Crossing the Atlantic

An insight into life at Surrey from current US students

Studying on a Budget: Savings Tips and Federal Aid

When I began considering postgraduate programmes, one of the first issues that came to mind was how I would manage to fund my studies, let alone studies abroad. I had known for years that I’d like to study in the UK, however, the cost of living and the US Dollar to Great British Pound exchange rate worried me. I had studied in London for a summer two years previously and recalled living off of only bacon (British bacon is so much nicer than American bacon) and eggs my last week and a half because I had drained my savings for the trip and didn’t have money for much else. I was determined to not let that happen this time. After research, help from the university, and budgeting, I found that studying at Surrey was not only feasible but potentially even more financially reasonable than studying back home. This post details my findings and will hopefully assure you that studying in the UK, specifically at Surrey, is still possible for money-conscious students such as myself.

Right off the bat, there are a number of financial advantages that studying at Surrey offers international US students:

  1. Postgraduate study in the UK is traditionally one year as opposed to two years or more in the US. Because of this, students pursuing postgraduate study in the UK typically pay less for their programs than US students as they only have to pay for one year.
  2. Tuition for UK university programs is commonly less expensive than in the US. As you probably know, tuition in the US varies greatly depending on the university’s location, whether it is private versus public, and a number of other factors, such as the type of program.
  3. Many UK institutions, including the University of Surrey, accept USA Federal Loans. For more information on this, please visit: http://www.surrey.ac.uk/currentstudents/money/support/usloans/.
  4. International students are guaranteed on-campus housing their first year of study (subject to meeting application deadlines). On-campus housing is usually much less expensive than rent in Guildford.

Apart from these advantages, there are many budgeting “hacks” that, when used properly, can help you stretch your money as far as possible. The following tips are a few of my favorites:

  1. Take advantage of student deals and discounts. There are many discounts available to students, such as travel, shopping, and restaurant deals. When in doubt, always ask the store or restaurant you are in if they offer discounts. More likely than not, they will! Also, check out discounts such as Surrey’s student bus travel card which offers students more than a 50% savings on bus travel, national rail discount cards, and student oyster cards. If you are into retail, I suggest signing up for UniDays. UniDays is a free service that offers plenty of discounts on many famous high street brand stores.
  2. Utilize your flat kitchen. As tempting as eating at one of Guildford’s many delicious restaurants or ordering delivery pizza may sound, using your flat’s kitchen is an easy way to save money. Once a month there is a farmer’s market on Guildford’s high street. The market is a great place to score inexpensive fresh produce, bread, and more. Closer to home, there is a farmer’s market on campus every Wednesday. Otherwise, a Tesco (brand of grocery store) is in walking distance from both Stag Hill and Manor Park campuses. Tesco and Sainsbury’s tend to be the more reasonably priced UK grocery stores whereas Waitrose and Marks & Spencers are typically pricier.
  3. Swap Starbucks for home-brewed or Lakeside coffee. Do you drink coffee daily? If so, consider investing in a personal hot cup and brewing your own coffee at home. Every flat at Surrey is equipped with a kettle and coffee in the UK is commonly sold in grocery stores as granules that dissolve in hot water (it’s not as bad as it sounds). By using this simple hack, you are likely to save at least £15 a week. If at-home coffee just doesn’t sound as appetizing as that from a cafe, check out Lakeside. Located in the front of campus, in the Surrey Business School, Lakeside offers all sorts of lattes, flavored coffees, and hot and cold sandwiches at a fair price. They also have amazing soup. Students can score a large coffee for easily under £2.
  4. Book travel in advance. Depending on your class schedule, travelling abroad and visiting different areas of the UK may be a frequent occurrence. Avoid ridiculous prices by booking as early as possible. Flight and bus companies, such as Ryanair and National Express tend to spike their prices closer to the departure date. Additionally, you can usually score the cheapest hostel and hotel deals by booking at least a month in advance. Organizing a weekend away weeks before leaving may seem like a daunting task but your wallet will thank you.
  5. Hold yourself accountable. One of the first things I did after arriving in Guildford was put together a budget spreadsheet. In this spreadsheet, I included monthly expenses such as my cell phone bill, groceries, printing credit, and laundry. From there, I allocated money amounts for activities like going out, shopping, and travel. By having this in one central spreadsheet, I was able to hold myself accountable and ensure I had enough money to last me my duration of study. If I overspent one month, I made sure I underspent the next. This not only held me accountable but also eased a lot of personal financial stress.

I hope that you find these tips helpful. I assure you that they have worked wonders for me. For further information on budgeting, check out Surrey’s Student Money team’s website at: http://www.surrey.ac.uk/currentstudents/money/ . And, as always, feel free to email us at northamerica@surrey.ac.uk.

Until next time –

Briana

 

Boothroyd’s Abroad: Jasmine’s Story

Over the years I have written blogs about various friends doing study abroad programs in the UK. They mostly have been people who have only done a 3 to 4-month program with their university in the USA. This time I’d like to share the story of my own sister. Unlike the rest, she properly took the plunge and moved to England for her entire degree! She did her undergrad in the USA and is now doing her masters in the UK. I asked her several questions about her first 6 months. Read her answers below.

Why did you choose England?

I chose England not only because our family originates here, but also because of the history. I am able to travel freely throughout the United Kingdom and walk on cobblestone roads and visit beautiful architecture that dates before United States history began. The handmade statues and painted ceilings of enormous cathedrals, right down to the delicate and ornate details of village churches.

I hope to live in unique cultures around the world, but I didn’t want to completely overwhelm myself with such a big transition. I am aware of how severe culture shock can affect some people. I have a lot riding on this decision and I wanted the best possible environment, therefore when I considered moving abroad and leaving behind everything I’ve ever known, it wasn’t so daunting knowing I could speak the language.

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What things have you found strange or different? (Culture, food, fashion, entertainment, etc.)

My cohort is very international, and working to respect cultural differences and personalities has been a challenge, but an incredibly rewarding one. I have met more unique people from all over the world in the last five months than I have in my entire life. This opportunity has allowed me to build relationships and gain perspective on different lifestyles and cultures, which is invaluable.

 

What are the main differences between the American and UK school system?

The US and UK educational systems are quite different. Apart from the different terminology for level of education, such as, High School in the US, and Secondary school or Sixth Form and A Levels in the UK, the way students are marked also differ. In the US, depending on your field of study, most assignments and overall grades are cumulative. You have homework assignments that are worth 10pts here and 20pts there. Each assignment is worth a small percentage of your overall grade, essentially meaning you’re not totally screwed if you miss or fail one assignment. In the UK, in my graduate program specifically, I have one group work assignment weighted typically 30% to 40% and the rest of my total mark is an individual assignment, 60% to 70%. Of course, you’re typically given ample time to do the assignments, but at a graduate level, a lot of research and reading of academic journals is required.

 

What aspects of each system do you prefer or miss?

I wouldn’t say one system is better or worse, they’re different and have pros and cons on each side. I prefer not having small assignments and frequent due dates throughout the course and focusing on core projects. However, I can see why the US system would work for different personalities because procrastination is a big killer, and waiting until the last minute to do a massive report worth majority of your year mark can be detrimental to your studies.

 

Would you recommend studying abroad to others?

This transition has been a profound experience and has been a crucial stepping stone in broadening my future.

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Would you like to live in England beyond your studies (potentially even more long term)? What is your favorite part of living in England?

I am planning on staying in England but would absolutely consider other European countries. What will ultimately determine where I choose to reside will be based upon where I get a job. I am not considering moving back the US, specifically Seattle, despite my love for the Pacific Northwest, my home, I am not big on backtracking. I’ve spent my whole life in Washington and after traveling, I want to continue to live outside what I know and experience new things.

The ability to travel so easily throughout Europe and other parts of the world is my favourite thing about living in England. I recently had a friend from the US visit and was able to tell her we would be waking up in London and having breakfast in Amsterdam, Netherlands. That is simply not feasible otherwise.

Of course, I also love living in England because of the rich history around every corner and the attachment I have to it because of my family’s roots.

 

Do you think living abroad has changed your perception of the world or impacted you in anyway?

I think living abroad has had a profound change on my perception of the world and it has absolutely sparked that itch for travel. It really puts your life and the relationships you have built into perspective. The vastness of the world makes you realize how small your problems are, how easy it is to live within a bubble, to take so much for granted when you’re unaware of those around you. As a creative I am also humbled by the work of international artists. The details within a city, a community, a language, it makes the world an exciting place to explore.

Some months ago, I joined a Facebook group called Girls Love Travel. It now features over 200,000 members from across the globe, sharing and supporting fellow female travelers. The group has sparked thoughtful discussions and opened a dialogue to being a well-rounded and respectful human being.

I firmly believe those who do not travel are unaware of the beauty around them, and I struggle to understand or relate to people who do not appreciate diversity. I think if people traveled more often, lived abroad, experienced new cultures and built unique relationships, our world would be a more peaceful and understanding place. Our society is so consumed with such trivial details, that it is no wonder there is a lack of respect and support for other nations.

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What advice would you give to others if they were going to live/study abroad?

Advice I would give to others considering to travel and open up their minds to new ideas and experiences. DO IT. Don’t hesitate. And when you do, push yourself to go out of your comfort zone and try new things. Join communities of likeminded individuals. You won’t regret it.

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Photo by: @pli.panda

At Open House London 2016, we met a group of London Instagrammers, through which I have joined a community of hobby and ‘Insta-famous’ photographers. We have met at iconic locations throughout central London to learn and create together, giving me an outlet from my daily university life. We have toured London practicing night photography, specifically long exposures of classic red double decker busses and black cabs. We have set up on Westminster Bridge and captured Big Ben, toured around Royal Albert Hall, the London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Harrods.

For some awesome London instagrammers follow: @levanterman and @londonviewpoints

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Jasmine’s experience shows that by moving to England to study your full degree, you can invest yourself into the culture and not just touch on it like a tourist. Since moving to England, we hang out with people from Europe and beyond, thereby learning about different countries first-hand. We both are starting to consider ourselves more English than American now. We are learning about the politics, national perceptions, and behaviors in a natural way. A traditional American study abroad program essentially just picks up the classroom and moves it somewhere else. Now this is great if you just want to travel, but you won’t get as nearly as a fulfilling and life changing experience as moving to study long term. As my sister says, take the plunge and just do it! You won’t regret it 🙂

 

 

We march for women in London too!

So as many of you may know, Trump’s inauguration was this past Friday. And as many of you may also know, a whole bunch of strong, powerful women and men in America took a stand for human rights the following day in the big Women’s March in Washington and cities around the U.S. You may also know that it was the biggest protest in history, with marches also happening in major cities around the WORLD. January 21st, 2017 is now an important day in history and a day to remember, much more so than January 20th, 2017, the day Trump said would be marked in history. I was SO happy I got to be a part of all of it in the march that took place in London with some of my high school friends from Chicago and over 100,000 other Americans and Brits. I felt powerful being able to take part in America politics even from across the world. The enthusiasm in the crowd left me with goosebumps and the camaraderie we all felt amongst each other left me feeling safe. I was a little nervous going into it because it was my first march, but I’m unbelievably glad that I had access to it in London and was able to be there. My intuition tells me this will not be the last time I march.

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There were some incredible signs out there, as I’m sure many of you have seen in the news and buzzfeed and what not, but one of my favorite sign was unique to being in London. In the arms of one of the statue lions in Trafalgar Square, someone placed the sign, “I am woman, hear me ROAR”. This is a lyric from Helen Reddy’s 1972 song “I am woman”, which was said to be the anthem of the women’s liberation movement in the 70’s. And I have to say, that was exactly how I felt in that moment.

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It was so incredible to see so much support from people marching all around the world. As more than 100,000 people showed up to the London protest, the tubes in London and the streets were crazy packed with people and handmade signs. It was a beautiful sight.

Something you notice while living abroad is how invested so many people from around the world are in American politics. Being someone who tries to stay away from politics for the most part, my friends at University of Surrey from the UK to Italy to Trinidad know more than I do about the political happenings in America, in addition to what’s going on in their own country. American politics are ubiquitous. And people will ask who you voted for and about your political opinions, more so than I encountered in the U.S. where people were less likely to ask about your stance so directly. It’s pretty cool to see what the rest of the world thinks about American politics first hand.

Halfway Through my Placement Year

200 days later and I am over halfway through my software engineering internship at Microsoft. The time has flown by. Every day is a new challenge and makes me grow as a developer, and a professional. I am inspired by the work that the team does and it encourages me to use every opportunity I get to learn and improve myself.

I love this team. It is an incredibly diverse team with people from all over the world and a variety of passions. Just at my table group of 12 people, there are backgrounds from England, America, Turkey, Portugal, Italy, and India. We learn from each other and share stories of what it is like around the world.

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I aim to speak to everyone about their lives and learn through their experiences. Two of my favorite people are both contractors. They are incredibly bright and have worked on some amazing projects for Microsoft, BMW, Sky TV, etc. They could be full time employees, but choose not to because their interests take a bigger role in their lives. One loves to travel. He has a backpack with patches of flags from each country he visits. He chooses to be a contractor, so when a project is finished or is at a good stopping point he can stop working for a couple months and travel the world. The stories he tells are incredible and often has people visiting from around the world who he has met on his trips. His type of job enables him to pursue his hobbies and see the world.

The other person is slightly different. He has his doctorate in nuclear physics and now works as a software engineer. On that fact alone, he proves that changing jobs is feasible and can be very successful. There are actually several people who have changed careers entirely to become software engineers at my office. This special person also embraces his contractor life. His wife is Thai and while they mostly live in the UK, they will take months or even years off to live in Thailand. He recently spent 3 years living in Thailand. To supplement his income, he made in the UK, he has taught himself to be a scuba diving instructor. This allows him to live a comfortable life in Thailand. When I speak to him about scuba diving and moving countries he says it is easy because if you practice something enough, you are bound to get good at it. My favorite is when he is speaking to me in a lovely English accent and when his wife calls switches to speaking in Thai in this English accent. He was recently showing me that he was learning to write in Thai!

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Beyond learning what career options are possible, I am learning a lot technically. Everyone is incredibly helpful and understand how to teach to the level that I am. The project managers consider my growth and give me assignments that increase in difficulty as I complete them. My manager understands what is difficult for me and what is easy. He guides me to find solutions to problems and teaches me one-to-one about new, advanced technical concepts. I know going back into my final year at university, I will be much more prepared for the challenges having learnt to solve previously unsolved problems and learn new skills in a fluid manner.

My next steps include designing new features start to finish on my own. I am getting less immediate help, so that I may investigate and solve problems independently. I appreciate the challenge as I want to be able to do all my own work, especially in preparation for my final year project. Once I have an idea and a mock up program, my manager will review the design with me and give me advice then. He doesn’t want to railroad my ideas, so is giving me the chance to prepare on my own. I am working in a rather stress free environment for this feature. I have been given the time to investigate and execute it in my own time allowing me to fully understand and learn throughout the process.

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The University of Surrey is unique in its placements. When I first moved to England, I thought all universities supported and encouraged placements like Surrey does. I was wrong. Many of my friends from other universities are not given the guidance to do a placement. The placement year, a one year internship in industry, was a main reason I moved to England. It certainly paid off as I got my dream job in my dream city. Even though I didn’t do a summer internship after my freshman year or may not do one after my junior year, I will have more work experience than any student could get in America at my age.

To read more about placements: https://blogs.surrey.ac.uk/usablog/2016/04/29/into-placement/

And where to get them: https://blogs.surrey.ac.uk/usablog/2015/06/03/placement-year-prep/

Placement year allows for a lot of self-improvement. Given that my out of office hours are free, I have time to work on things that I wouldn’t have time to do otherwise. I am taking Italian language classes for instance. I have passed through the first set of beginner classes and have started on my second. I look at flashcards on my phone as I commute to work to practice and am starting to be able to identify things around me and make basic sentences. This next level of classes mostly speaks in Italian which is certainly a challenge, but gives me the opportunity to speak and listen in Italian. My class is only about 8 people which gives it a friendly environment. It is also reminding me about my Spanish! I am pleased I remember more than I thought. Learning a language is helpful for so many reasons. My boyfriend is Italian and his family often speaks it together. I would like to be able to communicate with them all the time. It also enables me to be independent and more confident when traveling. A friend of mine inspired me to learn another language. She speaks English, Italian, French, German, and is learning Mandarin. When we travel together she can speak to locals and be more in tune with the culture. I would love to do that. Finally, in a world that is becoming more integrated, knowing another language is very useful professionally. This will let me work with lots of people and maybe even work abroad long term. I am excited to start using Italian more and hopefully can practice next time I visit Italy!

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Other self-improvement I am working on is joining a group of women in tech. Through this I was matched with a mentor within the industry that has guided me through the last few months. In this set program, my mentor and I went to tech conferences and networking events, reviewed my resume, and spoke about workplace and women in tech challenges. At the end of our last meeting, she even offered to give me work experience at The Guardian newspaper where she works as a developer on their website. I highly recommend searching for a mentorship program or just going to conferences about your subject. It has helped me to feel more a part of the industry and has allowed me to gain greater insight into the challenges we face.

Finally, if you have been following my blogs you will have seen that I have been able to travel a lot. I love to explore and now I have the money to do so. I’m off to Copenhagen next weekend, so you will be sure to hear all about it soon!

Holly

Global Graduate Award Opportunities at Surrey

Happy Friday! This week’s blog post is about optional coursework at Surrey.

There are of course many differences between studying in the UK and the US, however, one of the most striking differences that I have found is just how tailored and specific coursework in the UK is compared to coursework at home. Although it varies between American universities, it is a safe bet to make that most require students to complete some sort of “gen eds” – a.k.a. general education requirements. Typically these are comprised of one or two courses from different educational disciplines – natural sciences, social sciences, mathematics, and foreign languages. In the UK, coursework is tailored to the student’s subject and it is uncommon for students to be required to take classes outside of their discipline.

General Education Requirements: Pros and Cons

Sometimes general education requirements are great – it can help undecided students determine what their interests are and potentially select a major. Additionally, depending on the university’s offerings, it can be a great GPA booster. (Note: I remember “Beaches and Shores” was the most sought out natural science class among my undergraduate cohort because of the “easy A.”) But this requirement can also present disadvantages. Personally, natural science isn’t my thing. I took Biology I and Chemistry I to fulfill my natural science general education requirements during undergrad and quite honestly it tainted my GPA until I reached my junior year. Additionally, I found that completing general education requirements kept me from undertaking more in-depth coursework in my subject. AP credit was never stressed at my high school and I entered university with only one exemption so I ended up having to fit general education requirements into my schedule until my first semester of senior year.

Global Graduate Award Program 

Lucky for us, Surrey does not require students to fulfill general coursework in different disciplines than the one that they are enrolled in. Rather, they give students the option to explore different subjects through their Global Graduate Award ProgramDepending on your level of study, the Global Graduate Award Program is a full-year for-credit (undergraduates) or non-credit (postgraduate) course. There are two Global Graduate Award options: Languages and Sustainability. While that all sounds exciting, perhaps the best thing about the program is that it is absolutely free of charge.

Global Graduate Award in Languages

Students can either learn a new language or continue a language that they previously have studied through Surrey’s language branch of the Global Graduate Award. Languages may vary year-to-year but typically include the following:

  • Arabic
  • British Sign Language
  • Chinese Mandarin
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Portuguese
  • Russian
  • Spanish

Most languages meet once a week and students can enroll in the day, time, and level of their choice on a first come, first served basis. While the program does not offer credit for postgraduate students, students that successfully complete the course receive a certificate of completion. Undergraduates receive 15 credits upon successful completion.

Global Graduate Award in Sustainability

If languages aren’t really your thing or if you are more of a sustainability type of person, don’t fret, Surrey has the perfect program for you. The Global Graduate Award in Sustainability focuses on all facets of sustainability: environmental, economic, animal welfare, etc. Meeting weekly, the course invites industry professionals to speak to the class about pressing sustainability issues. Afterward, students write a short reflective essay. The sustainability branch of the Global Graduate Award program is extremely popular and there is typically only one class section a week so if you are interested it is important to sign up early. You will receive information and a more in-depth introduction during your orientation.

I hope that you found this information helpful! If you have any questions, do not hesitate to email us at northamerica@surrey.ac.uk.

For more information on the Global Graduate Award in Languages, please visit: http://www.surrey.ac.uk/school-english-languages/study/global-graduate-award

For more information on the Global Graduate Award in Sustainability, please visit: http://www.surrey.ac.uk/centre-environment-sustainability/postgraduate-taught/global-graduate-award-sustainability

Until next time –

Briana

Windsor

I can’t believe it took me so long to go to Windsor. Not only is it trivial and cheap to get to, it is absolutely gorgeous! From London, I only had to pay £7 for a return trip from Paddington Station to Windsor. It took about 30-40 minutes to get to and stopped in slough. The journey was super simple though. Transferring to the other train meant simply walking across to the other side of the platform and then it was only one stop to Windsor from Slough.

Immediately arriving in Windsor, you are greeted with a market of little shops with quaint English design. Part of this shopping area is covered by a glass roof that allows it to be used in all weather. We had bought tickets online for Windsor Castle that included a special exhibit of 90 years of the Queens fashion to celebrate her 90th birthday and longest reigning monarch. The tickets were about £20, typical for any major English attraction, and the exhibit did not cost extra, so I recommend going when there is an extra exhibit to get your money’s worth. An extra bonus with Windsor tickets is the opportunity to have your ticket signed and transformed into a year unlimited pass. After seeing the castle, I will be going back. I was astounded.

When entering the castle grounds, you are given an audio guide. The guide was amazing as it was laid out to follow a common route and would give you commentary that kept up with your pace of walking. As we first walked in, there was a massive crowd forming along the front of the grounds near the main gate. We approached it and found soldiers in rows with instruments. Before long, they were playing and marching out the gate and into the town. Now that’s what I call a good welcome party!

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We headed to the church nearby. The audio guide pointed out some really interesting facts and encouraged you to speak to the volunteers for more information. While in the quire, the guide spoke about an order of knights that are still around today. Along the sides of the benches, helmet and flags that represented the current knights stood. As there is a one in, one out system, some of the spots were empty from those who had recently passed away or their flags were being made. I took that opportunity to ask a couple questions to the volunteers about the knights. I found out that the queen is given a list of people who she chooses the next knight from, they can be from all over the world, and are given to people who do humanitarian work. The volunteer made sure to point out that these are not the same kind of knight as Sir. Elton John, but their own section of knight that has been around for hundreds of years. The church also held the remains of the queens grandparents, parents, and sister. It was rather humbling to stand before their coffins. I also felt bad for the Queen that her closest family is ogled at by tourists every day. This will be the place that the Queen and her husband will also be held upon their death.

Enough about that, we headed to the main castle after. First entering the Doll’s house, we gazed upon the most detailed dolls house you could imagine. Apparently, the doll’s house was not a child’s toy, but one of the queens who just had a fascination for miniature items. In the next section, we saw beautiful doll outfits (unfortunately made with real fur) used by the queen as a child. After was an incredible display of china plates, bowls, cups, etc. that had been hand-made for massive dinners that the royal family has hosted. Many people seemed to walk straight pass these works of art, but if you look closer you will see the craftsmanship of each piece. The centrepiece of the display was adorned with delicate 3D flowers that looked like they had just been plucked from the ground. I was awestruck.

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Next came the staterooms. They were way more ornate than I ever would have guessed. It had furniture pieces that were made of solid silver, famous artworks, and portraits of famous generals and popes. Every room was intricately designed from top to bottom. My favorite room was a dining hall where the china was used. It was impressively long with high ceilings. The guide had a recording of a dinner that was held here once with the Queen walking into the room. From where we were standing you could picture yourself at this dinner with the most important people in the world, eating on the most beautiful china, and inside a 700-year-old castle. On the ceiling were the crests of the knights I mentioned previously. They covered the whole ceiling, but if you looked closely you could see that some of them were completely white. When a knight committed a crime, their shield was painted over to serve as a warning to the other knights. There were quite a few of them that had been painted over. Each one holds a story and I wonder what they did to lose their honor.

After the staterooms, we came to the fashion exhibit. It was fascinating to see how her fashion changed over the years due to trends and simply being older. Many of the outfits were accompanied by photos of her wearing them at events. It was almost like standing next to her. A section of the exhibit covered how her fashion expresses messages or are designed with a particular country in mind. One of her dresses was for a visit to Japan and therefore was adorned with cherry blossom flowers as a sign of respect. It was very interesting to see the dedication and work that goes into the Queens wardrobe.

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Overall visiting Windsor took about three hours. It was amazing and I can’t wait to go back. I plan on going again in spring when the leaves return and can walk along the iconic path to the castle.

That’s all for now!

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