The Chance for Your Very Own Olympic Gold

For those of you who have been interested in studying abroad in London, when is a better time to go than now? The Olympic games are being hosted in this magical city and you can acquire your own taste of the action. Who knew that London could become even more historical than it already is?

I took the picture above when I was in London last Spring. Notice how it says “only” 483 days, 4 hours, 1 minute, and 31 seconds until the beginning of the Olympic games! This makes me even more depressed to realize how long it has actually been since I was forced to leave London. Yes, I say forced because I would still be there now if I had my way (stupid Visa regulations…). I remember coming out of the National Gallery of London (seen behind) and stumbling upon a huge wooden crate. No one knew what was inside of it, but it was roped off and seemed important. There was a sign that said “Unveiling tonight at 7 P.M.” As much as I wanted to go to see the unmasking of this mysterious item, we couldn’t make it.

A few days later, I walked past Leicester Square again and took the above picture. It was an art structure that would remain in the area until the Olympic Games began. Well, looking at the website http://www.london2012.com/, it tells me that there are only 170 days until that running of the torch. I write this not only to inform you about a perfect time to study in London, but also to motivate you to take that extra step now as well as that wonderful opportunity. It’s lying in front of you just waiting to be grabbed, so don’t let it pass you by. I would give almost anything for a chance to be back in London, especially at such a special time as this. You still have time to take part in this historical event, but you don’t have a lot of it. If you’re reading this and have had even a spark of interest in this opportunity, go to  http://www.saiprograms.com/ now and check out all of the options that are in front of you just waiting to be taken. 

As a side note for any of you SAI’ers who are currently in London this semester, the work of  Lucian Freud goes onto display for the first time at London’s National Portrait Gallery tomorrow (February 9th)!  It will be used as a countdown event for the Olympic Games. If you like what you hear and want more information, go to this website: 

http://www.london2012.com/news/2012/02/lucian-freud-exhibition-marks-countdown-to-london-2012-f.php

rhymeswitheight said: hello! I stumbled across your blog and am thinking of applying to study abroad in Florence through SAI. The study abroad adviser at my college said they've had some negative feedback about "student support" from the SAI program but she didn't have any specifics. Could you tell me your thoughts/experiences on this?

Hi there! My experience with SAI was extremely positive and I have no complaints. They picked me up from the airport, drove me right to my dorm room, helped me with checking in, and that was only the first day. When I met with my program coordinator the first day I got there, he helped me set up my Internet and then gave me a free cell phone to use along with credit already loaded on it. I was able to call my parents right away so that they knew I was situated. The second day, we had another series of orientation events where I was able to meet other people in my program. I am still extremely close with all of my friends I met. My program coordinator and the staff were very helpful throughout my stay in London; they had scheduled events for us throughout the semester to get everyone together and to provide us with a more roundabout experience in the city. Some included a Jack the Ripper night tour and a trip to Borough Market to sample cheeses and other delicacies. Whenever I did have questions regarding things such as the Tube system and picking up friends from the airport, my program coordinator emailed me a whole list of things to take note of and what the best way was to get there. The program coordinators and staff want you to be safe while having a great time. From my experience, they went above and beyond and spoiled us with a wonderful time.

                                     Parading Around in “Magical” Edinburgh

Everyone has at least one trait which causes them to be unique. Although this characteristic of mine is not solely held by me (which I suppose is the opposite of the definition of unique…hmm…), I am different from those around me in the fact that I am obsessed with penguins. I’m sure you were not expecting me to say that (however, the video above of me being told by the zoo employee not to touch the passing penguins may have given you a hint…). That video was taken at the Edinburgh Zoo in, believe it or not, Edinburgh, Scotland. 

                         

Every day at 2:15 P.M., penguins line up on a volunteer basis (yes, I speak the truth) and walk a huge circle outside of the fences of their habitat, better known as the “Penguin Parade”. As you probably know, this was something I could not go without seeing while in Edinburgh. In other words, don’t make fun of me for my over-excited and ridiculous face. Or do. I don’t blame you.

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                                                “The Birthplace of Harry Potter”

          

If penguins for some reason aren’t your thing, (which would be absolutely crazy, right?! Ahem…) then perhaps visit one of the newly popular cafes in the area due to recent events during the past decade. You already know what I am talking about if you are a Harry Potter fan…yes, the Elephant House.

                 

It was at this very establishment where J.K. Rowling herself began to write the Harry Potter book series. What began on a simple napkin soon turned into thousands of pages read by millions of fans. It was a very unique experience to see the spot where all of the magic started.

Pun intended. 

I would highly recommend taking a weekend off from wherever you are staying to visit Edinburgh. As much as I am obsessed with London, Edinburgh is a very close second. I will continue to post excited weekend excursions for ideas of places for you and your friends to travel to during your time abroad. Research other places to explore on your own! However, if you hit a mild road bump, don’t hesitate to check my blog or send me a message; I would be more than happy to help you have the same amazing experience, if not better, that I had during my time with SAI :)

Norway: Culture Shock is Real.

                

As I’ve already mentioned in a previous post, I traveled to Oslo, Norway during my time abroad, and it was a complete accident. As embarrassing as it is, my friend and I saw an extremely inexpensive ticket on Ryanair to a city called Oslo and bought it instantly. Instead of researching the city before clicking “Submit,” we had committed ourselves to a long weekend in Norway…not Switzerland, where we thought Oslo was located. Ahem, anyway…

The weeks before the trip, we were amused by the fact that we would be going to Norway, a place neither of us had thought very much about before, to be completely honest. It isn’t the most spoken about country when visiting Europe, and I definitely thought I would’ve been to France or Spain before ever setting foot in Norway. I guess we raised our hopes too high, however, because once we got off of the plane, we immediately had culture shock.

It started out small, and then gradually grew. It wasn’t even the land or country itself that was the catalyst, but the pepole themselves. I am not judging or placing a title on them at all. We simply did not run into the nicest of people in the beginning, or in the entire first day. This was the first culture, and the only one in my case, where we experienced culture shock. I had heard about it countless times from my study abroad leaders, but after falling in complete love with London and Scotland, I thought that maybe, just maybe, it could have been overrated. Boy, was I wrong. I realize all of the steps of culture shock usually occur over a few weeks or months, but we experienced the entire scheme within four days. For those of you who do not know what stages I am talking about, let me enlighten you…

1. Stage 1 - Excitement:                                                                                                                                             

  • In this stage, you are fascinated by everything revolving the culture. You are happy to experience it because you have little to no knowledge of it. It’s new and exciting, and you have a positive outlook on everything. For my friend and I, we had talked about going to Norway so much that we could not wait to get there. When the pilot announced, “Welcome to Norway,” we looked at each other laughing and were excited to step off of the plane. 

2. Stage 2 - Withdrawal:

                             

  • Once you reach this stage, all of that excitement will have diminished by some extent, if not completly. You notice negative differences between the culture and your own and generate some resentment. You don’t understand how people could be so mean, things could be handled so poorly, etc. You may even criticize those living there and reserve yourself. This definitely happened to me; my friend and I were nice to others and, in return, were treated with disrespect and hatred. Our fascination quickly turned to a negative outlook, and we didn’t like to associate with Norwegians. We actually tried to change our flight back to London, missing the city we had fallen in love with and feeling upset that we would be spending our time in Norway instead. However, since we had already checked-in, no changes could be made. We decided to make the most out of the time we had there and to not give up completely on the culture. 

(Just a side-note: We even spun a Krone, a Norwegian coin, as a totem to see if we were dreaming. We weren’t. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zl9Q2ZktFog. See the movie Inception if you do not understand what I am talking about).

3. Stage 3 - Adjustment:

                                      

  • This stage is where everything changes. You began to accept the differences and do not feel so alone. The excitement felt in the first stage is regained in small doses, and your sense of humor even comes back somewhat. This stage changed our outlooks on the trip completely. Everything definitely happens for a reason; because we were unable to change our flight, we did not give up and actually began to like the culture. It helped that we met some locals who were not only extremely nice, but also very funny and the Norwegian equivalents of ourselves personality-wise. 

4. Stage 4 - Enthusiasm:

                              

                                                        Posing with my curling shoes :)

  • With the last stage, you adapt to mostly everything and enjoy the culture as your own. You experience new things and are comfortable in your surroundings. Two of the Norwegians we met were Junior Olympian curlers who even taught us how to curl for the very first time. Who else can say that they traveled to Oslo on accident and then were given curling lessons by Junior Olympians themselves? Like I said, everything happens for a reason. …I have many videos of my curling experience; however, this one is my favorite :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Vu4rsqumLA

Summary: Don’t give up on a culture simply because it frightens you or makes you uncomfortable. Those can be the biggest challenges which can lead to some of the greatest experiences overall. I am so fortunate that we were unable to change our flight. I can’t believe we even tried to in the first place. While leaving our hotel room, my friend and I both simultaneously, without even planning, said out loud, “Bye room, I’ll miss you!” What started out as a terrible “mistake” turned out to be one of our favorite trips. I have a feeling both of us will be back in Norway at one point or another.


"All You Need is Love"

 

I’m guessing you’ve heard that quote before. I’m also guessing that you’re guessing why I guessed that. Did I guess right? Ahem…well, regardless of the obvious innuendo I could be making in relation to studying abroad, it is a more literal correlation this time. I am, in fact, talking about the Beatles, which I’m sure you’re very aware of. Now, why am I bringing up the Beatles? Well, other than being one of the most popular and influential bands in the history of the world, they have a strong realtionship with England. Although most of their history lies in Liverpool, England (which you could easily visit with a cheap ticket on Megabus…), they left a lot of their footprints in London! When I say footprints, I mean it in a literal sense once again, as in Abbey Road…yes, the Abbey Road! It is located just a short walk from Regents Park in London, which is where I actually took the picture located above.

                                 

So yes, I’ve been there. And when I say I’ve been there, I mean I’ve literally been in their footprints :) So, I guess the past few sentences have had a circular effect, but the point is (yes, there is a point…I think…) that one needs to explore unique things about the cities he or she visits so that amazing memories, and pictures, can be made! If you have lived under a rock for about, oh, fifty years or so, then this is the famous crosswalk I am speaking of: http://www.abbeyroad.com/visit/

Yes, there is a constant webcam which films everything around the crosswalk, and yes, I watched this before going there with my friends. And no, that isn’t creepy…

               

Anyway, two friends and I walked to Abbey Road and were quickly surrounded by many other tourists. We knew they were tourists, because, like us, they would quickly run onto the crosswalk, scream to their friend, “TAKE THE PICTURE! QUICK!” and then sprint off of the street as a double decker bus sped by blaring its horn. I realize this was probably not the safest thing to do, but it was worth every second.

So, about seven attempts and much more than seven horns later, we ended up with the best picture we could get. I realize I ruined it…in the sense that in the real Abbey Road picture with the actual Beatles, they are all facing one direction and looking serious. I, on the other hand, am facing the camera with a goofy look on my face (you can’t blame me…I mean, I had already been threatened by buses at least six times). However, I feel like the picture came out well. We then saw Abbey Studios as well as a red Sharpie.

                                         

What was the Sharpie for, you ask? Well, go to Abbey Road and see for yourself…as you will see my name written next to two of my friends’ names. We were able to sign the wall and write our own history.

                                                                                                                                                  

There will always be the typical tourist attractions to see in every city; in London, for example, you must see Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and the like. Although Abbey Road was obviously known to many other tourists, it was a spot that was special to me. My best advice would be to research the place you are about to travel to, not only so that you check the major attractions off your list, but also so that you can find certain places unique to you that will make your trip stand out from those typical tourist itineraries. You don’t have to put too much time into it, simply know what is there beforehand so that you don’t arrive back home and say, “Wow…I wish I had gone there or done that,” when you had been right around the corner. It has happened to me and is not too great of a feeling. Although there is much time to return and to see it “later”, if you keep saying “later” then chances are you will never make it back there. Take advantage of the opportunity at hand.

 We definitely made our mark on Abbey Road just as it made its mark on us :)

And if you’re bored, feel free to look at the webcam of Abbey Road to watch as tourists speed across the road attempting to take the picture without being run over. Yes, I’ve done this, and again, that is not creepy. …What?

…Do as the Romans Do.

Being the art history fanatic that I am (I speak the truth), Italy was at the top of my list of places to visit. While Florence was the city I wished to explore the most because of my background in Italian Renaissance art (most everything I learned in an entire semester is located in the Uffizi Gallery), I made a huge discovery while in Rome. After visiting certain museums that required one to book in advance, such as the Borghese Gallery (…yes I pre-booked museum tickets. And yes…I was called a “grandma” by one of my friends after I admitted to this. And to add a third yes…I was about thirty minutes early to each of these “appointments”). I am not ashamed.

                                                                    

Anyways…I remember seeing people emerging down a hill of steps and wondering what was at the top. Naturally, I walked up in the pouring rain (unfortunately it rained the entire time I was in Rome, and if someone ever asks me to buy an umbrella from them again, I’m not quite sure what I will do. You know what I’m talking about if you have been in Rome in the rain…). Once I reached the top, I realized exactly where I was. I was on Capitoline Hill, a place I had planned to visit but had placed at the bottom of my list due to all of the places I wished to see more.

Grateful for the discovery and a chance to avoid the awful rain, I bought my ticket (which was very cheap, may I add) and entered the facility. After seeing famous sculptures I had learned about, such as the statue of Marcus Aurelius and the Capitoline Wolf (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, no worries; I am randomly a huge art history nerd), my attention was caught by a set of stairs that no one was going up and the sound of rain in the distance.

(Capitoline Wolf…with Romulus and Remus).

I walked into a new part of the museum, where I was the only visitor, and followed the noise of the rain, wondering how I could hear it so clearly while indoors. Well, I realized how when I walked onto a balcony which brought me to one of the most jaw-dropping sights of Italy, in my opinion. As I looked off the edge and listened to the sound of the pouring rain, I overlooked the Roman Forum with the Colosseum in the distance.

Nothing had ever been so overwhelming to me…since seeing Big Ben of course, due to my obsession with London. Maybe it was the fact that I was alone in that wing of the museum, or possibly it was the lights illuminating the Roman ruins at just the perfect angle at night. Or…perhaps, it was due to the immense amounts of gelato I had recently consumed…but I remember being absolutely amazed by what stood in front of me and feeling so special that I was able to not only experience it, but to also feel so much because of it. It is a moment like this that will make you appreciate the little things and to allow you to realize exactly how lucky you are to be studying abroad.

                                    

While others are doing homework or attending the same events as they always do, you are exploring something so amazing which changes your outlook on the world. I cannot stress how much studying abroad has changed the way I view places and opportunities. The fact that one can travel to so many places in only a few months while others have done nothing out of the ordinary still fascinates me, as well as inspires me to make the most of my time. I had the most amazing studying abroad experience because of SAI, and yet, I still envy those who are about to start their own journeys. 

My Recommended Guidebook:

                                                      

Megabus

Offers very cheap bus rides all across the UK. From London, take a £9 trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. Although it will last nine hours, make it an overnight bus ride, and you will wake up to the sound of bagpipes :)

Or, simply take an inexpensive day trip to Oxford or Cambridge to explore the historic universities. Thinking of going to the beach for a day? Brighton is only an hour away.

Easyjet and Ryanair

Please see my previous post for a very elaborated review of these websites and tips for jet-setting across all of Europe for a very cheap price.

Transport for Rome (www.rome.info/transportation)

Review all of the ways to explore Rome, ranging from the underground metro system to bus routes throughout the city. Or perhaps you’d rather rent a scooter or bicycle and find your way off the beaten path.

Transport for London (www.tfl.gov.uk)

Learn about Oyster cards, view the Tube map, and see the easiest way to get to where you want to go. The Journey Planner makes it extremely simple to travel through the city: just insert where you are starting your journey and where it is you want to end up.

Travel Europe by Train (www.raildude.com)

What used to be called InterRail is now named Raildude; find cheap and convenient trains across all of Europe. Hint: One can travel all across Italy via train for a very cheap price. I know from experience :)

Hostels.com and Hostelworld.com

Do your homework, and you can find cheap and safe places for you and your friends to stay. Many offer free breakfast and luggage storage, so you don’t have to carry your baggage around the city until check-in time comes around. Remember: Booking early means spending less!

Two Names You Will Want to Remember…

Ryanair and Easyjet: Your two new best friends.

Because I had never been out of the country before studying with SAI, I wanted to take complete advantage of the traveling opportunity at hand. However, I did not have a money tree growing in my backyard. Although I did not make it to every city I had hoped to visit, money was not an issue, thanks to two websites. This is where your two new friends come into play. I would not have survived Europe without them.

                                                

Ryanair and Easyjet are low-cost airlines which allow travel throughout Europe. I remember buying a round-trip ticket to Oslo, Norway from London for £15 (roughly $24). At the time, my friend and I were so excited about the cost that we booked it instantly without doing research about the destination. After buying a ticket to a city we thought was in Switzerland (shhh…), we soon realized that we would, in fact, be traveling to Norway. Note to self: Always research before hitting “Confirm.” I always had before then, but I guess the price simply caused too much excitement. However, from my experience, unplanned trips can sometimes turn into your favorite ones of the entire term. So, yes, I’ve been to Norway…and I loved it.

                                

NOTE: Because Ryanair and Easyjet are so affordable, they have some strict regulations that can add up. However, they are nothing to be afraid of. Simply be respectful of what they want (take this advice with you when communicating with anyone you meet in Europe; respect and a smile can go a long way).

  • Pack light! Both airlines allow you to bring a carry-on bag for free. If you bring anymore bags, they will cost extra. *YOU DO NOT NEED MORE THAN A CARRY-ON* Trust me…I traveled to five cities in Italy throughout a week and a half with only a carry-on bag. It is not worth the extra money and you will be hating yourself when you’re carrying around an unnecessary extra bag walking to find your hostel. Make sure to check the size regulations before as well.
  • If you cannot leave without a certain clothing article, then wear it. They will not weigh or measure how long you are, so if there is something you simply cannot be without, wear it. In fact, wear a lot of things if you’d like. On the way to Norway, one man told us he was wearing about five shirts, a sweatshirt, a jacket, and some gloves onto the plane because his bag was too heavy. Like I said, no one is going to place you onto a scale, so load up!
  • GET YOUR PASSPORT STAMPED! Trust me on this one. Let me tell you a funny little story; however, it was not so funny at the time. My friend and I were at the airport to go to Norway (why every example involves Norway, I have no idea); after going through security, we had about an hour to kill until our gate number appeared (Heads up: London airports don’t tell you what gate your plane leaves from until about thirty minutes prior; don’t let this scare you, just be alert!) While drinking coffee we said, “I love not having to be in a hurry at the airport.” We could not have jinxed the situation more. While lining up for the plane an hour later, an employee told us we were supposed to have our passport stamped BEFORE security. With ten minutes until the gate would close, her only statement was, “You better run fast.” Yes, we literally ran with our bags (luckily we packed light…hint, hint) and, luckily, another employee helped make it possible. The whole time while running, we were saying, “We can do this…do it for Norway!” In summary, remember to get your passports stamped before going through security…
  • Print your boarding passes! Easyjet allows you to go to the front desk to check-in, but Ryanair makes you check-in online before your flight and then bring your boarding pass with you. If you don’t, they will charge you around £35 once you arrive.

The two websites (www.ryanair.com and www.easyjet.com) usually have monthly deals as well. I am sure that if you venture onto the websites at any time of any month, there will be low prices for flights flashing on the main screen. I will not check right now because it puts me into a state of depression due to my longing to be back in London…

Verona, Italy: The Real Romeo and Juliet

Get lost in the Shakespearean tragic love story by visiting Juliet’s Balcony in Verona, Italy. Only a train ride away from all SAI locations in Italy, Verona is a fairy-tale-like city filled with narrow cobbled roads and unique sights for all. Made famous by the movie, Letters to Juliet, starring Amanda Seyfried, the hidden balcony is a magical sight, visible only after walking through a wonderful little tunnel. The wall underneath the balcony is the same wall from the featured film where confused women place their letters written to Juliet in hopes for insight and advice. The romantic and magical thought of this tradition makes the area in Verona feel even more special.

Make sure to leave your own note for the long-lost female and to take a picture with the statue of Juliet herself. Also be sure to place your hand over her chest as you take the picture…it’s a tradition for good luck, I promise :) 

                                     Statue of Juliet

I encourage you to make the trek to Verona where Shakespeare comes to life. Who says Shakespeare can’t be real?

To see the movie which exposed it all: http://www.letterstojuliet-movie.com/

Letters to Juliet trailer, where Juliet’s Balcony comes to life