The End of an Era

By the time I post this I’ll probably be at London Heathrow, preparing to leave England. I left Southampton on Saturday, made my way to the Holiday Inn at Heathrow and enjoyed not having to rush to the gate and board my plane. The staff here has been wonderful and even gave me a free drink voucher because my room needed 5 more minutes to be ready. Not going to complain about that!

But what’s really going through my head is this emotional tug of war battle. On the one hand, I am overly excited to head back to the US. I have never appreciated what we have more than after living here and learning about what my friends from other countries have. In the least cliche way possible, I am very proud to be an American. I’m also over the moon excited to see my family and friends…and dog. It’s been almost 9 months since I was last home, and a whole year since I started this journey, and I’m looking forward to reuniting with those who supported my decision to pursue a master’s degree.

On the other hand, my heart is breaking. This past year has been one of the most amazing years of my life. Full stop. Period. I have met some of the most interesting, courageous, caring people that will always hold a special place in my heart. They have taught me so many things, both in and out of the classroom and library settings! I can not imagine that this past year would have been as impactful as it was had those people not been a part of it.

While I try to figure out if I’m really happy or not about leaving, I’ve reflected a bit on myself. This year has brought many firsts into my life, including:
-Living in a foreign country for an entire year
-Traveling alone, to places where I don’t speak the language, eating alone, and making myself talk to others in the hostels
-Opening my mind to the world
-Giving football (soccer) a chance, and actually enjoying it
-Not being afraid to put myself out there and live a little

It has also taught me many things, such as:
-Understanding how hard English is for those who do not to speak it as their first language
-Stereotypes are just that – stereotypes. You have to give people a chance no matter who they are or where they come from

And these are just some of the initials things I thought of over my wine and pizza last night. As the days pass, I find a job and move on with my life, I know this past year will play a huge role into my personal and professional development.

So, to my new friends, I love you and miss you already. To my friends and family in the USA, see you all very, very soon!

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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.

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.

 

California Baby Shower

As the wind howls and the rain pours day after day here in England, I am reminded of a weekend that seems like an eternity ago…even though I just returned Tuesday!  Somehow, I had the privilege of flying to California on February 6 for a weekend of celebrations.  The first: a baby shower.

IMG_1959 IMG_1953As much as we could, we tried to keep my attendance a secret for my beautiful, pregnant cousin, Laura.  Unfortunately, when she picked me up at the airport, she was only a little surprised, but I think happy to see me.  The two of us and two of my other cousins, Katie and Susie, left LAX and headed for Agoura Hills.  With more family arriving through the day and Friday, it was the perfect mini-reunion.

IMG_1964Friday was preparation day.  We chopped, sliced and assembled food for Saturday’s party while laughing, joking and catching up on one another’s lives.  After that, mani/pedis and Mexican food were in order to relax and keep chatting.  If you have the chance to meet my family, you’ll quickly learn that we’re talkers, so when we’re together, we always have a lot of catching up to do!

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Then, came Saturday, where the entire house was awake and in the kitchen by 7:30am.  Grant it, coffee came first for most of us, but we were rolling bright and early.  Without knowing the sex of the baby, and knowing my cousin’s forever love for dinosaurs, my Aunt Deb and cousin Katie decided on a dino-themed shower.  Orange and green filled the house along with dinosaur books, toys and decorations.

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Though we had hoped for a sunnier day, it didn’t rain, allowing us to be outside.  Tables were setup and decorated – we even made the napkins look like tiny diapers (adorable is you ask me!).

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To go with the orange theme, we made an orange punch which contained: 2 litres Sprite, 2 litres Ginger Ale, 1 Sparkling Cider and a frozen container of orange juice.  Delicious!  Add a little white wine and presto – Mason Jar Spritzers.

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Once the guests started to arrive we put out the appetisers: cheese platter, antipasti skewers, mini spinach artichoke dip cups and tiddly winks (or, pigs in the blankets) that looked like swaddled babies.

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Then came the games: guess the price of the baby items, Baby Pictionary, and “My Water Broke!”, a game where you freeze mini plastic babies in ice cubes, put one ice cube in each guests’ glass and the first person whose ice cube melts completely yells, “My Water Broke!”.

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Lunch was served between the games and consisted of lettuce salads, sandwiches and a fruit salad.

IMG_2016 IMG_2006Next, and my favourite part, dessert!  Tiered platters were served to each table with mini French Silk Pies, Petite Bundt’s and “Dirt” in a Jar.

IMG_2026 IMG_2022Finally, it was time to open presents.  They sure do make some interesting things for kids these days.  From organic diapers and wipes to the “poop closet” and enough Packers/49ers gear to go around, this little bundle of joy will be well taken care of.

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Though I’m already missing the warm, California sun, I couldn’t be more grateful to have had the opportunity to go back to the US for this event.  Can’t wait for this little lovely to be born.  Congratulations Laura and Chandler!

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A Saturday in Salisbury

Another day, another adventure.  Last Saturday, I ventured a bit north to Salisbury.  Officially a city in 1220, Salisbury has so much history to offer visitors.

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Two of my course mates, Shaddy and Bianca, and I set off early Saturday morning for the train station.  After a quick stop in Eastleigh to change trains, we headed through the countryside towards Salisbury.  With the more-than-average rain we’ve been having, the fields and forests contained lush, green life.

Unfortunately, with rain in the forecast for later that day, we knew we’d be lucky to just stay dry under the cold, gray clouds.   As we left the Salisbury train station, we found a few different rivers running through the city.  There are actually 5 rivers come together, or, the confluence (word of the day!) of 5 rivers.

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Where there’s a river, there’s a path, which is usually prettier than the main streets.  So we followed and, just like Winchester, the high waters rushed by us.

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With a few twists and turns, we came across the Salisbury Cathedral, the main reason for our visit.  Completed in 1258, the Salisbury Cathedral is one of the largest cathedrals in the UK and also an impressive example of early English architecture.

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From a distance, the grandness of the cathedral was overwhelming.  Taking a closer look, the amount of detail on the exterior was extraordinary with statues lining the walls.

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Walking in, we were blown away by the openness of the cathedral.  We explored the tombs of past bishops and other dignitaries as well as ancient devices such as a working clock dating back to 1386.   Another impressive item was the organ, stretching around the cathedral.

IMG_1846 IMG_1849 IMG_1853The longer we were in the cathedral, the more the sun started to break through the clouds outside.  To our advantage, we were able to experience the beauty of the stained glass windows from within.

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We noticed a sign that said the Queen of England visited Salisbury Cathedral during her Diamond Jubilee in 2012.  This was picture worthy, of course, because I didn’t know the next time I’d be at a place where the Queen had recently been!

IMG_1867Walking out of the cathedral was joyous as we were welcomed by blue skies and sunshine.  Though there were absolutely zero warmth from that big ball of fire in the sky, I’ll take sunshine over clouds any day!   The sunshine gave us a whole different perspective of the cathedral’s exterior, making it even more magnificent than when we first arrived.

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From the cathedral, we took a walk around the city.  Since it was Saturday, there was a large open market in the main square, which included produce, meats and cheese, freshly made donuts, clothes and shoes and everything else in-between.

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After a bite at a delicious Italian restaurant, we noticed the weather was taking a turn for the worst – dark clouds rolled in and the temperature dropped.  So, we headed back to the train station to make our way back to Southampton.

In 2010, I visited Salisbury on a tour to Stonehenge.  The only site we saw during this tour was the cathedral so it was nice to see a little more of the city.  Though small, Salisbury still had a unique charm to it.