Norway | The Search for the Northern Lights


This was it. This was the trip I had been dreaming about since I saw “University of Oslo” on the list of universities I could apply to for Study Abroad. I was about to realize a lifelong dream of pretty much everyone in the world: to see the Northern Lights. On a cold Wednesday evening, I headed to the Oslo Airport with my backpack, Polaroid camera at the ready. Four of my closest friends and I were headed to Tromsø – the northernmost city in Norway – to experience one of the world’s most gorgeous natural phenomena: the Aurora Borealis.  

We rented a little Airbnb which was about a ten minute bus ride from the city center. Something I will say about Tromsø’s public transport system is that their bus tickets look like regular receipts, which could be extremely confusing. We arrived at around 11pm, so it was dark outside. However, at that point in Tromsø the sun rose at 9:30am and set at 1:30pm, so that was a view of the city I was going to get used to.  

The first day we just explored the city. Tromsø is one of those places that looks like a Christmas card. There are lots of very Norwegian-style houses that look like cabins, in shades of red and yellow and white. The city was decked out in Christmas lights and displays (which was handy when we had no sunlight). We took a cable car up a mountain to view the entire city, which culminated in a spontaneous hike and an equally spontaneous bout of snowball fighting and Christmas caroling.  

Speaking of, I know that a lot of Americans would not consider anything before Thanksgiving to be Christmas, but in Tromsø the Christmas cheer was in full swing. On our second day we were walking through the city center, when we were offered torches. There was a band playing, and we waltzed through the main street, where we were offered free waffles and non-alcoholic gløgg (mulled wine). We spent the first few nights engaging in a concept the Scandinavians call “hygge” – a feeling of coziness and warmth. We watched movies, played board games and cooked together, feeling like a little family.  

But the highlight was when we rented a car and drove out of the city on a hunt for the Northern Lights. We drove for an hour in the car, blasting our music and feeling vaguely nervous. The Northern Lights are famously temperamental, and I didn’t want to know what it felt like to fly all the way out to the Arctic Circle to look at a black sky for a few hours.  

It did take us a while, and when we did see them, we weren’t sure what we were seeing. It looked more like grey streaks than any amazing green light. My friend David snapped a photo of them, and we were all very underwhelmed. But we drove out a little further (accidentally picking the same stakeout spot as a Northern Lights tour), and we were rewarded with the most beautiful sight: the lights were out. Now, they weren’t as intense as they could have been, but they were pale and green and dancing in the sky. I was so incredibly happy in that moment. We sat (freezing) on a little deck by a little beach in the (freezing) cold, and we ate snacks and took photos and just stared at the sky. In the photos taken with David’s camera, they appear more vibrant than they were. The photos I took looked more like this: 

…but that doesn’t change how incredible that feeling of seeing them was.  

Our last day we spent in Tromsø we did a short hike and just marveled at the sheer beauty of the landscape. This was an incredible trip, and I will never forget it. I’ve never had an experience like it before, and I’m so grateful I could experience it with four of my close friends. 

Norway | Abroad While Abroad: London and Liverpool


Having so many breaks in between my classes can be a little disorientating, but it also allowed me to plan a trip to one of my favorite places in the world: London. I lived there from 2004-2006. My Australian Dad and American Mom met there, and now we have posters of London bus schedules in our living room. London carries a lot of sentimental value for me, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to revisit a place that defined a part of my life from when I was six to when I was nine years old.  


My friend Tristan and I flew into London on a Thursday night, and somehow miraculously navigated to our Airbnb, despite the app giving us the wrong address. The first day we explored Camden markets. Amidst the knockoff designer brands and generic suits we found a few beautiful stalls of handmade items. As we were exploring, we were approached by MTV UK, who interviewed us for a series called “Asking for a Friend”. They asked us a lot of personal questions about relationships and sexuality in adorably thick accents.  

On the second day we met a family friend of mine, Lily. She’s from Los Angeles but she’s studying in Manchester. We hadn’t seen each other in almost three years, but as soon as we were reunited it was as though no time had passed. Together we explored London, stopping for marzipan fruit, seeing the most beautiful autumn trees, and running through the streets while it was raining harder than I’ve ever experienced in my life. Everything was set up for Christmas, so it was all beautiful.  


We also took the train to Liverpool, where we watched the Liverpool vs. Fulham soccer game. I’m well aware that I might be flayed by Brits for calling it “soccer”, but it’s less confusing when I’m writing for an American audience, so I refuse to apologize. Fulham is my family’s team. We lived near them when we lived in London, so we participated in a lot of camps and workshops. The club was always incredibly friendly and eager to get families involved in soccer, so watching this game had a lot of sentimental value for me. Tristan is German, so he’s obsessed with soccer, and told me it was his dream to go to a Liverpool game, so it worked out fairly well for both of us, I’d say.  

Fulham is at the bottom of the Premier League and Liverpool is near the top, so I wasn’t expecting a miracle. We lost 2-0, which is actually a lot better than most of us expected!   

 All in all, it was a really fun weekend. It only took two hours to fly from Oslo to London, and so we made it back on Monday morning in time for Tristan to get to his 11am lecture (I don’t have class at all on Mondays, thankfully). Being in London was really nostalgic for me, but even so I had a lot of new experiences, and got to connect with someone I hadn’t seen in years.  

Norway | Making Friends Abroad


The first day I got to Norway, I sat in my room alone and stared at the wall. I had no bedding. I had no cooking utensils (or food, for that matter). Most importantly, I had no friends in the country whatsoever. And I was terrified. Now, almost three months later, I have a close group of friends whom I adore, and I’m constantly meeting new people and getting to know them better. I know studying abroad can feel lonely sometimes, so I wanted to explain how I met the people that I met. 


Ashlie was the first person I met here, and I have to admit something: even though she became the key to me meeting all my other friends, I met her completely by chance. I had just arrived at Oslo airport, and my heart was beating so rapidly. I took the Flytoget (the express train from the airport to Oslo Central Station), and as I got on, I struggled to get my bag into one of the storage compartments. A girl who looked about my age noticed my struggle and helped me, and I in turn helped her with her bags. We sat down together and discovered that we were both studying abroad at the University of Oslo! She was from Denver, and she was just as terrified as I was. We went to pick up our keys, and went our separate ways. She lived in student housing in a different part of the city, but she became my first point of contact in Oslo. The takeaway here isn’t to just hope you get lucky and meet people, but that it only takes one connection to meet an entire new community!

The Group  

Ashlie introduced me to the girls in her program, Hanah and Nicolette, as well her as next door neighbor Hannah. Hannah introduced us to a friend of hers from her program, Tristan. Nicolette met Daryna in her university orientation group. Hanah and I met Lorenzo in our orientation group, and Lorenzo was flatmates with David, who incidentally is also a part of the UCEAP program. From there we had a nine-person group, known as “the family” 

We were a mismatched group who didn’t really have much in common except that we were all stranded in a new country of our own volition, and we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves. As a result, we established weekly family dinners at one of our student housing, which turned into games nights and day outings and trips to other countries and open mic nights and nights out on the town. We have shared so many laughs and jokes that have stemmed from miscommunication (English is a second language for three of us), and we have learned to appreciate a wide variety of cultural viewpoints. I’ll admit that I was anxious to spend time with the group at first. I wasn’t sure whether I fit in, and I was scared of being rejected. But what I will say is that a group of international students in a foreign country are just looking for people to enjoy spending time with them, and that’s definitely what I’ve gotten. I’ve made a bunch of friends who I will cherish long after this program is over. 

My advice to anyone worried about making friends is to just give yourself time. I’ve met people here who I’m not best friends with, and that’s completely fine. You can’t expect yourself to make a bunch of deep, lasting bonds with people you’ve just met. My friendship with everyone in the group has grown over time, and I still have so much to learn about them. We were thrown together by circumstance, but we’ve worked at getting to know each other and respecting each other’s differences. It took me a while to open up around them, but now we’re all almost worryingly comfortable around each other.  

Obviously, all the general “college rules” of making friends still apply overseas: join clubs, do activities and be open to new experiences. But I would just add that I understand the pressure of trying to make friends over the one semester you’re abroad. But you’re surrounded by people who have just as much time as you do, and they’re looking for friendship too. All it takes is one person to open your social circle. From the core group I’ve befriended Norwegians and people who aren’t international students studying abroad. It will come with patience.  

Norway | Abroad While Abroad: Paris and Amsterdam


One of the reasons why I chose to study abroad in Europe was because I knew I would be able to travel around the entire continent. The first place, besides Oslo, that I visited was Paris. I actually lived in Paris for a few months in 2013 as part of a high school exchange program. I wanted to go back to indulge in the culture, eat some incredible food, and see my old host family. I had never been to Amsterdam, but I was fascinated by the city, and so I went in a large group of friends the week after I went to Paris. 


My schedule in Paris was packed. I travelled with just one of my friends, and we stayed in an Airbnb near Strasbourg Saint-Denis, a trendy (and newly-gentrified) area of the city. We visited the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, Montparnasse Tower, Montparnasse Cemetery, the Musée de l’Orangerie, the Sacre Coeur, the Moulin Rouge, the Pantheon. You name it, we visited it. I also indulged in some of the world’s most delicious food. I had the best French toast I’ve ever had in my life in a pristine white café, we drank delicious wine, I indulged in my passion for duck with delicious duck confit. While I love Oslo, I will say that there isn’t much of a culture for food, and eating out can be very expensive. By contrast, in Paris everything tasted divine, and the prices only made the food taste better. 

By far the best experience for me was seeing my host family for the first time in five years. My host parents were just as I remembered them, my twin brothers were now teenagers (they were eight when I first met them), and we surprised my host sister with my visit. She now studies outside of Paris, and came home for the weekend, not expecting to see me whatsoever. We had a wonderful night. My friend David walked away that night gushing about how amazing they were, and I couldn’t agree more.  


Amsterdam was a completely different experience for me than Paris. I travelled with four other friends, and we stayed in a hostel that was a quick ferry ride from the center of town. Amsterdam was absolutely gorgeous, and we visited the Van Gogh museum, the Tulip Museum, the Cheese museum, and of course the famed Amsterdam sign. Between admiring the beauty of the city, eating incredible fries slathered in mayonnaise and trying to avoid getting crushed by cyclists, I also managed to simply enjoy the time I was spending with my new friends. My favorite experience there was karaoke night at the hostel. We met so many new people and bonded over screeching out 2000’s pop songs.  

It can be difficult to make friends while studying abroad, so I highly recommend traveling somewhere together, even just for a weekend. I became so much closer with my friends after visiting somewhere completely new. We had to navigate public transport, restaurants and museums together. It was especially challenging in France, where not everyone spoke English. Living in Norway is comforting for nervous travelers because everyone can speak English, but it was exciting to try and practice my rusty French (even if the people I talked to often just replied in English anyway).  

Norway | One Month In


It’s been just over a month since I’ve been in Oslo! I’ve begun to settle into life here, and thinking about the progress I’ve made since I’ve gotten here is pretty exciting. Here are a few life updates from Norway:  

21st Birthday!

Yep, I turned twenty-one in a country where the drinking age is eighteen – and twenty, and sometimes older. Norway’s nightlife can be very confusing because age limits vary by bars – and sometimes by days. For example, many bars and pubs around the area have a twenty-three year age limit, but only on weekdays.  

 My Mom actually came out to Oslo to spend my birthday with me. We had an amazing day getting lunch in a beautiful part of town, and then we saw a soccer game. It was the Norway vs. The Netherlands Women’s World Cup Qualifier. Norway won 2-1, and it amazed me how many young girls were there, cheering on their soccer heroes. When I was their age I was dragged to soccer games, and spent the entire time playing Pokémon on my GameBoy 

That weekend, my friends surprised me with a homemade cake and a small celebration. I felt extremely loved, even though I was across the world from all of my friends and almost all of my family.  

Shopping and Food 

Living in an apartment means I cook all my own meals, and the steep prices of eating out in Norway means that I cook a lot. I’m very happy to be refining my skills for when I move into my Westwood apartment, but I do have to remember to plan ahead when it comes to shopping. Shops in Norway generally have limited hours on Saturday, and almost all of them are completely closed on Sundays. If there’s one thing I’ve come to respect about Norwegian culture, it’s that they take their free time very seriously. Weekends are for family and friends and being in nature (at least while the weather permits it).  

My friends and I meet every week for “family dinner,” where two or three people will cook for the rest of the group. We’ve been treated to authentic chicken schnitzel from our German friends, crepes from our French cohort, and, most recently, vegan chili. As someone who loves meat, I wasn’t particularly excited, but I was grudgingly impressed by how delicious it was. It’s my turn to cook next week, and my Californian cooking partner and I are going to attempt Norwegian meatballs, so we’ll see how that turns out.  


The school system in Norway is incredibly different from UCLA. I only have class on Mondays and Thursdays, and one of my classes only has contact hours every other week. There’s a lot less homework, and a lot more readings, and this is coming from an English major! The work here is definitely more student-driven, and so I’ve been using a lot of my free time to prepare for those classes. All of my grades are determined by one final exam, or final paper. I have to submit a pass/no pass qualification paper/project for all of them to be able to take the final exam. For some classes attendance is required, and for others it isn’t. This lack of structure and restriction can be a blessing and a curse. It gives me a lot more freedom, but it also forces me to motivate myself, as the workload and syllabus won’t do it for me. Luckily for me I’m enjoying my classes about Viking history and Norwegian literature and media, so the readings aren’t too arduous.  

It’s been a month of trying to settle into a culture that I’ve never been exposed to before. Some parts of it have been difficult. But what I’m learning is that everyone has a different experience moving to a new country. It may be difficult at first, but it’s important to remember that just being here is an achievement. I forget sometimes that I’m actually doing it! I’m actually out here, living my life in Norway! I have three months to go, and I’m determined not to waste a single day.  

Norway | First Week


First Week  

My first week in Oslo has been a whirlwind. I’ve been adjusting to life in the student village, orientation at the University of Oslo, and getting to know the city that I’ll be calling home for the next four months.  


I arrived at orientation filled with first-day nerves. I am studying in the Faculty of Humanities, so I went to an orientation session with around two hundred or so international students who were in the same faculty. We were all divided into “buddy groups” named after traditional Norwegian things. One group was named for the Northern Lights, another was for brown cheese. It was a mixed bag.  

I waited as they sorted us into groups, but the more groups that were called, the more nervous I became. Eventually, we got to the end of the list, and my name hadn’t been called to be in a group. This didn’t turn out to be an issue, and I was unceremoniously added into the “Russefeiring” group. For those who don’t know, Russefeiring, or Russ, is essentially the tradition of graduating Norwegian high schoolers. Apparently they hire buses and party for days on end. I was pretty happy with that assignment.  

The first day we were taken to a welcoming ceremony in the middle of the city. They marched all the students into the center of the square outside the Nationaltheatret metro, and welcomed us formally to the University.  

The next few days were all about meeting other students. Unfortunately, a lot of the events I tried to go to were held at bars and pubs with strict capacity limits, and so I didn’t get into them. On the flip side, there were a lot of students in the same boat, and we befriended each other outside.  

Student Life 

Getting adjusted to my new accommodations has been relatively smooth. It took me a while to work out how to find the laundries in the student village, and how to work the Norwegian washing machines, but I was on top of the world when I finally figured it out. Cooking for myself has been incredibly satisfying, especially because the price of a night out in Norway always needs to be considered. One particularly impressive feature of Norwegian supermarkets is that they have individually wrapped fillets of frozen salmon. Norwegians love their seafood, and so they’ve made it as plentiful and accessible as possible.  

One of the amazing things about living in student housing is meeting so many people from across the world. I now have a group of friends from Germany, England, France, Canada, America, Norway and Korea. We’re establishing a tradition of hosting dinners at one of our houses every week. This week it was German cuisine. We indulged in homemade schnitzel and the loving atmosphere that comes from a bunch of young adults throwing themselves together to experience new things.  

Earlier this week, I took a ferry ride on a whim – for free, thanks to Norway’s exceptional public transport system – and ended up on the island of Hovedøya. I found 12th century monastery ruins, a herd of sheep, a fox, and stunning views. It’s thankfully warm enough to continue exploring the city in jeans and a T-shirt, and I’m hoping to capitalize on that as much as possible before the temperatures start to drop. As someone who’s now used to the LA climate, it’s definitely going to be a learning experience. 

Ireland | Academic Differences


Entering a totally different academic system sounds overwhelming, but there are actually a lot of similarities. I felt like the expectations set at orientation were a bit different than the reality I experienced, so now that my term is almost over I’ll tell you what I’ve learned. 


I had six classes, most of which had two hours of lecture every week and one hour of tutorial every other week. Here’s what my schedule looked like. 

My lectures had between 20-60 students and my tutorials were usually 6-15 students so you don’t feel lost in the crowd. Here’s a typical 40 student class. 

Depending on your major, your class might be larger. The orientation hall below held like 200 students and is used for classes sometimes. 

So there’s variation, just like your UC campus. 

Exams vs. Continuous Assessment 

Irish universities overuse huge exams. Three of my six classes had a three hour exam at the end of the term worth 70 to 100% of my grade. Up until a few years ago all grades were based 100% on one final exam. Everyone, teachers and students alike, hate this so they’re slowly moving toward more papers and other forms of continuous assessment thankfully. For a typical 5 ECT course, they are only allowed to give you two essays (generally 10-15 pages each), one exam and one essay, or just an exam. I found the workload relatively light. 


Lecturers here seem a lot more generous with extensions. I never asked for one, but many students got them simply for having other papers due around the same time. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just ask. 


One nice thing about Trinity was all the cozy study space. Little tip: the 6th floor of the arts building is all glass with a lovely view. Definitely my favorite place to study. 

There are great coffee shops in the Arts Building and Aras an Phiarsaigh. There’s also a beautiful old dining hall for meals. 

Formality and Difficulty 

I was warned that Irish universities are a lot more formal and difficult than what I was used to. I actually didn’t find this to be true. Professors need to be addressed respectfully, no different than back at your campus. I had six professors, and all of them were really laidback and friendly. 

I also didn’t think it was more difficult. The reading load was comparable to UCLA, I had fewer assignments, less hours of lecture per class, and got the same sorts of grades on assignments I generally get back home. So don’t let the warnings of increased formality and difficulty stress you out. I was really worried at first, but just behave like you did back home and you’ll be fine. 


The grading system is wacky. Apparently an 80% is publishable by a professor and 70% is still something to call your mom about. Given that, I think the upper end of the conversion scale is a bit too stringent and the lower end too generous, but here are how grades convert. 

Students more commonly use terms like First Class Honours/H1 and Second Class Honours/H2 to refer to grades. Here’s that scale. 


Library hours are much shorter than back home so plan accordingly. The Longroom is the famous Trinity library (shown below) but you can’t actually study there. There are several other options that are open to you. Less beautiful, but they claim to have every book ever published so that’s pretty cool. 


The first thing you do when you get to Trinity is fill out your Hilary module timetable. That’s just Irish for figuring out your spring class schedule. Here are a bunch of terms that also might confuse you. 

  • Fall semester = Michaelmas term 
  • Spring semester = Hilary term 
  • Course = major choice/degree path 
  • Class = module 
  • Schedule = timetable 
  • Discussion section = tutorial 
  • Professor = lecturer 
  • ECT = unit/credit 
  • Note: The title of “professor” is reserved for the most prestigious lecturers. Most of my lecturers would be referred to as just “Dr. Smith”, not “Professor Smith”. Check your lecturers’ titles online or on their syllabus to make sure you’re using the correct title. Keep in mind, referring to someone who uses the title of “professor” as simply “doctor” can be considered disrespectful so if you’re in doubt use “professor”. 

Alexis Harmon studied abroad in Dublin, Ireland during Spring 2019:

Ireland | Kilkenny: Ireland’s Best Preserved Medieval Town


Studying all week and traveling every weekend can be exhausting, but in such a beautiful place it’s nearly impossible to resist the urge to constantly be exploring. This weekend we took a bus to Kilkenny, a small medieval town only an hour and a half from Dublin. 

The town has a long stretch called the Medieval Mile that begins at Kilkenny Castle and ends at St. Canice’s Cathedral. Between these two beautiful landmarks is an abundance of medieval stone buildings, many of which are filled with yummy restaurants and artisan shops now. In addition to its medieval buildings, Kilkenny is known for its artisans. For a taste of this, go to the National Design & Craft Gallery. For medieval history, go literally anywhere in Kilkenny. Wherever you wander, you’ll encounter charming stone buildings, pockets of beautiful nature, and maybe a medieval ruin or two. 

Church ruins we stumbled upon, disappointingly closed off 

Kilkenny Castle 

Built in the early 1200s, the castle has been continuously expanded over the centuries. Given to the Butler family in the 1300s, they inhabited the castle for over 600 years before going broke and giving it to the city in 1967. They sold most of the furnishings and ever since the city has tried to reclaim as many of the antiques as possible, recreating what life would have looked like for the Butlers in their heyday. 

Top: One of many sitting rooms. Middle: Formal dining room. Bottom: Nursery

In addition to the recreations, there was some modern art displayed, like the below play on a Hellenic vase. 

Information on the history of the castle or the Butler family was honestly disappointingly sparse, but at a mere €4 per student ticket the beautiful rooms were worth it. My favorite part was the art gallery at the end. In addition to housing a great collection, the hall itself is gorgeous. A 19th-century architect who redid the ceiling mixed art styles from every era of Ireland’s history. The result is stunning. 

Top: Picture Hall. Bottom: Ceiling art.

Finally, we explored the beautiful grounds. There’s a vast expanse of grass and a variety of gardens. 

This tree was the coolest thing we found. It appeared to have grown into three distinct, but connected trees. 

Medieval Mile Museum 

Kilkenny has a lot of churches and one in the middle of the Medieval Mile was converted to a museum after it fell into disrepair in the 60s. The building interior is somewhat modernized, but a lot of the 13th century structures are still there and its origins as a church are charmingly apparent. 

Top: A converted nave. Bottom: Exposed 16th century roof structure.

Under the building and in the cemetery, they found an immense amount of really old graves so a lot of the museum focuses on that and what can be learned about Kilkenny from them. 

Top: Part of the cemetery outside. Bottom: Some old grave stones.

Although it’s out of order, I recommend stopping here first to get all the information on the Medieval Mile, as well as a handy map. 

Kyteler’s Inn 

If you’re ready for a break try Kyteler’s Inn. Established in 1320, it was originally owned by Ireland’s first convicted witch and is said to be haunted. They also have great music at night. 

Black Abbey 

Very close by is the Black Abbey. Although the exterior is pretty, it’s really known for its beautiful stained glass. 

It was some of the most vibrant and intricately painted stained glass I’ve seen in Europe. The interior was filled with rainbow light, so much so that I couldn’t even take a proper photo of the interior. 

Streaked with rainbow light 

St. Canice’s Cathedral 

Finally, we made our way to the final stop on the route, St. Canice’s Cathedral. Unfortunately, it closes early and we showed up too late both days we were there so make sure you get there early! 

It’s the largest cathedral in Kilkenny and its medieval round tower is one of only a few that you can climb in Ireland. The view is supposed to be incredible. Building finished in 1285 and this was the site of Alice Kyteler’s witch trial. 

If you’re looking to travel, but want to stay closer to Dublin, Kilkenny should definitely be near the top of your list. 

Alexis Harmon studied abroad in Dublin, Ireland during Spring 2019:

Ireland | Galway Trip


Although €10 Ryanair tickets to another country are a real temptation every weekend, don’t forget to explore Ireland itself. Every Dubliner sings the praises of Galway above every other Irish city and after a weekend visit it was clear why. 

Galway is only the sixth-largest Irish city by population with 80,000 residents- small enough to feel intimate and local, but big enough to be packed with fun things to do. Situated where the River Corrib meets the sea on Ireland’s west coast, the town is famous more than anything for its music culture. Not only do a multitude of pubs have nightly live music, but it’s apparently not an uncommon occurrence for random customers to whip out their instruments and start playing. We didn’t experience that, but it still was a lovely time. 

The Streets 

The Latin Quarter is the heart of Galway. It’s the only part of the city that feels touristy, but even so it’s impossible to not be charmed by the brightly colored buildings lining the winding streets. 

Latin Quarter 

The street is almost all pubs and restaurants which are lively all day and night. On Saturday and Sunday until 3 there’s also a little market. There’s delicious street food, local artists, and a mix of random artisans. Make a point to grab a donut from Boychiks or a baked good from the bakery stall directly across the lane. 

Honestly, although there are more structured activities like visiting the Galway City Museum, if you only have the weekend and don’t have a car to explore the surrounding nature (which is amazing!), I think the best thing to do is to just wander around. Take in how cute it all is and just eat, drink, and generally be merry. 

The Sea 

Galway is along the fastest flowing river in Europe, River Corrib. The water is truly gushing and the water level is so high I must admit it’s a bit unsettling. 

River Corrib 

Walking out to where the river meets the sea, you pass a row of brightly colored houses in the distance. 

Be sure to carve out some time to meander down the Salthill Promenade, a pretty walk along the coastline. There is a lighthouse out in the distance, but the gates are locked so don’t bother with the long walk. Instead, stick to the main drag with the sea stretching endlessly to one side and a vast expanse of grass on the other. 

Salthill Promenade 

The beaches are certainly different from LA’s. In addition to it being very chilly and windy, the water is gray and choppy and almost marshy for a while. The long spread of shallow water creates interesting patterns in the sand, like this perfect circle we found. 

Does this count as a fairy circle? 

It’s a more rugged, dark sort of beauty than you might be used to, but gosh, it sure is lovely. 

The Culture 

Galway may have its fair share of great pubs and trendy brunch spots, but really it’s known as the city of music as I mentioned earlier. On the weekends, dozens of places have live music and they’re all amazingly talented. 

My boyfriend and I went to the Róisín Dubh which means “black rose” in Gaelic. We paid a mere €5 cover fee to see Galway Street Club, a 15-piece band who have a super unique style. They have some original music and do some covers, but it all has a traditional Irish twist. 

11 of the members of Galway Street Club 

It was probably the most fun show I’ve ever been to. If they’re playing, drop everything and go see them. If they’re not, I’m sure every show in Galway is incredible. Just know that a trip to Galway is not complete without seeing a live show. To tempt you a bit further, here’s a video of Galway Street Club performing on a random street in Galway. 

The End 

After a busy weekend, knowing we had a mere 2.5 hour bus ride was home was great. Somehow I spot a rainbow whenever I’m on a long bus ride in Ireland. Every single time. There’s no better way to end a trip. 

Alexis Harmon studied abroad in Dublin, Ireland during Spring 2019:

Ireland | UCEAP Tour: Edinburgh and the Highlands


UCEAP plans occasional trips for students so we can stay connected and explore the regions we’re in. One such trip was a weekend trip to Edinburgh, where the UK/Ireland UCEAP headquarters is, and the Highlands. 

On Friday and Sunday we were given freedom to explore the city, but Saturday was packed with a fantastic bus tour that took us all over the southwestern Highlands. UCEAP covered the cost of the bus tour, a hostel on Friday and Saturday night which included breakfast (rooms where shared only by UCEAP students), and our flights. Friday was a quiet evening for most students as we had an early morning ahead. 

Saturday Tour 

We ate together at 8 AM and left at 9 in a large, comfortable coach. There were 28 students in total, plus 3 lovely UCEAP staff members. 

We generally traveled no more than 1.5 hours at a time, and our tour guide was an endless fount of information whenever we were in motion. As much as I loved this, my favorite part was probably exploring the sites we stopped at. 


Our first stop was Dunkeld, a small town about an hour and a half outside of Edinburgh. The town itself looked like most small UK towns, but was distinguished by its situation upon River Tay and its crumbling cathedral. Construction of the imposing cathedral began in 1260, but over time it has been rendered eerie and even more striking by its disrepair. Large portions of the roof have fallen in, but the bell tower is intact and the bell-ringer played music almost the whole time we were there. I opted to hike the grounds around the church instead of exploring the church itself, and I immersed myself in the woods with beautiful glimpses of the river and this little peek of the bell tower behind me. 

Dunkeld Cathedral

Dunkeld Hermitage 

Only 10 minutes away was The Hermitage, an expanse of woods containing Ossian’s Hut, an old hermitage over a waterfall. The riverside hike was beautiful and the hut looked interesting as we approached. 

Top: River Tay. Bottom: Ossian’s Hut

But my goodness! Once you got inside the hut and viewed the waterfall, it was stunning. This site may have been the highlight of the tour and the picture below will show you why. It’s three times as big as it looks in the picture and the roar is immense. 


Another notable stop was Pitlochry, a town on a dam where we ate lunch. Many students went to the cute cafes along the main boulevard, but as we had only 1.5 hours here I just grabbed snacks from Co-op and headed to the loch to wander its banks. This tranquil spot is where I enjoyed my picnic. 

Loch Tummel

Queen’s View 

Only 20 minutes away was an incredible vista of a gorgeous loch and a glen, an iconic Scottish highlands view. 

Queen’s View

Driving Home

We had an afternoon appointment at Glenturret Distillery, the oldest continuously working distillery in Scotland, where we learned how whiskey was made. Finally, we headed home and were treated to a lovely rainbow. 


On Sunday we had breakfast together then checked out the hostel, setting out to explore the city. The Old Town is quite compact, but rich with beauty. It inspired Hogwarts and the buildings clearly show why. First of all, their university literally looks like a castle. 

University of Edinburgh 

Secondly, they have an actual giant castle on top of a huge hill that the old town sprawls out from. 

1,100 year old Edinburgh Castle 

Victoria Street directly inspired Diagon Alley. The picture’s colors look dull, but the shops are vibrant in person. 

Vibrant Victoria Street 

And of course there is Tom Riddle’s grave. Turns out J.K. Rowling stole the name. 

Tom Riddle’s Grave, ft. casual product placement

Chancellor’s Visit 

A few weekends prior I had actually been flown out to Edinburgh with two other students to meet UCLA Chancellor Block. We had lunch and talked for several hours about how we thought the program could improve, especially regarding accessibility of study abroad programs. He was warm and receptive, making us feel like we were truly heard. 

Chancellor Block with other UCEAP students and me


UCEAP gave me the opportunity to explore one of my new favorite European cities, see the Highlands (a part of the country that is often inaccessible to young travelers on a budget), and even offer my opinion to leadership on the program itself. I am extremely grateful to have been privileged with two separate UCEAP trips to Edinburgh. All I can say is that if UCEAP is having a group trip, definitely go! 

Alexis Harmon studied abroad in Dublin, Ireland during Spring 2019: