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A Weekend of Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A 4:30 AM Run for a Sight Seeing Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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“Eye” See London!

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

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

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

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

 

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