First off: apologies that I slacked off on the blog at the end of last semester. It got to the point where I ended up choosing to spend my remaining time in London doing things, rather than writing about them. I’m always up for sharing photos and talking about my trip if you ever want more info though!
My most recent travel adventure was spending a week in Haiti. It was a challenging week, but I loved going and decided to write a summary blog post of it (I could talk about it for hours on end, but I’ll try to keep the post short!)
A group of about 20 girls from my university teamed up with Life is Hope, an organization that sponsors 5 orphanages in the Port-au-Prince area, on a mission trip over spring break. We arrived in Port-au-Prince, the capital of the Haiti, on Sunday morning. The LIH house is in Bon Repos, just outside of the city.
I, personally, had a rough time at the beginning of the week. I felt homesick and was also discouraged by the destitute circumstances surrounding me. The landscape of Haiti was so beautiful, but it contrasted so starkly with the poverty that seemed to be everywhere, ignored by the few wealthy people in the country. I wasn’t sure why God had called me to go on this mission trip, and even regretted signing up at times. But as the week went on, God showed me joy through the kids and taught me how to trust more deeply in Him. He knew what He was doing when He presented me with the opportunity to go on this trip, and the more I got to know the kids and focus on the work we were doing there, the more I was glad I went.
Each day, we visited one or two orphanages. We played games, colored pictures, made bracelets, and sang songs with them. Haiti is by far one of the poorest countries in the world, but Christianity is the dominant religion there. Especially after the earthquake in 2010, the people began turning to trust God for their daily needs–they really have no other choice but to trust Him because of their extreme poverty. Because of this, our focus there wasn’t to share the Gospel, but to spread the love and joy of Jesus. What we weren’t prepared for was how the kids we visited would share love and joy with us.
The kids had so little, and yet were so content and joyful about what they did have. They simply wanted to be with you and spend time with you. It was convicting to see how happy they were with so little, depending fully on Jesus for everything they needed.
Also at the orphanages, we helped give health check ups to the kids–every six months, the kids are weighed, their heights measured, etc to make sure they are growing and receiving the food they need.
In addition, we did an Easter egg hunt at every orphanage. It allowed us to tell the story of the resurrection, and also to give the kids a new experience. None of them had ever searched for Easter eggs before! Though they may have been unsure at first about scouring the yard for hard-boiled eggs that were strange colors, they quickly got into it and had a blast!
Bonus: they got a yummy snack after hunting for eggs! (Which we usually did at least twice, because they had so much fun!)
On our last day there, we got to take the children of one orphanage to the beach. It was probably the best day of the whole trip. We got to give the kids new swimsuits, and see the absolute joy in their faces as they played in the water. The beauty of the beach was outdone by the smiles of the kids as they got to spend the whole day playing and having fun.
Ultimately, I was so so thankful to be able to go on this trip and meet everyone I did. There is something unique to serving God internationally, and trusting in Him to overcome the language barriers and drastically different backgrounds to make a difference. I grew so much in just one week, and will never forget what I learned while I was there. The people have so much joy, but also need so much help. Living in Haiti for a week will permanently change the way I live and view my life in the US, as I am more thankful for my many blessings and more aware of the global needs of others, physically and spiritually.
Thank you for reading! I hope you consider learning more ways to help the people of Haiti through organizations such as Life is Hope and Filter of Hope.
It’s Thanksgiving today, and we did our best to celebrate in London. It’s not quite the same without our family, though. Since we’ve been missing our friends and family back in the US, we made this lovely video for them. We miss you, and enjoy!
~Day Six~ On Saturday some of the group was heading out to go to some markets, but since we ended up staying up entirely too late on Friday night, and the markets are there every weekend, The Group decided to sleep in and relax a little after a busy week. We hung around at the house for most of the day, and then in the afternoon Rae and I decided to head over to Kensington Gardens to read and relax a little.
It’s a beautiful space, and we enjoyed getting outside and being in nature for a little bit. It’s wonderful to have a park in walking distance, something we definitely don’t have at our campus in Alabama.
After we returned, we all decided to go to a pub for the first time. We wandered around looking at several different pubs, some that were recommended and some we just found, and finally after looking at pricing and mainly how crowded it was,we ended up at the pub Gloucester Arms.
It ended being a great choice! There’s a 20% student discount, and the atmosphere was great while we were there–not too many people, but still lively and a fun place to be. Most of all, the food was delicious! I got bangers and mash, a traditional British dish of sausages and mashed potatoes, and it tasted so good–I’ve pretty much been craving it ever since! The guys got fish and chips, which they also enjoyed, and Rae got a pie–which of course sounds like dessert to Americans, but it’s more along the lines of a chicken pot pie in London. It has definitely been declared a favorite spot of ours now.
~Day Seven~ On Sunday everyone joined Liz, the resident assistant, at church. We attended a satellite location of Holy Trinity Brompton, one of the biggest churches around.
Back in Alabama I attend an Anglican church (along with Rae and Sam H) so we were expecting a little bit more liturgy from this church since it was also Anglican, but it was different from the church we’re used to. Nonetheless, it was still a good service and we enjoyed meeting new people and talking to people. After church, we picked up stuff for lunch from Sainsbury’s. We had planned on either going to some museums or to the markets, but by the time we finished lunch and decided to get ready to go, it was a little late for any museums. So we decided to rent bikes at Kensington Gardens and do a picnic dinner there. The Sams and I walked down to a book shop nearby, Slightly Foxed Books, for about an hour while Rae finished up some stuff. It was a neat little place and I will definitely be visiting again. Then the four of us headed to Kensington Gardens. All over the city is a Barclay’s bike rental program, where for just one or two pounds you can get a bike and ride it around. We just stayed in Kensington Gardens, but you can return the bike to any of the rental spots, so if you needed to go to a destination like that you could take the bikes. After returning the bikes, we walked to Round Pond and looked at the many ducks, geese and swans that hang out there.
It’s a really beautiful area, and we got there right before sunset, so that the light gave everything a fairy tale feel to it. We walked around for a little bit, and then finally decided we were hungry and it was time to eat! We snagged a few of the lawn chairs provided and enjoyed a picnic dinner of sandwiches.
After we returned I got to talk to my family, which I hadn’t done beyond texting some, so that was always great to hear from them!
~Day Eight~ Monday was technically our first day of class, but none of The Group had any classes on Monday, so we still had a free day. I had an interview at 10 with the agency that arranged my internship. It was more of an informational meeting with the director, preparing me for my internship at the Foundling Museum. I am extremely excited to start, and I have an interview with the museum next week. After returning from that, we still had most of the day free. At first decided to go to the British Museum, but then somehow got wrapped up in reorganizing the kitchen. The four of us are the student assistants, and the kitchen in the house was horribly disorganized and unkempt. It started with just rearranging one drawer, and then became two hours of us rearranging and organizing and labeling the whole kitchen! Not the most exciting afternoon, but we’re all strange and slightly OCD so we enjoyed it. Once again, we decided it was too late to go to the British Museum. Not wanting to stay at the house all day, Rae and I took the tube to central London and wandered around to places like the Cheshire Cheese and Twinings, which we had both been to before, but now both places were open so we got to go in and look around. Then we returned to the house and ate dinner with The Group, before watching some Doctor Who that evening.
~Day Nine~ On Tuesday the entire group met with Liz for something called a cadre meeting. Cadres are something that happens regularly at our campus in Alabama, and they help us gain “convocation points” which are needed to graduate. In order to help us stay on track with that, they began a cadre meeting in London, the first time ever. We met together at Le Pain Quotidien to get tea and coffee, and talked for awhile. From there, The Group went to a bookstore right down the street from there called South Kensington Books, and looked around there for awhile. Then we returned to the house, had a quick lunch, and then the Sams and I finally were able to go to the British Museum.
I plan on going to graduate school for museum studies, and so I was absolutely ecstatic to see one of the most famous and oldest museums in the world. It was astonishing to realize that the museum, founded in 1753, is older than the United States! Simply walking in and seeing the architecture is an experience. Looking at the map, we didn’t even know where to begin, so we started wandering and found ourselves in European history.
Eventually we decided to head towards the Egyptian section, since that was where the Rosetta Stone was located. I would love to specialize in Egyptian history, so I was especially excited to see this area.
From there we wandered around the Greek and Roman section for little, before deciding it was time to head back. We grabbed pizza for dinner and enjoyed that and some Doctor Who before heading to bed.
~Day Ten~ Today Sam K and Rae had a class, so we couldn’t do much until they returned in the afternoon. I decided to do some exploring in the morning. First I headed up to the Foundling Museum so that I would know exactly how to get there for my interview (no wandering around lost and in tears for me!). I found it with no problem, and right outside it is the Brunswick Square Gardens, so I sat there for a little and read. Then I headed to Kensington Gardens to eat a small lunch that I had packed and read and journal for awhile.
I returned in the afternoon, and after Sam K and Rae finally got back (after 6 hours!) from their class, The Group headed out for the ultimate nerd destination: the TARDIS, located by Earl’s Court Station. As you have probably gathered, our group is comprised of major Doctor Who fans, and so we were determined to see an old blue police box while we were here (and maybe, hopefully, get whisked away by the Doctor!). Sam K had been told it was right outside the tube station, so we rode the tube to Earl’s Court and exited expectantly. Unfortunately, we didn’t see it, even after wandering up and down the street in front. About to give up, we turned back towards the station and then saw it there, plain as day. When you head out of the station, to the right there is a small kiosk, but not so small that it doesn’t block the TARDIS from your view! Coming back the other way we saw it and stopped for pictures, very excited to see it (though also disappointed the Doctor didn’t show up 🙂
After spending some time there (and attracting more than a few confused/curious stares from passers-by) we headed back to the house, where naturally we finished the day with an episode of Doctor Who.
It has been an amazing first week in London, and it’s hard to believe I still have three months to live here and fully experience everything the city has to offer! Although we did much exploring in the first few days, I know that I will never have explored this city enough and there will always be new things to discover!
We landed in Heathrow airport at about 11am London time, which meant it was close to 5am for us. I slept 4-5 hours in the plane, but I was still exhausted. The excitement of the fact that I was finally in London hadn’t hit yet, and we were greeted with stereotypical movie-in-London weather: windy and pouring rain. We staggered, half asleep, out of Heathrow onto our chartered bus, greeted by the programme director Katie, and began the 40 minute drive to the house we would be staying in. Despite being tired, I still stayed awake and talked with a few friends, as the realization of London began to set in (mostly because we realized we were indeed driving on the left side of the road). Upon arrival at the house, we quickly unloaded our luggage (in the heavy rain) into our rooms and headed to a lunch/breakfast meal–lunchtime in London, but our bodies felt like it was morning and were craving breakfast! While we ate we had a quick basic orientation–house code, wifi password, etc. To help us get over jet lag, they didn’t give us any time to rest and pushed us on out into the pouring rain.
In my community group (half of the 12 students here) led by Liz, the resident assistant, we explored the immediate neighborhood, which included several cafes, a tube stop right by us, and several grocery stores such as Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco. Waitrose is in a place called an arcade which, as Liz was quick to tell us, does not include games. It was a few restaurants and shops along with Waitrose, and is almost like what we in the US call a strip mall, except it’s covered (presumably because of the weather). We also purchased our Oyster passes to ride the tube. The entire group met up, and we rode the tube with Katie to the Westminster stop, right by the Thames River, Big Ben, London Eye, and Westminster Abbey. After we got out of the underground, Katie left us with a “Dinner starts at 7, have a good night!” and then was off to her home (she is from London and lives a bit north of where we stay). On our own, my friends (Sam, Sam, and Rae–yes, two Sams. The four of us will heretofore be referred to as The Group) wandered around–looking at Westminster, taking pictures of Big Ben, checking out the London Eye though not riding yet, and walking up and down the Thames.
After about 30 minutes of walking around (in the rain, but still fun), The Group headed back to our house on the tube–we managed to navigate our way without getting lost, so that’s always a positive! Dinner that night consisted of a community dinner of pizza bought from a wonderful Italian restaurant in the nearby arcade.
After dinner, we each went to unpack and rest for a little bit. Most people went to bed around 8:30 (thank you, jet lag) but The Group stayed up a little bit later. I talked to Rae as she unpacked, and eventually the four of us met up to watch Doctor Who–a must in London! Unfortunately, we were up significantly later than everyone else, and we discovered just how squeaky the floors of a house built in the 1860s can be! We quickly gave Sam H his birthday present, and then finally agreed that watching Doctor Who was not going to happen that night. The boys returned to their floor, but Rae and I stayed up and watched part of an episode–we couldn’t resist! Finally, much to late, we went to bed.
Today The Group received our smaller orientation. We are also the Student Assistants, and a large part of our responsibilities include setting up breakfast Monday-Thursday mornings. We began that today. After breakfast was Orientation I and a Safety Orientation, which was given by a local police constable. It was all useful information, if not the most exciting. Then we had about 2 hours to get lunch before our next activity. The Group walked to Waitrose. It was our first time be able to browse an English grocery store, and it was fun to see the many differences. First of all, the UK does not use nearly as many preservatives in their foods as in the US, so on average things you buy in the grocery store last about 3 days. I discovered that in the US the nice yellow color of cheese is actually because the companies dye it yellow–here all the cheese is white, except for some orange cheeses that in the US we would refer to as red cheeses. We decided to get sandwich stuff for lunch, choosing the cheaper options so that we each only ended up spending about 2 pounds for lunch–not a bad deal!
After eating at the house, we met at 2 for a walk with Roger. Roger is our next door neighbor who has been helping our university in London for years. He took us on a 3 1/2 hour walk around the wider neighborhood, but he is so absolutely wonderful and the walk was so unbelievably long it deserves its own post, so that will come shortly.
Needless to say, after walk from 2-5:30, we were exhausted and hungry. While some went out to eat, The Group joined up with two other girls named Nicole and Sarah, and we went to Sainsbury’s to pick up dinner and the breakfast foods for tomorrow. Pasta is by far the cheapest option for a big group, so we picked up a large bag of that and some sauce and returned to the house to make this. Again, it only cost each of us about 2 pounds for a wonderful dinner, and the company was even more wonderful.
We had a rousing discussion after dinner, debating everything from movies to books to politics–all friendly of course! While Nicole and Sarah departed to go on a walk, The Group finally managed to watch an episode of Doctor Who in the TV room. Afterwards, we all said goodnight and returned to our rooms.
Today was our first chance to prepare the breakfast on our own, and we think we did a pretty good job. Afterwards was Orientation 2 and 3, mostly about living in London, the culture here, and the differences in learning and teaching styles, since we are technically here to take classes. We had a short lunch break, during which The Group ate leftovers from sandwich stuff with Nicole and Sarah. I made my first cup of tea in England, a wild berry flavor, and it was delicious!
After lunch, we rode the tube to Westminster Abbey, where we were given a tour by a Blue Badge London guide. Blue Badge guides go through an intense test and know pretty much anything and everything about London, so the tour took about an hour and a half and it was amazing.
Pictures aren’t allowed to be taken inside the chapel, but outside the chapel is the cloister and a small courtyard area. According to the guide, to not walk on a buried body at Westminster Abbey, you would have to be able to fly. Many of the graves are in this outside cloister area.
From outside Westminster Abbey looks huge and magnificent, towering upwards. Inside, the greatness seems to come from not the height but the decorations and all the areas and rooms you go through and explore. We started in the main chapel, where they still hold services. The coronation chair, also used today, and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior are in this area. Beautiful stained glass windows line the walls, all commemorating somebody, from ancient historical figures to modern day heroes. One key figure is King Edward 1, later St. Edward the Confessor, who in the 1040s began construction of the abbey. The paintings, stained glass, architecture and overall bigness of it makes one feel small and humble, realizing how great God is and how insignificant you are. It is plain to see why the church is so famous, and I am excited to attend a service there to be able to worship in a place of such history and such religious significance.
Walking forward there is a smaller altar, and to the left of it is a small cluster of graves of famous scientists, including Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. Often the graves cluster in sections like this, mostly because one famous person was buried there and then many other in his or her field wish to be buried near them. Beyond this section is the front of the chapel– a gorgeously decorated altar and stained glass. Continuing beyond here is room after room of graves of famous people and other historical sites. The architecture of the entire building is simply amazing, from the tiles on the floor to the intricacy of the ceiling. One particularly interesting place was the room that contains the flags and helmets of everyone currently a knight in the Order of the Bath, which still exists today, though they don’t ride around in armor and chain mail like they used to do. The previous knights have a small tile with their crest that is under the current knights’ helmet and flag (which today are just symbolic). Looking at the registry of knights, the most recent one, in 2013, was actually a woman.
Entering another hall, we found many more graves and memorials (to just be memorialized there is a huge honor). This cluster of graves/memorials was my favorite–the writers. Often referred to as the Poet’s Corner, Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to be buried there, and memorials to T.S. Eliot, Lewis Carrol, Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen, the Bronte Sisters, and many, many more cover the floors, walls, and windows. The graves of several famous authors and playwrights include Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Laurence Olivier, Lord Alfred Tennyson, and, my favorite, Charles Dickens. It was overwhelming and thrilling to be in a place where so many great writers have been honored, many awarded with the Order of the Merit, the highest honor an author can receive. I was humbled and ecstatic to be able to go there.
Shortly thereafter, the official tour ended, and the chaperones left us to make our way back to houses after we were done. The Group continued on to look at the chapter room, which began as a meeting place for monks and then more recently was where Parliament met before they had their own space. Pictures were allowed in here, and it too continued beautiful stained glass windows.
Outside the Chapter room was an exciting small feature– the oldest door in all of England.
It was built in 1040 and is still here…we got to touch it!
From here we went to the abbey museum, which contained various artifacts from that time period. The most interesting of these were the death masks of various famous people, which are made from laying plaster over the dead persons’ face and creating a mold, which is eventually painted to look exactly like them. From the museum we were able to go to the college gardens, a small but beautiful green area
We then went to the shop, where I bought a lovely mug, and then met Nicole and Sarah at Sainsbury’s to buy dinner. We decided on hamburgers, which turned out to be absolutely delicious. Afterwards, The Group worked on planning our fall break trip (we have a week for travel) and then I left eventually to go to bed.
So far my time in London has been amazing, and I can’t wait to see what comes next!
This is the second part of this post about packing a carry-on. If you’re interested in packing a checked bag, see part one of this post.
I needed a bag both for traveling on weekends and other short trips as well as a carry-on for the plane. I bought this one at Target and it’s worked beautifully so far. I was looking for a bag big enough to fit my laptop, with an outside easy-access pocket, some pockets on the inside for organization, both options of shorter shoulder straps and a longer strap, and most importantly it zips all the way at the top to avoid any pickpockets. With the bag bought, I began to plan what I needed to put into it.
1. Folder of important things–my itinerary, eventually my passport and London pass book, and any other important information. Keeping any important documents in one handy place is a good idea, but make sure it’s definitely in a safe spot because you do not want to lose all your important stuff in one fell swoop! 2. A spiral notebook. Just in case I need to write anything down or need a piece of paper–you never know. 3. A coloring book and crayons. Obviously not a necessity, but my friend got it for me as part of a going away present so I figured I’d bring it on the plane for some entertainment 🙂 Whatever floats your boat, bring it for the plane ride, especially when it’s a 7 hour long ride like the one to London. 4. Laptop and case. For use on the plane and mainly just because I don’t trust it in my checked luggage. I bought a case to protect it from any bumps along the way. 5. Books. Again, I am an avid reader, so this was my main entertainment on the flight. 6. Portable phone charger. I wasn’t sure how long my battery would last, but just in case it died, this nifty little portable charger is a great thing to have. 7. Eye drops. I wore my glasses on the plane, but I thought eye drops might still come in handy after sleeping and then having to be up and awake quickly. If you wear contacts, this is a must. 8. London pass book. Just in case I wanted to look through it in some downtime, and also it has a map of the tubes and buses on the back flap, which I thought might be useful. This is the small booklet that comes with a London pass if you buy one. If not, I suggest getting some sort of travel book for wherever you’re going to know what to see and where to go. 9. Passport. Obviously, since I’m going outside of the United States. I kept this very secure, and obsessively checked that I had still packed it. I also made a copy of it to bring in case I needed it. Double check that yours is not expired or expiring while you’re there. UK requires passports to be valid until at least 6 months after you leave as well. 10. Change of clothes. Last time I went to England, the airline lost my luggage and I had to live in the same T-shirt and pair of jeans for two days until they returned it to me. It is not fun. At all. So this time, I brought another shirt, some delicates, and my Nike shorts (to sleep in if needed). I planned on packing my black jeans, but since, as I said in the first post, they disappeared, that didn’t end up happening. I used the method of putting them in a ziplock bag and compressing the air out of it to save room in my carry-on. 11. Medicine. I brought Airborne to keep off sickness on the plane and also Dramamine. For Dramamine I bought the original formula which causes “marked drowsiness” so that it would help me sleep on the plane. If you have any critical medicines, I would also pack those in the carry-on, again in case your checked luggage gets lost. 12. Flashlight. You never know when you might need it, and I have a small flashlight that doesn’t take up much room. 13. Chargers. Phone and computer. Again, if luggage gets lost this way I can still have my electronics. Also, if I need to charge any of them while traveling. 14. Hairbands. Hair gets static-y on the plane, and so I always bring a pack with me.
I also brought my adapters, which would be necessary for the chargers once I arrive there. For England, I needed both a voltage converter and a plug adapter. Make sure, if you are traveling outside the US, to check what you will need, otherwise your plugs will be useless! One exception is that most computers and phones these days have voltage converters in them now,, so you may not need that, but you will still need the plug adapters.
Big note: Don’t even bother to bring hair appliances! All the research I did and everyone I talked to said that even if you have an adapter, you hair dryer/straightener/curling iron will melt and/or explode and/or freak out the electricity wherever you are staying. Not worth it! Where I am, they have extra hair appliances that I use, but you can easily buy a cheap one over here to use if you can’t go without it.
This is all what I brought, and much of it I’ll bring with me in my everyday bag. Do you think I got everything I needed? Did I overpack? Comment below!