Where to?

Portugal?  Italy? Madrid? Cordoba? Granada? ok ok ok . ….. Yes, I’ve done A LOT of traveling. Where do I even begin? My life here is different, i finally have the opportunity to fulfill my passion for traveling. When I first arrived here, my mind immediately began to plan every weekend that I had free to travel. However, three months or to make it easier, twelve weekends is not sufficient for my long list of places I want to go.

But an important factor that a friend of mine told me was that, i must remember that I will be back. I can’t keep thinking that this is my last time in Europe and hearing this, my entire outlook changed. I decided to take a break from traveling and to stay four weeks in Sevilla. This allowed me to get to know my own city and actually make some Sevillano friends.

I never thought I would fall in love so quickly with a city and all the hidden gems within it. A lot of people don’t think about sevilla when they think of Spain. Rather, people with go straight to Madrid or Barcelona. But why? We have everything here! History, Culture, night life, tapas (food), ancient architecture, and the list goes on. Trust me, if you need a tour guide- I got you! I love that I don’t get lost here anymore and that’s because I decided to say here. Tons of my new friends especially in my classes are gone every weekend making it impossible for us to go out! But don’t get me wrong, I understand why being in Europe can entice you to travel wherever, especially since it’s so cheap.

However, I did save some big trips for the end of the semester! In my last three weeks I will be in Morocco, Amsterdam and closing off my trip in Paris. I can’t believe it. I’m going to Paris. I cried when i booked the flight because Paris is very special to me, I always thought I would go when I was way way older and a had a career. But, no. I’m going now in my 20s, my prime years, exactly when i feel invincible.

I am throughly looking forward to my last weeks living in Europe.screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-23-25-pmscreen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-23-10-pmscreen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-23-04-pmscreen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-22-51-pm

Classes in the UK

Classes in the United Kingdom are not as different as I thought they would be. I’m very excited that there is a focus on teaching how to think, not what to think (a practice that I wish was more widespread in the U.S.). It’s very freeing to have each class only once a week, to have so much trust from the teacher to be able to study independently, and to be able to choose which assigned readings I read in some classes. While I had an expectation that classes would be a lot more difficult, I’ve found classes (sorry, modules) almost easier here. This may be partially because I’ve been in college for over four years by this point at three different schools, but I think it’s also because if there’s anything we don’t understand, the professors take the time to teach us in class. I’ve also noticed that there is much more time in UK modules (at least the liberal arts and humanities ones I’ve been taking) for group discussion and exploration of material, which means students keep engaged and help each other understand what we’re learning. I really like this aspect of UK university! Now that I’m approaching the year’s end, of course, I’m cramming like crazy and have several research essays due – whether in the UK or the US, best thing to do is complete tasks ahead of time. In the UK, however, they give you a lot more time to do that – I’ve had to really learn how to be a self-starter here.
Libraries are difficult to get used to at first, but ultimately they’re easier to access. Taking out a book is easier with the help of scanning robot wall slots. Book borrows automatically renew without charging you (as long as it hasn’t been requested by another student), and there are multiple copies of each textbook on the stacks. This has allowed me to complete all the readings without buying a single textbook! So cool.
It’s been a great year so far participating in classes and clubs (sorry, societies) on campus – I’ve played D&D with my friends from Cult Films and Media Society, debated at meetings of the Feminist Society, and sung with the A Cappella choir, “The Kingstones.” Each Saturday we busk in the Kingston Marketplace to make money for society T-shirts and other things. It’s a lot of fun to go out and do something with a group – helps me get to know a place better.
Making friends is fun and interesting.. often, for me, it starts with a little rag about the equally disturbing politics un the U.S. and UK, or with me asking a silly question and looking slightly disoriented. I’m amazed at how many friends I’ve made already, and I know that saying goodbye will be very hard… but I also have a feeling that with all these connections I’ve made, I’m sure to be back again someday.

History and Travels

So, now that my stay in the UK is almost over, so are my travelling adventures. I’ve been to Denmark, Sweden, Italy, and Ireland.

My first, and my favorite trip, was Italy. I have some family who vacation on the Amalfi coast for months at a time. I brought one of my friends with me, and we were only there for a few days during a weekend in early October. Italy is, hands down, the most beautiful place I have ever been. The view of the Mediterranean sea, the food, the gelato.

My family’s villa in Positano was straight out of a magazine. My room had its own balcony, and the view I had was insane. The sea stretched to the horizon. If I leaned out my balcony a little, and looked to the right, the Siren Islands looked back at me. Yeah, the islands from the ancient epic Odyssey. 

I think, out of everything, seeing the islands ever day was my favorite thing about Italy. Yeah, swimming in the Mediterranean sea was amazing. Yes, the gelato was life changing. But seeing the Siren Islands, which are part of a story that’s over centuries old, is something that still amazes me. In the US, that kind of history doesn’t really exist. In Europe, especially in Italy, that history is everywhere.

Once I leave, Italy is definitely going to be the place that I dream about going back to.

One Month Left: Thoughts

Actually, not even a month. A month minus 3 days.
It’s strange, and it doesn’t feel like I’ve been in London for most of a term already. It’s gone by so fast, and I’m not sure where the time goes. A lot of things have happened since the last time I checked in. Trump is the president elect (and that’s a whole can of worms I haven’t actually begun to process) my cat died, my mom had minor surgery. I turned 21. All of this happening has made me wish I had been home. Turning 21 without my mom to celebrate with was tough. I had a friend visit from Spain for the week, but it wasn’t the same.
I got lucky with the family I was placed with. My landlady/host mom (still not sure what to call her) wanted to have dinner with the entire family to celebrate. She made me a lasagna, since she knew that was my favorite food that my mom would make. There were some of my favorite veggies as sides, and for dessert? A homemade chocolate cake.
I haven’t talked about being homesick. Because, until my birthday, I wasn’t. Having dinner with the entire family, listening to them sing “Happy birthday” to me, in all of its awkward glory, then just sitting around the table having a chat was something I didn’t know I wanted. I didn’t realize how homesick I was, and they made everything so much easier to handle without even knowing it.

Here to stay.

Arriving at Malpensa airport was one of the most riveting and exciting moments of my life. All that was in my mind was how this is the land of my family. My blood is from here and now so am I. Living in America there is a disconnect with culture in terms of origins unless you are of Native American heritage.

So to be finally in Italy where my grandparents worked so hard to leave and arrive in America, and now here I am coming to study here. It feels like a full circle.

Again, this was my first time in an airport and everything so after arriving everything happened to fast that I didn’t even remember if they checked my passport till later on when I saw a stamp saying “Malpensa”. Jenn and I had to wait a few hours because we were waiting till the Erasmus students to pick us up and take us to our apartment.

Sitting in the airport was a nervous and exciting feeling. We were so close to being able to explore this new country yet we just had to sit tight and wait.

 

 

Classes in the UK

When I first came here, I was expecting a huge difference in the way classes are run and the way we are tested. In a way, they’re very different. One of my classes here runs for an entire year, while I’m only here for one term. Another one of my classes has a lecture for 1 hour, and then 3 hours later, a seminar that lasts an hour and a half. Having a class split up that like took a while to get used to, but I actually like it a lot. It’s easier to not feel as burnt out.

I’ve noticed that no one tests during the semester. No pop quizzes, so half-term exams, just an essay at the end of term. Which is odd, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. There’s a lot of freedom in these classes, the professors don’t make you do readings, (at least for the 3 classes I’m taking. As a film major, it’s juts a lot of projects.) and they don’t assign any homework. The only homework I’ve had in the past 2 months has been to watch a certain movie for the week, or to write a small, 1 page script. I feel as if this is too easy, and I’m not being pushed to work to my biggest potential.

With that said, it’s a nice break. I have a lot of work to do once I get back home.

HUGE WAKE UP CALL!

HUGE WAKE UP CALL!
Okay, so I forgot what my priorities were for a second. A week before midterms, I went into panic mode. This meant no make-up, messy hair and no sense of fashion everyday. It was hard for me, I’ve been traveling a lot and I thought that was the only reason why I was here.

Trust me, I got a reality check. The only thing that saved me was the strong study team that I had. We were up until 4 AM every single day and drinking coffee nonstop. It was not easy but I made it, and I think I did pretty good. The classes are not hard but you need to be on top of your things. Or else you’re going to go crazy like me!

The best advice I could give you is to PAY ATTENTION. Most of the classes rely on your exams so don’t miss a class because you might not have your usual slide to make up for it.]

 

THIS IS A SAD PICTURE OF ME AFTER EXAMS! Enjoy!

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“You Alright?” Phraseology and Obama Burgers

I know I said that I felt at home before… but that was before I casually recognized the details of my neighborhood going by from the second story of the bus. That was before I decided not to buy tunafish at Sainsbury’s because I could get it a few pence cheaper at Londi’s. That was before I made friends in class, joined clubs, and realized I could navigate through Bankside in London without a GPS. Now I know the ropes. I know where I can get a nice cheese toastie and latte for under 5 quid. I know to get cheap produce from the local market, and cook it quickly for optimum not-going-badness.

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I really didn’t know what I was talking about before – Home is when you’re familiar with a place. I’m still sometimes lonely, but it always helps to listen to music, explore, meet new friends, take a walk. I’m even a part of a few clubs now! Can’t wait to go out to pub with the Feminist Society!

For anyone feeling stressed out studying abroad, I’ve found it helps to remember that there are free counseling services on campus, and taking advantage of that is just like taking care of any other health problem – no shame! You deserve to take care of yourself. I’m pleased that health care in the UK is so comprehensive! I registered with the National Health Care and the campus health centre, and I was able to get my birth control refilled in under an hour – just a ten-minute doctor’s visit, a walk to a nearby chemist (pharmacist), and the few minutes it took for them to fill out my new prescription. And I got 6 months of it all at once, versus only being able to fill a month at a time at home – I’m so glad they make it easier to do responsible family planning here. The U.S.A. could take a hint, it’s not like it’s a highly addictive or dangerous substance… but anyways. Ahem.

Back to the culture.

It seems to me that the college culture of London’s Kingston suburbs is similar to that in the New Paltz area, but it’s much more diverse demographically. Most of the people I’ve interacted with at school are very liberal, as are my landlords and their my-aged kids. People are very interested to hear my thoughts on the election… a subject I’m not so fond of discussing these days. I just feel really embarrassed about my country, and they seem to agree that there’s good reason.

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…Then again, they did have Brexit over here, and now Scotland might vote on a new referendum to leave Britain. So…. political chats have become quite fun and rowdy amongst my friends.

Safety-wise, Kingston is considered “London’s safest borough!” This is reassuring, as I’ve taken to walking to and from school to keep in shape (an hour of walking each day to keep off those fresh and crispy fish and chips I’ve been eating like all the time). I notice that I feel much safer around the police, perhaps because they don’t carry firearms of any sort – just a billyclub, handcuffs, and I think mayyyyybe a taser? And somehow crime isn’t a problem here… hm. In London proper, I’m a little more cautious – apparently pickpocketing is a real problem there, so I make sure to travel with just my front-facing shoulder-purse (backpacks and designer pursey-bags are much easier to lift from). I haven’t had any trouble so far.

I’ve made friends, and they don’t hate my American accent (or they’re very polite and lying to me)! I learned from my new friend Ryan that if I say “semester,” I will sound super American (they call it a “term”)… there are several other words that seem normal to me, but they get very grinny about. It seems like students here are a lot more used to interacting with foreign students than we are in the United States. There is some fascination (especially regarding politics), but I feel pretty average among other Britons, as well as students from Italy, Israel, France, Greece, Poland, what have you – I feel like there’s nothing too exceptional about being from somewhere else.

One thing I have not gotten used to yet, is that people in London will often greet you with, “You alright?” which of course alarms my American brain, and I think, “Of course I’m alright! Do I look sick? Is something wrong with me?” And I feel like my “Yeah!” is always just the slightest bit defensive. But gradually it’s becoming more at home for me – when I get back to NY, maybe I can alarm my friends by asking them if they’re “alright!”

I’ve managed to see several shows at the Globe – a screening of The Passion of Joan of Arc with live orchestra, Macbeth, and Imogen (a reimagining of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline), all fantastic. There is something uncanny and magical about Shakespeare’s Globe, like it’s an ancient sacred site (even though I know it’s only a reconstruction). The “Groundling” experience (standing in the pit) was very exciting – we got to be very close to the actors, all of us looking up with our ciders and mulled wine. Even though my legs and lower back were a bit sore from standing for two hours, it was well worth the 5 pounds! It inspired me – I’d love to someday work on that stage, if I’m ever given the opportunity. More locally, I saw a heart-wrenching play directed by John Malkovich, The Good Canary, at the Rose Theatre (where I take my Shakespeare class!). Also only 5 pounds, this time for actual seats.

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The biggest singular expense of my trip was seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two at the Palace Theatre. At 300 pounds, this was a huge chunk of my theatre budget for two full-length plays back-to-back. But I had to. It was Harry Potter onstage, and I am a fan of Harry Potter. I did it because I might never have the opportunity again, I was eager to see some theatre magic in a world I loved… and boy, was there some incredible theatre magic. Considering that the script read like bad fan fiction and had way too many holes in its many plots, they did a brilliant job doctoring the awful writing with magnificent movement, music, and illusions. Ultimately, I don’t regret seeing it – just wish it hadn’t costed so much, because it wasn’t quite worth the outrageous price. At least I made an adventure of it, and I got to meet the cast outside afterwards and get a few autographs!

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In short, I’ve learned that most British theatre companies are very supportive of getting young people into theatres – Donmar Warehouse, for instance, has a Young and Free program where anyone under 25 (the age caps for most “youth” promos) can see the show for free. And theatres like the Young and Old Vic offer very cheap student tickets as well! It’s absolutely appalling how much easier it is for me to see professional theater here in London, than in my own state. I wish they would subsidize theatre in the USA… but that might take a long time to implement. They don’t see theatre as that necessary back at home… another thing that makes me like it here more, and less eager to come back.

And England… Oh, your food. People say your food is rubbish – they are just silly gooses. It’s kind of a foodie paradise up in here. There’s so much incredible world food available – Indian, Lebanese, Caribbean, Turkish, Cantonese, Korean, ET! CETERA!

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Your seafood is fresh. Your fish and chips are crispy. For some reason you have Obama Burgers…

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…And Rump Burgers…

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And I have yet to discover what, exactly, is “chip butty.” But I’ve definitely gotten to know the true value of an imperial pint… Thank goodness cider isn’t considered a sissy drink here. Because it is the best thing ever, and there are so many different kinds on this side of the pond… as well as some delightful drafts beers. Also very strange that you can buy a drink at the theatre, and there’s even a bar right on campus next to the library! Guess there just isn’t as much of a binge-drinking culture over here… everyone’s used to it much earlier in their lives. It ain’t no big thang.

Good job, also, with the copious delightful meat pies! There just aren’t a lot of serious meat pies available in the U.S., and I think we’re missing out. Forgive me for singing Sweeney Todd lyrics while I was eating that venison pie that once, I’ll try to control myself next time and be less obnoxious…

…Probably my most satisfying moment, cuisine-wise, was having cider with bangers and mash by the fireside, at a place called “The Albert,” a cozy historic pub in my neighborhood – I have never felt so English in my whole life, or tasted such luscious gravy.
Thanks, Britain. Thanks for being thoroughly entertaining and delicious, and teaching me all your wibbly-wobbly, timey-whimey secrets. I look forward to even more.

 

I guess I am alright after all!

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Food, Public Transportation, and Culture Shock, oh my!

It’s been a little over 3 weeks since I’ve arrived in London, and the biggest difference I’ve noticed is that no one smiles at people in the street. No one. Not even when you make accidental eye contact or run into someone. I’ve probably annoyed a couple people when I break out into that awkward smile, and all they do in return is stare me down. Sorry, I guess?
I’ve gotten used to using the bus system and the tube. I’ve never had to navigate public transportation before, and it’s a lot easier than I had thought it would be. Everything here is clearly mapped out and easy to follow, so I’ve got it down to pat by now.
On another note, I don’t eat red meat or chicken. And a lot of the classic British foods are meat based. So I’ve yet to have a classic Sunday roast, Shepard’s pie, bangers and mash, or anything that’s classically British. However, I have been able to get my hands on a couple servings of fish and chips for only a few pounds. Super cheap, super unhealthy, but so good. I can already tell I’m going to miss it when I go back home.

 

Hope This Helps!

I’ve been in Spain for 21 days and to be honest, I got super comfortable the first week. The people here are so amazing and they definitely know how to fiesta! I’m still getting used to it because leaving your house at 1:20 a.m. is apparently way too early.

Another hard adjustment was dinner time. You know how you normally eat around 5pm? That doesn’t exist here. That’s siesta (nap)time and dinner time is around 9-10pm. It sounds crazy but, now I’ve become so accustomed to it and I’d probably cry if I don’t get my siesta time!

An adjustment that I’ve struggled so hard with since I have arrived in Spain is the fact that tipping is not a thing here. Since I am the type of person who tips a LOT and even over-tips (Does that even exist?) all the time, it has not been easy. I was speaking with my friend from Spain and she said that the maximum that people give is around 10-20¢. Who does that? If you were in New York, people would definitely spit in your food the next time you went. Right? I am constantly tempted to leave at least 1 euro and it is just unheard of. I tried to do this at a bar while it was really busy and the bartender gave me the most confused look EVER. So yeah, don’t tip while you’re in Spain.

Below I am going to put my personal tips on cultural norms in Spain and adjusting to studying abroad:

  1. Don’t tip.
  2. Do not skip siesta.
  3. Do not walk in the biking lane, they will hit you.
  4. It’s okay to talk to a stranger, you might make a friend.
  5. Don’t get freaked out if you see people openly partying in the streets.
  6. It’s okay, you can wear the same outfit… no one cares.
  7. Walk slow, you’re not in the concrete jungle anymore.
  8. I hope you have someone like Alyssa as your partner in crime.
  9. Give your body some time to adjust to the food, I am still trying to.
  10. All you have to say is “I’m from New York.”
  11. Don’t book three trips in one week. You’ll want to die. I almost did.
  12. Ask questions, remember, just like your first-grade teacher told you, “there is no such thing as a stupid question.”
  13. Speak with other internationals, they’re having similar experiences too!
  14. DO NOT EAT OUT EVERYDAY.
  15. Don’t leave your friends and family at home completely out of the loop, they miss you.
  16. When it comes to ordering food at a restaurant, I am bilingual and I don’t understand half of the food options.
  17. Get Sprint, the international service is beyond amazing. Seriously, I had to ask three times to make sure that there will be no international fees.
  18. Well, this is all I have so far and considering it’s only my third week abroad, I’m sure things will change. However, I will keep you guys updated.

P.S. shout out to Alyssa for helping make this list!

 Ta Luego 

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