Thursday, May 26, 2016

Pre-Germany Update #1

Hello everyone! In my last blog post I shared my new plans to spend a year as an au pair in Germany. Time has flown by and it is now only 19 days until I leave for my big adventure! 
I'll be living in Maisach, Germany.
Even though the trip is right around the corner, I’m not feeling anxious (yet). Since I’m spending a whole year in Germany as opposed to the short four months I spent in England, I don’t feel as much pressure to plan. There are several cities I’ve chosen as “must-sees”- Krakow, Vienna, Salzburg, and Prague- but other than those trips, I’m going to see where the year takes me. I know my travels will depend a lot on my schedule, new friends, budget, and how I adjust to the culture, so I don’t want to plan very much in advance. I have my plane ticket and I’ve renewed my British passport, so my main focus has been on packing. In retrospect, I brought a lot of clothes to England that I thought would be versatile and comfortable and weren’t super casual, but they were clothes that didn’t really suit a young girl traveling in Europe. I’ve been preparing for my German trip by going through my clothes and sorting out things that have both form and function. I think I’ll be a lot happier with my clothing choices on this trip. I’ve also bought a few new goodies for the trip. My most exciting purchase has been a little Polaroid-style Instax camera. Two of my friends have them, and they are so cute and fun! I love that I will be able to take pictures instantly and include them in the letters I mail home. The next few weeks will be filled with more packing and sorting...often tedious, but necessary.

The next few weeks will also be filled with happy celebrations and visits with friends. This weekend one of my good friends is getting married, and then another one of my good friends is getting married the very next weekend! Both girls are wonderful friends who will make lovely brides. I am so happy for them both! Both wedding take place in Houston which gives me opportunity to see a lot of friends before my trip. Sometime in the week before I leave, I will also be going with my mom and sisters to visit my grandparents and family out in west Texas. Until writing this post I hadn’t felt any anxiety or nervousness about the trip, but now I feel the premonition of the pain of parting and the homesickness I will soon feel. I’m happy, but in a melancholy Simon and Garfunkel-esque way.

In other news, my time working at the preschool is almost over. It’s been a busy and stressful four months, but I know I will miss all of my kids so much. I’m going to try not to cry on the last day!  Aside from working (work, eat, sleep, repeat…) I’ve been doing a lot of reading. Right now I’m reading The Summer Before the War, a story about a Latin magistra who moves to a small English village before WWI. Since my list of books to read is extensive and the free space in my suitcase isn’t, I’ve been thinking hard about which books to read before my trip. Before I leave my goal is to finish The World’s First Love and read Man’s Search for Meaning, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, The Old Man and the Sea, Girls in White Dresses, and The Book Thief. My prediction is that I’ll read two of these...maybe three. Although I’ve been reading a lot, my growing addiction to Gilmore Girls competes for my free time. Fortunately, though, Rory’s love of reading inspires me to read more, too, so I think it balances out. Unfortunately, Lorelai love of coffee also encourages me to drink more coffee, which may not be quite so positive an influence.
That’s all I have for now, folks! From now on I will be blogging more regularly to share around my new life and travels in Germany. Please keep me in your prayers as I prepare for my trip! Auf Wiedersehen!

Friday, October 2, 2015

My Next Adventure

It's been quite a while since I wrote a blog post. So much of the past year has been filled with the ordinary. The ordinary has been filled with lots of happy moments and good times, but of the everyday sort (although these are often the best kind). So I wanted to write this to keep everyone filled in on what is going on in my life and to tell you about my next adventure!

But first, a recap of the past year. After returning from my semester abroad, I moved into an apartment near campus with one of my close friends and began the spring semester. It was a busy semester, as I had to work on a group presentation for my honors class as well as my own undergraduate thesis. For my thesis, I researched and wrote about P.G. Wodehouse and the classical tradition of comedy. Although it took time and effort (aspects of schoolwork I usually resist), the project was enjoyable to work on and I learned a lot about humor and comedy. And it gave me a great excuse to read more Wodehouse!

The spring semester ended, friends graduated, I returned to Huntsville, and the summer began. My older sister Esther was home for the summer as well, so it was nice to have the family all together again. I worked all summer for my third year at my local YMCA day camp. It was the best year there I had. Although there were challenges, I made some great friends and worked with some great kids. I have lots of memories of fun times and I am sad my years as a camp counselor have come to an end.

I stayed in Huntsville most of the summer hanging out with my family, old friends, writing letters, and reading. My goal was to read ten books during the summer. I nearly made my goal with Persuasion, Jane Eyre, Emma, Murder on the Orient Express, Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Guards! Guards!, Perelandra, and another I can't remember. Since returning to Houston I've started Little Women and plan to read Oliver Twist next. With a little Wodehouse mixed it too, of course. I also spend a weekend out in west Texas visiting my grandparents.

Holy Cross Parish, D'Hanis
But although reading is its own sort of adventure, the biggest adventure of the summer was my friend Liz's wedding. I went up to the Dallas area for an extended weekend with friends and stayed with my friend Sarah's family. The whole trip was wonderful- the wedding was beautiful, I had a wonderful time playing board games at Sarah's house, and we were even able to go to Six Flags on our last day! It was a absolutely lovely weekend. 
Most Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church
But just as the wedding weekend couldn't last forever, neither could the summer, and so I am back in Houston again, writing this post from my favorite coffee shop. This is my final semester (I will graduate in December) and my course load is relatively light. In addition to babysitting and campus activities I have a new job in a church nursery and am volunteering twice a week at two pregnancy care centers to fulfill the service project component of the honors program. With school, work, and social activities, I am staying pretty busy! But the busyness is a blessing- it means I am receiving a good education, working good jobs, and have good friends.

(As a side note, I also have a bike now! It has been wonderful. It is a pretty robin's egg blue with a wicker basket. It's given me so much more freedom and mobility. I can't imagine having gone through three years of school without it!)

Wicker basket not pictured
But enough about the present- on to the future! Over the summer I decided to look seriously into the possibility of spending a year as an au pair in Europe."Au pair" is a French term meaning “equal to”. An au pair is a young person from a foreign country who lives with a family and helps to care for children along with fulfilling some basic household dutes in exchange for room, board, and the opportunity for a cultural immersion experience.
It was been an option I learned about a few years ago and had found appealing, but had not seriously considered. However, early in the summer the possibility returned to my mind and I decided to pursue the course and see where it might lead, excited with hope of a future adventure but content with the possibility that it might not work out. After beginning my search for a family, a few possibilities presented themselves almost immediately. One family in particularl seemed perfect. They live near Munich with two little boys. After talking with the family via email and Skype, they officially asked me to spend a year with them as an au pair, and I agreed! I was nervous to make the decision so early (I will not leave until June 2016), I felt that it was something I should do. Although it is still a ways away, I am very excited to finally visit Germany, learn more German, and see more of the world!

Thus the plans have been made for my next big adventure. But until then, life will we filled with lots of small adventures (froyo dates with friends, a trip to San Antonio, finding cool books at Half Price Books) and not so small adventures (being a bridesmaid for my friend Holly's wedding, graduation). As the clock ticks and seasons pass, I'll post updates about the status and preparation for the future. Until then!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Study Abroad Tips

Hi everybody! Today I’m going to be typing out some tips I have for those thinking about studying abroad. There are a lot of blog posts like this out there, so I’m going to try and limit my tips to things that may be less obvious. Therefore, I’m not going to tell you to keep a budget, pack carefully, blah blah blah. So without further ado, here is my advice for studying abroad!

  1. Don’t spread yourself too thin when it comes to traveling. When you study abroad, the temptation is to go to as many places as possible. When I was in London, other study abroad-ers were going over to the European mainland every other weekend! While I’m sure they had a wonderful time, I think it’s better to focus on the place where you’re staying. Although there were places outside England I wanted to visit- Rome, Vienna, and Munich, to name a few- I’m glad I didn’t take time out of the semester to visit those places. The visits would have been short and rushed. Traveling within England was a much better use of my time and energy, and when the semester ended, I really felt as I had explored and experienced England. 
  2. A pay-as-you-go phone service for the UK that I recommend is GiffGaff. It’s a service that falls under the umbrella of the O2 network, which is one of the big ones in the UK. The service and data plans are good and there are absolutely no contracts. For 12GBP a month I had unlimited UK calls, texts, and 3GB of data. For another 20GBP total for the whole semester I added some credit for international calls. For most international calls, though, I used Skype and Viber. 
  3. Download Hola Better Internet extension for a free VPN. If you want to access American websites (mainly for Netflix or TV shows), a VPN works great. Netflix offers different shows in the UK than in the US, so if you want to watch a TV show only offered in your home country, VPNs are an easy solution.
  4. Find a good maps/navigation app for your city. CityMapper is great for the London area and Paris, and is free! For smaller cities Google maps works pretty well. 
  5. Get a microchip credit card before traveling. In England, almost all cards have a microchip, so it will be a lot easier if your card is compatible with the card machines. 
  6. Bring a charge cell for your cell phone! When you’re going on day trips and having to use your phone a lot for directions, etc., your phone will die quickly. If you have a charge cell, you can just plug your phone in when the power is getting low, and then you’re good to go. It was one of the most useful things I brought.
  7. For packing, packing cubes are great! There are some cheap packs of all sizes you can order from Amazon. The cubes were most useful for weekend trips when I had to fit a weekend’s worth of clothes into a backpack. Packing cubes can work wonders!
  8. If you’re studying abroad in London, look into when Open House weekend is. During Open House weekend a lot of buildings are open which aren’t normally open to the public, or they are open for free during that weekend. During Open House weekend I got to go to the top of the Gherkin and visit Westminster Hall- both places I wouldn’t have gotten to see otherwise. Be sure you are prepared for long queues, though!
  9. If you’re studying abroad in London, check to see when Buckingham Palace is open for visits. It’s usually open in the summer until the end of September. I only found out about it being open the last weekend and fortunately was able to go!
  10. As far as packing goes, I recommend bringing as little as possible and buying things when you get to where you are staying. So many of the blogposts and articles I read recommended packing months and months’ worth of toiletries, etc. because they are more expensive abroad. This is true (everything is more expensive abroad!), but part of the experience of living abroad is living like a local. Part of the fun in adjusting to life in England was shopping for the everyday things I needed- UK shampoos, UK toothpaste, etc. Of course, if you have a particular product you can’t live without (e.g. acne cream, allergy medicine), do bring enough for your stay. Otherwise, I recommend buying things once you arrive (Poundland and Primark are wonderful!)
  11. Similarly, I would bring fewer clothes than you expect to need so that you can buy some at charity shops and Primark. One thing I did to save room packing was bring a pair of cheap sneakers that I could toss in England before I came back. I also purchased a cheap hoodie and an insulated vest that I donated back before coming home. 
  12. Don’t try to plug a US power strip into a power converter- it won’t work (trust me!)
  13. Get a railcard and a Student Oyster. They’ll help save you money and make nice keepsakes to bring home.
  14. Use TripAdvisor. It was my best friend while planning for my semester abroad!
  15. Buy train tickets in ADVANCE! You can save a ton of money this way. 
  16. Don't be afraid to travel alone. With the appropriate planning, preparation, and a reasonable amount of caution, travelling alone can be an awesome experience, whether you're travelling for the day or the weekend. 
  17. Do a little research on the history of where you’re going. Along with this, try and read some fiction related to your destination. For example, if you're studying abroad in England, you can't go wrong with Charles Dickens and Jane Austen! If you're visiting London, a little bit of Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster is a must. All the reading will make all of your sightseeing and adventures lots more meaningful and fun!

Well, those are my tips for now! Please feel free to leave a comment with any questions, etc. If you’re spending a semester abroad, don’t worry- it’ll be wonderful and unforgettable! 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Pictures from the last month in England

Hello, everyone! I won't have time to write posts for my last weekends and adventures in England, so I decided to make a picture post instead. During the last month I visited Devon again, Winchester, Salisbury, the Charles Dickens House Museum, the British Library, the Imperial War Museum, Westminster Abbey, and saw War Horse! Here are some pictures...

Tower poppies being removed
British Museum
Parthenon sculptures 
Writing desk of Charles Dickens at the Charles Dickens House Museum
Inside the British Library
Killerton (Devon):
Winchester City Mill
City Mill garden
Statue of King Alfred the Great

Winchester Cathedral
Grave of Jane Austen
Salisbury Cathedral
Around St. Mary's University:
View of the dorms
Second best dessert at the refectory!
Breakfast line
Mediocre coffee machine 
The pink hallway!
Last night in London: 
St. Paul's Cathedral
St. Paul's Cathedral
View of St. Paul's from Millennium Bridge
"Shakesbear" Paddington Statue outside the Globe Theater
Last morning in Twickenham: 
The Thames
Last coffee trip to Costa with Gabby
Goodbye, England! Until next time!