So you’ve just come back from studying abroad… now what? | Holly Goes Abroad

If you’ve been following this blog for the past year or so, then you’re probably well aware that I spent the last academic year studying abroad at the University of Oxford in England. Why? Because I talk about it incessantly. Why? Because I had an amazing time. As you can imagine (and as this post made abundantly clear) coming back to the United States at the beginning of the summer was incredibly difficult. After working so hard to settle in a new place, make new friends, and integrate myself into the Mansfield College community, it was jarring to be suddenly uprooted and expected to return back to my usual life back in the States.

Everyone talks about culture shock when you’re preparing to go abroad, but few people discuss the idea of reverse culture shock: i.e., the process of returning back home and having to adjust back to old environments, activities, and customs. Today I’d like to give a few pieces of advice that will hopefully help others (and myself!) with their adjustment returning from studying abroad.

+ Give yourself a mourning period. This might sound dramatic, but I’m not joking. Leaving a place and people you dearly love is difficult, and you won’t be able to fully move on unless you allow yourself to feel all of the emotions you need to feel. Cry if you have to. Look through all of the photos you took and reminisce about the remarkable memories you made. However, be sure not to get stuck in this rut. Once you feel as though you’ve given yourself enough time to let off some steam, it’s time to start looking forward more often than looking back.

+ Accept where you are. Your study abroad experience is done. There’s no way to go back and recreate it. While embracing these facts is important, it’s equally essential to remember that just because something is over doesn’t mean you have to completely forget about it. Keep in touch with friends you made abroad, look fondly at the great times you had, and try not to lose the happiness and curiosity you exuded while you were there. It might feel like you’re in the middle of some in-between state, and that’s okay: you are.

Oxford.

+ Reach out. One of the things that helped me the most this past summer was reaching out to friends and family, both old and new. Staying in touch with the friends I made at Oxford was incredibly helpful because we were able to talk about how we were all feeling in the midst of this transition. You can imagine the relief we all felt once we realized that we were all riding similar rollercoasters of emotions. Likewise, reaching out to friends and family from home helped me turn my attention to the present and future. Not only was it fun catching up with everyone I hadn’t seen in months, but hanging out with old friends and spending time with family reminded me of what I love about home, too.

+ Keep busy. Whenever I’m stressed or sad, I try to be as productive as possible (fortunately, there’s plenty to do going into my senior year of college!). If you don’t have much work to do, at least try to get back into a regular routine. Get out of the house, visit friends, clean your room, read a book, reply to all of those emails you’ve been meaning to catch up on—whatever it is that needs getting done, do it. Staying busy is a good way to keep your mind off of missing being abroad; besides, your future self with thank you for it when your life is more organized!

New Hampshire.

+ Do things you love. Although my year at Oxford was amazing, I didn’t have a lot of free time to do the things I love to do back home (reading things not assigned for courses, writing, blogging, etc.). Diving back into these hobbies really helped me feel more like myself as I tried to reconnect with my life back home.

+ Share your experience. If you’re anything like me, sharing your experiences helps you think through them and process them better. Share stories with friends and family or even reach out to the Study Abroad Center at your college. Often they are looking for volunteers to share their experiences with students looking to see if studying abroad is the right fit for them. Also: if anyone tells you that you talk about studying abroad too much, don’t take it too personally. If this experience was important to you, then you have the right to talk about it (so long as it’s not done in an obnoxious way).

+ Things take time. This is not an overnight process. You may continue to feel sad or a bit lost for weeks or even months, and that’s okay. Eventually all of the pieces will settle down where they belong and things will feel less scattered. For now, just focus on taking it one step at a time.

I hope these tips help anyone returning from an amazing study abroad experience! It can be tough, but it gets better.

Click here to check out other posts in my Holly Goes Abroad series!

Have you ever had to transition back from studying abroad? Have any tips you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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A Classic Couple: Romeo & Juliet and The Hunger Games

Sometimes it seems as though everyone is birthed from the womb with an inherent knowledge of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I have a feeling that a similar situation will happen with Suzanne Collins’ novel The Hunger Games in a few generations. Just as the mention of Shakespeare’s famous play immediately conjures up ideas of star-crossed lovers and family feuds, The Hunger Games may inevitably be associated with fights to the death, trust and betrayal, and forbidden love. Today, I’d like to discuss the many similarities between these books that make them more alike than one might initially expect.

+ Star-crossed lovers. Let’s get this one out of the way first since it’s probably the most obvious similarity. Both of these texts are rooted in romance, particularly relationships that are seemingly not supposed to happen. While Romeo and Juliet shouldn’t be together due to the clash between their families, Katniss and Peeta should be focused on killing each other rather than trying to seduce one another. These relationships occur rapidly yet are fueled by different motivations: love and lust vs. strategy and survival. The flawed natures of both of these relationships emphasize the far extent that people will stretch for romance.

+ Life and death: The dichotomy of living and dying plays a significant role in both texts. Each of their climactic scenes focuses on the tension between these two opposites and plays with the reader’s expectations of what should happen next. Romance becomes a life source for Katniss and Peeta as it helps them gain the popularity needed to ultimately survive the games; however, love becomes the downfall of Romeo and Juliet as it blinds them to realistic consequences and leads to their hasty deaths.

+ Youth: Part of the reason these texts are so remarkable is the age of the protagonists: Romeo and Juliet are in their early teen years, whereas Katniss and Peeta are in their later teen years. While this is often one of the more frustrating aspects of Romeo and Juliet for modern readers—they’re willing to commit suicide over someone they’ve known for three days when they’re thirteen?!—age plays a more positive role in Collins’ novel. Katniss and Peeta are able to fight back against an entire oppressive regime even though they are still teenagers.

+ Rebellion: Likewise, together these texts highlight the advantages and disadvantages of rebelling. While Shakespeare paints a rather bleak picture of what could happen when you go against the wishes of your elders, Collins seems to advocate standing up for what you believe in and opposing unjust authority figures. In this way, romance is used to make a very political statement in The Hunger Games. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at two very different, very similar texts!

Click here to check out other Classic Couples from past posts.

What do you think of this classic couple? What other books would you pair with Romeo and Juliet? What are your thoughts on either or both of these books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Bookish Websites

Happy Tuesday!! Today’s Top Ten Tuesday topic asks us to share our favorite bookish websites. Here are a few of the ones I frequent often:

www.outofprintclothing.com

Out of Print has such a wide array of clothing and accessories based on beloved literary favorites. I purchased a Great Gatsby sweatshirt from this website a few years ago and I adore it. Definitely worth checking out if you’re in the market for bookish gifts (and maybe even a gift for yourself…).

www.litographs.com

I love perusing this Litograph’s expansive collection of unique bookish clothing, accessories, and prints. Designs made with words themselves? Sign me up!

www.whatshouldireadnext.com

Yes, this website really is as amazing as it sounds. Simply enter a book title and it gives you a list of recommendations for titles and even genres that you should read next. Recommendations are based on the website’s database of book lists from readers.

www.much-ado.net/austenbook

Austenbook is a fictional Facebook wall based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and it is genius. 

www.overdrive.com

love Overdrive. While the selection of audio books and ebooks available depends on your local library, it nevertheless is a great way to access books on your phone without having to pay more than a library card fee.

www.goodreads.com

What would a list of bookish websites be without mentioning Goodreads? Not only would book blogging be much more difficult without Goodreads on hand, but my life as a reader would be much different without its incredible cataloging abilities.

Looks like this list won’t quite make the full ten today. What are your favorite bookish websites? Do we have any in common? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Jurassic Park Book Tag

It’s no secret that I adore Jurassic Park. Not only is it my favorite movie, but it’s also one of my favorite books. You can imagine my excitement when I learned that such a thing exists as a Jurassic Park Book Tag. I wasn’t tagged in this at all, but Camillea Reads showed me this post from the Literary Phoenix and I knew I had to do it, too!

“Spared no expense.”  ~John Hammond || A series that seems to go on forever. 

The longest series I’ve read recently is A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. It takes some dedication to wade through all thirteen books! Fortunately they’re quick and easy to get through, so they don’t take that long to read.

“Life finds a way.”  ~Ian Malcolm || A book with amazingly intricate world-building. 

I’m only halfway through The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, but it’s already clear that the world-building here is incredible. I love the way the novel is formatted as stories told within this larger story. It’s easy to forget that all of this happens in such a short span of time.

“Hold on to your butts.”  ~Arnold || What’s the fastest you’ve read a book, and what book was it?

I read I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith in one sitting in Heathrow Airport as I waited for my flight from London to Boston over winter break, which was pretty fast. I was stressed about traveling and definitely grateful for the distraction!

“Mr Hammond, after careful consideration, I’ve decided not to endorse your park.”  ~Alan Grant || A book you refuse to read (or finish).

There are few books that I would flat-out refuse to ever read, so I can’t say that one even comes to mind.

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”  ~Ian Malcolm || A book that left you going ‘Why?’

I love this question–so many books can apply! I’m going to go with How to be Both by Ali Smith, which I had to read for a tutorial last term. This book is so bizarre that you can’t help but wonder why she makes the writing decisions that she does.

“We need more teeth!”  ~Gray Mitchell || A book with no human MCs. 

Animal Farm by George Orwell. I’ve only ever read the Spanish translation of this book, but I love it all the same. It’s one of those books that haunts you long after you finish the final page. I’d love to read the original English sometime.

“The kids? This will give the parents nightmares.”  ~Simon Masrani || A book that terrified you.

Definitely The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I’ve read this book twice now and both times it has made me think twice about the direction in which our society is currently heading. I haven’t seen the TV series yet, but I can only imagine that it’s just as terrifying!

“Monster is a relative term. To a canary, a cat is a monster. We’re just used to being the cat.”   ~Henry Wu || A book that changed your perceptions on an issue/culture, etc.

I’ve talked about this book a lot on this blog, but I adored reading Girl Up by Laura Bates. It’s such a hilarious, fun, empowering read!

What are your answers to these prompts? What do you think of mine? Do you like Jurassic Park, either the book or the movie? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Dynamic Duos You Didn’t See Coming

Happy Tuesday!! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic asks us to mash books together. In the same vein as my Classic Couple feature, I’m going to incorporate a classic and more contemporary book in each pair I make. Let’s see how weird this gets, shall we?

What do you think of the combos I’ve created? What books would you want to see paired together? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

JULY 2018 | Wrap-Up

What’s this? A blog post? For the first time in weeks?! July was a ridiculously busy, hectic month for me, meaning that I was too occupied with other things to have any free time to blog. While I won’t be back to my full blogging self yet (still so much to get done!) I thought it would be nice to do a little wrap-up post in the meantime.

In July I read a total of 4 books:

  1. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  2. The Problem that Has No Name by Betty Friedan
  3. Create Dangerously by Albert Camus
  4. Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth

As you can see, not much reading progress was made last month; however, I did really enjoy most of what I read (with the exception of Roth…). I think my favorite book of the month was The Problem that Has No Name, mostly because I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I finished it. These essays by Friedan are incredibly thought-provoking and empowering–I highly recommend checking them out!

+ MUSIC: This past month I discovered the band Little Chief and have been listening to them nonstop on my commute to and from work. Their music is so relaxing and I love the variety of instruments they utilize. Unfortunately, I don’t think the band is actually together anymore–I’m always late to the party!

+ FOOD: Definitely the blueberry pie my mom baked with the blueberries we picked at a local farm. Picking berries is one of my favorite things to do every summer, especially when the weather is as lovely as it has been recently.

+ PLACE: Last weekend I was lucky enough to spend the day at White Lake State Park, the campground where my family has been going since I was really young. Returning to this lake always feels like returning to some sort of home.

WOW, July was a BUSY month! I spent most of my time working at the nonprofit I work for, and when I wasn’t there I was living and breathing LSAT prep. It’s such a relief to finally be done with this exam! There’s only so many logic games and practice exams you can take before you start to wonder if they’ll ever end…

Once my exam was over, I finally had time to tackle all of the things I’ve been meaning to do all summer: research for my honors thesis, write a draft of my nearly-completed WIP (which I’m BEYOND excited about), choreograph a tap dance for my group’s next show, get ahead on some reading for this upcoming semester… the list goes on and on! Fortunately, I also squeezed in fun days and chats with friends that I haven’t seen in far too long. I’ve missed everyone so much since I was abroad!

Speaking of being abroad… I’ve also spent the last month continuing to transition to being back home from Oxford. I feel much better now than I did at the beginning of the summer, especially since my Wheaton move-in date is approaching so quickly. Who knew that studying abroad would involve so much recovery time?!

 Here are some notable posts from my blog this past month:

How was your month of July? What was the best book you read? Did you do anything really fun or exciting? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

A Classic Couple: Middlemarch and Nervous Conditions

A few months ago I discussed Tsitsi Dangarembga’s 1988 novel Nervous Conditions in the context of feminist writing and postcolonial literature. Today, I’ll like to talk about this remarkable novel in a slightly different context: coupled with George Eliot’s classic 1871 novel Middlemarch. Published over a century apart and set against very different backdrops, these two novels are nevertheless tied together by many surprising similarities.

+ Multiplicity. Like the widely read classic Middlemarch, Nervous Conditions emphasizes the multiplicity of women’s voices and experiences. Dangarembga takes this a step further, demonstrating that so-called “Third World women” also possess a multiplicity that deserves to be recognized. Tambu’s (the narrator) mirror-like statements framing this novel remind the reader that although the story may be her own, it is also that of others. There is multiplicity in wholeness, just as it requires a plethora of women’s voices in order to establish and maintain a thriving tradition of women’s writing.

+ Challenges facing women. Both novels discuss rather taboo challenges facing women that are not often brought up in everyday conversation. Through Dorothea Brooke’s tense relationship with her husband Edward Casaubon, Eliot shows that marriage is not always inherently satisfying and gratifying for women. In Nervous Conditions, Dangarembga tackles the ominous topic of eating disorders. Rather than generalize disorders in the same way that women’s experiences of colonialism have been reduced to inaccurate stereotypes in literature, Dangarembga imbues Nyasha’s “nervous condition” with nuance. Like Nyasha, Dangarembga refuses to remain under the restrictive power of the patriarchy.

+ Opposing idealogical norms. Eliot strives to present a certain form of “moral realism” in her novel and is therefore much more concerned with representing fundamental truths than with recounting the minute details of daily life. One aim of her moral realism is to expose overlooked moments, as seen when Dorothea is disappointedly sobbing on her honeymoon with Casaubon in Rome. The belief that marriage must be flawless and fulfilling at all times is therefore dashed to pieces by Eliot’s realistic gaze, exposing the commonly held romanticized view of this life event. Disenchantment is a vital component of Eliot’s moral realism due to its emphasis on the true representation of an experience rather than one’s idealized, preconceived notions of a situation.

Similarly, Dangarembga opposes the notion that the literary sphere must be dominated by male voices. There is no singular experience of being a woman, meaning that there should be more than one woman’s voice being heard–and read–in the male-dominated literary sphere. In writing Nervous Conditions as a novel about African women and largely for African women, Dangarembga has indeed asserted the perspective of women into the otherwise male-dominated literary sphere of postcolonial writing. By engaging with the idea of multiplicity in the present, Dangarembga strives to ensure a multiplicity of African women’s voices being heard in the future.

While obviously very different, Middlemarch and Nervous Conditions still possess many similarities that may surprise unsuspecting readers. I highly recommend both of these novels, particularly if you’re looking for more literature that focuses on women’s experiences in different socioeconomic classes and cultures.

Click here to check out other Classic Couples from past posts.

What do you think of this classic couple? What other books would you pair with Middlemarch? What are your thoughts on either or both of these books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Short Stories that Exceed Tall Expectations

Happy Tuesday!! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) asks us to share our favorite short story collections. While I usually prefer reading novels over short stories, I have enjoyed several fantastic collections. Here are a few of my favorites!

Apparently I haven’t read enough short story collections to fill this entire list.. but the ones I have read are excellent!

What are your favorite short story collections? What do you think of the ones I’ve mentioned here? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Our Day at Efteling | Holly Goes Abroad

Our little journey through the Big Big Trip my friend and I took during our spring breaks continues with this week’s exciting installment: Efteling in the Netherlands!

Prior to my friend telling my about Efteling, I didn’t even know it existed. Efteling is an amusement park in Kaatscheuvel in the Netherlands that first opened in 1952. Not only is Efteling the largest theme park in the Netherlands, but it is also the one of the oldest theme parks across the globe. With thirty-five rides and over five million visitors every year, it’s a wonder I had never heard about Efteling before. Since I absolutely adore amusement parks and will go on basically any ride imaginable, I was thrilled when my friend proposed adding this to our itinerary.

Fortunately, getting to Efteling from Amsterdam was fairly simple and straightforward. After taking the tram to the center of the city from our Airbnb, we hopped on a train that took us to a closer station, and then boarded a bus directly to Efteling from there. Our excitement was almost tangible as we walked (read: basically skipped) down the long walkway to the park’s entrance. We were here! At a Dutch amusement park! What a time!

I’m not going to lie: this park was nothing like what I initially expected it to be. But I loved it. For someone who is used to the happy-go-lucky side of Disney World (which I also adore), it was really fun to experience a fantasy park with a bit of a darker twist. Many of the rides were pretty dark (both in terms of lighting and story line) and we never could predict how a ride would end. Of course, things were complicated by the fact that everything was in Dutch–we had no idea what any of the rides were supposed to be about! It was hilarious making up stories about what the animatronics could have been trying to tell us.

After being in tourist-dominated Amsterdam for a few days, it was strangely refreshing to be somewhere that didn’t cater to tourists. Few signs were in English, and those that were offered only limited translations. While this was a bit intimidating and disorienting at first, by the end of the day I felt so much more confident about my ability to navigate in a place without relying on other people knowing English. It was also fun seeing so many excited little kids run around. I couldn’t help but think about what I would have thought of Efteling had I come when I was younger. I’m 99 percent positive that Young Holly would have been terrified of all the creepy, dark rides!

My favorite part of the day was definitely walking through the strange fantasy forest section of the park. A long, winding path weaved its way through countless fantasy figures, from more well-known ones like Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin to ones that left us scratching our heads (like that guy with the super long neck in the photograph above!). Walking along these paths was a nice break from standing in lines for rides and provided us with some hilarious photo opportunities.

As you can probably tell from the photos, Efteling was a WILD time. It was definitely one of my favorite parts of the entire trip! Would HIGHLY recommend to anyone visiting the Netherlands!

Click here to check out other posts in my Holly Goes Abroad series!

Have you ever been to Efteling? What are your favorite amusement parks around the world? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

LINCOLN IN THE BARDO by George Saunders | Review

In the span of just a few days, George Saunders’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel Lincoln in the Bardo was recommended to me by three different friends, all of whom have very distinct reading tastes. Knowing a worthy book recommendation when I see one, I immediately knew that this novel had to go straight to the top of my reading list for the summer. It’s difficult to explain what this book is about, so I’ve included the Goodreads synopsis for clarification:

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory, where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

It’s no exaggeration to say that this is one of the strangest novels I have ever read. Even calling it a novel feels a bit odd–it’s almost more like some sort of textual collage, a conglomeration of quotes that somehow comes together to form a whole. Though Lincoln in the Bardo may be bizarre, it’s also brilliant. In the spirit of Saunders’s mosaic of a novel, here’s a list of reasons why I loved it:

  • It’s unique–I have truly never read anything like it.
  • The blend of historical quotes and fictional pieces that Saunders writes to look like actual quotes from real people. This fiction/fact mix mirrors the more fantastical elements of the story itself.
  • Plays with the stereotypical image that many of us have of Abraham Lincoln by revealing a plethora of possible sides to his personality.
  • Fast-paced due to the constant changing perspectives and the wide variety of voices. Never feels like the story is dragging or moving too slowly.
  • Beautiful, lyrical writing. All of the characters have really distinct voices and Saunders’s writing style clearly portrays their different personalities and backgrounds.
  • So. Many. Emotions. You can’t help but feel for poor Lincoln, Willie, and all of the souls wondering where they went wrong in life.
  • Not a conventional “ghost” story, not a conventional historical fiction novel, not a conventional novel– I love how this book breaks all necessity to adhere to any sort of convention at all.

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop my list there for now. Needless to say, I highly recommend Lincoln in the Bardo no matter what genre of books you tend to read. And thanks to all those who recommended it to me–you were so, so right!

What are your thoughts on Lincoln in the Bardo? Would you recommend any of Saunders’ other work? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY