Monday, 21 November 2016

England vs. America: First Impressions

England vs. America: First Impressions

Written by: Caroline Farley

When going to a new country for the first time, it’s guaranteed that you’re going to find many things that are different from what you’re used to. Even going to another English-speaking country, there are still plenty of things I’ve found oddly different about England. These things, though not necessarily bad, definitely caught my attention when I first encountered them. Here you will find a list of nine things that I’ve noticed are not quite normal from what I’m used to in America.

1.      Greetings!

Hearing someone say to me, “Hello, you alright?” definitely caught me off guard the first several times. I would think to myself, “Of course, I’m fine. Does something look out of the ordinary?” or “Do I look okay?” I figured out, eventually, that this is the equivalent saying “Hi, how are you?” Another common word, “cheers,” is typically used to reply to someone after they’ve thanked you. It sounds weird to someone like me who doesn’t normally say it, but it’s kind of refreshing and cool, actually.

2.      Driving – It’s Just Not Right.

This may be a pretty obvious difference, but seeing things from the opposite side of the road is definitely something I noticed right away and had to get accustomed to. Now that I’ve been living in England for a few months, I’ve actually gotten used to it and have stopped trying to get in the driver’s seat of my meet-a-family’s car, since the driver’s seat in on the right. (Okay, so that only happened once.) I also find it interesting that the majority of cars here are standard shift rather than automatic. I guess we’ve got it pretty good back in the States, only having to use one foot to drive and all.

3.      Pinkies Out!

I found out almost straight away that the British really do love tea and drinking it is a much more common event than in the US. When out at a restaurant or having a meal in a British home, it is extremely likely that you’ll be offered tea (and usually coffee as well) after you’ve finished eating. Tea is a staple item in day-to-day life, and I personally find it to be a lovely tradition.

4.      Planes, Trains, and Automobiles – Oh My!

One difference I’m most thankful for, I’d have to say, is the abundance of public transportation. Especially since I don’t have access to my own car, it’s great to have multiple reliable (and decently affordable) ways to get where I need to go. Want to go to London? Hop on a train for an hour. Flying from Stansted Airport to Barcelona for the weekend? Split a taxi with a few friends and maybe even save a few pounds (and definitely some time) on a train. I wish we had more trains and larger bus systems where I’m from, but I’m okay with being on my own schedule and having the freedom to drive myself whenever I need.

5.      The Potty Problem

If you’re out and about in England and you ask where the “bathroom” or “restroom” is, you’re bound to get some pretty strange looks. To the British, a “bathroom” literally means the room where you bathe and “restroom” isn’t really used at all. (You don’t actually rest in there, do you?) It’s been pretty interesting getting used to calling it the “toilet” or “WC” (short for “water closet”), but it kind of makes more sense than the typical words Americans use, especially when referring to public toilets. The British tend to like to keep things simple and call things what they actually are, so why do we, Americans, like to make things so complicated?

6.      #JustBritishThings

Speaking of different terms used for things, here’s a brief list of some things I’ve come across have different names in England:
shop = store

post = mail

boot = trunk of a car

car park = parking lot

rubbish = trash

lorry = delivery truck

chips = french fries

crisps = potato chips

mince = ground beef

courgette = zucchini

aubergine = eggplant

lift = elevator

jumper = sweater

knackered = exhausted

gutted = disappointed

7.      Money, Money, Money
“Thank you. That’ll be 10 quid.” Quid? What in the world is that? It sounds like a sea creature if you ask me. In Britain, as you may imagine, the money used is different from US dollars. The British pound, or “quid” if you’re using slang, is the currency used throughout the United Kingdom. (I won’t even get into the fact that both £1 and £2 come in coin form. Talk about having a ton of change….) Being from America, knowing I would have to deal with currency conversion for a few months brought about a small bit of anxiety. Thanks to Brexit, however, the value of the pound has gone down, which makes for happier Americans like myself when having to deal with pesky conversion rates.

8.      Here’s a tip…

When you go to a restaurant it’s normal to tip, right? Wrong. In England, as well as other places in Europe, tipping is not a common habit. I thought this was rather strange until I realized that more often than not, there is an automatic “service charge” added to the bill at sit-down restaurants. If you ever find yourself eating somewhere in Europe, be sure to check the bill before tipping (and even look up the tipping custom if you’re still unsure) because chances are it’s technically been included. I find this pretty handy, actually. It takes care of the hassle of figuring out the tip, and everyone is satisfied.

9.      Paper, Plastic, or Load Up Your Arms Because You’re Too Cheap to Pay?

This difference seems small, but it’s one that I find to be really odd and oftentimes annoying. Normally you’re offered either paper or plastic at grocery stores in America. Well, friends, I’m here to tell you that every time I have gone to a grocery here, I have had to pay for my bags. The cost is only a few cents (or pence, because we’re British territory), but it’s still a somewhat aggravating. I understand that the goal is to get people to use reusable bags, but I still forget mine just about every time. Thanks for trying to encourage me to be more environmentally friendly, England, but this is one thing I still haven’t quite caught on to.

These are just a few things I have paid special attention to during my time in the UK. There are plenty of other things you may find odd when visiting this lovely (a very common word in England) country. And on the slight chance there are any British folk reading this, do not fret, I think very highly of your country and I’m sure there are even more things you find odd about America and it’s people. We’re a pretty interesting bunch.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Portugal Adventures

 Portugal Adventures

Lao Tzu wrote that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” but that first step may not always be perfect. My journey to Lisbon, Portugal began with a few gross missteps.
            After learning that I made a booking mistake - that I would be flying into Portugal a day earlier than my travel companion - I had little time to act. At 3:30 P.M. on Thursday I hastily threw together a backpack of my belongings, double-checking my passport and I.D. were present. I jumped in my pre-ordered Street Car, which came 5 minutes later than the desired time of 4 P.M.. Due to the lateness, I missed my train by a minute and had to buy another ticket to King’s Cross for 37 pound. From King’s Cross I hopped on the Underground to Heathrow and skimmed through security to make it to my plane right before departure. Collapsing in my seat was the sweetest joy in the world.
            After hours of soaring through the night sky, we touched down in the Lisbon airport right before midnight. Next to me on the plane sat a couple from Sintra, and they gladly directed me to Metro station. Shaken from last-minute realizations and weary from worrying, I thanked them, purchased a one-way ticket, and got on the subway.
Each city is a hive of buzzing bees, but each hive provides a distinct flavor of honey. Lisbon met me with night skies and empty subway cars full of red plastic seats with purple cushioning. I rode the red line to Alameda before switching to the green line that carried me to Rossio, as instructed, and watched through the smudged windows. Every announcement on the train reminded me of Texas, my home; the five years of Spanish taken at school as well as casually at my house provided me with at least a ground plan of what was being said. Each stop along the way had its distinct flair, as each one was its own work of art - Oriente housed the mural of an epic battle of comic book characters underwater, while others held rough drafts of running rabbits and caricatures of Portuguese authors and musicians. Though my mind fogged with fatigue, each slowing down of the subway train gave me an incentive to peek out and see what wonder was coming up.
At Rossio I hopped out and emerged from the underground. No one walked the streets around me, but outside of my vision the city was surely alive. Wails and chatter burst disembodied from where I could not see and made the large square seem a place inhabited only by ghosts. This was disorienting to say the least, and I had no idea which street branching off from the square held my hostel.
Rumbling broke the night as a tarnished yellow garbage truck swung around a corner and into the square. A skinny man in a bright vest hopped off the back of the truck and began to collect trash the restaurants set out for the nightly collection. He must have sensed my fright, my futile attempt to look like some practiced city-dweller with a map clenched in my fist, and called out to ask me if I was lost. Admitting I was, I conversed with him in Spanish as he reassured me and showed me the way, away from this Praca da Figueira to my hostel. Indeed travelling alone can be scary, but the kindness of strangers appears in unusual places. 
After checking in and falling into bed, I congratulated myself on getting to Lisbon alone. Sleep caught up with me fast enough, and soon turned into another day.

I woke early and dressed before going down to the hostel kitchen. There breakfast was being made, and I shared in crepes which I topped with Nutella and honey before strolling about Lisbon. Pointless wandering is a hobby of mine, to see the sky brightened with the familiarity of day, to wander past statues and fountains and shopping centers. I began my ascent up a hill to see where it would go, and soon found the city shot up this incline. I passed the out-branching of a dog park and kept trekking up the hill, passing a garden, a graffitied wall sprayed with fat purple flowers, and several buildings decorated with blue and white ceramic tiles. At the summit I reached the outlook which provided a view of all of Lisbon - breathtaking. White-sided buildings topped with clay roofs, all stacked and scattered in magnificent scramble. Once I’d seen the view from the summit, I descended and went to the Rossio station to meet Nate as he came into the city.
After picking up Nate and dropping off his stuff at the hostel, we went to grab lunch, which consisted of an open-faced sardine & pepper sandwich with rum. We then sauntered to Santini, one of the best ice cream places in Lisbon. I ordered two scoops of a flavor called Radio Comercial, which was a combination of purple passion fruit, lime & orange zest, and bits of raspberry. How excellent it was, to wander the streets of Lisbon, around fountains, flower booths and street performers, all while eating ice cream that tasted like fireworks.
We jumped on the Metro after this and raced to the Lisbon Oceanarium to get there before the closing time at 8. Nate and I arrived just before the ticket office closed, and we hurried inside. Walking around the main aquarium full of sharks, manta rays, sunfish, barracuda, etc., we got to see otters, penguins, puffins, and other beautiful sea creatures. My favorite part of the aquarium was the deep-sea area, where jellyfish floated through the blackness bathed with purple light and the spider crabs crept like dog-sized pale orange insects up the walls. There’s something about being in an aquarium that fills one with peace - a lightness, a forgetfulness of petty troubles and a turning to the awe and appreciation of something bigger. We should all visit an aquarium more often.

The next morning, Nate & I took a train to Sintra, a small and beautiful town in the pine forest of Serra de Sintra. On every edge of this town is a remnant of a castle, such as the Moorish Castle sitting on top of the hill overlooking Sintra, and in Sintra’s winding streets you can see white spires rising out of the forest. We made our 20 minute walk through the bustling town, past an enclave carved out of the side of a cliff dominated by a waterfall and graffitied with heaps of hearts, and made it to Quinta da Regaleira.
Quinta da Regaleira is a 20th century estate made up of a romantic palace and chapel and sprawling tropical grounds with lakes, grottoes, wells, fountains, and numerous statues. To give a bit of history, this land was owned by the Viscountess of Regaleira before being sold off in 1892 to Carvalho Monteiro, known as “Monteiro the Millionaire.” Monteiro and his Italian architect Manini built many of the features of Quinta da Regaleira, including the house, and Monteiro made sure to include in the estate symbols of the Knights Templar, the Masons, and dark alchemy, all which fell within his ideologies. On the death of Monteiro, the Quinta da Regaleira was purchased by Waldemar d’Orey as a summer residence for his family and then bought in 1987 by a Japanese businessman. The local government reclaimed Quinta da Regaleira in 1997 and it opened to the public in 1998.
The attraction of Quinta da Regaleira that interested me most - as well as many other tourists - is the Initiation Well. After wandering the grounds for a while, Nate & I walked across rocks emerging from a mossy lake into a cavern under a waterfall. This cave was a lot longer than we thought, and tunneled under most of the estate straight to the bottom of the Initiation Well. Just to clarify, there are two wells of this kind on the estate, and they are both known as “Inverted Towers” because neither of these were used as wells but for initiation rights. The well we did not enter - known as the “Unfinished Well” - contains architecture outlines by Masonic principles while the well we did enter contains references to the Knights Templar and nine platforms, which are rumored to be a calling-back to Dante’s nine circles of Hell, nine sections of Purgatory, and nine skies of Paradise.
Nate & I ascended the spiral stairs, which were only wide enough to fit two people shoulder-to-shoulder. This is enough to dizzy anyone as they ascend to the pool of light above that indicates the sky. Eventually, we burst out the top and exited the well through a secret door, a slab of stone that spun on a center axis if you pushed a corner of it. If this place didn’t make me feel like I was in Uncharted, I don’t know what will.
One can truly see why Quinta da Regaleira was a summer residence, a place hinting at adventure and secrets, old towers and castles peeping through the pines and tropical trees. I experienced a sensation I’d felt occasionally before while I was there, but only at Quinta da Regaleira could I begin to describe it. Sometimes you get the feeling that you are destined to be in a certain place, as if you’re experiencing deja vu. It’s like you’ve dreamt it before, but if you seek to recall that dream it will only draw away from you. This is what I felt in Sintra, in the chiming of church bells and the wind rushing through the tall pines along the sides of the mountains. I do not know if destiny is real, or if we’re just all following our own seething personal desires, but I know in that moment, I was destined to be in Quinta da Regaleira.

Later that day we returned to Lisbon via train and decided to stop off at a taco place a Harlaxton alum had recommended we visit: Pistola & Corazon Taqueria. We took the Metro down to that section of town and then spent 30 cold minutes searching until at last we found the little place. A bookcase took up an entire wall, filled with volumes from America and Mexico as well as jars and knick-knacks of all kinds, and the bar was backed by a wall of corrugated metal painted red. Nate & I seated ourselves and ordered a cocktail called Te Crees Muy Muy - ironically enough, considering what happened later on - which consisted of passion fruit, vanilla, tequila reposado, and lemon. To imagine what this tasted like, you have to think of a very sweet, frothy lemon cream soda, minus the carbonation. It was delicious.
Next came the food. I was craving something spicy, so I ordered tingas de res - 3 tacos of shredded beef in guajillo tomato sauce, garlic, & other spices and served with onions and cilantro on corn tortillas. The waitress warned me this was spicy, but I nodded my understanding and ordered a horchata - rice milk & cinnamon - as well just in case it was as hot as she promised. I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and have been eating a range of Mexican food since I was little. I could handle the heat, my poor brain thought. So when the waitress brought our tacos, I ladled on the hottest sauce, lifted the first taco, and took a big bite.
I pause here to call you back to the cocktail I’d previously consumed. The phrase “te crees muy muy” does not mean “you think very very” or “you think you’re very very.” This is a slang phrase that was probably trying to warn me of my present actions. “Te crees muy muy” means - in more casual terms, “You think you’re all that” / “You think you’re a badass.” And so Julia did.
And so she was wrong.
The first bite was fine, until I swallowed and the spices were in my throat. Then I was the equivalent of a fire-breathing dragon. My first instinct was to ration my horchata out so I didn’t drink it down all at once. When that didn’t work, I just kept shoveling the spicy tacos into my mouth, to try to give my mouth something else to do other than focus on the pain.
For the sake of my pride, I tried to keep looking cool, but that’s a bit hard with the sensation of a hundred suns exploding on your tongue. I asked Nate to order another horchata, because I would just look like a wheezing embodiment of teary desperation if I asked, and then the worst possible thing in the world happened.
“Of course,” Nate said, apparently assuming I was done with the horchata in front of me. I watched, as if in slow motion, as Nate picked up the horchata we shared and put the glass to his lips. I swore a warped version of “Ave Maria” played as the cold, rice milk goodness trickled down the glass and Nate consumed the last life-giving swallow. My heart clenched, my eyes narrowed, and I was so blind with pain that I cannot recall the scathing words that rolled off my lips. But know this - hell hath no fury like a woman who has eaten agony-inducing tacos and Nate has drunk her last gulp of horchata.
Nate apologized and went to the waitress to order me another horchata before running to the bathroom because of his bladder’s pressing needs. I finished the tacos and cradled my new glass of ambrosia, sipping it through the straw to recover as my face fluctuated between waves of numbness and burning. Nate came back a bit sooner than expected, only to explain in a low voice that he could not use the facilities because two people were having quite a “private moment” in the bathroom upstairs and screamed at him to get out when he entered. After a final horchata to soothe my burning to a low flame, we walked back to the Metro. And that was how our last night in Portugal ended, me with a high coming down from the pain and Nate with a desperate need to pee.
Portugal wasn’t what I thought it would be, but it was amazing, honestly the best place I’ve been to thus far. Though it was a relief to get back to Harlaxton after that long flight back, I’ll never forget the adventures I had there. 

Written by Julia Toney

Tuesday, 1 November 2016


Meet-A-Family Experience

                Each semester at Harlaxton, local British families are matched up with students in what is called the “Meet-a-Family” program.  The moment I heard about this, I knew it was something I had to do.  As I am very close with my family in the United States, I knew being away from home for three and a half months was going to be my biggest struggle.  So I filled out the application and wrote a letter to my future “family,” hoping they were as excited to meet me as I was to meet them.
                Once we arrived at Harlaxton, we were given some information about our families; some had previously contacted their students, and others had not.  My friend, Rachel Blair, and I were paired together to share a family, and this was our first time seeing the names of our family, Jo and Pete Frederick.  We were beyond excited to meet them at the Harlaxton Meet-a-Family dinner during our first week of classes!  We dressed up to make a good first impression and saw that our family was one of the first to walk into the Great Hall (We recognized them from the little bit of Facebook stalking we had done!).  As it turned out, they had two kids, Amie, who is seven, and Alex, who is four.  The kids were a bit shy at first but warmed right up to us as the night went on.

                Rachel and I gave the Fredericks our gifts we brought from home; it is encouraged that you bring something for your family that represents where you come from.  I gave them some cinnamon candy that is popular in my hometown of Jeffersonville, Indiana, and a book about Jeffersonville, and Rachel gave them a book of local Kentucky photography.  They really seemed to enjoy the thought we put into our gifts!

                Despite our busy school and travel schedules, Rachel and I have been able to meet up with our family on a few different occasions, for important things like cheese and wine parties and Halloween celebrations!  They even got to meet my parents when they came to visit me, and that was so special.  I absolutely love the Fredericks and the comfort of home they bring.  Even though they live about twenty minutes from Harlaxton, they make time to come pick us up and take us to their house.  Just to be able to get away from the manor and be in a home for a few hours is priceless for me.  It’s fun to compare British and American cultures with them and to learn about the similarities and differences in our lives.  The kids are also oodles of fun!  I’m not around kids very often, so to play games with them and talk to them is always entertaining.

                 I would definitely recommend this program to anyone coming to Harlaxton.  Yes, you have to plan extra time to get together with your family, but it is so worth it.  To be able to meet and get to know British people outside the manor is incredible.  I thought I would meet more British people than I have, but when you aren’t traveling, you’re with other Americans here at the manor.  Unless you go out of your way to meet other people, it’s pretty hard to keep up relationships outside of Harlaxton.  This program gives you that opportunity and that chance to maintain a relationship with incredibly loving families.  As much as I will enjoy going home to my American family, I sure will miss my British family.  Thank you, Jo and Pete (and Amie and Alex), for your amazing hospitality and generosity.  If you ever come to Indiana, just know that you are always welcome in my home!

Written by: Jessica McCormick

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

5 Study Tips While Abroad

5 Study Tips While Abroad 

Studying abroad can be a fun time full of new adventures but remember, you still have to take your classes, so with any luck these five easy tips can help make your life less stressful as you embark on this new adventure. 

1.      Get a planner.
Even if you don’t use one back home you will need one while studying abroad. If you have a well organized planner, you can save yourself some stress and confusion later in the semester. Buying a planner is the first step but really writing in it is step two. Take the syllabus and mark down the dates for your papers and tests as well as the trips you are taking. A planner can keep everything organized while you are travelling around the world while still trying to  pass all your classes.
2.      Use your time wisely.
In past semesters, it was easy to put all your homework off till the weekend and binge watch all six seasons of your favorite show. While abroad, you won’t have time on the weekends. So, put down the Netflix and do your homework instead. If you use the free time you have throughout the week to do little bits of your work you won’t have to spend all Sunday night cramming in a week’s worth of assignments. 
3.      Bring some homework with you.
I know it sounds lame to pack homework on your trip, but you will be thankful later if you do. Use all that time on a train or plane to catch up on your reading assignments. If you don’t want to take the whole book, make a copy of the chapters you need to read to save space. If you do some homework while you travel you will have less to finish when you get back.
4.      Use all your available resources.
This one is just a good study tip in general.  While abroad, make sure to visit the library. Yes, there is a library. It also has quiet floors so you can actually get some work done. You can also visit sites like or to help make your study session more productive.
5.      Eliminate outside distractions.
It is 2016 and everyone has a mobile phone attached to them all hours of the day, but if you want to make your study time more effective then lock your phone in a drawer and get to work. Getting your mind away from your friends latest Facebook post or your ex’s last Instagram photo will keep your mind more focused on the assignment at hand. Trust me, all your social media sites will still be there after you finish your homework and your GPA will thank you later.

When you study abroad, you hear a lot about the places people go and the amazing things they see but a lot of people forget to mention the classes they were in. Don’t let those smiling faces fool you. The classes can be tough, but hopefully with these quick study tips you can conquer your classes and even the world. 

Written by: Brielle Brown