Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Nobody's a natural. You work hard to get good and then work to get better."

So it's been almost two years since I've posted anything on this blog, and I can't even begin to tell you how much my life has changed since then. It is truly astounding what can happen in two years - both good and bad.

I originally started this blog back in June 2010 when I spent my summer interning in Washington D.C. and taking classes at Georgetown University. My family and friends encouraged me to document my experiences, and after looking back at some of those posts, I'm really glad I did. Not only did I laugh a lot (mostly at myself) but it truly put a smile on my face to think about that incredible summer I had living and breathing politics and journalism in one of America's most amazing cities. I was blessed to live with four incredible girls for the summer, two of which I'll get to see this summer in Montana for a wedding! This August will mark three years since we've seen each other and I absolutely can't wait to spend time with them.

After I got back from my summer in D.C., I stopped blogging for a little while. Junior year of college started, which meant that I had no time to continue writing because I was pretty much the most overly committed student on the face of the planet. It wasn't until spring of my junior year - January 2011 - that I picked up this blog again. I studied abroad in Limerick, Ireland during my spring semester, and decided to stick with the same mentality that I had when I was in D.C. I knew that I would want to look back on my time abroad and read about all of my crazy experiences in 10 or 20 years. Not that I'll soon forget any of them, but I'm really glad that I forced myself every week to write about where I was, who I was with and what I was doing. Someday, probably when I'm much older, I know I'll appreciate being able to go back and remember fondly what I was doing during my college years.

So, after all that, where am I now? Almost two years have passed, and while some aspects of my life have stayed the same, others have changed drastically. I graduated from college, and while I definitely miss it at times, part of me is glad that time of my life is over. I went from attending college in Amish Country, Pennsylvania, to enrolling in graduate school in one of the biggest cities in the U.S. I honestly haven't a clue in the world how I wound up at graduate school. If I'm being absolutely truthful, I think I was scared I wouldn't find a job in my field after graduation. I applied to ONE grad school on a whim, got in, and now, here I am. I found a position with University Housing as a House Director for Greek Life, so I get a free apartment, or "a box" as my sister Morgan calls it.

Living in the city has opened my eyes to so many new experiences. While I don't know if I want to live in Philadelphia forever, for now I'm happy where I am. Actually, I'm really happy. My graduate school classes, while challenging and frustrating at times, have been a huge learning experience for me. In order to graduate from my master's program - which I'm aiming to do this coming December - I have to complete two six-month Co-Op's. I completed my first one at AstraZeneca in Wilmington, Delaware and I loved it. I worked in their Corporate Communication Office and mostly helped with External Communications. After working there for 8 months, I decided to try my hand at something a little different, and now I'm working for Johnson & Johnson in their Supply Chain Communications office, mostly handling Internal Communications. Like AZ, J&J has also been a great experience. I'm really fortunate to have been able to gain so much experience in my field at such a young age. I try not to take that for granted because I know others are really struggling to do what they love everyday.

In a nutshell, that's where I am in life, at this present time. Come December when I (hopefully) graduate with my master's degree, who knows where I'll be. For now, I'm just thankful that I have such incredible people in my life who love and support me, even though I'm not always able to be there for them in return.

Well, now that you're sufficiently caught up on where I am in life, both geographically as well as career wise, you might be wondering why, after all this time, I'm picking this back up again. Well, wonder no more...story time!

Let me bring you back to the first week in December 2012, about 2.5 months ago. It was the week before my first set of graduate school final exams, and I can't remember a time in my life when I was more nervous than I was at that given moment. After breaking the news to our class that our final exam was going to be cumulative, our professor started us out on what I thought would be a normal class discussion. Although I have a fairly extroverted personality, I'm not normally one to contribute to class conversations. I'd much rather listen, absorb and take notes than be the one talking and offering input. That night in class, our topic of conversation was education. We started talking about the pros and cons of private versus public education, and the discussion got pretty heated. One doctoral student in particular got very fired up and started going on  and on about all of the problems affecting the American education system. Then somehow, and looking back I can't even tell you how it started, our conversation shifted, in a very negative way, toward boarding school. My ears instantly perked up, as I couldn't WAIT to hear what people had to say. Or could I?

After about a solid 40 minutes of debate back and forth about how boarding school kids were both A. spoiled, rich brats and B. drug addicts, class finally ended. I packed up my bag, livid and dumbfounded at the students in the classroom for having such a narrow view of this sector of education. To be fair, I never stood my ground or spoke up that I had this experience, but did I really need too? How can you be so opinionated and obstinate about a topic you know absolutely nothing about? That's the problem with our culture today; people judge way too quickly about things they know absolutely nothing about.

That night, on the walk back to my apartment, I called one of my best friends from Hill and explained to him what had just happened in class. I just knew he would understand and take my side, and that's what I needed after all of the negative energy that had built up inside me. After my droning on for about 15 minutes, he finally stopped me and gave me the best advice I could have received; "write about it," he said. I hung up the phone with him, sat down at my computer, and just started typing.

When something so significant in your life is attacked, you feel like you have just have to stand up and set the record straight. For me, those four years of my life at boarding school were, hands down, the most significant of my life. I learned more about myself than I ever thought possible, and it's just one of those experiences in life others won't understand unless they went through it themselves.

We all have those experiences. People lose a loved one and their friends and family claim to know what they are going through. But everyone handles those situations in their own way. Each of us are uniquely different and no one person reacts or experiences a situation in the same way. I think a lot of times we forget this and expect that those around us will respond in a like minded way.

After about an hour of my fingers ferociously pounding on the keyboard, I had written down my thoughts and titled my document The Truth About Boarding School. I emailed my "story" to my friend who had encouraged me to write it out, and after reading it, he suggested I submit it somewhere for publication. While I don't think I'm at that point yet, I'll share it with my hundreds of fans who I KNOW read this (kidding...)

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed being caught up on my life. Expect a post in the near future about another controversial topic (I actually already know what it's going to be about!) But for now, enjoy my jumbled thoughts about what attending boarding school is really like. Until next time!
The Truth About Boarding School
Whenever I find myself in that insanely annoying situation where I’m forced to present a “fun fact” about myself, I always use the same one. Partly because I can never think of that many interesting things to say about myself, and partly because I love to gage reactions from those around me. “I went to boarding school,” I’ll say. Most of the time I’ll either get back a blank stare or a half crocked “this is really awkward, I don’t know if I should smile or not” look. Other times I’ll get a look of mere perplexity, followed by a simple, “but why?”

I find it both comical and deeply saddening when I hear the misconceptions that so many of my peers possess about boarding school. Even my college friends, who I love more than life itself, never really understood where I was coming from when I’d talk about my experiences. No, I didn’t pull a Lindsey Lohan or Britney Spears and go through a totally ridiculous meltdown that forced me into rehab. And no, my parents didn’t think I was some demon child who could only be helped if I was sent away to military school. I can actually guarantee you that not only are my parents ten times cooler and more amazing than yours, but I actually have a fantastic relationship with them that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I actually chose this path for myself, and I couldn’t be happier that I did.

I’d be lying if I told you that I don’t sometimes laugh when people ask me if going to boarding school was like attending Hogwarts. Sure, maybe whenever I gave tours to perspective students they’d walk into the dining hall and ask where the sorting hat was, and sure, maybe most of us were all goodietoshoes who actually enjoyed going to class and being in school like Hermione. But the truth is boarding school is so much more than the perceptions that most people hold to be true. And like most other things in life, you can’t begin to understand unless you’re in the situation.

People look at me in a completely different light when they find out I attended boarding school for four years of my life. I’ll meet someone out at a bar or have lunch with a colleague who works in a different department than me, and in conversation the topic will just come up. They’ll ask me how I got to where I am today, and often times my response will include those four life changing years. They’ll stare at me like I have two heads, no doubt curious as to why on earth I was “shipped away” at age fourteen. “But that’s so young to be away from your parents!” some exclaim. “What did you do to deserve that?” others laugh.

The truth is I made the decision to be on my own long before I was in high school. From a very early age, I craved independence the way some crave a cigarette after a few too many beers. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that I’ve never been one to go along with the crowd. I’ve never had the desire to do something just because everyone else is doing it, and that was the appeal of boarding school. While most of my other friends from grade school were enrolling in our local public school or subjecting themselves to the rules and regulations of a Catholic education, I knew I had to do something different. I couldn’t stand around and spend the next four years of my life in the exact same environment where I had spent the previous fourteen. I needed a change; a big one.

To say that those four years were the most life changing and hardest of my existence to date just wouldn’t be doing it justice. I went through periods of both deep hatred and extreme love for that place I called home, and I no doubt failed more exams than I passed, much to my teacher’s dismay. But the person I became, the morals I developed and the values I stuck too at such an early age are the reason I am who I am today. 

Maybe it’s not for everyone. Maybe some parents aren’t ready to let go of their children at such an incredibly young age for fear that they’ll miss out on the best and most memorable years of their kids lives. And maybe some fourteen year olds aren’t as independent as I was and aren’t ready to leave that familiarity they know all too well. But maybe they should try.

Boarding school is just one of those things that you’ll never understand unless you’ve done it. People often say you shouldn’t judge anyone because you never really know what that person is going through or has gone through unless you’re actually them. You can tell anyone about the struggles or joys of your life until you’re blue in the face, but deep down you know that that person you’re exchanging a dialogue with will never understand. And that’s exactly how I feel about boarding school.

Monday, May 9, 2011

"Well, I've been afraid of changin' cause I've built my life around you. But time makes you bolder and children get older, I'm getting older too."

So now that I am down to one week before I depart the beloved Emerald Isle, I feel as though I need to share with my wonderful readers a few things I have learned about myself while on this journey. Before I left, I knew I was in for a great experience. I knew I'd go through periods of happiness, sadness and just pure amazement at what the rest of the world has to offer. Here are just a few of the things which this semester away has taught me, both the good and the bad alike. Because hey, life isn't perfect, and this semester has certainly had it's fair share of up's and down's. Although for me personally, there have been more up's than down's, which is definitely a good thing, right? I'll start with a few serious things, but I shall end with some silly antics as per usual. Because everyone always needs a good laugh, and it's even better when you're laughing at someone other than yourself...

Things I have learned (for real):

1. Not everything will go the way you plan, and you have to learn to be okay with it. I have always been the kind of person who feels the most comfortable when surrounded by familiar settings. Yes, it's true that I've always adapted well to change, considering the fact that I can't stand to stay in the same place for too long. A lot of you don't consider me to be a "homebody" but I consider myself one in a different sense. Not in the way that I need to be home necessarily, because I think we can all agree that I enjoy making my own life experiences. It's more in the sense that I've truly learned the importance of family. Whenever I was having a somber day and I would Skype with a member of my family, my day instantly went up ten notches. I can't say the same for any other activity or person, expect maybe writing. Being so far away from home but being instantly connected gives you a sense of familiarity that I often really needed.

2. I've learned to adapt well to change, and for that I am very thankful. "Change" is a very broad and inclusive word, and a word that really made me nervous for a long period of time. Considering I have lived in the same town for my entire life, I've never really had to deal with new situations or surroundings, except when I moved up in school. Before I began this experience four months ago, not knowing where I would be sleeping that night while country hoping all over Eastern Europe would have absolutely terrified me. But now, I am strangely comfortable with it. The thing I fear most about leaving is the fact that I feel like I'm going to lose the sense of adventure I've gained while over here, and I hate that. I've worked so hard to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations, but everything about home is of course wonderfully comfortable. It's definitely bittersweet.

3. It's okay to have time to yourself and be alone. I have always been an independent person, but I also love people. Back at Elizabethtown, I am involved (WAY too involved for my own sanity) and I literally never have a minute to myself. I guess I like it that way. I like keeping busy and being on the move. Like my dad always says, "moving targets are harder to hit." At first it was hard to have "free time," considering I haven't had a break from classes since the summer of 2009. It absolutely did me some good and I'm going to carry this mentality with me when I get home.

4. Your true friends will always be there, no matter what. Boy have I learned that in these last four months. It was amazing to see which of my friends really cared and made the effort to stay in contact with me while I was 3,000+ miles away. I'm a really lucky girl.

5. Probably the most important lesson I've learned, or at least am trying to learn. You can't compare yourself to other people. I constantly find myself doing this, and it's something I have gotten better at but really need to keep working on. I know that a lot of times I am way too hard on myself and never take the time to stop and be happy about my accomplishments. I really have done a lot with my life over the past 21 years, and sometimes I forget that. I guess I was kind of having a career crisis while I was over here, and that really scared me. It took a lot for me to step back and look at the bigger picture and my future ahead of me. I've always been set on one career path and have been determined to make it work, but today I came across something that really caught my attention and made me excited to graduate next May (WHAT!?!?) It crosses with my two absolute favorite interests. More on that later...probably much later, actually. Hey, I can't reveal ALL my secrets now ;-)

Okay, so now on to the less serious stuff...Things I have learned (not so serious):

1. Boys are, really. I can't even begin to describe...

2. When boys drink instead of study, you wake up the next morning and find furniture on your porch...turned upside down, nonetheless.

3. The wonderful art of procrastination. Well, I don't know if this really counts because I obviously already knew this, but I am pretty sure I mastered it this semester. Let's hope getting back into the swing of things in the fall isn't too horrific. I can't even think about that yet...

4. Staying out until 4 a.m. (especially in places like Spain) is very normal. Actually, you're kind of not normal if you're like me and go to bed at say 1 or 2 a.m. Sometimes I feel like a grown woman, not a 21 year old.

5. Attending half of your classes in a semester is cause for a high-five, not a failing grade.

6. Church services in different languages are immensely interesting.

7. Americans are so much less friendly.

8. Persistence. Gosh have I learned to be persistent...

Things I have NOT learned:

1. How to cook...if anything I've gotten worse actually. Is that even possible? The only requirement I have of my husband (okay, maybe not the only) is that he can cook. That might have to be the first thing we have to discuss.

2. How to drive on the other side of the road. I don't think I could ever be completely comfortable with it actually.

3. How students handle drinking every single night. I think this is a good thing though. At least I'm sure my mom thinks so.

4. The European grading system. I can't tell you how many times I have tried and failed to comprehend this one. Even my Irish classmates aren't completely sure. How can you not be sure of your own grading system?!?! Anyway...I got a 69 on my macroeconomics project, but apparently that is an A- to them? Yeah, okay...try adding 21 points to that and then maybe I'll believe you, just maybe.

5. How to relax. The culture in Ireland is so laid back that sometimes I feel people are actually horizontal. Sometimes I love it, sometimes it gets my insanely structured and routine personality very uptight. It's good I didn't adapt to that one too much though or else I'd be in some major trouble upon returning.

6. The conversion rate from Euros to U.S. dollars. Okay, I have, but I HATE thinking about it so half the time I pretend that I don't know what it is. Good plan, right?

This little list doesn't even begin to outline all the things I have learned/not learned from my time overseas, but I think it's a good stepping stone to seeing some differences that I've encountered. Since I usually give you a little rundown about my week, I shall now commence that process.

Since exams started on Monday the second, I really haven't had much of a social life this week. On Wednesday the fourth I had my Geoscience exam which counted for 100% of my grade. If that isn't enough to make me want to crawl in a corner and cry then I don't know what is! After a pretty sleepless night on Tuesday, I spent the majority of Wednesday until 4 p.m. studying...I feel like I'm back at Etown already. It went okay I suppose. Hard to tell honestly, but our fingers are crossed that the professor is having a good day when he grades the exams. It was four essays within two hours, and we had no guidelines or study sheets containing any information about what we were going to be tested on. The hard thing is that the Irish students are very used to this way of examinations and grading, and obviously we are not, at all, which makes it doubly as difficult for exchange students. But alas, all we can do is hope for the best and pray our wonderful accents get us the grades we need. Thank God for pass/fail...

Thursday at four I had my macroeconomics final, so the same procedure as above took place for Thursday morning/afternoon. The professor had given us about 15 or 20 formulas and equations to memorize, of which I happily did. I thought to myself "hey, if you passed Public Policy Economics at Georgetown last summer in the top 15% of your class AND had the professor from you-know-where, then you'll have no problem with this." Wrong mentality I suppose because the exam really wasn't anything like the lecturer and tutorial professors made it out to be. We had our equations, but for half of the problems didn't have enough numbers to input so that we could get a calculation for our outputs. It was actually kind of frustrating, but I did the best assuming I could. The other thing I don't understand...negative grading. Why oh why do you LOSE marks for an incorrect answer. It isn't enough that you don't get the credit, but you actually lose marks and points get taken away from what you worked out correctly. I think this is an extremely ineffective system and I've never had anything like it before. Stupid negative grading, what is the reason for your existence?

Thursday night my friend Jill (who is Canadian, NOT American and gets really offended whenever Irish folks call her's actually quite amusing if you are around her when this happens!) came over and we had one our famous jam sessions. Okay, this was only the second time we had one, but after once it can become a tradition, right? She plays guitar and is fantastic, so we had a de-stress night and just played and hung out. Afterwards we were both more than ready for a drink, so we went to the Stables for a pint and just talked until they kicked us out.

Friday morning my friend Anthony and I had our weekly talk session over some tea. Jill, Angela and Sara joined us for lunch at Scholars and the afternoon ended in a fierce game of Jenga. Angela decided to build her own sky-high town out of the Jenga blocks, Jill decided she would make a huge rukus by having the blocks come crashing down and Anthony decided he would give the funniest reaction possible and nearly jumped out of his chair. I don't think we'll ever be invited back to Scholars. Guess we need to find a new place for tea next Friday, Anthony!
After lunch Jill and I headed in to town to walk around since it was finally a nice day out. It has been raining literally nonstop since I returned from Berlin last Monday. Not fun! I got a dress at Penny's for the three graduations I'm attending this month. It's a lot different than anything I've ever bought before, but Jill said it looked really nice so I went for it. I'm excited to try something new :-)
Friday night Morgan had a party at her house, but there is a story behind why this party actually took place. One night, Morgan and Heather (coughdrunkinlycough) decided that they wanted to buy plane tickets to go to Sweden for the weekend. However after our week long Euro trip that was definitely not cheap took place, the funds were running dry so neither of them attended this great little adventure. So hence, the "Morgan and Heather cannot afford to go to Sweden Party" took place. It was an extremely humorous night that, of course, got shut down by midnight. It helps that Morgan knows campus security on a personal basis, though.

Saturday I slept in (hoor-ah!) and cleaned my room a little bit. I started to get a few things organized to pack-up and then watched a movie for maybe the second time since I've been here. The weather was just AWFUL which was definitely no fun at all. Saturday night my friend Katrina had her "Irish Birthday" at the Stables so we all headed there for a little bit. It's funny how we didn't go to Stables for about a month and half straight and now we've been there twice in the last week.

Angela I had decided Saturday night that we wanted to go to church at the Limerick Cathedral on Sunday morning, but we had also decided that we did not want to dish out the 12 euro to pay for a cab to get there (the buses don't start running until 11:20 a.m. on Sundays). So what do two cheap college students do on a Sunday morning to make it to church? We walked the four miles instead! It was finally nice enough outside for a change, so we really enjoyed our morning walk (or brisk when you're with Angela) in to town. We met a really nice young gal there from the states who recognized our accents right away. She was from Colorado and is studying at Mary Immaculate College for graduate school. After church we had lunch at my favorite pub in town, Flannery's. They have delicious four euro toasties (sandwiches) which is perfect for us budget students. We had a delicious lunch, and before we left we noticed a sign for traditional music that night, so we decided we would come back a little later to hear it. Sunday night we brought Jill and Sara to our favorite spot for dinner and to hear the music, and the bartender noticed Angela and I right away. (I knew we should have changed our clothes, Angela!) He laughed at us and I'm pretty sure we became his favorite Americans (and Canadian, Jill) by the end of the night. I might have to go back one more time before I leave, just to say goodbye to him! The night ended with us almost burning down SuperMacs when we ordered baked ice cream for our dessert and the man at the counter forgot he had put it in the oven...always an adventure.

Today was another terrible weather day. Angela had heard that the Baily's Cheesecake in Limerick was to die for, so once the weather broke for about an hour or so, we made our way up towards town to try and find her and the rest of the girls this famous cheesecake. We came back an hour later with no cheesecake, bananas (?) and completely soaked clothing. But it's okay because we made some warm tea and watched 'Gilmore Girls' so my day was basically made.
Tonight one of the girls in my program, Sarah, had a going away party because she leaves Ireland in the morning. She goes to York College, though, so I promised to attend one of the Etown/York soccer games because she is apparently a soccer super-star! Tonight was our first goodbye, and I must say, I didn't like it at all. I can't believe our program is over in a week. It went entirely too fast.

Tomorrow morning, Angela, Jill and I are meeting to enjoy a traditional Irish breakfast before our afternoon exams. Irish Folklore is tomorrow at 4, and then my last exam is Saturday at 12:30. Oh, and tomorrow night is MY Irish Birthday Party! I'm really excited and it should be a lot of fun. I'll let you know how it turns out.

For now, I will bid you adieu. I'll update you after all of my exams are complete, for then I will truly be a happy camper.

So long, farewell...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"Nothing worth having ever comes easy."

Hello my eager readers! What an adventure the last two weeks have been. I hope you are all ready for an extremely entertaining post filled with laughable and ridiculous antics by yours truly. Brace yourselves now. Shall we begin?

The best thing about my Easter break was spending it with my amazing family! On Sunday the 17th, mom and dad arrived in Dublin after a 7.5 hour delay coming out of Newark, NJ. Apparently the weather was horrendous at home and their take-off time continued to be pushed back farther and farther. They finally took off at 4:30 a.m. (home time) and I grabbed the bus into Dublin City at around 11 a.m. my time. I met them at our gorgeous hotel (and I do mean GORGEOUS) at about 4:30 p.m. After navigating the streets of Dublin (thanks, Morgan) the very nice lady at reception showed me to the room, in which I had my own king bed and bathroom. Needless to say I was more than content waiting for my parents to arrive. Because their flight was so delayed, the car rental company gave their car away and they had to take a cab from the airport to the hotel, which was about a 30 minute ride. They FINALLY got to the Merrion Hotel and it was so wonderful to give them a huge hug. I remember when they booked this trip when I came home for Christmas break and we talked about how excited I was to have them come visit. Mom said, "don't wish for us to be there that badly because when we leave you only have 3 weeks left." It seems like just yesterday we had that conversation. And now, this time in 2 weeks I will be at home for the summer. This semester has literally FLOWN out the window. I can't believe it. But anyway...
After mom and dad had a little bit of down time to relax, we all showered and changed for a beautiful dinner with the Kearney's. The restaurant was only a few blocks away from our hotel which was really nice. I can't decide which one I was most excited about: seeing my parents, or eating real food (kidding, mom and dad!) After a delicious meal we headed back to the Merrion. Mom went to go get some shut eye and dad and I grabbed a Guinness (the first of many!)at 23, the quaint little bar on the first floor of our hotel. Not too long after, he was ready to join mom for bed as well.

Monday dad had a lunch meeting with a member from Bord Gáis and mom and I hit the town to walk around Grafton Street. Mom got a few books and we stopped for lunch at a cute little cafe. We met dad later that afternoon at the hotel bar and enjoyed two wonderful bottles of champagne with fresh strawberries. I am way too spoiled for my own good, that's for sure! It was so nice to catch up with them and it was good to see that absolutely nothing has changed since I've been gone. They still poke fun at me and are the wonderful, lovable people I left in January =)
Monday night we met the Geoghegan's and Mrs. Kelly at a chic little restaurant called "Fire." The food was delicious and the company was even more lovely. We retired to a great tradition Irish pub called O'Donoghues, and of course dad had a Guinness. Mom enjoyed the traditional music along with a glass of Harp. After O'Donoghues dad took me down to his favorite pub/bar in all of Ireland, the Cellar Bar. He washed down a few glasses of Irish Whiskey (I will NEVER become a fan of that stuff, sorry dad) and then we headed off to bed.

Tuesday we finally got a rental car thanks so Hertz. Gotta love good old Hertz! They never let ya down =) Dad took a cab to the airport to pick it up and then the 3 of us headed off on a little excursion through southeast Ireland. We explored Wicklow National Park where 'P.S. I Love You' was filmed (yes, be super jealous!) and we also went through Glendalough and saw a beautiful Celtic high cross abbey.

We stopped for lunch in a cute little town where I was introduced to the deliciousness of the "the flake." Basically it is vanilla cream (not even ice cream because it is SO rich) and a thin stick of Cadbury chocolate. It's basically heaven in a cone, honestly. We continued to drive through the gorgeous mountains and stopped at Johnnie Fox's Pub because dad gets cranky if he doesn't have his afternoon Guinness (love you, dad!) This pub is apparently the highest in all of Ireland, but it's also extremely tacky and cluttered with an ungodly amount of unnecessary items. Mom and I agree on this one...

After our daily beverage we made our way back to the hotel to freshen up and relax for a little while. We headed downstairs for a beautiful dinner and then went across the street to O'Donoghues to listen to some great traditional music again. That night I stayed up late finishing a paper for my journalism class and then we woke up and went to the airport to pick up Morgan and Keeleigh! Fitting all of our luggage into this little car was quite funny. I wish I had gotten a picture actually. After many hugs we set off on our drive across the country from Dublin to Co. Tipperary. We arrived at CoolBawn Quay, our home for the next few days, early that afternoon. (Please notice my mom creeping in the background of the first photo hahaha)

Our cottage wasn't quite ready when we arrived, so we drove to get some lunch in town. We found a really neat little pub and Morgan got her first Guinness of the trip. That afternoon I headed into town with mom and dad to pick up a few items while Morgan and Keeleigh got a few hours of rest. Before we headed off to dinner, the girls and I gave mom and dad their birthday present. Since they both turn 50 this year, dad in February and mom in May, we decided to put together a memory book for them. We sent a letter to all of their friends asking for pictures and other special stories/anecdotes, and Morgan and Keeeigh put it all together in a scrapbook on Saturday when mom and dad left for the Emerald Isle. It turned out really well and I think they really enjoyed reading and looking through it. That night we had a really nice dinner right next door to where we had lunch. I've been getting a lot of fish over here because it's so tasty! Everyone headed to bed shortly after we got back to the cottage, including me. I must say, it's amazing the amount of sleep you get when you don't have access to the internet...

Thursday (if I am getting my days correct here) we headed to Cork City and Blarney Castle. I finally got to kiss the Blarney Stone! I've been waiting for that all semester haha. Morgan, Keeleigh and I climbed to the top of the castle and then walked around and caught up with mom and dad. It was a full day of sightseeing and lots of time in the car driving around trying to see everything! We attempted to go and see the Rock of Cashel, but by the time we got there it was closed. We grabbed dinner on the way back to the cottage and rested up from our long day out.

Friday morning we set off to go and see the Dingle Peninsula, which I had been wanting to see for a while. Unfortunately the weather all week was on and off, which was a huge let down because it has been amazing here for the past month and half, but C'est la was actually kind of neat driving down the really narrow roads in the endless fog. I don't think dad liked it too much but I certainly did =)
We stopped in the adorable town of Dingle for lunch and did some shopping. I got a really neat Ireland zip-up which I love and can't wait to wear.

We continued driving and sightseeing and made it back to the cottage by late afternoon. We shared a few bottles of wine and then headed to a great dinner at the village centre. Mom and Keeleigh retired after dinner, but dad, Morgan and I headed to the bar. Dad and Morgan of course made some new friends, and I challenged Morgan to a Guinness chugging contest. Let's just say it was a bad idea...I'll leave it at that.

Saturday morning we checked out of the cottage and headed to the town of Ennis to have lunch with Louise, a family friend who lives in Northern Ireland. Louise came down to visit her sister, Sharon, and we all headed into town to have lunch. I hadn't seen Louise in such a long time, and I had never met Sharon before, so it was wonderful to catch up with Weezie and finally meet Sharon. After lunch we checked into Dromoland Castle for the weekend.

We were so incredibly spoiled by the places we got to stay at on this trip, as each place we went was absolutely beautiful. Morgan had been to Ireland a few times before during her study abroad experience and for Louise's wedding, but Keeleigh had never been before. I think she really enjoyed it and loved Ireland as much as I do! I took the family to see UL Saturday afternoon. We did a driving tour of campus and dad was even nice enough to ship my second suitcase home so I won't have to worry about it in a few weeks. My family is the best =) It was great to show them where I've been living for the past 3.5 months! We had a great dinner that night near Bunratty Castle, and after being out until 3:30 a.m. the previous morning, we were all more than ready for some much needed rest on Saturday night.

Sunday morning was Easter, and dad hopped (literally...) into our room to give us our Easter bags. We got dressed and headed to church only about 2 km away from the castle. It was a really nice service and I felt so lucky to be able to spend the holiday with my family. We came back to change after church and then headed to the Cliffs of Moher. It was a gorgeous day so the view was fantastic. A perfect day for the sisters to take in the great scenery and see the true beauty of my favorite place.

We stopped for lunch at a neat little place by the water and the headed back to the castle. Kiwi and I explored the castle grounds and took a walk on this little trail we found on the outskirts of the campus. After our walk we proceeded to use the "go-carts" that were on the tennis courts, which was humorous to those that were watching us I am sure. We decided (okay, I decided) it would be a good idea for both of us to ride on the two seater bike that was clearly made for two small children, of which neither of us are. The end result was Keeleigh falling off the back of the go-cart and us calling it a day. Pretty hilarious now looking back on it. Sisterly bonding at its best!
Easter night we had yet another beautiful meal at the restaurant in the castle. Dessert was complete with a surprise birthday cake for me, and I even got to open a few cards from my family. My parents gave me a gorgeous Tiffany's bracelet with a shamrock charm! I had them take it home for safe keeping, and I'm so excited to wear it when I get back. It was such a wonderful almost birthday dinner. After the night was over, I had to say goodbye and caught a cab back to UL to get ready for my spring break trip. The family flew home early Monday morning, and I had to catch the 7 a.m. bus to the Dublin airport for my trip to Eastern Europe. So now, a total shift in conversation, and I shall now bring you to spring break. Brace yourselves, ladies and gentleman.

When I got back to UL on Sunday night I unpacked from the week with the family and packed for my week away with my friends. The difference in packing for this trip was that I was just bringing a backpack for the week, so a lot of packing wasn't really necessary. I got up Monday morning and met Vanessa at the bus stop to take the bus to the airport. We slept for most of the way which was really nice, and Morgan and Heather met us at check-in for our flight since they were already in Dublin for the weekend. We boarded our flight to Berlin and set off for one of the biggest adventures I've ever been on. Everything went smoothly as we landed at around 4:30 Berlin time. We hopped on the metro to find our hostel, a task that was easier said than done. After about a half hour of not being able to locate where we were staying and the locals pointing us in two different directions (of which neither were correct) we stopped and grabbed dinner instead. We got to our hostel around 8, dropped our things off, freshened up and went exploring. We had a pretty low key night as we grabbed a German Beer at a local bar and talked about how excited we were for our week of exploring Eastern Europe.

Tuesday morning we woke up and took the "free walking tour" of Berlin. There is a really great company (go here for more information) that does free walking tours of major cities around Europe. I had done one of their walking tours in Amsterdam earlier in the semester, so I recommended to my friends that we do it. Our tour guide was pretty low-key, but he provided TONS of great information about the history of the city. We saw the Holocaust memorial right in the middle of the city, Hitler's Bunker where he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head, the Berlin Wall (obviously) and check-point Charlie. Oh and we also ate German bratwurst...interesting stuff that is...

We ended our tour at about 3 p.m., and literally as soon as it was over it started POURING rain and a huge storm came our way. We camped out underneath Berlin's palace along with half the population of the city. This was the first thunderstorm I'd experienced since I left home in January. We don't get storms in Ireland, so it was actually fun to feel like I was at home again experiencing a summer storm. After we waited out the rain we trekked (and boy was it a trek) to the train station to get our tickets for the overnight train to Kraków, Poland. Thank goodness Morgan knows German because she had to order our tickets for us all in German. Our first train left Berlin at around 5:30 p.m., so we grabbed some dinner and then boarded our train. We found our cabin and got ready for our five hour journey to Poznań before we arrived in Kraków. We met a guy, probably about our age, maybe a few years older, who was from Canada but going to medical school in Poznań. We had a two over layover there before our train to Kraków, so he told us what to do while we waited. We arrived in Poznań and exchanged our euros for some Polish zlotys. We walked around this very sketchy place (not my idea, mind you) and then headed back to the station to catch our next train which was supposed to leave at 11 p.m. It didn't wind up showing up until 11:30 p.m., and little did we know that we had no assigned seats on this 8 hour train ride. Everyone was pushing and shoving and trying to get in front of everyone else on the train so that they could find a seat. Well, we didn't find a seat, and the first stop was not for three hours, which would have been 2:30 a.m. Needless to say this trip was not starting out in our favor. Morgan, Vanessa and Heather wound up meeting an American from Texas (of course) and they pretty much stayed up all night talking and drinking with him. I finally found a seat and shut my eyes, but didn't sleep a whole lot. Each time the ticket collector came around (and it was A LOT) I had to point out to the hallway and show him the other three girls I was with because were all under one ticket. It was poor planning on our part, and when the train reached Kraków at 6:45 a.m. on Wednesday morning, we were exhausted. We found a restroom to freshen up, but we wound up getting ripped off by a Polish gypsy for "being in the bathroom too long" and "using too much water." She insisted we pay her double (which wasn't much to begin with) and she blocked us in until we paid her! Vanessa and Heather got by her but Morgan and I were stuck and wound up having to give her 2 euro so we could get past her. This little setback resulted in Morgan cursing in German all the way up the stairs, which at least made it somewhat entertaining if you ask me.

The tourist office opened at 8 a.m. and we bought our tickets to go and visit Auschwitz, which was what I was most looking forward too on this trip. And hey, it was my birthday that day too! Not the most uplifting way to spend my 21st birthday, but an informative and amazing one it was. We found a Starbucks and grabbed some coffee and bagels and hit the road. It was an hour and a half bus ride so of course we slept the whole way which was grand. We got to the camp and wound up spending pretty much the entire afternoon there. It was such a moving experience. I am beyond glad that I did it, as I have always been really interested in WWII and the Holocaust ever since I took a class on it my senior year at Hill.

We took the bus back to the city of Kraków to explore after the extremely somber experience we had that afternoon. But the city was such a neat place, I absolutely loved it. I wasn't a huge fan of Poland countryside when we drove through it on our way to and from Auschwitz, but I really did enjoy the city.

That night we took an overnight bus to Vienna at 9:30 pm. I was excited because we would actually have a seat for the night which meant some rest, if nothing else. Of course we didn't sleep too well on the bus, but it was better than nothing I suppose. We arrived in Vienna at 4:45 a.m.(BUMMER) which was way earlier than expected/scheduled. So what did we do you may ask at 5 in the morning? We bought a 24 hour metro pass and rode the metro line up and back until the McDonalds opened at 6 a.m. No, I'm not kidding! We are clever, I know. And hey, we got an hour of sleep in, too. Once 6 a.m. hit, we got breakfast, mapped out a game plan for the day and freshened up. We roamed the beautiful streets of Vienna for the afternoon and took advantage of everything the city had to offer. We spent almost 3 hours in the amazing Kunsthistorisches Museum, had a picnic (okay, more like a nap) in the park and did some window shopping.

Before setting off for Prague, we hit the palace and gardens on the other side of town, which proved to be just as beautiful as the rest of Vienna. Vienna was definitely my favorite place we visited. I would love to go back in the near future.

We took a train to Prague late that evening

and got in a little before midnight. Finding out hostel proved to be a difficult task once again, but when we finally did find it, we were all ready to shower and crash. Two and a half days without sleep was a little rough, needless to say. Of course our room was right outside the common room of the hostel, so it was not the quietest environment to sleep in. But headphones worked magic and we were all out like a light by 1 a.m.

We got up Friday morning and took the free walking tour of Prague with the most enthusiastic tour guide known to man, and that's coming from me.

Prague proved to be an incredible city and it was number two on my list of favorite places. I love these free walking tours because a) you get to see literally the entire city in 4 hours (even though your feet hate you later) and b) it's free, which to a poor college student is a major win.

The four of us got talked into going on a pub crawl that night, so we signed up for that and headed back to change for a nice dinner out with Morgan's friend Maggie who is currently pursuing her master's degree in Prague. She took us to this fabulous restaurant with traditional Czech food and it was absolutely scrumptious. Maggie was so nice and it was neat to hear about Prague from someone who is currently living and studying there. We headed to our pub crawl after dinner which proved to be quite the
experience. There was a French bachelor party on the crawl with us (no comment) and we also met a group from London and a group from Australia. (Quick rant: why do I ALWAYS meet Australians on pub crawls and all around Europe?) We went to four different bars on this little tour and ended at a five story dance club which is apparently the biggest in Europe. We got back to our hostel at 4 a.m., but hey, our sleeping pattern was already screwed up to the max, so what's one more night, right?

Saturday was our last full day to explore Eastern Europe, so we hit up the palace and the gardens which was on the opposite side of the town, just like Vienna. It had a beautiful view which looked over the entire city, much like Barcelona! Okay sorry, I need to stop comparing European cities here.

It was about a 30 minute tram ride back to the train station where we hopped on to head back to Berlin where our journey began. It was easiest (and cheapest) to fly in and out of Berlin for this little extravaganza, but a little inconvenient as well. Alas, the five hour train ride back to Germany was beautiful, and we got to the city at about 8 p.m. We grabbed dinner and then headed to our hostel, which was the same one we stayed at the first night. Yes, I booked it that way on purpose so we could easily find it again! We crashed by 10 p.m. which sounds great but we had to get up at 6am to catch our plane home. We arrived at the airport with about an hour and a half to spare, but we had a layover in Stockholm, Sweden. Now, when we booked these tickets we thought it would be a great idea to have this layover because it was about 30 or 50 euro cheaper to do it this way, rather than flying directly back to Dublin. However, now I see the errors of my ways, and now that I am looking back on it, it is the stupidest thing we could have done. It made for a really long day! We got to Dublin at about 3:30 p.m., so we missed the bus that goes directly back to UL by 15 minutes. Morgan and Vanessa used a different bus company to get back to campus, but I had already bought my round trip ticket back to school and I wasn't about to lose 30 euro. So I grabbed a book from Eason's and waited at the bus stop. It was a quiet 4 hour ride back to campus (stupid rush hour) which I really needed. I got back to campus at about 9:30 p.m., showered and SLEPT.

So this now concludes my update about the last two weeks of my life. Exam week started yesterday, so I have just been cleaning, packing a little and studying a lot. I spent Monday relaxing and catching up on sleep and today (Tuesday) doing laundry and studying for my two finals this week; geoscience and macroeconomics. I will be the happiest person in the world come Thursday night, but until then, these will probably be two pretty sleepless nights. Lots of studying and reviewing to do to pass these exams that are 100% and 70% of my grade respectively. I've never had this much pressure on me for finals before. They are usually about 25%-40% of my grade back home. I am not the best test-taker to begin with (haha) so this is extremely nerve racking. The fact that I've attended almost every class just isn't enough here, unlike at home. It's a lot of teaching yourself the material. So now, I will go to bed after a day filled with studying and laundry and wake up in the morning and get back to cramming and reading.

This time in 2 weeks I will be home! Can you believe it? Can't wait to see you all!

Huntley =)