A little belated due to being on holiday and my packages taking a while to arrive to the United States, but here is a master post of gifts I gave and received this year:

For work Secret Santa: We had to get a gift that began with the letter “R.” After some weeks of struggling to think of something witty, I decided to think outside the box a little bit: I got my boss Harmony a hand lotion and lip butter set from The Body Shop (£10), for relaxation (my “r” word!).

For the person I’m seeing: For Diego, I got him an Architects flag (£20, Impericon online) and some socks he wouldn’t shut up about how much he needed (£5, Primark).

For my brothers: Ryan wanted (and I quote) “weird shit,” so I got him a book I’ve always admired: one volume of pictures of Brightonians and the city, because what’s weirder and more excellent than Brighton? I also included little Post-it notes to places I’ve been so he can get a taste of what it’s like to live here (£10, England at Home). For Kyle, he didn’t give me any ideas, so I got him a little Christmas Lego (£10, Lego shop) set to go with some of the other Christmas Lego sets we display during the holiday season. I have very fond memories of them building Legos all day Christmas morning and hope he got to relive some of that!

For my dog: I got Bailey a doggie turkey dinner from Aldi (£5). I hope he likes it!

For my parents: Chocolate, because you can’t go wrong with chocolate (£12, Clinton Cards). I also got my dad a craft beer set from Aldi (£5), but it was too heavy to post. I have it at my house so hopefully he can come retrieve it someday!

From work Secret Santa: My coworker Florence gave me some beautiful roses.

From the person I’m seeing: For Christmas, Diego got me a new dressing gown (£12, Primark) because my old one was falling apart and gross and a Yankee candle (£8). I love them both and they will bring me a lot of coziness for the coming year!

From my brothers: Kyle and Ryan got me some CDs I asked for: Melancholia Hymns by Arcane Roots and Born to Die by Lana Del Rey. I’ve really been enjoying them lately and wanted to finally get my hands on the physical music!

From my parents: flag pins (I collect pins from every country I’ve been to, from my travels this year, I was missing Spain, Portugal and Egypt and I also needed a new U.S. pin), Ha Long Bay poster, compass bracelet and one year of Spotify. There’s also a bit of money on the way which I will probably use to buy some Lush stuff and clothes.

From my grandparents and aunt: Money, money, money! Most certainly towards my expensive holiday to Egypt I returned from a few years ago. Things that especially stood out were souvenirs and my Advanced Open Water scuba diving certification.

Photo by Kira auf der Heide.

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I’m going to start sharing my favorite blog posts by other bloggers! At first, I wanted to do this seasonally… then bi-monthly… and now we’re up to monthly. I can’t keep up with all the great content out there! I’ll be posting them in the middle of the month as the end of the month is usually dedicated to my month in review post. This post will be longer than my future post as this is my favorite posts from the last month and a half (since December 4th to be exact) and I’ve had a lot of time on my hands to read.

Don’t get me wrong, I saw some great posts this months, if I “like” your posts or comment, that means I really enjoyed them! These are just the best of the best.

Note: favorite Blogmas and other seasonal posts are complied in a post here.

Here are my top five posts from all categories:

  1. Why hummingbirds are so cool!: In my undergraduate degree, I helped Ph.D. student (then candidate) Rick on his work on courtship patterns in hummingbirds. Between the hours of often mind-numbing work (sorry, Rick!), it’s easy to forget why we’re doing this and how amazing these little birds are.
  2. How to Travel the World with a 9-5: So much yes. The author talks about how travellers demonize the working stiff and how, similar to myself, he has no desire to constantly be on the move. Balance is important and I look forward to having a fulfilling career as well as exploring new places. Also, this guy has been to North Korea, say what?!
  3. 13 Travel Resolutions for 2018 That Aren’t Destinations: Like the 12 Countries on Our 2018 Bucket List post (below), this post does provide great inspiration and alternatives you can do at home in lieu of expensive travel.
  4. 7 Reasons I Was Miserable Walking the Camino (But Why I’d Definitely Do It Again): So relatable. For those who may not know, I aimed to walk the Camino from Porto, but was far too ambitious and only made it halfway after pushing my body so hard. However, it was a good learned experience and I hope to return to finish someday soon!
  5. Blogger Love: Such a sweet idea! I would love to do this as well to promote small bloggers with content I love.

Here are some more posts I especially enjoyed:

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For those who are new to this blog, a few years ago, I studied abroad at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England. Sound familiar? Probably, because that’s where I’m at again right now. That’s right, I love it so much I came back for my Master’s degree!

Unlike a lot of students, especially American students, I studied abroad for an entire academic year: September 2015 to June 2016. With that, I got to live two very distinct semesters and reflect on the differences between them.

Length: The fall semester is considerably shorter than the spring one. University lectures begin in late September and conclude in mid-December: just a bit under three months. Exams are typically after Christmas, so if you’re studying just for the fall semester, you’ll have to take your exams early or do an alternate assignment such as an essay that can be done from home as your final assessment. In the spring term, lectures begin in early February and last until late April: again, three months. But, you have all of May to revise for your exams (or, you know, travel) before the sitting period ends about mid-June. If you play your cards right, you could have six months based abroad if you go in the spring semester: three more than you would in the fall semester.

Long-term ravel: Before my study abroad program, I got to travel quite a bit after  W.W.O.O.F.-ing all summer in Ontario and a family vacation to Maui: I went to New YorkPhiladelphiaMontrealDublin and Copenhagen for a bit under a month before moving into my university halls. If you’re studying in the fall semester, the time leading up to your program is probably your best shot for long-term travel. At U.K. universities, there are no breaks in the first term like you would get in the U.S. (e.g. fall and Thanksgiving breaks), so your trips will be limited to short weekends. In the spring semester, you have both Easter break(two weeks) and revision period (about a month) that you can use to travel as well as the summer after your exams.

Peak season: Typically, the warmer months are peak travel season. In Europe, I noticed this is mostly from May-August, although some of the larger cities are almost always a madhouse and you may get a surge around the holidays and various spring breaks. With that, both terms have considerable time frames to travel during the off-season. I did most of my travelling during the off-season and the only place I remember being especially crowded during that time was Rome, but it was also Easter that weekend, which I should have accounted for.

Accommodation: I know of several students who had a hard time getting university accommodation for a spring semester abroad because a lot of the spaces were taken by British first years or year-long international students. With that, it’s easiest to secure you first choice accommodations in the fall semester as you get allocated along with all the other incoming students for the academic year, but the university will do its best to allocate its housing for all students.

Weather: When I arrived in September, the weather was immaculate. It stayed bearable until about mid-December. Then, it’s mostly dark and miserable until April. First term was definitely better weather-wise. I remember it snowed a bit before my birthday in late April. Then, the second May comes around, it’s warm and sunny again. However, even at its worst, the temperatures rarely get below 40°F (5°C) in the winter, the rain is a consistent drizzle throughout the year and the winds are mild.

Exams: Like I mentioned, if you take a semester abroad in the U.K. during the autumn term, you will likely have alternative assignments for your final exams to do at home as exams at your host university will be after Christmas. But, that means less time to do such assessments before the spring term of your home university begins again. If you study in the spring semester, you will stay abroad for your exams, so you have more access to resources such as contact with your professors and coursemates (the time change can be a real bitch) and university academic resources.

Meeting people: Like accommodation, it’s easy to get in with people early in the year, especially with first years who are all eager to make new friends during Fresher’s Week. However, there is always Refresher’s Week in the spring term for those looking for new opportunities and friendly faces. Besides, I don’t know many people who wouldn’t be open to taking new international student under their wing!

For those coming abroad soon, check out my study abroad masterpost, which has links to most of the study abroad pieces I’ve written through the years!

Photo by Witness Humanity.

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This month is “Veganuary,” where people are encouraged to try to eat vegan for a month to open their minds to more environmentally friendly, cruelty-free and healthier diets that excludes meat, dairy, eggs and other animal products.

I’ve been vegetarian for a bit over six years now, cut out dairy milk and products tested on animals about a year ago and since moving to Brighton in September, I’m gradually becoming more vegan. At the moment, I treat eggs and cheese as a treat, having them once a week, so I consider myself mostly vegan these days.

With that, I thought I’d share my knowledge on veganism for those looking to change up their lifestyle, starting with easy meals I love.

An exhaustive list of recipes I’ve tried can be found here, but here are some of my favorite tried and tested dishes:

  1. Fajitas: Supermarkets will probably have a fajita kit that includes tortillas, seasoning and salsa, you just have to add the vegetables (two peppers and an onion) and “meat.” I either use mushrooms or Linda McCartney chorizo sausages and sometimes top with guacamole or vegan sour cream.
  2. Pulled pork sandwiches: Again, it’s Linda McCartney to the rescue. They are amazing on ciabatta rolls with vegan cheese spread (Freeform). I’ll also have it with chips (either U.K. “chips” or U.S. “chips” a.k.a. “crisps”) and pasta salad (some stores may have discounted pasta salads for items about to expire).
  3. Overnight oats: Breakfast in my life. I eat it every single day. This oat recipe is versatile, so you can change it up when you get bored. I use plain oats, Alpro vanilla soya yogurt, a splash of maple syrup, chia seeds, one whole banana and frozen berries (most recently a 50% mix of strawberries, blackcurrants, raspberries and black berries and 50% blue berries) (I like frozen berries because when they defrost, the flavors soak into the mixture better) with original almond milk to top it all off.
  4. Eggplant parmesan: To die for! My non-vegan housemate loves this as well. Who wouldn’t? It’s so tasty, simple and quick.
  5. Avocado toast: Basic, I know. But, it’s delicious with hummus (peri peri is my personal favorite), salt, pepper and vegan blue cheese. Complement it with some fruit and crisps for an amazing lunch.
  6. Asian garlic tofu: Quick, easy, keeps well and is so savory. It’s especially amazing when you top it with sesame seeds!

Photo by Britts World.

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In my year abroad, I went to London quite often. Before classes even began, I had to navigate the tube during rush hour and confusing National Rail services after hours coming home from a gig. Shortly after moving into my university halls, my friend Tom gave me a tour of (his) highlights of London, South Bank, Camden, Hyde Park and the London Eye. Throughout my first term, I went to London about half a dozen times, mixing in concerts with site-seeing. In my second term, I went once at the beginning of the term and one at the end of the term for site-seeing and a few other times just for concerts.

It’s easy to forget that I’m so close one of the most charismatic, fruitful cities in the world. Since visiting Brighton in June and moving here in September, I’ve been to London three and a half times: one for a short private tour of the Natural History Museum, two concerts (Rise Against and Enter Shikari) and passed through London coming back from Egypt. I have yet to take another site-seeing tour and hit the seemingly endless list of tourist attractions.

With no university, a part time job with fleeting hours and Diego gone, I decided to make the most of my down time and spend a day in London hitting some sites.

Natural History Museum: As I mentioned, my course got a behind-the-scenes tour of fossil collections at the museum, but I’ve never properly toured it! The day we got the tour, I had been up since 3:30AM and was too tired and stressed to enjoy myself properly. I promised myself I would come back and tour properly sometime soon, seeing how much I loved the natural history museums in Washington, D.C. and New York… which leads us to now!

At the museum, I particularly enjoyed the human evolution, bird and images of nature (photographs, drawings and other interpretations of nature through time). However, I did much prefer the American museums I went to. The Natural History Museum feels really out-of-date, meaning, the taxidermy looked botched and faded, the posters gave off a real 80’s vibe and the overall feel of the displays were an awkward medium between modern and classic, making it lack identity. But, I still enjoyed my time there and hey, it was free.

Borough market: After having lunch at Honest Burger, I headed to Borough Market. I love Camden Locke market, the “alternative Borough market,” so I thought I’d check out the original.

Borough market is almost exclusively food; an amazing collection of foreign and domestic vendors bringing you food from exotic spices to camel meat (yum). Since I have no burning need for raw cow milk or ostrich eggs, I just took in the crowd and interesting range of traders. I did, however, buy vegan rocky road bars (it was 2 for £3, I couldn’t lose money on this deal).

After getting lost in the array of stalls, I made my way back to the tube station to catch a train back to Brighton.

I always love hitting the tourist sites, especially free ones, and I hope to have more days out like this again!

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