Archive for September, 2013

Week Uno

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

If you have seen my Facebook activity of the past few days, you probably know that I live on a hall full of drunk boisterous freshman. Since they now have enough people and alcohol that it is time to belt Taylor Swift, I thought I’d take the opportunity to turn up my smooth jazz radio and write a blog entry. Fortunately, the rolling of kegs down the concrete steps outside has temporarily halted. That sounds like the universe collapsing in on itself.

I have now had all my classes once and I have an understanding of what they’ll be like. Somehow, I’ve configured a schedule for myself in which I have a three day weekend. Classes work much differently here than they do in the US- each module has a lecture only once a week and then a fortnightly tutorial, which is a much smaller group meant for discussion of material and feedback. Since most begin on week two, I’ve only had lectures so far. All of the courses I am taking while here are within my major except one sociology class called Society, Media, and Culture. This one is longer than the others and requires more work but I think it will be very interesting and I’m very much looking forward to the tutorials.

I had planned on going to London this weekend for UMW and was very sad to find out that I can’t go but I plan on doing other fun things with my three-day vacation. It has been uncharacteristically sunny and relatively warm here for the past few days which has given me a chance to explore the campus on foot a bit. I’ve got into the swing of shopping at the grocery store here and eating dinner which is conveniently right down stairs in my building. I’ve quickly learned British things such as not waiting to cross the street in the bike path (if you’re not hit by one, you’ll get hit by the other), how to find cheetos in the grocery store (they’re my one weakness in life and they’re called wotsits here- yeah, idk), and how to stream music (pandora doesn’t work in the UK). You know, I’m learning the important things.

Next Sunday, I’m traveling with the International Society to Liverpool for the day, which I’m very excited about. I plan on going on many more trips with the society as well, to Edinburgh, stonehenge, and North Wales. They do a lot of trips for international students every semester and I’m very much looking forward to them all. I also plan on getting involved with the German Society to help practice my language skills while I’m on break from courses on the subject.

I had my first meal within the Curry Mile this past weekend. I ate with a couple friends at a curry restaurant called Lahore upon a recommendation from a hallmate. It was dirt-cheap and unbelievably good. There’s so much fantastic Halal, Indian, and Afghan cuisine here and I can’t wait to try others- although I may have trouble breaking off from that first one, it was so good.

My only major barrier so far has been the laundry. Upon moving in, every student is given a laundry card which can be topped up online and then used to pay to do laundry. Except it’s not ‘can,’ it’s ‘have to.’ You are not allowed to pay to do laundry with actual money. So much about this school’s technology dates it except when it comes laundry, in which case they’re trying to make use of technology to save you from the burden of carrying money. I don’t know if this is because there are no quarters in the UK or they just want to add to your collection of cards (I have 5 for all different things), but it’s annoying and they do not work. Also, you must use Paypal, so if you don’t have one, tough nuggets. After trying to remember my Paypal details for 2 hours, I finally made it to the launderette where there were 20 people scratching their heads and looking at the machines sideways. After I inserted my card in the little machine and entered the code that it had given me online that I then had to write down on a sticky note and bring with me (high-tech, right?), I had to figure how to use the machines which only two hours and then another two to actually do my laundry. It’s a good thing those classes only happen once a week so I have lots of free time to do things like laundry.


Spanish Excursions

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

My, these past two weeks have flown by! I have been busy trying to make the most of my time here in Spain.  Last weekend my “family” and I visited Bilbao’s mountaintop and also Bilbao’s neighboring city, Getxo.  Because it was my host mother’s birthday, we had a small lunch party here last Saturday with some guests. I really felt like part of the family.  After the feast we went to Getxo, where I was able to spend some quality time with my host brothers as we walked together along the waterfront of the city. The next day we went hiking to the top of a mountain in the outskirts of Bilbao, where we were able to see the entire city! Spending this extra time with my host family was really special, and I feel much closer to them because of it – I am so very thankful that these loving people have taken me in!

This weekend I traveled with the other students in my program to Madrid and Toledo.  Madrid was a very impressive city, simply because of its size!  It is huge.  Unlike Bilbao, it is nearly impossible to walk from one end of the city to the other.  Also unlike Bilbao, it was rather dirty and not very pretty!!  It made me appreciate my quaint little city that I call home now.  There were some cool parts of Madrid, though!  We visited the old Royal Palace where Spanish monarchs used to live, as well as the beautiful city cathedral.  I think my favorite part was the Prado art museum…surprisingly enough!  I am not much of an art person, but I was entranced by every painting in the museum.  I was fascinated – even emotionally moved – by the stories that the exquisite paintings told.  Perhaps I have found a new interest?

Toledo was absolutely beautiful.  The ancient architecture of the buildings nestled in the mountains was so picturesque.  On this trip it really hit me how incredibly old Spain is!  Toledo is the former capital of Spain, and I felt like I was walking back in time as I explored its cobblestone streets.  This country truly puts anything “historical” that we have in the United States to shame.  (Let’s just say that it was nothing like strolling through Colonial Williamsburg!)

In addition to my excursion to these other cities in Spain, I am also planning on traveling to Paris (and possibly Rome) in November!  I’ve found myself thinking, “Is this real life??”  But yes, it is really happening!  I can’t wait to see what else there is to see.


View of Gexto from the water.

View of Gexto from the water.

My "brothers," Ignacio y Carlos.

My “brothers,” Ignacio y Carlos.

View of Bilbao from the mountain!

View of Bilbao from the mountain!


Fancy Madrid street sign


The Madrid Royal Palace entrance.


Madrid’s Cathedral

Plaza Mayor of Madrid!

Plaza Mayor of Madrid!

A real Velasquez! This was so exciting for me :)

A real Velasquez! This was so exciting for me.

Toledo <3

Toledo <3

Happy to be exploring Spain!

Happy to be exploring Spain!


English English

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

In just under a week, I’ve come to appreciate Manchester as possibly the most linguistically interesting place I could’ve chosen to visit. Not only are the english accents and dialects diverse, so are the phrases and idioms used by the many different sorts of non-native speakers who live here. This is a very diverse city; many of the people who live here, in- and outside of the student population, have moved here permanently from parts of the world where no one speaks only one language fluently. This has a big influence on the way they use English. I live just outside a strip of Oxford road called the Curry Mile, a length of road filled with places with names like Abdul’s Paradise and Wanasah Cafe. Places where you can buy a sari or shisha 24/7 and in any color you like. The people who shop here speak English in a different way than I do, than Manchester natives do, and than european foreigners do. I find it interesting to just listen to people like a creep when I walk around outside because I’ve never been in a place where everyone sounds so different.

So far the jargon differences that I’ve observed are the following.

The grocery store or supermarket is called the shop. The word shop is not used generically to describe anything besides a large food market.

A vacuum is a hoover.

Quid is currency, used especially when referring to 20. Twenty quid.

A fiver or a tenner is a five pound bill or a ten pound bill. Except when seen on a menu, then tenner is in reference to a ten year old child. (kid’s menu)

A scheduling conflict is a timetable clash.

TJ Maxx is TK Maxx.

Lay’s chips are Walker’s crisps.

“Can I help you?” or “What can I do for you?” When someone at a desk or store who is helping you asks what you are getting or what they can answer for you, they ask “Are you okay?”

The term “as always” or “per usual” is phrased “as ever.”

The first floor is actually the second story. Our first floor is their ground floor.

Crazy is mental.

The term mate is used colloquially to address anyone outside of a very formal setting.

You say cheers when almost anything happens, to mean thank you. When you get off the bus, you say cheers to the driver. When someone holds the door for you, you say cheers. When someone sells you their black market ticket for tonight’s hottest pub crawl for only a fiver, you say cheers.

This is Manchester. 2013-09-15 16:47:55

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

Today it poured rain harder than it has since I’ve been here so I took the opportunity to venture into city centre at Piccadilly Gardens. This is a large outdoor shopping area that also has a big “American-style” mall called the Arndale Shopping Centre. This was the first place I’ve been while here that looks exactly like something you would see in the US; Starbucks on every corner, wireless phone stores, H&Ms, Urban Outfitters, and NY & Companys galore. One thing they have that you would not typically find in a big US shopping mall is dollar stores (here, Pound World) and thrift and second-hand stores. One fun second-hand store I found is called COW. Who knows why but it was fun. They have a lot of t-shirts with the names of US cities and sports teams. If ever you need a used Miami Heat or San Francisco shirt, remember, COW. I also found a shirt there that I’m pretty sure I owned in the 6th grade.


Another exciting thing I’ve done is buy a bus pass so that I can feel cool when I hop on the bus and flash it like I know where I’m going. Although I got it to get to campus, which is a 30 minute walk from my complex, it goes just about everywhere in the city. So far, I’ve only figured out how to take it up and down the same road that I live on, but I hear it goes almost everywhere in the city. Fortunately, the road I live on becomes the main drag that runs through campus and then up to the shopping area I visited. The roads here are very narrow and european-looking, with a car lane, a bus lane, and a bike lane in each direction. The busses come every 3 seconds or so and they’re all double-decker which is really fun. This afternoon the rain cleared up and this was my view from the very front of the bus on the second level.



to the left, to the left

Friday, September 13th, 2013

Hi. They drive on the left in England, incase anyone forget. Although I’ve not forgotten, it has taken crossing the street 3 times for it to register with me that that means you look in the opposite direction as in the US before crossing. While the busy UKers probably fantasize about flattening oblivious Americans in the street, that is not included in my itinerary so I guess I can remember from now on.

Besides waiting for the bus on the wrong side of the street, my travels have been easy thus far. My plane ride went smoothly and the crossover from London to Manchester was delayed but the actual flight was much shorter than I was expecting. I had a bit more culture shock than I was expecting even though many things here are very similar to the way they are in the US. That’s just the thing though, everything is similar. The language they speak is the same but with an accent, the things they wear are similar compared to many countries of the world but the fashion style is a little different. There’s an episode of 30 Rock called Stone Mountain where Liz and Jack (of NYC) go to rural Georgia and experience the (exaggeratedly) culture there. At first they like it but by the end of their stay Liz comments “Why is EVERYTHING just a little bit different here?!” That is exactly how I feel. Except I’m not really wondering why they’re different I’m just trying to keep up with them. My biggest feat so far is figuring out how to flush the toilet.

I’ve taken the bus twice without a bus pass even though you need one because the driver was kind and realized I didn’t know what I was doing. That’s a good glimpse of how people are here; very friendly and accommodating. It’s as if everyone is here to serve you, even strangers on the street. If you ask a question and it requires someone to go retrieve information, they will apologize for taking so long. The most culturally different phenomenon I’ve noticed is how punctual the British are. They’re very concerned about being places on time and it is very, very rude to arrive somewhere late having not notified someone that you are running late. They are also obsessed with lines (queues) and you are notified anytime you will have to queue for something (which is all the flipping time) so that you can accommodate the time that it will take for that in your schedule.

Besides that, it rains often and the school’s so big I hardly know where everything is. But I’m certainly not the only one, those 7,999 other international students are squinting at signs too.

New Beginnings

Monday, September 9th, 2013

I’ve officially been in Bilbao, Spain for one week now!  The first couple days, I walked around not really comprehending the reality my decision to live in Spain for almost 4 months.  I went from the usual “oooohs” and “ahhhhs” of first seeing a new beautiful place to thinking “Why on earth did I decide to do this??”  I have had a good week, exploring the city (Casco Viejo, or Old Town, is so beautiful, by the way!) and making new friends –  but this whole time I have still felt quite unsettled about the situation.  Now, though, I think I have overcome the first initial freak-outs of being in a strange country all by myself.  Today as I sat soaking up sun on a park bench next to the Guggenheim Museum in between classes, it suddenly hit me how amazing it is that I am living in Bilbao for the next three months. Like, wow. This is incredible – I am so lucky to be able to call this city “home” for the semester.  I cannot wait to know Bilbao like the back of my hand, and I’m so excited for the adventures I will have in Spain.

My view of the Guggenheim.

My view of the Guggenheim.

"Casco Viejo" ~ Old Town

“Casco Viejo” ~ Old Town


Eat, Pray, Love Haggis

Sunday, September 1st, 2013
So, I lied.  Only about the last post being...the last post.  Everything else in this blog is completely true, because otherwise I wouldn't be a very good blogger, now would I?

I had to go over a Senior Checksheet with my advisor this week, which is just a magical sheet of paper that lets the Registrar know that you are planning on and will be able to graduate on time.  I went to the meeting and went over the classes I had to take next semester - only two, woohoo! - but I did it automatically.  I turned the Registrar's copy in without even thinking about the graduation that would follow nine months from now.  Later, I realized - I'm a senior in college now.  I'm going to be graduating college, and going off into the real world soon.  I remember sitting in my dorm freshman year the night after move-in, being awed and terrified of this college universe, and feeling like the next four years would last forever.  And while they have taken a significant amount of time (because three years can't fly by that quickly), they've still somehow passed me by without me ever noticing.  I was too busy focusing on the next assignment, the next test, the next class that I needed for my major.  I took it a day at a time, and by doing so I forgot to enjoy those days.  I can't help but sit back and regret some of my college life, in only that I didn't live as much as I'd wanted to.

Similarly, I'm sitting here thinking, 'Woah, I was in a different country a few months ago.  I spent five months there.  How did that happen?'  I'm still amazed by this fact, and I think I will be for a fair amount of time (until I travel somewhere else, that is).  But this differs in that I can remember time stretching out in front of me, with forever and a day until I had to go back home.  I took it each day at a time, but I loved every day.  I may not have been happy every day, or thought I loved it.  But thinking back, even to my first night (spent alone and upset in my room, wondering why I'd chosen to do something different instead of just staying at home like everybody else), I was already falling in love with Scotland.  My bus ride from the airport to the city alone showed that, as I couldn't help but stare, fascinated, out my window at all the little cottage-like houses passing by.  They were cute and rustic and so very British that I couldn't help but love them.  As intimidating and awe-inspiring as Edinburgh was when I first arrived, it was still so lovely that I knew I wouldn't be afraid of it forever.

I learned a lot while I was abroad, about the differences between American and Scottish culture, about my own viewpoint on politics and healthcare, about what Europe is really like beyond the beautiful pictures of historical monuments and ancient buildings, about living on my own and making a life, however brief, for myself in a new city.  But beyond that I learned how to enjoy myself, and to enjoy the life going on around me.  I took in every minute I spent in the Highlands, searing it into my brain so that I'd never forget how wordlessly wonderful it is.  Even the time I spent pouring over books and notes, trying to cram fact after fact into my brain, was worthwhile.  I enjoyed it, even if I definitely didn't realize it at the time.  And I've taken that lesson back with me.  This first week of the Fall semester has lasted forever to me.  I've been busy, and I've been stressed, and I've been so tired I could barely keep my eyes open.  But I still find myself in a weirdly good mood at the end of the day, and I never go to bed dreading the morning light.  I've only hit snooze once this entire week (which is impressive for me, infamous for sleeping at least half an hour past my alarm time via constant snooze-button-hitting) and even then I actually sat up in bed and tried to wake up instead of hiding back underneath my covers.  I wanted my time abroad to mean something, and I made it my goal to do everything I could while I was there so that, when I came home, I could reflect on it and think 'I did something this year.'

I remember sitting down halfway through the semester and realizing that I hadn't had a weekend free to just sleep in and laze around my flat since I'd arrived, and I was pleasantly surprised.  I finally had a weekend to sleep in, watch TV, and work on my essays, but I missed the activity.  I missed travelling.  After being back home and spending my time off from work and class sitting around the house or just going out with friends, I definitely miss the travel.  I miss the ability to hop on a bus and go into the Highlands for the day.  If anything, studying abroad has made me want to travel more.  Of course, I've always wanted to travel; but I didn't realize how wonderful it was until I'd experienced it semi-long term for myself.

My journey to Scotland and back certainly wasn't grand or majestic in any way, but it had its own charm and definitely its own lessons to teach.  Reading back through my posts, I wish I had taken more time to write down the little details of my time abroad if only so that everyone else reading this could learn with me.  But I have my memories, which are without a doubt some of the most precious things I brought back with me, and that will have to do.

Study Abroad Pre Departure

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

Well I believe it is time for me to set up my blog and get it ready for my abroad experience. I hope you all will enjoy the several posts and follow me as I explore Spain and the surrounding European continent. Feel free to leave comments and share the blog with other whom you might think will enjoy it. My goal is to explore different cultures, meet fascinating people, master another language, and see what the world has to offer.

Study Abroad Pre Departure

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

Well I believe it is time for me to set up my blog and get it ready for my abroad experience. I hope you all will enjoy the several posts and follow me as I explore Spain and the surrounding European continent. Feel free to leave comments and share the blog with other whom you might think will enjoy it. My goal is to explore different cultures, meet fascinating people, master another language, and see what the world has to offer.