Category Archives: Study Abroad Updates

Travels and Adventures

This semester I decided to do as much travelling as possible before I have to leave for good. So this post is an accumulation of all my adventures from the last three months.

In the second weekend of February, I went on my first grand adventure. There is a place called Conisbrough Castle about a two hour’s bus ride away from me, so I hopped on the bus on a Saturday to go see it. It turns out that it’s actually used as a sort of park for kids now. I arrived and found several families picnicking in the old castle grounds within the walls, and kids running around playing knights and princesses and dragons. Technically though, Conisbrough was never actually a castle. It was actually a hunting borough, hence the name: Conisbrough means king’s borough. The place is quite small,  and only the keep (inner tower typically built for defensive purposes) and parts of the outer wall remain.

My next adventure was the next weekend. I told a friend at church about my travel to Conisbrough, and she said she was actually planning a trip for the next weekend. So I went with her and her French flatmate to Whitby, which is a town on the eastern coast. There is an old abbey there, at the top of a cliff on the coast. It was absolutely beautiful there.

In March, I joined a friend from physics to go hiking in the Peak District with a couple of her friends. The Peak District is a huge national park with tons of hills and gorgeous views. It’s an extremely popular place for hikers of all abilities, as well as rock climbers is some areas. It was extremely windy and cold, but still lots of fun.

The following weekend, I went on a university-sponsored trip to Llandudno, Wales, and it turned out that my friend’s two friends were on the trip too, so I got to spend the whole time with them instead of on my own. Our bus broke down for an hour half-way there, it ended up pouring raining pretty much the entire time, and all the locals said it was too dangerous to hike up to the famous mine, but we had fun getting miserably wet anyway.

A weekend or two after after that, I met up with my physics friend and her friends to go to this volunteer dog-walking place and an alpaca farm (two different places). You can see my physics friend with the dog in the background of the first picture. It was a beautiful day out, so the dog-walking place was quite busy. Apparently the dog we walked had already been out twice that day, and we passed him off to someone else when we left. The alpaca farm was a small volunteer place. I guess they really only have the alpacas for the fun of having alpacas. They don’t get enough wool to sell, but they have a group of people who spin it into yarn each year and make hats for the regular volunteers.

Three weeks of March were designated for Easter break. I spent the first half-week in Paris with a missionary friend of mine who lives there. We went to the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay. I saw the Mona Lisa (albeit from across the room), and I discovered that I can actually appreciate van Gogh’s work. Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of myself there, but I did get a picture of a giant hazelnut macaroon I ate. It was quite delicious. The second photo is the skyline from the famous Musée d’Orsay clock.

I flew home from Paris to finally see my family again (I didn’t get home over Christmas because I was busy travelling with my sister). It was quite amusing when I first arrived in the airport. The first thing I thought was that everyone sounded weird and had very unsophisticated accents. I guess I’ve been in England too long. Then again, my first layover was in Chicago, so maybe it was just the Chicago accent that was bothering me.

My one requirement for while was home was that I wanted to see a good Kansas thunderstorm (it might rain a lot in England, but apparently thunder just doesn’t exist). Annoyingly, the weather seemed to be taunting me the whole time. I traveled back and forth between Topeka, Wichita, and Norman during the two weeks, and it seemed that each city would get a giant thunder storm as soon as I left it. I actually joked that there was a weather conspiracy against me. I saw the rainbow when travelling from Wichita to Topeka. My grandma said that it started pouring rain and thundering and lightning literally five minutes after I left. All I got was a little rain on the drive up, but the rainbow was nice at least. But finally, two nights before I left, the weather decided to be nice to me. I woke up at about 2 in the morning because my room was literally shaking from the thunder. Now that’s what I call a good storm. The lightning was probably at least 4 miles away, yet is still managed to produce thunder loud enough to make my mom think we were having an earthquake.

I returned to the UK via Scotland (Edinburgh to be specific) so I do just a little more travelling before returning to school. I did all the typical tourist-y things in Edinburgh, but my favorite part was actually travelling out to see some old, underappreciated castles. They were all huge, and filled with tons of history. It was so cool to be wandering around such ancient, surprisingly well-preserved, remains. I spent hours just wandering around, trying to find all the nooks and crannies. Scotland is now definitely on the top of my list of places I want to revisit.

My Grand Christmas Adventure

Before exams, I went on an adventure with my older sister to London and Paris. It was quite a lot of fun, but nothing like I expected. We absolutely loved London. It seemed that there was a place for everyone in London. It was such a mix of different cultures and traditions. We did all the classic touristy things like seeing the London Bridge, riding the London Eye, and watching the Changing of the Guards (which was a bit underwhelming). But we also did a lot of wandering in different places, finding Christmas markets tucked in little street squares, or pretty buildings that have probably been there for centuries. Perhaps my favorite part was attending Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at Westminster Abbey. I don’t imagine there are many people who can say they’ve done that.

In comparison to London, Paris was actually a bit drab. Perhaps it was just because it was winter, but everything seemed a bit dirty and unkempt. Plus it was cloudy and cold almost the entire time we were there. Nevertheless, we still managed to have a good time. We did a really cool tour of the catacombs, and of course went on the Eiffel Tour. For New Year’s Eve, we went to the Champs Elysee. That was actually a lot of fun. I got to translate pieces of the French constitution as they scrolled across the Arc de Triomphe, then they did a really neat light show that ended in a big fireworks display. Of course there was a big concern that the Yellow Vests were going to do something that night, but it was actually pretty calm. Though we did see a dude get tackled by the police, and another dude get chased by police dogs. On my last day in Paris, my sister left in the morning and I spent the rest of the day with a friend near Sacre Coeur. We found a really neat little artist’s square with tons of local artists set up, painting and selling their art. Some of it was quite good. We also found a delicious crepe shop nearby. All in all, it was a pretty great way to end my stay in Paris.


I finally finished exams last week, and I still can’t decide whether I like them better here or not. As I think I’ve mentioned before, exams are spread out over three weeks after Christmas break. I also discovered that they are extremely rigorous when it comes to eliminating cheating by students or grading biases by professors.

To eliminate cheating, pretty much the only things you are allowed to bring into the exam room are pencils, IDs, water bottles, and calculators. Although calculators are only allowed if they have stickers on them to show that they were pre-approved. Phones are also allowed, but they must be turned off, placed in a brown paper envelope, and placed under the desk. Exams are also only held in special examination rooms where desks are evenly spread out, never in a normal class room. Since there are a limited number of these rooms, multiple exams are usually held in the same room at the same time. But annoyingly, exams don’t always have the same end time. One of my exams was two and a half hours long, and I believe the room was shared with a 40 minute test, an hour test, a two hour test, and a three hour test. It’s a bit distracting when the other people are leaving, but the room is organized so that each test group is grouped together, and it’s ordered so that people with shorter tests are closer to the door.

There is an equally rigorous system for avoiding grading biases. For one, the professor is not in the room during the exam. There are instead official test administrators in the room who have no connection to the tests being taken. Your name is also completely concealed from the exam paper. You write and sign your name in the corner of the answer booklet, but then you fold the corner over and seal it. The only other identifying thing on the cover is your ID number. But it doesn’t end there. Apparently the professors don’t actually grade the exams (I’m not entirely sure if that’s always true, but it’s definitely true in the math department… or the maths department as they call it here). I have also heard that each exam is always graded by two different people (to ensure the point tallying is correct), then someone else comes along to make sure the points actually add up, then someone else comes along to see if the overall grade scale needs to be shifted (with the approval of the professor), then finally someone else comes along to do one final check. I actually heard about that five-step process from a different university, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they do something similar here.

To top off the entire strange exam system they have here, we don’t get our grades back until March. That is very annoying for financial aid’s sake, but I suppose it’s worth it if they’re using that time to eliminate cheating and grading bias.

The Difficulty with Accents

I have been in England for over two months now, but the accent still throws me off sometimes. There are some words that are pronounced completely differently from the American pronunciation, almost to the point where it sounds like a different word sometimes. One example is “longitude.” The American pronunciation is “lonj-itude,” but people here pronounce it “long-itude.” It throws me off every time (it’s a fairly common word used in physics). As another example, someone once asked me, “do you say gloss or gloss?” I was completely confused because it sounded like she was saying the exact same word twice. Then she pointed to a cup and asked again, and I realized she was saying “glass.” To her, she was asking if I say “gloss” or “glass,” but I couldn’t distinguish between the two sounds because of her accent.

I have also discovered that I can’t watch British TV shows without subtitles. It’s weird. I know what they’re saying (it is still English after all), but my brain just can’t process the meaning of what they’re saying unless I also have the words in front of me. I definitely don’t have that problem with American shows, so apparently it’s just the accent, plus the random different words they have for things. I have discovered that the cockney accent is the worst. For one, London is apparently notorious for how much slang is used, so half the time I just don’t have a clue what in the world they mean. But the other half of the time, I can’t even make out the words they’re saying. I could swear it was a completely different language. Sometimes when I’m on the bus, I hear others having a conversation in what I assume is a different language, but after a while I realize that it’s actually still English, but with half the consonants missing and a few extra r’s added in. Some of the bus drivers also have really heavy cockney accents. Sometimes when they’re talking to me, I don’t have a clue what they are saying, so I just have to smile and nod and hope it wasn’t something important. It’s really weird. I sometimes feel like I’m not a native speaker of my own first language.

Rain, Rain, Go Away…

Considering how far north I am, I had assumed that I would be seeing snow by now. But as it turns out, the fact that England is surrounded by a giant ocean means that the temperature stays warmer longer, so we’re still stuck with rain. At least, I assume that that’s the reason. While Norman has already had a snow storm (or at least an ice storm from what I heard), it still hasn’t even reached freezing here yet. It came close a couple weeks ago, but now it has warmed back up to the 50s again. And it has rained almost every day for the last week. Today was a welcome break from the downpours, but it looks like it’s going to be raining again tomorrow, and most of next week too. Apparently it doesn’t usually snow until January or February here.  At this rate, I’m going to have a muddy Christmas rather than a white one!

The Weather

Surprisingly, it actually does not rain particularly often here. Most of the people I talked to in the States who had been in England before made it sound like it would be wet and drizzly almost all the time, but it really isn’t. That said, I have heard that the weather has been quite unusual this year, so it may be that there is usually a lot more rain. I have also heard that southern England is usually a lot rainier too. But now that the temperature has dropped down to the 40’s, I am glad that it isn’t any wetter. The hills here are bad enough when they’re dry, so I would be terrified to have to face them when they’re frozen over with ice.

Homework (Or the Lack Thereof)

At first I was skeptical about there not being much homework for my classes. But now I think it is actually really nice. Because I have less homework to do, I have more time to spend doing the homework I do have. And that means I can actually take the time to try to understand what it is I am doing. Also, most of my professors post additional homework that is not assessed, so I can work on the homework without worrying about a deadline, and I can put as much or as little effort as I like into the problems because I don’t have to worry about them being graded. It is really quite nice. I also discovered that receiving an A in the States is the equivalent of passing with over a 70% in the class here. That makes the finals that are worth 85% of my grade here much less daunting.

The First Week of Classes

Classes started last Monday, and I can already tell that this semester is going to be a bit of an adventure. For one, the classes are not scheduled at regular time intervals. At OU, classes are always at the same time on set days of the week, like 3:00-4:15 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But here, my classes are scheduled at random times on random days, like 10:00 on Mondays and 1:00 on Tuesdays. The meeting time or place can also change for a week randomly. That means that my schedule is a lot harder to remember.

Probably the part that is most different about classes here is that the final is always worth at least 85% of your grade. That is slightly terrifying to me, especially since I’m going to have a month between when classes end and when finals start. I really don’t understand why they would put Christmas break in the middle of their semester! That means I have to be studying and worrying about finals instead of actually having a relaxing break.

It is nice that I won’t have so much graded homework though. At first I was concerned that we wouldn’t have any homework at all, which would be bad for me since I rely on the homework to actually learn the material. But it turns out that they just make the vast majority of the homework optional. There are one or two assignments that are actually graded, but the rest you just do on your own and check your answers when the key is sent out. That is actually kind of nice. Less pressure to make the homework perfect. I do wish the final wasn’t worth quite as much though.

Arriving in England

I arrived in England two Sundays ago, and I spent all of last week getting acclimated to the new city and culture. Probably the greatest difference I have noticed between England and America is that everything in England is way smaller. The roads are tiny, the cars are tiny, the stores are tiny, even my room is tiny.

The drive from the airport to the university was an hour long, and during the entire drive, I saw a total of five trucks, including commercial ones. Coming from Kansas/Oklahoma where you are guaranteed to see at least five trucks at just one intersection, that was pretty strange. I was also amused to see that there were one-way bridges with stoplights at either end to allow two-way traffic to pass. There are actually places like that in the city too.

The tiny stores are a bit annoying, but I can appreciate them too. The fact that they are small means that you have to go to a different store depending on what you want to buy. You buy your pots and pans at the hardware store, your food at the grocery store, and your shampoo at the pharmacy. There is definitely nothing like Walmart around here.

There is also not a large selection of merchandise either. In America, the shampoo aisle has probably a hundred different types of shampoo to choose from. At the little pharmacy down the street, there were about ten options to choose from. Even the “huge” grocery store was rather limited. But it’s not all bad. The fact that they are small means the quality of what they do have is much better than what I am used to. There is a wonderful little fruit store (dangerously) close to where I am staying. I bought three pears for one pound (about $1.25), and they were the most delicious pears I have ever eaten. The juice was literally dripping out of the fruit when I took a bite. I could definitely get used to paying so little for such great quality.