Family comes to Europe


It was brought to my attention that since my transition from the UK back to the US, I have neglected to post anything! I’ve been back home in Chicagoland for 2 weeks now, and enjoying being back. But thinking back just a few weeks ago, my parents and my brother both made the long trip over to the UK (separately) to visit with me before I came home.  Mom and Dad came over to see Exeter (and to help take some of my luggage home, for which I was grateful). They came on the last day of my internship at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, which in typical fashion at the museum, was celebrated with cake. Over the weekend, my parents and I enjoyed a Devon cream tea together, took a tour of Exeter Cathedral, and enjoyed several wonderful pubs. It was a very quick visit, but convinced Mom and Dad that they will have to come back to England in the future.

Noriko and I on our last day at RAMM

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Mom and Dad at the Jolly Roger Tearooms

The following week my brother arrived in London and we spent a few days there together, before heading to Italy for a week-long trip. With nothing to do the night before he arrived, I treated myself to Kew Gardens, and then a musical at the Aldwych Theater: Top Hat! (for those who know me, I am a huge fan of Fred Astaire movies, which this musical was based on). My brother and I visited the Tower of London, British Museum, Harrod’s, Kensington Gardens and plenty of pubs.

Top Hat at the Aldwych Theater

Harrod’s at night

In Italy, we visited three cities in the north: Verona, Bolzano, Milano. Having spent a semester abroad in Verona in college, we stayed at my former landlady’s house, passing many hours at her kitchen table. In Bolzano we took advantage of the Dolomites, and the fresh mountain air. The locals spoke Italian and German since the town is so close to Austria, and only became a part of Italy after WW1. My favorite part of the trip was our train ride up through the Alps, and spending a few hours in St Moritz, Switzerland. Then half a day in Milan before catching our flight back home. It’s no wonder I was so tired by the time we arrived back in Chicago.

Enrico and Brian may not share a language, but they share soccer.

Enrico and Anna, with my brother and I.

Taken from the train at over 6000 feet.

Milan’s famous Cathedral, where we toured the rooftop as well as the inside.

And after all that excitement, I am happy to be home!

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Happy New Year from Leicester!


Hello All,

After a surprise visit home and a week-long trip to Ireland, I have made it back safe and sound to Leicester, ready to start classes tomorrow. It’s been a fun few weeks, but will get very busy from here on!

Just before the break I had gone on another hike in Leicestershire, but winter weather has finally hit: average January high is in the mid-40s! Fahrenheit of course, I see no snow in our future. I missed the first snow in Leicester anyway as I was lucky enough to fly standby home on the 17th of December. My parents were there waiting for me at O’Hare! While I only stayed 10 days, it was truly refreshing to see friends and family, my home and my dog.

But alas, on the 27th I picked up and headed back to the UK, luckier yet this time to get in on Business class! I’ll avoid bragging here. And 2 days later my friend Erica arrived from Chicago to visit me on vacation! We saw some of Leicester’s sights (contrary to popular belief, there are a few), and spent New Year’s Eve with a few of my friends. Erica was expecting to meet plenty of British people but met only international students instead.

On New Year’s Day we headed for the airport to spend a week in Ireland and Northern Ireland. We spent most of our time in lovely Dublin, with a couple rainy days spent in Belfast, and two tours out into the country and along the Giant’s Causeway (look it up). While I don’t have enough time here to talk about everything we saw in Ireland, it was enjoyable to travel with a friend (and conveniently a good way to get over jet-lag). Since I got back to Leicester on the 7th of January I have been getting ready for my next essay, and my next trip. Don’t sound so surprised!

The complimentary pint at the end of the brewery tour!

First week at University of Leicester, UK


Hello everyone, I’ve been gone a little over a week now and I finally have a chance to update you on how I’ve been doing. The journey from Chicago to Leicester was a long one, leaving for O’Hare Airport at 1:30pm on Monday, September 27th, and after flight delays, deplaning, re-boarding, arriving, waiting for the coach etc, we arrived in Leicester at about 2:30pm local time on Tuesday the 28th. And we arrived to accommodation that was in disarray. Meaning that they weren’t prepared at all, and until Saturday evening I couldn’t even get into my room and stayed in a temporary one. The stress of a new place, feeling unsettled, and knowing no one made for a difficult first few days. And the days were filled with lots of seminars about things like life in Leicester, the grading system in the UK, and that if we skip lecture without excuse the UK Border Agency will kindly send us back home. Thanks for the warning…

Aside from all the not so good things, there were quite a few positives. I took a walking tour of Ancient Leicester and discovered that the city is nearly 2000 years old, with some of the most unique Roman ruins in England, some Anglo-Saxon history, and a town hall dating to 1380. Nice. To round out the week I went with a group to see Nottingham Castle on Saturday, of Robin Hood fame, so I took a picture with Robin’s statue! And Sunday I went to a church and was offered an amazing lunch while meeting church members, and in the evening went to the pub across the street. Meeting such an international group of students has been intriguing, especially considering that 18 countries are represented in my program alone, of about 85 people or so. I have 2 flatmates from China, 1 from Taiwan, and I still haven’t met the other because she stays in her room all the time…

But alas, classes started Monday and I can already tell that my program will be very difficult. But I won’t bore you with those details until later. I’ll leave you with a few little funny anecdotes: A Chinese girl asked me if I loved Justin Bieber, because she is crazy about him. And I was informed that the currency I had brought from home was “expired”, but a British student bought it off me saying “it will be worth something in 10 years!” And finally, the construction worker who stopped my friend to ask where she was from, and upon learning NY said “Are you talkin’ to me??” in the best Brooklyn accent that a British construction worker can be expected to give.

More soon, I’ll put pictures on facebook as well.

Ancient Roman ruins against the backdrop of modern Leicester: Jewry Wall

London for a week on $200


You would have thought it was impossible, but I made it work! I will admit this week spent in London wasn’t even planned, but that may make it even more amazing. The reason it wasn’t planned was that I never intended to spend more than two hours in the city, but that two hours turned into eight days.

I was on my way home after a two week vacation. My short flight from Amsterdam to London went off without problems, and my easy two hour layover in London before the final leg to Chicago should have been the same. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans. As we landed at London Heathrow airport, the pilot informed us that all flights for the rest of the day were to be cancelled, due to a volcanic eruption on Iceland. I couldn’t even process this information, but as we exited into the terminal the situation began to sink in.

All passengers were being asked to exit out through customs; I got a nice “Leave to Enter” stamp in my passport and proceeded down to the baggage hall with the rest of the herd to retrieve my luggage. After having my luggage lost for 5 days at the beginning of my vacation, I was anxious to have back as soon as possible! The rest of my day was spent waiting; waiting for my luggage, waiting for a hotel voucher, waiting for a bus, waiting for good news.

The airline was kind enough to put us up in a hotel, although the hotel was 40km outside of London, and I had no clue where I was anyway. A luxurious room at the Hilton to myself improved my mood, and those first two days passed fairly quickly. Travelers wandered in and out of the lobby, chatting and congregating in front of the TV which played the news all day long. On Saturday morning we were suddenly told we had to check out immediately and head back to the airport. What were they going to tell us there?

As it turned out they told me they could do nothing else for me, so a woman I had met at the hotel offered to let me come along with her. We bought cheap cell phones from the Vodafone store in the airport and I was able to call home for the first time. The cell phone continued to help when I got in contact with a young man in west London who was willing to put me up for a few days. I will be eternally grateful for the kind people across the world on courchsurfing.org and for William who hosted me for 6 nights at his small apartment in Notting Hill.

So I took a leap of faith and agreed to meet William at the tube station closest to his house. His apartment was a charming little place near the famous Portobello Road, and the kitchen window looked out onto an overgrown courtyard garden. I started to like the idea of being stranded in London and gave barely a thought to my job back home. William and I played UNO on the floor and talked until we went to sleep.

William had an extra bike and so Sunday was spent riding bikes through the parks and neighborhoods in the area, and even through downtown London. We grabbed a late lunch at an outdoor café on a quiet little street and rode along the Thames. Seeing the city on a bike was the best way to see it, and I used the bike the rest of that week. I spent my days visiting all the city museums and public parks, and wandering around Notting Hill. I even happened to unknowingly walk into the bookshop that was in the Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant film ‘Notting Hill’.

So while the British Museum, the Tower Bridge and Shakespeare’s Globe Theater were all highlights of my visit, but my evenings were all spent quietly back at the apartment. William and I might eat dinner together and have some tea, talk, read aloud from a novel in our best acting voices, or simply watch the TV if anything good was on. And so I passed my 8 nights in London for less than $200. It’s a memory I won’t soon forget.