Thursday, June 2, 2016

Anyway Here's Wonderwall

As I'm typing this, it's 1:34am, and I'm somewhere in the Baltic Sea. I'm headed to Finland by boat for two weeks of quality time with some of my favourite people, Ida and Pauliina, so I'm of course very excited about that.

Seeing as my ship will dock in Turku at 7am, I decided it would be a wise and responsible decision to go to sleep early. My cabin is inconveniently located a floor below the ship's nightclub, and the noise made it difficult to fall asleep, but once I was asleep, I didn't encounter any problems.

Until approximately ten minutes ago when the club, for some unthinkable reason, started playing Wonderwall (seriously, who plays Wonderwall at a club?)

This song in particular brought me out of my slumber, and once I realised what song was playing, the heartbreak I'd been fighting off for the past twenty four hours finally set in.

Arnaud, who I've mentioned many times in this blog, has a knack for the guitar, and, as cliche as it
sounds, one of my favourite things he plays on his guitar is Wonderwall. Hearing this song reminded me on the uncountable number of nights everyone was huddled up beside a bonfire or squeezed into a kitchen, listening to Arnaud strum this very familiar song while we all mumbled the lyrics to ourselves as he played. These are good memories. They're happy. I wouldn't trade these nights or these memories for anything in the world.

But hearing Wonderwall being played by someone other than Arnaud for the first time in (literally!) almost a year made me realise that yesterday, before leaving for Finland, I said goodbye to some of the greatest people I'd ever met. And it wasn't a "hey I'll see you when I get back form Finland" goodbye. It was a "five minute but still not long enough embrace while we talk about how happy we are to have met one another and promise we'll see each other again one day" goodbye. I don't want to say it was a final goodbye, but... it kind of was.

It's an odd feeling, and I'm not sure how to describe it. Bittersweet is perhaps the closest I can get.

It's bittersweet. I've spent the last ten months of my life seeing these people on almost a daily basis. It's kind of hard to believe that it's all over - just like that. It wasn't like last semester, when everyone avoided talking about leaving; this semester was the exact opposite. Everyone was asking everyone when they were leaving then frantically trying to find ways to squeeze in as much time as possible with everyone before we all depart. There were lots of late nights and group selfies, everyone trying to soak in as many memories as possible.

It's weird knowing that when I go back to Sweden, most of my friends won't be there anymore. They'll be scattered across the world again, just as they were before they came into my life and changed it in every way possible. I don't know how I should expect to feel when I get back, but maybe it's better that way. Maybe it's best that I don't think about the fact that I'll be pretty much alone when I return to the place I now call home as long as possible and instead enjoy the time I have to spend in Finland because I have to say goodbye to some pretty amazing people when I leave Finland as well.

The next month is essentially one heartbreaking goodbye after another, I suppose.

Anyway, here's Wonderwall:

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Northern Ireland vs American College Education System

Mary-Claire O'Mullan
Queen's University Belfast
Exchange student 15-16 @ Maryville College
Northern Ireland

For those of you I have not met, my name is Mary-Claire and I am an international student from Northern Ireland. Every year fifty-sixty students from Northern Ireland are given the opportunity to study business and management in the U.S as part of a programme called “Study USA”. “Study USA” began in 1994 and is funded by the British Council. Its aims to develop the academic and applied skills of ambitious and talented students in business-orientated subjects, create opportunities for young people to realise their ambitions in international business and assists in community building in Northern Ireland by widening horizons of young people in a new cultural setting. Having completed two years of an Accounting degree at Queens University, Belfast, I successfully applied and was placed at Maryville College.

I arrived in August, moved into my dorm, completed international orientation and became accustomed to “Southern” living. Over the last two semesters I have taken eight business classes, including Organizational Behavior, International Business and Human Resource management, experiencing first hand major differences in the Northern Ireland and American education systems. While both certainly provide an excellent environment for learning, the structure of the college, approach to work and student life are far from home.

Length of Time

One of the most notable differences between the college education system in Northern Ireland and the U.S is the amount of time it takes to finish your degree. In general, degree programs in Northern Ireland are designed to last three years while in the U.S it usually takes one year longer, although this can vary depending upon the course or major taken and whether you receive a Master’s degree prior to a PhD. In both systems, you can go directly to a PhD program after your undergraduate program, but in Northern Ireland it is more common to complete a Master’s degree before moving on to a PhD. A Master’s program in Northern Ireland usually takes one year and a PhD three, while in the U.S it usually takes two years for a Master’s and five-seven for a PhD.  Courses of study are shorter in Northern Ireland because the course programs are generally much more focused than in the U.S.

Academic Term

While most universities in the U.S begin their terms in mid to late August, taking a rather lengthy break beginning in mid-December and starting the second semester in early to mid-January, Northern Ireland universities operate on a completely different academic calendar. Term begins in late-September or early-October with the second semester starting in early-February and ending in early-June. All Northern Irish universities have two, twelve week semesters, excluding two-three weeks at Easter. Christmas holidays come after the first term but with the addition of January exams. There are no classes in January but students take exams from the second-last week and then begin the second semester in February. Similarly, the second semester ends early-May with the summer exam period lasting from late-May to early-June. These differences make for a slightly shorter academic year in the U.S than in Northern Ireland.


In the last year of Secondary school, (the equivalent to U.S High School), Northern Irish students will apply to study a specific degree programme at university. This degree will consist of compulsory classes, solely relating to the degree subject. While some courses may offer optional classes the structure on the course is pretty set in stone. As previously mentioned, I am studying Accounting and so have only ever taken Accounting or similar classes at university. This is a huge contrast to the liberal arts philosophy here at Maryville College. Based on the development of well-rounded knowledge, students are expected to take a wide range of varying subject classes. This variation and freedom of choice with regards elective classes is something I really enjoyed and feel it breaks up the monotony of only taking classes related to your major.

Participation and Attendance

Emphasis on student participation and group work are other major differences between my home university and Maryville College. During the 2014/15 academic year 23,855 students were enrolled at Queens University, Belfast with 79% being undergraduates. As a result classes can consist of hundreds of students making monitoring attendance and participation practically impossible. In contrast, professors in smaller U.S colleges usually dedicate a portion of students’ final mark to attendance and participation. They expect students to display their knowledge actively and engage in their lectures, as participating in classroom discussions is seen as demonstration that you grasp the course material. With regards group work, I have had more group work in my last semester at Maryville College than in my entire time at Queens. While this is partly due to the contrast in class sizes, this team approach to work has been helpful both in improving my team work and communication skills and in getting to know more people. Additionally, there are no 8am classes. The earliest class is 9am and as attendance is not compulsory they are not the most populated classes of the day.

Homework and Grades

In addition to participation, another key difference in the U.S college classroom is the amount and frequency of work and how it is graded. In Northern Ireland the final grade of a class commonly consists of homework (5-10%), coursework/midterm exam (15-25%), (usually takes place around week 6 of term) and a final exam (85-75%). Something U.S students may also find interesting is that grades are based on the British undergraduate degree classification system. Calculated by the weighted average of all classes taken, the degree classifications are: First-class honours (≥70%), Second-class honours, upper division (≥60%) and Second-class honours, lower division (≥50%), Third-class honours (≥40%) and an Ordinary degree (35-39.5%). Contrastingly, I have learnt that U.S Professors begin grading within the first few weeks of class and the final mark compromises numerous quizzes, tests, assignments, presentations, class participation and group work. Everything contributes to the final class grade and to the overall Grade Point Average (GPA) of the student. Most students will aim for at least a 3.0 GPA or a B, the equivalent of 83-86%. This is something Northern Irish Students will definitely find daunting and did require some time to get my head around. However, I should mention that while U.S exams are more frequent, Northern Irish exams are harder.


The cost of education in both countries is far from cheap, but the cost of education in the U.S is generally, substantially higher. Universities in Northern Ireland can charge up to £3,925 for yearly tuition fees (approximately $6400) to students coming from Northern Ireland but fees for international students can be significantly higher. The government sets the limits for tuition fees, and each individual school sets its own fee up to that limit. By contrast, the government has very little control over what universities charge in the United States. The U.S differentiates between in-state tuition fees and out-of-state tuition fees, as well as between private and public universities. These distinctions determine the tuition fee. The average tuition fee for public two-year institutions is around $3000 per year, while the average fee for private four-year institutions is around $29,000 per year and some private four-year institutions can cost up to $50,000 per year.


Both Northern Ireland and the U.S provide students with residence halls in which to live. However, at Queens, residence halls are only open to first year students and are in high demand due to the size of the university. Living in residence halls is not compulsory and many students will live in houses or apartments close to the university. Queens is also an open campus, meaning university buildings are scattered throughout South Belfast an area simply known as the “student area” of the city. If you do live in residence halls you have your own bedroom and usually your own bathroom facilities too. Having to share a bedroom with a complete stranger was definitely high on my list of worries when coming to study in the U.S having always had my own space. Northern Irish residence halls are also all self-catered, while here in the U.S a range of full dining options are commonly provided for students.

Although I did have to adapt to major changes, my experience with facilities, students and staff has been nothing but positive. Entering through the gates of Maryville College, almost nine months ago, I could never have imagined the sadness I feel as my time here comes to an end. Nonetheless, I am leaving not only having developed my business knowledge and skills but having learned lessons and made connections and friendships that will last a life time. I am extremely proud to become a Maryville College Alum and thank everyone, especially Study USA, the British Council and Maryville College Centre for International Education for an amazing year. Go Scots!

Mary-Claire O’Mullan

Friday, April 22, 2016

Home Is Where the Heart is...?

They say home is where the heart is. I don't know who "they" are, but I have to admit - they're right. By definition, home is where a person permanently lives, but there are a plethora of connotations that perhaps better portray what the word home means to most people.

There's nothing like being trapped in three
feet of snow with your favourite people.
I think that, first and foremost, home isn't necessarily a place. Home can be a person or a number of people. Sometimes, you meet someone and you get those warm fuzzies inside that you'd heard about as a kid but was never entirely convinced existed until that moment. You don't know how or why, but you feel like you've known this person your entire life, that by their side was where you were supposed to be from the very beginning. That feeling you get when you're with that person, and the fact that that feeling doesn't go away no matter how much time you spend with them, that's home. 

Abstract as it may be, I also believe that memories can serve as some sort of "home." Some of my fondest memories include wandering down the streets of Prague at dusk, a trdelník in one hand and a koláč in the other (Czech Republic has good food, alright?), celebrating Finland winning a gold
medal in ice hockey with an arena full of Finnish people in Helsinki, and hiking with my best friends for what felt like hours to find Norway's most popular waterfall. As temporary as these moments were, and thereby essentially the exact opposite of the definition of "home," these memories will always serve as something of a makeshift home for me. 

However, if you want to try to be at least a bit literal to the definition, places, of course, can be home to a person. A house doesn't make a home, though. Home doesn't have to be fours walls and a roof; where I'm currently living, of course, has these things, but I don't at all feel at home there. Instead, there are other places I feel at home. Sitting out by the water in Skeppsholmen feels like home to me. Hovet Arena during a Djurgården ice hockey match feels like home to me. A little dock by the river in Rovaniemi, Finland feels like home to me. 

These people, places, and memories have all captured a piece of my heart, which is why they all, to some extent, feel like home to me.

"Home is whenever I'm with you."
So what do you do when pieces of your heart are scattered around the world?

It's a tricky question.

In a sense, you almost have to start asking yourself where you belong. You feel so at home in so many places, and that sensation alone is one that simultaneously convinces you that you don't truly belong in any place. Really, it's a paradox and a wild ride of thoughts and emotions.

I think being abroad so long provoked this question, or perhaps this identity crisis, in me. What do I mean whenever I say "I want to go home"? Do I mean I want to be with my family in the States? With Ana and Silvia in Spain? Ida and Pauliina in Finland? Štěpánka in Czech Republic? Or right here in Stockholm? Or am I longing to relive one of my fondest memories?

It's a difficult question to answer solely because the answer is always different and because the word has such a different and personal meaning to everyone.

So what does home mean to you? It's something worth thinking about. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

5 Things to Know Before Studying Abroad

          There are endless checklists, to-do lists, and other methods of preparation for a study abroad experience but during my time in Pamplona, Spain these 5 things stuck out to me as ideas that I should have known before the start of my journey.

  1. Trips with your new friends are fun, but trips by yourself are rewarding.

·         Doing things alone in general is okay. When you get on a bus or a plane or a train by yourself, a new experience comes to life. Making friends is easier, in these settings and you just might end up in the presence of some really cool people. Cities are great with friends, but there is something special about wandering down the streets of a new city on your own agenda. You get to decide what you want to see, when you want to see it and how long you want to spend doing any given thing. With this freedom, you will have the opportunity to enjoy the things that you love and care about the most.  

  1. Systems and processes vary country to country and culture to culture.

·         The small everyday parts of our lives may be completely different in our host country. This is a part of the experience, but it might be smart to look into some of these things before you arrive and to also accept that if a difference comes up, adapting to your situation is fundamental and will help you to succeed. Some examples of differences in processes that I experienced are listed below:

o   Course selection (not online, given a month to “try on” classes

o   Postal service (number vs. line, different lines, MANY forms and papers to fill out)

o   Produce in grocery stores (weigh yourself and get a sticker that goes on the bag)

  1. Asking for help is okay.

·         I think this one speaks for itself, but it is a vital part of living, working, and studying in a new place. You won’t have all of the answers, but someone else will. Most of the time people will be very willing to help you!

  1. Journal/Blog/Keep a Record/ Capture Memories

·         This is the one thing you should do every day   

·         This will be one of the best experiences of your life. Write about it and not just what is happening, but how you are feeling, this will help you process what is happening and to remember it later

  1. You have to push yourself in the host language because there will be plenty of people ready and willing to speak to you in English.

·         English is a common language among many peoples, university students in particular might be very keen to speak to you in English to practice, this means that you have to be intentional about speaking in your host language.

By Study Abroad Ambassador: Brittany Miller

Monday, April 4, 2016

Spring vacation in Japan!!!! (February)

The whole month of February I was in South Korea with my friend Sulecca!!! 
We spent the first week in Seoul taking pictures of EVERTHING!!!!! We even met some of our friends that we made while in Japan!!! We met our friend Seobin in Gangmun and she showed us the tribute to the song!!! (of course we had to dance there) Then we were able to meet our friend Seolyul and had Korean style Chinese food and Korean ice cream!! Every day was super packed, we had a million places we want to see and so many things to do. We'd get up early, be out all day, come back around the last train, stay up late to map out the next day. Even though, it was exhausting, it was too great we couldn't miss our opportunity!!
We left Seoul and headed to Ansan! Everyone always asked why we went to Ansan, because it's supposedly the bad part of Korea. But we HAD to go because!!!!
Heejun!!!!! He picked us up from the train station and spent a few days with us!!! He said he wouldn't visit or spend time with us (such a lie)!!! We had multiple meals together, went shopping, took purikura in Korea, went to a game center, went to karaoke, had icecream, and even spent Valentines Day as a lovely family of 3!
I thought leaving would be hard but actually, he was returning to Japan about the same time we were!! Of course, we'll meet again!!!
On the the next stop!!! Train bound for Daejeon!! Two of the sweetest girls to meet!!!
 I first met Gyuri at the train station! After 2 years!! We we're both unbelievably happy!!! We left to shop around for a little, then we met with her boyfriend who took us to our hotel. After resting a little, we went out for dinner and drinking, we had soooo much to talk about (2 years of life to go through)!!! After dinner, it was time to do karaoke in another language!!! (that's just what we do)!!!
The next day I met with Chorong!!!! It had been a year since the last time we met!!! She introduced me to two of her friends. The five of us went to lunch, explored the city, and went club bowling and pool (Korean original activity)!! It was so much fun meeting them both in Korea, but I didn't have much time in Daejeon. I was only there for about four days! (Four AMAZING days!)
After saying good-bye Sulecca and I headed off to another city to tour around. We didn't know much about the city, but we didn't care what it was like! We were both happy being in Korea. We visited many cities, and there's so much to see and do! One of my favorites was our adventure to Jiju Island!! We went to Love Land, Alive museum, Kpop museum, a few water falls, the beach, made new friends, and got lost trying to use the buses (because no train!!)
Next stop was Busan!!!!! There were two more lovely ladies to meet!!! 
After being in Busan for a few day, I first got to meet Min!!! I had already done the main site seeing so she took us shopping and told us how to get to two really famous beaches. We planned to meet again after she was done with work!
Before I arrived at the train station to meet her she said she had a surprise for me! Yoni had told me she was busy the day Min was free, but the day Min worked Yoni said she was free. I wasn't expecting to meet them both at the same time. So when I arrived at the station, I saw Min and asked about my surprise. Min said I would have to wait because the train wasn't here yet! Jokingly I asked if she got me a person and when she said yes I was even more confused. As we were talking and waiting, Min stopped me in mid sentence and told me to look the other direction. At first Yoni was too far I didn't know who it was, but when she waved and said my name I had to run and go hug her!!! It had been about half a year since we last met but it felt like just the other day we were all at Maryville laughing at dinner!!! After site seeing and exploring a few more days Min and Yoni met me at the train station and said good-bye.
It was time to go back to Seoul for our last week in Korea!!! We did the site seeing spots we missed the first time we were in Seoul. And we even planned for a small Maryville reunion!! Gyuri, Jin-eon, Ariel, and I all made time to meet for dinner a few days before I had to go back to Japan!!
The last night I was there I had to go back to my favorite site seeing spot!! Namsan Tower!!! It was soooo BEAUTIFUL!!! It snowed the whole last day and it felt like a dream!!! It wasn't really time to go was it... 
When I returned back to Japan I was both happy and sad. Happy to be back at my second home with friends that became family. Yet, sad because I had to leave the friends that were already family.

Spring vacation in Japan!!! (January)

I started my spring vacation in mid-January!!!! (Are you sure that's spring)??? It was kinda sad at the beginning, because I had to say good-bye to some of the students that were 1 semester or had finished their year. Two people I good-bye to, I got really close to. One was a girl from the U.S. and the other was a guy from Korea!

I wanted to spend as much time as I could with them before they had to return home so we had about four good-bye parties, a million pictures, and a trillion hugs!!! 

Audrey's flight was first so I helped her clean her room and go to the airport. We said our last good-bye... (so sad). We both know it's not good-bye forever, but for too long.

As for Heejun, I was able to send five more days with him before his flight, but we said good-bye at I house. It wouldn't be too long until I see him again.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Birthday Cake and Snapchat Filters

I'm under a lot of stress right now, and I've been under a lot of stress for a while now. It's the kind of stress that literally has affects on my life. Sometimes, it's the kind of stress that makes it difficult to get out of bed and live my life. It's the kind of stress I was hoping to avoid while spending my year abroad in Sweden.

After all, I'm supposed to be having the best year of my life, right?

That's the logic I tried to apply when I was having an especially stressful day and tried to talk bout it to my friend. It feels kind of stupid to be sitting here on the border of miserable when I'm so fortunate to be sending a year learning and living in Sweden. But my friend gave me the most humbling answer ever: "Life doesn't care if you're supposed to be having the best year of your life. It doesn't care if you're in Sweden or in America or anywhere else. Life happens, and it's going to affect you in positive and negative ways whether you want it to or not."

What I took away from this conversation was that I need to continue to make the best of whatever life throws at me, no matter if it's positive or negative. I will run into setbacks, but, in the words of Henry Ford, "obstacles are just things you see when you lose sight of the goal."

Finally, I set my sights on the goal again.

The best quote from the book I read, and
also some very helpful life advice!
So what have I been up to the past month? Really, not much. I recently completed a class called "Swedish Society and Culture," which was interesting because it offered me the resources to learn even more about the society that I'm living in. As a part of our final exam, we had to read a book originally written in Swedish and that is set in Sweden and analyse aspects of Swedish culture in the book. I chose to read the novel The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, and I absolutely loved it! I found little signs of Sweden hidden all throughout the book. It's perfect if you want a little taste of Sweden but can't physically make it out here... :)

Right now, I'm taking Comparative European Politics, and, honestly, I think it might be a little advanced for me considering I've literally never taken a class in political science, but everyone else in the class has been really helpful so it's at least manageable! I actually really enjoy the class; I knew the basis of politics in countries such as Sweden, Germany, and Finland, but this class is giving me an opportunity to explore the political situation of various countries in depth. Despite it being difficult, it's a lot of fun, and I'm glad I decided to take it! The last meeting for the class is already next week, though, which makes me sad, because this is a class I would love to take all semester! I still think that Sweden's "one class at a time" setup is really great, but some topics I just really wish I could spend more time with.

Academics aside, I recently had my birthday! I turned 21, which is kind of a big deal in the States, but here in Sweden, it's just another birthday. Even though my friends knew this, they did everything in their power to make it the best birthday I've ever had. And they succeeded! When I got out of class that day, my friends that were also in my class were rushing me toward the bus stop to go home, which I was kind of confused about because I had been planning on walking home and calling my
mom, but they seemed insistent on me taking the bus with them, and I figured I might as well if it was that important to them. Once we reached our bus stop and approached my apartment building, I began to bid farewell to my friends, trying to tell them I'd see them later, but they informed me that they had received direct orders to take me to someone's kitchen but weren't allowed to tell me why.

Because I'm not an idiot, I figured out that a surprise birthday party was being thrown for me.

(Subtly is not your strong suit, Arnaud.)

However, I will admit that it was the best birthday party ever. All of my favourite people were there, which was the most important part for me. I would have been happy with a lousy birthday cake and dinner and no present because I had great company, but I really had the best of both worlds. The cake was literally all I ever wanted in life and more: a peanut butter Oreo Nutella Cheesecake.... Honestly, it doesn't get much better than that. My friends, who know I have a weakness for globes and maps, bought me an inflatable globe, and on the globe they marked all of our hometowns and everywhere in Europe that I've visited. Don't tell anybody, but it took all I had in me to not shed a few happy tears. After that, we had a taco dinner, which was absolutely amazing, and to complete the night perfectly, we saw Deadpool, which was hilarious! Really, best birthday ever.

Thanks, y'all.

After my birthday, we had a roadtrip! Usually, roadtrips aren't very exciting to me. More than anything, they're a hassle but also the cheapest way to get to Point A to Point B. But I guess that's what happens when you live in the middle of nowhere and it takes longer for you to drive to the
grocery store than it takes most Europeans to leave their country. However, this road trip was exciting! I hadn't been in a car since I left the States, so part of that excitement was just being able to be in a car again. I was also excited to see more of the Swedish landscape; the buses and trains can only show you so much. Above all, though, I was excited to be travelling with some of my best friends. We went a bit west to Örebro, Sweden's sixth largest city at 140,000 inhabitants.

I'm not entirely convinced there are 140,000 people in Örebro, though. I might believe you if you told me that 10,000 people live there. It really felt like a small town, but it's entirely possible that could because I've grown so used to big, boisterous Stockholm. I can't help but wonder how I will feel
when I return to Windthorst, Texas, population 409, this summer. I'll probably feel like I'm living in a ghost town.

Despite its size, though, Örebro is a nice little place. I described it as quaint as we walked through the city. In terms of actual attractions, Örebro doesn't really have much to offer. Like any good Swedish city, it has a castle and church, both of which were beautiful. However, they can only keep you occupied for so long, which isn't a very large amount of time at all. After marveling at the castle and church, we walked down the city's main streets, which was full of shopping outlets but still charming at the same time. I can't help but compare it to the main street of a small town you'd see in TV or in the movies, even though Örebro technically isn't a small town.
Cutest filter ever

To summarise: Örebro is nice, but only as a weekend trip. I don't know what I'd do if I spent more than a few days there.

Also they have a nice Snapchat filter.

Unfortunately, I somehow got a sinus infection while in Örebro, so right now I'm dealing with that on top of finishing up my political science class, which, like I said, ends next week. Then next Thursday, I'll be off to Finland to visit Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland. I'm quite excited to go back to Lapland because, according to my friend that lives there, it's still snowing and wintry. The snow is all gone in Stockholm, and I don't think it will be returning any time soon, so going to Rovaniemi means getting to experience just a bit more winter before accepting the fact that spring is upon us.

Springtime, though, hopefully means seeing to sun again for the first time since September (alright, that's a lie, I saw the sun when we were in London), so I guess saying goodbye to winter isn't all bad.

In any case, I'll keep you all updated!

- Lee

Happy birthday to meeee :)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Actual Week 3: Grocery Shopping and Letters from Grandma

Allison Luppe,  Plymouth UK

I think I might have gotten off whenever I started titling these blog posts because it has not been a month since I got here. I think my main problem was that I was going off of the date that I first started posted and then counted the first week as the second week rather than as the first week. I think.

So, it's been another week in Plymouth and I am finding that I have finally gotten used to how things work around here. I'm setting up a study schedule, more or less, so that I can stay on top of my classes this semester and not worry about falling behind. Whether I stick to this schedule is another question. I really enjoy my classes and the things that we have been going over. My teachers are incredibly nice and they definitely enjoy what they teach about. I haven't met a Professor Snape, so there's no need to worry about that.

Other than classes, I have finally gotten used to the grocery stores that are around here. There are three stores that I have found that are fairly easy to navigate: Sainsbury's, Wilkos, and Poundland (and World). The only reason that I put Poundland and Poundworld together is that they are essentially the same concept except one of them is slightly bigger than the other. Sainsbury's reminds me a lot of Walmart where you can get pretty much everything you need and be on your way fairly quickly. Wilkos is a lot like Target if only for the red decor that they have which is strikingly similar to Target's. And Poundland is a lot like Dollar Tree in that everything there is for a pound, which is really nice for college students.

One thing that I found really cool was that you could order your groceries online and have them delivered if they were over a certain amount. I decided to test this and get some of the basics that I knew that I would be using most regularly. I was able to pick a time and date for the food to be delivered and from there, I got chicken, potatoes, apples and things like that. The delivery guy wasn't entirely sure where to meet me, so I had to meet him at the top of the street. It wouldn't have been that big of a deal if it weren't for the amount of groceries that I decided to get. Thankfully I doubt I'll be needing to get that amount again, but it was definitely jarring to say the least and I got a workout.

I've also been getting to know my flatmates better, especially Anna. Anna is a girl from Cornwall, which is about a two hour drive from here, who is studying Criminal Studies with a minor in Law. She has been helping me a lot in the cooking department, which I am well aware of how I could use some improvement in. I really appreciate that she wants to help me though and she has a car which she has said once it starts working again (the battery seems to have died D: ) we might do some grocery shopping. That should make things at least a little easier.

Apparently the postal service has been very particular about what mail I get from the US. One of the letters that my grandma sent me, which she has been sending me since I was four or five years old, apparently got sent back because it didn't have the right postage and didn't have "ENGLAND" written on it, which was fine. I now have my letter and I got some sweets on Friday, which I decided to take a picture of.

Do not adjust your screens, people, that hexagonal shaped box that you see next to the letter does in fact say "Smarties" on it. The smarties that they have over here are not the incredibly sweet basically sugar tablets that we have in the US but instead are more like M&Ms, though a little bigger and in different colors like purple and brown. They also have these sweets called "Love Hearts" which are a lot like the conversation hearts we have in the US but a lot sweeter and less chalky. 

I also took some pictures over the weekend of the places around Plymouth that I thought were nice. These have been my adventures this week. 

(Down at the Hoe)

(On the stairwell up to my room)

Monday, February 8, 2016

Goodbye, Hello, and brb

It's been a while since I sat down and wrote a blog. Almost a month, in fact. But as I've said before, you kind of get caught up in life when you're studying abroad. At home, everything is familiar and, in a way, kind of mundane, and that doesn't happen when you're abroad. Unfortunately, I've also had more than my fair share of issues during the past month or so, ranging from academic to personal. I won't bore anyone with that; instead, I'll jump right into the interesting stuff!

Shortly after I returned from Prague, the day I'd been dreading arrived: the day everyone who was only staying for a semester left. The final days were spent clinging to one another and the precious but very little time we still had together. I could feel cracks in my heart forming as The Day approached. Goodnight hugs got a increasingly longer and tighter every night. We all knew it was coming, but no one dared talk about it out loud, as if ignoring it would somehow not make it happen at all. Instead, we spent hours each night gathered around a table and retelling stories from the previous five months. We told the feelgood stories that left everyone with that pleasant, warm-fuzzy feeling in their hearts and the embarrassing stories that always inevitably left someone at the table a peculiar shade of red, which was sometimes funnier than the story itself. Truly, we talked about everything other than everyone's departures, which we just left to be the massive elephant in the room. Somehow, it hurt less that way.

They say home is where the heart is
so be careful with my heart, friends.
Then time finally slipped through our fingertips and everyone was heading off to the airports, overweight luggage and a lifetime's worth of memories in tow. I accompanied three people to Arlanda Airport: my (now former) roommate Valentine, Ana - who I've mentioned a few times already in previous posts, and Kevin, the best Swiss guy around. Even at the airport, we talked around the subject of them leaving. We poked fun at Valentine and Ana's overweight baggage and referred to inside jokes. Ana and I even made friends with a Spanish guy standing in the baggage drop line behind us. Right before I left them all at airport security, we shared exceptionally long hugs, but I still didn't feel like goodbye. I promised everyone I'd come visit them in their home countries and reminded them that I loved them, then I watched as they walked past the metal detectors then disappeared into the airport to find their gates. I didn't cry. My heart was heavy, but it still didn't seem real yet. I took the bus back to the train station then began the hourlong train ride back to Björnkulla. I was listening to my usual Spotify playlist, but I kept skipping tracks; every song reminded me of
Note to self.
someone that I'd just left behind. It wasn't until Ana texted me from the airport and we exchanged words and feelings as to just how much we loved and meant to one another that I started crying. And when I started crying, it was full-blown ugly sobbing. I think I terrified the poor unsuspecting guy sitting beside me. I cried all the way to my train stop then held it together long enough to walk home, where I returned to my empty room and cried some more. I always thought that you experienced heartbreak in romantic relationships. It wasn't until then that I realised heartbreak comes in all shapes and sizes and that I hadn't just been heartbroken - I'd had my heart shattered.

Not everyone left me! Arnaud, Lilli, and a few
others stayed behind for a second semester!
Just a few days later, we had new people arriving! I still had a heavy heart thanks to the people that had left me so recently, but it was exciting nonetheless. We were eager to meet everyone, so we put together a welcome gathering the night most people were scheduled to arrive. To our surprise, a lot of people showed up! Suddenly, I had the same feeling I did when I'd arrived in August. It was a
whirlwind of new names, new nationalities, new everything. All in all, it was a great night, and I knew right away I'd just met some incredible people.

The next few days were dedicated to meeting everyone and remembering everyone's names. Something no one tells you before you go abroad is that it's easy to remember nationalities, but remembering names is nothing short of a miracle. Every time you see someone and remember their
names, you give yourself a mental high five, but when you can't remember their name, you frantically text the person next to you asking for their name and pray they know. I think, at last, I've mastered everyone's (or almost everyone's) names. Hey, it only took three weeks.

As I said in a previous paragraph, being with the new exchange students reminded me of when I had first arrived. It's almost like a cycle; you meet everyone, you're overwhelmed by the sheer number of people and names and personalities you're encountering all at once, and you all gather every night and sit around a kitchen table that technically isn't big enough for such a crowd and you laugh and
talk and play games until the sun starts coming up, then the next night you do it again. The more time you spend with everyone, the more they begin to feel like family. Almost immediately, I found someone I trusted more than anyone, and he is a constant source of sunshine and happiness in my life. I didn't know I needed a person like him until he saved me from myself like the saviour he is.

It sounds dramatic. It all sounds dramatic. I know that. But 1) I'm a dramatic person 2) it's true anyway so haters to the left. ♥

One thing I appreciate about all the new arrivals is that I'm having the opportunity to fall in love with Stockholm all over again. When you're here for so long, you kind of forget just how incredible of a
city it is. Stockholm is beautiful. Stockholm is breathtakingly beautiful, and I'm proud to call it my home. We took a guided bus tour of the city one day, and suddenly I was once again in awe of the Nordic architecture and beautiful landscapes Stockholm boasts. It's inspired me to begin doing some adventuring around the city again. There are so many wonders in Stockholm itself that are still left to uncover, and I'm determined to dig up as many as possible!

Almost immediately, everyone started talking about how we should take a cruise somewhere. If you can recall, we did the same thing last semester. As you may also remember, I slept through the part of the cruise where we were on land.  It happens, okay? We soon decided that a cruise to Tallinn, Estonia was in order. Last semester, I visited Tallinn, and visiting the Baltic States is something that was on my study abroad bucket list, so this was a dream come true. I actually shed a few tears while I was ashore during that trip. Did you forget why? I wrote all about it in my blog post about Estonia and Halloween! Shameless self promos all over the place.

Anyway, even though I would have loved to go to Estonia again, another place was calling my name: London, England.


I successfully peer pressured Lilli into coming along with me, and we went off to London on Wednesday evening! The flight there was pretty easygoing, but we were put to an immediate halt at customs. England has a very, very restrictive border, especially for non-EU citizens. So while it only took Lilli 15 minutes to get through customs, it took me over an hour. I got asked everything from why I was in London to why I was in Europe at all and when I would be returning to the United States. That much grilling was entirely unnecessary.

But finally, I got through, then we took a bus into the city, where we met up with Jenna, a friend of mine who visited Sweden last semester (and the same friend that I went to Tallinn with!). She helped us buy our public transport cards then took us out to pizza before we parted ways and we were left to find our Airbnb.

That in itself took another hour and a half and a miracle, but we finally found the place a little past midnight and immediately collapsed in bed. As excited as I was about being in London (!!!), I was also really, really sick, and that kind of put a damper on things. And when I say really, really sick, I mean really, really, really sick. I had no business being anywhere other than in bed awaiting the cold embrace of death, but when London calls, you don't say no.

So despite my sickness, I sucked it up and explored London. We did all the fun, touristy stuff, such as
Tower Bridge
visiting the London Tower and Tower Bridge. The Tower Bridge is beautiful! I loved the aquamarine suspensions; that splash of colour was so much fun! The architecture itself was something absolutely admirable. I'm such a sucker for architecture. I talk and think about it way more than any 20 year old non-architecture student should. But will I stop? Absolutely not - there is too much architecture left to be admired.

Big Ben & London Eye
Obviously, we also visited Big Ben! We kept hearing that Big Ben is even more beautiful in person than in photos, and we had to see for ourselves. Turns out, this is a completely accurate statement. I ended up taking about 50 photos of Big Ben, and none of them can compare to how beautiful it is to see in person. Additionally, we went up in the London Eye, and we go a bird's eye view of all of London! Obviously, London is a beautiful city, but it's even more beautiful when you have a 360-degree, bird's eye view of it. I'll never forget how beautiful the city looked from so high up. Even though it was expensive to go on the London Eye, it was worth every penny and more.

Have I mentioned yet that I met One Direction? Because that was a thing.

Just me and 1D. nbd!!!
Okay, maybe not the One Direction, but their identical wax figures! We went to Madame Tussauds, which is the world-famous wax museum, and One Direction was still on display! It was super exciting, because their wax figures was part of the reason why I agreed to go in the first place. Of course, there were plenty of other great wax figures! Some of my favourites (other than One Direction, of course) were Vincent van Gogh, Aishwarya Rai, and Captain America. And the best part is that they really do look like their real-life counterparts, which was something I was skeptical of going in.

Out of all these things, my favourite thing was the Victoria and Albert Museum, which I wouldn't have even gone to if Jenna hadn't suggested it to us! It's seriously one of the most massive museums I've ever been to, and we only covered the first floor. It included exhibits about Europe during the 1600s-1800s, fashion throughout history, and lots about religions (which is one of my favourite subjects ever). I completely forgot to take photos while we were there because I was so absorbed in
all of the history. Like I said, we only covered the first floor, and, if I recall correctly, there are five floors. So obviously I have to go back and discover all the museum has to offer! But I loved the museum that I paid $10 for a tote bag with the logo on it. Talk about dedication.

I think that about sums up the past month. It was full of heartbreaking goodbyes, heartfelt hellos, and plenty of adventuring! So lots of highs and lows and everything in between. Just when life begins to feel dull, it throws me for a loop just to shake things up (and thank god for that; I would hate for life to feel boring). I'm still sick, but once I get to feeling better, I can't wait to get to exploring Stockholm - maybe I'm a little late in doing so, but better late than never, right?

- Lee

London and Stockholm are both beautiful in their own way ♥