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Six Weeks of Europe

Time May 7th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Internet access, I have come to find out, is not always the most reliable when you are European-country-hopping for six weeks and staying in budget hostels.

Nevertheless, I have returned from the excursion of a lifetime back into the eagerly awaiting and open arms of my dear Oxford. Yet another reason why I urge anyone studying abroad to spend at least a whole semester (two terms at Oxford) abroad: It will take at least the first several weeks just to get acclimated to your surroundings. Come Spring Break time, you’re eager to get out and explore, which is amazing and mandatory in every sense of the word. Yet it is an equally wonderful feeling to know that, while you are looking forward to going back to your home home, you have a new home-ish city to return to. Coming back to Oxford really did feel like coming to a home away from home. It’d be such a shame to miss out on that feeling– I’m definitely not ready to say goodbye yet.

I decided the next few posts will be more photo bloggish on account of me feeling like I’m swimming in photos. I’ll pick a few pictures of from each city I traveled to (in order, for the most part): Wales with the Butler group, Dublin, London, Matlock, Paris, Florence, Rome, Venice, Salzburg, Vienna, Prague, and Amsterdam. I’ll spread them out over the next few posts, however, so as to not entirely crash the internet.

(I’m hoping to create some sort of video slideshow with music and all of that nice stuff, but I can’t make any promises as to when that will be accomplished. If I put it in parentheses I don’t feel quite as guilty if it takes longer than planned.)

It was a beautifully, delightfully long six weeks of travel. I feel like I soaked up a big part of the world I’d never experienced before. And, let me tell you, it feels good.

So now, let us begin in Wales, London, Matlock, and Dublin.

The Butler excursion to Wales was unbelieeevably fun. A couple weeks before you go, they let you list some top picks for activities you’d like to do. Some choices are half- and full-day hikes, a castle tour, a trip to a beach town that I currently forget the name of (Welsh is not a pronounceable language, mind you), kayaking, canoeing, a high ropes course, mountain biking, etc. I elected to do the castle tour to get a bit of history, a trip to the beach town, and a half-day hike (a word of warning. By half-day hike, they do not mean ‘leisurely walk through a nice park.’ It is very, very much a hike. But a breathtaking one, at that). It was a wonderful three days conveniently placed right at the end of my term. Lovely to see all of the Butler friends we met at the London orientation, and the perfect way to start of what was to become an insane six weeks straight of travel.

I then headed off to Dublin for about a week to visit a friend of mine who’s living there. I elected to take the ferry, per one of my tutor’s suggestions. Cheaper than flying? Probably. It depends. I for one went during the week of St. Patty’s Day, so all of the flight prices were painful to even look at. The ferry will cost you about £40 each way. It’s kind of a fun, new way to travel. Depending on the ferry you take, it can take either 3.5 hours or 1.5. The 3.5-hour is essentially a floating hotel. It is massive and comfortable, though pretty slow. The appropriately named “Jonathan Swift” ferry is what it promises. Swift. But in ferry-speak that also means 1.5 hours of so much sloshing around that it takes all the concentration you have in you just to make walk 20 feet to the bathroom. I’ll leave the pro and con weighing up to you. Overall, I’d recommend it as a method of travel.

ANYWAY. Dublin is just wonderful. It has all the old-world-y charm of London, but at about a quarter of the insanity levels. It’s a much easier city to be in, overall. Don’t get me wrong- I absolutely love London. Dublin is a bit more relaxing, however. Some must-sees: Trinity College, the Book of Kells (staggeringly awesome), the Guinness and/or Jameson factory tours should you so desire. Also! I HIGHLY recommend catching a train to Howth. A lot of tourists seem to be under the impression that you can’t see the impressive, obligatory Irish cliffs/ocean views unless you’re on the west coast. THIS IS SILLY. The train takes all of 45 minutes, and plops you down in a charming seaside village. If you walk away from the station east toward the ocean, you can walk up into some of the neighborhood streets, which will then lead you up to some mind-blowing hiking paths. Do it. For the sake of your Dublin experience, please do it.

My Dad then flew into London, where we stayed for a couple days. The must-sees here are all pretty obvious and easy to find. Unfortunately, I haven’t spend enough time there to really have insight into the cool, lesser-known things. But I’m sure all of the London study abroad folk have and would be happy to recommend some. All I can say is, prepare to be impressed. London is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. It’s stressful, busy, sometimes difficult to navigate, and if you don’t go in with an open mind and a patient attitude I can see it being easy to be overwhelmed by (especially if you’re like me and until now have been inept in the ways of travel). So the solution is simple: be open-minded and patient. You will get SO much out of the city when you are. Trust me. So much.

And lastly (for now) is Matlock. Matlock is an area of the Peak District, Derbyshire in England. It’s a couple hours outside of London, I believe (after taking at least a dozen trains, I can’t even remember the timing of it all). Let me attempt to convey the beauty of this place. Have you seen the 2005 Pride and Prejudice? Do you remember Mr. Darcy’s house? Firstly, if you haven’t, I recommend that film. Secondly, and more importantly, I recommend this place more than just about anything. The kindest people I’ve encountered in Europe to this day (we got hopelessly lost, found out we were a whole town away from our hotel, and a realtor offered to drive us in her miniature car to the hotel, if that helps describe it). It’s like wandering around some kind of dreamland. Full of the tiniest, most charming towns you can imagine. Hills everywhere. And just. So. Much. Green. London and Oxford are relatively flat, so this place was very unexpected. Chatsworth House (Mr. Darcy’s House) is, in my opinion, THE must-see here. It’s a massive palace full of some incredible art (the sculpture room, also in the movie, is stunning). And the grounds are enormous. Gardens everywhere, one of the most beautiful views you’ll ever see, and I just can’t even think of anything else to say except ‘go there.’

I think you’re probably with me when I say that’s enough for this time around. I’ll return with some, hopefully slightly more brief, words and photos of the other cities. And then I’ll return to blogging about life in Oxford, when I can focus on some more interesting writing rather than feeling completely overwhelmed by how much I have left to post. Stay tuned for Italy!

Travel-high-ly, sincerely, and until next time,
Kelsey

 

 

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Silver Linings, Staplers, and Learning How to Think

Time February 6th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Well. I worried things would be busier here than expected and that I would struggle to keep up with a blog. Lo and behold! I was right! But silver lining number one is I have been here for a month, and have therefore accumulated much wisdom, or something.

I shall begin with a list of things that I didn’t bring to England but should have.

1. A sufficiently large bag/backpack/carrying device. In an effort to avoid overstuffing my luggage, and with the knowledge that unlike university in the states, Oxford doesn’t require purchasing a lot of textbooks, I brought a medium-sized bag assuming that would be plenty. I conveniently overlooked the fact that just because one is not purchasing books does not mean one is not carrying books. Lots of them. Always. Bring a decently-sized, reliable bag. The £5 one you run out to buy from Primark WILL break within 48 hours. The strap’ll just snap right off. Likely right as you step off a bus with a horde of people. You know, hypothetically.
(Silver lining number two is a nice anecdote to tell.)

2. A tiny stapler. Staplers are things you probably don’t think about in everyday life. But staplers are also things you will absolutely need here. You can print papers from any university computer room, but I have yet to come across such a place supplied with a stapler. And for a miniature, plastic, completely unreliable stapler from the grocery store, I believe I paid about £3. And that’s cheap compared to most staplers. I’m wondering if staplers are just valuable here. Silver lining three? It comes with staples. Also, pens are expensive.

3. An umbrella. Umbrellas are strangely overpriced here. As in, concerningly so. I’m lucky to have remembered one at the last minute, but a lot of people get stuck without one. And nobody wants to pay £30/$50 for one of those.

4. A bottle opener. Because you never know. A lot of things seem to come in bottles here, and none of them that I can tell are of the twist-off variety. You can avoid the bottles if you choose to, but chances are at some point you’ll need one.

5. Sunglasses. I didn’t bring those. But believe it or not, sun exists here.

All of that aside, I’ve been here for a month now, which simultaneously feels like 2 weeks and 2 years. I feel that I’ve been away from home for an unbelievably long time. I’m starting to use words like “quite” and “lovely” and “takeaway” and even let a “cheers” slip once or twice. It’s very strange how quickly you become accustomed to things here, considering they really are so very different from America. The accents*, the words, the weather, the food, the operating hours of the stores and the city itself. But it also feels so fulfilling to become a part of that.

As for school itself, it is definitely every bit as challenging as I expected. The hours are opposite of what I’m accustomed to, and it makes focusing on the same assignment for 8 hours per day a bit daunting. But that is another thing you eventually get used to. I myself am not “used to,” but somewhere around “getting there.” The tutorials are also unusual in that you make up about 50% of the people present. Coming from a Southern California public university where the average class size is somewhere near 40, feeling less then perfectly comfortable with the transition is, I think, reasonable. It’s startling to be expected to have many opinions and often. But it is also the entire point of this program, and it’s strangely satisfying even if it is at times unnatural, which is a great big beautiful silver lining number four.

I read an excerpt a couple weeks ago from a book called The Oxford Tutorial with the subtitle, “Thanks, You Taught Me How to Think,” (http://oxcheps.new.ox.ac.uk/Publications/Resources/OxCHEPS_OP1_08.pdf Here’s the book. I recommend number 8– it’s encouraging and exciting and lovely.) which is exactly how it feels. Which is wonderful, because you instantly know you’re learning so much. But it can also be a bit uncomfortable sometimes, because you realize you may not know how to think as well as you thought you did. But that’s okay. We’ll get there, as with most things here, in time. And most everyone here is wonderfully encouraging every step of the way.

I have just finished up my third week, which puts me somewhere near halfway done with Hilary term. The whole 8-week term thing is still unfathomable to me, being used to double that. I remember seeing a lot of comments before I applied which advised to come for at least two terms. Being here has absolutely made me concur. At least two terms. I can’t imagine only having a few more weeks here. There is so unbelievably much to see here, to experience, and to learn. One month in and I still don’t have my… land-legs? England-legs? (Seriously. I’m constantly tripping on things here.) Being here for 6 months is such a beautiful thing, and I’m so thankful I have this chance. It’s a delightfully scary, unusual, thrilling experience, and every day is different and unquestionably worth it.

So, if you’re unsure about it, do it. If you’re scared, do it. If you’re stuck between coming for one or two terms, do it and do two or three or as many as you can. The longer you’re here, the more home you’ll feel. And considering this has only been my “home” for 31 days, that’s really saying a great deal. But I can just tell already! Oxford and I have so much more to learn about each other. And so far, we’ve hit it off quite nicely.

 

*Particularly noticeable when your tutor asks what your home school is called, and you’re met with a blank stare when you enthusiastically answer “yes!” thinking he’s asked you if you’re cold.

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Predeparture Blog Number One, or The Anxious Homebody’s Travel Jitters

Time January 3rd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Greetings and salutations! I’ve never really blogged for anyone other than myself before, so I shall try to make this as unawkwardly written as possible. For starters I should probably introduce myself: I’m Kelsey, 22 years young, English major, born and raised in sunny California. I’m a thoroughly dependent person in that I’ve never been away from home for more than two weeks and never outside the states. So, this experience is as new to me as it is to anyone (I know everyone says that… but seriously, I mean it). I’m also pretty terrified of change, so it’s probably a good thing I was asked to blog for IFSA-Butler. Any issues that could possibly come up (i.e. severe homesickness, general travel insecurity, magnificently dumb mistakes, etc.) will surely come up with me. In which case, perhaps someone somewhere out there can learn from what I have to say or at the very least feel comforted by the fact that they probably aren’t quite as dysfunctional a traveler as I am.

As I am entirely too paranoid for my own good, I did quite a bit of researching before applying. I had the same questions I’m sure a lot of people had, but had a bit of trouble finding answers to all of them, such as a description of what to expect in the application, financial aid process, etc. As for the application itself– it is long, and it is threefold. At least it was for me, and I’m assuming it’s similar for others. But it all depends on your home university and abroad university.

Something else I’m sure many or most people who study abroad encounter at some point is financial aid. In terms of financial aid, my particular experience has been, in all honesty, an absolute nightmare. I say this not to terrify anyone or discourage you in any way, but to help (really, I swear!). I could write a separate blog entry entirely on my financial aid experience alone, and might do so in case it could prevent anyone else from going through any stresses. But all I’ll really say right now about it is that 1) yes, it is a lengthy, trying process, but 2) if you are as prepared and diligent about it as you can be, that 3) it will work out in the end, and most importantly, 4) will absolutely be worth it. I promise.

As for me, I leave in exactly five days (assuming I get on my stand-by flight). As I said before, I have never been away from home for more than two weeks, and have never been out of the country, save for a three-day trip just south of the border into a questionable part of Mexico. Basically, I am a homebody. I love the idea of adventure, but until now have been rather petrified of big changes. I’m still surprised at how deeply this is all hitting me. A very good friend of mine, who is also studying abroad this Spring (in Wales and luckily only an hour away from me) and who is equally attached to home, agrees with me when I say that it takes a lot out of you in many ways, even before you leave. I’ve never anticipated anything more than this, ever, in my entire twenty-two years of life. That alone is saying quite a lot! Then there’s the anxiety– the sort of half-excitement/half-worry about traveling, getting acclimated to a new city and way of life, and keeping up with an entirely new school, study habits, vocabulary. And then there is downright sadness about leaving your home, family, comfort zone. But everyone reacts differently, and I think the key is to tell yourself it’ll feel very new, very strange, and at times very wrong. You just have to be okay with being a little out of control, and trust in yourself to adjust and appreciate something new.

But all of the worry aside, I am absolutely convinced this is the best thing I could possibly do for myself. As everyone says, this is your chance to run off to a foreign country for six months of your life, meet people, learn things, and adopt a new lifestyle. I know it will be challenging in many ways. I know that within two or three weeks of my stay, I will run head-on into the inevitable wall that is acute homesickness and call my mommy, pleading to come home. But I will have to deal with it, and I will. And then I’ll come to my senses and create a balance that allows me to function through the remaining five months with some semblance of sanity. After all, there is always Skype.

And when it all seems too overwhelming to be true, I just remember the fact that I will be welcomed with open arms into a city with knowledge and curiosity and adventure seeping from every cobblestone. Chances are, if you’re looking into studying abroad, school means a lot to you in some way. The point of studying abroad is, after all, the studying. So when you can’t seem to see past the scary parts, remember that school is always there for you, just as it always has been. A wonderful place of learning for you to get to know. And I cannot wait to introduce myself to my new school. So, Hertford College, how do you do? I’m Kelsey.

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