Welcome to another segment where I compare and contrast life in the United States and in the United Kingdom. After my exams, I compared the academic side of studying abroad by talking about my British university experience thus far (you can read about it here). Now, I will expand on life in the halls, at least at Arizona State and Sussex:

My first year of university, we were split up by our majors and put into dorms where almost everyone had a roommate. It is typical to share a bathroom with another pair of roommates of the same sex and have a co-ed floor. Most of the Arizona State residences didn’t have any sort of kitchen: my room came with a small fridge and microwave and in the common area, we had a larger fridge, microwave and washing up sink, but no way to make any proper meals. You were expected to get an on-campus meal plan, which consisted of a number of meals from eight a week to unlimited and an fixed allowance per semester for other restaurants on campus like Burger King, Starbucks, Papa John’s, Subway and Dominos. After your first year, you are expected to move off campus to a nearby apartment complex or house. There are at least half a dozen apartment complexes made especially for students within walking distance of campus and several dozen more within a few miles of campus, as well. In these apartments, you share a kitchen space with about one to four other people (almost always of your own sex) and have your own room and often your own bathroom (if not, you typically share it with one other person). If you can’t find a roommate, the apartment will give one to you and you don’t have to worry about paying for the extra room. The apartments are usually furnished and you can enjoy a wide range of remedies such as a computer room, game room, rooftop decks, balconies, a pool, a gym and more. The application process is easy, the down payments are minimal and people working for the apartment practically beg you to live there.

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One of the most frequently asked questions I’ve been asked is, “What has been your favorite place so far?,” to which, I usually reply, “Don’t open that door.” All the places I’ve been lucky enough to visit have been great in their own way, but I obviously do have favorites, so here they are as of now:

Nice, France

Nice is a change of pace from a lot of other European cities: there isn’t particularly a whole lot to do, but who needs to get out when you can lie on the beach in the year-round mild weather? Nice is characterized by its colorful buildings, blue water and amazing views from Castle Hill. Not to mention, it’s a short bus ride away from Monaco, a small country with a big personality, known for its casino and grand prix.

What to do: walk up Castle Hill, get lost in Old Town and hop on a bus to Monaco.

You can read about my time in Nice here.

Budapest, Hungary

I was pleasantly surprised with how much there is to do in Budapest and although I didn’t stay long enough to do everything I wanted, I hope you don’t make the same mistake I did. Budapest is relatively cheap compared to other countries, with a one-way public transit ticket costing about $1 and most full meals costing well under $10. The night life is buzzing thanks to its historical ruin bars and pubs. The two different sides of the city have their own unique identities worth exploring individually.

What to do: walking tour where you major highlights like the castle district, St. Stephen’s Basilica and Chain Bridge, visit a ruin bar in the Jewish quarter and take a dip in one of the thermal baths.

You can read about my time in Budapest here.

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Thursday, 11 February: On the train from the airport, I met two Americans who are also studying in England. We also happen to be staying at the same hostel, so that night, we went out to eat together at an affordable and critically acclaimed restaurant where I had beef goulash. After that, I turned in early to save energy for my busy day that was to come in the morning.

Friday, 12 February: I started my day with a walking tour of the city, where I saw several beautiful squares, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Chain Bridge and visited the castle district, which included a walk up Castle Hill to get stunning views of the city and hills, Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion. Then, I visited Heroes’ Square and walked to the Széchenyi Thermal Bath, where I took a dip. It was an impressive structure with multiple pools both indoors and outdoors, but I think I preferred the outdoor baths as the cold weather made the water feel even nicer. After that, I met up with my Dublin-based friend Rachel and her boyfriend, Craig. I met them both when I visited Dublin in September and by some awesome twist of fate, we happened to be in Budapest at the same time. We went up to the top of the St. Stephen’s Basilica for an incredible panoramic view of the city. We then visited the Jewish quarter and went to a ruin bar, which can best be described as a ruined building transformed into a bar with mismatched accessories. It made for a really fun and interesting atmosphere.

Saturday, 13 February: Before I left for the airport for my afternoon flight, I took a rainy morning walk along the Danube to the Parliament building to see one last sight. Despite the weather, it was a nice, peaceful morning and good way to end my trip.

I loved Budapest and wish I had a bit more time here, but I’m glad I pushed through I did a lot for the short time I got in this wonderful city.

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After spending time with my family at home, taking my exams, and an exhausting week of traveling Germany, it feels good to be back into a routine. Doing normal things like going to class, playing sports and going out all keep me grounded and make this whole experience feel like real life rather than a vacation.

I have been back in class now for a week and I think I’m really going to enjoy this semester. I’m taking conservation biology, evolutionary biology, resource management and gender across cultures. It’s good to have a few friends or at least familiar faces in all my classes even though most of the work we do is independent.

On a related note, I got to meet up with Sussex students who intend to study abroad at Arizona State next year. It really put into prospective how quickly my experience has gone by and how I’ve grown. Either way, I’m glad to pass on any pearls of wisdom and helpful tips I can before they set off on their own adventure.

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Over the last ten days, I’ve been traveling throughout Germany, part of which was with my grandfather (mom’s dad) who was stationed near Wurzburg for eighteen months.

Thursday, 21 January: After my grandpa’s long flight from Los Angeles earlier that day, neither of us were in any mood to go out the evening of my arrival. However, the next day, we took a drive to the south of Munich, where our first stop was a little town called Garmisch-Partenkirchen. After that, we went on to the Zugspitze, the tallest mountain in Germany, where we took a tram to the summit. It was cold (about -15°C/ 5°F) and windy, but the views were breathtaking. Our final stop of the day on the way back was Oberammergau, a small tourist town in the shadow of a grand mountain. That night, we had our best meal of the week, at least in my opinion. We went to a large (I mean, really large, with several different floors and rooms, this place never seemed to end, but even with its vast size it was crowded) Bavarian restaurant where we enjoyed smorgasbord of sausages with sauerkraut and potatoes.

Friday, 22 January: The next day, we took another drive to the south to explore a few castles. First was the Hohenschwangau Castle, a smaller castle  with intricate bedroom designs. Then, we visited the nearby Neuschwanstein Castle. This castle supposedly inspired the Disney castle and righteously so, it has a gorgeous exterior and a grand interior. I enjoyed visiting both castles (as the Hohenschwangau Castle gave us some background on the history of the family who lived there, particularly the son that went on to build the Neuschwanstein Castle), but the Neuschwanstein was my favorite of the two castles.

Saturday, 23 January: The next morning, we squeezed in a guided walking tour of Munich. As it turned out, we were the only people on the tour, so we got to ask as many questions as we wanted. After the tour, we drove to Frankfurt and we’re hoping to stop by Rothenburg along the way. Once we arrived, it didn’t look like much. As it turns out, we went to the wrong Rothenburg. We meant to go to Rothenburg ob der Tauber but I misguided us to Rottenburg an der Laaber. However, that was a blessing in disguise because we were both tired and wouldn’t have had the energy to explore the “real” Rothenburg that day anyway.

Sunday, 24 January: We originally planned to just visit Trier this day, but since it’s so close to Luxembourg, we decided to visit the city. We have ourselves a self-guided walking tour of the fascinating city. On our way back, we stopped in Trier. The ancient Roman city has a really interesting history, from its ruins like the Black Gate to the Karl Marx house. We saw all these sights on a tour on what I can best describe as a kiddie train. Regardless, it was a great way to see the highlights of the city in a short amount of time.

Monday, 25 January: To avoid rush hour traffic leaving the city, we took a short walk around what can best be described as Frankfurt’s old town. It’s incredible to see the contrast of historic and modern buildings. On our way to the “real” Rothenburg, we stopped by Wurzburg, the city my mom was born in. Unfortunately, the army hospital was destroyed. We moved on to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which was probably my favorite small village we visited. It, too, is a historic city surrounded by a wall. My favorite parts of the city were the picturesque buildings and castle ruins, the views of the valley from the top of the wall and the massive Christmas shop, which was still impressive in the off season.

Tuesday, 26 January: That morning, my grandpa left and I continued throughout Germany solo. Before I left Frankfurt, I took time to explore some more of the old town. In the afternoon, I got a train to Giessen, where my friend Amy lives. We were online acquaintances for several years and thought this would be a great opportunity to meet up. She showed me around her small town (whose population is mostly university students), we visited with her boyfriend and we ate at a delicious burger restaurant and a waffle place for dessert before having a quiet night in, which was much needed for the both of us.

Wednesday, 27 January: That morning, I left Giessen for a day in Cologne. After dropping my bags off at my centrally located hostel, I went to the Cologne Cathedral, perhaps the city’s most iconic structure. After that, I visited a nearby bridge called the Hohenzollern Bridge. It is know for its ocean of locks on the fence: lovers lock a padlock to the fence and throw the key into the river. This idea is popular throughout Europe (I’ve seen it in Paris, Frankfurt and London), but I’ve never seen it on this scale, every square inch of the fence and then some was covered in locks. Finally, I went to the National Socialism Documentation Center where socialists were held for questioning. The prison is well preserved, revealing the inscriptions on the wall of prison conditions, death and hope. It was really interesting. After that, I had an especially quiet night in being the only occupant of the four bed dorm room at the hostel.

Thursday, 28 January: I arrived at my Berlin hostel from Cologne following day. That evening, I went to the Topography of Terror Museum, a free exhibit that outlined Hitler’s reign. After that, I went out with about five other people from the hostel (in addition to two guides) to a gourmet food street fair. Thankfully, it was actually indoors, but we still got to enjoy a wide range of cuisine, where I got veggie tacos and a waffle for dessert.

Friday, 29 January: In the morning, I took a walking tour that visited the Brandenburg Gate, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the place where Hitler ended his life (it was in a bunker beneath a car park), one of the three portions of the Berlin Wall that remains standing, Checkpoint Charlie, and several squares, including one where the Nazi book burning took place. I was meant to go on another walking tour, but I missed them, thankfully, my hostel offers something similar. On my way back to the hostel for the night, I saw people who appeared to be wearing hockey jerseys heading towards a large arena  in the area. I looked into it and as it turned out, the professional hockey team was playing that night. I thought it would be interesting to experience a hockey game in another country, so I went. As soon as I came into the arena, I was both excited and somewhat frightened to see small fireworks and an arena of thousands of people yelling in German. Unlike any hockey game I’ve ever been to, this team has what I can beat describe as a spirit section: where especially devoted fans sit and chat throughout the duration of the game and wave large banners. Also, in lieu of clapping, card stock sheets are places in each seat and fans fold them accordion style and slap them against their hand. It was a good game, but the home team was losing by a few points, so I left about five minutes before the end of the last period. Despite the fact that I had pretty much no idea what was going on because the whole game was described in German, it was fun.

Saturday, 30 January: That afternoon, I took the alternative walking tour that shows the counter culture of Berlin. We were shown and told the significance of street art and certain artistic quarters of the city, squat houses, a tree house, youth subculture and more. It was really interesting, but I think I preferred the historic tour.

I wish I had more time in Berlin, but I had a great time in Germany. After averaging about seven miles of walking a day, it goes unsaid that I’m exhausted, but looking forward to my next trip already!

My next adventure: Budapest, Hungary!

Photo by Mar Cerdeira.

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