Arrival in England!

I’ve been in England for four days now, and at Royal Holloway for two and a half- and it’s been fantastic!

My first day in England I landed in the morning, and stood in line at customs for about an hour.  When I finally emerged, I took a bus to my hotel, and then passed out for about an hour.  I had some lunch, and then made plans to meet my friend, Allison, for dinner in London, where she’s studying with the UF Business School.  I took a bus to the tube, and then took the Piccadilly Line in, and Allison came and met me.  We had some pizza and pasta, and wandered around Piccadilly Circus for a few hours before I headed back to my hotel.

The next morning, I woke up and headed back into London for lunch.  Allison and I grabbed some Indian food for lunch- which I’m an absolute fiend for!- and went to the Museum of Natural History.  She had a paper to write, but I wandered around for a few hours reading interesting facts, and amusing myself.  I had a blast, there was so much to learn, and I’m dying to go back, because there’s no way I saw more than an eighth of the museum.  Afterwards, Allison and I met some of the people from her program at the flat where they’re staying in South Kensington, and went to a pub to grab some food.  Afterwards, I headed back to my hotel, because I knew I had a big morning the next day.

The morning of the 19th, I woke up, ate some cereal, and caught a bus back to the airport to meet my shuttle to Royal Holloway.  It was pretty easy to find, thank goodness.  We got dropped at the university, and I was astounded.  I still can’t believe this is where I’m going to be going to school for the next few months.  It looks like Hogwarts, I swear.  It’s this beautiful Victorian castle, and walking around is absolutely breathtaking.

I walked up to my room, and my roommate had not arrived yet, so I decided to unpack.  That took all of half an hour, because I really don’t have that much stuff with me.  I was wondering what I was going to do for the rest of the day, on my own, when I ran into the girl next door and her friend.  My neighbor’s name is Thea, and her friend is Izzie, short for Isabella.  The three of us decided to go down and get our college cards, which was easy enough.  I had to go somewhere different from them, because I’m international, but I texted Izzie when I finished, and she and I met back up in another girl’s, Em’s, room.  We ended up sitting in Em’s room chatting, before deciding to move into the hallway to meet more people.  We ended up getting about half the fourth floor (where I live) sitting in a circle in the hall, and we all went down to the hall meeting together.  From there, we went and got food, and then decided to go down to the freshers event at Medicine, the pub on campus.

We had a blast at Medicine, I spent most of the night with Thea, Izzie, and their other friend from school, Liv, and they’re all just lovely.  We had a blast dancing and chatting with other people from Founders, and ended up staying until two in the morning, when we finally decided we were too tired to stay any longer.

The next day, we all met for breakfast, and went down to a coffee shop on campus.  Then we all showered, got lunch, and met up with Em and Clem- another girl on our floor- and went for a walking tour of Egham, the town where Royal Holloway is.  It’s a great little town, and we all got to do some grocery shopping while we were down there.  After that, we were hungry again, so we went to the dining hall in Founder’s for dinner, which was great.

We weren’t quite sure what we wanted to do in the evening, so Thea, Liv, Izzie, Em, Clem, and I decided to go down to the common room on the second floor to socialize.  It was packed with other Founder’s residents, which was great.  We hung around with everyone until about ten, when a lot of people decided to go to the pub.  One of the boys we had met the night before, Rhys, decided he was going to have a cup of tea and get to bed early, so Liv, Izzie and I joined him, along with his other hall mate, John.  We all enjoyed a cup of green tea with honey in the pantry, before going back to Rhys’s room.  The lot of us ended up talking in his room until three in the morning about everything from politics to books and movies.

This morning, I met up with Liv and Thea again to hang out for a bit before we went and got lunch.  After lunch, I had my visiting students’ reception, and when that finished, I came here.

I’ve been having such a good time these past few days, and I know this is only going to get more fun as we get to know each other better.  I’m so looking forward to that.


Réamh-mheas (Anticipation)

For about half my life I lived in a small town in the Boston, Massachusetts area. Florida, about as far south as you can get from New England, has taught me a lot about cultural differences in the last nine years or so that I’ve lived here. I think it’s fitting that for my first semester of college, I’m partly returning to my roots while learning more about the diversity that our world has to offer.

When I was growing up, Irish culture was everywhere. I saw Irish flags and pubs in the South End of Boston, where many Irish immigrants settled when they came to America. My favorite sports teams represent the large Irish descendant population by wearing green during games on St. Patrick’s Day and embellishing their jerseys with four-leaf clovers. Overall it was more of a gimmicky interpretation of Ireland, but a flattering representation nevertheless.

Like many people I grew up with, I’m of Irish descent. And like many people, I have absolutely no knowledge about the history or culture of where my ancestors came from. A huge deciding factor in signing up for my study abroad program was the connection I feel with Ireland. There are many circumstances in which I pictured myself studying abroad or even just travelling to Europe. However, I never imagined I would start my college career in a different country, or even have the opportunity to do so.

I’m able to study abroad my first semester because I’m a part of a fairly new program at UF – The Innovation Academy. Our academic year runs from January to August (Spring/Summer as opposed to Fall/Spring), leaving us with our fall semester to choose to do what we want. This schedule was implemented so that students could take advantage of opportunities in the fall – like taking online classes to get ahead or participating in internships, which are easier to come by this time of year because everyone else is typically in school. There are special opportunities, like programs specifically designed for Innovation Academy students, such as my study abroad program.

“UF in Maynooth” is exclusively offered to Innovation Academy freshman students. The seventeen of us going to Maynooth haven’t taken classes at UF or lived on campus yet. In fact, we haven’t even met. It’s pretty terrifying to get on a ten-hour flight to a country you’ve never visited before to travel and learn with complete strangers. However, the opportunities and experiences I’ll take advantage of are incredible.

For six weeks, I’ll be staying in a dorm at Maynooth University (The National University of Ireland  Maynooth), taking 6 UF credits (Analytical Writing and Thinking and The Irish Sociological Imagination: Culture and Everyday Life), and traveling all over the country. There are two main aspects of the program: the academic/career part, and the travel/history/culture part. The coordinators for our program have made sure to make the trip worthwhile for our education and future, but have also included excursions and tours that allow us to really explore Ireland.

The Innovation Academy has a special focus on entrepreneurship and creativity in the business world. It’s partly why we’ll be visiting businesses like Boston Scientific and Grid Finance and hearing from speakers at seminars such as the DCU Ryan Academy Propeller Program. However, we’re not spending 2 months in Europe to just focus on career building.

We’re hitting all the major sites, like the Book of Kells, Trinity College, and the Blarney stone, which will introduce us to some Irish history. We’ll also see the National Gallery of Ireland, sit in on some Irish music sessions, and learn a little about Irish dancing. Two trips I’m really excited about are our day trip to hike the Glendalough (Glen-da-lock) valley and our excursion to the Cliffs of Moher. They’ve also included some more unique experiences, like visiting the Titanic Exhibition in Belfast and going on a Game of Thrones tour.

I have about a week to pack, double and triple check all of my arrangements, and mentally prepare myself for a ten-hour flight that I’m sure won’t be completely pleasant. I’m thankful that I get to participate in such a great program and travel to Europe for the first time, but I have to admit that I didn’t realize travelling and studying abroad my first semester of college would be so stressful. I think it’s important to keep an open mind and not worry so much about the little things that might go wrong. In reality, it’s only six weeks of my life, but I want to get the most out of it as possible. I can only hope for the best and see where this journey takes me.

Life as a UPR Student

I think it does’t matter where you go, the university environment is always the same. Despite the stresses and challenges of classes there is a always an atmosphere of open mindedness and discussion that is rarely achieved in other areas of society. As my humanities professor taught us on one of the first days of class, the word university comes from the latin universitas, and later universitatis, meaning a dialogue with the universe. I thought that was incredible and even more so the fact that I had never realized that the word university is so close to the word universe. I thought it was neat to think of this academic experience as a dialogue or rather a discussion with the universe as we try to better understand our surroundings with our own limited capabilities.

Life as a UPR student, in many aspects, is very similar to life as a student of any other institution. However, here are five pointers to keep in mind in order to navigate the campus successfully.

  1. There is limited parking. Luckily for me, I do not depend on this resource as I carpool as much as possible however, for the regular car owner, parking tends to be a struggle. I have friend that arrives on campus at 7:00am everyday no matter what schedule they has just to ensure a safe parking space.
  2. The weather can be unpredictable. In the town where I am living, Mayagüez, it can be completely sunny at 3:10pm and then suddenly become incredibly cloudy and stormy by 3:15pm. It rains almost every afternoon which means having an umbrella is must while walking on campus.
  3. There are $0.77 toasts at the cafeteria. I know this because the other day I was really hungry and I had woken up late so I’d skipped breakfast to get to class on time. My first class on Mondays and Wednesdays is at 7:30am and its a three hour long class. Because the class is so long we get a small break in the middle and I at this point I was just going to resort to buying a snack off of a vending machine until I had lunch later but then I thought I would stop by the cafeteria for a moment and that is when I stubbled upon one of the best things I have ever discovered: $0.77 toasts, including the tax. These toasts are made on Puerto Rican bread which is a large and soft loaf prepared with lots of butter and warmed on the grill. Needless to say, I am going to be the new regular at the cafeteria anytime I get slightly hungry, waving my student loans goodbye, one $0.77 cent toast at a time. Also, this has probably been my anecdote of the week as I have been telling everyone about my incredible discovery.
  4. Novels and other books are available at the library! This is probably true all Universities. I included here because for somer reason I always jump straight to thinking I have to buy a particular book required for class instead of checking if the library has it in order to save a few $$s. It is also good to join the UPRM Books facebook page where students can post the books they are in need of and others answer if they have them. It also works backwards so if you have books you no longer use you can put them up for sale there and someone that needs them may take them off your hands.
  5. Best Places to study: library (for quite study), student center (for group studying), center (for outdoor studying if its not too hot), computing center (for maximum focus and free printing), courtyard in front of the mathematics building (for outdoor studying in the shade and best wifi connection), and biology lobby (if you want to study while hanging out with the resident kitty:)).

    This is the resident kitty at the biology building. She lives in the lobby and this is her little bed area :) So cute!

    That is all for today!:)

Yours truly,

Laiana Isabel

First Steps

I have to admit, I had high expectations for France based on my experiences in England. I really didn’t even know what the south of France would be like besides everyone saying “Nice is so nice,” (no pun intended” or “You’re going to have so much fun there!”

So when I finally arrived in France and left the airport, I was well … a little disappointed. I was kind-of expecting this very Parisian setup and layout with nice boutique shops and restaurants everywhere.

In actuality, what I got was traffic, heat, tourists, and everyone around me speaking French.

I know I say this a lot, but the south of France really reminded me of Jamaica in some ways. Just the lifestyle, the houses, and the fact that I live along the beach and go to school in the mountains.

Then the driving. If you ever want to know what organized chaos is, come to France.

What’s even funnier was my first meal in France, Mc Donald’s. I know, I’m in France, the food capital of the world, but it’s a long story how that happened. Long story short, waiting on roommates to come so we can go out to eat turned into it being late and everything being closed except for McDonald’s.

But I’m not complaining, McDonald’s here is cheap (ish…not really). And everything here is super expensive except for wine, liquor, and baguettes. Go figure!

Later on the week, my university was having their first party of the year. Apparently, a different club sponsors a party on the beach or at a club exclusively for SKEMA students. It actually turned out to be really fun. I don’t want to bore you guys with details, but just imagine people from all over the world, the beach, and music. Not to mention French parties start at around 12am and end around 6am.

The next morning all of the exchange students had orientation at the school. The campus is kind-of small with three main buildings separated by humongous hills and a lot of walking. Definitely a change from UF. The school gave everyone free laptop bags and lunch, so I was very happy. Then the next day, they took all of the new and exchange students to an Island off the coast of Cannes for a team building activity. I met so much people from all around the world, had a ton of fun, and saw amazing views of the French Riviera.

I can really get used to life right now.

The adventure Begins!

The day finally came for me to embark on my long awaited journey abroad. There was a million different feelings running through my mind between being excited and overjoyed to being super nervous and unsure of what will happen (Mom and Dad if you’re reading this, disregard that last statement). Either way, saying goodbye to everyone was not an easy thing. To be honest, it was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be. Two weeks before I left, a lot of people were calling and texting me saying how they’d miss me and how we need to hang out before I leave. I didn’t know I would be missed that much. If you really look at it, I would probably see them just as much as I would if I were doing this year at UF. And then to top it off, a lot of adults were telling me how much they’re proud of me and how they don’t expect nothing but the best.

Anyways, the day came for me to leave and just like that, I was gone! I thought the summer would go by so slow, but before I knew it, it was the 28th of August, and the time for me to start my adventure.

So my apartment I’m living in Nice wasn’t going to be ready until the 2nd of September, and rather than spend 5 nights in a hotel in Nice by myself, I thought I’d take my first mini vacation to London. I have some family and friends who live in London, and travel around Europe is super cheap, so everything worked out in my favor. I’ve been to London once before, so I wasn’t really interested in doing and seeing all of the tourist things.

One of my cousins who I was staying with was hosting these two Spanish (from Spain) guys as some type of work/exchange program. One of the guys invited me to come with him to a picnic he and some of his friends were having at a park.

Then, It just so happened that London Carnival was the same weekend I was there. Any guesses as to what I did?

Yupp, and it was so much fun! Every city kinda has their own Carnival vibe, and it was interesting to see how London Carnival did their mix of cultures from all across the Caribbean and South America while still having their own culture in the mix (#Jamaica).

Apart from all of the fun of Carnival, I just want to say that it was the end of August/beginning of September and London was COLD and rainy! It was such a big change from hot and humid Florida. As much as I love London, this would be the reason why I can’t live there. If their summers are this cold, I can’t even imagine how cold their winters are. Other than that, I love English culture and everything there is about London! And I almost forgot about how expensive London is. Besides the fact that the pound is much stronger than the dollar, things there are just expensive period. The only thing in London that I found quite cheap, was the alcohol. Then, every time I get coins as change for something I buy, I always just shove it in my bag or pocket, but I keep forgetting that they can be a lot of money. In England, up until 2 pounds is a coin. Go figure!

London has become like a second home (If I’m being real, maybe like a 5th home) for me and I almost feel like I just want to stay and do my exchange year here. But the time has come for me to start my next adventure in the South of France.


I can hardly believe that in 5 days I’m going to be getting on a plane and flying to England.  I feel like there is still so much to get done before I leave!  I’ve been slowly picking away at my to-do list, but all of a sudden, everything needs to be done now.  Actually leaving has seemed so far away for so long, it’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that it’s about to happen.

I’m so excited to finally get there, though.  Royal Holloway is this beautiful castle, and I’m going to be living there, and going to school there!  It’s like my dreams of going to Hogwarts are almost coming true- minus the magic classes of course.  Although I will taking a class on Witchcraft in Drama, so that’s sort of close!

Basically, this is a super hectic week, and I’m crazy excited to finally get there and to start making friends.  I’ve been in touch with one of my best friends from home who is studying abroad in London this fall, and she’s offered to introduce me to a few of the people she’s met already!  I’m really just so excited for this adventure, it’s going to be amazing.



Found a home with some rad roommates. I live with a Kiwi (slang for New Zealander) couple and an awesome Aussie who’s a music producer. I couldn’t have gotten luckier.
Brunswick West: Check out my hood.

Move in July 18.

July 19- My best friend arrives.
July 20- ‘Hey do you two wanna come snowboarding with us tomorrow?… I’ve got two empty seats’- Booty (my Aussie roomie).
Mount Bulla
1st time snowboarding… September 8th and my tailbone is still sore.


July 21The Great Ocean Road


Insane Indescribable scenery. Apollo Bay- a bloody beaut.

I spy about 100 Kangaroos. I’m pretty sure National Geographic was behind us with their crew.IMG_1151


To end our amazing trip… road-side yoga.


Check out all of our roadtrip:

(Roadtrip deux)

Philip IslandIMG_1182


Penguin Parade
Too much cuteness. The smallest penguins on the planet at 13 cm tall.

New Zealand with the Madre.
(Roadtrip numero tres)


Marokopa Falls

We did all the things: Luging, Zorbing, Hiking… etc.
She’s the best. <3

Enjoying “La Playa”

I am an island girl at heart. I grew up with the shore always a maximum of twenty minutes away, in a whirl of sand, bathing suits and clorox. Until age ten, my childhood brain was convinced that all houses came automatically with a pool and that I had special super powers because water somehow managed to seep through the cracks on my fingers. When I lived in gainesville, I yearned to see the shore or hear the waves of the ocean crashing against the sand. I’ve always loved the warm weather and though I think each season has its special charm, summer is the one that does it for me. Luckily, Puerto Rico preserves an essence of summer almost year long with the small exception of wintery winds that sweep the island during the “colder” months around Christmas time. My program has only just started and I am already starting to develop a tan.

Other than visiting the beach, or la playa in Spanish, I have also been hitting the books though my classes are still pretty easy considering we are just beginning.

La playa is a big part of the lives of many puerto ricans. Though many have few opportunities throughout the year to actually go to the beach, it is still a part of their lives because its always so near by. For example, the town where I am living, Mayagüez, is a coastal town and you can see the shore from the downtown area of the city. The beach is approximately five minutes away from campus and many students escape there to unwind and relief stress when they have time off classes.

“Playa Sucia” in Cabo Rojo, P.R. The name translates to “Dirty Beach” however this destination is far from being dirty, the water is clear and absolutely beautiful!

Next week I’ll talk about campus life and what its like to be a UPR student! :)

Yours truly,

Laiana Isabel


Melbourne -‘Melbin‘ if we’re pronouncing it like a true Aussie- also known as the foodie capital, the city with wonderful weather, and the most livable city for the past four years according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s livability survey.

I get to live here for six months, study with local and international students, eat all the food, travel to all (well a lot but you get the point) the places and meet incredibly kind Australians. Super grateful for this ridiculous opportunity- Thank you UF and family.

A bit about myself- I love food/cooking {as you probably already inferred}, outdoors is my comfy zone, I’m seriously passionate about sustainable development and global health, chocolate is before anything else (bae), traveling is one of the keys to life….and my name is Tabitha, but I’m better known as Tabs.

Basics: I’m a proud Gator working on a microbiology major and a minor in humanitarian assistance and international development with a dream to work for Doctors Without Borders.

Rewind 2 years. August 12, 2013… I had just arrived in Esteli, Nicaragua, ready to spend a year of my life with 18 strangers, working for the non-profit of my dreams -Global Brigades- with as much excitement as a 3-year-old on christmas eve. “Will I get this opportunity again?”…

… Fast forward to the the present- July 12, 2015– 5 flights (2 missed), one lunch in Thailand and 30some hours later I made it to Melbourne, Australia. “How lucky am I?”… I get to live abroad again, immerse myself in another culture, learn about different lifestyles, and open my mind a bit more.

I am the luckiest. Oz, I can’t wait to be your bestie.

Cultural and Artistic Island Destinations


This week I am going into the third week of classes here at the University of Puerto Rico and so far, its been an incredible experience. There are so many places that I have had the chance to visit and so many cultural experiences waiting to be seen in this small yet preciously beautiful island. I want to keep you all updated about all of the places I visit and my experiences there, including cultural, entertainment and gastronomical locations so here is my first list of destinations in Puerto Rico :)

1. Hacienda Buena Vista in Ponce, P.R.

This is a coffee plantation high up in the mountains of the town of Ponce. Let me just say, I have never tasted coffee so aromatic and perfect (and thats coming from a regular, at least one cup a day coffee drinker). The hacienda has a tour that takes you all over the property explaining the history of coffee, the mechanisms used to the harvest coffee and the evolution of these mechanisms as well as many other things with respect to this crop. For more information about the property click HERE.

2. Massa Artisan Bakery and Cafe in Mayagüez, P.R. 

Not only will the Baristas create incredible works of art of your favorite animal using the milk in your coffee, but you will also find that anything you order tastes absolutely amazing. This is one of my current favorite places to eat, specially because its so close to the university campus. They have a wide variety of sandwiches as well as an “A la Carte” menu that opens in the evening prepared by a chef that can do no wrong. It is an incredible atmosphere for studying with a cup of coffee or having lunch with a couple of friends! If any of you are vegetarians, like myself, some of my favorite selections are the massa veggie, pasta aleoli, and the minestrone soup cup. Massa FB page HERE.

3. El Yunque National Rainforest 

The Yunque National Rainforest is a federal forest reserve. It houses the unique puerto rican species of el Coqui, which is a small tree frog known for its distinguished song that sounds just like “Coqui, coqui”. The waterfall seen below is one of the main waterfalls where visitors can take a swim in the fresh and clear waters. I loved going through el Yunque and getting in touch with the nature that lived within. It is an amazing place to unwind from the stresses of life and let all your troubles be carried away by the flowing waters of el Yunque. More info about El Yunque HERE.

4. El Viejo San Juan in San Juan, P.R. 

El viejo San Juan is found in the capital of the Puerto Rico and it is one of the most tourist packed areas of the island. It is incredible to walk through the cobble stone streets in the small city and marvel at the beautiful Spanish architecture of the old buildings while also being caressed by the ocean breeze that sweeps the atmosphere. There are plenty of restaurants and attractions waiting to be experienced through these streets as well as a wonderful variety of night life.

Until the next one! :)

Yours truly,

Laiana Isabel