Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Most Important Lesson I Learned from Studying Abroad

Castle Howard -- Located north of York, England

Castle Howard was one of the last places I visited before coming back home after my study abroad experience. Looks amazing, right? What if I told you that you could see amazing places like this if you chose to study abroad? If you're anything like I was, you're shaking your head right now, already convinced that it's not possible. Before I studied abroad, I never imagined that I would see things like Castle Howard with my own eyes, or take pictures of them myself rather than viewing them on my computer screen. That's because I allowed my fears to confine the limits of what I could do. That way of thinking almost cost me a journey of a lifetime.

By studying abroad, I went from never having traveled beyond California to having traveled to five different countries, all in six months. I had to learn to navigate these countries, and for some their official language, pushing me in ways that I would not have experienced at home surrounded by my familiar culture and lifestyle. By doing that, I saw so many wonderful things. Here are just a few out of many:

Big Ben -- London, England
Fountains Abbey -- England
Glen Coe -- Scotland
Eiffel Tower -- Paris, France
Leaning Tower of Pisa (left) and the Trevi Fountain (right) -- Italy
Cliffs of Moher -- Ireland

Studying abroad isn't easy. Every person who studies abroad puts themselves into a place of discomfort and uncertainty. But everyone who studies abroad grows as a result of stepping out of their comfort zones, gaining a confidence that they can then utilize as they face future obstacles. It also cultivates new skills and solidifies previous abilities.

Studying abroad increased my determination, flexibility, and resilience. More importantly, it solidified the self-belief that I could adapt to any new situation. That I could step out of my comfort zone to grow as a person. I used to feel pretty limited, like I could only go so far. That's because I allowed myself to be confined to my comfort zone. Now that I have pushed past the barriers that were holding me back, and have gone to countries I had only dreamed about, I feel like I can go wherever I dream of traveling next. Studying abroad gave me the travel bug: the desire to travel to as many places as I can so I can learn more about the world and the people in it, and more about myself along the way.

I know I would have regretted not studying abroad. I would have always wondered, "What if?" It's cliche, but true. You never want to look back on life and wonder how things might be different if you had seized an opportunity, if you hadn't let fear get in the way. Part of living life to its fullest is moving past your fears so you can take those opportunities and see where they take you. Studying abroad will open doors for you that you never knew existed. And the best part about studying abroad is that everyone gains different lessons that shape them for the rest of their lives.

So please: don't let your fears stop you. Let them motivate you to get you to where you want to be. If you have the desire to see the world, take the opportunity to study abroad and do it. Move past your comfort zone and let yourself grow from the experiences and lessons you gain from studying abroad. Studying abroad will help you realize that you can move past your comfort zone time and time again, and each time will be a reminder that you can do anything you set your mind to.

Reflections in the River Arno -- Florence, Italy

Monday, August 11, 2014

My Last Week in England

Let me start by saying that I'm one lucky girl. I not only had the opportunity to study abroad for a semester, but I was also privileged to have my mom spend my last week with me in England. It was a much better outcome than spending that week alone as I had originally planned, since Alyssa left a few days before me. My mom and I had a wonderful time, as you'll see below, and I couldn't be more grateful. On to the blog!


June 18th was the day my mom flew into London Heathrow Airport for the first time in her life. It was crazy to think that I had the same experience only six months prior, as it felt more like a year or two ago. I picked her up at the airport, of course, especially because I knew the scary feeling of being alone in a foreign country and needing to immediately figure out how to get to your hotel, etc. There was no way I was going to let her travel to Leeds on her own. Unfortunately, I was a bit late, so my mom nervously waited for me until I arrived. I got there before she had too much time to start panicking though. (Don't worry, I had provided her with my number to call, as well as directions as to how to navigate her way to Leeds in case something had happened to me.)

But we had a happy reunion when I arrived. Maybe it's because I'm used to being away from home because I've been going to college for couple of years already, but once my mom and I hugged, it almost felt like I hadn't been gone for six months. I suppose I'm already used to the January to June stretch from school. Plus, I'm not a mother, so I can't quite feel the same way about my being away from home as my mom does.

My mom didn't get much sleep on the flight, so she was absolutely exhausted as I led her to the Tube. She was on autopilot the whole journey to Leeds, but particularly on the Tube. We did snap this picture before she started sleeping:

Once we got to King's Cross in London, we transferred onto our train to Leeds, where my mom was then able to get a good nap in.  My mom had booked a hostel very close to the Leeds train station, which worked out perfectly considering how tired she was:

Once we got my mom all settled into her room, we met up with Alyssa to get some dinner at the iconic Nando's. I figured my mom should have a meal from a well-known and loved English restaurant. Here's a picture my mom took of me on the short walk there:

After our dinner, we headed back to my mom's hostel so she could relax and then get a long night of rest. I stayed at the hostel with her for a couple of nights, but I spent the last night at my dorm to finish packing my room and cleaning the flat with Alyssa before we checked out. (Alyssa was flying home and I was going to London with my mom.) Once my mom got ready for bed and her head hit the pillow, she was out in two minutes flat. I don't think I'll ever be able to fall asleep so quickly, even if I was as exhausted as she was.

We decided to take it easy the next day (since she still had jetlag), so I showed my mom the places I went most often in Leeds. I showed her a bit of the downtown area as well as my host university's campus. She even got to walk the route I took to and from school as we headed to my dorm. My mom was quite surprised at how much I had to walk to go from place to place. I told her that I was too, at first, but my legs had to quickly adapt to all of the walking.

My mom helped Alyssa and I clean some of our flat for the move out day before we all walked to The Library. It's a pub on the edge of campus that Alyssa and I finally went to at the end of the school year and fell in love with. My mom liked the food, but she loved the dessert we got to share between the three of us. It was a triple chocolate cake, with icing in the middle that was warm and gooey. My mom was in heaven when she was eating that cake. She still raves about it to this day. The only complaint she has is that she didn't take a picture of it, but I'm sure her taste buds will always remember.

Our last day in Leeds consisted of traveling to the nearby city of York so we could take a bus to Castle Howard. One of the things my mom really wanted to see in England was a manor house, since she loves Downton Abbey and watching other PBS programs in addition to ones about manor houses. And don't be tricked by the name: even though it's called a "castle," it truly is a manor house as you'll see shortly.

The bus ride to the manor was absolutely beautiful. I'm glad the manor house was a little out of the way so my mom could see the beautiful English countryside before being immersed in the city life of London. When we arrived at Castle Howard, we were both hungry for breakfast, so we ate at the little restaurant in the entrance area. We were the only people in the restaurant for a while. My mom got the cold pasty in the top right corner, and I got the breakfast on the bottom:

With full stomachs and renewed energy, we made our way to the manor house:

The entrance building
The driveway to the front of Castle Howard
The first good glimpse of Castle Howard
The view behind us
Can you imagine this being your front yard?!?
A statue that we returned to after touring the inside of the house.

No matter how many manor houses I see, it always amazes me how detailed they are, as well as how grandiose everything in it is. The time and attention it took to create these houses is just baffling. Here's some inside looks at Castle Howard:

As if it isn't grand enough, Castle Howard even has its own chapel:

After wandering around the inside of the house, we set off to explore the grounds. The grounds of the house were my mom and I's favorite part of the day, hands down. When we had first arrived at Castle Howard, the sky was cloudy. But once we stepped outside, the sun had come out:

I was surprised that they allowed us to wander anywhere on the grounds. I felt like it would be for private use only by the owners, but we walked all around the place:

A cascade.
Castle Howard from a distance.
A close up of the Mausoleum. We didn't have time to go see it, but there was no public access anyway.
The New River Bridge and the Masoleum.
Temple of the Four Winds

After looking at the Temple of the Four Winds, we went into the Ray Wood:

We had to walk through it fairly quickly because we had to make sure we caught our bus. Even though we only saw a little bit of the Ray Wood, but it was still peaceful nonetheless. When we emerged from the little wood, we walked up a hill and saw the Reservoir:

Then, we had to quickly say goodbye to Castle Howard as we rushed back to the front of the ticket office to hop on our bus. The bus ended up being late, but it was better than us missing it. While we waited, we met some locals waiting for their bus. They started looking for four leaf clovers in the grass, and they found some as well as my mom! It was a lucky end to a great day at Castle Howard.

My last shot of Castle Howard.

When we got off the bus in York, we went to the Jorvik Viking Center to get a souvenir for my brother. Unfortunately, we didn't really enjoy the center, despite the hefty ticket price. We went on a "ride" for part of the museum, with poor animatronics representing how the Vikings would have looked in that time period. The other part of the museum had more information about the excavation of the Viking artifacts and the artifacts themselves. I'm not much of a museum person in general, but I truly believe the museum was a rip off for the money we paid to get in.

After that, we were very hungry so we got some food at a hotel restaurant open to the public. I didn't take a picture of what I had, but it definitely filled up my belly. We even got sticky toffee pudding for dessert so my mom could try it. It didn't compare to the one I had in Ireland (the one in Ireland didn't have dates in it, and the sauce was different as well; see my Ireland post here), but it was still good.

Once we had finished dinner, we took the train back to Leeds. After dropping my mom off at her hostel, I made my way back to my dorm for last minute packing and cleaning.

I had an early start the next morning, as Alyssa and I had to get up and take a taxi to the train station after making sure everything was ready for inspection once we turned in our keys. We met my mom at the train station with our heavy suitcases and backpacks. It was a relief, to say the least, when we had managed to lug and store all of our baggage on board. I didn't feel too sad leaving Leeds, which may have been because I was staying in London for a couple more days and not leaving the country straight away.

I was sad, though, when Alyssa and I said our goodbyes. It's always sad closing the chapter to a great part of your life. It was also the end of a journey we had both made together, and we had spent so much time together over the six months. I knew it would be a long three months until I saw her again. But I was also happy that she would get to see her family again, as she hadn't ever been away from them for such a length of time. I must say, though, that I was thankful my mom was there or else I would have been much more glum.

After our goodbyes, my mom and I took the Picadilly Line on the Tube to a stop close to our hotel. (And it was actually a hotel and not a hostel!) Unfortunately, the hotel was much further from the Tube than I had thought. The hotel was about a 10 minute walk from the Tube station, but it took us much longer with our heavy luggage. We eventually made it, and I consequently collapsed:

Those hotel beds were so comfortable! I wish my bed at home was like that. Maybe they felt really comfortable because my dorm bed was the exact opposite: it was super thin, leaving no cushion between me and the springs of the mattress. I thought that was the typical mattress in our dorm, but Alyssa said that hers was fine. I tested it out once and it was so much more comfortable than mine! I don't know how I lucked out on that one. It was one of the worst beds I have ever slept on, and I slept on it for six months. Oh well.

After a night's rest, we were up early in the morning for a tour to Stonehenge and Bath. I told my mom that it's extremely difficult to stay awake on bus tours, which she definitely learned. We were both nodding off as we drove to our first destination: Stonehenge. It was a nice, sunny day, but it was also pretty humid. This made our viewing stop a little uncomfortable. But it was cool to see it and learn about its history:

After Stonehenge came the town of Bath, where our tour included entry into the Roman Baths. It was definitely amazing to see the baths, but I also had a difficult time imagining what it would have been like back when the Romans were using them, especially since so much of the area is in ruins. (I didn't take pictures of the ruins, but the Roman Baths used to be an expansive area, with much more to see than the common pictures you see below):

After touring around the Roman Baths site, we needed to get some lunch. As we wandered around the area, my mom pointed out this bagel place, and I'm glad she did. It was tasty! I even got a yummy smoothie to go with my bagel sandwich:

After some much needed food, we walked around the area some more, stopping in a couple of stores to window shop. Before it was time to get back on the bus, I took pictures of a park with a live band playing:

If only we had more of this!

It took a while to get back to London, so it was already dinnertime when the tour bus dropped us off in the city. We ate at a Nando's before going back to our hotel since there weren't any restaurants near it. The Nando's was packed with people, and we had to wait at least 20 minutes to be seated. Our food was quickly served to us, although there was a misunderstanding with the order. Instead of getting a side of Spanish rice for each of us, they gave us two sides of Spanish rice each. I was definitely too full to eat all of it after I had gotten through my chicken wrap. But the meal was still very good.

Exhausted, we traveled back to our hotel and agreed to sleep in the next day.

Sleeping in was absolutely amazing. We had been getting up early for the past few days, so our bodies definitely took advantage of the opportunity to sleep in. We woke up and had a breakfast of scones and raspberry jam, and we didn't get into the city until almost noon. I took my mom to see all the famous sites, such as Big Ben, the London Eye, and the Westminster Abbey to name a few. By the time we saw the Westminster Abbey from the outside (we went inside of it the next day), we were hungry for a late lunch, so we found a little sandwich shop and took our order to St. James's Park, where we sat on the lawn and enjoyed the nice weather. Both of us got the same sandwiches, which were quite delicious, as well as some sea salt and cider vinegar chips. My mom and I love vinegar things. :)

After lunch, we walked through St. James's Park to get to Buckingham Palace, getting ice cream in the neighboring Green Park afterwards:

By the time we finished our ice cream, it was only in the late afternoon, so we decided to head over to see the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. I had never made it over there, so I was excited to see it. To get there, we had to walk alongside the river on the pier. We didn't pay to walk over to the Tower of London via the bridge (we hadn't realized it would cost anything), but we did snap some photos from afar:

After seeing Tower Bridge, we headed back to our hotel to have dinner and relax for the rest of the evening.

Our last day in London was full of events. The first stop was Westminster Abbey, as we only saw the outside of it during the tour I gave my mom the day before. Even though I had already been inside of the church during my revisit of London with Alyssa (see that blog post here), it was still breathtaking the second time around. It was also fun to see my mom's reaction and what she was interested in. We took the tour at a slow pace as we followed the audio tour. I was actually glad I got to listen to the tour again, because I was too overwhelmed by what I was seeing when I first visited the Abbey. By going again, I was able to appreciate the history of the church the tour provided.

After we had toured the church, we were so hungry that we had to take a lunch break at the cafe inside the Abbey. It had a fancy feel while still being casual enough for the average tourist. My mom and I ordered the same sandwich, but I had a Victorian Lemonade instead of the iced coffee my mom ordered:

The Victorian Lemonade was delicious! It was slightly fizzy, which added a little twist to the drink.

Once we had made our way through the rest of Westminster Abbey, we stopped by the souvenir shop so my mom could make a couple of purchases.

We then made our way to Hyde Park to walk the Princess of Wales Memorial Walk, dedicated to Princess Diana. Before we started the walk, we had to get a little refreshment:

Ice cream, with a flake, of course!

Hyde Park was absolutely gorgeous. There were a lot of birds and wildlife as we walked along the path, particularly by the lake called the Serpentine. 

The clouds were stunning that day!

After about a 30 minute walk, we arrived at the Kensington Palace. We were too late to see the inside of the palace, but we were able to wander around the area outside:

Before leaving the grounds, we saw a squirrel and decided to try to feed it with a granola bar my mom had. And we succeeded! We even helped a group of girls who came up to us feed it as well. I can check that off my bucket list!

Before heading back to our hotel, we had dinner at a pub not too far from Kensington Palace. I'm glad we found it, because I had been wanting to take my mom to a traditional pub before we left. My mom got the Yorkshire pudding and I got bangers and mash. It was a good way to end our trip in London.

I was a little sad about leaving England, but my heart was ready to go back home and see my family and friends. My study abroad experience provided me with so many great memories and skills that will travel with me wherever I go.


Even though this was my last travel post, I still have one final post on my experience studying abroad. Thank you for reading my blog, and I hope you enjoyed seeing and reading about all of the experiences I had. Stay tuned for my final post!