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Academic Lingo

14 Oct

At least the lecture halls looks familiar.

So I’ve been at St Andrews now for a little more than 5 weeks and I’m finally getting the hang of the academic vocabulary here! While it’s not too different from how we talk about school and classes at Purdue, it can be quite confusing until you understand what you are talking about! So I present to you my quick guide to Academic Lingo at St Andrews.

First things first, University equals College.  It has been hard for me to make this switch, but it is getting easier to say things like “I go to university in the States.”  This one also gets shortened to “uni” a lot.  You just have to accept it.  Now on to more important words.

Whenever you meet someone new they will probably ask you this, “What subjects are you taking?”  They are asking essential what your major is.  A proper answer would be something like, “Oh I’m in Maths and Divinity.”

If you happen to meet someone in same subjects as you they are very likely to ask what modules you are in.  Modules are best described as a course. It includes both the lecture, the tutorial/seminar, and the labs.  Lectures are just like the are at Purdue. For the 1st and 2nd year modules they are normally a pretty decent size so you don’t have to worry about getting called on.  A tutorial or a seminar (names used interchangeable) is pretty equivalent to our recitation classes.   These tend to be pretty small from 7-15 people. They are lead by your tutor. Tutors can either be a grad student or a professor.  These are the classes  where you are going to get called on to answer questions even if your hand isn’t up. Labs of course are just what you think they are–labs.

Sub-honors and honors are two terms I’ve had the most trouble with.  They can be equivalent to our terms of Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior; but they are also related to upperclassmen and underclassmen.  Sub-honors consist of your first two years at university.  They are the 1000 and 2000 level modules.  Honors then is the 3000 and 4000 level modules.  To make it into your honors modules you have to pass the sub-honors modules, you just can’t take the higher level classes like you can at Purdue.  To be super clear the terms sub-honors and honors do not in any way relate to things like the Honors College at Purdue.

One final term that you run into a lot is JSA or JYA.  These are acronyms that mean you are a Junior studying abroad (or year abroad).  This is probably my least favorite term I’ve learned here just because I get called a JSA a lot, but I’m not a J.  It blows peoples minds that I’m a senior studying abroad.  Studying abroad isn’t just for juniors.  It is for freshman, sophomores, seniors, and super seniors too.  We shouldn’t pigeon hole the study abroad experience.  It can offer you amazing life discoveries no matter what point you are at in your academic career.

I hope this guide can help you if you ever decided to study abroad! I know that I would have loved something like this to help me as I was prepping to come to St Andrews.  As always you can read more about my adventures studying abroad over on my main blog Mly Mllr’s Travels.

Until next time,



Fresher’s Week. St Andrews Edition.

25 Sep

Well, I made it to St Andrews! I got here just in time for the start of Fresher’s Week. It is a strange feeling though being a “fresher” (their term for freshman) again, but I’m embracing it and enjoying getting to experience what it means to go to St Andrews. These were my favorite things about Fresher’s Week.

On Monday morning I went to the Opening Ceremonies for the Arts and Divinity. I imagined it was going to be a few of the heads of the university talking about how important it is to do well in school and balance your social life, a few bad jokes, singing of the school song, ect. It went as I expected with just a few slight changes like the song sang was in Latin and a small 5 piece chamber band came out to play a slow piece of music which I may have nodded off during (I’m going to blame jet lag though), but after the Vice Chancellor spoke we were rewarded with a performance by one of St Andrews’ a cappella groups, The Other Guys. In a spoof of Katy Perry’s California Girls, these guys woke up the crowd. I didn’t understand some of the song (like what exactly does schweffed mean), but it was so clever and funny and worth watching. Here is their official music video for you to judge.

IMG_3943It is not every day that a University celebrates its 600th birthday, but on Friday and Saturday St Andrews did just that. From birthday cake and fireworks to recreating the journey of their Papal Bull, festivities filled this small town. One of the highlighting events was the Graduation Ceremony feature Hillary Clinton, Dr. Jane Goodall, the Right Revd Dr. Rowan Williams, and many others. Tickets were raffled off to the ceremony and I wasn’t lucky enough to get one, but I did stream it online. It was long, but worth watching just to hear the speeches given and see my one of my favorite politicians.  The highlight of the celebration though was the closing fireworks on Saturday night on the beach. By nightfall the sand was packed full of the people of St Andrews and students from the university. The sun was slow to set, but we kept waiting by chatting with those sitting near us, taking pictures with new and old friends, watching kids run around in the sand. As it grew darker all attention turned to the pier where the fireworks were going to be launched from and when the pier let up with the first flames, everyone cheered. Six hundred years they had been waiting for this and it was worth it. The fireworks were beautiful, big and booming in every color imaginable bursting just above the sea. For me as an exchange student, it has been such an honor to be here to celebrate the university’s 600th birthday with everyone.

St Andrews Pier WalkA student tradition at the University of St Andrews is completing a Pier Walk after attending Sunday service at St Salvator’s Chapel. I was told that it was a tradition that came about as a punishment for some student’s who turned up to chapel one Sunday just a little too inhibited from their Saturday night activities; however, some sources on the web say it is to honor a man who swam out to sea to save men from a sinking ship in the bay. Whatever the origin, peer walking has become a student tradition. This past Sunday was what you imagine the weather to be like in Scotland–windy, rainy, and cold. None of these things make for easy pier walking because you take serious risk losing your balance and falling right into the shallow part of the sea. Tons of students gathered outside of St Salvator’s chapel in the quad just past noon, almost all wearing the tradition red student gowns. At about ten past the hour we all exited the quad, quick to jump over the cursed initials on the cobble stone that mark the exact spot where Patrick Hamilton was burned at the stake. With the winds coming in off the sea, the weather was even worse when we got to the pier. Luckily, someone had the wise idea that it wasn’t quite safe enough to walk the tallest, narrowest part of the pier and so we only walked the wider, lower part of the pier. No one fell in and everyone lived to go to the first day of classes.

For me Fresher’s Week has been quite the introduction to life at St Andrews and their traditions. While it may not be anything like my life at Purdue, I am happy I am here.

Wish me luck in my first week of classes,



Die Another Day

1 Jul

Our bus left for wadi rum at 8:15 am. A Styrofoam box of stuffed pastries and a juice box was waiting for us in each seat. After a pit stop and a visit to see St. George’s church with the oldest surviving original cartographic depiction of the Holy Land, we arrived at “Captain’s Camp” which consisted of tents, a rest-stop looking bathroom, and a common area where we were served traditional Bedouin food. We were glamorous camping, glamping as they say. After being shown to my tent, I threw my book-bag on my full sized bed and got some mint tea.

Before departing for our desert tour, we were given koofias to protect us from the sun but mostly to distinguish us as tourists. We hopped in the backs of trucks and set off for wadi rum. Finally we stop to get on our camels. Some are taller than others, some fatter, all are incredibly awkward. When they stand, their skinny three-jointed legs rise unevenly in the front and back. Their steps are clumsy in the sinking sand and they seem unaware that they’re bumping into each other. Their eyes look sleepy and are probably half closed to keep out the desert sun. Their overall appearance is hilarious. After dismounting our camels we climb to the top of a small mountain to watch the sun set before we head back to camp.

The next morning we left at 8 for Petra, the rose-red city. Again our tour guide explains the history of the land, how the Nabataeans carved the city out of sand stone 2000 years ago. We walk through a gorge for about a mile and then our tour guide tells us to stop and look down. He leads us a little further and then tells us to look up. The famous Al-Khanez (treasury) lies before us. He explains the theories of what it was built for. No one knows for sure but one thing was certain: the Nabataeans built to impress. Thousands of years ago, visitors to Petra felt the same awe that we were feeling now. After lunch we’re give the option, or challenge, of climbing the 900+ steps to the monastery. It takes about a half hour to get to the top, well sort of. There are a few paths that lead to even more incredible views than the monastery. So we make our way up to the tallest one. The sites throughout the canyons were beautiful, but nothing beats looking down on it all.

After two days in the desert I’m exhausted and turn to head back. I pass a Bedouin man leading a donkey up the mountain. Aren’t you going to see the other views, he asks.
La, ta’aban. (no, I’m tired)
But you have to see them.
Tourism is understandably the main source of income here and we’ve been declining offers to buy things all day: trinkets, donkey rides, cold drinks, etc. No thanks, I say.
He points to the donkey. For free.
No, I shake my head. (Nothing is free here.)
Come on, it’s free. Money doesn’t make friends. We are Bedouin, we like to make friends. (despite his accent his English is good.)
I look up at him for the first time (with mistrust). He’s got the dark skin, shoulder length black curly hair, and beautiful kohl lined eyes of the people here. It’s too much to resist.

He helps me onto the donkey and directs me to scoot up in the saddle and hold on to the handle. I’m only four feet off the ground, but the ground is nothing but sand and rocks and happens to be hundreds of feet above the canyon floor.
He reassures me that donkeys have four legs and humans only have two, ergo the donkey is more stable. I speak a little Arabic to him and from then on we exchange Arabish. His name is Abdullah and he has 13 brothers and sisters. (his father has 4 wives, but he could never afford that many.) He’s learned Spanish, Portuguese, English, and another language just from tourists. I don’t need to travel; the world comes to me, he explains.
We head down a small rocky slope. I’m freaking out.
Close your eyes and open your mind, he says. I do.
Which path first? Down to the waterfall or up to the top view?
I don’t care.
To the waterfall then.
We start down and he keeps himself between the donkey and the rocky ledge.
Shway (slow), I beg.
It’s ok, close your eyes and open your mind, he reminds me.
We’re a few feet from the cliff and I’m hyperventilating. I clench the metal of the saddle but my hands are so sweaty that if the donkey goes down, there’s no holding on. He reassures me that no one dies before their time and waits for me to calm down before going on with what he’s saying:
The valley down there is the source of our civilization. All of the green is because of the spring that starts up there, the water runs all the way down there. It’s because they found this one spring, that the people could build an entire city around it. A city along a major trade route that’s seen countless people. He’s proud to show me this, and rightly so.

Next he takes me up the other path and points out the highest point to the left and the shooting location of the film, The English Patient, to the right. It’s the end of my ride and I thank him. All my friends are up at the top, giggling at the situation. Abdullah goes into a hut. His friend comes out and says, how many camels for this one, pointing to me. More laughter. Tsharafna (nice to meet you) I say to Abdullah and head back down with my friends.

Top 5 Reasons for Studying in Amman, Jordan

10 Jun

Tanner CamelHi! My name is Holly and I’m a senior at Purdue University in Aeronautical Engineering Technology. For the next two months, I’m going to study abroad with CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange) in Amman, Jordan. I’ll be a student at the University of Jordan, learning Modern Standard Arabic as well as the Jordanian dialect.  With two semesters of Modern Standard Arabic under my belt, I have a solid foundation upon which to build and I can’t wait to continue to learn the language and the culture. I’ll be able to participate in a variety of cultural activities and excursions which I’m really excited for! So here are my top five reasons for wanting to study in Amman:

  1. Obviously, I wouldn’t be participating in a 7-week intensive language program if I didn’t really want to learn the language, and I’ve heard that total immersion is the way to go. So from my teachers to taxi drivers, I’ll be exchanging Arabic with as many locals that will humor me.
  2. The food. Some things just aren’t the same outside the Middle East: shawarma, hummus, baklava, and mansaf (the national dish of Jordan) are just a few.
  3. Coffee and shisha cafes. I’m a big fan of both and Jordan has a lot of them.
  4. Visiting Petra. If you’ve never taken an overnight trip to a World Heritage Site, then it should be on your bucket list.
  5. Making new friends, both American and abroad. I’ll have the opportunity to learn alongside students from 34 colleges across the US and be paired with a fellow Jordanian student. I can’t wait for this trip to start!

Studying Abroad Makes You More Employable

28 Nov

Travel Foul!

10 Oct

We’re all guilty once in a while

Travel Fouls.  We all commit them at one point or another.  Some are unknowing offenders.  Some feel guilt.  Others might be in denial. But one thing is for certain.  As long as people explore foreign lands, putting themselves in unfamiliar settings, Travel Fouls will occur. 

Now, I’m not talking about cultural faux pas.  A Travel Foul is different.  By definition (which I’m making up as I type), travel fouls are – Actions taken by a traveler which purposefully, or unintentionally remove them from the possibility of cultural enrichment. Travel fouls put up roadblocks and close doors.  They are moments of weakness. They are missed opportunities.

I don’t aim to play referee, raising a yellow-card each time a Parisian tourist enters a Starbucks.  But in crying foul, we can identify behavior that isn’t necessarily wrong, but limiting.  If you missed viewing the Sistine Chapel because all you packed were short-shorts, or the only locals you encountered were hotel bell boys, you sold yourself short.

Like in sports, travelers commit fouls because they need a break, got frustrated, or are simply unprepared.  While fouling-out isn’t a concern, one certainly can suffer as a result of committing too many.


  • “I just couldn’t find the Louvre.”   (Referring to the largest museum on Earth)
  • “The only shopping I did in Milan was for condoms…ha ha!”
  •  Eating at a Hard Rock Café…anytime…anywhere
  • “We never left the resort. Why would we!?”
  • Going to Starbucks when in a city renowned for its coffee
  •  Taking a zillion photos – seeing the sights mostly through a viewfinder
  • “We planned to do the High Tea thing while in London, but were still too hung-over to get out of bed.”
  • “We were scared to death of hostels…used Dad’s Marriot points instead”
  • “I complained about Pandora & Hulu not working in Spain. Why was I always on my computer!?”

What are some Travel Fouls you’ve witnessed, or will admit to committing? Go ahead, get it off your chest.

Two Lira’s in Madrid

9 Jul

With my time left in Madrid and Europe rapidly coming to a close, I am beginning to realize that there is a high possibility that the term “reverse culture shock” may actually be true. How could I possibly feel out-of-place in my home country? I haven’t really been gone that long, have I? The warnings about this difficulty of re-assimilating into the USA seemed to be a bit silly when our coordinators warned us about it in our re-entry workshop. However, the realization that it is true really hit me when my mom came to visit. This was the first time my mom had ever left the USA, so as you can imagine, everything in Spain was new and exciting to her. Touring her around Spain all week really made me realize just how different our two cultures really are. After being in Spain for so long, things that once seemed so foreign to me now seemed like the norm. But to my mom, some of these cultural experiences were downright weird to her. I didn’t know I had adjusted my perceptions quite so much until I saw my mom’s reactions.

1) Walking on the Street It about drove her crazy that people didn’t walk on the right side of the street, instead it is a haphazard mess of walk-where-you-want-to. It didn’t even phase me, but seeing that it bothered my mom so much I began to realize just how much more effective the US’s system of sidewalk etiquette really is. It really doesn’t surprise me because Spain never scores high in efficiency. People don’t seem to be in as big of hurry here, so having someone walking in front of you is really no big deal.

2) ¿ Lo Siento? Another aspect that really bothered my mom was the fact that very few people apologize for bumping into you. I never really thought about this, however, I could tell every time someone would hit her she would look at the person waiting for them to say something, which of course, they rarely did so. I am sure I was the same way, but I have just gotten used to it. The combination of the Spaniards lack of personal space and being in a big city makes apologizes for bumping into you seem silly and certainly unnecessary. I have often heard that many find Americans to be over apologetic.

3) Ok, I was ready to order 15 minutes ago… Perhaps one of the hardest things for my mom to adjust to was the lack of service at restaurants. Americans are used to being able to sit down at a restaurant and have a waiter waiting on them hand and foot for the duration of the meal. Waiting for even ten minutes to be served is a guarantee for a reduced tip. However, because tipping is not a norm in Spain, waiters have no real desire to do an excellent job, as their pay will not be effected based on the customer opinion. This combined with the relaxed lifestyle of the Spaniards leads to rather slow table service. I remember my first meal. It lasted over 2 hours, so I knew my mom was going to be in for some culture shock, but what astounded me was how much of a difference there was between the two of us in patience with waiting for service. In the US, I never would have said I was more patient than my mom, in fact, I would have said the opposite. However, after living the Spanish Lifestyle for five months, I couldn’t believe how impatient my mom seemed. But it wasn’t her that changed, it was me!

4) Don’t you know smoking kills? We all know that smoking is much more common in Europe that in the US. Almost everyone is lighting up when they have the opportunity. I would compare it to the 50’s in the States in which it was the cool thing to do. However, smoking is fairly rare in the US and luckily we are not around cigarette smoke very often due to new laws preventing smoking in many public areas. I hate cigarette smoke, but apparently not as much as I used to. The smell that once gave me a headache is now just another part of my life. It still bothers me, but not nearly to the extent it did in the US. My mom, however, often found the smoky smell to be downright awful. We would be eating dinner and she would pick up on the smell of smoke and comment on it when it hadn’t even really crossed my mind to be bothersome.

5) My meal is staring me in the eye… And the food. To an American much of the food eaten in Spain is appalling. But not to an American who has lived in Spain for some time. I never thought of my Mom as a picky eater, but I was shockingly surprised at what she wouldn’t try. She had her heart set on getting Paella( a typical Spanish rice and seafood/meat dish) until she saw a picture with large shrimp with heads still attached and mussels in their shells. Suddenly she decided that pasta seemed a whole lot more appealing. I ended getting the paella and she did try some of it, but still didn’t have the desire to sample the more exotic seafood. But she did indeed give it a shot and liked the rice part at least. Perhaps one of the funniest expressions she made was when she ordered sea bass and it was served as a whole fish. Not even the head, tail, or bones were removed. When it was set in front of her, my reaction, was “Wow that looks great! I kind of wish I had ordered that.” Expecting my mom to be just as excited as me, I was a little confused when her face turned to horror as she realized a dead fish that was staring back at her was her meal. I gave her some tips on how to eat it and she reluctantly dove in. She said it was good, but I think that gross fish head sitting on her plate kind of ruined the meal for her.

010  6) That’s all the coffee I get? Yes mom, coffee here is really, really small. No Venti sizes here(unless of course, you break down and go to Starbucks). Although it was small, she couldn’t get enough of the café con leches( espresso with steamed milk). And because they were so small, she encouraged getting one multiple times throughout the day. One day, I did treat her to a very American grande sized Starbucks coffee.

I don’t mean to be hard on my mom and peg her as someone uncultured or ignorant. Her being here helped me see the Spanish culture as I most likely saw it when I first arrived. Although my mom’s reactions to some aspects of the culture surprised me, I really couldn’t expect her to act differently. My five month absence did not make her extra sensitive to people being rude, extra picky about food, or impatient. She was the same person. It was me that has changed. I guess since my mom and I were always so similar to each other I expected her to still be just like me, but there is something about living abroad that changes a person. I am not the same Mandi Lira as when I left. Spain has changed me. Reverse culture shock is going to happen. I got small whiff of it by having my mom around, I can only imagine how much stronger it will be when I get home.

Having a whole week to show my mom my life in Madrid was perhaps one of the best weeks of the whole experience. This was the first time that my mom and I had really spent so much quality alone time. It was great having a buddy constantly with me to talk to and share my feelings. And I had so much pride in welcoming her to my city. Never before have I lived somewhere that was all mine. Not even at Purdue as both of my parents went there, so the university is just as much theirs as mine. I got to show her how I had not only survived, but thrived in this huge metropolitan city. And not to mention that it was quite fun showing off my new Spanish skills.

Despite the challenge of assimilating to some aspects of the culture this is what my mom said she loved about the country:

“the neat tidy streets, the lack of litter, the fresh pastries, the feeling of nice china with every cup of cafe, the warm embraces when you meet someone, the elderly walking tenderly and lovingly hand in hand, the young walking the elderly, the graceful walking in high-heeled shoes, the modest, neat attire of the young, the politeness shown to the elderly on the metro, the well-behaved dogs wandering around without barking or scaring people, and the children playing ball in the streets and courtyards everywhere( I loved watching the kids and reinforcing that kids are kids wherever we go)”.

The bottom line is that a new culture is just that…new and with something new there are going to be parts that are great and some parts that take time to adjust. Note: Although I am home now, I wrote this blog before I left Spain, but am just now posting it.