Honors student Jordan Stellar describes one memorable night in her study abroad location of Assisi, Italy:
One Friday night as we explored the small town of Assisi, all seemed fine until dark clouds quickly rolled in overhead, and the rain started to hit us from all directions. With limited directional skills, wet clothes, and empty stomachs we made it to the only bus stop in town.
At the station, we got the number of a local taxi driver named Stefano. Hesitantly, I called the number and he answered with an abrupt “Pronto!” After a quick explanation of our situation, he agreed to pick us up in ten minutes. Stefano arrived right on time in taxi #18. He took one look at us and knew we were with the group of American girls he took to a small farm house earlier in the evening. I think Stefano could tell we had had a rough night because about five minutes into the ride he turned off the meter. My first thought was to be a little suspicious so we pulled up a GPS route on our phone to make sure he was going in the right direction; thankfully he was.
We pulled up to the Airbnb we had rented for the night, and he walked us all the way to the door to make sure we made it safely. We opened the door, and he greeted the rest of our group which he had met earlier in the night. It was such a nice welcome to Assisi, and such a great reminder of how friendly people make an experience so much greater.
by Caroline Diorio, ’20
Hello everyone! So as most of you know, attending Meredith is a huge honor. However, going to a women’s college in this day and age can raise some interesting (sometimes exasperating) questions from those around you. With that in mind, I’ve decided to kick off the first Honors blog post of the year with a short list of fun answers you can use the next time someone feels the need to comment on your school of choice. Enjoy!
Question #1: “So is Meredith just one big convent?”
Answer: It most certainly is! We Meredith students completely ignore our male professors, friends, boyfriends, husbands, and family members from freshmen orientation all the way through graduation. In fact, were it not for the Captain America poster in my room, I may very well have forgotten what a man looks like altogether.
Question #2: “Is it true that women who go to Meredith are just looking for their MRS degree? You know, because NC State is right down the road?”
Answer: Yes. Because everyone knows that the easiest way to find a husband is by going to a school with no male undergrads instead of the co-ed school that is, in fact, right down the road. After all, there’s no way that a young woman would choose to attend Meredith simply because she values a learning environment full of strong women who value their educations and their futures.
Question #3: “So what is Cornhuskin’ really?”
Answer: Cornhuskin’ is an ancient ritual where Meredith students pay tribute to the Mighty Cob, an all-powerful corn goddess that protects us from poor grades, cumulative exams, and the construction on Hillsborough street. Cornhuskin’ is a time of sisterhood, fellowship, and the occasional human sacrifice. However, if a human sacrifice cannot be provided, the Mighty Cob will also accept Cabin Socks and a $25 gift card to Cup-A-Joe (the one on Hillsborough Street is preferred).
Question #4: “What happens to the boys who get caught in the dorms past visiting hours?”
Answer: See answer to Question #3.
Bethany H. is a 2017 Honors study abroad scholarship recipient. She sends this post from a small town in Costa Rica where she is completing a month-long Meredith College study program.
As a high school senior trying to figure out how to spend the next four years of my life, there were two things I told myself I would never do: attend an all women’s college and study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country. Luckily, I have a bad habit of ignoring myself. And so I find myself here, sitting in a dimly-lit bedroom in a medium-sized town in a rather small country situated between Nicaragua and Panama. It’s 11:57am and my host mom, Deisy, is heating up some rice, beans, and papaya picadillo for lunch. Over the clanking of dishes, I can hear the TV news anchor in the other room, turned all the way up so abuelito and abuelita, visiting from Río Frío, can hear him.
This is a fairly typical afternoon here; though it never feels rushed, there’s always something going on and there’s always someone visiting. Some days one of my host sisters stops by with her three young kids. José Ángel, who is six, loves playing fuseball (futbolín) and Fabiana, three, likes to pretend she works for her Aunt Natalia’s pool-cleaning business. Baby Sebastian is only six months old, and is endearingly referred to as gordito, or chubby. Later today, around 3pm, María Ángel, another granddaughter, who is sixteen, will come. Since both her parents work, María Ángel spends the afternoons and evenings here at her grandparents’ house. Deisy’s sister, Sara, who lives two houses away, may visit around 4:30 for cafecito, a mid-afternoon snack much like the British “tea”, and one of my host dad Ronald’s nine brothers is also likely to pop in for an hour or two. In addition to family, we’ll likely hear one of Deisy’s many friends call “¡Upe!” at the front gate.
Because I started studying Spanish in sixth grade, verbal communication hasn’t been much of an issue. In fact, when I first arrived in Costa Rica, the biggest adjustment wasn’t anything one might expect: not the change in diet or the daily downpours, not the train barreling down the middle of the street or the motorcycles zooming past my window, not even the thriving population of larger-than-normal insects. It was the sun. The same sun that shines over good ol’ NC, peering brightly through my windows at 4:45am. I was, to say the least, quite unprepared. After nearly three weeks, however, the early mornings have become a norm for all seventeen of us studying here through Meredith College. Even on weekends, we are all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed by 6:30am.
My experiences so far, aside from the sun being so eager to rise, haven’t been nearly as shocking as I expected. Perhaps because of the cultural education I had growing up in Northwest Africa, I entered this study abroad program expecting unfamiliarity, expecting to be thrown out of my comfort zone in ways I hadn’t even thought to plan for. Surprisingly, though I have had to leave my comfort zone, the experience has been more of a gentle push. In an attempt to fend off homesickness and familiarize us with the country, we were kept pretty busy our first week in Costa Rica. Scavenger hunts, outings to the nearby town of Heredia, a trip to visit the basilica in Cartago, and a weekend trip to the rural town of Tucurrique, all helped distract us from our discomfort but also served as an introduction to the country, our new (albeit temporary) home. Of that first week’s activities, visiting Tucurrique left the biggest impression. We had the opportunity to visit a pejivalle (peach palm) farm and got to see how heart of palm is harvested. Apparently eager to for a more authentic experience, I managed to get a thorn lodged in my heel within two hours of arriving and got to have it extracted by our hostess, Lupe, with a pocket knife.
The following Monday was the first official day of classes at the Instituto, which quickly reminded us all of that little qualifying word we’d been ignoring–study abroad. But, being the bright young women we are, we quickly settled into the routine of things, including 24/7 Spanish mode. In fact, the biggest speed bump (or, to use the local term, muerto) ended up being to remember to throw the toilet paper in the trash can and not the toilet bowl. I’ve even gotten a little attached to the piles of white rice and purple beans that always find their way to my plate at meal times. One of the most memorable moments from that second week was when my host mom showed me where to go in case of an earthquake. Because Costa Rica is located on two tectonic plates, earthquakes are quite common–enough so that neighbors will often gather together after the fact to discuss the scale of the tremor (“I say a four.” “No way, that was much closer to a six!”). Fortunately, I haven’t had to use that piece of knowledge. Yet.
Though the month isn’t quite over, I can safely say that studying abroad is one of the best decisions I have made to date. Despite some bumps, and many bugs, I have learned so much about myself and have been able to see huge improvements in both my Spanish listening and oral skills. Living with a host family has given me the chance to experience Costa Rican culture in a very intimate and authentic way, something that could never be recreated in a classroom, and having to navigate my way through public buses and unspoken expectations has greatly increased my confidence. From the dramatic telenovelas to the cows I walk past every day on my way to class, there isn’t a thing I would change about my experience so far. Through the frustrations, the victories, and the butterflies (both figurative and literal), each moment has left me with a little nugget of wisdom to ponder and dissect for years to come.
Ashley B. is a recipient of an Honors Study abroad scholarship. She visited Sansepolcro, Italy, in May 2017.
As a girl from small-town North Carolina, I knew that leaving the US for the first time would be an experience. But I never knew that I could be impacted quite this much. There’s something about completely submersing yourself in a place outside your comfort zone and challenging yourself to open up to all that a new culture can offer.
During our stay in Italy, we visited local schools and observed how they operate. As future teachers, we considered new techniques and made decisions about how we might improve our classrooms.
But perhaps some of my favorite moments were when we communicated with people in Sansepolcro, including the students. In most Italian schools, students take at least some English. As we walked into the schools, students would come peeking out of doorways, hoping to practice their English with us. “Hello! How are you?” they would say. Being able to respond to them and to see their faces light up was such a wonderful feeling.
The same sort of thing happened when we visited local restaurants and attempted to use our Italian. Our pronunciation wasn’t always quite right, and sometimes our phrases made no logical sense at all, but regardless, that we were even trying brought a smile to the faces of many locals. This indescribable experience has reminded me that while we may not always be able to communicate fluently with one another in the same language, we are all still human beings who appreciate effort, compassion, and love.
During the first weeks of a fall semester, we all feel the buzz of Meredith’s eager and welcoming atmosphere. Strangers we pass on the sidewalk smile and greet us as if we’re the best of friends and syllabus week gives us that innocent excitement about all the learning to come. But fast forward to the last weeks of a spring semester, and it’s a whole different ear of corn…here are just a few tips for conquering summeritis!
1. Procrastination is so last season. Use incentives! Instead of using Netflix to keep you from your work, let it be a reward. Or if you’ve already finished the Gilmore Girls revival (twice), promise yourself a nice cup of tea after 20 minutes of studying. Put your laundry in and challenge yourself to get a perfect score on a quizlet set before the washer cycle is done…whatever it takes!
2. If you wouldn’t want your nutrition professor to see you eat it, don’t. There’s something about 11:47 pm that screams, “COOK OUT”, but you can’t deny that there are better ways to take care of your body. Science proves that your brain is like a nice car; you’ve got to give it premium fuel if you want it to keep driving. And you can’t drive your brain through finals to get to summer with crummy gas mileage! (Or your car to the beach, come May 12th!)
3. Look forward! But also, look back. If the path to summer feels overwhelmingly challenging, try to think back to when you conquered worse! For first year students, rewinding a year would bring you back to high school finals (yuck), plus deciding on college by May 1st. Maybe you were taking IB or AP exams, trying to find a summer job, or getting ready to say goodbye to all your classmates and teachers. Look how far you’ve come! For seniors, look how far you’ve come! Good ol’Mereco sure has thrown a lot at you over the years, but here you stand. (Or sit. With good posture, for studying’s sake.) If you could do it then, you can do it now!
Orlando, FL (purple pin)
Miranda Ameen, Emily Kelleher, Amy Poonnak, and Vanessa Cupil-Garcia spent six days at Walt Disney World and visited all the parks. It was especially exciting for Amy and Vanessa, who had never been to Disney World before! It was apparently a popular destination, too, because they ran into many current Meredith sisters and alumni.
Washington, D.C. (blue pin)
Junior Alexan Bailey spent her break in Washington, D.C. doing service with the National Baptist Memorial Church, helping facilitate a food pantry that takes place every other Saturday morning for the community. She was proud to use her Spanish-speaking skills to make conversation with some Hispanic people that came through the food pantry because no one else was able to speak Spanish. She was able to find this opportunity thanks to her campus ministry, the Cooperative Baptist Student Fellowship, Raleigh (CBSF Raleigh), which was partnering with the UNC branch of the ministry (CBSF UNC) for the service.
When not working, Alexan visited the Smithsonian Museums, the Supreme Court, Chinatown, and the National Zoo. She also went to a presentation from the Baptist Joint Committee advocating for religious liberty in accordance with the 1st Amendment for all religious affiliates (atheist, Catholic, Sikh, Islam, etc.).
New York, NY (red pin)
Freshman Jordan Stellar went on a mission trip to New York City with her church over the break. The first half of the week brought very cold weather, but it warmed eventually!
Durham, NC (green pin)
Senior Arielle Boland was able to spend her break with her sister, an ECU nursing student, her brother, an App State business student, and her other brother, a Wake Tech engineering student. They had a blast traveling to Durham and visiting Duke Gardens, even bringing their puppy, Jade, along. The park has undergone some new renovations recently, making it a great place to visit with friends or family. Spring has definitely sprung in Durham!
Mooresville, NC (brown pin)
Freshman Laura Jenkins and her boyfriend made a 2-hour trip across North Carolina to the Lazy 5 Ranch, a drive through zoo and petting zoo. They fed ostriches, emu, pigs, bison, deer, cows, llamas, and giraffes, got to pet zebras, and saw kangaroos, a camel, lemurs, and peacocks! Laura highly recommends this attraction to animal-lovers—plus the ice-cream shop nearby that she treated herself to afterwards!
Washington, D.C. (blue pin)
Junior Emily Chilton briefly went to Washington, D.C. with her roommate for a few days of spring break, and was delighted to get a Library of Congress library card while there! She did some thesis research in the Newspaper Reading room and also went in the famous Main Reading Room. She’ll certainly remember this “nerd moment” for a long time!
Catalina Island (yellow pin) and Ensenada, Mexico (orange pin)
Freshman Mimi Mays briefly went home to Portland, OR, before departing on a cruise to Mexico with her mom. The two spent a day at sea before docking at Santa Catalina Island, part of the state of California, and spent the next day in Ensenada, Mexico. They got to see La Bufadora, one of the largest marine geysers in North America, and toured the mountains in a rented golf cart. Nachos are much yummier in Mexico, she says!