Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

The importance of good tea (and timing the trains right)

Time March 6th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, England | No Comments by

I’m running on less sleep than is probably wise, but that comes as a university standard across the world, I think. Granted, for me it’s more to do with out-of-university affairs than anything, but we’re aiming for relatability, here. Fortunately, there’s a little thing that the Brits really have down right that helps a lot with sleepiness, exhaustion, and more or less everything else in life: tea. I’m no connoisseur, but I’m learning. My tastes go a little fruitier than most, but even so. (and I’ll never quite manage to leave coffee behind, I suspect. Too many years of dependency.)

First off, tea is an excellent writing companion. I’m drinking tea as I’m writing this, I was drinking tea as I worked through revisions last night, and I have no doubt that I’ll be drinking tea when I’m outlining that essay plan I’ve been putting off for three weeks tomorrow too. …I’m not saying tea is an enabler of bad behavior, but, um. Read into that as much as you like. Some teas are caffeinated, others are herbal, others taste a little like someone contemplated adding some milk to that sugar and decided at the last minute that no, sugar’s probably enough on its own. Everyone can find something. I’ve been fond of the red berry tea for a while now – the fruity taste is just enough to make it feel like a treat, and the hot beverage aspect of it is enough to calm my mind and settle my thoughts into something I can work with. It’s also pretty cheap though, and this is the land of tea; I wanted more. Read More »


Voice From Beyond (or perhaps not quite that yet)

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

Hi again! It’s been a little while since my last post, but this is just to say that I’m alive and, um, doing. I’d say doing well, but at the moment I’m currently struggling with what is probably the flu. I’d like to say this has lent me a lot of time for introspection, but really, it’s just been kinda gross all around. Still, I have some awesome stories from before I landed myself with a cold, so I’ll share them now to valiantly ignore my current well-being.

Last weekend I got the chance to head back into London for couple days, to visit my friends Rebecca and Miranda! They’re also on the IFSA program, just at Kings College in London instead of out here in Norwich with me. We had promised each other many adventures together, and we did our best to start that. Rebecca spearheaded this weekend’s charge. Our target? The Magical Lantern Festival, out in some middle-of-nowhere park in London. As a newbie to the tube, I was wholly reliant on the solid one week of experience my friends had to guide me around. I’m honestly surprised we didn’t get lost. I was half-expecting to be like, one of those ghosts just doomed to eternally wander the London underground without ever reaching my destination. I have it on good authority that that’s a thing. That, and apparently the story behind the “mind the gap” voice guy will make you cry every time you hear it.

So we made it out to Chittiwick Gardens (the spelling of that may or may not be atrocious), and after some fruitless wandering and then defeatedly asking a friendly passerby for directions. Once we were finally there, though, it was worth it. The Magical Lantern Festival definitely lived up to its name, with displays of cultures from all across the world rendered in brightly-lit cables and sculptures that stretched across the lawns. I got myself a mulled wine to keep my hands warm, and wandered among designs that showcased the entire Aladdin cast to a rendition of a giant masted galley ship in bright blue and white lights. For lack of a better word, it was a magical night.

The following morning, I had to go back to Norwich, but I wasn’t in too much of a rush. Plus, morning by college standards more or less means any time before dark. We spent a little time wandering Hyde Park, and then went off and had afternoon tea at a tiny little french cafe that made me feel horribly underdressed on principle. It was a wonderfully British experience.

Anyway, all good things must come to an end, and it’s not like Norwich doesn’t have its own appeal as well. I came back to campus, went to class, got the chance to do a little pub exploring (the Adam and Eve pub is apparently over a thousand years old, which amazes me), and visited the beautiful Norwich Cathedral as well. I’ll tell you more stories later; right now, I’ve got a cold to beat.


4 Things to Do on an Oxford’s Saturday

Time November 4th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, England | No Comments by

  1. Wake up and take a walk along the Oxford Canal, taking a cup of hot tea and a sandwich with you.

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Five Ways To Pack A Semester’s Worth of Stuff into One Suitecase

Time September 29th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, England | No Comments by

As someone who actually enjoys packing and overpacking, I could not even begin to fathom how I would pack for an entire term at Oxford with a single suitcase. I can pack that much for a week vacation; however, as I’m currently sitting at the airport having already checked my single piece of luggage (coming to 49.5 lbs), I am proof that what seems impossible can be done. Here are 5 tips for how I made it happen:

  1. Plan and Place: When I overpack it’s usually because I bring an article of clothing or a pair of shoes that I really like but never end up wearing because it didn’t coordinate with the rest of what I brought. To make sure that I made the most of my suitcase, I planned each one of my outfits and placed them on the ground. If a pair of shoes was only really fit for two outfits, I decided to leave them and go with a different option of footwear. Additionally, by folding them and placing them on the ground I created an estimate of how much space everything would need. This allowed me to make reductions earlier rather than later as it was much easier to take things from my floor back to my closet than from the bottom of my suitcase back to my closet.
  2. Mix and Match: Now this applies to clothes, but what I mean is to mix and match packing styles. There are a couple different packing styles: folding into neat squares, laying flat with minimal folding, rolling, etc (maybe you’re none of these and prefer to toss things into your suitcase and however they land is how it travels). I found to make the most of my suitcase, I had to do a little bit of everything. If you only use one method,  you have a lot of unused space. I rolled thing t-shirts to put inbetween and around larger sweaters that I folded. Doing this allowed me to fill every inch of the suitcase.
  3. Pack Weird Shapes First: For me this meant my shoes. Then follow tip 2 and add materials to fill in the gaps. It was much easier to pack around my shoes then to try and fit them in on top of everything else.
  4. Rule of 1: I have a lot of clothes and I have a lot of clothes that look alike but are slightly different enough that I will try justify why I need both. Having only one suitcase really knocked this habit out from me. My rule was that I could only bring one of something. One vest, one pair of gym shoes, one navy blouse, etc. However, I did make one exception to this rule. If I could see myself needing the item a couple times a week, I allowed myself two, so a few things that made this cut: leggings, plaid shirts, and jeans.
  5. Avoid Memorable Patterns/Pieces: Some of my favorite pieces of clothing are super unique and as a result pretty memorable. If you’re like me and you’re going to have to a Lizzie McGuire outfit repeater, you might have to leave some of your favorite pieces behind. A plain t-shirt can look entirely different if you throw on a scarf or a necklace; however, there is not much you can do to a brightly patterned shirt with distinct cutouts. I invested in some high-quality basic pieces. It was much easier to fit more necklaces than to fit more cardigans.

So with those five rules and some time spent sitting on my suitcase to flatten everything out, I managed to pack a semester’s worth of clothing into one suitcase. Stay tuned to hear about my adventures when I actually get to London.


Till then, happy packing!





Casey Through Customs

Time September 15th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, Wales | No Comments by

This post is coming to you from the UK! London, to be exact! Yes, you read that correctly: London. I’m not in Cardiff yet! Let me explain; IFSA-Bulter (the program I am studying abroad through) has an orientation of their own for all 190 students studying on the island of Great Britain (Fun fact: out of the 190 students, I am the only one studying at Cardiff University!). So, here I am, staying in a nice hotel one street away from Oxford Street–one of the places I was told I had to see. Despite the minor jet lag I experienced, I’ve already had one heck of a trip, starting before I’d even left the country!

Having experienced the fastest check-in and security check in an airport ever, I had plenty of time to hang out before boarding my Icelandair plane. While waiting, I noticed a man who kept walking back and forth in front of me, occasionally stealing a glance my way, and then a woman doing the same thing. My red flags were flying higher than ever before when the man and woman, now together, approached me and asked if I knew a “fun woman” named Monica Hoel (Shout-out to Monica for being a fun woman!). Well, of course I know Monica, just like every other Emory & Henry College student and alum! The couple proceeded to explain their stalker-ish behavior–they were trying to read my t-shirt and tag on my bag to make sure they read “Emory & Henry College.” They had both graduated from Emory years ago! We chatted about the school, different people we knew, the study abroad programs, and much more! What a small world!! Read More »


Touring London at Lightning Speed

Time June 20th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

I never really made a study abroad bucket list before I left for Belfast. My daily planner had a small list towards the back where I would jot down a few countries I was interested in every now and again, but nothing was set in stone. Ultimately, my plan was to take advantage of every opportunity that came my way while abroad. I knew going into the semester that I wouldn’t be able to visit every country in Europe and beyond, but I was open to get as many passport stamps as possible.

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Faith Takes Europe

Time April 27th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

One great thing about how UCC does finals is that it includes a study break that’s at least a week long between the last day of classes and your first final. I got a break of almost two weeks– two weeks I know that I could not spend the entirety of studying. Making sure to block off two solid days before my first final to study, I planned my “study break” around Europe. Read More »


Adventures in London and Glasgow

Time April 4th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

Something I didn’t consider before choosing where to study abroad was my proximity to an airport. I’m not sure why it never occurred to me, because it would seem that ability to be able to journey from your home base country to another would be extremely important, especially since I ultimately decided to study on an island. Thankfully, there’s an airport a taxi ride away from where I live, with 20 euro flights to places like London and Glasgow, just across the pond.

One of my friends is studying at Queen Mary University in London, so I took one of these very inexpensive flights for a weekend to visit him. I almost chose to study at QMU when applying for schools abroad, and I feared that visiting there may make me regret my choice of UCC instead. Being a laid-back travelers, we wandered from place to place via the Tube, enjoying the sights and sounds of people from everyone rushing from one place to the next. Being foodies, we took advantage of the diverse cultures and ate authentic sushi and Indian food (both of which are very hard to find in Ireland). Being huge nerds, we geeked out at Platform 9 3/4 (I’m a Ravenclaw by the way), and, being shopaholics, gaped in Harrod’s (a very expensive, very beautiful mall, in short). London had the glamour of New York with the diversity of Los Angeles and the sprawl of San Francisco. It delivered the dazzle promised by the media, with a healthy dose of lovely accents and delicious food.

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Visiting London, Part I

Time April 4th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

A few weeks ago, the University of Edinburgh had its half term break, so I didn’t have any classes. Technically, it was Innovative Learning Week, and we’re meant to stay around and participate in the events going on, but in practice a lot of students use this time to go home or travel. My friend Katie and I decided to spend a few days traveling to London. During orientation, we learned that the train is probably the best way to get from Edinburgh to London. You can even get a young person’s railcard, which will save you a third on all train fares!

I finished packing just in time and took the bus to Edinburgh Waverley, which is the station in the middle of the city, between New Town and Old Town. From there, we boarded our train to Kings Cross in London. The train ride is about four and a half hours long, which is obviously longer than a plane flight would take, but it takes you from the center of Edinburgh to the center of London so it’s a little easier than flying. Plus, you don’t have to deal with security and getting to flight early and everything. We left Edinburgh at 4:30 and arrived in London at 9:00. From there, we caught the tube to our hostel and then checked in.

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Christmas in London: Lights, Markets, and Santa!

Time December 11th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, England | No Comments by

Are holidays in London any different than the United States? I found myself being asked this question more often than not by my non-British international friends on more than one occasion over the last month. They are mostly from Eastern Europe, and as Christmas approaches here in the UK a lot of them are experiencing those cultural differences for the first time just like I have been over the past three months. The reality is that I have not noticed much difference. Since I live in a house of Americans even while I am living in London, this time of year feels very much like it would in the states. Yes, it was strange to not be with all of our families on Thanksgiving, but we did manage to all come together and create a proper Thanksgiving meal complete with two Turkeys, sweet potatoes, cranberry applesauce, green bean casserole, enough mash for an army, and yes even pumpkin pie.

Part of me had not really thought about Christmas away from home since I am returning to the states in a few days, but as the questions began to emerge I understood the Christmas season begins a lot earlier here. Christmas began in London on November 1st. Unlike the states where Black Friday marks the turn of the shopping season, early November was the kick off with the lighting of Oxford Street that overnight transformed the city from late Autumn into illuminated joyfulness and trees in every shop window. Even though I went to the lighting, it didn’t really sink in that the holidays were upon us until I spent some time looking at how London changes for the season as I walked around the city this past week.

Of course this holiday driven excursion takes me back to Oxford Street and the glowing silver and golden orbs that hang above the bustling shoppers for many city blocks. Now the glittering bobbles on Regent Street, and the illuminated peacock feathers on New Bond Street have joined these balls of light. The brightest lights are hidden a little farther of the beaten path in SoHo on Carnaby street where silver and hot pink disco balls hang among glittering stars overhead. That is where I ran into Santa Claus a few nights ago!

These lights are amazing and worth an adventure in itself, but my favorite part about Christmas in London that I have never had the chance to enjoy back home, is the beauty of a Christmas market. There are several of these markets throughout the city, but the largest is incorporated into Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. A wonderland it most definitely is as it makes even young adults feel the joy of Christmas all over again. My friend and I stumbled upon the wonderland a few nights ago without really planning to go, but since there was no entrance fee we decided to take a look and were instantly sucked into the mix. The sun was just beginning to set and the day was cooling down so we decided to grab glasses of hot mulled wine (pumpkin spiced wine if you will) to enjoy as we walked through the brightly lit rides and pavilions on every side. The closest thing I can compare it to was a very clean state fair complete with roller coasters, a Bavarian market place, German sausage and beer, and an ice skating rink at the far end ideal for people watching…and we did for easily half an hour. Winter Wonderland was deceivingly large and we spent hours just enjoying the feeling of Christmas before catching the tube back for the night.


Shakespeare in his Globe

Time November 30th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, England | No Comments by

It has unfortunately been a while since I have had a chance to write. Even now, although things are going well for me here in London, it has been difficult given so much that is happening in the world to find the reason to write a lighthearted post. I had originally planned to write about my recent trip to Paris, but out of respect I would instead like to reach back in my file to an early outing that I have not had a chance to share with you yet.

Many weeks ago now, a couple of friends and I had the opportunity to see Richard II performed at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater located on the south bank of the Thames here in London. What I have noticed about a lot of productions I have seen here is the quality of sets and lighting is far superior to what we usually see in the states. I say this acknowledging most of what I see is experimental dance performances, but even so there tends to be a lot more money in the arts here which is really wonderful. The Globe was no exception.

When I entered the theater, it was from the courtyard and ground level into the white washed, thatched roof space that looks a bit like a cottage from the outside. The architecture is very much reminiscent of Stratford upon Avon where Shakespeare called home, and cuts a unique figure next to the modern Tate gallery just steps away.

I stood stage side, literally – I could touch the stage, just feet away from the performers, as common people would have in Shakespeare’s day. With this point of view I was able to gaze up at the entire round of the theater and admire not just the setting of this play, but the history in the space. From my vantage point I could see the seats rising up in three curved tears above the stage, pillars filled to the sky with golden tulle meant to be the walls of Richard’s castle, and vines of an enchanted garden creeping toward the mezzanine. Some of the most interesting detail for me was the use of fire. Excuse me geeking out over the tech ideas, but I had always wondered if old stage shows were lit with fire instead of lamps as we know them today and this was great to see in life.

As this set was remarkably simple, fire was one element used to help transform the space. Since we were in the 21st century, as reminded by the occasionally international flight roaring over the open-air theater, flame was not the source of all light, but it did change the focus of the audience. For example, alter candles were used during a scene where the queen was praying for relief to highlight her distress. In another scene a ring of fire, well of candles backlit the king to make him appear more prominent and powerful above the other players bellow him on stage. From candelabras to hand held torches, the flame was well integrated into the piece and added to the feel of Shakespearean time.

Three hours is a long time to be on your feet, but at Ł5 a ticket it was well worth it to see Shakespeare performed in the Globe.

~ London Logic ~

Shakespearean English is actually much more similar to American English despite the fact it originated in the UK. Because British English has changed so much overtime to accommodate the various accents and speech impediments of their monarchs, it has changed significantly since the time of Shakespeare. The Globe actors are trained to speak Shakespearean English as close as possible to how it would have been in his time.


Last Big Trip for Awhile — London and Brighton, UK

Time November 4th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

Ok, so this will be my last jetsetting-across-Europe post for awhile (I’m exhausted and getting a bit tired of my weekly trip to the Dublin Airport). But what a weekend to end on! I got to London very early  in the morning on Friday and met up with a friend of mine who is studying there at Royal Halloway (not sure if that’s spelled correctly). She showed me some of the big sights of London, including Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, before bringing us to a really cool tea house called Sketch (definitely recommended! See the picture below of a room that looks like it’s full of giant eggs, that’s the bathroom). But the main part of my trip was visiting some family friends about an hour outside of London, or rather about 15 minutes from another big British city: Brighton. After getting my first good night’s sleep in weeks, we took a beautiful walk through the South Downs, a preserved area near where they live. I was able to get some great shots of the British countryside (as well as some of my new best friend, Otis the Water Dog!) Later that day we took the train to Brighton, which sits right along the English channel. Brighton is known for its artists and its proximity to the beach, so we made sure to see both before the sun went down. You can see some graffiti and some shots of the pier/beach below. All in all it was great to see my family friends, as well as see such a cool and different city in Europe.


Orientation Week

Time October 2nd, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, England | No Comments by

I had a vision. A vision of orientation. And in this vision, I sat for hours and hours in a stuffy conference room where old men plodded through powerpoint slides and admonished me for future misdemeanors, and I was really jet lagged and really hungry. Now fortunately, this wasn’t the prophetic trance kind of vision because then it would have come true, alack. Nope, it was just a vision of unnecessary pessimism.

Orientation was great!

Ok, yeah, there were powerpoint slides, and conference rooms, and old men. But the old men were all pretty cool. We got Andrew, a jolly Welsh guy who told us about how weird Americans are (they wear neon and talk to random strangers and are all good at sports, the WEIRDOS). We got David, a friendly London policeman who schooled us on not getting mugged (which is a very useful skill!). And we got Lord Taverne, a very dignified and very funny member of the House of Lords who chatted about current politics and events.

There were a couple of other meetings too, but orientation week turned out to mostly be a time to explore London! Yipee!

(Boring but informative side note: this was the orientation from IFSA-Butler, the study abroad agency that my American university contracts with. It was me and about 200 other students, who are all going to various London area universities through IFSA-Butler’s programs. IFSA-Butler has orientation so we can get a little bit used to England before moving into our schools. Ok, end of boring but informative side note.)

One of our tour guides told me that no one will believe I actually went to England unless I have pictures of Big Ben and Westminster. So I guess I had better post those now and alleviate your doubts immediately. I really am here! In England! I promise!


You also get the red double decker bus for good measure. I’ve always seen those busses in drawings, but I wasn’t sure if they were tour busses or charter busses or something of old that isn’t actually here anymore. But it turns out they are the official city transit busses and they are everywhere!


A fun fact about Big Ben: the first bell they had cracked, so they got a new one from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Two months later, this one also cracked, but they didn’t want to replace it again. So it’s still cracked, which is said to give it a distinctive ring. The Whitechapel Bell Foundry also made another famous bell. Can you guess which one?

Oh yeah, it’s the Liberty Bell.

On our first day in London, my roommate Juliana and I decided we should go to a pub, since that’s a very English thing to do. We walked around looking for a cute one that would serve us dinner and found this one, the Cambridge.


Juliana doesn’t like fish but felt that it’s pretty much compulsory to order fish and chips on your first day in England.


Unfortunately, traditional or not, fish is fish, so in the end we both ate my macaroni and cheese.

We stayed in the St. Giles Hotel off Oxford Street, so we were in an excellent location for exploring. I saw lots of cool and unique places, like this umbrella store from 1830. It was lovely inside and full of very beautiful but very expensive umbrellas (I saw some for £100). A tour guide later told us that you know you’re a real Englishman when you have umbrellas to match all your outfits.


And we saw Convent Garden, which is currently featuring this fun balloon installation. Julianna and I ate in a really cute crepe restaurant in one of those little hidey holes in the lower level. There were musicians playing outside, and the whole place was very sweet.


All of the IFSA-Butler students got to see shows in West End, and my group went to War Horse. The puppetry in this show was just astoundingly amazing. Half of the main characters in the show are horses! Played by giant metal framework puppets with three puppeteers each! And actors actually ride them! And the movement of the horses was so realistic. I started cringing and could barely watch when some of them started dying. It was worth seeing the show just for these puppets. As for the rest of it… I liked the happy beginning and happy end, but the vast desert of despairing bleakness between the two was just a little too much for my sunny disposition. My favorite parts of the show were the singing and the COMIC RELIEF DUCK. There was a DUCK PUPPET. Oh my gosh, it was so cute!!!!!!!!!!!! They didn’t allow photos, but you can see one online here:

On our last day in London, we went to Greenwich. We visited the Maritime Museum, the chapel and painted room at the Old Royal Naval College, and of course the Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory.


For lunch, I told our tour guide that I wanted to eat somewhere “good and local.” He said, “Oh, what you want is pies and mash!” He directed Juliana and I to this lovely restaurant, Goddards, which has been there since 1890. It was perfect!


The staff and the food were both really lovely. The first things on the menu were “pies and mash,” “double pies and mash,” “pies and double mash,” and “double pies and double mash.” The food was very simple but so pleasant and homey. I learned that “mash” is mashed potatoes.

I got apple pie for desert, and they asked if I wanted custard. “Oh,” I thought, “I know what that is. It’s ice cream!” So I ordered it. Nope, it was this:


It was served steaming hot and was strongly vanilla flavored. I liked it ok but didn’t eat all of it.

While we were touring around with the tour guide, we saw this cat, and everyone stopped to take pictures. Our tour guide laughed at us and said, “I’m showing you all these famous historical sites and the best thing you see all day is going to be a cat.” But it was a really pretty cat.


Before I end this post, I would like to impart to you a very important lesson I learned during orientation week: Some things shouldn’t be made into legos.


We saw this in a toy store. I wish I could convey to you the skin-tingling, nightmarish creepiness that grabs your soul when you are suddenly confronted with this. I feel like they don’t look that bad in the picture, but when they are towering over you with their jagged skin and beady eyes… ugh. I kept thinking they would be perfect Dr. Who villains.


Let’s Talk Politics

Time May 18th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

I can hear the collective groans of everyone reading that title, but hear me out. I know politics isn’t everyone’s favorite topics and would probably rather read about some other adventure I’ve gone on but let’s try this, at least for one post. To be very honest, politics has probably been the most exciting part of my life for the past couple weeks. I’m in the middle of exam season and knee deep in notes so exploring the country has been put on the back burner for the moment, so I’ve had to resort to current events to spice life up a bit.

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Rock ‘n’ Roll

Time February 12th, 2015 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, Wales | No Comments by

It’s been multiple days since this weekend, but I’m still trying to make up all the sleep I’ve missed, all whilst trying to keep up with school (can’t forget the study part of this whole study abroad deal) and I have a paper due next week and a presentation the next. Time management is going to have to become my best friend if I want to try and avoid a full on stress meltdown. Despite the exhaustion and incredibly sore feet, this past weekend is not something I would trade for anything. It was absolutely incredible. Read More »


Tom Takes the Tube: A Short Stay in London

Time February 4th, 2015 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, Sharjah UAE, United Arab Emirates | No Comments by

*Written in London Heathrow Airport, edited in my hotel room in Sharjah*

For my first transatlantic flight, I can easily say it will only get more difficult. Both flights I had multiple seats to myself which made sleeping on the plane possible. My biggest fear before arriving in London was taking The Underground by myself with my luggage. After receiving directions and my Oyster Card, it could not have gone smoother! Read More »


5 Months & 50 Pounds: Packing for London and the UAE

Time January 26th, 2015 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, Sharjah UAE, United Arab Emirates | No Comments by

5, the amount of months I’ll be away from home.

50, the amount in pounds I’m allowed to pack in my checked bag.

It’s midnight Monday morning and I have finally finished packing. It took me and my mom a few tries and a break for dinner to finally fit everything thing I think I need for five months in to 3 bags. Pictures are in the gallery! (I need to figure out how to add to post!) Over the past few days the realization of my decision to study in the UAE has really sunk in.

A few things about myself before I begin my adventure

  • My name is Tom Fisher, I’m from Bettendorf, Iowa (part of the Quad Cities, right on the Mississippi River).
  • I go to Drake University, a small (4,000 undergrad) liberal arts  school in Des Moines, IA.
  • Hobbies are soccer, cycling, watching documentaries and eating.

More to come when I can intertwine them with what I am doing during the semester.

The adventure will begin in London. I will be staying with a friend until Saturday when I fly to Dubai! I will have another post before that adventure comes to an end

I hope to keep you entertained and coming back for more. I look forward to sharing my experiences and thoughts during this semester.




64,000 Steps

Time January 21st, 2015 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, Wales | No Comments by

Any iPhone users out there are probably familiar with the Health app that was added in the latest iOS update. For those who may not know what it is, it’s basically an app that can do a number of things, but most notably it acts as a pedometer. Over the course of the past few days we have been watching the number of steps we’ve taken go up and up and up as we continued to progressively adventure further and further into London. We’ve officially left the city, and have reached over 64,000 steps. That’s about 34 miles done solely by walking. But we were in London. It was completely worth it.

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a WICKED night at the theatre

Time December 9th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As is pretty obvious from the title, I recently had the chance to go and see Wicked.  IFSA-Butler organized the night, so that if we wanted to we were able to purchase discounted tickets. I hadn’t seen Wicked since it first came out. I saw it on my 13th birthday, but didn’t recall a lot from the show.

Chelsea purchased tickets, so that herself, her two friends from home and I could all sit together.  It was such a fun night! We started out by introducing her friends to our favorite pub food, steak and ale pie. I’m going to miss it so much when I go home. We also got Christmassy drinks. I ordered a delightfully warm winter cider that was delicious.

 After the pub we walked over to the theatre. IFSA had held a block of seats, so we sat by two Davidson students, who had snuck chocolate into the snow. Sneaky sneaky.  Then, the play started. It was amazing and so fun. All the songs came back to me and Chelsea and I had to refrain ourselves from singing “Popular” when it was performed.

 The night ended with the 4 of us taking a picture in front of the theatre and singing “Popular” on the walk back from mile end station to campus.


 xx, Francesca

A Trip to Brick Lane

Time November 27th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

London has many wonderful markets that are especially wonderful on the weekends.  Not far from Mile End are two of these markets, Brick Lane and Spitafield Market.  This past Sunday I went with a couple friends to Brick Lane.

There are tons of clothing and jewelry vendors along the street and the most amazing smelling food.  We had researched online the day before and had found a Mexican Restaurant called “Loco Mojito” on Brick Lane.  This was the first time I had had Mexican food since August and it was amazing.  I got an apple mojito to start and then a chicken enchilada for my main plate.  The enchilada was so good and the rice was great as well.  I was definitely happy we had decided to come.

After lunch we strolled along the streets for a while.  Some of my friends ordered oreo hot chocolate from one of the street vendors.  I decided on a vanilla churro, which was so good.  I’m definitely coming back again!

This next weekend we’re planning on going to Borough market, which I’ve heard is famous for it’s wonderful food.  If there’s one thing I could tell you it’s definitely check out the markets while you’re in London.  You’ll find some of the most unique items and can stock up on fruit, vegetables, and other various food items.

xx, Francesca


Already 2 months

Time November 18th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I can’t believe I’ve been living in London for 2 months now.  It seems like just yesterday we were boarding the plane from JFK to Heathrow.  Time definitely does fly super fast!

I am absolutely loving life in London.  Despite traveling most weekends, I’ve had the opportunity to take part in so many cool events in London.  Just last week a couple of my friends and I decided to attend the Hunger Games: Catching Fire Premiere.  As a huge fan of Liam Hemsworth, I was beyond stoked to go.

We weren’t expecting to have a good view or anything because we only arrived 3 hours before the premiere began, however we were able to get amazing places.  The premiere was so much fun.  At 5pm an announcer came onto the red carpet and made everyone dance and chant, “Catching Fire!”  Then came the best part…all the stars arrived.  From our places near the carpet we were able to meet Conor Maynard, Union J, Liam Hemsworth, Jennifer Lawson. Josh Hutcherson, PCD, McFly, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, and Ellie Goulding.  It was so much fun!  We even were able to take one of the posters back with us.  It was a little difficult to bring it onto the tube, but overall it was a great success!!

I would definitely advise anyone thinking of studying abroad in a big city like London to look up events online.  There’s some really neat things that happen during the middle of the week and you might be missing out if you don’t.  Below are some of my favorite pictures from the night.

xx, Francesca



Time November 12th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by


This past weekend I went to London to visit a friend of mine who is studying abroad there at Goldsmiths College and to see one of the biggest cities on the planet. I arrived in London at Stansted airport on Friday evening. I navigated to the bus line to get downtown where I met my close friend and another student studying abroad from our home university (Lafayette College). We decided to head back to my friend’s flat at Newcross Gate to get some grub and so that I could drop off my valuables. I first got an Oyster Card (similar to D.C.’s Metrocard) so that I could use “the tube” and other of London’s public transportation systems for the weekend. London’s public transportation system is massive, composed of a network of underground rails, overground rails, and bus lines criss-crossing the city like a spiderweb every few minutes. Upon reaching Newcross we got food at a Caribbean joint called “Cummin’ Up”. The store was owned by a cheerful, plump Jamaican lady boppin’ to a reggaeton soundtrack. Her glassy eyes and languid mannerism suggested something aside from the music was on her mind as well. The jerk chicken with beans and rice was incredible, likely the best I’ve ever had. The entire area of Newcross Gate seemed to have a number of Caribbean inhabitants based on the people we passed in the streets and shops. Combined with the other neighborhoods marked by a variety of distinct cultural influences from North Africa, India, Asia, and the Middle-East, London lives up to its reputation for being a diverse city.

The next morning we headed downtown to the heart of London to begin our self-devised tour of the city. We started at the Borough Market, one of the most incredible places I have ever been. Stalls of vendors crowded by multitudes of customers milling about the market created a boisterous and cheerful atmosphere. Vendors were selling everything from fresh ingredients to full meals as well as everything in between, if it was food related – you could probably have found it there. Being in London, I decided to get a meat pie; the one I chose contained chicken, gravy, leeks, and stilton cheese, although there were many others to choose from including seasonal pies. It was piping hot and absolutely divine. Next, we started walking down to the bank of the Thames River where we would cross and continue on to our eventual destination of Hyde Park and Kensington Palace. Just as we reached the bank we happened upon Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. It was very pleasant to see since Shakespeare was a good sized component of my high school literary education. Not far from there we reached the Millennium Bridge, an entirely pedestrian bridge spanning the Thames. From there we gained a fantastic view of the famous Tower Bridge, the Spire, and much of downtown London. We continued across the bridge towards St. Paul’s Cathedral. As we reached the main road on the North side of the Thames we encountered a parade for what we gathered was the British equivalent of Veteran’s Day. We stopped to watch as it passed for different groups within the parade seemed to represent an evolution of Britain’s military. The first to go by were modern military men in big vehicles, then well dressed cavalry, riflemen, lancers, followed by a progression of other groups each approaching a colonial manner of dress. We continued West along the riverbank. We could then see “The Eye” across the river and Big Ben in the distance. As we grew closer the true size of Big Ben became apparent; Big Ben is indeed quite large. We finally reached Big Ben after some time and next to it is Westminster Abbey. Both of these structures were spectacular. After much gawking among other tourists we continued past the naval war rooms and on again to the Mall and Trafalgar Square. Trafalgar Square was very nice with a large fountain near its center and ornate columned buildings surrounding the square on three sides. Two statues sat on pedestals opposite the gate to the Mall and on to Buckingham Palace. Upon one of the pedestals sat a large, regal looking lion. The other position was held by a large blue rooster; apparently this pedestal is visited by a number of circulating statues periodically. We walked down the Mall again, this time towards Buckingham Palace. Buckingham Palace was very ornate with a large statue of Queen Elizabeth I in front. From there we continued on to Hyde Park where we saw Prince Albert’s Theatre and the Prince Albert Memorial. The memorial was an open structure with a giant figure of Albert upon a throne of sorts under its roof. This was my hosts favorite place in the city, the park is very nice, and the memorial is visually stimulating. Hyde Park, apparently, used to be the royalty’s private hunting grounds, but now there would be hardly more than pidgeons to catch there. Kensington Palace seemed very nice from the outside, but it was getting late, dark, and they had stopped accepting visitors for the day. That night we had Indian food at a small restaurant near my friends flat in Newcross Gate. The curry I had was very good, although surprisingly mild. My friends tikka masala was also very good and had a very strong coconut flavor that was particularly enjoyable.

Sunday morning we woke up so that we could explore the Camden Market before I had to get to the airport. The market was larger than the Borough Market, but included more shop vendors than food vendors. I saw vendors selling suitcases, watches, leather goods, books, photography, art, music, and wooden wares among many others who sold clothes and other knick-knacks. Apparently, Camden caters to a very hip, punk crowd of youth among other demographics. There was an abnormal number of tattoo and body-piercing parlors in the area on the street as well as matching punk/metal styled clothing shops. One place in particular emanated electro-punk and was certainly the most eccentric store I’ve ever been inside. This place was named “Cyberdog” and from the outside one could hear loud music and see neon lights flashing as two giant robotic figurines stood watch at the entrance. IT was three full floors of neon shaded glasses, tight-fitted clothing, and very colorful (in many senses) pierced employees and customers. It was, as my friend echoed, “an experience”. All in all, I found London to be a lively and diverse city offering good food, art, music, history, and people. The only drawback I could find was that the exchange rate on currency was fairly high. London is expensive. However, it is definitely somewhere I will return to visit and that I may considering living in at some point in my life.




A weekend trip to Dublin

Time October 28th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Top of the morning to you!


Two weekends ago on October 11-13 I took a little weekend trip to Dublin with a couple of friends from Queen Mary.  Myself, Chelsea (who you’ve already met), and Allison (a student from Lafayette College) came and stayed with me at my cousin’s house. The reason for this trip was that I really wanted to visit one of my best friends from Davidson, Caroline, who is studying abroad at Trinity College.

By coincidence Chelsea also has a good friend that goes to F&M with her who is on the same program with Caroline.  We decided this weekend would be perfect as it was her friend’s birthday weekend.  Unfortunately things didn’t go as planned and Chelsea’s friend had to fly home due to a family emergency.

 We left for Dublin early on Friday morning.  The flights we’ve been booking recently have been leaving really early, so it’s been quite a hassle getting to the airport with the tube opening later, but we’ve found one of the most convenient modes of transportation… The National Express.  The National Express is a 24/7 bus service that picks up right across the street from our tube station, Mile End, and goes to a variety of places including Stansted Airport.  So, we boarded a 5:17am bus to Stansted airport and off to Dublin we went.

 At the airport we met up with other Davidson students studying abroad in London, who coincidentally picked the same weekend to go to Dublin to visit Caroline.  We didn’t realize that you had to queue in order to get seats on Ryanair.  We thought the number on our ticket was the order you boarded, so we decided to join a bachelor party in line that had the most awesome t-shirts.   Our flight was extremely late, arriving an hour late to Dublin, but I guess that’s typical of Ryanair.

 We got a taxi at the airport and were off to my cousin’s house.  We ate lunch and then headed to the Guinness Storehouse.  There we met up with the other Queen Mary students and had a fun afternoon learning how to make Guinness, sampling, and enjoying the view from the top of the Brewery.


Queen Mary students do the Guinness Storehouse


“It’s supposed to taste like chocolate and coffee…”



Allison, me, and Chelsea with our pints


The view of Dublin from the top of the brewery


Me, Chelsea, Jessica, and Allison with our pints


After the storehouse we went back to the house, where we met up with my family for dinner. We went to an Italian restaurant in Dundrum, which is a large shopping center with really funny flat escalator ramps.  The dinner was so good I got a pasta dish and then my favorite dessert, tiramisu.  Dinner took a while so we headed back to the house after and planned what we wanted to do on Saturday.  I will update you on our adventures in my next post!


Meeting up with Family in Dublin




Cheers! We’re in London

Time September 18th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Last time I blogged I was getting ready to depart for London..and now I’ve finally made it!

I have a really awful habit of not being able to sleep sitting up, so I was awake for over 24 hours last Tuesday.  My first flight from O’Hare to JFK was quite unadventurous, but my flight from JFK to Heathrow was quite different.  I arrived in terminal 3 at JFK and had to make my way to terminal 4 for the group flight.  If you’ve ever been to JFK before, please agree with me when I say it’s extremely confusing changing terminals.  Like most busy airports you have to take a train around, but at JFK you also have to go through security again.  This was quite hectic for me and made me a little irritated, however once I arrived at the right terminal I met so many college students, who were going to be in London with me.

We took a Virgin Atlantic flight, so we had our own personal TVs.  I watched the first 3 episodes of Nashville and  The Internship during the flight.  Regardless of my lack of sleep, I was entertained the entire time.  When we landed we were met by IFSA staff at baggage claim who directed us to a bus that took us to the St. Giles Hotel.

Unfortunately, the St. Giles does not have wifi, and it costs an arm and a leg to buy it, so many people were not able to contact their parents that they had made it safely.  The first stop for many people, including myself, was the phone store across the street.  Luckily, I have a Verizon iPhone 5, so I was able to get an international sim card with unlimited data and a certain number of texts and minutes.  Trust me when I say that apps like Viber will become your best friend for staying in contact with loved ones at home.   With my unlimited data I was able to call my parents and text my best friends.  If you don’t have an unlocked phone don’t worry, the phone store also sells pay as you go phones, which you can top up at basically any grocery store or drug store in London.

The information we received at orientation is kind of a blur for me now.  One thing that was preached to us was that British people are shyer than Americans.  This has been proven wrong by my flatmates, who are beyond friendly and love Americans.  Besides the information there are a couple of other interesting things that happened on orientation.

  1. You are placed with a roommate upon arriving at the hotel.  I would advise you not to change roommates even if you have a close friend on the program with you.  My roommate, Sydney, and I became friends fast and have been in contact ever since despite the fact she is studying abroad at University of Sussex.
  2. You meet so many people at orientation.  I met a great group of girls while I was there.  One of them even lives 20 minutes away from where I live in Illinois.  So don’t be afraid to go out of your box and hang out with people besides those who come from your home institution.
  3. IFSA gives you the option to attend a play on Thursday night.  Even if you don’t grasp the concept of British humour, go!  The play we went to was entitled Spamalot.  I haven’t seen Monty Python, but I found the play hilarious.  Another plus is that the bridge across from the theatre has incredible views of the city.
  4. On the last day there is a walking tour.  We didn’t get to see anything very touristy, but it was still fun seeing some famous sites.  My favorites were China Town, the place where Elton John composed “Your Song”, and the Australia House aka Gringotts in the Harry Potter films.
  5. IFSA allows you a lot of free time.  My friends and I took this as an opportunity to check out the various pubs in central London.  Each has its own “feel” to it.  My favorite was The Court, which is located on Tottenham Court (pronounced Tottnam).  It had great music, young people, and cool artwork in the ladies room.

All these pictures can be viewed below:

All in all, this past week has been filled with activities.  I’m still adjusting to the time zone, so I will update you with move in, Queen Mary, and my flatmates in my next post.

xx, Francesca



Goodbye for now: the words of Johnson and reflection during the Olympics

Time August 15th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

A big thank you to all those that have stuck with me this far! This is the final blog of my time in London last spring and I hope it sums up how much I loved my IFSA experience. I cannot thank the staff of IFSA London enough for fantastic excursions, wonderful teas in Pembridge Gardens, and just being incredibly cool. Love you all! Enjoy the video…

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