While I outlined key differences between the United States and United Kingdom that really stood out to me in my reflection post, now that I’ve experienced a whole semester’s worth of learning abroad (including exams), I thought I would elaborate on it.

ChronologyFor most of the pre-university learning, the academic systems are more or less the same. British students may switch schools at a different age or grade, but even that varies within the United States. At the age of sixteen (equivalent of junior year in high school), British students go to “college,” which I think of as a more specialized version of high school. British students narrow their learning interests down and eventually take a more specialized version of standardized testing (like the S.A.T.) called A-Levels. In the end, most American and British students go to university at the same time (age eighteen). Also, university in the United Kingdom starts around mid-September with first term exams after Christmas and second term starting in February with a month-long revision period before exams in June. In the United States, university starts in mid-August with first term exams before Christmas and second term starting right after the New Year with exams in late April.

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Now that I’ve spent some time abroad and others are just starting their study abroad journey, I’d like to make more frequent posts (once a week or so) about how I manage it all, starting with travel essentials. Plus, I needed a reason to take a break from studying.

At the beginning of the term, I determined what I would need for a typical weekend away and wrote it up so I wouldn’t forget each time I travel. That list has been modified several times since then and this is (more or less) my go-to packing list:

  • Clothes: I will usually bring only one or two pairs of pants and surplus shirts, cardigans, light jackets and an extra pair of shoes so I can mix and match and layer up.
  • Toiletries: These items vary from person to person, so I won’t make a definite list of must-haves, that’s up for you to decide. However, I put the liquids in a separate bag in an easy to access place in my suitcase so I can make it through security with as little hassle as possible. Keep in mind that some airports might consider and some toothpaste, lip balm and make-up products “liquids.” Be sure to include nail clippers, tissues and small amounts of medicine like aspirin and painkillers.
  • Documents, passes, identification: Passport, any documents required by your visa, public transportation pass(es) you need for local transit that gets you to the airport, etc. I know I’m too busy worrying about not forgetting my passport I’ll often nearly forget to pack my railcard.
  • Electronics: Any appropriate chargers, batteries, converters, adapters, etc. you will need to keep you powered up. You also might want to consider a portable charger for on-the-go charging.
  • Seasonal clothes and accessories: A light windbreaker is a must pretty much everywhere I go. It’s easy to pack and it’s practical for a lot of weather conditions. However, consider your destination and pack accordingly. From hats and scarves to swimsuits and sunglasses, make sure you’re well prepared for the weather, nothing ruins a trip like uncomfortable. If you’re running out of space in your suitcase with all those thick winter clothes, wear your coat to the airport. I also find packing a portable umbrella could never hurt, but most times I’ll get to a another country and realize not everywhere is as miserable as England.
  • Hostel necessities: While you don’t need these in conventional hotels, budget travelers staying in hostels might consider a padlock (many hostels provide lockers for safekeeping provided you bring or rent a lock), ear plugs (you’ll undoubtedly encounter at least one snorer, if you don’t, odds are you’re the snorer), and a travel towel and hairdryer (if the hostel doesn’t already provide them).

And here are some things you probably didn’t think about (I know I didn’t):

  • Reusable water bottle: Obviously, you can’t fill it up until after airport security, but it’s practical to bring your own reusable water bottle so you don’t have to spend money on water at the airport or otherwise. Plus, you can solve the space-consuming problem but stuffing smaller items of clothing in the empty water bottle.
  • Plastic bag: Whether it’s for trash or wet or dirty clothes, having a plastic bag or two and even a few Ziploc sandwich bags on your trip is always a good idea.
  • Low quality purse: On travel, your purse may get rained on, accidentally set in dirt, or otherwise beat up. It’s wise to buy a low quality purse to bring on such travels. I really like crossbody tote bags; they’re spacious and easy to walk around with and many have pockets on the inside where you can easily store a phone, camera, etc. Be sure to get one that closes properly to reduce your chances of getting pick-pocketed.

I hope this helps, happy trails!


A piece of advice that really resonated with me before I left was “explore a lot of your home country.” With that in mind, I made time to do so. Last term, I took time to explore Southampton, Bath, Eastbourne, Kingston, Lewes, Lancaster, Manchester, Glasgow and, of course, London. This term, I got to see Birmingham, Bristol, Newquay and Edinburgh and visit London and Southampton again.

Monday, 4 January: After I gave myself a bit of time to get over jetlag, I took a train to the midlands to spend time with Ben in his hometown outside Great Malvern, a small, hilly town an hour south of Birmingham. We went on the hills, where we got a lovely view of the valley, that is, until it started raining and we headed back to his house.

Tuesday, 5 January: The next day, we headed to Birmingham. We started our day by walking around the Bull Ring, a large shopping center. After that, we saw a movie (The Danish Girl, it was really good!) and went ice skating. To end our day, we went to the top floors of the impressive library to get amazing views of the city.

Sunday, 21 February: I had tickets to see Marina and the Diamonds in London and as it was on a Sunday, Ben and I decided to make a day of it, seeing sites one of both of us had never seen before. Despite living in England his whole life, like a lot of natives, he’s only been to London a handful of times, so this day was new and exciting for both of us. First, we walked to Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. After that, we took a walk through Hyde Park to the Science Museum. For lunch, we strolled around Camden Market, which has a wide variety of ethnic foods, but naturally, we settled for burgers. After exploring more of the Camden Market, we headed to Trafalgar Square, but it was blocked off. At first, we were a little disappointed, but then, we realized it was blocked off because they were filming a movie (Wonder Woman, set to release in summer 2017), and we got a great view of the action from the National Gallery steps. We made one last stop before heading back to Camden for drinks and the show: the Cadbury Creme Egg Cafe. This temporary cafe, whose dine-in tickets sold out quickly, serves up a variety of dishes inspired by a chocolate delicacy: the Cadbury Creme Egg. The show was incredible, I saw Marina and the Diamonds in December (you can read about it here), as well, but this time, I was in a general standing area, so I could dance and move around a lot more. This show was the last show on her long tour and everyone got emotional when she expressed her love and appreciation for us. She is an incredible artist and I hope to see her again soon!

Wednesday, 24 February: I returned to London for another concert, this time, it was The Used. I didn’t plan to see any of London this day, but I got great views of the sunset over the Thames from the London Blackfriars train station. I met up with an acquaintance, Dylan, at the gig where we both really enjoyed ourselves. This is The Used’s 15th anniversary tour, where they’re playing their first two albums in full in two different nights. Dylan went to both nights, but I only went to the second night, where they played their album In Love and Death. It was a great show, which my aching body and sore throat confirmed the next morning.

Saturday, 27 February: After buying tickets about eight months ago, I went to north London for one final gig this week at Alexandra Palace: Enter Shikari. I have seen them once before in April with a crowd of about three hundred people. I have never seen a venue so empty, but the energy of the crowd and the band matched an audience of several thousand, which is a conservative estimation of the crowd in London. Ben and I got to the venue just in time to see the first opener, Arcane Roots, who I enjoy a lot. We didn’t care for the other two openers, so we grabbed a drink and met up with Joe, who I haven’t seen since September. Enter Shikari was amazing, putting on quite the show with surround sound, unique intros and remixes, visual displays and more. The crowd was high energy and enthusiastic, which made the experience especially great. Enter Shikari are one of my favorite bands these days and that was one of the best shows of my life.

Friday, 4 March: Occasionally, I go to an event night called District, which plays alternative music rather than typical hits. District takes places at clubs all over the United Kingdom, each with their own special events. This week, District Southampton offered a Shikari Sound System, an electronic side project of Enter Shikari, DJ set. Ben and I met up with Dylan there and danced the night away, quite literally. After the set, I got to meet the lead singer, Rou, and the bassist, Chris. I wish I could talk to them, but the club was really noisy and I image they wanted to get home and rest. The train home wasn’t until quarter past five, we stayed at the club until it closed at about four in the morning. We didn’t get back to halls until about 9:30AM, so needless to say, we were all exhausted.

Saturday, 7 May: My dad arrived on Thursday, 5 May, where that evening we had dinner together and spent the following day in Brighton. On Saturday, we hit all of my favorite attractions in London. Throughout the day, we watched several street performers the first of which were in front of the Eye. After we rode the Eye, we walked through Camden, an up and coming part of London with a unique rock culture and plenty of various food stalls (just thinking about it makes me hungry). Then, we went to Leicester Square, where we saw our favorite street performers of the day: talented break dancers. After that, we went to Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden, where we had lunch. We walked around Piccadilly Circus before taking a break in Green Park, which was crowded on such a lovely day. Finally, we walked to Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge and lastly, Millennium Bridge. Needless to say, it was an exhausting day, but I’m glad we could do so much together over our long weekend.

Monday, 9 May: After a weekend with my dad, I set off on a trip to the west coast with my friend, Alex. Originally, we wanted to do a roadtrip all around Great Britain, but due to lack of planning, that fell through. Instead, we settled for a weekend at the beach in a small town called Newquay (pronounced “new-key”). I took a train to Southampton where Alex picked me up and drove us to Bristol. Although it was raining (what else is new), we had a good time walking around for a little while and a delicious meal at an all-you-can-eat buffet. We spent the rest of the evening with Alex’s dad and his family, playing pool, having a few pints and watching a film before setting off to Newquay in the morning.

Tuesday, 10 May: We drove about three hours from Bristol to Newquay. It was a beautiful, sunny day, so we took a long walk on the beach. I’ve never experienced such a low tide, it must have gone out for about a quarter of a mile. We also got an amazing view of the beach from our hostel (a good shout on Alex’s part, I usually don’t trust anyone else with that stuff!). Since we were both pretty tired, that night, so we settled for a film and saw Captain America: Civil War.

Wednesday, 11 May: That morning, we went surfing. Although it was really foggy, we still had a good time. We suited up in the early afternoon, carried our boards to the beach (by far, the hardest part of the day), got a quick lesson and then went out on the water. The water was really shallow, but not too cold and the waves were decent for learning on. Both Alex and I had a great time and ended standing up a few times.

Thursday, 12 May: That afternoon, we went coasteering. I’ve never heard of it before, but when we were looking at places to go cliff jumping, we decided it was in our best interest to do a guided tour. Coasteering is basically the exploring of a rocky coastline that involves rock climbing, swimming and cliff jumping. As Alex and I were the only ones on the tour, we got to take our time, ask questions and even do a few jumps several times. It was definitely more intense than I thought it would be (we didn’t have any proper rock climbing gear, we just sort of winged it), but it was still a lot of fun. Our guide did a great job of keeping us safe and making sure we were having a good time.

Friday, 13 May: For our last day, we took a long walk on the coastline. Thankfully, it was really sunny, so we soaked up as much as we could before heading back. The drive from Newquay back to Southampton was about five hours. We stopped outside of town so Alex could pack for his trip to London before dropping me off at the train station, where I had another three hours before I got back to halls. Needless to say, I was exhausted, but nothing could keep me from getting excited for my next trip!

Sunday, 15 May: It was kind of a bummer that the roadtrip with Alex fell through, on the bright side, Newquay was incredible. However, I still really wanted to go to Edinburgh, so I invited my friend Dan and he accepted. We took a coach from London to Edinburgh and made plans for our time there.

Monday, 16 May: That morning, we took a walking tour, where my favorite sites were the Greyfriars Kirkyard and Calton Hill. After that, we walked up to Edinburgh Castle (which was had a lovely view of from our hostel) and walked around, but neither of us were bothered to go in. Then, we went to the National Scottish Museum for its wonderful balcony view. We continued to enjoy the unusually wonderful weather by laying on a hill in front of Edinburgh Castle close to our hostel, where we made a friend: a dog approached us with an empty water bottle and wanted us to play with him.

Tuesday 17 May: We took a train to Glasgow and although walking around was nice for a bit, we both agree Edinburgh is way better and took the rain as a cue to head back. That evening, we met up with my friend Khalid, who I met in Rome. It was great to see him again and be reminded of how small the world is.

Wednesday, 18 May: For our last day, we decided to walk around Edinburgh, particularly The Royal Mile, for a bit before our ghost tour. It was more like a horror story tour, rather. At first, it was interesting, mainly highlighting ghost stories and superstitions, but when our guide told us a true story of a brutal murder right outside that flat where it occurred, pardon my French, but shit got real (if you’re interested, look up Allan Menzies). We headed back the next morning and about twelve hours later we were back in Brighton.

Photo by Heidi Sandstrom.


Although it flew by, I had a great two weeks at home. The first week was filled with seeing friends and catching up, Christmas gatherings, and a hockey game, where the Arizona Coyotes beat the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Colin arrived a week after myself and he spent the holidays with my family… my whole family (well, almost). My mom’s family came to Arizona where Colin met everyone on that side of the family. The day after Christmas, we drove to southern California where he got to meet a lot of my dad’s side. While we were there, we also went to Santa Monica Pier and Six Flags Magic Mountain. Our last few days back in Arizona were spent relaxing before I dropped him off at the airport this morning. Our time together went by quickly, but I’m glad he go to come out and I’m most likely going to make it over to Canada this July.

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At first (this may come as a surprise), I didn’t consider Paris a priority destination. But with nothing but amazing reviews from my family (especially my brother, Ryan, who went there in June), I decided to make it a reality for myself. I originally planned to go with Emily, but with the recent terrorist attacks, she didn’t feel comfortable going. I coaxed Ben into going with me instead and with that, we set off.

Saturday, 12 December: After getting in fairly late on Friday night, Saturday was our first real day in Paris. First, we went to the Arc de Triumph. We admired its vastness, then went to the top, which had amazing views of the city. From the top of the Arc, we saw a climate demonstration starting. For those who don’t know, major legislation regarding climate change action has been being reviewed in Paris over the last couple of weeks, with awareness marches all over the world. In fact, Ben and I (and another friend of ours) were at the one in London. However, due to the terrorist acts from the other month, the march in Paris was banned, but an alternate protest was held. After that, we went to the D’Orsay Museum. There were several interesting pieces and an intriguing temporary exhibit.

Sunday, 13 December: We started our day by visiting the Lourve, first taking a walk around the nearby park before going into the museum. The museum itself was really impressive. Like The Met in New York, you could spend days in that museum and still not see everything. With that in mind, we chose a few exhibits we were interested in and saw those, including the Mona Lisa. After that, we walked to the Notre Dame Cathedral and admired both the inside of the church and the view from the top some 400 odd steps up.

Monday, 14 December: Monday was Ben’s birthday, so I treated him to a trip up the Eiffel Tower. While the view from the lower levels were amazing, the view from the very top of the tower was clouded by fog, which was a bit of a disappointment. However, right after we exited the Tower, the sun came out. It was the first time I’ve experienced a sunny day since who knows when. We sat along the river and enjoyed the weather for a while. To end our time in Paris, we went to a wine tasting. I was just getting over being sick, so I wasn’t in any mood to drink, but Ben enjoyed it.

I loved Paris more than I anticipated and it has been one of the only cities I feel like I still have a lot to see and do.


I am heading back to Arizona tomorrow morning for Christmas break. I can’t wait to be reunited with my friends, family (including Bailey) and American delicacies like Chipotle and Target.

I have updated my Great Britain traveling post here with my time in London for the climate march and other various tourist attractions.

Photo by Hernan Lucio.