Friday, November 20, 2015

Experiences of a Lifetime

In exactly 31 days I will be back in my small hometown of Callao, Missouri. I am overwhelmed with emotion at this thought. I have trouble conveying this to anyone who has not studied abroad. I miss my friends, family, and things in the U.S. that I can’t get over here (like crab rangoon). I miss experiences like lying under the stars at night with friends after a long day. However, Seoul has become another home. My stay here is temporary but a part of me will always remain in Korea. The lifestyle I have experienced is extremely different than in the states. Even though I have only spent a short time here, I am nervous about going back home. Studying abroad changes everyone, and I am no exception. I do not know how my family and friends will react to how I grown and changed.

I only have one month left in Korea. I will be busy two of these weeks with studying and finals. Therefore, I am traveling to a lot of places these next couple weeks. I am going to Lotte World (amusement park), Busan, Incheon, Mt. Yongmasan, Seodaemun Prison, and of course shopping for gifts to bring back to friends and family. Recently, I went to the DMZ, Nami Island, and Petite France. I keep trying to explain how I felt at the DMZ. However, there are no words to describe my emotions. The first part of the tour was going to the third tunnel. The third tunnel was discovered in South Korea during the 1970’s. This tunnel was built by North Korea (although they deny it) in order to invade Seoul. There are currently four known tunnels, however many more are expected to exist.

There are dynamite holes (yellow in the picture) all along the walls of the tunnel. There is a door leading to North Korea at the end of the tunnel (although you cannot go through it). Coming back up through the tunnel is no piece of cake. It is very steep! Additionally I saw North Korea (pictured below). 

The last stop on the tour was Freedom Bridge. Prisoners of war were exchanged on this bridge after the Korean War. The memorial to the POW's is located at the end of the bridge (pictured below). 

Nami Island or Naminara Republic is a beautiful island in Chuncheon. The trees were absolutely stunning, ranging from cherry, ginkgo, white birch, redwood, to white pine trees. There are multiple paths throughout the small island. The small island became more popular after a drama filmed there. 

Recycling is very popular on the island with a lot of the statues involving recycled goods in some way. These are two of the sculptures I found most interesting.

Today I went to Lotte World which is an amusement park in Seoul. Traveling is always a great experience. However, the people you go with complete the experience. I went with these three lovely ladies. A friend invited to go with her and two other people. Although I did not know them before today, they truly made the experience perfect.


Until next time,


Friday, October 16, 2015

Time Flies..

When I was in high school, all I could think about was how time was moving at a snail’s pace. I could not wait to go to college and it could not have come soon enough. Now, here I am in my senior year of college. I never truly understood how quickly time passes until I came to Korea. My journey in Korea is almost halfway over with nine weeks left. I realized this with midterms approaching and the stress of “the grade.” In Korea midterms are not a normal exam, they are worth almost half of your grade. While at Columbia College, I rarely had this feeling of stress from exams because I mostly write term papers. These different stressors of learning a new language, adapting to new teaching styles, and navigating graduate school applications abroad have helped me learn valuable skills within education and traveling. Not only have I experienced educational stressors but all of the unknown things I have experienced. For example, I had no idea what it would be like to be a minority. Sure, I am a women’s study minor and I have taken minority classes, read scholarly articles, and read firsthand accounts but I had never experienced it. Like others, I have had good and bad experiences.

Now for the most recent sights and adventures...

N Seoul Tower and Locks of Love is one of my favorite sights! N Seoul Tower, better known has Namsan Tower to the locals, is located on top of Namsan Mountain and is the highest point in Seoul! The panoramic views of Seoul are stunning and gorgeous, especially at night. I went here with one of my best friends here in Korea, Ahra.

The Locks of Love is another attraction on top of the mountain. Couples or families come here to place a lock (with a message on it) somewhere on the railings or on ornaments. I decided to put a lock on an ornament resembling a Christmas tree. For those of you who know me, this was the absolute perfect placement for me.

They had older items which people could play with to see how they worked.

The queen was carried throughout the entire parade by these men.

Lantern Festival: There were lights which lit up the shrubbery throughout the stream. 

The farthest adventure I have had from my university was the Suwon Hwaseong Cultural Festival, which was two hours away by subway and bus. This was an adventure because I had only been on a bus once with a Korean friend so I did not really know how the bus system worked. However, even with my navigation skills, we did not get lost! This was a three-day long festival with various activities, from parades to lantern festivals to music to crafts. They even had a reenactment of the tortoise and the hare with a twist (in Korean of course). Below are pictures of the parade. I was actually interviewed twice about my experience in Korea and about the parade, which was cool.

We also visited the Hwaseong Fortress while at the festival. This fortress was constructed from 1794-1796. The fortress is completely made out of Seokjae and Jeondol bricks. There are holes throughout the walls of the fortress in case of an attack. 

Until I visit the DMZ,


Monday, September 21, 2015

"Seoul" Searching

Hello all! I am Alyssa and I am currently a senior majoring in psychology.

Here are some frequently asked questions:

Destination: Konkuk University, Seoul, South Korea

Korean Language: I do not speak any Korean.

Length of Study: August 2015-December 2015  

Why: I chose South Korea because I wanted to go somewhere completely different from Columbia, Missouri, USA. I wanted to see the differences between the collectivist and individualistic cultures, experience different traditions, and overall experience a different lifestyle. In short, “go big or go home.” I have always wanted to live in a hugely populated area because I have never had the opportunity with my hometown or my college town, having populations of 300 and 108,000 respectively. In contrast, Seoul has over 10 million people. Lastly, I wanted to study abroad at a destination where, without university affiliation, I might otherwise be scared to travel due to the language barrier and culture.

Side note: I have also never been outside of the United States so I did not know what to expect nor did I really have expectations. The idea that I chose to study abroad for five months in an Asian country shocked people when they learned I have never been outside of the country

Journey to Seoul
On August 23 I left my house at 3 a.m. in order to catch my connecting flight to Chicago and finally to Seoul. I did this after sleeping for an hour because I did not pack until 11 p.m. the evening before and spent my last few hours with my friends and family. After the 28 hour journey I ended up at Konkuk University on August 24 at 9 p.m. due to the 14 hour time difference.

I did not have jet lag like I envisioned. I transitioned fairly well due to my arrival time. However, I was quite tired after not sleeping during the entire journey so I was sleeping a lot during the day as well as night. Konkuk University does not offer any psychology classes. However, I registered for classes I thought would be interesting and of value towards my chosen profession. I registered for all of the classes I wanted to get into. The problem arose once I went to class and realized although the classes were supposed to be taught in English, they were not. I am currently in other classes, although I had to keep one class which lectures in English but the class discussion is in Korean. The last difficulty which I was not expecting to encounter was making friends. I am the only native English speaker in my classes but also the only exchange student in all of my classes except for one (Korean language). The Korean students are very timid to use English and seem to avoid speaking English as much as possible.

 The City of Seoul

Seoul is a beautiful city, the capital of South Korea, and has a bigger population than New York City. Apart from traveling to classes, I have explored the area around the university, went to parks, attended a concert and some festivals, and have seen some of the major sights of Seoul. Above is what a typical street looks like in Seoul.

I was excited to attend my very first concert and a K-Pop concert at that! For those of you who do not know me, I have listened to K-pop for a while and have wanted to attend a concert! The concert I attended was free concert in the Olympic Stadium and it had some of my favorite bands, including Girls Generation and Block B (among others)!

I also went to Han River with my friend Min, who was an exchange student at Columbia College. There was an amazing view and they have paddleboats which look like ducks! These paddleboats can be taken out on the River by anyone and I cannot wait to do it!

One of my favorite sights has been Grand Children’s Park, where they have a zoo and a fountain light show, among other things. The light show was absolutely stunning and like nothing I have seen before.

Thank you for reading! Until next time,

Friday, July 24, 2015

Musings from Museums

            Classes have officially ended. Final papers are due in about a week, everyone in the Oxford MOSAIC program for July has left, except me. I discussed staying extra days with my husband before I took off on this grand adventure. As he stated before I was even accepted into the program, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and he stood by that the entire time. He agreed that staying a few extra days would be a good idea so I could really ‘get’ London and Oxford.  I had originally wanted to take a trip to Paris, but after much research I found that it was out of the question. (I guess that means I’ll have to take another trip across the Atlantic some time.) I am a little lonely as my roommates have all left and my family is still at home, but I wouldn’t trade the extra days of travel and experience for anything.  I have seen things in these few days that others can only wish they had seen. I’ve taken a trip through centuries and never left the modern world.  Today was a grand example of experiencing the culture of another country.

            My day started out as a typical English day, rainy.  It’s ironic as the majority of the time I have been in this beautiful country it has hardly rained and the locals say it’s a bit of a heatwave. For those of us back in the Midwest of the United States, 70-75 is a cool front in July, which is what the Brits call a heatwave. Anyway, I gathered my backpack, mapped out my route and set off to the train station in Oxford.  I stopped at the local Sainsbury market first to grab some snacks to keep me going through the day. I made the mistake of not taking snacks yesterday and wolfed down ¼ of a Domino’s Pizza when I got back to the flat that night. Talk about heartburn!

            Back to the task at hand, today’s adventures.  After boarding the train to London, I finished reading the first Alice in Wonderland book, as Lewis Carroll wrote the books in Oxford and based them off of a little girl named Alice that lived with her father at Christ Church in Oxford, I found it fitting as part of my experience here. The book ended before the train ride so I moved on to Lion Among Men by Gregory McGuire (I also saw Wicked while I have been in London).  The ride ended and we all got off the train at Paddington Station. As I had mapped out my travels for the day I knew where to go on the Underground (or Tube) and headed in the direction of the line I needed to get on so I could transfer.  I am proud to say I can successfully navigate the London Underground with minimal mistakes and am very proud of that! Have you seen the map of the Underground? If not, take a look at it. 
Yeah, I mastered that bad boy. 

          I hopped off the Tube and headed to the British Library first thing.  I didn’t allow myself to be drawn in to all of the books, because I would never leave if I did that. I love books so much! I headed up the steps and found the area of the Library where they keep the treasures.  I was excited to see things like the Magna Carta (which was off display because of a special paid exhibit) and the Gutenberg Bible.  I was NOT disappointed.  Not only did I see wonders like the Gutenberg Bible (which is quite large and beautiful), I was able to see some of Da Vinci’s notebooks, original scores from Bach, Handel, Mozart, Chopin, Galileo’s Starry Messenger notebook, original writings of the Diamond, Heart and Lotus Sutras of Buddhism, original writings by Shakespeare, the sole surviving manuscript of Beowulf, original lyrics from the Beatles, and the writing desk of Jane Austen just to name some highlights.  The room was dimly light with the focus of light being on the works and photography was not allowed.  The room was filled mostly with adults and it was very quiet.  Everyone was taking in the history before their eyes. We all had a common goal, to absorb and appreciate the works of art before us. Works of art that are written are no loss impressive than paintings, live music, or sculpture.  I fear that some of that is being lost and it was wonderful to be in the same room with others that appreciate the written word.

            After about an hour touring the treasures of the British Library I decided to change my original plan (another visit to the British Museum) and decided that going to the Tate Modern Art museum was more important.  I had just been humbled by the written word, so I decided it was time to be humbled by paintings, sculptures and photographs.  I am a fan of modern art, I can’t really explain why, but I enjoy looking at it much more than paintings by some of the greats like Monet.  While at Tate Modern I was able to feast my artistic eye on the likes of Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein and Salvador Dali.  As photography was allowed, I snapped a few photos of the famous artists works, but I also was moved by a few artists I had not heard of before, so I snapped a few photos of their work too.  I found Tate Modern to be the ideal modern art museum, very minimal, lots of white, black and glass, but I also found it a bit confusing.  There were no maps on the walls to help you figure out where you wanted to go, like most British museums I had visited so far.  They did have a paper map, for a pound. I didn’t have a pound and figured I’d wing it anyway.  I enjoyed the artwork I saw while at Tate Modern and I’m sure I would have enjoyed more, but I was beginning to get tired so I headed out in the rain once again.  I stopped at the front of Tate Modern and snapped a picture of the Thames River in the rain and the skyline.  I figured I needed at least one “typical” London picture. Ha ha ha! Back to the Tube station I went after the photo opportunity. I decided to deviate from my course one last time, as I had some time to kill before I could get on the train to head to Oxford. I decided to go to the Hard Rock Café in London. 
Marilyn Dyptich by Andy Warhol

The kind of weather I was expecting in London

            The Hard Rock Café London is the original Hard Rock Café.  It was founded by two Americans that wanted to create a place in London where people of all classes could dine together and enjoy their experience.  Eric Clapton enjoyed the Café so much he asked to have a plaque put above a specific table.  The owners/founders refused as it didn’t fit with their idea, but jokingly told Clapton he could donate something to the establishment.  He did! He donated a guitar, which is the beginning of the Hard Rock Café collection.  How do I know this? I read it while sitting at the bar drinking my wild berry smoothie in a collector Hurricane glass.  I didn’t take any pictures of the Café because it was very crowded and people were eating their dinner.  I did walk around and take in some of the amazing memorabilia that adorns the walls.  They had guitars from Eric Clapton, Billy Idol, and even Jimi Hendrix.  There were outfits or pieces of clothing worn by the likes of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Jim Morrison Bo Diddley and Mick Jagger.  It was awesome to see such a collection in such a small place.  If I had the extra money I would have toured the Vault, which is accessed through the Rock Shop across the street to see Kurt Cobain’s guitar and John Lennon’s glasses.  I guess that means another trip to England someday so I can check those out too!
Wildberry Smoothie from Hard Rock Cafe
            While on this adventure to England I have learned a great many things and appreciated a great many more.  One thing I have come to appreciate the most is my family.  They have unconditionally supported the idea and trip.  Anyone of my family members could have said no and I would have listened.  I would have felt guilty for a very long time for listening, but I would have listened.  Instead, I have been graced with a husband, son, parents, in-laws, and close friends who have fully thrown their support behind me.  I am doing my best to experience this land for its many levels of beauty and history, but not experience it through a lens.  I have taken pictures, but I’ve also walked around and appreciated the wonder and glory that is another culture.  I see far too many people rushing from object to object in museums taking pictures but not really experiencing the beauty of which they just took a picture.  I have seen numerous selfie sticks (the bane of my existence) because people are so self-involved that they cannot remove their face from the wonder of history, art, or science that they are supposed to be enjoying.  I am guilty of taking some selfie pictures while here, but as a rule, I don’t really like them.  If I take a picture of something it is because I want to remember it for the rest of my life.  If I took the picture, I know I was there, I don’t need the proof of my face to make it any more real.  I hope that people can learn to put their cameras away, if only for a few moments, and appreciate the wonder and joy of what they are experiencing.  I think that is one of my biggest take-aways from my travels, learning to really enjoy life and the wonders that it holds daily.  Nothing can compare to standing in the same room as an entire outfit worn by Jimi Hendrix, or seeing a painting by Picasso, or reading the handwritten lyrics of “Ticket to Ride” on the back of a birthday card.  Each of these people were inspired at one moment and created something beautiful that is now preserved for thousands of others to enjoy and gain inspiration.  Why waste that time finding the perfect angle for a selfie, why not spend that time in awe of the genius that was just witnessed, even if it was 100 years ago.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Solo with the Scots

Before leaving for England, a common “order” I received was to never travel alone. People told me it wouldn’t be safe—especially as a female—and that I should always travel with friends. I appreciated the several safety tips and the worry on my behalf, but I must say that looking back at my travels, I am glad I didn’t follow their advice.

I traveled solo several times over the course of my life abroad though it was mostly was short trips and transportations. I flew from St. Louis to Dallas to Heathrow on my own, a total of 15 hours. I flew from Dublin to London and then caught a train to Canterbury by myself. I took many solo cabs and even coaches to London, and numerous train rides. Returning to the States, I went from Heathrow to Chicago to St. Louis, a journey that—thanks to the time zones and layovers—lasted almost 24 hours it seemed. While these all helped build my confidence in independent traveling, there is a particular feat of solo traveling that I want to elaborate on, the trip that made me realize I could go anywhere in the world—alone.

When the school term ended, I had a little over a week of time to do whatever I wanted before I had to leave England. There were tons of places I wanted to go and not enough time to cram them all in, so I chose one that I knew I would regret if I didn’t go because I was so close to it for three months: Edinburgh, Scotland—a city I had always yearned to experience. However, none of my friends would be able to join me (some had already been and some had other plans) and after the initial disappointment and moments where I considered changing it to a closer location, I accepted the adventure and began to look forward to it. And so the journey began.

Overlooking Edinburgh from Edinburgh Castle!

Early on a Saturday morning, I caught a cab to Canterbury West train station, took it to St. Pancras, caught the tube to the airport train service, caught a half hour train ride, and arrived at Stansted Airport. I was nervous and thrilled. Mentally, Scotland seemed like a continent away since it was so far from “home home,” but while Scotland is technically another country, it was still not incredibly far from Canterbury. My travels probably took around five or so hours, from taxi to landing. I remember sitting on the floor of Stansted Airport, sipping a grande-soy-caramel-frappuccino-with-whip and watching the time boards. I just kept looking around at people, and while most of them were families and couples, I could spot the solos as well, the ones listening to their iPods with their backpacks tucked under their legs, or FaceTiming people on their phones, leaned back in their chairs as if they had been waiting a while. I tried to imagine where they were going, where they had been, why they were alone. I wondered what people thought when they saw me. I hoped they thought I was independent and courageous, about to embark on a grand adventure.

For the next five days, I wandered the streets of Edinburgh on my own. I survived the not-so-great hostel that was my only option on the first night, though my mother begged me to check into a Holiday Inn when I described it to her. I changed hostels on day two, since it had been my first choice but already full on night one. I had a very nice hostel-mate that I became friends with, and I didn’t see the others much. I went to breakfast, lunch, and dinner on my own. I went to the attractions of the city on my own, such as the Edinburgh Castle, Calton Hill, Queen Elizabeth’s Holyroodhouse Palace, parliament buildings, various parks and cathedrals, and so on. I even went on a day tour through the highlands of Scotland on my own, stuck on a bus for nine hours with no one I knew while going through Glen Coe to Ben Nevis to Loch Ness. I watched ecstatic rugby fans celebrate the Six Nations game between Ireland and Scotland that was happening in Edinburgh. I roamed the sites during the day, and more importantly, at night. I didn’t want to just see Edinburgh in light, but how it was in the dark, when everyone was home and the streets were quiet, the moon high and bright among the peaceful cobblestone walkways. And guess what? I never felt unsafe. I felt happy and alive because I didn’t let myself miss the opportunity to experience amazing things just because I was on my own.

Panorama from Calton Hill
Selfie life is for those who travel solo.
Scottish Highlands.
I think the reason I wanted to post this is because so many people miss out on opportunities because they don’t have a person to do it with them. Whether it is not going to Steak and Shake because friends are busy, or not flying to a different country for the same reasons, too many people hesitate to be alone. And for the latter experience mostly, they use the excuse that it is unsafe. I, personally, came to dislike that excuse. I understand that it is less safe for women to travel alone than men. I understand that there are a lot of bad people in the world, and that I should be careful. But that should not hinder my life. I don’t want to miss things because there is bad in the world. There are mean people in my hometown that I wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. There are just as many dangers on domestic land as there are abroad—alone or not alone. I honestly felt more unsettled walking the streets of Chicago in broad daylight than I did Edinburgh, London, Canterbury, Amsterdam, and Paris at night combined. Fear of the unknown should not be an excuse.

Glen Coe
Looking for Nessie!
What I am trying to say is this: be safe, be alert, but don’t be afraid. Research where you’re going, how you’re getting there, what crime rates are and where most crimes occur, places to go/not to go (sites like TripAdvisor and other google searches or reviews of attractions often say whether or not it’s a good idea to go somewhere at night, etc.). If you’re staying in a hostel, look carefully at the reviews to see what others had to say about security. Don’t walk around looking lost and vulnerable. Don’t walk in unlit areas if you’re not familiar with your surroundings. Don’t give information about yourself to strangers or go places alone with them. These are all basic, common sense tips for everyone—not just women travelling alone—and there are so many more. I think of all of these and know that I never put myself in an uncomfortable position. I was confident in what I was doing and who I was as a traveler and I never let it show when I wasn’t. That confidence, my choice to ignore the overused don’t-travel-alone-especially-if-you’re-female warning, and my amazing experience in Scotland, solidified what I want future study abroad goers to know. There are a lot of opportunities out there in the world, and you’re not always going to have someone to experience them with you. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take every leap you want to. It just means you have to have a little more faith in yourself to jump.
A night at the castle.

Best wishes, fellow travelers. 


Monday, July 20, 2015

Closing Thoughts

Okay, I’ll share a few thoughts, but you’re being warned. This is only a fraction of what I’m taking away from my time spent in Paris. So here it goes…
First. The people. My Columbia buddies (and “honorary CC student”) Paige, Lauren, and Gena have made this trip what it was. Absolutely incredible. We shared so many laughs…from protecting one another from cute pick pocketers (that’s how they getcha), to sharing space with oddballs on the metro, to navigating Parisian streets, to many more moments worthy of giggles. I laugh just thinking about it. Every moment with these ladies was laced with wit, humor, and light heartedness. Evening after evening, we opened up to each other with vulnerability, depth, and honesty. We accept each other for who we are and where we’re at…mistakes, quirks, and all. They taught me how to enjoy travel with others (I have to admit, I’m a major fan of solo travel.)
It seems as if God’s timing and a little bit of fairy dust allowed me to see some friends from my past as well! I met Jordyn for lunch (an Atlanta friend who grew up with me in middle school and high school). I met Jazmine (another Atlanta friend who went through the rigorous IB program with me at NAHS). I met Marisa (a close friend who has kept in remarkably good touch with me from middle school to now). These moments were so sweet!
Second. The place. PARIS! The first few days were rough, I’ll be honest. I smelled a lot of pee and interacted with a lot of strange characters. But then the girls and I went down to the Seine for a sunset riverboat cruise with the group and things just became magical. I really think there’s something special in the Seine water because after that cruise, the sky was brighter. The people were friendlier. Everything was just romanticized. Paris became a wonderful place to explore (buying good walking shoes also helped…my Old Navy flip flops were quickly tossed). We took the Metro everywhere which, again, gave us plenty of opportunities to laugh at ourselves and at others. More importantly, though, there became this exciting little thrill from rising up out of the underground tunnel and into pockets of Paris that were so beautifully diverse. Every arrondissement has a different culture…some are uppity and fancy, some are business-focused, some host the homes of immigrant families, and the list goes on. Each is special. Each is full of fun. Paris is not just a place; it has a spirit…a character that took time for me to appreciate, but now holds a very special place in my heart.
I think my last night in Paris wraps up my blog post well. My friends and I went to the Eiffel Tower to watch the fireworks show for Bastille Day and it was an incredible experience. First of all, there was minimal public rowdiness. I don’t think there’s one professional baseball game I’ve gone to without obnoxiously loud, drunk men or women stumbling with their clothes falling off. But in Paris, the people are just classy and respectful in public spaces. I totally get that this is just my experience. You might have experienced another side to Bastille Day. But, for me, it was spectacular. Another note…Bastille Day celebrates French independence but the 30 minute long fireworks show expressed appreciation and respect with a diverse arrangement of songs. You don’t find that in America. France seems to, without generalizing, nod to multiple major demographics of the country. And it gave me chills. How uniting! The show itself is amazing. The fireworks came out of the Eiffel Tower, which I wasn’t expecting. I wanted to cry the whole time from sitting in front of this show and reflecting on my amazing summer.
This summer opened me to new parts of my inner being. It also opened me to new parts of humanity and culture. I wouldn’t change anything about it – if you’re lucky enough to visit Paris, let me know! I’d love to share more practical tips and tricks I learned while navigating. Thanks for following my thoughts and reflections!
Take care,

Monday, July 13, 2015

Tennis is life, at least at Wimbledon

                Do you know where you were on July 11, 2015? It may not seem like an important date to many people, but for this woman it was by far one of the greatest days of my life. 
                When I was accepted into the Columbia College Study Abroad program for the 3 week session in Oxford, England I was beside myself with joy for many reasons.  One of those reasons was the possible opportunity to attend the Wimbledon championships.  I have adored the sport of tennis since I started playing my freshman year of high school.  I have followed various athletes and really disliked others.  One of my life goals is to attend all four grand slam tournaments.  For those of you who do not follow tennis, the four grand slam tournaments are the Australian Open (February), Roland Garros/French Open (June), Wimbledon (Late June & Early July), and the U.S. Open (Late August/Early September).  It felt like a pipe dream, as life was not being very conducive to the travel required to achieve that dream.
                On July 11, 2015, I was able to check attending Wimbledon off that list.  A fellow classmate that also enjoys tennis accompanied me to the All England Lawn Tennis Club where Wimbledon takes place.  We were given directions by both a member of the staff at the OSAP (Oxford Study Abroad Program) office and a very helpful gentleman at the train station.  With their help we were able to navigate the Underground system in London (which is no easy feat when you look at a map of the Tube system) and we arrived safely in Wimbledon.  We trekked down the street toward the grounds, just to catch a glimpse of the grounds.  We figured there would be no queue (line in England) for grounds tickets and had resigned ourselves to sitting in a pub to watch the women’s final match.  The first security guard we spoke to assured us there was no queue for grounds tickets but advised us to continue toward the grounds to experience Wimbledon Village.  We followed his suggestion and continued down the street.  We came upon another security guard about a block or two away that asked us if we wanted to join the queue. We were beside ourselves! We had just been told there was no queue. We gladly followed his direction toward the grounds.  We received queue tickets that state there is no guarantee we will be able to get on the grounds and we passed through security where I had a pleasant conversation with the gentleman searching my bag about selfie sticks (they are all over the place here, but banned in Wimbledon).  We briskly walked the designated path to the grounds and for £15 ($23) we were able to access the grounds at Wimbledon! We were one step closer to fulfilling a dream.
                Upon entering the grounds at Wimbledon you are exposed to a wide variety of individuals.  Some have dressed very casually for their day of sun and tennis, others look as if they are going to church right after watching a match.  There were hats galore, though few baseball caps as they are frowned upon in England.  We walked around in a daze for a few minutes as we couldn’t believe we had made it onto the grounds.  Now, being on the grounds does not mean you will get to see a match in person, but there is a grass covered hill on the grounds that you can access with your grounds ticket.  This hill faces a jumbo-ton type screen where you can watch the matches in real-time.  My classmate and I decided to visit the souvenir shop first. I think we were still in a bit of disbelieve of our luck being on the grounds.  Anyway, we found some souvenirs for ourselves and a few others we know that appreciate tennis as much as we do.  After shopping I had her take my picture in front of the men’s draw board showing the progress of the tournament so far.  I had hoped the women’s draw would be included in the picture, but it’s okay that it wasn’t, I prefer watching men’s tennis more.
             After the brief photo opportunity we wandered around the grounds.  There are practice courts that are available for the public to see.  One of the men’s double teams was practicing, so we watched for a few minutes.  A little bit after walking away we noticed there was a crowd gathering at the intersection of the walkway by a practice court.  We decided to be nosy Americans and check it out.  Being such a short person, seeing things over a crowd is very difficult, however I was able to see what the crowd was about when there was a brief parting of some of the crowd.  Novak Djokovic was practicing! I almost lost my cool! I was so excited! We took quick pictures and moved along so others could see him practice also.  

             We made our way to the lawn and found there was a section of bleachers at the top of the hill.  We quickly procured some seats (with backs) and prepared to watch the women’s final between Serena Williams and Garbine Muguruza.  It was a great match! As tennis players both my classmate and I were critiquing the players in regard to both good and bad points.  When the crowd applauded, we were part of that.  When the crowd sighed or ohhed or ahhed, we were part of that.  
               It was great to be part of such a momentous day!  Serena won, making this her 6th Wimbledon championship, but Garbine put up one heck of a fight!  We prepared to exit the facilities only to discover that the winner of the final is expected to come out on the balcony at the Club and show their trophy to the crowd.  We patiently waited in the crowd for Serena to make her appearance.
                While we were waiting a lady slightly behind us on our left talked about wanting to see Drake, the singer who is currently in a relationship with Serena and there to support her bid at Wimbledon.  She went on about wanting to see him as opposed to seeing Serena for 3-5 minutes.  It was interesting hearing an English woman be so open about her feelings toward Drake.  She got her wish, Drake walked right in front of her.  She was able to reach out and touch him.  He touched her upper arm and said something along the lines of “Sorry, baby,” like it was his fault she touched him. He was about two feet behind me and had no security detail with him, like you would see in America. 
                Not too long after the Drake encounter, Serena walked out on the balcony and showed her trophy to the crowd. It was so cool to be a part of the crowd.  There is even a picture of her with her back to the crowd holding the trophy. I’m a part of that crowd! You can’t really see me, but I’m there.  After she exited the balcony, we decided it was time to leave the All England Lawn Tennis Club and head back to Oxford.  We navigated the Underground again, took some pictures in Paddington Station and headed for our train.
                As I told my husband and many friends, with the exception of the day I married him, gave birth to our son, and purchased our home, this was one of the best days of my life.  I do not think it will be topped anytime soon.  It’s two days later and it still doesn’t seem real!
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