Blogging Abroad Changed Me.

This is my story. Let’s start at the beginning.


I began blogging at sixteen. I’d come home from a monotonous day at school, get onto Blogger, and pour out my thoughts. Starting with a relatively shallow thought often led to a magician’s knotted ribbon rope of idea after idea, conclusion after conclusion (and even, albeit rarely, epiphany after epiphany.) I could start writing about an ordinary college visit and culminate with a glowing discourse about how the magic of falling leaves was a reminder of our extraordinary existence, a small piece of an unconscious well of big thoughts waiting to be dug up. Blogging helped excavate and organize my jumbled, teenage mind in ways that discussing or writing could not. For a period like adolescence, this tool proved invaluable.

In high school, I trusted a carefully chosen group. They included my closest friends, family members, and a couple of community members. I knew my thoughts were interesting and full of ideas. I would’ve loved for my peers to “read up” on this reserved, brainy redhead. The only issue? Come on, you know this too well: I couldn’t trust them. Recruiting just one unstable ally into my cohort could have disrupted my thankfully uneventful bullying record. My blog’s contents weren’t your daily diaries or unrequited crushes. They were far more risky: a typical post might explore the possibility of hermithood or reveal the extent to which I loathed school but loved education. Being a geek in school is already an obstacle to social stratification. Adding a naive, idealistic dreamer to that public image could have borne devastating consequences. So, although I dearly wanted to engage with my world at large, I decided to can it until it was safe to come out of my philosophical hiding spot.

I continued blogging in college, writing my way through seas of inspiration and troves of questions sparked by class material and peers. My reader base remained the same but my thoughts were developing in form and content.

By the time December 2014 rolled around, I was preparing to study abroad in London for a semester. I realized how beneficial blogging could be for this trip but felt that my hidden blog wasn’t the right setup. I began anew on a different platform and made an effort to inform my family, friends, and even Facebook friends. I solicited feedback and comments from the first post. Having pared down my Facebook friends to a list of folks I’d actually say hello to if passing by, I decided to make this blog a relatively transparent lens into my life abroad. Those who didn’t care wouldn’t keep reading, and at this point, I had no fear about readers manipulating my writing to hurt me (a very teenage issue.)

Having a place to posit my thoughts while in London was essential for growth. I experienced both an increase in respect for my feelings and greater ease in trusting others by giving them access to those feelings. For the first time, I took great joy in laying bare emotions onto a public platform. Some, like my family, knew me very well but learned some of the aspects that don’t often appear in their company such as meme humor and Millennial wit. Others, like my college friends, were also able to adjust their idea of Sophie by reading the thoughts that aren’t the best conversation topics at parties or walks across campus but are critical to my identity. I’m truly humbled that so many took me up on my offer to hear about my life indirectly and therefore indulge my persistent belief that few truly know me (then again, I’m still figuring out who I am too.) The funny thing is that I’ll usually take great interest in other people’s stories but have little patience for telling my own; I get self-conscious and trip over my thoughts, feel uncomfortably vulnerable, or both. Being perceived as narcissistic is one of my worst fears.

Living abroad and writing about it taught me some invaluable lessons. Here is a small sample:

  1. It pays to be vulnerable. Abandoning a bit of my ego did me very well. When I blogged to the blogosphere (my world) that I felt lonely, I received warmth and care. A post bursting with enthusiasm for octopi did not compel my friends to write me off; they embraced me for it. I look at vulnerability as the currency of friendship (or any relationship.) Offering a small, tender piece of information will often put your partner at ease and make them feel comfortable to share their own stories with you. Many “secrets” only have as much power to hurt you as you allow them.
  2. It’s a way to discern who truly cares about you. When I moved to London, the only ways to reach me were via email, my blog, mail, Skype, or my British phone (only used by my parents.) That meant Facebook, Snapchat, texting, calling, and all other forms of social media were out. Family members had no problem reaching me, but to my Millennial friends, I may as well have camped on Mars. No one emails to keep in touch anymore; it’s all school-related now. Hardly any of my friends blog. However, the extent to which some friends worked with my elected way of life astounded me. It really did function as a test of friendship: Some passed with flying colors, and some came up short. I know for certain that those who put in effort to stay in touch will be the ones who stick with me.
  3. It can be an element of self-care. My blog functioned as a place for me to swim around in my delight, curiosity, adventurousness, loneliness, and homesickness (to name just a few feelings) during my five months across the pond. Rereading my words proved that those emotions were real, valuable, and worth exploring. I embraced what I felt and oftentimes surrendered them to the public, willing my readers to respect this gift of trust and myself to recognize them as oftentimes universally felt and therefore shameless to admit. Just as bitter enhances sophisticated cuisine, a meditation on being alone enriched my log and therefore overall experience abroad.

A potential obstacle of a study abroad blog is your desired level of publicity. While I did feel comfortable sharing about 90% of my thoughts with my readers, there was some information that, while memorable, was better kept for fewer eyes. My solution? Creating another private blog. Other easy solutions? Writing in a journal, making a personal video, or documenting it a different way. It’s a bit disappointing to realize that both my blog and scrapbook don’t fully envelop my experience. On the bright side, it would be even more disappointing if they could. The bottom line is that this blog is a valuable resource for remembering a transformative period of my life, complete with stories, reflections, pictures, comments, and the unreplicable catalogue of emotions that appeared daily. I can’t wait to take another trip to 2015’s London years from now, only this time through my 21 year-old perspective. It’ll be a trip like no other.

Dublin + Barcelona: Cuid/Parte 2

There’s no way I would say this unless I truly felt it: upon sighting four redheads simply on my way from departing the plane to passport control in the Dublin airport, I felt like I belonged in Ireland. No, I’m not Irish, even as the hair would suggest.

It didn’t hurt that the national color scheme is that which best matches my skin tone, too.

One of the coolest parts of being in Dublin was that I was present on the day that the groundbreaking same-sex marriage referendum passed. I heard the cheers and dove into the rampant rejoicing that was apparent among the people and many Dublin shops, who hosted creative decorations in their windows.

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After arriving around 4, I explored St Stephen’s Green, a centrally located park, and was surprised to find a garden tailored especially for the blind. There were plaques with braille and the plants were exceptionally textured, like bunnies’ ears. So cool and inclusive.

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Explored Trinity College, snacked on some mighty fine ice cream, and mostly walked around all evening. I’ve never seen so much drinking on the streets and general bacchanalia in my life. Combine the Irish affinity for drink and a huge political victory for a subjugated group and it’s hard to imagine any other celebration tactic, I suppose.

The next day at breakfast, I met a girl from Arizona named Cynthia who had been travelling around Europe for a couple months after attaining her GED. When she told me about her time in Cardiff, I seized the opportunity to bring up Doctor Who (many scenes were filmed there plus there’s a grand tour) and she delightedly pointed out that her shirt was all about! (Didn’t notice.) So after that great start, she decided to accompany me on a short stroll around Temple Bar before our walking tour. She escorted me to a rad alleyway with tons of art commemorating famous Irish stars and culture.

She was a superb friend for the day. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had such a wonderful yet extremely short-term friend before. Owing to the circumstances of “I’ll probably never see you again” and “I have no reason to be reserved”, we opened up to each other quite a bit, without much hesitation about divulging tender details about life. I can’t speak for her, but I didn’t feel any pressure to add the usual conversation helpers and other niceties that function to ensure a smooth, long-term friendship. I was completely myself and honest and it was amazing. She’s really different from me as well, saying that she didn’t have any friends and didn’t consider herself as “nice”. However, that’s not to say she didn’t have positive personality traits: we got along very easily, exchanged mutual respect, and simply had fun with one another. Travel is so great for super short-term bursts of honesty and fun.

Our walking tour was informative and hilarious. Then we dove into lunch at O’Neil’s Pub and chatted with a restaurant manager from Barcelona, a bubbly Russian named Xenia, and a chipper Niagara Falls-native. Beef and Guinness pie = YUM! Cynthia did that thing where she noticed I was zoning out (mental siesta after eating plus the conversation was waning) so she swooped in and facilitated the move to continue our day. A small gesture but to me it was a sign that she didn’t feel the need to be overly nice and accommodating to others, which I appreciated, and I felt a little taken care of. Maybe it’s hard to understand this via blog.

Lemme say this loud and clear: I LOVE IRISH STYLE.

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Super edited because this shows the lines of the dress more. Not a big fan of the necklace, although it is without a doubt fantastic, but the denim dress was just the coolest ever.

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Found a store with Irish designer clothes and vintage finds. Heaven!

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The vintage part of the shop!

Ended up with a new sweater! Next day I wore it and realized it had dried snot on the arm. Fantastic.

Short ode to the Irish breakfast: Oi. That’s all I can say. Imagine me gazing wistfully into space with the sweet thought of lovable toast greeting the luscious sausage in an embrace, the grilled tomato smiling approvingly and reaching out for its eggy neighbor. Irish Breakfast tea supervises dutifully and excels in creating a cohesively flavor-melding symphony.

breakfast for dinner is never a bad idea.

breakfast for dinner is never a bad idea.

Heard some soul-quenching folk music before joining a Literary Pub Crawl. The organizers reenacted various pieces of Irish literature at each stop, impersonating characters like Oscar Wilde and the players of Waiting for Godot. We were the youngest on this pub crawl and so were talked to by many older patrons like parents and young professionals. Everyone thought Cynthia and I were longtime friends! Altogether it was very fun, would definitely recommend. This is where I tried a half pint of Guinness and unfortunately loathed it. Also unfortunate was my pre-purchased ticket to the Guinness factory, which I didn’t feel like going to anymore. So, if you’ll be in Dublin anytime within the next year and want a free ticket, let me know!! It’s a student pass though.

I had until noon the next day to explore until I left to go to the airport. So I walked around from about 8-9:30 and popped into the Little Museum of Dublin. Was very sad to leave Dublin and plan on making a journey back to tour Ireland. I don’t know if I’ve connected with a destination as much as I did on the emerald isle. Everyone extended amazing warmth and friendliness. Makes me seriously wonder if I’m part Irish (any input, my so-called “family”???) 😉

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Love you, Dublin!

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Be true to your eyes, or they’ll be false to you!

The title is a takeoff on a golden saying of my grandma: Be true to your teeth, or they’ll be false to you!

Memorizing the natural history of mammals, going to 1940s-themed clubs, and exploring London in scavenger-hunt fashion has been what’s up lately. I’ll explain.

I’m no wikipedia, but I do feel like a walking tome of mammalian evolution knowledge. My 3 essay, 3 hour exam for Mammals and Evolution, a 3rd year module, accounted for 75% of my final grade. Crazy, right?! In the US, a 40% final exam feels like a lot, but the UK system takes finals pressure to a new level. I think I did pretty well. One more exam for Geographies of Nature (50% of my grade) and then I’m DONE with junior year! I’m beyond ready to give my eyes a rest from hours and hours of staring at the computer, reading lengthy papers and revising powerpoints. I actually bought eyedrops yesterday.

dedicated to my TravelMate TM8471.


I recently visited Greenwich, the famous home of the Prime Meridian, as well as a bounty of cream-colored edifices strewn amongst emerald green lawns that reminded me of Saratoga’s Hall of Springs. It was very pretty and preppy and clean. I wasn’t bowled over but it made for a nice day trip. Anyway, while I was walking there, I saw this amusingly named restaurant and took a picture:

How nice to know I have friends stationed all over the city!

As I was about to continue on my journey down Salmon Lane, a nearby construction worker amiably hollered and asked what I was photographing. I replied that my focus was on the restaurant sign. He had thought I liked his yellow car.  And then he asked me to take a picture of himself, and how could I refuse? I really like how proud he looks. That smile can’t lie.

Just a minute before, upon seeing me look at a map, another person helped me figure out my directions. The people here are special.


On Wednesday, I went out with Erica, Beth, and her sister to a new 1940s-themed club called Cahoots in Soho. It was SO COOL! The menus looked like newspapers, the music was on point (albeit a bit loud), the servers were dressed in their best wartime threads, and the decorations were fascinating! My pictures turned out poor but my memories are vibrant (read more about that in my upcoming guest post for an online women’s magazine!) But I did get some good pics of the 1940s hairstyle I managed to finagle out of my unruly red locks. I’m too proud to not post a few:

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The doorman also kindly obliged to a photo:

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And finally, the scavenger hunt story:

Equipped with my handwritten directions taking us from Yelp’s favorite fish and chips shop to an art gallery to a photo developing store, Erica and I embarked on a long and winding day trip around West London. What made this day so different from many others was the level of interaction with locals. As the English are known for being particularly reserved, we Americans have felt this difference acutely. So when we went into three shops and each of the workers happily jumped into conversation with us, we were shocked! Phrase of the day: “Where are we?!

At the World’s End clothing shop, we were educated on a tidbit of Sex Pistols history and given a tip of where to find hidden troves of American foodstuffs right by the Saatchi Gallery. At this innovative gallery which contained art paired with poetry, the sales assistant pointed us in the direction of a hidden cemetery she had only just discovered after forty years of living around the corner. We chatted with another artist for a good fifteen minutes about this Russian magnate who spent half a billion dollars on art only to sequester it away as an investment. Again, this is one of the best things I’ve learned abroad: being social doesn’t always have to revolve around a friend group or romantic relationship. One can have many conversations with strangers that oftentimes end up being surprisingly thoughtful and engrossing. And you might end up learning something very unexpected!

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Three weeks until America. No sleep til Brooklyn!

Summers in the Cities

Starting to think about some very enticing thoughts about home these days. Officially reached the 3 month mark. Excited to see my family, my friends, my town in the summer… telling friends about awkward run-ins and runnings-away-from with high school peers and teachers and knowing they’ll feel almost as uncomfortable as I did in the moment… circling around downtown in search of a parking spot… no homework… and ah, SUMMER!

Random sidenote: Can anyone give me a clue about why I got 255 hits on this blog during one hour last Sunday? I think it must be a glitch or some bot because it’s ridiculous.


Also decided on my last hurrah trip! Let’s play a game to figure it out!

Days 1-3: When you multiply something by two, what are you doing to that number? Remove the O and the G  on the end.

Final answer?

DUBLIN! 

The next destination’s linguistic clue: If you send something in the mail, it’s a _____. Subtract the first letter, change it to B. Next 2 syllables: You have a Boston accent and say that you are the possessor of something; you are its ______.

Answer is…

BARCELONA! 


And finally, some pictures! First are some from the incredible Camden Lock Market and a cool hippie crunchy granola place Michelle and I went to, feeling proper Wesleyan-y once more. This place was on my bucket list from last post (Inspiral Cafe) and I’ll leave the rest to the pictures. Pictures from the market and Regent’s Canal follow, then a snapshot from the top of Primrose Hill. It was taken on one of the first truly summery days of the year, where the sunlight streams from every direction, couples picnic and cuddle, the babies and dogs come out to play, and the park is so vivid that it seems that this is where the greener grass has been all along. (Except when it takes you a 45 minutes to traverse the park and get to tube!!!)

mmm.

mmm.

Crafting cameras out of toast and other tales

When I heard about an event where the participants build sculptures out of bread, I found myself torn between feeling unbelievably excited and pondering my sanity. I mean, which 21-year-old would choose to make a glorified gingerbread house in the middle of March when they could be giving their livers a fine reason to fail? This girl.

Erica, Holly (another Venice trip friend) and I courageously entered the competition and ended up creating a glutinous replica of my camera. It was very detailed, with “Sony” written on an upper panel, a cord, a picture-taking-button (what’s it actually called?) that ROTATED, a lens, and a screen on the back with a (what else) cat on it. Erica was responsible for that masterpiece.

But seriously, this was no less than a full-blown competition. I can’t speak for my teammates, but I know that I felt more mature than half the adults clobbering each other in the dance off (can you guess who our team nominated?) and racing to their toasters for optimally burnt construction materials. We nabbed the Diva toaster, and ze did us proud. ❤

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the front

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the back (see the cat?!)

our workhorse

our workhorse

All in all, a terrifically random and fun experience. Here are more pictures of others’ artworks including Jesus on the cross, the Colosseum, Kevin Spacey on his house of cards, and the Titanic. This is why I love London! People actually FLOCK to crazy events like this!


The next day was the Chocolate and Wine & Cheese festival!! Main takeaways:

  1. When offered “water ganache”, ALWAYS SAY YES
  2. Sample until you drop (or, your ego does.) Then regroup and scope out overlooked venues for more delicious bits (after all, we did pay an entry fee.)
  3. End it with a trip past Ottolenghi (the restaurant whose master chef creator put out a cookbook which you literally read cover-to-cover) to window-shop and gaze at lustfully, then plant yourself at the world’s most wonder-ful reading room on earth and feel like a desert dweller because cheese is saltier than ocean water and you didn’t think to bring water. Then hydrate with a full pot of tea at home and find Community to be one of your favorite shows in a long time. (This one might be hard to orchestrate but I believe in you all!)

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TODAY WAS AWESOME. And Tips for Not Getting Run Over by London Pedestrians!

It’s eleven o’clock, your half-interesting biology lecture about rodents has just let out, and you’re on your way across campus to a comfy study area. A novice would break out the internal sunshine, but a seasoned walker would know to resist giving in to so soon. Indeed, that stroll will be no walk in the park: it will demand agility, instantaneous decision-making, and something between assertion and aggression. What am I talking about? What it takes to simply walk somewhere in London!

It’s strange, for sure, but the thing is, here, nobody respects any logical rule of staying to one side of the sidewalk. Oddly, they do hug escalator flanks like magnets, but that’s the one exception. So, what you see when walking pretty much anywhere is a horde of people coming at you from every longitude of pavement. But fear not: from a little over two months’ practice, I’ve figured out how to survive unscathed and now you can too!

Behold: the Boston driver trick. If you don’t make eye contact, keep your eyes on a focal point, and bluff as to discourage anyone from trying to alter your pathway, you can silently command the walkway! This doesn’t always work, especially when there are big, lumbering man personalities involved, but it is pretty effective. So there you have it: act as if you refuse to change your walking path and others will accommodate you. Sweet.

It sounds sort of arrogant. But to live in a city, sometimes you have to be ruthless. Especially if you don’t want to expend half your latte’s energy before you even get to work simply by dodging people!


That was this morning. What happened in the hours afterwards was just… a combination of serendipity and good fortune and London magic, I think.

First was lunch: a shockingly delicious chicken and rice soup that I’d made, frozen, and forgotten about. I was rushing to explore London before class, but this soup stopped me in my tracks! It forcefully proved how integral is genuine chicken stock in a soup. The rice, chopped leeks, and a little roasted chicken commanded me to sit down and enjoy. I may have found my go-to recipe! How exciting!

But the fun didn’t stop there. I’d heard rave reviews about this gelato place called Gelupo, so I sought it out and let me tell you– no wait, I sort of can’t, because it transcended language- how delicious this gelato was. I started conversing with the gelatoista (?) about the five-star reviews that had brought me there, and she, in her thick cat-eye makeup and blooming flower balanced above her ear, warmly offered me rapid-fire samples of every single flavor before I could even finish a mind-sentence about how incredible the last flavor was. It’s a pretty nice position to be in, should you ever find yourself practically being force-fed otherworldly desserts on tiny shovel-shaped spoons.

In this instance, I was sold from the first sample: Ricotta and Sour Cherry. I paid four pounds for my treat- a princely sum for a rather petite scoop. But never did I doubt its worth, for soon after I dove into my dairy dream, my mind unconsciously raced through its thesaurus of tasting superlatives until it settled upon the thought of praying to the cherry swirl. I kid you not. I may have had an out-of-body experience today. There were no witnesses, so we’ll never be sure!

I might name my first child "Gelupo"

I might name my first child “Gelupo”

Also around this area of Piccadilly Circus was a fantastically cheeky clothing shop called Lazy Oaf. I’d found it online a while ago, but being in the physical store was a million times more fun! In true Sophie fashion, I tried on the most garish thing there and took a series of embarrassing/YOLO-y pictures. Here’s the least nutty one:

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I felt like a kid in wearing a candy store.

Next was my Museums of London class’ trip to the Saatchi Gallery. I went previously with my mamacita a few weeks ago, but since then they’d changed up their art and displayed some exceptionally exciting art:

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And one last fun day stop:

A tea shop! Ironically, I’d just purchased two cartons of tea at a shop a few minutes before, so upon the sighting of this much cooler shop, I was disappointed. However, after elevating my mood by sampling a trio of cocoa-tinged teas, I told my saga to the sales associate (after asking her what it was like to work at a tea shop; she replied that she is never stressed, gets to give people relief after a long day’s work in (healthy) liquid form, and hears loads of great stories) and she generously gave me a lightning tea lesson and three loose-leaf samples along with a make-your-own-teabag teabag! All for free!

London, you’re the best.


On Monday, Matthew and his friend Forest visited after their trip to Scotland. We had a great time catching up and walking around the city! I was proud to show them Queen Mary, my beloved hot salt beef bagel shop and Brick Lane, Tower Bridge, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, St. Martin in the Fields and its Crypt Cafe, and they explored Buckingham Palace and St. James’ Park on their own. As with Michelle, it was deeply enjoyable to spend time with another Wes pal and reflect on our adventures together. And exchanging severe dad jokes and puns that make every other person cringe (but not us!) 🙂

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Oxford + ALL the parks

What comes to mind when you picture the scenery of “Pride and Prejudice”? Softly swaying weeping willow trees bending over a peaceful pond? With swans? How about luscious green grass running into the horizon with ancient beige buildings hugging its edges? This image could probably be from a Jane Austen novel or a bevy of other Victorian classics. Instead, I’m describing Oxford.

Even in the middle of March, Michelle’s study abroad college shone with magic that could easily inspire a novel such as PP. I’m telling you, it was amazing.

I saw about half the green when I visited. But yes, people live a minute’s walk from this paradise! (From Quaint Living blog, link in picture)

Here’s a good photographer who succeeded in documenting its beauty. My pictures can’t measure up but I’ll offer them nonetheless:

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It was a special kind of relaxing/fun to walk around the campus and town with Michelle, a good Wes pal. In addition to its health benefits, walking is also a great way to get creative thoughts flowing and stimulates great conversation. Less pressure to focus on faces and interpret body language (not a strong point for me.) Just gaze at nature and converse to a delightful friend. Glorious.

(On a tangent, I realized I’ll have taken four three-hour-long walks with five people in six days by Monday! I’m seeing a trend in how I like to spend time and initiate intriguing conversation…) And on the seventh day she rested. lol jk she wrote all of her essays and wished she were outside. Essays here sneak up so quickly!!

The second walk was around Regents Park, an impressively large park with beautiful scenery. That was with a friend I met on the Venice trip. Today, I went on a long walk in search of deer at Richmond Park (to our dismay, it was rainy, so no deer appeared) with the friend I met at the Staves concert. Tomorrow, I’ll be with Matthew and his friend touring London! By the time I return to the states, I’ll be fit enough to walk back to the UK! (wait, what?)


Some Richmond Park and market pics: