The Intermission

I have known I was going to embark on a year abroad as soon as I decided I wanted to study Spanish, which was a fair few years ago. However, this inevitable adventure is no longer blissfully out of sight (although nothing is ever out of mind in my world). I’m leaving next month.

Everyone talks about their life lessons/profound realisations/regrets during or after any travels, but I rarely see any reference to the anticipation beforehand. Still to this day I am reminded that the best part of any good thing is looking forward to it. At this point, everyone is stuck in an interval of their lives, looking into the unknown of moving to a different country, and none of us know what to expect.

One of the most important things to be aware of is that no year abroad experience has ever been the same. Comparison is unavoidable when all your course mates are having similar experiences, and issues like finding accommodation, admin, the culture shock and being completely submerged in the deep end can be generic. They cannot be limited to individual experiences, which can blur the line between a unique and common venture.

Now we’re in the intermission, the intermission which no one seems to talk about. You can only prepare so much, so the time is now spent watching dog documentaries and and discovering a new love of craft beer.

My main piece of advice to future travellers in this position is do not be afraid to reach out to people. Email your lecturers if you’re unsure about something, or even if it is to point you towards the person that you actually should have contacted. If you have an opportunity to talk to students, message them. Embrace the benefits of the internet and make connections if you can.

There are so many things that could go wrong, but there are also so many things that could go right.

The Limbo which is Summer

I’m at a crossroads, I believe.

Summer has always been a blank void, as I don’t have the routines that come with school and university. I’m also back at home in the valleys where my friends don’t live a stone’s throw away and very little is within walking distance. It’s a dramatic change, but a familiar one.

I’ve never had a routine with this blog. I’ve always just written when I’ve felt like it and as a result it’s never been forced. However, now I’m struggling with a direction.

Do I continue to write about my travels, to cities and countries? Do I continue writing about books and review them, and discuss other themes? Do I straddle the line across both themes? Do I focus on one and rebrand as I grow?

Who knows.

 

Drowning in conclusions // Into the Water Review

It had always been my intention to read any future novels Paula Hawkins wrote since I had enjoyed The Girl on the Train, so I was pleasantly surprised when I was reminded that her second book, Into the Water, had been released, and I downloaded it onto my iPad almost instantly. I read her first offering to the thriller world on a whim, and it seemed like I would go about reading her next work in the same way, but with a little more optimism.

This story centres around a drowning pool, which has claimed the lives of many women over the centuries, all with a common air of mystery and illusion. Although the beginning of the story appeared to be more confusing than mysterious with an unclear plot, everything fell into place thanks to the organised structure of the characters.

As I read more, I was hooked. The plot sucked me in and like the majority of the books I read while in Costa Rica, I read this in very little time. There was originality, and although a style of writing could be detected you could definitely identify it as a stand alone novel, and in no way a book that is linked to it’s predecessor.

However, the ending didn’t meet my expectations, and in a similar way to The Girl on the Train, it just jolted to a stop. Then when I thought it was over, some more plot almost leaked through, and then it finally concluded in the most long winded way possible.

It was evidently a thriller, and therefore it didn’t need an epilogue where we found out everything about the future of the characters. I love thrillers that end with as much mystery as they started with, although with more of a sense of closure. Endings are great, but long winded conclusions are a bother. Especially in a novel that is meant to keep you on edge throughout.

Overall, I enjoyed it, despite the ending letting it down a little. I now have another gazillion hours of this car journey to go, which is cool.

Goodbye privacy, hello narcissism // The Circle Review

I’ve read a fair few books since I’ve been in Scotland.

In Summer, the amount of books I read doesn’t change but I may decide to waltz outside with a glass of Pimms, and with the sea views here I’ve been doing just that.

One book that’s stood out for me though is The Circle, by David Eggers. The Circle, is in fact a technology company endeavouring to create a utopia for its users and trying to dominate the world. Mae, our protagonist, starts her new job there and gets to experience the wonders of her new paradise- until she is manipulated into believing that without The Circle the world can’t progress and improve.

Throughout the book it’s easy to see the opportunities one can receive simply by being a member of The Circle. You can sample the latest technology the company has to offer, get free clothes, food, and beverages and the reputation you gain is astronomical.

However, the people are fake.

A similar theme has been explored in an episode of Black Mirror, where you are rated based on your actions on an internet app and the world is silently chaotic. A similar thing occurs here, as it is mandatory to share your life online, attend every event you’re invited to and ensure everyone you talk to is content. Privacy is eradicated, and the narcissism of humans is exposed via the popularity of their respective social media.

What’s interesting is the ending. Normally in this kind of dystopian sci-fi type novel, they manage to stop everything before it’s too late (although usually with devastating consequences), however here the result is more chilling. What is terrifying and what could even be considered realistic is the fact that it is too late for Mae. The fact that she is manipulated by the internet into having “right opinions” and “wrong opinions” results in the Circle being able to take over the world like a weed. No organisation should be able to do that.

What is more terrifying is that this could be our reality.

Anticipating the next adventure

During my fourth week in Costa Rica, I received an email from the British Council.

I was anticipating this email. In fact, as soon as the first person reported that they’d received one, everyone who had applied to teach abroad for the next academic year suddenly started caring deeply about the fact that they were stuck in a rainforest with no WiFi. It felt like I was receiving exam results, something I always dread, on a much greater scale. This email dictated the next eight or nine months of my life from the end of September, and there was NOTHING I could do to change what would be typed in black ink on my larger than average phone screen.

Thanks to a hummingbird garden with internet access, one by one our emails flickered to life as our fates were revealed to us. It turns out that my year abroad, a crucial part of my degree, will be spent in the Basque Country in northern Spain.

Everyone was ecstatic. There were people who had been granted their first choice of region, people who were already working out which friends they were close to, and people updating their Facebook statuses in a flurry of excitement. I was overwhelmed.

In hindsight, my situation was laughable. The other two places I’d applied to either had limited spaces or none at due to budget cuts. In hindsight I was lucky to get any of my choices (obviously an essay on Welsh Rugby is exactly what the British Council need). However, it was a massive deal to 20 year old me who was currently on the other side of the world, about to LIVE in a different country.

“Loads of people have done it before, and they’ve been fine”, people say. “You’ve literally been in Costa Rica for five weeks and you’ve been alright, how is this different?” others will comment. I’ve never been to Spain. This is going to be very different.

A few weeks later, I found out my province, my town, my school and almost every other piece of information I needed to know. This time, I was the first out of my friends. I can plan. I can look into where I’m going, what I’m doing, and bombard my new contacts with emails.

Bilbao and the area surrounding it, here I come!

The Thing about Scotland

When we went to Aberdeen yesterday the city could only be described as grey. There was the grey of the buildings, the grey of the sky, the grey of the paths, and the grey mood of the people walking on those grey paths.

Scotland in general, however, is quite the opposite.

We’re staying literally a stone’s throw away from the North Sea, and after spending a month surrounded by the Pacific Ocean it was familiar and welcoming (although it was much colder). The pub is around the corner and the alcohol is plentiful, and once again I’ve read far too many books in a short space of time.

Scotland hasn’t changed much since I was last here three or four year ago. There are still views to be marvelled at, and castles to explore, and I’m looking forward to the peace and tranquility that accompanies this country. It’s so easy to relax here, and even though i have WiFi unlike previous adventures, I still feel at peace. I feel removed from it enough that I don’t depend on it (until a group chat suddenly comes to life out of nowhere).

Scotland reminds me of Wales. There’s a sense of individuality to it. You can pick out the Scottish from the non Scottish by accents alone and they have a patriotic pride that is absent in England. They accept the tourists, and they’ve embraced the fact that they are unique, and have welcomed it into their livelihood.

It is beautiful. It is interesting. It is calm.

I’m looking forward to what the next couple of weeks bring.

Shaken and Stirred // Watching Edie Review

I’m really not sure what I just read.

I’m currently sat in the car on the way back from a holiday in Scotland, three hours in to what looks like a ten hour journey. Settled amongst the many Ikea bags with my headphones in and Spotify blasting loud enough to drown out the radio, I started and finished reading Watching Edie, by Camilla Way.

So here we have two best friends who went through more than the average friends do during the heart of their teenage years thanks to boys, hard drugs, distant cold hearted parents and psychological issues. A friendship formed so impulsively was ruptured beyond repair, and Edie escapes to start fresh.

After giving birth to her baby she discovers that the girl that no longer means anything to her is still watching. She is still waiting. She recoils into nothing thanks to post natal depression and the anxiety of her past chasing after her, and Heather returns into her life with the same burst that Edie did all those years ago.

What seems like just a clingy friend turns into obsession, and later possession. Edie rebuilds her life and seeks solace in new friends, and Heather tries to cling onto the friendship that is so frayed by the trauma they left behind in the town they grew up in.

However, it was the twist at the end that impressed me. I was shaken to the core, aware that something so life-changing had happened at the climax of their schooldays due to it being teased throughout the book, but it was darker than I expected. Darker than anyone would have expected.

I don’t want to give anything away because I think this is a book that deserves to be read.

It is not a book to be taken lightly.

I read a lot of books in Costa Rica

Let’s talk books.

Somehow, thanks to the invention of hammocks, rocking chairs and well trained friends that know to leave me alone when I have a book in my hand, I read a not too shabby 17 books while I was away. Some were brilliant, and some were less so. So I’m going to talk about my favourite five.

The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury

This is the oldest book I read, and what was interesting is its insight regarding the future. Books and films about mars and space and a future that’s corrupt but manageable seems to be all the rage these days, and it’s refreshing to see a different perspective on it from before my time. If you enjoyed Brave New World and War of the Worlds, you’ll enjoy this.

Hidden Figures – Margot Lee Shetterly

I saw the film before I read the book, and I can say with confidence that it is the best film I’ve seen this year so far. It’s so important to learn about the unsung heroes, especially since so many influential figures have been overlooked throughout history due to race, gender, and numerous other prejudices. The story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson is moving, triumphant and inspiring. A great read if you’re into history, space, and empowering women.

The Girlfriend – Michelle Frances

This book was only released a few months ago, and it is definitely an intriguing debut. The concept is simple, but the way it escalates and captivates you makes it worth reading, especially if you’re into romance and a darker plot. In places some of the things that take place seem unreasonable, but if there’s anything I’ve learned in life it’s that girls and women can be scary and a force to be reckoned with. I’m excited to see what is in store for Michelle Frances in any potential future works.

The ’86 Fix – Keith A Pearson

This is another fairly new novel, and the first word that comes to me when I think of this book is ‘fresh’. It’s a classic, feel good, sci-fi/nerdy kid vs the world novel which made me chuckle and feel like I’d been deposited into 1986 myself, despite being a tiny young bean. Although I’ve read many stories about the concept of time, it was original and interesting, and I LOVED the twists that ensued. It was also a very light read after reading a million thrillers in a short space of time, which was cool.

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

About time, right? This is not a book that’s unheard of, however I didn’t think it was a book that would interest me. I was so wrong.

It left me reeling when I finished, and I the fact I practically read it all in one sitting made it all the more thought provoking and poignant. Especially with all the evil in the world today, it really does shine a light on what goes on behind closed doors, or open doors that we choose to ignore. It was dark, but not unnecessarily graphic. It was emotional, but not over the top. It also offered closure, even though it is riddled with tragedy and fear, even if many of the issues occurring today in similar environments show no signs of ending. It’s stories like this that remind us to remain conscious of people who live outside of our comfortable bubbles.

I’m going to Scotland tomorrow, so I have no idea which direction I’m going to go with this blog as I never seem to settle down these days, but who knows. LIKE OUR GOVERNMENT RIGHT NOW HA HA HA (pass me the wine).

The Costa Rica Diaries: The Thing about San José

The past day or two has been quite emotional. Little by little we’re leaving San José- some to move on to the Nicaragua extension, some back to Chester and others, including me, return to their homelands.

Naturally we’ve been quite sentimental. We’ll be going from spending five weeks around the same 14 other people on a daily basis to never seeing eachother again in the same way. Most of us go on our year abroad in September and a few are going on to complete their final year of university. Memories have been made, memes have been created and I’ll never be able to hear certain songs in the same way ever again.

Yesterday a few of us went to explore San José. Thanks to us leaving the hotel ridiculously early we got to see the city become more lively and bustling as the day progressed. Souvenir shops were visited, coffees were drank and I got to re-experience the Chai Frappuchinos I used to get custom made in my first year of university.

There was no rush for us. Most of us had done our souvenir shopping by this point so we were free to wander and absorb the culture, unlike when we were here at the beginning due to our jet lag and anxiety about being in a completely new environment. People selling any item under the sun littered the streets and men never failed to stare at my legs in a creepy way.

Despite that, this trip has been such a laugh. It hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t always been comfortable (especially where my digestive system is concerned). However I’ve adapted, and it just goes to show that you get out of an experience what you put into it.

I would like to thank Jack, Austen, Becca, Ellie, Lauren, Rosie, Ethan, Adam, Tom, Colette, Sabrina, Ella, Beth and Alyssa for the top notch bants and although we go our separate ways, I hope the memories will always remain.

Pura Vida, for the last time<3

The Costa Rica Diaries: Laguna del Lagarto and the absence of WiFi

The shock, right? The time finally came when the internet was cruelly snatched away from us poor millennials and we were forced to live like cavemen in an eco lodge in the middle of a rainforest.

None of us were prepared, emails were unread, texts couldn’t be sent, and the most horrific of all: I lost all my snapchat streaks.   Suddenly we were off the grid for five days of actual peace.

Rumours spread that if you stood in one specific corner of the lodge you could get a couple of bars of wifi, the few of us that actually got round to buying Costa Rican SIM cards weren’t even getting signal, and we were truly in the middle of nowhere.

The reality is- it was fine. No one died (although I did feel violently ill a few days ago but I feel like that was due to my digestive system crying over the rice and beans, and not my inability to see if anyone had liked my latest photo on Instagram), and we ended up bonding more as a group.

There was a different vibe to Ostional though, for sure. To start it was a lot cooler, we didn’t have as many excursions or obligations and there was a bar in order to satisfy my need for a few Pilsens after finally finishing my report.

I definitely spent a lot of time reading, of course. I spent so much time in one hammock that I’ve definitely strained my calves from spending so much time lying in one position, if that was possible. We also could canoe around the lagoons, and we met many crocodiles (including Jason and Frisbee). We planted 250 trees one morning, and we painted a church which was one of the funniest and most rewarding experiences of the trip- even if we did end up with more paint on us than on the church (I know who I’m blaming).

So, to conclude, and as much as this may shock my parents, I don’t need the internet to have a good time, and I had never felt more relaxed and at peace with myself.

That was until our British Council emails came with our fate sealed for September, but that’s a different story.