So the date has finally arrived!! Rugby World Cup has hit Dunedin and the tickets that we ordered about 3 months ago are now ready to be put to use and show us a good time. The seven of us, Emily, Monique, Tara, Lena, Lauren, Sarah and myself searched the town for red and white face paint and any other colorful stuff we could find to dress up and show our support for the game. We painted up, and got pumped for what was a very exciting and fun game. Although we knew that England was for sure going to dominate the game, we decided to support the underdog Georgian team and painted their flag across our faces. The streets were filled with people as we walked over to the stadium and instead of the cars passing through the roads, people ran along in red and white, because both teams were these colors. The stadium was packed with supporters and we even had some people who had travelled all the way from Georgia to see the game sitting in front of us. The energy of the place was incredible and everybody was just so happy to be here and witness some great rugby matches. The stadium had a truly different vibe from when I had been here about a month earlier for the soccer game and it was neat to witness the transformation. People were doing the wave, coming up with their own cheers for either team, and finding any way to demonstrate their support somehow. Although the Georgian team ended up losing rather badly, it was still an exciting and fun game to be at and an incredible experience to get to have in New Zealand, to witness a World Cup Game and participate in the excitement. It was a once in a lifetime experience, the scrums, tries, penalties, and scrambles of the enormous rugby players. It will be a cultural experience I will always remember in the stadium of Dunedin.
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So this trip was a bit of a whirlwind and went by way too fast, but none-the-less New Zealand showed us it’s amazing and dreamlike scenery yet again and did nothing less than impress us with this amazing road trip. We took off on a beautiful early sunny morning after and hopped in our almost too small little red car and hit the highways to the south. This time the car was filled with my good friends Tara, Tessa, Heather, and Char (aka Nar Nar) and we rocked to strong guitar melodies down the highways past the lambs and sheep, baby cows, and horses in the fields that lined the road. We stopped in Gore to check out the giant trout, and then continued on to Te Anau for PB&J’s on the beach of the lake before making our way into Fiordland’s National Park. The day was beautiful and sunny and the light reflected off the mountain-surrounded lake while we enjoyed the raspberry jelly and crunchy peanut butter. We then took off down the road into Fiordlands. We were soon stopped by a herd of what was probably around 200 sheep walking down the highway in between pastures. The sheep dogs were running around keeping an eye on the few stragglers and keeping the herd together as they trotted down the road. Something like this would never happen in the US and it was a truly unique New Zealand experience. After the sheep had made it safely into their new home, we continued on to the Mirror Lakes.
The road soon opened up and we could see the valley that ran between huge peaks, giving us a glimpse of what was to come. We pulled over at the lakes, which displayed perfect reflections of the surrounding mountains. They were not only perfect mirrors of the spectacular environment, but were also crystal clear and displayed old sunken trees and fish making their way amongst them. A New Zealand robin also landed near us on a wooden post which was a rare experience as these birds are not very common. The NZ robin differs quite a bit from the US version and was a small bodied pale blue bird with abnormally long legs instead of the usual larger bodied, worm holding robins you find in the US. We then jumped back to the little red car and continued on towards more sights. Within minutes we began the hill climb up to the tunnel in the mountains over to the sound. We passed signs warning against avalanches, piles of snow, and small waterfalls of the snow melting off the tops of the rugged snow laden peaks. After passing through the tunnel, we came out to spectacular views of the valley of mountains that eventually would lead to the sea. We slowly made our way down the curvy, steep grade while our breaks began to burn and smell until we stopped to see The Chasm. We hiked for a short distance through dense green damp forest over creeks and small wooden bridges until we could hear the sound of rushing water. When we did reach the chasm it was nothing short of impressive. It was this huge hole of a waterfall that had carved out these now moss covered fluorescent green rocks into multiple holes, circles, intricate swirls and curves. The force of the rushing water was obvious with the large logs and trees that had been lodged in between the hollowed out rocks amidst the mist of the water that poured upon them. The bridge that crossed over this larger creek allowed perfect views of the significant drop into the chasm and really allowed you to grasp the force of the water running by underneath. The scenes of the outdoors of New Zealand never fail to make me ponder over the wonders of this earth that we populate and leave me in complete awe of it’s beauty.
We then hiked back to the car and continued now on to Milford Sound. By now the sun had left and had been replaced by a light cloud layer that threatened to drizzle. When we got to the Sound, a cloud hung over the prominent peak and in the open sea, but it was still stunningly beautiful. We walked along the tidal coast rocks and enjoyed soaking up the views of Milford and the huge waterfall that was pouring out water and mist to our left. Although we weren’t here very long the place was still incredible and we thoroughly enjoyed the short amount of time we had there. I could have spent days just staring at the ocean and mountains and exploring the area looking for waterfalls, creeks, aged trees, and kiwis. However, we needed to get to our campsite to get the tent up and eat before the sun went down on our lovely and incredible day.
We set up camp in a light drizzle next to the lake and mountains and ate noodles and beetroot soup from our small stove. We ate and laughed, perfectly happy and content with our incredible day. That night we went to sleep, the five of us stuffed in a 4-person tent while the kiwi’s that were running about in the forest cried out to each other. The rain continued throughout the night and we woke up slightly damp and wet. We quickly packed up the soaked tent and blankets that we had put between our sleeping bags and the tent floor and got back in the car to find civilization and hot drinks. As we drove down the lonely road the sun rose over the mountains and we only passed two snowplows headed to the pass to clear the snow that had fallen 200m above us. We even saw a rainbow over the valley as we exited. We enjoyed breakfast and hot drinks at a small café in Te Anau and then headed for Cromwell where we would be hitching from back to Dunedin. Tara, Tessa and I hopped out of the car at Cromwell, got our stuff together, and then headed to a corner down the road where we could wait for a car to pick us up. We caught a ride with a kind old man within 5 minutes. He even took us to a viewpoint as he drove us to our next destination Alexandria. He dropped us off outside of Alexandria and we waited for our next ride, a kind mother headed to Invercargill to pick up her son. As she drove us on the sun beat through her car windows and I nodded off while Tessa kept up conversation. From here we hopped out at an intersection in the middle of nowhere as she took her turn south. For being in the middle of fields and sheep we surprisingly caught a ride within 2 minutes of being out of the car. This was our last ride and the kind father out to watch his son’s soccer game and the rugby match the next day took us all the way to the Octagon, the center of Dunedin. Hitchhiking was much easier and safer than I had imagined. It really was a pleasant experience and good end to a wonderful trip.
Yesterday! Crazy! I woke up early to go to the Welsh department in order to enroll in Welsh I for the semester. As I was sitting in the “enrollment greenroom,” I heard the receptionist chatting away to some of the students in Welsh. It was quite incredible to listen to, it is such an interesting sounding language, but it also sounds like absolute gobbledegook! People keep telling me I’m a little crazy to take on a new language, particularly Welsh, but I feel as though if I don’t give it a go while I am here, I will regret it later. Plus, every time I see a sign or a brochure in Welsh, it’s like a very tantalizing puzzle I am just desperate to learn to solve! We’ll see how it goes. I am worried about the grade, because I want to keep my Gettysburg GPA up, but at the same time, when it comes down to it, it’s the learning experience that matters much more than the grade.
After I spoke to a professor in the Welsh department, I raced off to another International Students Event called Discover Cardiff. We split into teams and basically did a 3 hour walking tour scavenger hunt all across the city, and I do mean ALL ACROSS. It really was 3 hours of finding all different places and taking photos there and answering questions, but it was fun and I did learn where a number of places I hadn’t found yet happen to be. At the end they had tea and Welsh cakes waiting for us. For the record, I am rather in love with Welsh cakes.
Following this, I headed back to the Students’ Union for the Sports Fair, where I got some information about the Riding Club. I brought my helmet, breeches, and half-chaps all the way across the Atlantic, so you can bet I’m going to do everything in my power to ride! It is significantly cheaper to ride here than it is in Connecticut, which is another bonus.
Today was also fairly busy. I slept in a bit, then went to the School of Archaeology and Religion to fill out my seminar form. After that, I went to the International Office, where I finally, OFFICIALLY enrolled in my courses! It was a rather complicated task, but after the better part of an hour it was sorted out. Fingers crossed, but this semester I should be taking Welsh I, Early Modern England & Wales, Material Evidence for Ancient History, Gods and the Polis, and Life in Ancient Rome. I’m a little nervous because the three Ancient History courses are 3rd year courses, the highest level class one may take here, but I think I will learn a lot and the descriptions sound really interesting.
My flatmate Molly and I then walked into City Center to find an ATM that accepts American cards (we were successful), stopped off at the tourism office for some brochures, and then to find lunch, as we were both quite ravenous. We decided to stop at a little place called the Cornish Bakehouse, which specialized in pasties–sort of like a turnover or even a calzone (but with semi-flaky pastry) with a thick crimped crust and hot filling. It is a pretty traditional food in Wales as well as Cornwall, because it used to be a popular lunch for the miners–they would use the thick crimped crust as a hand-hold for the pasty so as not to get their dirty fingers all over the food, eat the middle, and then discard the crust! This particular shop had many different types of pasties, everything from lamb and mint to veggie curry, but we decided to try the traditional Cornish pasties for our first trip–a golden baked pasty filled with chunks of beef, potato, and onion in a slightly peppery sauce, served piping hot. Let me tell you, that was one good pasty. It was absolutely delicious, a very comforting sort of food, and it was also only £2.50 for a medium-sized pasty (definitely enough for lunch!). The pasty held me for hours, so I think this is definitely a place I will frequent for lunch in between classes, especially once it gets cold out and I need something to warm me up!
I whiled away most of the afternoon by doing laundry here for the first time, and it seemed like everybody else had the same idea! The washroom was completely insane! Luckily I managed to snag one of the last washers and dryers. On a related note, laundry is quite expensive here, at least compared to what I pay back home at Gettysburg. It is £2.00 for a wash cycle and £1 for a dry cycle, which is nearly double what I pay at home. But what are you gonna do? Laundry is a necessity! I must try to find and obscure time to do my washing when there are a million people there, however.
Tonight I actually cooked something for myself for real instead of eating yogurt and muesli or peanut butter toast, so I felt accomplished. I made braised cabbage with apples and cumin seeds, very basic, but yummy. Today (well, yesterday, at this point!) was one of my flatmate’s birthdays, so most of my flat walked into town to find a pub where we bought him a drink and shared some dessert. We originally wanted to go to a pub quiz at a nearby place, but it was full up when we arrived, so we ended up walking very far into the City Center and decided to grab a cab back to our residence. From there we went to the Social Center for our housing complex, where we played pool and chess until around 11pm, at which point we were all tired and disbanded. We had a really good time together, very relaxed and fun, and I can say 100% honestly that I do really like my flatmates.
The past few days have been interesting emotionally. There was one night when I was up alone by myself quite late and I had no one to talk to and nothing to do, really, so I started to feel a bit lonely. But the feeling was gone by morning. Some of my flatmates who are freshman here are experiencing pretty bad homesickness. I can understand that perfectly. It’s hard being in such a new and different environment.
Today was a lot better, though. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, couldn’t have asked for better–cloudless blue sky, 76 degrees, bright sunshine. The kind of day that makes a person feel alive and invigorated. I am very happy to be here, but I don’t think I’ve totally adjusted yet–it’s a bit weird not having had classes and thus been able to establish a routine. It’s also just a strange reality to deal with–I’ve dreamt about this place, about coming to this country for so long, it’s very overwhelming to finally be here, you know? I remember staying up late at nights reading blogs about Cardiff and reviews and studying maps of the city. It’s hard for me to explain my feelings to other people. I am one of the only study abroad students here, from the ones I have met, who actually did any measure of research before arriving. Everyone is always surprised about how much I looked into things about the city–things to do, restaurants, just stuff like that. But I guess a lot of people just came here not really knowing much about Cardiff, so they didn’t have much of an idea about the place or sense of it before coming.
Well, anyway. Let’s just say that study abroad is very unique experience of its own, really different from anything you experience at college back at home.
Within two hours of getting back from our Mid-semester break, I was back in the car yet again for another epic adventure. I went with my flatmate Pema and one of her kiwi friends and a friend of hers down to the Catlins to go camping for a night and then exploring the next day. I quickly emptied out my clothes from mid-semester break, refilled my backpack and hopped back in the car. We drove into the night and eventually were winding down curvy dirt roads through the Catlins to our campsite. We set up camp in the rain and wind and then sat in the tent for dinner, card games, and hanging out under the light from our headlamps. I had no clue where we were or what was around us, but I knew that when we woke up the next morning and I poked my head out of the tent there was no doubt in my mind that we would be somewhere beautiful. The next day the rain had mostly cleared and when I opened the tent door up, we were right on the coast of a beautiful beach next to cliffs that plunged straight into the sea. There were two surfers out on the water catching some massive waves and other than that it was just out little car. We packed up the tent after having some yogurt and muesli for breakfast and then lit the dirt roads to do some exploring. We first went to Purukaunui Falls, which was a short walk through a dense forest that reminded me of the rainforests of the west coast with big ferns and moss covering almost any surface. It was damp and smelled of decaying old wood. There was even a tree that had been hollowed out that you could crawl into and poke your head out of. When we reached the falls, they were incredible! It was a broad but short waterfall with several different levels that made it look kind of like a series of staircases linked together. After the first amazing fall, we continued on towards another, larger one, McLean Falls.
To get to this fall was a much farther drive than the first through the rolling hills of sheep, along dramatic coastline, and past the thick forests, all on curvy dirt roads. I would have been happy with the drive alone, but the several short tramps that we got to do really made the trip. We got to the trailhead and headed on our way. Not far down the trail Lydia, our kiwi friend, picked some leaves off one of the many trees in the area. She handed one of the small green and pinkish/red spotted leaves to each of us and told us that after about 10 seconds of chewing them that they started to taste like bubblegum. Originally we were hesitant to put them in our mouth out of fear of being tricked into some goofy prank, but Lydia put the leaf in her mouth and began to chew so we followed suit. After the ten seconds of chewing though I still tasted nothing, and if anything this strong spice started to burn my mouth. After a little while longer, my mouth was on fire with the bitter, spicy taste of what we now discovered was actually a spice used by people like crushed red pepper. The taste of the leaf lingered on my tongue for the duration of the day with hints of the bitter spice. We kept walking alongside a nice creek until the creek had turned into an enormous fall. McLean Falls was much larger than the first one we had seen and was more dramatic. It was a long single fall that moved into a slanted fast moving creek. The mist from the fall scattered along our faces and we climbed along the damp rocks to get a better view. We stayed and watched the swift water pour from the tall cliffs and rush through the thick forest for a while, just enjoying the sound of the water passing by, and then headed on to our next destination.
After seeing two falls, and tasting a local spice tree we headed for the southern most point of the South Island, Slope Point. When we got there the thick forest had cleared out and been replaced by windblown slopes. Down here the Southerlies really blew, to the point where the trees here grew on a slant towards the north and were permanently sidewise, displaying the strength of the wind here. Needless to say then, the wind raged at this point. We walked through a lambing Pasteur and over to the edge of the cliff to where there was a sig showing us how far it was to the South Pole and the Equator. The wind at the edge of these cliffs was so string that you could lean your full weight into it and it would hold you up. We were thoroughly entertained by this for probably at least 10 minutes and just couldn’t help but lean in and start laughing hysterically at the force of the breeze. The waves were also stirred up by the winds, with these huge rollers making their way into the shore, breaking on the cliffs, and sending water spraying 20ft in the air. Set after set rolled in driven by the strong wind. It was definitely a barren, weathered location. From here we left back to Curios Bay where there was a petrified forest amidst the coast.
The weather at Curios Bay was quite similar to that of Slope Point, with the big rollers just beating away at the coast and that combined with the petrified forest below almost made it a somewhat eerie place, but still incredibly beautiful. Walking along the rocks near the cliffs you could see the fossilized wood and long trees. We even saw a fossilized leaf in perfect form on one of the rocks. It was a really interesting place to be in the world amidst the cliffs, the harsh sea, and these beautiful remnants of a forest. We enjoyed the sights of the rollers that were threateningly large on the cliffs and then took off for some more adventuring.
At this point in the day the sun was starting to get lower so we knew we only had time for one more thing, so we headed up the coast to see Jack’s Blow Hole, an interesting off the beaten path sight of the Catlins. The blowhole was off of Jack’s Bay, which was a beautiful beach where surfers were catching perfect barrel waves in the lingering sunrays. We walked down the path that lead through some lambing pastures and I got to see my fist close up lamb with mother sheep along a hillside where a rainbow was now hitting as well. The lamb was an adorable little white fluffy creature that you couldn’t help but let out an “Awwwe” at. Further down the path we saw another lamb, but this one was a newly born one who hadn’t even taken his first steps. He was not the same fluffy white, but rather a gray green from having not yet been cleaned by the mother who stood concerned and ready to protect her lamb nearby. It was really neat to see such a new lamb. BY the time we had seen the blowhole and come back it was taking its first steps and baawing, the beginnings of its life as a sheep in New Zealand. We then continued down the path to the cliffs edge where you could see the sea below crashing on rocks and we were able to hear the screeches of penguins below coming into shore for the night. A couple minutes later we hit the blowhole, which wasn’t what I would consider your typical blowhole. Rather, it was a large chasm that the waves had carved out from the beach. The water would pour into it from two different hollowed out arches in the rock and then fill and flow back out. It was really incredible and awe striking seeing such a big random hole in the earth. From here we hopped back in the car just as the sun was setting and made our way back to Dunedin. We concluded our trip with a classic kiwi fish and chips from a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant and then parted ways after a full and exciting day until th
Well, the Welcome Party ended up being really fun! Everyone was dressed in their residence hall’s color and very spirited about it, I must say. My flatmates and I went and danced around together for about three hours until 2am–loads of fun, but very tiring! As a result, yesterday was mainly a catch up and chill sort of day. We all slept really late and then a few of us went down to the Societies Fair and then on to Tesco to buy more food for the week. It seems like we are going to Tesco nearly every day for one thing or another!
We all stayed in last night (and tonight), too. I think everyone has needed a break, especially the “freshers,” as they are called–a lot of them, being away from home for the first time and having free reign, have participated quite enthusiastically and gone out every single night. So now there is quite a lot of “Freshers Flu” going around! Eep, better make sure I am eating my fruits and veggies!
Today began the madness of enrolling in courses–and as a study abroad student, it is not easy here. This is mainly due to a major difference in our academic systems–students here only take subjects in their chosen course of study, and that is all, unlike in America where we tend to take classes both within and outside of our chosen majors. Here, enrollment for classes is not done through an online system, and the timetables of when classes are offered aren’t online! This isn’t a problem if you are taking courses within a single department, because they are all scheduled so as not to conflict and you don’t need to worry. But if you’re taking courses in multiple departments, essentially you must run around from department to department, getting signatures from staff members to approve the course and cross-checking when the courses are scheduled for! It is very maddening.
I’ve gotten all my courses in History and Ancient History approved-tomorrow morning I have to meet with the Welsh department bright and early, and then I should be able to take my form to the International Office and enroll online and know my final schedule!
To unwind after the crazy afternoon sorting out classes, my flatmate Molly and I made dinner and then attended International Students Quiz Night, like a pub quiz essentially, where we were grouped with four other students–two from India, a boy from France, and a girl from Germany. Our team, named “Team Cwtch” (cwtch is a Welsh word that means a cuddle or a warm, safe place), came in third overall, and also won the award for having the best team name! As a prize we each received a voucher for a free pizza of any size, so I think I see a flat pizza party in our future…
Tomorrow there is quite a lot going on–course registration, a 2-3 hour Scavenger Hunt across the city for International Students, the Sports Fair, and the National Companies Fair. I also have a number of chores to do and errands to run, so this week is really going to fly by! And then we begin classes on Monday…how scary/exciting!
A final word–one thing that has been driving me rather bonkers here in the UK is the way the taps for hot and cold water are entirely separate. Because of this, it is extremely difficult to get warm water, and more often than not one ends up getting burnt because the hot water tap runs too hot and the cold water tap very cold, and they are too far apart to easily mix!
Possibly the best thing about studying abroad in the southern hemisphere in the fall is getting a Spring Break in September of all things. I say this because a week off from classes is exactly what allowed me to have the time of my life traveling through two different South American countries.
The General Itinerary
A bus from Vina del Mar (where I live with my host family) to Santiago. A sleepless night in a noisy party hostel that offers free dinner, wine, and club entrance every Wednesday. A plane to Lima, Peru, and another plane to Cusco, Peru. Three amazing days of breathing in little oxygen (the city is so high up it practically touches the clouds) but lots of culture. Our tour guide’s car to Ollantaytambo (Sacred Valley), a night there, a train to Aguas Calientes/Pueblo de Machu Picchu, a night without electricity in torrential mountain rain, a day exploring Machu Picchu, another night with faulty electricity, a return train and return planes, and a restless night trying to sleep on flights and in airports. Then, another plane–this time to Antofagasta. A meeting with a Chilean friend who went to middle school with me in the U.S. who I had not seen in at least 4 years, a bus to San Pedro de Atacama, two days and three nights in the driest and most spectacular desert in the world, a broken bus and a subsequent transfer to a working bus, an earlier flight than planned to Santiago, another bus, and a few long blocks to my comfy, familiar bed.
I’m Definitely Not in Chile Anymore
The first thing you notice when leaving Chile after a little over two months of deciphering Chilensis is the clarity of everyone else’s Spanish. Peruvians are no exception. No longer does “maomeo” stand in for “mas o menos.” No longer must you answer questions like “Cachai?” (more or less like “Comprendes?”) or “Donde tai?” (“Donde estas?”). Nope: in Peru, the Spanish is almost as clear as the Sacred River that runs through the Peruvian Andes.
The second thing you notice is that the Incas (well, originally the pre-Incan civilizations of which I do not remember the names) were onto something when they built their cities and monuments in the mountains: it is breathtakingly beautiful up there. There is a magic in that (thin) mountain air that you cannot find near sea level.
The third thing you notice is cultural, religious, and architectural melding. Buildings are constructed right on top of centuries-old Incan foundations. Catholic churches feature guinea pig Last Suppers and moreno Jesus Christs. Folkloric dances invoke both the Andean tradition and the later European influences. And yet, there is nothing else like the completely unique Cusquena (Cusco-based) culture. The bright textiles, the complex foods, the Quechua accent noticeable when layered over the clear Peruvian Spanish, the small-town feel that permeates through a city of 400,000… If it were not for the fact that Cusco is consistently overflowing with annoying tourists like me, I would move there.
I fully hiked Machu Picchu Mountain, by the way.
Perfect Desert to that Meal
San Pedro de Atacama, Chile is another tourist town, and for good reason. It turns out the driest desert in the world is one of the two most beautiful places I have ever visited in my life (the other one being Peru). The Atacama desert may not have any rain, ever, but it does have:
Several distinct lakes and lagoons: Where flamingos harvest tiny shrimp, where tourists who don’t know how to swim (oh hey, that’s me again) float lazily upon water that contains 44% salt, where geysers feed pools warm enough to keep your body from freezing in the -11 degree C air at 6 in the morning,
Really cool rocks: In interesting shapes and made out of volcanic ash, Andean mountain discards, and this supernatural yet earthy red color that any visual artist would kill to reproduce,
Snow (don’t ask me how it gets there),
Charming cities built over oases,
And just plain magnificent natural beauty.
While You Were Out…
The funny thing about my trip to Peru is that it coincided with the biggest annual celebration in Chile, which occurs on September 18 and continues for several days afterwards: Fiestas Patrias. Basically, from what I am told, it is Independence Day as the United States knows it, but on steroids.
And I missed it to accomplish my dream of going to Peru.
When I returned to Chile for the desert adventure it was already too late to celebrate, but I did get to see the great decoration show the nation put on for Fiestas Patrias: a great Chilean flag at every door of every building on every street in every city. Literally, I have seen more Chilean flags in the past few days than I have seen in my entire first two months of living here.
Luckily, I did not miss out on all the things Fiestas Patrias entails. I have tried most of the special foods that get made just for the holiday. I have seen Cueca (the national dance). I have been told stories of what September 18 (“el dieciocho“, informally) is like. The picture has been painted in my mind for me. For now, that will have to do.
Who knows–maybe I’ll find my way back to Chile for a future Fiestas Patrias. This country is really starting to worm its way into my heart anyway; how can I stay away too long?
Pictures of the journey will be up soon in a separate post, so stay tuned! And while you’re at it, please hit that “Like” button!
What a whirlwind it has been since I arrived in London and now Cardiff! I’ll try my best to give a good recap in this post and the next. A lazy (/busy) reader’s summary of this post can be found at the very bottom. Cheers.
IFSA Butler Orientation, London: DAY 1
I was lucky on the flight to London in two ways: firstly, I happened to be seated next to another girl who was going abroad to the UK through IFSA Butler, and secondly because we had a very strong tail-wind and got to the UK in only 6 hours! This was especially great because our flight was delayed, but in the end we made up the time so it didn’t matter so much. The flight itself was pretty standard. I dozed in my seat, watched TV shows, and listened to the entirety of the Sweeney Todd Original Broadway soundtrack on my iPod.
When we arrived in London, we waited a bit for our luggage, then breezed through customs and were greeted just beyond by a lovely jolly man named Rob, who was holding an IFSA Butler sign. He took us by coach right to our hotel in London, where Cambria from the IFSA staff met us, and gave us our IFSA Orientation info packets.
My London roommates and I, as well as the girls from another room, immediately went out into London in search of mobile phones–we found a shop fairly quickly and all purchased pay-as-you-go mobiles. I chose to go with Lebara because calls and texts to the US were the cheapest of any of the carriers, and calls/texts within the UK were about the same/a little less than the other carriers. Thus far it has worked out very well! Following the phone purchasing we realized we were all absolutely starving, as it was about 3pm by this point and none of us had really had a proper breakfast (or any at all), so we stopped in a little place called Cafe Aphrodite where we had some very delicious sandwiches–fresh tomato and crumbly, salty feta cheese on hot crusty bread for me.
After our tasty lunch, we headed back to the hotel where my roommates and I took brief naps and freshened up, because that night the IFSA Butler staff took us out to dinner at a dim sum restaurant called Ping Pong! It was such a lovely dinner. The IFSA staff members were so nice and the food was very good! Following that, a small group of us went off to a pub, The Walmer Castle, where we were told Jude Law sometimes goes (though sadly Mr. Law was nowhere in sight during our visit). It was still quite early for pub-going, but we were all pretty jet lagged and after going for a bit of a walk for an hour we headed back to the hotel and turned in. Thus concluded Day 1 of IFSA Butler London Orientation. I should also note that the weather was absolutely beautiful when we arrived–sunny and cool! No rain!
IFSA Orientation, London: DAY 2
Ah, Day 2! What a day it was. This was a rather grey day, but that was to be expected really. At least it didn’t rain! We spent the morning through mid-afternoon at the IFSA Butler office in Notting Hill Gate getting briefed on various aspects of studying abroad–differences in the US and UK academic systems, traveling information, that sort of this. We had a discussion about personal safety with a very interesting man who used to be a cop-he was very informative but also quite funny, and looked rather like a film character when he put on his trench coat and fedora-like hat to leave. Our last speaker of the day was Lord Dick Taverne, a member of the House of Lords, who talked to us about current political, social, and economic concerns in the UK; that, too, was a very interesting talk. While it may sound like spending all day until 4pm cooped up in meetings would be boring, every one of the meetings we had at the IFSA Butler offices was both extremely helpful AND interesting.
That afternoon, we got to go on a walking tour of London! Although we didn’t go into most of these places, we at least got to see and hear a bit about Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, 10 Downing Street, Trafalgar Square, and the Strand, and it was really cool to just be out and about getting to experience the city. The tour also involved my very first trip on the London Underground! Sadly my camera died halfway through the tour, however, so I am without many pictures to show for it. After a quick dinner at Pizza Express, we all hopped over to the Vaudeville Theatre where we saw a play called Broken Glass (by Arthur Miller), which was quite an intense drama about a Brooklyn couple involving issues of race, personal identity, love, tragedy, and issues surrounding Kristallnacht in Germany. All in all, it was quite a fun time, though I was very eager to get to Cardiff! I definitely would like to spend some more time and London and see/do more.
And that was pretty much it for IFSA Butler London Orientation! The next morning we all departed for our respective host universities, each escorted by a member (or two) of the IFSA Butler staff. While I know I could’ve gone abroad without being in a program like this one, I really think it was a good idea to go through a program. Being picked up right at the airport, informed about issues such as safety/security/travel, and being escorted directly to my host University by a knowledgable person made arriving in a new country much less stressful than it could have been, and everyone at IFSA has been so kind and willing to help. It’s nice having that “safety net.”
As it is now getting quite late here I think I must end this post for now. Tomorrow I will try to write another one and talk about what I have been doing during my first three days at Cardiff! Until then!
Lazy Reader Summary (LRS): IFSA Butler made arriving in a foreign country very easy. I had some very good food, met some great people, and learned & saw quite a lot within a very short space of time. I must return to London. Up Next: Cardiff, the first three days.