Queen Mary’s English department: Because literature is more than just books.

When I decided to go back to school for my Masters, England was an obvious choice. What better place to study English literature than its birthplace, right? But choosing a school was a bit more complicated. I spent several weeks researching schools around England, but ultimately chose Queen Mary because they are the only school to offer a pathway specifically tailored to my academic interests. Although my research on American schools was minuscule, I don’t think many universities in the States offer explicitly defined areas of study for Masters students. You have your general ‘American Lit’ or ‘English Lit’ programs, but I never came across any programs that were specifically ‘Romantic Lit’ or ‘Shakespeare’ or anything very detailed. queen mary

 Queen’s Building, QMUL

Photo courtesy of: The Student Room

 My pathway, Eighteenth Century Literature and Romanticism (ECLAR), has completely broadened my understanding of not just literature but history, philosophy, politics, theology, and early science. The professors teaching the modules for this pathway are top scholars in their field and having the opportunity to learn from them has been invaluable. It was a completely new experience for me to be reading a book or article and find that my professor had been quoted as an expert. I would get quite star-struck the next time I saw the quoted professor. 🙂 Queen Mary’s English department also goes out of their way to bring our studies to life. In almost every module I took, we spent at least one class at a location other than Queen Mary using archives, making connections between literature and other subjects (London has an amazing number of free museums!), learning the procedures for different libraries available to us–the British Library was particularly different from any library I’d ever used before, and visiting relevant historical sites like Newington Green Unitarian Church, London’s oldest nonconformist place of worship (founded in 1708) or the Tate Britain to talk about the Turner exhibit and Romantic themes. p44

 Archival experience with the National Portrait Gallery

We even took a day trip to Margate, which is on the East coast of England. That was absolutely one of the most lively and entertaining classes I had the chance to attend. We left just after noon on a Friday, spent the afternoon visiting various landmarks, discussing the literary and historical significance of Margate, mingling with the locals, and ended the day with a beautiful sunset and delicious fish and chips. Margate1 p.11.1

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Our brilliant day trip leader, Dr. Matt Ingleby (left), and a rhapsodic Margatian (right).

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 In addition to exponentially broadening my understanding in many different fields, ECLAR and the English department as a whole are dedicated to providing their students with real-life connections to their studies. There are weekly Postgraduate Research seminars which bring in speakers from a number of academic institutions to discuss their current research, and the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies also hosts regular seminars and an annual conference. I could not envision a more preparatory English program than the ECLAR pathway at Queen Mary. Obviously if your research interests are different you should seek out a department that can support your pursuits, but when looking into potential universities make sure to think about what they will offer you outside the classroom. Get in touch with people in the department to ask any questions left unanswered by the websites. I’ll be the first to admit that Queen Mary’s website isn’t particularly insightful, but each of the professors I e-mailed responded within a couple days…and that was over their summer holidays! Takeaway Tidbit: Ultimately the choice of university is yours, so make sure to do your research, but Queen Mary provides an excellent approach to Masters-level study and real-world preparedness.

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Paying for a London degree.

Tuition fees can be overwhelming, but for an international student thinking of studying in London there are many options to help ease the burden of paying for a degree. Scholarships, part-time work, and loans are how I am making ends meet while studying in London

Scholarships

  • Most universities offer scholarships, so make sure to get in touch with the financial department to see what’s offered through your school.
  • Don’t forget to check with your specific department. Often, scholarships are offered for a particular field and won’t be advertised on the general scholarship page. If you can’t seem to find any information, e-mail the department.
  • Check for scholarships specifically for international students. There aren’t as many of these, but most schools sponsor a few scholarships specifically for international students, masters students, non-traditional students, etc.
  • There are sometimes options with your home country for international studies….but not many. For example, in the US you have to be a genius or solving world hunger or something equally as impressive, AKA I didn’t even come close. Look into your options, but don’t be too disheartened if nothing seems to be applicable.

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My scholarship has opened some amazing doors for me–here’s me with the president, Professor Simon Gaskell, at the International Scholars Reception.

Don’t rely on part-time work to help you pay tuition fees! If after scholarships you still have tuition left, make sure you take care of that either through personal funds or through a student loan.

Loans

Loans are the reality for a lot of people when pursuing an education in London. Work with your home government to try to get the best loans possible. For US students, that’s Perkins and Direct Subsidized loans before looking into Unsubsidized, PLUS, or private loans. Once you’ve been approved for your loans, work with your London university’s Financial Aid department to complete all the necessary paperwork and tasks to ensure your loan will be transferred to the right university. Queen Mary has an amazing flow chart and Excel document that walked me through the process step-by-step, and the FinAid people were wonderful and very helpful, which made for a hassle-free loan experience.

Once you’ve covered all the tuition, make sure you’ll have enough to live on as well…London is a VERY expensive place to live! I took out a larger loan than I needed to help me cover living expenses while studying, since I didn’t know whether or not I’d be able to find part-time work. Then if you are able to find a job once you’re here, you can use that income to enjoy life in London:

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 Part-Time Work

**If you have a Tier-4 (Student) visa, you are only allowed to work 20 hours per week.**

  • If you’re in the country on a Tier-4 (T4) visa, you have to be aware of restrictions other than just time. For example, I looked into tutoring as an option for part-time work, but since I’m T4 I can’t work freelance. Most tutoring agencies are freelance since tutoring is often 1-1 and at the request of the tutee. Luckily, I found a tutoring agency that had a scheduled timetable (aka not freelance) and have been working for them while studying.
  • Use your university’s job site to look for part-time opportunities on and around campus. Most job searching sites have filters so you can just see the part-time work available. Many of my friends found jobs as baristas at local cafes or as food service staff at restaurants or catering companies.
  • A third option (which you should be very cautious of when using) is Gumtree, the UK version of Craigslist. I found an amazing nanny job through Gumtree but I’ve heard horror stories of terrible families scamming college students for free childcare. If you choose to use Gumtree be very cautious, meet the family or employer before agreeing to anything (as many times as you need to be comfortable!), set and put in writing clear guidelines for what the expectations, duties, and pay will be, etc. I absolutely love my nanny job and there are great families out there, but don’t jump into anything if you don’t feel comfortable.

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 I love my nanny job 🙂

Takeaway Tidbit: Take the time to make sure you’ve looked into all your options for funding your degree in London.

Why choose London for international study?

This March in London is a celebration of internationality, especially for students. I have been asked often why I chose to study in London, and being a part of such positive, encouraging communities has allowed me to share my story on several platforms. Rather than repeat what I’ve said, check out my reasons on the sites below:

 

Study London website

Quick version– The birthplace of English, Resources in London, Specialist degree options, Student support, and Student life in London

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Queen Mary International Page

Quick version– London allows me an opportunity to “learn something about everything, and everything about something” through my coursework at Queen Mary.

 

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Takeaway Tidbit: If you’re considering international study, DO IT. London has absolutely been the best decision I’ve made.

Reading week in London

This past week was reading week for me, which is the Queen Mary University version of spring break. No class for a week, which, as evident by the title, is supposed to be used for catching up or getting ahead with your reading for classes. Which I did…mostly. But I also took advantage of plenty of activities around London during the week too, starting on Sunday with the city’s celebration of Chinese New Year.

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Photo cred: Kim 🙂

I arrived early enough to watch part of the parade, but unfortunately the area I was in wasn’t regulated very well and as the parade approached people swarmed to the center line of the street, effectively blocking the performers into one lane of performance space and resulting in me not seeing much at all, despite my early arrival and (what originally was a) good vantage point. However, lunch with the LUIP Ambassadors at Er Mei Sichuan Restaurant in Chinatown quickly put me in the best of moods. We chatted about some of the family traditions observed by the ambassadors from China, and enjoyed a delicious shared meal.

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Three of the 10 ambassadors and our coordinator, Kim.

Monday and Tuesday I did do some reading. I’m currently working on research for my term papers, which will most likely be written on Rousseau’s Confessions and Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria. After a meeting with one of my professors on Monday, I spent Tuesday at Senate House Library reading original texts, doing research, and taking notes. Wednesday I did a bit of reading, but mostly just relaxed. 🙂

Thursday I went to an art exhibit featuring work done by one of the Ambassadors, Chenyi. The exhibit was called ‘The Cat is Alive!’, a nod to the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment. It was aptly named since the tag line for the exhibit was ‘Articulating quantum physics through art’. The program provided further information on the inspiration behind each piece:

Space Program students blur the edges of science and art in a project which started in Oxford University science labs and ends in The Crypt gallery with quantum interactions rendered in new physical, spatial, multisensory and experiential forms.

I have to admit that a lot of the scientific explanations provided alongside each piece went over my head, but I was inspired by the common thread throughout the whole exhibit: although not explicitly stated, each piece seemed to be designed to highlight the fact that every viewer will have a different experience. I was also pushed towards the recognition that in all aspects of life every action has multiple and varied reactions. Equilibrium seemed to be the endgame for some pieces, such as ‘Onn/Of’.

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‘Onn/Of’

Others, like ‘The Quantum Curtain’, encouraged participants to record the different and varied experiences,

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‘The Quantum Curtain’

while a piece like ‘Collected Excitations’ allowed each person to interact with the piece and reflect on their unique experiences and the eventual return to balance or equilibrium in a more personal, internal way.

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‘Collected Excitations’

Of course, having spent the first part of the week studying Coleridge (and, by extension, Emerson), I was much more receptive of the omniscient, ‘Oversoul’-esque ideas that each piece inspired and spent a lovely, enjoyable hour reflecting on how beautifully science and art entwine.

Friday I read a bit more and relaxed, and Saturday spend the day with ambassador friends on the London Eye–I wrote a piece on our ambassador scavenger hunt from November, but neglected to mention that my team won the hunt! Our prize was a trip on the London Eye, and although it took us four months to find a time that everyone could attend it was well worth the wait. The views and photo opportunities were incredible, even on a drizzly day, and the company was superbly sassy. 🙂

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After my time at the Eye, I headed up to Islington to meet friends for an Andrew McMahon concert. If you knew me in high school, you knew how obsessed I was with the bands Jack’s Mannequin and Something Corporate…so of course when another ambassador friend told me the lead singer/pianist from the band had a solo show in London I jumped at the opportunity to see him perform. He played the perfect mix of old and new songs, interspersed with personal anecdotes and background stories for several of his songs. Coupled with the brilliant company, friendly chatter and high-school-reminiscences it was an excellent way to end a great day, and week.

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Takeaway Tidbit: Use your breaks for more than just vegging…get out and try something new, or use the time to strengthen friendships!

What to do on Pancake Day in London.

Even though Valentine’s Day is this weekend, a stroll through any Sainsbury’s or 99p store will provide not-so-subtle reminders that Easter is the next holiday coming up. For most Christians, that means Lent is just around the corner as well…and so is Mardi Gras (which means ‘Fat Tuesday’ in French). Mardi Gras, also known as Carnaval in many countries, occurs the day before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season, a period of fasting and spiritual preparation for the celebration of Easter 46 days later. Mardi Gras is the last day for Christians to indulge in fatty, rich foods before the more austere, penitential period of Lent begins.

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Mardi Gras in New Orleans

(photo courtesy of The Telegraph)

However, England has their own, less-lewd-more-delicious celebration: Pancake Day! Pancake Day is officially called Shrove Tuesday, and is most prominently celebrated in the UK, Ireland, Australia, and Canada. ‘Shrove Tuesday’ comes from the word ‘shrive’, which means ‘to confess’. Pancakes became associated with the day before Lent as a way to use up rich foods like eggs, milk, and sugar before the fasting of Lent began. And for all you pancake lovers out there, mark your calendars: Shrove Tuesday is 17 February 2015…NEXT TUESDAY!!

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A day specifically dedicated to indulge in pancakes? I’m in!

(photo courtesy of Perfect Pancakes)

So rather than fly to NOLA in the States, or to Rio in Brazil, celebrate Pancake Day right here in London.

One of the most famous activities to participate in are ‘pancake races‘, held throughout the UK on Shrove Tuesday. Participants carrying frying pans race through the streets, tossing their pancakes in the air and trying to catch them while running. If you’re interested in participating, check out the following events:

The Great Spitalfields Pancake Race raises funds for London’s Air Ambulance. Teams of 4 suitably dressed up (or down) gather to compete for the honor of becoming this year’s champions. They race up and down Dray Walk and prizes are awarded to the winners, runners-up, best dressed team and best behaved team. To enter a team email info@alternativearts.co.uk There’s a free hot pancake for every entrant!

The Parliamentary Pancake Race has served to raise awareness of the work that Rehab does in enhancing the life chances of people with disabilities and others who are socially excluded in the UK. MPs (Members of Parliament), Lords and members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery gather in Victoria Tower Gardens, next to the Houses of Parliament, where they swap their warm coats and woolly caps for aprons and chefs’ hats and race around the course while vigorously tossing their pancakes in the air.

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 MPs in their racing garb

(Photo courtesy of ukstudentlife)

The Better Bankside Pancake Day Race supports Paintings in Hospitals, a local charity that places fine art in clinical settings. Every year their work brings comfort and reassurance to over 1.8 million people across the UK. Put forward a team or come and support members of the Bankside business community as they show off their pancake-tossing skills at our annual Charity Pancake Day Race.

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Don’t feel like running? Make your own pancakes! Since living in London I’ve discovered there are several different types of pancakes…all of which are delicious. Use up those fatty ingredients and make them all:

American Pancake Recipe – makes fluffy and thick pancakes.

European Pancake Recipe – thin, pliable pancakes (aka crepes).

Feeling ambitious? Try out some of the interesting variations on BBCgoodfood’s Pancake Day page.

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German-style cheese and bacon pancakes, anyone?

(Photo courtesy of BBCgoodfood)

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Don’t want to run, don’t want to cook? (Because, let’s be honest, that’s what Fat Tuesday’s all about…indulgence!) Go enjoy one of the many delicious breakfast restaurants around London:

Fat Tuesday doesn’t have to mean a skinny wallet…TimeOut put together a great list of eateries and included pricing guides.

The London Evening Standard also put together their best-of list for London pancake restaurants and features several that I can vouch for (M1lk is just a few blocks from my flat…come visit and I’ll take you there!).

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Takeaway Tidbit: Whatever you do, make next Tuesday the most Pancake-y day of your year so far.

How to build a successful web presence: Google’s 9 Notions of Innovation

This week, I was lucky enough to have the chance to tour the Google London offices. Since each member of the Ambassador group has a blog, our amazing coordinator, Kim, set up a training session with Google on how to enhance and promote our blogs and grow our online presence. We gathered in the lobby of the large, brightly-colored office building that Google shares with a few other companies, and were escorted up to the 9th floor where their main offices are located. I assumed the offices would be sleek and trendy, and as we walked through the reception I was not disappointed:

p8 Those are actual TVs in the floor. Playing actual television shows.

We were given a tour of a few of the floors that comprise Google London, and were brought back to the library for our presentations.

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That’s a nap pod through the glass. Yes please.

Our first presentation was “The 9 Notions of Innovation at Google“, in which Harry (one of the three brilliant hosts) illustrated Google’s commitment to its mission, “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Currently, just under 30% of the world has access to the internet. To help increase that number and promote the sharing of information, Google is continually developing projects in an attempt to make the internet more accessible. Two projects mentioned were Google Fiber and Project Loon. Having lived in Kansas City, I knew all about Google Fiber, but had never heard of Project Loon…and as Harry explained it, I was blown away. Project Loon (short for ‘balloon’, I think?) “is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters”. Google’s impressive goal is to have Project Loon fully functional by 2020, providing 100% connectivity across the globe. I highly recommend reading up on it if you’re as awed by it as I was. The technology and creativity behind these projects is inspiring.

After addressing the work being done to make the world’s information accessible, we learned how Google is working to make it useful. As new ideas come up, they are put to the “toothbrush test”: is this product/app/etc. going to be used two times each day? If not, it most likely won’t be pursued until it has been developed further. An example of Google pursuing utility is their current development and testing of self-driving cars. Google is also constantly and rapidly developing their search technology such as voice technology,and the new Google Translate app which will do voice as well as Word Lens translations (hold the camera up to text in a foreign language and it will translate the text to your language).

Once we discussed the 9 Notions of Innovation, we paused for a break and had a chance to look around the library.

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It was spectacular.

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Enjoying the atmosphere with (most of) my Ladies Luck team 🙂 …just missing Lei!

Our next presentation was given by Jen, who outlined “10 Fundamentals of a creative strategy on YouTube“. She began by talking about current viewing trends: first, there are fewer people watching television and more people watching content online; and second, people have the ability to engage and interact with the content they watch (through sharing videos, posting comments, etc.) and are increasingly doing so. The 10 Fundamentals provided strategies and questions to ask if we decided to pursue a career as a vlogger/YouTuber. Each strategy related to one of three themes: Get Viewers, Keep Viewers Happy, and Keep Yourself Happy. The entire presentation was thought-provoking and inspiring, because most, if not all of the fundamentals applied to us as bloggers as well. It also got me brainstorming ideas for successful and sustainable YouTube channels…haven’t come up with anything worthwhile yet though.

After Jen had finished and answered our questions, the Google team and Kim had arranged for two successful vloggers/YouTubers to come in and answer our questions, explain their process to successfully developing their channels, etc. We had Sanne from booksandquills and Helen from Helen Anderson. They were both amazingly informative and graciously answered all our questions referencing their own experiences. As an English major I really enjoy Sanne’s channel, especially the videos where she features places around London which are referenced in books. I’m consistently awe-struck that most of the locations Dickens and his contemporaries were writing about still exist today, so the fact that she took time to walk around and video the locations (not necessarily Dickens’ books, the video I watched was on Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf) and then put it together in a video is genius, in my opinion.

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Harry is on the far left, and for the vloggers Sanne is on the left, Helen is on the right.

At the end of the night, I was racking my brain trying to figure out how an English MA degree would get me a job at Google. Still working on it (and highly doubtful I’ll find a connection). But hey– a girl can dream. 🙂

Takeaway Tidbit: Really consider the 9 Notions and 10 Fundamentals…they’re applicable to much more than just Innovation and YouTube.

How to travel around Europe cheaply

This past weekend, my boyfriend surprised me with a trip to Ivalo, Finland. It was beautiful, and romantic, and well-planned — and a complete surprise. Also, we came back to London engaged. 🙂

IMG_0068Oh, and I chopped my hair. 10 inches donated!

While we were flying there, Jarin pulled up a map of Finland to show me where it was and, as usual, I was surprised by how close the countries are. We could have easily driven to Sweden, Norway, and Russia from Ivalo. That’s one thing I’m still getting used to in Europe – there are SO MANY countries so close to each other! A three-hour drive in the States will only get you one state over, and that’s only if you’re semi-close to a border. In Europe, however, three hours will get you to at least one new country, if not a couple (or four, in Ivalo’s case). Since the countries are so close, it makes it incredibly easy to travel around Europe. There are obviously several ways to travel — plane, train, ferry (for those traveling across any of the channels or seas), hiking, biking.. but how do you know you’re getting the best deal??

The first and most important thing when trying to get the best deal for your money: you need to be ready to buy tickets and reserve hotels/hostels/airbnbs as early as possible. I’m talking months (three or four at least, six is best). Start looking at and comparing airfare on sites like skyscanner or google flights, and think about using websites from the country’s destination (google.co.uk   vs   google.com)  — Sometimes you’ll find slightly better prices, and if nothing else the currency will be local so you can start getting used to the exchange rates.

A nice feature on skyscanner is their ‘Price Alerts’ option, where they send you an e-mail if the price drops below the price you’ve set as your lowest. Don’t get crazy and set a price alert for $2 because you’ll never get an e-mail, but if you set a realistic price and they find an airline with lower prices, they send you a notification. This is also only useful if you’ve started planning in advance, because once you buy your tickets they don’t offer to refund the difference.

SkyscannerThe red circle is the ‘Price Alerts’ button. Also, £36 for a flight to Dublin..WHAAA?!?!

Some great, inexpensive airlines around Europe are Ryanair and EasyJet, but make sure you check that they fly to your destination because they only have certain cities to which they fly inexpensively. However, you can grab a super cheap flight to a city near your destination and then take a train or hike or bike or find the most appealing mode of transportation to get you to your final destination.

Trains are the most fun way to travel, in my opinion. I just find the novelty endearing. (Trains are not as common in the States.) I’m sure it will wear off eventually, but I love being able to enjoy the scenery, bring as much liquid as I want without restriction (if you’re sneaky, you can even bring your own adult beverages!), have a dining car to grab slightly better food than what’s served on airlines (and for semi-reasonable prices, too), use your phones and actually have service, and stand for as long as you want. I think Jarin appreciates the standing areas more than I do. 🙂

Eurostar is the train service I’ve used to get from London to Western Europe, and if you sign up for their mailing list they have fantastic deals on tickets every three months or so. Currently, you can get a round-trip train ticket to Paris for £69, but I’ve seen offers where it’s £59 round-trip. However, you have to be willing to travel at slightly less popular times and/or days to get those rates.

Locally, train tickets are incredibly inexpensive. We took a day trip to Bath, England, bought round-trip tickets a couple of weeks beforehand, and only paid £20 each. Tickets to Oxford are less than £15 round trip if you are willing to leave during off-peak hours (not during rush hour). Again, if you have time, make sure to play around with times and days…often a Saturday morning departure is surprisingly less expensive than a Friday evening departure, and same for Monday morning vs Sunday evening.

One tip for my local readers, check out the rewards programs at stores you frequent. I have a Nectar card through Sainsbury’s and rack up points all over the place, since groceries are essential (obviously). The best part is I can redeem my points with travel companies like easyJet, Eurostar, or Expedia. And oftentimes when I check out and use my Nectar card, they’ll give me a coupon for double points on my next visit. Cha-ching!

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An extra card to carry around…but completely worth it.

(photocred: nectar.com)

If you have a credit card, chances are you can redeem your rewards points for travel of some sort — cash in on those! And if you fly a lot, use your air miles and/or hotel points to help make your travel less expensive. When it was official that I would be moving to London, I switched my credit card to a CapitalOne Venture Card because it had no foreign transaction fees and also because it gave me the best ratio for earning miles.

Takeaway tidbit: Plan European trips in advance to get the best deals. And use rewards programs to get free trips!