I Skipped a Pub Quiz to STUDY!! (Aka: Taking the GRE)

If you have been keeping up with the Erskine blog, then you might have noticed that I suddenly disappeared last week. Hm, you might have thought to yourself, where has she gone? She normally puts up a blog post about every other day. And now it has been almost two weeks!

Rest assured, I did not suddenly fall off the face of the planet or get swarmed by a herd of angry kittens! Instead, was attacked by something even more deadly: the Graduate Record Exam. In case you are still blissfully unaware, the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is a four and a half long test required as part of the application process for a large percentage of graduate schools in the United States. In other words, it is a super big, important test that I have to do well on if I want to keep going to school.

Here in the UK, no one had ever heard of the GRE. I told my friends in class, at church, and in my hall that I was going to take the GRE and that I had to study. Their response: stare at me blankly and ask what the GRE is. So I tried explaining to them that it is like the SAT for grad school. Still nothing. And I have been standing around all week wondering to myself wondering what kind of strange world do I live in now where no one has ever even HEARD of the SAT or that GRE?? Do these people live under a ROCK?? And then I thought to myself… No standardized testing? Maybe I should live here for good!

Studying for the GRE was at best dull and uninteresting. Normally I like a good study session where I can really feel like I am working hard, but then, normally I am not studying abroad in Scotland! My dad made a deal with me that if I were to study hard for five days in a row and have absolutely no fun he would pay for me to go out to a nice dinner after the test. The problem was is that there are way too many fun things to do in Scotland! I realized I had hit a whole new level of dedication when I skipped a pup quiz to study!

Actually, I lied to you just a lit bit there. Sorry! (My GRE study guide would say that was a peccadillo- just a small sin! 😛 ) There was one part of studying for the GRE that was fun: the GRE vocabulary flashcards. In order to improve my vocabulary for the test, I ordered a box of flashcards containing the top 500 vocabulary words appearing on the GRE. For about a week before the test I carried those notecards with me everywhere. I flipped through them in my bed, I studied them on the way to class, I agonized over their definitions on the elliptical. My challenge was to memorize as many of the words as I could before I took the test.

The fun part of this story is how helpful my Scottish friends were with this goal. Tiffany, my roommate, started quizzing me on the words in our dorm before we went to bed. Then my friend Elisabeth stepped in and dedicated two evenings in a row to painstakingly go over every word and definition with me, carefully stopping to make sure I really understood the words and could use them in context. The last night before the test my friend Naomi came over to help me with the last few words I needed to practice. I will never forget how these sweet girls gave up their time to help me prepare for my test!

Naomi came over the last night before the test to help me review my vocab cards! :)

Naomi came over the last night before the test to help me review my vocab cards! 🙂

The morning of the test I thought I was going to die. Literally, I was sure of death’s eminence. This mainly stemmed from the fact that I had to get up at 5:45 am in the morning! As I am not meant to get out of bed before 9am, this was a real challenge. Tiffany and I took the 6:20 am bus to Edinburgh and arrived just past 8:30. She went to the coffee shop to study for her math test and I went to the test centre to take my test! Although I was also sure I was going to die of stress or, alternatively, fall asleep during the exam, I managed to make it through alive.

After I finished the test I decided that I deserved a reward. I LOVE to reward myself, and generally reward myself for basically everything that I do. So I decided to reward myself for completing the GRE by getting a professional hour-long massage. Let me tell you’ll something right now: that was the BEST HOUR of my ENTIRE life! Anybody who is reading this blog and has never had a professional massage should drop their computer right now and go get one! I am fairly confident that I am addicted, this stuff is better than crack!

And before you make some ridiculous comment about how I don’t know if it is truly better than crack, because I have never tried crack, let me tell you something. Recent research has found that oreos are probably more addictive than crack. I may not have much experience with crack, but I certainly know a thing or two about oreos!

Want to read about how OREOS are less addictive than CRACK?? Here is the article!

 

Planning a Trip to Edinburgh

When Tiffany and I first arrived at St. Andrews, we were shocked that people would refer to it as a small university. To us, St. Andrews seemed simply enormous! Students abound by the thousands, the campus is large enough to require a map, and the town has shops, pubs, and dozens of restaurants. This town appeared to be a booming metropolis in comparison to our small town of Due West!

Fairly quickly we realized what they meant. The town of St. Andrews only has three major streets: North, Market, and South. Within an hour of walking around town we had the town layout memorized fairly accurately. Within a week we basically knew where the major landmarks were (with the term ‘major landmarks’ obviously referring to the Italian restaurants, the shoe stores, and the bridal gown shop.)

So it should not come as a major shock to you that after three weeks of staying in those three main streets, Tiffany and I wanted to travel. (If this is a shock to you: perhaps you should sit down and soak your feet to recover from the shocking news.) We got together with two other girls from Erskine (Caroline and Katherine) and decided to take a day trip to the closest city: Edinburgh.

Tiffany and I were up and ready to explore! :)

Tiffany and I were up and ready to explore! 🙂

Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland and the second most popular city for tourists to visit in the UK. The city has many features that draw people to it by the hundreds of thousands: it is very old, it has lots of old structures which are wonderful for photography, lots of people live there, and it has a castle! The Edinburgh Castle is one of the most famous castles in all of Scotland and also one of the most photographed. It has been around for almost 1000 years and has also been involved in several wars. As far as I can tell, anybody who is alive ought to enjoy a trip to the Edinburgh Castle.

Let me tell you, though, planning a trip to Edinburgh is not so easy a caveman could do it (and thus could not feature on the popular Gieco caveman commercial series.) This mainly stems from the fact that gas here costs about $10.50 per gallon, on average (at this point maybe you really should put your feet up from the shock!) Because of this, people do not often drive anywhere. Most students here at St. Andrews do not have cars with them, and everyone either walks or rides the bus.

Which makes the bus routes very complicated. If you walk down the streets of Edinburgh you will see almost no cars, the streets full of buses, and the sidewalks crowded with walking people. There appear to be thousands of buses in Edinburgh, run by competing companies on different routes and turning every which way around the city.

See how the side walks are crowded with people?

See how the side walks are crowded with people?

To help you figure out which bus you need to ride the various companies will publish large timetables with long lists of numbers and symbols to let you know which but goes where at what time. Sort of like a mega excel sheet in brochure form, with each company publishing a different brochure for each new bus route. You walk into the bus station and there are almost a hundred different brochures and before you is a display of almost a hundred different little brochures. At this point you feel like you want to ditch the entire thing and go take a nap, but then you remember that you really do want to see the castle so you decide to plough through and hope you are successful.  

In the end the four of us were successful. We found a bus to Edinburgh and got a map of the city. We saw the Edinburgh castle, climbed Arthur’s Seat and Caltoun Hill, and walked the Royal Mile. We finished with a nice dinner and a little shopping in one of the Scotland Shops, and then headed to the bus station for our two hour bus ride to St. Andrews. We pulled into the bus station at 10:30 pm at night, the end of a 14 hour day of travel.

I am fairly confident that I was in bed by 10:35.

(NEXT WEEK ON HOLLY’s BLOG: Even more details on the Edinburgh Castle! Which famous Scottish king’s birthplace did the girls get to see?? And…. Up close and extended photo commentary!)

 

Quintessentially British

Last week several girls I talked to informed me that the “quintessentially British” way to spend your evening was to gather a bunch of friends, watch the Great British Bake Off and, of course, drink tea! The Great British Bake Off is a popular reality TV show where contestants have to create delicious baked goods in a short length of time. Judges then go around and taste the treats and decide which of the candidates get to stay on the show and which one has to go home.

Last night I decided to see if they were right. A bunch of girls decided to watch they bake-off after the Christian Union meeting last night and invited me to go along with them. I have to admit: I really liked it! The show was interesting and also really fun to watch with a group of people! I highly suggest that anyone who loves baking should watch it 🙂

One question that many people asked me before I left was: do people in the UK watch Downton Abbey? We all watch it at home and love it; I own all three seasons! The fourth season is supposed to be released in the States in January 2014, but rumours circulated that it would be released in the UK much sooner. I came hoping the rumours were true but not to hopeful so my hopes would not be crushed.

It turns out that EVERYONE here watches Downton! And the show is on live over the semester while I am here 🙂 It was actually the cutest thing: Sunday night was the first episode it felt like everyone in the university was gathering together to watch the show live. I went over to my academic mom’s house and we watched the show together with her flatmate, Catriona. It was great fun and I am super excited for the rest of the season!

The town here is also super adorable. At least in St. Andrews, there are not giant stores or supermarkets. Instead, we have tiny (and quite adorable) little stores! We have a butcher and a grocer and a fresh fruit and vegetable store. We also have cobblestone streets and old stone staircases. We have beaches and castles and golf courses: the view just walking to my lectures in the morning is amazing! I think all of you should come to Scotland 🙂

St. Andrews at night :)

St. Andrews at night 🙂

 

The First Few Days in Scotland

In case you have been out of the loop on the life and story of Holly, last Friday I left the United States (for the first time) and flew to the UK for my official semester abroad at the University of St. Andrews. I wrote a cute little post right before I left all about how nervous I was and how I thought my heart would beat right out of my chest, but I have no posted since then! Hopefully you were not all too concerned that my heart actually did beat out of my chest due to my lack of posting. Let me assure you, I am alive.

Flying was quite the experience. I had never flown before and I had no idea what to expect. Do you know what happens when you fly somewhere?? You leave the ground! As in, the wheels of the plane are no longer connected to the earth. It is like this: one minute you are just chilling on the runway and the next it is like OMG I AM IN THE AIR HOW DID I GET HERE???? I held Tiffany’s hand and decided I probably didn’t need to worry about a will since I am so young. The whole process from leaving Tiffany’s house to arriving at St. Andrews took about 22 hours and made me wonder how people ever get the motivation to leave their nice, warm, and comfortable beds. I also realized that I could go ahead and cross “flight attendant” and “pilot” off of the list of possible career choices! 😛

Tiffany and I about to leave SC for our flight to Scotland!

Tiffany and I about to leave SC for our flight to Scotland!

Of course, the taxi driver who took us from the Edinburgh airport to the University thought it would be a great idea to drop Tiffany and I off as far away as humanly possible from our dorm! (We live in John Burnet Hall and he dropped us by the David Russell Apartments.) I am shocked he didn’t just drive us back to London and tell us to walk from there!! The walk to our dorm took us over an hour, not only because DRA is a long way off from JBR, but also because we were carrying 70 lbs worth of luggage and we were lost. One could say that we were happy to arrive at our dorm!

Our first day in St. Andrews was spent in town trying to buy things. Because we were only allowed 72 lbs of luggage, we had no space in our suitcases for duvets, sheets, pillows, or things of that nature. We got here at 3 pm and immediately had to leave to try to run and buy things to sleep on before the shops closed in town. Fortunately for us, we still had about two hours left in the day to do this. Unfortunately, about a thousand other students also had the same idea. We went to the local bedding store and found them to already have sold out on every single duvet in the entire store! So we had to run around to other random stores and see if they might be willing to sell us something. We got our duvet covers from the bedding shop, the duvets from a random clothing store, and our pillows from the grocery store (Tesco)!

This week is Orientation (or Freshers) week at St. Andrews. I could probably sum this up by telling you that it is the best experience of my life and also the worst experience of my life. It is the best because I am exploring a new country for the first time and learning to think about and experience things in an entirely new way. So many things that I thought everyone did one way are not done that way here. People here drive on the wrong side of the road, eat strange food, and have oddly shaped currency. (And there are probably many more posts on this subject to come!) It is the worst experience of my life because I do not have any friends yet. Don’t get me wrong, I have met tons of really nice people. But that is the problem. I have met TONS of them! Each person I have talked to for only a few minutes at one social event or the other, but no one for any real length of time. As I am quite an overdramatic person by nature, I am literally quite terrified that I will not make any friends at all here at St. Andrews! Tiffany just rolls her eyes at me and tell me to be patient.

In other news, I have been an absolute failure at life and not taken any pictures since my arrival here at St. Andrews. I hope to begin fixing that, basically, as soon as possible. I don’t own a camera (and the cell phone I got to use while I am here is probably more familiar with communication by morse code than any other form of communication), but Tiffany has offered to let me borrow one of hers sometime!

About to FLY to SCOTLAND!!

Today is going to be one crazy day!!

In fact, it has been a rather crazy week. For the first time in my life I am planning to fly (which I have never done before) and also to leave the country (which I have never done before). I will go ahead and stun you with the fact that I am actually planning to fly out of the country, which is a rather overwhelming combination of these two new things.

Last weekend all of my friends gathered together to host a going away party for me! It was pretty much the best moment of my entire life! I was especially happy because at the party they gave me a box of letters for my trip, so I can read them while I am gone and think of them! My friend also gave me a friendship bracelet she made for me, in Erskine colors, so that I would not forget where I came from while I am away 🙂

After the party was over I stayed at my friends’ apartment. Heather and Sam graduated from Erskine last year and now share an apartment in Greenville. They were the ones who hosted the party and then let me stay with them for two nights and played with me all weekend. Heather and I spent almost the entire day on Sunday worshipping the Lord, by going to church and having our own Bible study. On Monday morning she then drove me to Erskine.

 

It was lovely to see all of my friends one last time before I cross the pond!

It was lovely to see all of my friends one last time before I cross the pond!

Monday at Erskine was crazy. It was the first day of school and all of the students were running around trying to find their new classes and greet each other after a long summer of separation. It was super weird to be there but know that I would only be there for a few hours; I was not there to sign up for classes with everyone else. I was there instead to try to get several forms filled out for graduation and my work-study job, a process which took about 6 hours of running around campus and required about 13 signatures from various people. I had a huge long checklist that I carried with me and it was super fun to check everything off and feel accomplished.

On Monday afternoon Tiffany and I gathered up my suitcases and left for her family’s lake house in Columbia, SC. We arrived and have spent the week with her family, with her parents and also her extended family. Tiffany and I have also spent a lot of time preparing for Scotland. We have filled out paper work and more paper work, ordered bedding to arrive when we get there, and arranged everything we can think of for our trip. Tiffany’s family has been super nice to me all week and I have really enjoyed spending time with them!

Now it is Friday morning. In about 3 hours I will be at the airport, and in about 5 I will have boarded my plane and be ready for takeoff. I am excited, I am scared, I am nervous. I can’t wait; my heart is beating a thousand beats per minute. Adventure lies ahead!

When Your Friends AREN’T Perfect

One of the best things about a small Christian school like Erskine is that the opportunity to get to know your classmates really well and make a lot of close friends. If you have even read half of one of my blog posts in your pasts, you already know this, but I am saying it again!

A great birthday party with friends in the Kennedy Basement!!

A great birthday party with friends in the Kennedy Basement!!

Before I came to college I had this idea that I would simply waltz into the dorm on the first day, arrange my dorm perfectly within a matter of minutes, and then suddenly be surrounded be hordes of close friends who wanted to know everything about me. While that somewhat fairy tale like dream is obviously quite unrealistic, it is not as far off from the truth of my first day at Erskine. No more than 5 minutes after pulling up in front of the freshmen dorms students approached the cart to help me carry all of my stuff inside, setting everything up did not take THAT long, and I did meet several new friends on that first day!

I am pretty sure that everyone reading this is familiar with the concept of soiree at Erskine: on the first night you move in the Student Christian Association hosts a big dance. All of the girls dress up and are randomly assigned a date who escorts them to dinner and (ideally) to the dance. It is a somewhat awkward affair, but for the most part a fun evening with a lot of introductions and new friends! It was on the first night that I met one of my future best friends at Erskine: I saw Tiffany across the room completely dressed up and was shocked that someone my age could be so beautiful! 🙂

Tiffany and her roommate on our first night of college! (Isn't she beautiful, though??)

Tiffany and her roommate on our first night of college! (Isn’t she beautiful, though??)

One of the main things I have learned at Erskine, however, is that having friends is not always going to be a walk in the park on a sunny day with a fresh (non dripping, of course) ice cream cone. In high school friendships are a little easier because, for the most part, they are all by choice. You hang out when you want, where you want, for as long as you want and then you get tired and go home. In college, you share a dorm with a roommate and your college friends may live just down the hall from you. Perceived control goes straight of the window within the first week of your arrival!

For the first few weeks, or even months, everything is magical. Gone are the lonely nights of old when you had nothing to do! Vanished are those times when you wish you had a friend to talk to! All you have to do is open up your hall door and walk around to see if Heather or Lolly wants to hang out. Your new friends are fun, hilarious, and spontaneous! You have never felt so happy, and you feel as if you could love of your new friends for the rest of your life.

Trying to get Lolly's attention so she would come play with us!

Trying to get Lolly’s attention so she would come play with us!

And then, unexpectedly, one of your friends does something crazy. Another says something to you cannot believe that anyone would ever say! Still another decides to ignore you when you need help, to misunderstand what you are trying to say, to do something you think no one in their right mind would ever do! A lot of this happens because of how you were all raised, in your parents’ household you were  never allowed to text while someone was talking to you and then one of your friends starts texting the entire time you are trying to talk to them! You start to wonder what kind of barn that they might have been raised in!

Rest assured most of your friends probably were not raised in barns. What many college students experience is that the people they meet at college, even their closest friends, were not raised with exactly the same set of standards and beliefs. Everyone is different, a unique person with all of their own thoughts and ideas about how things ought to be. That was certainly something I had to realize! Many of my closest friends at college are extremely different people than myself and sometimes wholly unexplainable!

One night we all decided we just HAD to have some Mexican!

One night we all decided we just HAD to have some Mexican!

The good thing about all of this is that through I have learned how to love better. It is easy to love your friends when you are spending a day in Greenville together, talking and laughing about all of your inside jokes! Especially if you do have that fresh ice cream cone! 🙂 It’s a little more difficult when it is late at night and your roommate is having a movie date when you just want to go to bed!  But learning to communicate, to talk about your similarities and differences, to open and share yourself with other people even when you realize they are not perfect is what makes the college experience all the more rewarding!

Sometimes you all just spend an evening together playing board games!

Sometimes you all just spend an evening together playing board games!

When Your College Friends Graduate

Yesterday was one of the best days I have had in a long time, so I think that I would like to tell you all about it. After all, there is nothing better than the happy story about a happy day!

One of the strangest things that will ever happen to you occurs when your friends graduate from college. One week you are living down the hall from them, going over to their dorms every night to talk and watch movies on YouTube, and the next they are moving to Greenville and getting their own apartments and big-girl jobs. It is quite strange.

The good news I have for all of you right now is that we do not live in 50 BC. In fact, we all live in the marvelous year of 2013 and we have magical things like the US Postal System for writing each other letters, cars for visiting each other, phones for calling and texting each other, computers, Facebook, the internet, and all sorts of other means of communication. So don’t feel too depressed about the thought of your friends leaving, it is quite possible that life will go one without them!

In fact, one of the best things about your friends graduating from college is that your social life can now be filled with planning visits to your more mature friends.

Yesterday I went to Greenville to see two of my friends who have graduated from college. Since graduation (May 18) this was the fourth time I’ve seen Samantha, but actually my first time to see Heather. Needless to say, I was quite excited! My friend Jerod and I drove to Greenville to visit the condo that Heather and Samantha will be sharing for the next year.

It was a lovely day. We went to Mellow Mushroom and ate lunch on the outdoor balcony for an hour. We apparently find ourselves to be quite hilarious, because we were laughing the entire time rather loudly and causing the other outdoor guests to look at us like we were quite strange. (This is unfortunately somewhat usual for our group of friends!) We also went on a short walk through Falls Park, bought tasty treats from Spill the Beans, played Parcheesi, and spent a lovely evening talking and laughing. It was an excellent day well spent with friends! 🙂

One of my favorite things about going to Erskine is having the opportunity to meet people who will be my friends, people who accept me for who I am, yet people who also push me to grow in maturity and in my walk with the Lord. These are my friends who I love and who I can count on to have my back in almost every situation. I may only be able to attend Erskine for four years, but I will have the friends that I make for the rest of my life!

We are a crazy group of friends, but we love each other!

We are a crazy group of friends, but we love each other!