Winter in England | Holly Goes Abroad

Whenever I tell people that I’m studying abroad in England, the first thing they often lament is the awful weather. It’s so rainy! Pack your rain boots! You’ll freeze! The sun will never come out! Here I was thinking that the streets of Oxford would constantly be flooding and my sneakers would be soaking wet every morning as I walked to lecture. Fortunately, that is definitely not the case!

While winter has certainly been grayer and wetter than autumn thus far, it isn’t nearly as cold as I expected. Over winter break back in the States, we got over a foot of snow where I live in New Hampshire. After wearing puffy winter coats, shoveling the driveway every few hours, and enduring temperatures close to zero degrees Fahrenheit, winter in England hardly feels like winter at all. The temperature tends to hover somewhere around forty or forty-five degrees Fahrenheit, making it feel more like March than January. And there are birds singing outside my bedroom window?!?! What season is it??

Check out all that snow back in New Hampshire.

There are even miraculous days of sunny blue skies to break up the gray monotony every once in a while. It feels strange to walk around and see green grass in the middle of January… where is all the snow? Where is all the slush? The shovels? The plows? It’s quite nice to not have to worry about walking in the snow; however, I know that if I hadn’t gone home to so much snow over break I would have really missed it. Winter just doesn’t feel the same without a foot of snow to trudge through!

A photo of the Rad Cam that I took in January. LOOK AT THAT GRASS.

Even Michaelmas term wasn’t as rainy, cold, or gray as people told me it would be. To be honest, I don’t really mind the weather in England, or at least the weather in Oxford. It’s so mild compared to the wild seasons of New Hampshire!

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

What is winter like where you live? Do you get a lot of snow? What’s your favorite season? Let me know in the comments section below!




JANUARY 2018 | Wrap-Up

The first month of 2018 is officially complete! Resolutions have been made (and inevitably some have been dropped…), classes have resumed, and the busy bustling of everyday life is back in full swing once again. January through March or April tends to be my least favorite time of year because I don’t have any fun holidays to look forward to, but this year feels a bit different thanks to studying abroad. Here’s what I’ve been up to thus far in 2018:

In January I read a total of 18 books (!!!):

  1. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  2. Girl Up by Laura Bates
  3. The Quartet by Joseph J. Ellis
  4. The Miserable Mill by Lemony Snicket
  5. The Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket
  6. Frederick Douglass by William S. McFeely
  7. What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton
  8. The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr
  9. Lit Up by David Denby
  10. Not So Quiet by Helen Zenna Smith
  11. Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick
  12. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
  13. The Ersatz Elevator by Lemony Snicket
  14. The Vile Village by Lemony Snicket
  15. Night by Elie Wiesel
  16. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
  17. On Writing by Stephen King
  18. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

HOW DID I READ THIS MANY BOOKS?! I definitely expected to read nothing at all this month because I moved back to England to continue the rest of my year at Oxford. The constant stream of essays I write each week means that I hardly have time to read for fun… EXCEPT by listening to audio books. Audiobooks are the secret key to reading way more than I ever expected I’d be able to. I listen to them while walking to lecture and college, cooking, getting ready in the morning, doing laundry, etc. It’s the perfect way to read and be productive at the same time!

I read a lot of excellent books this month, but my favorite is the first book I read so far this year: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. I read this novel for my English Literature 1910-Present tutorial and have immensely enjoyed studying it in terms of gender, its treatment of veterans in postwar British society, and its modernist writing style. It as also her 136th birthday this month!

This year I’m adding a new section to my monthly wrap-ups: favorites!

+ MOVIE: Definitely Les Misérables (2012). I had never seen the play or a movie adaptation before this month, so I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Let me just say that I was wrecked. I literally cried throughout a solid 70 percent of this film.

+ MUSIC: Is anyone surprised that I’ve been listening to the Les Mis soundtrack on repeat for the past two weeks? (Answer: You shouldn’t be.) My favorite songs include “ABC Cafe / Red & Black,” “On My Own,” “One Day More,” and “Paris / Look Down.” There are so many amazing songs to choose from!

+ FOOD: FALAFEL. Falafel is definitely more popular here in England than where I live back home, so I’ve enjoyed making falafel wraps for lunch and dinner. It’s so good with carrots and cucumbers and sweet potato…

+ PLACE: It’s been hard not to fall even more in love with Mansfield College, where I’m currently studying abroad in Oxford. It’s such a beautiful place and the people I’ve met here are lovely ❤

I did it! I made it back to Oxford all by myself! It was the first time I had made the trip from home to England alone, and it actually went surprisingly smoothly. Every new step I take as far as travel goes makes me a bit more confident about traveling even more in the future. The transition back to Oxford life was seamless and in many ways it feels as though I never even left. Work has picked back up again, reading has commenced, and my typing fingers have already written more essays than I would have written in an entire semester back at Wheaton.

Of course, there’s been plenty of time for fun as well. My friends and I have booked a trip to Spain for our spring break, visited several pubs, played a plethora of board games, and even attended a bop and other college events. I love Oxford because there’s a pervasive sense of routine here despite the seemingly unstructured tutorial system. Apart from tutorials and lectures, there is also a sort of structure to social events: bops in 0th and 8th week, champagne and chocolates on 2nd and 6th week, formal hall Wednesdays and Fridays, etc. It’s nice to be able to plan ahead for fun nights like those!

All in all, I’m really looking forward to what this term has in store!

 Here are some notable posts from my blog this past month:

Here are some posts that I loved reading this month:

How was your month of January? What was the best book you read? Did you do anything really fun or exciting? Let me know in the comments section below!



WHITE TEETH by Zadie Smith | Review

“Zadie Smith’s dazzling first novel plays out its bounding, vibrant course in a Jamaican hair salon in North London, an Indian restaurant in Leicester Square, an Irish poolroom turned immigrant café, a liberal public school, a sleek science institute. A winning debut in every respect, White Teeth marks the arrival of a wondrously talented writer who takes on the big themes —faith, race, gender, history, and culture— and triumphs.” {Goodreads}

Zadie Smith is one of those authors that I’ve been meaning to read for ages but just never got around to doing so…. until White Teeth popped up on this term’s required reading list. Needless to say, I was pretty excited. How often is it that a personal and academic TBR line up?! (I mean, mine tend to line up pretty frequently, but this was a special scenario.) I purposely decided to put this novel towards the end of my reading list as motivation to get through the rest as quickly as possible. (Do I motivate myself to read certain books by rewarding myself with the chance to read other books? Indeed.)

I was honestly shocked when I read Smith’s short bio in the back of the book and learned that White Teeth was her debut novel. I once read a review that described this novel as “Dickensian” in scope and grandeur, and to be honest that is probably the most accurate description I could offer. There is a sprawling cast of characters from a diverse array of countries, backgrounds, socioeconomic classes, religions, and generations. Just when you think you’ve gotten a handle on all of the characters, Smith introduces entirely new families and groups of people into the mix. These characters are not introduced simply as a way to further the plot; rather, they bring out different sides of pre-existing characters as well as more depth in the story itself.

White Teeth explores countless fascinating topics that are relevant in our society today as well as in their earlier context of the novel. Fate or free will, the end of the world, experiments on animals, the role of women in society, dualities, how we view the past in the present, the concept of multiple truths– the list goes on and on and on. It’s incredible how much Smith was able to pack into these 448 pages and still have it be a coherent, cohesive novel in which all the pieces come together at the very end. It helps that Smith’s writing and storytelling abilities are remarkable, as shown in her ability to reveal that seemingly simple and obvious ideas are actually fascinatingly multifaceted:

“If religion is the opiate of the people, tradition is an even more sinister analgesic, simply because it rarely appears sinister. If religion is a tight band, a throbbing vein, and a needle, tradition is a far homelier concoction: poppy seeds ground into tea; a sweet cocoa drink laced with cocaine; the kind of thing your grandmother might have made.”

Unfortunately, the ending was the weakest point of the novel in my eyes. I was expecting an epic convergence of all of the characters culminating in some sort of jaw-dropping reveal; instead, there was a confusing jumble of events that I still don’t really understand fully. Part of me wonders if that is precisely the point: life is messy and doesn’t really make sense or live up to one’s expectations all of the time. But does that really make a lackluster conclusion to an otherwise fantastic novel worth it? Not really.

Overall, White Teeth has made me an avid Zadie Smith fan who is incredibly eager to read more of her work. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel (despite its rather disappointing ending) and I look forward to reading much more of her writing in the future. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who hasn’t read Zadie Smith before!

What are your thoughts on White Teeth? Which Zadie Smith novel should I read next? Do you have a favorite? Let me know in the comments section below!



A Classic Couple: Middlemarch and White Teeth

What’s this?? Another Classic Couple feature after months of nothing? That’s right! A Classic Couple is back with a whole new round of classic-contemporary pairings. Today I’ll be comparing two lengthy but worthwhile novels: Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871-2) and White Teeth by Zadie Smith (1999). Although there are countless differences between these novels, there are numerous surprising similarities that are fascinating to uncover. Let’s begin!

Sprawling cast of characters || Both of these novels have enormous webs of characters with multiple generations and new faces appearing throughout the story. I love stories that are primarily character-driven rather than purely motivated by plot, so these books pass the test for me! However, there is a significant difference in the kinds of characters these authors choose to focus on. In Middlemarch, Eliot writes about white middle-class families, whereas Smith’s novel incorporates people of all sorts of socioeconomic classes, nationalities, religions, and backgrounds.

Context || These novels may be set in completely opposite locations– Middlemarch in rural Victorian England and White Teeth in urban late-twentieth century London– yet their contexts are nevertheless essential and integral components of these stories. The settings almost feel like characters themselves because they are referenced so often and in great detail.

Importance of reputations || Since both of these novels focus primarily on family dynamics and relationships between different individuals and groups of people, there is a huge emphasis on one’s reputation in society. Smith’s focus on race adds a complicated yet fascinating layer to “evaluating” people’s “status” in society. Are the younger generations staying true to their different cultural backgrounds, or are they adopting the religions, ideas, practices, and behaviors of their peers?

Questioning truth || Although the contexts of these novels are incredibly different, both pose important questions about what we should take as fact in life and what we should view as fiction. Eliot writes from a perspective of moral realism, meaning that she was challenging accepted notions that Christianity dictated everything rather than burgeoning scientific thought. Likewise, the younger generations in White Teeth start questioning the validity of their parents’ dedication to religion and the belief that there is a set date that the world will end and everyone will be judged for their actions. While Eliot seems to suggest that there should be only one version of truth, Smith asserts the exact opposite.

What do you think of this classic couple? What other books would you pair with MiddlemarchWhat are your thoughts on either or both of these books? Let me know in the comments section below!



Top Ten Tuesday: LONG Books I Can’t Believe I Read

Happy Tuesday!! Today’s Top Ten Tuesday topic set by The Artsy Reader Girl features ten books that we can’t believe we’ve read. However, instead of talking about the actual content of the books, I’ve decided to take a different perspective on this topic; instead, I’ll be focusing on book length. Without further ado, here are ten LONG books I can’t believe I read (what a time commitment!).

What are the longest books you’ve read? What books are you surprised you read for whatever reason? What do you think of the books I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!



Burns Night (and Haggis?!) | Holly Goes Abroad

A few days ago I had the pleasure of celebrating an interesting and hilariously fun tradition: Burns night. This Scottish tradition is typically celebrated on January 25th in honor of Robert Burns (1759-96), who is considered the national poet of Scotland. There were bagpipes, several toasts, many lines of poetry read in thick Scottish accents, and even haggis. Robert Burns is most well-known for poems such as “Auld Lang Syne,” “Scots Wha Hae,” “A Red, Red Rose,” “To a Mouse”, etc.

Robert Burns

There is actually a specific order to Burns night, which Mansfield College tried to adhere to fairly accurately. A large part of the night is devoted to the haggis, involving piping it in with bagpipes, addressing it, and even toasting to it. I had never had haggis before, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s actually quite good (ours was fried, so that may have helped a bit). If you’re like me and had no idea what haggis even was before trying it for the first time, allow me to save you a Wikipedia search:

Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck; minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach though now often in an artificial casing instead.

It sounds strange– and it is!– but I definitely wouldn’t let that dissuade you from trying it at least once!

It was really interesting celebrating this Scottish tradition in England, considering the rivalry between the two nations. The speeches were lighthearted and the accents were on in full force, but it’s clear that the tension between the two nations still exists and is entrenched in both cultures (to a certain extent and largely depending on the individual, of course). All in all, Burns night made me want to visit Scotland even more!

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

Have you ever celebrated Burns night? What are your favorite traditions? Do you like haggis? Let me know in the comments section below!



Feminist Fridays: WHAT HAPPENED by Hilary Clinton

This week’s Feminist Fridays feature edges into a topic that has the potential to be very controversial and divisive: politics. As I mentioned in my nonfiction TBR list for 2018, it was a goal of mine to read Hillary Clinton’s recent memoir What Happened, published on September 12, 2017. Well, consider this goal officially accomplished! Today I’d like to explore some of the ideas Hillary discusses in her book as well as the role of women in politics and leadership positions in general. However, before going further I’d like to say that this post does not revolve around where you fall on the political spectrum. I’m tackling these tough questions from the perspective of a woman rather than the view of a Democrat, Republic, etc. Personally, I feel as though gender inequality is an issue we should all be talking about regardless of our political views.

For the first time, Hillary Rodham Clinton reveals what she was thinking and feeling during one of the most controversial and unpredictable presidential elections in history. Now free from the constraints of running, Hillary takes you inside the intense personal experience of becoming the first woman nominated for president by a major party in an election marked by rage, sexism, exhilarating highs and infuriating lows, stranger-than-fiction twists, Russian interference, and an opponent who broke all the rules. This is her most personal memoir yet. {Goodreads}

For the purpose of this post, I’d like to focus on Hillary’s discussion of experiences she’s had as a woman in politics and leadership positions in general. She wasn’t taken series as a woman attorney in the courtroom. She’s treated differently from male politicians, interrogated with different questions and scrutinized much more harshly for her appearances and tone of voice. She’s been criticized for her age when male counterparts are viewed as wise, mature, and experienced at the same age or older. The list goes on and on and on.

The specific example that surprised me the most was how people blamed her for not taking her husband’s last name. Apparently when her husband and former president Bill Clinton failed to be reelected as governor of Arkansas, some people said that it was because Hillary went as “Hillary Rodham” instead of “Hillary Clinton,” suggesting that she was not dedicated to her husband nor his career. This fascinating Washington Post article titled “The complicated history behind Hillary Clinton’s evolving name” explains that even though there was likely no connection whatsoever between her name and the outcome of the election, it certainly impacted how people perceived her in relation to her husband.

This was a partial bow to tradition — but also, in this sense, it was a political play. It was an attempt to disrupt the idea that she was an excessively ambitious woman or disinterested in the traditional role of the state’s first lady. Bill Clinton became governor again.

There’s almost no way to say what role Hillary Rodham Clinton’s name change played in that outcome. She never left her law firm (note: The Rose Law firm wasn’t able to tell us by deadline if and when Rodham became Rodham Clinton in that office). But, at the very least, maybe a few more culturally conservative Arkansas voters viewed her as caring and emotionally connected to her husband.

Personally, I think this is absurd. Why does it matter what her last name is? What possible relation could her last name have to her love, loyalty, or devotion to her husband? (After what Bill Clinton put his wife through *cough* adultery *cough* I think he should have been the one to change his last name.) Women should have the freedom to keep their last name if they choose. This should not just be a legal freedom as it is now but a cultural freedom as well. We need to rid our society of the negative stigma attached to women who keep their last names, and this is a perfect example of why.

What do we do with all of this information about gender inequality in politics? I don’t have an exact answer, but it was comforting to learn that Hillary doesn’t know for sure, either:

“I’m not sure how to solve all this. My gender is my gender. My voice is my voice. To quote Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve in the U.S. Cabinet, under FDR, “The accusation that I’m a woman is incontrovertible.” Other women will run for President, and they will be women, and they will have women’s voices. Maybe that will be less unusual by then.”

I immensely enjoyed listening to the audio book of What Happened, which is narrated by Hillary herself. Not only does this book feel honest, authentic, genuine, and real, but it also humanizes Hillary in a way that the media has refused to do in recent years. What Happened is well written, carefully crafted, meticulously researched, and has clearly been created from a heartfelt place of insightfulness and reflection. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in current political events in the United States, women in politics, feminism in general, or who simply what’s another perspective on what in the world happened in the 2016 presidential election.

What are your thoughts on What Happened? How do you think feminist does or should fit into politics? Let me know in the comments section below!



WOMAN HOLLERING CREEK by Sandra Cisneros | Review

Woman Hollering Creek: And Other Stories explores life of women on both sides of the Mexico-USA border. Although mostly written in English, this short story collection does include bits and pieces of Spanish sprinkled throughout, which I really enjoyed as someone studying Spanish in college. It’s always fun to see how quickly your mind can go between multiple languages without you even realizing it in the moment (especially when you’ve been studying abroad for a while and haven’t had a chance to brush up on your Spanish in far too long…). However, I wouldn’t say it’s absolutely necessary to know Spanish in order to take away a decent amount from this collection. (Although you might be a little confused at times!)

One of my favorite things about this collection is that it mainly focuses on the lives of women from numerous generations. From kids and teenagers to middle-age mothers and beyond, there is something here that everyone will be able to relate to in some form. Here we see women struggling to balance traditional, stereotypical, restrictive expectations of girls and wives with their own desires, ambitions, and happiness. While many of these experiences may be specific to those living in the middle of Mexican and American cultures, Cisneros also taps into seemingly universal themes of love, childhood, motherhood, nostalgia, etc. I finished this book feeling both frustrated at the gender inequality still present in our society and empowered by the prospect of women rising up to where we know we can be.

Woman Hollering Creek also provides a fascinating and important exploration of the culture surrounding the border between Mexico and the USA. For instance, this frontera cultural is reflected in the use of language in the story “Mericans,” the title of which demonstrates the mix of both cultures that form the chicano/a identity. The kids in the story seem like Mexicans from the perspective of the American woman, yet they also speak English. When the American woman is surprised that the kids speak English, one of the boys says: “we’re Mericans.” The name of the identity that with which the kids identify is not exactly American or Mexican; rather, this name represents the border between these two cultures. It’s also an example of a misunderstanding or miscommunication between these two cultures between the kids in the story might believe that they should pronounce “Americans” without the first letter. In this way, the use of language in this story demonstrates the cultural border because the work “Mericans” is a combination of two languages that mix between the physical border as well as the different cultures in these two countries in general.

Overall, Woman Hollering Creek is an incredibly important book in a society that often incorrectly views cultures as contained, distinct, and unchangeable identities. Perhaps if more people read even one of these stories they would have a greater understanding and appreciation for what can happen when people from all nations and backgrounds come together. I would highly recommend this short story collection, regardless of whether or not your Spanish-speaking skills are up to par.

What are your thoughts on Woman Hollering Creek? Any recommendations for other writing by Sandra Cisneros or similar short story collections? Let me know in the comments section below!



One Lovely Blog Award | 3

Recently I had the pleasant surprise of being nominated for another One Lovely Blog Award. Thanks so much to Loretta @ The Laughing Listener for nominating me!! Definitely check out Loretta’s wonderful blog if you haven’t already. Now, on with the fun facts!

  • Thank the person who nominated you for the award
  • Display the banner/sticker/logo on your blog
  • Share 7 facts or things about yourself
  • Nominate up to 15 bloggers that you admire and inform the nominees
  1. I am a HUGE Lord of the Rings fans. I’ve loved both the books and the movies since I was eleven or twelve and I get incredibly excited whenever I meet someone who is also an avid fan.
  2. I love stickers. I usually order them from Redbubble because they have a HUGE selection and pretty decent prices. Recently I put a bunch on my 2018 planner and I love them. 
  3. I can touch my nose with my tongue. I feel like this one doesn’t need much explanation.
  4. Grilled cheese is my go to meal. Whenever I don’t know what to eat for lunch, you can usually find me making a grilled cheese. I like mine with cheddar cheese, a little bit of ham, and sliced pickles inside (it sounds weird, but it’s so good!).
  5. I LOVE taking photos with my polaroid camera. I got this adorable yellow polaroid camera for Christmas a year or two ago and I’ve been in love with it ever since.
  6. I play the violin. I haven’t actually played it in three years (since starting college), but I played it in my school’s orchestra from third grade until I graduated high school. I definitely miss playing in an orchestra!
  7. I don’t know how to describe my taste in music. Whenever people ask me, I usually reply by saying that I like everything except for country music. My Spotify is a JUMBLED MESS.

What’s a fun fact about you? What do you think of mine? Let me know in the comments section below!



Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Can Never Remember

Happy Tuesday!! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is brought to the book blogging community by That Artsy Reader Girl who wants us to share books that we really liked but can’t remember much about. Honestly, there are SO MANY books that I could list here because I’m notoriously bad at remembering tiny details of books. Character names? Plot twists? Basic summaries? They all tend to vanish from my memory as soon as I finish reading the very last page. It’s a shame because these books definitely deserve to be remembered!

What books do you have a hard time remembering? What do you think of the books on my list? Let me know in the comments section below!