On Leaving Study Abroad

Sitting on my nine hour flight from London back to the states, my brain is riled with so, so, so many emotions. So much has changed since my first week at my study abroad program. I just completed my study abroad program at Kingston University in London, and I’m heading home to go back to college in the states in a few weeks. Study abroad changed my perspective, and opened my eyes to new experiences, food, and, of course, friends. These experiences are something that I wouldn’t give up or change for anything, which is why returning home is such a bittersweet moment for me.

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I’m incredibly thankful that I got to have this experience. I am so fortunate to have been able to experience a new culture for seven whole weeks. Seven weeks filled with touring some of the greatest museums, and galleries in the entire world. Seven weeks of exploring the history of the UK. Seven weeks of discovering an entirely new culture. It only took seven weeks for me to find my second home in London.

I got to watch the English soccer team come this close to winning the World Cup. I was swept away by the passionate fans shouting in the street after the English team scored a winning goal. I got to see the influence of the ancient Romans on present day society in Bath. I saw a one of a kind exhibit on Frida Kahlo at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I drank an incredible amount of tea at countless cafes. I met some incredible people through living at the dorms. I sat on too many trains terminating at Waterloo. I walked so many miles (approximately three hundred and twenty miles in total). I saw a live performance of a Shakespearean play at the Globe.

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I’m amazed that I got to do all of these incredible, once in a lifetime things. I can’t believe that I navigated my own way through a foreign country, and that I very rarely got lost or had a problem that I couldn’t solve by myself. I feel so proud of myself for taking care of myself for the entirety of the time I was abroad. Sure, I take care of myself at college but doing it in an unfamiliar country is a totally different ballgame. Shopping at a grocery store for the first time was an unfamiliar experience. So was doing laundry, and getting to class. But I did it! I made it through, and I feel like that’s something to be proud of. It is truly incredible how you learn what you’re capable of doing while studying in a foreign country.

Now, on my way back, realizing my time in study abroad is over I feel incredibly sad. I’m upset that I’m leaving a country that has truly been nothing but wonderful to me this past summer. Everyone that I met in London was open to sharing their stories with me, and giving me their favorite tips on things to do and see. I’m going to miss menial things: rushing down the stairs at a Tube station to catch a train, walking around the block from the dorms to a great Indian restaurant, and walking along the Thames to class. I’m also going to miss living in one of the largest cities in the world. I’ll always remember walking around Soho at night once all of the shows were over. The streets were filled with so many people, from all walks of life. The hazy night sky seemed alive with the glowing show signs. Everyone seemed throughly overjoyed to be alive and living in London at that exact moment, and I just know that I’m never going to be able to forget the way I felt right then. img_3006

But most of all, I’m going to miss the friends that I’ve made. Being the introverted person I am, I never anticipated making friends in the short time that we would be abroad together. However, making friends was easier than anticipated. Groups of us all wanted to do the same things (see the tourist sites and buy groceries at first). So it was easy to find someone to do something with––no matter what it was.

Somehow, we all just got along. We swapped stories from home, made instant inside jokes, and that was that. Instant friends. Some of us were so eerily similar to one another, while others we were so vastly different in numerous ways. I feel like we all truly poured our hearts into one another so quickly, which is why leaving them was so hard.

Have you studied abroad? What do you miss the most from your time abroad?

3 Day Trips from London

London has an incredible amount of things to do within the city, but sometimes you just want to get out of the city and explore something new and at a slower pace. While London can keep you occupied for days, if you’re staying in the city for more than a few days a day trip from London may be just the getaway that you’re looking for. Here’s a list of my favorite day trips from London.

Bath

Bath is named for the ancient Roman baths that are located within the city. At less than one hundred miles away from central London, Bath makes a great day trip for those interested in the ancient Romans and literature. Around 60 AD, the city was named Aqua Sulis (the waters of Sulis) after the bathhouses that were constructed in the city. However, the hot springs were known before this time. As the Romans retreated, the city became less and less known for its hot springs. As more time passed Bath became a religious center as the Bath Abbey was constructed in the seventh century. Then, ten centuries later, the baths were again popularized due to their apparent healing qualities. During the seventeenth century Bath flourished as a spa town and consequently many new buildings in the Georgian style were constructed. As the popularity of Bath continued to rise in the eighteenth century, fashion became an important component of everyday society.

Day trips from London Bath

What to do

Obviously one of the main attractions in Bath are the Roman Baths. After purchasing your ticket (£17.50 for adults, but they offer student and children discounts) you’ll have free rein of what you want to see at the Baths. Included in your ticket price is an audio guide, so take your time and see all that the museum has to offer. The major highlights of the Roman Baths are the East and West Baths. The East Baths are where the women would have bathed, and the West Baths are where the men would have finished their bathing experience in icy cold water. Visitors will also be able to visit the terrace, which over looks the Great Bath and has many statues of Roman Emperors.

Literature fans will be happy to know that Jane Austen lived in Bath for a period of time. There’s an entire museum, the Jane Austen Centre, that celebrates Bath’s most famous resident. Visits at the Centre begin by a welcoming talk given by members of staff, and then you’ll be free to explore the museum at your own leisure.

How to get there

Getting to Bath for a day trip from London could not be easier. Simply hop on a train from Paddington Station in central London, and an hour and a half later you’ll be in Bath!

Oxford

Oxford is easily one of the easiest day trips from London ever! Plus, tourists will be able to tour the colleges of one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Need help deciding if you should visit Oxford or Cambridge?

Day trip from London Oxford

What to do

The most obvious thing to do on a day trip from London in Oxford is to tour the colleges! One of the most iconic colleges that you should visit is Christ Church College. This college is the home of the grand staircase, and the inspiration of the dining hall in the Harry Potter films. Christ Church is also known for educating thirteen Prime Ministers of the UK, so it’s absolutely worth a visit! While inside Christ Church make sure you pop into the Christ Church Cathedral, which is included in your admittance fee. Because of Christ Church’s fame, it’s wildly popular with tourists. This can make some tourists uncomfortable, and they may wish to tour another college. Other colleges of interest include New College, Merton College, and Trinity College.

Having a hard time deciding which college you should visit? A handy guide may help!

While touring the interiors of the colleges takes a considerable amount of time, some visitors may be more interested in a waking tour that showcases multiple colleges may be right for you. Walking tours are extremely popular in Oxford as they are a great way to see a lot of the city in a short amount of time. Some tours are free while others are paid, but regardless of the cost tourists should book their tickets well in advance to ensure they get a spot on the tour. I do recommend doing a bit of research on choosing what tour company you wish to use depending on what you’re most interested in. Footprints Tours offers a free walking tour given by actual Oxford students. Their tour includes visiting six colleges, and an in depth history of the town. Although the tour is free, remember it is polite to tip your tour guide! Another option for a waking tour in Oxford is Oxford Walking Tours. These tours are paid, but the company offers a wide variety of tours to choose from. They offer basic walking tours, literary, student life, and even ghost tours! Plus their ticket prices include admittance into the Divinity School—what a steal.

Not interested in spending your day trip from London only touring colleges? No problem! Oxford has so much more to offer, including a rich shopping scene. Be sure to visit the Covered Market in central Oxford. The market is sure to have something for everyone from food to flowers and souvenirs. If you have a sweet tooth be sure to hit up Ben’s Cookies for a real treat. Plus, if you order four cookies they’ll give you a special reusable tin to take home with you! Beyond the Covered Market, there are many High Street shops in Oxford, and smaller local boutiques as well. There really is something for everyone—and their budget.

Day trip from London Oxford

How to get there

From central London, there are many ways to get to Oxford. The easiest is by taking a train from Paddington Station. Direct trains from Paddington leave every half hour or so, but there are trains with changes that leave more frequently in between. Another option is taking the Oxford Tube, a bus from central London to Oxford. Use Tube stops Shepard’s Bush, Notting Hill Gate, Marble Arch, or Victoria to access the Oxford Tube bus. Busses leave every twenty minutes or so.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge is one of several prehistoric monuments found in the U.K., and is an official English Heritage Site as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stonehenge is part of a larger Neolithic and Bronze Age complex, which is one of the richest areas of archeological goods from these periods in England. It’s thought that the site was built in several stages. The first henges were constructed by Neolithic peoples around 5,000 years ago. And the stones that are found today are said to be constructed around 2,500 BCE. Then, during the Bronze Age, nearby burial mounds were erected. It’s unknown what the purpose of the henges and mounds were. Perhaps the stones were used for rituals due to the stones alignment with the summer and winter solstices. This alignment could also suggest that it was a place used for astronomical research. There are so many differing hypotheses about how the stones were erected and what they were used for so I recommend that you do a bit of Googling beforehand to find out your favorite!

Day trip from London Stonehenge

What to do

First and foremost, see the stones! There what you came to see after all! There are two ways to get to the stones, either by walking or taking a shuttle bus. The shuttles stop at the Visitors Center very frequently, and take only ten minutes to get to the monument itself. Walking from the Visitors Center will take you approximately thirty or so minutes. On your walk you’ll be immersed into the Neolithic landscape, and there will be signage pointing out important pieces of the landscape.

Once you’ve arrived at the stones you’ll be able to fully walk around them—so long as you stay on the grassy path. It’s marked by ropes, so don’t worry about missing it. If your visit is in peak summer season be prepared for the monument to be packed with tourists taking photos! Make sure that you peruse the surrounding landscape, and don’t only focus on the stones! The surrounding pastures have important details as to how the stones were brought to this location. Tip: if you want the best photos walk along to the back side (closest to the highway) as you’ll be able to see the circular arrangement of the stones and there will be less tourists.

Looking for a full guide to visiting Stonehenge with expert tips and info about other stone formations nearby? Two Traveling Texans has you covered.

The Visitors Center includes a cafe (that is somewhat pricey!) to buy snacks at. Try one of their rock cakes if you can! Rock cakes are a baked good somewhere between a cookie and a scone, and taste so good. There is also an exhibition center and Neolithic houses to explore at the Visitors Center, so be sure to visit before or after visiting the stones.

If you’re an English Heritage or National Trust Member your visit to Stonehenge will be free, but it’s still recommended that you book your tickets before arrival. For everyone else, tickets will set you back £17.50. Be sure to book early as your desired time slot could fill up!

Day Trip From London Stonehenge

How to get there

Stonehenge is great for a day trip from London as it is fairly accessible from the city. There two main options to get to Stonehenge from London. The first is by taking a train from Waterloo to Salisbury Station, where you’ll pick up a bus that will take you directly to Stonehenge via The Stonehenge Tour. Busses depart Salisbury Station every half hour, and take about a half hour to get to Stonehenge. Bus tickets start at £15 for the bus ride to the monument. The company offers bundled packages that include admission into Stonehenge and/or the Salisbury Cathedral for those interested.

Another option is to hire a tour company that will take you directly to Stonehenge from central London. There are numerous tour companies that will meet you at a specified location in London and take you out to Stonehenge for the day. Pick the option that best suits your preferred time table!

Have you ever been to any of these destinations? Tell me about it in the comments!

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What it’s like being a Groundling at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

With tickets to the standing only section at the famous Globe Theatre being only £5, it’s too good of a deal to pass up! Standing feet (and sometimes even inches) away from the performers is an incredible opportunity, and should not be missed while in London. Even not being a huge fan of Shakespeare, I was pleasantly surprised by my evening at the Globe, and I’m so fortunate that I was able to be immersed in the vast history of theatre in London for an evening. I went to see Othello on July 23, at the Globe and here are a few things that I wish I would have known before I was a groundling at Shakespeare’s Globe.

Groundling at Shakespeare’s Globe Photo by Ann Lee

Before we begin, I want to make clear that groundlings are a type of show reservations at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Groundlings will stand for the entirety of the show on the concrete surrounding the stage. Seriously, you will stand the entire time—there’s no getting around it! The attendants and the Globe monitor for individuals who are sitting, and ask them to stand again. Standing is required by all groundlings due to some strict fire codes at the Globe. Due to their proximity, groundlings will have an unobstructed view of the stage, and may even get to interact with the actors if they so choose!

It’s important to note that the yard where all of the groundlings stand is almost completely uncovered, and is open to the elements. If you’re planning on standing for the performance be sure to check the weather in London before your arrival. Bring rain jackets, hats, and wear appropriate clothing to make your experience at the Globe more desirable. Remember, umbrellas aren’t allowed so don’t bother attempting to bring in those! Speaking of proper attire, be sure to wear the comfiest shoes that you own. Don’t worry about being fashion forward, and instead be concerned about your comfort. Moreover, you’ll be in good company wearing your sneakers as a groundling at Shakespeare’s Globe. Most all of the people around me were wearing either Nike sneakers or some other comfort athletic shoe. The yard is one of the few places in London where comfort reins supreme.

When arriving, note that the most popular areas of the yard are the front next to the stage and the back along the walls. Either of these positions would be great as they allow you to lean on them when your legs get tired (and trust me, they will). If you can’t nab one of these places look for one of the columns to rest against to make your experience at the Globe a bit easier. If you want to stand in one of these popular spots, be sure to arrive earlier rather than later as these spots fill up quickly.

Depending on the play that’s on, the groundlings may become somewhat involved in the play. For example, those standing nearest the stage may be involved in conversation with the actors on stage, or may be asked to move as new props are rolled into the yard. It’s also common for actors to walk through and mingle with the groundlings. Depending on your extraversion levels, you may want to engage with the actors or not. If not, stand a bit further from the stage and the entrances to the yard and you’ll be left alone.

The standing itself does get tiresome as the play goes on, so be prepared for that. But for me, the standing was tolerable. I sat on the ground through the entirety of the intermission, and that defiantly helped. Just bring some water in with you to the Globe (it’s allowed!) or buy some at the concessions, and you’ll make it through.

Standing for an entire show can seem overwhelming, but it can be done and it is worth it to see a show live at the Globe. Even for those not particularly interested in Shakespeare (like me!) can benefit from a culturally enriching evening at the Globe. And maybe you’ll even learn something new, or fall in love with the theatre!

Have you ever been to the Globe? What’s your favorite Shakespeare play?

Groundling at Shakespeare’s Globe Pinterest

Should you visit Oxford or Cambridge?

England is home to two of the world’s most prestigious universities, Oxford and Cambridge. Each university has a rich history, famed alumni, and stunning colleges. Both universities are within an hours train ride from central London, so how do you choose to visit Oxford or Cambridge?

The decision is entirely up personal preference, but can be made by deciding what type of experience you want to have. Oxford is located in a bigger city and has a wider variety of things to do—think restaurants, pubs and shopping—than simply touring the colleges. Oxford is also the oldest English speaking university in the world, which adds some serious prestige. On the other hand, Cambridge is a smaller town, which makes it easier to navigate and see all of the colleges. Broken down into categories, here are some differences between the two cities in order to make your decision a bit easier.

Oxford or Cambridge boats on River Cam

History

Since at least 1096, there has been some sort of teaching instruction at Oxford University. Although, this date could be earlier there are simply no definite records to determine the official founding. Gradually, the colleges at Oxford grew in size, particularly during the twelfth century when students were banned from attending the University of Paris. The rapid growth of students caused disagreements between the students and townspeople. These disagreements turned into riots, and many Oxford students and teachers fled to Cambridge where they founded a new university.

By 1209, and officially by a royal charter in 1231, Cambridge University was founded with a similar collegiate structure as Oxford. From the beginning, Cambridge was a university that strongly focused on educating its students on mathematics, and science. This tradition of math and science being a cornerstone for the University paved the way for many scientific breakthroughs at Cambridge. For example, DNA structure was discovered by two scholars at a laboratory within the University.

Architecture

Oxford or Cambridge Kings College ChapelBoth Oxford and Cambridge use the collegiate system, meaning that there are numerous colleges functioning under the same university system. Oxford has thirty eight colleges, while Cambridge has thirty one. Each of the colleges have stunning architecture that are representative of the date of their construction, as well as the usage of the building.

Some of the architectural highlights in Oxford include the Bodleian Library in Radcliffe Square, Christ Church College, and the Bridge of Sighs. Cambridge, on the other hand, has King’s College Chapel, the Mathematical Bridge, and St. John’s College.

Gardens

Oxford is home to the Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum. For only £6 you can visit the oldest botanical garden in the United Kingdom. It was originally founded as a physics garden to study and research the medical uses for plants by Oxford scholars. Owned by the Magdalen College, the botanic garden sits on the edge of the River Cherwell, where visitors can sit alongside the river and watch punters pass by. The garden itself is divided into three parts: the lower garden, the glasshouses, and the walled garden. The gardens themselves are incredibly diverse, and contain plants from all around the globe. Beyond being aesthetically pleasing, the Botanic Garden is also highly informational, particularly in regards to information on medicinal plants within the walled garden. Information is given on the origins and the ancient and contemporary uses of the plant. The garden itself is quite small, so I recommend packing a lunch and eating it alongside the River in order to maximize your time there.

Oxford Botanic Garden and ArboretumCambridge, on the other hand, has a magnificent botanical garden as well. Costing £6 and spanning nearly forty acres, the sprawling garden is great for adventurers. Since 1846, the botanic garden at Cambridge has been a site for research. In fact, it was opened by John Stevens Henslow—a professor of Charles Darwin. During the twentieth century, the gardens were used as a site for plant genetics research. The garden itself boasts an exceedingly large collection of plants from all around the globe. Including many greenhouses that have plants from differing environments––such as palms, and succulents. The trails surrounding the gardens are well maintained and make walking around the gardens a joy.

Culture

Oxford Radcliffe SquareBoth Oxford and Cambridge have so much cultural history within their respective histories. Oxford was the birthplace, inspiration, or location of some of the most noteworthy moments in English literature. For example, interested visitors can have a drink (or two!) in The Eagle and Child where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to meet for their writing group—The Inklings. Those interested in Lewis’ Alice in Wonderland should pop into Magdalen College for a tour, as this is where most of the novel was written. Quite a few scenes of Harry Potter were filmed in Oxford, including several spaces within Christ Church College. The dining hall in Christ Church College wasn’t used for filming, but rather as model for the hall that was actually used in the films.

While Oxford is noted for its famous authors and writers, Cambridge is known for its scientific discoveries. The structure of DNA was discovered in Cambridge. Tourists are able to visit the Cavendish Museum to see important scientific instruments used by scholars. While at the Cavendish Museum, visitors will also be able to learn about the discovery of the electron, which was discovered at Cambridge. Those who love science will love being around so many of the worlds most important scientific discoveries in Cambridge.

Museums

Oxford is home to numerous museums ranging from natural history to art. The most prominent of these museums is the Ashmolean Museum, which is the oldest University museum in Oxford. It’s collection focuses on objects and art from around the world. Their most impressive pieces in their collection include drawings from Raphael, and Egyptian sculpture. The Museum of Natural History is also quite popular with Oxford visitors. Inside the museum, visitors can find exhibits on rocks, minerals, taxidermy, and fossils. There are also smaller and more specialized museums in Oxford, such as the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments, the Bodleian Library, Modern Art Oxford, and the Story Museum.

Cambridge, too, has many, many museums, with the most prominent being the Fitzwilliam Museum. The Fitzwilliam is famous for its art and antiquities collection that ranges from ancient Egypt to Modern twentieth century miniatures. The other major museum in Cambridge is the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. This museum covers over two million years of human history through one million artifacts in the collection. Beyond the two museums, visitors can visit the Museum of Cambridge, Kettle’s Yard House and Gallery, the Round Church Visitor Centre, and the Cambridge University Library.

Getting Around

Both cities are within an hours train ride from central London. To get to Oxford take a direct train from Paddington Station. Cambridge is accessible by train from Kings Cross Station. Once in the cities themselves, everything is quite walkable—with nothing being more than a fifteen or twenty minute walk away.

Deciding Between the Two?

When deciding between Oxford or Cambridge, it’s important to remember that both cities offer incredible cultural history of England, and are worth a visit. However, when time runs short when visiting the U.K., how should visitors decide what city is right for them?

My advice is to choose what part of the cultural history are you most interested in. If literature and film are your biggest interests, perhaps choose Oxford. If you love science and discovery, make the trip to Cambridge instead.

Have you been to Oxford or Cambridge (or both!)? How did you decide between the two cities?

What to Expect During the First Week of Study Abroad

In my Ultimate Guide to Study Abroad I’ll cover all of the details of my study abroad program at Kingston University in London. Each post in the guide will include helpful tips and tricks that I learned during my study abroad journey, as well as more practical information about what to expect while abroad. Since I am studying abroad in the Greater London area the posts will be specific to England and the UK, but the tips and info will be interchangeable for those studying in different cities!Friends during first week of study abroad The first post in this series will cover what to expect during the first week of your course abroad! I just survived the first week of my program at Kingston and I’m here to share some of the experiences that I had this past week. From being totally exhausted to making new friends the first week will probably be one of the most hectic (but fun!) week of the summer (or term if you’re abroad for a semester).

  • You’re going to be so tired––Everything during the first week is so exciting! Going to the local pub, grocery store, and cafe are all firsts in your new city that seem so much more enticing than they do at home. Going to these unfamiliar places is part of the fun of studying abroad, but constantly being out is going to make you so tired! You’re also going to be meeting new friends, staying up late to get to know them, and walking everywhere all adding to your total exhaustion.
  • You will have forgotten to bring something important––Maybe you didn’t bring a blanket or toothpaste or some other necessity that you absolutely cannot live without. The cool part about forgetting something is that you have an excuse to visit a local store and try a new product that’s likely different from the ones that you use at home. Immersing yourself in local products is a great way to get to know the city a bit.

Love traveling like a local? Read my tips on how to explore a city like the locals do.

  • You will meet so many new people (and become quick friends with them)—There are a lot of people in your program who you’ll be living and attending classes with, and you’ll pretty much become instant friends with them. Nobody wants to go to the grocery store or to get coffee alone, particularly in a new city, so you’ll get lots of invitations to do these mundane activities with the people in your program. There’s something magical about being in a new environment with near strangers that will encourage you to over share and become friends really quickly.Making friends during first week of study abroad
  • You’re going to get lost––And that’s okay! You’ll probably feel wildly overwhelmed (and maybe upset!) the first time you get lost, but remember that getting lost is part of the fun! You’re exploring your new home away from home––even if it isn’t in the way that you had anticipated. Just take your adventure in stride!
  • You might want to have a bit of alone time—You should absolutely take time for yourself if you need it—especially if you’re an introvert like me. Taking time for yourself won’t mean that you’re missing out on something important, so take time to practice a little self care if you feel you need it. Traveling and being in an unfamiliar environment can be stressful for anyone so take all of the time necessary to get acclimated to your new city.
  • You’re actually going to have to go to class—It’s easy to forget that you’re abroad to actually study and not just travel. Balancing homework, classes, and traveling from the very beginning will be your best bet as to not getting behind in classes and having the term of your life.
  • Your dorm is going to be much different than home—My dorm, or flat as the English would say, is much smaller than my apartment in the States. I’m lucky enough to have my own small ensuite bathroom in my dorm, but it is still really different from home! The kitchens

Have you ever wanted to study abroad? If so, where would you go?