I’m determined to make it through these last six weeks with flying colors!


How I Became a Socialite

Time October 1st, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | 1 Comment by

I’m a relatively shy and introverted girl–I like to keep to myself (though I also like to think I am rather skilled at masking that). So when it came to socials and get-togethers with others,  it was a wee bit of an intimidating endeavor. However, I will admit that the most difficult part of this first step is actually just introducing myself. I’ve encountered this issue where I become hopelessly undecided about what to tell people when they ask me where I’m from, because quite honestly, it can play out a number of ways when they ask:

“So, Sandy, where are you from?”

I can either reply with:

  • “America; you can tell because of my silly American accent,” or, more specifically:
  • “California. I was born and lived there for eight years. So practically spent half my life there,” or, I could say:
  • “Minnesota. I’ve lived there for about 13 years now; it’s where I spent most of my life,” or, alternatively, a combination of both:
  • “I was born in sunny Cali, raised in snowy Minnesota.” But ULTIMATELY, I think people want to hear:
  • “I’m Hmong,” which often leads to either What’s Hmong? or Where are your parents from? which leads to…
  • “My parents were born in Laos and immigrated to the United States during the Vietnam War,” OR
  • “The Hmong people are part of a small, Asian ethnic group originating from the mountains of Laos, China, Thailand…” etc.

So I think you can see why it’s a bit stressful for me to introduce myself to people, because I constantly have to run through this routine… over and over and over again. In fact, I even had an encounter with one of my academic advisors, whom, after I revealed to him that I was Hmong, actually politely asked if he could Google my ethnicity. Though it takes a bit of effort to describe my background to people, I’m glad people at least often seem semi-interested in where I hail from.

Hiding in a tree, because it’s nerve-wrecking to be anywhere else.


Overall, it’s been fun educating people–and in fact, those who start out asking questions like, “What kind of Asian are you?” usually walk away saying, “OMG I’m so excited to have met a Hmong person! I need to go tell someone about how I met this girl from the mountains of Laos!”

I can’t wait to meet more people.


(Not so) Fresher’s Week

Time September 24th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Silly me came to Edinburgh on the third of September believing that I’d be starting school the following week. I guess I didn’t look close enough on the brochures and information packets because I was in for a week of nonstop fun and excitement as arranged by the University of Edinburgh.

So, Edinburgh does this thing where they put on various events, activities, tours and games for ‘freshers’. Prior to arriving here, I had no idea that I’d basically be considered a freshman—so twenty one year old me hung out with a bunch of seventeen and eighteen year old students not realizing that I was intermingling with first years. At first I thought it was strange that I was meeting so many young adolescents; and then it finally hit me. I hadn’t met a single fourth year student.

Regardless, I enjoyed my first beer at the Sciennes Hall pub crawl!


Even so, being an older exchange student didn’t stop me from taking part in the festivities! The first night, Vangaboys performed live for us (they’re the band that sings cheesy lines such as ‘boom boom boom boom, I want you in my room’). We had themed dances virtually every night (i.e. James Bond, Pirates), a nightly jazz lounge, headspeaker dances (where people pay a deposit and groove to music on a headphone), ceilidhs (Gaelic/Scottish dances) and how could I forget? We also had long queues for each one–where I would argue about lines vs. queues, pop vs. soda vs. coke, pants vs. trousers, sneakers vs. trainers, among many other pronunciations of words.

Apart from night-time social gatherings, our Residential Assistants helped us in taking advantage of the opportunities this week, including the Free Shop (free items left behind from other students, such as pots, bowls, pans, coat hangers, etc.), Trade Fair, Societies Fair, and Sports Fair. I cannot even begin to express how we all overwhelmingly benefited from these events!

It was wonderful to be able to meet so many people in such a short amount of time; furthermore, the Residential Assistants here were incredibly kind in guiding us young folks towards fun. I think it’s needless to say that these social events bolstered my enthusiasm to be here.


(dis)Orientation in Edinburgh

Time September 19th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

IFSA-Butler Orientation was a whirlwind of information. Amid the constant consumption of information for two days, I managed to catch a tiny glimpse of the city of Edinburgh and somehow even managed to get disoriented in this 100 sq mile city.

Grassmarket Street. This was a vibrant street full of bustling tourist buses and people. I was overwhelmed by the amount of people milling about on any given weekday, watching street performers and musicians while passing by small shops and boutiques. There were a number of people playing instruments, including those who played the bagpipe. My first night there I thought it would be a grand idea to explore the city a bit; and of course, I got lost. It happened almost naturally, as though the cosmos of the universe had aligned perfectly for my little jaunt on the streets to turn into a horrid and unfortunate confusion of mazes and labyrinths. Somehow I had managed to find myself on the west side of town towards Haymarket Square, far off the track from the orientation hotel. So, not only are the streets incredibly curvy and disorienting, but there are multiple closes and paths that lead to not where I want to go. I tried consulting with the map to no avail until I finally asked a jogger for directions. She kindly offered to actually jog with me back to my orientation hotel! Locals of Edinburgh seem to be excessively kind if you talk to them; which, I am most appreciative of! It took a while, but I was able to return safe and sound! Needless to say, I stayed in the next night.

The infamous Calton Hill! Take a look at the panoramic pic I took!


Calton Hill. The next day, we completed most Orientation procedures and filled out seemingly important papers. What’s nice is that IFSA-Butler had arranged a myriad of wonderful events for the students to enjoy throughout our study abroad program, and among one of these was a tour around the beautiful city with a native Scotsman. We had been doing workshops nonstop and were being fed copious amounts of delicious food, tips and instructions concerning our four month visit in Scotland. Now that we had some time to relax, it was only inevitable that we all took to the great sites/sights of the city! We passed by The Last Drop, Sandy Bells, Castle Terrace, the Edinburgh Castle, the Scottish Parliament, Hollyrood Road and the Royal Mile. The tourist guide was an enthusiastic red-headed man filled with glee and jubilee; it was apparent he loved this city as he told tales about each location. Towards the end, we hiked up to Calton Hill and took one final look at the city as a whole. Our tourist guide told us about how these monuments were meant to bolster Edinburgh’s reputation in the North, but because of funding, the monuments remained incomplete.


Even so, I wish I could convey to you the immensely overwhelming elation I received from being so up high and viewing the city from this angle. The only downside to these monuments was that there seemed to be a fair amount of trash behind the pillars, which was an unfortunate consequence of Calton  Hill being so well known.

Me behind the monument!


Right after Orientation, we finally go our separate ways to our housing accommodations. So I head my way to Sciennes (pronounced ‘sheens’) with a few other fellow IFSA-Butler students. As the first individuals arriving on site, we have the whole flat to ourselves.

My room before occupation. I’m going to have to spruce this up a bit!  2013-09-06-15-20-28

I have many more adventures to catch you all up on, and I’ll be sure to write up a blog soon! Keep your eyes peeled for more fun on the way!



En Route to Edinburgh

Time September 6th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | 1 Comment by

This was my first time solo navigating via airplane–and if that wasn’t stressful enough, this was also my first time going abroad at all.

I had been saying my goodbyes to my dear ones for the last few weeks and felt pretty confident about going by myself. On the day of my flight, I woke up bright and early, double-checked, then triple-checked that I had all my things that I needed to pack (lo and behold, when I arrived here I realized I had forgotten my towel and my stuffed Moogle…). I stuffed my warm winter clothes and other necessities in a tall, internal-frame backpack. I carried the rest of my normal everyday clothes in a carry-on, while shouldering a personal bag with all my papers that I’d need for customs.

Breakfast of champions before leaving to Scotland. Courtesy of my generous boyfriend!


I was both reluctant and ecstatic to finally be leaving … but I know not many people were enthusiastic about my departure. My mother called me relentlessly, thoroughly  reiterating reminders and expressing her dozens of concerns. My friends called to wish me a safe trip and the best of luck on my navigation skills (as they are pretty poor). But I think the most excruciating farewell came from my significant other. He had agreed to drop me off at the airport. Though this was a grand opportunity to go abroad, there was an opportunity cost. We had talked about it extensively, and he had vehemently refused to be an obstacle in my desire to study abroad.

Before entering the airport, we embraced each other in the bittersweet moment before I promised  that I’d come back.

When I finally pulled away, I lugged my baggage through the Minneapolis Airport. I was probably three hours early so I had nothing to worry about. I checked one bag in and was well on my way through TSA; woohoo. I had a three hour layover in Chicago before going to London, then Edinburgh. Fortunately, my first couple of flights went fine. However, (and I’m not sure how I missed this before) I had about an hour to get through UK customs… so naturally I miss my flight from London to Edinburgh. I’m lucky to have buddied up with someone who was also travelling abroad for the first time. He and I stuck through the tedious procedures before I buddied up again with a fellow IFSA-Butler student. Upon arrival in Edinburgh, we grabbed our luggage in a hurry and hopped on a bus to the City Centre before finally arriving at the Apex International Hotel for our IFSA-Butler orientation.

View from the hotel. What a lovely cloudy day, eh?


Needless to say, sleep came to me relatively early after that 30-some hour adventure to get to Scotland. I was happy to finally reach my destination albeit the paranoia of flight and TSA!


Looks Like My Summer Vacation is Over…

Time August 30th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

You are confined only by the walls you build yourself. As I meander my way through the end of this summer, I’m realizing the importance of living everyday outside of my comfort zone. Although I thought it near impossible and even inconvenient to lay out study abroad plans, I’m beginning to understand how wrong of a favor I could have done myself were I to devoid myself of this opportunity. Though taking risks can yield disastrous outcomes, they can also give rise to new and wondrous horizons.

Let me give you a formal introduction of myself:

Hi all. I’m Sandy; a twenty-one year old female Hmong student that can be found roughly in the Midwestern region of the United States. I currently attend Gustavus Adolphus College, a liberal arts school in St. Peter, MN. This fall, I’ll be attending the University of Edinburgh in Scotland! Needless to say, I’m enthralled and can hardly wait to embark on many new adventures across the waters!

It’s been a busy and bustling summer for me! In these last 3 months, I’ve:

  • Visited New York for the first time!
  • Learned to navigate via the public transportation on the metro!
  • Executed my Phillips Scholarship project to create an online magazine where Hmong students can express themselves
  • Went on a road trip to see: Glacier National Park, Makoshika, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, and even Crazy Horse from afar!
  • Bade farewell to many of my friends and family before I leave for the next four months.

& now I step forward in a new direction as I conclude this eventful summer!

I’ve never traveled by myself before, let alone travel outside of the country; so this is going to be a first! I hope you’ll join me on my journey as I traverse across the globe this semester. I’ve already begun to connect with people through social media and am anticipating ‘fresher’s week’ once I arrive. But honestly, I must resume to my packing and checking off of lists before I begin. I leave this coming Tuesday, September 3rd and should be arriving the following morning. The anticipation is wrought with dread and joy, all at once…

And with that, I conclude my first, anxiously-ridden thoughts on this blog. The next time I write to you may even be in Scotland; see you then!