study abroad

[1Month2Wander] Stop 1: A London Homecoming by Amanda Liew

Note: All photos in this post were taken on an iPhone, not a DSLR. 

Oh how quickly things can change! In just a few short weeks, I went from job searching to sitting in my friend Stephen's flat in London, enjoying a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner. In an exciting turn of events, my social impact job search has come to a close, and I am ridiculously thrilled to start a new position in January 2016. Fortunately, this meant that for the rest of 2015, I could take advantage of my true time off by backpacking through Europe! Since I unabashedly love unnecessary hashtags, I'm calling this one #1Month2Wander because that's truly what it is. After embarking on my incredible Jordan Solo Trip, I realized I was completely capable of setting off across the world by myself, albeit with a travel group. With the encouragement of my friend Megan, blogger over at Drifting Not Aimless, I decided I was in fact going to backpack without a firm plan! Not going to lie, it has only been a few days in, and I've bounced back and forth between having mini freakouts and total zen. On one hand, I wanted to kick myself this morning when I realized that a Eurorail pass probably would have made more sense for me given the unpredictability of my travels, but it requires enough planning to anticipate the 3-4 days of shipping. Not to mention, nearly everything is just so much more expensive at the last minute! On the other hand, it's pretty awesome having total freedom over my schedule - my weeks have been in flux nonstop & I like that I'm not particularly tied down to anything at the moment. 

One thing I did know, though, was that my trip had to begin in London. Just a month ago, I was lamenting that I couldn't come back to London for Thanksgiving this year, only to discover last minute that in fact it was possible. My incredible friends Stephen & Beccy threw open their arms and welcomed me to London with literally only a week and a half's worth of notice.

Honestly, I'm so happy I decided to start my trip here! Ever since my ABCD Trip this fall (yes, yes, I'm rather behind on blogging about that...), I've been more aware of the way a trip's "flow" impacts my experience. It's been wonderful starting off a really big trip on a little bit more stable ground; a homecoming of sorts. I've already seen most of the big sights, so there's no franticness to the pace of my day. I'm here to have good conversations, get my bearings on the world, spend the day cooking American dishes for a medley of British & Canadian friends, and explore new parts of London that the tourists don't get to see. There's also the relief in being able to easily navigate the tube system myself & knowing I should stop at Boots to pick up a toothbrush or Oxford street to replace my broken boots. I love that I don't have to get fish & chips this time around (although I might), and instead Beccy and I can stop by her local Malaysian-Thai restaurant for some good curry laksa. I love that I don't need to see Big Ben for the thousandth time, and instead can spend a solid hour with Stephen at the temporary pop up British Museum of Food sampling chocolate in sound booths, sitting in massage chairs to feel what it's like to get digested, and jot down our recommendations of what a hopefully full-time exhibit should include. There's just such a feeling of comfort and familiarity that has made this such a great time already.

For that reason, all of these photos are just iPhone snapshots rather than DSLR quality photos. Bringing it back to my traveling roots and original style of blogging, really! Most of the snapshots below are of the British Museum of Food's butterfly effect room highlighting the importance of butterflies in the ecosystem for pollination. We were so impressed that they were able to build a complete rainforest atmosphere and that we could even watch a few butterflies coming out of their cocoons! The pink lighting is due to the type of lamps they had to create the environment. We literally stumbled across the exhibit, and couldn't be more thankful for it - it was only 5GBP, so I highly recommend it.

Happy Thanksgiving all!

Up next? Copenhagen with Patrick! I'm going to do my best to semi-live blog my travels if I can! 

A British Thanksgiving (Yet Again!) by Amanda Liew

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Back in 2011, I started a travel blog hilariously titled View the Liew in the Queue about my adventures at King's College London. In a whirlwind, I visited WindsorBrussels, Oxford, Cambridge, Paris, Bath, Barcelona, and Amsterdam. And while all of those were beyond amazing, the true treasures were the experiences I shared within the tiny dorms at Stanford Street Apartments. It was there that we all came together - British, American, Italian, and more - to celebrate a Thanksgiving feast. Stephen somehow managed to cook a turkey, I learned how to fry onions for a green bean casserole for the first time, and half of the dishes weren't even remotely close to what would be served at Thanksgiving back in America...and it was all so perfect. We made little pilgrim hats to wear, ate until we wanted to sleep, and made memories that will last a lifetime. Three years later, and my blog has grown up quite a bit. It's shifted to the more mature (and boring) amandaliew.com, but has much better photos if I do say so myself. Beyond that, my friendships from KCL have stayed stronger than I could have imagined - the Brits made an epic both-coast-visit in 2012 where we reunited with the other Americans who were scattered about, Max studied abroad in America in 2013, and Stephen and Sarah came to NYC in 2014. Finally, it was time for things to come full circle with a trip back to London & yet another memorable Thanksgiving. I'm so beyond lucky to have these people in my life - who would have imagined 3 years ago that we would have become so close? Though my trip was short, we managed to jam pack everything possible: Camden Market, South Bank, afternoon tea, and of course just good catch up time. In contrast to my typical vacations where I plan an itinerary for every second of the day, the purpose of this trip was to see my wonderful friends. For Thanksgiving itself, Stephen spent 2 full days cooking and somehow made 18 dishes...for 11 people. It was unbelievable! At one point someone said "I'm so full...but I want to keep eating!" to which I responded with "Welcome to the American way!!" It was truly perfect.

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Riverside reunions and the bond of study abroad by Amanda Liew

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I have been so incredibly lucky to have made such amazing study abroad friends during my time at King's College London. Over a year ago, I brought the Brits on an amazing cross-country USA tour, but was worried when we would all be reunited together next. When I studied abroad, I was a junior in college, but all of our British dormmates were freshman - now, two years later, the British students are in their 3rd years and studying abroad themselves! My good friend Max just loved us Americans sooo much (hahah) that he signed up to study at University of California Santa Barbara. Talk about an American experience! Fortunately, he decided to stay with a friend in Riverside for Christmas, and I was able to drive up for a mini reunion of our own! Considering neither of us knew anything about Riverside, we resorted to Yelp and TripAdvisor to figure out what to do. We went to the Mission Inn for lunch (good food, bad service), and then realized the UCR/California Museum of Photography was just a quick walk away! By far my favorite piece was Hank Willis Thomas' Strawberry Mansions. There were multiple shots of a block connected accordion style. I particularly appreciated how each panel showed the uniqueness of each house, yet the connection of the panels provided a sense of unity of the entire neighborhood. For more of Hank Willis Thomas' work, check out Artsy here._DSC0010_Riverside 2013 The museum itself was designed in a modern way. They had a large camera obscura outside which allowed you to see an outside view as a living photograph of sorts on an interior wall! I highly recommend the museum - it's free for students or with a Yelp check in, but also only $3 regular admission._DSC0017_Riverside 2013

We next decided to go to the UCR Botanical Gardens. I originally anticipated a small walkable garden, but we were astonished to realize how vast the grounds were! The place is massive. There were various plants with which I practiced shooting at a shallow depth of field.

f 1.8 1/640 ISO 400 - I could have probably reduced the ISO down to 100 on this

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We noticed that the sun was about to set and thought we could take a path up to the highest point to see the sunset. I quickly realized my sandals were completely ill equipped for the steep hike up, and was too busy dying before Max made me turn around to witness the scene behind me! _DSC0063_Riverside 2013 _DSC0064_Riverside 2013 _DSC0066_Riverside 2013

All in all, it was a wonderful day and so amazing to catch up with Maximus as I like to call him. I'm excited because another cross-country trip is in the works, and hopefully all of us will be reunited yet again!

I'm so blessed to have good friends who make the effort to keep up relationships despite being worlds apart!_DSC0071_Riverside 2013 _DSC0078_Riverside 2013

Leaving London never happened.. by Amanda Liew

It’s been a year since my last post. What started out as a little abroad blog just to show my parents transformed into an international sensation, garnering me more awards than I could imagine, and a following of thousands. I wasn’t ready to handle it, though, and quickly withdrew from the limelight for the fear of losing myself….Hahah in reality, I loved blogging to be able to share my thoughts with my friends. That plus my long-awaited purchase of a DSLR, motivated to me start this up again. 

I realized that I never left London fully. Sure, I was back across the pond, shuttling back and forth between California, Philadelphia, and New York, but I feel like I left an old version of myself abroad and came back a completely changed person. I’m sure those of you who have gone abroad understand my sentiments exactly. When I first arrived at college, I was excited to “start again” - to break out of who I was in high school and become this new and fabulous version of myself. The only problem, though, is that at 18 I hardly knew who I was or who I even wanted to be. Fast forward to junior year, and I’m experiencing freshman year all over again (quite literally! I fully participated in KCL’s Fresher’s week and lived with first years!). The only difference this time, was that I was 20 with 2 more years to learn about myself outside of the confines of my household. I found an amazing group of friends of Brits, Americans, Australians, and Italians, and I felt “natural” in all the right ways. I didn’t try to impress every single person, but rather stuck close to the people who made me laugh constantly. I was truly amazed that in such a short period I had solidified such a strong group of friends, but also such a strong sense of my own personality. I came back to America KNOWING who I was, and that made all the difference. My self-confidence has been stronger, and my eyes have been open to how much more I can do in life. Spontaneously using every weekend possible to travel the world made me realize how much time I waste normally. This fall, I did what I could. I made a goal to leave Penn’s campus once a week to experience something new, and I have to say, it was a success! I brought my friends to Chinatown for the Mooncake Festival, finally experienced First Friday, visited the Poconos for a weekend Greek InterVarsity retreat, and more. 

The biggest take-a-way of all, though, was that amazing friend group. For two and a half weeks, I gave the Brits a taste of America. Stephen, Max, and Sarah flew to San Diego for a Southern California extraordinaire where we visited everything from glorious La Jollan beaches to Disneyland to Jake’s frat in USC.

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Stephen and Max then flew with me to Philly only to go up to DC the next day to meet Beccy (via London), Matt, Jose, Lauren, Nick, Sebastien, and Arielle.
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We then went to NYC where we casually bumped into Michelle Obama in front of the Rachel Rae studios (no photographic evidence, unfortunately)
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And finally we came back to Philly to see the birthplace of America, watch a Phillies game, and show the Brits  a good ol’ American “freshers” week celebration. 
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Needless to say, going abroad was the best decision of my life! I hope you guys look forward to the rest of my posts documenting life “abroad” back at home!