In defense of young adult literature 

I am 22 years old and will never stop loving or reading YA lit. I an shamelessly excited about John Green’s upcoming book (out in November!) and I am currently reading the latest Sarah Dessen book. I am in love with each world that young adult books transport me to, and I am a vehement supporter of each trend within the genre. 

My incredible undergrad institution put on events for English majors every other Thursday, and the theme of one of the events was “guilty pleasures.” After I shared mine (John Green), I realized I truly didn’t mean it. I was only saying The Fault in Our Stars because I felt like that was expected of me. Like somehow I should be ashamed of loving one of the most critically acclaimed young adult books of all time, because the writing is targeted at a younger audience. I still feel guilty about my choice of words. When I saw John Green in person at BookCon (how can it be??) three years ago, I cried like a baby, I was so excited. My mom had taken me to New York just to see John Green, and I was floored by the gesture, as well as the sheer excitement of it. When I visited Amsterdam in April 2016, I insisted on finding the TFIOS bench, even though it was super far out of the way. I cried then, too. 

The reality is… reading YA lit is not a guilty pleasure for me at all. Young adult literature is where I find the most vibrant of stories, images, and truly the deepest of metaphors. When I need a laugh, I read YA. When I need to emotionally invest in a story or character, I find myself most intensely engrossed in a coming-of-age story. I have every Sarah Dessen book under the sun, and I tear through each new book with so much delight. I am at my happiest when reading a book I feel I can understand. 
When I talk YA, I’m not just referring to Catcher in the Rye. I am talking about books that whisk me away to a new country, a budding romance, or a friendship in need of repair; all of which I can empathize with. 

The true reason I love YA lit, you ask? Because Green’s Looking for Alaska changed my life irrevocably. I believe that people find books at the right time for the right reason, or more specifically, books find you. When I first read Looking for Alaska, I was sixteen and enrolled in a high school known for cluster suicides. I was desperately searching for answers, and as cliche as it sounds, I wanted to believe there was a purpose for everything, but I could not wrap my head around death. I still can’t, and refuse to believe taking your own life at a young age is part of a larger plan. But Looking for Alaska gave me the healing I so desperately needed. It described grief in complete accuracy, as well as the unending quest of searching for answers. I was dealing with my own bout of depression at the time, and I found solace in a book that seemed to speak to exactly what I needed to hear. 

John Green wrote a very important things in that book, which I think about daily. The first: “The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.” This statement, so simple yet so profound, has gotten me through countless hardships since I read the book nearly seven years ago. I have learned to forgive others and to forgive myself. 

Maybe I’m missing the point of YA lit, or reading too much into it. Truthfully, young adult literature has given me a world outside my own where I feel secure and safe. I am thankful for it everyday. 

Semester at Sea… Three Years Later

One of the major caveats of study abroad is once you return, you truly never stop talking about it. Three years after Semester at Sea, I continue to share memories with loved ones, or just about anyone that will listen. 

Three years ago I left the country without my parents (for the first time), and with a buddy who I can confidently call a lifelong friend. Three years ago this summer, I packed what I thought would be appropriate for a trip around Northern Europe (shorts and t-shirts) into a giant suitcase. I put myself and my ever-growing heart on a red-eye to London, and hopped off the plane to what felt like a new world.

I had never been to Europe before. My knowledge about the continent was so slim, I didn’t even know it would be likely to rain in London. More importantly, I didn’t know that the memories I would make on Semester at Sea, would be so impactful nearly three years later.

I was a shell of a person before I started traveling- anxious, obsessive, and afraid. I feared excitement and human connection, I worried both would be taken away all too quickly. This is the reality of who I was before traveling Europe in sixty days.

Of course, not everything came easy. There were days when I thought the comfort of my bed at home, or even the safety of the library on the ship, would be superior to exploring a new city with new faces. Study abroad was what healed me, but I had to work for it. 

Little memories are what I find to be most impactful. I remember the crew members knowing my name, even though I frequently ate breakfast alone with a book and didn’t always engage much. I remember the first time I felt like a new person had “broke through” to me. I had wanted to see a fortress in Finland, and secretly feared going alone. By the time I had voiced my concerns, a crowd of girls with similar interests wanted to go with me. 

I of course loved the sunsets, but they were not my favorite memories. My favorite moments on Semester at Sea were the ones I felt most alive. I think about dancing on a table in Portugal (…after having my first mojito.) I reminisce treading the water in France, or feeling bold and unafraid in Russia, despite being horribly lost. On my worst days today, these are the moments that are giving me extra reasons to smile. 

Semester at Sea taught me to be honest with myself. I knew after traveling, trying new foods and customs, and making new friends, that the change had to come from within. If you asked me today what my favorite place in the world is, I can still say after seeing 16 countries in three years, my favorite place is anywhere. If I haven’t been there yet, it’s on my list.

I believe in an unfolding chain of events, that everything has a consequence. My consequence for Semester at Sea was studying abroad again. This time, I studied in Ireland, for a whole year. My next consequence starts in August– graduate school in Dublin! If I hadn’t done Semester at Sea, I don’t think I would have made it through college. I say this not to be dramatic or extreme, but because the person I was back then needed to see the world and get perspective. 

If I hadn’t done Semester at Sea, I wouldn’t have found Ireland. I wouldn’t have found love. Most importantly, I would not, in any circumstances, have found myself.

I’ll end with a quote… “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” 

Post-surgery updates

Hi everyone!

As many of you know, I recently had hip surgery. It’s been a painful process since I got hurt in March, but I am feeling optimistic that the operation I had on Thursday, June 15th will make all the difference. I’m currently on the road to recovery!

In the operation, I had some impingement corrected, as well as got a torn area of cartilage partially shaved down. While the recovery is difficult and often overwhelming, I’ve decided instead to make a list of positives that have come from surgery. Each day, I’ll add to this list in order to retain perspective. Hopefully, this will help to keep the negative thoughts at bay. Here are today’s positives:

  1. Quality time with loved ones: Since I got hurt, I have had the wonderful chance to spend more time with family. My mom and I have had some wonderful bonding time in which we can have important discussions, and I feel close and loved. My dad and sister have also been incredibly helpful and supportive, whether that means helping me get breakfast in the morning or making sure I have enough books to read to keep me distracted from pain.
  2. Friends have shown their true colors: Brief messages and phone calls asking me how I’m feeling have gone a long way. Friends have been checking on me every day and offering kind words of support. I feel supported and cared for.
  3. Feeling loved and loving in return: My boyfriend, Michael, has been offering a metaphorical shoulder to lean on from day one. I know I can rely on him during this tough time for a few uplifting words, some gentle condolences, and I am secure in the knowledge that I can love and be loved in return. I am confident that I would do the same for him, if he were in this situation.
  4. A strong medical team: I am thankful for a medical team that I can trust to take care of me in an operation. I am grateful to have had treatment at a good hospital with an excellent doctor.
  5. Little wins everyday: “While every day might not be good, there is something good in every day.” Since the surgery, each day has brought little successes. The other night, I slept through the night without waking up and needing more medication. This morning I am feeling well enough to sit up and write.
  6. A little daily dose of optimism: Even though it is painful, and I need help with small things, I am thankful that each day brings me closer to a full recovery. That soon I’ll be entering physical therapy, and then running marathons in no time! (Just kidding!)

Five little ways to make the most of study abroad

Everyone’s advice before studying abroad is always, “Make the most of it, because it all goes by too quickly.” But how exactly do you do that, and what are the easiest ways to make your experience more meaningful? After three semesters abroad, here are my top tips on making the most of this special experience.

Travel If you’re in Europe, budget airlines, trains, and bus systems will take you around the continent for a discounted rate. See as much of the world as you can, chances are, you’ll only have this opportunity a handful of times.

IMG_3100

Spend time in your host country That said, it can be easy to spend every weekend in a new city when you’re abroad. Focus your energy on the country you chose to study in. Getting to know the culture, people, and environment of your chosen study abroad location is an experience you’ll always treasure.

Eat local Skip McDonald’s! One of my personal guidelines for being abroad is to never spend money on a meal that you could get at home. If you’re on a budget, try some street food in your new country. Between haggis in Scotland, and stroopwaffels in Amsterdam, the local street cuisine is always exciting and top-notch.

IMG_3316

Put down the phone Yes, it’s tempting to Instagram every meal or major tourist attraction, but life is only measured in moments. Looking back, you’ll be glad you seized every opportunity for new adventures instead of worrying about the amount of likes on a photo. Be sure to be living for yourself and not your social media followers. Be wholly present in your new surroundings.

Engage with locals It’s tempting to stay comfortable within your group that you studied abroad with, and only travel and socialize with a familiar cohort. In order to maximize your study abroad experience, it’s crucial to get to know the local people and customs. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

 

How to apply for graduate school in Ireland as a non-EU international

Congratulations! You’ve made the awesome decision to get a postgraduate degree in Ireland. Not to worry if the application process seems daunting at first. Through my own experience applying to graduate programs in Ireland, here are my top tips for making the process as streamlined and simple as possible. 

Decide on what you want to study With so many world-renowned universities abroad, it can be easy to let location be the initial factor. Instead, narrow it down by programs. Are you interested in a Master’s or a doctorate? What would be your speciality? As an undergraduate studying English, I began with making a list of what my interests were. For example, I knew I didn’t want to specialize in something like 18th century fiction or strictly American writing. Instead, I searched for a program that would cater to my passion for modern literature. Find a postgraduate program that allows you to study something you already know that you’re passionate about. 

How long do you want to be studying? Most programs in Ireland require non EU internationals to be full time Master’s students. This means you will achieve your Master’s degree in a full calendar year. One of the advantages of getting a doctorate degree in Ireland, however, is that most programs are complete within three years. Choose whichever timeline is best for you and your interests. 

Utilize all your resources at your undergraduate university When I began the application process, my undergraduate university was very involved in aiding the application process. While the resources my school provided such as the career development and global education centers did not have specific knowledge on programs in Ireland, they were willing to research on my behalf. Student career centers are also an excellent resource to read cover letters, personal statements, and give a final read-through for all applications. In my personal experience, my professors were my biggest allies, as they all attended some sort of postgraduate school themselves. Professors and lectures are there to support you, and they’ll be excellent support systems in terms of recommendation letters and advice going forward in your academic career. 

Narrow down your chosen applications by location You can’t go wrong with any Irish university. There are definite perks to living in cities such as Cork or Dublin, as well as residing in the gorgeous countryside. If you are a person that loves hustle and bustle, Dublin is obviously a very attractive choice. If you are looking for a quieter setting, I suggest looking in smaller towns or cities with programs that align with your interests. 

Use any and all international resources In my applications to University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin, I found myself incredibly fortunate to have access to support from their international and global offices. Sending an email or a making a quick call to the relevant school or admissions office will relieve all sorts of stress during the application process. 

See what perks each institution can offer Does the university offer on-campus residences for international students? How do the universities compare in terms of research opportunities in the field you are interested in? Be sure to research all the important ‘bonuses’ to attending each university you are interested in. You may find that your dream school offers you everything and more, including scholarships!

Research funding opportunities For me, this was the big question- How on earth am I going to pay for this? Many universities will offer scholarships, grants, or other major financial awards. Other programs fortunately work well with North American loan systems in order to help pay for tuition. Seize every scholarship opportunity available. A small award can go a long way! 

Trust your gut instinct After you’ve received your acceptances from the programs, it’s time to choose the university where you will continue your studies. Trust yourself in this process. Deciding between the three programs I’d been accepted to was truthfully one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make. I narrowed down my selection by these criteria:

  • Will I have an easier time getting a job with this degree?
  • Is this a subject I can see myself enjoying for the foreseeable future?
  • Does the school offer networking opportunities for future employers?
  • How do I feel about the campus? Can I see myself being at home here?

After many months of writing applications, accompanied by the subsequent anxiety awaiting decisions from the universities, I am fortunate enough to state that University College Dublin will be my new home in September 2017. Best of luck with the application process! 

Ten Signs You’ve Got A Serious Case of the Travel Bug

Has your wanderlust been getting out of hand lately? Are you day dreaming about your next adventure across the world, and missing places such as train stations and airports? If so, you may have been bitten by the travel bug. Here’s ten sure-fire ways to check if the travel bug has taken a liking to you:

  1. You’re reading all the travel books/guides you can get your hands on: Bill Bryson? Elizabeth Gilbert? You’ve read them all and can’t wait for more. Lonely Planet guides are on your nightstand, and you’ve already highlighted your dream adventures.
  2. Most social media you follow is travel related: College Tourist and NatGeoTravel’s Instagram accounts are perfect for your insatiable need to see the world. You even share some of your own photos for inspiration.
  3. You’re sub-consciously saving money: When out shopping with your friends, you find yourself thinking, “Do I really need that new shirt?” or “That new phone is the same price as a plane ticket…” Without even noticing it, you might be budgeting for your next trip around the world.
  4. You talk about travel all the time: Remember that time you danced on a table in Portugal, or the cruise you took around Norway? You’ve been telling the same stories repeatedly, but that’s because you’re hoping to re-live the moment.
  5. You write in a journal: Because of your love for adventure, you’re a writer at heart. You live to capture moments and feelings and to document what you saw. The pages of your journal are filled with descriptions of sights and feelings, and you proudly look back upon them long after your return.
  6. Your biggest splurge was on a nice camera: Serious travelers need to capture what they see, and your nice new camera is your prized possession. You take it on every adventure and you’re sure to take good care of it.
  7. You know how to pack lightly: You can pack for three weeks of backpacking around Europe in an LLBean backpack. You know to wear layers, pack only the essentials, and live out of a suitcase for as long as you need. You’re smart and efficient when it comes to packing, and you know not to bring unnecessary changes of clothes .
  8. You collect moments, not things No souvenir is going to do your adventure justice. You know that its the journey that matters, not some generic trinket you can buy at any souvenir shop. If you are to buy something from a gift shop, it had meaning and importance to you.
  9. You are respectful of other cultures You know that when you enter a mosque or a temple you need to cover your hair. You know to wear something conservative clothes to holy sites such as the Vatican, and to speak to the best of your ability in the native language before asking locals for help. This applies to local diversity, as well. You are the first to express curiosity in learning about where someone else comes from.
  10. Your favorite book is your passport I don’t know who said, “Of all the books in the world, the best stories are found between the pages of passports,” but no sentiment has ever been more true to you. Your passport is your prized possession and you show off your stamps from other countries with pride.

The Realities of Reverse Culture Shock

It’s been over a year since I left Ireland after studying there, but truthfully, I’m still dealing with homesickness and some residual reverse culture shock.  I know rationally that I will be back soon, but this hiccup with my impending hip surgery has compromised my emotional state. Here are the realities of leaving the place you love, and still dealing with it over a year later:

Every Place or Conversation Pales in Comparison to What Was Once Before: After leaving an exciting and exotic location, everything in your hometown seems mundane. No person or place is as interesting as where you were before. Every minor inconvenience seems dramatized, whether that be the lack of public transportation in the US, or something as small as missing your favorite local meal. Last year, I was enjoying the streets of Dublin on St. Patrick’s day with friends that were family. This year, I sat tearfully in a country-club eating bangers and mash with my parents, trying to put on a happy face. The contrast can be overwhelming at times.

All-Encompassing Anxiety There is a study in anthropology that says that when Westerner’s travel, they are terrified of wasting time. While that’s true, I think for me, it’s when I am not traveling I fear I am wasting my life. There is so much of the world left to see, and staying at home because of an injury is frustrating. I am worried I am wasting time, my young years should be spent exploring with the one I love. Instead, I am ensnared by this hip problem, limiting my movement physically and mentally. I am confined, when I was once so adventurous. While I understand that this is just for now, I worry that the time is ticking away.

Talking About Your Experience Non-Stop I left Dublin a year ago, and it is still something I speak of multiple times a day. I talk about the coffee shops and restaurants that I miss, the places that I’ve seen, and the adventures that hold a special place in my heart. Most of all, I talk about the one I love most. Somehow, it makes it easier for me. It’s difficult to be somewhere when I know I belong somewhere else.

Little Details Hurt the Most When I went back to Dublin in December, I made a commitment to make myself to remember the smallest details, in order to carry me over until my next trip over. Even in the airport, I took note of the signs partially in English and partially in Irish, or the smell of the rain on the pavement. I can navigate the streets of Dublin in my sleep, and picture all the places that I called home for a year.

Every Minute Looks Forward to the Future There are very few moments of the day when I’m not thinking about the future. My graduate student career awaits, as does reuniting with the one I’ve loved for over a year now. I’ll be welcome there once again, this time for good and not just a visit. In the mean time, I have to fight like hell through a hip injury.

Until we meet again, Ireland… See you soon!

 

A Personal Essay: A Memory

Hi everyone! I wrote a personal essay for my nonfiction class. The premise is each section describes a photograph. Thanks for reading!

A Memory

Date: June 15th, 2014
Location: The London Eye, England, United Kingdom

The first plane ride without my parents brought me on my inaugural trip to Europe. I had never traveled without my family before, and now I was preparing for Semester at Sea, which embarked from London. Before boarding the British Airways flight, my mom had slipped me a card reading, “We are so proud of you.” For what, I wasn’t sure.

I had landed in London after a night of drinking vodka cranberries on the plane. I touched down in the thick fog at 5:00 in the morning, London time. It had been too early to check into the hotel, so my friend and I dropped off our suitcases behind the front desk and stepped outside, forgetting the new rain jacket my mom had bought me. I knew nothing about London, even anything as basic as weather.

Still, I was hell-bent on seeing what each city had to offer, starting with London. Despite my weariness, I took a double decker bus to the London Eye to watch the sunrise.  

As the Eye hovered with Big Ben centered in the background, I asked a stranger to take a picture of me. The sun was just starting to fight through heavy clouds. A couple in the same pod as me was bursting open a bottle of champagne.

“Excuse me,” I started, already handing over my new camera. “Can you get a picture of me?”

“Sure. Good for you traveling alone!”

I didn’t answer. In this photo, my eyes are bordered with dark purple circles. Still, my smile is genuine. I had worn the compass bracelet my mom had secured on my wrist before leaving the country. I looked wan and tired, but my eyes were hopeful.

Date: June 16th, 2014
Location: Southampton, England, United Kingdom

The clouds were starting to part during my next day in the UK.

I stood on the lido deck of the MV Explorer, the cruise ship that was taking me around ten new countries in sixty-three days. Semester at Sea would be my new home afloat.

In this picture, I am wearing a new jacket I’d purchased in a London gift shop.

The sign behind me reads, “The World is Our Campus.”

The dark circles under my eye persisted from early mornings and jet lag. The ocean behind me was silver and calm.

I was posing with a group of girls I’d met just minutes before when a man I’d later learn was a professor offered to take our picture. My arms are looped around a blond girl that I didn’t know would I would become close to.

I had no idea what I was in for.

Date: June 21st, 2014
Location: Hardanger Fjord, Norway

There aren’t words to describe the Norway fjords. No metaphor does them justice.

In the background of this photograph, there is a family of dolphins splashing behind me. I was posed on a small ferry boat, taking me from one island to another. The water was an impossible shade of turquoise that morning, after the sun had burst through the clouds.

My smile was all encompassing, a grin controlling my entire face. Sunglasses hid my eyes, but I know they were smiling, too.

When I showed this picture to my family a month later, my dad was the first to comment.

“Beautiful,” he said. “The view is nice, too.”

Date: June 26th, 2014
Location: The Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare, Ireland

The fog had been impossible that day.

After the three hour bus ride from Dublin, I was confronted with disappointment.

My eyes were teary in this photograph. I had been looking forward to seeing the majestic cliffs.

I had reached my hands out into the fog. I couldn’t see them in front of me.

My friend taking the picture had tried to calm me down.

“It’s okay, Mary. You can come back and see the Cliffs one day. You’ll just have to come back to Ireland.”

Of course, she was right. 

Date: May 5th, 2015
Location: Elon University, Belk Library, North Carolina

There were happy tears in the making of this picture.

I had been studying for a philosophy exam when I had gotten the news. A year of studying, applications, and essay writing had paid off.

I had been holding a printed out email. The insignia read, “Trinity College Dublin. School of English.”

I gestured to the guy in the cubicle next to me.

“Excuse me. Can you take a picture of me? This is a really big day.”

I would be returning to Ireland.

I called my mom, while sitting on the silent floor of the library. I couldn’t hold in the excitement much longer.

“I got into Trinity!”

“I am so proud of you, Mary.”

This time, I understood why.

Date: September 20th, 2015
Location: Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare, Ireland

I do not know if I necessarily believe in God, but I was certain a higher power had sent that glorious day to me. The sun was forceful and bright.

I stood at the very edge of the Atlantic. The sea was a dark shade of cobalt, juxtaposed by grassy cliffs the color of Christmas trees.

The Cliffs of Moher had been positioned in front of me, my back to the person taking the picture. I am looking at the Cliffs in this photograph, staring from a distance.

I couldn’t bring myself to look away.

Date: May 6th, 2016
Location: Dingle, Ireland

My Irish boyfriend and I had smiles that dominated our entire faces. We were riding a ferry boat through the harbor to see the local celebrity, Fungi the dolphin.

Before taking the picture, he had tightened his jacket around me.

“To keep you warm,” he said, holding me safe and steady. He sneaked a kiss when the other passengers weren’t looking.

I had gestured to the man sitting across from us.

“Sorry. Can you get a picture of us?”

I made the decision not to take any pictures of Fungi. Instead, I held Michael’s hand, and committed the day to memory.

A year later, and the photograph is framed by my bed.

Date: August 9th, 2016
Location: Hartsfield-Atlanta International Airport, Georgia

My mom and I were walking laps in the international terminal, waiting for my boyfriend’s arrival. The laps were intended to calm me down.

“So, are you going to run to him? Kiss him in front of everyone?”

“Mom. Nothing like that.”

He had managed to slip by me while I was talking. I had missed his grand entrance.

I tapped on his shoulder while he stood in line at the baggage claim. He hadn’t seen me sneak from behind. I smelled his familiar scent for the first time in three months.

“Hi. Fancy seeing you here.”

My mom had been standing a few feet away and snapped a picture of that first hug. Its my favorite picture, by far. 

Date: December 14th, 2016
Location: Dublin, Ireland

Days before getting on a plane to Ireland for Christmas, University College Dublin had sent me the most joyous of Christmas gifts.

I had bulldozed my way through the other passengers to get off the plane first. I hadn’t seen my man in four months.

After passing through the immigration to the arrivals gate, I spotted him. He held up a sign that said, “Sheehan.” His voice was gentler in person than I remembered, his tone soft and kind.

I handed him a Christmas card. Inside was my graduate school acceptance letter.

Next fall, I am moving to Dublin.

In this picture, we are smiling, arms around each other in the lights of the cafe we had one of our first dates in. He was wearing the shirt that he’d later given me for Christmas. Despite fourteen hours of travel, my eyes are bright and happy.

I am home.

Greetings

Hi, friends!

I’ve started a blog in order to write about my travel adventures (past and future), essays and articles I’ve been writing, and my future career as a graduate student at University College Dublin.

Please enjoy my various musings and reflections. I’ll be updating frequently in the months lead up to my departure in Ireland, as well as when I actually arrive to my new home.

In the mean time, here is a picture of Norway from June, 2014.

IMG_0719