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A Return to this Side of the Atlantic

Time June 28th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Well it’s been a little over a week since I arrived back in the States. Time has really flown by. It seems like so long ago that I was walking the streets of London, but it really wasn’t. Being back home makes the whole experience seem a bit surreal—was I really in London, I mean London for almost 6 months? I know I was, but so little has changed here at home that sometimes it feels like I never really left.  Though if I hadn’t been away it would be hard to explain my still only partially unpacked suitcase in the living room (oops). I’ll get to it eventually.

I have been really busy since I got back though. I think my business is in part to blame for why I’m not too homesick for London (though can you really be homesick for a place you only lived in briefly?). I’ve adjusted pretty quickly to life back in New Jersey though the humidity has taken some getting used to (my hair is not happy). I’ve been catching up with friends and doctors appointments (pretty standard back from school stuff). And today I started my summer internship which is pretty exciting I guess. I mean it’ll be nice to recuperate some of the savings that were depleted during my time abroad (though definitely not wasted). Just having another new experience to keep me occupied is pretty nice though. I think I’d go crazy if I was sitting around my house all summer (I mean there’s nowhere to go.) That’s obviously a gross exaggeration, but I definitely do miss being able to walk everywhere. While my lazy self is quite happy sitting around watching television the active me that gained some momentum in conquering London streets is becoming a bit restless. I’m going to try and get into an exercise routine. Hopefully that’ll help. We’ll see.

Anyway, more about what I believe is called “reverse culture shock”. It’s definitely not a shock. At least not for me and I would imagine it wouldn’t be for anyone returning to a familiar culture unless he or she had been gone for a much longer period of time. Being on the right side of the road on the ride home from the airport was a bit weird, but after that ride it just felt normal again. I do kind of miss the various English accents though. Mid-Eastern US accents just seem a bit pale in comparison. But I don’t have to ask people to repeat themselves quite as often so I guess it’s a good trade-off. I haven’t had many cash transactions since my return home and I imagine the first time I have to count out change it might be a little awkward (wait there’s no coin for the $1?) but since counting change was an integral part of my math education and my time as a cashier, I’m not too worried about it. So all in all it’s nice to be back. I do miss London, but there’s so many great things here that I’m not quite ready to leave home again just yet. Ask me again in a week or so.

So that’s it for my blog. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it (and experiencing it!) My only advice is to go make your own abroad adventure if you can. It’s a very personal experience and while I’ve tried to share it with you, it can only really be explained through experiencing it for yourself.

 

Cheers!

Alyssa

 

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Goodbye London

Time June 17th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

By the time this is posted I will either be on at the airport, on an airplane, or standing on American soil (in the lush area known as Newark). That’s right this is my last post from London. I meant to write this last weekend so that I could get two more in before I left but it’s a big job getting ready to leave and I’ve just been very busy. Plus I knew that this post would be one of the hardest to write because writing it means that I really am leaving. So of course I left it until after midnight on the night before I leave. I’m in a rather melancholy mood at the moment. I have a lot to look forward to at home: my family, my boyfriend, my friends, a party, an internship, another party, a day at the shore. And that’s just within the next two weeks. I am very excited about all these things and consequently my mood for the past week or so has been moving up and down pretty often. I love everything I have at home and my life there. But I also love being here and the academics and life I’ve experienced.

I have to say I’ve adapted to city life much better than I thought I would. I mean I knew I’d survive and get used to it and all that, but I actually really like it too. I originally thought that it might get a bit gloomy and lonely which it can occasionally, but London just has so many green spaces and opportunities for socializing that I hardly notice the negatives. The parks, squares, and gardens are definitely a big part of this. If it wasn’t so easy for me to get to a place where I felt I was getting fresh air, I probably wouldn’t like it here so much. They really are a great escape from the city. Some of my best days were spent walking around parks on a sunny day, occasionally sitting out and enjoy a book for an entire afternoon. It’s quite nice. Besides the parks, the pubs are also a nice escape from the solitude of city life. It’s just usually a nice atmosphere—people stop by after work or after lectures just to catch up with friends and enjoy each other’s company, have a bit to drink, and maybe a bite to eat. I only went a couple times during my stay here but they were always enjoyable experiences. It’s always entertaining to walk down the street in the late afternoon/early evening and start seeing all the pubs filling up to the point where everyone is just outside chatting away. And this happens at pretty much every pub you pass (think like one every block or two). It’s quite the phenomenon.

There are lots of other things I’ll miss, though I probably don’t even know what lots of them are yet. I know I’ll miss all the free museums. Especially the National Gallery. I went there one last time yesterday and I was still discovering rooms I hadn’t seen. Although I think I’ve covered the whole building now.  I’ll miss fish and chips. Another thing I only experienced a couple times (mostly just because most of my meals were catered by the school or me cooking pasta), but something I found very tasty, if definitely not healthy. I’ll miss the public transportation. Not because I love crowds and being in cement tunnels, but because it was pretty efficient, rarely creepy, and quite often entertaining.  Alas who knows when I’ll next find myself sitting on an underground train, avoiding eye contact, and keeping a blank face? I think those are all the physical things I’ll miss (that I can think of), although all of them are connected to memories and feelings from my time here.  I have to say though that what I’ll probably miss most is the independence.

I don’t think I’ve really changed all that much since being here. I was a pretty independent person to start with (well at least I like to think I was). However, in my time here I have had a greater feeling of freedom than before. I love my college and I am relatively independent while there. I make decisions on how to schedule my time, etc. However, there’s nowhere to really go at Ursinus. It’s kind of a bubble.  A very nice bubble where I have some great friends and professors, but a bubble nonetheless. Going anywhere off campus involves a plan and a car. Here, there are endless possibilities and it doesn’t seem absurd for me to walk 30/40 minutes to get somewhere (though the tube is a nice option too). I realize this is a city thing and if I had chosen a university in a city I would probably have a similar experience, but there is something extra exciting about the fact that it’s a city not in the US. While sometimes I miss being able to walk around in sweatpants to grab a snack from the convenience store, having more than one store within a 10 minute walk is pretty nice too. Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed the freedom to travel and walk wherever I’d like to go with very little problem. And with all my trips both within the UK and without, I’ve gotten quite used to traveling alone or with friends which kind of makes me feel like an adult (I have to book flights and hostels myself?). But I’ll probably still make my parents order takeout when I’m home (why are phone conversations with strangers so awkward?)

I wish I had some big insight to share for my final post, but honestly I’m getting a little tired and I still have lots to do in the morning. I’m really rather sad to leave. My time here has passed so quickly and I’m not sure I’ve accomplished everything I wanted to in my time here. I’m definitely glad I decided to come here. While there might be things I would do differently if I could do this experience over, this has definitely been a great time and something I’ll probably always remember and want to come back to. I really just want to live here again, but the way I see my life shaping up now I don’t think I’ll have the opportunity. But, I’m not a psychic (not even a pretend one) so I’m not going to worry about it too much. I know I’ll visit again and I still have lots of time to figure everything else out.

 

Goodbye London.

 

Cheers

Alyssa

 

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Tours and the Theatre

Time June 10th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

6/10/11

If knowledge could be gained through osmosis, I would be infinitely smarter now that I have visited both Oxford and Cambridge during my time here. That isn’t to say that UCL doesn’t have an intelligent and academic environment, but I mean it’s Oxford and Cambridge (or Oxbridge as they’re collectively known).  It’s been a couple months since I visited Oxford with a friend, but I have to say Cambridge is probably my favorite of the two just because the town itself seems just a bit quainter; there are bicycles everywhere and lots of little alleyways and cobbled streets which are just things that I love in a college town. Not to mention the fact that there’s a lot of green space and the river right on the college campuses. Being there for just a day made me wish I could live and go to school there. Unfortunately I don’t think that’s really plausible. Anyway I really enjoyed myself and it was nice to get out of London and explore a different area of England. I went on a walking tour of the town (my second tour of England this week, but more on that later) and really enjoyed learning about the history and being able to enjoy the scenery without worrying about where I was going (the streets and alleys were just a tad confusing.) All in all the tour was definitely worth the money and I got to see the campuses of King’s and St. Johns which both had lovely chapels and courtyards.  I’ll try and upload some pictures so you can see. The chapel at King’s especially was just HUGE and really breathtaking to stand inside.

My other tour this week was a coach tour of Bath, Salisbury, and Stonehenge. I’ve wanted to see Stonehenge since I got here and I felt that I couldn’t leave without going. The only issue is that getting to Stonehenge can be kind of a pain, hence the tour. While I had visited Bath previously the tour I chose was the best price I could find that included the Salisbury Cathedral and Stonehenge. It was nice going back to Bath anyway. It’s really a nice town for walking around.  I have to admit that I was a little nervous about going on a tour by myself, but there were a couple other students also traveling alone so it turned out to be fine and I had a great time. Despite the terrible weather the whole day (cloudy with sporadic showers) I had a lot of fun and learned a lot from both the tour guide and the venues themselves. The Cathedral was definitely one of my favorites of all the churches that I’ve seen during my time here. My only regret is that I didn’t have time to explore the town itself more because of the time restraints on the tour, but that just means I’ll have to come back. Stonehenge itself was a little underwhelming. The audio tour, while long, made that part of the visit worth it for me because of the huge amount of information about the history and myths surrounding the stones. I think without the audio I would have been a bit disappointed, but with it I was able to enjoy my time there (even if all I did was basically walk in a circle around some really old stones).  I promise not to make you sit through all the photos I took of it (without the history it might get kinda boring looking at 15 pictures of the same circle of stones lol).  So all in all I’m really glad I went on the tour. I’d say it’s one of my favorite day trips from London, but I’m really not sure I can rank my day trips—they’ve all been so fun!

Since I’ve been back from Cambridge I’ve been trying to keep busy in London and visit or revisit all the places I haven’t been or will really miss. My feet aren’t too happy and I keep getting caught in rainstorms, but I keep finding places that make me fall in love with the city all over again. On Wednesday I found an artist at Covent Garden who had beautiful watercolors of scenes in the city (I picked one up for myself) in addition to a couple bakeries and restaurants that looked delicious. If only I had more than one stomach to be able to try everything! Yesterday I finally made it to the Tate Modern. While I didn’t understand or fall in love with everything there, I kept finding paintings that I could have stood in front of for hours just thinking and enjoying them. Unfortunately I couldn’t bring any of my favorites home with me, not even in postcard form (Why must you torture me Tate Modern by not having my favorites as postcards?!). Despite this I did enjoy myself, though unlike the National Gallery I don’t have the desire to go back again and again. I mean I would go back, but I feel like I saw mostly everything whereas the National Gallery is so huge that I keep finding new paintings and rooms to explore. After the museum I went to see my first Shakespeare play at the Globe (first live performance I’d seen of Shakespeare). I could easily go back and see more plays there, though next time I’ll probably pay the 15 pounds and get seats not in the rain and well sitting down. That’s right, being the genius I am I bought a standing ticket (5 pounds) and didn’t think about the fact that it’s been raining on and off all week. It was worth it though. I was tired by the end, but it didn’t rain that much and I found some cover from it. Plus the performers were quite entertaining in their performance of All’s Well That Ends Well. I wasn’t familiar with the play before seeing it (despite reading it quickly the night before online), but it was really enjoyable and the actors were very funny. Not Shakespeare’s best play, but definitely an enjoyable comedy. Hamlet and Macbeth will probably still be my favorite plays by him though. I really wish I had been able to see them performed while I was here (Hamlet was playing at the Globe and Macbeth by the RSC), but I didn’t act soon enough and whenever I checked for performances they were sold out. Alas, I will have to see them another day.

Well I think this blog post has gotten long enough. I’ll probably be writing another one tonight or tomorrow about how I’m feeling now that I’ll be leaving in a week so look out for that one (it might even be published at the same time as this one. Who knows?)

 

Cheers!

Alyssa

 

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I’ll Take the Low Road (Downhill is easier, right?)

Time May 23rd, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It is just about halfway through May and I have just under a month left in London until I’m on a plane back home.  It’s an odd feeling. I’m kind of torn between being excited to see everyone at home and knowing that once I leave I might never return, or if I do get a chance to come back I’ll just be a tourist.  At this point I just want to move everyone over the ocean so I can see them more often and still live here. But I’m being a little bit unfair. I do love living in the States, being an American and I certainly wouldn’t have chosen a different life than the one I’ve been blessed with. But the change and new perspective has certainly been nice. The relationship between England and the US fascinates me. The difference in perspectives about the home country and the other is very interesting and I’m not sure I’d be able to explain it. But it certainly does make good fodder for a lot of the standup shows here.  That is one thing they’re good at here, humor. There’s 3 or 4 comedy news shows that I’ve gotten into here that have similar styles and yet are all still different and really funny. I think they all keep a good balance and keep both countries at equal standing. If you can find them 10 O’clock Live and Stand Up for the Week are two that I’ve been watching here though the shorter tv seasons here mean there aren’t’ as many episodes as I’d like.

Television addictions aside, the title of my blog today actually comes from a song that pops into my head whenever I think of Scotland. It’s called “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond” and it’s one of those songs where I’ve known part of the chorus forever, but I have no idea where I learned it. Anyway it’s only relation to this post is that I did finally get to visit my friend in Edinburgh and while I didn’t get to go up to the highlands or search for Nessie, I did have a great time in a beautiful city. Every time I leave London and go any considerable distance into the surrounding country I’m always amazed at how beautiful it is (and how many sheep there are). Edinburgh is a beautiful old city very close to nature it seemed. Though this may have been because I spent most of my time in the old part of the city and not in the newer built up areas. The city definitely had a different feel from London, but it wasn’t the small town I was expecting (I probably should have done some research first). It’s definitely smaller than London, but Edinburgh is still pretty big and there’s a lot to see though if you’re keen to do a lot of walking you can probably see a good portion of it in a day or so. I was only there for 3 days, but I felt like I really got a feel for the place. That being said, I definitely could have used more time to get a better feel for Scottish culture. As it was I couldn’t spot too many differences between Scottish and English culture besides different bank notes (though British pounds are accepted too), a slightly different accent, and that the top selling soda is Irn Bru and not Coca Cola. It’s a very interesting drink; it’s bright orange and has a sweet taste that’s like bubblegum but also kind of orange. I can’t explain it. It’s not bad, but definitely very sweet. Probably a little too sweet for me.

I wasn’t ambitious enough to try and climb Arthur’s Seat, a large hill/mountain overlooking the city, but I still got a work out going up and down all the hills in the city. Definitely a different landscape than here in London. I did get to see my first working palace in my time here (since I never did get to go into Windsor and they don’t give tours of Buckingham). I visited Holyroodhouse which is where the Queen stays when she visits Scotland. It was an interesting visit, very informative. My favorite part was probably the grounds though. There were so many beautiful plants and there were the ruins of an old Abbey which was still pretty despite being, well ruins. I also visited the National Gallery while I was in Edinburgh which was very nice. It was set up similarly to the National Gallery here in London, but it was smaller which I kind of liked because I got to enjoy everything whereas every time I visit here in London I get lost and feel like I’m missing important paintings. Anyway the trip was very nice and I had a lot of fun hanging out with my friend. She showed me all the best places to eat. While it wasn’t all Scottish, it was all very good and it was definitely nice to have a tour guide (and a free place to sleep).

This post is almost 900 words already. I wish my essays had been this easy to write. I did finish them though in case I didn’t mention that.  It was a very stressful week. But that’s all behind me and I am officially a senior. Now that’s a scary thought. I’m trying to stay focused on what I need to do to make my independent study happen next semester and all the prep I need to do for grad school applications, but it’s really hard when all I want to do is relax and enjoy the rest of my time here. It really is coming to a close. Butler had a farewell burrito dinner Tuesday night for all of us London students. It was delicious, but just another reminder that I don’t have much time left here. I have a lot to look forward to at home, but part of me just isn’t ready to give this up. I don’t have much choice though; they will kick me out of this room on June 17th. That’s just something I’ll have to face when it gets closer.

 

Cheers for now

Alyssa

 

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My Failed Attempt at Crashing the Royal Wedding

Time April 29th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Okay, so I didn’t really try to crash the wedding, getting arrested in London would not look good on my grad school applications. However that title was much more interesting than “How I Tried and Failed to Get a Glimpse of Prince William of Cambridge and Wife as They Traveled From Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace or as They Kissed on the Balcony.” Much too wordy. I completely take responsibility for this failure though; I skipped all the planning and researching save for looking up where the processional route was and what time everything was going down. In my defense, before last night I wasn’t planning on trying to get a glimpse at all. But then everyone kept asking and I started to feel guilty for not trying, so I got up this morning with a plan to see if I couldn’t catch a glimpse of the couple after the ceremony. I certainly wasn’t going to get up at dawn or camp out all night to see the Prince and Queen on their way to the ceremony. Way too early, plus I was on my own and being alone when it’s still dark out is not a safe way to go.

Anyway, I woke up around 9:30 and watched everything leading up to the ceremony on bbc online while I was getting dressed. So I got to see Kate’s (Although I guess she’s supposed to be Catherine now) dress which I thought was beautiful, though I’m just a sucker for lace. Although I wasn’t crazy about the veil, but I think that may just be a veil thing in general. It’s really weird being able to mostly see someone’s face, but not completely. Regardless, it was very nice and I very much enjoyed seeing how all the other ladies were dressed before her. I really want a crazy hat. Sadly, I have no occasion to wear one. Anyway, I watched the vow exchange, but then decided I should get going since I didn’t wan’t to deal with the crowds of the underground and it takes about a half hour to walk to the palace from my dorm. Little did I know that my route would be completely blocked. The downside of trying to go to an event in a city that you feel familiar with is that you don’t try to look up routes, especially when you’ve walked there before. However, this was probably my biggest mistake.  The road I usually take to the Mall (the road leading up to Buckingham) was closed and then when I tried to go through Green Park that was closed too! So frustrating! And the entire time I’m surrounded by all types of confused people, mostly tourists, trying to get to the palace. Eventually I realized I should have headed toward Trafalgar Square and tried to get over somewhere on my way there, but at that point I was already near Hyde Park. Disaster. Made worse by the fact that I almost got hit in the face numerous times by red and blue flags. But it wasn’t all bad. I was entertained by the people trying to stand on the edge of Green Park and look through (I’m pretty sure the park is too wide and full of trees to make this useful) and a few were even climbing over the temporary walls or fences to sneak in. I’m pretty sure most of them got caught though. There was definitely an increased police and security presence.

So I didn’t get to see the couple kiss on the balcony (though I watched a clip when I got back) and I missed the flyby by the British airforce (I know Andrew would have liked that), but at least I tried and even if it’s not a great story at least it’s a memory I was only able to make because of my study abroad decision. And I’m not convinced I would have seen anything on BBC if I had stayed because the website had crashed by the time I got back (you’d think they would have been better prepared for the increased traffic, but I’m no tech expert. Prepping is probably more difficult than I think it is.) Well that’s really all. Being the party animal that I am, I’m staying in for the night and working on my final essays rather than celebrating the marriage. Guess I haven’t become very British in my time here, but there’s still a month left for me to pick up a few more traits before I return home.

 

Cheers

Alyssa

 

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My Week as a Tourist

Time April 27th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Well last week was certainly entertaining, as it always is when I vacation with my family. My parents and siblings all came over to London for the week to visit me and the city I’ve been living in. I’m pretty sure they enjoyed it, but it was certainly different being a tourist, although one who understands the public transit system (mainly the underground). It did have a lot of perks though. For example, most things were paid for by my father (always a plus when you’re a college student) and I didn’t really have to take any pictures because my sister is the photographer of the family (is shutter-happy a real adjective?).  And seeing all the places I haven’t been yet was very rewarding. Though here’s a warning for anyone visiting London: there’s way too much to see in a week. Even with planning and the London Pass allowing us to get into most major attractions, we probably only saw ¾ of what I had planned. Though I guess ¾ isn’t too bad when you think about it. We didn’t make it to Windsor Castle or into Westminster Abbey (would have been nice to see where the wedding will be), but everywhere we did go was worth it.

We visited the National Gallery, London Zoo, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Eye, Kew Gardens, and even stood outside Buckingham Palace during the changing of the guards. Though I have to say, not as much fun as it sounds. Mostly it consists of being shoved by crowds of people trying to take pictures and seeing other tourists getting scolded by police(wo)men on horseback. My suggestion if you’re ever going to try and see it is to get there very very very early so you can get a spot where you can see both gates of the palace, then you’ll have the best view of the whole thing. If you don’t like crowds you should probably skip this tourist attraction. It’s not even high tourist season yet and it was packed tight with people. You can still go see the palace later in the day when the crowds aren’t nearly as thick (at least in my experience).

Well I should get back to writing my final essays now. The past few weeks have been a lot of fun, but also a lot of procrastination. With my family gone and April coming to the end I don’t really have any more excuses. But I have a lot to look forward to. A whole month in London with no work can’t be too bad. And I’ll be visiting a friend in Edinburgh for a few days (if I go buy the train tickets). I’m trying to focus on being here because going home is still a bittersweet thought that I don’t really want to think about. As much as I miss everyone (and foods like cheesesteaks), I can’t help but remember that once I leave I probably won’t ever be coming back (at least not to live here).  But let’s not think about that yet. Essays first.

 

Cheers

Alyssa

 

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Becoming a World Traveler: From London to Italia

Time April 18th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I always think that when I am out of classes I’ll have more time, but somehow I still manage to lose track of time. April has certainly been keeping me busy that’s for sure. I just got back from my trip to Italy, I have 4 essays due in the beginning of May, and my family arrives tomorrow for a week of London fun. I think part of the problem is that I am definitely still in vacation mode. But I am determined to get back on track, so here goes the catch up blog.

Italy was fantastic fun; I’m still smiling about it. It was exhausting, but I managed to conquer Rome, Venice, and Florence all in about a week (8 days).  Not alone of course, I was joined in this venture by a friend from home who is currently studying in Edinburgh.  She came down to London for a long weekend and we hit a bunch of touristy places along with my aunt who happened to also be in London at the same time. It was very busy, but a lot of fun and it was nice seeing some familiar faces. I even finally made it down to the Globe to see what it looked like. Next step—seeing Shakespeare performed there.

After our long weekend in London, my friend and I took a plane to Rome for a couple days and then a train to Venice and after a couple nights we took another train to Florence where we spent the remainder of our trip together. It was a lot of traveling, but it was definitely worth it. There were beautiful things to see everywhere in Italy and the weather was fantastic (though I was forced to spend 11 euros on sunblock, but such is the peril of fair skin in a sunny country). Although everywhere we went was beautiful and fun, Venice was probably my favorite place. Partly this was because I knew it was somewhere my boyfriend at home really wanted to visit, but mostly it was because it was just beautiful and calm there. Even though it was a busy city, the lack of vehicles combined with the water everywhere gave it a great atmosphere. We visited a couple of the islands while we were there and Burano was breathtaking. I wanted to spend the rest of my trip there. Alas, my train and hostel to and in Florence were already booked. But it was worth leaving for the view from the Campanile in the center of Florence and the wonderful scenery in Tuscany that I saw on a tour we took outside the city one day.  I definitely could have stayed in Italy much much longer, but knowing I was going back to London wasn’t too bad a feeling. I did miss it here. Although, I miss some of the food in Italy (We found a fantastic pizza place in Venice and the best pasta dishes in Florence. Let me know if you want recommendations). I’ve been eating school food and pasta since I got back (trying to salvage my budget lol).

The past week I’ve been slowly doing work on my essays (very very slowly), nothing really exciting there. I’m looking forward to the upcoming week with my parents, but I know that I’ll end up having to do some work because of my lack of progress this past week. Oh well. C’est la vie. I’m practicing my French for my family’s visit to Paris next weekend. So excited!

 

Cheers

Alyssa

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The Globe

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Marching Along Through Wales, Lectures, and Pancakes!

Time March 21st, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hiya!

I can’t believe it is halfway (more than halfway?) through March already. Time needs to slow down or something. On the bright side, this term is almost over and everything has been going really well. So well that despite the fact that I keep telling myself I need to blog (and write in my journal), something always comes up and neither gets done. A lot has happened since my last post. The “Adventure Weekend” in Wales, organized by the lovely London Butler office, was incredibly fun. While I didn’t participate in any of the more risky or adventurous activities like Abseiling or Mountain Biking, I very much enjoyed my two activities. My first choice had been kayaking, but that filled up pretty quickly and I was placed with the group who went to explore Caernarfon Castle instead. I was not disappointed. Our tour guide was funny and very knowledge about the history of the castle and Wales. I learned a lot about its construction. Apparently there’s an arch used in its design that has come to be called the Caernarfon Arch because it was imitated by many later castles. This is almost two weeks later and I still remember that (among other castle facts, but I don’t want to bore you.). Anyway the castle tour was in the morning and in the afternoon I went on a “Hill Walk”. I use the quotes because to me it seemed much more like a “Mountain Hike” which is very different by my own definitions. Expectations aside, the hike was really very nice, if a bit strenuous and there were beautiful views of mountains and the small town we were staying near. I’m going to try and upload some pictures, but I always seem to have trouble with that.  Regardless, Wales exceeded my expectations and I would love to spend more time there, especially at the seaside town of Llandudno (though somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen on this trip.) If you happen to be in Wales definitely visit the town, the pier and the water is beautiful and the most of the buildings were built in the Victorian Period so they’re all very pretty. Plus I had some really great fish and chips there!

Since getting back to Wales, I haven’t done much else except coursework. I haven’t even done laundry, though I’m just about out of clothes so that’ll probably happen tonight or tomorrow. My lectures and seminars have kept me very busy with reading, but the end is in sight! Next week is the last week of the teaching term which means that when all the students come back in May it will be all about revising (studying) for exams. I lucked out a bit because all the English courses are full year courses meaning that I don’t have to take exams. I do however have to write 4 essays that are due right when we get back from Easter break (aka April). Yikes! But I am excited about next week and the upcoming break because

  1. My aunt is visiting London (and consequently me) for 5 days next week
  2. One of my roommates from last semester at Ursinus is coming to London next weekend
  3. My family is visiting towards the middle of April for a little over a week

There was something else too . . . oh yeah, I’m going to ITALY! I’m so excited. The roommate who is visiting me is also traveling with me from London to Rome and then to Venice and Florence. I’ll only be in Italy for about a week, but it’ll be a lot of fun I’m sure (even if my bank account isn’t thrilled.) I don’t speak any Italian so that might be an issue, but I’m probably going to get a guidebook/phrasebook of some sort and then just go from there. At the very least it’ll be an experience, right?

Well I’ve covered the Wales and lectures part of my title, but I really should address the pancakes. The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday is known in the UK as Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day. The idea is that you use up all your eggs and fats before the fast of Lent. While a lot of people don’t fast over Lent anymore, they definitely still make pancakes. A friend from home invited me to make and eat pancakes with some friends she had met here and it was really a delicious and fun experience. I have come to realize that pancakes here are very different than in the States. They’re much thinner and more like crepes than American pancakes and while you can put all the same toppings on them, the more traditional topping is a little bit of lemon juice and some sugar. Though I had mine with strawberries and Nutella (I have eaten sooo much Nutella since coming here. I’m not really sure why. It’s available at home, but somehow I’ve just come to buy it more regularly here.) Long story short—I ate an obscene amount of pancakes and was very full and felt like I should be fasting over Lent.

Well that’s what I have been up to. I will try to write again before I leave for Italy. Hope you enjoy a few of my pictures from Wales!

Cheers!

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A Spot of Fun

Time February 14th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Well it’s reading week and that means my time of being in British lectures is half way over already. Kind of crazy when you think about it, but it’s true. The third term after Easter break is just exams and finals and since the final for my courses is an essay, a lot of my time seems to be free during that term. I don’t really want to think too far ahead though because the end of term means I’m getting closer to going home and I’m definitely not ready to do that.

Yesterday was Butler’s first Saturday excursion of the semester. We went to Hampton Court Palace and then Windsor. I didn’t go into Windsor palace, but in the few hours we were there, there was plenty to do and see around town. Hampton Court Palace was also pretty interesting. I’ve always been interested in Henry VIII so being able to see some of his rooms and the rooms of the monarchs who took over after his children was pretty cool. Some of the wall paintings were just amazing. And the gardens! Even in winter they were beautiful and I really want to go back in the spring when there are flowers. Windsor was just as fascinating, with old buildings, churches, and the castle. I had a lot of fun, though my feet are killing me. It probably didn’t help that I went exploring around the area where I live today. I should probably give them some rest, but there are so many places I want to go and see while I have the week off.

Not much else is going on right now. I’m still getting to know the area and the people around me while trying to keep up with all my schoolwork so that I have time to have some fun. I may be visiting Italy during Easter break which would be amazing, but we shall see. Until then I hope to just keep enjoying all the wonders of the city and the surrounding area. Cheers!

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Accents, Coins, and Rain . . . Lots of Rain

Time February 3rd, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So it’s been awhile since my last post so I thought I should do some updating. I’ve been here just about a month now which is pretty hard to believe; it feels like I just got here. Part of this is probably because of how busy schoolwork keeps me. A major difference between college back home and university here is definitely the amount of time spent in the classroom.

I was warned that it was significantly different, but it’s hard to grasp how much “free” time you actually have until you’re here. I only have lectures and seminars for 8 hours on a full week and most of this is concentrated on Mondays and Thursdays with one seminar on Fridays (but even then it’s only every fortnight). Last semester I had Fridays off, but I still had 10 or 11 hours of classes every week which makes 8 hours seem like nothing. Now of course less time in the classroom does not mean less work (unfortunately). I’ve been busy balancing all the reading that inevitably comes with taking four English classes which comes out to about one to two novels or plays a week which is probably about what I was doing last semester, but it seems like a lot more when the professor isn’t telling you which chapters to read and instead saying “when we meet next week (or in two weeks) we’ll be talking about (insert play or novel).” This lack of set instruction is freeing in some ways, but pretty incompatible with my tendencies toward procrastination. I’ve been trying to correct these tendencies, but it’s a long process. I should be using my Tuesdays and Wednesdays to write my essays and read, but in addition to procrastination I tend to like sleeping in late (can I help it if beds are comfortable?).

Overall though, it’s been going well. While not exactly on schedule for today I did make it to the park and did some laundry. London has a lot of parks and I’m lucky enough to live about 10-15 minutes away from Regent’s Park which is pretty big and houses the London Zoo. Today was the first time I’d been there though so I haven’t seen all of it. What I was trying to do was set up a running route, but there was so much to look at that I got kind of distracted. Today wasn’t the greatest weather, a little chilly and rainy (though pretty good for February I think), but the park was still really pretty. There obviously weren’t flowers or anything, but the fountains were running and all the green trees and shrubs were a nice change of scenery from cars, streets, and buildings. Of course it started raining while I was walking around so I did get some running in, but luckily it didn’t last very long. I’m hoping to go back tomorrow and run again as well as on a nicer day when I can get some pictures.

While I’ve touched on the rain aspect of my title (to be fair it’s really not that much rain), I realize that I haven’t really addressed the rest of it. I guess the accents are a pretty obvious one, but it still feels really weird in a classroom or elsewhere when I start talking and my voice doesn’t sound like everyone else’s. At this point I’ve gotten relatively used to the different kinds of accents around me and for the most part I can understand what they’re saying (my favorite new word is chock-a-block). However, it then becomes really obvious that I’m American when I start talking and I’ve become really conscious of it. I mean it doesn’t make too much of a difference, people still listen and for the most part the understand what I’m saying, but I definitely know I’m the outsider. I do have 5ish more months though, so maybe it’ll stop feeling so weird. As for coins, that’s just something else to get used to: carrying more change. The UK has significantly more denominations of coins than we do in the US. While we have 1,5,10 and 25 cent coins in common use, they have 1,2,5,10,20 cent pieces (or pence if you like) as well as 1 and 2 pound coins. They’re really kind of neat though I’ve been forced to start giving more exact change to keep my wallet from getting too heavy. Consequently I don’t have pictures of all of them, but I did upload one of a few of the different kinds and I’m sure you could Google pictures of others if you’re interested. Despite all the different denominations, the coins aren’t actually that hard to tell apart or use. They’re all different shapes, sizes, and materials to better distinguish them from one another. For example, the one and two pence coins are both copper like the penny, but the two pence is actually twice the size. So overall, not that difficult once you get used to it. The paper money is pretty cool too since it’s so colorful (another way to easily distinguish between bills). For example, the 20 pound bill is purple (my favorite).

Well those are my impressions so far. We have a reading week coming up in two weeks and I’m hoping to use that time to explore all the sites of the city that I haven’t made it to yet so I should have some pictures and a new blog post then. I’m also going to see Wicked next week so I’m pretty excited about that too. Anyway, that’s all for now. Cheers!

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Go Big or Go Home

Time January 6th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Not that going home is really an option at this point. This London trip certainly feels like I’m trying to fulfill that cliché. It is a trip of many daunting firsts. The first time I have left the US. The first time I have flown. The first time I have lived in a city. All of these things really hit me this morning after getting off the plane in London. I was exhausted. I tried to sleep on the plane, but that was pretty much impossible due to how uncomfortable I was combined with the novelty of flying. As a result, getting off the plane was pretty stressful. Nothing really went wrong. I made it through immigration pretty easily, found my checked suitcase, and found the Butler team without any issues. But the tiredness I felt combined with the fact that I couldn’t get my phone card to work left me feeling pretty frustrated. This was only compounded by my decision to go buy my mobile. I had no idea what I was doing and ended up just purchasing whatever phone the guy offered me. I only spent around 20 pounds including the top-up but I felt rushed and probably could have gotten a plan better suited to my needs if I hadn’t been so tired and in a hurry to call my parents. Oh well. After my nap I felt much better and I am pretty satisfied with my purchase after all.

Butler took us all out for dinner tonight at a place called Porter’s English Restaurant. They served us mashed potatoes and a chicken and mushroom pie. It was pretty good, though I may have been the only person at my table to finish the whole thing. For dessert they had Spotted Dick which despite its name was pretty tasty.  After dinner I came back to the hotel to see if I could do some reading and maybe find some free wireless. Unfortunately the wireless was a fail and it seems like I’ll have to either go out and find some somewhere or just wait until I move in on Wednesday to check my email (and post this blog).

Well that’s it for now. I am still very tired and missing my family and boyfriend a lot. However I’m really excited to move into my dorm in two days and to start classes next week (I think). Orientation starts bright and early tomorrow at 9am (That’s 4am back home!) so I’m definitely taking it easy and probably going to try and get to bed early.

Cheers!

(Written January 3rd, Posted the 5th)

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A Packing Extravaganza

Time January 3rd, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

In 5 days I will be getting on a plane and flying to London. Even as I type that sentence I can hardly believe it. Disbelief aside, there is a lot to do to get ready to get on that plane. The past couple of days have been full of list-making, cleaning, organizing, and packing. The nice thing about leaving after Christmas is that I got lots of nice gifts to bring with me on my trip. The down-side to leaving after Christmas is that I got lots of nice gifts to bring with me on my trip; it’s really hard to fit everything into one suitcase and a carry-on. Luckily my very sweet boyfriend volunteered to help. This is very much a necessity, especially if you’re someone like me who likes to plan for any and all situations and therefore likes to bring a lot of stuff. Though I will say that that stuff is not usually clothes. In fact after we finished packing my clothes my boyfriend mentioned how surprised he was that he didn’t have to tell me not to bring certain things. However I think he may have changed his mind after we packed my shoes etc.

Despite my choice of the word “extravaganza”, the packing actually went pretty smoothly and not particularly lavishly. Mostly extravaganza is just fun to say and tends to grab people’s attention (otherwise why would all those companies use it when they have sales?). I was surprised that I was able to condense my wardrobe into so few bags and that it took only a few hours. Granted, it helped that Andrew did all the folding and all I really had to do was pick things out to bring. The hardest part was choosing items that I could layer together and mix and match to make lots of different outfits. Hopefully I wont be disappointed once I arrive and start to wear the clothes I packed.

Now that the packing is done the next step is to prep all the documents I’ll need for the airport and getting into the country. I will be printing out all those emails and documents that I have received as well as making copies of my debit card and passport. Hopefully I wont need the copies, but it’s better to have them then not and need them later. Overall I’m really starting to get nervous, but I’m still really excited. It’ll be hard I’m sure, but I’m always up for a challenge. That’s what study abroad is all about, right? New challenges for a new me. I can’t wait!

Edit: This would have been posted closer to on time if my hard drive hadn’t crashed while I was trying to upload photos. What a NIGHTMARE. Luckily it worked out and I will have a laptop for London. Yay!

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