Science in Scotland: How do You Catch Ticks?

Here comes a cliche excuse on why I haven’t been posting, but it is a legitimate one. I have had major ‘make it or break it’ exams that consisted of everything learned this year from October to May that I had been studying constantly for. And then after those exams, I got to take a trip to Scotland immediately afterwards to get started on my Master’s thesis project.

On my trip to Scotland, I stayed in the beautiful outskirts of Aberdeen at the James Hutton Institute, and got the chance to explore the countryside of eastern Scotland hunting for deer ticks.

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Like this little deer tick right here,a female Ixodes ricinus.

Known by a few names (Deer ticks, Sheep ticks, Blacklegged ticks), these ticks are the vectors for Lyme disease, a disease cause by the bacterium, Borrelia burgdoferi. It causes a wide array of symptoms including flu-like illness, rash, arthritis, muscle pain, and even neurological disorders. So, collecting them and studying them is really important in keeping track of the disease.
I am specifically checking their population densities in these certain areas we dragged in, and later this month they will all be tested for the presence of Lyme disease. In this way, we can see what the risk is of Lyme disease being spread amongst animals and even humans in the areas we studied.

Collecting these little guys is a lot easier than you might think though, which is good because the immature stages are super tiny. You simply drag a white or light colored blanket along the grass/plants for either a set distance or time. After this drag, you flip the blanket and look for adult ticks or small nymphs and then you can pick them off.

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Wellies also help to keep the ticks from crawling up your leg 😉

In doing tick collections like this, I spent a lot of time both in the woods and out in open fields, meaning I got to see some amazing views! Scotland really is as beautiful as everyone says (even if the rain may have thrown a couple of our days off).

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Our first day in the countryside, out in the field

One day we got to take a break and go to the beach during our lunch hour, and enjoy some ice cream!

But when this is your office for the day, you don’t even really need a break from work 🙂

For two days in a row, we even got to hang out with some fun farm animals!

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We got to collect in a field next to these cows.

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And we got some judgmental looks from the sheep.

And on one day off, the beach is always nearby, so I even got to go to the coast and hang out on the cliffs.

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Sitting on the cliffs of Nigg Bay.

All in all, it was amazing experience with days full of dragging and searching blankets, and crawling under trees, and nights full of tick checks and data input.  When I came to study Parasitology in London, it was my passion to get to learn more about Lyme disease and study it, and the fact that I got the opportunity to work on it for my summer project is completely unreal. I’m super excited to see what the results of our collected ticks will be, and really hope I can continue to study them when I get back home.  It’s my goal at this point to get the seriousness of Lyme disease out in the public eye more (especially in the northern hemisphere where it’s becoming more and more prevalent). I know way too many people back home who are suffering from it, or have at least had scares, when it is fairly preventable.

So just some tips for everyone out there if you’re going out into a wooded or grassy area where ticks are likely to be (including parks that you might think are tick-free, they’re not):
→Wear repellent; DEET is the best one we’ve got right now, so that one is recommended.
→If possible, tuck your trousers into your socks, or wear wellies, to prevent them from crawling up your legs.
→Let’s be honest, in this warm weather, the prior step is probably not possible. I’m pretty sure you’re all wearing shorts and T-shirts out, so it’s vitally important that you do a tick check every time after you’ve been out in the woods. Even if you were bit, it is thought for Lyme disease that the ticks needs to be bitten for at least 36 hours before transmission (some other sources say 24, but either way), if you check that night after being out, you should be able to remove it before any transmission can occur. Just check your whole body, using a mirror if needed, to find any adult ticks or nymphs that might be bitten to you.
→When removing ticks, I keep seeing all these different methods being posted on Facebook and everywhere else that deal with twisting and Q-tips, and Vaseline. Just no. Get some tweezers, grab it by the head, and pull straight out assuring you have the mouthpiece. You can use tweezers, or they also sell a special tool with a small “U-shaped” hook at the bottom that allows you to grab the mouthpiece. Stick to this method. Please. You can then put it in alcohol to kill it, or flush it.

Following these, you will be able to fully enjoy being outside without worry, and you’ll be able to take in all the beautiful views like this one here.scot 1

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Posted in Aberdeen, Entomology, Grad School, James Hutton Institute, LSHTM, Parasitology, Science, Scotland, Summer project, Thesis | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

So, What is There to do on a Weekend in London?

Weekends in London, there is always something to do. Always. Coming up on the home stretch of the school year, it’s normal for students to get super stressed, lock themselves in their rooms, and do nothing but worrying about studying (which has been witnessed in both myself and quite a few classmates.) So we’ve come to realize that it’s really important for us to get out of our rooms for at least a couple hours to take a break, and force ourselves to do something fun. Thankfully, studying in London makes that extremely easy, since in any part of the city and at any time of the day, something will be going on.

This weekend, myself and a couple classmates delved into the English tradition of celebrating the Feast of St. George.

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Trafalgar Square was wonderfully decorated as always

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Enjoying my free flag and my English toffee and butterscotch ice cream

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We got the chance to sit and watch 2013 Masterchef winner, Natalie Coleman make Scotch eggs. What I learned is that they look delicious, and I should probably learn more about famous British chefs.

Another fun thing that happened this weekend in London was one that always grabs international attention: The London Marathon!
Now being a runner, I definitely made it a point to go see at least part of the marathon while I’m here. Especially because I’ll probably never run one in my life (since my runs tend to end up with me looking like this after 3 miles) :
10687_967023413308510_7478930368748958773_nSo, it’s always a fun and motivating experience getting to go and see the marathon runners, even if you don’t personally know anybody running.

The London Marathon is unique to any that I’ve ever been a spectator at, because heading the whole race are amazing athletes, the world champion wheelchair runners. And can I just say I was filled with extra pride at this, because the 1st place winners of both men and women were both representing the United States!IMG_20150426_104522[1]

Behind them was also the IPC runners, or International Paralympic Committee, which included runners who were leg/arm amputees, running with and without prosthetics, and visually impaired racers who ran with their guides.
IMG_20150426_115954[1]IMG_20150426_113518[1]After seeing these inspirational runners, we only stuck around a bit longer to see the men and women’s elite runners, where we got to see those who would, in about a mile and a half from where we were, take the top places.

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The female racers who would come in 2nd and 3rd (the 1st ran by so quick I missed a picture!), both here from Kenya and Ethiopia

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The men who ended up finishing 1st and 2nd, both here from Kenya

If we weren’t there for nearly two hours by this point and starving, we would have stayed for the rest of the runners, since from many other posts I’ve seen there were some very exciting costumes present! But even before the bulk of the racers got to mile 24.5, there were still loads of people lining the streets, and it was so great to see everyone come out and support them. It just makes for a really positive and happy environment to be in for a couple hours, all standing together and cheering for the same thing, just wanting to see everyone finish and have fun.

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This weekend was a fairly eventful one, but there is always something happening on London weekends. And when you’re doing almost nothing but studying and schoolwork during the week, having all sorts of events happening on weekends make for a great relief!
And I know I mention being so stressed and busy with school quite a bit, but don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my school, and love what I’m here doing! And between my school and the city, I’m so happy I came to study here. Seriously, if you’re on the fence about studying abroad, my advice is: DO IT!
To see more about what’s to love, check out the Study London page: My Top Five Reasons for Studying at LSHTM!

Posted in Feast of St. George, London, London Marathon, LUIP, Study Abroad, Study London, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Row, Row, Row your Boat, Gently down the Thames

Between classes, and field trips, and family visits, it’s been an insanely busy few weeks, hence the unintended hiatus.  But, in the midst of all of that, I did get to spend one very relaxing day out on the Thames thanks to LUIP and City Cruises.

It may have been a windy day, but that didn’t stop us from going to the top deck and taking in the amazing views along the river! So of course, we got plenty of pictures 🙂

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The Shard, snuggled right behind the HMS Belfast

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Thankfully London Bridge was not falling down as we went under it

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Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Tate Modern, and part of the Wobbly Bridge

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We got to get down to the level of London’s flood forecasting lions.

‘When the lions drink, London will sink.
When it’s up to their manes, we’ll go down the drains.
When the water is sucked, you can be sure we’re all…in trouble.”

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A lovely shot of Big Ben; I have so many pictures of this clock

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So I was no where near “holding it”, but we had fun (:

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Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast

All in all, it was actually a beautiful day; the wind and the clouds just gave it the full London experience and we had a great time and got to see so many of the landmarks!
Another awesome part is, City Cruises does student discounts that can get you up to 35% off the normal price (plus another 10% off if you get the tickets ahead online!), so you can have a fun trip out for a super affordable price. For example, the tour we did would come down to about £6.24 for the student online ticket, which is pretty cheap, especially in London, and well worth it for all we got to see!
So if you’re looking for a study break this term, why not take a ride out on the Thames?

Posted in City Cruises, London, LUIP, Science In London, Student Discount, Study Abroad, Thames | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Seeing Science for Free in London: The Wellcome Collection

The Science of forensics, medicine made into art, and a massive collection of historical medical equipment. Those are some of the many things happening at my most recent stop of seeing science for free in London: The Wellcome Collection. Conveniently located in West Central London right near many of the University of London buildings, The Wellcome Collection has enough available that I would have easily been able to make a day trip out of this one amazing building.

The first exhibit when you walk in the door is one I absolutely recommend, Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime. Now, we weren’t allowed to take pictures in the exhibit, but that’s okay, because I wouldn’t want to ruin the joy of it for anyone who may plan to go, because what they have there is truly amazing.

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Based around the novel by Val McDermid, the exhibit takes you through the journey of a murder turned forensic case, and you get a full behind the scenes look about everything that happens in these real life cases, as shown in the map below:

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In the Crime Scene room, my absolute favorite part of it had to be the forensic entomology cases (Naturally, being a parasitologist). The concept is basically, using blowfly maggots in corpses (or around the crime scene) to get an estimate as to how, when, or where the person died, as well as detection of drugs, DNA, and even presence of gunshot residue.  Now after I went through the exhibit and learned about it, I just happened to get the opportunity a week later to attend a lecture given by the forensic entomologist featured in the exhibit, Dr. Martin Hall. He was able to go into so much detail (which is where most of this information here came from) about how they go about collecting the maggots from not only a body, but the whole crime scene, and how things like their species, normal location, seasonality, and the external temperature play a role in calculating how long ago the blowflies laid their eggs there, which gives an estimate as to the time of death. The whole concept of it is just amazing to me, and I never realized before how huge of a role it can play in cases like this, and I’m so glad I got the chance to delve a little deeper into it. Throughout the rest of the exhibit, you get the chance to learn all about autopsies, look at the evolution of how we’ve gone from using plain old fingerprints to catch criminals to how we are now able to use DNA fingerprinting,  all about how this evidence is used in court, and so, so much more that I can’t even list here. Because I totally recommend checking it out, and I don’t wanna ruin all of it. 🙂
This exhibit is open until 21 June 2015, it’s completely free, and if you wanna learn more about it you can check it out here.

The rest of the building is just as amazing. We also checked out the ‘Medicine Now’ Room upstairs, where a lot of it was medicine displayed as an art form, which you can add to by drawing your own pretty picture to put up on the wall,and the whole room was just a lot of fun to explore.

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Cross section of the human body. And you can see everyone’s drawings on the wall in the background.

This room also included something that I thought was mind-blowningly impressive, and that was the entire human genome confined to one bookshelf:

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The human genome, organized by chromosome numbers.

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and just in case you don’t believe me, here’s part of chromosome 13.

The last exhibit we got to check out before the place closed was that of Henry Wellcome himself:

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In this permanent exhibit is a huge room filled with all kinds of artifacts from all over the world, from across all centuries. There is so much stuff, we couldn’t even take it all in. Some of the old medical artifacts were really cool to see though, one example like these old time prosthetics.

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It so amazing to see old prosthetics like this, and comparing to today, when we’re in the age of being able to 3D print our own for about $300.

   The Wellcome Collection also has other exhibits, such as the Institute of Sexology, which goes on until September 2015, and also an awesome Reading Room that (since we went on Sunday) we didn’t get the chance to see. But the pictures are quite impressive. And they also have a super cool gift shop where I bought the coolest bookmarks ever:IMG_20150301_211214[1]So yeah there’s that too.
To learn more about the Wellcome Collection, all their exhibits, and all their events,you can visit their website here: Wellcome Collection.
And to learn more about Val McDermid’s book, you can check it out on Google Books here: Val McDermid’s Forensics The Anatomy of Crime.

Posted in London, LUIP, Museum, Science, Science In London, Study Abroad, Study London, Wellcome Collection | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Visit to the Google London Offices

Recently, I got the opportunity through London Universities International Partnership to visit the Google offices in London. We got to check out the coolest working environment I’ve ever seen, and also got to learn a lot about what makes them such a successful company as well, along with all of the cool up and coming projects they’re working on.

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This was the first impression we got of the office: Bedazzled walls decked out with the Union Jack, complete with TVs lining the floors.

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And I got to feel British for about three seconds.

We got to tour all the floors of the building, and learned that the rumoured micro-kitchens, fully supplied with drinks and snacks, are indeed real and always accessible (even to us visitors!). We also learned that there are no physical office spaces for the employees. Instead, there are a whole ton of more lounge-like areas so that everyone can easily collaborate, and also work in a more relaxed and less-stressed work environment. It’s also been shown to promote creativity and and productivity as well.  Personally, I would be totally game with taking one of these cubbies for the day to get work done!

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One of the larger lounge areas, with more private work stations along the wall.

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There were also places on the top floor of the building for everyone to work outside on those warmer dry days.

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I probably wouldn’t be able to get any work done out on the terrace though with these views to take in, especially since we could just about see the top of LSHTM from here! (You could actually see it perfectly from the other side of the terrace)

Along with these awesome work spaces, we also got to see some the the places to relax and get away from work, including a game room and a gym.

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Google pool anyone?

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I wouldn’t mind going to the gym and taking in this amazing view during a workout!

After touring the building, and filling up on tea and biscuits, we got to sit down and talk with some Google employees where we learned all about Google, their projects including: Google fiber, the self driving car, and Project Loon, plus their ongoing updates with Google Maps, and Google Translate; and we learned their 9 Notions of Innovation:

1. Customer Need= Creative Inspirationfeedback ,testing of products/apps)
2. Ideas can come from EverywhereGoogle Science Fair, internal systems like Google Ideas)
3. Fail Quickly, and Learnsome older attempts such as Google Buzz
4. Allow Ideas to Morphwatching things like Google Buzz morph into Google wave, and eventually Google Plus
5. Creativity loves Constraintthe Creative Academy
6. Share Everything
7. Data informs Decision-makingGoogle trends, Google analysis
8. Users come First“Focus on the user and all else will follow”
9. License to Pursue PassionSeen in their ‘20% projects’, where employees pick a project they’re passionate about that has nothing to do with their day job, and they get the time (20%) and resources to work on it in the office.

These 9 notions can be applied not only to Google employees, but to anyone who works or goes to school trying to build up success. Along with learning these, we also got the chance to learn all about YouTube and vlogging success! This started as a quiz, which thanks to one of my mentors, Alice, and the awesomeness of the LSHTM team, we took home a YouTube clapperboard!

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Quite the interesting souvenir to bring home!

And we were all excited to get to sit down with two YouTubers, Sanne Vliegenthart of Books And Quills and Helen Anderson. We got to chat with them about how they got started in the world of making YouTube videos, and how they reached the point of success they are at now, along with how becoming successful Youtubers affects their life and their careers.

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Sanne Vliegenthart and Helen Anderson

All in all, a great deal was learned about how to put yourself out there, and how to be successful in doing so, and they were tips that can be carried and applied to all various courses in life. It was also learned that amazing ideas and products can come out of a very fun and very spacious office 🙂

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LUIP Student Ambassador Group plus mentors, Google staff and YouTubers!

Posted in Google, London, LUIP, Study Abroad, Study London | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Transport for London: Exploring the Underground

Last Saturday, I got an amazing opportunity to learn all about the history of London’s famous Underground, followed by an exclusive tour of a decommissioned Underground station, and it was an amazing and unforgettable experience!
We got to start our day by learning all about how the Underground system came to be, and saw its progression from its one tube line in 1863, the Metropolitan line,  in central London, to the 9 zoned, 10+ lined train system it has become today.

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An old Underground map, before the straight-lined block style came into play. It showed the actual directions and distances of the train stops (Kind of like what you may see on Google maps now actually). But as the system expanded, the map had to become more condensed to fit all of the stops on one map.

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Lord Ashfield P.C., a leading man in London’s underground transport

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The old fashioned way of telling where the trains were and how often they passed through a certain point.

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The papers had marks indicating the time of day, and when a train passed through, it triggered a small needle to mark a line at that time along the edge of the circle. At the end of the day, someone sat and recorded the placement of all these small lines to figure out where the trains were and when.

After learning about the rich history of the Tube and the Underground system as a whole, we took advantage of a beautiful day and an even more beautiful view before heading down into dark.

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We couldn’t have asked for a better day, or view!

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This, without a doubt, became one of my most memorable moments of my entire time in London.

  After taking in this beautiful view, we trekked over to the decommissioned station that would take us back in history.

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Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures during our tour of the station, but I can tell you that we did get to learn a lot about those who sought shelter down there during World War II.  When the German bomb raids began, hundreds of thousands of people took refuge in the Tube stations. Many were reinforced with special doors as well to basically seal the station off in case a gas bomb threat was detected, although there’s no way of knowing if or how well these would have worked.  All of those evacuated to the stations carried gas masks with them as well.  Here, they slept, cooked, and even worked throughout the blitz happening overhead. Some trains even continued to run as well, bringing in others looking to seek shelter in these stations. They got food, beds, toilets, baths, and one station was even converted into an underground Operations Room for anti-aircraft control.

The whole day was an amazing experience that I am beyond grateful to have gotten the chance to do, and what I have learned and what I have gotten to see will always stay with me. Especially every morning when I walk by my own local tube station (which still has the same old fashioned red stone design), and every time I ride the tube.

Posted in London, London Underground, Science In London, Study Abroad, Travel, Underground | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

From London to Sweden: A Train, a Plane, and Two Buses Later

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Visingsborgs slottruin on Visingsö. I really enjoy living in London, but it was absolutely beautiful to be out in this country air!

London is said to be the gateway to the rest of Europe, and I couldn’t agree more. With all the travel options going in and out of the city, it’s so easy to book a trip, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune! As a student, that’s the best news you could ever hear.

The only out-of-country trip I’ve gotten to take so far during my time here was a trip to Sweden in November. Even for planning the trip and getting our tickets a relatively short while beforehand, prices still worked out in our favor. Especially using every student’s favorite airline, RyanAir.

Why do we all love RyanAir? Well tickets tend to be significantly cheaper than most other flights between the European countries, but here’s the catch: They’re super cheap because there are all sorts of other fees that can get tacked on that you may not encounter until you get to the airport.

So here are some tips on avoiding those RyanAir fees and making your flight a bit easier:
1. Check in from your computer before you leave, for your flight there AND back. It’s two separate check-ins, so do both and print your boarding passes for both. It costs about $75, or £50 to check in at the airport, for each way. So this will save you a bit.
2. Pack lightly. Especially if you’re only going for a couple days, which most trips you take as a student will not be very long. To check a suitcase is another added on fee, so try your hardest to pack everything in a carry-on. But be careful here too. Even though our bags did not get weighed, other people have told me that if your carry-on is too heavy, they will charge you for that too.
3. Bring your own snacks on the flight. With the exception of water, there is no free food or drink on the plane. Every single thing is charged.
4. Lastly, remember to get your passport checked at the airport before leaving. Since my friend and I checked-in at home, we were oblivious and unaware that we still needed to go to the desk for a ‘visa check’. When our boarding passes got looked at in line, the woman said that some places won’t even let you board the plane if you don’t have the little stamp from the visa check on your pass, but thankfully she was very nice and was able to do it for us in line. And we definitely remembered to do that in Sweden before coming back into the country.

Now, we were going to Sweden to visit a friend of mine from the States, and he was there student teaching in a town called Jönköping. (Yay free place to stay!) But unfortunately, there was no straight shot getting to where he lived near southern Sweden, which made our travel plans quite interesting. Our cheapest route, that also worked best with our timing, was to….
Walk about 1km to the tube station, take the tube to the train station, take the train to Stansted airport, take a plane from there to Västerås airport, take a shuttle from Västerås to Stockholm, and take a bus from Stockholm to Jönköping. And do that same thing on the way back.

We were stuck between two points of, would we rather take the cheaper route but spend most of the day traveling? Or would we rather pay a more but get there quicker? Obviously we chose the first choice, but honestly we don’t have regrets about it.
It sort of became a fun concept of “How much of Sweden can we see in 24 hours?”
And we actually saw a lot!

Literally, as soon as we stepped off the bus in Jönköping on Friday, we got to go to an awesome school event through the University of Jönköping, and although we were completely traveled out, we weren’t missing out on a minute of getting to experience the country. So it was a blast, and we got to meet so many new people! And after 3 years of not seeing each other, it was great to be reunited with my friend Richard again!

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Now when we went, the days were super short. Like sunset at 3:20 short. So businesses seemed to work around that, meaning there wasn’t much open at night or earlier in the morning, so we started our day late morning on Saturday. With another bus ride….

This bus ride was also worth it though, since we ended up in a lovely little town called Gränna, and Gränna is apparently known for making amazing Polkagris. Which they do. And my sweet tooth was very happy.

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There were so many stores filled with polkagris! It’s basically like a stick candy cane and it’s made in a bunch of different flavors.

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Watching polkagris being made. The people in this store were happy to let us take pictures and found it funny that we tourists were just so amazed by it.

And don’t worry, there was of course, a boat added onto our travels too. Well a ferry, but I think it’s safe to say we used almost every possible form of transport on our trip. IMG_20141115_115326  We used this ferry to cross Lake Vättern, to get over the the little island of Visingsö, where we got to take in some fresh air, see some beautiful buildings and ruins (first picture), and got to have fun and act silly.

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Clearly enjoying our time out of the city for a while.

All in all, our unintended 24-hour tour of Sweden was a blast, and yeah it may have been a lot of travel, the fact that it was easy to book everything, and the prices were so good made it much easier! For some comparison, this trip total, with all that travel, came to under $300 (or less than £190) for inter-country travel both ways, plus still getting a full day and night of being out and enjoying the country. Last year, it cost me over $420 (£260) just for a round trip flight within the States from Scranton, Pennsylvania to Miami, Florida. Yikes. When you compare it and put the prices into perspective, it makes you realize that even as a student, traveling to and from London is completely manageable. And what better way to enhance your study abroad experience than to take a break and go out and see these parts of the world while you’re so close to it all and it’s so much easier!

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Plus, it’s nice to breathe in the fresh country air once in a while

Posted in London, Student Travel, Study Abroad, Sweden | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Seeing Science for Free in London– Do Penguins Have Knees?

I feel like I say this every other week, but I think I have found my new favorite place in London!

As common as it is to constantly discover new places to love here, the Grant Museum of Zoology really does top the list for me. This was Stop #1 for Seeing Science for Free in London, and it’s literally right around the corner from my school, and for some reason, it took me over three months to finally get over there. And I wish I had discovered it sooner, because for anyone who studies science, this place is amazing! And even for people who aren’t particularly interested in science, there’s enough there to peak anyone’s curiosity.

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An endangered White Rhinoceros skull

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A Hippopotamus skull.

They have every specimen you could possibly imagine preserved and on display here, and all of the display cases in the exhibits are filled to the brim. No matter what direction you look, there is always something to see, and there is usually someone there to talk to as well! I actually ended up meeting a PhD student from back in the States studying medical history who works there, and we got to have a very interesting and informative chat!

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Really, the display cases had so much to see I ended up spending 5-10 minutes at each one.

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Just a clam bigger than my head…

And then I stumbled on what quickly became my favorite exhibit in the whole place: A small square room filled floor to ceiling with slides!

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So. Many. Slides. I stood in this room for a full ten minutes mesmerized by all the specimens in here.IMG_20150107_150416

Even after this wonderful room, the rest of the museum did not fail to fascinate and amaze me.

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Of course the parasitology dork in me just had to spend some time looking at the parasitic worms.

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A display all about Alizarin preparations

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An anaconda skeleton. So cool!

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A Kiwi!!

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This giant Dugong

I am so glad I finally got to see the Grant Museum, because it was on my list for the longest time, and made an excellent first stop on my round of Seeing Science for Free in London.  I don’t know how someone can’t be amazed by all of the amazing displays here; there’s just so much to see. Plus, they do lots of events too, including some late night events that I will definitely be attending!

Oh, and last but not least, to answer a question everyone seems to ask for some reason, Yes. Penguins do have knees:

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Yes, penguins do have knees.

For more about the Grant Museum, you can visit their page Here.

Posted in London, Museum, Science, Science In London, Study Abroad, Zoology | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

New Years Day Done London’s Way

New Years in London is quite the celebration! Not only do they go all out at Christmas time with the holiday spirit, but for New Years as well.  The capital’s fireworks display on New Years Eve has been known to bring out hundreds of thousands of people every year, which is why this is the first year they made it ticket-holder only event, and charged for the 100,000 tickets they sold for it. Since everything in London is so accessible, I’m about a 25 minute walk from where all of the festivities were held, but I personally chose not to go. To be quite honest, I’m a fairly introverted person, and also very short, so the thought of standing in the cold for 3+ hours surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people just does not sound appealing to me. Yeah, people have been calling me crazy saying I missed a “once in a lifetime opportunity”, but really, I think I got a better view of them while streaming the festivities on BBC anyway!

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Photo courtesy of BBC iPlayer

Plus while watching them on one screen, I also got to video call back home on another screen and kept up the tradition of spending New Years with my boyfriend and his family and friends, while his dad played the New Year song on the buttonbox accordion, so I consider that a win/win!

New Years Day on the other hand was a tradition I happily went out to experience! The London New Years Day Parade is known as one of the best parades in the world, and being such a short walk from Trafalgar Square where it goes through, I did not want to miss it.  Plus, after hearing about SO MANY of the American school marching bands that perform, I really wanted to see what made them stand out enough to get to come all the way to London to perform at such a big event, and I must say, they were all fantastic! I was present for 14 of their performances, so there are a lot of pictures!

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The City of Westminster float.

IMG_20150101_134315 The Desert Mountain HS MB

The Desert Mountain High School Marching Band from Scottsdale, Arizona, who have performed throughout the US and Europe.

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Horses from the American Quarter Horse Association

IMG_20150101_135136 The Srarasota HS Mighty Sailor Band

The Sarasota High School Mighty Sailor Band from Sarasota, Florida. The only non-military band in America that has permission to wear official US Navy uniforms. (Sorry I was still towards the back of the crowd while taking this)

IMG_20150101_135407 The Groves Falcon MB

The Groves Falcon Marching Band from Detroit , Michigan.

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The Kites of Nasser Volant, from France, these were awesome!

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The Kites of Nasser Volant, France. There’s a British phone box hidden among them

IMG_20150101_140335 Uni of N. Iowa Panther MB

The University of Northern Iowa Panther Marching Band. This was the only University band I got to see play, and they are currently at their largest number the University has ever had. I give these students a lot of credit to be able to balance their amazing work here with everything else they do.

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One of the shiny new buses!

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The Red Hat Society, I’m glad I got to see this, since it will be their last year participating in the parade here.

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Another Borough float, I’m guessing this one was from Heathrow.

IMG_20150101_141417 Broad Run Marching Spartans

Broad Run Marching Spartans from Virginia.

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IMG_20150101_142338 Dulaney HS Lion's Roar MB

Dulaney High School Lion’s Roar Marching Band, from Maryland! (Yay my state neighbors!) This was their second appearance in this parade and they have performed at big places in the US such as the Sugar Bowl halftime show two years ago and in Orlando Florida on multiple occasions.

IMG_20150101_142752 Batesburg-Leesville HS Panther Band

Batesburg-Leesville High School Panther Band from South Carolina who has performed both in the US and overseas before.

IMG_20150101_142934 The Fleming Island Golden Eagle MB

The Fleming Island Golden Eagle Marching Band from Florida, making their second appearance in this parade.

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Lewisham Borough, they peddled this thin the whole parade.

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Cherokee High School Band of Warriors, from Georgia.

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He was very happy to wave to everyone

IMG_20150101_143758 Gilbert Tiger Pride MB

Gilbert Tiger Pride Marching Band, one of the top bands in Arizona

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The Haringey float

IMG_20150101_144028 The Spirit of South Paulding

The Spirit of South Paulding, from Georgia

IMG_20150101_144544 Cambridge HS MB

Cambridge High School Marching Band, from Georgia. Wish I could have gotten a better picture of these guys, but by this point they were jumping and cheering and I can’t blame them. This is only the school’s second year in existence, and their band was good enough to make it to performing in this parade! I’d probably be cheering too

IMG_20150101_144755_1 Greater Atlanta Christian Marching Spartans

Greater Atlanta Christian Marching Spartans, from Georgia. All the band pictures came out blurry, but it’s okay because their mascot had enough enthusiasm for the whole band and color guard! Also with that costume, he was also probably the warmest.

IMG_20150101_144805 Greater Atlanta Christian Marching Spartans

The Spartan really got personal with the crowd

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A shot of a few of the American Cheerleaders out of the hundreds who were there performing with the Varsity All American Cheerleaders, Dancers, and Spirit Performers. These girls (and guys) come from across the US and there were so many of them, that I saw 3 different groups of them perform. And no doubt there were probably more before I got there.

IMG_20150101_145250 Lambert HS Stampede MB

Lambert High School “Stampede” Marching Band from Georgia. They’ve performed across the US and, in only their 6th year, this was their first trip to London.

So, there was my New Years experience of London! And I couldn’t have been happier with how I celebrated. I got to stay warm and save money New Years Eve while still enjoying the performances and fireworks, and I got to go out and experience an amazing parade, which I was pumped to see consisted of so many American bands. I’m not sure why being in a marching band holds the reputation that it does back in the States, because these students were very passionate and did a fantastic job, and they were great enough to get to come to London and perform. I am immensely proud they come from my home country, just as pleased as I was with all of the other performers and floats I got to see throughout the parade! I was more pumped when my short self was also able to make it to the front of the crowd to actually see before the parade ended (I feel other people are nicer to short people here).

I’m so happy I got to go out and experience a London tradition, while still feeling quite at home this New Years. Even when I’m 3500+ miles away, this city always seems to have a way of making you feel at home 🙂

More about the London New Years Day Parade: Here

Posted in lnydp, London, New Years, Parade | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas Time in London

Christmas break is typically a time one spends with family and loved ones, which is probably why I got so many looks of sympathy when I told everyone I would be spending my whole break here in London. This is something quite common though for international students, so I was far from alone!
Would it have been nice to spend Christmas at home with my family? Absolutely!
But, when else in my life am I going to get to spend Christmas in London?! To me, it would be crazy to turn that chance away. And guess what? I am beyond glad I am getting to spend my whole Christmas break here.

The city has so much to offer at this time of year, like Christmas fairs and markets.

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IMG_20141220_134941 First stop was Southbank Centre Market!

Southbank Centre Market is a fun one to go to first! It’s fairly large, has plenty going on, and is right next to the London Eye. Plus it’s got plenty of books right next door!

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And right next door was the Southwark Book Market, where I got to browse through hundreds of books!

  After market #1, I just started walking east along the Thames until I hit the next one.

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Tate Modern Christmas Market

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I got to see some delicious cinnamon rolls get made!

Even further East along the Thames, I managed to find the More London Christmas Market, which ended up being the most exciting!
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Because after I got done admiring the views and the marketplace, I stumbled upon a Coca-Cola party in the park!

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And I managed to get a free can of Christmas cola!

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The Christmas markets are a great option for delicious food and unique gifts.
For other shopping options though, there is always a trip to Oxford Street not far away! And if there’s one thing I found that Oxford Street is good at, it’s Christmas window displays!

Selfridges was looking beautiful!
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And John Lewis featured plenty of Monty the Penguin! IMG_20141221_090014 IMG_20141221_090040

There is also Carnaby!
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And of course, Covent Garden!

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Lego Santa sleigh and reindeer!IMG_20141221_155003

Along with all of the beautiful lights and displays London has to offer, Christmas day itself was very enjoyable as well to spend just walking around the city and taking in the views! And guess what? After spending money on presents to send back home, it doesn’t cost a penny to go for a walk and enjoy all the lights and decorations!
There were also a surprising amount of people out and about, and plenty of places open. We found out that small, private businesses tend to stay open, while most of the chain stores close, so we were able to get lunch and dinner at a nice little cafe and restaurant! (Also, my dorm’s dining hall stayed open for select meals as well! Plus we got together a group of students in the dorm to cook our own special dinner Christmas Eve night!)

I hope everyone’s Christmas season is as enjoyable as mine was this year. And if you end up here during Christmas break, I do hope you go out and take advantage of all the holiday celebrations that the city has to offer!

Posted in Christmas, London, Study Abroad | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment