Monday, December 10, 2018

< One Week

Less than one week left. It feels as if time has flown by. I hasn't really hit me until this past week when I realized goodbyes to places and people may be permanent. The thought makes me sad honestly.

Things I'm going to miss: being forced to be active and walk places, the accents and phrases that I've only just now gotten used to, the rolling hill landscape, the beach being 3 miles away, the wild sheep roaming around, the cheap Tesco food, the tea/biscuit culture, the environmental awareness norms (the McDonald here has paper straws!!!), the kindness of the locals, the easier class schedule, the rainbow after quick rain, having my own space, cheap flights to and from places in Europe, my neighbors, my volunteer crew, my volleyball team, my Parkrun family, and especially my flatmates. 

Things I'm not going to miss: the money exchange rate, cooking for myself, relying on public transport, the rain, and not having to worry about thesis. 

Things I'm excited about: finally meeting my niece, being with my family, AMI conference in January, my Peace Corps interview in a week or so, graduating, and sharing my experience abroad with anyone who is willing to listen. 

The only thing that has remained the same about on/about me since I left is my toe nail polish and my earrings that I have yet to take off.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Thrifty in the City: London on a Budget (Roehampton Summer Program)

If you're worried that spending a summer in London might break the bank, allow me to be the first to say "Keep Calm and Carry On!" There are a number of ways to keep the cost of your trip down when completing the Roehampton summer program in London, and I have lots of insider tips, tricks, and knowledge from my own experience to help you save your pounds and pence without sacrificing fun experiences.

Dollars and Cents, Pounds and Pence

1. This first tip might seem like a no-brainer, but it's worth learning before you cross the pond: KNOW THE EXCHANGE RATE!!!! At the time of writing, £1 is equal to $1.27, so everything is marked up about a quarter of what it would cost you in the US. Still, if you learn to quickly calculate the percent increase between what you're purchasing in the UK and what the cost would be at home, you can learn to avoid overpriced items and make smart decisions even in the middle of big-city bustle. Some friends in my study abroad cohort were unfamiliar with the exchange rate, and shied away from buying anything that cost more than £20 or £30 because they thought they'd be spending the equivalent of $100 USD. Being familiar with the current exchange rate during your trip will help you stretch your dollars (or pounds) and get the most bang for your quid.

Cookin' Up a Storm 

"Dinky Posh Dogs"-
Even grocery shopping is fun in the UK!
2. Another thing to be mindful of when planning your stay at Roe is that you will not have a meal plan. It may sound scary to think about surviving in a new place without a  Pearsons-like solution to your meals. However, you will have a full kitchen available on your flat, and you will be graciously gifted a box full of brand-new kitchen utensils (each student receives one; they make great souvenirs!). Thus, the most cost-effective approach to eating in London is to cook in as often as you can.  If you can coordinate with flatmates to cook together, even better! You'll have fun getting to know your flatmates, and you'll all be saving money. There are two grocery stores within a 20-minute bus ride of campus, so grab a bus, take tote bags and a backpack, and stock up on groceries during your first week. There's an Asda east of the school and an M&S near Hammersmith Station; the M&S is a little more expensive, but they have lots of produce and individually-sized meals, and their frozen meals are WAY better than Asda's. Seriously, when shopping at Asda, don't waste your time with the £1 frozen meals; that's one instance where it's definitely better to spend more). Be sure to bring your own bags, because you get charged 5 pence for each plastic shopping bag you take in the UK (pretty cool, really). I tried to eat at least two meals a day on campus, and it helped a lot with my pocketbook and my overall health in a new place. 

Eating Out (While Staying In!)

3. Speaking of eating on campus, there are plenty of restaurants available to you at Roe, too! Between the hot bar serving a fish and chips and mushy peas special on Friday (definitely worth the £6 for the portion size), the student-run brunch joint with campus-grown peaches and homemade fudge cake, and the sandwich shop right next to the Aldersgate Court dorms,  just to name a few, there are lots of options for food on campus. Several of these run lunch combo specials, like a sandwich, chips, and drink for £5 or a £5 cafeteria-style meal. These are some of the cheapest lunch meals you'll find in London, so definitely take advantage of them. There's even a small convenience store, like our C-Store, but watch the price hikes there. One particular advantage of utilizing the campus restaurants is that there is no transportation cost involved.

"Mind the Gap!"

Paddington Bear will help you on your journey
at Paddington Station.
4. If you're wondering why transportation cost is a big deal, keep in mind that walking is the only free form of transport in London. Black cabs and Ubers cost a ridiculous amount of money, so plan to avoid them and use public transport whenever possible. Every bus, train, or Tube trip will cost money that you've preloaded onto your Oyster card. However, there are also some ways to get discounted rates when traveling via TFL (that's Transport for London). This link explains daily fare capping, which means that if you travel far enough during one day, your card "caps out" and you are no longer charged for using TFL services. Because of fare capping, you shouldn't be afraid to make several trips during a single day, because eventually you won't be paying for those trips anymore! I frequently capped out while traveling around central London, so it's definitely not hard to reach the cap. You should also take note of which Tube stops fall under the different "zones" of the Tube map (I promise this will make more sense once you're there, don't worry about it yet), because traveling outside certain zones can cost you more, so plan your trips accordingly to keep travel prices down. The TFL website is a really useful resource; if you have questions about traveling in London, look to it first.

See the Sights – For Free!

Hanging out at the British Museum!

5. Once you get into the city, you're going to want to see and do everything, and lucky for you, LOTS of London is totally free! Any major landmark you have on your list is guaranteed to be free–– Trafalgar Square, Westminster, the Buckingham Palace Mall, St. James' Park, and Abbey Road are all sites that are free to see and interact with. The Tower Bridge and the Thames are two of London's most famous landmarks, and you'll see and interact with them almost everyday. If you're planning to be abroad in June, don't miss the annual Trooping the Colour, when you can watch Royal Guards parade down the Mall in celebration of the Queen's Birthday; it's an amazing and truly British experience. Most of London's museums are also free to attend. During our three week term, my friends and I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the British Museum, and the Tate Modern (which is a great place to get some amazing views of the London skyline and the Shard). One of my favorite experiences in London was Richmond Park, which is less than a mile's walk from Roe's campus–– you don't even need to take a bus! It's a huge Royal nature preserve with protected populations of Red and Fallow deer, and it highlights England's natural beauty without requiring you to leave the city! If you're spending your summer at Roe, please do me the favor of visiting the park one afternoon; it won't disappoint.
A portion of the skyline view from the top of the Tate Modern

See More Sights – Not Free!

A picturesque day in Brighton won't set you back too much
6. Of course, not everything that you're going to want to do will be completely free. To get the best deals on sightseeing tours, tickets to plays, or landmarks like the Tower of London, start doing your research ahead of time. Booking tickets in advance is usually cheaper than purchasing them upon your arrival. Researching ahead of time also gives you the opportunity to compare prices and reviews between multiple tour companies and experiences; I spent weeks Googling around before I finally booked a daytrip that took me to Leeds Castle in Kent, then to Dover, the Canterbury Cathedral, and a river cruise up the Thames from Greenwich. Trips like these are expensive (mine was £99), but I was able to experience a full day of hands-free sightseeing across England, complete with professional tour guides; if you're able to save up the money for a trip like this, I recommend it, but there are definitely other ways to travel around the country. My friends and I took an overground train to Brighton for a day as well, and all it cost us was a £28 ticket for a full day of sightseeing.

To Market, To Market...

7. As you embark on your adventures, you're going to want some souvenirs. Some of my favorite souvenir finds were also the cheapest–– London has lots of incredible markets, and is also a great thrift shopping locale. After one of our class walking tours ended outside Old Spitalfields Market in Whitechapel, friends and I spent the day eating (CHEAP!) delicious market food and shopping for funky jewelry and antiques among the market stalls. Then we hopped the Tube and headed West to Wimbledon (yes, that Wimbledon) for some ritzy thrift shopping at the "charity shops." Not only were our market and thrift finds unique and authentic, allowing us to dig into real British culture, they were inexpensive, too!

Walkin' London

A bowl of prawn dumplings at Old Spitalfields Market will only cost you about £6.
8. You might have noticed that I mentioned visiting  Whitechapel on a class walking tour; when planning the cost of your experiences and activities while at Roe, keep in mind that your program will include walking tours to various locales around the city. These are professionally guided, very educational, and a lot of fun. Even if you're heading to London on a shoestring budget, you'll get to see and do some special things with your class on these tours–– just make sure you top up your Oyster card first! The walking tours are paid for, but your transportation into and back from the city is up to you. Talk to your professor and see if they can help you determine the most cost-efficient route; my professor was very accommodating to our class about getting to and from the tours, and the guides themselves were a great help at giving local tips for getting around the city. Make use of your resources–– they know what they're doing!

Waterstone's and Wifi!

Hatchard's, London's oldest bookshop,
is owned by Waterstone's–– and has free Wi-fi!
9. You might think that your chances of encountering a free  Wifi connection would be more scarce in the city than on campus. However, one thing London has plenty of is bookstores. The UK equivalent of Barnes and Noble is Waterstone's, and there's one on every corner. Seriously. Waterstone's always has a reliable Wifi connection, a cafe-style seating area where you can sit down and rest your feet, and–– pro tip–– it's got air-conditioning. Take advantage of these glorious little bookshops and their free internet; it's a good opportunity to refresh your Citymapper app, check in with your cohort on WhatsApp, and post your latest London selfies to social media.

Bonus Tip!

10. My last money-saving tip is one that might surprise you: don't ride the London Eye. It costs nearly £30, and the pictures you take of the Eye itself are better than any you can take while riding it.

The kinds of pictures you take while riding the London Eye
The kinds of pictures you take of the London Eye

London is a daunting city to tackle on a tight budget, but there are so many ways you can make it feasible without spending a fortune! Don't be intimidated if it seems expensive; studying abroad is truly a once in a lifetime experience and the ultimate way to treat yo'self. Follow these tricks and keep an eye out for more ways to save those pounds, and you'll have a fabulous summer in London without breaking the bank! 

Ultimate Challenge

So, my last few trips have been with others, but this past one to Nantes/Rennes, France was a solo trip that I planned spontaneously. I ended up meeting with an old friend I had in an "exchange" program 4 years ago. She came and visited me in Nashville, and I couldn't afford to visit her in France... But now that I'm in Europe, I figured might as well try and meet up. Everything turned out amazingly well, and I feel very accomplished.

Some issues that subconsciously haunted me prior to the trip: I don't know near as much French as I would like to, I don't have wifi on my phone, I can't call using my phone, I'm only staying in Nantes for one night---where and who with, I haven't spoken to my friend Camille in years-what if things are weird, my flight arrives at 10:20pm on Thursday, which is kinda late to get a taxi/bus/train to wherever I need to go.

All that I knew was I booked a flight from Dublin to Nantes on Thursday, that I was returning on Sunday, and that my friend was expecting me to meet up eventually.

I applied for a couchsurfer the Wednesday before I left, and luckily, one responded within a day. He was very, very nice. He picked me up from the airport that night, despite having to leave for work at 7:30am the next morning. We played talked and played board games that night, and he cooked me breakfast in the morning and gave me pointers about what to see and do in Nantes. I saw the ile de machines, the city jardin, the chateau bretagne, and walked around the streets Trentemoult. My couchsurfer also gave me tips on mapping apps like "MAPS.ME". It downloads large scale maps with wifi, and it's better than google maps, I promise. It saved my life. Once you have it downloaded, you can search anything from local food, markets, bus stops, train stops, popular sights, ect. Afterwards, I caught a bus to Rennes where I met up with my old friend. Of course things had changed in the past 4 years, but the visit was amazing. We visited a few coffee shops, a Christmas market or two, met up with her friends, and watched a French film. Her dad was especially generous and got us a hotel room that was spacious and in a good location. Also, she paid for all of my meals, so buying the ticket last second ended up evening out... at least that's what I tell myself :)

I managed to book another bus back to Nantes to catch my flight that Sunday. The couchsurfer was kind enough to pick me up from the bus stop and drive me directly to the airport, otherwise, I would've been cutting it close relying on the train/tram/bus system to get me there. 

I knew more French than I remembered. I didn't need to call anybody. with the app, I didn't need wifi constantly. The couchsurfer was amazing, and Camille was just as nice as I remembered.

Things worked out for the best, and I don't owe it to anyone but me that the trip went well. I often times find myself relying on others to do the planning of the trip, and I feel like getting their opinion on what they want to do, see, eat, ect. Our trips thus far have been amazing, but I feel as if things could have gone differently if I went by myself, whether or not that be because I wouldn't have stopped in that store, or wouldn't have eaten there, or I wouldn't have waited outside the bathroom, or I wouldn't have prioritized that site, ect. I have been on trips faced with plenty of issues and obstacles that were hard to overcome, but they turned out OK with collective brainstorming. I felt as if this trip was the ultimate challenge; I didn't have anybody's opinions; it was just me, myself and I. I feel like I made the most of it. 

Now--- two more weeks left ):) 

Time to check the last few things off my bucketlist. 

Friday, November 23, 2018

Less than Four Week Themes

This past week and some been pretty hectic for me. I left for a volleyball tournament on Wednesday, which ended Saturday evening. Then, I saw a few gigs (concerts) in Belfast on Saturday and Sunday. Then, had another match on Monday; the match was 1.5 hrs away. Then, I went surfing on Wednesday sponsored by the "Surfing Project". Yesterday was Thanksgiving, so the international students had a potluck. I made green bean casserole, and it's safe to say it wasn't my mothers... In about an hour or so, I'm going to be leaving soon to volunteer at the nonprofit Corymeela. In addition to this hectic schedule, I had two exams this week.

Some themes:
-I'm still not used to public transport; I still very much miss my car.
-The holidays aren't the same, but life goes on.
-There are only 24 hrs in a day, so I should spend my time wisely. In other words, if I'm feeling like going out and my pals aren't--- that doesn't mean I shouldn't. Traveling alone is a whole different, interesting experience. I should take advantage of that more.
-I can't believe I've never surfed before. I am a new person.
-I'm so thankful for my v-ball family.

We went to UCD in Dublin and played a v-ball tournament, representing all of Northern Ireland as Ulster University. It was a great experience, played a total of 7 games. We had lots of free time. Unfortunately, it was 45 min away from town center, so we couldn't site-see much. But during a 4 hour game break, I went on a run to the nearest lighthouse beach and had a great time. It was one of those eyeopening experiences where I lost in my thoughts and very thankful for this study abroad experience.

The surfing experience at Portrush!!! It was a whole day ordeal, left campus at 13:30 and got back at 17:00. They fed us dinner and gave us tea afterwards. It's run by the Surf Project, a christian, nonprofit community. I'm not especially religious but was very thankful for their generosity and surf lessons. The water was warmer than the air outside actually, so it wasn't as cold as I expected. It was exhilarating and addictive even.  

Our International, student-run Thanksgiving. I made GB casserole with my mom's recipe. They didn't have the crispy french onions or condensed cream of mushroom, so I fried my own onions and added flour to the mushroom soup... I was especially proud, but it did not taste the same. My pals didn't care or notice though. Left with my tummy and heart very full.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Berlin: Poor but Sexy

Visited Berlin with two of my flatmates, Amelia and Arturo. We had no idea what to expect out of this trip. Amelia and I asked for recommendations on FB and got quite a lot of responses, but we had no idea where things were in relation to each other. We figured we'd make the most of our time by going on tours and museums. PSA: free tours are popular in Berlin, but they expect you to tip. Also, if you're traveling as a student, take your ID card! They'll discount your museum/tour prices. Another way to save money would be couch surfing!!! Would highly recommend. Granted, I have only heard good things, but the concept of it still blows my mind... People offering up their place for free just for the sake of the traveling community... in a cruel world that we live in today? What?
Also, the title was quoted by Berlin's major that reigned for 14 years. He is very progressive and a huge supporter of the arts. Though the quote was interesting and turned out to be accurate, based on what we saw for 4 days. 
Us the first night in front of the Berlin Wall murals. Saw this image at least 5 times on our trip. It's supposed to represent the agreement of 2 communist leaders before the world wars I think.. But I have a theory it is painted here to support gay rights. After all, Berlin has the 3rd largest gay population, after San Fransico (2nd) and Sydney, Australia (1st). This was highlighted during our fat tire bike tour :-) 
The remains of the Berlin Wall is the largest, free art museum to date. 

Typically, you're supposed to gift your couch surfing host. We ended up making him a traditional dinner and buying drinks for our last night here. We made Spanish omelettes, fried rice, and Moscow Mules for our host :-) He really enjoyed it. This is also the room where we slept. He had a really comfortable pullout couch and a blowup mattress. Also, he let us use anything from the kitchen. Really nice guy

Us in the East Side Art Gallery doing a little exploring after we went to the Otto Weis free museum.
Left to right: Arturo, Amelia, Me, Lukas (the couch surfing host)

In addition to our bike tour, we went on a "free" alternative street art tour. This was one of my favorite places. It was very Berlin-esque. 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Over Halfway Realizations

A few themes: I've finally found a routine and a close circle of friends. I'm noticing some religious//political differences. Also, I'm just ready.
I have my volleyball crew, my flat/neighbors crew, my Parkrun crew, my hiking crew, my studies crew, and my Reaching and Teaching Ministries crew (will post pics of them at a later date). Featured here is my Halloween neighbor/flat crew. I am/was on a budget, so a few buns on my head and some whiskers would have to do for a cat LOL. Londonderry is known for their Halloween bashes. They had an elaborate parade, fireworks, and even a fairgrounds with roller coasters. It was nice, don't get me wrong, but the sky was spitting rain all night and it was unbearably cold. Here is the Benavenagh Mountain Trail. We couldn't find the trail up, so just found some paths mapped out by sheep and ended up following some at one point. It was incredible.

As for the religious issues I've noticed, you can't just mention religion to anybody. My first day here I asked some British people what they thought about the issue, and they told me to not speak to loud... and then ignored my question completely. Then, I told my boss at the charity shop I volunteer for that I met a guy who played on the Coleraine Gaelic football team, and she said that she wasn't offended but that the word "Gaelic" here wasn't widely accepted. I've noticed any time I talk about the issues, I haven't found a safe space really. Except for my Irish Women's History Class. In this course, we talk about how women were not only separate from men in school, but they were also separated by class and religion. Their "religion" was just something they were labeled by after birth. It had nothing to do with their actual beliefs.

I totally get it. Bloody Sunday is still SO new; there's a museum in 'Derry for the whole incident, and it is ran by relatives of those who were murdered... I understand the tension. Also, just a side note, I haven't talked to anybody who is for Brexit happening, despite the Great Britain-Derry tensions.

Also, I've reached this point in my study abroad experience that I'm ready. I have so many plans. I only have a few free weekends left and am looking forward to them and to making the best of them. I want to take everything in as much as I can because who really knows when the option will arise for my return (which I have every intention in doing).

I'm ready tackle these next 6 weeks.

And I'm also ready to be home in 6 weeks. Does that even make sense?
Halloween in 'Derry

Pic caught of me in pure bliss

Loved the way the sun was hitting the landscape


Taken from where we ate our packed lunch

Trying to capture the waves of grass created by the incessant wind

One of the many species of mushrooms growing at high elevations

Took the road back down to the train station because the way up was way too strenuous and underdeveloped

Wow. amiright
First sighting of wild sheep. ended up following them for a little

They said there was a lake on top of the mountain. We found it hard to believe them for the first hour of straight incline.

Believe it or not, we started all the way down there.


My pal Amelia and I booked a flight to Glasgow because it was relatively cheap and a part of the UK a few weeks ago. This is us pictured on the plane. We had no idea what to expect and had little to nothing planned before the trip, aside from the cheap hostel we were staying at. A few friends bought their tickets a week ago and joined us. One of our neighbors from Glasgow gave us a few points on bars, cafes, and parks to see, but we had no idea what to expect. I had fell a little ill towards the beginning of the week, but for some reason, the side effects were starting to show its true colors towards during the trip. I lost my voice for a few days, and Noah who joined us last second burst an eardrum... Despite all of this, we still had an amazing time! We took our Scottish friend's word and tried to visit as many places as possible in Glasgow, including bars, donuts shops, cafes, museums, cathedrals, and cemeteries. The other friend who joined us last second, Marlene, had an inkling to go to Edinburgh, which was just a 45 min bus ride. This turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Not only was the Gothic architecture admirable anywhere you went, but also, THAT'S WHERE HARRY POTTER WAS BORN!!! We visited the cafe where JK Rowling started writing it, walked the street that influenced Diagon Alley, and saw the school that influenced Hogwarts. My seventh grade self came out and was geeking with excitement.
Sure, losing my voice did affect my trip. But the crew that I ended up going with was amazing and basically navigated the whole thing. I was just kind of along for the ride with my never ending stache of cough drops.

Best unplanned trip ever. I would have been totally at ease if a dragon popped out of nowhere or if people were flying around on brooms playing quidditch.

Me sitting on Arthur's seat. I got a kick outta this one

Victoria's Street aka Diagon Alley for my Harry Potter peeps

Our view from Pavillion Park. The clouds parted just for us.

Panoramic view from Arthur's seat. It was a quite the climb but so worth it.

Cool looking architecture in Glasgow

Tea during the day
Beers at night (everyone was of age, I promise)

My pal Amelia and I on the plane. Sitting together b/c we bought our tickets simultaneously


I have a remarkable community on campus. Volleyball in and of itself is awesome. We have matches, practices twice a week, and team bonding includes beach volleyball on weekends, bowling, cliff jumping, dinners, and pumpkin carving! Also, without volleyball, I wouldn't have known about the Parkruns hosted on the beach. The Parkrun is a free 5k run fully run and developed by volunteers that takes place all over Europe--- and one just happens to take place a few miles from me. A few volleyball pals and I go nearly every Saturday, and this is followed by tea and coffee supplied by the Parkrun and maybe a cafe for breakfast afterwards.

I love that I've developed a few communities here in Northern Ireland. The first Geography and Environmental Science meeting is this Wednesday at noon. Hopefully I'll have the same immersive experience with this club as I did with volleyball :-)
Mine was the Simba at the beginning! From this carving session, I've roasted pumpkin seeds and made pumpkin pancakes and muffins :-)
My first match against a neighboring school Bangor. We took the W: 3-0. 

At Parkruns, we celebrate their 50th run, 100th run, 150th run, ect. We're holding up our pal Spence who just finished his 50th. B/c he's the one we're celebrating, he's required to bring a cake to celebrate :-)
He's a good baker, that Spence.
thumbs up and a weak smile right before the finish

The Valley

Ok... so I've caught my first wave of homesickness.

It has accumulated from a combination of things. To start, I had a few too many to drink on Saturday and woke up with an excruciating hangover. I am aware that I could have just called up my neighbors and that they'd be there to help me any second and they even offered to... but it's just not the same as home. My best pals in the States surely wouldn't have taken "no I'm fine" for an answer, considering my condition. In addition to this, I woke up with a rash the other day. I must've had an allergic reaction to something. In my home cupboard, I'd have all sorts of emergency medications and creams to deal with this head on, but here I'd have to walk a mile and a half up the road to buy something I'd only use once. Also, my brother and sister-in-law just had their first child yesterday, and she's precious as can be! Part of me wishes I could've been there.

But luckily that wave is over and done with. Even if it felt like the incessant migraine was here to stay- I slept off that hangover. The rash ended up going away on its own within a few days. And I have pictures of my niece that I can print off for when I geek out.

No worries.

On a happier note, I've gotten involved in a few things and have bought a few plane tickets since I last kept you guys updated. I joined the volleyball team, and they're more serious than i expected. We have regular practices and games, and the coach wants me to be the first string! I can't make some of the regular season games because I've already bought a few plane tickets. But being an international student, I'm sure they understand. They're gonna have to just deal if not (lol). Bought a few tickets with my flatmates to Glasgow, Scotland and Berlin, Germany. They were remarkably cheap, only 50 and 28 pounds respectively. Would recommend RyanAir and EasyJet for all of you's flying within the EU or the UK! Also, I just purchased Mumford and Sons concert tickets in Belfast. I've already seen them at a festival in the States, but it's gotta be more epic seeing them in the UK... right? At least that's what I'm telling myself. I've also signed up for an International Friends organization that allows me to hang out with local families in Coleraine. You tell them your interests, and they set you up with a family who's willing to show you around. Ideally, I'd like to go on hikes or go to museums. Hopefully I get an email back soon.


Some differences I've noticed so far: the weather, the roads/driving, the walking culture, the transit systems, the language

The weather: I think the makers of this town took into account how frequent Coleraine is both "cold" and "rainy." It's always windy, and the sun is bipolar. It'll be sunny one minute and raining the next. If it's both sunny and rainy, the locals say it's "money's pajamas," and when I ask them why, there is no explanation LOL. If there were to be an expectation of rain in Tennessee, I would make plans with my cozy couch, hot tea, and a book to read or a netflix show to watch. But if that were the case here, I would never leave my apartment. That being said, I never leave without my raincoat, rain or shine, because I know that at some point, it'll shower at least a little bit.

The roads: THEY DRIVE ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE ROAD/CAR. I knew this coming in, but it still throws my brain off a little bit when I cross. I make sure to triple check most times. I'm starting to get used to it though.

The Walking Culture: Sure, I can pay for a few pounds for a bus to drive me 1.5 miles or a three kilometers away to the nearest town, but I don't mind walking. And neither does anybody else. I walk a lot a whole lot more than I used to in the States, and I don't mind that at all. They have pedestrian/bike paths everywhere, unlike in the US.

The Transit Systems: I know that compared to the rest of Europe, some people aren't happy with the bus/train system here because they claim that it's not prompt enough or too expensive, but compared to the States, I LOVE it. I got here a few days early without knowing I couldn't stay on campus and just traveled on my own for a bit. Once I arrived at the airport, I asked a friendly person who was more than willing to lay out the bus/train system for me, and since then I have mastered the routes... Or at least that's what I tell myself . I had no idea what I was doing or going to when I got there, but a guy I met on my second bus said I should stay at the hostel he was staying at. The bus dropped us off at our hostel instead of at the bus stop (how nice!). Luckily, it was a kilometer from one of Northern Ireland's main attraction, the Giant's Causeway, which is a story for another time.

The Language: They may speak English, but some people's accents are very heavy and difficult for me to understand. I volunteer at a nonprofit thrift shop in town, and some of them mumble and talk so fast I can't understand them. But they do so with a smile on their face, so my default response is a "yeah... me too" with a mirroring smile back. They also have different phrases and words to identify certain things. "pants"=underwear, "trousers"=pants, "wee"=little, "What's the crack?"=what's up?, "He's the crack"=He's a good time/fun. By the end of this exchange, I want to be able to speak like the locals because so far, people have been able to identify where I'm from in a matter of seconds. Oops.

I'm loving every minute of my exchange so far and haven't gotten homesick just yet... Fingers crossed I won't.


Once Upon a Time

Before this trip, I told myself I didn't want to hang out with people from the States because I wanted to broaden my mindset and learn about different cultures. My flatmates are from Italy, Spain, and Canada.. and what are the odds that the last guy shows up a few days ago from my hometown in Nashville?!? We've never me, but we know the same people. Weird. But he's very nice so I can't complain. Everyone here is nice honestly. Anytime I want to be social, there's a international program going on that night. But I've recently been noticing that I need some alone time... being social all the time has really taken a toll on me.I just lock myself up in my room to journal, draw, or watch netflix all night to recover if I've had a big day of meeting new people and being social. Also, I've picked up running here too. I haven't met anyone who likes it just yet; I figured I'd just find them running on the street by now. But within three miles of my flat is the beach. HOW COOL! Maybe I could run a race here or something. Or join a local running club at least. They had a club fair last week. I joined the Ulster Geography and Environmental Society that does frequent beach cleanups, the Volleyball club that just practices every week, and Gaelic Football because when in Ireland ;)

I'm not homesick yet, and I still don't think I will be. The though of leaving in a little over 2 months is sad to think about. So I try to make the most out of my time here. My flatmate from Canada flew into Dublin instead of Belfast, so she doesn't have a visa and has to fly out of the UK within three months. We're looking up flights now to see what is cheap. Anything under 100 pounds is cool with me, and believe it or not, IT'S POSSIBLE!!! I'm only taking three classes this semester: 19 and 20c Irish Women's History, Microbiology, and Environmental Systems. They've all agreed to me taking my exams in the States when I get back. It's just the second week of classes, but it seems like a breeze to me :) Hopefully I can find time in my day to do the things I want to do. That'll be my biggest challenge.
Here's a pic of my flatmates and the place I went hiking this past weekend about 30 minutes from my uni!!!
This is a random guy I met a few days before uni started at the train station. I had no idea where to go or where to stay before orientation, and he happened to be my savior. His name is Christopher. He was backpacking from Spain and mentioned he was on his way to the Giants Causeway. I hopped on the next bus with him and stayed at the hostel he made reservations for. It was called "Fin McCools" for the folkstory associated with the Causeway. He was my first real friend.

The pics featured above were taken on my 10 mile hike with Christopher.

Left to right: Mar Lene from Germany, Noah from Nashville, me, Jolein and Hanne from Belgium, and Lisa from Germany. Finished off the hike that Christopher and I started. At this point, I've seen the whole north coast.

Day trip to Portstewart before the madness of school started. It was awfully windy that day.

Flat 6 Fam!!!! We have a shared kitchen/living room area, toilet room and shower room. We're kind of fit tight, but I wouldn't have it any other way. We're technically "off campus", but we're very, very close to the uni. We all leave our flat 5 minutes before class. It's quite nice :) reminds me of Mville