A Travellerspoint blog

Swansea Homestay

The Place Promised in Our Early Days

I apologize for the lack of updates, but I've been basically running non stop for the past three weekends, and am finally slowing down to catch my breath! Anyway, it all started three weeks ago with my home stay experience. As part of the Arcadia study abroad experience, we are all required to stay with an English family for a weekend. Out of the possible places Arcadia could have chosen to send all the King's students, they picked Swansea, Wales. It must be written in the stars because I actually used to live in Swansea when I was little. It is also the main reason that I wanted to come back and study in the UK because I had such fond memories of the place as a child.

I was a bit nervous about staying with another family I had no idea about, especially given the fact that my host family details included only a name: Mrs. Hughes. With my luck so far, I was expecting some batty old woman with twenty cats. Alas, my fears were abated when I was greeted by Lynda and Matthew, who turned out to be wonderfully charming and extremely funny host parents. I was also not the only host student they were having the weekend; our group included Jake and Jason, who both attended Royal Holloway. I was definitely excited to hang out with some of the other American students not going King's.

As the three of us bundled in to Lynda and Matthew's car and prepared to drive off, we were flagged down by the head coordinator lady. Apparently, she made a mistake in assignment, or missed assigning a student, and had to put ANOTHER student with Lynda and Matthew! It was my fellow King's friend Viral. It was crazy, considering his host family assignment was actually the head coordinator lady. I guess she didn't want him after seeing him or something :) Anyhow, Viral squeezed into the back of the car with the rest of us, and the male bonding experience began. Little did I know how "close" our host brother relationship was going to get.

We all chatted away happily in the car, and was told that Lynda and Matthew were actually expecting three girls until a few hours ago. Then it turned into three boys. And then to four. They also told us that they had another student abroad student living with them called Adam. Adam was from Slovakia and was here improving his English. Apparently Lynda and Matthew took Adam in when he arrived in Swansea, without a place to stay, or a school to go to. Yikes!

I was starting to wonder if there was actually going to be enough room for all of us! I was definitely right to worry because when we got to Lynda and Matthew's house, we were shown the bedroom on the top floor. The room itself was AWESOME, with slanted ceilings and painted with the most amazing pictures of rockets and aliens:

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However, I soon realized the dilemma after seeing only three beds. One of pair would have to double up and cuddle together on one bed. Guess which pair lost....... So yeah, KCL lost to Royal Holloway, and I slept with another man. My friend said my study abroad experience so far was like "A Series of Unfortunate Events". I say it's more like "The Never Ending Story". So first I become a terrorist, and then I turn gay. This study abroad experience is definitely life changing.....

The beauty of Swansea is so hard to put into words, so I'll let my photos say them for me:

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Swansea Marina

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Swansea Bay

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Swansea Bay

Posted by CuriousCaseOf 09:52 Archived in Wales Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

I am a terrorist!?!

The series of unfortunate events continue............

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I've whined and moaned about my living quarters here in London, but I think the thing that bothers me the most is how far I'm away from campus. There are a couple of buses that run from a stop down the hill (I live on a hill) but when we signed up for housing, King's College Hall was described as 15-40 minutes away from campus. I was pretty shocked because 15 minutes versus 40 minutes is a huge disparity. Well, it turns out to be the 40 for the campuses I have class on. Anyhow, depending on traffic (this is London, so there is ALWAYS traffic), it could take up to an hour on the bus and the number of red lights you hit (my favorite color is red, so I seem to hit all of them all the time).

Thus, for the first time, I decided to take the train and then the tube instead. I live near Denmark Hill Station, and I take a train to London Bridge Station. From London Bridge, I switch to the Jubilee tube line and get off at Waterloo tube station. The train runs every half hour, but at least there's no traffic. The tube comes about every 2 minutes, so I can definitely have a more exact sense of when I can get to class.........or so I thought..........

I was in a bit of rush this morning because my library book was due at 9:30 am. It was an overnight checkout, so I needed to return it in the morning. The morning train and tube was packed because of people going to work, but I finally made it out of Waterloo tube station around 9:20 pm. As I came up the escalator, I saw five "bobbies" aka policemen near the station's exit. I didn't really pay too much attention, but as soon as I passed through the ticket stall, one of them came up to me and asked to see my back pack. He said this was part of a routine anti-terrorist check up and I was randomly selected (Yay me!). To be honest, there's really no such thing as a random selection. If I was really checking for terrorists, I would try to match a profile. Apparently, my wardrobe today: black jacket + blue scarf + khaki pants + brown Clark shoes = terrorist disguise. The bobby asked me if I was in a rush, but since this wasn't exactly a survey on the streets, I couldn't really say yes (even though I was), and run away.

Anyway, I thought he just wanted to do a quick bag check, so I pulled off my backpack. He then asked if I was carrying anything that I shouldn't be. What the hell was he expecting me to have? A kilo of cocaine? A marijuana plant growing inside my bag? A bomb that I brought over from the US as a present? Maybe it's my secret stash of The Little Red Book that we got during our Chinese Student Union meetings?

While I was telling him all I had was textbooks and notebooks, another bobby came up to me to take down my name. I presented him with my King's College Student ID card, and he asked still had to ask me which one was my last name (since when did the British turn Chinese and put the surname first?). Then he asked for my residence address, and London postal code. Meanwhile, the first bobby then literally went through every single book I had in my bag. He even pulled out my notebook and flipped through the pages. What the hell was he expecting find? Nuclear codes scribbled in binary? Chinese documentation on the whereabouts of the Queen's crown jewels? Or maybe a hand drawn map of the London underground station with little skulls signaling where I should put explosives? I seriously thought he was going to pat me down and then strip search me afterwards!

After he finished searching my bag, I thought I was done, so I asked the bobby who wrote down my name if I could go. He told me to hang on, and then proceeded to make a call on his walkie-talkie to somewhere with my information. I was getting worried because since I'm a study abroad student, I wasn't sure if I was registered in any of their databases. After a couple of minutes, and many indignant/angry stares on my part, I was let go.

This is not funny anymore! I wanted to take lots of pictures in London, but I'm not looking for a mug shot to add to my Facebook collection. I already live in a prison-esque dorm, and now I'm being strip searched for being a terrorist!?! What the bleep.......

This is my punishment for trying to get to class earlier. Maybe I should just keep taking the bus..........

Posted by CuriousCaseOf 06:43 Comments (0)

Shopping at Harrolds

Survival of the fittest

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The day began like any other. The skies were gray and gloomy, a typical London day. But it was a Saturday, so I was not about to be stuck inside doing homework....at least not yet. After two consecutive days of museums visits, I thought it would be a more sane idea to not go to another one. Otherwise, all the artifacts will start to blend, and soon I probably wouldn't even know what is what and at which museum. I respect history as much as the next person, but my eyes started to glaze over after hour 8 and my brain was becoming mummified. There aren't too many chairs around in the museums, and I was getting quite tired carrying my backpack all day. Towards the end, I wanted to ask the museum curator to put me up as an exhibit in the Asian hall so I could have a seat.

Anyway, I figured it would be a nice relaxing day going to Harrolds, and just browse. However, first I had to get there. I took the train from Denmark Hill to London Bridge, thinking I could just ride the Jubilee line and then switch to the Picadilly line. Little did I know that the Jubilee line was closed from Waterloo onwards. Thus, I had to take the Northern line up to Leicester Square and then transfer to the Picadilly line. The station was packed as everyone had to re-route and combine that with the people who usually go to Leicester Square on a Saturday night, the tube basically turned into a giant human compression machine. I was being squeezed into a pulp on the tube, but I had high hopes that once I reach Knightsbridge (the tube stop at Harrolds) I would be able to find room to breath.

Well, after my experience at Harrolds, I advise those who suffer from asthma or shortness of breath to avoid Harrolds as it could be potentially dangerous to their health. The tiny doors that I squeezed through to get into Harrolds brought me into an ocean of people. Everyone was crammed against the dazzling array of goods and it was stifling hot, just like the tube. Seriously, how does one shop there? I was getting light headed because there was not enough oxygen!

Harrolds does have an impressive array of goods for one department store, but they are, after all, made in China :)
I saw the Royal Doulton luxury dining set on sale. Mrs Bucket would have loved it, except it didn't have the hand painted periwinkles on them (ref: Keep Up Appearances). The store was like a museum, with one hall leading into another, displaying all kinds of artifacts. I was desperate to escape, but there was no exit to be found. I wandered to the highest floor to get more air, and found refuge in the less crowded section: books. Eventually, my body adjusted to the "high altitude" and I was able to breath normally. I looked at some clothes, some books, some stationery, and was put off by the many digits in front of the decimal point on the price tags.

I don't understand why it's so luxurious to go shop there. I saw ladies wearing expensive fur coats squeezing with everyone on the tube just to go to Harrolds. Are they really that rich that they have to ride the tube? I figured if I wear something that requires the skin of an entire leopard, I'm not too concerned about the environment and would ride in a taxi. Maybe they do have a "green" conscience after all.....

Anyway, inquiring "Did you buy anything at Harrolds?" is like asking "Does the Pope work on Sundays?" I bought a couple of gifts to bring back. So, Yeti and Ziggy, I had to risk hypoxia to buy these gifts for you guys....you guys owe me :P

Posted by CuriousCaseOf 13:32 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged shopping Comments (0)

First Impressions

Have been in London for two weeks,

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and things are finally back to a routine. It's been a crazy ride so far, and it's only going to get crazier I think :) I brought a journal with me, and have already filled half of it based on my London drama so far. Instead of boring everyone with a dissertation on London, I'll just do a highlight reel of what I (dis)like about London so far:

1. Small! I guess I'm so used to rolling fields of corn, the wide streets, and giant shopping malls back home that everything just looked and felt so small. My taxi from the airport passed by Buckingham Palace. My first thought was "What happened!?! I thought the Queen had a bigger house than that!"

2. Walking! I have been literally walking everywhere. Definitely training for the London Olympics in 2012 with how much exercise I'm getting. For example, I have to been hauling two gallons of natural mineral water from local grocery store back to my dorm every other night because I don't like drinking tap water. My dorm is located on the top of Champion Hill. I went shopping with a friend one night, and had to stop half way to catch my breath. My friend started goading me that since we live on Champion Hill, we can make it in one go. I don't care. I want to be a loser. And use my car :)

3. Dorm! It's literally like a prison. I have giant concrete blocks for walls, and bare concrete for the floor. I have a little wash basin in my room, making it more prison-esque. We're all fenced in, and every time we leave we have to pass by the security desk. We have to swipe our card to get in and out at every door. This means I have to swipe my card four times before I actually get to my room each day. When we leave through the security desk area, the door actually buzzes like when prisons let the prisoners out of their cells. It's hilarious.

4. Londoners! Everyone is so fashionable in London. It doesn't matter, guys, girls, everyone looks like he/she just stepped out of a page in Vogue. They're very into woolen coats and leather boots. I feel like a giant neon light bulb wearing my yellow Nautica winter jacket. I want to bust out my woolen coat as well, but it's been too cold. Girls here wear mini-skirts in below zero temperatures. They wear stockings, so their knee high boots double as pants I guess :)

5. Cold! I know I know, coming from Minnesota, how dare I complain about being cold in London, but it's true! Nothing is heated as well as what we have in MN. Apparently everyone is trying to conserve energy. We even have a sign inside our dorm that says: Conserve energy, wear many layers. Right now, I have four layers on, curled up next to the radiator, and still feeling cold. My study abroad adviser said it's all part of the experience. Oh I'm definitely experiencing something all right.

6. Harry Potter! Screw King's College London, Hogwarts here I come!
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Yes, besides going to King's Cross station and platform 9 3/4, I have another similarity with Harry. Harry used to live in a cupboard underneath the stairs. I will be studying in a cupboard underneath the stairs because that's where the computer science department is located in a crammed London where schools can't afford more room. I will take a photo to prove my point soon :)

7. English! Bernard Shaw once said: "England and America are two countries separated by a common language". I think Bernard has never actually been to England before, at least not London. When I open my mouth to speak in my American English, very few people understand me. When I use my faux English English, they understand me slightly more. Maybe I'm just linguistically challenged. I tried ordering a mayo chicken (McChicken in the US) from McDonald's. The cashier kept asking me what flavor because she thought I was getting a milkshake. I eventually had to flap my arms and cluck like a chicken to get her to understand. Also, I ordered a hot chocolate at a Starbucks here, and they call out your order when it's ready. All I heard was: "One medium &#&#*@ %$#$@ ready." I was so confused/embarrassed that I just took whatever it was. My London friend who was with me later confessed that she had no idea what the guy was saying either when calling out her order, so I don't feel too bad.

8. Rain! It actually hasn't rained since I've been here. Maybe in the early mornings but I'm not awake then so it doesn't count. I'm sure I'll just pop into a red phone booth when it does rain and I'm caught without an umbrella. Wonder if I dialed 62442 (MAGIC) will I be transported down to the Ministry of Magic and meet Cornelius Fudge? Londoners were quite excited about the few flakes of snow they got one day. We Minnesotans won't really even call that snow, it was more like a sprinkle of fairy dust.

Posted by CuriousCaseOf 11:11 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

London Here I Come

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If I haven't already talked you to death about my trip to London.....I'll say it just one more time (and maybe you'll finally expire of boredom): "I'm off to study at King's College London for one semester." I'm ecstatic about going to London, and my goal is to learn to speak fluent British (or marry a princess and become royalty).

King's College London was founded by King George IV and the Duke of Wellington in 1829, and its royal charter is predated, in England, only by those of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. In 2008 King's was ranked 5th in the UK, 5th in Europe and 22nd in the world by The Times Higher Education Supplement. Today, King's is arranged into nine Schools of Study, spread across four Thames-side campuses in Central London and one in Denmark Hill, South London.

I will be taking classes on the Waterloo and Strand campuses, studying both management and computer science.

Since pictures are worth a thousand words, let me show you King's College instead:

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This is the Maughan Library. Designed by Sir James Pennethorne and built between 1851 and 1858. Inside the Library is the octagonal Round Reading Room, inspired by the reading room of the British Museum. Also inspired the setting of The Da Vinci Code

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This is the South West Building, located on the Strand Campus. It overlooks the River Thames.

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I just might turn religious for one day just to pray in The College Chapel :)

Posted by CuriousCaseOf 22:30 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged educational Comments (0)

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