#RightNowAFreshman versus In 2004, A Freshman…

Right now, a Freshman …

is perusing the trending Twitter hashtag #RightNowAFreshman to find other people sharing the same experience.

In 2004, a Freshman ….

thinks the last sentence was just a bunch of nonsense words. Also, why is there a pound sign?

Right now, a Freshman …

is wearing the same outfit my sister wore to her college move-in day in 1996.

In 2004, a Freshman …

would not have been caught DEAD in 90s clothes, unless it was part of a group Saved By The Bell Halloween costume. But I sure did look fly in my low-rise boot cuts, hot pink American Eagle polo, and pukka shell necklace!

Right now, a Freshman ….

is streaming episodes of Keeping Up With The Kardashians  – a show that has been on since she was 10, by the way.

In 2004, a Freshman …

had to be back at the dorm at 9:00 for the next episode of The Simple Life with Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. I’m not sure what a Kardashian is?

Right now, a Freshman ….

is illegally streaming episodes of Real Housewives from Korea in order to avoid awkward conversation with the new roomie.

In 2004, a Freshman …

was illegally downloading the latest Dave Matthews album on Kazaa – also in order to avoid awkward conversation with the new roomie. Then the internet broke.

Right now, a Freshman …

is realizing that her new roomie’s tumblr persona greatly misrepresented the kind of person she is.

In 2004, a Freshman …

is realizing that that 10-minute phone conversation on mom and dad’s land line with her new roomie greatly misrepresented the kind of person she is.

Right now, a Freshman …

is avoiding the lame alcohol-free foam party mixer the Student Association is putting on by staying in and making it a Netflix Night.

In 2004 a Freshman …

was avoiding the lame alcohol-free foam party mixer the Student Association is putting on by staying in and watching the MTV marathon of Laguna Beach. It’s so easy to keep watching when they don’t run commercials in between episodes! I wonder if I should buy the DVD when it comes out.

Right now, a Freshman ….

is nervous about wasting all of their good outfits the first week.

In 2004 a Freshman …

was nervous about wasting all of their good outfits the first week.

Denim minis were the perfect dress up/ dress down item.

Right now, a Freshman…

is desperately trying to connect her phone to the dorm’s weak WiFi network so she doesn’t get socked with data charges. I don’t have the unlimited plan, here.

In 2004 a Freshman …

accidentally opened the internet browser on her flip phone then shut it in a panic. We aren’t millionaires here.

Right now a Freshman …

has decided that she’s not really the kind of person that goes to Frat parties. This is likely to change within a few weeks despite her aversion to pastel shorts worn with Oxford shirts.

In 2004 a Freshman ….

also decided that she wasn’t really the kind of person that goes to Frat parties, but changed her mind within a few weeks despite her aversion to popped collars and cargo shorts.

Right now a Freshman ….

is wondering if it would be too much to Google Maps her way from her dorm to all of her class buildings.

In 2004 a Freshman ….

had to learn how to get around campus with a one of those old-timey maps with a cartoon of the wind in the corner, the advice of upperclassmen who knew the secret tunnels between buildings, and a portal to Narnia. Who designs these campuses?

Right now a Freshman …

is letting her tumblr posts get real dark for a while. Moving is hard.

In 2004 a Freshman …

keeps posting cryptic away messages on AIM for a while. Moving is hard.

Right now a Freshman …

is ignoring the groups of future friends in her floor’s ice breaker game, choosing to mass text old friends instead.

In 2004, a Freshman ….

was ignoring the groups of future friends in her floor’s ice breaker game, dashing back to her room as soon as it’s done to chat on AOL with old friends instead.

Right now a Freshman …

is wondering whether it’s too soon to Snapchat that cute guy from the next floor up.

In 2004, a Freshman …

is wondering whether it’s too soon to Myspace friend that cute guy from the next floor up. Will these people EVER work their way into my Top 8?

Right now a Freshman …

is on Instagram, gathering evidence that Miley is seriously starting to get out of hand.

In 2004, a Freshman…

was on Perez Hilton, gathering evidence that Lindsay Lohan is seriously starting to get out of hand. Hey, did you know that Billy Ray Cyrus has kids? No, I don’t care, either.

Right now, a Freshman…

thinks that she’ll “never change who she is,” but also knows that if she ever got famous she would be on Insta visiting kitten farms with Taylor Swift in a hot second.

In 2004, a Freshman …

thinks that she’ll “never change who she is,” but also knows that if she ever got famous she would be on Oh No They Didn’t stumbling out of a club with Lo Bosworth in a hot second.

Right now, a Freshman …

is establishing herself as the “funny one” on her floor with her spot-on impression of “Miley, what’s good?”

In 2004, a Freshman…

was establishing herself as the “funny one” on her floor with her spot-on impression of “that’s hottttt” (I was *known* for it).

Right now, a Freshman…

is stealing Trump 2016 stickers from cars on campus. Who DOES that? Hillary forever!

In 2004, a Freshman …

was stealing Bush/Cheney 2004 stickers from cars on campus. Who DOES that? Kerry forever!

Right now, a Freshman…

Thinks socialism could work in theory, it’s just never been implemented properly. Posts a rant about it on tumblr. Has not done any class reading yet.

In 2004, a Freshman ….

Thought the same thing, but posted it on a “board” online. Also had not done any class reading yet.

Right now, a Freshman…

Has decided she’s being *serious* about school now. Has created separate desktop folders for all her different classes.

In 2004, a Freshman….

Has decided that she’s being *serious* about school now. Uses ALL the different highlighter colors.

Right now a Freshman ….

is making “friends” with some random kids they won’t be talking to by next semester.

In 2004, a Freshman…

Remembered those people well enough to friend them on The Facebook once that came out … and are still Facebook friends with them to this day. Not sure why.



Pop Culture Extra Credit: College Edition

A couple months ago, my alma mater, Emerson College, announced that starting in the Fall of 2016, there will be a new major available to students – a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Comedic Arts, AKA a degree in comedy. Emerson is a communication and arts school where being a musical theatre major doesn’t make you a nerd and Quidditch is the top sport. We’re known for having unusual or quirky things that you wouldn’t find at a “normal” college. When I first heard the news, I thought, ‘Oh, that makes sense’. The school already offers classes on things like puppetry and “Queer TV After Ellen Came Out”, so yeah, a comedy major sounds about right.

However, it was a much bigger question mark to the rest of the world who went to schools that had classes like Accounting and football teams. Emerson even got a mention from Seth Meyers who suggested students can “just take your tuition money and burn it in front of your parents.” Fair.

So with kids heading back to college over the next few weeks, I thought that there must be other schools out there that offer odd, or pop culture-centric classes. Luckily, the American educational system did not let me down. Here are just a few courses you can take right now – did you guys take any weird classes in college?

Emerson College {Boston, MA}

TV Creators: Understanding the Whedonesque


This course will use the career of Joss Whedon to introduce students to the variety of positions in the entertainment industry and their potential for fulfilling and creative work… By examining his work at various stages, students will better understand auteur theory, modern industrial entertainment production, and artistic production across media. Works covered include: Roseanne, Alien: Resurrection, Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a film and TV series, Angel, Firefly and Serenity, Dollhouse, The Cabin in the Woods, The Avengers, Much Ado About Nothing, Buffy: Season Eight, and Astonishing X-Men.

Class Notes:

Surprisingly enough, I’m not too familiar with the Whedonverse. The closest I’ve ever gotten is watching Dr. Horrible multiple times over. Back in my day, this class was specifically about dissecting Buffy, and not any of Joss Whedon’s other works. My friend (who shall not be named because in her words, ‘I have a reputation to uphold’) took the Buffy class and had this to say about it: “12-year-old me couldn’t believe she was watching one of her favorite shows in class to achieve a real college degree, but it was surprisingly one of the most demanding classes (work load wise) that I have ever taken.” As I think we’re going to find with the rest of these courses, it may sound silly at first, but it’s probably really interesting and a lot of work.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology {Cambridge, MA}

Topics in Comparative Media: American Pro Wrestling

well this is frightening


This class will explore the cultural history and media industry surrounding the masculine drama of professional wrestling. Beginning with wrestling’s roots in sport and carnival, the class examines how new technologies and changes in the television industry led to evolution for pro wrestling style and promotion and how shifts in wrestling characters demonstrate changes in the depiction of American masculinity. The class will move chronologically in an examination of how wrestling characters and performances have changed, focusing particularly on the 1950s to the present. Students may have previous knowledge of wrestling but are not required to, nor are they required to be a fan (although it is certainly not discouraged, either).

Class Notes:

Exactly what major is this class fulfilling? I particularly like the disclaimer at the end. ‘You don’t have to be a fan of WWE… except you should probably be if you’re spending money on this class.”

Rutgers University {New Jersey}

Feminist Perspectives: Politicizing Beyoncé


Calling all the single ladies: this exploration into Queen Bey’s influence on feminism, race, gender, and culture helps students become more aware of the way in which pop culture shapes society. Most classes that are named for celebrities deal with sociologies of fame or psychologies of human behavior, but Kevin Allred’s version zeroes in on politics. By juxtaposing Beyoncé’s song lyrics with readings by distinguished black leaders like Sojourner Truth and Octavia Butler, students ask and attempt to answer the question, “Can Beyoncé’s music be seen as a blueprint for progressive social change?” Yet the more appropriate question may be: Who runs the world? Beyoncé.

Class Notes:

Sign. Me. Up. The person who wrote this description is clearly a member of the BeyHive, so that’s already a plus. But like previously mentioned, this class sounds hard as shiiiit. But that’s what you get when you break down the genius that is Queen B.

Georgia Regents College {Augusta, Georgia}

Good Kids, Mad Cities


Taking its name from Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 album, this course will examine the role of urban living on the development of young people. In Kendrick’s case, “the streets sure to release the worst side of my best” (Lamar 58). By studying and analyzing various literature, films, and K. Dot’s album, we will consider what effects our characters’ surroundings have on who they become as adults. The cities we will be visiting, in our imaginations, are Dublin, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Class Notes:

This class should be offered at more colleges, TBH.

Middlebury College {Middlebury, Vermont}

Urban America & Serial Television: Watching The Wire


Frequently hailed as a masterpiece of American television, The Wire shines a light on urban decay in contemporary America, creating a dramatic portrait of Baltimore’s police, drug trade, shipping docks, city hall, public schools, and newspapers over five serialized seasons. In this course, we will watch and discuss all of this remarkable-and remarkably entertaining-series, and place it within the dual contexts of contemporary American society and the aesthetics of television. This is a time-intensive course with a focus on close viewing and discussion, and opportunities for critical analysis and research about the show’s social contexts and aesthetic practices.

Class Notes:

I would take this class for one reason, the same one reason I watch the entirety of The Wire in the first place: Mr. Idris Elba. God bless.

Colorado College {Colorado Springs, Colorado}

Queen Bees, WannaBees, and Mean Girls


Queen Bees, WannaBees, and Mean Girls explores the means and motives behind why women seek authority and the actions they are willing to take in order to hold onto it. Students will examine this concept through the use of literary works and movies, such as the 2004 film Mean Girls.

Class Notes:

Temporarily ignoring the fact that first sentence makes it seem like this class is slightly sexist, it would be interesting to take a look into this culture of mean girls. And obviously, the class would have to be held on Wednesdays.

American University {Washington, D.C.}

Contemporary American Culture: Hunger Games


The Hunger Games trilogy is a publishing phenomenon that has dramatically impacted American popular culture. Using the series as a case study, this course examines the interplay of class, politics, ethics, and marketing. Topics covered include oppression, feminism, food deserts, rebellion, the publishing industry, and social media marketing. 

Class Notes:

Hunger Games isn’t just for kids, y’all. I also read “food deserts” as “food desserts” and immediately started to think what significance desserts had in the books, scouring my brain to remember Katniss’ fave food – then I realized it said “deserts” as in, the lack of food pretty much everywhere besides the Capitol. The Hunger Game isn’t just for kids, y’all.

Georgetown University {Washington, D.C.}

Philosophy and Star Trek


Star Trek is very philosophical. What better way, then, to do philosophy, but to watch Star Trek, read philosophy and hash it all out in class? That’s the plan. This course will center on topics in metaphysics that come up again and again in Star Trek. In conjunction with watching Star Trek, we will read excerpts from the writings of great philosophers, extract key concepts and arguments and then analyze those arguments. Questions we will wrestle with include:

I. Is time travel possible? Could you go back and kill your grandmother? What is time?
II. What is the relation between your mind and your brain–are they separate items or identical? Can persons survive death? Could a machine someday think? Is Data a person?
III. What is a person? Must you have the same body to be you? Same memories? When do we have one person, and when do we have two (think of the episodes where people “split” or “fuse”).
IV. Do you have free will, or are you determined by the laws of nature to do exactly what you wind up doing (while believing you have free will)? Or both? What is freewill?

Class Notes:

This description is VERY thorough. Not only that, but seems questionable. For instance, why is one of the questions, “Could you go back and kill your grandmother?”. First of all, it should be “Would”. Second of all, what? Is this a plot point in the Star Trek series? If yes, WHY? Also, “What is a person?” ??? This could be a very deep and depressing conversation I personally wouldn’t want to have in a classroom setting.

Georgia State University {Atlanta, Georgia}

American Poetry: Kanye vs. Everybody

kanye vs


According to the syllabus, Kanye makes for a useful lens through which to “investigate the continuous development of African American poetry and poetics—the uses of language and literature to represent blackness and Americanness in particular—observing shifting meanings in and of the text with important considerations of race, class, gender, and sexuality.” Throughout the semester, students decode Kanye’s work and interviews, which Dr. Heath believes help draw a line from the Harlem Renaissance to the black nationalist era to current-day hip-hop.

Class Notes:

Can’t tell if Kanye would love this course or disagree with it so much he’ll interrupt during class to say just how much he hates it. Is that a dated reference? Him and TSwift are all good now? Ok.

University at Buffalo {Buffalo, New York}

Breaking Down “Breaking Bad”


“Breaking Bad” was one of the most spectacular narrative achievements in television. Its five seasons comprised some 60 hours of a single narrative arc, something no film or television program (cable or commercial) has ever accomplished… In this seminar, we’ll take a close look at all the components of the series; we’ll talk about what was done, how it was done, why it worked. There is one prerequisite: that members of the seminar have seen the series before the seminar’s first meeting. We’re going to be studying it, not greeting it. We’ll look at some segments during the semester, but only so we can deconstruct the work. I’ll expect participants to do class presentations on different aspects of the epic, and a term paper on a topic of their choice.

Class Notes:

Unlike the American wrestling course, watching the series IS a pre req to being in this class. Luckily, most people on this planet have watched Breaking Bad. There’s gotta be something meta about teaching a class about a show that features a chemistry teacher who isn’t the greatest teacher.

University of California, Berkeley {Berkeley, California}

Arguing with Judge Judy: Popular ‘Logic’ on TV Judge Shows”


TV “Judge” shows have become extremely popular in the last 3-5 years. A fascinating aspect of these shows from a rhetorical point of view is the number of arguments made by the litigants that are utterly illogical, or perversions of standard logic, and yet are used over and over again. For example, when asked “Did you hit the plaintiff?” respondents often say, “If I woulda hit him, he’d be dead!” This reply avoids answering “yes” or “no” by presenting a perverted form of the logical strategy called “a fortiori” argument “from the stronger” in Latin. The seminar will be concerned with identifying such apparently popular logical fallacies on “Judge Judy” and “The People’s Court”and discussing why such strategies are so widespread. It is NOT a course about law or “legal reasoning” Students who are interested in logic, argument, TV, and American popular culture will probably be interested in this course. I emphasize that it is NOT about the application of law or the operations of the court system in general.

Class Notes:

As the lawyer of this Cookies + Sangria duo, I’m sure Molly can support or oppose this much better than I can, but in theory, this class actually sounds more interesting than it should? Although I hate watching court show, I’m sure there’s a psychology to it that can be studied. Or just a reminder of how stupid Americans can be.


Evolution of Drinking, As Told By A Lame Adult

It is St. Patrick’s Day. Despite the fact I grew up around a lot of Irish folks at school (see: Molly, our school’s mascot “Lil’ Irish”), and have seen traditional Irish dancing more times than you would think, I’m still not a big celebrator of the biggest drinking day of the year. And that’s probably why. I probably drink alcohol a little less than what is considered average for a human. Water is usually my drink of choice when I go out (unless I’m feelin like a big spender) and I’ve never really come home and wound down with an alcoholic bev (unless I’m under some maj stress).

So on this St. Patrick’s Day, I urge you lovely readers to celebrate responsibly, and also judge my drinking habits through the years. My evolution of drinking is what some consider lame and embarrassing, but whatever. I’ll sip my iced coffee and y’all drink your Guinness and we’ll be straight. Slainte!

High School

Drink of Choice: Smirnoff Ice

I’m basing this next fact off of high school romcoms like Can’t Hardly Wait and American Pie, but I was a late bloomer when it came to drinking. I didn’t enjoy the sweet taste of alcohol and being drunk until the summer before senior year. I clearly remember being at our friend’s cottage and getting “shitfaced” on Smirnoff Ice and Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Now, I’d have to throw back at least 10 of those to even feel buzzed, but apparently back then, it out took a few to rap and dance around a kitchen wearing a paper crown.

Freshman Year of College

Bud Light

I feel like it’s important I note that in high school, I swore off beer for some reason. I don’t remember what I had against it, but I remember that my friends knew I didn’t drink beer. By the time I got to college, that’s all they had at parties (the total of like 5 I attended freshman year). So I really had no choice. I stuck with the easy one, though. Also, there was a  time I went to some party and a frat dude started pouring me and my friend Jack and Cokes, but I don’t drink soda (I’m a winner), and he had already poured like a 1/4 cup (?) of Jack in the cup so he just handed me the Jack sans Coke. Poor decisions.

Sophomore Year of College


My good friend had taken bartending classes around this time, and instead of making her make me a fancy drink, I made her make me screwdrivers because orange juice was easily available at the school’s convenience store in our building. She also made a lot of Sex of the Beaches for me. I lived on the edge.

Junior Year of College

Midori Sour

I tried to up my game a bit and I thought I was being classy by ordering Midori Sours, which my fried described as Ecto Coolers. Because they’re bright neon green and taste like juice. So classy, I know. It’s weird I didn’t have more friends.

Somewhere In Between All This

Shots Shots Shots Shots Shots

I later got sick (not literally) of drinking so many drinks just to get drunk, it was like an annoying task for me. So my new theory was to just take shots and nix the cocktails and beers all together. What an idiot.

Senior Year of College

Long Island Iced Tea

Apparently it took 22 years for me to figure out the power and kick Long Islands have, and it was exactly what I wanted. A lot of alcohol in a compact drink, enough to make me only kind of remember what had happened last night. It was my go to at my favorite Boston bar (RIP Sweetwater) and my best/worst friend during Senior Week. Woof.

Post-Grad, Year One

Stella Artois/Blue Moon

I decided to get rid of the Long Islands (after Senior Week) and chose classier (again, is it tho?) beers like Stella Artois and Blue Moon. I needed them to be ice cold and on draft, and only a few were needed to do the trick.

Post-Grad, Year Two


I was invited to the Wine Expo by my two Wino friends who volunteered at the event and had free tickets. We basically went around and sampled dozens of wines from around the world and snacked on free samps, and it was magical.

Post-Grad, Year Who Da Fuq Knows


I don’t know if it’s because I moved to California, but just like avocados, I discovered a new love for margaritas that I never really had before. Regular on the rocks is my jam, but I won’t say no to a good strawberry or mango or whatever flavor my fave Mexican restaurant is peddling that day.

Am I Still Considered a Youth

More Wine

As you might be able to tell, we’ve ventured into current times. Over the past year or so, I’ve opted to get a nice glass of wine at a bar or restaurant in lieu of a fancy drink, but, again, that also could be triggered by the fact cocktails can be expensive, yo.

I’m Going Home Before Midnight


God, I just love water so much. A nice ice cold glass with some fresh lemon? I could get buzzed just thinking about it.

Orientation Express: Revisiting College Move-In Day 10 Years Later

By now, most kids are back in the school routine and still in the honeymoon period of getting to see friends, being in a higher grade, and brand new school supplies (just me?). With this new school year starting, I’ve been reminded that it’s been a whole DECADE since I began a whole new experience in college. Yiiikes.

Earlier this year, we spent a whole week reminiscing about our high school experience, but anyone who’s been to college knows that it’s a whole different beast than anything you’ve ever encountered in your previous 18 years of living. Whether you stay in your hometown, move to a different region of your state, or go across country, every freshman still gets that ‘Holy crap what am I getting myself into can I even handle this level of responsibility’ feeling on the first day they move into college.

For me, it was a unique experience to say the least. My parents and I loaded up our rental van and drove from Rochester to Boston with all my crap in the back. Here’s a thing to know about the college I went to: it’s right in the middle of the city. Like the “campus” is blocks of downtown Boston. This was the view from the building I lived in my freshman and sophomore years.


With that in mind, moving about 900 students in on a busy Boston street is no easy feat. A lane of traffic has to be used specifically for freshman, and it has to be done very promptly and efficiently to keep the flow of traffic moving. I remember we pulled up to the building that was soon to be my home for the next 2 years, and looked out the car window to see (and hear) a bunch of screaming, enthusiastic college kids wearing the same shirt and for some reason, were really excited to see my car pull up. After a few admin tasks were completed, I vividly remember the very first moment I stepped out of the car and the important girl with the headset said, “Everyone welcome Traci to Emerson!” and a group of about 15 crazy people said “WELCOME TRACI” and cheered and yelled and started stealing my stuff. No, really. Well okay, they were taking everything out of our car, placing it in carts, and hauling it up to my dorm room so I would barely have to touch a thing (I didn’t lift a single item. It was the greatest).

Me, when first getting to my dorm on move-in day

The kids in the shirts, I would later find out were “OLs”, short for Orientation Leaders, made up of Sophomore, Junior and Senior volunteers who have a lot of Dunkin Donuts coffee and glitter running through their veins. In more recent years, the OLs have taken to dressing up in colorful outfits to, I don’t know, make the freshman feel more welcome? There’s really no way to accurately describe the shock when it comes to the very first moments of move-in day, so here’s a video instead. Also take note of the dad at 1:18.

The rest of orientation week was filled with icebreaker games (THE ABSOLUTE WORST) at this event called Hooray!, a guy nicknamed the “Dating Doctor” who talked about dating and sex, and as a girl coming from a Catholic education for all the previous years of my life, this was quite a change. There was a boat cruise, an epic dance where all the OLs dressed up in various costumes and busted moves along to popular songs of 2004 (similar to this, but imagine it being 10 years ago), and this 1980s safety video for everyone that had never lived in a city before. Honestly, they showed this, and in my opinion, it’s the greatest tradition our college has. A Bahston cop, dramatic reenactments, horrible acting, I mean, really.

“ATMs: probably the greatest invention ever to exist.”

In the end, Orientation week was a good way to transition into college life and not feel so scared about the daunting task of “being in college”. So for you freshman out there who still feel scared or uneasy about your new life, just know that the next four (or five or eight+, depending on the interest in furthering your education or level of long-term commitment)  years of your life will be some of the greatest you’ll ever have. You’ll make lifelong friends, you’ll learn things about yourself, about others, about LIFE. Just enjoy yourself. If those crazy OLs can let go of their inhibitions and wear tutus and banana costumes on the streets of Boston, you can make it through your freshman year.

PS: Please tell me our school wasn’t the only one with eccentric move-in/orientation events! Did any of you guys have a similar or horrible experience?


How To Throw An American-Themed Party

Nobody does a themed party like American college kids — except, that is, for Europeans parodying American college kids. Somehow I’d never heard of these star-spangled fetes until Buzzfeed featured them last week, but they’re pretty darn awesome:

They’re not just using solo cups, they ARE the solo cups:

Redcups #americanparty

A photo posted by EVITA. (@evitarozenberg) on

For some reason, there are always buckets of popcorn, although I’ve only ever seen those at a movie theater:

Despedida de sandra a la americana!! #americanparty #popcorn #friends

A photo posted by Esther (@egn88) on

And marshmallows on toothpicks because… actually, I have no idea here. Maybe they’ve heard of s’mores and are just getting the “marshmallow on a stick” interpretation a little wrong:

#americanparty #altmanparty #redcup

A photo posted by Alexander Altman (@qewhouse) on

Finally, this bash from Poland is by far the best of all. Gold star, Poland. This is brilliant:

american party

So, you want to throw an American-themed party yourself? We can help! Whether you’ve never stepped foot in “the colonies” or whether you’ve lived here your whole life (which adds a whole other layer of hilarity to the proceedings), we have some tips:

Solo Cups

When people think American party, they think red plastic cups – typically called “Solo cups” stateside, after the most popular brand. There’s actually a reason for this: tv shows and movies avoid showing teens consuming alcohol, and even for adult parties, filmmakers may not want to show specific brands. Boom. Plastic cups – there could be anything in there! It doesn’t even have to be alcohol! (But it’s alcohol.)

In real life, these cups are pretty ubiquitous. There is an American country ode to the Red Solo Cup, so they’re as much a cultural institution as pickup trucks and barbeques. However, the cups also come in blue and yellow, so feel free to branch out a bit. If you have a keg or mixed drinks, you aren’t going to pour the bevs into a proper glass, at least not at a raging party where you’re going to drop it. But there’s an even more important reason that we all used these plastic cups in college….


Drinking games. They have them everywhere, but some of them are as American as Uncle Sam eating a rocket pop on the Fourth of July. Play these responsibly – for liability purposes I should advise you to use water, juice, soda, or iced tea for these games. And plenty of them require solo cups:

  • Flip cup: Form two teams. The teams make lines facing each other. Everyone has an equal, small amount of “beverage” in their plastic cups. The first person in each line consumes the bev, places their cup upside down at the edge of the table, then must tip the cup up from the rim, flipping it over. The next person in line can’t go until the person before them has successfully flipped their cup, with it landing squarely back on its rim. First team to finish wins.
  • Knockout flip cup: same as above, but the losing team must vote to eliminate a member. (THOSE WHO FALL BEHIND GET LEFT BEHIND. AMERICA.  RUGGED INDIVIDUALISM. CAPITALISM. AYN RAND. Et cetera.)  The teams then face off again, and the losing team of that round eliminates a member as well. You keep going until one of the teams – the loser – has no members left.
  • Beer Pong: I’m not going to explain this. Just watch an American college movie. As with all of these games, this is played internationally as well, but your exposure to it will depend on where you live.
  • Civil War: Like beer pong, but with three 10-cup triangles across on each side, three balls in play, and three players on each team.  Any person with a ball can shoot at any time, except when there is a ball in a cup in the triangle in front of you – then you must drink the offending …. soda, or whatever … first. A person is “out” when all of the cups in front of them are gone. The first team to have all of their cups eliminated loses. If a ball falls alongside the table, the players can run for it and, if need be, fight for it. It gets hairy. [I went to college in New York, so I wonder if Southern college kids play this, but call it Beer Pong of Northern Aggression.]

There are also games that don’t require red plastic cups – instructions available online:

  • Kings
  • Never Have I Ever
  • Quarters

Name Tags

Okay, we don’t really wear name tags at parties in the U.S., but why not have name tags and let everyone pick an “American” name? If you are in your 20s or 30s, I suggest these common monickers:

  • Ladies: Jessica, Ashley, Katie, Sarah, Stephanie, Jenny, Nicole, Danielle, Melissa, Megan
  • Gentlemen: Jason, Matt, Mike, Nick, Chris, Dave, Dan, Ryan, Andrew, Jim

You can also pick names of patriotic figures from American history and culture of yesteryear:

  • Ladies: Betsy Ross, Martha Washington, Annie Oakley, Laura Ingalls, sorry we don’t have more ladies but we didn’t let them do stuff for those first few centuries, really.
  • Gentlemen: Uncle Sam, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, Paul Revere, Davy Crockett

Patriotic Recitation Contests or Mad Libs

There are some American songs and speeches that are known world-wide. You could have a contest to see who can come the closest to singing or reciting the correct words to the following. I guarantee that people’s misheard lyrics and wrong guesses will be hilarious:

  • The Star-Spangled Banner
  • God Bless America
  • The Pledge of Allegiance
  • The Gettysburg Address
  • America The Beautiful
  • America (also known as My Country ‘Tis Of Thee, this song cribs the melody of God Save The Queen. When I was trying to figure out what song was called “America”, my brain went to “A-mer-i-ca, my home and native land.” That was wrong. That is Canada’s national anthem, with the word America stuck in front. Sorry, Canada. Sorry, America.)

Or, you could try these super-American children’s and folk songs:

  • Yankee Doodle
  • Take Me Out To The Ballgame
  • I’ve Been Working On The Railroad
  • Oh My Darling Clementine
  • Skip To My Lou
  • Oh, Susannah
  • She’ll Be Coming ‘Round The Mountain
  • Polly Wolly Doodle

Yes, those are all real songs.

You could also do  “mad libs.” Print out a sheet with the lyrics to these songs, but with blanks in the place of some of the words. Then see what people come up with. The funniest entry wins.


Here’s your big chance to find out why we Americans are so fat. We don’t actually eat most of these things at parties … but isn’t that exactly what you’d expect an American to say because we’re sensitive about being so fat? Here are some treats that just scream “USA! USA!”:

  • Hot dogs (or miniature hot dogs)
  • Hamburgers
  • Potato Chips
  • Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Peanut Butter (any American who’s lived abroad and tried to get their hands on peanut butter knows how hard this can be to find! You could make small, party-sized PB&J sandwiches. The PB is peanut butter, and the J is jelly, by which we mean jam. The seedless grape variety is both the most traditional and, in my eyes, the most disgusting.)
  • Oreos and Milk
  • Rocket Pops (red, white and blue Popsicles. It’s not that we eat them often, but they always remind me of summer and Independence Day.)
  • Chili
  • Apple Pie (I don’t even like Apple Pie, and Americans eat far less apple pie than the phrase “American as apple pie” would suggest, but I’d be remiss to leave it off the list.)
  • Boxed Macaroni & Cheese
  • S’mores, if you have some sort of fire situation handy. You can make them in the microwave, but it’s not the same.



I think we should all give a big round of applause to our pals in Poland for their selection, Pocahontas. Truly inspired. Here are some other red, white, and blue gems to play in the background of your party:

  • Baseball Movies: A League Of Their Own, Field Of Dreams, The Sandlot, Bull Durham, Bad News Bears, Angels In The Outfield
  • Iconic American Childhood films: Stand By Me, Now And Then, Little Women, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Little Rascals, Matilda (YES. YES, WE KNOW. But the movie was set in the ol’ U.S. of A.), My Girl, The Parent Trap (because maybe you’d feel more comfortable if half of the action is in London), Space Jam, Home Alone
  • Teen Fare: Grease, Clueless, Mean Girls, The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 10 Things I Hate About You
  • Patriotic Stuff With Wars In It: The Patriot, 1776, Gettysburg, Glory, Gone With The Wind, Saving Private Ryan, Flags Of Our Fathers
  • The Most American Movie of all: Forrest Gump, obviously. Or basically anything with Tom Hanks in it. Tom Hanks freakin’ loves America.
  • Tom Cruise movies: Top Gun, Mission: Impossible, Jerry Maguire, Risky Business
  • Will Smith movies: Men In Black, Independence Day
  • Westerns: The only person I know who watches Westerns in earnest is my dad, so I’m afraid I can’t help you there. He’d probably recommend stuff with John Wayne in it.


If it’s supposed to be like an American college party, you can try to get your hands on these cold, brewed fonts of liquid disappointment:

  • Keystone Lite
  • Milwaukee’s Best – The beer so bad that you’re like “Milwaukee. What the heck are you doing?” And the name of the beer, itself, responds “Ugh… My best.” Milwaukee is just doing its best, guys.
  • Busch Light
  • Natty Ice – I think the full name is Natural Ice but I don’t even know.
  • Pabst Blue Ribbon

Or, you could try these non-alcoholic American favorites:

  • Kool-Aid
  • Lemonade (it’s different from European lemonade!)
  • Iced tea
  • Sweet tea
  • Actual tea, but made incorrectly, according to everyone in the UK.
  • Soda (BECAUSE WE’RE FAT. We understand.)

You could also look up American mixed drink recipes, of course.


Okay, a lot of you are onto it, in a stereotypical way anyway: plaid, jerseys, baseball caps. But let’s get a little more particular:

  • The American Hipster: Facial hair (for men), bangs (for women), skinny jeans, an undersized plaid shirt, Converse
  • The Super-Fan: T-shirt, sweatshirt, and hat for various professional or college sports teams
  • The South-Western Classic: Plaid shirt, jeans, cowboy boots, cowboy hat. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone wear this in real life. Maybe at a country concert?
  • The Duggar: A long denim skirt or jumper, very buttoned-up top, clunky ugly shoes, permed hair.
  • The Person Of Wal-Mart: Pajama pants as pants, a large t-shirt featuring a cartoon character (ideally Tweety or Betty Boop) saying something “sassy”, or emblazoned with some other sort of “sassy” saying that’s not all-the-way funny, like “My Boyfriend’s Out of Town!” and then a picture of a kitten, sneakers.
  • The American Tourist: a camera, a fanny pack (yes, we know about that also), oversized sneakers
  • The Face of Yesteryear: Dress like a pilgrim, or an old-timey pioneer
  • The Jingoist: Wear a lot of red, white, and blue. Like, a whole lot.

The Decor

Well, Red, White and Blue, obviously. Because America. But you could make the decor into a game, too!

  • Print out pictures of the American presidents, number them, and tape them to the walls. Each person has a sheet of paper and they write the name of the president that corresponds with each numbered picture. The person with the most correct wins.
  • Same as above, but print out pictures of different American figures, landmarks, and items. For example, things like sports team logos, professional actors, the Statue of Liberty, covered wagons, the St. Louis Arch, Lucille Ball … Google is your friend, here.
  • Print multiple large non-labelled maps of the United States – or one very big map. Provide markers. Let guests label the different states or regions of the U.S. as best they can. Evidence shows that this will be very funny:


    MIDDLESHIRE. GUNS. Europe’s got jokes. Honestly just go look at all of these.

You can make Americans label maps of other lands. They won’t be good at it. For instance, Just last week my nephew and I were looking at a map of Canada, and he asked me where New Mexico was.  I said “Charley, New Mexico’s part of the United States.”

“Yeah,” the kid deadpanned, “But so’s Canada.”

American Party Archetypes

The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started A Conversation With At A Party – Cecily Strong. Look up the vids, non-Americans!

Most American college parties have the following people present. Please do try to invite them:

  • One drunk girl who is crying, accompanied by one friend who is trying to find out what the problem is.
  • Another friend of those girls who is saying something like “enough of this drama, I just want to dance.”
  • A guy who corners you with his “wit” and “sense of humor,” which actually means that he is quoting lines from comedy films of the past 10 years.
  • The couple who only talks to each other so why did they even bother leaving their house.
  • A person who is looking at or typing into their phone the entire time, even when speaking with you.
  • The person who takes unflattering photos of everyone and threatens to post them on social media.


We already made a playlist of Fourth of July tunes, but there are some genres to consider:

  • Country. Of course. Just be aware that back in the Myspace days, when people used to write what genre of music they were interested in, about 50% of people simply wrote “anything but country” – so it’s not a clear-cut American favorite.
  • Rap. Yes, we know that other countries have rappers. It’s very cute.
  • Old-school 60s Doo-Wop and Motown.
  • Modern indie-folk-country.
  • American icons: James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, etc.
  • Jazz. Not your typical party music, but it started here first.

Have a great American-themed party! If it goes well – or very, very poorly – send us a link to the pictures. AMERICA FOREVER.

So Your Mom’s On Facebook

Here’s a generational marker I never thought would make me feel old: I remember when Facebook first started. In the 2004-2005 school year, I was a Freshman in college and my school was one of the early adopters* of Facebook (or “the Facebook” as we called it at the time). When you met someone at a party, they’d ask if you were “on the Facebook.” After working with a kid on a group project, you’d go back to your dorm and discover that you’d been “poked.” Facebook was like a whole world populated solely by college kids.** It was like Lord of The Flies that way. You couldn’t get on there without an .edu address, and it was a parent-free zone.

Unless you’ve been Rip van Winkle-ing*** since 2005, you know what’s happened since. Like all things that have lost their youth culture cache, Facebook has been taken over by moms. If it hasn’t happened yet, it’s coming soon — the friend request from your mother. It’s bad. My mom is on Facebook, and she is the worst because she takes everything she reads very seriously and literally. A few months ago, she said to me “I didn’t know your cousin ‘Derek’ was gay!”.

“He’s not gay, mom. He has a girlfriend.” I know having a girlfriend isn’t the sine qua non of straightness, but I also have really solid gaydar.

“No. He’s gay. His status is “I am a homosexual.”

Oh, brother. Here we go. My cousin is that particular kind of dude-bro who has friends who sneak into his Facebook account and write homophobic stuff because they think it’s hilarious. By the by, his mom and sister are both lesbians.

“Mom. Nobody says “homosexual” except for Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh. That was Derek’s friends.”

Cut to two weeks later. “Derek is DEFINTELY gay. Look at his status now!”

I looked. His status was now “I like dick.” I considered explaining to her that nobody, gay or straight, would write that, but figured it was a losing battle.

There are a few ways to prevent scenarios like this:

Ignore Friend Request
This is the cleanest option, and works best with tech-clueless moms. You can tell her that the request didn’t go through, or assume that she’ll never know how to figure out if you’ve confirmed. If your mom is the type to nag a lot, is okay with computers, or will read a large-scale rejection into this, then I’d skip the ignore option.

Heightened Privacy Settings
Make a list of people you want to restrict, then make a “custom” post setting so that nothing is seen by people on those lists. If you have a bunch of gossip-mongers in your family, this might have to go beyond your mom. There are some things that I wouldn’t mind, say, my aunt seeing, but I know she’d bring it up to my mom, so I play it safe and hide it from all of them. That includes posts from this blog. One of my favorite gems of writing advice comes from Anne Lamott, who suggested you “write as if your parents are dead.” I find that “write as if your parents don’t use social networking” works almost as well.

Cleansing Your Past
A lot of us have stopped using Facebook in earnest. With full-time jobs and professional degrees on the line, we aren’t posting photos of us “totally wasted!” at 2am on a Saturday. We’re in bed by then anyway. However, if your mom is nosy enough, then she might reach into the way-back years. A while ago I took a trip down Facebook memory lane, and apparently I was kind of trashy and skanky in college. You might want to clean up your past a little. Just think of it as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Internet Record.

Sanitizing the Future
If you really don’t want to block your mom, then every time you write something you have to realize that your mom is going to see it – and, as I discussed above, is probably going to read a whole lot into it. It’s okay to write “Sooo tired!”. It’s not okay to write “I haven’t been this tired since I took a 24-hour bus ride to Florida, went to a sketchy karaoke bar, then stayed at the apartment of these iffy Southern frat boys who just said they were taking us out for grits then wouldn’t take us to our hotel.” This is a new life, and in this new life, your mom is on Facebook and that never happened.****

Continuing as you Were
Maybe you aren’t one of those people who has stopped really using Facebook. Maybe you’re also not one of those people whose life has turned staid and orderly after college. Maybe in that case, you’ll just say screw it, accept your mom’s friend request, and carry on posting as you were. You’re probably smarter than all of us, actually. While the rest of us are covertly restricting our photo albums or writing vague, cheerful statuses, you can just let it all hang out. Actually, if you do this right, you might repulse your mom so much that she will disavow of Facebook altogether.

I suggest you start with posting “I like dick.”

* My college got Facebook early because it was “the Harvard of the SUNY system,” which I guess is almost a compliment. Or almost an insult. Not sure which.
** Another thing that’s like a whole world populated solely by college kids: College.
*** Rip van Winklevossing?
****Only thing worse than spending 24 hours on a bus: spending 24 hours on a bus, then ending up in Florida.

It Doesn’t Get Better: Life After Graduation

Hey kids. Congrats on making it through about 17 years of school. Now you’re being released into the real world. How does it feel? Awesome, yet awful at the same time. For most, you’re probably not going to ever have to write another paper or take another test ever again in your life. Now it’s time to figure out what you’re going to do with that degree, where you’re going to use it, and who’s going to be there when you figure all that out.

I remember I once had a co-worker who was 30-something when I was a Senior in college. She was having a discussion with our boss about her 20s, and she said something like, ‘Oh I would never want to live through my 20s again. My 30s are much better. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing back then. It was horrible.’

22-year-old Traci thought she was being ridiculous. 27-year-old Traci thinks she’s absolutely correct.

Sorry to rain on your graduation parade, but I’m just going to give you a heads up on what to prepare yourself for in the near future.

Your first job out of college probs won’t be the start of your career

Listen, in this economy (insert gag sound for using that annoying phrase) you’re just lucky if you can get hired. While it’s not liked there aren’t any jobs available, it’s just that more people are applying for the same jobs and it’s just that more difficult to stand out from a plethora of applicants.

I had to work retail for a few years before getting the job I have now. It was half not hearing back from the places I applied to and half me not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I say, if you have a job that pays you money, but you’re still working towards your ultimate dream job, then it’s all good, homie.

Don’t be afraid to take chances

Not knowing what you’re doing in the future, or even in the next year can be scary. But you’re young. This is the right time to be an adult and be decisive. If a life changing opportunity comes up and you’re afraid to take it – don’t be. Now is a better time than any for trial and error.

In 2009, two of my best friends told me they were taking a road trip to LA and moving out west. I was in this place of ‘what do I really want to do career wise’ – and the only answer I could come up with was something entertainment related. I didn’t have the same resources in Boston so LA was the only logical choice. I went into it with a ‘fuck it who cares if I fail at least I tried attitude’. 3 months later, we hopped in a car and drove cross country and I haven’t looked back ever since.

Dorm life is over

Pack it up kids. Maybe one of the most heart wrenching things about graduating is that you won’t be able to see your BFFs every day like you’re used to. No more dining hall run ins, no more late night visits to the convenience store. Your clique as a whole will never be the same. There will be at least one person who moves away, or in some cases, everyone disperses back from whence they came. You’re never going to all live in the same place again ( of course I’m generalizing here, idk what your college life is life, but I’m gonna go ahead and make an ass out of you and me and say your friends are leaving you). It’s somehow different from high school, relationships and friendships have different dynamics when you’re in college, but it’s always up to you to make an effort to stay in touch. Good luck with that.

You’re going to fuck up

It’s inevitable. But get over it, learn from your mistake, don’t do it again and go on with your life. As the years go on, you also learn that there’s no time to waste on feeling sorry for yourself so point your energy to something more productive.

Be grateful

Okay, so life is confusing and overwhelming and annoying and you just want it all figured out already. But don’t get jaded. Think about what you can be thankful for. The fact that you’re even reading this blog post means you’re doing something right in your life. I know this post was originally intended to be cynical and depressing, but guess what, just like life, there’s always a silver lining. You just need to get through all the murky shit to see it.

I’m pretty sure this is the reason I never joined a sorority

As a young adult, and into my teen years, I always pictured myself going to college. The exact school and location were a little murky, but the vision was always there. But there was one thing I knew for sure, and that was I was never ever going to join a sorority.

Before you sorority or frat people get all huffy, let me explain. My knowledge of Greek life was based on TV and movies. Stuff like Old School, Dead Man on Campus, The House Bunny, Legally Blonde, that one Rush Week episode of Saved by the Bell: The College Years.

The kind of degrading and embarrassing activity and inappropriate hazing rituals scared me beyond belief, and I wanted absolutely no part of it. Of course I know now that not all frats and sororities are like the ones we see in the media. Except once in a while, the truth comes out, and the crazy Greek life people come out of hiding.

You may have seen this story make its rounds the past week. A student at the University of Maryland and Delta Gamma sorority member  sent an astonishing, foul-mouthed letter to her fellow sisters, and it leaked on the internet.

In this e-mail, the executive board member goes off on the ladies for “fucking up” Greek Week, particularly lashing out on the fact they’re not properly socializing with their matchup frat, Sigma Nu. Warning: This contains profanity, CAPS LOCK, and a lot of douchebaggery.

This is LITERALLY the first line:

If you just opened this like I told you to, tie yourself down to whatever chair you’re sitting in, because this email is going to be a rough fucking ride.


We have been FUCKING UP in terms of night time events and general social interactions with Sigma Nu. I’ve been getting texts on texts about people LITERALLY being so fucking AWKWARD and so fucking BORING.

Newsflash you stupid cocks: FRATS DON’T LIKE BORING SORORITIES. Oh wait, DOUBLE FUCKING NEWSFLASH: SIGMA NU IS NOT GOING TO WANT TO HANG OUT WITH US IF WE FUCKING SUCK, which by the way in case you’re an idiot and need it spelled out for you, WE FUCKING SUCK SO FAR.

And what may be my favorite line out of the whole thing (besides the phrase ‘cunt punt’)

Are you people fucking retarded? That’s not a rhetorical question, I LITERALLY want you to email me back telling me if you’re mentally slow so I can make sure you don’t go to anymore night time events.


Since I don’t completely understand how Greek Week/Life works, I still don’t fully understand what the basis of her problem is, but that doesn’t matter. The fact is is that this bitch is CRAY. Was it really that necessary to write this horrific e-mail and send it out? I mean, I guess it would be more “appropriate” to do it at a meeting or something (for the record, I don’t think she should’ve said any of it in the first place, but hey what do I know), but with an e-mail sent out to all the chapter, there is a physical record of her being an asshole. Not to mention, now that this is out in the universe, and her real name has been revealed (Rebecca Martinson – all around racist, overprivileged scumbag), this is not going away. This is the INTERNET. No matter how hard she or the chapter President tries to get rid of this disaster, one day, a potential employer will Google her name and find out she’s a horrible human being.

But really, what an asshole move. Just, no. We need to be nicer to each other, frreal. And this letter is just an extreme version of what I pictured sorority life would be. Again, I know it’s not every sorority out there that has members like this, but I’m glad I never found out.

If you want a good laugh, check out the amazing actor Michael Shannon do a dramatic reading of the entire letter. Again: ‘cunt punt.’

Screen shot 2013-04-23 at 9.58.03 PM(video does not embed, click on pic!)

How To Survive Life With A Host Family

Studying abroad is a whole lot of exciting mixed with a little bit of absolutely terrifying. This is never more true than when you’re living with a host family. Living in another country- even one that doesn’t use your primary language? Fine! Studying through a new college where you don’t know anybody? Okay! But living with a new family? YIKES. Even living with an American family would be tough in college. Besides,  everyone else I knew who studied abroad got to stay in dorms or student apartments.

I am by no means an expert on the homestay, but I spent almost 5 months with a family in a Madrid apartment and another month in a village in Nicaragua, so I know a little. In Nicaragua I had a sweet host mother and great roommates, and in Spain I had a prickly host family and one roommate I don’t even like reliving over a decade later. In both cases, it was this weird in-between status where you really weren’t part of a family, but you weren’t exactly just renting a room either. Sometimes it was hard, so here are a few tips from someone who has been there.

 Chat with your family a lot:

Homestays are great for language practice but doesn’t always make for easy, casual, fun interactions. The plus is that these situations give you a lot of bang for your study-abroad buck, and your language skills will improve in a way they never would if you lived with American kids. After a while tense changes and figures of speech become almost effortless – all that stuff you can’t REALLY learn in a classroom.

In my second language, sometimes I was like this weird alien who spoke the language just slightly wrong. But what do aliens do? Well, according to Unsolved Mysteries, some weird stuff. But they get to their host planet (or family), they observe, and they try to make sense of what they see.

Plus, you will learn a lot about another culture when you talk with your  family- how they think, what they value. You will find things to like and dislike, and you will probably hear some negative opinions about your home country. You might find yourself questioning things you hadn’t before, even little things – why am I asking for fake sugar for my coffee if I’m not diabetic? And if nothing else, it is a chance to learn a lot about the people in your fake family – and people, as a whole, are so, so interesting.

If, say, your family doesn’t seem particularly friendly, then having these convos can (1) help them realize you’re making an effort, or at least (2) give you this kind of anthropological motive so that even when they aren’t being that nice to you, you can narrate the encounters like a National Geographic special in your head.

But, take space where you need it:

Even with my real family, a lot of times I need to get away. Like, when you came home in high school, what would you do? At some point, no matter how much you loved your family and how many tv shows were on your common schedule, you would go to your room and shut the door. If you need some alone time to do homework, read, or write letters, close your door. It will make you a more sane and happy person, and thus better to live with. I had a roommate (… another story) who told me I was being rude because I was in the bedroom reading when she was at the table talking to our “brothers” one day, but I knew I needed take an hour to recharge after a particularly long day. It’s fine. One of the things that you learn living with a host family is that people everywhere have a lot of things in common. Your family will get it, and they won’t think they’re being rude. The homework excuse is good if they press you on it.

Know the rules:

Hopefully if there are any hard-and-fast rules, your family will let you know in advance. However, some things are so culturally ingrained that they might just take them for granted. This is where your awesome alien skills come into play. Try really hard to observe what people around you are doing so that you don’t get it wrong. One day, I came to the breakfast table and said something to my madre about the weather (or something. It was innocuous and I can’t really remember). She was NOT happy. I guess in Spain, if you see someone (even someone you live with), you always greet them with Good Morning first. Yeah, I… did not know that. And then, I did: feedback, not failure. Also, be prepared for something embarrassing to happen, if you’re an embarrassing person. You might get a stomach flu and puke everywhere, or come home having had too much to drink one day, or tell your host mom that you’re “so pregnant” instead of “so embarrassed”. I know people who have survived all of those experiences, so I promise that even if you slip up, you’ll be fine.

Explore the neighborhood:

You have the advantage of being integrated in a real, working neighborhood. This is amazing! Make sure you walk around your area in your first days and weeks and get to know where the useful things are – maybe ask one of your hosts for a walking tour, if you are so inclined. Over time, you will get to know your neighbors – the unhappy ice cream lady (Nicaragua), the adorable kids in preschool smocks (Spain), and so on. That gives you even more chances to learn about the culture and to practice the language, if applicable.

 Chances are your family is fairly hands-off (my Spain family was, anyway), so you will not have much guidance from them. Plus,  you won’t have the input of school staff like other study-abroaders, since they likely won’t live near you and know your neighborhood. There is a silver lining to this. You will find that people are more likely to treat you like any other local when you’re the only non-native college student in the area, compared to if a pack of you descend all at once speaking English. At the very least, know where your nearest post office, library, pharmacy, hospital, grocery store, and department store is. You know, all that Mister Rogers stuff. This was particularly useful in Nicaragua where the streets were made of dirt and unnamed – if someone tells you that the farmacia is two blocks over from the iglesia, on the corner next to the guy who owns the really huge pig, you better know where that is!

Going back up to the tip about taking space: if your home is small or if there’s no place to get away, you can make the most of your time at home by leaving to take walks and explore the neighborhood. You get exercise, learn about your neighborhood and get some time away from your family. I honestly took a walk just about every day in Spain just to get away.

Get a phone:

Hard to believe, but in both of my host houses, I didn’t have internet access. And I was okay, really! But it’s probably a good idea to get a phone if yours doesn’t travel well internationally. In Spain, I went with one where you pay by the minute, which is good if you won’t be around for a long-term contract and are trying to negotiate a cell phone store while jet-lagged and in your second language. In Nicaragua, I just didn’t talk to my real family, which was fine because it was only a month. Any longer, though, and you should really get one. This goes for students who are staying in dorms, too.

Ask if you can help:

Laundry with my Nica-roomies and our beautiful mom-away-from-mom, Sonia. My Spain mom was named Lidia, but both of my host fathers were named Alberto; maybe yours will be, too.

Since you are paying to stay with a family, there may be some very definite rules about whether or not they can put you to work. Try, anyway. You might be able to learn a new skill, something that you’d never have learned staying in your country or living with other people from your homeland. At the very least, they will probably let you learn how to make a favorite dish if you ask really nice and compliment it. Thanks to that tactic, I make a mean tortilla espanola. In Nicaragua, I learned how to smash open a coconut (not easy!) and wash my clothes without a washer and dryer (even harder!). Little things like that, believe it or not, make the whole homestay experience worth it.

 Kill the green-eyed monster:

Unless you have a super-amazing host family, in a fabulous house or apartment, in the best city ever, you might be a little jealous of your friends who are back home having the real, normal college experience. Or, your friends who are staying at a dorm in London while you are in an old lady’s apartment in Adalucia. This was very true in Spain, where, in my experience, you weren’t so much part of a FAMILY. It was a weird cross between being a boarder and being a visiting cousin or something, and sometimes it could be uncomfortable. It’s fine to have these feelings, but acknowledge them and then let them pass. Yes, those friends of yours back home or in dorms are having more of the typical “college experience” than you, and you chose to give that up for a semester, or a year. You gave things like chatting after dinner, and speaking English, probably, and hanging out in a big group at all hours, and running through what happened last night at Sunday breakfast. But you got some other great things in return.

Listen. I’m not writing this because staying with a host family is THE way to go and I want everybody to know how awesome it is – I’m writing it because it’s hard sometimes, and this is the advice that would have helped me. However, big rewards come when you do hard things. By the end of the semester, and certainly years down the line, I can almost guarantee that it will have been worth the trouble – so don’t be too jealous. You will have had 6 or 7 semesters of regular college compared to your 1 or 2 abroad – you are not missing out. Really.

Get an activity:

This actually goes if you’re doing a more traditional study abroad experience, too. Find a way to interact with your new community outside of whatever courses you take at your university. Temporarily join a church, if you’re into that. Volunteer. In Spain I volunteered with Girl Scouts; Nicaragua was a bit different because the whole point in going was to teach, translate, and work at a camp. Take classes. I took flamenco class in Madrid, because  where better to learn flamenco than Spain? Maybe cooking classes or music lessons appeal to you Join a recreational soccer league. Get out there and do something!

If your host family is not great — sometimes people find this post searching on things like “my host family hates me,” and I don’t mean to minimize that — this is also a way to get the heck out of there and meet other people. You just might find that your unfriendly host family isn’t typical of the country as a whole, which can make your study abroad experience a lot more pleasant.

Accentuate the positive:

Like I’ve said, there are some down sides to the homestay experience. Remember, if your family is awful, they don’t necessarily represent the whole country.  If you’re having a tough time, make a list of the things that you actually do like. If you don’t even have much that you like, make a list of the things that you’re learning instead. Make a paper chain until you can go home, like you’re a child awaiting Christmas. Until you board that plane, though, try to take advantage of this situation as much as you can. I know it can be difficult, but it can also be really amazing. One of the hardest things when I came home was people asking “how did you like it?” Well, it was five months of life. You don’t just like or not like almost half of a year.  You live it – and I can almost promise that you’ll be glad that you did.

Why Spring Breakers Is a Movie Worth Your Time

spring breakers

When I first saw the trailer for Spring Breakers, the thought that immediately came into my head: ‘shitshow.’

And to some effect, I still maintain it is after seeing it, but in a sense that the characters themselves are a total, complete mess.

If you don’t know what this movie is about, really all you need to remember is that it’s about 4 BFFs who go to Florida for spring break, and insanity ensues – especially after they meet this drug lord/rapper. There’s drugs, sex, alcohol, guns – not for your regular Disney Channel fan.

I saw the movie a couple weekends ago when it opened, and Harmony Korine, the director, surprised the audience by coming in right before the movie and talking about it for a little while. Korine, flanked by the “ATL Twinz” from the movie, said to ‘keep an open mind’ about the film, which is what I did – and suggest you do too.

please note the twin on the left, whose backwards pants say 'FUKK'

please note the twin on the left, whose backwards pants say ‘FUKK’

After the 90 minutes of neon lights, dubstep music, and the alarming gunshot sounds signaling a scene transition, I had to take a few minutes to come out of the Spring Breakers world and back into reality. I didn’t really know what to think, to be honest. It was exactly what I thought it would be, but so much more than I could have ever imagined. If I had to sum it up in one word: jarring. The very first scene you see (and I’m not spoiling anything here) is a bunch of real life college kids on spring break. They’re dancing on the beach, half naked, drinking excessively with funnels in tow, and it looks like something out of Girls Gone Wild. With that scene alone, you’d think the entire movie is just about these four girls engaging in illegal activities, but come to find out, the Girls Gone Wild scene is way tamer than the shit they get themselves into.

The first half of this movie shows the girls trying to figure out a way to procure enough money to travel from their lame college life in Kentucky, down to a place that is far more exciting – Florida. A couple of them violently rob a restaurant for the cash, and they make their way down to the Sunshine State, where the R-rated partying ensues. Unfortch, the police bust the motel party they’re at, and the ladies land in jail. In their bathing suits. Luckily, James Franco’s character, Alien (Al, for short), comes to bail them out. The second half of the movie is the group trying to figure out if he really wants to help them or if he has ulterior motives.

A couple things hold me back from saying this was a great, amazing, top notch movie. One, I don’t like violence in films. Per a previous post about never having seen Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, any Quentin Tarantino movie really, is because I am just not a fan of guns and blood and violence. All those things happen in this movie. The other reason is that it’s hard to pin down what this movie was set out to be. It definitely had its serious moments, but it also had its fair share of comedic ones as well, and not intentional comedy. When James Franco first comes on the screen, he looks like this:

And then he speaks and it’s hard to NOT laugh at him. Because all you see is James Franco looking like a complete idiot. I don’t think that was the original intention, but I find it hard to believe any viewer wouldn’t think that at first sight. The ridiculous monologue he has about “all his shit” is a perfect example. He’s going on about all the money, guns, and paraphernalia he owns, but there’s a part of me that says, ‘am I supposed to be taking this guy seriously or not?’

My favorite scene, which kind of falls into the category of ridiculous dramedy, is a scene involving the girls, James Franco, a piano, guns, and one of Britney Spears’ all time hits. In fact, someone actually wrote an article about how the entire movie is a metaphor for Brit Brit’s life, which frankly is a theory I can get behind.

Now I have NEVER experienced a spring break like these before, and I think most college grads can agree. The most I ever did was go to LA and visit my friends, where we went on a tour of Warner Brothers studios and sang karaoke at Mr. Belding’s bar. But I know that these people actually exist, which is why this movie is not that far off from the truth. Sure, meeting a guy like Al is extremely rare, but this culture exists. The bottom line is that it exists, people, and that’s why this movie isn’t taking advantage of girls in bikinis and ripping away the innocence of young Hollywood starlets. While I can totally understand how you would think that, you have to realize that this is not a porn movie. It’s not meant to exploit people for your pleasure. It’s meant to explore a culture of young adults looking for something more than what they have, and more than what they are. Wanting to escape the mundane world they’ve known all their lives, in search of something more exciting. A need to have experiences they probably won’t have ever again. If you are sane and have a good conscience, hopefully you’ll take away that this movie is the exact OPPOSITE of how you should act, and not a how-to instructional video. In fact, all the naked girls and sex scenes in this movie should turn you off, not on.

This review from Boston.com is an accurate description of how I feel about Spring Breakers, and explains the reason why I even took time out to write this post in the first place. This film won’t win any Oscars, but it will certainly be a talking piece for anyone that sees it. It stays with you. And isn’t that really what filmmaking and creating art is all about?

This is the rare movie that I actually found myself liking more the longer I spent away from it and the more I thought about it — mainly because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. In the moment, I found it numbingly repetitive, even boring at times: an obvious juxtaposition of sex and violence, of dreamlike aesthetics within a nightmare scenario. And it is all of those things. But it stuck with me, and it made me appreciate the genius of Korine’s approach.

So friends, if you see this movie, remember to keep an open mind, and most importantly remember: Spring Break Forever.