Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Study Abroad at Royal Holloway: Fresher's Week and My First London Experience

Fresher's Week

Fresher's Week, AKA Welcome Week, occurs the week before classes begin and is primarily for first year students. Both the university and the Students' Union host events throughout the week, and every night there are at least two different "official" parties to go to. I prefer a more low-key setting, so I skipped most of the bigger events and hung out with smaller groups to get to know people instead.  I had a lot of fun being able to go out any night of the week without having to worry about class in the morning! The difference in drinking age was a little disorienting at first, since I'm not used to having a university actually sponsor events with alcohol.

Fresher's week isn't only about partying, though. The degree seeking students have introductory lectures for their courses, and other commitments to help them understand the next three years in their department. I didn't have to go to these because I'm a visiting student, so I used my days to get to know the other girls in my hall, learn my way around campus, and explore Egham. 

Part of the High Street in Egham.

Royal Holloway is technically located in Egham, which is a lot like Oxford, OH. It is close enough to walk to from campus, and most of the shops, restaurants, and bars are on one long street. It's really convenient for students studying at Royal Holloway and there are a lot of housing options for upper-class students. There's even a Tesco grocery store, which is like Wal-Mart (but not nearly as big). 

My main motto for this week seemed to by "Buy all the things!" Even though I packed my own suitcase, I think I didn't fully comprehend how little I was actually bringing with me until I got to Royal Holloway and didn't have many of the conveniences I'm used to. Such as full sized bottles of shampoo. And a bed-sheet. And food. Let's just say I've been to Tesco quite a few times.

My First Trip to London

Even though Royal Holloway is part of the University of London, it's actually about a 45 minute train ride to get from Egham to Waterloo station in London. So although it's unfortunate that I can't access it from my doorstep, if I lived directly in London I wouldn't be able to live in my Hogwarts substitute castle, and that would be a shame. 

I made it to London my first full weekend after arriving. I went with two other visiting Americans, Lauren and Kiana. They both go to the University of Florida, but didn't know each other until they got here. Lauren's been to London multiple times on shorter trips, and she showed me and Kiana how to use the tube (it's actually incredibly easy). She  also knew where to go to get the perfect phone booth shot with Big Ben in the background.

Me, doing the tourist thing.

We started the day by just walking around Southbank and taking pictures of the recognizable parts. The crowds were so crazy that it was sometimes hard to keep track of each other. That's what you get for going on a Saturday, I guess.

I didn't ride it on this trip, but I will before I leave!
Keeping with the theme of crazy crowds, we spent the rest of the day shopping on Oxford Street, which is a really long stretch of stores that vary from inexpensive (Primark) to more high-quality (Topshop), but there aren't the super high-end designer label stores there. If you want Chanel or Dolce & Gabbana, you can find them on Bond Street. 

Oxford Street is so long and busy that stores actually start repeating themselves. Walking from Topshop to Primark (less than a mile) I saw many stores three times.

The crowds were crazy, but that didn't mean that I didn't enjoy exploring English fashion. I bought my first pair of ankle boots from a store called River Island. Riding boots, unfortunately, aren't nearly as popular here as they are in America.

One thing I really like about fashion in London, as described by my friend Lauren, is that the philosophy seems to be "if you like it, you wear it." There's a wide variety of what's "in" and I wouldn't say that there's any sort of unofficial dress code at Royal Holloway like there sometimes seems to be at Miami. Most of the students here do dress fashionably, however, so I once again chose a school wear sweatpants are not frequently seen in class. Score.

We were so tired after spending the afternoon shopping that we left London right after we finished on Oxford Street. I'm so glad I have the rest of the semester to go back and see as much as I can before I have to leave, because although I enjoy buying clothes, there's so much more to do in London. Such as spend hours in the bookstores and explore some of the museums. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Studying Abroad at Royal Holloway: Settling In

The Flight

I left the US from Port Columbus International Airport. I was very surprised when they put my suitcase on the scale and it was actually about seven pounds under the weight limit. I was sure it was overweight (mostly because my whole life is in one suitcase, but also because I could barely lift it). The guy checking IDs at security asked if I was single and if I date 28 year-olds, to which I said no. Somehow I don't think that's part of his job description.

My first flight, to Toronto, was on a tiny propeller plane that fit about 25 people. I actually had to walk outside to enter the plane. I thought that only happened in movies, but I guess that's standard for small planes.

I had a three-hour layover in the Toronto airport, which is awesome. There are tons of tables with iPads on docks, and they let you surf the internet and check your flight status from them for free.

Unfortunately, I was stuck with a middle seat on my seven-hour flight from Toronto to London Heathrow, but I sat next to a really nice woman from Zurich, Switzerland who was on her way back home from staying in San Fransisco and Seattle for a few weeks. It was weird to me that she was traveling in the US in the same way I want to travel in Europe.


Once I arrived at London Heathrow, I had to go through customs before I could get my bags. It was slightly nerve wracking because the customs agent didn't show any facial expressions the whole time he was looking over my paperwork, so I had no idea if I'd done things right or not. But he let me in, so I guess I couldn't have gotten it too wrong!

A student representative from Royal Holloway was waiting outside the terminal for international students, which was awesome. From there we went and waited for the bus that would bring us directly to campus.

My Room

I checked in and found my room in Founder's Hall fine, but the building is huge! There are two wings, the east and west, and then the quads are the North Quad or the South Quad, and you have to leave the building to get from one wing to the other. The hall has student rooms, two dining halls, a library, the health center, a chapel, and even more that I haven't discovered yet.

In addition to a corner of the building, you can see my friends Julia and Erin!
My room is a single, and it's pretty small, but I like it! I didn't bring much stuff at all, so I have plenty of room for everything.
I had to go to Tesco (Pretty much Wal-Mart) for the sheets and duvet cover, and my friend Julia's mother offered to drive us there before she left! It was so nice of her. Since then, I've made another Tesco trip for more essentials.

I have a sink in my room, which is strange but really awesome. I wish more universities had sinks in the room in America. Super helpful. But I don't have a refrigerator, which is strange and not awesome.

The posters on my wall are from a sale at the Student's Union. I needed to buy them because my room was so bare, and they've really made the place feel more like home.

My Corridor

I seem to have gotten super lucky with my corridor, because we all spent the first afternoon sitting in the hallway talking and introducing ourselves. Many of us in the corridor pictured just sit outside in the hallway when we aren't doing anything, or we leave our doors open so we can chat with each other.

All the five floors of Founder's are all painted a different color, and because our floor is green we've named ourselves The Green Mile. It's been really awesome to have everyone be so social and willing to get to know each other, since I'm here by myself. It's been so easy to make friends this way.

So far, I've met some awesome people and have had a great time. I'm starting to get a feel for the campus and kind of know my way around my own building. Sometimes. I still have a whole week until classes start, so hopefully I'll be able to navigate better by then.

Until next time.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Bibliophile's Guide to Studying Abroad: The Books I'm Bringing

To prepare for my upcoming study abroad trip to London, England, I've been buying books in addition to other travel necessities. I hope to get a lot of reading done while traveling, both to England and when I'm taking my side trips in other parts of Europe.

The one print book I am bringing with me:

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed: I'm reading this book with my best friend, so of course it's the book that I want to be able to read even when my battery is running low. Also, it's about finding yourself through travel, which hopefully will be inspirational to me as I see other parts of the world for the first time.

The ebooks that I've been saving for this trip:

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins : I've read Perkins's first book, Anna and the French Kiss, which is about a girl at an American boarding school in Paris, three or four times. Each time I read it I want to see Paris more. Isla is a companion novel set at the same boarding school, though I've also read that there are more European cities in this one. I've been anticipating this book for years now, so needless to say I am incredibly excited to finally dig in. Maybe I'll even get to visit some of the places I'll read about!

The Expats by Chris Pavone: Yet another travel themed book, this one intrigues me because it is set in Luxembourg. Though it is a small European country that is often overlooked, my home school, Miami University, has a campus there. Students can study at that campus for a semester or a year, and though I am not participating in that program, I think it would be cool to know a little bit more about the country. Also, it's a mystery/thriller and that sounds like a major boredom buster.

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay: Feminism is my favorite thing to become more educated about. I consider myself a feminist, but I am not in any way an expert on the topic. I've heard that this book is hilarious and full of truth, my favorite combination. Many people who have read it say that it should be "required reading," so consider this an example of my teacher's pet tendencies.

These are the books I've chosen as travel companions. I will be sure to report back once I've finished them. Expect another post at the end of my trip with all of the books that I'm bringing back with me! 

Until next time.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Bibliophile's Guide to Studying Abroad: eReader or Tablet?

We bibliophiles are lucky to be living in the age of the eReader. Thousands of books can be stored on a device that weighs as much as a paperback.  I love my print books, but it would be really hard to convince myself that they are worth the weight in my luggage if I had to bring paper copies of everything. Fifty pounds is not that much, people!

No matter how much you love paper copies of books, it's obvious that ebooks are much more convenient for traveling.

While preparing for my study abroad semester in London, England, a big question was: Do I bring my Kindle or iPad Mini?

As I'm also bringing my laptop for schoolwork, it seemed like a waste of space to bring both entertainment devices. But which one is better for my trip?

Though I only have experience with my iPad mini and Kindle Paperwhite, many of the benefits can apply to other eReaders or tablets.


  • Holds a lot of books without worry about exceeding the space limit
  • No back light or screen glare
  • Very long battery life 
  • Doesn't support magazines or video
If you are someone who can read exclusively while traveling, I would definitely recommend bringing an eReader. The long battery life and practically unlimited reading options make it great for people who can get through multiple books during one trip.


  • Holds both books and magazines
  • Allows for TV and movies
  • Holds music
  • Can use an internet browser or social media apps with wifi
  • Much shorter battery life.
  • The backlit screen and glare may make it hard to read in some situations
  • The storage space fills up pretty fast with everything downloaded 
If you are like me, and need forms of entertainment other than books while you travel, then the tablet is the way to go. With it, I have various ways to occupy my time while traveling. I like options.

Ultimately, the pros of the iPad mini outweigh those of the Kindle. Though I love that I don't have to worry about charging my Kindle, I also love my magazines and the seasons of Sex and the City I've downloaded on my iPad. And my Kindle will be waiting for me when I get back, perhaps ready for its turn on my next adventure!

Winner: Tablet!

Until next time.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Study Abroad at Royal Holloway University

In less than one week, I depart from my hometown in Ohio to London, England for a study abroad semester that I hope will expand my horizons and expose me to the world in the way reading a book can't. I'll be abroad for 12 weeks, studying at Royal Holloway University of London.

Why London?

I've wanted to study abroad since high school, when I discovered that you could actually travel to a different part of the world and get academic credit for it. Until my first year of college, I wanted to study in Spain. That dream ended when I declared two majors in the English department (Literature and Professional Writing). Unfortunately, studying Spanish was no longer conducive to earning my degree. Bummer.

But never fear! I went online and found a semester-long study abroad program that fit my major and which I was able to use my Miami University financial aid with. Win-win. It also happened to be in London. Win-win-win. Who doesn't want to see London?

It seems to me that I couldn't have picked a better place to study English lit. Something about reading Shakespeare in his native England appeals to me. Not to mention the numerous book-related things to see, such as the Sherlock Holmes Museum, the British Library (the largest library-by number of catalogued items-in the world), Platform 9 3/4, and more!

A Little About Royal Holloway

Founded in 1886 as a college for women, Royal Holloway has since made a name for itself as one of the best undergraduate institutions in the UK. Now a coeducational university, it was ranked 12th in the UK by in the Time Higher Education World University Rankings, and placed as 5th in the world for international outlook. Out of 9,000 students, about 20 percent of them are from outside of the European Union.

I will admit that their pedigree is impressive, but honestly I'm more concerned with the fact that I get to live in this building:

The building I will live in. Me. Living there. For a semester.
My room will probably look something like this:
And I get the study in this library:

It's not quite Hogwarts, but I'll take it.

My Classes

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/2a/Hw-shakespeare.png/250px-Hw-shakespeare.pnghttp://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ed/Henry_James_by_John_Singer_Sargent_cleaned.jpg <http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-6CZAjH3mW5I/Tp0-uh_UdvI/AAAAAAAAApw/0nkJVZE-FgY/s320/Medieval+Romance.png
Since one of the big reasons students study abroad is to achieve understanding of how the education system works in different countries, I'm going to be taking three English classes:

Shakespeare -- This one is a basic introduction to Shakespeare's plays, starting with the comedies in the first half and closing out the semester with his later Jacobian works.

Modernist Fiction -- In this class I'll be reading a lot of Henry James, and Joseph Conrad, with a few other authors thrown in. Modernist generally isn't my favorite, but I hope I learn some things about it that will give me a better appreciation of these authors.

Strange Fictions: Romance in the Middle Ages -- Honestly, I have a reading list for this class but I'm still not even sure what it is I'll be reading besides Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Nothing else is familiar.


I think Royal Holloway is a great fit for me, and that I will learn a lot in the short amount of time I have there. I'm very excited to move in and really see everything that I've read about online.

Until next time.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Novel Ambition

Hello! Welcome to Novel Ambition, my new-and-improved blog (previously titled Reading is the Thing).
As you may have noticed, I haven’t posted anything to this blog since May. Before that the posts were few and far between. Usually, I would use my extra time in the summer to pay more attention to my blog and the blogging community as a whole. But I just wasn’t feeling it. So, I decided to change things up a bit.

My sordid blogging past: 

You see, this is my third attempt at a blog. I kept my first blog in high school. It didn’t look very good (lime green and purple? Really?). It was a classic book blog, which means that I reviewed books, participated in book-themed memes, interacted with others in the book blogging community, and racked up followers by hosting giveaways. I also got free advanced copies of books from publishers so I would review them and post the reviews to my blog. Which was cool.

Eventually this felt too much like an obligation. So I stopped.

Take two. My second blog (this one. Sort of.) was created over winter break my first year of college. To put it mildly, I was bored out of my skull. Since “traditional book blog” was the only thing I knew how to do, I used this blog to review books. I wasn’t motivated enough to really find a place for myself in the book blogger community this time around, so I pretty much just stuck to my own little corner of the internet, posting stiffly formatted book reviews every so often.

As you can imagine, this also got boring. So I stopped.

My Hopes and Dreams for Novel Ambition

How is this blog going to be any different?

Well, for starters, I own the domain www.novelambition.com. Which means that I am serious, dammit. No longer am I one of the many blog.blogspot.com users. I am my own person and I refuse to have a blog that suggests differently.

Content wise, you can still expect to see reviews, but also expect to see other things! Such as a large number of posts pertaining to my upcoming study abroad experience in London!

“But Taylor,” you may be asking, “why didn’t you make a separate blog devoted to studying abroad?"

I thought about it, but decided that I want my blog to be a holistic view of myself. Which includes my study abroad, my life at school, my ambition to become a part of the publishing industry, and my love of books.

Also, for the first time ever, I’m sharing my blog with all of my real-world friends and family! Hi family!*

I intend to keep this blog for a long time. I want it to be a part of my own personal brand, and I want it to reflect the dedication I have to my dreams, the world of publishing, and books. All of the books.

I hope you enjoy taking this journey with me.

Until next time.

 *If you get that this is a Frozen reference, we should be best friends.