It’s been five years.

It’s been five years.

(Insert Titanic GIF here)

My sister wrote a blog post recently reflecting on her experience studying abroad and the time that has passed since. So it seemed fitting to look back on the girl (me) who got on a plane to Wales five years ago today. I promise I will keep the Last 5 Years musical references to a minimum. 

I am not that girl anymore. Nor am I the girl who got off another plane to come home three months later. I don’t want to be the same person I was five years ago, and I don’t think she would want that for me either. That is the wonderful thing about growth. It should never end.  Wales was just one of many catalysts that got me where I am today. 

Looking back, I may not have gotten some of the things out of study abroad that I wish I had. BUT, I know I got exactly what I needed. Comparing my experience to anyone else’s sort of defeats the purpose of the road to self-discovery. Instead of focusing on what I could have done abroad, today is about focusing on the immeasurable things I did gain. Like the deepest friendship I have ever known (Caitie, that’s you). Or the conversations held over breakfast in hostels. And french flatmates who egg your enemies from a third-floor window. The memories and lessons I learned in my three short months will never leave me. And I constantly yearn for the day when I can return to the places I learned them. 

So where does this leave me? I know I am not the girl abroad. I am more. There are more ways to learn about yourself and challenges to face without even leaving the state, let alone the country. Five years have seen me:

  • Graduate with honors (debt-free!)
  • Struggle to find a big girl job, take a part-time retail job in the meantime, only to find a big girl job and hate it
  • Be in a toxic relationship, get engaged, and break it off
  • Buy a car
  • Fall in love with the perfect man (Eric, that’s you)
  • Get a new job I adore and realize I never want to leave higher education
  • Lose 40 lbs
  • Learn to pole dance
  • Run four 5k races
  • Get accepted to a master’s program I cannot wait to start

When I first started going to Defy Gravity for pole dance classes, I mentioned to Eric and Caitie how much I regretted not taking them in Wales when I had the chance. Caitie congratulated me on living my best Welsh life. From time to time, Eric would ask me if I was still living my best Welsh life. I would always grin and say yes. But now I know I am living my best post-Welsh life. I may not be exploring new countries, but instead, I am exploring new opportunities. I am taking what I learned and the strength I gained and finding new small ways to use it every day. The 20-year-old who got on the plane five years ago knew she was about to see the world. Little did she know that seeing the world would become much more than a 3-month endeavor. It would be life long.


In keeping with tradition, Life Lessons:

Don’t drive through the part of the parking lot where the construction materials are kept. Spoiler alert, you’ll end up with a screw in your tire.

When the Jonas Brothers go on a reunion tour, don’t kid yourself into thinking you have principles. Spend the money on the tickets.

We Might Just Be Crazy: The Implications of Wanderlust

I honestly do not think anyone reads this blog now that I am back Stateside and I do not link each post to my Facebook page. It was never about readers for me though. Originally this blog was a requirement, but now it is an outlet that I still find myself in desperate need of.

Like many of my adventures shared with you hypothetical readers, this post is about Caitie and I throwing caution to the wind and embracing the crazy. We have decided we want to go on a Mediterranean cruise shortly after graduating next May. Like our Ireland trip, it might be an insane idea. Unlike our Ireland trip, we will have a year to save and prepare. Either way, Ireland was the best time of our months abroad and I am sure this cruise would be no different.

As much as things change, they often stay the same. The concept of this cruise came up less than a week ago, but here I am sitting at work perusing Princess Cruise Lines website, determining how many non-vital organs I will have to sell to make this happen, and blogging about it to pass the time.

I do not know if I ever wrote about how this crazy adventure began, so gather around children, it is story time.

One day, I was walking back from dinner in my residence hall. As I turned the corner to continue up the stairs to my second floor dorm room, I ran into my good friends Caitie.

“Hey want to go abroad to England with me?”

“Um uh, I don’t, yeah maybe.”

That was basically all it took to kick-start an adventure that took far more planning than I anticipated or that Caitie was willing to do. Just kidding, you know I love you. Several intensive research sessions into exchange programs, scholarships, and the UK later, we were going to Wales for a semester together. Here we are a year and a half later, and all we want to do is travel again. One thing I am being reminded of every day is that wanderlust is incurable. All I can do is attempt to satiate the growling creature inside me which longs to experience even more of the world.

Maybe this cruise won’t happen. However, time and time again Caitie and I have proven our capacity to make our travel plans work knows no bounds. Whether it happens in the time frame or way we are imagining is irrelevant. We will see the world again. We don’t really have a choice.

Life Lessons

Bring your rain boots to college.

Do not resent your desires for happiness. Follow them and see what happens next.

On the Nature of Change: Why Saying Goodbye Sucks So Hard


This post may be even harder to write that the one about homesickness. Not because it is more sad, but rather because I know one of the two ailments is finite. I’ll go home. I’ll see my family and spend many more Thanksgivings with them. When it comes to saying goodbye, I have no clue when I am going to see any of these wonderful people ever again. Now, I refuse to believe that any of the goodbyes I have had over the past weeks are forever. Still, as the remaining friends leave for their various home countries I am left with an overwhelming sense of “Now what?”

The most difficult concept for me to wrap my head around when it comes to how I will handle missing this place is probably the most important. Even if I come back, it will never be the same. It was the people I met here who made my experience great. Most of them were, like me, here for three months then back to their previously scheduled lives.


I wrote the first two paragraphs of this post months ago. However, I could not bring myself to finish writing them because the emotions were too strong and the words wouldn’t come. Here I am finally enjoying some of the rare early spring in Illinois sun, and I am struck with the hardest goodbye of all. I had to say goodbye to the person I was able to be abroad. I have tried to explain my feelings to my friends and even to myself. It is not easy. Do I miss Wales? More than I care to think about. Do I miss the people? Every single day. The one thing I am desperately trying to hold on to is the girl who lived in Wales for three months. She saw and learned more about herself and the world than she even knows. She grew in her confidence, independence, and desire to experience new things.

The constant attempts to reconcile the three parts of me are exhausting. First is the girl my friends from home remember, second: the girl in Wales, and the third is me here and now. I cannot be the first two people at the same time. Sometimes I feel myself becoming the girl in Wales again, but that is when I feel as if I am drifting away from my friends from before. Thank God for Caitie, because she is the only person on this Earth who knows and understands all three parts of my conflicted heart.

Most days I am fine. Today I am fine. I just need an outlet to express how confused I can get. I never thought watching a single movie or sports match could impact me so strongly. Bu there I was a few weeks ago, emotionally debilitated because the nostalgia and seeming solitude hit me all at once. Even though the three Haley’s are part of why I am so confused, it is times like these when I need the strength I learned abroad to pull me through the day to day life that Midwestern college student Haley had to come back to.

Maybe I am just rambling. But in some way, it helps. Amanda and Caitie – this one is for you. Thanks for helping me keep it together and being supportive when I can’t seem to do just that.

Life Lesson

Surround yourself with people who get it.

Mom, Get the Kleenex

I feel there is no better time than my first Thanksgiving away from home to write a sentimental and slightly homesick blog post.

I have been thinking about Thanksgiving quite a bit, naturally. When  people are asked around this time of year what they are most thankful for, family is almost always an expected if not required answer. It is a reflex. Lately, I have been thinking about what I am thankful for, but more importantly why I am thankful for these things. So mom, Penny, and anyone who gets emotional pretty easily, brace yourselves. Because here, in no particular order, is a list of why I am thankful this holiday season.

1. Travel

In less than three months I have stood in the capitols of six different countries. I have touched a wall that was built for the purpose of oppression. I have walked amongst cultures entirely different from my own. Ten years from now I probably still will not be able to grasp the enormity of the opportunities presented to me. Yesterday when I was lucky enough to get to talk to my grandma for the first time since I left home, she told me that I was doing what she wants to do: travel and see the world. I am blessed beyond measure, and I am working everyday to remember that.

2. English

With every new place I visit or person I meet, I am struck by the beauty and diversity of languages. I often wish that I was bilingual, but when I bring this up to my international friends they tell me I am wrong. They remind me just how lucky I am to speak English fluently. Because of this, they say, I can go anywhere in the world. That is an enormous privilege that I am willing to bet most people do not even consider. In my travels I have been to two countries where I did not know the language. Still, I had no problems communicating and finding people who could speak English to help me. This big world has innumerable possibilities, and so many are available to me because I was lucky enough to be born in a place that speaks English.

3. New friends

Yesterday, for the first time, I was away from my family for Thanksgiving. There was no mad dash to prepare for family coming over, no cleaning the house for a week in advance, and no Alice’s Restaurant. Thanksgiving is not celebrated over here, so I had class. I stayed busy during the day. I tried not to let it hit me what I was missing back home. Instead, the two other Americans in my building and I made ourselves a little home away from home. We all missed our families, but found relief in the company of one another. Embracing the true spirit of the holiday and subjecting foreigners to our will, we had a diverse little group that we shared our feast with. Besides Caitie, Amanda, and I, we were joined by Grainne (Ireland), Megan (Canada), Sabrina (Germany), and Marta (Poland). We were able to give the non-North Americans their first Thanksgiving. In return, they gave us memories we will never be able to replace.

4. Old friends

I will say it now: I miss home. It has been seven months since I last lived next door to my best friend Megan at school and I think it is safe to say I miss her. We are practically inseparable at school, and being apart this long is not good for either of us. I miss Hannah. We have been friends pretty much forever and going to different colleges has not changed that one bit. Both of these girls are able to make me feel better when I need it and both have remained great friends despite an ocean being between us.

I wasn’t sure where to categorize the next group of people: old friends or family because honestly they are both. I miss my second family the Smiths. Even though Doug teases me and Cooper and I pick on one another like siblings, I miss them. I always call Penny my second mom and Kynli and I have been friends for a long time. I am so jealous of their adventures out in Wyoming, and I know I will be visiting them before too long.

5. Family

This year the venn diagram of things I miss most and things I am most thankful for is a circle. It is said that distance makes the heart grow fonder, and I do not know if that is why I am missing home or not. What I do know is that all I want to do is lay around and watch movies with my sister. I almost even miss my dad’s bad jokes and teasing. I say almost because he always manages to slip a few in if I FaceTime home. I miss my mom way more than I ever thought I would admit in public. I miss my great-grandma laughing in exasperation every time I hiccup. I am ready to come home. I feel guilty saying that because so many people will never get the chance to travel as I have. I am still savoring every minute here, but when the time comes to get on that last flight to Chicago, I will be the one sprinting to my seat. I hate using yet another cliche, but “too much of a good thing” is exhausting. Technology is incredible and we have been in touch my entire time here, but I think at this point I just need to see everyone in person, pet my dumb dogs, and sleep in my own bed.

Christmas is on its way and I see reminders of this fact everywhere I look. Holidays are a time for family, and that is a large part of my desire to come home. Today, my mom and sister will put up our Christmas tree. This is usually my job and I am sad that I’m not there. But I know that seeing the decorations and the twinkling lights will create for a me a beautiful homecoming. Of course, I will FaceTime with them just to make sure Emily puts at least one ornament with my face on the tree. If she doesn’t, there are only nineteen more days until I can do it myself.

Life Lessons

When you order pizza, use a phone number that belongs to someone who is in the country.

When killing a spider for someone, make sure to show them the body so they know you did your job.

Green bean casserole is better when you don’t have to make it yourself.

Rugby, Procrastination, and Velveeta Shells & Cheese

In the one short week since my return from reading week, a great deal of things seem to have happened. Apparently Caitie and I are getting married. I survived another week of class. And most importantly: I felt Welsh.

Friday night my friend Becca got in to Treforest for the weekend. We watched Christmas movies and fried chicken. It was the tail end of her reading week at Bangor University and we had tickets to see the Welsh national rugby team take on Fiji at Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium. Now I have been to my fair share of professional sporting events. Never have I ever seen so much national pride in one place. Sure, Cardinal fans are great, but we are just one team amongst many that call the USA home. This match was the Welsh national team. So no matter which club team you support, everyone supports the national team. The streets of Cardiff were filled with people covered head to toe in green, white, and red dragons. While I could have done without the noise makers that every crazy Welsh parent seemed to have bought their child, it was an incredible experience. I donned my Welsh Rugby Union hat, bought a Wales scarf, and got my face painted. Even though Amanda, Becca, and I are all from America, we felt as if we fit right in with the throngs of Welsh supporters. I now belong to two of the best fan bases in sports: Cardinal Baseball and Welsh Rugby.IMG_4933

In addition to the craziness brought on by the match, Cardiff’s city centre was bustling with a Christmas market. Everywhere I looked there were stands selling handmade goods, street performers, and delicious homemade food. After cheering on Wales to a 17-13 victory over Fiji playing a sport we knew very little about, we made our way to the Brewery Quarter to eat at Nando’s for dinner. By then it was completely dark outside so we wandered around the city looking at all of the beautiful Christmas lights. It was an incredible day with good friends that left me feeling more love and connection to a country that I have spent two months in than to a country I spent 20 years in.

I am sitting in my bed attempting to write a paper that is due the day after I get back from Warsaw. It is not going well. I do not know if I have writers block or if I am such an accomplished procrastinator time manager that I know I do not realistically need to start it yet. Nevertheless, I am trying. I figure if I can at least get a little done, I won’t hate myself as much later. As Caitie is having the time of her life in Israel, my only writing companions are my self loathing and macaroni and cheese. I might have to invite Idina Menzel to this party to provide the musical entertainment. I think I may be forgetting “how to student,” but more importantly I am learning how to travel. I’d say it is a fair trade.

Life Lessons

It is possible to eat an entire hotdog that is longer than your forearm.

10,000 men were persecuted as witches in early modern Europe.

Rugby players > football/baseball/basketball players*

*(maybe it’s just that European men > American men)

Reading Week: An Unsurprising Lack of Educational Reading

Since the UK does not celebrate Thanksgiving, they have no excuse to give students a week off in the middle of the term. So they created one. Reading week is meant to be a time for students to catch up on reading for class and writing assessments. I can assume this is the exact opposite of what USW students spent this last week doing. I say assume because I did not spend reading week on campus. Instead, Caitie and I traipsed around Europe making the world our classroom.

We spent most of our week in London where we wasted no time seeing the sights. Each day we wandered around the city and hitting all of the places that held interest to us.  On our first full day I personally requested going to a bookstore, Waterstone’s on Oxford Street. I follow them on twitter and I felt I had to visit. It also just so happened that there was a Chipotle only one block away.*

That evening Caitie, our friend Amanda, and I toured the Warner Brother Leavesden Studios where the Harry Potter franchise was filmed. It was incredible and I cried approximately three times. Judge all you want, but so much of my childhood happened right alongside Harry in the halls of Hogwarts. The magic this place held for me was indescribable.

The next day held some more exploring including Big Ben, The London Eye, and the Tower of London. This may have been one of the longest days of my life. Walking along the Thames and seeing all these famous places was incredible. But by the time we reached the Tower of London, we were very far away from our hostel. There was a beautiful poppy display at the Tower and every person in England had turned out to see it. Just as I was remembering my hatred for people, it began to rain. The following hour and a half left us wet, tired, and cold. Luckily though, we had tickets to see Wicked on West End that night and plenty of time to recover before curtain.

Wicked. What a masterpiece of musical theatre. The cast was great. The music, set, costumes, and dancing repeatedly blew me away. While I may not think the story or the characters were as fully developed as they could have been, I most definitely see why the show is a hit and continues to bring in audiences. I need to however take a minute to express my surprise at the differences between how theatre is viewed in the UK and in America. At home, I get dressed up to see a play. I saw a production on West End, the UK equivalent of broadway and there was a girl sitting in the second row wearing a camisole and jeans. I was flabbergasted. Here Caitie and I were in the fifth row at a West End show in our dresses and heels and we were overdressed. After the show, as people filed out of the theatre they all left their concession wrappers on the floor as if they had just seen some rom-com at the local megaplex. This in no way detracted from the phenomenal performance, but it was a bit shocking.

The plan for the following day was to take it easy and hit up Hyde Park then do some souvenir shopping. We did just that, but yet again underestimated how much walking we were actually doing. And of course, what would a pleasant day in London be without it ending in rain? We elected to skip the walk and hooped on the tube to get us back to our hostel.

The next day we stayed close to the hostel and just hung out watching movies in the morning.

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog post with a laugh break induced by Caitie and I both singing “I’m a hustler baby” when it came up in a song on Pandora. We are the least hustler-like people I know.

Back to the post. By staying near Victoria, we also stayed near the bust station we would leave from on our trek to Paris. We perused TopShop, sat in on a church service in Westminster Cathedral, and tried the McDonald’s mozzarella sticks that had captured our curiosity. The verdict: they could be good but they weren’t hot enough for the cheese to be melty. In case you were wondering.

That night proved to be far more eventful than either of us anticipated or wanted it to be. Just as we are about to cross the English channel on a bus to Paris, I get a migraine. This along with the rocking of the ferry made a horrible combination that I will leave to your imagination. I was miserable and just wanted to sleep/be at home.  Somehow I powered through and woke up at nine am in the city of love.

The record holder for longest day of my life had previously been held by our raining trudge back from the Tower of London. That day was usurped by our twenty four hours in Paris. We walked 8 miles around the city seeing the sights before we checked in to our hostel. We then crashed hard and fast. The next morning bright and early we walked another four miles to the bus that would bring us back to London. While in Paris, we missed Beyonce at the Eiffel Tower by no more than a couple of hours. So that happened. I began to show signs of madness under the Eiffel Tower. Whether it was the exhaustion or the realization of where I was standing, I began to giggle. A lot.  I don’t really have much to say about Paris. It was beautiful and I am glad I went, but I do not regret only being there for one day.

Twelve hours on a bus, one night’s sleep in my own bed, and a hot shower later: here I am. Back safe and sound in Treforest writing for all you lovely people to read about my adventures. I am sure I have forgotten at least 27 relevant things to tell you about, but that’s just how it goes some times. Maybe I will add notes at the bottom as I remember in the next few days.

*This was not, in fact, a coincidence. Chipotle was very much a planned part of our time in London.

Life Lessons:

The only pillow you really need is the shoulder of a good friend.

Closed captioning really adds to movies and tv shows.

City stank is real.



I hear London calling

It has been a while since I last wrote and some really cool things have happened in the meantime. Namely, I got to step foot on the ACTUAL TARDIS that the television series Doctor Who is filmed on. For those of you unfamiliar with Doctor Who, I am sorry. Give me a minute to geek out here. Not only did I go to the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff, I was also able to visit the set of the show at the nearby BBC studios. In addition to my love of all things nerdy, I also really love television and film. While at BBC I tried to get them to hire me. No luck this time, but we’ll see about the future.

After we toured the set and the experience, my friend Amanda and I made our way back to Mermaid Quay in Cardiff where we ate at an American diner (which has coincidentally also been a filming location for Doctor Who) and paid our respects at the shrine* of the late great Ianto Jones of Torchwood.

After making it through my three day school week (AND TURNING IN MY FIRST PAPER), I am shivering with antici…

…pation for my trip to London on Saturday. Caitie and I leave Cardiff Saturday and will spend the following days in London until Thursday when we head on to Paris. We have tickets to the Harry Potter studio tour and to a production of Wicked on West End. Having always dreamed of going to London, it is very surreal to me even now, less than 48 hours from departure.

I am sure I will have all sorts of stories to tell you after our little jaunt around Europe. Until then, this blog’s life lesson is: Life moves pretty fast, and so does the weather. With life if you don’t look around, you might miss it. With the weather, looking around is no help. Always have an umbrella and sunglasses. Wales is a crazy place.

*Ianto is a fictional character from the television show Torchwood. Fans have set up a memorial for him at Cardiff Bay.

I am so alive

I just wrote about three fourths of a new post for you before I realized that I am a little sick of sounding like an inspirational self help book. I want to improve my writing skills and eloquence through this blog, but I am stuck in the mindset that good writing has to be deep and profound. For now, I do not have to be a good writer; I just have to be honest. So here are some real thoughts from me.

Life Lessons:

1. I would rather be broke in Europe than wealthy at home. Have I spent a considerable amount of money here? Yes. Would I take back any of the experiences that money bought me? Absolutely not. Excluding the overpriced birthplace of Shakespeare, every pence I have spent here has been well worth it. Tomorrow I am going to Swansea to take a class on stand up paddle boarding. If you don’t think that is pretty freaking incredible you can leave.

Seriously though, sweet things that I have done here: Partied with Germans, drank water from where naked Romans used to hang out, listened to live music in Dublin, and managed to survive grocery shopping and cooking for myself.

When I get home, I may not have any money left, but I know I will be rich in all of the ways that matter.

2. Study Abroad actually includes minimal studying. Not much else to say about this other than I take classes for eight hours a week and the earliest I have class on any given day is 11 am. Not to mention that my teachers all have accents, which means it is not so hard to pay attention.

3. Homesickness is real, but manageable. Do I miss constant familiarity? Sure, but it is not like I am stuck here for the rest of my life. They have Burger King and Krispy Kreme here, plus I can get Chipotle in London. Its practically America. More than anything, I know I’ll be home for Christmas. I think I can make it until then. Also, video calls are beautiful. I don’t even need the carrier pigeon I brought with me.

4. Laughter is the best medicine in the least cliche way possible. While sarcasm does not exactly translate to every culture; dirty jokes are funny in any language. So is your friend taking a ping-pong ball to the face. I have been thinking of new friendships as a sort of distraction from missing home, but really they are a reminder that it is far more important to enjoy what is right in front of you than to pine for something that is out of reach. A night laughing at/with one another is the best thing I can ask for when I feel a little down. And it’s free.

5. I am so alive. This last lesson is a nod to the song that was playing when I sat down to write. It is not the most positive of messages in its original context, but the constant repetition of “I’m alive” was just the push I needed to get appreciative of what is just outside my window. No, not the guys having a fairly vulgar conversation. I mean the bigger picture. You know the one: rolling hills and a great big blue sky that encompasses every adventure I am yet to have in this magnificent  wide world.

So, what’s next for me you might ask? Here is a little calendar of my plans that I am sure will grow as long as my wallet agrees.

October 11: Paddle Boarding Lessons in Swansea LOL JK IT GOT CANCELLED BECAUSE NO ONE SIGNED UP

October 24: Doctor Who Experience Grand Re-Opening + tour of BBC studios (aka my future employer)

November 1-6: London, England

November 7-8: Paris, France

November 16: Wales vs. Figi Rugby Match

November 20-25: Warsaw, Poland

Lessons in Spontaneity

I have not written a post on this blog in a while, seeing as I have been a little busy. Why? Oh nothing too crazy, just spending four days in Ireland on a trip we booked two days before we left. I must say one of the best things about Europe is the ability to just get up and go. Transportation is very accessible and nothing is too far away.

So last Tuesday, Caitie and I found ourselves on an 8 am flight to the land of Guinness, leprechauns, and PS I Love You. When I first looked into study abroad, I was determined to spend a semester in Ireland. Things did not quite work out that way, but nothing was stopping me from visiting. The following three days saw a walking tour of the city, a ride on a ghost bus, and a one day trip to Howth, a small port town just north of Dublin.

Whether enjoying the views of Howth, or the sounds of live music drifting out of every pub, I could not help but feel awed and so incredibly honored by the opportunities I have been given to see the world. Numerous times a day Caitie and I simply looked at each other and found ourselves asking “How lucky are we?”

Things I did in Dublin that blow my mind:

-Started a pub crawl in a bar owned by Bono

-Stood on the place where 13 leaders of Ireland’s Easter Rising were executed

-Walked the breathtaking cliffs at Howth

-Learned all about the craic

-Was called “love” in an Irish accent

Ireland is an incredible country that is overflowing with gorgeous views, a rich heritage, and beautiful music. I had amazing experiences in my short time in Dublin. Ireland and I have not seen the last of one another, of that I am certain.

10653666_869966259682617_1476250154424421126_nLife Lessons: A free pint is not always a good pint.