My Soap Opera Life: Settling into Oxford + Another Quite Unfortunate Story

study abroad oxford
kings arms oxford
hertford college oxford
taylorian library oxford
maths institute oxford
oxford university
jericho colorful houses oxford

It began with a simple request: could you show me how to turn on the stove?

This request would land me several displeased university administrators, one ruined hallmate relationship, and a lovely 162£ fine ($200).

My soap opera life has no mercy. It was only my second day in Oxford, and I was already creating disasters. No matter how many buttons I tried, the temperamental stovetop in my new university residence failed to work. So I sought help--I knocked on a hallmate's door, whose room neighbored the kitchen.

Luck wasn't on our side: the doors in our house automatically lock on their own. My hallmate quickly diagnosed the problem as a turned-off fuse switch, but then discovered that he'd locked himself out. Getting a spare key meant trekking down to main campus and trekking back up. My hallmate was in slippers, and I had just gotten back. So I had a brilliant idea.

"Let's try to pick the lock!" I exclaimed.

I had been successful before in pinches like these, so I was hopeful. Worst case scenario: tinker about for a bit, give up, then trek down to campus. Easy.

Nope. The bobby pin we used broke in half. Now, there was a foreign object stuck in the lock, and even if we did have a spare, the door wouldn't open. Now, instead of trekking down to campus for a spare, university administration would have to replace the entire lock. 

Hence my several displeased university administrators, one ruined hallmate relationship, and lovely 162£ fine.

We assumed that we'd be charged 90£ at most, since a reputable locksmith in town had given us that estimate before we'd notified the university. At one point, we'd even hoped that we wouldn't be charged at all, since it seemed that the college had taken care of it. But this is no feel-good soap opera--this is a tragedy, full of nasty plot twists. So of course I'd be charged the full replacement fee for someone else's door. And of course the cost would be exorbitant. 

Luckily, the visiting students' director has been trying to advocate for us, and my hallmate seems to want to play his part. But this nonetheless goes down in the books as one of the most unfortunate episodes yet (other noteworthy ones include causing a car accident on prom night and dropping my brand-new phone down a storm drain).

Please don't try this at home. Soap operas are best experienced from the safe comforts of your living room couch.

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Study Abroad: A Vegan/Vegetarian Guide to Bordeaux, France

vegan vegetarian guide Bordeaux France
For the 2016-2017 academic year, I'm studying abroad in Europe (Bordeaux, France and Oxford, England). This post is part of a series to help make the experience more manageable and fulfilling for future study abroad students.

Full disclosure: I'm not strictly vegan/vegetarian, so I speak from a flexitarian perspective.

During my first few days in Bordeaux, I was hangry. I couldn't find my unsweetened soymilk, hemp seeds, veggie burgers, tofu--and I was upset. 

Hunger-induced grumpiness was no way to begin a new adventure. But in a country that thrives on meat and cheese, I began to wonder if solely salads would beome my sad reality. 

I soon discovered, however, that Bordeaux's veggie scene was vibrant--much richer, actually, than the plant-based resources in my American hometown. All it took was some good advice from locals, a little exploring, and a little luck.

From the charming French city that was my home for four months, I present to you my favorite vegan/vegetarian picks. 

Greedy restaurant, Bordeaux

** Since I'm a thrifty (aka cheap) college student, all restaurants listed have options for 15 euros or less **

Best all-around: Greedy
Vegan, organic, gluten-free friendly // Tram stop: ligne A/B, Hôtel de Ville

The Thai sweet potato curry in the above photo was one of my favorite meals in Bordeaux. The food was hearty and scrumptious, the service was friendly (the waitress took time to chat with me), and the atmosphere was unpretentiously chic. While the menu (the 3-course meal) rings in at 19 euros, the main dish on its own is a more manageable 12 euros. Location is prime as well--right near city center, just a skip away from the Cathédrale Saint-André. There's a popular vegan burger option every Friday evening, but make sure to reserve in advance--the restaurant is small and often fills up! For regular lunches, I recommend arriving near noon (opening time) to avoid waiting. 

Best value: Cosmopolis
Mostly-vegan, omnivore options too! // Tram stop: ligne A/C, Porte de Bourgogne

The menu for lunch was 10 euros. I repeat, the 3-course meal (entrée, plat, dessert) was 10 euros. To take advantage of this crazy deal, make sure to go during weekday lunch hours. I'm still in disbelief that I paid so little for a steaming bowl of squash soup, aesthetically-pleasing rice dish, and square of apple cake. One of the perks of this resto is that you can take your non-vegetarian friends along too--there's normally a meat option as well. I chatted a bit with the owner, who said she didn't want the options to be prohibitive--she hoped that in offering omnivore dishes at a mostly-veggie restaurant, customers would become more open to trying the meatless lifestyle. The restaurant is cozy, which sofas and a piano in the waiting room. It's in a quiet part of the quartier Saint-Michel, close to the iconic Pont de Pierre and cloche St-Michel.

Most convenient: Smart Green Corner
Vegan, organic, gluten-free // Tram stop: ligne A, Meriadeck or ligne B, Gambetta

This was the only place I went to more than once--it was just so easy to drop by and grab a box to-go. I never ate in, but the ambiance is very modern and clean. This is actually a buffet, with a reasonable cost of 12,50 euros for the soup, extensive salad/hot food bar, and small dessert (I'm not joking when I say small). To get more bang for your buck, I recommend eating out--they gave me a large tray I could fill however I wanted, which was much more than I could've eaten in one sitting (about 1.5-2 meals, depending on your appetite). In the warmer months, there's vegan ice cream/gelato, which I still wish I'd tried.

Black List avocado toast Bordeaux

Best brunch/coffee: Black List
Veggie-friendly // Tram stop: ligne A/B, Hôtel de Ville

Look no further for that insta-worthy brunch. The avocado toast has raving reviews, and I was quite satisfied with my taste run--it's definitely not standard though, boasting a dusting of cajun pepper and exotic citrus-y seeds. While I'm not a coffee person, Black List's brew also has a big thumbs up from the online community. The sleek shop is often crowded, so also feel free to stop by for a quick pastry or organic juice--its city center location makes it quite convenient.

Best ambiance: Kitchen Garden
Vegan, mostly-organic // Tram stop: ligne A, Place du Palais

I would've gone in just to soak in the quaint decor, if that was socially-acceptable (seriously, see the below photo). The food is equally photogenic, boasting colorful veggie bowls and mason jar smoothies (though wasn't a huge fan of the smoothies--mine was watery). Definitely wish I could've gone back to try their gorgeous lunch plates, however--they're all over high-profile Bordeaux bloggers' instas. 

Kitchen Garden Bordeaux

Honorable mention: Mokoji
Veggie-friendly, Korean // Tram stop: ligne A, Rue Ste Catherine

If you're feeling Asian food, this is your place. The Japche dopbap without beef and beossot bibimbap without the egg are vegan and scrumptious. The atmosphere is sleek and has a bit of an upscale feel, with prices to match--my bibimbap was 14 euros. In a bustling part of town, it's a great place to stop after running errands or seeing a film in the nearby independent theatre, Utopia. The restaurant is incredibly busy though, so make sure to book in advance or head over just as it opens!

The one that got away: Rest'O
Vegetarian, organic, mostly gluten-free // Tram stop: ligne C, Les Hangars

I wish I could've gone back to all of these restaurants, but my greatest remorse is not swinging by Rest'O. Everything about this resto (what a pun of a name haha) seems prime--the dishes are so beautifully-presented, and it's located just on the quais overlooking the river. Prices are resonable for the posh-looking fare at 14,50 euros for the lunch menu and 21,50 euros for dinner.

romanesco broccoli, quinoa beer, red lentil hummus

Best all-around: La Vie Saine
Tram stop: ligne A, Rue Ste Catherine

I found just about everything I needed here, and more--organic peanut putter, alternative milks, meat substitutes, hummus. There was even a beauty and vitamin section. Definitely the most extensive stock and overall reasonable prices for organic-specific stores in Bordeaux. Location is convenient as well, just a few steps away from la rue Ste Catherine, a major tourist destination because of its plethora of iconic retail stores (it's also the longest pedestrian road in France, at 1.2 km!).

Most convenient: Naturalia
Tram stop: ligne A/B, Hôtel de Ville

Need some groceries, and some clothes? Luckily, Naturalia is in the mall Saint-Christoly, which also boasts an H&M and Monoprix. This shop is smaller than La Vie Saine, but could be much more cost-efficient for certain items--I liked buying their bulk items, as well as their chia seeds (a 500g bag was only around 5 euros!). They also had a nice selection of fruits and veggies (see the romanesco broccoli in the above photo). 

Note: there are also several organic chains, such as Bio C'Bon and Biocoop, which are also very convenient to pop into!

brunch

Best value: Casino
Tram stop: ligne B, Peixotto

When my parents saw my credit card statement, they were appalled to see "Casino" listed so many times--they thought I'd been gambling! In reality, I'd been shopping smart at the supermarket near campus. The organic section here is inexpensive and extensive--I was able to score unsweetened soymilk fortified with calcium for only 1 euro, whole-grain bread for 2 euros, and dark chocolate dipped rice cakes for 1,20 euros. This was all basically half-price compared to organic stores! Another perk--you can make grocery runs between classes (especially if you're at Bordeaux 1). And final pro tip: sign up for a student card, which automatically gives you 5% off each trip!

Note: for a large supermarket with organic aisles closer to downtown, Auchan Meriadeck is a good option, though not nearly as cheap.

Honorable mention: Vegan Eco
Online delivery!

This was my savior in my beginning weeks. While it's not a physical store, online selection for meat substitutes is top, and delivery is free after 15 euros (though the nearest delivery date may be a few days out). I recommend the veggie burgers--the veggie duck and veggie jerky was a unique experience, but not as tasty as the hearty patties.

Unexpected gem: HEMA
Tram stop: ligne A, Meriadeck or Rue Ste Catherine (2 locations with health foods)

This Amsterdam-based chain had cute school supplies, chic interior decor, cool snacks, AND shelled hemp seeds. It was the only place in Bordeaux where I could find my precious superfood (at one point, I was so desperate that I ordered hemp seeds from Amazon, shipped them to my US home address, and had my mom ship them to me in France). A 250g container ran for about 3,50 euros. It also offered chia seeds and goji berries at similar prices.


marche Bordeaux

** These markets are obviously not veggie-only, but they're great options for groceries! ** 

Best all-around: Marché des Capucins
Tuesday-Sunday mornings // Tram stop: ligne B, Victoire

The best-known market in Bordeaux, for many reasons. Prices are quite affordable and fare is far fresher than what you'd find in-store. This was my place for avocadoes, which are quite pricey in France (usually 1 euro each in-store!). There are also several places to grab a quick bite to eat, such as tapas, and many colorful flower stands to admire.

Best atmosphere: Marché des Chartrons
Sunday morings // Tram stop: ligne C, Chartrons

A lovely place for a Sunday-morning stroll. Located just along the river, Chartrons has a more refined feel than Capucins--the prices correlate, but it's also quite possible to find affordable fare. If you're looking for a more classic market experience, this is your place. There are also several stands to grab  a fresh lunch or sweet dessert. 

Sunday mornings // Tram stop: ligne A, Hôpital Pellegrin (a bit of a walk though--bus is probably better)

Not nearly as touristy as the other two, this market is better if you're closer to residential Bordeaux, and downtown is a bit too far. The merchants here could be particularly kind. I was offered free items on more than one ocassion--a shopkeeper once purposefully didn't charge me for my onion and garlic when I purchased veggies, another gifted me a mini canelé (classic Bordeaux dessert) when I only wanted one. Prices here were most affordable.

*                                                        *                                                    *

So hopefully with all these resources, you Bordeaux-based vegans/vegetarians won't need to be hangry. If you have any questions about eating mostly plant-based in France, don't hesitate to drop me a comment or shoot me an email! I could talk for days about food and Bordeaux.

Bisous,
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Uprooted: White Lace Dress + Leopard Print Rain Boots

London, United Kingdom
study abroad outfit
study abroad outfit
study abroad outfit
updo medium hair french braid
study abroad outfit
Me: it's way too cold for this!
study abroad outfit
Cardigan, Forever 21 | Dress, Kohl's | Button down, thrifted (in Bordeaux!) | Boots, China 

I miss it already.

My voice sounds foreign as I converse with the sea of new faces in this new place. It sounds harsher, more confident, oddly-resonant. It doesn't sound like mine. 

My English-speaking persona is dusty after four months on the back shelf. It's been idle, tidily packed away in the cupboard, brought out only for special occasions--the weekly skype session with family, the peppering of linguistic exchanges, the haphazard run-ins with lost American tourists. 

As the dust falls away, I should feel more like myself. But instead, I feel disoriented. 

As my American voice regains strength, I feel my French voice fading away. When a French couple joined my table at an open-air market, I happy-danced in my head, eagerly (and probably awkwardly) struck up a conversation, and promptly became appalled at my clumsier-than-usual pronunciation. 

I find myself reminiscing over photos, rereading old blog posts. I wonder how my Bordeaux friends are doing. I complain about British wine quality (that mulled wine/vin chaud in yesterday's pub...oof, definitely have had better). I gush about my semester in France to my new study abroad program friends (though as judiciously as possible, since I dread becoming that annoying girl). 

I dream already of excuses to return. The French language has become a luxury again, rather than a necessity. I still play my French versions of American pop hits while I work. I've taken to watching a daily episode of a hilarious French vlog (for purely lingustic purposes, you know). I changed my Bible app language to French so I could kill two birds with one stone. I even rethink the day's conversations in French and mutter under my breath in imaginary French dialogue.

Basically, I've gone even more insane. Language is such an integral part of identity--France has changed me, and I don't want to lose who I've become.

But England is my now, and Oxford will soon be my reality. I will embrace this wild ride of continuous transformation. And of course, I'll keep nurturing the resonant voices that thirst to grow stronger (okay, I'm going to sign off before I begin to sound seriously deranged).

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P.S. I took over the Amherst College study abroad blog for a guest post on making friends with French natives. Feel free to take a gander!

Solo Travel: Strasbourg/Colmar Snapshots + A Series of (Mis)adventures

Alsace, France
colmar strasbourg christmas markets

On my first solo trip, I learned three important lessons:

1. Tinder is not a good place to find friends
2. Sometimes men are very creepy
3. Sometimes people are incredibly kind

Basically, we can sum these all up to one lesson: Lily is sometimes very stupid.

After the semester ended, I escaped to northeastern France to visit the famous Christmas markets. The other study abroad program were headed home for the holidays, and my French friends had other plans, so I headed out on my own. The usual soap opera-worthy misadventures of my life unraveled. I present to you the latest episode in four sketches:

strasbourg france
palais rohan strasbourg
strasbourg christmas lights

Day 1: 

I wondered if I would make friends that day. 

The night before, I was restless. Thoughts whirled around in my head--end-of-program logistics, next semester prep, gifts to buy, and most immediate, what I'd do on this trip. 

I was no stranger to my own company. At times, I actually preferred exploring alone--I wouldn't have to compromise on sights to see, or where to eat (offbeat vegan cafes all the way). But my time in France was drawing to a close, and I wanted to spend it seriously practicing French conversation. 

Which meant finding friends, preferrably native French-speakers.

I took to Facebook and Instagram the week before in attempt to find mutual connections in the area. When that flopped, I posted in Couchsurfing forums for travel buddies. I received one response, from a 50-something German man. Something seemed innately off, so I politely turned him down.

So I began to entertain crazy ideas. I needed a platform with a large, active audience my age in a specific geographical location. Tinder was a perfect match (sorry, couldn't resist hehe).

That really flopped. It should've been obvious--it was a dating app, not a platonic friend-making one. But after reading acticles boasting meaningful friendships launched on Tinder, and stats revealing that the majority of college students use the app to find friends, I was hopeful. And after all, hadn't some of my friends made really resonant connections on Tinder?

But instead of friends, I found a couple stale conversations. It seemed as if most people were looking for romance or hookups (whoa, really Lily?! people are looking for romance and hookups on a dating app?!?). There was little interest in meeting up with a random American looking for travel buddies. 

So I headed out to the Strasbourg Christmas markets alone. But I really shouldn't have worried about finding friends. As I sipped some vin chaud (spiced hot wine) at a standing table, friends found me instead.

The market was crowed, so three 20-something guys asked if they could share my table. They were three marines specializing in nuclear engineering from Brittany, and they were incredibly kind. 

We explored the markets together, and later met up for dinner. They refused to let me split the cost for the flammekueche (Alsatian/German specialty) we shared, and neither the pinot noir and riesling wine (French hospitality is very real).

So lesson of the day? Finding friends while traveling solo doesn't have to be stressful--it doesn't even need to involve all the social media gizmos. It can be as easy as sharing a table, and sipping some wine.

alsatian breakfast
Petite Venise, Colmar
Colmar Christmas

Day 2:

Vous avez de l'eau Perrier? Puis-je en prendre?
Do you have Perrier water? Could I have some?

Lily goes to a bar, part 2...again for a legitimate linguistic purpose. But my drink was different this time. Instead of apricot juice, I settled for sparkling water to counter the rich food I'd had that day. I'd long since overcome my fear of alcohol, but I'd developed tastes too pretentious for bar fare (Sauternes, anyone?).

Est-ce qu'il y a un groupe de Couchsurfing ici?
Is there a Couchsurfing group here?

I scanned the bustling room, feeling self-conscious. Unlike the structured Bordeaux Franglish language exchange, this Couchsurfing event was a just a casual get-together. That didn't actually exist, apparently. My question was met with knit brows and confused looks. But it launched conversation with perfect strangers--and so we chatted away, leaping from topic to topic and language to language. 


Colmar Christmas
flower light garland
la fleur des champs, Strasbourg

Day 3: 

Hey Lily!
I'm from Couchsurfing event last night--I'm the French guy who studied in Japan for a couple years. I wanted to talk with you more, but you left early. If you're still in the area and want to meet up, I'm free to hang out today!

As I read my latest Couchsurfing notification that morning, I lit up. I naively thought: another friend dropped right in front of me, and a native French-speaker at that! I eagerly responded, and we arranged to meet up in the city square that afternoon.

The majority of the day went without incident--we explored the Palais Rohan (where Napoleon Bonaparte once stayed), sipped tea in a hip vegan cafe, and snapped photos in La Petite France (a particularly picturesque part of Strasbourg). 

But then my linguistic ambitions seriously clouded my judgment. 

"You have to try this wine called Gewürztraminer--it's an Alsatian specialty! Let's get some at the grocery store and we can have it at my place."

After unbelievable French hospitality, this innately-creepy suggestion somehow seemed less creepy. After all, I'd shared wine and cheese with my airbnb host and her boyfriend the day before, and my newfound marine friends had been nothing but welcoming. Still, something felt off as we walked back to the city square, towards his apartment. He could be a murderer or rapist, for all I knew. But he could just be ultra-friendly. 

I naively chose to believe the latter. After all, he'd been a patient city guide during the day. And I couldn't pass up the chance for more French conversation. 

But my suspicions kept creeping. As we chatted, I became progressively more uneasy. When he put his arm on the back of the couch, I scooted forward. His arm followed--no matter which way I moved. Despite my clear discomfort, he tried to pull me closer. I checked the time and suddenly announced that I had to go (early train the next morning, you know--gotta get home at 5pm).

As I waited for the tram in the slight drizzle, I felt somewhat guilty. Had I inadvertently given off the wrong message? As I debated whether or not to apologize, and if so, how to word it (how do you say "lead you on" in French?), he beat me to it. 

Didn't want to make you uncomfortable, was really interesting talking to you! I wanted to kiss you but I was lost by our conversation. I didn't want to hit on you at first, but you got me at the cafe. Wish you'd want to spend the night with me :)

My slight relief at the quasi-apology turned to horror. I'd seriously misread his intentions. I'd been totally stupid. My quest to find friends and speak French had landed me in some deep merde.

A flurry of troubled thoughts ensued--Was it my fault? How does anyone make friends when you have to tread such murky waters? Does anyone even just want to make platonic friends anymore?

To decompress, I chatted with a friend from home, who offered some sage advice:

When you're in England, make sure you don't go home with a guy who's offering this tea "that you just got to try" even if you want to practice your English.

Duly noted.

So, PSA: not everyone has benevolent intentions. Be much smarter than I was.

Strasbourg Cathedral and Christmas Market
Palais Rohan, Strasbourg
Palais Rohan, Strasbourg

Day 4:

“Sure, you may never be an elite endurance athlete, a math genius, a professional violinist, a renowned blogger…but I think there’s a certain richness in having many passions.”

I found a kindred soul on the train back to Southern France. We'd been chatting already for several hours and had long since exhausted the ususal small talk. 

I admitted that I sometimes envied those with a singular deep passion. Sometimes, I was tired of dabbling in multiple spheres, because I never felt exceptional--I couldn't immerse myself fully in one endeavor because I was always dividing my energy and attention. 

But she was right. She'd know too, as a crossfit-enthusiast former biology student with a love for writing--who also happened to be in a transportation management alternance (sort of like a co-op--you spend half your time learning on-the-job, and half your time in class). We were lucky. Maybe we're not the top in any of our hobbies, but we get to know and love all of them. 

And so the trip ended on a resonant note: a packed train, cool seatmate, and meaningful conversation--in French, of course.

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