Time to start blogging again!

It has been far too long since my last post, and since then, so much has happened:

  1. I finished my second and final semester of my postgraduate programme:  After Easter break, I turned in a total of 10 different assignments, which was more intense that I had originally anticipated.  Some were individual, others group and all took an excessive amount of effort to finish.  I could calculate approximately how many words I wrote, but I might frighten you.  Second semester turned out to be a bit better than the first, but there were still roadblocks along the way.  If you’re reading this, and considering coming to England to study from another country, just know that the teaching style here will probably be different than what you’re used to.  I’ve spent more hours teaching myself this year than I could have imagined.  While this is not entirely a bad thing, I wasn’t prepared for this, making the entire years a complete learning curve.  But, I did learn a great deal over the past 8 months.  I wouldn’t say I’m an expert in any one subject, but I do have a better understanding about a wide variety of digital marketing areas.
  1. I started my dissertation: Just when I thought my days were going to be a little easier…bam!  My proposal was approved, I received a supervisor and was off and rolling.  I’m really enjoying my topic so far and have been told it could really add some new knowledge to the marketing industry.  Who knows, maybe it will! More on my dissertation later, but don’t want to get ahead of myself.  Here’s a little hint…it’s all about hashtags!
  1. I spent 17 days traveling around Ireland, England and Scotland:  After handing in my last assignment, I had a few days to relax before catching a 6:50am flight from Southampton to Dublin to meet my parents.  While they had some issues (cancelled flight out of Chicago and unfriendly employees of an airline that will not be named), I made it to one of my favourite cities without any issues.  This trip was a great experience for the three of us, though I think my parents were pretty tuckered out by the time they returned how.  Admittedly, I was too! More posts and pictures to come on this trip in the coming days.

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I have no excuses anymore to not blog regularly.  In fact, blogging will probably help me clear my brain of my dissertation research and everything else that is going on.  Be on the lookout for posts about  the rest of my trip to Germany, most recent travels and any other new and exciting adventures I have from now on.

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Berliner Dom and Schnitzel

After spending the majority of my day at Museumsinsel, the sun was still out and I had some energy left to keep sightseeing.  Next to Museumsinsel is this beautiful cathedral, the Berliner Dom.

IMG_2550 The exterior of this cathedral is absolutely breathtaking, especially since most of it was not damaged during WWII.  Though there was some fire damage that caused the roof to collapse.

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Walking into a cathedral this size is always either a huge disappointment or an eye-opening experience.  Let’s just say my eyes were wide open for a long time.

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I was lucky enough to walk in during a rehearsal for Bach’s Matthäuspassion that was to be performed in April.  The beautiful sounds of operatic singing and strings playing filled the dome.  I sat down for at least an hour enjoying this free concert of sorts.

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With only a little time left before the cathedral closed I knew I had to motivate and walk around.  One of the most impressive pieces in this cathedral was the pipe organ.

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Though I didn’t realise it when I bought the entrance ticket, I had the opportunity to climb up to the top of the cathedral and look upon Berlin.  So I climbed, and climbed and continue climbing until I reached a door and walked outside.  Had it not been cloudy, it would have been absolutely amazing.  But, beggars can’t be choosers, and I enjoyed the views the best I could.

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From there I found myself in the crypt.  This was one as I’d never seen before with large coffins lined up and crowns displayed to recognise royalty.

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Feeling absolutely famished I made my way over towards Hackerscher Markt to find a bite to eat.  The night before I played it safe with some Italian food but after this day, I wanted a beer and some traditional German food.

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I found myself at Restauration 1840.  There were people sitting and eating inside, which is always a good sign, so I made my way in and found a table for one.

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IMG_2597The servers were extremely helpful and I ordered a Warsteiner and Schnitzel Weiner Art.  Never having schnitzel before, I was a little skeptical.  You always hear about schnitzel but if you’re like me, ask yourself, “What the heck is a schnitzel?”  Basically, it’s tenderized meat, coated and fried.  Delicious, but extremely filling.  While I didn’t finish the whole thing, I only left a few bites.

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A fine end to a great day!

Berlin’s Museumsinsel

A city such as Berlin is bound to have some fantastic museums.  Fortunately, I had the opportunity to visit three of the five museums that make up Museumsinsel.

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I started my day at the Pergamon Museum.  Now, the great thing about being a student again is paying half the price of a regular ticket.  Because of its exhibits, the Pergamon ticket is sold separately.  But, for only 3 euros more (at the student price, of course),  I was able to buy an all-museum pass.

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After dropping my bags off (all the Museumsinsel museums have lockers because you aren’t allowed to carry backpacks around), I was greeted by The Ishtar Gate and the Processional Way of Babylon.  Story time – back in 2010, my brother, cousins and I went to the British Museum in London.  My brother was so excited to be there and raced around looking for these gates because he believed they were here.  Unfortunately, this is when we learned the gates were in Berlin.  So, in honour of my brother’s determination, I knew I had to go and see the Gates of Babylon just for him, and I’m glad I did!  They were massive, and the most beautiful blue colour.  These sections in the Pergamon Museum are only a small part of the original gate and wall but truly provide a breathtaking perspective.

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From there I moved on to the:

Market Gate of Miletus

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Pergamon Alter

IMG_2452 IMG_2456Many Middle-Eastern pieces

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Mshatta Facade

IMG_2499 IMG_2500The Pergamon Museum was well worth the visit and I highly encourage anyone going to Berlin to take a few hours check it out.

After the Pergamon Museum I went next door to the Neues Museum.  After being heavily damaged during WWII, this museum reopened in 2009.  While the third floor was closed, I did see the Egyptian and Prehistory and Early History collections.

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Wanting to get my money’s worth from the ticket, I decided to grab a quick bite to eat and check out the Bode Museum.  The museum is home to a collection of sculptures and Byzantine art.  When I lived in Rome, Italy during my undergrad, I can honestly say I saw enough religious paintings and marble sculptures to last a lifetime!  But, the Bode Museum’s collection was quite impressive and I’m glad I made time for it.

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One observation from Museumsinsel and The British Museum…The Germans and the British have a LOT of precious items that don’t necessarily belong to them.  Now, whether they’re “borrowed” or not is an entirely different question, but this is just an observation, nothing more.

A long, long day of museums but definitely one I won’t forget anytime soon!

Berlin the Beautiful

First day and I made it through alive!  Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but let’s just say I navigated the city and made it back to the hostel in one piece.  But, it has definitely been a long day!

Waking up at 2:45am is never easy, and grabbing a 4:30am coach to the airport is that much harder.   But, it beats paying for a night at a Heathrow hotel, which isn’t cheap.  I flew Germanwings from London to Berlin and was pleasantly surprised with the experience.  The flight was a little delayed, but only by 5 minutes.  The flight attendants were friendly and served water, cheese/ham sandwiches and chocolates to everyone onboard.  Better than a pack of peanuts if you ask me!

We touched down at Berlin Tegal and, of course, it began to rain.  It’s like I attract the rain wherever I go these days!  But, not bother.  Passport control was the best I’ve ever experienced.  Literally, walked off the plane, had my passport checked and stamped, and was on my way to baggage.  There were 4 passport checkers right at the end of the tunnel, which was unbelievable.  The bags arrived within 5 minutes of getting of the plane as well.  Kudos Berlin for making my airport experience an A+!

Once out of luggage claim, I easily found the Tourist Information desk to purchase my Berlin Welcome Card.  This card gives me access to all the public transportation as well as discounts at restaurants and museums.  Since I’ll be here 4 nights, it just made sense.  It’s also predicted to rain every day so now I won’t have to worry about getting stuck in it.

Next step…figure out how to get to my hostel, The Wombat.  Now, of course I did all the research I could before leaving home regarding directions, and the hostel provided very helpful directions on my confirmation email.  I took the TXL bus to Alexanderpratz, then the U2 (underground) from Alexanderprats to Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz.  From there, a few quick lefts and I was at my doorstop.

The Wombat staff was super friendly when I arrived and I only had to wait 20 minutes before checking into my room.  During that wait, I was handed a wifi password that’s good for 7 days.  Not bad since most hostels nowadays charge an arm and a leg for wifi.

Now, when I originally booked my room, I could only book two nights in a 6 mixed dorm and two nights in a 6 female dorm.  This meant I would have to check out after two nights and recheck-in.  Fortunately, The Wombat was able to put me into a 6 female dorm for all 4 nights, making my life a whole lot easier!

When I finally got into my room I met Vivian, an exchange student from Hong Kong studying for a semester in Liverpool.   Super friendly and also travelling on her own.

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With the sun peaking out from behind the clouds for a bit, I knew I needed to suck up the exhaustion and get out there.  I took the U2 to Potsdamer Platz and found some original pieces of the Berlin Wall on display.  From there I took a quick walk to fine Tiergarten.  Since I’ll probably be dodging rain for the next few days. I took a stroll through the park, taking in its greenness and spring-like smells.

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Then, I made a quick peak at the Reichstag building to see its beautiful glass dome and stone sculptures.

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On the way there I found the Memorial To The Sinti and Roma of Europe Murdered Under National Socialism.

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Next, I went from one side to the other of the Brandenburger Tor.  This city gate was built in the 18th century and was a symbol of divided Berlin and the Cold War.

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With the weather still on my side I walked up Unterden Linden to Schloβplatz for a quick look at Museumsinsel (Museum Island), Fernsehturm (TV Tower) and St. Marienkirche.

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Then, the wind started picking up and I realised all I ate today was a peanut butter sandwich and a few bites of my cheese sandwich on the airplane.  So I jumped back on the U2 from Alexanderplats (yep, ended up back there) towards the hostel.  Knowing I didn’t want to be too far from my hostel, I grabbed a quick Italian dinner at La Cucina next door.  Tortellini alla panna did the trick and I was back on my feet…and heading for the hostel.

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When I first checked in I received a drink coupon, but I don’t think I’ll be using that tonight! Better save it for tomorrow when I can enjoy it. Might even check-out the Photo Booth that’s outside my window then as well.  But for real, there’s a Photo Booth outside.

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For not, I think it’s time to head to my room, put on a movie and get ready for my New Europe Tour tomorrow morning!

First Football (Soccer) Match

If you didn’t know this about me, I love sports. All sports.  I love watching them, playing them, you name it and I’ll try it.  In my family, if you don’t like sports, well, good luck!  Just filled out my March Madness bracket the other day and like most, it’s already in the toilet.

I grew up a dancer (ballet, tap, jazz, pointe, hip hop, modern, you get the picture) but dabbled with sports in between.  Had my time playing softball – not for me.  I really liked baseball but once I was at a certain level I was asked to leave because I was a “liability”/they were afraid I was going to get hurt by the pitching machine.  In high school I played golf, and still play whenever I can.  When I lived in Arizona, being able to play golf had its bonuses as you can play all year long!

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 20.05.34In terms of watching sports, I’ll watch anything.  I like:

Baseball (Go Cubs!)

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American Football (Go Pack Go!)

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Hockey (Let’s Go Hawks!)

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Now Football (or as we silly Americans call it, Soccer) is a sport I didn’t grow up with.  Sure, I went to a few matches in high school and played it in gym class, but it isn’t as popular in the states as it is everywhere else in the world.  So, living in the UK and trying to take in as much culture as possible, I experienced my first football match on 15th March 2014 – a Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Norwich.

IMG_3194We arrived at St. Mary’s Stadium on a surprisingly pleasant and sunny Saturday to a sea of red.  It’s nice to see people supporting the Saints through jerseys, t-shirts, scarves and beyond.

IMG_3190 IMG_3212We purchased out tickets through the University of Southampton and were seated in one of the corners.  A little worried about these seats, I was happily proven wrong.  The stadium holds a little over 30,000 people so there isn’t a bad seat in the house!  We were early enough to grab a pie, cider and watch warm-ups.

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With 20 minutes before the match, more than half the seats were emqpty.  But, as I soon learned, the seats fill up about 5 minutes before the whistle blows.  We contributed this to the fact that you can’t bring alcohols past the concession stands, so everyone drinks before finding their seats.

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When the match stated, the atmosphere changed dramatically.  It was a bit hard to understand the chants and cheers of the fans but there was one I did recognize – “When the Saints go Marching In”.  Having gone to a Catholic school for part of my life, and our mascot being the I.C. Saints, this was a familiar tune.  So, I joined in as best as I could.

Southampton beat Norwich that sunny Saturday, 4-2.   Not bad for my first, but definitely not last, Football match!

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TFM&A 2014

Last week, I was up and on the coach before sunrise, heading to London for TFM&A 2014.  The Technology for Marketing and Advertising conference is an annual event for professionals in the marketing and advertising industry.  It provides presentations about new and upcoming technologies and innovations, information on products and services and networking opportunities.

IMG_3120Why did I go?  An excellent question!  My main reason for attending was to learn more about the digital marketing industry from a real-life perspective.  While I did work in advertising, it was only for a quick 2 years and I am far from a digital expert.  Also, being back in the classroom only provides a theoretical view of how to understand analytics or design a digital strategy.  The professionals at TFM&A not only understand what has been, they are also the ones predicting what will come in terms of social media trends, the evolution of brands and the next “big thing” in technology.  So, I wanted to surround myself with these people and pick their brains for information.

What did I learn?  More than I can put into one blog post, that’s for sure!  But let me summarise some of they key takeaways I discovered:

1. Social media has changed our lives:  Whether it is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any of the others out there, you can’t ignore them.  Social media outlets aren’t just for posting pictures and keeping in touch with long-lost  high school friends anymore.  They have changed the ways in which consumers consume media and how the media generates and provides information to their consumers.  I attended a keynote given by Anthony Simon, Head of Digital Communications, Prime Minister’s Office & Cabinet Office, who told us how the Prime Minister uses Facebook to provide people with emotional content, such as updates on the current UK Flooding.  A few years back, this information would have most likely been disclosed in a press release but thanks to the evolution of social media, the day of the press release may be coming to an end.  You may not have seen it coming, but how we communicate has, and will continue to, change.

2. Master’s degrees aren’t what they used to be: At one point during the “Panel debate: The future of marketing – have Gen X and Gen Y got what it takes?” keynotes, I started to have second thoughts about pursuing my master’s degree.  One of the Gen X panel members make a comment about how he could care less if a future employee had some “fancy MBA” or other degree.  You can probably imagine my face changing from a smile to one that showed pure horror.  Fortunately, other people on the panel weighed in on the topic and said sometimes it matters, sometimes it doesn’t.  But, HR departments still see it as an impressive accomplishment, which can help candidates land an interview.  They also said that a master’s degree is more about the experiences one took to achieve it.  Those experiences are what a future employer wants to hear about in an interview and those experiences are what will set up apart from the rest.

3. Passion outweighs everything:  You can be good, heck, even great at something, but if you don’t have passion for it, you might as well pack your bags.  Passion and curiosity are the key driving forces to becoming a successful marketer.  Without them, you’ll probably be out of a job.  The marketing and advertising industries are progressing before our eyes every day and you need to be ready and willing to evolve with them.  You might not know what the changes are, but that’s OK.  As long as your curiosity drives you to get out of bed every day to do something you’re passionate about, you’re going to make it.

These are just some of the many insights I gained at TFM&A 2014.  I could go on and on about statistics and data I picked up, but in the digital world, that information is probably already out of date.  However, the above takeaways are ideas I can put in my marketing toolkit and use in the coming months as I look for a job, and in my future marketing/advertising career.

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Dreaming of a Beach Day

Having been in England since the end of September, 2013, I’ve noticed a trend in the weather.  Most days, it looks something like this:

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If you couldn’t tell, I was definitely inside drying off when this picture was taken.  Cold, rainy, windy and miserable.  These are just a few of the words I’d use to describe the past few months.  I spent the last 6 years in the desert state of Arizona, so this much rain is completely out of my comfort zone!

So, when I’m feel “meh”, I think back to a few weekends ago when I went to California.  We spent the day hiking the beach, eating delicious food and celebrating my sister-in-law’s birthday.

We started the day off on Zuma Beach, just a hop, skip and a drive over the mountains from my aunt and uncle’s house.  It was cloudy and a bit cool when we started but nothing compared to the weather I had come from.

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After a quick 2 mile walk/hike, we arrived at Paradise Cove, a cute little joint tucked away on the beach in Malibu.  Now, when in America, eat like an American!  While I should have gone for some eggs, I splurged on some apple pie pancakes and a mimosa.

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And what’s a birthday breakfast without an enormous cake to feed everyone?!  I think she was a bit surprised, but Happy Birthday Lindsay!

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After breakfast, the sun came out and we started our journey back up the beach.

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So if you’re experiencing the winter blues in rainy England, snowy Chicago or wherever else has crummy weather, I hope there is a sunny day in your near future.