All that I’ve gained from traveling

The British Summer Institute

This past summer, I participated in the British Summer Institute, a study abroad program through the University of Kansas Honors Program. The program focused on British literature and British art history. We split our time in England and Scotland. Whether it was in the coursework or outside at cultural excursions — even conversations at a local pub taught me something. I gained:

  • knowledge of British history
  • understanding of British customs — both English and Scottish
  • cross-cultural experience
  • better understanding of United Kingdom’s political and educational systems
  • sense self-reliance
  • independence I proved that my
  • adaptive capabilities and
  • flexibility

These experiences in the UK would continue to improve and help me discover a world much larger than myself.

First Time Abroad

I had my first trip outside of the States in June 2009 when I participated in an Italian language study abroad program through the University of Kansas. I lived with an Italian host mother (we I called Mama) in the heart of Florence; our flat was just outside of the Piazza della Republica. Living with an older Italian woman taught me to be an ambassador for both KU and the U.S. The language barrier was difficult at times but always provided some strange looks and many laughs at the dinner table, which we would be at for to at least three hours every night. With an Italian-English dictionary as our centerpiece, we would spend hours drinking wine, dining on incredible Italian eats cooked by Mama herself and laughing at the communication errors and bad jokes. I enhanced both my written and oral Italian language communications skills through the intensive language courses. I gained a truly remarkable experience through cultural tours and culinary courses. At times I did not know it but this study abroad program has shaped my entire college career into something so much better than anything I could have imagined.

Independent Backpacking

After the Italian study abroad program, I spent nearly seven months backpacking from July 2009 to January 2010. I first traveled extensively through a few European countries. I developed first-hand knowledge and understanding of the Italian, Spanish and Scandinavian cultures. I visited a family in Denmark and saw a glimpse of the Scandinavian way of life. Then I took an overnight train through Germany and France, and found myself committing to San Fermin in Pamplona. Running with the Bulls at the age of 19 was not exactly how I thought I’d be spending my summer. That experience changed the way I look at life. Running with the Bulls empowered me to believe I could do anything (sorry Mom and Dad). Now that I have experienced the culture of adventure travel, my bucket list has tripled in size. After leaving Europe, I returned to the States to surprise my parents. Then I traveled West and volunteered in Northern California. During my time volunteering and driving across America, I realized that I can learn so much from traveling in my own country, especially considering the size and diversity of the U.S.

After leaving Italy, I visited my friend Viktoria in Demark. Her amazing parents took us to Sweden to their lake house. It was an amazing experience. July 2009.


Down Under

In the fall of 2009, I traveled extensively throughout New Zealand for eight weeks followed 21 days in Australia. My semester spent backpacking taught me more than I could have anticipated. I proved my independence and gained motivational skills as well as problem-solving skills. I demonstrated flexibility and adaptability. I also learned about budgeting and planning. These skills have continued to help me succeed and as I grow and foster these skills, I hope to succeed in many aspects of life.

Peruvian Adventure

This past summer after my study abroad program in the United Kingdom, I flew to the other side of the world to backpack Peru with six of my friends. I expected this trip to be full of laughter and girls’ nights. And although the trip encompassed both of those, what really struck me about the trip was that it also opened my eyes to a continent I knew little about. A year prior to departure, I enrolled in Spanish 111 solely for my personal benefit because I knew I would be traveling to South America. Although I was relatively proficient in Italian at the time, Spanish proved to be more difficult for me to pick back up. I had completed the highest advanced placement Spanish courses in high school, yet I quickly realized that my Spanish skills had slipped away. My time in Peru was one of the best weeks I had spent abroad not only because I was with my good friends but because I truly prepared for months to better understand the culture. My preparation for this trip made a huge difference in my experience. Although my Spanish was considered elementary, it was great to comprehend most of the spoken language. From this experience, I am encouraged to continually educate myself to better understand the world around me, especially if I’m lucky enough to travel there.

Interested in South America

While in Lima we visited a terrorism museum, where I learned about the Shinning Path. I had never heard of this dark period in Peru’s history; it was full of genocide and violence. What struck me most about these events was that they occurred while I was alive. Granted I was young, but this cultural experience taught me that you can be so far-removed from a culture without even knowing it. I want to strive for better understanding of the world. I now have a newfound interest in South America, but then again there is not a part of the world I am not interested in.

Traveling gave me experiences that will last a lifetime. Here I am in Pamplona, Spain. After a long night, I saw my first Running of the Bulls. July 2009.


ESL Tutoring

During my times spent abroad, I have paid close attention to the role of language. After reenrolling at the University of Kansas in 2010, I have focused my time on volunteering with non-native English speakers to empower them to learn English. This passion for international students and my interest in teaching English stemmed from my time abroad in 2009 to 2010. As I continue to engage in international student events to continue my global understanding, I realize that I’m a very small piece of this global puzzle.

Nonprofit Interest

I had a short-term internship as the Communications Director for Dundori Orphans Project, a non-profit organization that a fellow KU undergraduate had stated. As the Communications Director, I was in charge of social media and event coordination for the project as well as the communications of the group. I developed creative content for the website, which I edited alongside a web designer.

Here I am in the AJ Hackett Bungy Internet Cafe in Queenstown, New Zealand. We are Skyping our friends before heading off to Bungy Jump. Photo taken in Nov. 2009


Now I write

Now personally, I continue to write about my travels and connect with other travel writers through a network of social media and blogs. Through an independent study with a journalism professor, I created and designed a personal promotional website that tends to present itself as a travel blog. I create content and make connections around the world through the incredible power of the Internet paired with the written word. I never thought that a classroom project could lead to an independent study that would allow me to engage with over 35,000 online visitors in a few short months. The website has opened so many doors. I have been published on the Sports Illustrated website, and now, I write for the USA TODAY college blog as a college correspondent. I have even connected with travel writers from around the world online and even in person – a woman and I met in Peru to chat about freelance options. This website,, is more than a simple personal blog; it proved to me that I can create a product that not only promotes me but promotes international understanding.

Language is a funny thing

Language is a powerful tool used in all the world. Evidence of language spans back centuries. While Manderain Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world, English is close behind with the Spanish language. As an American English speaker, I feel blessed to have a tool that allows me to communicate with nearly one billion people in the world. As I travel, I am able to get around in nearly all the developed countries regardless of their offical national language.

Over the past month I have personally observed the differences between the British and American English. While observing language variations, more questions arise than answers: Where did these changes come about? Is one right? Is one wrong? How has language evolved?

I have purposefully sought out answers as well as differences during my time in the United Kingdom. I am not the only one that has these questions and biases about language.

For example, last night a Northern Irish gentleman, Bryan, told me that it is absolutely ridiculous that we spell color without a “u,” while I think it is ridiculous they spell it with a “u.” The British also spell other words differently: color as colour, tire as tyre, fiber as fibre and theater as theatre.

The American English made these changes. Some theorists say that it was in the hands of one man, Noah Webster. When Webster published Webster’s Dictionary, he thought it was important to distance America from the British English and thus the spelling changes arrived. He later wrote An American Dictionary of the English Langauge, which further influences how America speaks today.

The differences stretch far beyond spelling. Even punctuation differences exist. In England they use single quotations marks for quotes in text, while in America we use double. This is not a vocabulary difference, but still an important difference to note.

This week I visited a friends’ sister and her newborn baby. As we spoke, I realized that simple things such as a pacifier, baby toys and medicine have different names. She said he needed a nappy, which I thought was a cute way to say he needed a nap or rest. It would have been really funny had I said, “I needed nappy, too,” because a nappy is a diaper. This reminded me of a Bill Bryson story I once read. Bryson, an American, lived in the UK for two decades before moving his English wife and children to America. There he discovered that his native tongue wasn’t so native. While working on his home, he ran off to the hardware store where he needed to pick up a few things. Bryson thought this would be an easy stop in and go. Little did he know that the British English had influenced him more than he imagined. While he struggled to think of what items were called in British English, the American store worker were left clueless on how to help him. “What do you call the thing that hangs the picture? We call it a bobble, I think?” Bryson couldn’t remember what the nick knacks were really called in England, let alone American English. It is funny how one language can vary so much.

For example, when talking about names, the English say someone is “called” Bob; whereas, in America, we say someone is “named” Bob. While I call my friend named Bob on the phone, the English ring their mate Bob. One question that remains answered is who decided to call someone rather than ring him or her. Who named sweatpants “sweatpants”? This is one concept that translates horribly into the British English language. Sweat is still sweat in English but pants are underwear. You get the picture. Translation can often times be difficult between a Brit and an American.

Word pronunciation is an evident difference between British English and American English, and dialects affect pronunciation immensely. Even here in England there are five or six names for what I call a “bread roll.” It can be called a Bap, Roll.  Hannah, born in Nottingham, which is considered the Midlands, now lives in Manchester and finds the dialects completely different. According to Hannah, in Manchester they call a bread roll a muffin. A muffin to Hannah is a pastry. While living in Manchester, she has to translate constantly; even the accents are completely different. A Manchester accent pronounces Mom like Mam, which often can be confused with ma’am. Yet most of the UK pronouns Mom as Mum. Pronunciation differences are typically the most noticeable. Words like garage, car, and schedule.

I spoke with a woman from Lancaster and her daughter on the train this morning about language. She mentioned one of Bill Bryson’s books on language, which is quite a coincidence because I had just written about Bryson’s experience at the hardware store. The woman had said that some American English stems from Old England. For example, the word trash is actually old English, yet here in England have steered away from Old English. The mother said that most Brits believe that Americans have taken most their words, but in this case, it is the Brits that have abandoned their Old English by calling trash litter or rubbish.

Through my experience, language differences are rarely negative. The differences typically trigger a conversation of vocabulary and language. The language differences have triggered many laughs and even more confusion. For me, it always is an opportunity to learn something more about a culture rather it be Britain’s or even my own.

My Vocabulary List – American to British:

Bangs- fringe

Trunk of a car – boot

Hood of a car – bonnet

Windshield – window screen

Stove top – hob

Pants – trousers

Underwear – pants or knickers

Sweatshirt – jumper

Sweatpants – track bottoms

Friends – mates

Purse- bag

Woman’s wallet – purse

Bobble – hair tie

Bobby pin – hair grip

Movie- cinema

Duffle bag – overnight bag

Trash – litter/rubbish

Trash can –litter bin/rubbish bin

Making out- pulling

Landry mat – launderette

Lorry – truck

Lift- elevator

Bathroom – toilet / loo

Planner – diary

Soccer – football

Cookie – biscuit

Vacation – holiday

Gas (gasoline) – petrol

Gas station – petrol station/filling station

Vacuum – hoover (verb and adjective)

Highway- motorway

Pudding – desert

Line (as in to stand in line) – queue

Living room – lounge

Flashlight – torch

Cigarette – fag

Slang or abbreviations:

University – Uni

Cardigan – cardi

Television – tele

Hoodlum – Ned (Scotland)

White trash – Chav




Tiredness Can Kill

“Tiredness Can Kill.”

Tiredness could be a theme for the BSI. I am really sleepy. The days are so long here; the sky never gets completely dark. It doesn’t get dark until eleven and it is completely light out by five in the morning. We are living very very north.

I took this picture at four in the morning in the Isle of Skype. Anne Salvato and I woke up to look for dolphins and otters. Although there was no dolphins to be seen, I did see otters! It was wonderful. I saw them in their habitat!

Guest Post: Amanda Hemmingsen

Exploring the British Take on War

This time around, I sat through the entire video in the Crimes Against Humanity exhibit at the Imperial War Museum. When here in March, I made it to the Holocaust exhibit, but ran out of time for some of the others, of which the CAH exhibit was one. The video contained images of current crimes and past ones. There was an interview with a Holocaust survivor, and an interview with a middle aged woman standing next to a pile of skulls. The emotional pain she was exhibiting while telling the camera within the pile of bones lay everyone she knew.

I thought it was interesting that the first floor of the museum is filled with different machines used during WWI, while the third floor contains a chilling Holocaust exhibit and that Crimes Against Humanity video. The machines were a kind of glorification of war; a testament to human accomplishment and ingenuity. The third floor was a testament to the dark side of human achievement.

The fact that one museum houses both these ways of looking at war reveals a complicated take on war by the British population. One the one hand, there’s a complete awareness of all that is horrible in war. The third floor didn’t point fingers or cast blame, but it laid a certain responsibility at the feet of Europe. The first floor, in its simple offer of feats of technology, focused on what there is to be proud of during wars.

The British, unlike Americans, had war on their doorstep at the beginning of the 20th century. Because of that, and their powerful position within the world, they seem to be able to hold both the weight of the terrible and an appreciation of the wonderful that can be found during wartime. There is less glorification of winning and of war, and more appreciation of the idea that there are still numerous battles to be won for the sake of humankind.

– contributed by Amanda Hemmingsen

Amanda is a senior at the University of Kansas studying English. She hopes to attend graduate schools to pursue a Masters in English to later teach English at the college level. Amanda is from the Kansas City area and lives in Overland Park.  Contact her at

Edinburgh buses

I read this rather disturbing short story by Laura Hird called Routes. It was about a boy’s bus ride on his twelfth birthday. He had a filthy mouth and a depressing view of others. I do not like riding stories about young kids with such messed up lives. It makes me think how unfair life is and how some parents truly do not deserve take care of another life. On a lighter note, the story shows you a bit about what it is like to ride the buses here in Edinburgh.

While in Edinburgh, I have been staying in Pollock Halls, which are really nice one-bedroom dorms. The UK doesn’t believe students should have to share such a small place with other students. Man, my last three years of college would’ve been incredibly different had that been the case at KU and Theta. I am really enjoying having my own space. Pollock Halls are in walking distance from High Street also known as Main Street, but it is a really long walk. Thus, my program gave me bus passes to use while I’m here. I’ve hoped on the bus alone a few times over the past week and a half. It has been a great way to people watch – one of my favorite pastimes.

The thing I have noticed the most is the generosity of others. People are really nice here. When an elderly person enters the bus, people immediately vacate their seats for them. When a mother with her hands full of shopping bags and a child’s scooter entered the bus yesterday with her four-year-old daughter, a man helped the little girl to her seat while the mom struggled with all his bags. I believe the people here are less self-conscious about what people will think about their actions. Instead of worrying about what others think, they do what is right and help strangers. I’d like to think that I am constantly aware of those in need, but I know I could be better about helping others. Everyone probably could.



Glasgow June 29

We took a daytrip to Glasgow yesterday. It was about an hour bus ride, which I enjoyed catching up on journaling and spending time outside of Pollock Halls.

Only about forty-five miles separate these two cities but the differences are incredible. The biggest difference that I noticed was the accent. When we first arrived, Winston, Anne, Libby and I popped into the cutest coffee shop, Illy. The store was decorated with chandeliers and faux cow print walls. The two girls working there were really friendly and talkative, but I will be honest, I didn’t understand half the things they said. My first reaction was that they were from a different country and English was their second language. I’d love to know the linguistic differences and do a better job of explaining what made the accents so different, but it was really hard to pin down.

The city is rather large and was full of people shopping the man street, Sauchiehall Street, which by the way you pronoun like Sake bombs! What a funny name for a street. Cars weren’t allowed on some of the main shopping streets, which was nice to walk around these wide pedestrian streets without worries.

The biggest observation I’d like to make is about evidence of the recession. Personally, I know what the recession has done to my family and friends, but in Glasgow it was visual. Shops were closed and people were frumpy. The amount of street performers was surprising, but I believe that this was another example of recession. If you can’t find work, yet play an instrument, you’re out on the street looking for a living. On our way into Glasgow, there was a large building complex full of high-tech looking business suites that were completely desolate. Billboards surrounding the building saying, “Bring your business here. Outside the center centre. No hassle. No traffic.” It is obvious that the recession has affected this country, but it was visible in Glasgow. I hope our little bus of thirty helped the economy out that day with all our shopping and dining. However, I’m afraid it will take Scotland making some big changes to help out their economic situations.


History matters?



This one is for you to consider over the rest of the program.   It should be as a crimp in your contact lens or a pebble in your Thoms or sand . . . You get the idea. Interrogate your own relationship to history.  Juxtapose it to what you are experiencing on this trip.  Consider your own cultural underpinnings.  Consider the experiences in your own life, culture, media exposure, etc. and how those elements affect your relationship to history.


My Response:


History is all around us. You can’t avoid the implications of former leaders and artists. This has been especially true during my time here in Britain. I would never consider myself a history buff or pretend to be knowledgeable about American history let alone British. Sorry, Mrs. O’Brien, you’re European history class was spent passing notes. This trip has taught me a lot about how important it is to understand the past before you consider the present. For example, we visited Fountains Abbey, a giant monastery that was left for ruins. I have to think about Henry VIII and what he did in the 1500s to contemplate what I see now in the twenty-first century. Some of the differences between Scotland’s Highlands and the Lowlands stem from battles and conflicts that happened hundreds of years ago.

As a Midwestern American, I rarely think about British history and its implications on my life, but it is important to think about America’s forefathers and what they had to go through to declare independence from Britain. I doubt I will ever truly understand the ramifications that an entire nation has on another, but I’m committed to keeping an open mind about our history and search for answers wherever questions arise.

We met the Caledonian Mercury’s editor, Stewart Kirkpatirck, this week. He started Scotland’s first online-only newspaper. When he came to speak with us, he mentioned a lot about Scottish independence and the Parliament’s referendum. I knew only what I learned in Comparative Politics about British politics, so Stewart’s talk was information and interesting. I hope to keep up with his newspaper and Scottish politics through that. There is so much information out there about the world.

In conclusion, I have a lot to learn about history. One thing I do understand is that it is important to consider the past and what people have contributed to this world we live in today. I’m curious to see how my generation contributes to history. Wish us luck.