Fall Break, The Lizzie McGuire Dream, and Finding Peace Abroad

There is so much to cover, yet so little time. I will do my best but if at any point this turns into a pointless rant or a wannabe YA novel, feel free to skip through and just look at the pictures.

Contributing to the idea that this feels like a vacation (zero complaints), we had a weeklong fall break after midterms, which felt odd. Odd in the sense that I spent many hours planning a smaller excursion during what seems like a dream from which I haven’t waken from yet. Still, my fall break was all I could ever ask for and more. Two of my roommates and I decided to head to the United Kingdom and found a second home in London and Dublin. Was part of that due to being able to speak English for a week? Well it probably contributed. Honestly though, we fit so many stops within so few days, it mostly felt like a touristy trip, something we tend to avoid at all costs while in Florence. This is where you start though. It was our first time in London so of course we were going to hit the major ‘must-sees.’ Nothing says London like sitting at the Buckingham Palace and getting a picture with Big Ben. It was surreal and amazing (the two adjectives I basically use to describe every experience I have had thus far). Again, it was a start. That is my number one piece of advice I could give to anyone spending their time studying on a program for such a limited time. Of course we wish we could spend more time everywhere we go, but I think it’s often forgotten that we are so young. There are many years in our future to continue exploring and to return to the places we could see ourselves living later in our lives. I am so bad when it comes to this myself, but I think our generation has a serious case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), but this saddening condition can limit our experiences and can make memories more bitter than sweet. So in conclusion, from this momentary observation, my U.K. trip was unbelievable, it went by very quickly, but when I come back I will have enough experience under my belt to adventure even further out in England and spend a lot less time working the tube system. But what did I do there this time you ask? Well…let’s see…WARNING: this may read like a laundry list of stops, but when you don’t have much time, you squeeze in as much as possible!

Night 1: Got lost finding our amazing hostel (everyone should consider the Wombat City Hostel – clean, amazing people, and a cave restaurant!), first tube experience, Starbucks trip, and we ended the night seeing Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre!


Day 2: Starbucks trip #2, walk through of Harrod’s, Hyde Park, found the Peter Pan statue, Baker St./Sherlock Holmes Museum, Abbey Road Studios, King’s Cross – Platform 9 ¾, Camden markets, Chin Chin Laboratories (Nitrogen made ice cream), random blues club, and dinner at a place that supposedly housed the worlds’ best fish and chips…and rest at the hostel for the next day!


Day 3: Tower of London, more Starbucks, Tower Bridge, the Borough Market, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Millennium Bridge, London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, walk through of Piccadilly Circus, dinner in China Town, and then we walked back to our hostel, taking the scenic route along the river.


London was especially memorable as we were able to meet up with our friend who is studying abroad there and was able to show us our way and help navigate the bus system our second full day in town. I cannot reiterate enough just how jam packed our day was but it was completely worth it. Even though London was short-lived, we moved onto Ireland and knew only more adventures were to come.

We arrived in Dublin with just enough time to catch a bus into town, find our hostel, grab a nice dinner at a local place and grab a late night snack at a grocery store. It was here that we saw some of the snacks that we have been missing since our arrival in Italy *enter Pop-Tarts, Microwave Popcorn, Oreos, etc.*. After our snack food binge, we retreated to our hostel (another amazing spot called the Generator Hostel in the center of town), to find it had a full restaurant and dance hall in the lobby. Not a bad way to spend the night. We started our next day pretty early on a walking tour of Dublin’s city center. Not going to lie, most of my knowledge concerning Ireland stemmed from movies like P.S. I Love You and Once, so hearing the stories and folklore behind almost every street we passed, was very eye opening. We also were able to have lunch at O’Neill’s, one of the most well-known, traditional Irish establishments in Ireland. Our tour then left us to experience the Guinness factory where we took a crash course in bartending and capped our tourist time at their skyline restaurant with a 360-degree view of Dublin.


Our next day in Ireland was my favorite though. We started very early and made our way to the Cliffs of Moher on the coast. Honestly, one of the most unforgettable places I have been since coming abroad. It definitely put things in perspective. After spending a couple hours walking the cliffs and listening to the traditional music of the players sitting along the countryside, we took a bus to Galway. Although we only had a few hours to explore, we tried to make the most of it. After grabbing another delicious meal at a local place, we strolled along the streets listening to musicians who seemed to be coming up every few feet from one another, and peeking in the shops here and there in search of the perfect memento. Our time once again flew by, out of our hands, and before I knew it we were on our way back to Dublin. I feel as though I should also mention that this day happened to be Halloween. YAY! Halloween is a holiday that is not celebrated in Italy for the most part, but the same cannot be said for Ireland. All day it was costume after costume and people throwing candy in the streets. It was quite the sight to see. As a result though, we had to quickly throw together costumes from what we could find at our junk food grocery store. By the end of the day we had a Batman (mask), a cat (ears) and a cowboy (hat).  A super fun trip, a very short trip, but it was definitely hard to leave Ireland. It only inspired me to come back. If I ever live in another country for an extended amount of time again, I can only hope it will be in Ireland.


I will only briefly mention my weekend that followed directly after fall break, but with the ISA program we traveled to Rome for the weekend. This was it, my chance to see and walk in the footsteps of my favorite fictional character, Lizzie McGuire. I have to say, Rome surprised me. I thought after hearing about it from other students studying there, and seeing a lot of the more famous sites in movies and in different T.V. programs, that I would enjoy it less for some reason. That was not the case. In fact, Rome was so stunning, I could have used at least a week to experience everything it has to offer. The Colosseum alone was more magnificent than I could imagine and no pictures I have seen have done it justice. My other favorite moment-in-awe, was walking through the Vatican City and seeing the Sistine Chapel and Basilica. Pieces of art like that of the city itself do not happen anymore. I honestly have never seen anything like it before in my life. It really made me stop and give some thought to our society’s fascination with all things modern. Are these the same people who haven’t been able to experience history and beauty like that of the civilizations we have learned so much from? It would have to be – there is no comparison.


Finally, I don’t think it would be possible for me to be abroad, and not mention the events in Paris. I send all of my love to the victims and residents of Paris after the attack on their beautiful city. I do however employ us to spread our prayers beyond this horrific incident and recognize the travesties happening worldwide and the victims who are not receiving the same media attention and reactions, as was the worldwide concern for Paris. I do not, under any circumstances deem the loss in Paris as any less important, but I do think there are so many people worthy of the world’s love, grace, and attention who are not currently in the spotlight right now. Please join me in sending good thoughts out into the world as we move forward and strive to be decent human beings to one another.

And with that excessively long post, until next time. Seriously, if you have made it this far, you deserve a cookie.



Remember that blog I was writing? Yeah, I forgot too. Let me tell you why.

Long time no see!

The last time I put finger to keyboard for the sake of this blog we were just starting official classes.  Now, we just passed our midterm week and break so it’s fair to say a little bit of time has passed (half the term actually). In the meantime I pretty much forgot about this little blog here, chiefly because of all the other plans and projects that took up most of my waking hours the past month or so. Since that last blog I’ve traveled quite a lot, did a lot of schoolwork (wasn’t expecting that were you?!), and met some pretty interesting characters along the way. Here’s a bit of a taste, and my sorry version of an excuse, for what has kept me preoccupied the past 4 or 5 weeks.

About 2 weeks ago I found myself trudging through the docks of Dublin Port, fresh off the ferryboat and raring for a little adventure, when I realized an odd pattern within my travels up to that point. Rather, it was more like a checklist of situations that I would inevitably find myself ticking off in rapid succession at some point in time. Here’s the basic structure I worked out for myself:

  1. You have (insert number less than 25 or 0) amount of currency
  2. You have been walking for (insert number greater than 3) hours already
    • Or alternatively: walked (insert number greater than 5) miles already
  3. You are (insert number greater than 4) miles away from your destination
  4. You have (insert number less than 20) % battery life left
  5. You have (insert number equal or less than 2) hours of daylight left

To varying degrees this is basically the rundown summary of every major trip I’ve taken so far. In Wales I ended up dreadfully lost in the Brecon Beacons National Park. The rundown in that one being I was (at that point) about 10 miles into a hike through the hills, had a swollen IT band,  took a wrong trail, trekked through herds of sheep, ended up in someone’s farm, ended up hopping fences through fields while the cows lazily acknowledged my existence with a few “moos,” got lost along the hedgerow one-lane streets taking me back to town, failed to make the last bus running (it was a Sunday so they stopped running early), talked to some exceedingly nice locals who managed to help me get the last taxi in town back to the train station (which was about 15 miles away), and managed to catch the last train back to Cardiff by 11pm… rather unorthodox, not planned out very well, potentially disastrous, and something I found myself repeating to some extent in Scotland and Ireland; but totally thrilling and worth every second. In terms of the whole “man vs wild” thrill of an adventure that comes from trying to make the most out of limited resources, I think I understand a bit more why people do far more extreme versions of this.

When it comes down to it, studying abroad becomes an odd amalgam of sights, sounds, and experiences.  Pictures and those selfies don’t capture the wind in your hair or the foreign looking street signs or the assorted mix of tourists and locals milling about their lives. I’m incredibly aware that so many little experiences that are commonplace to me at this point (scanning into the tube, paying with coins, etc.) will be beyond my memory after only a few days of being back in Seattle. I wonder sometimes, and this goes for all traveling, to what extent these experiences shape our lives; if we can’t remember how all of these little moments pan out are they really collectively shaping or do we only pick out through happenstance individual stories to hold onto?

Speaking of little stories, one story of when we were in Scotland struck an interesting and thrilling chord. It took 30-odd American students, a bunch of Scotsmen, and a well-used karaoke machine. A group of 40 or so of students from the program and I went up to Scotland last week and ended up in this little town called Oban on the western coast of the highlands. That night most of us headed to one of the local places rumored to have a fantastic karaoke setup.  When we arrived there were maybe a dozen Scotsman milling around and staring dubiously at this large contingent of clearly American students. The awkward silence continued and we retreated (to the extent 30 people can in a tiny place) into the back corner. As I walked in one local looked me dead in the eye, stuck out his hand, gave me a toothy grin and said in a distinctly highland brogue, “Heya there mate, what brings ya up to these here parts?” After a few introductions Jack turned into one of the most conversational, expletive, and exuberant men I’ve ever met, let alone in the middle-of-nowhere Scotland. We caught on nicely and he absolutely couldn’t believe he’d ever meet someone from Seattle out there in Scotland. He was giddy with excitement that some Americans were in town, and that he “won the powerball a few times” to be lucky enough to be at the one place in town we all showed up in. I was surprised to say the least, I thought we students would have seemed pretty obnoxious to the locals to which he answered (with some heavy censoring for this blog) “I hear the same bloody eejiots singing the same bloody songs every night. You Americans are gonna light up the place!” We did exactly that as two friends of mine shattered the proverbial glass by starting off the night with “Baby Got Back.” After that pretty much everything was on the table and, once the locals stopped shaking their heads, the group’s favor quickly swung to our side. As the place filled up, it became steadily more and more boisterous with this huge sing-along filled with raw throats, a bunch of dancing Scotsmen, and a troop of Americans leading the chant alongside tunes including “Piano Man,” “Let it Go,” Don’t Stop Believing,” “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” and “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Not bad for a bunch of ‘youths’ in Scotland huh?

I have about a 6 weeks or so left here in England and it is already apparent November will go by incredibly fast.  Lots of friends are dropping by, others are already here, and many other loose ends all need tying up in a relatively short time. Hopefully I won’t forget about this blog in my next set of adventures but if I do, I swear I had a good excuse for it (just like last time). In any case, I’m back to find some more stories and adventures and I’m wishing you all the best for your own.



From Beaches to Midterms While on “Vacation”

These last few weeks have been more than amazing. They lay somewhere between surreal and unimaginable. Just within the last two weeks I have made it up an down the Italian coast; hitting Sorrento, Amalfi, Lovanto, Le Cinque Terre, Capri, and exploring Assisi, Siena, Vinci, Chianti and Napoli somewhere along the way.

A quick trip through Manarola, Italy
A quick trip through Manarola, Italy

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I was provided with more than my fair share of beach trips that resulted in running into the ocean with wet suits on so we didn’t freeze to death. The second I jumped into the pure teal, mirror-like water on the Italian coast in nothing more than a bathing suit – I was in love. It was a feeling that I wanted to relive over and over again until it was simply my reality. So that became my new priority, to spend what little time left of warm, delightful weather there was, being a beach bum. The only downside? Limiting our travel time to the weekends. I do not regret any of the short, sometimes only overnight, trips we took because we still were there to experience something we wouldn’t have otherwise. Our last beach adventure we took to Sorrento and Capri, involved an overnight bus, a 4am train ride, a ferry ride, and multiple boat transfers. The outcome? I was able to scratch off yet another bucket list item – rowing through the blue grotto in Capri. While this may seem like the stereotypical tourist moment we all try to stay away from, I can honestly say it was the most beautiful place I have yet to been blessed with seeing (also, it helped me conquer my fear of small spaces and sea sickness).

Inside of the blue grotto in Capri
Inside of the blue grotto in Capri

Although my beach days were well lived, and possibly my favorite memory thus far of my time in Italy, this last week has proven to be a serious wake up call into the ‘real world.’ Even though you are traveling way more than you probably would be at home, and you could be in a different country every week should you choose, we are all still here going to school. Funny concept right? Well, while the thought of classes may make you laugh as you transfer trains coming home from your latest adventure, they are very much real and come with the same regularities at home, including midterms. General PSA, midterms are not easier abroad! In fact, most classes here only grade your midterm and final for your final grade, they are very much worth studying for. What I am happy to report is, they are followed by fall break (so don’t worry, you will soon only have to put your brain power to use simply for booking flights and re-arranging your budget). I just finished my midterms today actually, and am now looking forward to trying to run into Ed Sheeran and Bono as I travel to London and Ireland for the next week or so! And don’t worry, my next post will be the woes of staying on some sort of budget while attempting seeing the world while being on the ‘right’ side to do so.

Check you soon!


It’s All Greek to Me

Welcome to my so far life of roaming Athens for hours, writing down all my random babbling and shooting photos of unsuspecting subjects as best I can. I’ve ventured on the metro (which is like a five minute bus ride from my apartment) almost everyday this week in search of yummy lunch, a tour of the city, nights out on the town and a peaceful beach day in the super duper salty Mediterranean (who knew??).

IMG_6355At first the Metro was ‘alright lets kinda just guess that that Greek word was something tangible and follow the voice of the intercom to see where we end up.’ For being English speaking newbies trying to find a location our friends said to meet at… we did pretty darn well. The tour of Athens in the school bus was the pretty touristy next excursion out of Aghia Paraskevi and man was that interesting to go see the old part of the city and small cobblestone streets! It was similar to a picturesque Parisian street cafe.

beachOk let’s focus on the beach now. First, consider where I’m from (15 minutes from Pacific Coast Highway in southern California where the surfs totally gnarly brah!). Now reflecting on that… the coast of the Mediterranean is more my kind of beach! No waves to annihilate your hopes and dreams, no sand getting stuck in your bottoms and really given you a comfy drive home, and lastly… no crazy seaweed that decides to make you a model for its new dress line. As I swam out to the buoys, I could see my feet and the floor of the ocean at every moment. Talk about confidence in the water my ocean squeamish friends.

The structure of Athens is reminding me quite a bit of Seattle actually. You arrive thinking its all contained in one central area that is the epitome of the city. In reality its spread out quite vastly into smaller little pockets of one lifestyle. For example, I live up on capitol hill but I guarantee those are a different lifestyle set than Queen Anne or Downtown. Just like now, I live in Aghia Paraskevi that highly contrasts from the vibe down in Gazi or Plaka. I’m interested to find each little pocket little by little.

Later alligators!


P.S. title coined from young scholar Michael McDonnell himself (as he made very clear)

What it takes to check off the “bucket list”…

I really do promise that I will get better at this technology concept and learn that blogging, really is not that difficult to work with as a medium. In the near future, I predict posts coming on a semi-normal basis with a less scattered-brain style, as I am sure this will turn out. Anyway, that is my informal apology for what is about to come. 

I will start by giving a bit of background of what the heck I have even been doing during my time abroad thus far. Well I began my journey in early August, flying into not Italy, but Amsterdam. I have family scattered throughout the Netherlands as my father was born and raised in Zutphen for the beginning of his life. As a lovely result, I have family to visit and lean on in the beautiful country of Holland. Once in Zutphen, I was able to leave my big suitcase (yes, only ONE big suitcase) with the family and took my backpack and hopped on the train for part one of Justine’s adventure. Although it gave my parents a slight heart attack, I spent a couple weeks backpacking through Holland, Belgium, and France, only really staying in each place a couple of days. In the end though, they understood how rewarding this experience would be for me, and luckily supported my independent streak. I am going to say it once – traveling by yourself is the number one way to figure out who you are as a person. I spent some serious time reflecting on what I want out of this experience and learning how to be flexible. 

On top of the Eiffel Tower
On top of the Eiffel Tower

I am a self- proclaimed control freak who needs an organized plan at all times. Missing trains, having the wrong address, getting lost, living in dirty spaces are all different chapters of my nightmares yet was my reality for those few weeks traveling solo. I am sure I will touch on this throughout my time here, but knowing when to accept the things I cannot change has been, and will be, the struggle I explore daily. 

Fast forward to the end of August – my mother was lucky enough to come visit me and help me move into my apartment in Florence after my backpacking stunt. My clear piece of advice I can pass on to prospective travelers: though it will seem like a good idea in prospect, saying goodbye abroad is harder than doing so at home. Granted, my mother and I are as close as the Gilmore girls, seeing her walk away down the narrow avenues of Florence while still adjusting to life in this new country was more difficult than I ever imagined. For future reference, I think the way to go is to invite a visit from the family mid-program or near the end; something to look forward to, not fondly think of in the past tense.

Well this brings me to my ‘home away from home’… the apartment.  Another way to learn to be flexible; when there are three rooms, six girls, and only two rooms with a view, perspective is what you need to keep in mind. Due to timing, my gentile way of thinking, and general attitude towards confrontation, my roommate and I are sharing a small bedroom in the back of the house that faces a wall and does not get any airflow. Usually, the girl I am back home, would let that ruin a perfectly unrelated experience. Justine in Florence is a different story, I know that I am fortunate to even be here and know that this is a place that will not define my stay here. I feel the need to share that little anecdote because so many people I know have let the small things affect their attitude in the long run, and I personally think that is a waste of time and energy. Being appreciative can be a ‘hard’ job sometimes, but it is the active perspective that will help you make the most of every day abroad (and in general). 

It could be that I was traveling beforehand and have been here a month longer than my counterparts, or that it finally sunk in that this is my new home, but the couple weeks of life in Florence was difficult for me. I did not adjust right away, and I was very home sick. Everything seemed to be building up and my emotion clouded my judgment. I am not going to sugarcoat it, I really did think of ways to come there for bit. What got me through was planning something to look forward to. My ultimate dream when even planning to come over here was my bucket list goal of getting to Croatia. Croatia is in my opinion, the most beautiful place in the world. If there had been an option to study abroad there, I would have with no doubt made it my final destination. So when I happened upon a student trip to Croatia, I jumped on the opportunity. Between the island hopping, rafting, and hiking, I accomplished this life-long goal in a matter of a whirlwind weekend. It was such a beautiful four days, it feels surreal that I was even there. It was this trip that also saved me from myself and my tendency to ‘over-think’ while abroad. I am happy to report that I am doing well here now, life is becoming more routine, and beside the amazingly large groups of tourists (ironic I know), I would not change anything about where I am. 

Krka National Waterfall Park in Croatia
Krka National Waterfall Park in Croatia

So overall, these first weeks have been a roller coaster of emotion. There are somehow only about three months left. How it is the end of September, I do not know. Moving forward, I again will be more on top of this posting business and will do my best to follow a bit more coherent trains of thought. But for now, arrivaderla! 

Florence from Piazza Michelangelo
Florence from Piazza Michelangelo


Calimera or good morning!

Finally getting the ball rolling, my name is Kathryn Bishop (Kat) and I am a sophomore International Studies and Photography major this year. As of now I am a student at the American College of Greece exchange program. Long story short I’m living in Athens this quarter and diving into the Greek culture headfirst!

I’ve officially completed my first week of hectic study abroadness (there will be a lot of ‘wordsmithing’ involved in excursions) and all that is entailed with international travel. I must say the airport is a solid give and take through the entire process. Yes, you get to fly to an incredible place and have an adventure all your own but on the other hand… lets just throw you in a line of people who have no idea what’s going on but wouldn’t dare ask the person right in front of them in the fear that the Canadian family isn’t as well tempered as we think… Past that, after dad snuck a few goodbye photos of me turning into the security line, I headed off.

One Chaco in front of the other, naturally.

Arriving is one thing but feeling like I’m here to stay is still sinking in. ‘Welcome to Europe and now you must fend for yourself’ is the initial thought I had. Luckily, as soon as I walked into the Aghia Paraskevi neighborhood I knew I was in a place that would break in like a new pair of shoes… the more I walk around and explore the less initial blisters and hesitation I’ll feel.

The first few days of moving in and orienting myself to the neighborhood and campus were a buzz of overwhelming hours met with impromptu naps that lasted two hours longer than intended… but as soon as I wake up I’ve been greeted with friendly faces and many Greek conversations I can’t decipher. I know it’ll take some time to get used to the operations and new environment, especially with my lovely Seattle friends fleeing back to the city we all hold so dear. No matter how much I love Seattle and the joy it brings me, I know it’s my time to be entirely here and to fulfill my travel bug that inevitably sneaks up on me! As of now the tingles of wanting to travel to every surrounding country and list of endless Greek traditions to take part of are growing. Most importantly, as my grandfather told me on my way to Seattle and now here in Athens, “focus on those three things, grades, relationships, and (as I’m sure will be impossible surrounded by these Grecian feasts) weight.” Thanks for all who gave me words of wisdom. Now I just need to roll with the punches and eat lots of souvlaki!

Cheers and yiasou!


Actually in London and pretending like I’m not as awkward as I was at the beginning of high school

Sitting on a plane bound for Reykjavik, I am trying to focus on this blog post while also listening to some podcasts my sister recommended for me. How this will turn out will be interesting.  In any case after much distress and frantic emails, my course schedule is finally nailed down.  I’ll just say I’m taking some social science and humanities courses because I don’t think writing about my future classwork is particularly interesting, for you or for me. I’ll be sure to relay anything particularly interesting or vaguely entertaining here if and when it comes up.  Moving on!

–              –              –              –              –              –              –              –             –

Alright with a more articulate, less confused, and non-jetlagged head on my shoulders, I’m continuing this post about six days after those flights. We’ve already done a lot, mainly touristy things so far, like a London bus tour, London Eye ride, and a trip out to Hampton Court. And that has only lent more evidence to this blatantly obvious but crucially important fact: London is MASSIVE. Like big. Really big. I’ve been to New York City a few times, LA two times, and other ‘big’ cities but this is a whole different level of huge.  At the top of the London Eye I couldn’t see the end of the city in any direction, there is at least 4 stories of buildings on every block, and every street is packed with people-whether that be on the sidewalk, on the road, in the tube or on the bus. London is BIG. However the real news of the last few days: we’re all awkward freshman. Remember that time at the beginning of a new school when you didn’t know anybody around you and you also knew that nobody else knew anyone else either? And I don’t mean freshman year I mean those first two weeks of school of freshmen year. That’s essentially what’s happening all over again here which is both fantastic, hilarious, and obnoxious (just like those high school freshman days right? Good ole’ days). Fantastic because it forces people to open up, hilarious because we’re all painfully aware how much like high school this is, and obnoxious because…I mean, do any of you want to relive those first two weeks of freshman year of high school? If your answer to that is a “yes” please comment below so we all can figure out your secret to navigating such awkwardness for the future. This is also an interesting happening because for me this is the third time in as many years that I’m starting school in a new place with a new group of students. First it was to the University of Portland, then to Seattle U, and now here with IES in London. So that’s been some interesting food for thought…Well! because of all of this, and all of this orientation stuff (yeah, like freshman year…seeing a pattern?) time has been very sparse; we’ll see about how much time I can carve out for blogging so sorry for the sporadic posts!

In any case our classes are actually starting tomorrow which will be a weird back-to-the-real-world check. We’ve been on summer break for a while and now being in London this almost feels like a continuation of that vacation-that’s a fantasy that needs to be broken quickly in the next few days honestly. There’s still much to do in the meantime (like planning more adventures!) so I’ll have to leave this for now. And with the sun setting over the horizon and the spires of St. Pancras taking center stage in the picture frame that is my window, Ian is getting back to it all!

Until next time