A Beautiful Day in Cambridge

A few months ago I participated in an International Students House Travel Club day trip to Cambridge. After a short minivan ride from London, our group of 13 international students arrived to a quaint little city dominated by gothic and red-brick university buildings. There were many churches, cozy coffeeshops, parked bikes everywhere and quiet courtyards full of the greenest grass and autumn flowers. For students, this was heaven.

Our first stop was the main street in front of King's College (pictured above). Our guide gave us about an hour to explore our surroundings before the official tour started.

I Finally Amsterdammed

Last month I left London on an easyJet flight, checked in at Abba Hotel, left my carry-on in my assigned room, took out my Nikon and I was ready to go. Cultivated by a vast collection of the most colorful stories, my imagination informed me I had just arrived in the ultimate haven for drugs and sex lovers. This was the hippie city of legal “sex workers” where marijuana roams free and 6% of tourists visit just to lose themselves in the unique cannabis coffeshops and the brothels of the world-famous Red Light District. Ladies and gentlemen, this was Amsterdam.

Except that it wasn’t. The crazy city filled with druggies and prostitutes was just one face of the multifaceted Amsterdam that greeted me. I first discovered some other less known faces thanks to ‘Sandemans New Europe’, a company that offers FREE tours of various cities around the continent. Aurora, our guide from Seville, volunteers for the company in exchange for tips, which fall at the discretion (and pocket power) of visitors. With her Andalusian charm, Aurora took us to blooming tulip gardens, the house of Anne Frank, some of the 1,400 bridges that link concentric circles of beautiful canals and the old customs house that served as the anatomy lab where Rembrandt found inspiration for his paintings.

Getting Smart about Money: The Student Budget

If you are considering London as a study-abroad destination, be prepared for a high cost of living that does not stop rising. Since London's soaring prices will affect every aspect of your lifestyle, it is a good idea to plan a budget and maximize savings so you are less financially constrained and can enjoy all the fun stuff that London offers as well. Here are some tips based on my own experience:


Accommodation in student halls tends to be the cheapest option. If you are considering renting a private property, notice that the value of real estate rises as you go towards the center of London, Zone 1. As you leave the center, Zone 3 properties are significantly more affordable.


If you do not live in a student residence hall, where you will usually have access to cheap meal services, then you will want to be selective when purchasing groceries. Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda chains are cheaper than their Waitrose and Marks & Spencer counterparts. Buying online also gives you access to a wider range of products and discounts.


Transatlantic Sister Bonds

My younger sister is my only sibling. She is my baby, the one I named and the one with whom I shared a room for 11 years. Nobody knows me better than my sister and at her scarce 15 years of age, she advises me with more wisdom and confidence than any other person. We are so different. I admire her poise and maturity, her talent for every sport, her innate leadership abilities and her resistance to the chaotic sway of emotions. I lack all of these qualities. Our differences, however, have worked to make us perfect complements, perfect teammates. Indeed, we have shared much more than a room over the years. We have shared our parents, our clothes, our secrets, our opinions, our love, our laughter.

My Relationship with London

Someone recently shared with me an electronic copy of A Baseball Game in London and other Exaggerated Chronicles, a short book written by a fellow Cuban who spent a few years in London completing a PhD. The Cuban literary magazine Cubaliteraria had invited the author to write a series of vignettes about British culture, as experienced by his own senses. What results is an insightful and at times hilarious memoir that shows how even a baseball-loving Caribbean can find and love his home in London.

This not-so-baseball-loving Cuban can understand. I too have come to embrace London as a fourth(!) home. As a foreigner, I am a proud member of a majority group, sharing seminars and meals with people from Tibet, Kosovo, the Philippines, Kazakhstan, Vietnam. London has brought us together and allowed us to discover that we actually can laugh at the same jokes.  

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