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

Being Home Again

Time January 13th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It’s been odd living at home again. I adjusted quickly, but I can tell that my views on so many things have changed.

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For one, living in London has taught me the value of walking. I bought my first car at 16, and was used to driving everywhere before I left for London. But really, do I need to drive to the nearby convenience store when it’s only a five to ten minute walk?  It seems like such a waste of gas money, and at least by walking I can get some exercise before splurging on macaroni and cheese, soda, and whatever other goodies I choose to treat myself to. At the same time, while I love once more being able to eat the foods I was raised on, I find myself missing how much healthier everything seemed to be in the grocery stores and sandwich shops of London. At least at my school in London, I could cook my own food; the one I go to here in the states requires me to buy a meal plan, meaning that I have no choice but to eat in the school’s dining hall.

Do I wish I had studied abroad for a full year, rather than just a semester? I have conflicting feelings on that. I made so many friends in England, but I can’t forget the friends that I have here in the US. At the same time, I have to worry about graduating on time; had I stayed longer, I’m not sure I would be able to meet all of the necessary classes needed to complete my double major.

I have a feeling that I’ll go back to England one of these days, at most within the next five years; it really helps that I know I’ll have a place to stay when I go back, considering the price of hotels being so outrageous. I made so many friends there that I’ll never forget, and I plan very much on keeping in touch with them. Overall, the experience was worth every penny, and I’m glad that I ventured outside of my usual comfort zone.

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Stranded in London (Part 2)

Time December 31st, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

That first night in the airport went by abysmally slow.  We decided to set up camp in one of the few open spaces left on the floor of the airport, located right in the middle of one of the terminals. Some people slept, but  I don’t know how… I was too wound up and worried to manage more than a few minutes here and there, my arms draped protectively over my luggage and the gifts I’d bought for my family while waiting on my flight earlier. After a few hours, the staff finally got around to our section, handing out foil blankets and water bottles. Though they didn’t look impressive, and kept me awake with the loud crinkling noises  that they made whenever you moved even the tiniest bit, the blankets were great insulators in the chilly terminal.

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Finally, around 4am, my friends and I decided to move towards the ticket counter for our airline in the hopes of gaining a decent spot in line for when the booth opened at 6am. We’d hoped that our sudden movement to a new location would go unnoticed, but instead we set off a mass exodus of people, all wanting information and help rescheduling from the airline. In mere minutes, the counter went from being surrounded by a few dozens sleeping people to a few hundred anxious for airline staff to arrive. We were so squashed that I could barely move, and only occasionally did I find enough space to be able to sit down.

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Someone got the crowd hyped up, shouting that the desk would be open at 6am, but from what those who paid the steep fee for internet connections could find, 6am appeared to be the definite opening time. Thus, we weren’t too disappointed when 5am passed without a single red coated employee in sight, but began to grow more and more anxious as 6am neared and then passed, all without anything happening but the people around us growing more restless. It wasn’t until 7am that an employee finally arrived at the counter, only to tell us that they couldn’t help us unless it was for one of the Sunday flights; they weren’t able to help us with anything connected to the cancellations of the previous night.

Frustrated, I went off in search of my luggage with the other Ifsa-Butler students, and we found the line for retrieving luggage rather quickly. At this point, I decided to return to Queen Mary; the university, since it has its own housing, allows students to stay on campus all the way into January, or even year round for full year students. Others, unable to return to their flats, chose to stay at the Ifsa-Butler housing in Pembridge Gardens.

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I was glad to have a few friends still hanging around my otherwise dead campus, and having my own room and bathroom made my extra few days in London rather cozy, especially compared to what so many others went through. The agency that I’d traveled through saw to it that all of the Ifsa-Butler students were booked onto new flights that week, but unfortunately my second flight was canceled as well, due to the airport still having issues with icy runways. On the 22nd,  four days after my original flight date, I received an email telling me to head to the airport to try and reserve myself a standby spot on a flight heading out not even 3 hours later. Being an hour and a half away from the airport, I pretty much sprinted from the library to my room, and was checked out and heading to the tube station with my friend Tris in tow in under than 15 minutes.

Several Ifsa-Butler students also ran there for the flight, but they only allowed one of us on in the end. The rest of us decided that it would be best to spend the night once more in the airport, and attempt to catch a standby spot on another flight the next day. Our stay was far more comfortable this time; although there were still people sleeping in the terminal, their numbers were much smaller this time, and we found ourselves a relatively secluded corner. Mats and real blankets, made of cotton or fleece, were being handed out by the staff this time, as well as water bottles. Prepared, we stocked up on food, and even split the cost of a game in order to help pass time. My friend Tris stayed with us late again, playing games and helping us set up camp. By midnight, I’d fallen comfortably asleep.

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The early flight to Newark the next day was canceled, but we managed to get on standby for a noon flight to New York. The wait to see if we’d actually get seats on the plane was torture; we were running between two locations for information, and preparing to get in line for the next standby if all else failed. Around 40 minutes prior to the flight’s departure,  they finally began to call names, with those of several members of my group among them. When, just 20 minutes before departure, my name was called, I felt like Bob Barker had just called me down on ‘The Price is Right’. To be fair, I think we all felt that way; everyone was hugging and screaming excitedly, before running off to the line for security. I barely made it to the plane on time, but when I was in my seat, with a free upgrade to premium, I couldn’t contain my happiness.

In  the end, I made it home on the 23rd of December, just in time to celebrate Christmas with my family.

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Stranded in London (part 1)

Time December 20th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off on Stranded in London (part 1) by

I was supposed to be back home Saturday evening, but things have taken a turn for the crazy. I wish I could upload the videos and images I took, but my computer is sadly not working and I’m stuck using a library computer. I will try to upload seperately should I find any way to do so.

On my day of departure, I decided to leave for the airport several hours early, with a friend helping me to carry my luggage; even if I ended up bored sitting around, I felt that it would be better to be safe rather than sorry. My luggage was so heavy, really difficult to carry from campus to the tube station. However, the tube is the best deal for transport to the airport and my station’s entrance isn’t very far from the campus gates; it didn’t feel worth it to pay for the shuttle to the airport, since i’d still need to carry my luggage halfway to the station to get to the shuttle anyway. Once I was at the station, kind strangers helped me out, carrying my luggage down any stairs for me and helping me when I switched lines at one point. Such appears to be the British way.

Part way to the airport, it started to snow heavily. When I reached the portion of the journey that is aboveground, I found snow covering the landscape. Beautiful, but apparently not normal for this time of year; Tris and many others told me that I wouldn’t see snow before I left England and that normally they only recieve a tiny bit, usually in January. I’d joked about them jinxing themselves the first time it had snowed, but that had only been a small amount. This was several inches, this time.

When I got to the airport, I tried to check in with Virgin Airlines, but they weren’t letting anyone check in because of the weather; they were afraid of delays and cancelations. Tris was awesome and treated me to a nice dinner of lamb, chorizo and chickpea pie with mash, plus Krispy Kreme donuts while we were waiting but the delays kept piling up. The entire airport had officially closed, and no one, not even the staff, seemed to know what was going on; first I was told to wait for news at 2pm, then 3pm, then 4pm and so on. This was still going on at 7pm, despite the fact that my flight had been for 4:00pm.

Finally, around 7pm or so, Tris was wandering downstairs looking for news when he saw a sign stating that the flight to Newark was checking passengers in! If not for him, I never would have known, as there were no announcements on it as far as I know. After waiting in line, if you can call the mad scamble of people fighting to get to the desk first a line, I found myself handing over my luggage and receiving my ticket. Bidding farewell to Tris and thanking him for helping me out all day, I went in search of my next destination, security!

Finding a line this time was difficult; there were masses of people sitting on the floor waiting for news on their flights, and numerous others standing. I eventually found one of what was apparently two lines, neither moving and neither more official than the other. There, I spent a good hour or more; I read a book I had on me, talked to the American students who were in line next to me, and sent texts to my mother and a friend back home, informing them that my flight was delayed. The security gate, however was not letting anyone go through, and people were receiving conflicting information. The airline workers downstairs were telling us that the flight would be delayed, but that we’d be allowed through security once the runways had been cleared, while the Heathrow workers upstairs were telling us everything was canceled and that we should head home. By 9pm, the official announcement was made that all flights were canceled. Papers were handed out giving us information, but little of it made sense, and the airline was refusing to give me my luggage back, telling me that I needed to wait until the next day to retrieve it from them.

I didn’t know what to do, and was very low on minutes for my phone. Here, they only charge you for outgoing calls, not calls you receive, so I called my friend and hung up before I could be charged, and then had him call Ifsa-Butler’s London office to tell them to call me. The staff member helped me find other Ifsa-Butler students who were wandering the airport, not knowing what to do or what to expect. I was surprised to find Ashley, one of my flatmates, still in the airport; her flight was supposed to have left early in the morning, but apparently had been delayed by the plane being late, then was caught in the snow as they were preparing to leave. She’d been stuck on the plane for over seven hours before they’d decided to cancel.

None of us were willing to leave without our luggage, so after updating Ifsa-Butler’s London branch, we prepared to stay the night, fighting for information and new flights out.

To be continued when library opens again tomorrow.

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Textbooks

Time December 14th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

One of the things I’m truly going to miss about my school here in England is the text book system.

In the US, I spend approximately $500 on textbooks a semester; note this is rather cheap, since all of my books that can be bought used are, and I always sell them back myself online rather than selling them to my school store for a mere pittance of the original value. However, there are always those books that can’t be sold back, like the ones that come with a temporary code for some online ‘resources’ or program. Usually, these texts cost me inordinate amounts, and I’m stuck with a book I often don’t have any use for afterwards; most of the time, these books belong to subject I’m required to take only because I’m in a liberal arts program, and they have nothing whatsoever to do with my majors.

Fortunately, in my entire time here in London, I’ve only bought one book, for a mere £25, and I plan on selling it back to my school store or online for a good deal of the money back. As for the rest of my books, I’ve borrowed them from the school library.

The library here is huge, and fortunately, contains multiple copies of just about every single text that I need for my classes. Since I only have each class once a week, making sure that I get to the books I need to read that week is generally not problem; all of the copies have different amounts of time that they can be borrowed for, so no one gets to hog a copy to themselves for very long. Sometimes I don’t even check out the books, but rather take them off the shelves, take notes in a nice quiet reading section of the library, and then return them to where they originally came from.

Sure, life would be easier if I simply bought the books and didn’t need to worry about due dates or finding them every week, but I’d also have spent a great deal of money. All of my classes require multiple books, but no one really expects you to buy them all. The professors only expect you to buy the primary text, if anything, and borrow the supplemental readings you need for your papers from the library. The list of supplemental readings is another thing I’m going to miss; it’s nice to know what books are good sources of information for your essays, rather than having to slog through dozens of texts in the hopes of finding something relevant to the question at hand.

I wish my library back home was like this; of the eight books I had to buy for one of my history classes last year, not a single one could be found in the library; rather, it mostly contains articles and texts that are useful as sources for projects and essays occasionally. I don’t even want to imagine how many of the books in that library have gone untouched for years; I think I’ve only checked out four texts max from them, since I also have access to online sources through programs like JSTOR. Considering how much we pay for tuition, you would think US schools would be more interested in helping us save money through other methods. However, sometimes it feels like they’re more interested in helping the textbook companies; I don’t get my textbook list from my school or the professors running the classes, but rather from the company that runs the on campus book store! Since they expect us to buy from them, the list often doesn’t contain anything important like author, edition, or even the full name; I normally have to message my professors individually for that so that I can buy my books used through Amazon.

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The Holiday Season Abroad

Time December 2nd, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It’s officially that wonderful time of the year here in London. Christmas decorations have been going up around the city almost since the first week of November; the stores have had them out even longer. Despite what my British friends had told me about the unlikelihood of seeing snow in London before January, it’s flurrying as I type this. Compared to what I’m used to, the three inches on the ground doesn’t seem like all that much, but from the way that everyone else is reacting, you’d think that a massive blizzard had hit, and that we were under white out conditions. There are delays on all of the tube lines, two airports are closed, and several over ground trains aren’t running. Still, the overall atmosphere is cheerful. The pubs have put out special deals on hot chocolate and other wintery beverages, and I personally can’t wait to taste the cranberry and cinnamon cider that I’ve seen advertised; I definitely also will need to try ordering a Christmas pudding the next time I go down the road to my favorite pub. Everyone seems intent on having a good time, so long as they can stay warm.

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One of the things that I should have expected, and should have been prepared for, was the lack of Thanksgiving. When I was leaving the US, I knew that I’d be celebrating my birthday far away from my friends and family, but Thanksgiving had somehow slipped my mind. The usual reminder for me the that we’re getting close to that holiday are the store decorations; but of course those aren’t seen here in the UK. Rather, the stores go straight from Halloween to Christmas, with a small break in between for the 5th of November, Bonfire Night. It wasn’t until I started seeing Facebook statuses concerning Thanksgiving break at my school back home that it really hit me how much I was going to miss the food, family, and traditions associated with the holiday. Since reading about my friends back home baking and cooking with their families, I’ve had this insatiable craving my candied yams and pumpkin pies.

The Ifsa-Butler Thanksgiving Dinner that I went to was absolutely amazing; the food couldn’t have been any better, and I had fun with the friends that I’ve made here. However, the set meals we could choose from didn’t include all of the favorites that I grew up on. Mostly importantly though, it didn’t include the family or friends that I normally celebrate with. Still, I had fun, and I’m enjoying my time here in London. The sadness about missing out on my usual Thanksgiving festivities is only a small part of my story here, and I’ll just have to make up for the times I’m missing with friends back home by celebrating extra hard next year. And at the least, I’ll be home just in time for Christmas, with amazing stories about my adventures for everyone to hear.

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While I chose the turkey meal, my friend Anya opted for a slightly less traditional Thanksgiving

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The Changing Cost of Universities in London

Time November 24th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I’ve always been amazed by the price of tuition here in Britain. At my home university, the yearly cost of tuition, coupled with room in board, is roughly $40,000 a year. Fortunately for me, much of the cost is offset by scholarship and financial aid, but a good deal is left for me to deal with personally; every year, the debt that I owe increases substantially.

Yet here in the U.K, education is highly state subsidized; British undergraduate students at Queen Mary University of London pay less than 4,000 pounds a year out of pocket for tuition, which is less than $6,000 a year, though there are exceptions with some degrees, such as Medicine and Dentistry. International students, however, pay a far more hefty 11,000 pounds a year for tuition, akin to $16,000 a year. However, students in the UK also save money because most programs are meant to last only three years, rather than the US standard of four, due to the fact that programs are always specialist in nature rather than following the liberal arts standard of studying a little bit of everything. At the same time, the discounts individual businesses give students are just as amazing; nearly every store and business in London seems to have some deal for students, such as cheaper movie tickets and 10% discounts on food.

Several of the American students expressed envy of the price that British students pay, while others have even gone as far as to wish that they had applied to schools here when they were deciding on where to go for college.

“I wish I had known about how affordable the university experience is in the UK,” an American friend of mine studying computer science told me. “Had I known, I would have looked into doing the full program over here rather than just a semester and I would have still paid significantly less than the debt I’ve racked up now which in all honesty, I doubt I’ll ever be able to fully pay back.”

However, with the economic crisis, there have been many threats to the affordability of education, as the government has begun a process of cutting from its budget. In addition to cutting funding given to school, the government has decided to remove caps on tuition fees. While this allows schools to make up for the budget deficits caused by the drop in aid, it guarantees that this cost will directly affect students; discussion has been of costs reaching 10,000 pounds a year. Students, as could be expected, have not responded favorably, and the outcry has been massive.

“It goes against all the rhetoric of our society,” first year student Jenni told me. “It’s really gonna create a bigger divide in society; I should be judged on my academic merit, rather than how much money I have in the bank.”

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There have been student rallies against funding cuts for several weeks, with an enormous one organized by multiple schools taking place just a few weeks ago. The vast majority of the protestors have been peaceful, shouting slogans and marching with signs, but some of it has turned violent. Much of the anger is aimed at one of the two political parties in control of government, the Liberal Democrats. They had originally pledged to work against all attempts to raise the out of pocket cost of university for students, and a large portion of their voters were students. Yet, when they formed a coalition government with the larger Conservative party, they went back on this.

“It’s ridiculous. It feels like you’ve just been backstabbed,” Aamna, another first year, complained.

Yet it’s not just the British students who are concerned; with the price that they pay for university increasing dramatically, there’s a high chance that international student fees, already high compared to domestic students, could sky rocket. Queen Mary has a large population of international students, all of whom are concerned over the future of universities in the country that they’ve chosen to study in.

“It’ll make more people think twice about coming to the UK, as if the home student tuition rises, I’m sure the International student fee will as well.” My friend Tristram noted while discussing the price he pays to attend Queen Mary. “

With all that’s going on, there’s sure to be a great deal of changes within the UK in the future. It really makes one consider the value of university, and how much the government should provide for education. At the same time, students like me have to wonder how this will affect future students interested in studying abroad.

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Travel in London

Time November 15th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I’d always dreamed of living in a city, but it’s something that I’d never done before; now, residing in the largest, most metropolitan city on Earth, there’s one thing I must admit to having nearly no experience with: public transport.

I’ve lived most of my life in a small suburban town, where the only thing possibly definable as public transport was a bus along the main road, normally headed towards Atlantic City, or back from it. I bought my first used car during my senior year of high school, and loved the freedom it afforded me; for once I could go out when I wanted, without having to worry about how I was getting there and back. That said, I’m used to driving wherever I need to go.

London, however, is a far cry from my small New Jersey town. Living in a city has its perks and its drawbacks, but one of the best things by far is how simple travel can be. Today, I wanted to see the fireworks for the Lord Mayor Inauguration, all I had to do was take a quick peek online for directions on the official travel website, TFL.gov. With just a few seconds of typing out where I was and where I wanted to go, it gave me four different options for getting there. In a way, it’s rather like the public transport version of GPS, giving you several different options on how to reach your intended location.

The most well known method of transport is the Underground, also known as ‘the Tube’.  I’m lucky in that I live on a campus which is very self contained, so unlike most London students I rarely need to travel for classes, but when I do travel distances, I use the underground. For example, I have friends going to school/living on the other side of the city, so occasionally I’ll walk down the road to Mile End tube station, and take the central line westward, either meeting up with them by their flats or taking the line towards a certain station where we’ll all meet. I’m fortunate in that I received an Oyster Card at my Ifsa-Butler orientation; this means that I receive a discounted rate on all transport, and that I don’t need to stand in line to buy tickets every time I travel. I’ve yet to meet a single Londoner without one.

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Though quick and easy to use, the tube does have the drawback of not exactly being completely affordable on a student budget. Depending on where you’re traveling to, one trip within the city can cost around 2 pounds, 4 without an Oyster card. So if you go out for a night with friends, you need to take into consideration how many times you’re going to be riding the tube. For example, I once intended to simply meet my friends for dinner in China town, so I took the tube to Leicester Square. They then wanted to meet some other friends, so we once more took off from the nearest station. When I was finally heading home, I realized that without paying attention I’d used up all of the prepaid funds on my Oyster, spending roughly 6 pounds that night alone. Fortunately, I don’t think that I would have been charged much more beyond those 6 pounds if I’d traveled anymore on the tube that day; if in one day you spend on your Oyster  the amount that it costs for a day’s prepaid travel card, which would be 7 pounds and 20 pence for me, the card scanners simply act as if you have a travel card and don’t charge you anything beyond that rate. This only works within certain zones of the city, but it’s a nice scheme.

The other method of public transport that I use often, especially when traveling within my own section of London, is the bus. Back home I’d never been on one, yet here they’re a common source of travel. They’re cheap, especially with an Oyster card, though traveling on them usually takes longer than taking the tube. When carrying heavy bags back to my dorm from the grocery store nearly a mile away, I almost always take the bus back to my campus. However, it can get really crowded, especially on the route back from the grocery store, and I know some claustrophobic friends that will let several buses pass them by till they find one that they’re willing to take. However, their main advantage is that they never stop running; though some routes may close, there are some that run 24-7 and others that take different routes at night. Thus, after the tube closes, usually around midnight depending on the station, buses can be your best option home.

I’d love to go on about taxis, but I’ve never been in one. What I do know, however, is that they can be very pricey unless you’re splitting the fair with a sizeable group. That, and I’m constantly hearing warnings against taking an unlicensed cabs, whether it be through word of mouth of advertizing by the city.

Personally, my favorite method of travel is walking. A few of my friends have travel cards for certain sections, meaning that all of their travel within that section is already paid for; they take the tube even for the smallest of distances, just because they can. I don’t have a travel card, and though it might be nice, I don’t need one. All of my classes are a short walk from my residence hall, not a tube ride away, and while I do travel, I don’t take the tube or bus if my destination is only a few stops away. Walking at street level, I get to see what’s around me, and enjoy it. Taking the bus, the signs are only a blur, and you can barely read them, while on the tube you only see the pitch black of the tunnels and the ads within your train. By walking, not only do I save money, but I get to know the city a little bit better each time.

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Walking – best done with friends.

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Different Classrooms: Teaching Differences between the US and the UK

Time November 1st, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It’s taken me a few weeks to really settle into my class schedule, and that’s mostly because of how differently classes are treated here. Back home, I’m used to 15 hours a week of class, with each class receiving three hours throughout the week. These hours were usually broken up into one hour or hour and a half sessions, with night classes being the only classes to meet simply once per week. Here, four classes are considered a full schedule, with each one being two hours long. At the same time, the classes are divided into ‘lectures’ and ‘seminars, with lectures being nothing more than exactly what they sound like, and seminars being akin to discussion groups. Getting sick is a pain; since you only have a certain class one day a week, you miss a lot if you miss one class.

To make up for the short amount of time that we actually spend in class, we’re given tons of reading. This is divided up into ‘essential’ and ‘recommended additional’, with the first being necessary for seminar discussions and the later useful either for helping you understand the first, or for additional research that could help with a paper. With all this work, managing your time becomes important; you feel like you have a lot more free time than you really do.

At the same time, students tend to specialize early on; there’s no such thing as going to college without a set major. The focus here isn’t on giving you a rounded knowledge like liberal arts schools in the US; all of your classes pertain directly to your major. This also can make scheduling easy for people who aren’t taking multiple majors; departments make sure that none of their classes for certain years conflict. However, there’s also less leeway given in picking schedules; it would be awkward to take 2nd year and 3rd year classes at the same time, which you can easily do in the US. Rather, British Universities expect you to take them in order, moving along your options in order within a set track. This can make me feel like I’m at a disadvantage in some of my upper level classes; the professors and other students are constantly making references to classes that the British students, moving along their track, have already taken but that I haven’t. This usually means that I have to ask the person next to me what that bit of information meant.

I can’t help but envy the British students sometimes. Those who are going for normal degrees (as in not medical or dentistry), get to graduate in just three years. At the same time, due to heavy government funding, university costs less than 4,000 pounds a year for tuition, or roughly 6,000 dollars a year at the current exchange rate. It’s roughly double that for international students, however, as non British citizens. In the future, though, they may not be so lucky, especially new legislation was recently signed into law by parliament removing the current tuition caps. It may not be for awhile, but university tuition here may eventually become as incredibly expensive as it is in the United States.

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Lake District Adventure Weekend

Time October 25th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off on Lake District Adventure Weekend by

I just got back from the Ifsa-Butler Adventure Weekend last night, and it was amazing.

Studying in London has been an amazing experience so far. There’s so much to see and do, and I don’t feel like a mere semester here is anywhere near enough time to experience it adequately.  Yet there is so much more to England than just its capital city, and this past weekend really helped me to explore more of the country.

The Adventure Weekend for students studying in London was a trip to the famous Lake District National Park, in the county of Cumbria. We were staying near Keswick, in the far northern section of the Lake District, close to Scotland and exceptionally far away from London; the drive took over seven hours! However, the views of the countryside were amazing; I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much green in my life, nor so many sheep. Once we arrived, some of us stayed in the activity center’s hotel, while the rest of us spent our nights at the local hostel. I’d never stayed in a hostel before, though I had looked into online. It wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined when reading about sharing a room with random people; we all got to know each other really well, and were really only in the hostel for sleeping and eating.

The first night, after dinner, everyone went to the activity center for the ‘Pub Quiz Night’, thrown by the Ifsa Butler staff. The categories covered a wide variety of ranges, and things quickly became highly competitive. I was lucky to be in the winning group, and I’m definitely going to need to look into quiz nights at the local pubs around my university.

Saturday was the best day of the trip, with dozens of activities to choose, from the leisurely to the terrifyingly exciting. I chose Archery and Coracle (traditional Welsh boat) building for my AM activity. As expected, I got soaked pulling my coracle across the river, but was lucky in that mine didn’t sink or capsize! Gorge Scrambling, in the afternoon, was amazing; my best way of describing it would be to say that it’s like a combination of hiking, swimming, and mountain climbing. My friend Anya, a literature major, preferred to go on a more relaxed tour of the famous countryside, heading out to points such as the Castlerigg stone circle and Beatrice Potter’s cottage. Later that night, the Ifsa Butler staff hosted a dance party. I’m usually picky with music, but I feel like the DJ did a great job keeping everyone happy despite different tastes.

Sunday I chose to walk around Keswick, the largest town in the Lake District, rather than hike around the lakes; my muscles were exceptionally sore from the fun of the previous day! I’m positive that a lot of people shared my sentiments, as the bus was crowded and from what I could tell only a handful of people went on the hike. Afterwards, around noon, we began to the long journey back to campus.

Overall, I think that the Adventure Weekend was an amazing event. The English countryside is beautiful, but if not for this trip I would never have even thought to explore all that it has to offer. Normally when I think of traveling, I think of cities, or particular sites that I would love to visit; yet I’d never heard of the Lake District before this trip, or understood why it’s such a popular vacation spot for the British and Scottish.  Now, I wouldn’t mind going back again on my own, if given the chance.

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From London to the Lake District

Time October 20th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I just got back from the Ifsa-Butler Adventure Weekend last night, and it was amazing.

Studying in London has been an amazing experience so far. There’s so much to see and do, and I don’t feel like a mere semester here is anywhere near enough time to experience it adequately.  Yet there is so much more to England than just its capital city, and this past weekend really helped me to explore more of the country.

The Adventure Weekend for students studying in London was a trip to the famous Lake District National Park, in the county of Cumbria. We were staying near Keswick, in the far northern section of the Lake District, close to Scotland and exceptionally far away from London; the drive took over seven hours! However, the views of the countryside were amazing; I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much green in my life, nor so many sheep. Once we arrived, some of us stayed in the activity center’s hotel, while the rest of us spent our nights at the local hostel. I’d never stayed in a hostel before, though I had looked into online. It wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined when reading about sharing a room with random people; we all got to know each other really well, and were really only in the hostel for sleeping and eating.

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The first night, after dinner, everyone went to the activity center for the ‘Pub Quiz Night’, thrown by the Ifsa Butler staff. The categories covered a wide variety of ranges, and things quickly became highly competitive. I was lucky to be in the winning group, and I’m definitely going to need to look into quiz nights at the local pubs around my university.

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Saturday was the best day of the trip, with dozens of activities to choose, from the leisurely to the terrifyingly exciting. I chose Archery and Coracle (traditional Welsh boat) building for my AM activity. As expected, I got soaked pulling my coracle across the river, but was lucky in that mine didn’t sink or capsize! Gorge Scrambling, in the afternoon, was amazing; my best way of describing it would be to say that it’s like a combination of hiking, swimming, and mountain climbing. My friend Anya, a literature major, preferred to go on a more relaxed tour of the famous countryside, heading out to points such as the Castlerigg stone circle and Beatrice Potter’s cottage. Later that night, the Ifsa Butler staff hosted a dance party. I’m usually picky with music, but I feel like the DJ did a great job keeping everyone happy despite different tastes.

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Sunday I chose to walk around Keswick, the largest town in the Lake District, rather than hike around the lakes; my muscles were exceptionally sore from the fun of the previous day! I’m positive that a lot of people shared my sentiments, as the bus was crowded and from what I could tell only a handful of people went on the hike. Afterwards, around noon, we began to the long journey back to campus.

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Overall, I think that the Adventure Weekend was an amazing event. The English countryside is beautiful, but if not for this trip I would never have even thought to explore all that it has to offer. Normally when I think of traveling, I think of cities, or particular sites that I would love to visit; yet I’d never heard of the Lake District before this trip, or understood why it’s such a popular vacation spot for the British and Scottish.  Now, I wouldn’t mind going back again on my own, if given the chance.

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All Moved In

Time October 4th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I’m all done setting up my room at Queen Mary University, and the housing couldn’t be any better than it already is. At my American university, I’m used to sharing a room with one, or sometimes even two, other girls, and sharing my bathroom with an entire hallway of 20-30 girls. There’s only one kitchen per building, but they’re barely furnished and rarely used due to the requirement that anyone living on campus have a meal plan that revolves around the campus dining hall.

The British, however, seem to prefer personal space over sharing. In the student village section of campus, each building is broken up into apartments, called ‘flats’ here in the UK. I have my own personal bedroom, which is almost the same size as the room I shared at my university back home. I even get my own attached bathroom. Sure, my room overlooks the railroad tracks behind campus, but the view of the park behind the tracks is beautiful, and the thick curtains included with the room really help to block out the city lights late at night when I’m trying to sleep.

Queen Mary doesn’t have a regular meal plan program; they have several restaurants on campus and offer a limited prepaid voucher plan for dinners in one of the restaurant on weekdays, but there’s none of the full day, all you can eat plans that I’m used to back home. Instead, we’re expected to fend for ourselves the majority of the time, either cooking our own food or paying to eat elsewhere. Fortunately, each flat comes with a kitchen, fully stocked with everything you’ll need except for food, cutlery, and cookware. For example, mine comes with a toaster, microwave, fridge, stove, etc. It feels rather odd sharing a kitchen with ten other people. Most of my food goes into the school provided mini fridge under my desk, but anything that needs to be kept frozen has to go into fridge in the kitchen. Even though no one has taken any of my food yet, I’m always worried that one day something will look too good for someone else to pass up, and I’ll come back to find part of my lunch missing.

The food here is taking a little getting used to. Fortunately for me, the campus is located in one of the cheaper sections of London, so buying already cooked food from the little shops nearby isn’t costing me an arm and a leg; thanks to this, I’ve been able to try a little bit of the local cuisine. The Indian and Bangladeshi dishes are amazing; out of everything I’ve tried, they seem to have the most spice and flavor to them. On the other hand, the British food I’ve tried seems to be much more toned down than what I’m used to in the US. The ramen noodles I bought to make myself lunch had less than three grams of salt in the total package! Oddly enough, I have yet to try the national dish, ‘Fish and Chips’.

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Leaving for London

Time September 20th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

(Posted much later due to lack of strong internet signal)

It’s 7:00pm, the fourteenth of September. I’m writing this while I’m sitting at the airport terminal in Newark, waiting for the plane to start boarding. There’s no free internet connection, so I’ll have to wait till I find one in London. We’ve already been told that the plane is an hour behind schedule, so I have some three hours till boarding at the least. Plenty of time to sit here and contemplate what awaits me.

Leaving so much behind is hard. Your parents don’t want you to leave for your gate; they can only follow you so far before a security barrier stops them and they’re allowed no further. After that, they’re not going to see you for months, and with those last few hugs it’s really difficult to let go. Then there’s all of the friends you’re leaving back home. While you’re gone, life is going to move on without you; you’ll be coming back to changes that you weren’t there to witness happen.

I’m personally going to be missing the birth of my baby niece, my brother’s first child. She’s due any day now, but I won’t be able to see her in person until she’s nearly four months old. At the same time, I can’t help worrying about my aging grandfather, and the now elderly dog who has been my companion since I was a child.  I’ve worried about them in the past when I went off to college, but then I could always make it home within a few hours if need be. Now, I’ll be on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Still, I wouldn’t give up this chance for anything. I wish the plane would come sooner, so I could arrive in London and begin my adventure there already. Yes, I may be missing out on all the fun that my friends are having in the US, but they’re also missing out on the fun of my adventures as well. While I’m worried about my family, I know that they wouldn’t want me to not go. They support me all the way, and enthusiastically keep texting me last minute updates on souvenirs that they want me to buy for them; my grandfather wants a double-decker bus magnet.

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Packing, Part 1

Time August 26th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Three weeks till I leave the United States, and I’m already struggling with my number one problem: what to pack.
I’m an atrocious over-packer; even on short, three day family vacations, I was the scourge of comfort as I shoved my over-sized dufflebag into the back seat of the car, leaving little room for my brother and I on the long drive to our destination. My main worry is always that there may be some small chance that I’ll need a nice dress, or a raincoat, or a sweater…so I pack all of the above even when the likelihood of me needing the items in near zero. Both my freshman and sophomore years I brought piles of clothes with me to college, half of which I don’t think I ever even wore.
Now, I’m going to be in the United Kingdom for a little over three months, and can only bring what will fit into one suitcase and a carry on bag; the suitcase can weigh no more than 50 lbs (23 kilograms), and even the size of the carry on bag is restricted to basically the equivalent of a laptop bag. Thus, I can only bring what I’m really going to need, and this may be a problem for me.
My laptop is currently one of my top priorities, and that’s going in my carry on; there’s no way I’d risk losing the most expensive piece of my luggage, or having it damaged in transit. Even if the airline were to lose my luggage and offer me compensation, their policies clearly state that they don’t cover electronics. For the same reason, my digital camera will also need to be in my carry on; there’s no way I’d ever want to travel without it. At the same time, I’m somehow going to need to fit a spare outfit in my bag, in case anything happens to my checked luggage. I’ve been debating over whether or not to bring a book for the flight, but the airline we’re taking appears to have an individual TV screen on the back of every seat; it also doesn’t seem likely that any book I’d be interested in bringing would be luggage-space friendly.
That still leaves me with up to fifty pounds of checked luggage, and I have a feeling that I’ll be using nearly all of it. This is probably mostly going to be clothes and necessities that I can’t risk not being able to find immediately in London; for example, contact lens solution, which I hear is really expensive in the UK for some reason. A few pairs of jeans, a skirt, and one nice dress should get me by, as well as just two pairs of shoes. It’ll be difficult not packing all of the shoes and t-shirts that I’m accustomed to being able to choose between, but it’s not like I even wear most of them that often; I normally stick with my two most comfortable pairs of shoes, and wear a dozen or so of my favorite shirts constantly.
Many supplies, however, I’ll need to buy in London. For example, my university housing includes a shared kitchen, but it appears that we need to stock it ourselves with utensils and cooking equipment. I don’t see myself needing to pack cooking utensils, and other important items like towels, into my luggage when I’m sure I could buy them at reasonable prices in London. At the same time, there’s no way that I’ll be able to fit a comforter or pillows into my luggage, so I’ll have no choice but to buy them once there. Fortunately, a fellow Ifsa-Butler student will be one of my flat-mates, and we’ve been emailing each other about what we think we’ll need in London. One good idea we’ve had is sharing cookware; it’s not like all seven of us in the flat (aka apartment) will need seven separate sauce pans. Instead, we’ll probably be best off going shopping together, and sharing what we need. That way, we’ll be able to maximize needed supplies while minimizing cost.
—Lauren—

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A Little Over a Month to Go

Time August 9th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I won’t be arriving in London till nearly mid September, but for me the adventure is already beginning.
My name’s Lauren Runza, and I’m a History/Politics double major at Rider University in New Jersey. I’ll be spending the Fall at Queen Mary University in London, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve always wanted to travel to Europe, and the idea of staying there for an extended period of time-even better.
In between shifts waiting on tables, I’ve spent my time studying what I can about British culture… sometimes this entails reading newspapers such as the UK Guardian, other times watching shows such as Doctor Who on BBC’s American channel. One thing that’s particularly caught my interest is the food. Unlike most universities in the US, the one I’ll be attending in London doesn’t have a meal plan. Rather, I’ll be living in a flat (aka apartment) which contains a kitchen, and my roommates and I will have to do all of our own cooking. This means that I’ve been readying myself with a few cheap and simple recipes that I can cook up after classes. At the same time, I can’t wait to to try all that London’s menus have to offer; I grew up in a small town, and rarely get to experience the varieties of flavors that cities have for the adventurous.
Some differences in wording that I came across while researching Britain’s cuisine:
-Dessert is commonly known as ‘pudding’ or ‘afters’.
-Cupcakes are called ‘fairy cakes’.
-Appetizers are ‘starters’.
-Baked potatoes are called ‘jacket potatoes’.

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