Not(ting) A Chance In Hill I’m Leaving

As I start to prepare to leave for home, i’ve really started reflecting on my time here in London. It’s such a big city with so much to offer and I feel as though i’ve only experienced a quarter of what it has to offer. England may be a small country, but there is so much more to it than meets the eye. Every part of this city is so different and beautiful in their very own way, and i’m going to miss the diversity once i’m back to the cozy and small little town of New Paltz.

I’ve seen so many beautiful parts of England that I don’t even know where to begin. Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus were the first parts of central London I delved into, before I knew all that this city had to offer. I thought everything was amazing then… if only I could go back and tell myself it only gets better from there. That was the first of my many trips to the Piccadilly Circus/Soho area. I think it was one of my favorites, not entirely because of what it had to offer, but because it reminded me of home. I’ll admit I was pretty homesick this trip, but aspects like this made me feel more comfortable. They call Piccadilly the Times Square of London – and it’s easy to see why! Plus, who knew there was also a Soho in London? Definitely not me, but i’m happy there is (even though Soho in NYC is significantly better IMHO). There’s also a China Town in that area too. This area just kept feeling more and more like home.

One of my favorite and last places I visited here was Notting Hill. Known for being the background of many movies, it was the most adorable little place i’ve ever seen. Walking down the residential streets and seeing the colorful houses made me want to return in the future (far future most likely, yah know, when i’m financially stable) and live there. Seriously, I was gushing over this place. Beautiful trees and flowers were everywhere in sight and my heart was very happy. If you want to smile, look up pictures of this place. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Outside of the city, England is filled with historical sights. For instance, the city of Bath. The small city is quite a way from central London, yet completely worth the visit. I literally bought a Jane Austen book after visiting here (mostly because I walked down the path she wrote about in her novel Persuasion). The Roman Baths possess such a rich history that you can’t find in the U.S., therefore I enjoyed every minute of my time there. There’s also a really good ice cream place.

Stonehenge is another historical mystery that intrigued me. If you don’t know about Stonehenge, I suggest you look up pictures and keep in mind the rocks were arranged that way circa 3000 BC. Yup, that’s right, BC. That means no technology, no machinery, zip. So how were the stones transported there and arranged like that? Maybe look up a conspiracy theory for an answer to that question, because nothing is known for sure.

I could go on and on about every place i’ve encountered here including the good and the bad. But I should stop before I start getting into every little detail like what the person next to me on the tube was wearing. Bottom line is that through the ups and down of being abroad, London has been so wonderful, so beautiful, and hold so much promise for the future.

Uhh, Habla Inglés?

The best part about studying in the UK is that everyone here speaks English. Upon coming, I didn’t have to worry about saying something wrong or misunderstanding a native because we speak the language. It was one of the reasons I made the decision to study in London rather than a non-English speaking country. I’m not gonna lie, life is a lot easier when everyone speaks your language anyway. Especially when you’re an awkward person like me who gets nervous when they misunderstand anything and doesn’t want to ask the person to repeat themselves 5 times until i hear them correctly. So, what was it like to travel from a different English speaking country to a non-English speaking country, you ask?

I recently went to Barcelona, Spain to celebrate the end of finals. Wow, did I deserve a celebration. Essays upon essays using a citation format you’ve never used before and trying to incorporate theories you weren’t here to learn so you teach them to yourself wasn’t so easy. Therefore, I believed the sunny Barcelona beach and beautiful city sights was in the cards. The only difficult part of this trip was the fact that I don’t speak nor understand a lick of Spanish. Sure, I know the basic “hello,” “thank you,” and “where’s the bathroom,” but aside from that Spanish might as well be gibberish. I took Italian throughout middle and high school, why didn’t I plan a trip to Italy instead?

Thankfully, many people there spoke English. My friend (who also did not know any Spanish) and I really lucked out, however I did ask my good friend who is a Spanish major back at New Paltz how to say some key phrases. Shoutout to the lovely Erin, your phrases did indeed come in handy. For example, she told me “puedo ayudarme” means “can you help me,” which I hoped I wouldn’t really need to use unless I was asking for directions. My friend ended up fainting on the metro and that phrase helped me in that tricky situation. I probably wasn’t saying it correctly, considering I had no idea how to handle the situation, but strangers came to help before I even really started to get the words out. Spanish people are very nice and helpful.

Anyway, it was very different going to a country where English is not the first language. I’ve only ever visited English speaking countries, so this was a very cultural trip for me aside from being the most relaxed I was all semester. I didn’t feel as isolated as I thought I would since there were so many people who spoke English, but I almost wish that wasn’t the case so I could try to challenge and immerse myself more. As they say, what better way to learn a language that be surrounded by those who speak it, right?

Not the Pizza for You & Me

Like almost every other native New Yorker, one of my favorite foods to consume is pizza. The minute I step back onto Long Island from New Paltz i’m at Monte’s pizzeria going in on a buffalo calamari slice. There’s nothing more satisfying than having 5+ options of pizza slices in front of you, giving you the opportunity to get one plain slice and one BBQ chicken, a white and a pepperoni, whatever you’re into. Pizza slices are definitely, without a doubt, the way to go. England happens to think differently.

Here in the UK, all their pizzas are more personal size. The type of pizza you expect when you go to Cosi. They don’t have pizzeria’s here the way we do, and let me tell you, it has been a STRUGGLE. I don’t want a full personal one type pizza, I want two slices of two different types of pizza, but that’s not a thing here. It’s sad, when you think about it, being confined to one flavor. Honestly, none of them even seem that good. Maybe i’m just spoiled having so many pizzeria’s back home that serve buffalo chicken and chicken bacon ranch pizza’s, but either way, you won’t find them here. Instead you’ll find chicken tikka pizza and weird vegetable mixes. Many places also have an “American” pizza option, which is usually pepperoni and a few other things. It never seems appetizing.

One of the first places I went to my first month here is a popular chain called Pizza Express. If you ever come to the UK, save yourself the trip to there. Nothing special. The description of the pizza I ordered said it has prosciutto on it, and wanna know what came out on my pizza? Little slices of ham. Like, Boars Head ham. The type you get at the deli counter of Stop & Shop for your sandwiches. My Italian roots felt so disrespected when the pizza came out and I saw bits of ham on top. Prior to going there I still had high hopes and expectations for food in the UK, but there was a significant drop after this. I haven’t had pizza from anywhere besides Domino’s or Papa John’s since this, though i’ve tried to stay away from pizza in general.

As a whole, I wouldn’t say i’m the biggest fan of UK food in general. They have a lot of chicken based stuff, but the only chicken i really enjoy is in nugget or parm form. Chinese takeout is also really different. I haven’t actually ordered it, because looking at the menu I hardly recognize anything. To say i’m excited to go home so I can find better food is an understatement. I will give the thai food an A+ rating, though. I may not have tried it in America, but I can still say I thoroughly enjoyed it here.

What they do do well, as expected, is tea. And dessert. I was never a big dessert person, but now I love getting a cupcake or some little pastry from somewhere. I even made it a point to go to a few popular bakeries while here. So much good dessert. Thank you UK.

Just a few more weeks until i’m surrounded by all the food i enjoy the most!

The Best Study Abroad Class

Exploring your host country is arguably the best aspect of studying abroad. Everywhere has something new, exciting, and different to experience and learn about. With that being said, i’m unsure if there is anything similar to this at other universities, but Kingston University has a class exclusively for study abroad students that I would definitely recommend. It’s called “British Life & Culture” (BLC) and consists of a weekly 3 hour lecture plus field trips! It did cost a bit extra in order to pay for transportation and tickets to places, but it was 100% worth it.

If it weren’t for my BLC class, I most likely wouldn’t have gotten around to seeing and experiencing some of the places we went. Even if I did, it would have been a complete different experience since we talked about the background of places we were visiting during lectures. For example, one lecture discussed the film industry in England, how it differed from the film industry in America, etc. before we took a trip to the Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studios. Or learning about the cultural and religious backgrounds of UK citizens before visiting a Gurdwara.

What I got out of this class were some awesome experiences (and great pictures). Obviously all of the trips we took were fun, but going there for educational reasons also really helped me get a better grasp of British culture. One of my favorite places we went to was Parliament, and although i’m not a big political or history fan, I couldn’t stop holding onto every word the tour guide said. The UK government is run very differently from the US, and being able to walk through some of the chambers in which important meetings are held was so intriguing. We were shown where the Queen stands and waits before walking down a super long hallway and heard other cool stories.

Another place we visited was Bath, where we got to see and learn about the history of the city and the Roman Baths. We got a tour of some of the city’s historical landmarks and walked down the path Jane Austen writes about at the end of her novel Persuasion. Nothing about the city is modern, and it was a nice treat to see something so different from London. Very few things compare to the beauty of this small city, and it’s so out of the way from where I am I probably would never have visited on my own.

It’s sad to think about all the places I could’ve potentially missed out on seeing without this class. It also helped prevent a lot of culture shock considering our first class talked about English stereotypes and things we had noticed were different so far. Another thing that made it a great opportunity was that I knew who all the other abroad students were, so it opened the door for many to make new friends or at least see a familiar face on campus. We were just a bunch of foreigners in one big room.

The only con to this class was the workload. In my situation, this class isn’t transferring over as any other class for me. I took care of all my GE requirements freshman year. So it makes it quite annoying that I still had to put effort in so it wouldn’t negatively affect my GPA when it wasn’t going towards any class. I’m still unsure if it’s even gonna count for Liberal Arts credits because i switched into it after I got here, so I haven’t spoken to my advisor about it. I learned halfway through that I could’ve audited the course, meaning I would’ve been able to go on the trips but not worry about the work. So, if you’re thinking about coming to Kingston University, I highly suggest auditing this class if it won’t transfer over as a class you need. Definitely worth the 90 pounds.

Education Differences

When I walked into class my first day here at Kingston University I wasn’t really sure what to expect. There are a lot of educational differences between England and America, almost all of which took a few weeks to get used to. The contrast in our school environments have various pros and cons, and it really depends on one’s major to determine if there are more cons than pros and vice versa.

One of the first differences I learned was that no one is referred to as “professor” here, they’re a teacher or lecturer. Most of them aren’t addressed the way you would address a high school teacher either – many go by their first name. It’s a very informal environment, however it made the whole experience less intimidating. Back at New Paltz, I see a lot of familiar faces in my classes. Creative Writing isn’t the most popular major, therefore every semester when I walk into class on the first day there is a 99% chance I know at least one person sitting in the room. It’s been that way for me since fall of sophomore year, so coming here and not knowing anyone in my classes was a bit odd, especially since all the people in the class were already acquainted with each other from the semester before. It was sheer luck that my first class had another study abroad student in it, who ended up being in two of my other classes.

Almost all of the classes offered here are full year classes rather than semesterly. Since the classes began in the fall, it was a bit difficult playing catch up so I could understand what was being talked about in class. Thankfully, all of my teachers were very understanding. They told me the basics of what they had already discussed to alleviate some stress and gave me a better understanding of references made to the previous semester during class discussions. I also only had to do half the work that went towards the final grade since I physically wasn’t present the first half of the year, which was a huge pro.

Not everything is so simple though. I’ve learned that many classes here are only once a week, but English majors tend to have class twice a week. I didn’t think this was weird per say, it’s the equivalent to how English classes at New Paltz are primarily four credit classes whereas classes for other majors are only three. What was weird about this is that I had two different teachers for the same class. I’d walk in on Monday to Matthew, and walk in Friday to Fred for the same class. I wouldn’t necessarily say this is a bad thing, but it did leave me to think I walked into the wrong classroom. This also made it confusing when I had a question to ask for an assignment. Which one do I email? Does it matter? Should I email both of them and see who responds first? Then when I did send an email, there was the anxiety of awaiting an answer. Should I have mentioned I wasn’t sure who to ask? Maybe I should’ve just asked someone in the class instead? It didn’t help that teachers here are not as quick to answer their email as New Paltz professors are. I understand that some professors are better at responding in a timely fashion than others, but like, imagine a professor you’ve emailed in the past and didn’t get a response for days, possibly not until right before the assignment was due. Apply that to pretty much every single teacher here no matter what your major is. I will admit there were a few lovely teachers who would respond in a timely fashion, though. Shoutout to Elly and Sarah!

Another thing is their citation format. Who the heck has every heard of MHRA? What happened to MLA, APA, Chicago? Were these just American things? Thankfully a few of my classes allowed myself and other abroad students cite in whatever format we used back home. Unfortunately, one of my classes required MHRA, a format I had never heard of and had to learn quickly if I wanted a good grade on my paper. The internet really is a beautiful place and I immediately found a bunch of style guides on how to use it. I’m not sure why I thought MLA and APA were universal formats, but just an FYI, they’re not. So be prepared to learn a new citation format in case your teachers don’t allow you to use what we’ve been learning since 8th grade.

Ultimately, there are about 10 pros for every little con. Just because things are very different doesn’t mean they’re necessarily bad!

What Do You Mean “No Sweatpants!?”

I’m your average college student. I try to avoid 8a.m.’s at all costs, drink too much coffee, and sleep every chance I can get. I’m comfortable enough with myself to not care about how others think I look when I go to class. After all, who am I impressing? (If you said no one, you’re damn right.) I function by rolling out of bed 15 minutes before my 11a.m., throwing on sweatpants and whatever shirt I can grab first, and showing up 5 minutes late with a cup of Starbucks. About two years i’ve been going through these motions, arriving comfortably to class and not making my bed in the morning so I can crawl back into it once I return to my dorm. With all this in mind, you can just imagine the shock and disappointment on my face when I learned that this is a huge no abroad. No sweatpants to class? What?

I’m 100%, with every fiber of my being, a leggings/joggers/sweatpants enthusiast. Jeans? I don’t know her (unless i’m going out, then it’s jeans or nothing). I think I wear jeans to class once every semester, twice maybe. They’re just so uncomfortable, how do people concentrate wearing them? It’s a mystery i’ll never solve. Which leads me to the fashion culture here in London. Ladies (or gents, whatever floats your boat), tights are your best friend. There are atleast 20 different kinds at your local Primark from basic to patterned, extra small to extra large, all at a reasonably low price. Tights are paired with a skirt or a dress despite the freezing bitter weather and biting winds. Or, you know, just wear jeans instead. Guys dress relatively similar to those back home, but the one thing i’ve noticed is everyone has fashionable jackets. Whether it’s a bomber, a utility jacket, or some fluffy wool-looking coat – if they’re not wearing North Face they’re wearing something that looks really cool. Maybe it’s the fact i’m in a city school and everyone in cities tends to be more fashion forward, or maybe it’s a British thing.

Either way, my class outfits are nothing like the British norm. Making the switch from sweatpants and leggings to jeans every day was more than a little rough. I’m sure for most people this isn’t a problem at all, but everyone has their days – maybe even week – where they need to throw on comfy clothes for their lecture. I haven’t seen anyone here experience that. I swear, they don’t even own sweatpants. There is not a single time I can recall in the past 3 months that I saw someone in class or in the hallway dressed like they were ready to climb back into bed once their lecture was done. Further, I can’t recall not seeing a girl who didn’t take the time to do her makeup for class. Almost everyone looks like they’re ready for a night at Towers, like, 90% of the day. I’m not judging these people or criticizing them for wanting to put effort into their everyday appearance – it’s just crazy how different it is. I’m aware there are people at New Paltz who put effort into their everyday appearance as well, but that’s only a fraction of students. New Paltz also has people who don’t shower and walk around in 30 degree weather without a shirt, so. It’s not difficult to understand why literally every person around me dressed with such effort every single day is different, even a bit intimidating.

Honestly, I have respect for these students for putting so much effort in. They probably don’t even realize it, it’s become a social norm for them, the way sweatpants are a social norm for us. If you plan on coming here to study, just make sure you pack more jeans than leggings so you don’t stick out like a sore thumb.

A Quick Guide to Understanding British Lingo

A common misconception about choosing to study abroad in an English speaking country is that you will not face any sort of language barrier. I’m here to tell you this is false. No, you won’t face a barrier the way one would when going to somewhere like Spain or Italy, but there are still a handful of words and phrases you definitely will not understand the first time seeing or hearing them. Often times their accents make it a tad difficult to understand words you actually do know. Yes, their accents are attractive, but they add to that language barrier everyone assumes you won’t have (plus, the more I talk to them the less difficult it becomes to understand them).

A lot of the words i’ve heard but did not know are used in everyday conversation. Some of them I did know but did not instantly understand the context they use it in. I’ve learned a lot of things here by analyzing the context of things, which isn’t as hard as it sounds, really. For example, instead of calling their trash can a “garbage” they call it “rubbish,” and the cans will say “litter” on them. Or they call the bar the “pub.” I’ve heard the word “knackered” and came to understand it means you’re exhausted, mostly used after a night out. As for school I didn’t hear others call it class, but a “lesson” or a “lecture.” It took hearing it a few times for me to grasp the context in how they use these words.

The most trouble i’ve had identifying what a word here meant falls under the category of food. For some odd reason, they take the names of certain foods and change it completely. As someone who loves food possibly more than anything this really grinded my gears because I would read a menu and have no idea what some of the ingredients were. Below i’ve comprised a list of all the words i’ve seen on a menu that made me pull out my phone and (frustratedly) type into Google.

  1. Rocket = Arugula
  2. Aubergine = Eggplant
  3. Chips = French Fries (but you probably knew that one)
  4. Courgette = Zucchini
  5. Bubble and squeak = fried cabbage with potatoes, sometimes meat
  6. Jacket Potato = Baked Potato
  7. Bangers and mash = Sausage and mash potatoes
  8. Burger Sauce = A mixture of mayonnaise and ketchup
  9. Crisps = Potato chips
  10. Pudding = Not really like our pudding, but more of a custard. You won’t find a snack-pack here.
  11. Black Pudding = Not really pudding at all.. it’s some sort of mixture of animal blood, fat, and oatmeal that many Brits eat with their breakfast. In my opinion, it looks as bad as it sounds. Taste is TBD (maybe).
  12. Biscuits = Cookies, crackers
  13. Double cream = Heavy cream
  14. Prawn = Shrimp
  15. Scone = Biscuit – their scones are really just a plain scone/biscuit so they can put some sort of jam or butter on it, whereas in American we can just grab a cranberry orange scone or something of the sorts.

Some of these may seem a bit self-explanatory, but you can never be too sure when you’re in a different country! It did take a few weeks to remember these new names for things, but I can proudly say I no longer need Google’s assistance every time I go out to eat now.

Living the London Life

My journey across the pond began with a very early flight leading to a very cranky me. It’s crazy to think I woke up to get ready to leave for the airport at 4:30a.m. and didn’t land in London until around 10p.m. Although, once I landed in the iconic Heathrow Airport, I was absolutely thrilled to finally be in London. I wasn’t sure what intrigued me more, the accents or the classic double decker red buses. I felt like a rescue puppy trying to soak in every little bit of its new home but being too excited to notice everything. After years of wanting to visit the city of London, I was finally there. For a solid 4 and a half months.

After a bit of a messy start to my dorm hall, I was relieved to have made a few friends and embark on a mini tour of Kingston Upon Thames led by someone at Kingston University. Walking through Kingston market gave me a Woodbury Common’s vibe, which both excited and comforted me. From Starbucks to TopShop to North Face, the stores seemed endless. I couldn’t wait to dive in head first.

Admittedly there wasn’t much culture shock. It’s a major concern for many students and parents that the differences in environment will overwhelm the student. I knew from the beginning that I wouldn’t be badly affected by that because I thrive for experiencing new things. By coming into London with an open mind about the experiences and pushing and insecurities to the back of my mind, I was lucky to eliminate all those insecurities within the first few days of being here. My biggest concerns included finding friends, knowing how to get to my classes and to the campus from my dorm, and how to navigate my way into town. Thankfully I accomplished all these fairly quickly, giving me more time to focus on other aspects of adjusting to my new home. Like the coffee. In England, and I assume it is the same if not similar in surrounding European countries, you cannot just order a “coffee.” Everything to them is coffee. You want just a regular iced coffee? No, you want an iced americano. Don’t drink your coffee black? You want a white americano. However the worst adjustment for me, by far, was their cup size difference. Most of my motivation and productivity comes from my venti iced coffee, but the largest size at most places is equivalent to a Starbucks grande cup for iced drinks. So you can see what my struggle was for the first few weeks (okay, month. I like my iced coffee, okay?). It took a few tries to get used to ordering an americano, and even longer to get used to drinking hot coffee.

The only other thing I had to keep reminding myself was normal here is when someone says “are you alright” they’re basically asking “how are you?” The first few times I was asked I had to pause for a moment, wondering to myself “do I look extra tired today or something? Do I look sad? Why are they concerned?” only to snap back to reality and realize they’re just asking how i am. So far Kingston has been a dream. It somehow feels simultaneously calm and busy and I look forward to see what else it has in store.

 

Edit: I have recently discovered there is a venti size, but it is smaller compared to America’s. Have you ever seen a cat with stubby legs that looks all cute but it’s small because of them? That’s what the vent cup here reminds me of. Give. Me. My. LARGE. Iced. Coffee. 

Getting Back to Normal

 

As the days tick by and I get closer to going back to New Paltz, I get more nervous. I haven’t been to New Paltz in a year. I know as soon as I get there I will remember how it felt and get back into the swing of things, but the feeling of New Paltz is foreign to me right now. I just need to get settled in and then everything will be better. I am excited to be back on a campus where everything is only a small walk away. I will also not need to worry about cooking, which is a nice plus!

Home At Last!

After a long flight and the long wait, I finally got to greet my family in New York. I was finally home! I could just lounge on the couch and watch TV. I could also hold my cat—and give her a ton of kisses and pet her a lot. I think I missed the smell and feel of my home the most. Yes, I did have my own room, but that isn’t the same as your home. Nothing feels like your home does.

Leaving England, I was a little sad, but I was ready to be home and see my family. I will miss going into London whenever I wanted, but I love my little town. London is great, but it can be overwhelming with the big crowds. I will miss hearing the British accent a lot, but that is only because the way they say things makes everything sound much more posh than when we say it. But nothing is like home.

I didn’t really have culture shock when I returned to the United States. The food upset my stomach a little bit, but not too much. London was fast passed, so getting back to the incredibly fast paced New York was not that big of a shock for me. I did have a little bit of jet lag, but it only lasted a day. I went to bed at 10 PM and woke up at 5 AM ready to take on the day, but the following day I slept until 9 AM. I will miss London, but I am enjoying being home.