Thursday, December 25, 2014

the Aftermath.

where has your backpack been?
(obviously) Everyone keeps asking me, "How was London?!" and I keep on saying "good!" or "great!" or "amazing", etc etc, you get the picture. But one word could never convey everything I saw and experienced in my four months there or the ways I grew and changed as a person. In fact, I am not certain any amount of words could accomplish that. I have managed to put my finger on a few small lessons London taught me that will stick for the rest of my life, and that is what I would like to share.

Most importantly, I learned that it is people who make things meaningful and important. 
I saw a lot of incredible places, that cannot be ignored nor should it be, but they would not have meant half as much if I had not been with amazing people. Just like Centerville would not be home without the people who live in it. Elder Bednar said, "The most important things in life almost always involve the people around you" and I am not sure if truer words have ever been spoken. 

That being said, I also learned a lot about service
I lived in very close proximity with 45 people. My room alone had 15 girls in it. FIFTEEN GIRlS ranging from 19 to 21 in age. That is triple the amount in my entire apartment last year.  It would have been really easy to become annoyed at any number of them or have silly problems, etc. It was almost expected. But we didn't have any. Honestly, next to no drama. Why? Because we all just acted selflessly to the other girls around us. We all were so willing to give anything to help each other out or listen to each other. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement to lift and love those around you that was so special to me. One of my favorite sayings is to "Never suppress a generous thought". I think London was the first place I consistently lived that way and I absolutely loved it. We know that every good thing comes from God; therefore I believe any generous (good) thought we have is a prompting from the Spirit (from God). So not only did I learn about service, but I learned to listen more to the Spirit and recognize it, which I am so grateful for. I hope it is a habit I can take with me for the rest of my life.

no one has ever become poor by giving; and because I have been given much I too must give.
And I would give anything to these girls.
I learned about how the Church works outside of Utah/the US. 
The members in my ward were so pure in heart, accepting, loving, and so wonderful. Not that members aren't wonderful in Utah -- the Church is the same no matter where you go -- but there was definitely something different. I was the racial minority; everyone else was from Jamaica or Ghana or Portugal or Spain or Brazil or Wales or who knows where else around the world. Many were converts or were inactive for parts of their life and they knew how important it was for every member to feel welcome and loved. They knew that everyone had a history and fell short of the glory of God and they didn't care. They loved you anyways. Tattoos? Great. Drinking problem? We'll help you. Divorced and have children? What can we do for you? Need a lift to the activity this week? Want to go to the temple this weekend? Really. They have nothing to give but they will give you anything. 

home is where the heart is and England has mine completely.
I learned more about who I am and who I want to be as a person. I learned how to be happy in any situation and love any place. I learned to see the world as new and beautiful and to appreciate all that was in front of me. I realize I am in love with London and just completely enchanted by every aspect of it. But to be honest, a good part of that stemmed from me expecting to be. I looked for the beauty and found perfection through the imperfection and 'ordinary' parts of it. I am trying to take that home with me as well so I can see everywhere I am as beautiful and exciting. Because it all is. This life is just one big beautiful adventure and I am so blessed to live it.

I was incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to study abroad in London. As cliche as it sounds, it truly changed me and my life for the better in ways I will never be able to explain or describe further than this. Although it feels like a feeble attempt, I still had to try. I owe that much to my dear city of London and the impact it had on me. 
London, thank you from the bottom of my heart; I will love you forever & always
when you hear Big Ben again, that's when you'll know (you're home).

Love Always, Aimee 


Thursday, December 18, 2014


Monday and Tuesday were spent taking finals. I would just like to say I do not think there is any feeling quite at great as walking out of your last final. Can I get an amen? The relief and pure joy felt is unreal.
We took four finals in London; Shakespeare, Humanities, British History, and Church History in the British Isles. It went down much as finals do on campus. Hours and hours of studying, reading over notes, looking over the class slideshows, and asking every person who walks by what they are studying because there's just so information you have no idea where to start for a thirty question test. Half the Centre was up well into two am together holding reviews and talking over Shakespeare's plot lines and characters as well as the last three thousand years of Britain's history. They went well! I think? I guess I will find out when grades are released. Either way WE WERE FREE!

Wednesday we had the whole day to ourselves and our dear city of London. Me, Ellen, Addie, Zoe, and Lexie decided we wanted to see as much as possible so starting lunchtime we walked essentially the entire city. Beginning at Marble Arch we walked all the way down Oxford St. admiring the lights and window shopping as we went, then through the back streets around Tottenham Court and Charing Cross. When we reached Trafalgar Square we went inside the National Gallery one last time. Inside we just sat in front of Monet's Water Lilies and let the impressionist art in the room speak to our souls. I love art. I walked through a couple other rooms to say goodbye to Constable, Renior, Van Gogh, and Lorrain's beauties. Walking out of the front doors of the National Gallery is one of my favorite scenes in London. It gives you a view of the whole square and all the way down the street is where I caught my first glimpse of the beautiful Big Ben.

In Trafalgar Square we had the genius idea of climbing on top of one of the Lions for a picture.
Needless to say this quickly turned disastrous when I ripped my pants climbing up. *insert annoyed and embarrassed face here*. They were my favorite pair too... Lucky for me I was wearing a long coat that covered said damage because we had ZERO time to go back to the Centre and change or even buy a new pair. At this point we were supposed to be meeting at the London Eye in the next fifteen minutes. Whoops. Haha. (No fear everyone; I found the same pair of pants in my size on clearance yesterday so I once again have my favorite pants.)

*picture wasn't worth the pants, just fyi*

We walked from Trafalgar down to the Houses of Parliament, Ben, and Westminster Abbey. We snapped a last picture and walked across Westminster Bridge to the Eye.
last visit to Ben <3
There we met up with the other 10 ladies of Room 2 for our farewell ride over London. We timed it PERFECTLY. With a pod all to ourselves we watched the entire sunset over our city. It was absolutely perfect. I wouldn't want to watch my last sunset in that city any other way. We were able to see essentially everything and get one last view of the place we had the privilege of calling home these last four months. Obviously it was a little bittersweet, but we kept it light hearted by having a dance party to Imagine Dragon's "On Top of the World" at the top. Ha, it was only near the end of the song that we realized the pod next to us had been watching and recording us... Glad we could improve their experience on the Eye I guess.

isn't he perfect? 
Following that we just went together up the South bank a mile or so. We strolled through Christmas markets and walked under light-strung trees taking in the magic of London until we reached our favorite Millennial Bridge. That took us across the Thames to St. Paul's where we hoped onto the Tube for a stop or two to Covent Gardens and then walked to Leicester Square where we had dinner at THE BEST indian restaurant. It was a Michelin Star restaurant and had a line outside the door so we knew it had to be good. We only ended up waiting about fifteen minutes for a table due to a cancellation. That is what we calling winning at life, folks. Our waiter did not realize we were familiar with Indian food; he kept warning us that things would be "spicy" and told us the right half of the menu was probably too "heavy" for us to handle (admittedly we did not order from that half. BUT I did get chicken labeled spicy and it was not anything spicy like the last spicy indian food I ordered).

After dinner we split up because everyone had a different idea for how they wanted to end their evening. I headed alone (don't tell my parents) all the way to Tower Bridge. I wanted to see it one last time all lit up against the black sky. The excursion did not disappoint in any sense. The overwhelming feeling of love and appreciation for London I experienced as I sat on a bench outside the Tower of London cannot described. Visiting the Tower of London was our first 'London Excursion' on study abroad and therefore my first real taste of the city. It felt just right for it to be my last view as well and have a sense of closure about leaving.

I took the long way home just so I could walk one last time down Oxford Street because it is pure magic at Christmas time. 
At 22:00 (10 pm for those of you who are following along at home) we all reconvened at the Centre to head to our last Snowflake Gelato run up the street. I went big this time and got TWO scoops (and then immediately realized why I normally get one... They're decent sized scoops. Oh well. YOLO). I got their signature Snowflake flavor, coconut, white chocolate, and vanilla perfection with mixed berry that was absolutely heaven. The combination of sweet with tart goodness? Killer. Ten out of ten, would recommend. We took over the whole joint and overwhelmed the poor italians one last time and it was so bittersweet to all be together one last time.

Late that night the whole Centre said goodbyes and then spent half the night packing. I was up until 3 am and then woken up at 4:30 by a girl leaving, then slept again from 5-6 am and then I could not sleep any longer and I was up until after 8 am the next day by the time I made it home!

London fam selfie 
my wonderful professors and their wives 
Packing and packing and packing all the night long + my photo wall at the foot of my bed.

It's hard to believe my adventures in London are over (for now). That city will forever hold a part of my heart, but lucky for me I took so much more away from it than I left there; it has changed me and my life for the better. London, I love you.

last view of Palace Court before jumping in our taxi..
Love Always, Aimee

goodbye for now, England :( xoxo - Aims 

Lucky for me, Hanman was on the same flight home! And how else can you leave school in England except by reading Harry Potter the whole way home? 

(This is just from the mentioned finals above.. Sometimes it hits 2 am studying and you may or may not feel like your brain is going to explode so the only solution is to take a break and give the professor's son cornrows. Nice to know if I fail out of school I can fall back on a solid hair-stylist career, right?)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Full Circle

Felt a little nostalgic this week about everything. It was our last day trip this Thursday; we went to Windsor Castle! It brought my London experience back full circle because I actually went to Windsor the day I got dropped off at the Centre. It was a week after arriving and my first "day trip" of sorts around London. I had no idea I would find myself wandering those same halls and state rooms again a week before leaving London as a last day trip. They always taught me in English that a full-circle ending is a key component to any truly good story. I figure the same rule applies to me and my story of London.

September 5th and December 4th. Same place. Different girl. 

Windsor gets an A+ in my book; they put Christmas trees in the middle of intersections. 

I have been trying to figure out this week what exactly my story of London is. How it has changed me, what I learned from it, what this whole "study abroad" thing has cumulated to... I feel as if I have the words in my heart but they must not be in English because for the life of me and I cannot figure out how to put them on paper (or in this case, the internet. ha.). I will keep trying though. Maybe it won't click until I am on the flight home and watching this beautiful country disappear into the fog below me. Or perhaps it won't come until I am sitting back in my own room, in a big (soft) bed, and suddenly find myself too lonely to function because my 14 best friends aren't within a few feet of me; I will no longer hear talking in their sleep, or have them convincing me we should snuggle and watch Christmas movies in a blanket fort instead of reading Shakespeare, or experience watching new One Direction music videos all together on a single bed and the freaking out that follows.. 

There are a few things I do know. 

I know that I love this city. It is foggy and get's dark before 4 pm and there is a never ending smell of cigarette smoke in the air and even if it looks like it is a beautiful day it is still freezing, but it is also alive and energetic and vibrant and cultured and full of little markets, loads of amazing art, and my home. 

I also know that the best parts of life always involve the people around you. People are what make everything meaningful wonderful. Luckily, I am not saying goodbye for good to any of my study abroad friends. We fully intend to see each other around campus, have crepe parties frequently, and possibly live together again next year. Thank goodness. 

However, I did have to say some pretty hard goodbyes today to my incredible ward and primary kiddos. It might have broken my heart. They sang Christmas songs for me and wrote little notes saying "don't be sad, I will be with you always no matter where you go" and "I love you 100%". They told me I was their special friend and that me and Kiley were the best BYU students they had had because we truly felt like part of the ward. A few adults might have shed a tear or two about us leaving and it might have put a knife in my heart. These people are so incredible and inspiring and just absolutely so loving. I can't imagine being in my home ward next week.. It will just feel like there are way too many people there, way too smoothly ran, not enough culture or adventure or black people and just.... weird. :/ But I guess the upside is it is only a ten minute walk and not hour and half ordeal. So there's that? 

How am I supposed to leave them? 

I will keep thinking about London and life and let you know when I have reached any sort of conclusion on its meaning. Until then, you can find me studying my brains out for finals, testing, packing, exploring London one last time, and spending every minute I can with my girls here laughing and loving our beautiful life on Palace Court. 

Love Always, Aimee 

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Different Thanksgiving

Well, this marks my first year away from home for Thanksgiving. First year without turkey and cranberry, yams, or homemade rolls. No pumpkin pie (or any pie for that matter) either. First year with no Macey's day parade, no family within a thousand miles, no chaotic but cherished gathering of crazy cousins (everyone please appreciate the alliterations there). This Thanksgiving was a different one in many ways, but I believe it ultimately made me more grateful for the many blessings in my life. 

The holiday break started Wednesday as soon as class finished. Girls throughout the Centre had planned different trips to Rome, Salzburg, Barcelona, Florence, and Paris; all were rushing about finishing up packing, printing plane tickets, and calling out the door. How incredible is it that we live within an hour to two hour plane ride of so many different cities and countries? It blows my mind. I am grateful for the chance to travel to new countries and cultures. 

Me, Ellen, Olivia, and Keturah chose to go to Munich, Germany. I am here to report it was an excellent decision. Only regret? Not realizing that "it's going to be cold in Germany" translates to "it's going to be frigid and you should probably bring every warm thing you own." But hey, you live and you learn, right? What's a trip to Germany without a little surprise and adventure? I am grateful for the warm scarf my amazing roommate Morgs knitted for me last year because it saved my butt. She is the best human being I know folks.  

We arrived Wednesday evening, took a train to our hotel, and just crashed that night so we could get an early start and make the most of the next day. When we went down to breakfast the next morning (Thanksgiving day!) to our pleasant surprise we found what was easily the best hotel breakfast I have ever had. SCORE. At the Centre we just have cereal, toast, oatmeal, yogurt, and bananas/oranges available for breakfast. This.. This was a feast. They had EGGS. Delicious scrambled eggs. Not the gross ones hotels usually have. I am talking homemade. Along with fresh bread, fancy cheese, turkey slices, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, mix fruit salad, cereals, etc. It just was so great.. I have missed eggs for breakfast so much. I am grateful for scrambled eggs and hotels that provide them.
After our wonderful breakfast we walked ten minutes down the street and around the corner to the train station to meet up with a tour group headed to Dachau. For those who don't know, Dachau is the second largest Nazi concentration camp. It was actually the original and longest running (twelve years). It was open for many years before war was actually declared and the first five years Hitler only had German politicians and other important Germans who were a threat to him inside of it. Our tour guide knew basically everything about the war, Dachau, and Hitler. He had gone to school at Dachau and took us through the site. We saw the shower room where they were tortured frequently (easy to wash the blood away in there..), original striped pajamas, footage from when the American soldiers liberated the camp (I will never un-see those images), barracks built for fifty that housed hundreds and spread disease like wildfire, and last but not least, we walked through the cremation ovens and gas chambers that 'disposed' of thousands of lives and bodies.

Needless to say, the whole experience was incredibly heavy, humbling, horrifying... But it also made me think of the thousands that survived or the thousands that maybe did not survive but helped others to. The ones to spread hope in a hopeless situation. The ones to did not forget who they were or lose themselves in the threat of war and dehumanizing events happening all around them. Ones like Anne Frank, who could find beauty in the world and still believe people were naturally good at heart. It made me think of how our Savior suffered every pain, suffering, and trial that occurred in this world so these people were never alone. He was with them the whole way, strengthening them and helping to bear the burden of the awful things happening. It made me see the strength of the human heart and I am grateful to know that we are never alone in the hard times of our life. 
I am grateful for the experience I had there and things I learned, as hideous as the place was.

After Dachau we headed back to Munich to visit the Christmas Market! (After stopping by our hotel really quick to add more layers to our clothes, that is..) Thursday was actually the official opening so we got to listen to the Mayor speak to the town, which was way cool. It was all in German of course so we had zero clue what was being said, but there was a cute little band playing classic German songs in their classic German outfits and they lit this giant tree with lights. It was very neat to see and feel a part of their culture. We spent the evening wandering through all the markets, scoping out what we might want to purchase the next night and trying a few German treats. I am grateful for markets; they are my favorite European thing. I vote we bring them back to the States in a stronger presence. I am also grateful for Christmas lights. They must release something that makes everyone who sees them happier instantly.

For Thanksgiving dinner we went to the most adorable German restaurant off a street alley! Seriously, it was precious and very German. Luckily our waiter spoke English, as almost everyone does there. (He was also not too hard on the eyes, if you know what I'm saying..). It was all decked out for Christmas; Pine boughs everywhere, candlelight, and red and green decorations in a completely cliche (in the very best way) manner. I had chicken with broccoli and rice. Not the usual, but very very good. I am grateful for kind strangers who take pictures for you outside of restaurants and I am grateful for good chicken; I love chicken and broccoli. Honestly might be one of my favorite combinations (right up there with graham crackers + milk and peanut butter + strawberries on toast).

There was a Christmas tree coming out of the ceiling..? Who knows. We just went with it and loved it. 
Friday after another perfect breakfast we took a two hour train ride to the tiny town of Fussen to see the famous Neuschwanstein Castle--the castle Disney modeled after. Well, when we arrived my heart sunk a little because it was SO FOGGY. You honestly could hardly see twenty feet in front of you. They pointed and said "right above that building is the castle!" ..... Nothing. Could not see a single thing but fog. We started to hike up the mountain and I just was praying for the fog to clear enough to see it when we reached the top. The interior was cool, very different from any of the castles in England, but the part I was most interested in was the exterior. Well. I am grateful for prayer because by the time we hiked up past the castle to a viewing brigde the fog had cleared just enough for us to see it perfectly! It was perfect. It appeared to be floating on the clouds. I promise I took this photo (with just my phone even)! It truly was that beautiful. Crazy kings build gorgeous castles. 
Do you see a castle or am I just blind?

That evening we returned to the Christmas markets to do some shopping and try some more German food. I love the German people, language, culture, and entire country. I only got to see a very small part but it only took a glance to fall in love with it. Their architecture is adorable and the people were all so kind. Oh! This is one of the best parts: a local guy in Fussen who I bought lunch from gave me the best compliment ever. When I walked up to order he started rattling off in German to me before noticing my look of terror/non-comprehension. He then laughed and said, "Oh sorry, you look much more German than American. What can I get for you?" SCORE. One of our goals here every day consist of just trying not to look like tourists. Basically I felt like I was winning at life because a german man at a tourist shop with all Americans thought I was German. Hooray! I am so grateful for the chance I have to see other cultures and amazing places with some of my best friends; I really am the luckiest girl in the world and it is just not fair to everyone else. 

Their architecture is nothing less than perfect. 

All in all, it was a successful Thanksgiving. I was sad to miss the family festivities going on back home, but hey. I got to go to GERMANY! And if you can't be home for the holidays you might as well be visiting another country because that is the only thing that is almost as good. I am grateful to know that I will be with my family forever and grateful to know I will see them in just ten short days from now. They really are the best and the real reason I am the luckiest girl in the world. 
Love Always, Aimee

Snapshot from our beautiful walk up the mountain to Neuschwanstein