Now that my blog is a year and a bit old, I thought it would be insightful to pull some posts from my archive from a year ago at this time and reflect.

A year ago today, it was the day before I left Arizona for the east coast and, ultimately, Europe, where I shared my thoughts in this post.

Although it was a calendar year ago, it feels like it just happened yesterday, but at the same time, a lifetime’s worth of experiences ago. I remember on the plane to New York, it was the first time it really hit me that I was away from home and taking a huge leap out of my comfort zone and I got a little overwhelmed, but my experiences since has made up for my feelings of insecurity a thousand times over.

In this post, I also described my accommodation style, which turned out to be as expected, where I had my own room and wash basin, but shared a few bathrooms and a kitchen with eleven other people. What I didn’t expect, however, was making a best friend, Ben. And dealing with the likeness of my odd roommate, Simon, but through his weird episodes, he’s still one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I enjoyed small talk with the remainder of my roommates and took pleasure in their company.

Although I only met up with my Sussex “buddy” (guide) a few times, it was nice to have the security of being able to go to someone with any question I had. I was starting to worry I would annoy my friends and roommates! To pay it forward, I am being a global guide for international students at Arizona State. I got assigned a specific student from Denmark called Camilla, but I’ll also be in touch with students coming from Sussex. I hope to do all I can to make their ride as smooth as possible.

I had no idea what I was in for when I left for my study abroad program (you know, the things they can’t prepare you for like broken friendships, travel mishaps, mental health problems and more), but my new friendships and amazing experiences humble me.

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When I got back from my study abroad program in mid-June, I set some goals for the summer. Here are my initial goals and how they matched up to reality this summer:

  • Get a job (one for the summer in Tucson and find one for the fall on campus): I got not one, but two jobs over the summer plus an unpaid internship. By sophomore year, I had two on campus jobs and after being in touch with my employers, I think I’ll be able to get them both back.
  • Organize my laptop (delete old documents, organize pictures, etc.): This kept me busy on the plane. I’ve sorted all my pictures and deleted all my old documents, I just have to go back and delete pictures when I have time.
  • Go through my clothes (studying abroad made me realize how little I actually wear): I got rid of a lot of junk and will probably be getting rid of a whole lot more before I move.
  • Start thinking about what needs to be done for my visa (to move back to the United Kingdom): I’m considering going for a master’s degree to get a (part-time) student visa or working. Indeed has a great resource for jobs that offer work sponsorship, but as it’s too far in advance, I won’t be able to look into jobs until Christmas at the earliest.
  • Listen to new music: I’ve listened to at least a dozen new albums this summer, I’m usually pretty bad at listening to new music, but I was getting a bit bored with my music and needed a breath of fresh air.
  • Read for half an hour a day: Although I didn’t stick to this well most days, I did get a chance to read a lot, finishing two books this summer.
  • Paint more frequently: I painted a grand total of less than five hours, but hey, it’s more than I have in the last year.
  • Watch movies (particularly ‘classics’ I’ve never seen): I’ve watched a few “classics” I haven’t seen and was a bit underwhelmed, but I’ll keep trying.
  • Hit the gym 3-4 times a week: It was hard to find time most weeks, but I did what I could when I had an evening off, even if it meant doing a few exercises at home rather than driving to the gym. Staying in shape will be easier once I go back to university as there’s a gym at my apartment site.
  • Stay on top of language lessons (Italian and Spanish on the free language learning app DuoLingo): Straight up didn’t happen. Better luck next term.
  • Watch documentaries: I watched exactly one. I hope to watch at least one a month from now on.
  • Get into meditation, mindfulness and yoga (to help relieve anxiety): I borrowed a yoga book from the gym, but haven’t gotten a chance to read it. I did yoga a few times at the gym, but nothing sufficient. However, I do find it’s a great way to occupy my mind and stay in shape.
  • Color in my coloring books for half an hour a day (to help relieve anxiety): I didn’t have many chances to draw with work, but it’s great to have them.

While work took up most of my time, this summer, I enjoyed reading, watching movies and shows, cooking and seeing my friends and family. I will set goals for the new semester soon.

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With the arrival of international students at Arizona State University this past weekend, I wanted to share what I feel I did right and things I wish I did differently during my time abroad.

What worked:

I made an effort to explore my host country and feel I got to see a large part of the United Kingdom! I got to see a lot of my home county of East Sussex, plenty of London, Southampton, Bristol, Bath, Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Newquay and other smaller towns.

I feel I did a good job of budgeting my travels, but still making them enjoyable. With budget airlines, hostels, cheap meals and minimal drinking, I made sure I had enough money for the real adventures like excursions and museums!

To my surprise, I also did well at making new friends. I hit things off with my roommate almost immediately and my friendship circle grew from there thanks to him and all the societies he joined.

Not so much:

On the other hand, there are a few things I could have done differently or better. I wish I took more care packing. You can read my tips on packing in my Study Abroad Tips and Packing Tips posts. Similarly, with more research, I could have found budget sheets, dishes and more at charity shops or secondhand stores so I wouldn’t have to worry about having them already at my halls.

Although I saw them several times a week, I didn’t do well at making friends in my major. I could have used one when I had questions about the academic system or material.

I regret not joining clubs, both earlier at Arizona State and abroad. A lot are recreational and low commitment, but a great way to take a break from academics and meet new people.

I did fairly well, but I could have done better in my academics (can’t we always?). I could have planned more rather than saving my large assignments two days before they were do and saved myself a lot of stress.

Before I left, I had a foolproof budgeting plan. I recorded all my expenses for several months, until I realized it didn’t change my habits. I don’t have any regrets on my spending habits (besides travel, my biggest budget eaters were transport, concert and event admission, food and drink) per se, but I could have gone without dining and drinking out so often.

When I first started planning my travels, I planned everything to the day well in advance. I quickly realize things change on travel and your plans that were so set in stone might fall through. After a while, I only booked my flight, accommodation and other transport tickets (such as train tickets between cities) in advance to give me a rough itinerary. Then, I’ll plan day trips and museum tickets (usually not for a specific day) in advance online after careful consideration. It’s all about balance: trying to save money by booking in advance, but also leaving room for spontaneity.

New study abroad students, learn from my mistakes and successes and have a wonderful time on what will most certainly be one of the most memorable years of your lives.

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Coming back from a year-long study abroad program, I thought I’d share some pearls of wisdom with people about to start their programs in the fall with a few general tips.

Your host city: A few things you should know a few things about your host country and city before going there to stay.

  • What type of government they have and important politicians and current issues and local attitudes towards all of the above.
  • Important public transit routes you could be taking around the city and what other type of travel options there are, such as the nearest airport, coach station or national rail station.
  • What the local sports and entertainment is, including local teams.
  • Local stores and where to buy what, including food, clothes, school supplies and more.
  • Normal business hours and holidays.
  • Understand the school system, particularly the chronology. For American students studying in the United Kingdom, you can read up on the differences I’ve noticed here.
  • What the local weather is like.
  • You country’s voltage and what you will need a converter for (I only needed it for a hairdryer).
  • Appropriate greetings and friendly (and not so friendly) gestures.
  • How most students manage their finances (how loans work, if they have an overdraft, etc.).
  • Appropriate dress, slang and language and the local attitudes towards religion.

Packing: No matter what, you will probably over pack. But here are some things you should consider.

  • DO pack an appropriate amount of clothes for a variety of weather conditions (lay out what you think you’re going to bring and take about half of that), memorabilia from home (photos, etc.), prescription pills and documents (copy of passport, university acceptance letter, etc.). You can read more of my personal packing tips here.
  • DON’T pack heavy coats, large shampoo bottles or (thick) towels.
  • BUY sheets, kitchen supplies, large shampoo bottles upon arrival in your host country.
  • Avoid buying a lot of (heavy) things in your host country to bring back with you.

Trips: A lot of students choose to travel during their time abroad. Here are a few quick tips for traveling students:

  • Don’t book too far in advance. At least wait until you have your timetable and important due dates before you book any trips, especially ones longer than a couple of days.
  • Once you have your flight and your accommodation, book museums and other activities in advance. A lot of museums will let you skip the queue if you already have a ticket.
  • Check the baggage policy well in advance. A lot of budget airlines have strict baggage size and quantity restrictions.
  • When I get overwhelmed in a new place, I often ask the hostel front desk where to eat and what to do. It’s their job to know all the best places to eat and best ways to experience the city!
  • Explore your host city and country (if it’s small enough) as much as possible.
  • Don’t be caught without a water bottle. If you don’t want to pack a refillable one, buy a plastic one at the airport and refill it for the duration of your trip. Stay hydrated!
  • If you plan on taking several trips, make a basic checklist so you don’t forget the little things. For ideas, check out mine.
  • To each their own, but I like to avoid drinking (excessively) on trips. You can get drunk anywhere and drinking too much will just make you ill, sleep late and miss the real experiences!
  • If you’re like me and too cheap to pay for an international phone plan, it’s imperative to learn how to read a map. Hostels will often hand them out for free. Be sure you also recall landmarks near your hostel and the street it’s on in case you’ve lost your way.
  • Don’t be afraid to travel alone. You can do what you want, when you want, for how long you want! It’s a great way to come outside your comfort zone and meet fellow student travelers. Read up on all my pros and cons of traveling alone here.
  • It’s important to understand this now: nothing ever goes as planned, shit happens, but you quickly learn to roll with the punches. No matter how long it may take or how hopeless things seem in the moment, there’s a strong chance things will turn out just fine.

Personal

  • Avoid hanging out with a lot of people from your home country. It’s a nice to have some similarity in a foreign place, but don’t cling to them!
  • Understand the kind of work ethic it takes to succeed on the “study” part of your study abroad journey.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask “stupid” questions. If you don’t understand what a word or phrase means, ask, and then you can laugh at yourself later. Or just use Urban Dictionary.
  • I will always be thankful I documented (mostly) everything by keeping this blog. I also kept physical memorabilia in the form of tickets, maps and more for a scrapbook. Here is a post on the things I put in my scrapbook.
  • Make time for friends and family at home, but not too much time. They’ll be there when you get back.
  • If you’re struggling in any way, talk to someone. Study abroad advisers are trained to handle homesickness, culture shock and more.

Your time goes by quicker than you’ll ever imagine, don’t let it pass you by!

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July has been quite a busy one.

I continued to be a caretaker for my mom, although her regular caretaker is back and she’s becoming more independent, so I haven’t had to give her any serious help in several weeks. Which is all well and good because I got not one, but two jobs.

I got a job at Pizza Hut as a waitress. At first, it seemed like a lot to remember, but once I was working on my own, it all came flooding back to me and now I feel like I really have the hang of it. My coworkers are fun and the job is quite easy. I usually work closing shifts from about four to eleven. Aside from serving dine-in parties and carry out orders, I have a wide range of cleaning duties including taking down the salad bar, cleaning the bathrooms, vacuuming the dining room and wiping down all the tables and counters in the serving area. I’ve been complimented many times by dine-ins (specifically regulars), carry out orders and my boss on how well I’m doing and how friendly I am, which makes me feel even better about this job. I make about $5 an hour, so a lot of my pay is tipped-based where I make about $25-60 a night in tips alone. Although I get stiffed sometimes, generous people make up for it (a carry out tipped me $10 the other day!). Being a server has really made me appreciate other servers and now know how to make their lives easier.

About halfway through the month, I saw the band Streetlight Manifesto in Phoenix. My friend Alyssa was supposed to visit for the weekend and even though that fell through, I still went to the concert myself. It was great fun!

I got a second job at Ross (a retail store) as a cashier. I’ve spoken about how I find it difficult there in this post and still do at times (when I finally got the rhythm of the register, they stuck me in the fitting room with no training). I feel that once I get the hang of it, it will be time for me to quit for school. On the bright side, I don’t get too many hours, so it acts as a nice supplement to my Pizza Hut job. Plus, I get a 20% discount!

I’m still doing my unpaid internship at the Pima County Democratic Party. I’m doing the same things: calling fellow Democrats to volunteer for the local election and registering people to vote. However, voter registration has been bollocks recently as with the release of the new Pokemon Go game, there are large crowds at the park, which is where we now have to register. It’s not too bad at night, although it’s hard to tell how old someone is in the dark, but it’s simply miserable during the hot, hot days. When I told my boss about my last day, he suckered me into giving my information to the Phoenix Democrats so I could intern there. I have to see how busy I am with university once classes begin, but I’m sure I could spare some time to volunteer there, too.

I planned to go to an “adult recess” night: basically, all the fun things you enjoyed in elementary school such as bouncy houses and games… but with alcohol. Unfortunately, the venue couldn’t get a liquor licence this time, so my friend, Lilli, and I decided to go another time. On the bright side, instead of going out, Sydney accompanied me to get a tattoo. It’s a small paper airplane on the back of my neck to commemorate my time abroad and a promise to myself to travel as much as possible. I love it!

Working both jobs can be crazy sometimes, especially when I work both in one day. And with my internship in the mix, I can’t remember the last time I had a full day to myself. In my spare time, I enjoy writing (both for this blog and letters), watching Netflix, cooking and going to the gym.

I’ll be working hard  and preparing for my final year of university for the rest of the summer.

What I am listening to: Scripted by Icon for Hire, Blood and Chemistry by Arcane Roots, Total Clarity by Against Me!, Crisis by Alexisonfire, Ellipsis by Biffy Clyro, Favourite Worst Nightmare by Arctic Monkeys

What I am watching: Oldboy (Korean version), The Inbetweeners (season 1-3), 10 Things I Hate About You, Jane the Virgin (season 1), The Theory of Everything, Ghostbusters (2016)

What I am reading: The Martian by Andy Weir

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