A year in London

Christian Blankenship
LSE
London, England 2018/19

It has now been nearly two months since I arrived in London and began my studies at LSE. It has been difficult adjusting to the different class format here at the school, but it’s been a refreshing change. I’ve had to improve my studying habits and time management skills in order to properly take advantage of the many activities present in London, and to also keep up with the rigorous schedule here. Aside from the different class structure, I do slightly miss the short 5-10 minute walk to class from the ABC’s that I had last year. It currently takes me 25 minutes of brisk walking from my dorm in order to reach the closest lecture hall. However, I very much enjoy the walk to class every day. It’s a pleasant experience to prepare for class and the coming day. During that walk, I cross the Blackfriars Bridge, which provides me with a view of the River Thames along with the London Eye and St Paul’s Cathedral. This view has become especially nice the past few weeks when the sun is setting.
Adjusting to the different pace that people move and act here in London is much faster than back home. Aside from lunch and dinner, where people seem like they have all the time in the world, everyone seems to be in a huge rush to get wherever they’re going. It’s like everyone is running five minutes late to work at all times and cannot afford to be late anymore. This rushed attitude is extremely different from the sauntering that’s commonplace at Hampden-Sydney and back home in Danville. It’s taken quite a while in order for me to speed up my walking pace so that I can keep up with the people I’m with. Another thing about London that has surprised me is the food. Before I arrived, I was warned by many people who had previously visited London that the food was not very good. I came into the city extremely worried because we are not provided catered meals in a cafeteria and I’m a rather picky person. However, I have been pleasantly surprised by the food options. I have not yet had a meal I didn’t enjoy, and I’ve only resorted to eating McDonalds three or four times. Unfortunately, there is no Chick fil-A in England and that has been a huge struggle to deal with. Overall, the food has been delicious and the huge variety of cuisines has me excited to try new things every meal.

The view from Blackfriars Bridge at sunset

A semester in Paris with Sweet Briar

David McElrath
JYF Sweet Briar
Paris, France 2018

You know, I feel as if I should caveat my blog posts by assuring you that yes, I actually do have school work to do most of the time. What you don’t see (largely because I only remember it as a kind of edifying blur) are a great many hours sitting in large classrooms crowded with other students, most of whom speak French far better than I do. In terms of material, it’s pretty similar to what I imagine I would be learning back at H-SC – just with longer lectures, larger classes, and, mercifully, less homework. Overall, it’s nothing to complain about, but neither is it much to write home over either. Timed written tests are the name of the game here, of which I have already had two. They are highly structured affairs, and I would be lying if I did not mention that I was absolutely terrified going into my first one a few weeks ago for fear of messing up the format.

Visiting Mont St. Michel

But enough about that: it’s time for me to show you another string of unreasonably scenic pictures. October came and went in a flurry of schoolwork and travel – a weekend trip to Normandy lightening our spirits under grey, cloudy skies.

Coastal wall of St. Malo, Brittany

A wonderful trip to remember, full of ancient castles (acoustics for days!), historical battles, and galettes (the fancier, full meal version of crepes), as well as several hours on a surprisingly comfortable bus. We spent the better part of a golden afternoon strolling across and through the shattered and cratered cliff edge of Pointe du Hoc, as well as the American cemetery just inland from the D-day beaches.

Bunker at Pt. du Hoc

I have personally always held a profound respect for those in or with family in military service, as cemented by visits to places like that cemetery. While certainly emotionally painful, such opportunities to reflect are priceless, and will endure in my memory far longer than any fun romp through a part of restored medieval Europe.

Bayeux Tapestry

That all too short visit, while not my first experience with the monuments we build to the fallen, was more meaningful to me than our visits to the dramatic abbey Mont St. Michel, the seaside town of St. Malo, or the intricate and compelling Bayeux tapestry.

A year in London

Christian Blankenship
LSE
London, England 2018/19

For the next 10 months, I will be studying at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Studying here for the entire year was one of the factors interesting me the most because most programs do not last for the entire year. One of the things about studying at LSE that excites me the most is the different method of instruction practiced here compared to back at Hampden-Sydney. However, this new instruction style is also one of the things worrying me the most. Unlike in the US where there are typically two to three sessions per week, LSE has one lecture session and one class session per week. This type of instruction places much more responsibility on the student to learn the material outside of class. However, I have much more free time to explore the city, which I intend to take advantage of as best as possible. Most of my exploring so far has revolved around getting lost 1-2 miles away from my dorm and trying to find my way home, which has really helped me acclimate to the lifestyle of living in a major city.
Aside from studying at a prestigious university and living in the heart of London, London is also a travel hub, which makes traveling throughout Europe easy and cheap. The ease of traveling around Europe, also the rest of the United Kingdom, is one factor that I plan to take advantage of as much as possible. I also am an avid golfer, and many of the most historic golf courses are located in the United Kingdom. Courses like the Old Course at St Andrews, which is considered the home of modern golf, Carnoustie Golf Links, Kingsbarns Golf Links, and many other historic courses call Scotland their home. I also will have easy access to travel anywhere else in Europe for short weekend trips or during vacation after terms have ended. Overall, there are so many new things I’ve needed to adjust to coming from a small area like Hampden-Sydney because London is so different, but it’s a tremendous opportunity being able to study here that I intend to take advantage of.

A semester in Paris with Sweet Briar

David McElrath
JYF Sweet Briar
Paris, France 2018

I was asked this week to write about my commute to and from my classes during the week. To be honest, I was (and still am) not entirely sure where to begin – and I think the confusion stems from the fact that my commute is never the same any given day. Now, there are a few reasons for this. The first is this: there are always at least two ways to get to any given destination (thus, an enormous variety of routes to explore). Personally, I have always preferred to avoid the more crowded stations in favor of more reliably roomy transportation, though this is not always an option. Some routes are quite scenic, including overlooks of various parts of the city, though often you are treated only to an identical sequence of grimy platforms. Beyond one’s preference of route, you also have to account for the endless variety of people one is likely to encounter in Paris’s unnaturally warm, labyrinthine tunnels. It is hard to imagine the many, many thousands of individuals that cross paths down there each and every day. One never knows if the next train will seat you next to a wealthy businessman, on his way to some important engagement, or across from a homeless musician, playing out his heart on an old, worn accordion before a captive audience. Though, in a sense, commuters are hardly captive. Easily two thirds of the occupants of any metro are thoroughly engaged with a private performance of some kind, made possible by a wide variety of earbuds, headphones, and what have you. Indeed, seeing people having a conversation on the dirty, rugged trains is rarer than seeing a 10-piece string ensemble playing jazz at an interchange (which I have seen – no picture unfortunately). And, to a degree, the companionable silence of the metro makes sense. We are all strangers on our own journeys – forced by chance and necessity to inhabit the same squeaking, soiled carriage for a few minutes before never seeing each other again. Why invest in those around you when the escape of your favorite music is literally a button press away? Why not distance yourself from the flow, observe and reflect, and go on your happy way when the train stops moving?
If you can’t tell, I’m challenging myself with these questions. Unpacking my nearly unconscious decision to shut out the real world for one of my own choosing when I can. I can’t say now whether I will follow up on the conviction that I should at least try to start up a conversation or two. I honestly can’t say at this moment if I will, or if I will retain the precious time I have to myself on my longer rides to read, to relax, to escape to someplace more familiar than the dark passages spreading like arteries beneath an ancient city above. Perhaps I am simply waiting for the right moment, the right stranger to talk to. However, if that is the case, I might be waiting indefinitely. Still, time is on my side, for the moment.

A semester in Paris with Sweet Briar

David McElrath
JYF Sweet Briar
Paris, France 2018

These last two weeks have flown past in a nearly uninterrupted flow of lessons, experiences, and memories made with new friends, at new places, and with new adventures each day. Our extended orientation weeks have given us, as a group, time to get to know one another and our respective host families here in Paris. Last weekend, we took a group trip down to the Loire river valley, enjoying an extended look at the plains of France’s heartland. While there, we visited three different royal palaces, each with its own unique history, architectural style and artistic design. Chenonceau, featured right, offered an opulent view over the calm waters of the Loir river.

Arriving in Paris, I now begin to realize how much I had acclimated to the calmer pace of life we enjoy in such isolated areas as Farmville. To be sure, I have enjoyed being back in an ever moving, ever changing city-scape – I simply find myself fondly remembering cool, breezy days walking the Wilson Trail after a long day. It is hard to find anything quite so peaceful here, as even the calmest moments still teem with attention-grabbing details. Still, I have found ways to relax apart from the frenetic day-to-day activity of the City. Just this last Saturday, I (and a few others) visited the Musée d’Orsay – a veritable trove of famous and stunning art pieces from all over the world. Even the view from one of the upper floors of the museum was incredible. Before such famous and intricate works of art, one could not help but feel a little more relaxed about the future.

Looking thru the clocktower from inside of the Orsay Museum.

 

View near the study abroad center.

Each week brings with it a new variety of opportunities. Chances to experience new and incredible things, but also new challenges. We truly are living in a different culture, with different values, habits, and most obviously, language. One of the most humbling things about my time here is how it has showcased how much I have yet to learn to be able to express my thoughts to others in another language. And while I have several months here to begin to address that problem, I begin to think that time will run quicker than I expect it to. Despite this dour thought, I look forward to the coming days and weeks as my chosen classes commence and my routine for this semester finally emerges.

Classes in Costa Rica

Arthur White
Costa Rica
Fall Abroad 2018

 

Safety Abroad

So many of the individuals in my study abroad program have been abroad before this semester, not specifically to studying but in general they have all left the country before this year. For me, this is truly my first time out of country, and it is for a substantial amount of time and independent to a degree. That said, when you are abroad there are a lot of precautions to take while abroad that an aspiring traveler should consider. Now, I know this list is nowhere near revolutionary, but I want to discuss some of the major problems I have had to face since coming abroad.
The first thing I cannot recommend enough is proper research about your own cellular plan and available cell plans in your country of study. Personally, my plan on Verizon is incredibly expensive abroad, so my family decided to buy a local telephone in country. Now, here is the part about research, I did some digging but not nearly enough. I bought a phone at the airport, where only one of the two local companies was available. The company available only has monthly plans, instead of a pay-as-you-go, so every 17th I must return to a company store to renew; this fact is not a safety one, just a word of warning. That said, having a reliable phone is so incredibly important when you are meeting up with friends or need to work on a group project. When my friends and I go out on a weekend, we always make sure to text an “I’m home” text, so we know that we are all safe and alive.
My second word of advice is to get to know your daily area well, if someone stops you and asks how to reach a local landmark within a couple blocks of your house or school, then you should have the amount of knowledge needed to help them. This isn’t only to help you be a more helpful person, but on several occasions I have ended up close to home, but maybe 10 or so minutes away. Being able to say, “do you know X landmark?” to a local is so important in understanding how to find your house. More often than not, someone may not know the pharmacy right next to your house, but they may know the church or police station nearby. Part of this, as alluded to with my comment about “I’m home” messages, be aware of times of the day/week in which you may need to choose to uber or taxi home, instead of walking. I live fairly close to and from campus, so I can walk most days. I do usually uber home on Monday nights, because my class lets out rather late in the evening. Part of this, is a matter of time and discussion with the people who live in the same area as you, but take the time to learn about where you’re living.
This next one is easily the most pertinent to my life right now, and you will be told this by the study abroad office, by your on-site program directors, and even the STEP alerts: stay out of political action in country. Right now, there is a major national strike happening in Costa Rica; the group of strikers is composed of several major unions in protest of several problems with the government, but the unifying complaint is a current tax reform legislation. Now, whether or not I support the unions or the government is not important right now. This is an incredibly dangerous situation, which affects all points of life between transportation to academics. People have been hurt, others arrested, and school has been shut down several times. Now, the reasoning behind non-interaction is several-fold. First, and foremost, the “correct” answer is that you are abroad to study, and helping shape a political environment is not the purpose of being abroad. On a more relatable level, as a foreigner on a student visa, you can have your visa revoked for being arrested. You will have to pay for your fines, a new airplane ticket, and your experiences ends there. You will be sent home. Furthermore, a lot of study abroad programs absolve themselves of financial problems due to arrest and you will one hundred percent have to pay for that yourself. On a physical safety level, yes, as a study abroad student you have some of the best insurance you can really get for the price you pay to study abroad. That said, if you break an ankle or get physically harmed in some other way, you are possibly going to be dealing with that for the rest of your time abroad.
So once again, I’ll be ending with a quick word. From a current student abroad to someone who may go abroad someday soon: go abroad, but most importantly go safely. You don’t want to end up the person told as a precautionary tale because you got robbed four separate times in one semester (that’s a true story) or the person who didn’t finish their semester abroad because they had their visa revoked.

Seriously, some of these strike events are huge and make getting to classes nearly impossible.
So, in the event of something like this be prepared to take a different route altogether
and keep that local phone handy in case you receive a message that class is canceled.

Classses in Costa Rica

Arthur White
Costa Rica
Fall Abroad 2018

Manuel Antonio, Cerro de la Muerte, and Monteverde, Oh My!

So, the past few posts I kept teasing information about my adventures outside of Heredia, and now that I have finally gotten pictures back from my trip to Monteverde, it’s finally time for an adventure post! Shortly after we arrived in Costa Rica, the group decided to take our first and only available long weekend to go to a town called Quepos, specifically about 15 minutes outside of Quepos, near a national park called Manuel Antonio. The actual little area around Manuel Antonio is basically a little beach town, but for all intents and purposes it is considered part of Quepos and not an independent town. Due to the proximity of the beach to the national park, we spent most of the time on the beach. This is where we get to the lessons learned from Manuel Antonio. 1). If you go to an unknown area, check the heat index; Manuel Antonio is actually one of the hottest areas in Costa Rica, and although the group stayed at two different hotels, neither hotel had air conditioning or even a ceiling fan. Yes, the hotels were only about $13-$15/night, but that’s probably because a person can barely stand to stay in the hotel during sunlight hours, making the hotel only usable at night. They also didn’t have towels, but that was fine, I had already prepared myself to buy a towel once I got there. Furthermore, if you recall, sunscreen is incredibly expensive in Costa Rica, so if a person is outside of his hotel all day, he better come prepared with a lot to cover up with or bite the bullet and invest in sunscreen… I did neither. My mistake resulted in one of the most bizarre sunburns I have ever had. It didn’t hurt at all, but boy howdy it peeled for nearly two weeks.

I’m not joking when I say that the redness stuck around for a full week, easily, and the peeling another week after that.
So, I’m here today to tell you, don’t let your stubborn stinginess stop you from enjoying a beautiful beach/national park because you decided to go with the cheapest hotel and no sunscreen. That said, Manuel Antonio was incredibly beautiful, and I cannot wait until the next time I go to the beach in Costa Rica, this time armed with sunscreen.

The beach at Manuel Antonio is very, very long. My group stayed at a hotel a little bit away from the real touristy area, which was nice because we got this wonderfully quiet view.

If Manuel Antonio is one of the hottest places in Costa Rica, I can say with confidence that Cerro de la Muerte is one of the coldest places in the country. For my Ecology and Sustainable Development course, we have several field trips planned in order to visit ecologically significant places in Costa Rica. Our first trip was to Cerro de la Muerte, and when the professor said that the mountain was cold, we laughed and shrugged off his warning. Now I have to say, I think that was a warranted reaction, ticos are “friolentos”, which is to say when it is 50 degrees outside they are pulling out heavy coats. As soon as we stepped off the bus, we realized that the professor wasn’t saying cold, as in tico cold, he meant just absolutely frigid.

Yup, we were not prepared for 36-ish degree weather, with rain and heavy winds.
Freezing our butts off aside, the trip to Cerro de la Muerte was really interesting, we learned about the types of adaptations that the mountainous species have, such as shorter plant heights or that bees nest under the ground at that altitude. This coming week, my class will be giving presentations about the plants and animals that we observed and the ways in which they interact with each other.
So, we dealt with extreme heat, then terrible cold, is there a goldilocks style medium climate that we could finally visit? Trick question, the other IFSA students and I actually already live in one of the most moderate climates in Costa Rica, but that doesn’t mean we can’t go visit one. About a week and a half ago, we visited the area known as Monteverde and its neighboring town Santa Elena. Having dealt with two crazy opposites, we all came with clothes for any weather so that we wouldn’t get caught unprepared again. Even had we removed the factor of temperature from my previous adventures and from Monteverde, I can say with confidence that Monteverde has been the most fun so far. The first day we visited a sustainable coffee plantation, called Life Monteverde, which is part of an association of twelve coffee farms in Monteverde run by an extended family. We got to see the ecological practices of the farm from composting to the use of a methane biodigester, and we got to do a little coffee tasting. The next day we hiked part of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, which was awe inspiring. The section we explored contained a section of the continental divide as well as a view of an area of the forest known as The Elven Forest.

We arrived at the observation deck during a lucky cloud break and the view was impossibly vast.

Following the adventure in the cloud forest, we were invited by the Monteverde activities director, Maricella, whom graciously invited us to her home to teach us how to cook “comidas tipicas” and we had such a fun time making dinner. Dinner included several types of empanadas, guacamole, chimichurri rojo, a salad, and patacones.

My friend Fu and I learned to make patacones, which is a sort of chip made by double frying and smashed green plantains. They were my favorite food of the night, without a doubt, and I’m definitely going to keep that recipe in my back pocket.
We finished the trip on Sunday with one more visit to the cloud forest, and we got to either zipline or walk the sky bridges at 100% Adventura Tours (I’m going to name drop here because this experience was so awesome and if anyone reading is thinking about going to Costa Rica, this place is a Must-Do). I chose to zipline, which was a new experience for me, and I am so glad I made that choice. It was an incredible adventure.

What an adventure! In this picture I am concentrating so hard because I’m about to hit the first landing platform and I was so focused on not dying I forgot there was a photographer.
The first line was terrifying, and I could barely bear the thought of stepping off the first platform, by the end I was hooting and hollering as Fu and I tandem rode the kilometer long “Tarzan Swing”. All in all, the adventures in Costa Rica have been so fun, but even more so, I am really glad that I get the opportunity to stay in Costa Rica for a few months with occasional adventures in between classes. This structure makes the adventures mean so much more, as they are a time to relax on one hand, and on the other hand I have time to “recover” between trips and better absorb every cool thing that I am experiencing here. This week I don’t exactly have a famous quote to close with, but I do have a closing thought: the things you’ll learn while you travel are rarely the lessons you prepare for. Like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will tell you, always bring a towel with you, I will add on and say, sunscreen and a good rain jacket are travel essentials. Once you have those, keep an open mind, open plans, and have fun finding the hidden lessons. Nos vemos! I’ll write again soon!

Classes in Costa Rica

Arthur White
Costa Rica
Fall Abroad 2018

Money Matters and the Formal Dude

So, the topics of my first couple of blog posts came to me rather easily, I basically just took the things rattling around in my head post-arrival and sorted the major things out until they were coherent enough for anyone to read. When contemplating the topics for this post, I reached out to my mom and asked what she thought would be interesting, and she mentioned that it might be a good idea to cover some of the things that had me stressed. One thing she brought up was the foreign concept of foreign currency: what does it look like, what is the exchange rate, and, finally, where does someone go to get money exchanged? There’s a whole load of things to tackle so let’s get started.

In Costa Rica, they use a currency called colones. There are 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 thousand bills, as well as 5,10, 25, 50, 100, and 500 coins. The colon bills are incredibly beautiful, in my opinion, each denomination has a different color, and feature art of Costa Rica, from famous buildings to plants and animals like sloths and butterflies. The 50 thousand colon bill, which none of the IFSA students have actually seen in person, is a gorgeous purple color and showcases the Morpho butterfly, Bromelia flower, and parasol mushrooms; these bills highlighting the biggest industry of Costa Rica, ecotourism.

Now, how much is that pretty 50 thousand worth in USD? Currently, as type this post, 50,000 colones is about 88.30 USD. So yes, an American could walk around with an app like XE Currency, which updates constantly, but a good rule of them is ‘multiply the colones by two and then remove the last three digits, so 50,000 x 2 = 100,000, remove the last three digits and it’s about $100. The overage is rather evident, but in a pinch 100 colones is $0.20, 500 is $1, 1 thousand is $2, and so on from there. Finally, where to exchange, and I assure you, readers, this is easily the most important question to be answered; I can say that from experience. Having just arrived in Costa Rica, one of my first instincts was to exchange about sixty bucks… at the airport. This was my first mistake in the country, the airport exchange booth actually short changed me at a rate of 480 colones per 1 USD. This means that a 50,000 colon bill would actually trade for about 104.50 USD at that rate, abysmal, really, when compared to the actual exchange rate. So places that will give you a much better exchange rate: any Banco Nacional ATM, there will be a bit of a surcharge to pull out from a non-affiliated bank but it’s really not that much, a lot of hotels will exchange cash and you’ll probably be lucky enough to have a receptionist who speaks English; or in a pinch most business will accept USD as far as I’ve observed but there is always a bit of a holdup when they check to see if your money is real and everyone kind of rolls their eyes at the foreigner who couldn’t spend five minutes at the ATM to get some local money.

One more quick topic before I end this post, and this is for the Spanish learners back at Sydney and just generally out there: what is “usted”, and when/how is it used. As a basic definition, “usted” is a formal second person pronoun, it takes the place of “tú”, but it acts more like a third person noun. That being said usage of “usted” varies from country to country, how it is used and if it is used at all, someone going abroad will have the best luck with doing a quick search on Google, or even better, asking a local. In Costa Rica, “usted” is used for basically everyone, until you feel close enough and comfortable to “tutear”, or speak with “tú”. Now, I’m the type of person that uses dude as a gender-neutral form of address. Retraining my brain to use “usted” instead of “tú” has been a little bit of a trick that if you could fit “dude” into an area of a sentence in English and it makes sense, then that’s a spot where “usted” can go in a sentence, for example, “hey, dude” -> “hola usted” or “can you pass me that, dude?” -> “puede me lo regalo usted?”. It’s not a perfect rule, and I’m sure the entirety of Spain just felt the hairs on the back of its neck raise in indignation, but the “dude rule” has worked so far for me.

So, before I leave, a closing thought: when it comes to learning new things and acquiring skills like on the spot money-handling or using a language facet you hadn’t used before, everything comes down to what works best for you. When it comes to money the 2:1 ratio is good enough for me and in the case of “usted” I don’t think I could have possibly thought of a more personalized method of learning than the “dude method”.

With that, cheers to weird brain shortcuts and learning the best way we can, nos vemos.

While none of us have actually seen a real life 50,000 bill, I did score this really rad towel this past weekend while in Manuel Antonio, but you’ll hear all about that in my next post about my trips to Quepos and Cerro de la Muerte.

Studying, “Across the Pond” 2017/18

Jamie Agnew
LSE 2017/18

This semester has been going great! It has also been flying by. We are on spring break right now, which is much different than spring break in the United States. We have an entire month off for the break, which means we have manage our time efficiently because we have exams when we return from break. I have four exams, which are all going to be tough. There are no tests or quizzes over here, so the exam is your entire grade, which adds even more pressure. I plan on traveling a couple times during the break, but when I am not traveling, I’ll be studying for exams.

I have been traveling a lot over the past couple months. My first trip was to Budapest, Hungary. It was very Eastern European: cloudy, cold, and stark. But, it had a lot to offer including thermal baths and an elaborate parliament building. I prefer Prague to Budapest, but it was still a very enjoyable trip. The following weekend I went to Rome, which was fantastic. We were only there for 2.5 days, but we saw so much in that short time. There is so much to see in the city as it has such rich history. On top of all of this, the food was to die for. I couldn’t get enough of Italy, so I went back to Naples the following weekend. Naples itself was a huge letdown. The city was rundown, dirty, and old, but the surrounding areas are beautiful. The Amalfi Coast was one of the most picturesque places I’ve been. We spent a day on the coast. The first half of the day we were in Sorrento and then we took a boat out to Capri, which was unbelievable. The next day we went to Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius, which were both very cool to see. One thing I noticed about Naples was the language barrier that existed. Of all the places I have travelled to, Naples was hardest to communicate with English in. Nonetheless, we made it work.

The following weekend, I went to Krakow, Poland. We were only there for a couple days, but we were very impressed with the city. It was quite clean and the city center was packed. We took a day trip to Auschwitz, which was extremely eye opening. It was a very moving experience and it put the Holocaust in a brand new perspective.

Last weekend, I went to Dublin for St. Patty’s Day. This was a blast to say the least. Everyone was dressed in green and drinking Guinness. I had a blast that weekend. I also met alot of great people as everyone was American. I was planning on coming home for a couple weeks during spring break, but my exams end fairly early compared to others, so I decided to stay.

The time is winding down here, which is tough to think about because it is so much fun over here. London has been a great city to spend the year in, and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. With less than two months left, I am trying to make the most of my time here. While I am going to be sad when I leave, I am excited to return to the United States.