Another weekend, another trip

Katherine Poore is a Third Year English and French major, studying in the UVA Exchange: University of Edinburgh program in Fall 2017. She has her own blog where this post was originally posted. Check out the link and post below!

This Monday morning, I woke up in an overwhelmingly purple hostel room, along with four friends of mine, at 5 in the morning. I stirred slowly, turning off my first alarm, knowing the second would come in another five minutes. Sure enough, five minutes later I hauled myself out of bed, wincing as I jumped the last rung of my bunk ladder onto the floor. Three days walking miles in unsupportive shoes, exploring London, is not kind to one’s feet, and I sighed as I slipped the same sneakers back on. I hadn’t brought any other shoes—I had to fit everything into a backpack, after all.

Within 30 minutes, we’d vacated the room with minimal conversation (because pre-coffee conversations are a unique form of torture, and also, mornings are hard, even when they start at a more palatable hour). A short walk to the Tube station came next, then the Tube ride itself, then another walk to Liverpool Station to catch a train to Stansted Airport. In the airport, we took a train to our terminal, boarded a flight, and then split off in Edinburgh. I took the tram to Princes Street and then walked the rest of the way home, while my friends—who lived near one another on the other side of the university—hopped on the 300 bus and went back to their accommodation. By the time all was said and done, it was noon. I had four hours before my only Monday class—a 4 pm lecture—so I unpacked, ate lunch, watched some Netflix, and started in on some readings.

The chief sensation of this day was exhaustion (and also aching feet). Our trip to London wasn’t long, but it was full, and there’s something draining about flying, even if that flight is only an hour long.

Last weekend was not of nearly the same magnitude, nor did it involve quite so many modes of transportation (just a train, some walking, and a bus ride). I spent most of Friday and Saturday in St. Andrew’s, visiting a friend of mine, meeting friends of his, and wandering the beautiful university town (we even walked by the café where William and Kate allegedly met—something the café advertises proudly in their front window). After an evening at home, I took off Sunday morning with a flatmate, Julie, to ride the bus into Alnwick, England, to see Alnwick Castle (fun fact: the broomstick lesson scene of Harry Potter was filmed here, as was part of Downton Abbey). We had a late afternoon tea together and then bee-lined for Barter Books, the second-biggest secondhand bookstore in the U.K. (and honestly, guys, this place was amazing—I could have spent hours there).

I’ve used my free time well, then, taking advantage of each day to see something new of this country. Weekends have rapidly become the busiest parts of my week, and the wallet on my phone case, rather than being stuffed with debit cards and gift cards, is bursting with train tickets, boasting promises of a return journey between their bold orange borders. And while this is incredibly rewarding, I’m grateful that I’ll be spending the next two weekends in my host city, taking time to catch up on work, to explore Edinburgh more, and, most importantly, to take a breath and reflect on the past several weeks.

And that, I suppose, is something I’m trying to learn how to do while I’m here: to reflect, to seek stillness, and to ignore, on occasion, the incessantly ambitious part of my mind that wants to capitalize on every free day to go somewhere. It’s easy to get carried away in planning trips, and this makes perfect sense (I’ll never be this close and it will never be this cheap again, my mind whispers), but it also makes perfect sense to be present where I am, to embrace the time I have here, and to invest in this city instead of using it as a jumping-off point for other, shorter, more romantically spontaneous excursions. No, I’m not going to discontinue these excursions entirely, because my mind is right: I probably won’t be this close and it probably won’t be this cheap again (or, perhaps it might, but I can’t count on that now). But there’s a balance to be found here. There’s value in being stationary, but there’s also value in embracing the opportunities this geographical position offers, in seizing the day, as my all-time favorite Robin Williams character, Mr. Keating, might say (and also Horace, I guess, but that’s beside the point). It’s just hard to find where the compromise lies, to decide what will be more fulfilling, and to sort out what exactly I want from this semester.

do know, however, that I’ve been craving some time for reflection—a good two hours to sit and journal, and a clear schedule conducive to wandering, and an evening where I’m free to open a new book or to try dinner somewhere new or to watch a movie with flatmates. Because movement is wonderful, and, perhaps, more immediately associated with ideas of adventure and experience, but there’s something to be said for contentment in staying, in spending days doing much and yet nothing at all, in being aimless but satisfied.

I still have a fierce desire to visit, essentially, the entirety of the European continent, but it’s easy to forget that Edinburgh isn’t just a home base—it’s an exciting, beautiful, adventure-filled city in its own right, with far more to offer than a nearby train station and an easy tram to the airport. And so, over the next two weeks, I’m hoping I’ll see more of this city, that I’ll meander more, that I’ll embrace the schedule-lessness I’ll have, and that I’ll build a better understanding of where, exactly, I am, and what it is that makes this city so worth staying for (and, also, I have some papers due soon).



A bit of home comes to me

Christopher Hoffa is currently studying abroad in London at the City University of London. Check out his blog below!

Hey everyone!

I am checking in with my 8th blog post while being abroad! I am actually currently on a train back into London after a trip to Ireland. The trip was wonderful and Ireland was absolutely beautiful. It was actually my first trip by myself, so it felt much different than anything else I had done before. Though it is different, I did enjoy it a lot. Everything that you want to do is completely in your control and that was something that I definitely enjoyed. With all of this being said, I will move into my main topic of this post, and that will be post-exam life here in London. My flight from London back to the United States is not until June 2nd, giving me over a month of time here without any school.


I will talk about the last two weeks, starting with the first week when my brother and mother came to visit. It was there first time out of the United States, which made things very interesting. I enjoyed watching them attempt to learn the culture here in London. During the entirety of the trip, I couldn’t help but think if how they acted was how I acted when I first entered the United Kingdom.  They were amazed by the smallest things and clearly did not understand the norms of the society. This made sense though, as they had no idea what it would be like going into the trip. However, by the end of the week, they seemed to understand a lot about London and were beginning to fit in. They understood how to use the Tube, or Metro System, here quite easily. My favorite part watching them learn the very British words and finally understanding some of the locals, who they were very confused by at the beginning of their trip.


After they left London, I went on my first trip alone to Ireland. During my trip, I visited Dublin and Galway. The cities surprisingly different quite a bit from one another. Dublin was a much more modern city and the capital of the country. In terms of architecture, surprisingly did not remind me of any of the cities that I had been to before the trips. In terms of culture, it did remind me a bit of London, which makes a lot of sense given its history. From there, I went to Galway for a day, which was completely different from Dublin. I expected them to be fairly similar, but Galway really felt like it was a small town. It was filled with very cultural life, with music being played everywhere. There were a lot of great food shops and not too many tourists. It really felt like a true, small Irish town. I would say that Dublin felt much more like a tourist city, much different than Galway.


To wrap up this post, I’d like to say that I really enjoyed my semester abroad. Even though I am still here, it feels much different without having to go to class. It gives me a lot of time to think about what is going on in my life and giving me much more time to appreciate my surroundings. With a little over a month left, I will definitely be focusing on enjoying my remaining time outside of the United States.


Until next time,

Chris Hoffa

2 months in London

Hey everyone!

Today is March 15th and I am here to update you all again with my 5th blog post. It has been exactly 2 months since I left the United States. I cannot believe how fast the time has flown by, especially since I have started to travel more recently. In this post, I want to talk a little about how I’m feeling in London and about some of my recent travel.

First, I’ll talk about London. To put it briefly, I believe I have adapted quite well to life in London. I know my surroundings extremely well and have found a nice group of friends. Additionally, I have become acclimated with all of the classes here. The part I was most worried about, living in a city, has surprisingly been something that I have come to truly love. There is always something to do and getting from place to place is very simple. In terms of cultural differences, I think that I have adapted fairly well to them. There are still some small things that bother me, but as a whole I have gotten used to them. One, for example, is that people tend to show up late to class. When I say late, I don’t mean a minute or two. Almost every class there are students that arrive anywhere from 1 minute after class starts to an hour after class starts. To me, that is something that I don’t see very much in the US, but is something that I have definitely gotten used to here in the UK. I would say that this is something that initially shocked me, but is something that I am now somewhat comfortable with.

Another cultural difference that I have noticed is that students will talk during a lot of the lectures. In the US, this is something that is extremely frowned upon and the professor will call the students out for. Here in the UK, there is a lot more talking and the professors do not seem to care a lot of the time. This is something that I have definitely not gotten used to, and I don’t think that I will. I sort of see it as a sign of disrespect, while it has been normalized in the UK. To each their own, however, right?

Now that I’ve talked a little bit about life in the UK, I’ll now talk about my most recent trip to Berlin. The travel during the trip was extremely rough, as a workers’ strike at the Berlin Airport had us rerouted to Hamburg, where we then had to take a train to Berlin. To make the travel portion even worse, my group purchased the wrong subway tickets and German train enforcement checked them and asked us to get off the train. From there, we all received fines even though we had not purposely used the train system incorrectly. This was definitely an experience that will be a life lesson, especially in regards to communicating with law enforcement within a country that the primary language is not English. Other than that, Berlin was an awesome experience. Berlin is filled with history and is definitely a place that I wish I would have had more time in. As a whole, I have genuinely enjoyed traveling to countries where the main language is not English, as it puts me out of my comfort zone and I feel as if it helps me to grow as a person.

All in all, the two week since my last update have been great. I can not believe that I leave in 2.5 months, something that is quite sad to me. I will definitely look to make the most of my remaining time in the UK though.

Pictured: Here I am with a professional League of Legends player (Jankos) that I met at a match in Berlin. It was quite a great experience seeing a professional E-Sports match.

Until next time,

Christopher Hoffa


A weekend in Paris

Chris Hoffa is a third year in the School of Commerce studying abroad in London. Check out his adventures in his posts!

Hey everyone! In this post, I primarily want to focus on my first trip to a place where the native language was not English. This was place was Paris, an absolutely beautiful city. I had two experiences that I really want to focus on, as I believe they were pretty wonderful and really opened my eyes to some things about life outside of the United States. Coincidentally, they both happened to occur on the same night, even though the trip spanned over three days.

I will start with the stories in chronological order. The first story relates to the Hostel that we stayed at in Paris. When we got off of the Paris Metro, we arrived in a part of the city that didn’t seem that nice and was way out of the center of town. I quickly realized that we were in a more residential portion of the city. After about a 10 minute walk late at night, we arrived at the hostel. What was surprising was the fact that the hostel was simply a town house. Chantal, the lady who owned the hostel, lived there along with her brother and her children. It was literally her house, and it was unlike any other hostel that I have stayed at. The room that we stayed in was her daughter’s room, which was very surprising to me. To me, this was much different than the United States, as I don’t believe most parents rent their children’s rooms out to strangers. I realized that her daughter was literally away at school and she was renting her room out. This was something that most parents joked about, but was something that Chantal was actually doing. It made me realize the cost of living in a city, or Paris that is, is probably considerably higher than most other places. In our culture, renting your child’s room out while they’re at school seems taboo, but in another culture I learned that it may not be.

The second story that I want to discuss relates to the restaurant that we went to that night. After settling in Chantal’s daughter’s room, we realized how hungry we were. We strolled around the busy street looking for a place to eat. Two men running a Kebab shop quickly pulled us in and it was hard for us to say no. Only one spoke English, and not very well. We tried to communicate our order difficultly, but eventually succeeded in doing so. The food was absolutely delicious, but what followed was pretty amazing to me. The two men came over and talked to us, and I mean both of them (even the one that didn’t speak English). They asked where we were from and wanted to know all about us and our trip to Paris. One had to go as another customer entered, but the non-English speaker stayed to talk to us. For the next 10 minutes or so, he attempted to give us advice through hand gestures and French. It was difficult to understand, but he gave us tips about pickpockets and how to work against them. This was amazing to me because, honestly, if I had two customers who didn’t share my language, I would simply serve them their food and walk away. On the other hand, this man seemed to care about us and wanted to make sure we had a wonderful trip in Paris. After giving us advice, his friend came back, translated some stuff, and talked to us a bit more. Eventually we ended up leaving the restaurant, but the experience was wonderful to me. It truly showed me that kindness is universal and language was not a barrier to it.

Well, that is all that I have this time. I look forward to updating you all in the future. Until next time!


Pre-departure post

Chris is a third-year studying Commerce at the University. He is currently studying abroad in London for the semester. Check out his thoughts before he left!

Before I get into my actual blog, I’d like to tell a little bit about myself. My name is Chris Hoffa and I am a third year in the School of Commerce. I love to play a variety of video games and watch New York Mets games during my free time. I am looking forward to traveling across all of Europe during my semester in London.

I still can’t believe that I leave for London in two days. As someone who has never left the country once in his life, this will be quite the experience for me. I am worried about making friends, about getting homesick, and about the challenges that I could potentially face. With that being said, I am still plunging myself into this adventure of a lifetime. I hope in this time that I will be able to learn more about myself than ever before and to become a better person through having such a diverse experience. I have created three major goals that I hope to accomplish during my semester abroad.

The first goal that I have is to befriend as many people as possible. This goal will allow me to receive all of these diverse perspectives and to meet people that I would never have had the opportunity to do before. I will be able to learn from these new friends of mine and hopefully be able to create lifelong friends from my time while in London. This will make my experience more wholesome in a sense.

My second goal that I have is to put down the electronics. I am someone who is an avid gamer and loves to play a variety of video games. Though it will be tempting to fall back on this hobby of mine when I feel isolated or face a challenge, I hope that I will be able to put them down and truly appreciate this time abroad. The video games will not be going anywhere in the near future, but this experience will be. I have a limited time while abroad and need to make the most of it while I can.

My third goal for the semester is to continue to stay in contact with my friends and family back home. Though I will be participating in this experience of a lifetime, I need to make sure not to forget the most important people in my life for five months. Keeping in constant contact will allow me to maintain these relationships and also will hopefully prevent me from becoming homesick.

As a whole, I hope that these three goals that I have created for myself will make my experience in London the best that it can be. This will hopefully be a life changing experience for me and will me allow to grow in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. I look forward to leaving in two days and embarking on the biggest journey in my life so far.

UVa in Lyon Post 5: A reflection of sorts

Christopher Benos is a third-year student majoring in the Honors Politics Program and French, and he studied and researched abroad in the UK and France this summer for two months. This is the final blog post in a series of five that he has written throughout his time abroad.

I am excited to write having returned to the United States after spending most of the summer abroad. 2 weeks in the UK, 4 weeks in the UVA in Lyon Program, and several weeks of independent travel yielded an unforgettable experience I cannot wait to share with my classmates and professors at UVa.

One of the first people I met (going down public transit, interestingly enough), expressed to me that she thought the joy of independent foreign travel was in the small details: the shared laughs over a meal in a small Brasserie; the small smiles of locals who appreciate tourists’ efforts to communicate in the host language; the rolling news that slowly offers a window into political trends; and so many more. No matter what, I think I learned a great deal not just about the French language, the viability of the EU, and the differences between the U.S. and France, but also about myself. I learned to be patient when adjusting to new environments. I appreciated a warm meal and clean lodgings. I understood what vigilance and caution meant.

In summary, my summer has given me a launch pad to explore a side of my academics that were not there before. Sure, I am proud of my successes and what I’ve learned so far at U.Va. But there is truly nothing like experience a difference place, people, and culture to open one’s eyes to what possibilities exist for after graduation. So cheers to more travel. Cheers to the fantastic opportunities of this summer. And thank you at the ISO for making my journey possible.

-Christopher Benos, July 29, 2016

UVa in Lyon Post 4: Experience the Nice attacks firsthand

Christopher Benos is a third-year student majoring in the Honors Politics Program and French, and he studied and researched abroad in the UK and France this summer for two months. This is the fourth blog post in a series of five that he has written throughout his time abroad.

I didn’t get to post into ISO for some time, but I wanted to reflect some on my perceptions after the attack in Nice, which shocked many in France and was a difficult way to hit the ending bit of our program in Lyon. The attacks represented one of the first attacks on tourists, and the use of the truck as the weapon of choice was alarming to many political scientists, given its connections to west-African inspired ISIS and Al-Qaeda groups. More fundamentally, though, I could feel a palpable sense of sadness and anger in the city, and the papers have increasingly outlined France as a divided nation. My research (which I’ll talk about more in the next post) has focused on cultural and political differences that are especially evident between France and the U.S., and it seems that in this extraordinary year of challenges and turmoil, there is no better time to get to observe as an outsider than now.

The program itself has been exceptionally rewarding. Studying abroad is not just about being in the classroom with professors abroad, but it also means exposing yourself to diverse perspectives in the hope of better understanding your host country’s culture. ISO has been such a great launch pad for students at U.Va., and this program is a fantastic way to further U.Va. students’ awareness of their place in an increasingly globalized world.

I look forward to returning to the United States in a few days, and I also anticipate preparing presentations to explain some of my findings and analysis to Global Student Council, the French and Politics Departments, and other interested stakeholders on Grounds.

-Christopher Benos, July 17, 2016