My Everything Bagel

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Everything Beagle with Cream Cheese (I saw this photo a few days before Halloween)

On November 1st, appropriately All Saints’ Day, I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye in person to my best furry friend of 11 years when he crossed the Rainbow Bridge. 

When I myself was in eleven-years-old, my parents, for whatever reason, decided that we were going to adopt another dog and he/she was going to be mine. I for whatever reason had taken a liking to beagles, so my mom searched for beagle rescues* in the area. She found Ziggy Beagles, named after the owner’s first beagle. Being only 11, I didn’t have any criteria for the dog except that I wanted a beagle-ish one, so when my mom showed me three-year-old Cody, with his long face and big brown sad eyes, I immediately said something along the lines of, “yup, he’s the one.” When we went to visit him, his owner told me that he was painfully shy, as he had been abused in the past (in what way we don’t know), and he may never get over that. I was advised to not change the name he had been given, because it would be difficult enough for him to adjust to so much change (my mom denies this fact, but had I been given an opportunity to change his name, I absolutely would have; I was not at all a fan of the name, although it grew on me soon enough). Looking back, I’m not sure if this came from intuition or naïveté, but I had no doubt in my mind that if we adopted him, he would eventually overcome his timidness.

I remember on the last half-day of school before Christmas we were driving home when I realized we weren’t taking the correct route, and my parents said they were well aware. I realized we were going to pick up Cody weeks earlier than planned! He was a nervous wreck, wrapped in a towel, and peed on his owner out of fear as she carried him to the car. When we brought him home, he wouldn’t eat unless we gave him moist food, and then transitioned to putting some water in his bowl of dry food. He wouldn’t leave his donut bed, so the bed sat in the living room with him in it as life went on around him. Finally, after three days, he ventured out.

He became a normal dog apart from the fact that he slept a lot and hated walks (beagles are usually very active). It turns out that he was just a very lazy beagle, but we figured that whatever he had been through in his previous life had merited him all the time he wanted dozing off on my and/or my parent’s bed. I still tried to take him on walks every now and again, especially later in his life when he got a bit pudgy. He was always afraid of unfamiliar dogs, cars, and for some reason especially children on tricycles. Each time, after about a minute of walking, he would suddenly make a u-turn as if to say “ok now we go back.” I would drag him on after each attempted turn-around, until eventually he would lie down in protest until I turned around. He always walked faster when we walked towards the house than when we walked away from it. One time early on I accidentally dropped the leash, and when it made a thud behind him, he got spooked and started running, but he turned and ran all the way home and was waiting for me at the garage door. He may have been lazy, but he was smart.

He also had a very refined taste for Irish Breakfast Tea and carrots. Granted, he would eat nearly anything he was given, but he especially liked carrots more than our other dogs, and, along with the others, he would wait diligently every day until my mom finished her mug of tea for a few laps of what was left.

His quirks included lying on his stomach (often in my bedroom doorway) in such a way that his hind legs splayed out behind him (aka splooting), proving to be highly unphotogenic in that he always looked cross-eyed and derpy in photos, and he yodeled (beagles have a distinctive bark, often called yodeling) at absolutely nothing probably at least once a day.

I will greatly miss picking him up and turning him around to continue dragging him along on our walks, having a 28-pound weight leaning against me all night, getting dog hair all over my Christmas dresses, giving him his own bit of cake on our shared birthday (we don’t know exactly when his is, so we always celebrated it with mine), and having someone to finish my tea for me.

(The cover photo is one my mom sent me while I was at college of Cody modeling the t-shirt my EWB team was selling as a fundraiser to build the bridge in Bolivia).

*Apart from one pound dog and one purebred, all our dogs through the years have been rescues. If you’re hoping to adopt a dog (or cat), please consider adopting from a local rescue. They may not be purebred, but they have just as much personality and love to give. The be paying less in adoption fees, making space in a rescue home for another dog from the pound, and giving a deserving dog a second chance at a happy life.

Whatever you do, please do NOT adopt a dog from a pet store (I’m not talking PetSmart, but general pet stores, in malls for example, that only have puppies and they’re all in cages) unless they can prove that they do not get them from puppy mills (because nearly all, if not all of them do). This will only feed into and encourage the practice of puppy mills. And adopt from a breeder only if they are trustworthy, transparent, and responsible. 

If you don’t know where to start your search for an adoptable dog, or if you’re interested in fostering a rescue, these links are good places to start:

Ireland: DSPCA, Dogs Trust

USA: ASPCA, Adopt a Pet

Additionally, beagles are one of the most common breeds used in animal testing of various products. Perhaps with the exception of certain medical trials (such as cancer treatments on rats), animal testing is highly unethical, yet still prevalent in the cosmetic and household product industry. Please educate yourself on which companies/brands do or do not test on animals and make an informed decision to support those who do not. Primark (aka Penneys in Ireland) has recently started its own line of skincare and cosmetic products called P.S. that was created specifically for those who want products that are not tested on animals, but, like most other Primark products, are still good quality and highly affordable. 

Beagles rescued from labs going outdoors for the first time

Leaping Bunny Certified Products

Certified Cruelty-Free Brands 2018

Primark P.S. Brand

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Turn his frown upside down: save the Beagles!
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The Adventure Begins Now

My mom said to me, to offer some words of encouragement (I think) during my final semester of studying Civil Engineering, “you can see the light at the end of the tunnel…but in this case you’re the one building the tunnel.”

I was ready to graduate by the time I finished my junior year. After spending a year in Spain, a year of feeling like a real human being, I was not ready to go back to Cornell for another year. However, the fact that it was only one more year is what kept me going. While I’m proud to say that I have never in my life pulled an all-nighter (for academic purposes), but that doesn’t mean there weren’t times I walked (more like trudged) home from the engineering quad at 4 AM. With starting up a new engineering project team (Bridges to Prosperity), serving as President of Cornell Catholic, still volunteering through Alpha Phi Omega, surviving classes, applying for jobs, studying for the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, and spending time with friends whom I hadn’t seen in a year, I was constantly juggling many, many things. Not to mention getting sick three times in my last semester; a record for me.

So by the time graduation came around – let’s be honest, by Spring break I was more than ready to be done with school. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Cornell for the past four years (three years if you count when I took a year-long break from it). I love all that I’ve been able to experience and learn there, I love all the opportunities I’ve had, all the organization I’ve had the chance to be part of, many of the professors, TAs, and staff, and I love and miss all my friends very much. However, I can’t stand a constant schedule of prelims (exams) on top of regular classes and homework, most problem sets (Dynamics was the bane of my existence in the spring), and the pressure to not only do everything, but to simultaneously excel in everything. It’s an incredibly stressful environment and I’m always in awe of the people who spent all four years there, because I was only really there for three and I still at times thought I wasn’t going to make it.

Graduation weekend was so crazy with events (notice the title photo of a very rainy graduation ceremony), packing, saying goodbyes, making sure my parents didn’t get lost, and trying to enjoy my last bit of Ithaca, that I kept waiting for it to sink in that it was all finally over, but it never did. Instead it’s been happening very gradually with small realizations. For example, a few days ago I was telling someone about how Cornell makes its own ice cream and how delicious it is, but I stopped in the middle of a sentence because I realized that I won’t get to have Bavarian Raspberry Fudge for a really long time (it was the first flavor I ever tried and still my favorite).  And it really hit me when I was filling out the customs form just before arriving in Bolivia when my friend Joe reminded me to write ingeniero/a (Engineer) in the “occupation” field. I definitely freaked out a little bit with excitement.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the crazy things I did in college, the adventures, the new experiences, the growth, the messiness, the uniqueness, the inspiring nature, and the beauty of it all. As my very wise friend Michaela said to me, it doesn’t feel so much like an ending, but more like a beginning. It’s the beginning of real life. So I’ve been thinking to myself: these past four years? All these amazing things that I’ve seen, done, and experienced?

This has only been the beginning.

Like, IT GETS EVEN BETTER!

Our whole lives people have asked us what we want to do and who we want to be, then we applied to colleges with our desired programs, picked a major, and worked our butts off for four years, often (and understandably) forgetting what the end goal was. And now we’re all finally going to do the things we’ve been saying we want to do for the last however many years! HOW EXCITING IS THAT!? In a world with so much talk and so little action it’s incredibly beautiful to see so many of my friends and peers setting out to make (and in many cases, have already made) a visible and tangible impact on society. Among those whom I admire greatly, I know people who are volunteering with the Peace Corps, studying robots that aid developmentally challenged children, building bridges, studying earthquake engineering, finding ways to make affordable food more accessible and nutritious, teaching high school AP science classes, becoming a nurse to help mothers and babies, studying theology and philosophy in pursuit of priestly ordination, teaching music, and teaching English as a second language to adult immigrants (many of whom are migrant farm workers from Mexico). That’s only to name a few. And on top of that, several of my friends will soon be getting married and I know they will be the example to show that two people can be joyfully (exuberantly!) committed to one another for the rest of their lives and to raise children to be selfless in this prideful world. I can’t wait to witness and celebrate their profession of love with them!

Michaela and I were lamenting about some (not all) adults we know seem to lead not terribly interesting lives and are very content with that, and we were worrying about ending up in the same situation but being unhappy with it, because we love adventure and travel and always trying new things. But then we had an epiphany. We can still be responsible working adults and still have amazing adventures and do cool things. Perhaps it won’t be quite as straightforward because we’ll have jobs and families, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do what we love. Instead it’ll be us and our families instead of traveling going solo, or it’ll be adventures on a slightly smaller scale, or we’ll be changing scenery once or twice a year instead of what for the past four years has seemed like every few months. I always think of my AP Euro teacher Mrs. Hals and her family, our EWB/B2P Professional Engineering mentor Johann, and the Spanish family whose children I taught English to last year, because all of them lead “normal” lives, but they still find the time to do some really cool things in some really cool places.

You don’t need to have a foreign passport, or make a lot of money, or speak another language, or I don’t even know what else. You just have to keep your eyes open for the opportunities, be persistent in working towards them, and when the times comes, take the leap.

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Still relevant!

To all the graduates, thank you for an unforgettable college experience. Though I already dearly miss living a few minutes away from each other, I am beyond ecstatic to see all the incredible things you all accomplish, all the setbacks you overcome, and all the joyous occasions you encounter. You are amazing.

Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam.

FAQ: Graduation, Across the Pond, and Beyond

Congratulations to the 150th graduating class of Cornell! Which answers the first question: did I graduate? Yes, thank goodness! Although it still feels pretty surreal. I graduated, along with many of my wonderful friends this past weekend. The weekend was very different from what I expected it to be (isn’t it always?) but exciting and memorable nonetheless. I could definitely write a novel on that alone, but as I haven’t even processed it all myself, if I do, it will be later. Right now I’m just doing what I’ve been doing for the past four years: putting one foot in front of the other, despite whatever my level of feeling overwhelmed may be. And, understandably, what those next steps look like garners many questions, so, as per tradition, to keep the growing circle of people I’ve promised to keep updated actually updated I’m answering the most common questions I’ve received in the last few months:

What are your plans after graduation?

In March I accepted a job offer from Hayes Higgins Partnership, a small engineering firm in Dublin, Ireland. They work on many different types of projects, of which I’ll have some say on which I work, but I’ll most likely get to work on residential projects, schools, and renovations for several Dublin Zoo exhibits, which is a highly unique opportunity. It’s exactly what I wanted: a small firm, a structural engineering position, working on various interesting projects, and close to family (it ended up being extended family, but family nonetheless).

How did you find the job?

Google! Seriously. By the time March came around I’d had several interviews for positions within the U.S., but nothing came of any of them. There was one that I really fell in love with at Arup in Houston, but the position technically required a master’s degree (they decided to put my application in for it anyway because they were interested) so understandably the job went to someone probably a little more experienced. I had also applied to the Peace Corps, going so far as to enduring the intense and surprisingly strict hour and 45-minute interview (which was way more intense than I had expected). It wasn’t until a few days later that I finally acknowledged (what I think I had known for a while but didn’t want to accept) that it wasn’t going to help me grow in the way that I’d hoped, and that being in that position for two years wouldn’t really make me happy.

So it was actually out of sheer frustration that this one day I decided to Google search “civil engineering firms in Dublin, Ireland” and contacted the first three that I found located in the center of town. None of them were advertising open positions or anything, but I sent my resume and cover letter, along with a short explanation in the email saying that I’m American with Irish citizenship, graduating from Cornell, and interested in working with them as a structural engineer.

I got one response and it was from Donal Higgins, co-founder of Hayes Higgins Partnership I was guessing, merely an hour after I sent it. He said my resume and cover letter seemed to be missing from the email. The first email I had sent bounced back, so I sent another one and must have forgotten to reattach the files, so I apologized and sent them along. A few hours later he emailed me back again, at this point it was 2 AM Irish time, saying that my resume and cover letter “made for an interesting read,” which was a very odd response, but at the same time a positive one. After more email exchanges and approval from the senior management team, we scheduled a “brief chat” for the coming Friday. It happened to be Good Friday and I was visiting my friend Patrick in Ohio for Easter (shout out Patrick, even though this isn’t a podcast) so at 9 AM EST I found an empty room in the dorm to wait for a call from Dublin. Long story short, the “brief chat” ended up being 40 minutes long and he offered me the job on the spot.

Did you have to get a work visa?

Nope! I automatically have Irish citizenship because my mom was born (and raised) in Ireland. I finally got my Irish passport this past October (after trying to apply for it while I was in Spain, but to no avail because Spanish bureaucracy might just be worse than American). If I didn’t have citizenship I probably wouldn’t have even applied because the chances of getting hired if you also need a work visa are incredibly slim. Plus, after struggling to get even a student visa for Spain, I really didn’t want to go through that again.

How do you feel about being so far away?

Technically being within driving distance of my family in Florida was nearly at the top of the list of what I wanted in a job (hence the being close to family part mentioned earlier), but I figured if I didn’t end up within driving distance, then I might as well make the leap and work abroad. And I knew in that case I’d still be close to family, just not my immediate family. I think this confuses other people, but to me there’s not much difference having to fly back and forth between Cornell and Florida, and between Ireland and Florida. For me, the difference between driving and flying is significantly greater than the difference between flying for 3 hours and flying for 8 or 9 hours. The bane of my existence (apart from problem sets) for the past four years has been fitting my entire life into a couple of suitcases that cannot exceed 50 lbs., so really not much will change in that respect.

Plus, living in Santander for 10 months prepared me for living abroad long-term, and the Ithaca weather prepared me for the Irish weather, so I’m all set.

How long do you want to stay there?

I could tell you, but I’m pretty sure once I give it a concrete number, God will simply laugh and throw all my own plans to the wind (as He very well should, as I’ve learned). Right now I want to say 2 years minimum, because 1 year doesn’t seem like very long to be at a particular job, and my contract doesn’t have a time limit. After that I can reassess and decide how to continue from there. I do hope to return to the U.S. eventually, and yes, I still have hopes and dreams to live some place where it’s consistently warm and my nose hairs don’t freeze to inform me that it’s below 10 degrees.

Are you traveling to Swaziland this summer with Bridges to Prosperity?

Actually no. For the entire Fall Semester I don’t think there was ever a plan for anyone who traveled to Bolivia to travel again besides our Project Manager Nathalie (because PM is required to travel and she’s amazing and talented so she’s probably the best person to lead the team anyway), because we want as many new members as possible to have the opportunity. It was only at the beginning of Spring semester that this plan changed slightly and we decided it would be better to have at least one other relatively experienced student to be in country for the first two weeks to relieve some of the responsibility of the PM and Professional Mentor. Since Bethany and I, the co-leads of the engineering subteam, were the two options. My previous project team, Engineers Without Borders (EWB) also needed one more person who had already traveled to Calcha to travel again for the last monitoring trip (see next question), and again, Bethany and I were the two options. So one of us needed to travel to one and the other needed to travel to the other. The way dates and availability worked out, I ended up on the Calcha trip and Bethany ended up on the Swaziland trip. We both would’ve loved to do both if we could, returning to our friends in Calcha and making new ones in Swaziland, but of course that’s not possible, so we’re both super excited. Really I think the only downside is that we won’t get to travel with each other. If you’d like to stay updated on one or both projects/teams, check out our (their?) websites: B2P and EWB.

Are you going home for the summer?

Mmmmmm sort of? I graduated on Sunday (!!), I’m flew back to Florida along with my family yesterday, and tomorrow I leave to go back to Calcha, Bolivia for a week (June 1st-7th). You may recall that Calcha is the community with whom EWB-Cornell built a suspended pedestrian bridge in 2016 and a concrete irrigation channel in 2017, so we’re returning one last time for a final round monitoring and evaluation of the projects, and official closeout of the (I believe) 6-year program we’ve maintained with the community. I’m incredibly excited to visit the people, the bridge, the stray dogs, and the beautiful mountains at least one more time! What’s also really cool is that I’ll get to be there for my birthday (June 4th). This will actually be my first birthday not at home, because despite the fact that I spend most of my time away from home, somehow I’ve always ended up being home on that day.

After that I’ll be home for a week, and then I head out again to West Virginia to be a sojourner at Nazareth Farm. It’s an intentional living community that does volunteer home repair for the local community members. (if you want to make a donation, check them out here, they do awesome work!). I will be there for four weeks (June 16th-July 14th), and my friend Victoria is marrying her lovely fiancé, Dan, in Connecticut on July 21st, so between WV and CT I’ll be staying in NYC for a few days with my aunt. After the wedding I’m going back home to Florida for a solid month to, figure out how to fit my life into approximately two suitcases, go to some last doctors appointments and all those fun adult responsibilities, and spend time with friends and family. I’ll depart for Ireland sometime in mid-August to give myself time to settle in before I start in September. So it’ll be fairly equal parts craziness and relaxation, which is a much higher ratio of relaxation than I normally get, so I’m totally happy with it.

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported me through this craziness that has been Cornell. I have many thoughts on my last four years, graduating, and all the wonderful people I’ve met along the way, so I hope to find a way to properly say thank you, but for now I at least wanted to let you know what I’ll be up to in the immediate future. I definitely plan to revive the blog, especially because I’ll be off doing who knows what pretty soon. I will do my best to keep in touch throughout the summer and beyond, so if you’d like to contact me and you’re not sure how (since my address, phone number, etc. will all be changing soon) Facebook messenger is (surprisingly) the best bet regardless of where I’ll happen to be.

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Like the balloon says, this is only the beginning (ft. two of my amazing friends, Michaela and Victoria <3)

Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam!

 

Reverse Culture Shock

  • 285 days
  • 23 flights
  • 10 months
  • 9 countries
  • 8 languages
  • 7 engineering classes
  • 5 niños
  • 4 Cantabria students
  • 3 Cornell students
  • 2 incredibly supportive parents who made this all possible
  • 1 long year of trying to mentally prepare myself to come back

Tuesday starts classes and, along with it, the real reverse culture shock.

In Spain, university is a little different. For one, we only had two weeks off for Christmas break, we came back and had class for another week and a half, and then had exams until the end of January. After my last exam I remember walking home and having that strange but pleasant realization that I don’t have anything in particular that I have to write or calculate or hand in on a certain date at a certain time; of having a seemingly infinite amount of free time, if only for a short while. But somehow I was lacking that usual feeling of great relief that I would always experience while walking out of my last final at the end of a semester at Cornell, as if someone removed all the cinderblocks sitting on top of me and I could finally take a deep breath for the first time since school began. It wasn’t that I thought I had done poorly on my exams and I was worried (in fact quite the opposite, as the Cantabria courses were quite a bit simpler than Cornell’s), but rather that this time, I suddenly realized, I hadn’t even been holding my breath in the first place.

If I had to choose one instance to characterize my experience abroad, at least academically, it would be this.

In Spain I was not constantly tired and I would get stressed out almost exclusively during finals. And even then, only moderately. And even then, not for all of them. In Spain there was almost never any uselessly tedious or overly theoretical homework. The professors took the time to answer questions and only one (out of thirteen) got annoyed with the frequency of mine. In Spain no one was downing cups and cups of coffee to squeeze in one more problem or one more essay before the crack of dawn. No one was comparing their grades with their classmates or beating themselves up for getting a 9 instead of a 10. No one was fretting over their next internship or their GPA or their extracurriculars or their E-board position. They didn’t fill every waking moment with something scheduled, and instead of just working through lunch they actually took a break to go eat something. In Spain they made spending time with friends and family a priority. In Spain I felt balanced; I felt like a real person.

In Spain. But I’m not in Spain anymore. I’m at Cornell, where one of the smart alecky students would probably tell me “all of that is the reason for Spain’s current suffering economy” (that is false, please go take an economics class), “Spaniards are just lazy like that” (also false, please go meet some working Spaniards), or “that’s why Spain isn’t as productive as the U.S.” This last one is actually true, and when one Spaniard said this to me, my response was “so what?” Productivity isn’t everything. If we can cure all diseases and live to be a hundred and fifty but its a century and a half of being overworked and overstressed without the joys of leisure, art, or simply doing things for fun, I will gladly opt for the shorter, happier life.

Perhaps this type of high-pressure, high-stress, and highly competitive environment is just an American thing. Or maybe an Ivy League thing. Or an engineering thing. Or solely an American Ivy League engineering thing. Whatever it is, if this mentality is considered the pinnacle of education and what every school should strive to be, I am more than slightly concerned with where our priorities lie.

While I am incredibly excited to see all my friends, continue working with my Engineers Without Borders team, lead the Cornell Catholic Community, continue volunteering with Alpha Phi Omega, and take advantage of all the amazing opportunities Cornell’s campus has to offer, I have never been so ready to finish school. Don’t misunderstand me: it’s not senioritis, I love to learn and always will. It’s simply that I love to feel like a real human being even more.

Spain (in combination with Bolivia last summer) gave me the opportunity to take one giant step back and look at my life, the world, and their intersection, as a whole, with infinitely greater clarity. After getting so caught up in the minute and insignificant details for a couple of years, I was reminded who I began doing this for in the first place, and thankfully that alone is enough to get me through this final year.

Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam

FAQ Part II

During this time of transition from studying in Spain to moving back and starting my summer internship on The Hill, much like last year I’ve been getting a sínfin of questions, so I figured a Part II would be appreciated.

What was the biggest difference in Spain?

If we’re not counting the foreign language part, the biggest adjustment was actually their daily schedule. Eating lunch at 3 PM and dinner at 10 PM with my host family for the first two weeks was a struggle. One day I forgot to bring a snack for the morning and during the last half hour of class I could barely focus or speak because my stomach hurt so much. (So how millions of children manage to go to school without breakfast every day, I have no idea). Once I moved into my own apartment it wasn’t so bad but I still had class until 2 so there was no way around that. After 10 months though I still don’t feel like eating lunch until 1 PM at the earliest, and I’ll eat dinner closer to 8. Never at 10 PM. Never again. Oh, and pretty much everything was closed 2-4 every day and all day on Sundays and I kept forgetting until I would walk up to a closed shop.

What was your favorite part?

This could go in a million different directions. Favorite city: Santander (might be biased). Favorite place to visit: wherever I have family (Dublin, Northampton, Paris, etc.) ((again, might be biased)). Favorite trip: spending two weeks during Christmas with my aunt and uncle in England. Favorite trip not to see family: Rome (probably because it was during Holy Week…biased?). Favorite trip not during Holy Week: I was very happily surprised by Krákow. Favorite tourist site: La Sagrada Familia, which is what originally inspired me to become an architect (then turned civil engineer). Favorite thing I learned: Spanish (of course). Favorite Spanish food: croquetas. Favorite non-Spanish food: this one particular brand of hummus. Favorite store: Primark. Favorite part of living in Spain: First, that I was much much closer to my extended family, so I was able to visit more often. Second, life is truly less stressful. People thoroughly understand the need to balance work and relaxation.

What was the most difficult part?

Trying to get anything done logistically. E.g. voting from abroad, opening a bank account, getting a class approved, applying for internships from abroad, etc. I’ll be writing a whole other post on this, just you wait.

What did you miss the most from the U.S.?

Honestly, probably my dog. I was able to stay in touch with my friends and family (probably more so than when I’m at Cornell because I had much more free time and flexibility in Spain) but my dog isn’t smart enough to recognize that the noise coming from the phone or the face on the screen is any sort of living being. Granted, the same goes for when I’m at Cornell, but normally I’m home for a month at Christmas, so it was just a long stretch of time without seeing him at all.

What was the hardest part about leaving?

María. 100%. (If you’re unfamiliar with the name, I also call her my niña, my Spanish mini-me, and the coolest 12-year-old I’ve ever met. She shares my affinity for baking, sea otters and platypodes, foreign languages, the color purple, and chocolate).

Are you fluent now?

Officially, no; technically, close enough. According to the international standard for fluency (set by Cambridge for English, Instituto Cervantes for Spanish) I am currently at level C1 in Spanish, which is normally labeled “proficient,” whereas C2 would be considered “fluent.” I actually decided to take the C1 exam in NYC last week, so if I pass I’ll get my Spanish certificate, which is really just a more official way of saying “yo hablo español” and will hopefully help me out if I apply for jobs in other (possibly Spanish-speaking) countries. BUT if by “fluent” you mean “can you read the entire Harry Potter series in Spanish?” the answer is yes. Many people laughed or gave me weird looks when I mentioned that I’ve been re-reading HP in Spanish, but look who has a kick-butt vocabulary now!

Does that mean you’re bilingual?

Now instead of speaking two languages, or even one and a half, I feel like I don’t fully speak either anymore haha. One time I was writing an email and I wrote “I standed” and, truth be told, I would never have noticed anything wrong if that red underline hadn’t shown up. Even so, it took me a solid minute of wracking my brain to figure out why it was considered incorrect. Also, a lot of bilingual people will remember a word in one language but not the other. This has happened to me before, but sometimes I can’t think of the word in either language. However, there is also the increasingly frequent occasion in which I feel like the Spanish word actually expresses what I want to say better than the English, even if there’s technically a direct translation. So honestly, I don’t even know…

Have you dreamt in Spanish?

Yes, but my level of comprehension and speaking is exactly the same as it is in real life. I still have to think a little more when I want to say something and I still make some mistakes.

Are you now going to be one of those annoying people who randomly drops foreign words in casual conversation?

Yes. Hopefully not all the time, but yes. My sincerest apologies.

Are you excited for the upcoming year?

Except for the part about being really stressed out about classes, absolutely! Even though my year abroad in Bolivia and Spain is over, I am no less excited for what’s to come because even if it’s not in the extranjero, it will be no less of an adventure and a challenge.

What are you doing this summer?

I am the Architectural/Structural intern for Cornell Facilities Engineering! This means that I help perform and check calculations, check that designs are up to date with the most recent safety codes, inspect roofs, explore places that I wouldn’t be allowed to go otherwise, update measurements on official drawings, and write up Quick Responses (recommendations for smaller scale repairs). I LOVE my job and if I could forgo my last year of classes and just continue working there until I graduate I absolutely would.

What do you do at your job?

Within Cornell FE is the Architectural/Structural team made up of seven people (including me) and my job is to provide support for whatever projects are underway at any given moment. I draw up plans, update existing ones, help with surveying land, perform calculations (e.g. check how many bolts we need, what size, and how far apart), double check others’ calcs, write up Quick Responses (analysis summaries and repair instructions for smaller scale things), and this week I was entrusted with supervising a concrete pour in making checking the specifications of the mix, placing curing blankets correctly, observing any bumps in the road (figuratively, not literallly), and taking notes and photos of everything.

Do you like your job?

No, I LOVE it. There are always so many different projects happening at once that it’s never boring and I get to spend 30-50% of my time on site visits, inspections, etc. So it’s a 9-5 job (actually 8-4:30 but close enough) but I get to spend so much time out and about and interacting with other people, which I love. The vast majority of my coworkers are adult males, and until last week I was the only female on my team. I think throwing in a 21-year-old female college student really spices  up the mix, especially during our section meetings, because everyone tells me they love the “energy and enthusiasm” I bring. And the homemade baked goods of course 😉

How is being back at Cornell after so long?

It’s definitely a little weird, in part because I keep saying “last year” referring to sophomore year and I completely forget that there existed a year at Cornell between then and now. But it’s actually mostly due to the fact that it’s summer so there are very few people around, I’m not taking classes at odd hours of the day, I’m living in a new place (love that too), I’m not constantly stressed out, and it’s consistently warm. So it looks like Cornell, but doesn’t really feel like Cornell. Regardless, I’m really glad to be back and have the opportunity to enjoy all the great outdoorsy things Ithaca has to offer; something so often overlooked amidst the craziness of semesters and lost in the freeze of winter.

What do you plan to do once you graduate?

Normally when I try to think about this I end up with a headache.

Well, what are some options you’re considering?

Getting my masters (even though the thought of more stress school after graduation makes my stomach churn), volunteering with the Peace Corps, taking a gap year to volunteer in some other way, getting a regular job in the U.S. (not in NYC), working in Europe for a bit (I just applied for my Irish passport), or working in Chile for a bit (I have family there and am technically a citizen anyway). But I won’t be meeting with my advisor until August sooooo no one really knows right now.

Do you still want to be a missionary?

Yes. Whether I end up finding a way to do mission work (e.g. what we did in Bolivia except not necessarily a bridge and not necessarily in Bolivia) full time or if I work a normal job for most of the year and take time off to do mission work, at this point at least, it’s still what I see myself doing with my life.

I hope that’s an adequate update on my life’s shenanigans. If you’re in Ithaca let me know, I’ll be here ’til Christmas pretty much, and if you’re in Florida…welp I won’t be back until Christmas. Hasta luego!

 

FAQ

As you may already know, this next year is going to be my craziest yet. A crazy year meaning a “sometimes-I-question-why-I’m-doing-all-this-but-it’s-going-to-be-amazing” year. So naturally, this past semester when people started asking about my plans for the summer/next year I was subsequently bombarded with a multitude of questions, to some of which I didn’t even know the answers yet. Although it’s been a few months and after answering the same questions, I think I’ve finally got it all down pat. So if you haven’t already heard my whole spiel, brace yourself, the suspense is over!

Q: Meriel, what are you doing this summer?

(short) A: I will be spending 8 weeks in Calcha, Bolivia with my project team, Engineers Without Borders, constructing the suspended footbridge that we have been working on for the past two years.

(long) A: http://ewb.engineering.cornell.edu/

Q: Wow that’s super awesome! Will you be able to keep in touch with people while you’re there?

A: Probably not. I won’t be bringing my phone with me and even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to use it in Calcha anyway. The plan is to drive to Potosí, one of the larger cities that has electricity/wifi, about once every two weeks so I may or may not be able to check my email. And even if I do have the opportunity…I may just not check :))))  I personally love spending time “off the grid” and away from the overwhelming connectivity.

Q: Fair enough. When do you leave?

A: I leave on June 10th and arrive back in the U.S. on August 8th.

Q: So you’ll be there for essentially the whole summer?

A: Yes.

Q: Ok, so I’ll see you when you get back, right?

(Melbourne) A: I’ll be in Melbourne from the 8th until somewhere around the 20th so if that’s where you’re at within that timeframe, then definitely!

(Cornell) A: Unfortunately no because around the 20th I’m hopping on a plane to study abroad in Santander (northern coast of Spain) at the University of Cantabria.

Q: So you’re not going back to Cornell before going to Spain?

A: No.

Q: Ah ok. So you’re studying abroad for a semester?

A: Welllllll it’s actually for a year.

Q: THAT’S SUCH A LONG TIME!!! [not really a question but every person has kept me well informed]

A: Yes. Yes it is.

Q: But you’re coming home for Thanksgiving/Christmas*/Easter/Slope Day, right?

A: No, unfortunately. They don’t have Thanksgiving over there, the Christmas break isn’t long enough and I’ll have to study for finals anyway (because they’re after the break, which is super annoying). I honestly don’t  know if we have any sort of break in the spring. Exams aren’t even until the first week of June so there’s no chance of stopping by Cornell on the way home, and I hope to get an internship there over the summer anyway. Regardless, it’s too expensive to fly home for such short amounts of time, and I’ll only be there once so I want to make the most of it.

*I’ll be spending Christmas with my Aunt and Uncle who live in England though, so don’t worry, I’ll still be with family!

Q: Wow, that’s a long time. But you’re going to have so much fun. [see previous comment]

A: [I’m never really sure what to say to this because it feels more like a command than a statement… Yes I hope it will be fun, but I can’t imagine every waking moment getting lost in a foreign country, struggling through a foreign language, away from my family and friends, not knowing anyone, and staying on top of difficult classes will be sunshine, daisies, and rainbows. Goodness, I wish!]

Q: How is the visa process going?

A: As of May 27th I have my visa!! (To the people who asked me between January and May I told them it was the bane of my entire existence. But that’s another story entirely).

Q: You can travel all over Europe! Where are you going to go?

A: Actually, I don’t know how much traveling I’ll do. My mom’s side of the family lives in Ireland, England, and Scotland so if anything I’m going to visit there because the last time I saw most of them was 6 years ago. The only thing I’m dying to see in person is the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. I wrote a 10 page paper on it in my Modern Structures class freshman year and it’s hands-down the COOLEST building to have ever been built.

Q: Will I be able to contact you while you’re over there?

A: Yup! I’ll have to get a Spanish cell phone so I can’t call or text anyone in the U.S. but there’s always facebook message and email!

Q: Where will you be living?

A: I will be living in a homestay (with a family) for the first month, before real classes start and while I’m taking the required intensive Spanish class. Then I will hopefully find some friendly international students to rent an apartment with.

Q: What will you be studying?

A: Civil Engineering (my major). If you’re into specifics, I will be taking Intermediate Sold Mechanics (I think it’s like dynamics…or more statics maybe?), Computational Engineering (stats), and various Geotechnical, Foundational, and Coastal Engineering design classes.

Q: Are the classes in Spanish?

A: No, they’re in English (thank goodness). I can barely understand my engineering classes in English so I can’t even imagine trying to learn it all in Spanish haha 🙂

Q: How are you going to survive for a whole year?

A: Great question. When I find out I’ll let you know 😀

And the questions no one has asked me yet, but I ask myself almost every day:

Q: Am I nervous/scared?

A: Yes.

Q: Am I still going to go?

A: Absolutely.

Of course, these are the easy questions and these aren’t even all of them. And sometimes by the end of the conversation I get a “Wow Meriel, you sure seem to have your life figured out.” Rest assured, I do not. In fact, most days at school I feel like this:

doing-science-photo-u1

And when I’m not at school, I’m at home baking my heart out like:

ff923ad5eb83cbf4adb36a3099316c1d

#accurate