Caledonia, You’re Calling Me…

…and I’m going home. Twice in a month! (Bonus points if you know the song reference). Mid-February rolled around and it was finally time for my rescheduled visit home! I was so excited to be going home at last. It has recently dawned on me that I was in France without going home for longer than I was in China in total! That really blew my mind because it felt like I was in China for so much longer than I’ve been in France.

It felt so good to see my family (and pets!) again. Most of my first few days were taken up with spending time with the people I love and not much else. That’s what I had missed most about not getting home at Christmas. I had still had the Christmas food, I had still watched the Christmas movies and felt the Christmas spirit but the most important part of Christmas for me is always spending some uninterrupted down time with my family. That’s what I had missed and so that’s what I wanted most out of this trip. I went on long walks with my dog and my dad, chilled on the sofa with my mum and sisters, had several XXL glasses of wine with my best friend and even overlapped with a visit from my aunt and cousin who live in England! We even had a bit of snow!

Besides stocking up on quality time with my family, my first priority was getting my booster vaccine and the second was getting a haircut! Both would have been possible in France but just a lot more complicated. Because I had my first two vaccinations in Scotland, it was simpler to also get the third one there as well. As for the haircut, I hate getting my hair cut as it is because it never turns out how I want it. Add in having to navigate that in French and you’re asking for a disaster. I went for a pretty hefty chop as well, in my usual pattern of letting my hair grow long enough that it starts to piss me off and then chopping it short. I was impressed that Amber, my hairdresser, managed to do exactly what I wanted with very vague instructions. This was my first proper haircut since waaaay before the pandemic (though I did have two kitchen trims in between) and I was so happy with the end result!

After spending the first weekend at home in Dunblane, I headed down to London bright and early on the Monday morning. Some of my best friends are based down there and even more uni friends have gone to the dark side and moved there since we graduated so I had a lot of of people to catch up with. I was staying with my friend Jesse in Stoke Newington so the first day was spent exploring around there. Jesse took me to Abney Park Cemetery, a little green haven in the middle of the Hackney streets. You enter and within a couple of metres you are engulfed in the trees, the sounds of the streets left behind. We did a little turn around there and then headed to Clissold Park. In the evening our friend Amy came through from Surrey and we went out for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner at a Turkish restaurant. No one else I’d rather spend it with! There’s usually a fourth person in this particular group but unfortunately Lucy couldn’t be there because even though she was also in London, she had covid! We finished the night with possibly the cheapest gin and tonic to be found in the whole of London – only £3.20!

The best we could do! (Also peep the new haircut)

My second day in London was very chill, spoiled a little by some horrible weather. I didn’t mind though because at this point I don’t go to London to DO things, I go to see people. We got lunch from a 24 hour bagel shop (opposite the 24 hour baklava shop, for all your midnight snack needs). Jesse lives right next to Stamford Hill which is an area of Hackney with the largest concentration of Hasidic Jews in Europe. The bagel shop is known for its salt beef bagel which me, Jesse and Amy all got. Super thick slabs of the tenderest beef I’ve ever tasted with mustard and gherkins. That evening I met up with a bunch of uni people in Canary Wharf for dinner and a drink. This group all seemed to have ended up either living or working around there (other than one who came in from Surrey for the evening) so it made sense to meet there. It was my first time in that area and it has a very different personality to the areas of London I’m used to!

Canary Wharf

For my last morning we headed over to Jesse’s family’s house to have brunch with them, some lovely pancakes! Jesse gave me a proper tour on the way over, showing me all the sights from Ridley Road market to her old high school. In the end I could only stay for about an hour before I needed to leave to go to the station to head home. It was a lovely few days, just what I needed to catch up with some people I’d really been missing. There was a bit of a storm blowing through that disrupted my travel back but after a few delays and a lift home from Edinburgh, I made it!

Back in Scotland, I went to Glasgow the following evening to meet my friend Hannah for dinner. We went to a place called The Hug and Pint that does small, vegan, Asian plates and then went for a few drinks. We ended up in a pub where her flatmate was playing in a trad circle. Immaculate vibes.Being in Glasgow even just for one evening really made me want to live there one day. It’s been on my mind for a while that I think I could like Glasgow. It’s something very different from Edinburgh, something new. It’s a bit of a Scottish cultural hub, in a way that is missing from Edinburgh, despite it being the capital and having so much history. Trad and folk music have such a presence as does Gaelic and the more I learn of Gaelic the more I want to keep learning and get involved more.

The next day saw an early birthday and very late Christmas dinner! At this point it’s almost a tradition for us to have Christmas dinner not at Christmas (because it’s also almost a tradition that I’m not there at Christmas) and so we combined it with a birthday meal this year! We started with our traditional starter, a spicy tomato soup and then a turkey or a veggie option with all the trimmings. We followed up with a raspberry semifreddo, a semi frozen dessert made in this instance with Greek yoghurt.

And that brings us to my birthday! Or should I say our birthday, I am a twin after all. Unfortunately my mum got covid for the second time halfway through my visit so our day started with a socially distant visit to wave at her through the window! The main event involved going through to Edinburgh for some drinks. Amy and I parked ourselves in the Pear Tree and had lots of our lovely friends drop in on us – my uni friends, Amy’s uni friends, friends from home and others that are close enough to Edinburgh to pop in and say hello. It was such a fun afternoon with a great mix of people so thank you to anyone reading who came along and made my 24th special!

Happy 24th birthday!

And with that I flew back home after a lovely ten days. It felt great to spend some time at home in Scotland and surrounded by family and friends. So great in fact that it wasn’t two weeks before I was back again! This time it was just for a long weekend, from Thursday to Sunday, in order to attend the Edinburgh University Swimming and Water Polo Club (EUSWPC) alumni weekend. EUSWPC was a massive part of my university experience and the alumni weekend is always a good time, with everyone from recent graduates to those who left 10 years or more making the trip back.

The celebrations didn’t start until Friday night so I had a bit of time to catch up with uni friends first, some of whom I’d seen at my birthday a few weeks before and others I hadn’t. I saw my friend Hannah for a bahn mi at a little place in the Arches and then a few drinks. She had just moved back to Edinburgh from Glasgow and was letting me crash in her room over the weekend while she was in London. We had a few drinks at the Library Bar in Teviot, one of Edinburgh University’s student unions, for old times sake until she had to go and make dinner with some friends. I spent the rest of my evening with two of my old flatmates who are still in Edinburgh, Lizzie and Georgia. We had a takeaway, drank some wine and watched Gogglebox then an embarrassingly bad rom-com. It took me right back to Friday nights in lockdown in the Rat Flat, our affectionate nickname for our home as students.

On Friday I spent some time in a cafe by the Meadows working on my lesson plan for the next week. My friend Laurence dropped in on me there and then on my way back to Hannah’s I dropped in on my friend Jack. Friday night was the Welcome Drinks for the alumni weekend which started in Vodka Revolution and ended in Subway (a club not the sandwich shop) for my first proper night out since before the pandemic! It was great to see everyone, especially my Queens (the name of the women’s seconds team that I was part of and eventually captain of). Because of the pandemic, we obviously didn’t have alumni in 2021 so the last time I had seen a lot of people was the 2020 event, just a few weeks before lockdown. I loved catching up with everyone but loved the club part of the night a lot less.

On Saturday I got to see my mum! I fought off my minor hangover to meet her, her partner and Amy at Loudon’s for brunch. Afterwards me and my mum went for a wee walk around Edinburgh, just the two of us. It was nice to spend some quality time together after missing out on it during my last visit. We sat in Princes Street Gardens for a while to people (and dog) watch. Eventually it was time for me to head to the pool for arguably the main event of the weekend, the actual water polo match.

Every year there is a swim competition, a men’s match and a women’s match, all alumni versus students. There was such a great buzz around the pool with people packing in to watch, covid-related capacity be damned. Alumni had won the swim match and it looked like they were going to win the men’t match as well. There were a lot of alumni that wanted to play in the women’s match, which suited me because that meant I could go in for a few minutes, play hard and get out again. I got to see my old coach Derek which was so lovely as I didn’t get to see him last year when I was captain of the Queens because of covid. He was coaching the alumni team which was great because he knows everyone and their skills after having coached pretty much everyone that was there. It was a good game, I had some good battles with a new girl from the firsts team until I got an (accidental) fist to the face! At the end of the match, which we won, I was taken by surprise when I was given Queen of the Match! This is essentially the MVP, something I never got while actually at uni. The Queens and EUSWPC mean so much to me, as does the sport of water polo itself, and this felt like the cherry on top of a great four years in the club.

A great action shot
Queen of the Match!

That evening was the formal alumni reception, dress code cocktail attire (if anyone knows what that means, please let me know, I’m still confused). I wore my one and only (and favourite) nice dress and heels, at least long enough to get some nice pictures and then my trainers went back on. It was a good chance to catch up with people that either weren’t at the drinks the night before or that I didn’t have the chance to speak to. The night ended at Big Cheese, Edinburgh University’s club night, which has been EUSWPC’s go to for many years. I seemed to have aged out of the club life a little and I headed home pretty early like the night before.

Sunday morning is made for brunching and I obliged by meeting my old flatmates again before I had to go to the airport. We went to a nice spot in the West End called Indigo Yard for some good food and some good laughs. After that it was time to head to the airport. The journey home was pretty easy if a bit slow once I landed in Basel, as it always is getting back to Mulhouse on a Sunday evening.

I wasn’t meant to be home twice in such quick succession but it felt so good. I feel fully stocked up on quality time with my family and friends. Scotland isn’t where I want to live at the moment, or really in the near future, but it’s always nice to be back in the homeland. While I may call other places home, Scotland will always be Home. Having the time away from Mulhouse, I’m also ready to take on the remaining weeks in the semester and enjoy what is still to come!

Back, Back, Back Again

I’m back, back, back again! Is anyone else having déjà vu? I have once again returned to blogging, just in time for me to run off to live in yet another country! One week today I leave for France where I will be working as a lectrice in the Université Haute-Alsace in Mulhouse. There is lots more information on my job, Mulhouse and how this all happened to come but for now you might notice that a few things have changed around here…

First and foremost, I’m sure you’ve noticed the name change. The blog that was previously known as ‘Sara in China’ (really creative, I know) is now ‘Sara Somewhere’. Nice to meet you all (again!). When I first started blogging, what feels like a lifetime ago, it was for my year in Honduras with Project Trust. I was using a different site called Sara’s Year in Honduras, hosted by Blogger. Then, when I started blogging for China, I decided it was time for an upgrade and set up a WordPress site, Sara in China. This is that same site but rebranded.

Sara’s Year in Honduras and Sara in China served their purposes but I thought it was time to settle down, digitally at least. Instead of creating yet another new site for my upcoming adventures in France, I decided to rebrand to something that I could use to chronicle my life from anywhere and everywhere, hence: Sara Somewhere.

While I was rebranding and refreshing the layout of the blog a little, I also thought it would be nice to have all my blogs in one place. I have spent the last two weeks copying over my Honduras blogs (and also rereading them because they were riddled with typos) so that they can all be found here! It was so nice rereading and reliving my time in Honduras and China and was the perfect way to cut through my stress about moving to France and get me excited!

I’ve always really enjoyed writing blogs but never had the time to keep it up while at university in Edinburgh. Having recently graduated, it feels like spare time is in abundance for me now. My job in France doesn’t involve a super busy timetable and also won’t take the same mental toll that studying does so I should have plenty of time and mental capacity to get back in to blogging.

It feels good to be back and I’m excited to get going! If there’s any styles of blogs that I’ve done before that you liked, for example the food diaries, day in the life, survival guides, or anything else, let me know. I’ve got a week to go until I leave for France and I can’t wait to get started!

Thoughts From Lockdown

If there’s one thing there’s plenty of time to do in lockdown, it’s think. Lots of things have been running through my mind about our current situation and I’m sure most of you will be able to relate to at least some of these, especially those that have been forced to leave university or a year abroad early. Some are rather specific to having had to come home from China but then that’s what this blog is all about isn’t it? These thoughts have been collected over the course of this lockdown so some are more related to things as they were a few weeks ago but I thought they were still worth reflecting on now.

Back in mid march, just as things were starting to get more serious here, I was looking over to China where cases were going down and things were looking up. I had a lot of comments from people along the lines of “If you had only stayed in China you’d be fine by now!” I don’t know if those people thought they were being helpful or just funny but they were neither. Yes, things were looking more encouraging and I want more than anything to be able to go back to China but the fact remains that there was still a reason I left. Added to that I would have been inside for two months instead of doing everything I wrote about in my last post. I didn’t even really have anywhere to stay – I was in the middle of travelling plus I was inbetween my host family and moving into the dorms.

Having left China in part to avoid lockdown, and to now be in lockdown is an interesting development. On one side of things it is frustrating as China is now starting to come out of its lockdown phase while we are still in the throes of ours. Added to that, foreigners are now no longer allowed into China, so even if it was safe to travel back, I wouldn’t be allowed in. But on the other side, it has encouraged me even more that it was the right decision to come home. Lockdown has honestly been hard enough here, in my own home with my family to lean on and the comforts of my own space and belongings.

This virus has been around since the start of December but became a concern in China towards the end of January. This is when it started ruling everything in my life. It drove me to come home from China, and then had me grasping at how to continue studying Chinese while in Edinburgh, all the while thinking and wondering about how and when I could go back to China. I was also worried about my friends, the ones that had decided to stay in China, the ones stranded in China when all they wanted was to go home, and the ones that had no choice but to stay because China is their home.

And then it came here and I’ve had all the same worries. People have had to decide whether to stay in Edinburgh, whether to go home and then trying to get the timing right and not waiting too long. I decided to go home to ride this out with my family (this also being the cheaper option!) but as well as moving me back home, it also put another spanner in my studies.

Since coming home and moving back to Edinburgh, I had been taking Chinese classes organised by the university through the Confucius Institute. These were going to run until the end of the semester and then I was planning on going to France to complete the second part of my year abroad. My friend was helping set me up with some family friends of hers that live in the south of France. Of course all of that stopped as the situation started to get worse in France at the same time as it did here. Eventually university classes in Edinburgh were cancelled and then moved online and all non-essential travel prohibited. This included all placements abroad. And there goes France.

After coming back early from China, I pinned all my hopes on to the silver lining that I would be able to spend more time in France than I had originally planned. Despite this very quickly going down the drain, I was pretty accepting of it. I don’t where this came from but honestly, maybe I just didn’t have the energy to be anything else. I know I’ll get there eventually, just not as planned and its not the end of the world.

What my work from home can look like

My relationship with my two languages is a bit complicated at the minute. Even though I’ve been studying French since I was 11, my confidence is at an all time low. It has been almost a year since I studied it properly, having devoted almost all of my time in China to studying Chinese, thinking I would be able to devote some time to French all on its own. My reading and listening skills in French are still good but when I try and speak it, it feels like I have to physically drag the words out from the depth of my brain. And then with Chinese, my confidence is at an all time high as is my knowledge but I feel unfulfilled. I am working so hard at home even during this lockdown to improve, or at least keep up, with my Chinese because I’m frustrated that I didn’t get to reach my full potential with it this year.

Ironically I’m not worried about this affecting the Chinese side of my degree. We’ve already had reassurances from the Chinese department at Edinburgh that the effect of the situation on our Chinese level will be taken into consideration when it comes to our fourth year. Nobody is quite sure what this will look like, whether the level of work will change or the grade boundaries but allowances will be made. On the French side, I am worried. Its not just because of the aforementioned lack of confidence, though that is a worry of course, but because practically I don’t know what impact not having spent any time in France will have BECAUSE NO ONE WILL TELL ME. I understand there’s uncertainty for everyone at the moment and that people don’t have the answers that I’m looking for.

That doesn’t mean I’m not angry, sad, frustrated but all of this is magnified because I recognise there is no one in particular to be angry at, unless you want to be angry at the virus itself. And I am angry, for the things I have lost, the things my sisters have lost, I’m angry that people, including the government, didn’t and still aren’t taking this seriously enough, I’m angry that I only get to see my dad from 2m away on the days when he’s not working at the hospital.

This has been consuming my life for so much longer than it has been for most people here, the intensity is exhausting. It’s all encompassing, and has been for weeks. Every single conversation always came back to it and sometimes I just need to check out. The times I enjoyed the most in the weeks running up to lockdown were the ones where I was distracted from everything.

Most of the above are thoughts from before or the early days of lockdown but they’ve stayed with me. What follows are some thoughts from more recent times, the depths of monotony and isolation.

In comparison to before lockdown, when I was avidly following the news, now I actively avoid it. My mum likes to sit down and watch the news broadcasts throughout the day but I can’t watch for long. With the way social media works and how it is being used during this pandemic, the news is unavoidable. I ingest enough to know what is going on, to know what I have to but now that my life and everyone else’s is being run by these news updates, I don’t follow them as much as before.

It is one of the things I’ve been trying to do to look after myself. I’ve been fortunate enough to have good mental health but I’ve never been more aware of looking after it than now. This situation is a major adjustment for everyone, we’ve all had our lives put on pause and been confined to our houses. That can be hard for someone with the strongest hold on their mental wellbeing. I can only speak for myself on this subject but some things that have helped me have been keeping a sense of routine and keeping busy (which will surprise absolutely no one, I’m sure).

Socially distanced walks a few weeks ago

Another thing I’m fighting against, something I struggle with anyway, is the feeling that I must be productive. At university I am non stop moving, always doing something and then on to the next thing. The temptation right now is that this lockdown should be used to be as productive as possible, to write that novel, become a master chef, get fit and toned. Sure, some people, myself included, still have university work or are working from home and that stuff still needs done. But it’s ok if the best you can do is shower that day, or your spend all your time watching Netflix, or the only exercise you do is a walk outside or a boogie in your bedroom.

This is an unprecedented crisis and we are living in unprecedented times. There is no should at the minute. The only thing you have to do is wash your hands and stay inside. Everything else is a bonus. Do whatever works for you and be kind to yourself.

A Brief Interlude

The last thing I posted on here were some reflections on coming back to the UK. I had just started Chinese classes in Edinburgh and was coming to terms with my early return. I wasn’t sure whether or not I was going to keep posting on here. Despite having several drafts in various stages of completion, I felt like maybe the blog had run its course and that I might be milking it if I kept posting. Plus, with all my classes and starting up all my social and sporting activities again, I suddenly had a lot less time than I had in Dalian!

Now however, things have changed. With the coronavirus now an increasingly serious situation here in the UK (there will definitely be a blog about that one), we are all locked down in our houses, trying to come up with new ways to pass the time. Taking all of that into account, and suddenly with a lot more time on my hands, I figured everyone else has nothing better to do than read any blogs I write!

So first of all, I thought I would catch everyone up with what I got up to on my (reluctant) return. It started, of course, with some bittersweet reunions. My mum met me at the airport which was very tearful and overwhelming. When we got home I woke up Kirsty who, despite being rather unresponsive, was very happy to see me. I went over to my dad’s the next evening to see him AND HAVE THE ALL IMPORTANT REUNION WITH MY DOG. The only person left to see was Amy. She was up in Aberdeen at university but I planned to go up and visit as soon as I could.

He loves me really…

Continuing the reunions I went out for dinner that week with my best friend Kathryn and then to Deep Sea World for the day with my friend Amy. I went in to Edinburgh for the weekend to catch up with all my uni friends. Laurence, the only other person from my group that was on a year abroad but in Spain, just so happened to be back that weekend too for some early birthday celebrations.

Who could forget turning 22?

I finally made it up to Aberdeen about a week after I got home and got to see Amy for the first time in five months!!! We had a great few days that included a trip to the Ythan Estuary to see the seals, an early birthday night out with all Amy’s friends and a visit to the cheese cafe. I also met up with a couple of my own friends who are up in Aberdeen, one of which was at the avocado cafe!

We both went back down to Dunblane together because we had tickets to see the musical Six in Edinburgh at the weekend. A brief moment to praise the wonder that is Six. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if the six wives on Henry VIII formed a pop group, this show is for you. That or you just enjoy six badass women absolutely killing it on stage to songs based on various pop sensations. Amazing. Empowering. Definitely not to be missed. I also got the chance to see the Lion King a few weeks later. I first saw it when I was 12 and in the 10 years since then I’d forgotten just how beautiful and meticulously designed every single aspect of it is. Wow.

For one last visit I went up to Dundee for a night out with my friend Carla. We’ve known each other for several years through water polo, we’ve played on various teams together or against each other over the years. The day I went up just so happened to be a social with the Dundee University Swimming and Water Polo club. The freshers were in charge and turned the tables so they were dressed up as professors and everyone else as students.

My last hurrah before settling back down in Edinburgh was a trip to London. My mum had planned to take my two sisters to London as a birthday trip for both of them, fitting in a few musicals while down there. Now that I was back she told us that she wanted me to go instead of her so that we could have our first trip together, just us three sisters. All I can say is thank you because it was a great few days!

We didn’t have long but we packed a whole lot in, despite a slightly delayed start due to our flight being cancelled. No worries though, we were just put on the next flight two hours later. We started our first night having pizza on Brick Lane with one of Amy’s friends from uni who is on placement down there this year. From there we went for a few drinks in Boxpark in Shoreditch.

Our second day started with a very windy walk from our hotel near the Tower of London to the Breakfast Club, next to Borough Market. A delicious way to kick the day off. From there we headed to Camden and met up with one of my friends, Nina. We wanted to just have a wander around the markets but I was also keen to check out the Vagina Museum, a pop up that opened last year and has an interesting exhibition called ‘Muff Busters’. We battled some horrible weather to get down to Kirsty’s favourite area of the city – the theatre district! We went to the Theatre Cafe, that is all things musical theatre themed, soundtracks on in the background, show posters all around and some very clever drink names (for example I had the Defying Gravi-TEA, green of course). To finish the day we went to Chinatown (a nice throwback for me, sad face) for dinner before seeing Dear Evan Hansen, one of my favourite musicals EVER. And it did not disappoint. There were chills, there were tears, even a momentary technical issue, just because we’re special.

Day three was a little more chilled after our jam packed day two. First off, we had a little adventure to the Garden at 120 – a rooftop garden on the top of a random insurance building in the City of London. It’s got great views down to Canary Wharf and across the river but the views to the north are blocked by the likes of the Gherkin and the Cheese Grater. From there we walked back over to Covent Garden (really getting our steps in) and had lunch in a pizza place over there. We met up with another of my friends, Jesse, and her girlfriend for a few drinks before heading to our second show, Come From Away. It is an incredibly moving musical about a town in Newfoundland, Canada where 28 planes were diverted after 9/11. As you can imagine there are certain scenes that are rather harrowing but the overwhelming impression that you are left with is the strength and openness of humanity.

We left London the next morning and I was back to Edinburgh where the classes that Edinburgh uni had put on for us had started while I was away. I moved in with my friends Jack and Conlan who I had stayed with when I visited Shanghai and had obviously had to come home from China too.

Despite the fact I would much rather have been in China, being back in Edinburgh was great. I was back with all my friends, having catch ups over coffee, nights out, dinner parties, days spent in the library, people’s birthday parties and pizza or game nights. I was also able to join my water polo team, the Queens, again and play in matches. I went up to Dundee and over to Glasgow and Stirling for matches and even managed to get some goals in. I also happened to be back over the time that the club was having its AGM. I had run for a position at the end of my first year but wasn’t successful and didn’t think that I was going to be able to run for any other year. But you are now talking to next year’s Treasurer! There were also plenty of socials, including the alumni weekend which is always a big event in the club calendar. At alumni I got to see Kim who had been working in Shanghai and I’d met up with while I was there and also a girl called Hannah who had been working in Hong Kong, both of whom had also been forced to come home because of the virus.

All in all I packed a lot into the seven or so weeks between fleeing the virus on one side of the world to being locked down because of it on the other. It’s a good thing I did because I’ll be living off those memories for the foreseeable future. In the meantime I hope everyone is staying safe, sane and, most importantly, HOME! There are definitely a few more blog posts coming so I hope they keep you somewhat entertained, or at least pass the time as we ride out this lockdown together.

Back to Blogging

It’s been four long years since I first set foot in a blog. I had just started fundraising to spend a year teaching English in Honduras between high school and university and thought it might be a good idea to document it, both for myself and for anyone else that wanted to read it. Fast forward two years and I’d built a fantastic time capsule into my time in Honduras that I was very proud of and could always look back on.

I’m now only a few days away from once again moving halfway across the world to live somewhere completely new for a year. This time I’m heading to China to study there as part of my university degree, which will be followed by spending the summer in France.

While it took a lot of time and energy to build the blog that I created while in Honduras, it was absolutely worth it and I really want to create that kind of snapshot again for my time in China.

Some people might remember the kind of things I wrote about on my Honduras blog but for those that weren’t there for that, I covered the day to day, week to week goings on, keeping everyone up to date with what was happening in my life but also wrote more in depth posts about food, my town, my school, cultural holidays and some fun survival guides.

I hope to do similar things with this blog. Something I want to experiment with this time is keeping general updates shorter but more frequent than last time and still having longer feature posts. Obviously this is all dependant on internet access but I have my finger crossed and I’m excited to get back into blogging again!

Costa Rica, Coffee Mornings and Count the Sweets

I’m back! Did you miss me? It’s been a while since I’ve given any updates on my progress, I know, but I’ve been away having incredible adventures in Costa Rica! For those of you that are interested I’ll tell you a bit about my four amazing weeks there. If you’re just here to see my fundraising news, skip to the end to find out what’s going on.

During my summer holidays I spent a month in Costa Rica, a Central American country separated from Honduras by Nicaragua, with a volunteering organisation called GVI. The first week was cultural immersion with seven other teenagers from all around the world – we had Americans, Canadians, more Brits and even a Swiss boy. Cultural immersion meant four hours of Spanish lessons a day, salsa class and cooking class and staying with a host family for a week.

This was one of my favourite parts of my whole trip. Staying with the host family improved my Spanish more than the lessons did because my family didn’t speak much English so it was up to me to make conversation and pass along information in Spanish. My tico family (tico is a term Costa Ricans use to refer to themselves) were absolutely amazing and I loved spending a whole week as part of their family, with an American girl from my group and two other American students they had staying with them. It was a very busy house!

My tico parents, Olga and Willy, and roommate Kelly

After spending a week in Quepos with our host families, we moved to a hostel in the neighbouring hillside town of Manuel Antonio where we were joined by another eight volunteers. The next two weeks were spent doing construction work at a school in a community called Roncador. We had two more groups of volunteers join during this time with some of the cultural immersion group leaving after a week. It was hard work under a hot sun but we got through a massive amount of work, more than anyone expected. We dug drains to stop the playground flooding, cleared, levelled and landscaped an area behind the kindergarten classroom for a new playground for the kindergarten kids, wirebrushed and painted tin panels for a new roof for the GVI English classroom, filled in the holes in the wall with cement and gave the lunch hall, kindergarten classroom, outside wall and English classroom all a fresh coat of paint!

The playground we made for the kindergarten children

One day we got to have a sports day with the kids, and while we’d seen them in their lessons and running around during their breaks this was the first time we got to interact with them. They practised their English on us and we practised our Spanish on them, and we got to really meet the people that we were doing all this work for. It reminded us all why we were there, where all our sweat and effort was actually going.

The English classroom as we left it – complete with GVI mural!

The day we left the project for the last time after two weeks there was a sad one and I think part of us wished we could stay for another week and do more. I am so proud of what we achieved throughout those two weeks and I know that the difference we have made will have a very real impact on the kids. It gives them a safer, cleaner, nicer learning environment to learn in and be proud of.

After two weeks of hard work we moved into our adventure week! We started with a trip to the Manuel Antonio National Park where we saw everything from monkeys and baby boa constrictors to spiders, lizards and crabs climbing trees and even a sloth! The next day we took to the beach where I learnt that surfing is just as hard as it looks (which is hard!) but about a hundred times more fun!

On the Monday of our last week we left the Quepos-Manuel Antonio area which had been my home for the last three weeks and drove across to the other side of Costa Rica to Turrialba. For our next adventure we went ziplining and abseiling in the rainforest before embarking on a rafting trip down the Rio Pacuare, one of the best rivers in the world for rafting. We spent two days navigating down class III and IV rapids and on the day in between we hiked to an indigenous village.

When it was time to leave Costa Rica, I was heartbroken. It is such a beautiful country, from the stunning landscape to the warm, welcoming people. Costa Rica will always be very special to me, as my first proper experience of travelling, as will the global friendships that I formed there. For now all I will say is pura vida Costa Rica, and you never know, I might make it down to see you while I’m in Honduras!

Now I am back in Scotland and back at school and it’s time to start fundraising again! This week I’m running a ‘Guess the Number of Sweets on the Jar’ at school and on Sunday morning I’m hosting a coffee morning at my house to share my stories and photos from Costa Rica.

Costa Rica felt like a mini version of what it will be like in Honduras and it has made the excitement real and given me something solid to look forward to. I can’t wait to get further into my fundraising and closer to my year on Honduras!