“Don’t be nostalgic”… but why not?

People like to say we shouldn’t live in the past, because we have our whole futures ahead of us. We shouldn’t dwell on what has happened, shouldn’t think about it, because that part of our lives are over and there is nothing we can do. But is that really true? I think there’s a difference between living in the past and remembering it- it’s closing your eyes and practically feeling the touch of that one person, savoring the decadent mixture of greasy hamburger and Miller lite, witnessing the brilliant colors of the sky as the sun sets. It’s called nostalgia.

I think Cornell’s graduating class of 2017, just like my Study abroad friends, will understand me when I say I’ll miss this past semester. I’ll miss the familiar, earthy scent of my favorite café, just as a senior will miss the smell of a bacon egg and cheese sandwich from CTB. I’ll miss sitting on the wide, green pasture of the Meadows, remembering when the frost from the January hail storms made it too cold to sit on, just as a Cornell senior knows he’ll miss sitting on the Slope- whether it’s to sled down it, or fall asleep in the May sun.

More than the places though, more than the tangible things you can grasp and hold in your hand, I’ll miss the people.

Most things don’t last forever, but it’s been said, and I do believe, that some things do. Things like a good song, or a good film, or even a good memory you can take out of your back pocket and unfold in the darkest of times, embracing what you see when you lean in close.

Some of my greatest memories from my time abroad are sitting around the kitchen with my flatmates and quite literally doing nothing. The kitchen of my dorm was not the nicest place to be- it consisted of a sink that whined when you turned on the hot water, a perpetually stuffed fridge that constantly threatened to fall over with the weight of its contents, and my favorite, a mouse we named Clarence- a disgustingly fat, furry little thing that at times scurried over our feet even with humans around.

The kitchen left much to desire in every which way, but I arguably spent more hours on its dirty blue couch than anywhere else in Europe with my flatmates, talking about nothing and simultaneously everything, having conversations and making memories I knew would last me longer than any overpriced café avocado toast I would ever pay for.

In January, the other girls I lived with in my flat made a bet with the boys that if they didn’t run the half-marathon that was taking place in Edinburgh in early March, the boys would have to wax their legs to the knee. The five of us drew up a physical contract and each of us typed our name in block letters and left our signatures at the bottom of the page to seal the deal. The two boys ran the half-marathon with me (not without severe cramping for the next week), and though the other girls didn’t delight in watching the guys walk around with bare legs, watching them suffer through 13 miles was just as rewarding. We hung up the “Half-Marathon Contract” on the wall of the kitchen.

I have always been told that there is no point in being nostalgic. But as I sit on a plane leaving Scotland and writing this blog post, there is nothing I find more comforting than closing my eyes and imagining the laughter and hugs of my friends in that disgusting kitchen.


I realized that these people I was randomly paired up with became my family, and that over the course of a lifetime we all have SO many families. You start with your family of origin, but then it gets bigger as you move through different stages of your life. People come and go, because that’s how people are, and yet every person that becomes a part of your family helps shape who you are. I am sure that any Cornell senior that closes their eyes can think of the people that have, over time, become their family. Each of them, I’m sure, has their own “Half-Marathon Contract” hanging on their wall. Each of them has memories to cherish.

And as we’ll all move quickly and inevitably into the next chapter of our lives, I encourage us not to forget the experiences that have made our time so incredible, but instead remember them, and remember the people that made them with you.

The other day, I spoke to a senior friend of mine at Cornell, who, with the rest of her graduating class, is currently celebrating “Senior Days,” which is what the university calls the last week of celebrations on campus before graduation. Those days consist of wine tours, house parties, and BBQ’s- all very normal activities for a summer day, but ones that have far more meaning when you realize the friends you celebrate them with will soon be far away, evolving and maturing and becoming adults without you as a witness.

“How do you feel?” I asked my friend through the phone. It was my last night in Edinburgh and I was feeling down at the prospect of not seeing my friends again, so I was expecting to her to say something like “I’m really upset,” or “It’s been so sad,” but instead, she surprised me.

“Oh, we’ve been having so much fun!” she laughed. “We had a booze cruise yesterday and just enjoyed the fact that we were in a boat and it was so sunny…”  “Really?” I asked. “You’re not sad?” She laughed again, and I held the phone closer to my ear, imagining her smiling on the other end. “Well, of course it’s a little bit sad,” she said. “But when you think about what this week means in terms of endings, it almost makes it better. You think whoah, we only have one more week to live it up with our best friends. So you do everything you can to make it the best one ever, and in return, you leave with these unbelievable memories.”

Her voice over the phone was so earnest, so positive instead of negative, that I couldn’t help but embrace her words, and now I feel compelled to share them:

“One day,” she told me, “when I’m old and grey, I’ll  sit with my granddaughter on my lap, show her a picture of my university friends and I, and be wonderfully nostalgic and say, “I remember when we did this thing, and it was amazing.”

In the meantime, though, she and the rest of the Cornell Senior Class is done, POOF, and the college part of their lives is over. Just as quickly, my time studying abroad is done. I’ll always remember the incredible people I’ve met and what I’ve shared with them. I’m not afraid of nostalgia. Sometimes, it’s the only thing that helps the homesickness, the sadness of the realization that “done” actually means done forever. But I’m also excited for tomorrow, and for the chance to meet even more people and do amazing things that add to my story, and seniors, I hope you guys feel the same way.

Ready? No? Be nostalgic all you want. When you are ready, though…


Next Chapter.

When a “Hello” Results in the Lesson of a Lifetime

It’s in Scotland. In Edinburgh, one of the most international cities you’ll find in the United Kingdom. And what it is, is a big, big beautiful park called the Meadows, because well, it’s so big it could be a meadow. In the winters, or up until mid-March, it’s a gloomy place to be; the trees are bare, and it’s often rainy- the cold, stinging rain that comes with a wind that sneaks under your measly layers of clothing and chills you to the bone.

The month of April is much better. The trees sprout cherry blossoms, hundreds of beautiful pink things you’d only find on flower girls at weddings, and they’re even more brilliant against a rare, startling blue sky. And, of course, a green grass. It looks like this:

No matter how beautiful the Meadows has suddenly become, though, you won’t find anyone there at 8am on a Sunday morning. Except for me, this past weekend, and, well, on most mornings for the past few months as a result of trying to get on a health kick (don’t ask me how it’s really going), and except for one other woman that has been running the same route I do every morning.

She is quite old, and fragile looking, with tiny limbs, and runs with and a funny little limp- a sort of half run, half walk if you will, that makes me wonder about the amount of time it must take her to complete one lap. She has big hair- a giant white Afro straight from the 80’s- and every morning without fail wears a bright pink Hello Kitty T-shirt and blue sweatpants, and enormous blue sunglasses. She is intriguing to look at, and most mornings she’s the only other person I’ll encounter on my path, so about a month ago, I began to take it upon myself to say hello each day.

“Hi!” I’d say as I passed her, giving her a bright smile. The first time I did so, she looked at me like I was crazy and frowned, as though unaccustomed to being acknowledged. To be fair, it was probably an odd thing to do- interrupting a stranger’s workout just to say hello, but she looked interesting, and maybe a bit lonely, and I wanted to talk to her.

“Good morning!”
For a couple of weeks, I didn’t get any sort of response. At all. It didn’t really infuriate me, mostly because I was usually hyped up on endorphins and couldn’t be bothered. But then the other day I jogged passed her, so immersed in my run that I didn’t realize who I had passed, and when I did, I quickly turned around before I was too far away and waved and said “good morning!”

To my shock, this time, she waved back, smiled broadly, and said in a surprising chirpy voice, “Good morning!” Realizing how much of an anomaly this was, I stopped running and waited for her to limp up to me.

“It’s really nice to meet you!” I exclaimed as we began to walk, the sun uncharacteristically beating down on the both of us. “Um, I like your shirt!” I suddenly felt a bit awkward. What if she was just a lonely old woman that wanted be alone and I was annoying her?

But the woman laughed loudly. “Why, thank you!” she said. She was clearly American, which was something that I would have questioned upon my arrival to Scotland, but have since accepted as part of the Edinburgh charm: meeting people you seem to have absolutely nothing in common with and finding that somehow, and for some reason, there’s almost always something to link the two of you together. The American woman removed her glasses to look at me, and the laugh lines around her eyes deepened.
“I know it took me a while to warm up to you,” she said she limped along beside me, “but I don’t have a lot of people to talk to these days, especially not during my runs.” I could hear a tinge of sadness in her voice as we rounded the corner of the street to reveal a long stretch of green, clean cut grass beside us.
“So you run every day?” I asked as we walked, slowing my pace as I observed her struggling beside me.

“Yes ma’am,” she said proudly. She stopped to adjust her sunglasses, and I paused beside her.

“I’m sorry, what’s your name? I completely forgot to ask you!” I held out a sweaty hand. “Sorry it’s sweaty,” I apologized. “I’m Allegra.”

The old woman shook my hand and smiled. “I’m Iris.”

You know,” she said, wiping the lens of her glasses with the bottom of her Hello Kitty shirt, “I used to be a marathon runner.”

I did a double take. “You did?!” I asked, unable to keep the shock out of my voice. A cyclist biked past us, looking over his shoulder at the two of us quizzically- an old lady with a white afro, and an athletic young woman standing in the middle of the sidewalk.

“Mhmm,” Iris nodded. She put the bright blue sunglasses back over her eyes and we began walking again.

“See, but then, I got a stroke. And the doctors told me I’d never walk again. I didn’t leave my bed for a year.” I looked sideways at Iris, in shock already twice in about half an hour. I wasn’t sure what to do or say, or even how to feel, since her situation had obviously changed since then, so I stayed quiet. Her lips pursed in a thin line, and she stared straight ahead as we hobbled along.

“But you know what I learned? It’s all bullshit, Allegra.” Iris suddenly stopped and turned to me.

“If there’s one thing I wish I had known at your age, it’s to never, ever allow anyone to tell you what you can or can’t do with your life.” Iris still had her sunglasses on, but I could feel the intensity of her gaze behind them just as strongly as I felt the significance of what she was telling me.

“It doesn’t matter who they are, alright? Or how logical they might sound.” There was a silence as we stood in the middle of the Meadows looking at one another. A bird chirped somewhere behind me, it’s cheerful song sounding out of place for the importance of the moment.

“It doesn’t matter if they’re doctors, or psychologists, or sometimes even family!” she continued. “At the end of the day, you’ve gotta think about, and do, what makes you happy. I mean… look at where we are!”

Iris raised her arms and laughed, motioning around us to the brilliant green grass, the cherry blossoms, the sounds of children laughing in the playground. The sun glinted off her big, blue sunglasses.

A lump suddenly appeared in my throat, and I swallowed, smiling and nodding along with her. I shook my head in amazement.

“No… yea, you’re so right,” I finally said, scrambling to acknowledge how very right she was while absorbing the impact of her statement.

Iris took my hand. “I’m not trying to scare you, honey,” she said, smiling kindly at me. A group of kids passed us and pointed at Iris’s Hello Kitty shirt. Iris didn’t even notice them.
“But I spent a year of my life lying in that bed, until I finally decided I didn’t give a shit about who thought I should be running or not. So I got my sorry ass out, and started again. And here I am.”
She squeezed my hand. “A year is real long time,” she said, and winked.

I swallowed again. “Um, wow,” I said quietly, suddenly, and uncharacteristically, at a loss of words. I shook my head and opened my mouth to try again, but a shrill ring interrupted me. Iris and I both looked down, and she reached into her pocket to pull out a blue Nokia cellphone. She looked at the screen.

“Oh, honey, I’ve got to take this,” she said to me. “It’s my grandson. His name is George.” She winked at me and began to hobble away. “Maybe I can set you two up, that would be wonderful!”

I stared at Iris, flabbergasted. “Um, okay, right, yea!” I said, scratching my head. I raised my arm mechanically and waved at her. “I’ll see you later then, Iris!”

Iris had already answered the phone, but she waved back without saying anything, and I watched her shuffle away and eventually out of sight. I stood in that same spot, in the middle of a running path, for a long time.

I hadn’t really witnessed a miracle, but it felt like I had. I’m not even entirely sure of how to sum up this experience except by saying I feel so special, so honored to have been part of an interaction like this.

I am hardly perfect. There are plenty of people and things that piss me off unnecessarily and for no reason at all. But if there’s one thing I want someone to understand from reading this post, it’s that all people want- and all anyone wants, is to be acknowledged. Even if it’s from a stranger. There’s a difference between flattery and empathy, the kind of compliment that comes from needing a favor, and the kind of inquisition that comes from the soul.

I never would have learned the lesson- the incredibly inspiring and motivational lesson- I did from Iris if I hadn’t taken the time to say hello to her each morning. And you know what? I am so, so happy that I did.


P.S. For reference, here is a selfie I took with Iris 😉

How to enjoy traveling while on a (very tight) budget

Everybody wants to travel. But let’s face it. Unless you were born into royalty or have a hefty bank account, one thing that might be holding you back from a much-needed vacation is the topic everyone thinks about but nobody likes to talk about- money.

I’m a college student on a budget studying in Europe, so trust me, I commiserate with you. However, I also believe there’s nothing better than taking life by the horns and making worthwhile memories. For those who agree, I’ve created a list of top recommendations to follow, based on my experiences and that of my very skinny wallet:

  1.     PLAN AHEAD !

I can’t stress this enough. There’s nothing more stressful than arriving in a foreign country and having zero idea where to go, where you’re eating, and how to get there. Make an itinerary. It’ll save you from the endless tourist traps you’ll be prone to falling into out of sheer desperation, and will save you at least 100 dollars you could’ve been spending later on a fabulous meal. Think about it.


Is the place that leaves chocolates on your pillow really necessary? If hostels are too grimy for your taste, I recommend an Airbnb. These are essentially people’s homes that are tidied up and rented out to tourists visiting the area. Do your research, and you’re guaranteed to stay at a lovely abode fitted to your taste with a welcoming host to answer any question you may have about the city you’re staying in. Sometimes they even provide free breakfast, which is definitely better than just a chocolate.


You spent four hours at an incredible monument, but now it’s 3pm, you missed lunch and you’re HANGRY.  Outside, you spot a café teeming with people yelling in different languages but you’re so hungry that- NO. STOP. Enter said café and you’ll spend too much money on a skinny sandwich with barely anything in it. Download the app “Yelp” on your smartphone, where you’ll find a restaurant you want based on price, distance, type of food, and amount of stars from 1-5 determined by other tourists just like you. If it looks like a hole-in-the-wall but has been reviewed by 200 people and is 4 and a half stars, do it.


Unless you’re planning a solo trip to a yoga retreat or a romantic getaway with your significant other, it behooves you to travel in at least groups of four. Not only will you save a significant amount of money on Airbnb’s, but you’ll feel much safer traveling in a pack!


More often than not, tourist pamphlets, guides, etc. recommend places that are a) always packed with people and b) extremely overpriced. When researching places to go, try digging a bit deeper than Google’s first page- you’ll be surprised to find that many cities offer free/ donation based activities like walking tours and food tastings that allow you to do more than simply scratch the surface of a city’s culture.

These recommendations may not look like rocket science, but trust me folks, you’d be surprised by what being in a country where speaking English is an anomaly does to you. Follow my lead and I promise your experience will be ~priceless~.

On Running a Lonely First Marathon in a Foreign Country

The blaring red numbers on the big electronic pacemaker ahead read 3:15. Beside it, an Italian man with a thick black beard waves a flag marked Kilometer 28, and he yells something unintelligible as I pass him. It has been 3 hours and 15 minutes since I began running, and it is pouring rain. I lost feeling in my feet around Kilometer 15- except in my toes, which rub uncomfortably against each other in my soaking wet socks with every step I take.


Just ahead of me, a group of middle-aged women suddenly dart to the side, and it doesn’t cross my mind why they might do so until my left foot drops directly into a giant puddle, and frigid water immerses my foot to the ankle bone. Since it’s only Kilometer 28, I still have another 2 Kilometers until the next rest stop, where sweet-looking elderly women will toss me mushy bananas and urge me to drink orange Powerade. I don’t particularly like bananas or Powerade but I’ve already eaten two and a half bananas and the front of my white t-shirt is a mixture of orange Powerade, rain, and sweat.


Kilometer 28. The voice of the Spanish woman I befriended at the starting line, who has run 3 other marathons in her lifetime, echoes in my head: “It’s really at kilometer 30 that your body changes.” Kilometer 30?! I’ve been spontaneously cramping up for the past 40 minutes!


This is my first marathon. I suppose it wasn’t my best idea to run 26.2 miles on cobblestone in a country whose language I don’t speak, but the truth is that I really really wanted to be able to say, “oh yeah, I ran a marathon in Rome.” IN ROME. THAT SOUNDS SO BADASS. TELL ME IT DOESN’T. I DARE YOU. I also wanted to do it for myself. I wanted to prove to my perpetually self-deprecating self that I wasn’t simply athletic, but that I could get through 42 kilometers and lift my fist in victory. In the weeks, days, hours before the marathon as I ran countless miles around Edinburgh while the rest of my abroad friends sat in cafes, all I could think about was crossing the finish line and being able to say I did it.


I can’t be the only one, right? I’m sure there that out of the 13,000 runners that registered for the Rome Marathon, plenty also signed up to add running such a distance to their list of accomplishments.


And yet, at Kilometer 28, I was the most pessimistic I have been in my life. Suddenly, signing up and committing to running this marathon seemed not only pointless and foolish, but also incredibly lonely. It was just me and my thoughts and this stupid slippery cobblestone, and trust me, we weren’t getting along.


But then it was kilometer 30. I had just choked down yet another banana and started trudging along again, when all of a sudden I hear loud cheering start up behind me.


“Andiamo ragazzi!” yell the voices. “Let’s go guys!”


The cheering gets louder and louder as the runners around me pick up the chant as we move along: “Forza Italia, forza Italia!”


I turn around mid-stride to see what all the commotion is about when without warning, the crowd of runners behind me clears, and there emerges a elderly man in a wheelchair, being pushed on either side by two younger versions of him, who I instantly recognize as his sons. All three men have curly black hair and wear matching shirts with the Italian flag printed on the back. The father in the wheelchair raises his fists in triumph and laughs. The clear joy on his face radiates from his body and visibly seems to spread to the rest of the runners around him.


I watch the group pass and move in front of me in amazement as the next wave of runners catch on and begin to yell, too.


Suddenly, the mood has shifted, and we all feel it. A thin, blond woman to my right begins to clap encouragement: “se possono farlo così possiamo!” she yells at me and all the runners to my left. I later learn this means, “If they can do it, we can do it!”


I am still soaking wet. My body still hurts more than it ever has, I am sure I have fully lost feeling in my feet, but now I find myself smiling from ear to ear. I make eye contact with another runner who is also smiling, and he winks and nods encouragingly as I pass him.


And then, I realize that all these people running alongside me- almost all 13,000- aren’t really running for the title of marathon runner. They’re running because being a part of this race and sharing the pain as well as the monumental joy a small thing like a cup of powerade will bring makes you feel as though you’re a part of something bigger. Something that’s bigger than your own personal ambition, bigger than the tinge of pride you may feel in handing in a report to your boss after a long night at the office. It’s a feeling of solidarity that expands past the constraints of your chest and blossoms into a monumental joy that you know the runner next to you is feeling just by looking at them.


At kilometer 35, less than 5 miles from the finish line, I spot an extremely fit elderly couple ahead of me. They hold hands even as they run, and the backs of their green t-shirts read “50 years today- 4/2/17.” The warmth in my chest strengthens.


I pass a dark haired man in a striped yellow and red shirt that has been slightly in front of me the entire race. He’s stopped running completely and is leaning over with his hands on his knees. I don’t speak Italian, but I jog over to him and clap him on the back. He looks up at me in surprise, his tired blue eyes widening, and I smile and nod.


“Andiamo, Andiamo!” I say encouragingly. We’re so close to the finish line. There’s no way he’s giving up now. The man smiles, the pronounced lines around his eyes crinkling, in something that resembles relief? Gratitude? He nods, as though reinforcing my cheering in his mind, and begins to jog with me. For a few seconds, we jog in silent appreciation of each other, both complete strangers, but both with the level of respect and admiration that can only come from running an entire marathon together. For the past few miles, the rain has lessened into a drizzle, but as we round yet another corner, it suddenly begins to downpour. The wind unexpectedly picks up, and I stagger as it pushes against me, as though willing me to just give up. There is a crowd of people near the finish line, a larger crowd than the average amount we’ve been seeing throughout the race, and they yell and chant encouragement as we trudge past them.


The man in the yellow and red shirt I’ve been running alongside suddenly nudges me with his elbow, snapping me out of my daze. He has his phone out and the camera pointed at us in his extended left hand. “Selfie, Selfie!” he says. He smiles at the camera as we jog, and I laugh at how inane the two of us must look, beaming for a selfie in the pouring rain at mile 24. I lean in and smile with him, and he snaps the picture.


I lost track of that man in the next mile, and I’m not sure what became of him. I hope he finished. I hope the two sons carrying their father finished, as well as the fit couple celebrating their 50th anniversary. I know the odds are that I most likely won’t ever see any of them again. But even as I sit on my couch, icing my shins four days later and writing this blog post, I think of those strangers and I smile, and thank them from the bottom of my heart for demonstrating passion and dedication and real love in a truly grim setting, and for giving some of it to me.




A message to my Cornell classmates: Don’t be like Evan the Senior in Green Chubbies



Ask a junior at Cornell University, an Ivy League school, “hey, what’re you doing after graduation?”

They’ll probably respond, “well, I have an internship with x investment company this summer, and after graduation I’ll be working with them full-time.”

Ask a third-year student at The University of Edinburgh, ranked #19 in the World University rankings, what they’re doing after graduation.

They’ll respond, “Oh, I’m not sure, I’ll probably travel for a couple of years and then start working.”

One of the greatest cultural differences that I’ve noticed during my time in Edinburgh is one that applies not only to Scotland, but most of Europe as well. It’s not the language, or the personalities, or the food (although the concept of Haggis still shocks me), but really the differences in attitudes towards life.


I know, I know. Cornell does not represent all the students in the United States. I know that there are anomalies, different sorts of people that all have different paths. But yes, the phrase “investment company” is a placeholder for the kind of personality I feel dominates Cornell. It’s the Type A personality. The ambitious kind. The kind of person that has to have the best paying job in a cool, big city surrounded by familiarity. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s why we go to an Ivy League University. Most of my friends are like that. God, I’m like that, and it’s incredibly easy to get sucked into the specific environment that permeates places like Cornell where there’s constantly a little voice in your ear whispering “success, success, success.”


One of my closest friends my freshman year had a huge crush on a senior, and we walked by him and his friend sitting at CTP late one night.

“Come talk to them with me, please,” she begged me, stealing shy glances at her crush. I rolled my eyes and let myself be tugged towards the door. “Alright, Alright.”

Once inside, I got stuck talking to her crush’s friend while the two of them flirted on the other side of the booth. His name was Evan, and he wore a bright blue Ralph Lauren polo shirt and green Chubbies shorts.

“So, Allegra,” he drawled, draping an unfamiliar, heavy arm over my shoulder.

“Where are you working this summer?” I looked at him.

“Um, I’m not,” I said, fiddling with the end zipper of my sweater. “I’m just playing tennis this summer, and practicing.” I lifted my chin, determined not to let Evan the Senior in Green Chubbies intimidate me. Evan scrutinized me, narrowing his eyes, before throwing back his head and laughing loudly. “You’re feisty,” he said, looking me up and down. “I like it.”

I had decided I didn’t like Evan or the arrogance he radiated, and I crossed my arms and glared at him. I said nothing.

“Well, guess where I’m working,” he smirked. He raised an eyebrow and shook his head slightly, moving his wavy brown hair to the side in a strangely Justin Bieber-esque way. He didn’t wait for me to answer.

“J.P. Morgan. Yup.” He nodded proudly.

“After I got the job,” he started, leaning in towards me conspiratorially. He beckoned me closer to his face with a wave of his hand and reluctantly, I inched myself a tiny bit closer to him. “I got myself this watch.” Suddenly, Evan whipped his left hand up, almost smacking me in the face, and shoved his wrist towards me. The watch was a Rolex, and was indeed beautiful, with a shiny silver and gold band and sleek, black interior. “That’s right,” Even whispered, nodding in satisfaction at my gaze. “Guess how much it cost.”

I looked at him in disbelief, shaking my head.

“Are you kidding me?”

Evan leaned in even closer until his face was inches from mine. I leaned back until I felt my head touch the wall behind me. His breath smelled of beer and stale pizza.

“You don’t even want to know,” he whispered seductively.


I guess I should say I speak for myself when I talk about feeling a need to be successful, perhaps in the way Evan does, though I wouldn’t go so far as to buy a $20,000 watch. About feeling a slight pressure to discuss certain big-name companies I interviewed with, but not others, because the more famous companies sound more impressive.


I learn a lot at Cornell. I’ve learned how to write an essay (correctly). I’ve learned how to understand microeconomic theories (barely). I’ve learned a vast amount about all kinds of subject matter from some of the most intelligent people in the world.


But living in a foreign country forces you to accept different worldly perspectives in a way that Cornell could never teach me. I met another business student from the University of Edinburgh who talked to me about a four-month period she spent building huts in Lima, Peru.


Karina shook her head in amazement during our conversation, remembering.

“It wasn’t until I was back at a desk the next summer that I realized how important my work in Peru had been,” she told me as we sat in a coffee shop in Edinburgh.

“Every morning you’d wake up surrounded by people who have virtually nothing to look forward to. And yet they were all still infinitely happier than people we know right now that have six-digit salaries.” She took a sip of her latte.

“And you’d get out of bed,” Karina said, looking me in the eye, “and help them stack on just one more wooden board on the base of their future home, and somehow, they’d become even happier.”

“It was experiences like those that really made me realize the value of tangible work- of being able to point at a physical object and say, ‘I helped make that, and it made someone the happiest person on this Earth.’”

Every person’s measure of success is different, may it be in the form of a Rolex watch, or owning a company, or having a big family, or all three. But the truth is that most of us are almost guaranteed some degree of success by simply graduating from a university like Cornell. And the even greater truth is that we don’t necessarily have our entire lives to learn lessons about tangible accomplishments like my friend Karina.


If I had never come to study abroad, I would have never met Karina or learned her story. The man that served me my coffee this morning is a 30-year old Spaniard, living in the U.K. for the sole purpose of learning English well enough to be able to get a job back in Spain in a couple of years. Talking to him has shed some much-needed light on my unnecessary anxiety over getting the best internship this summer.


It is easy, so, so easy, to get a job right out of college and say “this is it. This is what I wanna do.” And say you’ll travel when you have years and years of money saved up so you can go to the best places. But since when are we the same people we were two years ago? How do you know that the job you’re committing your life to now is the job you’ll want to do forever? Don’t you realize you have so much time to decide?


I suppose the point of my post today isn’t so much to share another funny story about my air-headedness or the most recent delicious restaurant I ate black pudding at, but more so to share my reflection of what it has meant to live in a world where not everybody has everything completely sorted out, and the relief that has brought me. I would like to share, for anyone that cares, that I, Allegra Hanlon, am not 100% sure about what I want out of life, and I am publicly thanking my time living in a place that’s not Cornell for helping me realize that that is OK.


So if you’re anything like me, take that trip to Europe (or Asia, or Australia, or wherever) you passed up because you want to work. Or even if you do know what you want, which is amazing, and good for you, STILL go because I promise you you’ll learn something you wouldn’t have otherwise, and that will help you somehow in the workforce. Don’t be like Evan the Senior in Green Chubbies. Go explore the world.


I promise, and anyone who has travelled will promise you, too. The experience is priceless.






Do you know the Baklava Man?? (He’s a little too nice…)

The Baklava Man’s name is Carlos, and he is Turkish. Please do not ask me why a Turkish man would be called Carlos, I have no answers.

I first heard of Carlos the Baklava Man when I, in typical sweet-tooth fashion, happened to be searching for dessert after lunch one day and wandered into a Turkish supermarket. I observed the stale-looking packaged baklava* on display at the front of the store and asked the girl behind the counter, who looked to be around my age, how much it would cost. *For reference, this is what a piece of baklava looks like:

“Oh no,” she responded disdainfully, shaking her head. She raised one perfectly shaped thick black eyebrow and beckoned me to her, leaning in conspiratorially. Having absolutely zero clue what she would say, I hesitantly approached her, and she reached down and slapped a business card on the counter between us with a flourish. She winked at me.

“You want good baklava? This is the best baklava in Edinburgh, I promise you.”

I laughed and picked up the card, expecting your average business card, including a traditional bakery name in bold letters, followed by a mailing address and an email address. However, this business card was not only bright blue, but it was entirely in Turkish, and the only discernable handwriting looked to be a 7-digit phone number.

Well then. I looked at the girl in confusion. “Isn’t there an address?” I asked her. “Where would I go?”

“Trust me.” The girl winked at me. “His name is Carlos. He makes it at home and delivers right to your door.” I thanked her and slipped the card in my back pocket. Just as I was heading out the door, she called to me, “tell him Rabia recommended you!”

I promptly forgot about the incident, and it isn’t until a week later that I am folding my laundry and find the business card in my jean pocket. I hesitate for a second, staring at the 7 digit telephone number. The idea of a random man from only a semi-credible source (sorry Rabia) coming to my house seemed a bit sketchy, but I quickly brushed the thought from my mind. Because hey, it’s abroad, you’re supposed to try new things, and I’m just being ridiculous, right? So I dial the number, and after a few rings, a very deep voice picks up on the other end.

“Halo,” it says in a thick accent.

“Hi!” I say cheerfully. “Can I make an order of baklava for delivery, please?”

Suddenly, the voice on the other end sounds suspicious.

“Who is this?” it demands. “Where you get dis number.”

I slightly panic.


Oh, god. I rack my brain, trying to remember the name of the girl at the Turkish supermarket.

“Um, uh, Rafia! I mean Rabia!” I say excitedly, the name flashing in my mind. “I’m Allegra, and um, Rabia said you, um, make baklava?”

There is a moment of silence on the other line, and I stop my anxious pacing around my dorm room to listen. Then there’s a loud belly laugh.

“Ah, Rabia! You Rabia special friend?”

I’m not sure what a “special friend” constitutes exactly-it definitely doesn’t cover a one time conversation- but I say, “uh, yeah!”

The voice on the other hand laughs again. “Okay,” it says, as though it has come to an important decision.
“You Rabia’s special friend, so I give you special price!! What is your address?”

Without thinking, I spit out my address, and before I know it I’ve got a baklava delivery for Sunday at 3pm. I hang up the phone and exhale loudly.

That Sunday, I find myself outside my dorm building waiting for Carlos at 2:55pm. At 3:05pm, I receive a text saying, “will be10 minutes ok sorry xx.,” and at 3:15pm, a rusty red Toyota screeches to a stop in front of my door, out of which steps a man who looks to be my dad’s age, with dark skin, a bit of a beer belly, and a balding head of black hair. He smiles widely when he sees me, revealing a shiny gold tooth.

“Allegra!” he says, waving his arms in flourish.

He seems nice enough, so I smile and wave. “Hi!” I say. “Carlos, right?” Carlos pulls a large cardboard Dominos Pizza Box and walks up to me. He looks me up and down shamelessly. “So nice to meet you, Allegra!” he says.

I feel slightly uncomfortable about the way this interaction is going so far, but I really do want Baklava but at the same time I am not sure why Carlos is holding a pizza box. Carlos opens the pizza box and reveals about 100 pieces of crispy, honey-filled baklava, all beautifully stacked in rows.

“Wow.” I can’t help admiring. “It looks so good.”

“Made dis morning!” Carlos says proudly. “Now open your mouth.” He pulls out a sliver of baklava and holds it in front my face expectantly.

“Excuse me?” I stare at Carlos, unsure how to react.

“Open your mouth,” Carlos insists, waving the piece of baklava around. “So you can try!!” Without thinking, I open my mouth and Carlos pops a piece in.

Wow. It is amazing. Too bad I can’t enjoy the moment because Carlos is smiling slyly at me. There is a moment of silence.

“Okay, then!” I say cheerfully. I frantically dig into my back pocket and pull out a 20 pound note. “Here you go, thank you so much.” I take the pizza box from his arms hand him the 20, and turn around to almost crash into my flatmate Adam, who I later found out had come down to make sure everything was OK.

“Adam!” I exclaim loudly in relief. With my back turned to Carlos, I widen my eyes at Adam and mouth HELP- HE’S CRAZY. Adam is a tall, lanky but good looking Irishman. He can be plenty chatty, but he does not appreciate people touching him and is therefore quite hard to hug.

“Adam, Carlos,” I introduce. “Carlos, Adam.”

“Um, Adam came down because I told him you were bringing baklava and he’s never had any!” I lie. We definitely don’t need Carlos to know Adam is trying to protect me.

Carlos doesn’t catch on to the lie, and his eyes light up when he hears Adam’s never tried his precious baklava.

“Ah, my man!” he cries. “You must try!” He opens the pizza box I am holding, pulls out another piece of baklava and instructs: “open your mouth.” Adam glances at me nervously, and I can’t help but stifle a laugh. He opens his mouth, and Carlos slowly puts a piece in his mouth. Adam chews in silence, stiff as a board beside me.

“Right,” I say, smiling tightly at Carlos. I think we have all had enough of Carlos for one day. “We’re gonna go now, but thank you so much.” I remember that he took the time to drive over and personally deliver Baklava to my door and feel appreciative, until I realize that he knows where I live and could potentially show up any time unannounced. I shake my head, trying to banish the thought from my mind. I’m being ridiculous.

Or am I? As Adam and I turn to leave, Carlos suddenly grabs my hand and kisses it.

He smiles and wiggles his eyebrows suggestively.

“Allegra, I make you baklava whenever you want.” He winks.

I think I offer Carlos something between a smile and a grimace in return, but I cannot honestly tell you because all I remember is desperately wanting to get out of there. “Thanksbye!” I say in one sentence.

I pull my hand away quickly and go inside, where Adam was already holding the door for me, and do not look back.

I am pretty sure that was the first time Adam has been fed anything by someone who isn’t his mother in his entire life. The baklava was incredible, don’t get me wrong, and my flat mates and I devoured it within 48 hours.

However, the experience was a lot to handle in terms of seduction, and I am not sure if I can cave in to my sweet-tooth cravings without putting myself at risk of being taken away to Carlos the Baklava Man’s home and never seen again.

Allegra Hanlon, reporting to you with her account of the Baklava Man. Any comments or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

P.S. This is a picture of me with an entire box of baklava from ANOTHER Turkish bakery in London because I was not brave enough to take a picture with Carlos and his baklava. Can you tell I like baklava??


Realizing it’s not always Great to be an American

Day 2 in Rome, Italy. Gotta say, morale is a bit low. Day 2 followed Day 1, of course, and Day 1 was a struggle. My three friends and I landed in the Ciampino Airport, about a half hour drive to the center of Rome, where we found that the taxi drivers were on strike and the only way to the city was through a single bus, that was surrounded by a huge mob of Italians yelling and pushing their way into its doors.

“Check uber,” I said to my friend Michelle. Michelle, who is a, ah, highly-strung individual as it is, gulped when she checked the app.

“It’s 80 euros,” she told us nervously. After about 15 minutes of the four of us walking back and forth from the Help Desk to the single bus station, we spotted a curb next to the parking lot where suspicious looking black SUVs were lining up and seemed to be taking people away as they approached them.

“Guys, over there!” I pointed. “Let’s try it.”
So for the umpteenth time since our arrival at the airport, me in my green Abercrombie raincoat, and my friends in varying colors of American apparel, all made our way to said curb with our rolling bags, where we realized none of us really spoke Italian.

My friend Rafia, however, had taken Italian for language credits in school years ago, and she hesitantly approached a driver leaning against his SUV. Wearing a sleek black suit and dark sunglasses to match, he looked like something straight out of a movie as he raised his eyebrows suggestively once Rafia was in front of him.

“Perfavore,” she said nervously in soft, broken Italian, “abiamo… andare in città..?”, which roughly translates to “we need to get to the city.” The man peered at Rafia, and looked to where my friends and I were waiting anxiously. He sneered.


Of course, when an Italian family of four approached him, sporting their heritage with Puma Italy soccer jerseys, he slapped the father on the back before ushering them into his car, giving my friends and I a smirk, as if to say, “see, you’re just lousy Americans.”

We managed to find a car to share with two other foreigners about an hour later, who, though they weren’t American, were just as desperate to escape the massive crowd still surrounding the one single bus.

Flash forward to Day 2. In the morning: It’s a beautiful day. Unlike the weather in Scotland, where the presence of the sun makes no difference in the temperature, today in Rome the sky is blue and the sun shines brightly, casting a much missed warmth straight through to our bodies as we step outside. My friends and I spend the morning in the Vatican City exploring its church and marveling at its many many many paintings. By the time we leave at around 1 pm, we’re exhausted and hungry, so I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised when a tall man approaches us just outside the gates of the city and says to us in a jesting manner, “Four angry women! Just like four angry birds!”

We ignore him and continue walking, because he’s not the first man to call out at us in Rome. When he realizes we’re not giving him the time of day, he slithers up right next to my friends and I and spits:

“Fools! You are the reason Trump was elected!” A group of Italian teenagers passing by us chortle in laughter.

At that point my friend, incensed, turns to him and flashes him the finger, to which he laughs menacingly, and we manage to walk away before he says anything else.

Later that night, while at a bar, another man approached my friend Rafia and I with the intention- or at least I assumed- of flirting with us. He must have been in his early 30’s, with a decent amount of greasy black hair on his head and a sleazy smile.

“Hellooo, Ladies,” he sang, sliding his elbow across the bar and propping his head on his hand to look us unabashedly up and down. He winked.

“So,” he said, signaling to the bartender that he wanted a drink, “did you vote for Trump?”

I frowned, sure I had misheard him. Surely this wasn’t the way Italian men tried to pick up women? Talking politics? I mean, I thought I might’ve at least gotten some cheesy line of me being beautiful or something first.

“Did you vote for Trump.” It wasn’t a question this time, it was a statement, as though he already knew the answer to whatever would come out of our mouths. He pursed his lips together, forming a thin, intimidatingly straight line across his face. I looked to Rafia uncertainly, and she looked back at me, equally bewildered.

“No,” I said, raising my chin defiantly.

“No?” The man raised one thick black eyebrow.

“No, we didn’t!” Rafia chimed in indignantly.

“Just because we’re American doesn’t mean we voted for Trump,” I told the man evenly, smoothing my hair back with one hand. “Not all Americans believe in the awful things he has said.”

I was trying to keep a straight face, but inside I was seething. I thought to myself, how DARE this man associate me with Trump? Does he not know how many Americans are just as appalled by him as the rest of the world?!”

And then it hit me. He doesn’t. Of course he doesn’t. All this man knows of America is what he sees in the media. America collectively chose Trump to represent our country. So in his mind, any American he passes on the street must also believe that global warming doesn’t exist. Must also believe that immigrants do not belong in the United States. Must also believe in a great wall, and that Putin is a wonderful man, and all the rest of the outrageous things you read on our president’s Twitter.

The Italian man at the bar scoffed at my response. He didn’t believe me for a second.

Shaking his head in disgust, he simply turned to the other pair of American women beside him and proceeded to ask them the same exact question.

I would like there to be an instant solution to what I experienced. For there to miraculously be a different person, a different situation, shall we say, that I’m associated with when someone outside the U.S. sees and speaks to me and realizes that I’m American.

But in light of the fact that there isn’t, I’ve realized that the best way for me to represent my country is by behaving in a way that makes others think not, “ugh, just another lousy American,” but instead “hey, maybe they’re not all as bad as we think they are.”

In my experience, this means: not being on my phone 24/7, not talking absurdly loudly in English and exclaiming “OMG” at everything that looks Italian because come on people, we’re in Italy, and lastly, trying to authentically and correctly learn and speak the language, at least while I’m there.

I think I finally learned my lesson by my last day in Italy. By then, I had grown frustrated by the lack of attention the locals were giving us simply because I wasn’t playing my part. Having eaten at least one gelato in Italy every day, by day 8 I had picked up the necessities, and on our last trip to one of Rome’s local gelato shops, I stepped up to the bar determined to at least ask for a freaking gelato in perfect Italian.

Repeating the right words over and over again in my mind as I made eye contact with the attendant expectantly waiting for me to speak, I opened my mouth:

“Scusi,” I stammered, feeling heat rush to my cheeks. I smiled nervously and pointed at the flavor I wanted.

“Un cono… di cioccolate fondente. Perfavore,” I added, which translates to “one cone of dark chocolate, please.”
The elderly man behind the counter smiled at me, his eyes crinkling at the corners.

“Cioccolato,” he corrected me gently, handing me a giant serving of chocolate gelato.

“Grazie per aver provato. ” He nodded approvingly, and moved away to help the next customer.

Later that night, I asked an Italian friend of mine what that meant. It meant, Thank you for trying. Italian men are known for infamously showering women on the streets with flattery, and trust me, I got some of that as well, but those last four words were easily the greatest compliment I received on my trip. Hopefully, the next time that man is approached by a group of gaggling, insufferable American girls, he thinks of me instead.

P.S. Here is a photo of a time an Italian barista liked me because my name is Allegra, which means “happy” in Italian (and in Spanish), and so he spelled my name in my cappuccino 😉

When Abroad isn’t Everything you Expected

One thing I really wish someone had told me before coming abroad was that it isn’t always going to be fabulous. That, my friends, is the truth. Nearly every person I talk to that has gone abroad has nothing but positive things to say about their trips upon their return:

“Omg I went to the COOLEST places!”

“Ugh I met the most INCREDIBLE people.”

“You have to go eat at this restaurant it’s SO GOOD.”

Which, is great, of course. It makes me happy that all the people I talked to have had such amazing experiences. But as a result, us newcomers, in the weeks, days, hours before our departures to whatever foreign city we’ve meticulously researched and decided to live in, create definitive expectations of how our time abroad will be. We can’t help it. I suppose I should be speaking for myself when I say I thought I would meet my best friends ever right away. I thought I would meet them in the first week, we’d bond in such a way that it’d seem we were meant for each other, and then we’d jet off to the south of France and take incredible pictures by the ocean with a warm breeze blowing our hair back, like these Victoria’s Secret models:

Nobody tells you that in January, it’s highly unlikely that it will be above 40 degrees ANYWHERE in Europe, let alone Scotland. Granted, I knew it would be cold, but I didn’t imagine taking a 30-minute walk in the face of a massive hailstorm, at the end of which I kind of resembled Rachel McAdams in the rain scene in the Notebook where she reunites with Ryan Gosling, except not nearly as put together:

I KNOW- I envisioned myself being able to walk with all my soul mates to a pub that obviously would play the catchiest Scottish music I’ve ever heard, but nobody told me that it’s actually so hard to dance in a ceilidh, and it’s even harder (AT LEAST FOR ME) to put down an entire freaking pint of beer, which everyone seems to know how to do with ease.

And nobody tells you that sometimes, it’s actually lonely. That at times you’ll find yourself alone at a coffee shop with nobody to laugh to about the last time you screwed up the pronunciation of yet another Scottish word.

And yet, in my experience, it’s the times when you’re alone that you realize you’re beginning to grow. My first week in Scotland, I will 100% admit that the first time I sat in a café by myself, I was freaking miserable because being alone at a café, and not somewhere gallivanting with my Scottish soul mates, was not what I had envisioned for myself. But you know what? I still got myself the best fish and chips I’ve ever had and I damn well enjoyed them. And then I went out and I made an even greater effort to find people I had things in common with.

(These are my Fish and Chips. If you ask anybody what the Scotland cuisine is like, this is it. There’s literally nothing else except haggis, which consists of lamb intestines, and I refuse to put that on my site):

And today? I’ve found myself in Rome, Italy, with a group of amazing girls that no, may not necessarily be my soul mates, but yes, have made my experience travelling greater than I could have ever possibly imagined because they are different than me. They have different interests and passions that force me out of my comfort zone to look at parts of Italy I might have never ventured into if I had been on my own. I came to Italy with these girls on a whim, because I have realized that my time abroad is limited. In speaking with them, I learned that I wasn’t the only person whose integration into their country hadn’t been exactly perfect. I’ve met and spoken to other friends in Rome, Florence, and Budapest who tell me that at times, being abroad is tough. Being in a new country and expecting it to fulfill all the hopes and dreams, and not having it be that way, is hard.


I decided that my post this week wouldn’t be about the adorable exchange I had with the old lady in a coffee shop in Rome, or about all the gelato and pizza I’ve eaten (which, by the way, has been at least one of each every day thus far- YES I KNOW IT’S A LOT, and here are some pictures if you don’t believe me):


I decided it would be a statement- a reminder, if you will, to anyone and everyone who goes or has ever been in a foreign country and has experienced culture shock or loneliness, call it what you wish, and to tell them it’s OKAY. Living in a different world is a challenge, and you, and all of us with you, are brave just by being here. So eat that extra gelato. Hang out with the people who seem cool but you’re not sure if they actually are and decide for yourself. Go on the city tour that you want to go on but seems touristy. Abroad hasn’t been perfect so far, and it won’t be in the future, but at least you’ll look back and find comfort in the fact that at you lived to the fullest (yes I know it’s cheesy but it’s what I got so bear with me).

That’s all I’m trying to do. I’ve definitely gained five pounds in Italy, but for every pound and every unnecessary gelato run has come a new experience and a new memory to cherish in the hopes that one day I can tell my kids, “Guys. This one time, I got a heart-shaped pizza for five dollars with these girls I just met, and it was awesome.”

Allegra vs. The Highland Cows

One of my favorite things to do as a kid was decorate the Christmas tree… okay FINE YES it’s still one of my favorite things to do. My dad would pull out the eggnog, we’d play some Mariah Carey (you guys know what song I’m talking about, and if you don’t go watch Love Actually right now I don’t care if it’s February), and we would all hover around the ornament box trying to find the coolest things to hang up. Because we didn’t just have good ‘ole colored spheres, we had all kinds of plastic food, including apples and lemons, and types of shoes, and I think we even had tin soldiers?? – Mom if you’re reading this, you’ll have to fact check me on that one. My brother actually had not one, but TWO ornaments of his face, crafted specially by him in the first grade, and both of which he would place smack in the middle of the tree, right next to each other. Here is a photo of myself in front of the tree that I instagrammed- not only can you still see Arthur’s ornaments, but it was actually brought to attention by my good friend Michelle in the comments. Thanks Michelle, really.

ANYWAY. This relates to my time in Scotland because not only did we have various ornaments of my brother’s face as well as food, but we also had an ornament of a Highland Cow bought in Scotland. What are highland cows, you ask? Well, they’re a Scottish cattle breed that lives in a very cold, mountainous area of Scotland called The Highlands. Except that they’re not just cows, they have HORNS. Horny cows. But not like horny sexual. You know. Right, okay. So, on the ornament, these cows look adorable. The ornament we’d always put on the tree was actually made of a gingerbread cookie years ago in the shape of the cow’s face, with little gingerbread horns to complete it, and BONUS: after all these years, it still smells a bit like cookies. These cows have extremely thick orangey hair in order to survive Scotland’s hellish winters, and if you look them up on the internet they look like this:


However, this past weekend I was presented with the rare opportunity to see said Highland cows in person and fulfill my childhood fantasy of meeting an animal that smells like gingerbread.

SPOILER ALERT: They do not smell like gingerbread!!!

When the time came on a frigid, blustering Saturday afternoon to feed the coos (because that’s their nickname and yes, these cows have a nickname), me, my friend, and the owner of this farm ventured into the farmland mid-blizzard with a giant bag of grass for them to eat. Being from Miami, I couldn’t help but be miserable as the snow whirled around me while the farm owner, a wonderful woman named Elaine, cupped both hands around her mouth and yelled: “TIME TO EAAAAAATTTT!!!!”

This continued for about five minutes, all of which I highly doubted any sort of animal would be dumb enough to emerge during a blizzard, until all of a sudden I saw one orange head appear in the distance.. then two, then three. And then all of a sudden thirty giant orange blimps were sprinting towards us at a surprisingly fast pace.

“They’re not going to hurt us, right?” I nervously said to Elaine as she began filling a set of bins with grass. Elaine laughed.

“Of course not, they’re just cows!!”

And then the coos were upon us, and everything was fine as they lingered over their grass feast. Until finally, the grass was all gone, and the massive cows turned towards the three of us standing there with empty bags.

Now, please keep in mind these aren’t cute little ducks or anything. They are COWS with HORNS, and until you’ve actually seen a cow in person, I think it’s a bit hard to bear in mind how big they are. Think of a sumo wrestler. With horns. And then multiply that by 30. For a few seconds, I simply stood and stared.

“Time to go!” Elaine said cheerfully, and she turned around to head back to the jeep on which we came. HAH, GOOD ONE. My friend and I alternatively chose to walk backwards, which might have been more frightening because with each backwards step we could see just how close these animals were to us.

“Elaine, do they normally get so close?” I yelled to her as we began to head faster and faster back to the jeep.

“No, actually.”

It was all I could do to keep falling over. Until I did fall over, into a very small ditch, and I panicked.

“Veronica, I AM SO FREAKING SCARED RIGHT NOW,” I yelled at my friend, frantically brushing the snow off my body as I fast-walked to the jeep.

“You don’t have to yell, I’m right here!” She screamed in my ear, equally panicked.

Moments before my fall (please forgive the poor quality of the photo):


A few seconds later we were in the jeep, safe from the coos and their horns, and everything was fine. In retrospect, Elaine must have thought Veronica and I were complete wimps, though she withheld her laughter and proceeded to make us cake for dinner (shout out to Elaine). All this to say: if you ever find yourself in the Highlands of Scotland- refrain from touching the coos, they are more dangerous than you think!!! I’ll say it again for good measure- moral of the story: DO NOT PET THE COOS.

My Flatmates and Shia LaBeouf

When you enter my flat (because it’s not an apartment it’s a flat), the first thing you’ll see is a piece of paper taped to the kitchen door that reads “JUST DO IT” in very messy handwriting. You make a right turn into a hallway with 5 bedroom doors on the left side and two bathroom doors on the right, and the next thing you see on the wall is this:

Yes, that is a picture of Shia LaBeouf making what appears to be a guttural noise and gesture to match. And yes, those are two motivational quotes he says (no, yells at the top of his lungs is more like it) in a video he apparently made for fun on YouTube titled “Just Do It.” My flatmates, two other girls and two guys, took inspiration from this video to help motivate one of the guys, who we will call James, ask a girl out on a date.

If you walk down the hall, you are confronted with several more lovely pictures of our man, who we refer to as Shia, as well as other quotes that will serve to motivate you in whatever endeavor you may be struggling with, such as:

FACT: Thanks to good ‘ole Shia and my adorably concerned flatmates, James did ask his crush out, and they have been dating for 2 months now. Of course, the Shia portraits and inspiration phrases are still up.

I figure if I’m going to allow my readers to get to know me and my experiences while in Europe, they might as well get to know who I’m living with, right? So this is just one example that gives you a VERY VERY SMALL taste of what they’re like. And while I was a bit weirded out when I first walked into the apartment and found 6 Shia LaBeouf photos (okay yes I thought they were insane and worried my sense of humor wouldn’t be, ah… out-of-the-box enough for them), since then I’ve come to the conclusion that they are all absolutely wonderful and I am lucky to be living with them.

Three of my flatmates are Physics majors, and one of them is a Biological Sciences major. This is odd for me for several reasons:

  1. I am an English major. While I am taking a class called Place & Space in Literature, which is absolutely fabulous and in which you have deep discussions about how and why a certain place might be important to you, they all take a class together called Physics 1B: Stuff of the Universe. When we were all still getting the formalities out of the way and sitting around the kitchen, I once made the mistake of asking what exactly that entailed. “Well,” one flatmate began, his eyes lighting up with interest, “right now it’s about what happens when you shine light through a single slit, a double slit, or a crystal!” I honestly didn’t know whether to respond by  a) asking more questions and making myself look stupid, or b) trying to change the subject to something English-y they might not care about, so I awkwardly stood up and started washing the dishes.
  2. When, on the rare (VERY RARE) occasion I find myself drinking too many glasses of wine, I will play music I very much enjoy and ask people about their feelings*

*I know this is weird, but I’m an emotional person and I believe in love and everyones’ happiness and I like to talk about it, it’s fine, it’s less weird than it sounds once you get to know me.

When it’s my flatmates that drink too much wine, however, they don’t talk feelings but instead make graphs. Yes, you read correctly. GRAPHS. Exhibit A:


As translated to normal people terms (aka me) by my flatmate:”sexual frustration oscillates in proportion to self loathing, and are therefore represented by (T) the horizontal axis as time, and E/J on the vertical axis as energy in joules.”

I’ll leave you as the reader to attempt to decipher what that may mean, because I haven’t taken any sort of mathematics class in two years, nor do I intend to in the future.

Cumulatively speaking, my flatmates are very different from me, as well as from each other. One was raised in Northern Ireland, the other in Cambridge, England. One could easily have a drink with her mother, while the other wouldn’t dream of it. I think I am the first Colombian my flatmates have ever met, and the only knowledge of  sororities or fraternities they have is from American Pie. 

And yet, they are a family. They were one when I got here, and since then have made some room for me as well. At the end of the day, that’s the whole point of life, isn’t it? It’s being able to go to a place, meet people who you might have never have known of but who have somehow come into your life, and let them in so that everything that’s different about them somehow becomes a part of who you are.

I think that’s why some people study abroad, because maybe they need a break from the same old circumstances and people from home they’ve been around so much they’ve become sick of them. (To my friends at home: NO THAT’S NOT MY CASE). I don’t think that’s why I’m in Scotland. I think I’m here because I saw the opportunity to do something, go somewhere that’ll make me a better version of myself, and I took it. My flatmates aren’t perfect. They’re not what I thought they would be like, but I couldn’t have expected that- how boring would life be anyway if it were everything you always expected it would be?

They’re wildly different from me, I’m wildly different from them, and collectively we’re wildly different from each other, and yet we are a family. All we can do is take what each person can give and make ourselves better because of it, and I am so so grateful.

P.S. Here is the video of Shia LaBeouf’s “Just Do It”. Watch it. It’s hilarious:





Class Blog: Voices from Cornell Abroad

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