For the Love of Mascara

So, I land in Honolulu, Hawaii. I start my day laying under a big ‘ol palm tree, a subtle breeze keeping me cool. No one is calling me, emailing me–the only person around is my own personal bartender. I hear a beeping off in the distance. It gets closer and louder until it seems like it’s living inside my brain. Suddenly I’m not in Hawaii, I’m in my bed staring at the ceiling. The beeping is my phone on my nightstand. Oh, reality. It must have been going off for a while because it’s suddenly fifteen minutes before I have to be clocked in to work.

I try to avoid day’s like this at all cost because I’m a Virgo and a natural born planner. Rushing around is not my thing. And being late is not my thing. But life happens and on the day’s that life decides I need to be tested, there is only one thing that I absolutely need to put on my face before booking it out the door – mascara.

Mascara was the first thing that I stole out of my mom’s makeup bag. Way before I established my own. It was the mark of a grown up. Coating my lashes with that mysterious black liquid seemed like THE most badass thing I could do at the age of nine. I have vivid memory of the first time I was bold enough to sneak into my mom’s bathroom for that glorious orange Covergirl tube. I messily ran the wand through my lashes and sprinted over to my friend’s house. As soon as she opened the door, I asked her if she noticed anything different about my face. In my head I might as well have been wearing a bold black smoky eye with that one measly coat of mascara. In reality a blank stare was looking back at me searching my face for what could possibly look different.

Once my journey with mascara began there was no stopping me. I’ve now probably tried over thirty different tubes. From drugstore to prestige, it’s the one product that can be a different brand every time and leave me with the same exact feeling. I’m not sure why, but the confidence boost and utter transformational shift in me that I feel from three coats is incomparable. Running errands? Mascara. Gym? Mascara. Swimming? *Water proof* mascara. It’s my end all be all. So, when I finally get to my beach in Hawaii you will find me with two things: my personal bartender and a supply of mascara. That’s all I need.

 

#BeautyIndustryEssentials

Homesickness

Sitting on the plane by myself for eight hours meant I had a lot of time to think. I realized that I was traveling to a whole other country -duh- but more importantly, it finally hit that the only person I would have to rely on, was myself.

I expected homesickness. I expected the longing to be with my friends back home and the dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out) that is so apparent in a social-media-oriented society. But, what I didn’t expect was how much that would actually affect me.

So, let’s talk about homesickness—the most obvious and yet overlooked aspect of any study abroad experience. It was a concern for me when I was applying to my program, but the idea of an opportunity like this one made me overlook just how prevalent it would be once I got here.

Everyone should consider how much this will affect them on a large scale. To do that, consider how it has affected you in the past on a smaller scale: Have you ever been away from your family and friends for a week? What about two? Studying abroad is an amazing dream to have, but you have to be REALISTIC. Being honest with yourself will force you to swallow truth’s that may not be what you want or hoped they would be. Nonetheless your experience abroad will be heavily dependent on those truth’s.

 

 ALWAYS check in with yourself to make sure you aren’t putting yourself in a situation that will evoke more negative feelings than positive.

 

Only you know what you’re capable of—that was the first truth I had to understand.

I had to understand that the opinions of those closest to me would not make this decision for me. Though it can be helpful to gather outside perspective, if I had listened to my sister—I would not have left New Jersey. This isn’t to bash her or say she wasn’t looking out for me, in fact she was. She was right in the sense that I had minimal street-smarts and had been extremely naïve. She brought some thing’s to light that I wasn’t ready to recognize. Maybe I wouldn’t do well abroad, maybe I would drown in the sea of a city setting. I had to look into myself and decide that I had the tools to be able to cope and to recognize my own strengths. This may not be true for everyone and I encourage anyone looking into a semester long program to be realistic with themselves. I was asked countless times by Natalja in the Global Engagement Office at Stockton to make sure I could handle what I was signing up for. And she was one hundred percent right.

Nonetheless, homesickness will hit anyone at one point or another, whether you’re unbelievably happy to leave where you are or you’re nothing but sad—it will hit. One of my roommates was extremely homesick the first week or so. She had to find her rhythm in the city to feel at home. Another roommate hit her peak homesick point after a night out that turned out to be more of a stressor than stress reliever. She couldn’t find a way home, she couldn’t get into the club all of her friends were in—despite having a valid form of identification. She was insulted by a woman at the club entrance and everything that could go wrong, just did. She made her way home via Uber sobbing the entire way. Tears unrelenting until almost two hours of being home, she was finally able to fall asleep. My third roommates homesickness came from the eight-hour time difference that delayed her conversations with friends and family until two o’clock in the morning our time.

Everyone is different, which means everyone is going to have a different point. Mine was seeing all of the things my friends at home were doing and wishing I was there to make those memories with them. Or the fact that I couldn’t go see my mom and give her a hug when I was starting to feel sick or when I wanted a home cooked meal. Or when I face-timed my boyfriend every single day but couldn’t physically be with him.

When you express these feelings to people their first instinct is to say, “yea but you’re in (enter amazing city abroad)”. While they are correct, you are indeed in a foreign beautiful city supposedly having the time of your life and making tons of memories, NOTHING can dismiss the feelings you are feeling.

 

Feelings are valid and demand to be felt, otherwise they would be called “passings”.

 

Yes, I was in London. Yes, I did something only a certain percent of the population can say they did. Yes, I was homesick. No, you do not get to overlook that because of my location. Because after all is said and done, we are all human and negative feelings are bound to come up—no matter who you are or where you are.

Despite it all, homesickness was an important part of my growth abroad. It made me recognize all of the amazing things I had to go back home to. It made me grateful for the people I have in my life, and the memories I cherish with them and all the new ones I have to look forward to when I returned. Learning to deal with homesickness while abroad was ultimately more important than I realized at the time.

The people you leave WILL change, you WILL change, and it WON’T be the same when you return. But that is not a bad thing at all—it’s life. Recognizing that fact, no matter if you realize it before you leave or after you’re gone, is empowering.

 

Because, after all, homesickness may be hard while you’re away, but just wait until you’re back.

 

 

Bulgaria & Greece

One of the benefits of studying abroad via a third party provider, such as ISA, are the excursions they plan for their students. My specific program with ISA had the option of attending a trip to Bulgaria and Greece. Obviously, I saw Greece and–say no more I’m in. But, what I didn’t realize was just how much I would grow to appreciate the Bulgarian part of this trip.

Now, it isn’t my intention to “knock” Bulgaria in any way. But, it was never a place I thought to have on my bucket list nor was it somewhere I ever saw myself traveling to. When my program-mates and I got the trip itinerary, we noticed that we would be spending three out of the four travel days in Bulgaria. Needless to say, not all of us were very enthused but I decided to make the best of an unexpected situation.

The first day we arrived, we got off the airplane and right onto a bus for the next two hours or so. This would be the first of MANY bus trips that would last at least two hours every single time. Looking back, it wasn’t something I would complain about because 1, I got to catch up on my sleep and being that I brought a pillow from my flat in London I was pretty content for the most part; and 2, it was time where all of us bonded and chatted. Our program director a Bulgaria native so she made sure to give us some history and insight into the places we would pass during our long journeys. And, she would make sure we had enough gas station stops for bathroom stops and for snacking. During those stops, we would all get off and stretch our legs and come back with all types of snacks ranging from chips to cookies to candy. Needless to say I did a LOT of snacking. Overall, we spent around 31 hours on that bus but our time all together brought me closer to the friends I already made as well as brought me new friends that I’d never talked to before.

Our first stop was to Rila Monastery. A beautiful place set in the middle of the mountainous terrain of Bulgaria with nothing but amazing views surrounding it.The place itself was an enclosed little village-type space, there were stone walls enclosing the few buildings that stood around the monastery, which found its home in the center.

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We all made our way to the top of a tower toward the center of the compound to catch a glimpse of the nature around us. Maria gave us some of the history behind its creation as a place of worship, which I will not try to retell because my memory is not as the information that can be found online regarding this beautiful house of worship.

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The second day, we found our way to Thessaloniki, Greece. Though not a typical tourism spot, this small city was gorgeous and situated right along the Aegean Sea.

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We had a few hours to explore on our own starting with where our bus dropped us off, the White Tower. The tower has had a number of purposes, one of them being as a prison many, many years ago. At the top of the circular tower one could see over almost the entire city of Thessaloniki.

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On our way out of the city, we happened to stumble upon something I never thought I would experience: the passing of the Olympic torch. It was a completely unexpected coincidence our bus literally stopped at a red light right next to where a man was running to pass the fire from the torch to keep it moving. It was incredible, truly a memory I will cherish forever.

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We worked our way back into Bulgaria and passed through pretty much all four seasons. We started in the beautiful, sunny weather of Greece, then to the fall of the Bulgarian farm lands and into a Winter Wonderland that lasted around 30 minutes of our trek.

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Our third day, we walked through two caves. One being an enclosed cave lit by electric torches, and the other being Devils Throat Cave. The first cave, we were told, is the home to small pearls produced by the cave walls, the only pearls of their kind in the world. The latter earned its name from the giant waterfall at the top of a set of 280 stone stairs that literally swallows anything that tries to go through it. We were told that they’ve tried many times to see where the items that go into the waterfall end up, but nothing that was thrown in was ever able to be tracked.

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Our final day consisted of trips to two cities in Bulgaria, Plovdiv and Sofia. Plovdiv is one of the oldest cities in Europe and Sofia, a modern counterpart. Both were more condensed city settings than we were used to at that point and beyond my expectations. We were lucky enough to have a walking tour of Plovdiv, during which its rich history was laid out for us. Being in a city with that much history was an incredible, indescribable feeling especially since I grew up in such a young country. It was probably my favorite part of the trip, though we were not there for very long. Sofia was a much different scene. It was very much more of what you picture when you think of a large city. We got to see a beautiful, ginormous Cathedral called St. Nedelya Church, to start our city tour.

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We moved along through the city, stopping at various points of interest along the way. We ended our day with two hours of free time in a popular shopping area in Sofia.

Overall, this trip exceeded my expectations. It allowed me to get to know the people in my program and to further develop relationships I’d made. It was definitely a lot different than what we all became used to in London, but the best kind of different. The kind you bring home with you that shapes you into a more dynamic human. Studying abroad is much more than traveling and sight-seeing, it is about meeting new people and being able to open yourself up to new experiences, and that is what this trip did for me. I got into a familiar pattern in London with familiar people, and that is well and good. But, for me, this whole journey is supposed to break me of the idea of  being too comfortable within familiarity and this trip did just that. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Amsterdam

This past weekend I visited a place high on my bucket list, the beautiful city of Amsterdam. A place known for a number of things including: tulips, housing the happiest people in the world and a supreme number of things that are illegal in the U.S. of A.

I traveled with my flat-mate Katie, whose cousin had a friend living in Amsterdam whom she reached out to for recommendations for us. That man’s name is Chris and he was kind enough to offer us his place for most of our stay, as he is an airline pilot and would be away flying. We could not be more grateful for his generosity and willingness to host people he’s never met. He not only provided a safe and private place for us to stay, but also helped us save money by not staying in a hostel two out of the three nights we stayed. That is truly the best gift you could give two struggling college students. It seemed way too good to be true but it became reality when we boarded our flight at 6:40 in the morning, from London Heathrow.

When we landed, we were realized how exhausted we were and how horrible it really is to try to sleep on a plane. After finding our way to Chris’ apartment we took take a nice, well-deserved nap. We didn’t sleep for too, too long because, well, that would have been a waste of the day. So, when we woke up we spent the remaining hours of daylight exploring the area around the apartment. We also scoped out potential places/things to do come the next few days.

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We ended up finding a peddle-boat rental shack, so that was our starting point for day two. There are two ways to really see Amsterdam that were consistently recommended to both me and Katie: by boat and by bike. Amsterdam is FILLED with canals that run throughout the city.

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We entirely underestimated just how extensive this journey was going to be when we were shown a small map of the canals we were allowed to chug through. Even though we had the map, we pretty much winged it in terms of which way we should turn and which canals we went down. Being that it was 74 degrees (Fahrenheit) and we were not in clothes made for that type of work out, we ended up struggling for half an hour and taking it back. We tried our best with steering and keeping a solid pace with the water mostly going against us, and mostly got laughed at by locals passing by. But, I still had a blast and all we did was laugh and enjoy ourselves. Looking back, I’d highly recommend having more than two people to peddle the thing. It seated four people and that would’ve been ideal. Also, keep in mind you may sweat so don’t be like us and wear your cutest outfit and expect to get great pictures without dark sweat marks. Nonetheless, I would highly recommend peddle-boating if you want to experience the canals.

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Next, we rented bikes. As I’ve mentioned, this is a major mode of transportation for the people of Amsterdam and, boy, was it an experience. There were more bikes on the road than cars and I don’t think you could say that about any other city than this one. The road’s always had designated specific bike lanes that were taken extremely seriously and were also shared with Vespa’s. All bikers had to obey traffic laws and there were even bike lane light signals at intersections. This was my favorite things about our visit because it gave us the opportunity to, not only see the city, but experience it as the locals do every day.

We made our way to Vondelpark, a beautiful park that was a 15 minute ride from where we rented the bikes. The park itself is huge and gorgeous, I swore it smelled like cinnamon but Katie absolutely did not think so (she’s from Arizona, so she used to cacti-I didn’t hold it against her). Either way, the experience was magical. It was fully equipped with bike paths big enough to share with pedestrians and there were people covering almost every inch of the grass laying on blankets and enjoying each other’s company. (Side note: I’ve noticed that when people from this side of the Atlantic go out together they’re are never on their phones. They are always talking to each other and genuinely enjoying each other’s company, it’s incredible.) We ended up taking a little break here to take in our surroundings and cool off.

That evening, Katie and I decided to go to the carnival we stumbled upon on our way to the park earlier that day. It was set in Dam Square, which isn’t very big and I’m impressed with how much carnival activity they fit into that area.

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I dragged Katie onto the swing and the giant Ferris Wheel and I have no regrets. The Ferris Wheel was high up enough to see over the entire city, but the swings—they were terrifying and exhilarating. Katie really hated me for that one.

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We learned that the carnival was not usually there and we just got super lucky to be able to experience that as part of our trip. Seeing the city from the top of a Ferris Wheel and through swinging in circles 12 stories off the ground was a truly unique experience, something I will cherish forever. How they fit as much activity as they did when whoever built that carnival placed it in a square around ½ of a New York city block in size, is a true genius. There was not one person there that didn’t have the biggest smile on their face. We even tried out a bow and arrow shooting game, where you take your shot at a couple balloons and if you get all four or so, you win a giant stuffed-something. But, unfortunately my inner Katniss Everdeen was asleep at the bow so I popped none. Katie did better than I, but not enough to win anything. Nonetheless, the game operator decided we were worthy of two small stuffed animals, and for him I am grateful.

When we ran out of things to do at the carnival, we explored the shops next to the square. We did some walking through there, drooled over things we couldn’t buy then left to get some sleep.

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The next morning, we packed up all of our things as our host made his way back to his own home. We met the man whose house we stayed in and he was as delightful and kind as we imagined he would be. He offered to give us a boat tour of the city through the canals after he caught up on some sleep. We could absolutely not pass up on such an opportunity so we agreed to meet at the dock where he kept it later that day. In the mean time, Katie and I went to get some authentic Dutch breakfast. We ended up at a café close by and both ordered Dutch pancakes, or “Poffertjes”. Highly recommend trying them on your next trip to Amsterdam because those little baby pancakes were delicious. Very light and fluffy, overall a 10/10.

When it came time for the boat tour, Katie and I got there before Chris so we sat and waited with our feet swinging over the water until he arrived. A friend of his joined us, so we ended up getting two tour guides instead of one. The woman who joined us was unbelievably sweet and made a point to direct our attention to anything Chris might have missed. I cannot stress enough how much we appreciated seeing the city in this way as opposed to our peddle boat experience. We learned a lot about places we should go back to next time we find ourselves in Amsterdam. Overall another 10/10 experience.

Chris ended up dropping us off, upon request, at the famous Red Light District, which we obviously had to see before we left. It was everything I expected it to be, ladies in windows with red curtains behind them dressed in rhinestone-clad outfits, sex-shops stationed a few steps from one another, places to purchase illegal substances–also situated a few steps from one another, and tourists everywhere. To be honest I was a tad disappointed with it, maybe it was because we went during the daytime or my expectations were over the top, but we ended up being there for around half the time we planned to be there. Once you see one lady in the window, you’ve seen them all. But, I mean you can’t go to Amsterdam and not see what it’s most famous for, you know what I mean. So, no regrets. Unfortunately, I don’t have many, or really any, pictures from that area because there were “no picture” signs everywhere and I don’t think the things I could take pictures of would be very appropriate for a school blog. But, use your imagination or Google and I’m sure you’ll get it.

Overall, my trip to Amsterdam was incredible. Everything fell into place so easily and we got so unbelievably lucky to have had the opportunities we did while we were there. I’m really hoping all of our trips run as smoothly. Until next time, Amsterdam.

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London, Baby!

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Firsts are scary. This, is a fact. Unless you’re a super specific portion of a fearless population that maintains the ability to tackle any first with utmost confidence. In that case, I applaud and envy you. In any other case, firsts are terrifying and in some cases paralyzing. When I began the process of studying abroad I was asked a lot about why I wanted to do this, and was warned about the many intimidating factors that make up the program. Powering through that was a challenge, I’ll admit. I chose this journey because it is the opportunity of a life time. Immersing myself into different culture, different social norms, different academic structure and so many different aspects of daily life is well, different. And different is what I wanted and felt like I needed. There are a ton of obvious academic and professional benefits of having a program such as this under one’s belt, but I’m going to be speaking more toward personal intentions.

I, like many others out there, was so utterly terrified of the idea of having to do everything on my own in a city I don’t know with people I just met. I was terrified to trust myself because what the heck do I know about-well anything really. I’m aware that I’m at the beginning of my adult life and I honestly shouldn’t know what I’m doing at this point and every decision I make will result in a lesson to keep in mind later in life. But, my inner perfectionist wants me to be an expert at everything the first time I try it. Despite this tendency, I came here to throw myself into the water only knowing how to doggy paddle. For me, this is a journey toward self-discovery. I know who I am in a comfortable environment with a routine that is familiar. But, you never know what you’re truly capable of until you force yourself to be uncomfortable. Coming here didn’t make me uncomfortable, but being completely self-reliant does.

That being said, my first week in London was one that I hyped myself up to tackle on the plane ride over. The 8-hour flight allowed me to put things into perspective. It inspired a kinship with concrete that I’ve never felt before. As the plane lifted off the ground, I looked out of the tiny window at the land that I was leaving behind and reality set in that I was on my way to a completely different slab of concrete. There is something about going somewhere no one knows who you are that makes starting over not seem so bad. I told myself that I could do it even if I had to fake the confidence it would take to make it through the first couple of days.

After making my way through customs, I found a couple of people from my ISA group. They seemed to be on the same page as me. There wasn’t one person that didn’t make an effort to at least say hi to everyone else in the group. Despite hours of traveling and a 5-8 hour time difference, the adrenaline of something new kept us talking. When we got to our housing accommodation we moved our stuff in and I had a chance to talk to my roommates. I am now, currently, a little over a week into my program and I can confidently say I have the best roommates in the world (I must really have good luck when it comes to finding amazing roommates, shoutout to my girls at home). These three girls have made my transition here feel so much like coming home. We are exactly the support system we need.

The first week of being here was filled with orientations and introductions that laid out our entire journey. It didn’t hit me that I wasn’t on a school field trip nor was I on vacation for a week until around two days ago. Initially I was riding the adrenaline high of being in a new city with so many sites and expectations set by movies and Hollywood portrayals, that I didn’t notice that life was going on at home without me. It took a bit of being on my own, without a member of ISA staff having to lead us to the tube station or to orientation, to actually realize the differences between here and America.

Growing up in an American suburb where every kid waits until they get a car to feel real live freedom did not prepare me for a reliance public transportation to get anywhere. Now that I’m used to it, I love it and wish New York subways were as efficient and clean as the tube. My expectations of how different it was going to be here were definitely not up to par. I, like many of my classmates, thought “oh hey, they speak the same language as us so it shouldn’t be that hard, right?”. WRONG. The dialectical differences are insane. But luckily years of embarrassing myself on a daily basis prepared me for sticking out like a sore thumb here.

Some helpful tips: don’t call it the bathroom/restroom-call it the toilet, don’t call your flat an apartment, don’t say thank you-say cheers (optional but it helps you fit in, you feel?), don’t call it a trashcan-call it a bin, and don’t call pants, pants-pants here means underwear they call leg-wear a plethora of other names. The other MAJOR difference between here and America are the people. Not so much that they’re more rude or boring or any other stereotype of Brits, but the way they dress is so unbelievably different. At least that is what stuck out most to me. Cities, in general, have a more open minded dress code-as there are so many people that you see every day that the ones that look super different don’t stick out as much. Londoner’s specifically really do not care what you wear or look like, their eyes just glaze past you in the tube station as they mind the gap between the train and the platform. Being different here is not “forced” per say, you don’t notice people for being unique. Even the ones with pink hair and outfits that incorporate every color in the rainbow seem to blend in.

Coming from a country where people are so ready to criticize everything about your appearance the second you walk through the door, this city is a safe haven. Now, this is the vibe I got from being here-I am in no way trying to say that mean people aren’t here and there isn’t anyone criticizing anyone. But, people here just don’t care. I really can’t stress that enough. I noticed it most, I think, because I was so used to going to a smaller University. Where the student population is so condensed that anyone who goes against the grain is super noticeable. In London, I could leave my flat wearing 20 different colors with my hair all over the place and black lipstick on and there would still be someone who could one-up my eccentricity. It’s a freedom I’ve never felt before, and one that attracted me to this city. Dressing up, or dressing a certain way isn’t considered “trying hard” or being “too over the top”, its considered nothing because no one cares enough to think about you in a sea of people. Creativity is cultivated on these streets. For someone who is still figuring out who she is, it’s the perfect place to experiment.

I’ve always been someone who didn’t want to bring too much attention to herself in explicit fear of negative attention. At home, I wouldn’t wear specific things or buy specific items because it would bring too much attention to myself, I’d feel too insecure. I enjoy quiet time, as loud of a person as I can be sometimes-I need that time to regroup and get settled back into my comfort zone where anxiety doesn’t have a home. I’ve always questioned what I say after I say it, thought way too much about the things I do and given myself stomach aches making myself relive my most embarrassing moments. Here, it seems like no matter what I do, besides opening my mouth and revealing my “Americanness”, there is no way I can stick out too much. That’s the biggest difference I’ve noticed so far, and one I am happy to accept.

I can confidently say that this has been, and will be one of the best decisions I have ever made for myself.

Cheers,

Claudia

An Introduction…

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Hello!

My name is Claudia Frumento, I am a senior at Stockton University currently spending my Fall semester abroad in London, England. I will be attending the University of Westminster here in London, continuing my studies as a business major.

As a business major, London is an ideal location to spend the next three months because, well, it is an obvious business capital of the world. England is also the home to several beauty brands such as: Rimmel London, Illamasqua, Burberry beauty, Charlotte Tilbury, and many other brands that have inspired my passion to pursue a career in the beauty industry.

There are many different reasons that people study abroad and every reason is individual to the person pursuing it. My program consists of around 30 other students with 30 different reasons why they are here, and 30 different backgrounds from 30 different parts of the U.S. The one reality we have in common is that we are all here on our own, without anyone to run to besides each other when things get tough.

My intention in keeping this blog is to share my experiences throughout my time here, but also to share every mistake I make and with that, every lesson learned. This space is for my own reflection, to acknowledge every small revelation and keep track of my thoughts.

As you can imagine the school system here, among other aspects of daily life, is completely different from what I have grown accustom to in America. Which, I mean, is one of the main reasons I chose to study abroad but I didn’t realize just how different it would be here until I became immersed into the culture. I was warned and told the differences but coming to an English-speaking country, especially, I thought “eh it won’t be that different”. Boy, was I wrong. (and I will explain in many a post, don’t you worry ;))

As I type this I am officially a week into my experience and have already learned a lot by making a good number of mistakes. At this time, it is starting to settle in that I am not on vacation, nor am I on a class field trip for a week with the opportunity to return home and tell my mom all about my week in the UK. No, it’s actually starting to settle in that I am here for the long haul, a whole semester. With classes starting, for me, on Wednesday of this coming week I am excited to begin my journey as a foreign student. And, to keep you updated on every aspect of my life here.

Cheers!

-Claudia