8 Things You Learn From Staying in London

1. There is no such thing as personal space.

A thing I noticed while in London is that people don’t really have their own space bubble. Most places you go such as the tube you will be crammed close to people not caring about your personal space.

2. Beauty is everywhere.

Literally everywhere you look there is beauty. Whether it be a park or a part of history, every single thing in London is beautiful. 

4. Restaurants work a bit different.

Almost every restaurant we went to while in London had a bar inside it. Now we didn’t know at first but quickly found out that you order not only drinks from the bars but also your meals. You go up to the bar and order and pay for your food there and then they bring it out to your table. I think this is a cool way but personally I like being lazy and having the waiter/waitress come to me. 

5. People get drinks after work.

One thing I loved about the London social scene was that people go out with friends to grab a drink after work. People will be outside all pubs enjoying a beer almost everyday around the 5pm. I think we should bring this norm to America personally. 

6. It’s more expensive.

London is a very expensive town and we knew this before going but it really doesn’t hit until your paying $14 American dollars for a meal that seems cheap in pounds. The conversion rates reall get ya. But honestly every extra dollar is worth it because I mean you’re in London! 

7. Water.

Water is very different in the UK. A popular thing is sparkling water. At restaurants you have to ask specifically for tap or still water if you want it, and most of the time they will look at you like you’re crazy. Also if you want ice be sure to ask for it because most places don’t give you ice in your water!

8.  Museums and Churches.

In London it’s kind of funny because you pay to see the churches but most museums are free to enter. That’s almost completely opposite from America. However, paying entry for those churches are 100% worth it. 

Although many of these things are different, they are all the small parts that add to your trip. London was amazing and I can’t wait to go back! 

Hello from Finland!

It has been several days since my last post and a lot of stuff has happened since then. To begin with, a group of friends and I traveled to Tampere over the weekend between Week 2 and Week 3. Kayna, Ashley, Erin, and I took a train on Friday from Jyvaskyla to Tampere. We then walked a the few blocks to our hostel called the Dream Hostel and Hotel. It seemed like it very far away, but only because we zig-zagged through the streets. It really was only around the corner. On Saturday, we then took the bus to the big observation tower. It is the second tallest observation tower in the Nordic area. It is located on the coast of the Baltic Sea so in one direction you can see the water and in the other directions you can see the city. The weather was beautiful and clear when we went so we were able to see for miles. The observation tower is also located in the middle of an amusement park. After lunch in the park, we wandered around looking at all the rides. We ended up paying to ride one roller coaster called The Tornado because it looked like the most fun. We were right. It had so many twists, turns, and loop-de-doops, we were screaming through the whole ride. We then found an area within in the amusement park called Angry Bird Land. Since Finland was the country that created the Angry Birds, it seems only right that they have a portion of the land dedicated to it. We had several photo shoots with all of the characters throughout the park. Later, as we were walking back to our hostel, we found a small chocolate shop. Everything smelled so good! I wanted to buy one of everything, but I knew that was a bit excessive. Instead, I bought twelve individual ones. (See image) They were all delicious!

The next morning, we checked out of the hostel and walked to the museum center. For this area, we paid one price and were then able to see multiple exhibits. My favorite one was the game museum. There was a massive collection of video games, arcade games, and board games throughout history and visitors are able to play the majority of them. There was also this wall of gaming systems throughout history up until about 2015. I was surprised how many of the various systems I had seen or played throughout my lifetime. There was another portion of the museum that was dedicated to rocks and minerals. Many of these minerals were various types of stones that we use as gems such as Amber, Amythest, and Diamonds. All of them were beautiful. There was one area that had huge stones where a portion was cut away so visitors can see the Amythest inside. I enjoyed this since my birthday is in February and Amythest is my birth stone. My group then traveled, by train, back to Jyvaskyla.

Early Monday morning, my roommate, Ashley, and I traveled by double-decker bus to Helsinki. Since neither of us had a class during the third week, we decided to do some traveling. In Helsinki, we went to Linnanmaki Amusement Park, got the all-access wristbands, and rode all the rides available (some were ridden multiple times.) Despite the sprinkling throughout the day, we had tons of fun. By the end of the day, our voices were a bit hoarse from all of the screaming we had done on the rides. We then began our walk to our hostel we were staying in for the night. The rain began to come down a bit harder, which made the walk seem dreadful. It didn’t help that we were relying on free wifi from the surrounding buildings for directions. Needless to say, we got incredibly lost. After about an hour and a half of using spotty directions and getting soaking wet, we found the hostel. Thankfully, we both had traveled only with what we could carry in our backpacks so we weren’t dragging any luggage behind us. That evening we research and planned our route for the next day to get to the harbor and our ferry. Tuesday morning, we woke up very early and traveled to our ferry destination. The rain had passed and the traveling was much nicer and easier. We then got on the ferry, which was a giant ship, and travelled to Tallinn, Estonia. It may have been the fact that it wasn’t raining or that we were well rested, but everything seemed bright, beautiful, and happy. The area that Ashley and I explored was the old-city town. Our favorite part was one cathedral that we were admiring from the outside to then realize not only could you go inside, but you can climb the 60 meter, stone, spiral-staircase toward the top of the steeple. It took a long time to climb, since people were attempting  to also climb down. We eventually climbed the 260 stair spiral to witness the scenic views. It was well worth the effort to climb becuase the views were breath-taking. The rest of the city was beautiful and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. Our travel back to Finland was on a cruise ship, which was lots of fun. We then travelled that evening from Hesinki to Jyvaskyla arriving in Jyvaskyla at about 3:15 am. Needless to say, the 45 minute walk back to the dorms felt like a marathon. 

On Wednesday, the activity suggested by the International tutors was to go see the Finnish National Ballet company perform som of their numbers. Seating was not enough for everyone that was there, but thankfully I had arrived early enough to save some seats for my friends and I. The ballet was amazing with numbers from ballets such as Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and Sleeping Beauty. There were also some modern numbers that didn’t quite make much sense, but they were still interesting to watch. Since, then there has been a lot of down time just hanging out with friends, gathering souvenirs for family and friends back home, and working on assignments for previous courses. Now into class of Week 4. This course has been about learning and teaching about diversity, which has been interesting, but also somewhat repetitive. Only a few more days left, then it’s time to head home. There will probably be one more post after this one and then my Finland adventure will be over.

Until next time,

Robin Gassen

The Part Where Josie Realizes She Needs People

My illusions of living in Austria–one cannot refer to them as expectations–featured scenes of weekends spent carting off to little Eastern European villages snuggled amongst leafy trails with nothing but Ann The Trusty Trail Shoes, a solid Jules Verne read and a euro for a hearty cup of coffee.

I would power to the Hauptbahnhof train station, stroll up to the ticket booth and knowingly slide the myriads of 10 and 20 euro cent coins that would build up from the grocery budget. I would ask in a smooth and collective voice:

“Ticket to wherever this gets me, please.”

This to which the ticket booth lady–who would be an expressive example of Austrian female power, naturally–would look at me with pride at my boldness for traveling alone. She would compliment my savvy exploration budget, and perhaps teach her daughter to emulate this woman who asked for a ticket that cost €2,30.

Our entire conversation would take place in German, of course, as I fully expected to reach fluency with very little effort in the first couple of weeks. Maybe a month or so; I wanted to be realistic.

This €2,30 ticket would deposit me in the basin of the Austrian Alps; the trail head would naturally be situated directly across from the train station.

I would ease in my headphones, select the newest episode of the Rich Roll Podcast and be on my way up this mountain, dancing over the white-crested boulders, the chilling wind folding me in love and whispering through my hair while Rich Roll and I had an enlightening one-way conversation on the sustainability of the plant-based diet.

I would be constantly surprised at the state of my own fitness; but then I would think to myself, Oh, this makes sense. You walk everywhere all the time, Graz is rather spread out. Of course you are able to average steady 7:30 miles up this mountain. 


Four months later and we find Josie, situated at a mediocre proficiency of German language knowledge, definitely not averaging 7:00-miles even on the roads, realizing that a €2,20 ticket will get her about 8km from Graz.

I’m not disappointed with the way that things turned out; I adore my beautiful lively, primarily-Bosnian flatmates, I am constantly overwhelmed at the amount of adventuring I’ve gotten to do over the weekends with decidedly the greatest humans of our generation. I’ve fallen in love with the primarily-road-based routes I’ve created for my sunrise running, now looking forward to flashing the peace sign at ensuing runners and remembering previous moments of running in that spot.

The German proficiency could be better, but it can’t all be peachy.

The most important difference between the current state of life in Austria and what I drew up in my mind entirely revolves around the importance of good people.

I completely forgot about them.

That’s what studying abroad has taught me.

I spontaneously decided to meander down to the southern part of Bosnia solo for a few days, badly in need of an influx of Vitamin D and a change of vibe. Because of the nature of planning for it–that being entirely null–I didn’t have any preconceptions of what I would do once I got to Bosnia.

I brought along with me Ann the Trusty Trail Shoes and Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, figuring that I would live out my days quite happily running, reading and writing in the full force of the southern oriental-inspired sun.

If that would have been how the entire weekend played out, my friends, I tell you that I would not have experienced the waterfall of introspection and personal development that I did.

Mostar, Bosnia during the end of November is off-season; the hoards of sun-craving tourists flashing oversized cameras at the photogenic architecture was at it’s blessed minimum.

The hostel that I stayed at was this eclectically narrow four-story alcove 10 minutes on foot from the bus station, nestled in an alley and featuring breathtaking mountain scenes on all sides, called Hostel Balkanarama.

Being off-season, I was the only guest; the other members residing in the hostel being semi-full time residents who maintained the hostel.

I have never, ever, ever met such a wonderful, magical troupe of inclusive individuals. They immediately brought me into the sanctity of their fellowship, exuding vibes of love, sustainable living, fascinations with culture and with appreciating life.

They brought me along to a documentary film festival on feminist Bosnians working in non-traditional careers (empowering to say the absolute least), took me out for Turkish coffee with the filmmakers (the funniest people I have ever, ever met), gave lessons on the art of fermentation and sourdough baking, made ample amounts of Turkish coffee for me.

We shared omelettes together, late ravaged lunches of roasted potatoes, ice cream; we spent a few hours together preparing authentic Argentinian empanadas on the last night.

The owner of the hostel was this insane Bosnian rocker who exudes the most extravagantly good-vibes, and his band was playing a gig at a local Bosnian club. The hostel residents invited me to be groupies with them, and we went and jammed to the greatest rock, none of which I understood.

The dance party commenced once we got back to the hostel, screaming at the top of our lungs to Shakira and Salt n’ Peppa and the Spice Girls with our microphones of ice-cream spoons until the middle of the night.

I still got the time to hike and to move, the time to rejuvenate in the sun and read inspiring enlightenment texts, to write and to rejoice in solitary moments with just my thoughts and the mountains.

But the people. The influx, the waterfall, the cascade of beautiful good people.

Everything will always boil down to love.

I need these people. My soul craves this connection, this inclusion, this blanket. This fellowship.

I love traveling solo, I love getting to make snap decisions and having to rely upon my own instinct and have to face challenges unsupported when they arise. There’s a lot of growth that has come from this.

But traveling solo for me has suddenly featured a different kind of end-goal: it’s no longer to recuperate from being around people all the time, to get a significant amount of alone time for me to do whatever I want to do.

It’s become a chance to learn how to understand other people better. To become like a local, to experience the culture through the people that have created this culture.

One can travel and learn and love from one’s own home country. But to do it like this? To experience this amount of travel, learning, love? It has to come from being out of one’s own cultural understanding. It takes traveling to a different cultural world.

My learning is far from over, and thankfully I have another semester to solidify personal development. I don’t want to stop. I don’t want to stop this influx of perspective and understanding.

I’ve always had the goal of joining the Peace Corps and living around the world, teaching English and writing as much as possible. Before this year, that goal was never fully realistic to me because I had no idea if I would be “good at” living abroad on my own.

Now I realize that I’m addicted to it.

-Josie, Austria


UCLAN: student union

tea time with jen.

During my first week at the University of Central Lancashire, I went to welcome week for clubs and numerous job fairs, but since I was only going to be here for four short months there were very limited options. Either they didn’t start until January or they were over by the end of September. However, I did spend a great deal of time with the Student Union here at UCLAN and involve myself in the many opportunities.

This organization focuses on exchange students and allows them to meet each other through social settings and planned day trips. I connected with this organization right off the bat, because of how many people I was able to meet. I met some of my closest friends and travel buddies on some of the first trips we took. Most of us all want to travel a lot and this helped mix all of us…

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You’re Not Just American: You’re America

When my international and Austrian buddies ask what I am studying, and I reply with a cheery, “English Literature and Linguistics in the American Studies Program!”, almost collectively I can expect a semi-blank expression.

“Aber, warum?” But why?

Fair. Fair question.

Why come all the way to Austria to study America?

Yes, I understand the confusion.

It’s not that though: it’s not studying America, it’s studying a non-American perspective on important and vital texts that helped shape countries and ideologies. How absolutely, unfathomably more interesting it is to study American literature from this non-American perspective.

To engage in similar debates that I’ve had in my previous classes at Emporia State University, only with profoundly different directions.

It’s getting out of this bubble of the influence of American politics and American ideals in literature and examining texts with a literal worldview.

It’s also excellent insight on how the rest of the world views America.

I will try not to blanket or generalize anyone here, my classmates represent the entire world as much as I represent America. It’s too small of a sample size. But collectively, many agree on similar stances of Americans, so I believe it to be quite representable.

Perhaps the most notable example of insight into American portrays is from my From Rags to Riches? Social Class in American Literature. My professor is this anomaly of information, perhaps the most passionate social class hero and well-informed feminist supporter I have met.

We put pressure on such topics as, “Why do Americans have a higher overall level of outspoken confidence over Europeans?” and, “why do Americans tend to have a lot of acquaintances and few ‘best’ friends, while Europeans operate on the reverse?”

My international classmates view American as a self-confident, extroverted ethnicity will no shortages of self-efficacy. I’ve been told, “you have the certain…passionate light in your eyes that makes you obviously American” multiple times.

I have been told that Americans have obvious and vocal dreams; that our society has raised us to be individualistic and ambitious over the more collectivist societies of Europe.

When you study abroad you become your country in the minds of others. Do you think that the industries should better prioritize the manufacturing of dog textiles? In the eyes of an international student, suddenly America believes all dogs should be clothed.

Are you in the habit of sneezing before you drink wine? Suddenly America sneezes before they ingest alcohol.

Do you like reading Action Adventure novels over Romance? Suddenly America is obsessed with the Bourne Ultimatum and because that Parisian chick in the back of the room likes reading Nora Roberts, the Romance genre is for the French.

Honestly, it gets a bit old to be generalized. To be blanketed together with the more audible values of America that you may or may not agree with.

I welcome this, though.

How else will I learn not to blanket others besides being put in the box myself?

-Josie, Austria