My name is Bingyu (Tiffany) Belfiore, and I’m a senior in the Walton College of business double majoring in Economics and Finance with a minor in math. This is my blog about my semester study abroad experience in Colchester, England.
(Disclaimer: I do not have any pictures to go with this first blog because most of my pictures were on my laptop that was stolen on my way back to the States).
The courses I took at Essex were: Econometrics, International Finance, Advance Microeconomics and British Culture. Even though the British Culture class wouldn’t go toward any of my degree requirements, I took it so that I could have a better understanding of my time abroad while enhancing my academic experience.
Getting Ready for Classes
When I first got to the campus student center to prepare for classes, I was already frustrated. The notebooks were longer, the British hole punchers would only punch two holes, and even the keyboards were slightly different. Furthermore, instead of having everything on Blackboard like in the U.S., there were three separate systems: one for getting your class materials, one for actually submitting your assignments and one for watching the recorded lectures if you missed any. The huge perk seemed to be that I didn’t have to buy any textbooks. Either the professors would post all the class materials online or you could always rent them from the school library if you needed textbook references. The coolest thing about the library was definitely the hop-on, hop-off lifts (British name for elevators). And it’s exactly what it sounds like, the lifts don’t stop, we had to hop on and hop off. Let’s just say I had too much fun with it while I was studying for exams and writing my thesis.
Instead of going to classes and getting lectured for three hours like in the U.S., the classes were broken down into lectures and seminars. The lectures are the ones we are familiar with where you just sit with a large group of students and take notes, whereas the seminars are more interactive sessions with your professor and the 10-15 students taking the same course. Instead of having to choose between going to a large state school or going to a small private school, I was able to experience the best of both worlds in England with the combination of large lectures and smaller interactive seminars.
Essex is a very diverse school. Not only do international students make up over 60% of the student population, half of the professors are also from an international background. This was definitely a big change from Arkansas.
Advanced Microeconomics was undoubtedly the class I liked the most. Just a few minutes into the first lecture, the professor started talking about his research on how game theory can be applied on modern dating apps like Tinder, which grabbed our attention for sure. Throughout the semester, we learned about different types of games and strategies. Our class moved on to how game theory was used in strategizing for World War II, city planning and security searches at airports. More relevantly, we learned about how game theory is currently being used in analyzing trade wars between the U.S. and China, and how it all boils down to not just the economic wellbeing of a country but also the pride of its leaders. It is sad to realize how countries could reach a win-win solution if each of its leaders could take a step back to look at the bigger picture, but instead they choose not to because stepping back demonstrates weakness and would cause them to “lose face.” They are doing this at the expense of their citizens because trade wars do not benefit either country, as the price of goods goes up due to heavy tariffs.
Another course I took at Essex was International Finance. I saved this course for my final semester because I wanted to study international finance internationally. Studying foreign exchange rates in the U.K. was relevant to me on a daily basis. Since I was still using my American bank cards, all my transactions were affected by the values of U.S. dollars and British pounds. When we learned about the different exchange rate models and the Greek debt crisis, we were able to hear it from our Greek professor’s first-hand perspective.
Funnily, the only British professor I had studying in England was in my British culture class. In this course, we learned and discussed everything from Shakespeare and race in the U.K. to British people’s “politeness” and how they always queue up. The final coursework involved a 5000-word essay which was probably the longest essay I’ve ever written due to the quantitative nature of my studies. But I’m glad I did it because it helped improve my writing skills.
Essex Professors on Strike
A couple of months into the semester, something unusual happened on campus. Many professors went on a strike because their pensions were cut in half. This involved cancelling classes without any prior notice and walking protests daily around the campus. Unfortunately, none of my classes got cancelled. My theory is that finance and economics professors get paid more compared to those in other disciplines, so they wouldn’t need the extra pension. However, many classes were canceled for some of my friends which made their parents upset because they were still paying full tuition back home ($30k+ for a private university).
Coming to an End
At the end of the semester, the exams were harder than what I was used to. However, there were always more questions than we were required to answer so the students got to choose which questions to answer on the exams. The best thing about exam period was that it is spread out across an entire month, which gave me plenty of time to travel. I’ve learned that the key thing is to understand the topics in class and rewrite all of my notes afterwards. This way I didn’t have to decipher my bad handwriting and teach myself the entire course right before the exam. For anyone wants to make the most of their time abroad, I would recommend using the same strategy.
This is my second blog post about my semester study abroad experience in Colchester, England:
I was warned about the cold, wet weather in England. However, I was not expecting to witness the largest snow that the Colchester and London areas have faced in the past five years. Having lived in Arkansas for the past ten years, going to classes in inches of snow and full-blown wind was a bit harsh on the face. Good thing I had already bought a space heater the week prior, since the heater in our flats (British name for dorm) wasn’t functioning properly. In fact, it was so cold in our flats, even my flatmates were borrowing my heater. I would always brag about how the heater was definitely “the best twelve pounds I ever spent!”
March 17, 2018 – St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland
Drowning in my 22-hour equivalent course load, I did not think twice when my friends said: “Let’s go to Ireland this weekend!” Because where is a better place to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day than in Ireland?
First stop in Ireland, we went to the famous Blarney Castle, which was built about 600 years ago. Since I am naturally quiet and introverted, I have always set a goal for myself to be able to speak more confidently and eloquently in order to be more effective in the business world. In school, I was enrolled in the Model UN class taught by my economics professor to become better at public speaking while solving real world issues. On this trip, I kissed the famous Blarney Stone, the Stone of Eloquence, to reinforce my commitment of becoming a more effective communicator both personally and professionally. It is inspiring to learn that the same stone was kissed by one of the best speakers from the UK, Winston Churchill.
March 18, 2018 – Cobh, Ireland
The following day, I tagged along with my friend to the Cobh Heritage Centre, because half of her family was originally from Ireland. I thought it would be cool to learn about another culture while I was abroad, but I did not expect to be able to relate to them on such a person level.
It all started with the Irish Potato Famine, when over three million people died. Many Irish left the country so they wouldn’t starve to death, even though going to the New World was expensive; a one-way ticket would cost as much as your whole family’s life savings. This meant that saying goodbye to your family was very difficult and sad because they all knew it would be the last. It reminded me of my mom leaving for America to provide our family with a better future. I did not see her for nine years, and even though we were lucky enough to reunite, the depression that this caused my mom never went away. This is the sacrifice that many people around the world have had to make, regardless of their race or nationality. Whether it is going to college or starting a new job, it would be difficult for any family, and especially for immigrant families, to have to start completely over. I used to think people were so different due to their backgrounds, but after this visit, I realized that we can all connect and relate on an emotional level. Learning about Irish history while being physically there at Cobh Harbour, where millions of people’s lives changed, made this trip especially memorable.
At the end of the day, these were people just like me and my family. Immigrants, leaving everything behind, seeking a better future or simply trying to survive. The worst was if you left on a bad ship, like the Titanic. Can you imagining what it must have been like to be on the “Unsinkable Ship,” planning out your future and dreams only to watch them sink along with your ship? That’s what occurred to me when we went on the Titanic Experience at the port where the Titanic embarked.
To end this blog on a happier note: it is amazing to realize how much technology has transformed our way of life. Traveling was not always a luxury thing, but technological advances like the steamship allowed people to travel for fun. I am very lucky to have both the luxury and opportunity to travel while spending a semester abroad due to how much transportation has transformed, and of course thanks to the study abroad scholarship which made all of this possible.
This is my third blog post about my semester study abroad experience in Colchester, England:
Since my boyfriend is from Lithuania, we made a trip to visit his country between breaks. I was very surprised that almost everyone speaks some English there. Apparently, since the country only has about 3 million people, it is pretty much a requirement to be able to speak another language.
In Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, we went to the Museum of illusions which had a lot of cool visual tricks to fool our eyes. Here’s me in an upside-down room, for example:
The following day, we went to the Hill of Witches in Juodkrantė, Lithuania, with different wood sculptures representing the most well-known Lithuanian tales and folklore. Every year in June, people would gather here to sing and dance at the Mid-Summer’s Eve Festival. Although this celebration is deeply rooted in paganism, it was renamed as St. Jonas’ Festival after the arrival of Christianity (Atlas Obscura, 2018).
While at Vilnius, I was able to try the famous Lithuanian dish Cepelinai, stuffed potato dumplings with meat and sometimes mushrooms and cheese. I have got to say, it was delicious! I mean you simply can’t go wrong with meat and potatoes.
Next Stop: Iceland
Because the last-minute round trip flight to Iceland was only about $60, I booked my trip immediately after Lithuania to save time and money on transportation to and from the airport. This meant that I packed the same backpack for Lithuania and for Iceland, which I later learned might not have been the best idea.
I was only able to get about two hours of sleep at the airport, so Iceland appeared even more magical when I was half asleep. During my tour, I learned that 99% of the water used in the country is heated geothermally. Additionally, it also generates 25% of electricity used. So when we saw steam coming out of the geothermal power plants, I thought they were cloud factories. Needless to say, I was made fun of for the rest of the tour. Our guide said he will mention this in all his future tours.
Since I packed the same backpack for Lithuanian and Icelandic weather, I didn’t get the memo to bring my rain gear. To make Iceland colder, it was raining all day and part of our tour involved going behind a waterfall.
On the tour, we stopped by the divergent tectonic plate of North America and Eurasia, which marks the beginning (or ending) edge of two geologic continents, depending on how you decide to look at it. It was fascinating because I was just learning about tectonic plates in my geology class. I guess you could say that I was “living on the edge,” literally.
The highlight of my entire trip was definitely hiking at Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe, even though we had to spend half an hour putting on glacier hiking gear and learning about safety procedure. Not only were we able to learn about the Vikings’ way of life, but also got to experience it first-hand by drinking water from the glacier streams. Either I was very thirsty by the time we got to the top, or melted glacier was the most delicious water I have ever tasted. According to our tour guide, global warming is making glaciers melt three times as fast. I am beyond grateful to be able to see it during my lifetime and I am dedicated to taking care of our planet so that future generations will be able to experience it as well.
My only regret from this trip was not going to the Blue Lagoon. I could not get out of my warm, dry bed after soaking all day in the cold and wet Icelandic weather. I guess this gives me an excuse to go back to visit this beautiful country where “Change is the only constant” (from wall art in the Iceland airport).
This is my fourth blog post about my semester study abroad experience in Colchester, England:
Due to a 22-hour course load and managing an organization remotely, I did not get to travel as much as I would have liked. Many of my nights and weekends went toward event planning and identifying rocks for my geology class, for which we had tests every other week. So I thought, why not cram for travelling as well? And that is how I decided to visit four countries in less than nine days during my last weeks in the UK.
Stop #1: Brussels, Belgium
First, I took a bus from London to Brussels. To cross the English Channel, our bus got in a train to go through an underwater tunnel, which was a cool experience! It was my first international bus ride, so I felt sick and threw up. Fortunately, someone lent me his seat in the front of the bus, so I could see the front road to feel better. Little did I know, I happened to be in Brussels during its biggest jazz festival, where there are concerts going on every day for free.
However, what surprised me the most is that the dominate language for the city was actually French. That’s when I learned that I really needed to brush up on my French in the next few days before going to Paris. The following day, we went on a tour of the city, and of course we stopped by the Mannequin Piss, the famous peeing boy. Apparently, he wears a different costume every couple of weeks. There is even a museum dedicated to his wardrobe! During the tour, I learned that what I saw was not the original statue; the original one has actually been actually stolen seven times. Additionally, the boy was peeing to symbolize that people used to sell pee to make leather. And if you had to do this in order to survive, you were considered “piss poor.”
Later that day, my friend and I went to get the famous Belgian waffles, and attended one of the jazz concerts. Everything was going so well that I had no idea I would be end up being homeless that night.
Since I had a 6:20 a.m. flight to Milan, I thought I would just spend the night at the airport like I did when I went to Iceland. However, by the time I navigated through public transportation and got to the airport around midnight, I found out that the airport closes at night. There were a few other travelers waiting and sitting outside of the airport too, so I was not the only one struggling. Good thing I found a bench at the parking lot to take a nap on. After this night, I have never been more grateful for being able to sleep on an actual bed.
Although I was very frustrated with my homeless night, I realized that it is experiences like this that make studying abroad and traveling worthwhile. After all, it is the bad experiences that makes the good days seems greater.
This is my fifth and final blog post about my semester study abroad experience in Colchester, England:
Let’s just say my trip to Italy was short and to the point. If three cities in five days sounds too crammed to you, well, that is because it was!
Brief Time in Milan
By the time I got to Milan, I was basically half-asleep due to not being able to get much sleep on the bench at the Belgium airport. However, I was determined to make my brief time in Italy worthwhile. After making a coffee stop at McDonald’s, I headed over to Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, a historical library with an art gallery. In the gallery, I saw the original drawings of one of my favorite artists, Leonardo da Vinci. I was inspired by his idea of combining two seemingly completely unrelated fields, art and science, together in his work.
Sadly, the caffeine effect did not last very long. After my visit there, I took a two-hour nap on the benches in front of the library and was only woken up due to a large group of incoming American tourists.
After my sunny afternoon nap, I headed to the gorgeous Milan Cathedral. As I sat and watched hundreds of tourists and locals walking by, a lady came to sit next to me and talked to me for half an hour using mostly Italian and body language. I just smiled and nodded for the most part and tried to communicate using my broken French, which I somehow thought would be more understandable. However, I had no idea what she was talking enthusiastically about. Half an hour later, she gestured that she needed to go, so we said “ciao!” to each other and waved goodbye.
Later that night, I took an 11-hour overnight bus to Rome. I was so exhausted by the time I got to my hostel that the first thing I did was sleep. By the time I woke up, it was midnight. I felt bad for wasting a whole day in Rome asleep, so I went out to walk around. To my surprise, Rome at night is simply stunning and peaceful, a completely different scene from the hundreds of tourists walking around during the day. Satisfied with what I saw, I went back to the hostel and was excited to book two tours for the following day.
Vatican City – Roma
I remember learning about Vatican City back in elementary school – how it is basically a country within a country. Being able to visit it in person to learn about the daily duties of the Pope and how he governs the Vatican, and 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, was a much cooler experience. Apparently, Vatican City is right where Peter, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, was crucified upside down for his faith.
After the Vatican tour, I headed to another tour at the Colosseum. I got my map ready and started walking toward it. However, it occurred to me that by the time I got there, the tour would be over. Since I had run out of euros, I had to ask a taxi if they accepted credit cards. To my surprise, not only do taxis in Rome accept credit cards and PayPal, they also accept Bitcoins! It is a little crazy to think about how we now live in a world where cryptocurrencies have become a reality.
After an unfortunately underwhelming and difficult-to-understand Colosseum tour, I met up with my friend and we went to Venice together, and then Paris the day after. The days were very crammed, so I hope I will have the time to go back in the future!
After coming back from my trips, I had one day to cram for my last final of the semester, Advanced Microeconomics. Surprisingly, I received an A on the exam. I guess you could cram for studying and traveling, if you are ok with not sleeping much. If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing!
Studying abroad in England for the past five months has really taught me how to adapt to a new environment quickly and make friends from very different backgrounds. Most importantly, the ability to adapt and the communication skills I have gained while studying abroad during my final semester of college have prepared me to enter the corporate world with my first job in Chicago.