How to Own Being Labelled a “Mature Student” at the Ripe Old Age of 23

Happy half-term to my UK fam and happy summer vacay to those back home! You made it through the 2021 school year my friends!! (whoop whoop!) We still have a couple more weeks left here at uni, but we are almost there!

I – just like the rest of the world – have been listening to Olivia Rodrigo’s album on repeat for the past week. I was talking to my flatmate about it the other day and said, “Where was Olivia Rodrigo’s album when I was 18?” For context, my flatmate is 19 years old. She took a second, looked at me and said, “She was 12, Sierra, that’s where she was.” 

I’m not being dramatic when I say that comment threw me completely off the tracks. I was not expecting that at all. My eyes got wide in realisation, and it took me a couple of seconds to process that it was actually true and what that meant. I haven’t been able to stop laughing about it since then. Since when were 23-year-olds allowed to be roasted for being old?!

Of course, I realise that at 23 I am still young and have a whole life ahead of me. But being considered a “mature student” does come with some different experiences. After high school, my gap year quickly turned into five and choosing to go back to school and start university half-way across the world wasn’t an easy decision to make. I really treasure the experiences I had during my five year gap. I am grateful for the valuable skills I learned in my various adventures during that time, but I always knew I wanted more education. I knew I wanted to get a degree. As I was approaching my 22nd birthday I realised if I didn’t start soon, I would probably never get around to it. I knew communications was important to me and I knew that being connected on a global scale was important to me.

 After realising that it was possible to study abroad, I was ecstatic and extremely nervous. I felt a rush of insecurities about starting university later than everyone else. I wondered if it would be hard to start studying after not being in full-time education for a few years. I even had frequent thoughts of “I’m not even good enough or smart enough to do this.” I found this quote that said something about “having fears but doing it anyway” because that is how you overcome those fears. I thought about that often as I started applying to universities and throughout the entire journey to get here. When I got here and moved into my flat, I discovered I was really blessed to be paired with flatmates from many different educational backgrounds and life stories. One of my flatmates shared my experience of going back to school after a few years and another went back for a second degree. I have learned from their study styles, differing perspectives, and world views. I kept reminding myself that life isn’t just about studying; making personal connections and seeing different perspectives were among some of my favourite moments this year. 

For anyone who is around my age and is thinking about going back to school -do it. Yes, you aren’t quite an older student, you aren’t quite a younger student. It is an awkward in-between. It is scary and those nerves are there for a reason, but if it is a dream and something that you want to do, it will be 100% worth it. I highly suggest reaching out to a guidance counselor from your intended university. An email requesting more information about what it would look like as a mature student at university brings so much clarity and peace of mind. And of course, I don’t know much as I am still trying to figure it out myself, but my DMs are always open to anyone who has questions about going back to school as a “mature” or an international student.

Early twenties are a weird time in life. My mom had me when she was 23. I have friends who are getting married this year, those who are graduating this year, some just finished their first year as full-time employees, some who are expecting their first child and those that have entire families already and there is me who is just starting university. We are all on our own paths. We all have our own stories to write. If we all hit milestones at the same time, we would be a boring, monotonous society. Our individual value does not come from what we haven’t accomplished yet. I have caught myself so many times this year comparing where I am at to someone else’s journey. Comparison is never great for mental health. Focusing on your own beautiful story is much more beneficial than spending your time wishing you were the main character in someone else’s story.

Expat Chronicles pt. 3

Life goes on.

To be honest, I haven’t really had anything to write about in a while. Although we are (hopefully) seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, we are still in lockdown. I miss being able to go places and I wish I could have traveled a lot more this first year than I have been able to but sometimes there are pandemics so there is that. Stay safe everyone, keep your family and neighbours safe, wear a mask.

I have gone on loads of walks this month. Just exploring what is around me. I am obsessed with finding plots of land with old churches or buildings in the middle of random neighbourhoods or across the street from Tesco. It intrigues me to see something so old and with so much history just chilling there while normal, modern, busy society has just built it’s way around it. I find these places refreshing even though there is seemingly nothing refreshing about a 200 year old church or stuffy manor-turned-museum. These spots are usually quiet compared to the busy streets beside them. I found a gorgeous, blooming magnolia tree next to an old abbey yesterday and spent most of the afternoon on the bench underneath reading and taking in the sun (it is supposed to snow this weekend, I was soaking it in while I could). I couldn’t help but think “this absolutely cannot be real life.” You see these moments in movies. 

One of the last class exercises for this past term was to write a short response to the prompt “I’m curious.” It made me reflect on this past year. It has been a devastating and exhausting year for the world. So many lives have been effected. Many things have happened in my own personal life and family and friend’s lives as well. It has been a mentally draining year and yet for a good majority of my days I was left with so many quiet and mindful moments. The first lockdown started while I was at home and, like many, the busy rhythm of my life came to a halt. I was uncomfortable with the silence I found myself sitting in. I filled my time and mind with music. When Taylor Swift came out with her ‘folklore’ album, one part of her attached personal essay reads, “In isolation, my imagination has run wild.” I related to that feeling well. My curiosity cracked open and was let loose in lockdown. I was curious about everything from art, mental health awareness, social injustice history and activism, communication science, mindfulness and meditation, writing, thrifting, hiking, celebrity gossip, etc. The list goes on and on. Literally everything. I was curious about everything. Part of that could do with ADHD but also… lockdown. 

Much like the places I find on my walks, quiet pockets of reflective stillness are so important to find. The world- to all appearances- came to a halt last year but life goes on around us still. Pausing long enough to breathe and renew has become a necessity in my life and I think it is kind of cool that the environment around me matches the vibes I’m going for.

As always, miss you all. Xx

Moving Overseas During a Global Pandemic

I have a feeling this should just be titled “Moving Overseas.” Full Stop. But moving during the middle of a pandemic did make things a little extra spicy. If I’m being completely honest, it’s only been 5 months but I don’t remember many details of the journey. I know I had 3 layovers and that on the longest flight of the trip (8 hours), there were only about 25 people on board. The flight attendant gave me pillows and blankets from the back so I could stretch across all four seats in the middle row and take a nap which was very nice. All of the airports I went to ere very clean and for the most part people were very conscious of social distancing and wearing face coverings. The trip was long though and when I did make it to my quarantine room I probably slept for at least a week. I was in the quarantine flat for 14 days and then moved into my flat that I am in now. 

Leading up to the trip I did loads of planning and organising but no matter how much planning and organising you do, it never quite prepares you for something you have never done before. There were definitely bumps in the road that I didn’t plan for. For example: my duffle bag strap casually tore off half way through the trip and I carried the duffle bag around in my arms the rest of the time. Not a huge deal, but it definitely added to the hilarious ridiculousness of that day.

Moving is messy. Getting used to a brand new place leads you out of your comfort zone and into a mental and social place that is awkward and sometimes completely out of your control. Homesickness hits you hard or visa appointments fall through. Not to mention culture shock. Culture shock happens at different levels no matter where you relocate and no one can tell me otherwise. Walking into the grocery store for the first time absolutely blew my mind. I remember walking around the first time with wide eyes and saying to my flatmates, “there are so many types of fruit and vegetables.” If you think we have loads of veg at home, you haven’t seen the cabbage section at Morrison’s yet. I also spent the next 4 weeks wondering where the “English muffins” were kept. I finally realised I live in England. Why would they be called “English” muffins??

I have done some reading on the different stages of culture shock and I definitely have felt all of the stages at one point or another and still do. I’m not sure how much the pandemic has affected acclamation for me or other international students because I have nothing to compare it with. I’m just kind of going with the flow and I have found peace in that. My time as an expat is neither at the newbie level or the experienced level and I kind of like it here. I like learning new things. I like asking about words I’ve never heard before and explaining things like “what’s his bucket” and “frazzled.” (Yes, I know. I know. But I spent my high school years in Texas my friends.) But I also like being familiar with my surroundings. I am finding myself settling in more ways than I imagined I would before coming.

In other news: it snowed last week here in Leeds. It snowed whilst I was in Liverpool over Christmas break as well and all I can say is that I’m obsessed with England covered in snow. It’s honestly gorgeous.

As always, miss you all back home. Have a great week! Xx

Expat Chronicles pt. 2

More Train Stories

A few weeks ago my train to Liverpool was cancelled so I was in the station for an hour waiting for the next one. While waiting, a pigeon decided to land right in front of me and stare at me while I was eating my crisps. I put my crisps away because… ✨creepy.✨ Before I left the US, my cousin’s sweet daughter told me that she has a love for fat pigeons. This one, I noticed, was particularly fat so I decided to get out my phone and take a quick video of it. I was sending it to my cousin and explained how creepy the pigeon was when suddenly a maintenance dude came out of nowhere scaring the bird. It flew right into face. I screamed in front of the maintenance man and about a dozen other people…

In the short amount of time that I have been here, the amount of awkward or embarrassing situations I have experienced by simply being an American in the UK has left me with zero to little shame. Screaming at flying pigeons, saying “Ree-bena” instead of “Ri-bee-na,” asking directions (constantly), calling trousers pants (ALL the time), asking how much the co-pay would be while making at appointment with the GP, only knowing what “GP” means because of Doc Martin. Oh man, the list could go on for ages. After a certain point I just started to accept it and own it. Laughing at myself has proved to be such a healing form of self love.

On an entirely different note- I have had an absolute blast in Liverpool with my fam during winter break. A couple days before Christmas, a group of farmers got together and organised a charity parade with their tractors, decorated in festive lights. We stood there watching 80 tractors pass by in the cold night air and cheered on the farmers who raised thousands of pounds for the local children’s hospital.

On Christmas Day we went on a walk up in Lancashire. There were ruins of a village lining the reservoir and sheep in the fields along the path. It started snowing as we were finishing our walk and it made for a very magical Christmas Day. I was also able to explore the city of Liverpool a couple of times since I’ve been here as well. I stumbled across a spot where I had taken a picture almost 5 years earlier. It was fun to recreate that picture and reminisce on the growth and change that has happened in the past 5 years. 

Hope you are all having a lovely New Year and end to the holiday season. 2020 was full of growth and change. It was full of highs and it was full of a lot of lows. I am excited to see what 2021 brings. We are not out of the woods yet and there is still a lot of fighting to do. However, I still feel a glimmer of relief coming in the future. 

As always, lots of love and miss you all tons. Xx

Holidays in Liverpool

The Library

I’ve been away from Leeds since winter break has started. I miss my flatmates and my family back home during this Christmas time. However, I am super happy that I get to spend the holidays with family here in England. I was able to go explore a bit of Liverpool this week. The Liverpool Library was one of the highlights of that little adventure. Can I just say… “wow.” Everything about this library is beautiful. The structure, the mix of old and modern, the collections. “Just wow.” Every room is different than the one before. When you first walk into the main library area, the multilevel, open room filled with shelves and shelves of books will take one’s breath away. The Hornby Room, Oak Room and Picton Reading Room have displays of rare and unique books. The children’s room is open and bright with fun displays of pop up books and toys.

Gentlemen’s Magazine, Jan-June 1839, comments on Queen Victoria’s most recent portrait.

Liverpool is full of magic places and magic moments and I’m very happy to be here. This year has been something else but I hope everyone has a Happy Christmas despite everything.

P.S. I am still trying to perfect the ability to walk in rain and not look like I’ve drowned afterwards. If anyone has any tips, I would highly appreciate it.

Expat Chronicles pt. 1

Yesterday I was taking the bus to Leeds City Centre. You know those days where everything just seems beautiful and your thoughts are filled with romanticism? It was one of those days. I was thinking how grateful I was to be in the UK and how pretty the sky was and the buildings. I remember thinking “I feel like I’ve finally got transportation down and I don’t feel like a lost American anymore. Now I can just enjoy this beautiful city.” 

Lol.

As I was walking to the shopping centre where my appointment was, I came across a sign across the walkway: “you are where you’re meant to be” in pink neon lights. With my head in the clouds all morning I just had to take a picture of it. After my shopping was done I realized it was going to get dark soon. Since the bus would have take too long. I had two options: I could take an Uber home or take the train. I decided since the train was fast and cheaper than an Uber that was my best option. I got on the train and remembered the picture I had taken earlier. I decided to edit it and post it before I had to get off. I must have forgotten that it only takes about 7 minutes to get back home because next thing I knew I looked up and we were taking off from the station that was after my own…

I missed my stop by 2 stations and ended up 50 minutes outside of my town. It was cold and dark. By the time I got to the other side of the tracks of a station I had never been to before, the train going back had just passed. So, I waited there in the cold dark middle of nowhere for 30 minutes before the next train came. I’m grateful that it was only 30 minutes and I’m grateful I thought to pick up food before I got on the train. I must have looked insane sitting there eating my burrito chuckling about how hilariously ironic it was that I ended up way far away from home whilst I was busy posting a picture of a sign that said “I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.”

Introductions

So, a little over a year ago I decided that I wanted to go to school in England. I sat down with my mom and talked about this dream that seemed ridiculous and 100% impossible. Well, it’s been 14 months since I had that conversation with my mom. I have dreamed, planned, and saved; a global pandemic has taken over everyone’s lives and here I am sat in a flat in Northern England writing this blog post when I should really be writing my end of term report.

My life isn’t irresistibly romantic or interesting by any means. My days mostly consist of studying and maybe-if I’m feeling adventurous- a trip down to the local grocery store. However, I do want to keep in touch with my family and friends back home. I plan on perusing mini adventures once the world is on it’s way back to recovery and it is safe to do so again. Those trips will probably be documented on this platform as well but until then I will just be sharing some experiences and thoughts from my avocado toast and caffeine filled life here in England.

I miss you all back home. Loads. Homesickness is a real thing. I am also grateful to be here studying and gaining new perspectives. Also, I’m not trying to be a mommy blogger or anything but I’m just letting you all know this blog might consist of pictures of my houseplants. I am a very proud plant parent. They are my pride and joy.

Anyway, I hope you are all doing well. Here is to new adventures. Xx