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!

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

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?

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

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!



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! ❤




AUGUST 2017 | Wrap-Up

August has always been one of my favorite months of the year. I love the feeling of transition that it brings, mostly because for the majority of my life it has meant starting an exciting new year of school. This year my academics are starting a little later (I’m coming, Oxford!) but August nevertheless brought a lot of change for me. Here’s what I was up to last month:


In August I read a total of 10 books:

  1. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
  2. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  3. Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen
  4. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  5. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  6. Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
  7. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  8. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  9. Light in August by William Faulkner
  10. The Portable Faulkner by William Faulkner, edited by Malcolm Cowley

As per usual, it’s difficult to choose a favorite book of the month because I was fortunate to have read many great ones. This month it’s a tie between Flipped and The Sound and the Fury because I love them both for different reasons.


August mainly consisted of working, reading, and saying goodbye far too often. Many of my friends have left for their study abroad adventures or simply moved back to campus for the semester, which means that I’ve had to say goodbye to them before I leave for Oxford in a few weeks (eek!). Among the many farewells was one to my brother, a freshman at Wheaton this year. It’s so strange to be home while everyone is back at my favorite campus!


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

Here are some posts that I loved reading this month (there are so many!!):

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



HARD TIMES by Charles Dickens

Hard Times by Charles Dickens is the first book I was assigned to read over the summer to prepare for the English Literature 1830-1910 tutorial I’ll be taking during my first term at Oxford. I was thrilled when I saw this title on the list because I’ve been meaning to read more by Dickens since reading A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations during my senior year of high school. While doing a bit of research I found that Hard Times is often considered to be his least successful and least read work. This surprised me: What was it doing on my reading list, then? Determined to come to my own conclusions, I set out to read this novel in a single weekend.

If this is Dickens’ “least successful” text, then I’d say he’s done pretty well for himself.

I imagine that the primary reason we’ve been assigned to read this novel is its focus on the “social problem” in England during the nineteenth century. The factory workers of Coketown are known as the “Hands” and are nearly always viewed as a homogenous, ungrateful, lazy group by those in the upper classes. Mr. Bounderby, an owner of a mill who prides himself on being a so-called “self-made man,” believes that all Hands have one object: “to be fed on turtle soup and version with a gold spoon”. (In other words, to live lives of luxury without earning it through hard work.) We see how entrenched this ignorant opinion of the Hands has become when Louisa visits Stephen Blackpool’s room and realizes that not only is it the first time she’s visited the house of a Hand, but it’s also the first time she’s thought of them as individuals rather than as a single group. Prior to this visit, Louisa “had scarcely thought more of separating them into units, than of separating the sea itself into its component drops.” On the whole, Hard Times exposes the unjust gap between the rich and the poor and criticizes the way the lower classes are treated as less than human.

An important and fascinating theme that runs through the entirety of Hard Times is the duality of “Fact” vs. “Fantasy.” Thomas Gradgrind impresses the importance of Fact on his children, essentially brainwashing them into believing that fairy tales and imagination deserve no place even in the lives of children. On the flip side of this rigid mindset are the zany circus members that thrive on creativity, spontaneity, and fun. As Louisa Gradgrind grows older she begins to realize that she can’t live a happy, fulfilling life without the emotion and passion that comes with “Fantasy.” I think this theme is incredibly interesting because it’s both connected with and disconnected from the socioeconomic issues of the novel. The coldness of apathetic “Fact” is what allows people like Mr. Bounderby to treat the factory workers like they are mere numbers, whereas Louisa’s internal struggle mainly revolves around her own emotional dissatisfaction. The message here is overwhelmingly clear: a balance between Fact and Fantasy is key.

At the core of every Dickens novel is his undeniable gift for storytelling. I can’t help but become incredibly invested in his stories once I begin reading them. His characters are carefully crafted with unique struggles, desires, eccentricities, and beliefs. Hard Times has been criticized for its “puppet-like” characters that sometimes said to be mediocre representations of actual “Coketown” residents (much of the novel was constructed from Dickens’ observations of a manufacturing town rather than personal experience living there). Whether or not that criticism is warranted, I wish to highlight an important redeeming quality of Dickens’ characters: they evoke emotion and human connection. I found myself holding my breath whenever a plot twist occurred (and trust me, there are many), anxiously awaiting to see how it would affect the characters involved. At one point while reading I actually gasped out loud when something bad happened to one of the characters I particularly liked– needless to say, my family members in the next room were pretty confused. The fact that readers can connect so easily and deeply with Dickens’ characters is a major strength of his work and abilities as a writer.

Though Hard Times is not my favorite Dickens novel, I still believe it deserves to be read widely and often. Definitely don’t let a misleading reputation keep you from reading this gem!

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely! I think this is an excellent read whether or not you’ve read Dickens before.

What are your thoughts on Hard Times? What’s your favorite Dickens novel? Which one should I read next? Let me know in the comments section below!



“Well, at least you’re reading something…” | Discussion

Have you ever heard someone say to someone else: “Well, at least you’re reading something…“?

I hate that phrase.

I’ve usually heard it said in reference to a “fluffy” romance or young adult novel (Twilight often falls victim to this). It bothers me because it appears to come from a place of supposed superiority, as though the person saying it is somehow “more literate” or “intelligent” simply because they read different books. This phrase automatically categorizes certain books as being “better than nothing… but barely.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Reading is reading.

We talked a lot about stigmas attached to certain genres of literature in my Approaches to Literature and Culture class last semester and it all ultimately boiled down to a socially constructed divide between high and popular culture. This divide has been around for centuries in some form or another and it boggles my mind that people still get righteous and uppity about it today. For instance, we read this article written by Ruth Graham that was published by Slate in 2014. In the article, Graham argues that adults should not read books like The Fault in Our Stars by John Green because “if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something.” She asserts that young adult novels are inherently less complex than novels written for adults because the plights of teenagers are also inherently less complex than those of adults. In her mind, “great” literature and “complexity” are inextricably linked, though how she measures this enigmatic characteristic of “complexity” is yet to be explained.

To me, Graham seems like the kind of reader who has likely said “Well, at least your reading something….” at one point. The idea that there is some sort of hierarchy of “great” literature is incredibly frustrating, especially when people are just reading for fun. Who cares if I read Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury or John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars? I’ve enjoyed both novels immensely and see nothing wrong in being able to do so. This is one of the main reasons I try to read a wide variety of literature and reflect that in the book reviews I post on this blog. Reading is reading is reading and there’s nothing wrong with reading what you enjoy.

I might be preaching to the choir here because most book bloggers I’ve interacted with are wonderfully accepting of what other people read. Nevertheless, I think this is a really important topic to keep in mind.

Do you agree or disagree? What are some things people say about what people read that frustrate you? Let me know in the comments section below!



Top Ten Tuesday: MUGS

Happy Tuesday!! There’s still some time until the bloggers behind The Broke and the Bookish return with their weekly Top Ten Tuesday themes, so I’m back with another one of my own. Today I’ll be talking about things that are incredibly near and dear to my heart: MUGS. If you know me, then you’re probably aware of my mug problem. I own SO MANY mugs, it’s kind of ridiculous. It’s hard to explain what I love so much about them… they’re just so cozy and comforting and cute. In no particular order, here are my top ten favorite mugs that I own:

1 || The Blue One.

I got this mug at Bennington Pottery a few years ago when I drove up to Vermont to tour Bennington College. Though I ended up not going there for school, I would definitely take a trip back up just to check out that pottery store again. This mug is the perfect size and the stuff it’s made of keeps the heat of steaming tea in for so long.

2 || The One with Quotes.

I received this mug as a Christmas gift from one of my best friends during our freshman year of college. As you can tell, it didn’t take her long to realize how much I love books! This mug is covered in famous first lines from classic novels.

3 || The One with the Cool Handle.

Isn’t this the niftiest mug handle you’ve ever seen??? It’s perfect for when your hands are really cold because you can rest your hand right in there and absorb all of the heat from the tea. I don’t remember where I got this mug, but I love it.

4 || The Figment One.

I got this mug on my first trip to Disney World when I was younger because I LOVE Figment the dragon. Come to think of it, this might be the very first mug I ever owned?!

5 || The Wheaton One.

I adore this mug so much. It’s simple, it’s the perfect round shape and size, and it holds just the right amount of tea. (It’s also great for eating ice cream out of…) I got this at the Wheaton bookstore when I first decided I wanted to go there.

6 || The SGA One.

Being part of the Student Government Association is one of my favorite things about Wheaton. This mug was a Christmas gift to all of the Senators during my freshman year and now I use it as a pencil holder on my desk.

7 || The Pizza John One.

I was SO HAPPY when I got this mug back in middle school because it finally made me feel like an official Nerdfighter. I love this mug so much that I use it to hold my toothbrush and toothpaste when I’m at school. (I bet I’ve freaked out some people in the bathroom that way…)

8 || The Big One.

Shhhh! I don’t actually own this mug!!! Technically this is my brother’s mug, but it holds SO MUCH tea that I can’t help but steal it on chilly mornings.

9 || The One from White Lake State Park.

My family has gone camping at White Lake State Park every summer for the past twelve years. It’s one of my favorite places in the world, so naturally I had to purchase this mug.

10 || The Oxford One.

My amazing parents recently surprised me by ordering this mug from the actual Oxford University shop in England. You should have seen my face when I opened the package—I was ECSTATIC. Just look at this adorable mug! I love the small size, the simple design, and the fact that it’s specific to the actual college I’ll be studying at within Oxford.

Do you have a favorite mug (or mugs!) that you like to use? What do you think of my mugs? Do you have a collection of random things? Let me know in the comments section below!



TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf | Review

Months ago when I was choosing what tutorials I’d like to take at Oxford I asked my roommate if she knew anything about Virginia Woolf. She said that she had a really interesting life, particularly the circumstances of her death (she committed suicide and left a note). Based on my roommate’s vague interest alone I decided to take an entire term on Woolf and her writing… without having read anything by her myself. (Look at me being academically spontaneous.) Of course, I had heard mountains of praise about her famous works such as A Room of One’s Own and Mrs. Dalloway, but I knew nothing about her writing style at all.

Eager to brush up on Woolf before heading to Oxford, I decided that she would be one of my priority authors to read this summer. I arbitrarily started with To the Lighthouse solely because it was the only Woolf novel in my local public library. (A discovery that made me stare at the shelf angrily and promise that if I ever win the lottery I will most definitely donate money to this bookish abode.)

+ Stream of consciousness writing style. The first thing that struck me while reading this novel was the stream of consciousness style used. Little introduction is given of the characters, setting, or general premise of the story in the beginning; rather, the reader is thrown head first into a sea of thoughts and worries and hopes that one must wade through in order to understand the story as a whole. Woolf also writes via a variety of perspectives, each one focusing on the inner workings of a specific character. A major strength of this novel is the way Woolf uses this stream of consciousness style to seamlessly flow from one focal point to the next. The transitions are nearly imperceptible in the sense that you don’t even realize they have occurred until you’re already reading in the perspective of a different character.

+ Lily Briscoe. I knew that Lily would become my favorite character from the first time she was mentioned. Her position outside of the Ramsay family makes her perspective one of the most interesting and important views in the novel. I couldn’t help feeling an emotional connection with Lily as she yearns for the support and love of others. She views the Ramsay family as an idealized symbol of love and perfect unity; however, the other perspectives reveal a very different reality. Lily is a constant throughout the entire novel, much like the lighthouse itself. Even when time passes and certain characters come and go, Lily is always there with her painting, optimism, and fascinating introspection. She is both feminine and independent, a contrasting figure to Mrs. Ramsay.

+ The lighthouse. Ah, the lighthouse. It’s the common thread running through the entire novel, that elusive destination so greatly desired by Mrs. Ramsays’s children and so persistently avoided by Mr. Ramsay. The continual emphasis on visiting the lighthouse reminds me of Jay Gatsby looking out across the sound in The Great Gatsby, reaching towards that green light that embodied everything he had been working towards his entire life. Like the romanticized idea of the “American Dream” that Gatsby desires, the lighthouse represents a sort of unattainable end goal. When James finally reaches the lighthouse after years of wanting to visit it, he realizes that it cannot compare to the lighthouse he envisioned as a child. It is interesting to see everyone’s relationship to the lighthouse as the novel progresses, especially in the final section of the novel.

Overall, To the Lighthouse randomly happened to be a great introduction to Virginia Woolf’s writing. This is a captivating, fascinating, thought-provoking novel that sparks endless discussion points with its many intriguing themes. I’m so glad I took my roommate’s advice and chose to study Woolf for a term in Oxford. Hopefully I can read more of her work this summer!

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes! I think this is a great Woolf novel to pick up even if you’ve never read anything written by her before.

What are your thoughts on To the Lighthouse? What Woolf novel should I read next? Let me know in the comments section below!