OXMAS | Holly Goes Abroad

The festive fun might just be beginning with the start of December, but Oxmas is actually already over…. But what is Oxmas, you ask? Oxmas is Oxford’s version of celebrating Christmas much, much earlier than everyone else. The vast majority of students move out of their accommodations during the first few days of December (I’ll be on a plane flying home as you read this), meaning that there would hardly be any time for Christmas festivities if they waited until November was over to celebrate. Thus, Oxmas was born!

Without Thanksgiving, there is nothing creating a clear distinction between when you should and shouldn’t start getting in the Christmas spirit. Decorations around the city began going up around the middle of November, with shops playing Christmas music and Christmas markets popping up on the weekends. (There was even a Christmas tree at our Thanksgiving dinner…) There were too many Christmas parties, socials, dinners, and other events to possibly count. I actually went to two carol services– two more than I had ever been to in my life before. Everyone is genuinely, unironically festive despite the fact that all of this happened before it was even December. 

 Celebrating Christmas so early may feel strange to some people, but I loved it. I’m one of those people who starts listening to Josh Groban’s Christmas album the minute the clock strikes November 1st, so Oxmas was an incredibly welcome surprise. What I didn’t anticipate was how disoriented it makes you feel. Every time I left one of these events I felt as though Christmas was right around the corner, like it was December 20th and I just had a few more days to wait… until I realized that, in actuality, it was still November. But that means that I get SO MUCH extra Christmas fun this year!

One of the best Christmas events I attended was the Christmas formal dinner at Mansfield College. The hall was beautifully decorated and the food was absolutely delicious. Being served turkey, vegetables, and potatoes reminded me a lot of Thanksgiving (albeit without squash and stuffing, the best parts). I had also never done Christmas crackers before, so I was pretty surprised and a bit confused when we all popped open the crackers and put on shiny paper crowns. There was a moment during dinner when the feeling of being at some sort of real-life Hogwarts just hit me– how can this place be so amazing?!

Christmas remains my favorite holiday, but Oxmas has definitely jumped to the top section of the list! Now that I’ve celebrated Christmas for about two weeks, I’m ready to go back home and continue on for another month. I wish I could celebrate Oxmas every year!

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Have you ever been in Oxmas during Christmastime? How early do you start celebrating Christmas? What is your favorite Christmas tradition? Let me know in the comments section below!




Thanksgiving in Oxford | Holly Goes Abroad

This past Thursday was my second favorite holiday (after Christmas, of course): Thanksgiving!! Every year since I can remember all of my family members have come over to my house for Thanksgiving dinner. Sitting crammed around our too-small dining room table is one of the few times each year when we’re all gathered together in one place and I always look forward to the food and festivities. Needless to say, I was quite sad when I realized that studying abroad would mean that I wouldn’t be home for this lovely holiday. Fortunately, Mansfield College already had this problem covered!

The smaller high table at the front of Chapel Hall.

Since Mansfield is used to hosting visiting students from the States each year they always put on a Thanksgiving dinner in the Chapel Hall. We weren’t quite sure how it was going to go, but we needn’t have worried– it was amazing! They served the usual turkey with all the trimmings and even had pumpkin pie for dessert (we had all been craving it for days now). Not only was it great to have a familiar meal, but it was also really fun to share the experience with my friends from the U.K. who had never been to a Thanksgiving dinner before. (They were so confused about the corn bread for some reason…)

Of course, nothing is comparable to Thanksgiving dinner back home. I think it’s safe to say that we all found this a bit too formal for our liking, especially since most of us are used to a relaxed, casual dinner with family. We missed the quirky twists that each of our families inevitably puts on the traditional meal (I missed the cheesecake my mom always makes) and spent a majority of the time talking about all of our different ways of doing Thanksgiving. Who knew that there were so many variations on turkey, stuffing, and squash?

The front of Chapel Hall– they’ve already started decorating for Christmas!

Despite these differences, I had a fun, delicious, and incredibly memorable Thanksgiving in Oxford. I must admit that for an American holiday, the British do it pretty well! I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving if you celebrate it! ❤

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Have you ever celebrated Thanksgiving (or another big holiday) somewhere other than where you usually celebrate it? What’s your favorite Thanksgiving tradition? Let me know in the comments section below!



Brighton, England | Holly Goes Abroad

Recently my friends and I decided to break the cycle of reading and writing essays for the first time since coming here by taking a trip to the beautiful seaside town of Brighton. I haven’t spent much time outside of Oxford yet this term because we’ve had so much school work, but I figured it was high time to explore a new place. Brighton is a few hours away from Oxford, so getting there was a bit of a process. We ended up taking a bus from Oxford to London and then another one from London to Brighton (much cheaper than a direct bus, but also MUCH longer).

Downtown Brighton is adorable and has such a great array of shops, cafes, and restaurants. It was so difficult not to do all of my Christmas shopping there! The vibe is very artsy/indie/hipster/chill in this area, which is a nice change of pace from the always intellectual Oxford. I loved all the amazing graffiti and murals that are scattered all over buildings, walls, and signs on the streets. Everything is so colorful and bright and cheerful! (except the weather!)

After exploring downtown for a bit we headed over to the pier, which was SO FUN. It feels like what I always imagined a classic carnival would be! The ocean was absolutely gorgeous and it was surreal to be standing on a shore different from that of where I live in the States. There’s something so peaceful and satisfying about staring out at pale blue water that you’ve never seen before and you’re not sure that you’ll ever see again. (Eating fish and chips while gazing out at this beautiful view wasn’t too bad either!)

Our last stop on the trip was to the Seven Sisters, which are those white cliffs in the photo above. There are two different trails leading up to this viewing point, both of which take under an hour to walk. Pictures can’t do this breathtaking, magnificent view justice. I felt so lucky to be looking out at this amazing sight on such a beautiful day with my friends. It’s truly one of the most incredible places I have ever been.

I thoroughly enjoyed my short trip to Brighton and would go back for another visit in a heartbeat. If you’ve never journeyed to this adorable seaside town before, definitely add it to your bucket list!

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Have you ever been to Brighton, England? What’s your favorite seaside town? Let me know in the comments section below!



Formal Dinners | Holly Goes Abroad

One of the questions I get asked most about studying abroad is How is the food? Fortunately, food at Oxford is excellent! Today I’ll be talking about formal hall, a three-course meal in your college’s dining hall at which you have to wear your gowns (black cape things) and sometimes even gowns (long dresses). I’ve eaten at formal hall a handful of times now, so I’m definitely ready to gush about it!

Formal dinner in Chapel Hall at Mansfield College

Each college does formal hall a little differently. At Mansfield College where I currently study, we have formal hall every Wednesday and Friday; however, it’s pretty expensive compared to a regular meal so people usually only go every once in a while. Other colleges, such as Merton, have formal hall every night (this is a pretty good indicator of which colleges have more money). People always joke here about making a bunch of friends from other colleges so you can go to their formals, but they’re only half kidding: going to formals at other colleges is a blast!

Formal hall at Merton College

When I first time I ate at formal hall I was taken aback by its fanciness. I had to ask people what silverware to use first, which glass to put wine vs. water in, how to open the weird glass bottles of water they place in the middle of the table, etc. A tutor speaks in Latin before we eat, resembling a sort of dining cultish chant (okay, that’s a little exaggerated– it was pretty strange, though!). Most importantly, the food is delicious!

Personally, the most impressive aspect of formal hall is the way they handle allergies. When you sign up to go to formal you write down any dietary restrictions you may have, which ultimately get written on a little card like the one shown above. You place this card in front of you during the meal to let the server know and they will adjust your meal accordingly. I’m always so surprised when they bring out a dessert that I can actually eat with my nut allergy because usually that’s the part of the meal that I have to skip. My favorite dessert so far has been apple pie…. how did they know I was craving autumn desserts?!

Formal hall may be expensive, but it’s definitely worth it for special occasions. Where else can you feel like you’re dining in the Great Hall at Hogwarts?

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Have you ever been to formal hall at Oxford? What’s the fanciest meal you’ve ever eaten? Let me know in the comments section below!



British vs. American English | Holly Goes Abroad

When I first told my friends and family that I wanted to spend a year abroad in England, many of them tried to reassure me by saying, “Well, at least they don’t speak a different language!” Little did they know that sometimes it feels as though it actually is a different language. There is a surprising number of words that I’ve heard and have had to ask what they mean or how they should be used in regular conversation. Usually I forget to use them and end up resorting to the American version… but it’s the thought that counts, right?

Here are some British vs. American English comparisons that have taken some getting used to:

“Porridge” vs. “Oatmeal”

Before coming to England I had this vague idea in my head that porridge was a different kind of oatmeal. I stand corrected: they’re literally the same thing. Now I just feel like Goldilocks and the three bears when I eat breakfast every morning.

“Are you alright?” vs. “How are you?”

This one really throws me off. How do you respond to this? Am I supposed to say “Yes, are you alright?” Usually I just end up smiling and then mumbling something incoherent before hurriedly asking them how they are. Really, really smooth.

“Football” vs. “Soccer”

This example encompasses countless differences regarding sports. Here they say “boots” instead of “cleats,” “pitch” instead of “field,” “match” instead of “game”…. the list goes on and on!

“Timetable” vs. “Schedule”

Every time someone says “timetable” my mind immediately thinks of Hermione’s Time-Turner in Harry Potter. Maybe they really are wizards here…

“Tutor” vs. “Professor”

Every week I attend tutorials led by my tutor, which is just a different word for professor. This brings up an interesting question: What do I call them? It’s normal back home to say “Professor Snape” but I don’t think it would be right to say “Tutor Snape”…. so maybe “Dr. Snape” is better?

“Bop” vs. “Dance”

When I first learned that there would be a bop at the end of Fresher’s Week visions of High School Musical’s “Bop to the Top” raced through my mind. It turns out that a bop is actually just a school dance, though different from back home in that they serve alcohol. They are also themed, which makes it even more hilarious and cheesy.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little foray into the linguistic challenges I’ve encountered thus far! It makes me grateful that I’m not studying somewhere with a completely different language. Adjusting to a new culture is difficult enough, but an entirely different language adds a huge wrinkle into the mess!

Click here to check out other posts in my Holly Goes Abroad series!

What other differences have you encountered between the same language spoken in different countries or areas of the world? Have you had any experiences like this? Which one of these differences surprises you most? Let me know in the comments section below!



University Parks | Holly Goes Abroad

Recently my friends and I have discovered a hidden gem in Oxford: University Parks. This expanse of green grass, woodsy alcoves, and a meandering river is the perfect place for a study break in the midst of reading literary criticism and writing essays. The weather here has actually been surprisingly nice thus far, so we’ve spent plenty of beautiful afternoons strolling on these paths. I’ve taken so many photos of this gorgeous place– I’ll try to restrain myself from including dozens of them in this post!

Uni Parks was created in the nineteenth century when the land was initially purchased from Merton College. Back then it was used by grazing sheep and cattle as much as by people leisurely walking. Today there are still some animals to be found munching on grass, mostly on small farms that border the Parks’ land. One day my friends and I stumbled upon a farm with several horses and we now visit several times a week when we need to step away from the books. (We named this white horse Marshmallow!!)

I was pleasantly surprised and very relieved to realize how much green space exists in Oxford. I’m from a fairly rural area back in the States and before coming here I was worried that Oxford would be solely an urban area with very little nature in it. Fortunately, that’s definitely not the case! Uni Parks is only one of many green spaces in the city, but it’s by far the best one I’ve encountered. Walking through nature paths like this is like the ultimate reset button for me: all of my stress goes away as soon as I see those adorable horses and smell the fallen leaves on the ground. There’s nothing like some time outside to make everything inside feel better!

If you’re ever in the Oxford area, I highly recommend giving Uni Parks a try! It’s free, fun, and a lovely way to spend the afternoon.

Click here to check out other posts in my Holly Goes Abroad series!

Do you go to parks often? Which ones are your favorite? What would you have named that lovely white horse instead of Marshmallow? Let me know in the comments section below!



Freshers’ Week | Holly Goes Abroad

Freshers’ Week: that infamous transition period after everyone is on campus but term hasn’t yet officially begun. I had heard many things about it before coming here but I wasn’t sure which rumors had merit and which were false. Did people actually just go out and get drunk every night? (Yes.) Was that all there was to do? (No.) Would I still have course work to do? (Absolutely.) Does freshers’ flu exist? (YES.)

Freshers’ Week is essentially seven days of orientation for first year students during which they learn how to be students both academically and socially. I’m not going to lie: it was a strange, strange week. I’m a third year college student back in the States, which means that I’ve already been through the standard discussions about racial diversity, asking consent, and fire safety. Everyone in the room felt so young and it felt weird to be constantly asked if I was a freshman as well. The students in my particular program are in a unique position: we know how to be students, just not how to be students at Oxford. There’s a fine line there that’s hard to describe, but it’s definitely there. 

Even stranger than this phantom fresher feeling was the fact that the college itself sanctioned events relating to and centering around alcohol. Back home that would be illegal because the drinking age is 21, but here it is obviously not a problem because the drinking age is 18. The college led pub crawls, organized club nights, and had a fully stocked bar at our bop. Perhaps this has just been my experience, but here it feels like there’s less pressure to drink to get drunk; instead, people drink to have a good time or to be social at relaxed pubs.

Speaking of bops, they’re basically my new favorite thing. A bop is a party that a college will host, usually in their Junior Common Room. Each one has a different theme that dictates what kind of costume you decide to where. The goal is make the best costume by spending the least amount of money on it, so you can imagine the chaos and fun that ensues. Our theme was to dress up as something that starts with the first letter of your first name. Naturally, I dressed up as Hermione. The bop was a great event to end Freshers’ Week with, especially because the name-centric theme helped me learn more people’s’ names!

Last but not least, we come to the dreadful part of Freshers’ Week: what is fondly called the freshers’ flu. Lectures this week were a sea of sick, coughing students all chugging water and as much Vitamin C as they possibly could. The lack of sleep coupled with mountains of course work certainly doesn’t help– but we push through!

Whether or not you’ve experienced a Freshers’ Week of your own, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little jaunt into mine! It’s certainly a week I won’t forget.

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Have you ever experienced a Freshers’ Week? Been to a bop? What would you have dressed up as according to my bop’s theme? Let me know in the comments section below!



LIBRARIES | Holly Goes Abroad

There are so many amazing things about Oxford that it’s incredibly difficult to choose just one favorite. However, if I had to pick a single thing that I absolutely adore about living here it would be the LIBRARIES.

My bookish friends, I am in library paradise.

There are still so many libraries that I have to explore, but the ones that I’ve visited thus far are breathtaking. Today I’ll be sharing my three favorite libraries in Oxford:

Bodleian Library

The Bodleian Library is HUGE (there’s me walking up the front steps for scale!). It stretches way beyond what is shown in the photo above and it even has several floors of underground tunnels that connect it to other libraries in Oxford. The Bod has over 12 million items and is the main research library for the University of Oxford. When I first arrived here I wasn’t sure I would be able to enter it as a visiting student. BUT I CAN! My university card gives me access, so I can go in and casually study there whenever it’s open. Dream. Come. True.

Noise levels are something that Oxford takes very seriously. Be it in dorms or libraries, they always emphasize the importance of being conscientious when others are working. Signs like the one in the photo above are sprinkled throughout the library’s center courtyard because it’s easy to hear people talking from inside the reading rooms when the windows are open. The Bod is a great place to study when you really need to focus. It’s also fun traversing its countless twists and turns!

Radcliffe Camera

There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of walking through the gates of the Radcliffe Camera to go study as tourists snap photos from afar. It’s still so surreal to me that I actually get to use these gorgeous libraries as study spaces! The Rad Cam is often used as an iconic image of Oxford. It’s located right behind the Old Bod, which is convenient if you want to switch up your study spot after a while or need a book that’s in one or the other.

I love studying on the top floor of the Rad Cam because you get to enjoy this incredible view. Whenever I need a quick break from reading I glance over the railing and admire the amazing architecture and gorgeous ceiling. It makes me feel like I’m in some sort of bookish castle!

Mansfield Main Library

Ah, the Mansfield main library. Mansfield College may be small, but its library is perfect. It’s cozy, cute, and just the right size. Chances are you can find a Mansfielder you know studying there at any hour of the day. The dining hall is in the next building, which means that you can spend all day on campus and not have to worry about losing your spot in the library when you leave for lunch or dinner. Mansfield also has theology, law, and PPE reading rooms, but this main library (where the English literature is!) is definitely my favorite of the bunch.

Also, I’d like to give an honorable mention shout out to the English Faculty Library. Though not as architecturally impressive as the other libraries I’ve mentioned, the English Faculty Library has an amazing selection of any and every book I would ever need here. When I found the American literature section I had to stop myself from doing a happy dance in the middle of the aisle– the number of Faulkner novels and collections of criticism on his works is incredible.

Click here to check out other posts in my Holly Goes Abroad series!

Do you have any favorite libraries? (Both in Oxford and beyond!) What are the most important features of your ideal library? What aspect of my year in Oxford should I talk about next? Let me know in the comments section below!



My First Week in Oxford | Holly Goes Abroad

Hello from across the pond! I can’t believe I’ve already been here for almost a week– it simultaneously feels like a month and just a single day. This past week has been spent settling into my room here, exploring Oxford, and learning the ropes of living in a new culture. From vocabulary and customs to navigating city streets, there’s so much to learn!

I’m not going to lie: the transition was rough at first. Everything is just different enough from the United States to make it frustrating and nerve-racking when you get off the bus in the middle of a foreign city. I live in a fairly rural town back home, which means that simply living in a city was an adjustment. And don’t even get me started on the time change– it still boggles my mind! It’s strange to wake up at seven o’clock here and realize that it’s only two in the morning back home. All of a sudden around 2 p.m. my phone starts buzzing because people are finally awake in the States. I can’t imagine what a time difference of more than five hours would feel like!

The food is also different here, which makes eating out with my nut allergy quite interesting. It’s essentially the same process as eating out back home, with the disadvantage that I’m not familiar with food brands and restaurants here. I’ve noticed that most restaurants have a broad statement on the bottom of the menus saying that they cannot guarantee that their food is not cross-contaminated with nuts; however, when I’ve spoken to servers they have assured me that I would be fine eating there. I’m not sure if they make that statement simply to cover them legally or if there is actually truth to it, but I haven’t had any problems so far! (Knock on wood!) Fortunately, my college here at Oxford has been extremely accommodating as far as dining is concerned

I was lucky enough to have my dad with me for the week to help me settle in, so we were able to do some major sightseeing around Oxford. This city is absolutely stunning. The architecture is incredible and the history behind every nook and cranny here is endlessly fascinating. The more I learn about the significance of my surroundings the more grateful I feel to have the opportunity to be here in the first place. To think that Oxford could become like a second home to me after living here for a year is surreal!

I love, love, love the academic vibe this city exudes. From the expansive Bodleian Library and Radcliffe Camera to the sprawling Blackwell’s Bookshop, everything here is a bookworm’s dream! I can’t wait to spend the next year exploring these bookish sights. I’m looking forward to exploring now that I know the area pretty well and can get around without a map.

What would this update be without mentioning the beautiful Mansfield College? It still hasn’t quite hit me that I’ll be studying here for the next year. The campus is gorgeous, the dining hall is like something straight out of the Harry Potter films, and the library is literally the library of my dreams. It’s only about a fifteen minute walk from my dorm, which is enough to make me feel like I’m getting out and doing something but not so much that it’s frustrating to walk back and forth all the time. I can’t wait for my tutorials to actually start!

I hope you’re all having a lovely day and that you’ve enjoyed this little study abroad update. I’m planning on doing one of these each week, so stay tuned for more! If you’d likely more timely updates on what I’m doing, check out my bookstagram @nutfreenerd.

Let me know in the comments section below what aspects of my study abroad adventures you’d be most interested in hearing about!



Tomorrow is Travel Day! | Holly Goes Abroad

The day I’ve been awaiting for months is finally around the corner: travel day. Tomorrow I hop on a plane and leave the United States for the first time (eek!).

As I talked about in a past post, I’ll be studying English literature at Mansfield College within Oxford University during this academic year. Even just writing it out like that feels so surreal– I still can’t believe this is actually happening! I can’t wait to solely focus on studying literature for an entire year (of course, the fun adventures and exploring that come along with it aren’t too shabby, either).

This summer has been filled with packing, doing required reading, and preparing in any way I can for the huge leap I’ll be taking. I’m incredibly excited (and nervous!) for what this next year has in store for me!

My plan is to post weekly updates on what I’ve seen, experienced, and done throughout my study abroad experience. Not only is this a fun way to share the experience with others, but it also allows me to have a record of my year at Oxford. I’ll also be posting plenty of photos to my bookstagram (@nutfreenerd) so be sure to check it out!

I want to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has supported me along the way– your kindness and generosity means everything! ❤