Please support my Global Intern 2014 Application!

As my time in Scotland comes to end, I am now seeking my next international adventure.

I am applying to Education First’s Global Intern Program for this summer, and I would really appreciate it if you could please view my video and support my application by voting.

The Global Intern will have the unique chance to visit three countries over the summer, working with Education First and AIESEC on their international marketing, operations, and community development teams. 

Please vote here!

Thank you to everyone who helped out!

This video has been a challenging and exciting project, which I would not have been able to complete without the assistance of many people. I would like to give acknowledgements to:

  • Meizhen, for her great filming skills and taking time to film me exploring Edinburgh
  • Ophelia, for exploring the city with me and giving suggestions on what to film
  • Louise, for filming me when we met on the spot at the Meadows in Edinburgh
  • Katharina, for filming me near Arthur’s Seat
  • Vivian, for her great acting as a student learning English
  • Bahar, Cristina, and others from the International Student Centre, who gave  advice and encouragement 
  • Kim, for her continuous encouragement and invaluable second opinions
  • My mom, Chunmin, for helping with photos and giving suggestions

Materials from The Commons

Two photos, an animation, and the background music are used from The Commons:

Categories: Announcements, Exchange, Opportunities, Travel, Writing Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Visiting Oxford (1/3): Exploring, Mourning, and Searching for Hope in Oxford

I would like to dedicate this three-part series on my travels in Oxford to the memory of my grandma, Yang Xuhua. She passed away in China on January 10, the evening of my first day in Oxford. As a loving grandma and former elementary school teacher, she taught me to seek knowledge, explore, write, and cherish every moment.


My Grandma’s Portrait

Oxford, the City of A Thousand Spires, has long been on my list of dream places to visit in Europe.

My love of university towns drew me to the city, home to the oldest university in the English-speaking world, an epitome of learning, and the former residence of some of my favorite writers. Throughout my childhood, I had lived in many cities, but always resided near schools, including in the staff residence of my grandma’s elementary school; in ever-changing and unfamiliar environments, learning and living near a school environment became my one constant, providing friendship and knowledge, comfort and familiarity. Thus, living abroad in Edinburgh, I could not pass up the chance to visit Oxford.


The Radcliffe Camera and other university buildings in the historic centre of Oxford

As a bookworm and writer, I longed to see the places where writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, and Oscar Wilde stayed and drew inspiration for their works.


Gates to one of Oxford’s many colleges

As a Harry Potter fan, I wanted to trace some of the places that were used as film locations for the Harry Potter films.


The Dining Hall of Christ Church college, Oxford, used as a film location for the Hogwarts Great Hall

During my first day in Oxford, I fell in love with the city. It exceeded my expectations, living up to its reputation with its university atmosphere, narrow lanes, literary history, and attractions.


The courtyard of the Divinity School

Then, on the evening of my first day there, I received the message that my grandma had suddenly passed away. The night was spent in numbness, tossing and turning in my hostel bed, waiting for sunrise in a foreign land.


The Bridge of Sighs, Oxford

I spent the next day in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s hometown, then returned to Oxford for another day. The sky was bleak and overcast, and rain poured, as if grieving with me.


Oxford skyline from Carfax Tower

As I visited Tolkien’s favorite tree in the botanical garden, and ate lunch in the pub where Lewis and Tolkien met to share their writing, I thought of my grandma and her encouragements to me to learn and write.


The Eagle and Child, a pub frequented by “The Inklings”, a writer’s group that included Tolkien and Lewis

My grandma took care of me for several years when I lived with her, taught me Chinese and her worldview. When I last visited her two summers ago, she told me of her youth growing up in a village, her struggles during the Cultural Revolution, her views about history and politics. She wanted to read my writing and see my books in print.

I wished that she could explore this city with me and share my journey to retrace the footsteps of storytellers I admire. I longed for her voice and words, missed her presence and the school courtyard where she lived. But she is gone.


Rainy streets in Oxford

And as I walked and walked, Oxford distracted and comforted me with its city streets, with stories, with smiles from locals and my fellow travelers, just as schools had comforted me in the past. Memories of my grandma fused with my impression of the city’s alleyways and nooks, of its history and culture.


Lighting a candle for my grandma at Christ Church

Slowly, Oxford became more than a place of history and learning. To me, it has become a place of personal loss, longing, and new hope. It echoes my grandma’s life and legacy, her teachings about the Chinese language, her love of learning, strength to overcome challenges, and positive outlook on life. I could sense her presence there, even though she never visited it, and my memories of her are fused with my memories of Oxford.


Goodbye Oxford


Categories: Exchange, Travel, Writing Life | Leave a comment

Travels in the UK: Scottish Highlands Trip, Winter 2013

“Our life is made up of time. Our days are measured in hours, our pay measured by those hours, our knowledge is measured by years. [...] And yet time eventually runs out and you wonder in your heart of hearts if those seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years and decades were being spent the best way they possibly could.” 

― Cecelia Ahern

It’s been nearly 6 months since I waved goodbye to Vancouver for a year abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland. And as I sit down to sort through photos and notes of my travels here, I can’t help but think about how much has happened and changed in this time: my grandma in China passed away in January; friends back home have been working, graduated or moved to new cities; I’ve made friends here, spoken with strangers, said goodbye to others, and journeyed to dozens of cities and regions in England and Scotland. 

Out of all the journeys I’ve taken, there are several that stand out as especially inspiring and life-changing. My first trip to the Highlands is one of them, as this was the first overnight trip I took with friends in Scotland. To document my trip, I decided to experiment in another medium and create a video montage. The video features some of the places I visited on the trip last winter.

Full disclosure: I took this trip as a guide of the Edinburgh University International Student Centre, a non-profit organization that organizes social activities for international students. As a volunteer, I was involved in trip planning and received a discount for this trip. The Highlands trip was organized in collaboration with Haggis Adventures, a coach tour company. All opinions here are my own.

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Heralding in the New Year: 14 Reasons that I Love Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Torchlight Procession 2013/14

Since my arrival in Edinburgh nearly four months ago, I’ve gotten lost on my first day, explored various facets of the city, and marked the beginning of Christmas by attending Light Night celebrations.

Now, the city has become a familiar place, a second home where I’ve made friends, gotten to know shortcuts through winding streets, and tried some Scottish cuisine in local restaurants. And yet, a big part of living abroad for me is the excitement of new adventures, so I continue seeking out more opportunities to get to know the city better and experience the culture. 

Most recently, I took part in a Torchlight Procession in Edinburgh at the beginning of Hogmanay, which is the Scottish name for New Year‘s celebration. While Hogmanay is celebrated in many places and the festivities vary depending on location, Edinburgh’s celebration lasts for 3 days and is one the biggest New Year’s events around the world.

With my compact camera in hand, I joined in the procession to celebrate and capture some of the moments. To mark the start of 2014, I give you 14 reasons that I loved Edinburgh Hogmanay’s Torchlight Procession and why you may want to attend it in the future.

1. An Exciting, Festive Procession



Edinburgh’s Hogmanay began on Dec 30th with a Torchlight Procession through the city centre. All the participants were super excited and thrilled to be there: the crowd began gathering hours before the event, while the Vikings led the procession, screamed loudly, and swayed their torches as they marched.

2. Following the Footsteps of History


Hogmanay is considered to have originated from the Vikings who celebrated Yuletide and the New Year with bonfire ceremonies and pagan ceremonies.

Rampant Scotland shares some in-depth information about the origins of Hogmanay on its website:

The traditional New Year ceremony of yesteryear would involve people dressing up in the hides of cattle and running around the village being hit by sticks. The festivities would also include the lighting of bonfires, rolling blazing tar barrels down the hill and tossing torches. Animal hide was also wrapped around sticks and ignited which produced a smoke that was believed to be very effective to ward off evil spirits.

3. Traditional Scottish Music



The procession was led by a marching band of bagpipers and drummers. They played energetic marching tunes and spread music across the city.

4. The Jarl Squad Vikings from Shetland



A group of Vikings, specifically the Jarl Squad from Shetland, came to Edinburgh  to lead the torch-bearing crowd. They were energetic and passionate, hollering loudly and occasionally scaring children, as they stereotypically do. At the same time, they were friendly and clearly having fun, posing with eager tourists and cracking jokes.  

5. A Massive Gathering from Around the World


Edinburgh’s Hogmanay attracts a massive crowd to the city each year. At the 2013/2014 celebration, there were an estimated number of 35,000 people who took part. The event was covered by both local travel bloggers and an international #blogmany team.

6. You Can Join the Procession



When I first heard about the Hogmanay Torchlight Procession, I thought it would be a procession where torch bearers marched on streets, while everyone else stood nearby and simply watched. However, as the marching band and Jarl Squad walked by, everyone started joined in. I followed and soon started walking beside the Vikings, excited to be right in the middle of the action and surrounded by torch bearers.

7. Carry a Torch for Charity



While the event is free and unticketed, people could buy torches for the event. The profit from selling torches went towards two charity groups, Radio Forth cash for Kids and Barnardo’s Scotland. It was a great way to participate in the celebrations while helping out with good causes.

8. Exploring Edinburgh at Night



The Torchlight Procession begun at the George IV Bridge, then continued onto the Mound, down Princes Street, and eventually up Calton Hill. Walking around central Edinburgh at night amidst thousands of people carrying torches, I saw an exciting sight that was very different from anything I’ve seen during the day or on a normal evening out.

9. Photographic Moments



From my arrival at the starting point of the procession, to the final moments of fireworks at Calton Hill, I saw cameras everywhere. It was no surprise, because the procession offered a great photo opportunity for professionals and amateurs alike. Many photographers, with their heavy gear and massive lens, were there to document the event and the crowd, while others took out their point-and-shoot cameras and phones to preserve their great memories of the night.

10. Playing with Fire



I must admit, a big reason that the Torchlight Procession interested me was the chance to be surround by fire.  It’s rare that you have the chance to walk around urban streets, lighting torches and waving them in a crowd. As dangerous as that sounds, there were many security personnel around and everyone was cautious while having fun. No fire disaster happened and we all survived to tell the tale. 

11. A Different View of Calton Hill


Calton Hill, a must-visit spot for any visitors to Edinburgh, has long been known as the home of iconic monuments, as well as a good spot for views of the Edinburgh skyline. On the night of the torchlight procession, however, it was lit by a sea of torches. The Nelson Monument was lit in blue, and two strands of light intersected above it, forming the Saltire, a symbol that appears on the flag of Scotland.

12. Celebration and Reflection



As thousands of people climbed up Calton Hill and waited for fireworks to begin, friends and families formed small circles to celebrate, and joined the tip of their torches to keep the fire alive. Others stood in quiet reflection, watching the crowd and the city below.

13. Fireworks, Fireworks, and even more Fireworks





Needless to say, fireworks are common at New Year’s Eve events around the world. Fireworks filled the sky above Calton Hill on the evening of the torchlight procession, offering an explosive end to the night’s celebration.

14. Welcoming the New Year



As the last of the fireworks scattered in the night, a gigantic 2014 sign was lit on fire. The crowd started trickling back down Princes Street and carried on celebrating. The torchlight procession marked only the start of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and festive events continued throughout the city until January 1.

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Edinburgh in Winter: Edinburgh Light Night 2013

Happy holidays! Although Christmas Day has passed, the festive mood in Edinburgh began with Light Night in November and will last at least until Hogmanay. I decided to do street photography on Light Night and put together a post. All pictures are posted here for news and editorial purposes only.

Light Night 0

“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…”

The crowd began singing classic Christmas carols as the Edinburgh Gorgie Salvation Army Band played familiar tunes on a stage, marking the start of the 2013 Edinburgh Light Night celebration.

Standing among strangers, I find myself joining in, savoring the festive songs. Back home, I’m used to celebrating Christmas on a smaller scale, spending time celebrating with family and friends. Although we visit crafts fairs, exchange gifts, and attend a few parties, I never really celebrated with others as a community. 

But here, I’ve become drawn to these festive celebrations.

Perhaps, the holiday carols and traditions, so familiar, provide a sense of comfort while I’m thousands of miles away from home. Perhaps, as a temporary visitor, I cherish the Light Night festivities more, knowing this may be the only one that I ever attend. Perhaps, as a traveler longing to be more than a tourist, I prize this chance to get to know the city better and experience Scottish culture.

Light Night 1

Light Night 1.1

Twelve Days of Christmas

Edinburgh Light Night is an annual winter celebration on the streets of Edinburgh, involving various holiday performances and the turning on of Christmas lights in the city.

This year’s event took place on November 24, 2013. The theme was the “twelve days of Christmas”, and over 60 school, community, and other groups” took part to celebrate “one of the  the 12 days of Christmas”.

The stages hosted events ranging from classic Christmas songs performed by bands and choirs, to dances and hula hoop acts.

Light Night 2

Light Night 5

Light Night 3

A Big Turnout

At least a few thousand people turned up to enjoy the performances. The streets were flooded with people and a lucky few watched from windows and balconies. There were other international students, families with children, residents out with friends, and quite a few photographers and journalists out to document the occasion.

Light Night 9



Light Night 4

Candid Moments

I walked through the crowd to visit the different stages, but found myself surrounded and stranded. Still, despite the big crowds, we were having fun, laughing, snapping photos, watching performances.

Light Night 6

Light Night 7


Light Night 10

However, while having fun, some people neglected to keep the streets clean and left garbage lying around…

Light Night 12

Lights, Songs, and Fireworks

After a few hours, the performances culminated in a final choral performance, bagpipe music, the appearance of Sir Chris Hoy (six-times Olympic champion cyclist), and several minutes of fireworks.

I escaped the crowd and went to the second-floor window of the store directly facing the main stage. Several photographers were there already with their professional gear, but I found room near a side window. From this vantage point, I listened to the ending songs and speeches, watched the fireworks and audience.

Light Night 13


Light Night 17

Light Night 18

Light Night 13.1

Light Night 14

The night ends, but the lights are on

While the stages cleared, people admired the now lit-up lights and continued celebrating publically or indoors. I joined the crowd once more and headed for the Christmas markets at Princes Street Gardens, looking to find some snacks and gifts to end the night.


Light Night 20

Light Night 19

Light Night 23Light Night 21

 Light Night 22

Where are you spending your winter holidays this year? How did you celebrate? What are your favorite traditions and festive events at home or abroad?

Categories: Exchange, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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