When I think of Paris, I think of sitting at a kitchen table in an apartment tucked away in the corner of a neighborhood near the Arc de Triomphe. I’m slowly sipping a mug of sleepytime time as Andrea and her aunt converse in Romanian. I appreciate the language as if it were a painting through which I can only convey the artist’s purpose, without comprehending the entire story. Recognizing my lack of understanding, Andrea switches to English to explain their conversation. We continue to talk in English, and now it is her aunt who is left listening to a foreign conversation. She watches us as if the sounds coming from our mouths will rearrange into words familiar to her: Romanian and French. Andrea can speak Romanian but not French, while I can speak only French and English. I turn to Andrea’s aunt to ask her a question in French, bringing her back into the conversation while Andrea is left watching. Together, we have no common language, but we have somehow found a conversational balance around this table in a city known for its history, art and passion.

So continued one of my favorite evenings in Paris. My second visit to Paris showed me the true grandeur of the city. Yes, the Tour Eiffel and Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris took my breath away when I first saw them. And I was thrilled to see la Jaconde (the Mona Lisa) in person and visit as many patisseries as possible. However, architecture and food cannot represent the entirety of Paris. The typical tourism destinations do not portray one of the most important parts of Paris: its people.

The city has inspired some of the most incredible writers, artists, scientists, and so many other professions for hundreds of years. It is not the air in Paris that inspires, but the Parisians themselves. The hardworking Parisians earn their place in the city by continuing to build a thriving scene of culture and life at every street corner—from the markets to the students to the merry-go-rounds that seem to appear on every corner. Tourism brands the French as uninviting and disinterested, but I would argue that the Parisians do not live in Paris simply welcome tourists to their city. Look at history to determine the true character of Paris and its inhabitants. The Parisians are proud people who fight for what they believe. It is the Parisians who ensure Paris remains true to itself and thus, Parisians truly make Paris, well, Paris.

During my first visit to Paris, it took a moment to become accustomed to seeing so many armed guards walking around the major tourism areas. This was not a sight I saw frequently in America. After a few days in Paris, I realized the importance of these guards and felt great appreciation for them. These men and women were put in place by the city and the government to ensure the safety of the Parisians and the city’s guests. I was thankful for their service throughout the duration of my trip.

I think that is why I felt so shocked as I read the news pouring out of the City of Lights yesterday. Paris has harbored a special place in my heart since high school, and I think that many people throughout the world feel similarly. After several visits in the past few years, I could never imagine the horrors experienced by Parisians (and the French people) in the past few days. Who could ever imagine this kind of terror? My heart aches for the people of Paris, the people of France. There are not words to describe such terrible acts, so I instead wanted to share my portrait of Paris. It is important to remember why we must continue to care about the well-being of all people throughout the world whether they live in Paris, Beirut, Japan or anywhere else under threat of disaster.

So I would like to finish this dedication to Paris with a request. Look at this wall. It can be found in the small courtyard nestled in the heart of Paris. It was slightly difficult to find, but it was worth the journey to see “I love you” written in hundreds of languages. Think about how many ways the world has to say “I love you” around the world and then commit to making more actions of love for all those you love and even those you don’t love. If we can commit more actions of love than hate, I believe we can drown out senseless horrors and show that we are made for more. We are made to love and in that, we have nothing to fear.

Well, it’s official. I spent five months traveling around the world and two months in Texas, but at long last, I have returned my beloved University of Illinois. This will be my most permanent address for the first time in almost two years. I’m no longer a nomad without a home.

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This will be my first time living in an apartment instead of the dorms.

So what’s it like to be back?

I’m sad I can’t just jet off to magical places like Paris or London anymore, but Urbana-Champaign really has become a home to me and I’m happy to be here. Even though my apartment has bed bugs and I already have a ton of homework, I’m glad to be here at Illinois. This is where so many people I care about live and it’s good to be back.

Recently, I watched a TED Talk on the meaning of home and where a person comes from. I admit that I cried the first time I saw it because Pico Iyer understood how I’ve felt over the past 19+ months as I’ve lived in Illinois, Alabama, Ohio, Wales and Texas. It was always difficult to move somewhere new and create a new community, but it gave me the opportunity to make the amazing friendships throughout the US and the world. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

Wherever I go, even when I was traveling in Europe, people wanted to know exactly where I was from in the United States. I am no longer from one part of the United States. When my mother visited me in Wales, someone asked where we were from. My mother answered, “Ohio!” immediately at the exact same time I said, “Ohio and Illinois.” Even though my answer made sense (I live in Illinois more than Ohio, even if I can’t claim in-state tuition), my mother was still surprised by my answer. I’m still trying to define where I’m from.

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Last winter, I visited and stayed with a couple different friends in Chicago and northern Illinois before leaving for Wales.

To me, home is not a place, but a state of being. It is defined by people. After thinking about this idea over plane and train rides, I have decided my home is not where I lay my head down at night, but where I know I could lay down my head. It’s about people and community, as Pico said. I have homes across the US from California to Minnesota to Massachusetts to Georgia because there are people there who care about me and would be happy to make their home my home too.

Despite the trials, I’m happy to be back at Illinois because I’ve returned to a community that will help me get over the hard times and focus on celebrating the joys of life and college.

This is my last study abroad post now that I have returned and re-acclimated myself to American college life. I have not yet written a autoethnography on study abroad due to time constraints this summer, but I hope start work on it soon and hope to finish it this winter.

Over the course of five months, I visited London about a half dozen times and spent over a week non-consecutively exploring the city. I really enjoyed the time I spent there and believe everyone should try to visit it at some point in their lives because there’s something for everyone to see and enjoy. I divided the city and what I’ve seen in it based on interests in hopes that you can make the most of your next trip to London. And no, it’s not everything in London because London is huge, but this guide includes some the best sights to see along with a picture gallery at the end!

Note: Everything in blue is free to see/do!

If you want to see the major sights…

  • Big Ben and Houses of Parliament: Two of the most iconic sights of London and seat of the British government. Big Ben took my breath away the first time I saw it. Absolutely magnificent.
  • Westminster Abbey: From coronations to royal weddings, this is place a must-see. It’s a magnificent place and the Lady Chapel is stunning. It’s a bit pricey and you can’t take pictures inside, but it’s worth every penny.
  • London Eye: As a fan of aerial views and an engineer, I really enjoyed this large Ferris wheel. London is gorgeous, so it’s amazing to see it stretched out before you. I could have watched the capsules slowly spin to keep occupants upright for hours. The only sad thing? The price is a bit more than it should be, so do it once and you’re set.
  • Buckingham Palace: Home to Queen, it’s really something not to be missed. I suggest wearing your best walking shows and attending the change of the guard. I expected this ceremony to be like Arlington Cemetery in DC, but it was very different with plenty of pomp and circumstance as well as music! I was unable to do it, but there are tours of the palace in the summer.
  • Thames River: The Thames will always remind me of the opening of Heart of Darkness from AP English unfortunately, but that didn’t keep me from strolling along it several times. On the bank opposite Parliament, there’s a wonderful paved path so one can walk along the river, grab a bite to eat, and stop off at other attractions such as the Globe Theater.
  • Tower Bridge: This iconic bridge over the Thames is stunning and probably one of my favorite sights of London aside from Big Ben. Definitely try to get a picture with it!
  • Piccadilly Circus: The Times Square of London is bright and bombastic, especially at night. This is also where to go if you’re looking for good shopping or good (but expensive) food.

If you’re a history buff…

  • Tower of London: This former royal castle became one of the best prisons in history as the final home to Anne Boleyn and Richard III’s princeling nephews, along with countless other tortured prisoners. Now, it a museum to the royal family which houses the incredible crown jewels.
  • British Library Archives: My favorite attraction in London and one the best hidden secrets, the British Library is beautiful in and of itself. Its archives make it special. It’s the only place in the world you’ll find Handel’s original compositions, alongside the Magna Carta a stone’s throw from one of the oldest Codexes in the world, alongside the Beatle’s original lyrics for Yesterday written on scrap notebook paper. It’s free and everything in the archives are amazing!
  • Westminster Abbey: Every major event in the royal family can be traced to Westminster Abbey from the wedding of William and Kate to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Read more under Sights.
  • The Globe Theater: The recreation of the venue where Shakespeare’s play were performed for the Queen is must for all theater fanatics. You can even see shows in it if you’re lucky, so that you can pretend you’re back in the time of the Bard!
  • Bomber Command Memorial: A tribute to 7/7/2005 victims, this may not be the most thing in London to see, but it’s a place to see and pay your respects to innocent lives and be thankful for your freedom.

If you’re a museum goer…

  • British Museum: It contains more history than you could ever know so there’s something for everyone here from the Rosetta Stone to the ruins of a Greek temple to Egyptian mummies. As an engineer, my favorite part of the British museum is the clock room.
  • Natural History Museum: First of all, the building the Natural History Museum is housed in is stunning. Secondly, the museum itself is really interesting including dinosaurs, mammals, rocks, etc.
  • Victoria and Alpert Museum: Right next door to the Natural History Museum, this museum is also quite beautiful and has a focus on art and artifacts. It wasn’t my favorite, but there’s a really nice exhibit on iron work that I enjoyed.
  • British Library Archives: Some of the oldest, most historical, coolest books and writings you can find on the planet. Read more under History.
  • Sherlock Holmes Museum: This may be located at 221B and devoted to the famous sleuth, but you don’t need to read the books to appreciate this museum. Why? Because it’s also a great depiction of life and homes from the Victorian era. Just be sure to get there when it opens to avoid the lines!

If you enjoy artistic masterpieces…

  • National Portrait Gallery: The name says it all. I only visited briefly so I can’t tell you much beyond the fact that it has a ton of portraits, but it us quite nice.
  • Victoria and Alpert Museum: This beautiful museum houses both artifacts and rather large collection of art. Read more under Museums.

If you’re a book lover…

  • Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour: If you like Harry Potter even the teensiest bit, you need to go. And don’t forget your camera! As a huge Harry Potter fan, I absolutely loved every single moment of it. One moment I was in the set of Dumbledore’s office, but just a couple strides took me to the Gryffindor Common Room. The tour showcases sets, objects, costumes, and special effects that made Harry Potter come to life on screen.
  • Sherlock Holmes Museum: At 221B Baker St, I was able to set foot in the room of Sherlock Holmes, John Watson and Mrs. Hudson. The sitting room is even complete with bullets in the walls and upstairs is a bundle of letters sent to the famous detective asking Sherlock to help find a poor third grader’s cat. Read more under Museums.
  • Westminster Abbey: It has a poet’s corner dedicated to famous writers including Charles Dickens, T.S. Eliot, Geoffrey Chaucer, and (of course) William Shakespeare. All of the authors buried in Westminster have quotes from their most famous novels as their epitaphs.
  • Platform 9 and 3/4 at King’s Cross: To London, King’s Cross is a train station full of commuters and travelers. To Harry Potter fans, King’s Cross is where one can find a one way ticket to Hogwarts. Or you can at least take a picture with a trolley coming out of the wall by Platform 9 and 3/4.
  • Millennium Bridge: For those who have seen Harry Potter movies way too many times, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2‘s opening sequence includes the destruction of a bridge in downtown London. The Death Eaters did not in fact blow up this bridge and if you take the time to find it, you can walk across it and reimagine this iconic scene.

If you love churches…

  • St. Paul’s Cathedral: One of the tallest buildings in London, I felt like no matter where I walked, I could always spot St. Paul’s. The outside is beautiful and the interior is stunning, though you can’t take pictures inside unfortunately. Also, since it is so tall, St. Paul’s is the best place to pay less and receive a bird’s eye view of London. I’m really sad the whisper gallery was under construction when I tried to go up.
  • Westminster Abbey: Well, I’ve talked about enough already, so I’ll just ask you this: Don’t you want to see where Prince William and Kate Middleton were married? See Sights and History for more information.

If you’re obsessed with the royal family…

  • Buckingham Palace: If you want to find out if the Queen is at home, go look to see if her flag is flying above Buckingham Palace, her beautiful London residence. See Sights for more information.
  • Kensington Palace: Located in Hyde Park, Queen Victoria and Princess Diana both called Kensington Palace home. I did not get a chance to go inside, but I did explore the gardens which are absolutely lovely.
  • Westminster Abbey: Not only did William and Kate get married here, but this also where kings and queens have been crowned for centuries. Just before exiting the church, you even get to see the coronation chair! See Sights, History and Churches to learn more.

If you love theatre…

  • West End: Famous for it’s spectacular shows, the West End is London’s version of Broadway. I saw Spamalot for the first time and it was excellent. The West End is a definite must for anyone who loves a good show.
  • The Globe Theater: The recreation of theater where Shakespeare’s plays were staged is one of the most medieval looking buildings in London. You can even attend a live performance of a Shakespearean performance! I never had the time, but I really wish I had!
  • TKTS in Leicester Square: If you’re trying to catch a West End show, stop by TKTS in Leicester Square before going. It offers discounted show tickets so that you can save your money for other London attractions like the London Eye.

If you are a tree hugger…

  • Hyde Park: It’s remarkable how large Hyde Park is when everything in London is so compact. The green space goes on forever. It contains Kensington Palace and Gardens, a large swan pond, a monument to Prince Albert, and so much more. On a nice day, dogs walking with their owners can be seen in every square meter of the park.
  • Regent’s Park: In northern part of London, this park has breathtaking flower arrangements everywhere. The best flowers are to be seen in an inner circular area called Queen Mary’s Gardens. It’s absolutely stunning and I loved exploring the park on a warm, sunny spring day. I didn’t even feel like I was in London as I walked through it.
  • St. James’s Park: A stone’s throw away from the Thames, mix up your walk through London by taking a path through this lovely park. There’s plenty of little points of interest including a tiny cottage that looked like it had come straight out of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
  • Kensington Gardens: Just in front of Kensington Palace in Hyde Park, I enjoyed strolling around these beautiful gardens. They’re not large and showy, but that’s why the gardens are so charming. I could just imagine Queen Victoria in a beautiful billowing dress walking around the fountain pool with her beloved Prince Alpert a hundred years prior.

And here’s what I loved most:

  • Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour: I grew up reading Harry Potter and waiting hours for the midnight premiere of the movies. It was amazing to walk around and see the sets, props, and costumes used in the movies. I even learned new things about the movies such as Umbridge’s outfits became more pink as she gained more power. Even though the books and movies are done, the magic of Harry Potter lives on at Warner Bros. Studios. Read all about it under Books.
  • All of the parks and gardens: I love flowers, so I’m probably a little bit biased, but I thought the parks of London were incredible. My pictures don’t do them any justice. Please, if you visit London, stop by at least one park. It’s nice to enjoy serenity in one of the busiest cities in the world. See more in Trees.
  • British Library Archives: I never would have explored the archives if I hadn’t been trying to kill some time and looking back, I’m so happy I had extra time. The variety of amazing things as described under History and Museums doesn’t even cover the magnitude of amazing documents, compositions, books, and art on display.
  • Westminster Abbey: Don’t let the fact that you can’t take pictures or the cost bring you down. It’s worth every penny. There’s a little bit of everything inside of Westminister Abbey and the Lady Chapel amazed me, despite how many European churches I had seen. Read more in Sights, History, Books, Churches, and Royals.
  • Clock room in the British Museum: I’ve always loved history so it was cool to see mummies, the Rosetta Stone and a Greek temple front, but I’m ultimately an engineer. On my third visit to the British Museum while looking for mummies, I discovered the clock room and fell in love with it. It held working clocks from almost every decade for the past four hundred years ago and a large clock’s inner mechanisms so I could fully understand how a clock works. I loved it. See Museums for more information.
  • Natural History Museum: Dinosaurs and animals with a statue of Darwin in the lobby. How could I not love this museum? There’s a ton different exhibits from insects to rocks to sea creatures at the Natural History Museum. The exterior of the building itself is stunning and worth a few photos as well! Read all about it under Museums.
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral: I love churches and every time I saw St. Paul’s, I was in awe. Inside, St. Paul’s is truly beautiful. I loved pointing out its beautiful dome wherever I was in the city. See Churches for more.

And that sums it up. I can’t tell you very much about food or shopping because London is extremely expensive compared to other cities. I tried to save money by bringing a lot of my own food when I would be spending only a couple days there and I often was only traveling with a backpack so I had little room for souvenirs. Here’s a few other pieces of information on London:

  • Transportation: London is beautiful and it is best to walk around it to see the wonderful buildings. However, it’s also very large so an Underground day pass can be extremely handy when you have a lot to see and do or a time limit. It costs 7 pounds (~$10) which is expensive for public transportation. My suggestion is try to keep all of your sights for the day in one area and just walk there and back.
  • Food: Covent Garden has the best food for the best prices in my opinion if you look around enough. There’s also sometimes street performers who are quite fun!
  • Pubs: I’m convinced that everyone in London goes out for a pint immediately after work. So if you’re looking to have dinner around 5 o’clock in pub, I would not suggest it because it will be extremely busy with everyone socializing after a long day.
  • Restrooms: London isn’t as bad as some European cities, but it does have its fair share of pay toilets. If you don’t feel like paying to pee, go find the nearest free museum (London has a ton) and use their toilets. They’re usually pretty clean too!
  • Safety: I wouldn’t do anything silly like walk around at night by yourself, but overall, I found London to be one the places I felt safest in throughout Europe.
  • Navigation: I cannot promote the TripAdvisor Offline City Guide enough! It will help you find your way throughout London as well as tell you all the wonderful restaurants and attractions near you. You’ll be so happy you downloaded it. I know I am!

So that’s London in a nutshell. It’s a lot of information so I hope you find whatever you’re looking for. If you don’t, please feel free to ask! It really is a lovely city and I hope you visit it and enjoy exploring someday in the near future. Thanks for reading! Please share with fellow travelers, pin pictures of Pinterest, comment on what your favorite thing is London, etc. Have a wonderful day!

Personal note: Hello! I’m alive, back in the US and already in Texas for a summer internship. It’s been a while, huh? I must apologize for absence. Between traveling through Scotland and Ireland, returning to my hometown in Ohio and then moving to Houston, my life has been too crazy to do much of anything. Now my life is returning to a normal, less crazy schedule as I start work so I’ll be back to (hopefully) weekly posts. Even though I’m back in America, I will continue posting study abroad stuff about adjusting back to the US and its education system throughout the next several months along with a few special posts about London, Scotland and Ireland.

I spent less than a week at home before moving to Texas.

A lot of people have been asking me if I’ve been in culture shock because I came back to the US and immediately moved to Texas. When I was home, I spent most of my days running errands (personal and work related) where I would leave at 9 am and come home at 5 pm. Then I would do something with my family like watch my brother play baseball (he’s a phenomenal pitcher!) and afterwards meet up with a friend from high school to catch up. I successfully closed down two ice cream stands and one restaurant while I was home. I was so busy running around that there was nothing to adjust to. I had a list of things to do everyday and I made sure I completed them.

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Houston feels like another city to explore on my trip around the world.

That may sound a little rash, but I am living in a new place. If the radio stations can be judged, a large chunk of the population prefer Spanish to English. There’s also a fair amount of history in Houston and little places to see, along with a few kept secrets like the red button on Preston Bridge. I’m still close to the ocean so Houston could be Swansea… except the temperature is twice as hot and there are Southern, not British, accents.

So what am I doing in Houston?

Well, I had my first day of work today at LyondellBasell’s Houston oil refinery. I planned on starting on Monday, but was unable. I’m interning on a port, so I’m required to have a US port clearance called a TWIC card from TSA (yes, TSA of the airport security fame, my favorite government officials) in order to work. A word of advice to engineers who plan on studying abroad: If you have a job lined up after coming back to the US, find out if you need a TWIC card before you leaving. I had to wait two days without pay for my TWIC card, but it could delayed my start date by up to two weeks. One poor co-op has been unable to start work since May 20 because he is still waiting on his TWIC card after over a month.

LyondellBasell’s Houston oil refinery at night.

TWIC cards are a standard need for any employee in a port whether it be Toledo, Ohio or Houston, Texas. However, as interns, students cannot afford to live without pay waiting on the US government to send a special card. It is important to issue clearances for people to work on ports because they are vital part of the US’s economy and security. I think there is a better way to do this than what is currently in place. Both visits to the TWIC offices took only 15 minutes, but when I called to schedule an appointment to pick up my TWIC card, I was initially told I could not activate it until July. This would have been impossible and I was prepared to hold a stakeout in the TWIC office to get my card. It turned out the appointment center didn’t know what they were talking about and I activated my card without a problem. I have a number of suggestions for how to improve this process that I might send to the US government, but this is an engineering education blog, so I’m not going to talk about that now. Instead I’ll say this:

Colleges (and even high schools) should educate students on different standards they need to meet in order to be employed so that students are aware of their existence, even if they don’t need to meet all of them.

I barely know anything about the FE or PE. I’m not even sure if I’m correct using those acronyms. I’m pretty sure you need to pass one to become an engineer and then another one is a good idea to get after working as an engineer. I think my classes will talk more about this senior year, but I’d rather I actually was instructed in this if it’s relevant to my future.

So what am I doing in Houston exactly?

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Me on the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. I’ll miss study abroad, but I’m excited for all that Houston has to offer!

I guess I never fully answered this. My internship at Lyondell’s Houston refinery is with the unit engineers group. In a plant, there are lots of different machines that do different jobs. These machines are called units. The oil we receive on the port is a mix of everything from jet fuel to diesel to automotive lubricant to gasoline to things I didn’t even know existed. My unit is the crude unit so it separates everything in the oil into the different parts as best it can. After this the gasoline isn’t quite ready for your car yet though and every part of the oil is run through more units. But you get the idea. I’m not sure what the actual project I’ll be doing yet is, but I’m still learning quite a bit.

Working with oil makes the treehugger in me kind of sad. But I know that this is going to be an amazing learning opportunity. I want to use this industrial experience to see how engineering education should change in order to properly train engineers for their future careers and I’m going to do it all day, everyday for the whole summer. I can’t wait.

I miss homework.

In less than a month, I will complete my final exams at Swansea University, finishing my semester abroad. Two of these exams are worth 100% of my final grade. One exam is worth 90% of my final grade. My final exam, the only multiple choice test I will receive this semester, will be 50% of my final grade. To be honest, the thought of all my grades relying on one test performance terrifies me.

Dr. Sheldon Cooper demonstrates how I feel about studying notes without practice homework problems.

I would have less of a problem with the ways grades are determined in the United Kingdom if I had more of an opportunity to practice what I’m learning. Over the past three and a half months, I have had only five homework assignments to work on and turn in promptly. My classes which rely on finals alone to determine final grades have not even offered optional homework problems. Old exams from past years are the only study tools I have and the answers are not included.

I’ve truly realized the true value of homework and I can’t wait to return to the United States where the value of homework problems as a learning method is more fully realized. I know I will eat my words in no time upon returning to Illinois, but let me share with you the reasons why homework is actually kind of really awesome.

5 Reasons Why You Should Stop Complaining About Your Homework

  1. You have the opportunity to develop your problem solving skills. Since elementary school, teachers expect students to solve problems, but students receive little instruction on proper problem solving techniques. No, I don’t count the scientific method we learned at the beginning of every junior high science class because I remember memorizing the steps for a quiz and never consciously using the scientific method again. This teaching failure causes a deficiency in these skills. The best remedy is to use homework problems to become a better problem solver.
  2. You have the ability to practice and apply what you’re learning. Here in Wales, my only opportunity to apply knowledge is with past exam papers which cover all of the class material in a mostly non-linear fashion. I’ve had very little opportunity to check my knowledge and understanding of concepts as I go. Homework, no matter how tedious, ingrains habits and methods to complete complicated problems into your brain. Last semester, I complained about how tiresome solving matrices became after the fifth homework problem, but now I actually miss it.
  3. You’re forced to study the material. It’s easy to say you understand something after reading it, but the truth comes out when you try to apply what you’ve learned. Homework makes you think beyond the words on the page. Learning does not mean understanding. Understanding comes from applying what you learned and making connections. Homework is the catalyst that turns learning into knowledge.
  4. You receive feedback on your work so you know what you don’t understand. In the UK, professors aren’t supposed to post exact answers to their past exams, even though these exams are all we have to study. In the US, my heart always dropped to see a red line slashed through the last half of a long homework problem. But this also told me how to fix it. For that, you should be grateful.
  5. You’re making major mistakes on small homework problems instead of the exam. In retrospect, homework is worth a mere fraction of your grade, no matter your education system. However, most of my grades result from homework and my reaction to graded homework. I practiced concepts in my assignments, understood what I needed to study more, and focused on the hard problems from past homework assignments. I missed hard problems on small homework assignments, but this led to focused studying so I could succeed on important tests.

This being said, there is such thing as too much homework. Students with an overload of assignments (myself included) may go through the motions and might look for shortcuts instead of seeking learning from coursework. There must be balance. I would love to see a couple more assignments from my classes in Wales to better check my knowledge and understanding.. The other solution is to create practice problems with guided and unguided solutions. Generally the UK describes its college education system as less supported than the US, but that does not mean UK classes should offer no support.

Overall, homework is a great opportunity to learn. Please, take advantage of it next time it’s offered to you.

Hello! Buongiorno! Ahoj! Guten tag! Bonjour! Dag!

Greetings in every language I encountered over the past three weeks and welcome to what will be a long, colorful post of some of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Ready? Allons-y!


Just a little bit of background on myself, I come from a family of Catholics whose favorite restaurant is the Olive Garden. So it should come as no surprise that Italy was one of the main countries I wanted to visit over spring break. I dreamed of seeing Rome and Venice, while my friend Paul longed to see Pompeii and Rome. For these reasons, we decided to fly out of London at 6 am into Naples, Italy and take a bus to Pompeii. A couple days later, we took a train to Rome and afterwards, we flew to Venice. All of the cities were wonderful, though unexpectedly Pompeii was my favorite and Venice was my least. Overall, Italy was beautiful, the food was delicious, and it was rich with history.


  • Favorite experience: The ruins! They are breathtakingly beautiful and give me a great insight as to how people lived two thousand years ago.
  • Best meal: Our Bed and Breakfast served us a homecooked three course meal including spaghetti and pork.
  • Sights to see: Walk around the village to the little market and souvenir shops to enjoy the little Italian town atmosphere.
  • You can skip: Taking a taxi or car around the little village. It’s best experienced on foot!
  • Wish I could have: Visited Mt. Vesuvius. It’s still active!
  • Pro-tip: Don’t buy an audioguide because it’s outdated. Your visit will be much more valuable if you buy a book and a map or take a guided tour with an actual tour guide.


  • Favorite experience: Mass with Pope Francis! As a Catholic, my attendance at the Blessing of the Oils mass on Holy Thursday was and will be one the most important spiritual highlights of my life. It was worth running through Rome, pas the Trevi Fountain, to get to the North American Pontificate and receive the last tickets they were handing out the day before.
  • Best meal: Tiramisu gelato! With tomato and basil gnocchi in a close second place.
  • Sights to see: Colosseum, for the history. St. Peter’s Basilica, for the beauty and reverence. Vatican Museums, for some of the most amazing art and sculptures in our world. Trevi Fountain, for a wish to make Rome magical. The Church of St. Peter in Chains, so you see more churches than just the Vatican and a Michaelangelo statue.
  • You can skip: The pizza. It may have been where we ate it at, but the last time I had pizza was in Chicago at Pizzeria Due, so it just couldn’t compare.
  • Wish I could have: Taken a tour of Rome, but we didn’t have enough time unfortunately.
  • Pro-tip: The Vatican is not that close to the actual city, so simply take a day to do everything in the area.


  • Favorite experience: Vaparetto (water taxi) ride early Saturday morning around the island because we were able to see all of the beautiful palaces on the Grand Canal while the rest of the city slept.
  • Best meal: Tagliatelle with pesto.
  • Sights to see: St. Marco’s Square, for the architecture. Glass and mask shops for the beautiful artistry. Otherwise, simply wander around and get lost instead of focusing on specific places.
  • You can skip: The gondola ride, at least if your student. They’re expensive and the water taxis are also boat rides on the canal!
  • Wish I could have: Visited the islands outside Venice where the glass blowers and lace makers live.
  • Pro-tip: Go to Venice with someone you love so you enjoy their presence as much as the magic of the island. Also, Venice has two airports so try to make sure you go to the correct one when trying to catch a flight..

Czech Republic

Whenever I mentioned Prague to people who had visited the old city, a smile would immediately cross their face and reminiscent gleam twinkled in their eyes. I knew there was something magical about the city. So after touring Italy I left my friend Paul at the airport as he went to the UK and Ireland, in order to meet other friends in Prague to celebrate Easter. Easter also happened to be my birthday this year, so it made the experience doubly special.


  • Favorite experience: Easter in Prague. Between the Easter markets and the beautiful mass I attended at Church of Our Lady in Front of Tyn, my birthday was amazing because of the joy of Easter seen throughout Prague. I feel lucky to have seen Prague at Easter.
  • Best meal: Risotta in balsamic reduction with tree berries. I don’t think this dish was very Czech, so I did try dumplings and goulash. However, the risotto was simply amazing.
  • Sights to see: Sandeman’s free walking tour for the history on various parts of the city. Prague Castle so you can explore the largest castle in Europe (but really, it’s a castle, the Czech are just stubborn). Funicular railway and Petrin tower to see over the whole city. Charles Bridge for the people, statues and artists. John Lennon’s Wall for appreciating the people of Prague. Infant at Prague for praying. Random carnival in the middle of Prague! Old Town Square for the beauty of Prague.
  • You can skip: Astronomical Clock. Well, actually, go once and see, but don’t expect too much.
  • Wish I could have: Visited the Jewish Museum. Spent five more days in Prague.
  • Pro-tip: The Czech Republic is on the korona (crowns) so don’t feel so rich when you have a thousand dollar bill because it’s really approximately fifty dollars. Also, don’t take two tours in one day. It’s too much.


In the third grade, my class once received an assignment to ask my parents what countries my family came from before they immigrated to the US. My fellow classmates returned to school the next day listing dozens of nationalities that made up their own unique heritage: Polish, Irish, Chinese, Nigerian, Scottish, Japanese, India, etc. When I had asked my parents, I was given only one primary answer: German. For this reason, I was really excited to visit Germany, land of my people, and especially Berlin. In the past fifty years, Berlin has witnessed some of the most important history in the world, events that still affect our daily lives now. So we left snowy Prague for a very cold Berlin on Easter Monday.


  • Favorite experience: Palace of Tears, which was probably one of my top places for the whole trip. Palace of Tears was a testament to the families, friends, couples, etc. separated by the Berlin for over twenty years and it was located next to a train station where people could be reunited for a couple hours every few years. The stories were beautiful and moving. They made me think about the Berlin Wall and Iron Curtain in a new way.
  • Best meal: Falafel! When we arrived in Berlin, it was 9 pm by the time we found our hostel and we were too exhausted to go find food in the city. So we walked down the street and found a cheap Lebanese restaurant. The owner was so happy to meet us on our first night in Berlin and made us feel at home with his delicious food.
  • Sights to see: Tiergarten, the former royal hunting grounds, to enjoy beautiful green space. East Side Gallery to see what a living memorial the Berlin Wall has become. Berlin Philarmonic because they offer free concerts on Tuesdays and their musicians are amazing! Topography of Terror because as a people, the world must never forget the Nazis and what they did to the Jews and German people. The Jewish Museum to celebrate the beauty of Jewish culture. Brandenberg Gate at night because it’s beautiful. Sandeman’s free walking tour because it’s a great source of information. Checkpoint Charlie for the history. Gartenmarkt because it’s the most beautiful square in Berlin. The Holocaust Memorial for obvious reasons.
  • You can skip: Nothing really. Berlin has a lot of important history that it can be hard to see, but you really should visit.
  • Wish I could have: Had more time at the underground part of the Holocaust Memorial. Visited the concentration camp Sachsenhausen. Gone up in the Reichstag, but you have to make reservations..
  • Pro-tip: Almost everything interesting in Berlin is free!


I spent four years studying French in high school, four years in French Club, two years as French Club treasurer, and one year as French Club president. Every year, we learned French while also learning about the culture and the country. I loved every moment of it. For this reason, France was the country I spent over a week in. Earlier in March, I visited Paris for a weekend with friends from Swansea. This is why I only stayed in Paris for a day before going on a three day group tour to see Mont St. Michel and the castles of the Loire Valley. Afterwards, I left my travel companion, an Illinois exchange student at Manchester who was going to visit her family in Romania, to go visit the Junior Enterprise Europe Etudes in Strasbourg. I had a wonderful time visit Westminster Business Consulting in London so I wanted to visit more Junior Enterprises and extend Illinois’s Junior Enterprise’s international network. Also, it meant that I was able to live like a Frenchwoman and speak only in French for three days after not using my French skills since high school. It was exhausting, but very rewarding.

Paris (includes places previously visited in March)

  • Favorite experience: Eiffel Tower at night. It’s stunning to see the old city sprawling out into the dark night sky from atop the shining symbol of Paris.
  • Best meal: Anything from a boulangerie (bakery). We found a cute local boulangerie nearby and bought breakfast there everyday in March. The baked goods were easy on our budgets and delicious!
  • Sights to see: Notre Dame because you just have to go! Shakespeare and Co. bookstore because it’s a great little bookstore that’s awesome. The Louvre to see Winged Victory, Venus de Milo and la Joconde (the Mona Lisa). Jardin des Tulieres to watch kids play with sailboats in the little pools. Champs-Elysees for a shopping street even more grand than Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. Arc de Triomphe because it’s beautiful! Sacre Coeur because it’s the real most beautiful church of Paris! Place du Tertre to admire the best art in Paris. Mur des Je T’aimes because “the Wall of I Love You’s” is a really cute place to find. The Conciergerie because it’s home to a lot of amazing histoy. Walk along the Seine at night to feel truly Parisian. Try macaroons because they’re delicious! Eat Berthillon ice cream because it’s also amazing. Place de la Concorde to remember the French Revolution. Visit the flower market at the base of Notre Dame because it’s really cute.
  • You can skip: Royal Palais because the Louvre is housed in a much more stunning building. Centre Pompidou unless you’re really into modern art. The Pantheon unless you’re into dead people or really like St. Genevieve like me.
  • Wish I could have: Visited Jardin du Luxembourg which was for some reason closed when we went. Taken a bateau mouche ride. Gone in Saint Chapelle. Visited Musee d’Orsay. Saw the Monet paintings in Musee de l’Orangerie. Visit Versailles.
  • Pro-tip: For food, head over to the Latin Quarter because it’s where all the students live so prices are much better there. Also, the metro is a little confusing, but it’s worth learning so you can go to one area for the day so you don’t kill your feet too much. Paris is quite large. Paris is also probably best enjoyed with someone you really love (or if you speak French like me!).


I’m going to describe the castles I saw a little bit differently, so here it goes…

  • If you’re a religious person: Mont St. Michel is a giant monastery on a little tiny island in the English Channel and it’s absolutely breathtaking.
  • If you like history: Langeais was where Anne of Brittany wed Charles VIII, uniting most of modern day France.
  • If you like war: Amboise saw some pretty brutal parts of the French Religious Wars including Protestants heads being put on pikes.
  • If you’re an engineer: Clos-Luce, the final dwelling place of Leonardo da Vinci, has a basement full of models of Leonardo’s ingenious sketches from the flying machines to a precursor of the army tank to the first car! The grounds outside the tiny chateau is dotted with larger versions for visitors to test for themselves.
  • If you like flowers: Villandry is known for it’s beautiful gardens of many types: ornate, symbolic flower gardens, a water garden, woods, kitchen gardens, etc. I don’t recommend going until it’s warm enough for them to bloom though!
  • If you’re interested in home decorating: Cheverny is a small castle still in use today by the family that built it. The rooms inside were beautiful and every inch was covered in grandeur.
  • If you like pretty things: Chenonceau is the classic French castle which is built over a river as if it were a bridge and was given to Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of Henry II. Inside, the rooms are elegant and beautiful as well, save the room covered in black where a widow lived for the last decade of her life.
  • If you miss supersize at McDonalds: Chambord is the largest of the French chateaux in the Loire Valley with 365 fireplaces. The massive castle was only used for two months of the year for hunting so the grounds are extensive.


  • Favorite experience: Strasbourg Cathedral de Notre Dame is my favorite church in all of Europe after seeing millions over the past few months. The exterior and interior were beautiful and I just instantly loved it. Fun fact: It only has one steeple instead of two, as cathedrals like Notre Dame of Paris usually have, because they ran out of money while building it. In close second, my other favorite experience was visiting the Junior Enterprise there because I made some great friends, spoke only in French for three days, and was able to experience French culture because I was staying with friends who are French. Strasbourg also reminded me of New Orleans for some reason which brought back some really great memories.
  • Best meal: A tarte flambees, also called a flammekuche, with choucroute (sauerkraut). I challenged myself by order sauerkraut and dark beer so that I would be trying all of the specialties of Strasbourg. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of beer, but the flammekuche avec choucroute was delicious. And our dessert afterwards was amazing too.
  • Sights to see: The market in the main square because it’s key part of French life and culture. The canal around the city for a beautiful stroll. Downtown Strasbourg to be enchanted by the winding streets and get the feel of small town France. The random menagerie in a beautiful park by Strasbourg’s university to see some cool animals including the stork, symbol of Alsace (region of France where Strasbourg is).
  • You can skip: Nothing! This town is beautiful and you should try to enjoy being wherever you are in the city.
  • Wish I could have: Seen the EU buildings there because Strasbourg is the official seat of the EU parliament.
  • Pro-tip: Always validate your ticket for the train, the tram, bus, etc. wherever you are in Europe. I saw someone fined because they hadn’t done so on my way to the train station.


So on my train from Strasbourg to Brussels, there was ten minute stop in Luxembourg. I wanted to maximize the number of countries I had been in, so I hopped off the train for approximately two minutes just to say that I’ve been to Luxembourg. Success!


Brussels is home to both the European Union Parliament and JADE, the board in charge of Junior Enterprise throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. On behalf of Illinois’s Junior Enterprise, I stayed at JADE for three and a half days where I had a lot of meetings with different officers. When I was free, I explored the charming city and the best way I can sum up my activities in Belgium is as such: food.


  • Favorite experience: The Musical Instrument Museum (MIM)! After visiting so many informational places in less than three weeks, I wasn’t sure if I’d like the MIM that much, but I love music and wanted to see what it would be like. For only two euros, I was given a pair of headphones and free range to walk around four floors of musical instruments as old as 600 AD to present. Whenever I walked by an instrument, it would play for a couple minutes over my headphones. I spent three hours simply listening to beautiful music played by equally beautiful music.
  • Best meal: Instead of buying lunch for myself on the day I explored, I bought myself chocolate because I was in Belgium. I regret nothing. So my best meal consisted of dark chocolate with strawberry filling, a chocolate mousse cupcake, and hot chocolate that was essentially molten chocolate. Runners up include: The waffles, fries, and the mango beer I tried at Delirium. Why did I actually like my beer? Because as the German with us exclaimed, “This isn’t beer!”
  • Sights to see: Walk into every chocolate shop in search of free samples because Belgian chocolate is amazing. Parliamentarium to learn more about the EU Praliament and how affects the world and Europe. Grand Place because the buildings there are gorgeous. Church of Notre Dame au Sablon because it’s pretty. Jardin du Petit Sablon to rest your feet and appreciate statues of important Belgians like William of Orange. Palais Royal because it’s a cute little imitation of Buckingham Palace. St. Nicholas Church for mass in a beautiful setting (I’m convince the Our Father in French is one of the most beautiful things to listen to ever.).
  • You can skip: Mannekin Pis because he’s really tiny and not that special. The metro because Brussels is an easy place to walk as long as it’s not dark.
  • Wish I could have: Found the murals of comics that are scattered throughout Brussels.Talked to a friend staying at the JADE house about visiting the actual EU Parliament while it was in session. Visited Atomium. Went to the Belgian Center of Comic Strips because I remember learning about it French class.
  • Pro-tip: All the tourist chocolate shops with free samples are near Galeries St-Hubert and Grand Place. The best chocolate to by is actually in Place du Grand Sablon because it tastes like heaven in your mouth and it’s cheaper. Also, if you go up to the cafe at the top of the Musical Instrument Museum, you have a great view of the rest of Brussels.

A few key travel tips and parting words:

  • Download the Tripadvisor Offline City Guide for the iPhone before traveling in Europe. I was never lost, visited the best attractions in every city, and ate where the locals eat in almost every city because of it. Even though I wasn’t using data and didn’t have wifi, my phone always knew where I was and where I was going.
  • Print out color maps of cities’ transportation routes (metro, bus, tram, etc.) so that you know what you’re doing upon arrival and/or departure.
  • Always have backup plans and emergency cash. Things will go wrong, but if you keep a calm head, you can overcome any challenge you come across while traveling.

So that was my trip and I’m happy to talk more about it with you if you ever consider traveling in Europe. Congratulations for making it to the end my amazing three weeks. Honestly, I didn’t even do these cities justice in showing how beautiful they were. I had the time of my life with so many different, unique experiences throughout out my trip. My advice is that if you ever receive the opportunity to travel extensively, do not hesitate! Take it! Finally, I must thank everyone who made my trip possible, especially my parents, and also thank everyone who made it amazing, especially my travel companions. The past three weeks were more than I could have ever imagined and I will always be grateful for the experience. As always, thanks for reading and please share with any other world travelers.

And the reward for finishing reading this post:

Hello! Thank you for stumbling across my website and taking an interest in it! This post is going to be a more of a personal note than commentary because I need to tell you about what’s happening with my life (and this website) for the next three weeks. So for those of you not aware, I’m currently studying abroad at Swansea University in Wales. It’s absolutely beautiful in Swansea and I’m having a wonderful time. One of the awesome things about Swansea (and the UK college education system) is that I have a spring break that is three weeks long. What does an American do when she’s living in the United Kingdom and has a three week spring break? She visits the main continent of Europe, of course! I’m beyond excited, but this means I’ll be unable to post blog updates for the next three weeks. Instead, I’ve created a website where I’ll upload my favorite photos whenever I have internet so check out Morgan’s Spring Break 2013. Currently, I just have a map of where I’m going, but I’ll add more as I go places!

Proposed Route for Spring Break 2013

Should you be compelled to ask yourself, “Where in the world is Morgan Bakies?” sometime over the next three weeks, I have an answer for you:

  • March 25: London, United Kingdom
  • March 26: Pompeii, Italy
  • March 27-28: Rome, Italy (including: Holy Thursday mass with the Pope!)
  • March 29: Venice, Italy
  • March 30-31: Prague, Czech Republic
  • April 1-3: Berlin, Germany
  • April 4: Paris, France
  • April 5-7: Mont St. Michel and Loire Valley Chateaux Tour, France
  • April 8-10: Strasbourg, France
  • April 11-13: Brussels, Belgium

So please, keep an eye on my iOS website for pictures of some of the coolest places Europe has to offer and live vicariously through me. When I come back, I’ll tell you all about European cities and how beautiful they are. In the meantime, please pray for everyone traveling, including myself, to be safe and enjoy this amazing opportunity. I can’t wait to continue writing and sharing my thoughts with you when I come back to Swansea. Have a wonderful next three weeks, internet! See you soon!

PS: I just downloaded a really cool app that lets me turn my photos into postcards. If you send me a request for a certain photo and your address, I’ll do my best to get a picture for you and send it to you! See how to contact me under “Start”.

“A major issue in engineering right now is teaching with PowerPoint,” a doctorate candidate at Swansea University told me in passing.

Students sitting near the speaker of all years and nationalities nodded their heads in agreement, whether they were full-time English/Welsh students, international student, exchange students, or Erasmus students.

Since classes began in January in Swansea, I’ve taken careful note of how my different professors taught their engineering courses due to my interest in engineering education. There are positive differences compared to my year and a half Illinois. For example: a number of my professors incorporate videos in their lectures, which I quite enjoy. However, in contrast, a number of my professors use PowerPoint extensively as a mode of teaching. For instance, one of my required chemical engineering courses that I’m taking at Swansea is thermodynamics.

Everyday my thermodynamics professor uses PowerPoint as his only method to convey information and material to students. Instead of working out problems for his students or showing his reasoning and common mistakes, my professor simply displays calculations that have already been completely finished and perfected. There is no student interaction and we are not shown where he found the values he used in the problem. Instead, we are told and then asked if we have any questions.

How are we students expected to form questions when we cannot work through the problem shown and see for ourselves where we do not understand?

The evolution of learning tools in the classroom.

I and my fellow classmates attend lecture solely to sign my name on attendance sheet. We wait until class is over and the current day’s PowerPoint is posted. Then I spend hours reading through and working the problems out myself because I was not given a chance in class to determine what I did not understand and no longer have a professor available to answer questions he never gave me time to formulate. After this, I must work on a worksheet over material to re-enforce what I have learned. However, I did not learn because of the manner the material was taught to me. So instead I struggle with my fellow students with the little guidance of the problems on PowerPoint, worked out with numbers which seem to appear out of thin air.

Learning is an interactive experience. Assigned worksheets will not add interaction to my education. PowerPoint will not provide me with an education experience. I do not ask for guided learning where the teacher watches over the pupil. I understand the UK education system is even less guided than the American system. However, I do ask for the teacher actually perform calculations and allow for input. It may take longer and sometimes the professor may make a mistake, but it is in catching that mistake that I will find my greatest glory. Why? Because it means that I am actually learning the material instead of simply reciting it like a trained animal. I am an engineer who wants to solve problems, but in order to do that, my professors must do more than teach. They must educate.

Do you know what Junior Enterprise (JE) is? What about JADE? Does Brazil Junior ring a bell? Chances are, if you’re not living in Brazil or Europe, you’ve never even heard of Junior Enterprise. Let’s change that. Right here, right now.

Junior Enterprise is a confederation of undergraduate student organizations which specialize in consulting primarily within the business and engineering domains, depending on the chapter. Originally, Junior Enterprise was started in France, where some chapters have been working as the French equivalent of non-profit organizations for over thirty years. Yes, every member on the administration board or working as a consultant is either an undergraduate or less than a year out of university, but in every other way, Junior Enterprise chapters are businesses. The officer team is a board with a CEO, CFO, etc. and teams of HR, communications and marketing personnel. Junior Enterprise chapters work with real businesses such as Quicksilver and McDonalds. Business chapters offer consultations, market studies, etc. Engineering chapters work as consultants making websites and making databases. Junior Enterprise benefits both the JE chapters and companies involved because it provides company with cheaper labor who will work hard to do a good job while also giving undergraduate students relevant work experience on a variety of different projects. JADE and Brazil Junior has made a difference to thousands of undergraduate students.

UIUC Junior Enterprise members Skyping with ESCadrille.

Within the past year, two different North American Junior Enterprise chapters have begun. One is located in Montreal and the other one is at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I can proudly say that I am one of the first members of Junior Enterprise in the United States and I think that the meaning of this statement grows day by day. At Illinois, our Junior Enterprise is called CUBE Consulting (Champaign Urbana Business Enterprise). We have projects working with the university’s sustainable farm, the Orpheum Science Museum for kids, and creating our own website (so there’s no website yet, but you can go like our Facebook page!). Everyday CUBE Consulting is growing and taking more steps towards becoming an established Junior Enterprise chapter that will someday work with large scale companies.

Last Tuesday, I helped advance CUBE Consulting one step further. I visited Westminster Business Consultants (WBC) of the University of Westminster in London. By pure happenstance, I stopped by on the same day as two members of ESCadrille, the Junior Enterprise from Toulouse, France. Ironically a week prior, these same members had Skyped with my JE chapter in Champaign. This provided me with the wonderful opportunity to ask questions of two very established chapters of Junior Enterprise that I know will assist CUBE Consulting as it continues to grow. I asked them on advice for recruitment of students and projects. JADE is not as established in the UK as it is in France, so WBC had a lot of good advice for us such as using professors and students to spread the word. ESCadrille has a lot of experience with working internationally and also had suggestions for us to use Skype and also have part of our business development be focused on partnerships and international relations.

CUBE Consulting’s logo.

Junior Enterprise is not just another club for undergraduates. It is a business, a corporation. Students involved receive hand-on experience within the working world that matters and makes a difference for companies. Both WBC and ESCadrille said that they most rewarding part of what they did was when they looked back on all they had accomplished in one year. I don’t know if we’ll have accomplished a ton of projects with big names with in a year at CUBE Consulting, but I think that will happen someday. For now, our big accomplishment is being the first Junior Enterprise in the US and second in North America (Kudos to MUSE in Canada for beating us!). I look forward to seeing where it goes and giving future undergraduates this opportunity which will improve the quality of their engineering education.

WBC members who met with me last week.

Also, the Junior Enterprise members from WBC and ESCadrille were some of the nicest, friendliest people I have met while I’ve been studying abroad in the UK. I loved getting know them and enjoyed sharing dinner with them. I hope to continue working with them to connect them with UIUC as well as talking with them and becoming friends. I also really want to meet more Junior Enterprise members just as friendly as they are. I’ll be visiting JADE in Brussels at the end of spring break, but I would love to meet more while I’m on the main continent during the first few weeks of April. If you’re a JADE chapter in Europe interested in connecting with the first Junior Enterprise in the US, please shoot me an email at bakies2@illinois.edu. I think it would be a great way to see the world and make friends while continuing to grow and learn all around Europe! In the meantime, please familiarize yourself more with Junior Enterprise and let us know if you’re interested in any consulting. Thanks!

How I’ll probably be acting all week until we go to Paris.

I have been living in the United Kingdom for over a month now, but it feels like just yesterday I arrived in the dark. It was cold and rainy. The house we were dropped off at that was supposed to have our keys was not the right one so we ran around like maniacs lugging two heavy suitcases each behind us. But now, I can direct you to anything on campus and can navigate a good part of Swansea due to random bus routes. Has it been easy? No. There’s definitely a learning curve to this study abroad thing. It’s not just, “Oh my gosh! I’m in the United Kingdom, home of Stonehenge, Shakespeare and castles!” But has it been worth it? Yes, because I’ve seen things like castles, Big Ben, and next weekend I’ll finally see le Tour Eiffel. I’ve also met some really amazing, wonderful people.

So that’s awesome. I also went to the Doctor Who Experience this past weekend in Cardiff and explored Cardiff Bay more, so check out Facebook photos for Doctor Who and other shenaniganery because we explored a lot of beautiful places. We saw a lot of costume and set pieces for Doctor Who while also going on a mission of sorts. Cardiff Bay was freezing, but the Millennium Center and Wales National Assembly building are beautiful feats of architecture. And there was a building with a beautiful clock tower right on the water that I know my father would have enjoyed called the Pierhead.

Cool traveling things aside, the one thing I’ve noticed about study abroad lately is that’s given me a much deeper respect for other cultures and societies. The other day, a colleague sent me a very interesting article about the development of a chip that could be put into the human brain so that those who are blind would be able to see through some quite complicated biological, electrical and neurological means. My first thought like everyone else who just read this was, “That’s fantastic! I hope it gets implemented as soon as possible.” My second thought followed immediately. “Do blind people want to see?”

Let me explain myself. My sister and I have always enjoyed watching ABC Family television series together, even though they’re not necessarily high quality television. It was a wonderful bonding, sisterly activity growing up. One of the shows we still watch together, on the rare occasion where I’m actually in Ohio and the show is playing a new episode, is Switched at Birth. Until I started watching that show, I was unaware of the deaf community and their pride. I learned about this in a linguistics course (LING 250 Language in the USA at the University of Illinois with Dr. Terkourafi) I took freshman year to finish my require social sciences classes. Up until the 1980-1990s, the deaf were treated horribly in the American education system by forcing them to try to learn in classrooms of hearing children and forcing them to learn to speak. Now, they take pride in American Sign Language, which they actually think in, and the deaf culture. For this reason, even though cochlear implants to help deaf people hear exist, many deaf people choose to remain in what many hearing people would (unfortunately) consider a disabled state.

To deaf people, they are not less of a person nor are they weaker because they cannot hear. They are empowered. So I wonder if the blind feel empower by their lack of vision. They do not have a language to take pride in, but they do have other parts of their culture such as Braille. Here in the UK, I’ve become more aware of people who are not like me: Many do not share the same customs, values, language, etc. that I do, but that makes them more wonderful and interesting. The main club I have joined to meet people here is the Swansea University Catholic Society. Since the UK is not the most Catholic of countries, most of the Catholic society is composed of international students from the following countries: Hong Kong, Italy, Ireland, Israel, Nigeria, Ghana, the US of course and only one or two UK students. To top it off, our head priest is Philippino! This sometimes causes communication problems, but it’s also led to some of the best home cooked meals I’ve ever had (Italian food cooked by real Italians!) and interesting conversation that show me what daily life is like in others’ home countries.

The Swansea University Catholic Society after Ash Wednesday service at the university with the bishop of the diocese. Swansea University chaplain and priest of St. Benedict’s.

It has been a blessing to be here and get to know so many people.from such different places and backgrounds. I was a girl from a predominately Caucasian suburb of Toledo, Ohio before I went to Illinois where I could spend a ten minute bus ride listening to three different languages and was sometimes a minority in the dining hall. I thought that was different. However, there is a difference between diversity at Illinois and living here in the UK. At Illinois, I was exposed to multiculturalism, but in Wales, I’m completely immersed in it. Everyday I’m exposed to new experiences and new people whether it’s a small thing trying a full English breakfast (which is actually quite large) or watching a French tourist group pass me in Picadilly Circus. Life is truly amazing and I still have three more glorious months of this! Bring it on, world, bring it on!

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