Culture

When I moved to Washington, D.C. eight months ago for a Capitol Hill internship in a Senator’s office, my mom told me I should keep my options open and that I could stay for the summer if the opportunity arose. I immediately pushed the idea aside. I had a job as a summer teller at a credit union waiting for me at home in upstate New York. It paid pretty well, wasn’t stressful, and I liked my coworkers. I couldn’t see giving up a sure thing. Plus, I had just finished a semester abroad in Denmark and I figured that by the end of the semester I would be more than ready to just have a relaxing “last summer at home before I graduate from college.”

Less than a month later I had been asked to stay and work in the Senator’s campaign office after my official Hill internship ended in May.

I definitely struggled with this choice, although almost all the outside advice that I got was to go for it. Ultimately, I listened to those voices and felt that I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to continue working on issues that interest me and for a person who I believe in. The opportunity to beef up my resume sweetened the deal.

Ultimately, once this opportunity arose I knew it wouldn’t be smart to turn it down. I can say for sure that I don’t want to be a bank teller “when I grow up.” I don’t know exactly what I what I want to be, but I do know that my time in our nation’s capital inspired me to want more for myself and I felt like I fit. For the first time I was surrounded by other people my age that wanted to talk about politics, or what was going on in the world, or what made us happy or mad or sad. Our elected officials, even in the midst of the “do-nothing congress,” inspired me, and I had the opportunity to see them in person, passionately speaking on important issues in hearings or on the Senate floor. I rode in an elevator with John McCain and I ran into Barbara Boxer struggling with her luggage at Union Station. For a political science nerd like myself, it was heaven.

hannah cohen CJ pic 1

My experience had low points as well. At the end of the spring semester, most of the amazing friends that I made left for the summer. Some of the new-ness of the experience wore off and reality set in. I decided that I wanted to come back to DC after I graduate in December, but I started to realize how many amazing, smart, talented people have the same plan that I do. It is definitely not going to be easy to move back to a city where I don’t know many people and try to start a life. The blueprint I have in my head for that life is definitely blurrier now than it was in March or April.

Here’s what I know: I’m going to give it a shot. The past eight months have been an experiment in stepping outside of my comfort zone. This is not something I have been historically known to do, but I decided it was time for me to make a little bit of an effort. I have also had to stop and cut myself some slack and remember that I am only twenty years old and I have time to figure things out. There have been moments where I have been so uncomfortable or nervous that I wanted to quit, but I have gotten through those moments and I am proud of myself for that. So that is the headspace I am trying to maintain. A lot of smart people have told me to have a plan, but to be flexible, because life is an unpredictable beast. As I start my last semester as an undergrad and make plans for afterwards, I am keeping that in mind.

CultureEducationTravel

“Religious workshop, community service, a week of intense physical activity, poverty, culture shock, and sacrifices” were my thoughts before traveling to Villa el Salvador, Peru for a Mission Trip. Coming from a fairly religious family, I expected my trip to consist of seven suns packed with muscle-work and seven moons dimmed by some sort of meditation retreat. I spent the entire week packing and preparing; in other words, trying to resist the temptation of not stuffing my excess clothing into the suitcases that were strictly intended for donation items. My departure was scheduled for Friday afternoon and until then, I crammed my final days with shopping for closed shoes since I was warned of the infamous desert sand that apparently snuck its way into any sneaker. Light and semi-heavy coats that were also essential in the shivering dusk till’ dawn air. My worries were farthest from pondering about what I would actually do during the mission, far from mentally preparing myself for what I was about to see and experience, and far from actually thinking about the skill and understanding I needed when four days later, I was to be named the decision-maker of whether the Salazar family was going to ration their leftover rice again or eat the delicacy of fried meat for dinner that night. My last minute nature insisted I do something about my expired passport 16 hours before my flight. I set my alarm clock for 5:00 a.m. that Friday morning only to stand in a jaw-dropping line in the middle of downtown Miami where you could feel the hundreds of cameras eyeing you; policemen suspiciously glancing at you, and where fingerprint requirements were as common as signing papers.

After miraculously issuing a passport in one day, missing a flight, and rushing to catch another, I was on my way to Peru. Welcomed by an unexpected cup of airport Starbucks coffee and multiple warm hugs from my fabulous friends, the international hub held a façade that was soon unveiled the second the two automatic entrance doors spilled thick, cold, humid air onto my face. The grey sky held dust particles that caused my nose to instinctively scrunch, and the buildings were colorful and shanty. Our driver, Jose, was a short old man dressed in a perfectly ironed button-down shirt with a pair of mismatched pants. He pierced my eyes with his and dismissed all of my insecurities with his inevitably contagious smile. All 19 of us – teenaged, middle aged, and aging – sat crammed in what looked like a real-life version of the miniature Magic School Bus vehicle. Our ice-cold, two-minute, and inedible daily showers were hosted by our own idea of complementary awakening salsa music provided by our iPhone playlists. We, the missioners, grew so attached to one another that some double rooms were left abandoned while others exceeded their maximum capacity as we merged two twin beds together to form one giant bed to squish ourselves into one space as we slept. Our one hour chapel reflection time frame was extended each night as each missioner poured their emotions away into the anonymous dark space, purging away their feelings of shock, guilt, and anger at the socio-economic structure of world.

As instructor of one the religious classes for the teens in one particular parish, I knew the topics we had prepared were going to be unquestionably skewed as there was no way to discuss the so-called “issues” if we did not address the actual dilemmas that the native “students” faced. I realized that they would treat that time preciously, as they found it their only opportunity to discuss their feelings, self-reflect, and consider the direction they were paving for their life. While many classes ended in tears of sorrow, many closed with tears of joy. And while the students, many of whom were my age at the time or a few years younger, believed that my partner and I were the teachers and mentors. I found myself as the student 90% of the time and found myself speechless countless times. “The reason?” you may ask. Well, many of the problems my Peruvian students faced were nothing like the first world problems I faced on a daily basis. These issues ranged from what they had to do in order to acquire up to 30 cents a day or the abuse they had or were undergoing in their personal lives. Their literal survival depended on the choices they made day by day, unlike what I thought were survival problems such as, “I have a flat and haven’t the slightest idea of how to change a tire.” As an obvious result, I “winged” many of my responses due to my growing up in a “bubble,” learned more than I thought possible in a week, and more importantly, the “wake-up call” that was more or less expected, smacked me; tattooing a red mark across my cheek. It was a week of pure catharsis as it had grounded me and centered me in a way no other experience has.

Whether it’s out of the sincerity of your heart, because you are being forced to do so, or for the simple reason of acquiring community service hours, mission trips are the way for you to experience something different and leave that comfort zone you have been clinging onto your entire life. And whether it is traveling to a foreign country or even taking a hike ten miles away from your town, the thought of either can be quite scary due to the expectations that are anticipated. Anything from a language barrier, exposing yourself to another culture, or even not having the slightest idea of what you have just signed up for can make your bones shiver. However, having good support, staying open-minded at all times, and thinking positively is the key to a great experience.

One more thing: expectations will always be blurred and one may never fully know how to prepare emotionally for a mission or volunteer trip. For our mission team, “Mision Manos Hermanas,” we had monthly meetings to give the newcomers an idea of what we were going to face and what was expected of each person. This included testimonials from previous missioners, an infinite amount of raw photos taken previous years, and a detailed presentation of our daily schedule (that, of course, was altered when it needed to be). However, each trip is totally subjective as it depends on what you make of it. The only advice I would ever give anyone would be to let go of any egos, begin to detach yourself of material possessions as soon as possible (including my lifelong illusion that you need makeup), and prepare to be flexible with yourself. In other words, prepare to use your adaptation skills as they are needless to say, vital.

Both of my summers in Peru, the first because my parents implied I had to go and the second because I voluntarily signed up, were educationally enriching, refreshing, and foundational. My friends in Villa el Salvador are unforgettable souls that hold a treasured spot in my heart. As one of the most memorable and humbling experiences of my life, I highly recommend taking a mission trip. “What should I expect?” they ask, to which I will always reply, “Anything.”

 

CultureEducationTravel

Studying abroad is a big, fantastic, life-changing decision. Kudos to you for making the choice to do it, but now you’ve got a question to answer for yourself: where will I go?

During my junior year of college, I left my little North Carolina university for a semester as an exchange student at a university in Singapore, where I knew no one, about as far across the globe as I could possibly go. Choosing such an unfamiliar location was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, but it wasn’t the easiest.

Some people, like me, are all over the map with potential locations and take a little time to choose the right place. I’ve compiled a list of 10 questions that I consider important to ask about each potential location when making the decision on where you’ll spend the next mini chapter of your life:

1. What is my goal? What do I want to get out of this experience?

Do you want to learn a language or discover new cultures? Escape your comfort zone? Explore incredible nightlife? Meet new people, or remain with current classmates/close friends? Volunteer? Travel easily? While the questions below will guide you in determining the program that meets your academic, social, travel and financial needs, answering them is no use without first having an idea of what you truly want to gain from your experience, and how far out of your comfort zone you’d like to go.

2. What are the potential host countries’ official language(s)?

Do you speak it/them? Do the universities or programs you’re considering offer classes in English, or only the host language? Can you enroll in language lessons?

3. How  are the potential host countries’ political climate?

Is the country and its region fairly stable and safe, particularly for people of your nationality? People are people no matter where you go, and no matter the situation. Danger is not alwaysas imminent as the media likes us to believe (don’t tell your parents I said that). However, safety is vital, political climates can change quickly, and even if they don’t necessarily affect safety, they can affect your ability to do things such as travel, stay out late, etc. The UN and your country’s embassy sites are informative in these situations.  

4. How are the social dynamics?

Is the country LGBTQIA friendly? Are gender roles significantly different there than in your home country? Is it safe and respectful to openly practice your religion there? How are people from  your country generally treated? Is partying and/or drinking normal or frowned upon?

5. What about cost of living?

Are you funding the experience yourself or with help? How much can you spend on it? Are scholarships available? Check out factors like public transportation, food and drink, leisure and cultural, and rent costs. It may actually be very possible to live significantly more cheaply as a student than you’d expect. (While Singapore’s cost of living is very high, research showed me it was fairly simple to keep my costs low using student housing, public transit, groceries, duty-free stores and on-campus food canteens.)

6. What amenities are available?

Will you be using toilets or holes in the ground? Is running water available for showers, laundry etc.? WiFi? What, if any, western-style amenities are you willing to forego?

7. What about food and drinks?

What is the local diet? (Noodles, glutinous sticky rice or Indian and Malaysian breads were in almost every meal I ate in Singapore – it would have been difficult were I gluten free.) Know how well your allergies will be accommodated and whether you’re willing to try unfamiliar meats, veggies and more. How available is clean water? You’ll almost always be able to find bottled and clean options, particularly if studying through a university or established program, but it’s good to at least have an idea how easily you can do that.

8. How’s the weather?

Know your potential locations’ climates, and how important weather is to you. (A friend of mine considered study only in Scandinavian nations because he absolutely loves the cold.)

9. How easily can I travel?

Seeing the world is a big reason many of us study abroad. Can you take buses and trains inexpensively for weekend trips? What is your proximity to other destinations? What budget airlines travel through your location and region?

10. CULTURE?!

Were you wondering if I was ever going to list this one? It felt like a no-brainer, so I almost didn’t. If you don’t have one standout culture that interests you, ask yourself other questions. Do you love the study of religion? Interested in architecture? History? Art? Fashion? Choose a location rich in the things that pique your curiosity and interest.

Tips:

  • Reach out to people who studied in your program: your university will often be able to connect you – just ask. I did this and it gave me lots of insider tips. Most of us love talking about our study abroad experiences, plus, we can tell you things the websites and advisors won’t.
  • ProCon it: a list of potential goods and bads can help you organize your thoughts if you’re really struggling to figure out where you want to be.
  • Don’t freak out: you will have a life-changing experience if you let yourself. The location will affect how your life is changed, and in what ways, but it’s very hard to go wrong in that department.

Study abroad is fun, mind-opening and challenging, and your decision to do it is the most important one! So enjoy the decision making process; put thought into it, but don’t over-analyze. Listen to your heart, and you’ll end up in the right place for you.

Next week, I’ll cover the important topic of financing a study abroad trip.

What suggestions do you have for choosing a study abroad location? Comment below!

Image: Dominik S., Flickr

Skills

I recently had a job interview. It was my first in-person job interview ever. After a lot of hard work and preparation, it was finally time for the interview. The following day, I found out via email that I did not get the job. While the news was disappointing, I did appreciate having an answer so I could move on. This disappointment actually gave me more motivation than I had before. 

I will preface my stance by saying I am currently employed somewhere else. The job I have allows me to pay my bills. I will not starve based on getting rejected for another position. I can understand how rejection can weigh harder on someone else who needs a job for survival.

Even though I did not get the job that I applied for, there were benefits to the experience. I am a believer that you can learn something from everything you do in life. From the interview, I became aware of things I needed to work on. For example, while I was confident in my appearance and my handshake, I realized that I needed to be more present in the moment. I had learned little about the company, and I could have prepared better by doing more research. I also thought of answers to sample interview questions. However, when questions I was not prepared for came up, I drew a blank. There were long pauses in the interview. As I scrambled for an answer, I became less confident. I learned that I need to work on improving my ability to think on my feet.

After my first interview, I am less nervous for the next one and any that may come after that. I have experience to draw from. I have ways to improve. Even if I did not get this job, I have a better chance of getting one in the future by growing from my failure rather than by wallowing in it. No matter how your interview goes, if you keep developing and try your best, you should feel good about it.

My last point is that even if you get rejected from a job, you are not a failure. Despite expressions to the contrary, you can fail a class, but there is no such thing as failing at life. If you do not get a job, you simply are just not right for the job at the moment. It does not mean you will not be the right person for the job in the future. There is always time to improve. Learn your lessons now so when your time comes, you will be ready.
Image: Caro Wallis, Flickr

CultureTravel

You’re standing at the foot of a church built in 1147 with colored glass windows like nothing you’ve ever seen before. The air smells like smoke and you can’t understand what anyone is saying. You bounce from restaurant to restaurant, indulging in the local faire, only to find out that “black pudding” isn’t really pudding after all. You never thought you could experience so much joy, terror and excitement all in the course of one day.

This is only one of the experiences I’ve had traveling; equal parts daunting and surreal. I’d had experience traveling in Europe before, just never on my own. But when I was invited to visit my stepbrother in Vienna, my friend and I packed our bags and never looked back.

Having been to eight European countries in the course of my life so far, I’ve embraced the concept of traveling. Not only do I long to see more of the world, but I’m starting to fully understand what travel can teach you. For all the hours we spend in the classroom, there is nothing quite as enlightening and growth promoting as leaving home for a few weeks.

In the time I spent abroad, I learned more about the countries I was in than I ever would have by reading a textbook. I got to witness a type of natural, idyllic beauty that I only could’ve pictured in a dream. In the same week, I took my first subway ride…with signs I couldn’t read, might I add.

Whether you’re journeying to Croatia or Cuba, you’re forced to experience a culture that is nothing like your own. You’ll struggle to communicate with the locals and learn to not fall into traditional tourist traps. You’ll meet people that’ll change you. And, most importantly, you’ll develop a patience and understanding for others that you may not have developed on your own.

As much as I love drinking from coffee cups the size of my head, I realize that not everyone has the opportunity to travel as much as I did. Luckily, there are plenty of opportunities to cut the cost of your trip. Eliminate hotel costs by using sites like airbnb or hostelworld. Staying at a hostel gives you the opportunity to meet other travelers, while staying at someone’s home gives you the chance to live like a local.

Another great way to travel is by volunteering or working abroad. What better way to experience another culture than by giving back to the community? Organizations like Volunteering Solutions provide inexpensive opportunities to lend a helping hand, while workaway has a list of hosts who need help with their businesses or routine tasks. Last but not least, check what kinds of study abroad programs your school offers. Many schools offer countless scholarship opportunities, making the trip more affordable than you think.

To this day, I think the most important aspect of traveling is the memories. The rolling hills of Wales, gothic architecture of Prague and wine country of Avignon are all still vivid pictures in my mind. It’s not about the photographs, but the feeling; the part of you that has changed and the part of you that yearns to go back.

Image: Unsplash

Travel

This is amazing! It’s your first summer in New York City. You’re here for pre­-college classes, checking out universities, taking summer courses, interning, working, or simply shopping, eating, and being a tourist. It’s the city that never sleeps, a place romanticized by movies and glorified by those who live here.

Well. Sort of. If you know anything about NYC, you know it has its rough patches. New Yorkers are known for their direct and fast paced attitudes, always rushing around stylishly but quickly. In the summer, the tempo of the city changes. Tourists flood in and some New Yorkers leave. But those who stay, like yours truly, are forced to weather through some of the not­-so-­pleasant things about being in NYC in the summer. These are a few things you should know before coming to New York City.

1. It is hot.

That explains everything. The grouchy taxi drivers. The simmering concrete. The wet sensation under your arms and the uncomfortable chill of the train if you’ve been sitting too long. NYC summers are hot. Commuting feels nasty. This year has been pretty tame, but usually the temperature hits triple digits. NYC summers are hit­-the­beach, break-­the-­fire­-hydrant, egg­-on-­the-­sidewalk hot. Advice: drink water, stay indoors or have indoor trips until 3pm­ish, and pack lightly. Mornings around 7-­9am and evenings around 6-­8pm are commuter hours and you don’t want to be stuck next to the sweaty businessman and a woman with her crying baby. I recommend that you do your summer intensives or other courses during a more relaxed time in case you have to lug supplies or textbooks around. If you insist on going outside, keep the heat in mind.

2. Watch out for mosquitoes.

Yes. Mosquitoes. Did you think that being in a city full of skyscrapers and asphalt would save you from those little monsters? You’re sadly mistaken. I sit here telling you to beware of the mosquitoes, but I have five bites on my legs just from walking to the grocery store. What’s so unique about NYC mosquitoes? They’re intense. My friend from the West coast says that they are nastier biters here than where she’s from, so be warned!

Even as a seasoned New Yorker, I haven’t overcome this itchy nightmare. It does not matter who you are or where you’re going. If you breathe and if you have blood, you’re going to be mosquito food. You can either simply accept that you’ll get bitten (as I have) or you can avoid going outside, especially at night. The crazy thing is they seem to be everywhere, even indoors and in the middle of the day. They cling to people’s clothing, and with all the moving around, it’s no wonder they are everywhere. There are bug sprays and lotions you can use to keep mosquitoes away, but there really isn’t an escape. Best of luck.

3. Avoid moving­-in nightmares.

If you’re a college student looking to live outside the dorms for the semester, you better find an apartment, and fast! Students who are coming back for fall are going to start moving, or moving back, and you want to make sure you find somewhere to stay during this rush. Start looking for places now and if you’re lucky, you’ll find something you like within your budget.

New York is a great place to spend the summer if you know your way around. Even if you don’t, you’ll get the hang of where you are and what trains to take quickly. There are a lot of things to do and see, and as long as you’re aware of how to take care of yourself, you will be just fine. Remember to stay hydrated and to take it easy. Enjoy the city, and make it a summer to remember!

Image: Unsplash

CultureEducationSkillsTravel

Animal rescue shelters have become an increasingly popular destination for travelers looking to “voluntour”. For students or recent graduates, particularly those who are new to backpacking, animal shelter volunteering can offer a rewarding and structured environment from which to begin exploring the globe. The allure of living in close quarters with exotic animals while simultaneously being helpful is certainly strong. However, shelter work often takes both a physical and an emotional toll — before you buy your tickets, it’s best to consider all the aspects of working with shelters.

It’s Not Cheap

If you’re searching for a way to backpack through South America on two dollars a day, shelter volunteering isn’t necessarily the best way to go. Almost all shelters require a “volunteer fee” to cover accommodation, food, and any other amenities they may offer. It’s a simple supply and demand situation — because the idea of working with animals has such a pull over travelers, the most established shelters can ask for a large payment and still have a glut of volunteers at their disposal at all times. However, as with all voyages, there are certainly methods of making the trip more affordable. In my own experience, I found that it was best to seek out smaller, independent shelters. While the accommodations are often more austere, these shelters cost much less and are in dire need of more help.

It’s Hard Work

While many shelters’ websites will often place an emphasis on the opportunities to, for example, play with puppies or help “socialize” baby ocelots, the reality is that working with animals is, to a very large extent, manual labor. Cleaning cages, hauling sacks of food and buckets of water — shelter work is always exhausting and often doesn’t even directly involve the animals themselves. Shelter work is also very, very dirty. Working in a shelter, you will come in contact with more poop than you could ever have imagined. Combined with muddy trails and cold showers, you may end up feeling like you have a permanent layer of grime coating your skin.

It Can Be Isolating

Particularly in shelters that provide food and housing, it is easy to forget that there is a whole fascinating and unexplored world outside the grounds. It’s very important to consciously make decisions that will place you in contact with the people outside of the shelter, even through simple tasks like daily chores. When I worked at Animal AWARE dog shelter in Sumpango, Guatemala, the rural location made the shelter seem very far removed from the vibrant culture of the country. However, with the help of a couple other volunteers, I had experiences that I never could have had in tourist-friendly Antigua — I saw outdoor laundry-washing basins and underground produce markets, and I had some of the best street food of my life.

It Can Seem Futile

If you make the decision to volunteer at a shelter, you are deciding to place yourself in an environment where you encounter animals who are experiencing the lowest, most tragic point of their lives. When I worked at ARCAS, a shelter in Flores that received monkeys and birds rescued from illegal trade operations, I was exposed to the sheer brutality of the exotic animal market when I saw a parakeet whose beak had been broken off. Animals in shelters frequently die, and this is a difficult thing to see, particularly coming from more affluent countries where more resources can be directed toward animal welfare.

Ultimately, I found that the rewards of working in animal shelters stemmed directly from the difficulties. The expense of certain shelters forced me to be creative with my budget and my destination. The difficult and intensive nature of the work gave me a greater sense of accomplishment. Most importantly for me, I became much more equipped to deal with minor daily tragedies that accompany the work, an acceptance that made our victories that much sweeter.

Image: Unsplash

EducationSkills

It’s almost that time of the year! In about a month or so, everyone will be lugging their boxes and suitcases  to their respective campuses. You more than likely have thought about the things you want to bring with you, and you probably have even made a list that is about ten pages long. When you realized you couldn’t move your whole house into your dorm room, you shortened that list to two pages. Either way, you’re all set to go to college. The only thing left to worry about are the textbooks you’re going to need for your courses.

Compared to finding a store that hasn’t yet sold out of Twin XL sheets, buying books might seem like the lesser of two evils. I mean, they’re just books, right? Yeah, that’s exactly what I thought when I waited until the last minute to buy the ones I needed for my classes freshman year. To make a long story short: I ended up blowing more than $600 on textbooks when I really didn’t have to spend that much.

Don’t make the same mistake I did. And don’t, I repeat DON’T, feel that the only place you can get your textbooks from is your campus bookstore. I’m not saying that you should avoid it like the plague because, though expensive, it may be your only option.

I am, however, here to tell you that you have quite a few options to consider before you resort to purchasing your books from the bookstore.

Here are alternative options for purchasing your college textbooks:

1. Chegg.com

Chegg is a website where you can rent and buy textbooks in both physical and digital format. Buying books off of this site will nine times out of ten save you a lot more money than buying from the bookstore. The same goes for renting, which is the option I highly recommend you consider. Chegg allows you to keep the book for the entire semester and they also provide you a prepaid shipping label to put on your box when you return your book, which means you don’t have to pay to ship your books back to Chegg. If you want to know more about Chegg, check out the website and see if it’s a site you’d feel comfortable buying from.

2. Amazon

One of the things I love most about Amazon is the fact that they give you a variety of price options for books. Don’t want to buy your textbook new because it’s about $200? No problem! Check out the used book prices. Whether it’s a hardcover or a paperback also factors into the price. Sift through the different prices, review each seller, compare ratings from their customers, and see which one has the best deal for you.  You might even find your $80  history book for a penny!

3. Campus Facebook Page

At the end of each semester or before the start of a new one, people will be trying to get some extra cash. One way people earn extra cash is by selling their textbooks. They may even post about it on Facebook, so check out any comments people leave on the college campus page to see if anyone is selling a book that you need. Better yet, post the list of books that you’re looking to buy and someone might be able to offer a good deal. You never know!

4. Book Loaning Program

If you can’t afford to buy textbooks, see if your campus has a book loaning program for students in great financial need. Find out what the process is to join and go about taking the necessary steps to getting involved with the program early. Programs like this may or may not have a limit to how many students they can accept, so don’t wait until the last minute to sign up!

5. Library

The campus library has a lot of books, including the ones you need for your classes. If you’re waiting for your books to arrive to your campus or if you can’t afford to buy books at that moment, check to see if the library has the books that you need. Chances are that the library will have them, but you have to be quick! The downside to relying on the library is that there may only be a few copies of a particular book and other students might be in the same bind as you are, which means they are more than likely going to be using library books to help them stay on top of their coursework as well.

There are a handful of sites like Chegg and Amazon that will allow you to save money on your textbooks. If you want to buy from them instead of using any of the options I’ve listed  above, make sure you do your research on the site before giving them your credit card information. See if you can find reviews about the site’s customer service because not all websites are legit or are reliable, so be careful.

Also, to be on the safe side, copy and paste the ISBN numbers of the books you need into the search bar of the site you decide to buy from instead of using the title. Textbooks tend to be offered in many editions because the companies who write them may update their books on a yearly basis. Unfortunately, each edition will more than likely have the same name. Using the ISBN number will guarantee that you’re buying the correct books for your classes.

I hope this article was of help to you! Remember, you don’t have to burn a hole in your wallet. Look for the deals that work for you. They’re out there, you just have to find them!

Image: mcconnors

CultureTravel

I am sitting in a crowded waiting area in the Houston airport when the sheer immensity of what I am doing truly hits. I try to do something – anything – to distract myself. I chew my nails. I stare at the smog and the airplanes out of a window covered in tiny handprints along the lower half. Finally, I take the tiny antique compass my boyfriend presented to me as a parting gift out of my backpack and flip it over and over in my hand as I mentally review my plans.

I’m going to Guatemala. Alone.

My brain immediately abandons its momentary calm to take up its current emotion of choice: wild, unbridled terror and self-doubt.

But why? What do you really expect to gain? What if you get hurt or lost or—

The flight attendant calls my row. I get up.

University is almost synonymous with travel. Almost everyone lucky enough to have funds to spare during college leaves town at some point. Whether through a school exchange, a volunteer opportunity, or even just a newfound proclivity toward North America’s vast abundance of music festivals, college students are constantly in transit. A desire for new experiences coupled with low standards for accommodations and food open student travel up to many opportunities that the average traveller might find rather unattainable. But the one type of travel that a college student might be wary of approaching is solo travel. Just the thought of solo travel is daunting to all but a few herculean souls, and I will be the first to admit that I still think of it that way, even after over two months spent in rural parts of Guatemala.

My first few days in the country are thoroughly overwhelming. Though I have some knowledge of Spanish from previous travels in Latin America, I had never realized how much I relied upon the collective knowledge of my fellow travellers. No one is here to fill in the blanks for me, or to tell me that the butchered sentence I’m constructing is incomprehensible. My destination is very specific – a shelter for stray dogs (an epidemic in Guatemala) in a small town about an hour outside of Antigua – but the directions I have are frustratingly vague. They involve steps such as looking for a specific pedestrian overpass and hiking up dirt roads while keeping an eye out for a set of green metal gates.

When I arrived at Animal AWARE, I was shown to a “casita” (literally, “small house”) where I would live for most of the next two months. The casita consisted of a tiny, narrow, drafty room with two beds, and a bathroom where I took the coldest showers of my life, often standing outside of the water and washing one limb at a time. There were 300 dogs and 80 cats at the shelter at that point, so every open space was taken up with animal enclosures. This meant that the casita itself was bordered by two dog enclosures. The dogs would wake us at quarter to six every morning without fail. Sometimes, during the night, strays from town would sneak onto the property, eliciting an eerie crescendo of howls as they ran past each enclosure. I often felt sorry for the cats trying to lead their quiet lives amid the chaos.

As the weeks went on, I began to get used to my surroundings. Slowly, I came to appreciate the true beauty of solo travel: you’re almost never really alone. Everywhere I looked, people were surprisingly happy to help. The owners of the shelter, Xenii and Martin, often came by the casita to offer me leftover food, bottles of waters, and a constant supply of books. My success in acquiring a cheap cellphone that I could use to call North America was the result of effort on the part of several staff members at AWARE. One particularly impressive 17 year-old girl (also travelling alone) showed me how the convoluted Guatemalan bus system worked. And of course, my family provided immense support along the way, responding to my sporadic communication with tips, advice, and encouragement. Eventually, I came to realize that there are no secrets to travelling alone, just guidelines. Certainly be safe – I was constantly aware that I was travelling in a very dangerous country. But also, importantly, be open – for every person who would do you harm, there are many who are willing to take you into their homes, feed you, give you a bed, and try to help you make the most of your time away from home.

Returning was surreal. I had gotten used to cold showers, abysmal plumbing, and the constant noise of 300 hungry dogs. My little brother seemed to have grown at least a foot in my absence. My bed seemed a hundred times more comfortable than usual, and I was able to finally, finally, have some of Vancouver’s excellent sushi. I was able to look at the rest of my university career with some much-needed clarity, and I finally decided on my major. But most important to me was the confidence my travels inspired – most challenges, when compared to travelling alone, don’t seem quite as impossible.

EducationSkills

We all know (and fear) the mass of college loans that await us at the end of our four years, so why not save a little money when it comes to shopping for your dorm? What do you really need to survive your four years? It can be tricky to narrow it down when it feels like you need everything and anything for being on your own for the first time. Here’s a generic list of things I believe are worth having when staying on campus:

  1. Bed Products: Two words: Twin XL. Make sure your sheets fit the bed that your school is providing you with! You can get away with full sheets if you tuck them in or a twin comforter since they’re made longer in order to hang over the edge of your bed. I also recommend getting a mattress pad and bed bug protector. No matter where you go, those beds aren’t going to be as comfortable as the one in your room at home, and it’s always better to take precautions rather than not. Also, bed risers can be a life saver when it comes to under bed storage. Don’t forget to load your bed up with some comfy (and cute) pillows!
  1. Desk Products: Putting aside your standard school supplies, there are some items you’re going to need to have in and on your desk at school. One of the most important things is a lamp. You’re going to want to have proper lighting for all your studying and late night surfing the web endeavors! Which comes to my next necessity; a laptop. It’s an unavoidable need to have to get you through all you classes whether to help you with cramming for that big exam or writing that research paper due at the end of the term. Also, remember to have lots of containers and bins to organize your supplies in your desk draws! As for personalizing your desk, consider having a few nicely framed pictures and a mirror so that you can avoid trying to do your makeup in the bathroom in the morning; it’ll truly be a life saver!
  1. Medicine/First-Aid: I highly recommend having a homemade first aid kit handy somewhere in your dorm. You can keep Band-Aids, Neosporin, Advil, Tums, sterilizing wipes, and any other medical items you may need as the year goes on.
  1. Beauty Products: All things under the categories of makeup and hygiene come into play in this category!
  1. Bathroom Products: Whether you’re sharing a suite or using a communal bathroom, it’s always a smart idea to have a shower caddy. It makes bringing all your bathroom necessities from your room to the bathroom so much easier. Some other generic necessities include towels, shampoo and conditioner, and all your mouth hygiene needs!
  1. Miscellaneous: There is a list of items that I recommend that don’t necessarily fit under one particular category, but come in handy nonetheless:
  • Batteries: There’s always going to be something you have that needs batteries and having them hidden in a draw somewhere will save you lots of time when you do!
  • Full Length Mirror: You have to be able to check your outfit before going out in public, right?
  • Trash Can: Self-explanatory.
  • Laundry Bag: Save yourself the trouble of attempting to lug all your dirty clothes with the stereotypical overflowing pile in your arms.
  • Umbrella: Rain or shine, you’ll be stuck walking to class.
  • Tissues: Commonly forgotten and always needed whether it’s to fend off that common cold or clean up a quick spill!
  • Backpack: A life saver when it comes to lugging your books from class to class.
  • Paper Plates: Easily disposable and a great way to keep your room from being littered with crumbs!
  • Sewing Kit: Usually overlooked, but you really never know when a sewing kit can save the day!
  • Flashlight: If there’s a power outage, you’re not going to want to waste your cell phone battery to guide your way around.
  • Garbage Bags: These will make your life so much easier when it comes to emptying out your trash can!
  • Mini Fridge: There is going to be food that you’ll want to have that need to be refrigerated (or those leftovers from dinner last night).

Happy dorm shopping!

CultureSkills

My 22nd birthday was a straight up rollercoaster.

Halfway into the morning, my dream company cancelled the interview they’d scheduled with me. No more trip to NYC.

The same day, the person I’d been most recently involved with texted me the news that he’s seeing someone new. Kind of an ego bruiser.

This all came in the midst of a post-grad journey that has been anything but smooth and peaceful, about a week after the death of a wonderful high school friend.

In times of grief and confusion, minor letdowns can seem major. The camel’s back had officially broken, and I realized that I needed to make time to resolve these conflicts on top of a schedule packed with class, writing deadlines and a full-time job search.

Despite what you’ve heard, it isn’t “strong” to ignore your problems. Over time, failure to acknowledge and resolve internal conflicts can manifest in depression, anxiety, confusion, and an inability to emotionally connect with people. Practicing internal conflict resolution while you’re young and resilient will seriously pay off.

Resolving your conflicts also doesn’t have to get in the way of a busy life. Here are the steps that have helped me uphold my commitments and personal relationships as I overcome my challenges:

Internal Healing

  1. Be honest with yourself.

You don’t have to tell the world you’re hurting, but tell it to yourself straight. You can’t overcome any type of feeling if you don’t admit it’s there. By facing the nitty gritty details, you’re giving yourself permission to unearth and work through them.

  1. Be kind to yourself.

As you’re honest with yourself, be sure you’re doing it without judgment. Some of your truths may not be pretty or easy to accept; take your time with them. Don’t resent yourself for being sad, angry or confused.

Transform any self-deprecating thoughts to positives. For example, turn “I’m such an idiot for starting that fight,” to, “I engaged in that fight because I was frustrated. How can I better express those feelings next time?”

  1. Be conscious of unhealthy thoughts.

Resisting the changes your conflict has created, or obsessing over regrets and what-ifs, creates backward progress. Re-direct your thoughts when you sense they’re heading down what-if road.

I redirect mine by focusing on my five senses; what colors I see, how my breathing sounds and my skin feels, etc. It brings me back to reality and lets me change my train of thought.

External Adjustments

  1. De-clutter.

De-cluttering your physical environment helps a surprising amount in releasing emotional baggage. Put all your dust-collecting items and unworn clothes in a giant trash bag and donate them.

Having trouble blindly parting with your more sentimental dust collectors? Give them to a special person in your life.

  1. Physical health = sanity.

Carve out time to exercise, but be gentle with yourself. It’s ok if you’re too depleted or stressed for anything more than a five minute walk in the morning.

Remember, too, that over-indulgence is not self-care. A bottle of wine and a pint of ice cream will make you feel sluggish and skip the walk tomorrow. Moderation is your friend.

  1. Meditate, meditate, meditate.

I am not kidding. You don’t have to be the Buddha to do this. Sit and focus on your breathing and body for five to ten minutes. Continued meditation will give you calmness and clarity.

  1. Set a daily allowance.

Avoid spending precious time and energy in sad or angry lala land by allotting five to 10 minutes a day to journal, cry, scream into your pillow, whatever works for you. Once the timer is up, it’s time to get back to reality. Lessen the time by a minute each day. You’ll find you become more in control of your feelings while still acknowledging them.

  1. Don’t grieve alone.

As my best friend says, the phone can weigh 500 pounds. But even just telling a loved one you’re sad and need a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on will bring you comfort and release.

Teen and young adult years are already pretty confusing as is; life’s big and small obstacles during these times can throw us for some serious loops. The great thing is that conflicts can aid tremendously in self-discovery and personal growth if you address them in healthy ways.

What are your tips for overcoming personal conflict while staying focused and present?

Image: Picjumbo

Skills

In this day and age, the job market is competitive. Getting the job of your dreams may require not just education, but also experience. If you don’t have time during the regular school year, working during the summer can be invaluable on your resume. Even if you don’t get the internship of your dreams, getting a job during the summer has its own rewards.

Here are the five benefits of having a summer job:

1. Learn New Skills

The learning never stops. No matter what odd job you have, you can put the skills you already have to use while gaining some new ones. You can be paid to learn something new! Even going through an interview is a learning experience. These new activities will be different than the normal school rigor and will give your brain a break as you try something different.

2. Meet New People

Chances are your jobs will force you to interact with people outside of your normal social groups. You can make new friends and gain people skills.

3. Even Part-Time Helps

If you want to travel and spend time with friends during your summer break, you will still have time to make an impression with a part-time job. You can make the most of your summer this way.

4. Earn Spending Money

When you do get the chance to go out with your friends or you want to treat yourself, you will now have the money to do so. Or you can save your earnings for something big, such as a trip.

5. Boost Your Resume

Having previous job experience shows that you are responsible, determined, and motivated. If you get a job in the field you plan on working in, you will begin gathering the building blocks you need to work in that industry in the future. Many of the better positions these days require prior experience. Having experience in the work force while you are still in school increases your chances of getting hired once you graduate.

Photo via australia.edu

HealthSkills

As you guys know from my last 1/2 Marathon Series post, I recently took part in Nike’s Women’s Half Marathon in April. It was a crazy, thrilling, heart-pounding (literally) experience and I would not have survived without the help of hours and hours of music.

That’s why I decided to curate some playlists for every stretch of the journey that will hopefully help you on your own road to the finish line! I tried my best to keep these playlists varied and interesting, but it will become clear pretty quickly that I have quite the affinity for anything Katy Perry or Top 40 related (ha!).

Warning: I have included some explicit versions of songs so please beware if you choose to take a listen.

When it comes to running we all have our own preferences, but I hope you can find some inspiration from the lists below! At the end of the day just getting out there and being active is all that matters, regardless of the jams playing through your headphones.

Miles 1-3: Get Pumped Up!

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Miles 4-6: Settle In (aka Steady Beats)

 

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Miles 7-9: Keep Going (aka Distraction Jams)

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Miles 10-12: Inspiration Zone (aka Finish Line is in Sight)

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Mile 13-13.1: Miracle Song This should be whichever song you love the most!

This will be blasting through your speakers as you cross that finish line, so choose wisely! Might I suggest Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This”?

 

What’s your favorite Miracle Song? Happy running!

EducationSkills

After reading Arianna Huffington’s book ThriveI was inspired to start a gratitude journal. In her book, Arianna writes about how gratitude exercises can have tangible benefits. She writes, “According to a study by researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of Florida, having participants write down a list of positive events at the close of a day—and why the events made them happy—lowered their self-reported stress levels and gave them a greater sense of calm at night.”  When I read this line, it only seemed natural to start a gratitude journal and document the positive events that had happened in my day or week. Lower stress levels and feeling calmer at night? Yes, please!

Starting and maintaining a journal can be difficult at first because it is another thing to remember to do, but after a while of keeping a gratitude journal, I promise you it’s worth it! Keep doing it every night until it becomes a habit. Luckily, writing in your gratitude journal won’t feel like a chore because it’s a peaceful time to just sit and write about all the things that you are thankful for. The words will flow from you and 15 minutes just might turn into 30. Another great line Arianna notes is, “Gratitude works its magic by serving as an antidote to negative emotions. It’s like white blood cells for the soul, protecting us from cynicism, entitlement, anger, and resignation.” 

The best time to start a gratitude journal is now. These are the incredible benefits associated with journaling, and because maintaining a journal can be challenging, I share the tips that work best for me:

Benefits of a Gratitude Journal

1. Lower stress levels.

2. Feel calm at night.

3. Gain a new perspective of what is important to you and what you truly appreciate in your life.

4. By noting what you are grateful for, you will gain clarity on what you want to have more of in your life, and what you can cut from you life.

5. Helps you focus on what really matters.

6. Keeping a gratitude journal helps you learn more about yourself and become more self-aware.

7. Your gratitude journal is a safe zone for your eyes only, so you can write anything you feel without judgment.

8. On days when you feel blue, read back through your gratitude journal to readjust your attitude and remember that you have great people and things in your life.

Maintaining a Gratitude Journal

1. Plan to write in your gratitude journal every night for 15 minutes before bed. Set an alarm reminder on your phone or schedule it in your calendar. I’ve found that it is easier to write at night so that I can include things that I am grateful for from that day.

2. Keep your gratitude journal by your nightstand so you will see it before going to sleep and remember to jot down what you are thankful for. Your journal may even become a symbol of gratitude so that when you just look at it, you will feel a sense of appreciation.

3. Write as many things as you want in your gratitude journal. Writing down 5-10 things that you are grateful for each day is a good number to aim for.

4. Your gratitude journal doesn’t have to be deep. What you are thankful for can be as simple as “family” or “the new book or movie I recently enjoyed” or “this morning’s breakfast.” What you are grateful for will differ from everyone else.

5. The timing of when you want to write is up to you. While I try to write in my gratitude journal every night, sometimes it becomes every other night. That’s okay. Journal when it feels right for you – the benefits really are worth it.

Are you inspired to start a gratitude journal? Share your tips with us at @carpejuvenis!

EducationSkills

As the sunny season approaches many students translate the word “summer’ directly into “intern season.” The narrative surrounding the months of June to August is usually accompanied by questions like “Where are you interning?” and “Who are you working for?” The stress of feeling like you should have answers to these questions can be overwhelming. But the social and professional pressure to be part of this dialogue is – in my opinion – slightly ridiculous and highly unrealistic. Here are some logistical facts about being an intern:

  • Interning is expensive. On top of having to pay for housing fees, appropriate work attire, transportation, and food, interns typically work for a very small stipend or no money at all (or in some cases they have to work for school credit which can actually cost them additional academic fees). And these are just a few of major financial costs associated with being an intern.
  • Interning is time consuming. Whether you are a part-time or full-time intern, the tasks you are likely doing at this entry level, correlated to the amount of time you spend doing them, often don’t match up on at a quality to quantity comparison.
  • Interning is stressful (for the worst reasons). While I won’t deny altogether that professional growth is, in fact, an important and positive part of personal development, I will stand firm in saying that interning can often lead to copious amounts of unnecessary stress. Because so many people hold their internships up high like a shiny prize they have won, the atmosphere can be tense, uncomfortable, and entirely career-oriented. Rather than viewing internships as ways to learn new and interesting things about a specialty you might be interested in perusing, this dog-eat-dog environment tends to put more emphasis on whether or not a full time position will be offered at the end of it all.

Carpe wants to tell you “No internship? No problem.” In fact, you might be in a better position than your peers, and here’s why:

  • You aren’t bound to a formal time schedule. Without a permanent 7 am wake up time you are free to create a time structure that works best for your own personality and productivity. If you prefer to stay up late working on a personal project versus getting up before the sun rises, you have that option too.
  • You have flexibility when it comes to traveling. Summer is a wonderful time to travel and with a more flexible schedule you can plan a trip during off-peak seasons. That means you save money and can plan to visit friends or family at a time when they can actually host you.
  • You have time to explore a personal passion or interest. If you aren’t interning or working you should definitely be doing something productive on the personal side. Whether that includes writing, drawing, surfing, knitting, learning a new language; it’s up to you – the sky is the limit. This is the only time when all of your other responsibilities aren’t piled on your plate, so optimize every minute!
  • You get to take time for yourself. Sometimes the most important aspect of not having a formal internship is that you get to take time to be alone with yourself. You get to focus entirely on how are you doing mentally, physically, and emotionally. It is difficult to assess how the last year went if you move onto the next step too quickly. Taking time to really check-in an think about what makes sense going forward can really help bring you to the next phase of your life in a thoughtful and internally motived rather than hasty and pressured way.

Whatever you choose to do, do it to its fullest potential. You have the ability to make every day count, so whether you’re interning for your state representative or spending the summer in Cascade, Idaho backpacking and kayaking, invest fully and know that you’re doing just fine. In fact, you’re doing great.

 

What are you doing this summer? Let us know @CarpeJuvenis!

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

CultureEducationTravel

Backpacking through the Trinity Alps, kayaking down the Salmon River, conversing with local school children in rural Chile…these experiences are just the norm at the Alzar School.  And Elena Press, a sophomore at Upper Dublin High School, located outside of Philadelphia, was one of just ten participants in its Fall 2013 session.  From mid-August through the end of December, Elena attended the fully accredited semester school, partaking in the schools “Six Foundations:” leadership training, academics, outdoor adventure, service learning, cultural exchange, and environmental stewardship.  The school, based on a 100-acre campus in Cascade, Idaho, is for motivated sophomore and junior students.  Students participate in significant outdoor expeditions, learning to whitewater kayak, backpack, rock climb, surf, ski, snowshoe, and more. Its academics are challenging, all honors and Advanced Placement, and the leadership opportunities that are provided are what Elena describes as “once-in-a-lifetime.” But these high level courses are distinctly different from those familiar to a traditional high school. The Alzar School emphasizes critical analysis, creative thinking, and effective communication, while using its unique resources to provide a vast variety of hands-on experiences for its students.

Elena Press elaborates:

Before beginning the process, I was hesitant to depart my highly regarded high school, as well as the town I had lived in my whole life.  Leaving behind friends, family, school, clubs, and activities would be an immense sacrifice. Of most concern, since I was missing a semester of my customary education, was how this would impact my future?  A typical worry of many teenagers is college.  Many students, including me, wonder: What classes should I take?  How can I earn the best grades?  Should I get more involved in my community and service projects?  How many awards can I receive in my high school years?  Yet colleges love seeing students partake in unique activities and take risks, two items surely fulfilled by an experience at the Alzar School!

A frequent activity of the students at the Alzar School is kayaking. Students kayak in Idaho, Oregon, California and Chile, providing many opportunities for a first-time kayaker, like me, to increase their knowledge of this riveting sport. I vividly remember staring with wide eyes and quaking in fear as I gingerly paddled in my kayak, mortified at the prospect of going down Snow Hole, a Class IV rapid. My instructors insured me that I was capable and reviewed the line with me multiple times. Then, I went down. I did it! And I flipped over and swam out. Consequently, I discovered that kayaking is absolutely thrilling; you can choose to challenge yourself however much you desire. The uncertainty of being under the water’s influence taught me to push myself, but kayaking is all about community; my friends and I learned many lessons from each other, and constantly supported and cheered one another on, whether doing a flip in the air, or leading down a rapid for the first time.  This is one of the reasons why the Alzar School integrates a large amount of kayaking into the students’ time.  The school considers it a great medium for empowering young leaders.

Of the five months spent at the Alzar School, students spend two weeks traveling through the Northwest, six weeks in Chile, and the remainder of the time in Idaho.  When traveling to Chile, students fully immerse themselves in the culture, vastly improving their Spanish skills by participating in a homestay program, attending a Chilean school and conversing with locals. By traveling through Chile, I discovered that smiles and laughter can break even the strongest barriers of age, language, and culture. The traveling opportunities are not presented purely to allow the students to experience new places, but to open their hearts and minds to other parts of the world, and an unknown culture.  All these contribute to the ultimate goal…to empower and teach young individuals to become leaders in our world today.

Throughout the semester, I learned to plan and lead expeditions and service projects. Alumni continue to develop the leadership skills they acquired from their time at the Alzar School by creating a Culminating Leadership Project to make a difference in their home communities and the world.  The goal of my CLP, Girls Outdoor, is to foster an appreciation of the environment by exposing young girls to the outdoors.  I’m planning and taking 19 Girl Scouts on a three day camping trip. This will involve, among other things, teaching them Leave No Trace principles, risk management, and camping planning.

My semester at the Alzar School was the peak of my high school career and a highlight of my life. The greatest benefits that I acquired from the experience were figuring out who I am as a person and becoming confident in that person, while gaining a support group of the most incredible lifelong friends and mentors from all over the world. From chopping wood, to teaching Chilean kids how to kayak, I’ve never had more fun doing anything. I overcame limits, fell a lot and laughed even more, and found out quite a bit about myself in the process. I wish that every high school student could partake in an experience like the Alzar School offered me.

 Elena encourages anyone who is interested in the Alzar School to check it out.  For more information, visit www.alzarschool.org