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The Finale: A Reflection on My Time Abroad

Time July 30th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

When you study abroad you are warned of it all: the classes, the pickpocketing, the new environments and the culture shock you will experience. Endless hours of advice, orientation and warning attempts to prepare you for the experience you will have, but in reality there is nothing to prepare you.

Over the last five months I have experienced it all. I have found myself lost in cities I could barely pronounce the names of. I have toured endless amounts of cathedrals, museums, castles and exhibits. I have been overwhelmed with gratitude more times than I can truly express. Undoubtedly, I am fortunate to have visited all of the places I have, seen all the things I have seen and to have made memories that will last me my lifetime.

Studying abroad has left me penniless but richer in ways that money cannot buy—I find myself a new version of myself. Although I cannot really describe how I have changed, I just know that I have. I find new ways to appreciate my surroundings and the world I live in. I constantly find myself daydreaming into memories of foreign escapes, new places, new challenges and new friends from my time abroad.

Undoubtedly Cardiff holds a place in my heart as another place for me to call home. As I think about returning to school in the fall it is weird to think of myself not walking the streets of Cardiff to the city center, my favorite restaurants nor having girls’ nights in Talybont Court. Each day my realization of how far my “new home” is enhances my appreciation for everything that studying abroad has provided me.

My biggest advice if you are considering studying abroad is to go. Don’t think, just do. Go to a new place; explore its customs, its people and everything it has to offer. There will undoubtedly be times where things are difficult and you think to yourself, “What the hell did I get myself into?” But at the end of the day, from my mini amazing race to my cramming for exams, I could not be more grateful for the crazy ride I endured the past five months. In all honestly, I wish that everyone could experience even just a small portion of my journey.

So, get out there; be timid, be excited, scared and open to new experiences so that you may create your own abroad story.

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.“

Until the next big adventure,
Elise

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Welsh Cakes and Wigs: The Video

Time July 14th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Check out the video from my final night abroad of making Welsh cakes and rocking wigs!!

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Welsh Cakes and Wigs!

Time July 8th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

One of the last things I had to cross off my bucket list was to make a traditional Welsh recipe. Pressed for time, seeing as it was my final night, we opted for a simple favorite of all: Welsh Cakes. In literally the last hours of my time in Cardiff we whipped together the simple ingredients and enjoyed our masterpiece work. A few weeks prior to this I had purchased a wig for only a pound and, since it had yet to make its debut, decided that the short, black locks would need to enter the party as well. The recipe was super simple and absolutely to die for. So, whether you are preparing for your European trek or wish to bring a little Welsh flare to you next dessert, whip up some good ‘ol Welsh cakes!

Ingredients:

225g/8oz flour
110g/4oz salted butter
85g/3oz sugar
handful or sultanas, blueberries or any other fruit
1 beaten egg
milk
extra butter

Directions:

  1. Sift flour into a bowl and add butter
  2. Mix with hands or food processor until mixture appears like breadcrumbs
  3. Add sugar, sultanas (or other fruit) and beaten egg into mixture and mix enough to form a ball dough. If necessary add a splash of milk.
  4. Roll the dough out.
  5. Cut into rounds or some other creative shape.
  6. Rub a griddle with butter and place it on the hob (or American stove top) until it is heated
  7. Cook the cakes for 2-3 minutes on each side.
  8. Remove from griddle and dust with sugar while still warm.

Recipe source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/welsh_cakes_16706

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Falling in the love with the city of love: Paris

Time June 30th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

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After exams were all complete there was one last place I needed to visit before heading home- Paris. My friend and I had finished our exams and were ready to go explore the city filled with some of the greatest monuments and sites. Saturday afternoon we began our 17 hour megabus trek to good ‘ol Paris. Arriving early Sunday morning we headed to our hostel to drop off out bags and then allowed the adventure to begin.

Our first stop was Versailles, a city about an hour out of the center of Paris. It houses the massive Palace of Versailles, however we didn’t tour the actual palace but went to explore the gardens in the the back. Since we were going on a weekend the fountains and music were playing, only adding to the whimsy of the space. After many hours in the bus we were incredibly thankful to have a relaxing time of strolling the gardens and soaking up the sun. Once our exploration ceased, we headed back to the hostel. That night the bar in the hostel had a karaoke night where two guys would play guitars and anyone could go up, request a song and belt away. I somehow allowed my friend to sign me up for it. So, in the matter of five minutes, I added and crossed off karaoke abroad to my bucket list. It was not something that I had ever imagined myself doing but luckily I had a friend to encourage me. In truth, that’s what this trip is all about: opportunities to do once in a lifetime things that go beyond the zone of comfort. It was a blast and set the mood for a fantastic next couple of days.

On Monday we had a bike tour with a company called Fat Tire Bikes. We completely lucked out with immaculate weather during our tour as it rained both before and after. It was an awesome way to see the city and learn it’s history, plus it gave us a good jumping point for the city. Following our city exploration we hit the Eiffel Tower for a climb to the top. After walking endless amounts of stairs we hit the second floor to see a view like no other. It was impeccable and spanned for miles and miles exemplifying the symmetry of the city. I continued from the second floor all the way to the top via a lift to not only enhance the height but the view! Read More »

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Let’s Talk Academics

Time June 19th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Although many of my posts are about my experiences while traveling, it is important to remember that academics are the reason for getting to be in this new place- I mean, it is study abroad. Hence, it is important to know the differences between the UK and US approaches to studying and exploring academics.

For starters, students pick their major or degree straight away. In high school during grade 11 students will study four main subjects, often referred to as A levels, to then drop one of those subjects for grade 12 year. From these three courses students will then pick one course in which they want to pursue a career and will thus go to school for that subject. This is the biggest difference between the two education systems. Rather than have students do pre-requisites in various disciplines (arts, English, maths, sciences etc.) the UK has students enter their program directly meaning they only take courses in that discipline. Therefore, chemistry students will only take courses in the School of Chemistry while biology students will remain housed in the biological sciences building. For this reason, there is little to no communication between the various colleges. Often this is not a problem. However, because I had required sciences courses for my major back home, I was in two disciplines and conflicts between the two module schedules were immediately present. Since the schools don’t communicate their schedules with each other that meant it was up to myself and the other students to work with the lecturers and figure out a resolution for the conflicts. That was a lesson I learned right away: if you have a problem with a course it is up to you to make the effort to find a resolution and communicate your concerns with the appropriate lecturer or instructor. All of the lecturers were really understanding of the conflicts and worked with us to find the best solution.

As for the courses themselves, they can range anywhere between 10 and 30 credits which equates to 2.5 US credits per 10 UK credits. The classes difficulty ranges dependent on the year of the module and how many credits are allocated to it. A full time student is considered 60 credits so this can either be achieved by take a few credit dense classes or multiple 10 credit courses like myself. Courses can consist of lectures, seminars, workshops and tutorials. Make sure to ask your lecturer if you have any uncertainties as to if and when you would have those additional classes. Seminars and workshops frequently do not occur every week. They are either every other week or only certain scheduled weeks. These additional classes help to increase class engagement, exploration of topics and working with a lecturer or tutor.

Another aspect that varies is the grading system. A 70 percent is the cutoff for an A with a 40 percent as passing. During orientation IFSA will provide you with the breakdown of how the percentages will transfer back in as well as advice on how to be successful in your studies and the examination period. This information may be difficult to apply immediately within your studies, so make sure to revisit it throughout the semester. The final grade will, for the most part, be composed of a final examination paper (test) or essay. Some grades are composed solely of the work done during the final examination period while others can be composed of part coursework during the semester and that done during the final examination period. In the spring, the exam period lasts a total of six weeks. The semester breakdown goes as so: there will be classes up until the three week spring break period, then the week after spring break is a revision week in which some courses will hold sessions for questions and reviewing important information for the exam. Then, during the following six weeks, exams will be held. Since exams are only one day in duration, throughout those six the exams will be spread out. For instance, I had one exam per week for three weeks in a row while others had two exams in one week. There really isn’t a rhyme or reason to the scheduling that I could observe, it just kind of occurs as is.

Hopefully this overview helps to provide a good insight into the differences between the US and UK systems. Although it may be intimidating at first, with time the system will become second nature. Best of luck!

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Half Marathon Abroad: Check

Time June 19th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

If you remember from one of my first posts, a half marathon while abroad was on my bucket list. This past weekend I was able to successfully check this goal off. Prior to leaving, a friend of mine found The Rock and RollnMarathon series that would be making a world stop in Liverpool. The dates fit within my timeline perfectly, so early on I booked the travel and accommodation and had the trip all set- plus it was the perfect excuse to visit the home of the Beatles!

I began my journey on a Friday and headed into the rain. Going further North I knew the chance of rain was only bound to increase- if you haven’t realized yet it likes to rain in the UK, a lot! Nevertheless, I made sure to not let the wet weather stand in my way. To begin, Friday and Saturday were filled with exploring. After dinner Friday I made my way to Albert Dock to check out the river and boardwalk. I live right off of the lake, so anytime that I can get near the water I feel at home. As I looked from the dock back onto the city one thing that I immediately noticed about Liverpool was its architecture- the juxtaposition of historic buildings and modern works only elevated its beauty and uniqueness. Saturday I partook in a walking tour to find the hidden gems of the city and to make it past all of the important landmarks, which included the The Cavern Club.

One thing about Liverpool is their abundance of museums (many of which are free!). I couldn’t resist to go into the Beatles museum to learn the history of one of my favorite groups. Besides this there were also museums about the Titanic and the history of slaves. To. say that these exhibits were well put together and moving is an understatement – they were absolutely impeccable and a must if visiting the area. The museums were an excellent resource to learn the city’s history and gain a deeper appreciation of all that it had to offer.

Unlike going other countries, I figured the trek North wouldn’t introduce many cultural differences. However, as I began to speak to locals, I found the dialect difficult to understand. I figured I just wasn’t as good at deciphering out accents as I thought, but it turns out it wasn’t as much me as it was the region. Scouse is the accent found as you move North through the UK. Although the words are English, the way in which they are spoke and strung together causes one to second guess if it really is. Although the accent wasn’t too prevalent, it definitely caught me off guard when it passed my ears.

The half itself was an awesome experience and a blast. Running through streets filled with history, under the Chinatown Arch and hitting the pavement of residential areas and parks I was able to see it all. The half was a really unique, fun and challenging experience for me and is something I would easily recommend to anyone studying abroad! I can now successfully check that goal off of my list and move on to the next bucket list goal!

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Czech It!

Time June 12th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

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I told you it would not be long before I went out traveling again! After a week of being home for test revision I packed my backpack once more and made my way to the Czech Republic to see Prague, a city whose beauty I had heard endlessly of. Friends of mine told me Prague was one of the prettiest cities they had traveled to but, in truth, I didn’t quite know what they meant by beauty. Was it the landscape? Or perhaps the architecture and town itself? In all honesty I didn’t quite know what to expect. I had barely known of the city’s existence until a friend of mine studied abroad there and others visited. However, as we exited the metro to Wenceslas Square, all of their comments came to fruition and I truly realized that my friend was right when she said Prague is a city untouched by time in all aspects. The buildings and different areas of town literally look like the set of a Disney film set back in time. The cobblestone streets and livelihood of the squares only enhanced the beauty of the surroundings.

Our first night we roamed the streets and, keeping with my lesson from Sevilla, got lost in them a little bit as we attempted to find a place to eat. The following day we learned of the old town square, new town square, Charles Bridge and the Jewish quarters on our walking tour. The tour was amazing and super interesting-even for a non-history buff like myself! We learned of people pushing people out windows, a severed arm hundreds of years old hanging in a church to this day, the astronomical clock’s designer throwing himself into the gears of the clock as well as the Rolling Stones donating lights and technicians so that Prague Castle can be illuminated at night.

We also learned about the history of Jewish culture within Prague both pre and post World War II. The stories shared on the tour had us determined to make it to the synagogue museums before we left. Throughout the 6 different sites we learned of the Jewish religion and its traditions, the involvement of the Jewish population within Prague during the 19th century and the tragic stories from the time of World War II. One of the most moving buildings had the names of all of the Jews who had perished in the concentration camps written on the walls. The font was maybe an inch tall yet the names spanned each wall from top to bottom. It was a speechless sight to not only see the thousands of names, including many of small children, but to think that these were only the victims from Prague and small surrounding cities.

Up the stairs from these walls was an exhibit of children’s artwork salvaged from the concentration camps displaying images of hope, fear, as well as what life was like before and during the camps. The story behind the artwork itself was incredible. A famous artist in the concentration camp wanted the children to have a sense of normalcy and thus taught art lessons to the children. She taught them different techniques utilizing literally any scraps of medium she could get her hands on for them. When her husband was sent to Auschwitz, she didn’t want to be separated from him and volunteered herself the following day. But, prior to her leaving,she gathered the children’s artwork placing thousands of pieces into two suitcase and hiding them beneath the floorboards. She told a few of her friends what she had done and, after the war, the pieces were resurrected. The artwork itself was breathtaking and incredible, but what the images were of was even more moving.

Now, although Prague is saturated in history, it is equally saturated in culture. For one, Czech food is incredible. From goulash to trendik it all must be tried at least once! As for beer, the Czech’s have an affection unlike any other for the traditional Pilsner laggers. I’m not much of a beer drinker and I even enjoyed it! We even went with my friend who is studying abroad in Prague to a “beer museum” where they have 30 different beers on tap with literally every flavor from blueberry to cider, light to dark or sweet to bitter. We did a five cup sampler where we would choose five different beers to sample. It was an awesome experience and something I would definitely recommend.

After my experiences, I can easily understand why everyone described Prague the way they did. It truly is beautiful from its culture rich in history, cobblestone streets filled with stories and architecture that keeps the eye drawn for hours.

Until next time, Praha love and mine!

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My Mini Amazing Race

Time May 28th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Check out my video from my 20 day spring break adventure through Europe. Just think, this could be you! Do you think you could live out of a backpack? Where is your dream travel spot? Hopefully after seeing my video I can inspire you to check out some of the amazing places that I was able to visit! I hope you enjoy!!

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The End of the Mini Amazing Race…

Time May 19th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Travel. Travel alone. Travel with friends. Travel regardless of age. No matter what it takes, travel. Regardless of finances, find a way and make it happen. Get to know the world around you; be a tourist and be a resident. Put yourself out there to meet new people, hear their stories and get inspired. Traveling is kind of like getting a tattoo: your first time you are scared, filled with uncertainty of what the experience will be and if you will be able to stay strong until the end. However, once you go through the experience you will undoubtedly become addicted.

Let me be honest with you from the start though: you will be afraid and you should be afraid. Traveling alone and exploring new areas isn’t something your parents prepare you for. No matter how many blogs, reviews or trip advisor plans you read there is truly nothing capable of preparing you. You learn by doing, by making mistakes, asking others for advice and relying on your gut feelings to make those split second decisions.

In the last 20 days I have been on nearly every mode of transportation, visited more countries than I have states and have had experiences I would have never dreamed possible. In 20 days I have grown. Much like running a half marathon, the journey was challenging and there were moments where I questioned, “What the hell did I get myself into?” But at the end, I look back at it all and think, “I cannot believe I just did that.” A sense of accomplishment overcomes me as well as an immense gratitude for the people I have met and things that I have experienced. As my mini amazing race comes to a close I keep in mind a quote I saw when running my first half marathon, “The person who is finishing this race is not the same as the one who started it.” All it took was 20 days, 4 countries, 7 beautiful cities and countless amounts of new friends to teach me and change me in ways I never thought imaginable-without a doubt, I am hooked. So, as this chapter of the mini amazing race comes to a close I know that there are many more chapters to follow with new destinations, people and experiences.

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No Pasa Nada, Just Get Lost and Dip Your Feet into Everything this Crazy World has to Offer

Time May 15th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I learned a new saying that goes “No pasa nada en Granada” which basically translates to “don’t worry about anything in Granada”. I can easily say that I carried this motto with me for the remainder of my travels. For the last three cities I took, my time was a lot less thought out than my previous destinations. Rather, I just kind of went day by day with ideas in mind but let the pieces fall into place as time passed.

Granada instantly invited me from the moment I arrived in my hostel. I met some amazing people straight off the back: a group of three friends who were traveling from Canada who play professional basketball in Austria and Germany, a woman from Canada who was taking some time off to explore and an Australian woman who had resigned from her job to do a seven month tour of the world. Needless to say, they had some pretty sweet stories and have definitely amped up my enthusiasm to continue traveling for the rest of my life. While there we checked out the night life, the infamous free Granada tapas (with the order of a drink) and climbed the hills to explore the caves. Our walk up the hill was incredible and took us to a whole other world I would have never known existed. The caves is an area in the side of a mountain where people have their houses literally in the side of the hill. It is definitely a community all it’s own, but is one of the coolest sites to see. Plus it has one of the best outlooks on the city. We even got to see a man training his falcon – admitingly I thought he was trying to hunt it as he swung some tool around, but as he cheered, we knew it was a pet and not a prey. I’m pretty sure he somehow convinced it to come at me and another girl as it swooped right near our heads- needless to say we got the h out of there real fast!

Another way to get the best view of the city was to go to the Alhambra – Granada’s most historical site. I had attempted to get tickets online weeks prior to my travels but they were literally sold out for months with the approaching summer season. Luckily they sell exactly 180 tickets each morning, the biggest problem with this is that they go like hot cakes. This meant getting to the ticket office two hours early in an attempt to get an entry. Luckily we had talked with some people who told us of a less known electronic ticket line. So, bright and early my new Aussie friend and I trudged up the hill at 6 in the morning and were the first in our secret line. We knew at that point there was literally nothing else that we could do to get those tickets. You can only imagine our anticipation as the ticket kiosk opened- I held my breath that my card would work. Thankfully our early morning was not for nothing! We got our tickets and couldn’t help but cheer a little as we exited the booth. The Alhambra was huge and breathtaking. Its sites were unbelievable and the detail of the architecture was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

After my tour I quick moseyed my way to the bus station onto my next destination, Sevilla. A new place meant new stories and new faces. I ended up meeting a couple from Texas and a girl from Wisconsin (can you say small world?). Not sure of where all to go, I took advantage of the free walking tour offered by the hostel and explored the area learning about its golden age, the gypsy culture and the evolution of the city as we covered an immense amount of ground. The Plaza de Espana and the gardens right beside it were easily my favorite sites-I ended up spending the rest of the afternoon just walking and exploring the area some more. If there was one thing that I learned from Sevilla it was to get lost. Not that I needed to try and get lost, I was pretty good at that all on my own. Rather, it is meant that the best way to explore a city is to get lost in it. The streets of Sevilla tended to have multiple names which would change as the street progressed. For a directionally challenged person, you can only imagine how well that worked for me. Luckily I figured out how to use my GPS on my phone without internet so that I could look for my destination and measure my success by how close (or far away) my little blue dot was getting from my desired location. Getting lost though was the best way to learn the city. By the time I left I was navigating with impressive ease. After my few days there I caught the night bus and was off to my final mini amazing race destination, Lisbon.

I have to admit from the start, Lisbon was a lot less of a tourist location for me and much more a vacation horrah. As I waited to check in I lounged out by the terrace and pool area where I met a group of four Canadian girls who had decided to work and travel for their first year out of high school rather than go direct to university. In a sense, they adopted me as the fifth friend as we enjoyed the incridble dinners put on by the hostels cook, lounged out by the pool and even tackled surfing for a day. Yes, I hung ten in Lisbon! Okay well let’s be honest, I went tumbling through the waves majority of my attempts, but I did manage to stand a few times! No fear though I wasn’t just a Lisbon beach babe, I explored the culture as well! My last full day I went on a walking tour and did a Fado tour at night. Fado is a style of music infamous in Portugal and is a HUGE part of their culture. Dipping my feet into the culture (and the water!) was the best way to conclude my mini amazing race. After the experiences I had had over my three weeks, you can only imagine how difficult it was to hop on a plane back to London and leave my mini amazing race lifestyle behind…for now that is.

If I learned anything from the final legs of my amazing race it was, “No pasa nada (don’t worry about anything), just get lost and dip your feet into everything this crazy world has to offer.”

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Barcelona in 21k

Time May 9th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

My trip to Barcelona was not only my first amazing race venture on my own, but also a quick turn around of two nights which really only left me with a day and a half to explore the city from top to bottom. I had a list of recommendations and was determined to knock as much off of it as possible in my 48 hour time frame.

The first night I was there I had tickets for the Sagrada Familia – a continuous work of art that will take your breath away regardless of your religious beliefs. I luckily had bought my tickets online (a serious must for skipping queues and making good use of your time!) and was able to get into the building quickly. As the audio guide explained the masterpiece I was viewing I could not help but walk slow and feel absolutely speechless by the vision, the divine art and purity of the space. At first the building was, in a sense, overwhelming with so much to see and take in. But as the pieces were broken down and explained, the overwhelming sensation of the building’s size quickly dissipated. I easily spent two hours taking it in and absorbing my surroundings; each time I thought I was done I took a “final” look only to befall upon a new component that enticed me to search for more. Included in my ticket was going to the top of one of the towers, which gave me the best view of the city that literally went on for miles. I ended up spending a good 3-4 hours there in total. As I walked back towards my hostel I couldn’t help but turn around for one last look. It was an unbelievable experience getting to go from Easter at the Vatican to exploring one of the most famous cathedrals in the world the following day. I truly felt blessed and thankful for all of the crazy experiences I had been able to have in the first half of my mini amazing race.

In truth, what would an amazing race be without a little running, right? The following day I booked myself a running tour of Barcelona. Normally I am one to take advantage of the free (tips only), more college-budget friendly walking tours, but I decided to treat myself to a half marathon length tour through the streets of Barcelona. I met my guide at my hostel and we began to hit the pavement. At first we would run for about 10 minutes or so and then stop so that he could give me some information about the history and sites we were passing, return to running of a little bit and then stop again. Initially there were many monuments close together which meant lots of stopping and breaks, but as we headed towards the beaches and explored that area the temperature surged higher and the breaks became fewer. Admitingly, I was dying a little bit at that point-thank god for water breaks and stopping to take pictures, ha! The tour was incredible and allowed me to see all of Barcelona in my short time while there. I even got a great recommendation for an authentic hot chocolate and churro shop (a Barcelona/Spain must!). Plus, now I can say I have run a half marathon in Spain- country number two in the books!

After the run and taking it easy for a little bit, I went to roam Las Ramblas- another Barcelona must. The many shops were fun to look at, as was the architecture that surrounded the street. The biggest thing with this tourist hot spot was guarding my purse and belongings since the street is also infamous for pick-pocketing. Later that night I met up with one of my friends from the states for tapas, another must for Spain! It was so nice to be able to see a familiar face and to catch up after a semester away. In truth, I planned my route through Spain so that I could meet up with friends who were studying in various cities throughout the country.

Overall, Barcelona was breathtakingly beautiful and just the right kind of busy for me. Without a doubt I will be back to explore the streets once more-who knows maybe for a marathon the next time!

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Rome: An Easter to Remember

Time May 1st, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Who would have thought at the beginning of this adventure that I would be spending Easter in Rome? Not me! Opting for cheaper flights we had a pretty long layover in the Athens airport. This unfortunately ate away majority of our Saturday, but that’s the trade off when traveling on a budget! By the time we arrived in Rome and got to the hostels it was 7 pm- we had been traveling since 5:30 that morning so we were tired to say the least.

We checked my friend ,Danielle, in at her hostel first and then headed to mine. Initially I knew I would be meeting friends in Rome so I had booked where they had before Danielle and I made our spring break plans. However, the friends I was planning to meet at my hostel were placed in a different hostel by the owner. At first I was a little nervous about what I had gotten into. The hostel was difficult to recognize at first and was not like the other hostels we had been to before-it was much more of an apartment/home-stay style than a hostel. Because Danielle and I would have a really early trek to the airport Monday morning and I tend to be a chronic over-sleeper, I canceled my second night at my initial hostel and booked a bed at Danielle’s. Luckily the owner was super understanding of our situation and allowed me to do so. Plus, we both felt a lot more comfortable that we didn’t have to send the other alone in Rome to get to their hostel-even though it was only about a 5 minute walk.

That Saturday night we headed to the Vatican for the Saturday night service. I swear our metro ride must have taken us to a different world because when we got on it was overcast and just turning dusk, but when we got off it was definitely night and a torrential downpour was ensuing. Inevitably we had to get an umbrella to at least try and shield ourselves from the sheets and sheets of rain that were coming down. I even bought one of those super cheap ponchos in hopes that it’s thin layer would keep me even a little bit more dry.

We arrived at the Vatican awestruck by the fact that we had made it and enamored by its beauty. We hopped in line to try and get into the church but just missed it by about five people as the security repeated “The church is full.” So, instead, we headed to the square where we were able to stand in the rain and watch the service on some large screens. I couldn’t help but laugh various times as I realized A) we were absolutely crazy to be out there in the rain and B) we were beyond fortunate to have such an unreal, unique and memorable adventure. By the time we left, the roads had turned into rivers and my pants and shoes were completely drenched-and when I say drenched I mean drenched! So much so that with every step I felt as if I was trekking through a marsh.

Luckily, the following day’s weather was absolutely perfect. I spent the morning taking a hair dryer to my stuff in an attempt to dry it off to a manageable amount, but my shoes were a lost cause at that point. We had decided to head to the Vatican around 8 hoping that maybe we would be able to get in for the 10 am service. As we approached the Vatican and saw the mobs of people I figured our chances were slim since majority of people I had talked with had tickets for the service. Thankfully this was not the case! As we entered St. Peter’s Square it was impossible to not be overcome by the fact that we were at the Vatican for Easter. Again, I had to laugh at what a crazy experience this is. The service was absolutely incredible and did not disappoint- I was even able to receive communion! It wasn’t until the end of the service that Danielle and I turned around to see the sea of people behind- it was only then that we realized just how close we were. Again I had to laugh; we were only about an hour or so early to the service and managed to end up in the square, while an hour early at my church back home on Easter barely secures a seat!

After the service we had our day of exploring to tackle. We walked the area to find the Plaza de Popolo, Trevi Fountain where we were able to make a wish and the Colosseum. Naturally we had to get some real Italian pizza and gelato throughout the day (so delicious!). After hitting up all of the main attractions and exploring the town we headed back to the hostel to prepare for our early morning departure.

Like Athens, although the trip was short, it was completely packed with unbelievable experiences. Now begins my solo trek of the mini amazing race! Although a little intimidating, I am beyond excited to go to Spain and Portugal – first stop Barcelona!

Chao!
Elise

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Myko-what?

Time April 28th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Oh you know, Mykonos! Unsure of where I’m talking about? No worries, so was I until the moment I walked on the ferry to head there, and even then I wasn’t really sure of what my next destination was all about. Everyone we talked to and mentioned that our next place was Mykonos immediately replied with, “Oh, yah the party island.” All I could think was, party island? I thought I was going for a relaxing vacation! However, it’s the off season so the island was exact oasis I was hoping for and needing after the past few months of school.

The hospitality was immense from the moment we hopped off the ferry to the day the hotel dropped us at the airport. We were picked up from the ferry port by the hotel when we arrived Tuesday night. I got excited thinking the driver was holding a sign with my name on it (that’s never happened to me before) but instead it was the name of the hotel – okay, makes sense I suppose ha, but still I need to cross “personal valet sign” off of my bucket list! When we arrived at hotel Aeolos I was absolutely blown away between the reception area, dining room, pool and traditional white walled building. The hotel itself was only 30 rooms which allowed the experience to be personalized and genuine, not to mention it was the same price as what a hostel would be (a serious overall gem!).

As the owner introduced himself to us and the island we learned that the island had two main roads and two main roundabouts. And to walk from the hotel to some of the further beaches was about 12 km if that helps to give you an idea of just how small the island was as a whole. The first day we headed to the beach and ended up finding a little patch of random beach that we deemed our private beach for the day. It was beautiful beyond words and one of the most relaxing days I’ve had on my trip thus far.

The following day was a rainy day-uncommon according to the people of the island. However one woman did tell us that every year during Easter week there will be one day of rain. Determined to not let the rain stop us, we headed down to city center to check out the shops, coastline, little Venice area and infamous windmills. Again, the sights did not disappoint. The bold blue of the doors and shutters illuminated off of the white buildings creating images of a painters dream- I am not a painter, but I channeled my inner photographer and snapped an obscene amount of photos with my mothers phrase, “Elise, your pictures will be your souvenirs to hang in your home one day,” resonating in my mind with each photo I took.

Our last full day on the island the sun returned so we made sure to relax by the pool the entire day. We had to laugh as we laid in our swimsuits and locals were in pants and sweaters. With it being Easter weekend we were told of a procession that would be occurring in the city center from the church that was a unique experience to have. So, after dinner and some necessary gelato (okay let’s be honest gelato is ALWAYS necessary) we stuck around the city to view the procession. It was a beautiful and unique ceremony unlike anything I have seen before. The pride of the locals and the significance of the ceremony was evident as they had their Easter candles lit and began to follow the procession down to the water.

After three wonderful and relaxing days it is safe to say that this place, which was once foreign, has easily gained a place in my heart. Without a doubt, I will return to Mykonos one day-now onto the Easter leg of the tour in Rome.

Happy Easter!
Elise

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The First Leg: Athens

Time April 18th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

When people think of Greece their immediate thought goes to mythology and the culture which surrounds it. Within that culture is embedded an unbelievable amount of history and tradition. Although we arrived later than intended, we were determined to make the most out of the time that remained of our first day. We headed to the Acropolis Museum (for which we got into for free with our student ID’s!) and explored the various floors of artifacts, statues and history. Having not studied mythology since the 9th grade, the refresher of Greek Gods and information about Athens past was extremely interesting and useful-especially when we ended up going to the Acropolis the following day. Knowing we had a lot to pack into the next day, the night consisted of dinner, an ice cream stop and bed.

The following morning we got up and started to head to the Acropolis Museum to join in on a free tour which would be departing from there. I’m not sure if I mentioned this yet, but I don’t always have the best sense of direction and unfortunately this characteristic proved itself true as I tried to get us to the museum only to head us off of the path we had taken the night before- in my defense the streets can start to all look the same and seeing them during the evening is way different than during the day! Anyway, we continued to walk knowing we would be late but hoping to still catch the group. Luckily as we finally reached the street of the museum, a man with a group of others asked if we were looking for him-thankfully it was George, the tour guide we had been desperately hoping would take his time leaving the initial site. I breathed a huge sigh of relief that although I had messed up we were still able to make it.

George took us all around Athens for about 4 hours. He was a Greece native who had lived in Australia, so he was able to provide the tour in English and was a serious wealth of information. We saw everything from Monastiraki square, changing of the guards ceremony, the first modern Olympics stadium (which occurred in 1896 for you history buffs) and all other historic sites in between. Besides learning tons about Athens we also began to talk to other tourists on the tour including a couple in their 50’s, a young couple from Canada who was staying at our same hostel and a family with two young boys who were originally from the US but had moved to the UK 3 years prior for the husbands job. As we began to exchange future travel plans and stories of how we ended up there, I realized how spectacular this tour was in more ways then one. In fact, I asked the husband for information about the pharmaceutical company he works for and he informed me that they do summer internships giving me his email for future reference (UK round 2 summer 2k15? Sounds good to me! Haha). After the tour we headed to the Acropolis, an Athens must, and explored the area.

With our cameras about to die from the insane amount of use they saw that day, we headed back to the hostel to charge. While the batteries rejuvenated, we went to explore the flea market near Monastiraki Square. As we checked out the various shops and continued down the strip we stopped at a shop to check out some scarves, which I had been on a hunt for since our arrival. As we began to talk with the shop owner and I was again impressed by the clarity of his English I couldn’t help but ask where he was from. When he responded Greece I initially thought, “Elise you should probably stop asking that question and just accept that the Greeks speak incredible English.” Luckily he then continued to say that he had studied for 12 years in Michigan to receive his doctorate and was a knee surgeon. I then told him I was from Wisconsin and he responded with the fact that he had ferried to Wisconsin from Michigan multiple times. I then paused having a realization and had to ask if he had taken the car-ferry into a town which was my hometown. When he said yes I just about died. What are the odds that I would meet someone in Greece who had been to my little no-name town of 35,000?

We continued to talk with him for the next 45 minutes to hear stories of his past, how he worked in the US and was called back to Greece to fight in the war with Syria, about an Alabama girl he had fallen in love while in the states and the corruption of the medical field in Greece that forced him to drop his practice and only continue practicing through an organization called doctor without borders. As we talked and he told us his stories you could see a history in his eyes, a pain we would never know ourselves and experiences one can only live through to truly understand. Yet between all the pain and difficulties his optimism persevered as he’s smiled and embraced his past as the point that had gotten him to that day. And at that moment I knew I would be buying scarves from his shop because, although slightly more expensive than others, they came with a story; something worth way more than the few extra dollars I would be spending. One thing he said has stuck with me went along the lines of, “The best thing someone can do is travel and see the world. If that means you don’t have food for money don’t eat, because the things you will experience and observe will make you realize both the wonders and tragedies present in this world and give you an appreciation and understanding unlike any other.”

After that experience we went on to climb this huge hill to the highest point in the city to catch a glimpse of all the pieces to Athens puzzle put together: the sea, historical monuments, mountains and the sky high apartments and buildings. It was easily worth the trek and is something I would recommend for everyone visiting to see. Afterwords we went to a restaurant called Smile that the family from the tour had recommended to us. We began talking with the owner, Connie, who was born in Greece and grew up in a suburb of Chicago but came back to Greece, met her husband and the rest was history. I couldn’t help but laugh when she told me she used to drive her mom up every few weeks to Wisconsin to stock up on cheese. I was awestruck by the fact that I had yet another person in Greece to remind me of home. Seriously though, what are the odds?

In all honesty I had been waiting for an experience like this throughout my trip abroad. I have a friend who had a life changing experience in Morocco and in all honesty I was jealous (in one of the best ways possible though!) for the outlook she gained from her time there. Ever since reading her blog and talking to her about the experience I continued to hope that I would be fortunate enough to receive one of those moments myself. Without a doubt Athens did that for me, and it went above and beyond my wildest dreams. Meeting Jamiz in the airport, the family on the tour, Stratos in the shop and Connie in the restaurant I realized that it is impossible to seek these moments- let fate take the wheel, and see the crazy adventure you end up on.

Although Athens was less than 48 hours, it was one of the most incredible and eye opening experiences I could have asked for. Now onto the next leg – Mykonos!

Until next time,
Elise

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Getting Cozy In The Airport

Time April 16th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

For our first day of travel we knew it would be long. Although we were leaving on Saturday we wouldn’t arrive in Athens until Sunday around noon, we caught the 7:45 National Express to the airport and flew from London to Milan for our long, overnight layover. Interestingly we walked straight off of the plane and hopped on a bus that took us to the baggage claim and arrivals area. At first, we pondered over how to get back into the airport to the departures area. We designated a metal bench to be our home for the night and swapped sleeping shifts every few hours. This probably wasn’t necessary because of how many people were alone and sleeping, but we both felt a little more comfortable with someone keeping an eye out. In all honesty I thought we were at the departure gate area, but found out in the morning when crowds streamed in that it was more of a “drop off” area and that we would need to go through customs again.

Unlike our first flight, which literally didn’t show us our gate of departure until 20 minutes before the original departure time (turns out our incoming plane was running late) our gate of departure was immediately posted -sweet! Except we weren’t as in the clear as we thought. Next to our departure time was another time that had exp. next to it- I figured it meant expected but hoped that it didn’t mean what I thought it meant-delayed, which would translate to more time in the airport.

Upon arriving at the gate we were soon informed that our 7:35 flight would now be departing at 11:40 instead. Thankfully the airline gave us vouchers for food due to the inconvenience. Basically we had another four hours to catch up on some z’s which we were both in need of. However, before nap time ensued, a gentleman who was also on the flight came over to ask me if I knew any information of the flight and if it was delayed. His English was extremely understandable and proper, so naturally I had to ask where he was from. Turns out he is a Greece native who studied both in the UK and the US to later find out he worked for the World Health Organization. As we continued to talk to him about our travel plans he wrote down his recommendations of things to eat, places to go and sites to see during our time in Greece. To say the least, he was our travel agent angel in disguise!

After some food, sleep, conversation and the passing of the four hour wait we finally boarded the plane. Although the delay meant spending more time in an airport than the actual air, it worked in our favor and I honestly wouldn’t have had it any other way. We even received information about getting a refund for our ticket because of the delay (they can delay me anytime, that is as long as it meets the refund requirements, haha!). In all honesty, I believe that everything happens for a reason and, although undesired at first, the four hour wait in the airport was more than worth the information we were able to receive from our new friend!

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My Mini Amazing Race

Time April 16th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Since the age of 8 I have been absolutely obsessed with the show The Amazing Race – I am determined that some day, one way or another, I will end up on it! When it came to planning spring break I had a few ideas of places I was interested in traveling to, but being on a student budget the route in which to do so needed to be the most cost effective. After a friend, Danielle, and I literally spent 12 hours planning out the first week and a half of break I realized just how much thought needed to go into determining how long to spend in each place, what would be the best way to travel and the list goes on and on. We had postponed making plans waiting to receive our exam schedules to make sure that we wouldn’t any exams in the first week of the the exam period. Luckily our exams weren’t for another few weeks after break, which meant the three week spring break would be the perfect time to explore. A friend of mine from back home who is also studying abroad in Spain already had some plans set. So, determined to meet up with her at a point, our plans mimicked part of hers which included Rome for Easter.

However, after Rome, Danielle was planning to head back since family would be arriving and I was determined to continue on. This equated to another 12 hours of planning, countless FaceTime calls to my mother and endless questioning if I was insane to be doing that much traveling by myself. The conclusion: Yes,I am crazy, but in one of the best ways possible! The week and a half travel by myself will be by far one of the scariest, most terrifying things I do in my life. But at the same time it will be one of the most challenging, exhilarating and empowering things I do for myself. Through out I will be hitting up cities in Spain where some girls from my sorority are studying. It’s comforting to know that I can meet up with them at some point and see a familiar face along my adventure. However, my final destination will be all on my own, but I am incredibly excited for the journey the entire trip will be. Besides going with a school group to Spain for three weeks where my teachers planned everything, I have never really been in another country nor have I ever made travel plans, to this extent, for myself. So, fingers crossed I am a natural travel agent and everything works in my favor!

Naturally, to complete my Mini Amazing Race theme, I searched Tesco for a reasonable travelers backpack to live out of for my 20 day journey. Luckily I found one and have stuffed it with the bare essentials. With all boarding passes and confirmations printed I am ready to fly, sail, metro, bus and whatever else it takes to explore places in this world I never imagined I would see at the age of 20. Let’s hope my sense of direction is keen and that all hours of planning were right! I’m off to my first leg, Athens, so wish me luck!!!

My itinerary:
Athens, Greece – 2 days
Mykonos Island, Greece – 4 days
Rome, Italy – 2 days
Barcelona, Spain – 2 days
Granada, Spain – 3 days
Seville, Spain – 3 days
Lisbon, Portugal – 3 days

When it comes to needing cheap and easy options for comparing flights or hostels side-by-side these resources were key! Also, don’t forget to check out reviews and ideas of things to visit and places to eat. Whether you go online or download the corresponding app don’t forget to utilize these tools!

Skyskanner.net
Hostelbookers.com
Hostelworld.com
Tripadvisor.com

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A Varsity Victory

Time April 16th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Studying at Cardiff in the spring one thing that is a bucket list must is an event called Varsity. Varsity is a one day event before spring break in which rivals Swansea and Cardiff face off in a plethora of sports from tennis to football (soccer for you Americans haha) and every sport in between. Teams from the two schools compete against each other through out the day in attempt to gain victory and points for their respective college.

Campus had been saturated with posters for months and as I talked to other students I realized just how big and important an event this would be. A friend and I bought our tickets immediately to ensure we would get the full packaged of the game, after party and t-shirt. The student union even put on a contest where you could submit a picture of your best “game face” to their twitter account for a chance of winning a free ticket package (not sure if I have ever mentioned this yet, but their student union at Cardiff Uni is AWESOME!)

Unfortunately, I decided to take one of my exams early to get it out of the way for spring break and finals time and for this reason didn’t get a chance to make it to any of the smaller events. But no worries, I heard the cheers roaring throughout campus – the spirit and excitement was evident. However, my friend from back home who joined the tae Kwon doe team for the semester actually got to compete in the event…um, how cool is that!?!?

After all of the smaller events had commenced the masses migrated to Millennium Stadium for the final match of the night. This was a huge event and nearly 13,000 students were in attendance sporting their school’s colors. Because we had bought our tickets so early we ended up at one of the end zones in the first row. This was my first rugby match and as much as people may try to say its similar to football, it’s not! I get football, and this completely had my lost! I refrained from cheering when I thought something good was happening for fear of being wrong and exemplifying my lack of knowledge in front of the entire section since I was in the front. One thing that did become pretty obvious was that the leg muscles on thes guys were absolutely massive- I seriously couldn’t get over it. The game was good but Swansea ended up defeating Cardiff, but it was a pretty close match. Naturally Cardiff’s biggest play of the entire game happened when I went to the bathroom-I’m going to say that my leaving was the luck they needed to complete the play (makes me feel a little better about missing it, ha!). Although Cardiff lost the rugby match, we won the overall competition!

Afterwards we finished the night at the lash which was packed, but a blast. We tended to continually return to the area that was playing 90’s music- sign of a true 90’s child I swear. Overall, varsity was a great way to spend time with everyone before the holiday break and to break away from studies. If you are here during the spring you might as well add it to your bucket list now, because the event is an absolute must. Who knows, maybe you’ll even compete in it!

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Pack Your Wellies and Rain Gear!

Time April 8th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Living in Cardiff one thing you will realize fairly quickly is that it rains-A LOT! With ease, I would say it rains at least 4 days a weeks during the winter season. And don’t let a morning of sunshine fool you! It can be blue skies and the rain will still manage to make its appearance- I like to call these “sun showers”. The rainy season is their version of winter, but compared to my hometown winter of snow and negative temperatures I will easily take the 40 degree weather and rain any day!

Now first off, do not go thinking that this means it rains all day everyday. Often, the rain will come in spurts and last for only about 5 minutes-hence why you must ALWAYS be prepared for a storm. Secondly, do not for a second believe that the rain is debilitating- the people of Cardiff do not let it stop them! Rather quickly you learn how to adapt and manage through the storms. Trust me, I’ve even surprised myself! Back home I would take rainy days as opportunities to never leave the house. Now, I walk to the city center, gym, grocery store and of course classes regardless of whether or not the weather conditions seem like a Hurricane Katrina simulation! Below are a few of my tips for dealing with the rain and staying dry during the winter wetness!

1) Invest in a good umbrella! While in the states I bought an umbrella on clearance for about five bucks. With winds that sometimes come off the bay, you want to make sure you aren’t relying on a $1 piece of junk that will flip over on you with a light gust of wind and break, only to leave you in the showers with no coverage. Because everything is a little more expensive here, I would say bring at least one umbrella (maybe even an extra for reserve) so that you are ready to face the storms. Hint: My backpack has two water bottle holders on the sides. Thus, I use one of them as as a place to store my umbrella so that it is easily accessible for when pop-up storms arrive.

2) Bring rain boots. I recommend bringing a pair of cheap rain boots that will do the job of keeping your feet dry and warm, but that you do not have a deep emotional attachment to. For starters they are heavy, so when packing they will account for a little bit more weight. I brought a $10 pair of Target boots that I am planning to pitch at the end of my journey. A) If something happens to them, I really won’t care since they were cheap B) When I go home that is extra space and weight for souvenirs. You can buy rain boots here, but be prepared to spend between £10-20, at least, which equates to about $17-35.

C)Have a jacket with a hood. Sometimes with how windy it gets an umbrella ends up turning into more of an all-out-battle with the blustery day than being an aid in keeping you dry. In these situations, I leave my umbrella packed away and rely on my hood. I brought both a winter and rain coat equipped with a hood. With the raincoat, I would recommend one that can ball up and store away easily-this will come in handy for traveling!

D) Walk as far from the road as possible when traveling on the sidewalk. Puddles tend to accumulate on the side of the road quickly;  so, when cars and busses speed by don’t be surprised to see a wall of water raise from the ground only to completely drench its next casualty. Yes, that scene that they play in movies really does happen! So, be attentive as you walk- otherwise you could be the next victim of the dreaded rain wall, forced to sit through your lectures looking like a wet dog.

In conclusion be prepare for the storm, but know that, with ease, you will quickly become an expert of traveling in the rain!

Cheers,
Elise

 

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Russell Crowe and The Red Carpet Premiere

Time April 1st, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Within the first week of being at Cardiff I quickly became part of a Facebook group for all study abroad students.  Sometimes I have trouble finding information, so it’s a great resource for everyone to share news about upcoming events in the City or University.  This proved to be very true last week, which resulted in me snagging some free tickets to the Cardiff regional premiere of Noah!

Earlier in the week a girl had posted a link to a page with tickets for the premiere, which Russell Crowe himself would be attending!  I saw the post immediately, followed the link to the website and snagged up two tickets.  But then I got thinking, “What if this isn’t legitimate?”  Letting my insecurity take control I canceled my tickets.  Did some quick three minute research and then decided I would get a ticket.  (Obviously, I didn’t have a very good order of thinking on this one!)

Realizing this was something I would want to be a part of, I went back to the site and got a ticket – one.  Shortly after I realized, “Why would I only want one, I’m going to want to go with someone!”  Unfortunately the only way to get to the booking page was to cancel the tickets.  So yet again I canceled my tickets, except when I returned to the page…THE TICKETS WERE NO LONGER AVAIALBE!  I was beating myself up for my stupidity and nervousness taking the lead.  However, I saw another post that said new tickets would be up on website until the day of the premiere.  There was a chance!  So naturally, for the remainder of the week, I stalked the website non-stop with a glimmer of hope inside me that I would see the word “Available” underneath the Cardiff section of the page.

Unfortunately, this was not the case.  I checked time and time again, managed to snag tickets to Edinburgh, Scotland premiere where Russell would also be introducing the film earlier that day.  But, I soon realized that paying that much to go to a free movie premiere was a little out of hand.  So instead I dropped the tickets and accepted defeat – well sort of.  I continued to check the page at the mere chance of the heavens aligning in my favor, but knew this chance to be slim.  Regardless, I had decided that even if I couldn’t get to the actual film I would go stalk the red carpet for Russell’s appearance.

Friday, by chance, I decided to check out the premiere page at about 10 past midnight and just about died when I saw the one word I had been looking for the entire week – AVAILABLE!  I moved like a gazelle hitting snatching up the tickets before a snafu would happen.   I seriously sat in shock and immediately messaged a friend who new my saga of a story to come and join me.  We had no idea what to expect with a premiere, but figured it was a once in a lifetime experience that we wouldn’t regret.

The following night we headed to the cinema, picked up our tickets and snagged a spot near right next the red carpet.  After waiting for about an hour Russell Crowe and Douglas Bloom both arrived to greet us all.  As Russell began to peruse the perimeter and greet the crowd I started snapping photos and planning how would I would get his signature – I was determined!  Luckily, he came right by us, gave some autographs and I even got my picture with him!  It was a pretty surreal moment to say the least.  After our nerves and extreme excitement began to subdue we went into the theatre to grab our seats.  Russell then came into the theatre and was, yet again, a mere 15 feet away from us to introduce the film.  It was by far one of the craziest string of events, but an amazing and unforgettable night to say the least!

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Luck of the Irish

Time April 1st, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As you may have noticed, I’m a bit of a travel junkie! I would much rather spend my last dime to visit a new country than save it for a rainy day. Thus, you can only imagine my excitement for a weekend in Dublin, Ireland. Not just any weekend though, St. Patrick’s day weekend! I had been determined to go for the last month and a half but had no luck finding anyone to go with me. For my first big trip out of Wales I wanted to go with a few people to catch my travel bearings. Luckily, the week before, I found two other IFSA students as eager as me to spend St. Patty’s Day weekend in the home of the Irish. So, the Monday before we did some mad searching and booked our hotel and transport.

The first night proved long as we began our departure leaving Cardiff Thursday night and arriving in Dublin at 6 am Friday morning. We caught some z’s along the way, but made necessary Starbucks trips for Wi-Fi and caffeine upon arriving in the city.  My fellow Starbucks enthusiasts would be thrilled to know there is not a shortage of Starbucks shops whatsoever. We googled places to eat and free things to do in the city (as a University student, free is ALWAYS good), as well as stuff going on for the St. Patrick’s day festivities. We checked out the infamous Temple Bar area, explored the grounds of Trinity University and visited the National Museum of Archeology. We didn’t stay in town long as we were all pretty beat, but when we got to the room we made a to-do list for our Saturday adventure.

Saturday we got an early start wanting to make the most of our full day in the city. We toured the castle, walked through parks, went past the carnival, saw performers on Grafton Street and enjoyed the free live Irish bands performing for St. Patrick’s Day. We definitely didn’t leave a part of Dublin city unexplored as we trekked from one side to the other. The town was saturated with people adorning shamrocks and the iconic St. Patty’s Day green. Even many of the town buildings joined in the fun as lights turned many parts of the city green. The following day we finished our St. Patrick’s Day celebration with the boat races on the Liffey River. Unfortunately we weren’t able to stay for the parade because of classes, but, regardless, we got to experience Dublin at one it’s most lively times! Check out my recommendations below for when you make your journey to the Land of the Leprechaun!

Travel advice:

  • Go with currency in hand- Do not expect an ATM to fall into your lap when you arrive.
  • Grab a bus map while at the port- This was literally our lifesaver for finding things to do and navigating through the city.
  • Watch your stuff at all time! – In a big city theft is common and the thieves are swift. So, keep your bags on your arm or body at all times and be mindful of your possessions and surroundings.
  • Do not forget to ask about student discounts!! – Whether at restaurants or stores ask-it’s worth the money you’ll save.
  • Do not hesitate to ask for your bill- Often it would take a while for us to receive our bills so don’t be afraid to ask for them when you are ready and, if needed, ask for orders to be separate.

Things to do:

  • Go to as many free museums or attractions as possible (archeology, natural history, Trinity science museum etc.)
  • Visit the River Liffey
  • Go to the Castle (remember your student ID for a discount!)
  • Visit Temple Bar District
  • Explore Grafton Street Shopping District (impossible to not find Ireland memorabilia here!)
  • Walk through some of the parks

Places to eat:

  • Elephant and Castle (near Temple Bar District) – Quaint atmosphere, unique name, great food and attractive prices.
  • Flanagan’s (O’Connel St. Main Drag) – Amazing food at a steal of a price since some meals include juice and all include tea or coffee (was definitely tempted to go back a second time).
  • The Mongolian Barbecue (near Temple Bar District) – They have an early bird special of €12.90 instead of €15.90 for their all you can eat cuisine (and early was considered before 7pm!). Very similar to HuHut except even fresher, so be sure to go with a large appetite in hand!
  • Brewbaker Cafe (numerous locations) – this cafe was perfect for a quick meal at a reasonable price.

Best wishes for your time in Dublin and may the luck of the Irish always be on your side!

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A Weekend of Adventure

Time March 18th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Each semester the IFSA office puts together an extended weekend trip for students which involves tons of options for activities throughout the weekend. Our weekend was in Snowdonia, which is located in Northern Wales and about 4.5-5 hours away from Cardiff. We all headed to the train station to meet up with some other students who had trained in and were sharing a bus with us for the trek North. The drive was immaculate as we went winding through mountain ranges, past sheep farms and through a multitude of towns. This was my first time really venturing outside of Cardiff besides going to London, so the scenery was much appreciated!

For the weekend the whole lot of IFSA students from the UK (including Leeds, Wales, Bristol and London to name a few) stayed at The Royal Victoria Hotel. Dinner there was incredible, but the queues got long quick!  We learned fast that arriving early to breakfast and dinner was a must if we didn’t want to get stuck waiting around for forever.

Saturday was our first day of adventure for which we could choose either one full-day activity or two-half day activities. The full-day activities included things like going through mines or hiking to the top of a local mountain, while half-day activities consisted of mountain biking, visiting a castle, a high ropes course, rock climbing, hiking and go-karting. Wanting to try something new I opted for rock climbing and the high ropes course.

I can easily say that I have never tested my courage as much as I did that day! I figured being pretty athletic and coming from a gymnastics background the two activities would be challenging but nothing major. However, when I was in the situations of scaling a towering rock wall and attempting to walk across wires 150 or so feet in the air, with brutal winds to increase the challenge, I found myself testing my endurance, self-confidence and courage. Although I shook like a leaf at points (in all honesty more from the cold temperatures than the fear, ha), I was extremely happy with my choices. I felt so proud at the end of the day to be able to say I had made it to the top of a difficult climb and that I had jumped off a huge totem pole to catch a trapeze bar. The adventures were an awesome experience to force myself out of my comfort zone.

The following day we all went into a city where we got to explore tourist shops and venture to the beach of the Irish Sea. It was cool to finally see the water (a part of home I am missing daily). After some time in the city, we were due to head home. However, this proved to be easier said than done as the “adventure” wasn’t quite over yet. Prior to leaving we realized that our turbo had gone, so we planned to travel around the hills rather than through them. But as we began our journey and drove to a petrol station we quickly noticed the small bus smoking. The latest discovery that our mini-coach wasn’t having it meant a rapid change of plans to get us all home (which on a Sunday afternoon is not an easy feat). Our IFSA leader did some quick problem solving and got us on a train to Cardiff instead.

The weekend was full of adventure from start to finish. It challenged me in ways I would have never imagined, and ending up being an unexpected growing experience for me. The extension toward the out-of-reach rock and the initial step onto a wind blown wire proved to parallel my experience with studying abroad. The idea of leaving family, comfort and normality is frightening and overwhelming.  The courage to take the first step makes us question our choices, while the challenges in the middle force us to go beyond our comfort zone. But the ending, a euphoric moment of accomplishment and pride, makes us wonder why we were even scared in the first place. As I face challenges throughout the coming months, I know at the end of this amazing journey of adventures there will be no regrets, tons of accomplishment and growth to reflect upon as well as memories to last a lifetime. So, although adventure weekend may be over, the reality is, the adventure has only just begun.

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A Time for Celebration

Time March 10th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It isn’t even half way through March and already I have been bombarded with celebrations (not that I am complaining!). Immediately March 1st the festivities began. The celebration of St. David’s day started with a parade that ran from city hall, through city center and concluded at Cardiff Castle. People were dressed in traditional Welsh wear as classic Welsh emblems of daffodils and leeks saturated the streets. To join in the spirit, I couldn’t help but buy a daffodil pin to embrace my current Welsh-ness. The parade had performers of all sorts: dancing children, bicyclists, marching bands, a chorus of men as well as these huge paper mâché floats of famous UK figures.

After the parade concluded we went into town in search of free Welsh cakes that we were told would be handed out in one of the arcades (which is how they refer to streets malls). Unfortunately by the time we got there, the Welsh cakes were nowhere to be found. However, some women dressed in traditional wear did hand us each a daffodil. As we began our walk to the castle to take advantage of the free admissions, we couldn’t help but stop at the special farmers market that was going on. We managed to find food stands, which resulted in us taking a few…okay, A LOT of free samples! We probably managed to eat the cheese stand out of an entire wheel by the time we left. Once we got to the castle we couldn’t help but take endless amounts of pictures of the castle and the land within the stonewalls. It was an absolutely gorgeous and warm day (which can’t always be expected with the Welsh rain). It was amazing to see the pride the people of Wales took in the festivities and celebration of their patron saint.

The following Tuesday was Pancake Day – the UK version of Fat Tuesday, except you literally just eat pancakes, upon pancakes, upon more pancakes! The consistency of a UK pancake is different than those of the United States. It is much thinner, and more like a crepe than a fluffy, thick American pancake. Also, pancakes can be sweet or savory so the combinations of flavors can literally be endless.

A girl in my course invited a few of us to join in the pancake affair at her house with the instructions to bring toppings of all kinds – the weirder the better. Our choices ranged from bacon and maple syrup to marshmallow fluff and Nutella as well as the traditional chocolate and fruit toppings. I tried a savory pancake of bacon, Brie and maple syrup as well as a sweet pancake of peanut butter, Nutella and fresh fruit – YUM!!! In all honesty, both were winners in my book! I even got a few of my UK friends to give the classic American staple of PB&J a try on one!

I don’t quite know of all of the adventures to come, but I can’t wait to see what the rest of March brings!

‘Til Next Time!

Elise

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A 4:30 AM Run for a Sight Seeing Saturday

Time February 28th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

 One fantastic thing about studying with IFSA-Butler is that they plan day excursions throughout the semester so that we can see and explore various historical sites in the UK. Naturally, who am I to turn down a planned excursion!?! Since the departure is out of London, I had to get my own transportation to the departure site and back. By train, Cardiff is about 3 hours away, which meant catching the 4:55 ride so that I could make it in time for the 8:30 departure.

I was feeling really good about it all. Sure I had gone to bed later than desired (what else is new!), but I had a lunch waiting in the fridge, clothes laid out ready to go, all electronic devices charging and multiple alarms set! Although I had woken up a little later than planned, I was still feeling confident that I could make it to the station in time since it was only a 30-minute walk from my residence.

I finished getting ready being sure to pack my rain gear and even made a coffee to-go. Leaving at 4:15, I put on my fast-pace and got to walking.  About ten minutes out  my stomach dropped to my toes as I realized “Oh no! I didn’t write down the address of the office!!!!” Normally this slip up wouldn’t be a problem, but when Wi-Fi is your sole source of internet, that feat isn’t as easily achieved! Thankfully I noticed my slip-up while I was still by campus and was able to pick up a signal. Unfortunately, if I walked too far the signal was lost which meant having to stand stagnant by the school to ensure I could pull up the address and information. This took about an extra five or ten minutes and the thing is…THE TRAIN WAITS FOR NO ONE!!!

Finally, after resurrecting my email from the depths of my inbox and retrieving the information I needed, I knew there was only one thing left to do- I had to run! Yes, imagine it now: as others were stumbling home from a night out in the city there I was running toward them. Now mind you the station is right next to the gym that I go to; so I knew I had, at the least, a mile left to trek. On I went passing drunkards, fellow morning runners and a few cops—I can only imagine what was running through their minds as I passed.

Thankfully, I made my train with about ten minutes to spare, and did so with coffee in hand! The rest of the day was much more relaxing and did not involve any more running – thank god!

Arriving at Paddington with address in hand I caught a cab to the offices where we were meeting.  We took a coach bus to Warwick Castle and Stratford-Upon-Avon (the birth place of Shakespeare).   Sitting at the front of the bus proved interesting as we had mini-heart attacks with how large the bus was and how skinny the streets were.  Our eyes widened various times throughout the drive with anticipation of something happening, but we had little to be concerned about.   The driver navigated like a gazelle through the streets and roundabouts.  I think he found a little pleasure in our uncertainty and the gasps that came out of some peoples mouths at times.  In my defense, I’m still trying to grasp driving on the opposite side of the road.

Upon arriving, we had two hours to explore Warwick Castle.  We went quickly through the buildings and rooms and made sure to walk up to the castle on the hill as well.  Wax figurines were placed throughout to add some realism to the space – I even made some new (figurine) friends as we pondered over…well I don’t really know, but we looked deep in thought! I didn’t get to see any simulations of jousting unfortunately, but I did see some folks dressed in costumes and even got to be put in the barracks for being a drunkard.

Next we went on to Shakespeare’s birthplace where our immediate thought was FOOD!!!  We went into a small restaurant that served Chinese and then continued to explore all of the little shops that lined the cobblestone streets.  Although there were different tours and buildings that we could go in to truly explore Shakespeare’s home, we were too stingy to spend the money.  But hey, at least I can say I was there, right?  After walking, and having a sweet tooth in mind, we went to this little café that had some of the most insane desserts I have ever seen.  The glass case was lined with cheesecakes, pies, bars and pastries of literally a million different flavors.  This was obviously a difficult thing for an indecisive person like myself, but in the end I settled on a raspberry-rhubarb crunch slice and OH MY GOD!  Literally just thinking about how good it was makes me want to hop on a train to head back now.  After our time there we then headed back to London and I made my departure back to Cardiff. You can probably imagine my relief to make it to my bed, that night.  Needless to say, I slept like a baby.

Although the day was long and adventurous, it was definitely worth it!  Plus, I can officially cross attending one of the planned day trips off of my abroad bucket list!

 

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“Eye” See London!

Time February 24th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

My first two days after arriving in the UK were spent at orientation for IFSA-Butler. Besides being informed of tid-bits of information for study, travel and daily living in the UK, we also went on a walking tour of London. The two-hour walk was packed full of information and covered LOTS of London ground. From Apple Market to Buckingham Palace and everything in between (including the London Eye and Big Ben) we learned tons of interesting facts about the history of London and the monuments embedded in the streets.

For instance, the iconic Big Ben clock received it’s name because it’s designer’s name was Ben and he himself is said to have been shaped like a bell. In fact, the name “Big Ben” refers to the bell inside the tower, not the clock itself.

Another fun fact is that the London Eye was a design entered into a contest by a husband and wife. But, disappointed by the entries, the officials canceled the competition. Disheartened and hell-bent on making their vision a reality, the couple went to contest that their design be employed. Now, years later, the Eye is one of the most iconic components of London. The 30 minute go around was easily worth £20 for the experience of a lifetime, and is something that I recommend any London visitor to embark on. Take a peek at my video to catch a glimpse of what I saw during my quick stay in London!

 

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A Crash Course on Wales

Time February 11th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

If you are geographically challenged like myself no worries, I have you covered (in all honesty I had little knowledge of my new home until about five minutes ago, ha!).

The UK is comprised of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. When I fly in, I will be arriving in London, England and will then be shuttled west to Cardiff. Cardiff is the capital of Wales and is where I will be attending school for my five months abroad. Wales itself has geography of all sorts including mountain ranges, bays and plains. One spot along the coast is Cardiff Bay (a definite destination point on any resident!).

Although Welsh is the native language of Wales, English quickly took over during the 16th century as English law replaced Welsh law. Although Welsh isn’t as prevalent as it used to be, the people of Wales continue to work to keep the language alive by having both English and Welsh translations on literally everything. Visiting students are able to take a course in learning Welsh language. Although I didn’t embark on that venture, I am taking a course on the mythology and folklore to learn more about the country and its past. Mythology and Celtic culture is a huge component of Welsh history and can be used to help explain some of its traditions and symbols.

One landmark that stands out is Cardiff Castle. This castle is located right near city center, only 20 minutes from campus, and is an iconic part of Cardiff’s history. Actually, castles are iconic to Wales in general! As for sports, rugby is the hot topic here. With Millennium Stadium located right in Cardiff, game-days get the city hopping with street vendors and fans. At the games, people can often be seen wearing leeks and daffodils – symbols native to Wales. However, the more iconic image for Wales is the Red Dragon that resides on their flag.

Are any of you Dr. Who fans? Then you would be delighted to hear that the BBC studios is not only located in Cardiff, but that scenes for Dr. Who are recorded in Cardiff and right on Cardiff University’s campus. If you look close enough in some of the buildings you may recognize a corridor or two from the show! The Dr. Who experience is an attraction located in Cardiff that is sure to please any and all fans. Camera crews can be spotted parked along campus for days of filming. Who knows, maybe you’ll get to spot the scene yourself!

Now that you have a crash course of the culture, go ahead and explore even more for yourself! Since this could possibly be your home for a semester (or even a year) begin to create your destination hot-spot while living in a place full of culture, history and home to the iconic red dragon!

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