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Normal, Mundane, and Other Synonyms for School

Time February 21st, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Wales | No Comments by

Sometimes you do pretty normal things even on a different continent.

As I said in my very first, pre-departure post, you get a lot of advice before you leave the country. You hear a lot of stories from those who have studied abroad before you and you see pictures and blogs from peers who spent semesters in Spain, Rome, or wherever the wind took them. But here’s the problem: they only tell you about the adventures. The beautiful sunrises they saw over mount-whatever; the fun nightlife in a certain city; the amazing and inspiring people they met. Yet there is a fundamental detail that is left out of all of these tales—studying abroad involves a lot of completely normal moments. No one tells you that you will still binge-watch Gilmore Girls in bed, or that you’ll have quiet nights where you do nothing, or that you actually have to study for the classes you’re taking.

While this seems like a pretty obvious part of being away for an entire semester, it took me two weeks into classes to actually be okay with it. For the first part of my time abroad, I hated any gaps of free time I had in my schedule. I felt like I always needed to be doing something to make my time here valid and worthwhile. If I didn’t do something fun every night, I wasn’t getting the full “abroad” experience. It wasn’t until I was sitting in my Wednesday morning seminar the other week that I had a huge breakthrough—we were discussing the reading we were supposed to have done for class and I sat there not knowing a thing. I didn’t do the reading because I’m a student abroad, and students abroad most certainly don’t need to do the readings. But as I sat in class in a bubble of confusion wondering why pre-Raphaelite art was considered scandalous to upper class Victorian-era citizens I realized a fundamental fact: I came here to take classes because I’m in college. Read More »

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Three Cliffs Bay, Bath, Stonehenge, and Snowdonia National Park

Time February 7th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Wales | No Comments by

The other night, I couldn’t sleep. I spent the day doing pretty average stuff; I went for a run, made myself breakfast, walked around the city with some friends, and worked on homework. You couldn’t pick this Monday out of a lineup, but that night I couldn’t sleep. And here’s why: I started to get an itch. A hum in the back of my head. A small little devil-version of me sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear, “Hey Alex, let’s go somewhere.”

It all started with Three Cliffs Bay. It was a day trip my friends and I signed up for that looked like a promising way to spend a Saturday. After a two-hour bus ride we arrived to what I can only describe as a photo out of a National Geographic magazine. The ocean was bright blue and framed by beautiful, magnificent cliffs. We hiked along side the cliffs for a bit, then climbed down a steep slope to the beach. After a few miles up and down the beach, we hiked back up the cliffs and to an old, rustic castle that overlooked the ocean. It ended up being somewhere between eleven and twelve miles of hiking—we were all so tired by the end of it. But every second of the hike was insanely beautiful.

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Classes, Welsh Cakes, and the Great Outdoors

Time January 30th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Wales | No Comments by

As I start this post the first thing I’d like to say is that I love Wales. With all of the emotions I feel on a daily basis here, whenever I’m out and about in the city or walking around on campus the feeling I experience most overwhelmingly is excitement. While the past week and a half have felt somewhat like a dream, the reality of a semester abroad has finally sunk in as classes have begun. I did it. I followed through on accomplishing a goal I set for myself long ago, and made my dreams a reality. Now all I have to do is remember that excitement as classes, and real work, begin.

SO, about those classes. Before leaving for the semester, one of the most common questions I was asked was “Alex, what classes are you taking in Wales?” Well, after months of not knowing and not actually figuring out my schedule until the first real day of classes, I can happily say that I am registered. I’m taking three 20-credit courses, each equivalent to about 6 credits on the U.S. scale. I’m taking a Victorian art class, an environmental politics class, and a class looking at how different countries have developed culturally, environmentally, and economically. While normally I wouldn’t be exactly thrilled for classes to start, I am actually very eager to begin learning and have some of my free time taken up. So far the classes seem promising.

Now onto something more exciting than school… Welsh cakes. This past two weeks in Wales has introduced me to something that has exposed the naivety I hold in my culinary experiences. The gap in my pallet. The type of breakfast pastry that I’m convinced could cure the ill, could put an end to all international disputes, and could bring a grown man to tears. A pastry called a “Welsh cake.” For those who don’t know (like me a week ago), a Welsh cake is somewhat of a cross between a cookie, a pancake, and a scone with chocolate chips or raisins. It’s life changing. In my book, Welsh cakes are right up there with Beyoncé. I’ve gotten them a few times on the way to class, and I got them with some of my flat mates when we went into town together. I have a strong feeling that I’ll have to allocate a chunk of my abroad-budget specifically for Welsh cakes.

To work off all of the Welsh cakes, I’ve taken some time to explore the great outdoors. My favorite spot to run so far is this beautiful bike path that goes alongside the river near my flat. Not only is it a stunning view, but it’s a good break in my day and lets me get some fresh air. On Wednesday, some friends and I went on a night hike with a club on campus alongside the bay. It was actually very random, and the club we went with was really strange. It was about a 4 or 5-mile hike in the dark that went through back wood trails that led to a path on a cliff that overlooked the bay. It was one of those experiences that ended with us asking ourselves “what the hell did we just do?” After warming up at a pub and deliriously laughing about how weird it was, we decided that the experience was worth it.

While the night hike isn’t necessarily something I’d do again, it was the kind of experience I was craving. I needed to get off campus and do something a little random and adventurous that I’ll have good memories from. This weekend we’re headed to Three Cliffs Bay for more hiking, and the following weekend I will visit Stonehenge and Snowdonia National Park. I’m starting to realize that if I go into this semester with the right attitude and continue to do things that push my boundaries, I can shape it into whatever experience I want it to be. Hopefully, I’m able to create a semester that exceeds my expectations. So far, I’m thinking I’ll have no problem doing just that.

 

That’s all I’ve got to say for now.

Cheers,

Alex

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From London to Wales

Time January 20th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Wales | 1 Comment by

Wow, has everything changed! After a long journey from the Minneapolis airport to the Newark airport and finally to the Heathrow airport in London, I can now say that I have hopped over the pond. We arrived in London around 7:30 AM, went through a long customs line, and met with our IFSA-Butler guide. At this point I was feeling so many emotions, but most of all, I was exhausted. I had woken up at 4 AM on Thursday and we landed in the morning on Friday. I managed a 2-hour nap on the flight but surprisingly, plane seats are not to best accommodation for a good night’s sleep. But I didn’t have time to feel tired, because we had landed in London and had a full day ahead of us. I was excited enough to be able to push my tiredness to the side. Read More »

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Pre-Departure Advice… For Myself

Time January 10th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Wales | No Comments by

Hello, and welcome to my little blog of adventures. My name is Alex and I’m a sophomore from Drake University studying abroad in Cardiff, Wales. I leave in two days but that hasn’t really sunk in. I’ve started to say goodbyes, I’ve begun packing, and I’ve also managed to come down with a horrible cold (great timing, too). And although this week feels like every other week, I am about to embark on a journey that will change my life in a profound way that I won’t be able to understand until it has already happened. I think that’s pretty neat.

The past days, weeks, and months have been filled with preparation. But one thing that every student about to go abroad gets lots of is advice. Those who have studied abroad before you will tell you about how incredible their experience was, what you should do when you’re abroad, and of course where you MUST visit. I love hearing what everyone has to say about traveling—I’m a sponge when it comes to taking in travelling tips and knowledge. But I also want to go into this experience with my own goals and some pieces of advice for myself. So here is what I have to say to the future me that’s about to board a plane into five months of uncertainty and excitement:

It’s okay to cry at the airport when you leave your family, just for the love of God make sure you’re wearing waterproof mascara.

Be frugal and wise with budgeting but don’t freak out about money the whole time. It’ll work out just fine.

Take that trip to Greece that you keep saying you will. You packed that swimsuit for something and it’s not just to take up space in your suitcase.

Drink good wine. Eat good cheese. And bread. And pasta.

Try weird local foods that you probably won’t love but it’s all about the experience amiright?

Do something crazy like bungee jumping or cliff jumping, just don’t tell your parents until after you’ve done it and survived (sorry mom and dad).

Speaking of mom and dad, give them a call every once in a while to make sure they know you’re alive.

Buy little souvenirs for yourself and loved ones.

Visit friends who are abroad in different countries, even if you only get the chance to meet up for lunch.

Take pictures. You suck at this. You brought a camera for a reason. USE IT.

Write down things in a journal because no matter how memorable an experience feels, details will become blurry once you’ve been traveling for five months.

Make friends with people from other countries!

And finally, have a blast because you’re only 20 years old in Europe once ya crazy kid.

This post marks the very beginning of a life changing, comfort-zone pushing, and challenging experience. I have no idea what my life is going to look like in a few days–your guess is probably just as good as mine. I hope you stick around to see how it all plays out, it should be an interesting few months!

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