Journey to the Past

Recently, my grandmother proposed an interesting challenge to me. She told me that I had relatives that immigrated to America straight from England; namely, her grandparents. She also had names, addresses, and locations that matched what she knew about her grandparents’ lives in England. However, there were some big gaps in the information that she had, as she hadn’t asked them much about their lives back in their home country when she was young. I did have some old newspaper articles describing their lives in Wisconsin, carefully preserved in laminate. With the birth dates and records that she provided me, I went on a history-fueled scavenger hunt to give me some clues about some of my British family members.

I started with the smaller tasks rather than their more herculean cousins; I found out what the mysterious “E.E” that made up my great-great grandpa’s middle names stood for (Ernest Edward, as it turned out). I located their Ellis Island immigration records from 1910 and 1913 and was rewarded with pictures of what their ships’ mythological-sounding names were. Then came the harder stuff, by which I mean sorting out who my great-great-great (whew, that’s a lot of greats) grandparents could be from a slew of other Williams, Samuels, Anns, and Sarahs. After a number of hours on the computer over a couple of days, I uncovered an entire line of people dating back to 1760 on my great-great grandfather’s side. It just so happens that some of my ancestors were christened in a church where Charles Dickens would wander the pews and pluck names for his characters from the gravestones (how’s that for an interesting fact?). I especially laughed when I found out that the place where my great-great grandparents grew and worked was a mere 22 minutes from the place where I will be studying in the fall. Other facts that I found were sad, as many of the old churches were ruined in the bombings that arrived with the war that my great-great grandparents likely moved to America to evade.

As I riddled out the names of more and more people, I gathered bits and pieces about the jobs they had, the parishes where they worshipped, and even where they might be buried. Parts of the research were frustratingly difficult to carry out, especially because it is hard to trace a maternal lineage due to the name changes that come with marriage. Even so, it was strangely comforting to me to sort through all of these photocopied documents and ship manifests. When I arrive in London in September, I no longer have to think of it as a completely foreign landscape. I can view one street as the former site of the teahouse where my great-great grandmother was a manageress. I can see the docks as the place where my great-great uncle eventually was shipped off to the Boer War in South Africa. It makes me feel safer to know that I came from such courageous people. After all, my great-great grandma sailed across the Atlantic by herself to start a life in a new country. I never chalked up bravery to be a quality that I have in excess, but who knows…maybe it’s a family trait?

Words for Wandering: A Traveler’s Vocabulary List

In my humble opinion, one of the most awe-inspiring things that human beings have developed is language. In fact, people have created 7,000 dialects of 2,700 different languages worldwide. Over 231 languages have now been declared to be “dead,” and every 1-2 weeks, another dialect or language meets the same grim fate. There are even over 200 artificial languages, which are tongues that were created for books, movies, and television floating around. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings accounts for either 12 or 13 of them (depending on which source you believe). In summary, whether it is of the written, spoken, or signed variety, language is an entity as complex as it is vital for human survival and happiness.

Although I only speak English, some Spanish, and a few phrases in Gaelic that I learned from Celtic Thunder (don’t judge me), I collect interesting words, both from languages that I am familiar with and from ones that I can’t even guess how to pronounce. Lately, as I’ve been starting to plan my trip to London, I’ve been paying special attention to the words I’ve compiled that revolve around journeys, travel, and locations. Going to a place that you’ve never been before is almost always a fascinating experience, and going to an entirely new country when I’ve never left the U.S. before comes with the kind of feelings that are difficult to express. Luckily, with the help of a few languages, that process becomes much easier. Here are some of my favorite words relating to places and travel, in no particular order, and how I relate to them:

  1. Resfeber (n.) Swedish for the nervous feeling before undertaking a journey, where anxiety and anticipation tangle together. For me, this always manifests as the nausea and sweaty palms that I feel sitting in the airport as I wait for a flight.
  2. Dépaysement (n.) French for the disorientation felt in a foreign country or culture, the sense of being a fish out of water. When I tell people that I am getting my master’s in another country, and they inform me about how certain practices are much different across the pond (like measuring things in grams rather than pounds and the concept of afternoon tea), I get a fish out of water feeling.
  3. Fernweh (n.) German for “farsickness,” an ache for distant places or for travelling. I am trying to assemble a bucket list of things to do while I am in London, and seeing how amazing all of the sites will be makes me long to be there so that I can start experiencing it.
  4. Occhiolism (n.) The awareness of the smallness of your perspective.  The same emotion swept over me when I stood on top of the canyon walls in Zion National Park, as I realized that I was just a small speck in comparison to the vastness of nature.
  5. Wasuremono (n.) Japanese for forgotten or lost things, as in an item left behind on a train or forgotten at home. Whenever I packed up to go to Concordia in California, I would always leave something behind that I really needed and I always took something with me that I never used. It’s like an irritating exchange process.
  6. Akihi (n.) Hawaiian for listening to directions and then walking off and promptly forgetting them. As someone who is notoriously bad at giving and taking directions (cue me getting lost in the neighborhoods of Sun River, OR), I hope that I get better at this as I learn to navigate East London.
  7. Videnda (n.) Latin adoption, “what is to be observed,” the things that should be seen or visited, especially because they mark the character of a person or place. Whenever you see a picture of Big Ben, the London Bridge, or a double decker bus, people think of London. Those are the kind of touristy things that I am looking forward to doing unabashedly. You’d better believe I’m getting a photo in a phone booth while I’m overseas.
  8. Coddiwomple (n.) To travel in a purposeful manner toward a vague destination. I did this a lot with my tour groups in NYC, as we would make great time in getting to an area like Greenwich or Brooklyn Heights, but once we got there, we would take our time strolling around, heading to no place in particular.
  9. Cynefin (n.) Welsh for a place where a person or animal feels it ought to live and belong, where the nature around you feels right and welcoming. Whenever I came home from break and my plane would land in Portland, I would see all the endless green of the trees and recognize my cynefin.
  10. Smultronställe (n.) German, literally “place of wild strawberries”; a special place discovered, treasured, and returned to for solace and relaxation; a personal idyll free from stress and sadness. When I was younger, this used to be the swingset in the back of my house where I would swing all of my stress away. Now that I’m older, I hope I can find a place of wild strawberries in the U.K. (actual strawberries not required).

So whether you have forgotten your toothbrush in a different state or are getting lost in a tangle of streets this summer, I hope that one of these words can find a home in your own vocabulary.


Credit to Wordstuck,,, Buzzfeed, and for the words and language facts.

So Our Story Begins

Cap Edited


There are some things that live unwaveringly in the realm of the expected. The ingénue on the other side of the screen walks down the dark hallway where the killer lurks, despite our groans of “Oh my God, what are you doing? Don’t go down there!” The marinara drips onto our brand new pants approximately forty-six seconds after we’ve changed into them. The item that we ordered from a sketchy-looking website arrives from China two months later and with half the quality that we had hoped for, right on schedule.

Other things, however, work in the exact opposite way. When my drama club and I walked into the small, off-Broadway theatre and took our seats in the front row, I thought that I knew what to expect. I had read Peter and the Starcatcher when I was in elementary school and I had adored it. Consequently, I thought that there wouldn’t be much about this production that would surprise me. Then the actors brought out a set of ropes and with a few twists and stretches, the ropes transformed into a ship. A number of household items, from rubber ducks to lemon juicers, molded the cast members into mermaids. It was like a child had constructed the show from what they could ransack from the house when their parents weren’t looking, but, strangely, the script spoke with a twinkle of maturity in its eye. My attitude shifted from wariness to the kind of incredulous joy that leaves your jaw unhinged until the house lights come back up. The expectations that I had built up around what I believed that this show would be were erased in snaps of color, whimsy, and, best of all, the kind of writing that adheres to the back of your memory.

Years later, when I received my mortarboard for my college graduation, I wanted to channel that same sense of unexpectedness into my cap’s decorations. That challenge led me to think about what quote I could use to condense my three and a half years of constant reading and writing with the idea of moving on to something else. I thought about using something from Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson, who are two of my favorite American poets that I studied in school (you can fit the entirety of Leaves of Grass onto a grad cap, right?). I even considered taking something from a newer book, like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which I had written a twenty plus page paper on as part of my literary theory class. In the end, though, I went for a line from one of my favorite plays, which was based on a piece of literature that captured my childhood and my adulthood into a single speech:

“When I was a boy I wished I could fly. Out the window and over the trees…then loop de loop and up to the stars. Eventually, of course, we dream other dreams. We change. We grow up. It always happens. Nothing is forever. That’s the rule. Everything ends. And so our story begins.”

As I walked across the stage at graduation and then returned to watch all of my best friends do the same thing, I came to understand that endings are one of those things that lie in the universe of the expected. Even if things don’t end the way that we predicted or in a way that we don’t like, endings are always there, waiting for us. But this doesn’t mean that these pre-programmed endings don’t come with a trace of unexpectedness. For instance, I would have never guessed a few years ago that I would talk to a girl from Russia about anxiety and Hamlet, or that I would make friends that would recreate an episode of Chopped in our kitchen or perform the Avatar: The Last Airbender theme song in their living room with me, or that I would be accepted to graduate schools in London of all places. I know that I will leave nearly everything that I am accustomed to at an airport terminal in a couple of months and I know that I will fret over the process of making new friends and adjusting to life in a new country. All the same, it is the things that I don’t know that will happen, all those small unexpected things, that make me sure that going to the U.K. is the right choice for me.

Everything is coming to an end.

And so my story begins.