Lost + Found

Lost: An iPod bursting with constantly updated music.
Found: An iPod dominated by podcasts like RadioLab and Spilled Milk that cuddle my ears on the tube or on long walks around the city.

Lost: Trust in Google Maps’ directions via public transport, which has proven to be woefully inaccurate (mostly for buses.)
Found: Myself, deposited in many unintended locations. But it turned out alright! Which brings me to…

Lost: A nervous heart that beat rapidly upon boarding a bus that would supposedly take me to my destination.
Found: Greater confidence in my ability to ascertain my physical location without a smartphone, usually via one of London’s ubiquitous, helpful street maps. Sometimes, a real live Brit would set aside their reserved nature and help! (Also found: new hand muscles thanks to probably at least 50 lists of handwritten directions!)

Lost: Lots of money. (Maybe not lost… more like spent.)
Found: Lots and lots and lots of experiences. (DUH it was worth it!) I’ve seen quite a few concerts, eaten lots of varied cuisine, and visited a long list of new places. I think food, transport, and travels outside London have been my biggest expenses here.

Lost: It was waning by the end of last semester anyway, but nonetheless, much of the infatuation I once felt with Wes.
Found: Knowledge of what life can be like after college and a growing excitement to pursue that life. Even though mine will probably involve grad school, which is sort of like a continuation of college, it’s another step in the path to move somewhere I choose where I’m supported by a heftier income and therefore possess greater personal freedom. Now that I’ve been exposed to so much, my desires for my future have intensified and grown in number.

And lastly-

Lost: A habit of constantly comparing myself with my peers, usually via Facebook, that too often incurred unhealthy levels of self-doubt (don’t worry, it’s normal, I’m a Millennial.) Also, for that matter, my Facebook account (until June.)
Found: A self that was much more content with my identity and methods of living. The chance to be more self-centered than usual, stemming from my choice of technologically isolating myself from American influences pretty significantly and, well, having a huge new city ready to be discovered at my doorstep… A new type of introspection that came from a much kinder and accepting place than before. I guess it seems obvious now, but this extraction of my virtual persona from a massive judging block surrounded by some very intimidatingly witty and pretty peers (read: unintended competitors) yielded great inner peace. My temporary resignation from Snapchat also facilitated this transition from a state of mind plagued by constant questions of how I could best show off my life to a new mindset where I could live my life according to my wishes, take some pictures for myself and my blog readers, and everyone else would have to make do with stories later on. Honestly, it was an exercise in self-love. Much will change when I return to the states, including social media presence, but I hope I can continue to fend off the tempting gratification that ongoing peer approval infamously provides.


 

As I near the end of “Travels with Charley”, who do I stumble upon but my own Rocinante! (That was Steinbeck’s car that carried them around the US in the book.) Is it a sign??

As I near the end of "Travels with Charley", who do I stumble upon but my own Rocinante! (That was Steinbeck's car that carried them around the US in the book.)

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Spending time instead of money

When I arrived at my flat on that memorable January morning, I was taken aback by the fridge/freezer setup. In the kitchen stood a lumbering freezer and stowed safely away in each of our rooms squatted petite, cubic mini fridges. In retrospect, the amount of freezer:fridge room wasn’t that different than at home, but the location and size did make an impact. I wondered how I would shelter the cornucopia of veggies I bought each week in the small space. How would I optimize the comparatively vast freezer space?

For better or worse, I’ve adapted to a lifestyle with few shelf-stable products and mostly perishables. It makes me feel good but gosh does it take extra time. I’m happy to spend time instead of calories, but luckily cooking is a release for me, or else it’d feel like a chore.

So, a major difference in London living is that people here don’t usually go food shopping on one day. They go a couple days a week, just purchasing the items they need to get by for a few meals. This happens because (1) many don’t have cars to fill with grocery bags and (2) veggies perish rather quickly so it’s best to buy what you can use soon (maybe more reasons too.) At first I did the US thing of spending a pretty penny on one day and waiting a week for more food, but gradually eased into the other method. It’s nicer.

If you’d like to read more about this stark difference between the US and Europe, here’s a brief article from the LA Times. It’s amazing because it’s such a logical idea yet so many of us Americans don’t really realize it.

Ok, now for how to spend about $20/week on food that’s not pasta or lentils! This is one of my best tips for studying abroad or just anywhere you have access to this secret.

Ready?

Here it goes!

Highly discounted trials from grocery delivery companies.

I’ve signed up for three different programs from companies who offer steep discounts for first-time customers. And each delivered to my door! The trick is to make a note of when to cancel so as not to be charged an extra week or whatever when all you want is that first, extremely satisfyingly cheap offer week. And when you’re finished, go back and edit your phone number out of your account so customer service won’t call you 3x/day (looking at you, Abel & Cole.) A brief explanation of each:

1. Abel & Cole

This was an awesome deal, but not for the faint of cooking heart. It was a steep learning curve but I grew so much from it. Basically, I was part of a slightly corporate CSA for a month and received a whopping box of veggies that lasted me seven days. It cost about $12/week and let me start my London experience very healthily. However, being showered with so many perishables was a challenge- I usually cooked it all up in 1,2, or 3 days into different meals and froze most of it, reheating after long days of work. Sometimes it was a struggle to prevent things from rotting. And cooking all this up on one day for 4 hours might not be ideal for everyone. But you can space it out. And if you know anyone who belongs to a CSA, they’ll light up when telling you all the benefits of fresh, organic veggies that support local farmers. When I have a real place to live, a CSA is on my list.

2. Bonativo

I found this deal on LivingSocial. Bonativo is a high-end food delivery service and I picked exactly which items I wanted. I paid something like 18 pounds for 45 pounds’ worth of products (in dollars, about $30 for $78). It felt like a little pampering because I bought some fancy almonds, Cumberland sausages, a veg box, and oh-so-luxe salmon (among other things)! Def recommend this company, even for just one delivery. Oh, that’s the catch- you have to spend a certain amount to get free delivery (vs 7 pounds or something.) But overall, a good good deal.

3. HelloFresh

This company’s clientele includes people who are busy, lacking in cooking skills or confidence, or just want a few recipes’ ingredients directly delivered to them. It was my least favorite of the 3 programs because the dishes weren’t as packed with taste and nutrition as I like. While I followed the first recipe to a T, by the third I just used the ingredients for a different (made up on the spot) recipe altogether. However, for someone wishing to learn more about cooking, this structured service is helpful. And since you’re theoretically using 100% of your products, there’s minimal waste. Each recipe supposedly takes around 30 minutes (a bit of an underestimate, I found.) This cost for six meals was 15 pounds versus the typical 39 pounds ($23 vs $59).

And lastly, my true-blue (inexpensive) pantry staples: BEANZ and homemade bread!

Again, these are definitely a time investment but if you are waiting for your laundry or just doing work in the kitchen, boiling beans for 90 minutes or waiting for your bread to rise and bake aren’t so laborious. Beans are super nutritious (although don’t eat a whole can of them in one day, like I once did…) And with the bread, I made sure it was packed with flax, bee pollen, whole wheat flour, seeds, or something else to help counterbalance the cons of the carbs.

I’m sure you can tell I could talk about food all day but actually I’m off to make some bread! One last word of advice- check out those coupon sites like Groupon and LivingSocial, as well as the impressive Amazon Local. All of these sites contain some money-saving gems for services or products that are all over the map.

Happy bargaining!

Laundry costs $7.36 per load here

Have you ever heard of such exorbitant laundry services?! There must be something I don’t know. Maybe the Queen does her laundry here. Or maybe once I deposit my clothes into the washer, they’re teleported to a team of underground elves who use golden soap and meteorites to de-lint. It’s beyond me.

Mysterious laundry hypothesis


This week I got to try on a hijab! There was a booth outside the campus library in celebration of Islamic Awareness Week with an assortment of scarves and a few Muslim girls staffing it. I immediately felt self-conscious when I imagined going over there, so I took that as a sign to do it and did it. The girls couldn’t have been sweeter, showering compliments of “you look so beautiful!” and “it complements your eyes!”. Regardless of their generous attempt to make me feel at ease, I felt pretty uncomfortable for those ten minutes of being dressed in the headscarf, talking with them about how it made me feel, writing it down on a whiteboard, and then declining an offer to wear it for another ten minutes to experience how others would respond. They took a picture and said they’d send it to me, but I haven’t received it yet.

At the risk of possibly being offensive in some way I can’t predict (a major fear instilled by Wes’ unbelievably PC atmosphere):
I mentioned this briefly a few weeks ago, but I really really love the diversity of East London. I like being around people of many different colors. I like hearing the languages on the tube and feeling like a minority because I’m white. I like that this area is dominated by halal restaurants and on a 15 minute walk down the street, I can pass four Indian clothing shops.
I think it’s related to how homogeneously white my hometown is (93% waddup) and the fading sparkle of Wes’ so-called diversity. As explained by Queensborough Community College, diversity is composed of “dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies”. Was going to post some easily comparable statistics but they’re not easily found online/ I’m too lazy to make big fancy tables so here are some salient points (sources: QMUL and Wesleyan websites).

Notice the top 3

22% Muslim!

Untitled

QM blew Wes out of the water for Asian students. But QM- where are the Latinos??? “Mixed background”? “Other”?

QM also has more than double the international students of Wes.

There are a ton more differences I won’t talk about (academics, income level…) so this is just a peek. In sum, both colleges offer different types of diversity. Also gotta tell you that the years I used to compare the schools aren’t the same- used Wes’ most recent stats (class of 2018) and QM’s early 2010s because I couldn’t find more recent.


On Saturday I went to Brighton and it was fantastic! Very hipster in a fresh way. Brit-ster? Anyway, here are a few highlights without pictures ( 😦 ) because my digital camera is on the brink of death (but fear not! I scored some snazzy disposables and covered them with stickers.)

  • Passed a store that specialized in bonsai trees
  • Experienced life-changing cake* and my first coffee art! The entire experience (food and atmosphere and hilarious decorations) WAS AWESOME
    • This place reclaims the word “eclectic”. I wish the Eclectic frat at Wes were more like this and not so intimidating and hard drug-ridden
    • Here’s a fun review. The best part is the description of the decor:

      The walls are packed with pictures, from the kitsch (Tretchikoffs, landscapes with UFOs, other tawdrily sentimental portraits with googly eyes stuck on, and the über-tastic Wings of Love by Stephen Pearson – two naked lovers encircled by the wings of a massive swan in a fantasy landscape – famous not only for its appearance in Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party but for being a favourite of Saddam Hussein) to zany film stills and pictures of old-school movie stars (and Rolf Harris, Michael Jackson and Tommy Cooper) as well as wartime directives – “Keep it under your hat: careless talk costs lives”). There are hand-painted skateboard decks, taxidermy, tailor’s dummies, posters, toys, old computer hardware, flashing fairylights, even a vintage mincing machine and a butt-naked Action Man zip-wiring across the ceiling, past toy helicopters. There’s a bright pink ArtVend machine that, for £4, dispenses an artwork by the local artist Imbue, and a cute red 1950s kitchen cabinet. Man, do I feel sorry for the cleaners here…

  • Loved my first Cornish Pasty
  • Went to this crazy outer space/rave/futuristic themed shop called Cyberdog and tried on an insane dress (again, wish I could post a picture but can’t yet so this’ll have to do:)
ready for takeoff

ready for takeoff

  • Upon my return in London, a gaggle of costumed couples made their way off the same train I’d taken from Brighton. I discerned a knight, a clown, and a ladybug.

Another travel update: May be going on a Scandinavian tour come April!

so this is culture shock?

I dunno. My mind has sort of unconsciously made me hyperaware of when I might be experiencing anything like it, since I was lectured many times before I left about the cycle of culture shock and how to deal with it. Also, I don’t completely identify with the preliminary “euphoric” stage- indeed, mine was lovely, but I wasn’t naively in love with everything I saw. However, I suppose that I was educated on the matter for a reason. So there you have it- I’ve been

CULTURE SHOCKED!

20 Funny Shocked Cat Memes 3

So I guess I’m in the anxiety phase. Without reading much about it, I can already attribute my current money worries to this stage. Although I don’t have to pay for all my food myself, it’s still jarring to be shelling out about 60 pounds per week for food I cook for myself. It’s also surprising to me because I love to cook, but living without the comfort of a meal plan that lets me prepare food only part of the time forces me to do a lot more work up front. As I like to say, my passion for cooking is enhanced when I am in a relaxed mood- rare when I’m working/studying all the time. So this makes cooking (and the creativity it requires) difficult, for now.

In addition, I understand that I’m paying for what will amount to discounts later on, but I feel like money is jumping out of my pockets when I buy a student rail card (26 pounds) and an ISIC card (~40 pounds incl. shipping and ID photo) and student oyster card (25 pounds not including fares) and textbooks (56 pounds) and a phone plan (38 pounds + monthly bill, but I’ll get reimbursed) in the same week. Whew! Keep in mind that, although the dollar is getting stronger, it takes about 1.52 dollars per pound (currently. Was 1.65 a month ago.)

I can only go onto the free and cheap and frugal London websites for so long until I burst. It’s hard for me to spend money as swiftly as I am currently. Hopefully I’ll get used to it by the time I’m taking worldwide tours and eating gold-covered truffles when I become a billionaire evolutionary biologist.

Obama’s reaction at my scheme to get rich quick.

I know this will pass in time. But for now, I’ll let my pictorial pun do the work:

Culture Shuck (get it?!)

Culture Shuck (get it?!)

Update later that day: I know that this stress will pass! It’s unnerving to be spending a lot up front, but I know it will be worth it in not too long. Like any student studying abroad, there are the joys and challenges of adjusting to a new environment, and I knew I’d have some trouble (as everyone does) when I signed up for this.

Not all my posts will be wonderful and happy, as not all my experiences here will be. And that’s okay- good, even. It’s what life is all about: learning how to grow from tough circumstances. After all, one of my new mantras is “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” It’s how I’ll grow as a person, and that’s good news to me!