Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A part of me will always think of London as home

I've been home from London for two weeks. Sometimes, when something wakes me up in the morning, I still half expect it to be the hall door slamming across from my room in London. At some point during every day I have a moment of "was that all just a dream?" because that's exactly how it feels. Returning to the familiarity and the routine of my life at home and going back to work makes it feel even more like a dream. Once I go back to school in North Dakota, I think I'll finally feel like I'm where I belong again. Every time I talk to someone that I haven't seen since I've been back they all ask, in slightly different words, "how was London" and my response never suffices. When my friends and I were in Barcelona on our last night there, we stood above the big fountains and talked about how no one will ever understand our experience and what it was like for us. So when people ask me how it was, my usual answer is that it was amazing. I don't go into detail about how it was the craziest most life-altering experiences of my life and that I don't think I'll ever do something that good for myself ever again. I have friends that are considering studying abroad sometime in the future, and the only thing I can tell them is to do it. Don't worry about the financials because if I could do it, anyone can do it.

I've been putting off writing this last blog because that means it's actually over and that I'll never be able to do it again. Also because it's been impossible to put into words how being home feels. The only thing I can say is that I feel like every morning I'm waking up from the longest, most detailed dream I've ever had. I'm very sad but also excited that I have these stories and memories with me for the rest of my life.

There isn't much else I can say about my time in London that I haven't already said over and over in my blogs. It was the best time of my life and I will cherish it forever. Not only did I learn an incredible amount about the world around me, but I also learned a lot of things about myself. I will take all of these lessons with me in every experience over the entirety of the rest of my life. I'll never forget my time at 21 Pembridge Gardens and all of the people that made it so memorable.

 A part of me will always think of London as home.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

future Londoners, pay attention

My last post was somewhat similar to this, but today's is solely aimed toward future Londoners for the most part. This is just a quick list of things that might help you save a couple of minutes or help you get home when you're lost or just provide you with some insider information while in London. This is my list of things I was thankful to have while in London and things that I wish I'd had.

Things I was thankful to have while living in London

The London tube map app on my phone. This thing was a lifesaver. Sometimes you just don't want to look like a tourist and spend five minutes staring at the tube map in the middle of the station, or you just don't have time. This is when your handy-dandy tube map app comes into play! Everyone else just thinks your just another social media junkie but really you're only doing your best to hide the fact that "she doesn't even go here..." Another cool thing about the tube map is that you can just type in your point A and your destination and it gives you the fastest way to get there.

Along the lines of the last one, the CityMapper app. This is basically just a higher-tech version of the tube map. You put in where you're coming from and where you'd like to end up and it gives you directions. The cool thing about this is that it isn't just the tube, although it'll tell you those details too. But it will also give you walking, driving, the quickest bus to take. Sometimes I ran into issues with it, but it was helpful when I needed it.

Basically, I was just happy to have really good public transportation here. The tube is great - for the most part, when it isn't rush hour and half of London is trying to fit into one tube car - but it closes at midnight. I have heard rumors that they are beginning to make steps toward being open all night, but that won't happen for a couple of years. When the tube is closed, usually around midnight, there are night buses. The buses are great, when you can find the stop that you want. I don't even want to know how much time I spent walking around aimlessly just trying to find the 94 bus at night when all I wanted to do was go home and sleep. Once you give up on finding your bus, or you're too cold or whatever to keep walking or even begin looking in the first place, there are the cabs. You're always warned to only take the Black Cabs because they are the only legitimate cab service in London. They're all over. You never have an issue finding a cab no matter the time of day.

Living in the technologically advanced world that we do, I was also extremely happy to have a working phone, that also had unlimited data, while I was here. I paid 15 GBP a month for unlimited data, a certain amount of calling minutes and like 3000 texts and it was well worth it. The wifi in our house is limited and is the most annoying thing ever. (as I'm typing this, I'm disconnected from the internet to save wifi) When I was making all my plans when moving here, I didn't think I'd have a good phone. I thought I'd just buy a throw-away phone or a small amount of minutes. Thankfully, it wasn't much more expensive just to keep the phone that I had and get the unlimited data plan. I can't tell you how many times this came in handy.

Things I wish I'd had while in London

I wish that I'd had a debit card that didn't charge me fees every time I wanted to take out cash. I had to take out large amounts every time I needed cash in order to avoid getting fined all the time. I don't even want to know how much money I spent just on international transfer fees. I avoided swiping my debit card because most places only accept the kind of card with the chip in it, which mine does not have. I didn't know that before I came.

Unlimited wifi might have been nice... Maybe I'm too spoiled living in America where there is wifi literally everywhere, but having to budget my wifi allowances was no fun. Especially when it came to skyping or late-night netflix binges. (I couldn't really help this - in the house that I live in they limit our wifi for their own purposes - I don't really remember what they are, but I'm sure they're reasonable.) Still, its annoying.

Laundry is ridiculously expensive here. You wouldn't believe it. I don't even want to know the total amount I spent on laundry this semester. So I would have liked even just a washing machine in my house. I could have done without a dryer. But seriously, having to lug my super heavy laundry bag a block away got old reeeeal fast, especially because I waited until the last minute to do it because it was so freaking expensive. Anyway - this is another thing that I know I can't change, and that if you run into the same problem you won't be able to change it either, but this is just me, informing you of what I wish had been different.

My time in London has gone by sooooo fast. Too fast. I'm not ready to be writing these posts to you guys about the things that I wish I had known because that means I'm leaving soon. Too soon.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The most important post I've written all semester - A note to future study-abroaders

As I'm preparing to tragically abandon this crazy/amazing city within the next week, I know that some people are just getting ready to come abroad. So I thought I'd make this post about my advice/the things I've learned while in London for a semester --- First of all though, everyone is going to tell you something different. Every person that I talked to before coming abroad had some sort of insight as to what it would be like and what I should do to prepare. The first thing I'm going to tell you about coming abroad is that no one knows what it is going to be like. No one can tell you every single thing that you'll need/experience/miss while you're here. All I'm attempting to do here is to tell you some of the things that I wished that I had known or thought of before I left. I am in so respect an expert on studying abroad. I've been in my little London-bubble for the past three months and I may never come out. So I guess the first piece of advice I have for you is, don't take everything you hear too seriously. I made that mistake once or twice. I panicked about sleeping in dirty hostels with creepy people lurking and waiting for me to leave so they could steal all my precious things. I panicked about bringing too many of this or that, or too little of others. Take the things your loved ones (and random bloggers) tell you, to heart, but don't think that it's all 100% true. It may be true for them, or me, but not necessarily you. I wish I had known that before leaving.

The second piece of advice I have (which is mostly directed toward girls or the fashionable guy... sorry) is - also along the lines of the last one - pack using your gut. I had so many people in my ear telling me that I wouldn't need all the clothes that I wanted to bring and that I was being unrealistic with it. I let them talk me out of bringing things that I have genuinely missed. I came into this house with one suitcase and one big travel backpack. Everyone else came in with two huge suitcases and carry-on's. There are guys in my house that have double the amount of clothing that I do, here. Obviously, you should be reasonable when packing because the space in your suitcase is valuable. Just listen to your gut while doing it. There are so many things that I wish that I had brought with me when I came, and then I ended up spending way more money on them here than I would have if I would have just brought them from home. --- Another side note on packing, its really easy to buy toiletries here. Don't waste too much space/weight on them.

Make sure you spend some time outside of your comfort zone and don't spend too much time thinking about it. When I first arrived in London, I was basically tossed off the airplane (or so it felt) and left to my own devices. I had to take the underground from the airport to my house in Notting Hill. It ended up being ridiculously easy, but I panicked so much beforehand because I'm the most anxious person I've ever met. Now I take the underground multiple times a day, and still laugh to myself about how nervous I was at the beginning. Getting lost in London - or any of the other cities that I've visited while I've been here - has been one of the highlights of my trip. I've seen so many things that I never would have, had I not been completely turned around. So don't worry about not knowing exactly how to get where you're going because getting there is half the fun.

My last and final piece of advice for you is, travel. Travelling around Europe is so cheap and so easy. Yeah, I've had to wake up at 4am to catch an 8am flight on multiple occasions, but I wouldn't take it back for anything. I was worried about how I was going to pay for my travels but if you know how to do it, you can spend a weekend in any city you want for a reasonable price. Book your flights early, find a decent hostel and go! That's all there is to it. Explore a place of the world that you've always wanted to see - or somewhere completely random.  My favorite trip of all the trips I've taken this semester was to the one place that I had never really considered going before. Europe has a million different things to offer, and I promise you, there is never a dull moment.

I could sit here and go on and on about the do's and don't's of studying abroad and getting ready to go abroad but for me, learning all of those things turned out to be some of the best life lessons I've ever experienced. The bottom line is - your semester/year/summer abroad is going to be the most amazing time of your life, that I can say with complete confidence for every single person. You will learn so much about yourself and the world that right now you have no idea. I don't believe anyone could ever regret studying abroad. So if you're going to take one thing from my blog, I'd hope its this; don't spend too much time worrying because half of the things that you experience while abroad, good and bad, you'd never expect or be able to anticipate. So just make the best of every crazy situation and never regret a second of your time abroad because one day you'll blink and you'll only have a week left.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Barcelona, Norway, Thanksgiving and a whole lot more to look forward to

I realize that I haven't written in a preeeetty long time, and for that, I apologize. As I said before, November was a very busy month for me here in London. All of my papers (which ranged from 40%-60% of my overall grades) all happened to be due within a week of each other, so that kept me occupied for a while. After my papers were turned in and out of the way, I took a trip to Barcelona with some friends from my house. I won't go into every detail about what we did there and why I loved it so much because that would take up all of the time I have left in London. I'll just leave it at, it was theee best weekend of my life. I had way too much fun there, and before the weekend was over I was kicking myself for taking French in high school, and seriously considering starting over with Spanish next semester... 

After Barcelona I was home for all of three days before I made my way to the tundra that is Norway where I was greeted with a bouquet of roses. There, I had an equally amazing time (aside from my toes being perpetually numb) and I was able to see a part of the world that I had never considered visiting before. We had our own improvised Thanksgiving dinner (although it didn't contain turkey or mashed potatoes... but that didn't make it any less special). I even insisted that we go around the table and tell each other what we were thankful for because obviously it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without that cheesiness. After, we skyped my family for an entire two hours, during which they enjoyed their real Thanksgiving dinner talking to a computer screen. I'm hoping that someday I can return to Norway when the weather is a little warmer! But, then again, I should probably be preparing myself for subzero weather as I'll be returning to the midwest in just 12 days! 

My semester in London has gone by way too fast. Although there have been times where I've been itching to get home and return to my familiar life, I wouldn't trade it for anything. I've spent the past week making mental lists of everything that I still need to do before I leave, and let me tell you, it is growing by the minute. There isn't enough time in the world to see all the amazing things that London has to offer, and with finals and packing to worry about, I don't have nearly enough time. I've stumbled-upon a quote numerous times on Pinterest that says "the trouble is, you think you have time" and I've never found that more true than when I realize that I'll be boarding a plane back home in 12 days. People told me over and over again that my time would go by so fast and that I'd find myself back in North Dakota wondering where the time went, but I didn't really believe them. 

Four months is a long time, right? Wrong. It isn't nearly enough time to see the wonders of this city, country, continent. I've visited so many places that I never imagined myself having the opportunity to visit. If I could go back in time and tell my 10 year-old self that she'd be spending a weekend in her dream city, Paris, she would never believe me. Although, I'd rather go back and tell my freshman year of high school self that taking French was a waste of time because I'm 99% sure that Barcelona is the most amazing city I'll ever have the opportunity to visit. All I can do is hope that someday I'm able to return.

I've been trying to focus on the positive side of returning home, so I've come up with a few things that I can't wait to get back to. The first of which is my family and friends because A) I know they all miss me so much! ;) and B) I have countless souvenirs to hand out and I can't wait to feel like their own personal santa. The second is being able to drive around blasting music in my car. The walls are paper-thin in this house full of 30 people, so you could say I'm a little hesitant to sing to One Direction at the top of my lungs... Another thing that I'm looking forward to doing is saving money! I've probably spent over $100 just on laundry this semester because my house doesn't have a washing machine and the laundry-mats are ridiculously expensive. Doing laundry in the dorms next semester is going to feel way too good. I am also really excited to get back to UND and all the fun things that comes with that. The last (and probably most important) thing that I'm looking forward to is a Christmas with my family and friends, because skyping over Christmas would just be depressing...

I'm sure you're all looking forward to hearing all about (for the second time) how difficult of a time I have while attempting to pack, next week... and I would never deprive you of your wishes. Until then, it's studying for finals and last-minute tourist activities for me!

Monday, November 11, 2013

a visit from my unofficial tea & crumpet list

In case you've forgotten, are too lazy to go alllll the way back to August, or just didn't care enough to read it in the first place, here is my "unofficial" tea & crumpet list. (to find out why I called it that, you'll actually have to revisit the blog post) Anyway. I figure, since I have almost exactly a month left in London, I should address this and let everyone in on what I've accomplished thus far. 

1. Enter a red phone booth. If it's even possible to make a phone call in one still, call someone.

I actually have not done this yet. Obviously, I've walked past hundreds, but still have yet to go inside of one. Honestly, they look a lot more germy than I pictured them... I still hope to do this before I leave. Maybe on my way to the airport in a month...

2. See Big Ben. Take a cheesy tourist photo.

Done and done. Multiple times. Except I wouldn't call my photos cheesy or touristy, they're just pictures of it. I haven't gotten in front of the camera and pretended to lean on it... yet.

3. Ride a double-decker bus.

After midnight, buses are the only mode of transportation home. So I checked this one off within days of being in London.

4. See Kate Middleton, Prince William, Prince Harry, or The Queen. Or all four. Or just someone famous. (Unrealistic? Maybe. Do i care? Not one bit.)

Alrighty. Here's the tricky one. Obviously, I haven't seen anyone royal yet. Nor do I really plan on it... Although Will & Kate did just move into the palace down the street from me...
Buuuuut. Within the past week, I have seen my fair share of famous people. I originally meant this to mean that I would have to see them just walking down the street casually. Although I have juuuust missed people (Anna Kendrick... I cried inside. She was in the tube station right down my street) I haven't actually seen anyone just out and about. 
This past weekend, there was a lighting ceremony on Regent Street in central London where I SAW TWO OF THE SPICE GIRLS PERFORM (baby spice & sporty spice) I also saw Passenger that night too. But let's go back to the Spice Girls. If my 10 year-old self would have been told that I'd see them live in London someday, she literally would have peed her pants. That was probably the most exciting thing that has happened to me here in London.
Next, the world premier of Catching Fire was in London tonight. Just a quick 20 minute tube ride away. After everyone got done with class, we ventured into Leicester Square and did some hard-core creeping. Definitely tied for first place as the most surreal experiences. Now all I have to do is actually see the movie...

5. Perfect my British accent. Along with that; be able to use "bloody" as an adjective in a sentence without feeling/sounding completely ridiculous. (this may be a stretch, but a girl can dream)

I haven't actually spent that much time with real British people (besides my professors) so I can't say I've checked this one off yet.

6. Travel!

So far, I've made it to Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Naples, Pompeii, Toulon, and Nice. Within the next month, I will return to Barcelona for a full weekend, and then make my way north to Norway. I think I can check this one off the list. 

7. Go to a pub. (this may not seem very exciting or extreme to some people, but ever since P.S. I Love You, I've always wondered if they're all actually as cute and romantic as they were in the movie... Guess I'll find out.)

Some are just as cute as they are in the movies. Others, pretty average. But either way, obviously I can say that this one has been accomplished.

8. Go to afternoon tea. I'm not even sure that I like tea... But, when in Rome... (or London..)

We had a real tea party in our garden the first week that we were here that all of the IFSA students from around London came and mingled while eating little desserts and drinking tea. (I didn't actually drink any tea... they had diet coke, how was I supposed to pass that up?) I did do my fair share of snacking and let me tell you, some of them were delicious. Not all of them though. Not all of them. (I still don't know what the definition of a crumpet is though...)

I can't believe how fast my time here has gone. I remember starting this list in the middle of the summer thinking about how long it would be until I was actually going to be doing these things. Now, its almost over. I guess time really does fly while you're having fun...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

the daily struggles of a wannabe Londoner

Remember one of my first posts titled "things I learned while packing?" One of the things that I learned while packing for my semester abroad was "I suck at packing." Well, here I am, two and a half months into my abroad experience, living proof that I really do suck at packing. Every day I find new things that I wish I had brought with me, or things that I realize I'll never use here. Today, I'll just focus on the things that I wish I had brought with me, because that list seems to be growing more and more every day. (If you didn't already notice, I really like to make lists...)

Things I'm kicking myself for not bringing abroad:

1.) An umbrella.
I live in London. How was this not the first thing I packed?

2.) Rain resistant shoes
Again, I was moving to London. One pair of Sperry's as my only waterproof pair of shoes was not a good idea. Here's the thing, I know everyone that gave me advice on packing is going to say "i told you so" at this point, and maybe I deserve it. But my shoe choices before coming here were sooo stupid. I brought a pair of sandals (still glad I have those) my Sperry's (glad I have them, but I hate wearing them with most of the pants that I wear on a daily basis) a pair of Sketcher's Go-Walk (proud of myself for owning them, but I don't wear them super often. I am still happy that I brought them, though) a pair of Target brand Ked-like sneakers (not at all waterproof, got super dirty my second week here and I've been considering throwing them away since I got here) and a pair of suede boots. (suede. you don't wear suede in London! it rains here! duh... haven't worn those more than once) so - bottom line here, for anyone considering studying abroad somewhere like London, learn from my mistakes - make better shoe choices than I did.

3.) More than one adapter
Choosing between a charged phone or laptop is not fun. Constantly playing the game of "how much time do I have before I have to plug this in" is never a good time. Thankfully, a couple of weeks ago I came across an abandoned one in our house otherwise I'd still be going crazy.

4.) More skinny jeans, less straight-leg jeans
Newsflash: straight-leg jeans are not a thing here. No one wears them. Ever. If straight-leg jeans were myspace, skinny jeans would be twitter. I only brought one pair of denim skinny jeans and wear them way too many times a week to be socially acceptable. I have one pair of black skinnies that I wear almost every other day that I don't wear my denim pair. Also, I haven't been able to find a pair in the stores here that fir me right. 1, I never learned the big number measurements. Still don't get it, obviously. 2, online shopping is always a gamble. Life is hard being a girl.

5.) A real jacket
I thought, coming from going to school in the tundra that is North Dakota, I'd be fine without a real winter jacket. It doesn't snow much here, and apparently to me, that means it also doesn't get super cold here. I was wrong. Very wrong. So now I'll have to go out and spend  money on a jacket that I probably won't have room for in my suitcase going home. Again, life is hard being a girl.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

When in Rome... (and Naples, Tuscany, Pompeii, Nice & Toulon)

I spent this past week cruising the Mediterranean, touring Italy, reenacting the Titanic, and soaking up the vitamin D that I've been deprived of here in London. Saturday evening I flew to Barcelona to meet the rest of Team Josef (we had matching t-shirts, pictures to come) then on Sunday morning we boarded the biggest boat I've ever seen in my entire life. Needless to say I made my fair share of Titanic references and may or may not have even gone so far as to refer to myself as 'Rose' a couple of times... (granted, my departure from the ship was much less tragic than Rose's) Either way, it was an amazing week. We stopped in Toulon and Nice in France, Rome, Naples, Pompeii and Tuscany in Italy and took tours of Rome and Pompeii and had a wine tasting in Tuscany. It was a dream. (I realize that I constantly refer to my life here as a dream, but its the only way I know how to describe it) The tours were probably the most exciting parts of the week, but coming in close at #2 was (sadly) being able to eat real food! I forgot what a real meal was like. Now I'm even more excited to return home to the world of fast-food. You'd probably think that after that I'd be more motivated to make myself some real meals, buuuuut that's probably not going to be the case.

My favorite place that we visited on the cruise was Rome, and more specifically, the Colosseum. It was unfathomable, being there. Trying to picture life in that time and all the things that happened there was mind-blowing. The entire city of Rome is incredibly historical. Half the time I didn't know what I was looking at but it was all just so amazing. Visiting the Vatican made me wish that I was more religious because of how beautiful and historical it is. I felt incredibly overwhelmed the entire time that I was on and off the ship, but in the best way possible.

It seems that I am always having issues with the airport, train station, etc when I travel out of the country... This time, it was much easier for me to get back into London at the UK border agency, but that isn't to say that I didn't have my fair share of issues getting to and from Barcelona! I almost couldn't find a cab when I arrived in Barcelona on Saturday night and then this morning the clocks changed on the boat without anyone knowing so I was an hour late to my meeting place to get a bus back to the airport, then had to wait another hour before the bus actually left... But I managed to make it to the airport with almost exactly an hour and a half to spare. Go me!

But, now I'm back to life in London. (How strange is it that "going home" now means going to London? It still amazes me that it has become so ordinary to me) I ran all kinds of errands right when I got home and am now ridiculously exhausted at 8pm. Little did I know, I was coming home to a hurricane tomorrow... I'll be walking to class in 80mph winds. Wish me luck!