Study Abroad

Surreal and Uncomfortable and Delicious and Scary and Exciting

Holy crap there are so many things I want to tell you guys. I wore heels on a cobblestone street Saturday night. (Heeled booties, as my cousin/personal shopper Kristina would insist I specify, because they’re kind of like heels with training wheels. The heels are thick and “easy to walk in.” Hundreds of years ago someone bought a pair of black boots, chopped them off at the ankle, and glued a 3-inch block to the heel. That’s how heeled booties were born, probably. I still don’t totally understand mine. But my cousin/personal shopper says they’re badass, and I kind of agree, so I’ll keep wearing them and maybe one day I won’t feel like a newborn deer in the middle of a Spanish city.)

Phew. Didn’t realize I had so much to say about heeled booties.

But back to Granada. There’s a palace a ten-minute walk from my house that was built in the ninth century. I just drank a mug full of what I’m pretty sure was straight-up melted chocolate. This place is strange and wonderful and full of bread.


The Heater Thing (La Califación)

Imagine an elegant, neutral-colored couch in a living room with marble floors and big windows. Then imagine a table in front of the couch with a tapestry tablecloth that really feels more like a blanket when you touch it. Now imagine a heater under the table. Sit, in your imagination, on that couch in the middle of winter. The heater is on. You pull the tapestry/tablecloth/blanket up and over your legs. There is warmth. So much warmth.

I just described my host family’s living room. As in the one I get to live in. All the time.


The Food (La Comida)

My host sister turned fifteen on Thursday. To celebrate, we ate the following things:

  • Fresh bread & olive oil
  • Salad: lettuce, tomatoes, avocados, and strawberries, drizzled in olive oil
  • Carne: chicken cooked in salsa sauce
  • Mushrooms sautéed in something delicious, although I’d guess olive oil
  • “Frescas y leche,” basically a strawberry smoothie in a bowl
  • Two different types of cake with chocolate candies on top

We ate these things at 3pm, and we ate them while sitting in front of the heater thing. That was a special occasion, but I’d call pretty much every meal here a religious experience.


The People (La Gente)

They dress very elegantly and they can spot that I’m an American from several miles away. My host family absolutely rocks. I have a host mom and dad, Beatriz and Javier, and two sisters named Beatriz and Ana. They’ve told me almost every day since I arrived, “estás en tu casa.” You are in your house. Make yourself at home. Yesterday I took a nap in front of the heater thing. Definitely getting there.

selfie sesh with Ana

Ana and me, looking our best

The Culture Shock (El Choque Cultural)

Halfway through last week, I went to cut my nails and realized that I couldn’t find my nail-clippers. I considered going out and buying a new pair. I then realized that in order to do that, I would first have to look up the Spanish word for “nail-clippers.” Then I would have to find a shop nearby that sells nail-clippers, because I had no idea where that would be. Then I would have to actually go to the shop, complete the nail-clipper transaction in Spanish, pay with unfamiliar coin money, and find my way back to my new Spanish house to clip my nails.

I almost had an anxiety attack on the spot.

All that just for a pair of nail-clippers? What about all the other things I’m going to need to find/buy/talk about? What if I get lost somewhere? Or lose all my money? Or am accidentally rude to a cute old Spanish lady? Or get sick and can’t explain to my host family what’s wrong? HOW AM I GOING TO DO THIS FOR FOUR ENTIRE MONTHS?

I want you to know that I knew how irrational all of that was. I did. But as awesome as things are here, all of the unknowns can get overwhelming sometimes. It’s a lot of new all at once. So I had a good, irrational cry, took a few deep breaths, and then re-entered the land of the sane. (I found my nail-clippers a few minutes later.)


Jules and I are both away from our families, our friends, and all things familiar. This whole semester is one giant leap out of our comfort zone. (I’m pretty sure our moms would say it’s a leap out of their comfort zones too.) But we didn’t do this to be comfortable. We did this because it’s new and scary and awesome. Everything here is an adventure—from finding a bathroom to eating lunch to trying to buy a pair of nail clippers. We’re explorers now. (And even explorers get irrationally anxious about insulting old Spanish ladies from time to time.)

So yeah. The study abroad life is more than good. It’s surreal and uncomfortable and delicious and scary and exciting. And this is only the beginning. #hannahandjulieabroad

View from one of the towers of the Alhambra palace!

View from one of the towers of the Alhambra palace!



Nerja, Spain

Nerja, Spain

cheesin' with Isabel la católica

Study Abroad

Greetings From Ireland!

I’ve known that I would study abroad since the first time I stepped onto UNH campus.

It was a weird day. I’d already been accepted to the school, my state’s public University where a decent portion of my high school’s graduating class went every year. I knew from the minute I opened my acceptance letter that I’d probably end up there, but I wasn’t ready to admit it. I put off touring until one day my mom told me, “Okay, we’re going to go see it and if you like it, that’s it. You’re going.

So that made the whole thing really weird. But about halfway through the day, we were standing on the grass between the English building and a small brick building called Hood House. Our tour guide noted that this is where we could find the Office of International Education. Something in me stirred and I turned to my mom and whispered, “I am definitely studying abroad.”

When people ask why I decided to go, I only have one stereotypical answer for them, and it’s that before this, I’ve never left. My life has been happily contained within my tri-state area, for the most part. So I figured for my first time leaving, why not flee the country for five months on my own? Go big.

The more time I spend in Ireland, the more convinced I am that I made the right choice of European countries. One of my biggest fears was being shunned for being American, or constantly getting on people’s nerves by talking too loudly and swearing in places I should be quiet. But in my experience, the people in Cork are the type that see you holding a map and stop to ask if you need directions, unwarranted. Though everyone I meet tells me that I’m welcome, I think I’d feel that way even if they didn’t.

It seems like I’ve managed to make a semester’s worth of rookie mistakes in my first two weeks. (So now I’m basically a native.) I took a class called European Cinema, figuring we’d be exploring the general world of European cinema, only to find out that we’ll be exploring  mostly Early-Modernist-German-Silent-Horror films. That is a lot of modifiers, and apparently an actual genre of film. My professor has sharp features and wears dark shawls. She talks to us about how modern cinematic art conveys more meaning through technique than trivial things like plot. I thought I might be in a bit over my head after the first class, but this semester is all about new experiences, right?


We’ve already watched our first movie, and this is was the bad guy. New experiences, right?

I’m studying at University College Cork, and I’ve been learning long before my classes started. UCC has a few traditions, one of which involves the main quad.


There are two paths through it, but if you walk across them you’ll fail your exams. So pouring rain or shine, take the long way around. (One of my rookie mistakes was blatantly walking across before I knew, probably looking around like an idiot.)

There is also this crest.


This one’s even higher stakes. If you step on it, you’ll get pregnant. Immediately. Boom, baby. I remembered this one at the last second and almost fell over trying to avoid it.

Yesterday we took a train to Cobh, which is known for being the last place the Titanic stopped before leaving for New York. We took a tour and each assumed the identity of a passenger. My name was Nora and I survived, so it was a pretty good day.

Now I’m going to dump some pictures on you. To all my family and friends back home, I miss you guys and I’m sorry I didn’t upload any pictures to Facebook yet! Here’s to the beginning of #hannahandjulieabroad.



A coworker of mine at school has created the hashtag, “badly cropped selfies in famous places,” which I totally intend to spread throughout Europe. I’ve already got a few converts.Theresa, if you’re reading this, please don’t be creeped out.

Signs tend to be in both English and Gaelic, Gaelic being a beautiful language with pronunciation that is impossible for me to grasp

Signs tend to be in both English and Gaelic, Gaelic being a beautiful language with pronunciation that is impossible for me to grasp



I run around this pond sometimes. Each lap is supposed to be a mile, and even though I'm pretty sure that's a lie I tell myself each lap is a mile.

I run around this pond sometimes. Each lap is supposed to be a mile, and even though I’m pretty sure that’s a lie I tell myself each lap is a mile.


More #badlycroppedselfiesinfamousplaces

IMG_4563  IMG_4571 IMG_4585

IMG_4600 IMG_4595 IMG_4580

IMG_4594   IMG_4619 The view from my bedroom!

IMG_4593 IMG_4592

These are my roommates in their purest forms.

Jack! I'm flying!

Jack! I’m flying!

12  14

Proudly bringing the art of the straight-face-picture to Ireland.

Bringing the jumping picture back from eight grade!

Bringing the jumping picture back from eight grade!

My first legal drink!

My first legal drink!

Screen shot 2015-01-10 at 1.57.23 PM
Study Abroad

The Week Without Julie

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” – Paul Theroux

I’ve had no less than six people ask me how Julie is doing in Ireland since she left last Tuesday. This flatters me. I’m like the world’s unofficial Julie Abroad Reporter. I’ve texted her almost every day, Skyped her once, and received multiple pictures of various Irish things (mostly beer). So yes, world, Julie is alive! She’s surprised at how difficult Irish accents actually are to understand! She’s probably in a bar as we speak!

To fully fill my duties as unofficial Julie Abroad Reporter, here are a few other tidbits I’ve gathered:

  • Her journey to Ireland was a collection of things going wrong. She missed a flight. She left a jacket in JFK. Her luggage took a different plane than she did. But if I had to guess, she was still smiling most of the time.
  • She immediately made several friends, both Irish and American.
  • She has a lot of pictures of me to hang up in her bedroom but she hasn’t gotten any thumbtacks yet. (Note: She never actually said that the pictures are of me, but I’m imagining an Irish wall devoted entirely to my face.)
  • When I asked if there’s anything else she’d like me to share with the people, she said, and I quote: “Um, I guess just that I’m having a good time and that I’m alive!”

So there you have it, folks. Our girl is safe and sound, and she’ll have more to share next week.

As for me, I’m still in New Hampshire, feeling a little bit like an oscillating fan. One minute I’m emailing my host family, ecstatically happy, and the next I’m on the verge of tears because I can’t find my sneakers for a second. (They were behind the closet door, obviously.) T-minus three days to take-off. Three days is not nearly enough time to finish everything on my list. (Make a giant playlist for the plane! Clean all the things! Have lunch with everyone I know!) And it’s way too much time to think about what I’m about to do. (Leave all the people and words I know to go live with strangers halfway around the world. I’m gonna miss the crap out of my people and my words.)

But adventure awaits, with new words and new people. To quote some dude whose name the Internet can’t agree on, a ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships were made for. Ships were built to sail. I was born to explore, probably. Either that or eat a lot of chocolate. With any luck, soon I’ll be doing a little bit of both.

I’ll leave you with this song – our study abroad anthem, if you will. Check back next week for the real start of our adventures!

cork and granada

Into the Black Hole

Some of you may know that Hannah and I are studying abroad this spring semester. It seems like all we’ve been talking about during casual conversation on holidays for the past few months. It’s like we’re about to start college all over again, only this is way scarier.

At the mention of our leaving, plenty of devoted readers have gaped and asked, “will you still be writing the blog?” with their hands over their hearts. You can hear the despair in their voices. “What will happen to the blog?”

I’d like to tell all of you to have no fear. While many students who study abroad start a travel blog to share their experiences, Hannah and I already have one! (When we realized this, we high-fived.) We’ll continue to post every week, taking turns, only now we’ll be sharing from various European locations. Cool, right? We’re thinking it’ll be just the change this blog needed. Revitalizing, like every shampoo brand claims to be.

You’ll be getting all the same fart jokes and unflattering pictures that you’re accustomed to, only Hannah will be posting from Granada, Spain, and I’ll be posting from County Cork, Ireland. Everything’s going to be okay, we promise. But in an effort to truly put your minds at ease, I’ve taken the liberty of answering some frequently asked questions in advance.


If this is another new chapter, will the blog look all different again?

Probably not, as choosing a new theme from all the free themes on wordpress.com is a daunting task that we won’t be approaching again for a while. Like renewing your passport or going to the DMV for any reason.

Will you still be taking turns posting, or will you both post every week?

Our plan at the moment is to keep the system the same, switching off posting every week. Why mess with perfection, you know?

What will you write about?

So the theme of this thing is supposed to be “college” and we try to stick to that, however loosely. We’ll still be trying to talk about the college experience in an entertaining way, only hopefully through a different lens! You’ll get stories about us trying strange local cuisines and embarrassing ourselves in new and exciting ways.

Do you really think it’s good idea to attempt living on your own in another country?

According to my mom, it’s not a very good idea. Together, Hannah and I make up one fairly incapable person, so this is sure to be interesting, but I’m confident in our ability to make it all the way through without dying. I plan on returning home more worldly, more grown-up, and in one piece.

Are you nervous?

Oh, we’re terrified. You know the few weeks before you left for your freshman year at school and it felt like you were dying? There was a countdown to leaving, and it was all anyone seemed to talk about. We’ve been thinking of it like a black hole, huge and impossible to know what’s inside.

Only this time, we know what it’s like to leave what you know and immerse yourself in something different. We’ve seen the other side. We’re not worried about meeting our people or feeling at home, because we know it’ll happen in time.

How are you planning to live without each other for five months??

I’ve accepted the fact that about 70% of my sentences will begin with “My roommate Hannah…” And while we both planned to study abroad since arriving at school, we decided it was crucial to go in the same semester to minimize time apart. We’re hoping this is a growing experience for the both of us.

In exciting news, I leave tomorrow, so the next time I write to you I’ll be in Ireland. Stay tuned for European adventures, friends.

Pop Culture

Where Are the Girls in Movies Who Know They’re Awesome?

If you’re a girl between the ages of 11 and 18, or if you have a daughter between the ages of 11 and 18, or if you’re not technically in the target teenage girl demographic but you’re still a fan of young-adult-novels-turned-movies, goddammit, then there’s a chance you’ve seen If I Stay. If you’ve watched any TV in the last six months, you’ve at least seen this trailer. (And then spent the afternoon humming say something, I’m giving up on you against your will.)

Although I’ve technically graduated from the YA demographic, if a movie description sounds anything like “seventeen-year-old (girl name) struggles with (emotional problem) while her family deals with (divorce/death/terminal illness/apocalypse),” I just can’t stay away. So naturally I paid $1.50 to rent If I Stay with my sister last weekend.

YA fiction is my jam. Movies, books, whatever. (I could do without the whole vampire thing, but dystopian wastelands never get old.) I’m all for the dramatic love story. But lately I’ve been noticing a pattern in my beloved YA stories.

Scene – Girl and Spunky Best Friend in High School Hallway:
Spunky Best Friend: “Oh my god, Girl! That guy you’ve been secretly crushing on for years is totally into you!”

Girl: “Me? No way. Not possible.”

Spunky Best Friend: “Why? You’re awesome.”

Girl: “No I’m not. I’m just… me.”

This is almost word-for-word a scene from the first five minutes of If I Stay. And as my sixteen year old sister and I watched, I realized that somewhere along the line, it became really cool for girls in movies not to know how cool they are. Girl is always incredibly talented/smart/funny/attractive—she’s the star of the movie, after all—but she just doesn’t see it. Until a guy comes along and works really hard to convince her how awesome she is. Then she starts to see it kind of.

Much like chocolate cheesecake and prolonged time spent with immediate family, this storyline would be great in moderation. Everyone can relate to not feeling awesome sometimes. And having someone to tell you how awesome you are? That sounds pretty ideal. But the girl-who-doesn’t-know-she’s-awesome storyline is everywhere. Bella from Twilight. What’s her face from Divergent. Even Katniss from The Hunger Games, an actual badass revolutionary, is thoroughly convinced of her own mediocrity for pretty much the entire series. Movies, especially ones that star seventeen-year-old girls, really have the power to shape the way their audience thinks. When I was younger, I would relate movies to my real life all the time. (I still make a lot of Harry Potter comparisons at the dinner table, but that’s probably never going away.) I get that insecurity beefs up the drama, but I have to wonder… where are all the girls who know they’re awesome?

If I ever have a daughter, I would want her to know that it’s okay to be insecure sometimes. Everyone is. And if someone comes along who makes her feel good about herself, then hell yeah, go skateboarding with him in the rain. But I’d also want her to know that it’s okay to embrace your own awesomeness.

Scene – Hannah and Julie in Dining Hall:
Hannah: Dude, he’s totally into you.

Julie: Of course he’s into me. I’m the best.

Hannah: I’m into you.

Jules: If I weren’t me I’d be into me.

Hannah: Want to split a cookie?

This is almost word-for-word a conversation that Julie and I have every few months. (The cookie part is more of a daily thing.) Sometimes I’m the one we’re both into, sometimes she is. I like to think we’re both kind of the Spunky Best Friend. I know we sometimes take self-love to borderline inappropriate levels, but I love us. I really do. I love our friends and our families and our blog and the things we do to make ourselves happy. And even if we’re not actually as awesome as we think we are, we have a pretty damn good time.

So to my future daughter: You are awesome. Acknowledging this doesn’t make you conceited, and it doesn’t make you a bad person. The movies are great, but real life is too. Don’t be afraid to play the shit out of your cello. (The girl in If I Stay is always shy about playing the shit out of her cello. Just sayin.)

Photo on 2014-12-22 at 20.53

Last-Minute Music Recommendations

These people have watched me through most of this process.

Until they start a blog that requires you to post every Monday, I’ll bet most people are not familiar with the pure, unadulterated panic that courses through you when your roommate asks you, “so what are you going to post about today?”

I’ve been living by this biweekly deadline for more than a year now, but every time I get caught with my pants down and no plans for a post, it feels like the first time. So without further delay, I give the very best cop-out post I could muster while simultaneously packing an overnight bag and wrapping Christmas presents.

These are two albums that I’ve been living pretty hard over the past few weeks. They are WALK THE MOON’s sophomore album, Talking Is Hard, and Jukebox the Ghost’s new self-titled album, Jukebox the Ghost.

Favorites include Portugal, UP2U, and Avalanche

This song makes me really excited to study abroad.

uphill battle

Finals and Pineapples

(Note: I wrote this post last night around 11:45. It’s a little all over the place, but it’s raw and emotional, you know? A glimpse at what finals do to the psyche. This is a psychological exposé, really.)

The semester is almost over! Finals week is an uphill battle, my friends, and one time Julie and I climbed a mountain, which is also kind of an uphill battle, so I thought the picture would be fitting. Also, the phrase “uphill battle” will never not remind me of that Miley Cyrus song that she wrote for the Hannah Montana movie or the Nicholas Sparks one with the horrifically sad ending or whatever. There’s always gonna be another mountain, she’s always gonna want to make it mooooove. (The mountain, I’m assuming. Although she could also be talking about final exams. Pretty sure we’d all like to make them move. To never.)

I did a solid 8 hours in the library today. Can you tell?

(That wasn’t a humble brag, but okay, that was kind of a humble brag. Eight hours. My name is champion.)

In other news, Julie and I took a fiction class this semester. My friend Matt knew that we were taking a fiction class this semester. Matt is also 1) a reddit follower, 2) a Harry Potter fan, and 3) very fond of pineapples. I have compiled the following list and put it on the Internet because someday, I want to show it to my grandchildren.

Things My Friend Matt Texted Me This Semester:

  • Sept. 9, 11:32 AM: “Writing prompt of the day: murder is legal as long as the weapon is a pineapple. GO.”
  • Sept. 16, 11:11 AM: “Writing prompt of the day: a Muggle manages to sneak into the sorting ceremony. What happens?”
  • Sept. 21, 12:22 PM: “Writing prompt of the day: Gordon Ramsay is the new Hogwarts potions professor.”
  • Sept. 22, 11:34 PM: “Hi I’m Hannah Drake. Fiction writer.”
  • Sept. 25, 11:05 AM: “Writing prompt of the day: a group therapy session for guardian angels of horrible people.”
  • Oct. 12, 5:29 PM: “Send me that picture of me sleeping on my shoe.”
  • Oct. 21, 11:16 AM. “Any car that Tom Cruise drives is in cruise control. THINK ABOUT IT.”
  • Dec. 12, 2:09 AM “Also, I’m gonna start up a butter company called ‘butter from another utter.’”

So, yeah. Matt rocks. Finals don’t. Pineapples are somewhere in the middle.

See you on the other side, my friends.