Display Boards

Below are the pictures of some of the display boards, which I wrote about and promised pictures of in a previous post. The photos do not do the creativity and amount of time it took to complete them justice, but the pictures are yours for the looking at anyway.

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SURPRISE!

This weekend, I pulled off what could quite possibly be one of the biggest surprises of my life, even though my surprisee claimed that he wasn’t that surprised. Since coming to England a little over a month ago, I have not seen any of my family in person, and have only seen other students that I knew from home once. For the past year or so, I have known that my 15 year old brother, Seth, would be on a school trip to Germany during the same time period that I was in England, and I had planned for about that long to surprise him while he was there. After communications with Seth’s German teacher (who also used to be mine), and struggling to find a flight time that would work for me and my school schedule, I booked my tickets and made a plan to surprise my brother at the Cologne Cathedral. I arrived at the cathedral a little before Seth’s school group got there, and waited anxiously for them to appear. Unfortunately, Seth got his first glimpse of me before I could get my camera ready, but I heard him say “That’s my sister!” and even managed to capture him on camera with the biggest smile on his face after seeing me – I could tell by his reaction that he genuinely wasn’t expecting to see me there, and that he was happy that I was there. I actually was somewhat worried that he wouldn’t want me tagging along in the city with him all day.

After being reunited with my brother, we took a walk through the cathedral and then climbed the 500-600, uneven, narrow, spiral stairs up to the top of the cathedral, which is something that I had vowed four years prior that I would never, under any circumstances, do again. But, I knew that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity with my brother, and I wanted to make sure I took it. After our trip to the top of the cathedral, we walked around the city, going into a few shops, eating breads and ice cream from street vendors, and spending time catching up after not seeing each other for a month. Then, we went to the Lindt Chocolate Museum, which, honestly, was pretty underwhelming the second time around. (Like the cathedral, I have been there before.) But, I would not have traded the opportunity to spend that time with my brother for anything.

As odd as it may seem, in the moment, it was just another typical day with my brother – we just happened to be in a different place than normal. But, after saying goodbye, which was literally one of the hardest goodbyes of my life, and thinking more about what I had just done, I realized how amazing this experience was. Not only did I get to spend a little bit of time with my brother, but I got to spend time with my brother in a foreign country – a country for which we had both studied the language, and a country which I have come to love and didn’t know if I would ever get to visit again. I got to climb up to the top of one of the world’s most famous cathedrals and have that experience with my brother by my side. I will never forget that day, and I am extremely glad that I put my reservations about traveling to a foreign country by myself aside and decided to make the trip. It was definitely worth it in my opinion.

I will leave you with a (not so great) picture of Seth and me standing outside the Cologne Cathedral – I was too busy having fun with my brother to worry about getting amazing photographs.

Until next time,
Steph

Seth and me outside the Cologne Cathedral.

Seth and me outside the Cologne Cathedral.

 

 

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A Week in the Life

So, it has been about a week since I posted, and I have had a lot of blog-worthy things that have happened in the past week. I wanted to write short posts as they were happening, but last week was really crazy, so I didn’t get a chance. Then, I sat down today to write a really long blog post about EVERYTHING that has happened in the past week, and after two hours of writing and editing, I saved a draft, and none of it actually saved, so back to square one. I don’t want to spend as much time on this post, so I apologize if this post isn’t that detailed. However, I do have quite a few things to share. 1. Display Boards Last week, I was charged with the task of creating display boards that showcased the work of Year 6 students. These display boards are large poster boards that are very detailed and basically look like a giant, high quality scrapbook page. I was supposed to finish 12 within the week, and after 3 whole school days of working on them, along with 4 really artistic students, I had finished 6 and started work on the remaining backgrounds. I don’t think I had ever been so sick and tired of doing crafts and seeing glue sticks in my entire life. The girls that I had helping me were very creative and very good at doing what I asked them to do. I could not have gotten as far as I did without them. However, I did not get to finish them because of some unexpected school visitors, which brings me to point number 2. 2. OFSTED OFSTED is a mandatory school inspection that happens in each school in England at least every three years. The school gets a day notice that the inspectors are coming, and the inspectors stay for two days. They observe lessons, talk to and interact with students, staff, and parents, and even looked through student work. It was a very stressful two days, starting out with staying at school until 7:30 p.m. the nigh before the inspectors came, to ensure that everything would be perfect for the next two days. According to the administration, the inspection went pretty well, but they are not allowed to release the official judgement until the report has been published. As someone who has never experienced a school inspection before, I found it incredibly interesting… and tiring. 3. Barcelona! This past weekend, I flew to Barcelona and met up with Stef and Stef – friends from school, who are also completing the same program I am. It was the first time that we had really seen anyone from back home in about a month. Barcelona was amazing! Initially, I wasn’t even really excited to go, but I really enjoyed my time there and am absolutely glad that I went. Before, I had written awesome descriptions of each of the places I really enjoyed, but as this is my second time writing this post, I think I will just show you through pictures.

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(Sagrada Familia – Very beautiful. It’s been under construction for over 200 years, and the detail is amazing.)

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(Magic Fountain Light Show – One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.)

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(eyescream and friends – the cutest and tastiest ice cream in Barcelona.)

4. Volunteering As part of my program requirements, I have to do some volunteer work in the community that I’m living and teaching. I’m doing my work at a local youth center, and today was my first day. I am helping with a girls only club. Today I was able to talk to and get to know one very bright girl named Carly, and watch quite a few of the others interact with each other. The people at the youth center are all very nice, and I really like it there. Hopefully, I will continue to have a great time volunteering there on Mondays.

Well, I’m going to sign off for now. Hopefully I’ll be able to do more detailed posts for this coming week. -Steph

 

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A Foggy Day in London Town

So, it wasn’t really foggy as the title of this post suggests, it was more of a cloudy day in London. While some people may have been inclined to complain because it wasn’t sunny for their visit to London, I was actually somewhat excited that I got to experience London the way that Michael Buble sings about it. I was only in London for about 5 hours, but I got to see more than I would have thought possible. I still want to go back and spend some more time there, whether it’s before July or on a completely different trip, but I was very pleased with what I was able to see in such a short amount of time. 

There were three thoughts I had almost immediately after exiting Victoria Station and taking in my first sights of London (that weren’t from an airplane or very jet lagged eyes in a taxi). First, the theater that Wicked! on the West End plays in is RIGHT THERE, RIGHT THERE! Literally, it was the first thing I saw when I walked out of the train station. I am going to go see it one weekend, but I was excited enough for now just to be able to see the theater. Second, the Buckingham Palace grounds are RIGHT THERE. They may not have been as close to the train station as the theater, but I was surprised with how short of a distance we had to walk before I was actually able to see some of the iconic London sights without traveling too far. Third, London is very crowded! It took me awhile to get used to the sheer amount of bodies that were moving around on the streets and standing in front of the landmarks. I was somewhat surprised that I felt this way, because I have been to Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, so I thought I knew how busy and crowded large cities could be. However, it felt like there were many more people walking around – or stopping in the middle of the street – in London than there were at some of the busiest times in Times Square New York. That was something I definitely wasn’t expecting. 

After I got over the initial shock of the crowded streets, I was ready for a whirlwind sightseeing tour that rivals the speed and efficiency of the contestants on the Amazing Race. In just a short time, I got to see the sights of Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Horse Guards Parade, Big Ben and the Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Downing Street, and the London Eye. All of them were amazing, but there are a few that stood out for one reason or another throughout the day. 

Buckingham Palace was the first and the last stop on the London Tour. I loved seeing the building and seeing the flag flying stating that the Queen was in residence, even though I didn’t know that until after the fact. But, I was especially enthralled by the guards. Yep, you know the ones with the red coats and the fuzzy hats that stand still and never crack a smile. I stood and watched the guards, looking for any sign of movement, for quite awhile. One of the guards kept raising his heels off of the ground (caught him!), but I also learned that the guards do get to march every 10 minutes or so, so that they do not get too stiff – although I never quite figured out, even after my research, how they know when to march/signal to his partner that it’s time to march. Another cool thing that happened at Buckingham Palace was that we got to see someone with a police escort and a guard in a Land Rover following them, enter the Palace grounds. We don’t know exactly who it was, but we are pretty sure it was someone important.
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Big Ben and the Parliament was another sight that I really enjoyed. As my dad is a big fan of National Lampoon’s European Vacation, I’ve spent my entire life hearing “Look kids, Big Ben, the Parliament!” every single time we circled a roundabout. To actually see Big Ben and the Parliament in person was pretty cool. And you better believe I stood on the street corner and videoed myself saying “Look Dad, Big Ben, the Parliament!” to show to my family.
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Finally, I really enjoyed seeing the London Eye. Though I didn’t get a chance to ride it, something that’s still on my bucket list, just seeing it in person is something that I consider to be pretty cool. Obviously, I knew it was “really big” before I saw it, but I don’t think that photographs do its size justice. In fact, I don’t think you can truly understand what “really big” means until you’re standing directly under the Eye and you look up and see the size of the people in the cars that are easily bigger than some public restrooms. In all, I would consider the trip to London a huge success, and I can’t wait for the opportunity to go back again.
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This week, I am back to the “real world” as Half Term Break is over. About 2/3 of Year 6 is gone to camp this week, so we are letting the remaining students have a lot of independent research time and are doing some fun learning activities. I am also helping one of the teaching assistants put together some display boards of students’ past work to display in a common area in the school. Hopefully I won’t be too tired of cutting, pasting, photocopying, and being creative by the end of this week. 

Until next time,
Steph

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Half Term Break

This week, my school, and most of the other schools in England, have been on Half Term break, which means no school. As a result, I have been able to go sightseeing and enjoy spending some time with my host family and getting to know the town that I’m staying in. I have had so much fun this week, and have gotten to see some amazing things. Here is a list (in no particular order) of some of the things I have gotten to do this week.

1) Drink lots of tea.
2) Get extremely engrossed in Britain’s Got Talent. Seriously, I’ve watched it every night this week.
3) Have my first experience at Primark. It’s like a whole new (and cheap) universe of shopping. It’s actually a good thing that we don’t have Primark in America, because I would spend way too much time and money there.
4) Travel by train.
5) Sing very loudly in the car to the Wicked Soundtrack. My host mom is also quite a fan, and our harmonies are brilliant.
6) Write a couple of postcards to people back home.
7) Go to pet shops looking at and holding various reptiles. My host sister is getting a leopard gecko for her birthday in a little over a month.
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(a bearded dragon we named Kevin)

8. Book a trip to Barcelona to see some friends in a little less than a week.
9. Run errands with the host family.
10. Play Scrabble, Yahtzee, and Bananagrams – a few of you will know how much I love Bananagrams.
11. Become completely engrossed in The Girl who Played with Fire.
12. Go to the zoo. The zoo was a bit different than the zoos that I’ve been to in the States. They had a bigger variety of small and medium sized animals, but did not have quite as big of a selection of larger animals. However, they did have an adorable penguin that was wearing a wetsuit. And no, I don’t know why.
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(Penguin in a wetsuit – it appears his name was Ralph.)

13. Have a dinner outside at a pub overlooking a castle.
14. Visit and tour a castle that is almost 1000 years old! This is quite possibly my favorite item on the list. Arundel Castle is absolutely beautiful. It is still used and lived in today by the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk. It was amazing to see a castle that is not in the middle of a theme park, is so rich in history, and is older than the United States. I wish that I could’ve taken more pictures of the inside, but sadly, it was not allowed. However, I will share some of the pictures that I was able to take of the outside. Note: It was an absolutely beautiful day when we visited the castle as well. These photos are not edited or filtered in any way, and were taken on an iPod. Proof, if you needed it, that England is absolutely beautiful.
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(The castle.)

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(The castle gardens, which reminded me of Alice in Wonderland.)
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(The top of the Keep.)

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(Another view of the Castle.)
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(Simply gorgeous.)
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(The way to the Keep.)

In all, it has been a pretty successful Half Term break, and the week is not over yet. Tonight, I’m cooking supper for my host family. We’re having cavatini and garlic bread, which is one of my favorite meals from home. And tomorrow, we’re going to London by train for a bit of sightseeing. I’m extremely excited for that, but that will have to be a post all its own.

Until next time,
Steph

 

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Free Time

Free Time

Amy and I like to play with each other’s hair. This is my latest creation – spiral French braid.

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Raincoats, and Beaches, and Hot Chocolate – Oh My!

Have you ever worn your raincoat for a day at the beach? Have you ever drank hot chocolate at the beach? I have! Today, we unleashed 90 Year 4’s (third graders) on the beach of the English Channel. And even though I’m in a Year 6 class, since my host mom is a Year 4 teacher, she arranged for me to come with them as a chaperone, so that I could have fun at the beach as well. I was definitely excited to go to the beach for the day on a field trip, and the only thing that could bring me down was, well, rain. On our walk down to the beach, which was over a mile long, it started to rain. It had stopped raining by the time we arrived at the beach, so it wasn’t that bad. On the horizon, however, you could see that there was a bigger storm rolling in.

The students got a little while to play and do some science and geography work on the beach (and I got to feel the water of the English Channel for the first time). It was getting colder, darker, and very windy, but the kids didn’t seem to mind at all. They were too busy finding interesting rocks, seaweed, and even crabs along the beach. About an hour and a half after we arrived, it started to rain again. We moved the students up near the beach huts and instructed them to eat their lunch, hoping that the weather would pass, and it did soon enough. I was so cold at this point that I went to the concession stand and bought a hot chocolate to enjoy – something I never thought that I would ever want while sitting on the beach. The rain eventually stopped, and the students got a few more minutes to play on the beach while the others finished. 

Things got interesting on the walk home, however. As you can probably imagine, it’s interesting enough to walk 90 children over a mile (especially with about half of the number of adults that we would take on a field trip in America) in nice weather. Add in the fact that it started “chucking down” rain – to borrow a local term – a short while into our walk, and then started to thunderstorm about halfway into our walk, with all of the students complaining about being cold and wet, that walk turns into a completely different, yet equally as interesting, experience. By the time we got back to school, all of the teachers were frazzled, all of the students were wet and soggy, and all of the fun had gone completely out the window. In fact, one of the students even said that she hated today.

Today was definitely a new and interesting experience. Before today, I had never had to wear a raincoat on the beach. I had never enjoyed a steaming hot chocolate on the beach, either. But, for the few minutes the weather was good, it was completely worth it to see all of the students being able to play and explore on the beach. And wouldn’t you know, the sun came out and the rain dried up just in time for me to walk home from school with Amy. It was so nice, in fact, that I was able to get to the post office and mail out some postcards to my classes back home.

 

A couple of random notes:
- I got to hold a London 2012 Olympic Torch this week! It was probably the highlight of my trip so far. 
- The British accent is starting to sound pretty normal to me, which is good because it means I can understand it better, but bad because it’s kind of lost it’s novelty. 

I’ll leave you with some pictures that I took at the beach today – before the weather got too bad.

Until next time,
Steph

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First Impressions

I arrived in England a week ago today, and I was instantly blown away with how, for lack of a better term, English, everything was. I literally felt like I walked onto a movie set of an old English town with cottages lining each side of the road, school children in matching uniforms walking home from school, a bit of rain coming down… It was absolutely breathtaking. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I  wasn’t expecting it to look exactly like what they show on film. 

After taking in all of the sights on the drive from the airport, it was time to meet my host family, which was perhaps the thing that I was most nervous about. I wasn’t nervous for long, though, because I surmised within seconds of meeting them that they are all very lovely people. My home consists of My host mother – Suzie, her parents – Chris and Joe, her 15 year old son – Alex, her 11 year old daughter – Amy, and the family dog – Ginny. They have all been more than welcoming and kind, and it only took me a short time to feel at home. Amy, especially, has been wonderful at making sure I feel included, understand all things English, and have things to do whenever I get home from school. I will definitely be sad when it’s time to leave and I have to say goodbye.

Another big component of my life here in England, and the main reason why I’m here, is school. I have been placed in a Year 6 class, which is the American equivalent to 5th grade. The school that I’m placed at is such a charming school. Each year group has their own wing of the school with three classrooms and a common area each. Each of the classrooms and common areas are fully decorated in the theme of whatever the main teaching topic for the unit is. The classrooms are fully student centered – the teacher does not even have a desk in the room. The students are very disciplined in terms of school routines and procedures. They do not need reminded about what to do when x happens, instead, they just do what they know they are supposed to. On the flip side of that, however, is that the students who do choose to act out during free time, lunch, etc. go all out and will continue their behavior despite all efforts of the teacher to control it. I think this is a result of the area that the school is in and the home lives of some of the students, not unlike some of the schools I have seen and heard about in the States. 

I am really enjoying my time here so far. It has only rained once or twice since I arrived, though it is supposed to rain again tomorrow, and I have been able to go to the beach on two different occasions – something I’m not really able to do in the landlocked state of Indiana. I am enjoying learning about the cultural differences between Americans and British people (it’s true, they do drink a lot of hot tea, and yes, I have become a hot tea drinker) and even the subtle differences in the American English vs. the British English language. In fact, Amy and I have a bit of a game going – we try to think of as many different words/meanings between British English and American English as we can. Even though I knew there were quite a few differences, I have been surprised with just how many we have actually come up with.

On a personal note, I have also tried several “new” foods since being here. Those of you who know me well know that I can be a pretty picky eater. In fact, food was probably the thing I was most nervous about apart from meeting my host family. Even though I haven’t really eaten any “exotic” foods while I’ve been here, I have eaten things that I had never tried before, and actually finished and even liked them as well, which is something I am sadly quite proud of. 

I suppose that I should close for now. The evening is winding down, so I will just be enjoying the evening watching TV in the lounge with Suzie. More adventures to come later.

XO – Steph

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