Even though it was kind of a stretch, I knew I just had to visit my best friend, Nina, if I was going to be in the area. We have been friends for about four and a half years and I have visited her once before as a graduation gift from my parents. It was an amazing week and I have looked forward to seeing here again every day since.

Tuesday, 25 August: After an overnight bus ride from Philadelphia, I arrived in Montreal early that morning. Nina and I went to the Old Port where we walked around, rented peddle boats and ate lunch at a familiar vegan restaurant in the area. After a much needed nap in the afternoon, I spent time with her family, including her new Australian Shepherd puppy, Rosco, who is quite the handful.

Wednesday, 26 August: We headed in the city with Nina’s friend, Tatiana, for an afternoon at the Biodome. After that, we headed to John Abbott College for a movie in the park (Mad Max: Fury Road), only to get rained out ten minutes from the end.

Thursday, 27 August: We were supposed to go to Six Flags, but by a wonderful stroke of luck, the park was closed that day. Instead, we met up with her friend, Amanda, for breakfast, a “maze,” a stroll downtown and a relaxing evening on the McGill University campus. The “maze” was not a physical maze, but rather a mental one; we were locked in an unassuming room which actually contained clues to solve a mystery. Although we didn’t solve our mystery, we worked well as a team and got pretty close for first-timers. It was nothing like anything I’ve done before and it was a lot of fun! To end our day, Nina and I got poutine (a famous Canadian dish of fries with gravy and cheese curds) for dinner. In my half a dozen times visiting Canada, it was my first time giving poutine a proper try. I had mine with vegan “gravy,” mushrooms, green peppers, onions, sour cream and olives. It was delicious!

Friday, 28 August: We revisited Olympic Park for a day at the Botanical Gardens. It was beautiful, I just wish I had more energy to explore. Later that day, there was a small fair in Laval near Nina’s house where we spent our last evening together. I had a relaxing and fun week with Nina and I already can’t wait to go back again.

I’ve learned a lot from this trip that I could probably use abroad, but my biggest lesson was not to set my expectations too high. I expected this trip to be perfect and for many reasons, it wasn’t, but I learned to roll with the punches and still had a great time.

I was dropped off at the train station in Montreal this morning and I’m now on a train to New York. I didn’t want to bring my smorgasbord of suitcases with me throughout my east coast trip and New York was the cheapest to fly out of to London. I can’t believe my international adventures start tomorrow. Nick is dropping me off at La Guardia early tomorrow, where I will stop in Chicago before landing in London (Heathrow) late tomorrow night.

Photo by Victoria Heath.

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The second stop on my east coast trip was Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to meet another long-time friend, Pat. At first, I didn’t really consider Philadelphia as a priority stop, but Pat was always telling me how much he loved Philadelphia and I knew I had to see it for myself. I was originally supposed to arrive in Philadelphia Thursday evening, but Pat had to go to the emergency room the night before with some sort of stomach virus, so once I made sure he felt better after his treatments, I rescheduled a bus for the next morning.

Friday, 21 August: I got into Philadelphia in the early afternoon and Pat was still recovering, so we took it easy for my first few days there. We spent our first days in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where Pat lives and knows well. First, we went to Peace Valley to enjoy the view of the lake among the trees. After that, we headed to Doylestown for some exploring. We popped into a few bookstores, a record shop, where I bought a Rise Against vinyl, and a quaint ice cream shop.

Saturday, 22 August: We decided to take it easy again, which was a wise choice because we both slept eleven hours the prior night. We met up with a few of his cousins and friends and went to Nockamixon State Park, where we hiked to some climbing rocks.

Sunday, 23 August: Thankfully, after a few good nights of sleep, Pat was feeling better, so we hit the city. We walked all around the city, including City Hall, South Street (including Magic Gardens), Independence Hall, Penn’s Landing and the waterfront, Market Street, Love Park and Logan’s Circle. The coolest part of the day was seeing all these places from my favorite television show, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, including a bar owned by one of the cast members and modeled after the bar on the show. I also got to try a vegetarian Philly cheesesteak and it was definitely the best meal I had during my time in Pennsylvania.

Monday, 24 August: We further explored the city by walking around Chinatown, Reading Terminal, Philadelphia Art Museum (including running up the stairs like Rocky), Boathouse Row and South Street again. All of this took a little longer than expected because we were both so exhausted, particularly from all  the walking the day before. Either way, I had a great time in the city of brotherly love; it was a nice break from the busy city.

I’m taking an overnight bus to Canada, where I will be reunited with my best friend in a little over twelve hours. I can’t wait!

Photo by Ethan Hoover.

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I kicked off my east coast trip in the Big Apple with my long-time friend, Nick.

Saturday, 15 August: Aside from an unexpected mad dash to make my connecting flight, my travels went smoothly. My first impression of New York was how vast it was; I’ve never seen a city with so many buildings, including Toronto. Nick picked me up from La Guardia soon after I landed and we ate dinner before going back to his residence in Yonkers. I was nervous to meet Nick’s family because they were (understandably) uneasy about a perfect stranger living in their house and I didn’t want to say or do anything that might make them question my intentions. However, our evening went well and his family are lovely people.

Sunday, 16 August: We hit the road for Cooperstown (about a three and half hour drive) to see one of our favorite bands, Brand New. We made good time and got to the venue as the doors were opening. The venue was outdoors at a brewery on the side of a hill. Although it was humid, it was unlike any other outdoor concert I’ve been to before. It was an incredible show and the fireworks during the encore were a lovely surprise.

Monday, 17 August: We took the subway to Battery Park, where a ferry took us to Liberty Island. The Statue was magnificent. We had access to the pedestal, which had especially wonderful views of the skyline. Our tour also included access to Ellis Island, but we had to skip that portion to make our tour at the 9/11 Museum. Both the memorial and museum were beautiful but sad; I’ll admit I got a little steamy-eyed. After that, we walked the Brooklyn Bridge, which also had wonderful views of the city. Our four hours of sleep caught up with us and we decided to call it a day after that, omitting The High Line from our itinerary.

Tuesday, 18 August: In the morning, we headed towards Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey about an hour and a half away. It was similar to the Six Flags park in Los Angeles that I’ve been to several times, but it was fun to ride new roller coasters, including the tallest one in the world, Kingda Ka. My favorite ride was Nitro; although it didn’t loop, the tall drops were exhilarating.

Wednesday, 19 August: We headed out for the city once again for another busy day. We started out with a long walk though Central Park followed by seeing Les Misérables at the Imperial Theatre. It was spectacular. The theater was beautiful and the cast was extremely talented. It has been a dream of mine for quite some time to see a play on Broadway and the whole experience was so surreal. After a short walk around Rockefeller Plaza, we went to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck. The views were spectacular from all sides and levels. To wrap up our day, we took a short walk through Times Square before taking the subway back home.

Thursday, 20 August: For our final day, we saw things we didn’t get a chance to earlier in the week; The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The High Line. I was impressed with how vast The Met was. I got lost several times and had difficulty prioritizing exhibits. However, my favorite exhibits were the American and the European art. After that, we went to The High Line, a restored train track lined with vegetation a few floors above the busy streets. To end our day, we had dinner at the pizzeria Nick works at.

I was really impressed with New York and I’m glad I got to do everything I wanted to and then some. After an exhausting week, I’m ready to do it again in Philadelphia (after I sleep on the bus ride there, of course).

Photo by ian dooley.

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I leave for the east coast tomorrow morning and although I won’t be in the United Kingdom for another two weeks or starting my program for another month, this feels like the beginning of my study abroad journey.

Although my time at home was relaxing, I did well to keep myself busy by tackling my mile-long to do list, including shopping for travel supplies and a warmer, more weather-tolerant wardrobe, attending appointments, exchanging currency and applying for a visa. I made sure to spend quality time with my family and friends by going to movies, dining out, staying in, or simply talking.

I got a lot of my university information, including accommodation. I landed my second choice, Lancaster House, the closest dorm-style accommodation they have. I will be supposedly be sharing a kitchen with my whole wing (ten other people) and a bathroom with four other people, but I will have my own room with a wash basin. I’m not entirely sure what to expect, but I’m excited to meet new people and settle in. I really enjoyed interacting with everyone in the dorms my freshman year at Arizona State and I look forward to having a similar arrangement abroad but with my own room. My university address is:

Lancaster House Room 105
University of Sussex
Falmer, Brighton, East Sussex
United Kingdom BN1 9QP

I also got my “buddy” assigned to me. The University of Sussex gas a program called Buddy Scheme, where freshman, international students and exchange students can be paired with a British student for advise, resources and more. My buddy’s name is Victorija, she’s Latvian and a third year like myself. She’s been offering me all sorts of pearls of wisdom about academics and campus life. She has really helped put my mind at ease and I can’t wait to meet her in person!

I have been planning and waiting for my study abroad program for about a year on top of longing to travel for several years prior and it’s surreal to think it all begins tomorrow. I’m thankful for everyone who has supported me, especially my family and British friends, who made this possible by giving me advice and being awesome hosts.

I will look back on tomorrow as the first day of one of the most incredible experiences of my life and I can’t wait to share it with all my readers.

Photo by Lesly Juarez.

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Saturday, 11 July: We (my immediate family) woke up bright and early for our long day of flying. We flew from Tucson to Phoenix, then to Phoenix to Los Angeles, then finally, from Los Angeles to Maui. We were lucky enough to fly first class the whole way. It was especially nice for the five-hour flight to Maui, where I was able to watch some of my favorite shows and play some games. Once we got into Maui, we got groceries, checked into our hotel and later went to the beach and pool. Whether it was the jet lag, lousy amount I’ve sleep I had the two previous nights, or some combination of both, we went to bed early.

Sunday, 12 July: We had a relaxing day of hanging around the hotel and overcoming jetlag before going out for dinner.

Monday, 13 July: I went for a walk on the beach in the morning before we headed a few miles down the shore to Black Rock, a jumping point. I’ve probably been out of practice, but the swim there was tiring. My brothers and I jumped off the twenty foot rock into the ocean a few times before swimming back to shore for some snorkeling.

Tuesday, 14 July: We departed from Ka’anapali Beach on a boat to Honolua Bay for an afternoon of snorkeling. We snorkeled for about an hour and a half in the crystal clear waters, where the highlights were seeing a sea turtle and schools of upwards of a hundred fish. While we were eating lunch on the boat, we spotted a few Hawaiian spinner dolphins putting on a show in the mouth of the bay and a large sea turtle. On our way back, the dolphins drew nearer to the boat to ride our surf. Towards the end of our excursion, I met an Olympian and fellow passenger, silver medalist Megan Bozek from the U.S. women’s hockey team. I was starstruck, she was so sweet.

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