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.

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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Off to the Isle of Wight

With a week of break ahead of us, a group of my classmates and I decided to take advantage of another sunny day and head to the Isle of Wight.

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The Isle of Wight is England’s largest island (which is funny since England is an island itself but, I digress). Queen Victoria chose the Isle of Wight as her summer retreat and would spend periods of time at the Osborne House.  The Beatles even included this island in their song, “When I’m Sixty-Four”.   Also, since it is an island, you can’t forget about its boat making history and dinosaur fossils.  For a small island, it has a lot to offer.

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Unfortunately, Mondays in January are not the time to visit the Isle of Wight since most of the museums and shops were closed.  Nevertheless, we took the quick 25-minute ferry ride from Southampton to the city of East Cowes.

IMG_1693Once off the ferry, we started exploring the town.  As most of the shops were closed, we stayed close to the shoreline.

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We ran into a few quick rain showers but it eventually cleared up and the rest of the day consisted of sunshine and steady temperatures.

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From East Cowes we grabbed the 1 bus and headed to the main city on the island – Newport.  Here, we found the action – people out and about working, shopping and going about their day-to-day business.  I must say I was quite surprised to see so many people.  On a map, the island looks pretty small.  But, in reality, looks can be deceiving!

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After wondering the streets and finding a beautiful church, we settled on some pizza and pasta before grabbing the 7 bus and heading to Alum Bay on the far west side of the island.

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From our estimation, it should have taken about an hour from Newport to Alum Bay.  Unfortunately, this didn’t happen.  At one point, the bus driver came over the intercom to say our bus wasn’t working properly and she’d have to shut it off.  A few minutes later she had it going again and we proceed…but only for a few more minutes.  Like any island, there are very few main roads and when one is under construction, all are affected.  We sat at a standstill for a good 20 minutes waiting for our turn to pass.  Thankfully, we found ways to entertain ourselves.

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After a few more detours, we finally reached Alum Bay but only to be told that the bus we were getting off of was the last bus on the night.  Not what you want to hear when it’s getting dark and the next town with bus services is at least a 20 minute walk up the road.  As a group, we decided to take our chances and raced to The Needles to catch a glimpse of the final moments of the sunset.

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After the sun set, we were trying to come up with a plan for getting back to the ferry.  Out of nowhere, we noticed a bus coming towards us.  Guess there was one more bus after all!  I raced towards it to make sure he saw us and didn’t leave without us.  Pause for a moment – I hate running, so for me to run for anything is a big deal!  Thankfully, we made the bus and were able to grab a ferry back to Southampton.

Another great day trip!  Though many of the attractions were closed, we still had a great day.  Can’t wait to go back in the spring or summer and experience more of the Isle of Wight!

A True Lambeau Field Experience

IMG_2735Isn’t that the most beautiful picture you’ve ever seen?  Well, maybe not EVER, but it sure is pretty.  These are the tickets my brother got me for Christmas to my first Packers game in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Now, I’m from Illinois, so it would be assumed that I’m a Bears fan.  And for a while, when I look back at pictures of myself as a child, my parents dressed me in Bears outfits.  Fortunately, my brother and I spent many summers with our cousin John, a fellow Packers fan, in Wisconsin.  Our Grandma and Grandpa Neshek are from Northern Wisconsin and still have a cottage up there.  We spent many warm summers and cold winters swimming, jet skiing, snowmobiling, eating cheese, drinking beer and and becoming honorary Wisconsinites.  Alas, our love for the Packers grew every time we drove over the Leo Frigo Bridge and saw Lambeau in the distance.

When my brother said he bought tickets for Sunday’s Steelers vs. Packers game, I went and found some essential Packers gear.

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We almost didn’t make the 2 1/2 hour drive from Kenosha, WI to Green Bay due to the snow.  Fortunately, the state of Wisconsin did an excellent job of clearing the roads,  making our journey possible.  My sister-in-law was called off work on Sunday and was able to join us too!

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We made it to Lambeau field and started the layering process.  It was FREEZING but we made sure to wear long underwear, jeans, shirts, sweatshirts, snow pants, jackets, hats, gloves and scarves.  After grabbing a few drinks, we set out from the car to the main tailgating parking lot.  On the way, we ran into some true Wisconsin people in their orange camouflage and head-to-toe Packers gear.

IMG_2745When we finally made it inside we grabbed a Miller Lite, found our seats and chanted “GO PACK GO” with the 77,999 screaming fans.

IMG_2769IMG_2779While a win would have been great, the experience was still amazing and one I won’t forget.  Definitely one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever received!

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Learning to Make Baklava

Now, let me start with…I don’t have a hint of Greek in me.  I’m born and raised American with Polish, Prussian, German, French-Canadian and Native American ancestors.  Quite a mix, but no Greek to be found.

Nevertheless, yesterday I learned to make a very traditional Greek treat, Baklava.

My mom’s friend Trudy comes from a Greek background and has been making Baklava for years.  As a child, she learned from her Yaya and has kept the tradition alive since.  She came to our house on Monday morning with a bag of materials and the recipe stored safely in her head.  This baffled me, as I almost never bake without a set recipe in front of me.  Trudy, on the other hand, goes off of what feels right and the motto, “this is how Yaya made it!”

To start, we needed: walnuts, sugar, cloves, cinnamon, butter (LOTS of butter!), lemon peel and honey.

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We started by grinding the walnuts with a nut grind.  I’d never seen one of these before but apparently you can buy them at any home goods store.  By using a hand-powered nut grinder, you get just the right ratio of walnut pieces to walnut powder as well as more consistently sized walnut chunks.

IMG_1398 Sugar, cinnamon and ground cloves were then added to the walnut mixture and set aside.

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Next, a pound, yes, a POUND of butter was melted in a microwave-safe bowl.

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From there, the layering began!  To save time, we used premade Phyllo, or Filo, dough that was cut and ready to go.  We buttered the pan and added 6-8 layers of Phyllo dough with, of course, butter between each layer.

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Then, sprinkled the nut mixture evenly and added two more layers of dough.  Nuts, Phyllo, butter, nuts Phyllo, butter…repeated until the nut mixture ran out.  Then it was on to alternating Phyllo and butter until the Phyllo was gone.

IMG_1413 IMG_1414 Baklava must be evenly cut before it’s baked.  We used a flexible ruler to cut diamond-shaped pieces.  Why diamonds?  As Trudy told us, “that’s just how you cut baklava.”

IMG_1417 IMG_1419 We baked the baklava, “until it looks right.”  This meant a golden brown top with the dough baking away from the sides of the pan.

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As the baklava baked we created the simple syrup for the top and between the layers.  While water, 4 cups of sugar and cinnamon sticks boiled on the stove, we took whole cloves and stuck them into lemon peels.  This eliminated the problem of fishing the cloves from the mixture later.

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After the syrup came to a boil, it had to reach 220°F before adding in the honey.

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Once the baklava came out of the oven, we poured the honey mixture on top to fill in all the crevices.  Unfortunately, this sweet treat has to sit overnight so the pastry could thoroughly absorb the honey mixture.

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So, we had baklava for breakfast today, which was totally worth the wait!  The sweetness of the honey mixture with the spiced nuts and flaky dough was the perfect way to start this cold, December day.

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Thank you Trudy, for sharing your family recipe with us during this holiday season!

Le Petit Parisien in Dublin, Ireland

Ireland.  The land St. Patrick’s Day, Guinness, green grass and….French pastries?  Yes, French pastries.  Le Petit Parisien is a quaint coffee shop/bakery/cafe located in the heart of Dublin.  My aunt, uncle and cousin stumbled upon it the day before I arrived and, not knowing we were in the same place the next day, we stumbled upon it again.  With the rain starting to come down harder, and a very enticing window display, it was the perfect excuse to take cover for some breakfast.

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But not just any breakfast.  Sitting in a cozy window seat surrounded by Christmas music and holiday spirit, we started out with one of the best cappuccinos I’ve had.  Now, I spent 6 months in Italy back in 2010, so I’ve had my fair share of cappuccinos, and this one is hard to beat!

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My cousin, who is not a fan of coffees or cappuccinos, opted for a hot chocolate instead.  They served it to him in a glass where the first 3/4 was milk and the bottom was filled with chocolate, allowing him to mix it himself.

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With hot drinks in our hands, we were served pastry after pastry after pastry.  While my uncle ordered porridge, my cousin and I ordered fruit scones with homemade strawberry jam.

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My aunt, having had a scone the day before, went big and ordered the  vanilla cream pastry that caught her eye from the window.

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Seeing as it’s the holiday season, and I’ve seen mince pies everywhere for weeks, we decided to try one.  A mince pie is a fruit-based mincemeat sweet pie served during the Christmas season.  Having no idea what it was going to taste like, I was pleasantly surprised with its sweet, spiced flavour and flaky crust.

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If you’re in Dublin, and looking for an amazing breakfast with a cozy atmosphere, I highly recommend you check out Le Petit Parisien.  For more information, check out their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/LPPCafe.

An American/British/Faroese Thanksgiving

Well, another Thanksgiving has come and gone, but it will be one I’ll always remember.

As we sat at lunch on 28 November before a 4 hour lecture, one of my friends asked me, “will this be your first Thanksgiving without family?” At that point, I truly realised how far away I was from my family. Boom, just like that, total shut down. Let’s just say sitting through that lecture was not a pleasant experience.

Fortunately, I had something to look forward to after class. Thanks to the hospitality of some amazing friends, we feasted like…Americans! There was turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and the best homemade gravy I’ve ever had.

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Great food, Call of Duty, and some amazing friends made this year’s Thanksgiving in England a memorable one.