Monday, September 16, 2019

Studying Abroad in London: An Introduction


Surprise! I'm in London! I'm lucky enough to be spending the semester studying abroad at the University of Roehampton in London, UK. I've been so excited about this for over a year now and the time has finally arrived! I also figured I would do a weekly study abroad update not only to let my friends and family know what's up but to also give me something to look back on a few years from now. I'm thinking I'll be uploading Monday's or Tuesday's every week and covering the previous week's adventures and fun. This first post is definitely going to be a long one, so I'm just going to dive straight in!



Goals

I have a few goals for this semester abroad. Some of them are quite small but others are large goals that I really hope to accomplish while I'm here:

  • Become more independent 
  • Learn how to french braid my hair
  • Travel to at least three places outside of London (not including school trips)
  • Spend at least one day a week exploring London either by myself or with a friend
  • Succeed academically (of course)
 


Pre-Trip

Getting prepared for London was something months in the making. I sent in my first of many  rounds of applications all the way back in December. I won't bore you with all the application process but it was a long one. Most of the actual preparing for London was done over the summer in terms of buying things I'd need, saving money and figuring out financials, booking plane tickets, packing, etc. More than once in the last week before leaving I went to the store only to have to go back later because I forgot at least one thing.

I ending up packing everything the day before my flight all at once. It took a few hours getting everything organized and double-checking I had what I needed, but it was overall not a very stressful process. Until we weighed my suitcase, that is. I ended up being pretty over-limit and had to take out a lot, either putting the excess in various carry-on spots or deciding not to bring it. I think I did pretty good overall with packing considering I only brought a suitcase, a carry on, and a backpack when I usually bring 2 cars worth of stuff when I move in to my regular college.

I'd say the biggest preparation for study abroad actually came in taking pictures for my Instagram. I obviously couldn't bring very many books or props with me abroad, so to maintain my book-themed account I needed to have a huge stockpile of pictures before I left. I ended up taking over 50 pictures in 5 days, which is still only about half the number I needed for London. I was able to squeeze in some scarves and small props, though, so I'm sure I can find something to take a picture of while I'm here!

The hardest part about pre-London was saying goodbye. I've never been so far away from home by myself or for as long a time. Even going to college three hours away from home I still got to see my family pretty often. I spent over a week at my dad's before I left and it was a great time. I'll be honest--I cried in the car driving home. After getting through security at the airport, I sat down at my gate and shed a few tears after saying goodbye to my mom. 



Travel
September 10-11, 2019

The travel itself was probably the easiest it's ever been in my entire life. Usually when I travel, something always goes wrong at some point. However, this time around, it was great. My flights left on time with no delays (unheard of!) and then arrived early in their respective cities. I didn't even have a seat partner on my first one!

The second flight (Chicago to London) was really nice. My seat was really comfortable and there were so many movies and shows that I could watch. Not only that but I ended up getting a few hours of sleep which I'm usually unable to do!

We landed in London at about 5:30 AM. It was still dark when we landed and I saw a glimpse of all the city lights (and the London Eye!) from across the aisle but I didn't get a super clear view. Customs was a breeze--there was no line for me to get my Visa stamp and our baggage was out really quickly.

It took me a while to walk through Heathrow to get to the meet-up point, though. At least 25 minutes of walking--and that's without getting lost. I was actually there before the representatives from my college so I ended up having to wait a little bit for them to show up. By the time they showed up, we got a pretty good-sized group, and then our coach had arrived, it was about 9:30 already. I was definitely feeling tired but didn't let myself sleep on the bus or when I got to campus. 



Day 1
September 11, 2019

Once we got to campus it was pretty chill. We stood in line to get our room key and welcome packet and then there were people who showed us to our buildings. After that, we were just able to unpack and do whatever we wanted. I unpacked, changed clothes, and ended up taking an hour or so nap.

After that, I met up with a couple of girls from my floor and we went out to walk around campus. We ended up finding the "Secret Shop" a little ways off campus and it was a fun trip out there. I'd realized earlier that my outlet adaptor was for the general Europe but not the UK, so I ended up having to walk quite a bit in order to find one that worked. However, I ended up finding some for super cheap and got a couple to cover both outlets in my room!

When we were back at campus we met with some other flatmates in our kitchen and went to the Welcome Dinner together. I'd eaten pretty much nothing except Cheez-Its since getting off the plane so it tasted really good to me, though it wasn't anything special. We all stayed around and chatted for a bit on the lawn which was fun, before a group of us explored campus a bit more. It's strange because there's free outdoor washing machines? There's indoor ones that you can use but cost money, so I think I'm going to try and take my chances with snagging a free outdoor one.

I spent the rest of the night after getting back just finishing up putting pictures on the walls and organizing other random stuff. I was up pretty late, which was surprising, but I ended up being able to watch some Netflix while I was putting up pictures before catching some sleep.



Day 2
September 12, 2019

Waking up was hard. I didn't want to oversleep and not be able to get adjusted to the time schedules so I made myself get up even though I was still super tired and a little jet-lagged. We had orientation that morning and I ate Cheez-Its for breakfast since it was the only thing I had. There was a girl from my flat in my orientation group so we chatted quite a bit during the morning and the tour of campus. I've only been here for a little while but I'm getting to know the campus pretty well--though classes haven't started yet and I don't know where any academic buildings are.

Afterwards, we went to Asda (a store comparable to Walmart) to get some groceries and last minute necessities. I definitely needed to pick up a soft comfy blanket and snacks. It was surprising to find that, at least at Asda, groceries were pretty cheap and that junk food costs more than produce and healthy food. It's a bit of an extra incentive to buy healthier food, though, which is good. Let's just say that carrying bags of groceries on a packed bus across town, though, isn't as fun as it sounds.

When I got back I had to immediately head to a dinner put on by the Catering Team for students on the plan. There were only two other girls at the entire dinner so I ended up sitting with them and we talked for a couple hours. It was really fun and I had a great time meeting them! In fact, we ended up going out to a couple pubs after leaving dinner.

The first was called Tequila Mockingbird which was pretty cool, though it was so loud I couldn't really hear the others when we were talking. We left that one and went to The Toy Shop which was so freaking cool. It was, obviously, themed around toys and I loved the vibe of the place as well. After leaving that bar, we just ended up at Five Guys for some greasy food. I got a shake (amazing) and some fries that we took out to the bridge overlooking the Thames. I think that was the moment that it really hit that I was finally in London.



Day 3
September 13, 2019

This was another instance of being really tired when I woke up, though it was easier to wake up than the day before. I met up with the two friends from the night before and we, along with a couple others, went deeper into London to Notting Hill, which was so cool. Not only do I feel like I was getting a better understanding of the Tube system, but the area was super interesting.

We had lunch at this restaurant on a street corner that was so freaking cute. The food was pretty good, too. I tried cider for the first time and it's probably my drink of choice so far. After lunch we ventured deeper to Portobello Market.

This was one of the coolest streets I've been on. There were so many antique/thrift stores, pop-up stalls, cafes, and more. I could have easily spent hours exploring everything there--and we only made it a little over a mile down! I picked up some postcards at your typical tourist store but then ventured down to The Notting Hill Bookshop. It was such a cute quaint bookstore that I could have spent a long time in.

After that, we headed back to campus. I skyped some friends and family before accidentally falling asleep. I woke up a few hours later and just watched some Netflix and had some food before actually going to bed.



Day 4
September 14, 2019

So far, I'd have to say this was my favorite day! Our group from the previous day, plus a few more additions, went into London together. We walked about 15 minutes to the Tube station and then took a few different lines in to get to Westminster.

Of course we started with seeing Buckingham Palace. I'd love to go back someday, either by myself or with a friend, to take the 5~ hour tour that takes you through all of the different rooms and whatnot. The outside was really cool, of course, but we were there on a day where there was no changing of the guard. We had fun taking a lot of pictures in front of the palace, the Victoria memorial, Canada gates, and more!


We ventured a little bit aways to find food. We walked next to St. James park and I was actually able to see the London Eye above the trees as we were walking! It was a beautiful park and I can definitely see myself sitting against a tree just reading a book.

We ended up at this little wine and tapas restaurant that was in this little off-street that wasn't too busy. I wish I could remember the name of it, though I do remember the street it was on if I want to go again! The interior was so cool and the food was really good. It was yummy and a chance to try something new, which was fun.

After that, the group split with some going back to campus and others staying in Central London. I stayed with two other girls and we headed towards Piccadilly Circus. To get there, we had to pass through Trafalgar Square and I saw my first protest (over Brexit, of course). There were some speeches and a couple big signs and even some fire, but it wasn't anything scary. What was more cool, though, were all the chalk artists out there making this big huge murals just in the middle of the square. They were really pretty.

When we got to Piccadilly, there was a dance circle with this dude dancing for the crowds. He was pretty cool but the show was completely stolen by this toddler who walked out into the middle and started bouncing to the music. It was rather adorable.

We ended up getting gelato from this place that was rating #1 Gelato in London (according to Google Maps). It was so good. It was creamy and not too cold and sweet and amazing. I probably could have eaten an entire gallon jug and not even cared. After that, we went into a few of the bigger clothing stores like Hunter and Zara. It was definitely fun to just browse and see all the different styles in each store. I had to restrain myself from buying every single soft jacket, though.

We then found a Whole Foods! I wasn't going to get anything there but as I was browsing around I saw some familiar brands from the US and some food that just looked good in general, so I did get a few things. I ended up getting some amazing bread that I used to make loaded avocado toast for dinner.

After that, we began our journey back to campus. Just going down the escalator into Piccadilly station was an adventure in itself. The platform was so packed that we couldn't even squeeze into the first train that came by. We were able to get onto the next one, though we were standing the entire way. After we switched lines there were seats available until we needed to switch trains again and ended up standing the rest of the way. Luckily, the bus we needed to take back to campus was there when we got out of the station and we were able to sang seats on that one as well.

It was pretty late in the day by the time we got back so I ended up just relaxing and chilling in my room before going to bed early. 



Day 5
September 15, 2019

I woke up so refreshed from getting extra sleep. It was amazing. The sun comes in my room in the mornings and then disappears behind buildings around 11 or 12 in the day so it's always so bright and warm when I wake up. I went and made some more fancy avocado toast but it was move-in day for all local students so I kind of stayed out of everyone's way as best I could. I mostly relaxed that day. After walking 6-7 miles every day for five days straight, I was definitely in need of a day just for chilling. I caught up on some blog stuff, watched some Netflix, cleaned up and organized a bit, etc.

Later that afternoon, I went to a general orientation event where I got to meet some of my new flatmates before we went to the free pizza afterwards. We all headed to the movie on the lawn being put on (Avenger's Endgame) but I ended up getting cold and walked back with one of my flatmates. I decided to meal-prep some food and started making pasta. Another of my new flatmates was in the kitchen and we talked for quite a while before being joined by a few others.

A small group of us then decided to go to the Union Bar (the bar on campus) for drinks and to hang out. I bought my first drink ever and it was pretty yummy. I was able to meet a few more girls and we all sat and chatted for a bit which was fun. They started kicking people out about five minutes before close and as we were getting up to leave, a guy projectile vomited all over the floor. Hilarious and gross at the same time. When we got back, I stayed up a little bit later watching Netflix (probably too late, if I'm being honest) before I went to bed.



And there's the beginning of orientation and study abroad! It's interesting because we had a few days of international student orientation and now there's a full week of events and things for all students. Classes don't start for another week yet so there's still a lot of stuff to come!

I'm having a really good time so far. Everyone I've met has been really nice and I'm feeling good about where I'm at. My flat is really nice and my flatmates are all great. The location I'm at in London is wonderful and I can't wait to spend more time exploring!



Thanks for reading!
xoxo
Lauren



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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Book Review: "The Girl the Sea Gave Back" by Adrienne Young

Title: The Girl the Sea Gave Back
Author: Adrienne Young
Genre: YA Fantasy
Page Length: 336 pages
Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Date Started: September 6, 2019
Date Finished: September 6, 2019
Rating: 4 // 5 stars 
Sky in the Deep Review

*I was provided a free e-arc of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Adrienne Young has done it again. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can't wait to see what Adrienne does next since both of her books have been great for me. I will say, I think I liked Sky in the Deep better simply because it had some of my more favorite tropes in it, but Girl was also really good.

I found the abilities that our main character, Nova, had to be completely fascinating. She can't tell the future in concrete details, but she instead interprets runed stones. What's interesting is that those around her also try to take her interpretations and then spin them in a way that benefits them. I really enjoyed learning about how she can cast stones and how it affects her life in a country not her own.

I really loved getting to revisit Halvard. He was one of my favorite characters in Sky in the Deep and to see him grown and going on his own adventures was so much fun. Since Halvard is the younger sibling of the main characters in Sky, we also got to see them make some cameos! I'm really glad Adrienne didn't make their cameos take over the show, though, as it's not their book.

As usual, the story, fighting, characters, pacing, etc was all pretty well done. I myself liked how we got a lot of moral dilemma moments that didn't always have a happy answer to them. I enjoyed all the fight scenes. But my favorite scenes, by far, are the angsty character ones where they're down on their luck and have to get the strength to rise up and keep going.

Overall, I did enjoy this book though I think I preferred Sky in the Deep more. I cannot wait to see what Adrienne does next in her upcoming books!



Thanks for reading!
xoxo
Lauren



You can follow my bookstagram here. A brand new giveaway will be posted soon!

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Sunday, September 8, 2019

Book Review: "A Fallen Hero" by Sara A Noë

Title: A Fallen Hero
Author: Sara A. Noë
Series: "Chronicles of Avilésor: War of the Realms" #1
Genre: YA Paranormal Science-Fantasy
Page Length: 466 pages
Publication Date: August 7, 2018
Date Started: August 30, 2019
Date Finished: September 1, 2019
Rating: 4.5 // 5 stars
Goodreads

*I was sent a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own*

Ok so I was pretty excited going into this book and, I'll admit, I did have some high expectations. Those expectations were met and surpassed. I really enjoyed this month and I am very invested in these characters, this story, and what's going to happen next. Honestly, when I first started reading this it reminded me a lot of Maximum Ride. While the two are different, I got a big nostalgic feeling reading this book because it reminded me of one of my favorite childhood reads. This definitely made me like it even more.

So first off, I think the main thing that was different for me about this book was the pacing of it all. We have a few action and fight scenes, but, for the most part, it's not very high-energy. Instead, throughout the entire book there's something going on that contributes to the high stakes. Whether it be running for their lives, hiding out in abandoned buildings and dumpster diving, or even just searching through a city. Instead of a few big plot points here and there, the entire story is made up of a lot of small scenes that add to the overall tension. Because, at the basic level of the story, it really is one where these characters are fighting to lay low and survive.

The world and magic system were also super interesting to me. The whole idea of a parallel world and ghosts and what they can do grabbed me from the first page. I also enjoyed seeing the POV's of characters in the other world, in the lab, etc because I was able to get a bigger picture of what all was going on which, in turn, helped me to understand everything a lot easier.

My absolute favorite thing, however, were the characters. I'm a sucker for found family stories and this one features a really strong found lab-family. These kids would do anything for each other, as is shown throughout the book, and I really can't wait to see more of them all in the next book.

Speaking of, I can't wait for the next one and the others in this series. After how this one ended, I'm interested in seeing how the author goes about the next book. I can see so many possibilities and I have so many questions.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it!



Thanks for reading!
xoxo
Lauren



You can follow my bookstagram here. A brand new giveaway will be posted soon!

To get more awesome content like this post, click the follow button to the right!

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