Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Tata for now, readers! I'm taking a blogging hiatus until after the break. When I come back I just may have some more Bostonian advice to bestow upon you, complete with anecdotes of a visiting Texan. That's right--one of my friends is coming up for a reverse experience.

Of course, there's always the slim chance that I'll grow lazy and never update this again. On the offchance that you read this 5 months later and this is still the last post, feel free to go digging or snap at me to keep up another blog fallen by the roadside. (Er....the first actually...)

Until then, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Items may have shifted during flight.

Pay very, very close attention. I'm about to teach you a valuable lesson.

Acceptable things to put in overhead racks:

Small suitcases

Duffel bags


Purses which will shift around and spill all of their contents

The occasional guitar (only if accompanied with a smile while boarding)

Unacceptable things to put in overhead racks:

Your child

The flight attendant

Open drink/food containers (rude!)

The above lists are terrifically important for people who are flying home for Thanksgiving, because it's a short break. And to save yourself money and time, you should only bring one carry-on bag. Seriously, it doesn't matter how much stuff you have. Only having a carry-on means you don't have to pay for check bags, and even if they're free you don't have to wait at the baggage claim. If your flights get messed up, you can walk past a gate and board the closest, fastest flight home without worrying about your bags following you.

You really only need your carry-on and a personal item (read: two carry-ons in the form of a suitcase and duffel or backpack if you're a heavy packer. A carry-on and a purse if you're a woman). You'll be home for 6 days, tops. That's not a lot of clothes.

Last year, I fit all of my dirty laundry from about 5 weeks into one suitcase small enough for the overhead rack. You can too. That's all the affirmation you should need.

Just pray that, like one friend who took my advice, this isn't the one time someone stops you to go through your bag. You might consider a canvas laundry bag inside the suitcase just to keep incriminating clothing out of sight.

Happy Turkey Coma (whether you fall into it on your couch on in the school dorm cafeteria)!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"F" is for friends who do stuff together!

Let's look back for a second my earlier post in which my mother told me I wouldn't make any friends at college.

(Slight exaggeration).

Here's a slightly different angle on that story: The reason I was so upset was, of course, because I feared that she was right. I feared four years of Friday nights with nowhere to be, too much sleep, and a lot of weight loss because the gym is open when social avenues are not. I feared being plopped down alone in the middle of a strange place, and eventually leaving alone from it and not caring at all. I feared not hugging anyone but my family at graduation.

All of these fears are totally legitimate for anyone going to college close or far away--they're just a little more accentuated for those of us who know we won't have our high school friends close by to fall back on.

(Although let me clarify, by no means did I lose sleep about them during senior year. I wasn't too worried.)

Here's the deal: chances are overwhelmingly good that you will make friends in college. Personally, I lucked out--I literally walked around the corner one day during orientation, and there they were! A group of people who had just met, liked each other, and liked me. You might be lucky enough to get such a pre-formed family of friends, and if so then you will spend the year growing even closer to some of them as you explore the things you actually have in common that make you all work as a group.

Or, you might have to work a little harder to find them. I have friends now that I had to "develop," if you will (don't picture backhoes). Relationships take time and that's fine, but don't be terrified to ask someone to have lunch with you. Food is a good excuse to talk and bond and soon you'll be taking roadtrips and stealing laundry together.

How do you meet them, you might ask? Here's the answer you will hear a million times: get involved. Really. Find an organization that does what you love, and go to it, especially if it meets consistently. This gives you scheduled time to hang out with people who have the same interests as you, and gets you past some awkward small talk about what you might have in common. If a group that seems to do, in name, all the things you ever hoped and dreamed, but doesn't actually meet that often or have a setup open to conversation, then by all means still go to it. But go to other things as well. If it doesn't meet that often you have no excuse for time :)

Finally, don't stress about friendship. It may not be something you can check off on your college to-do list by the end of August, but it's not a checklist anyway. It's shenanigans and food and coffee and late nights in the dorms watching bad movies. And it will happen for you if you look for it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Almost there

By some miracle, we are already less than two weeks away from Thanksgiving (and, for those of us going home, only about a week and a half). This is not only crunch time for the semester--ie, for me, two huge group projects, two papers, and an exam--but also the time when students are likely to go crazy and give up. We're so close to 5 glorious days of no school that if we can just barely survive until then, we'll be ok. And sometimes "barely surviving" doesn't involve doing homework.

Suggestion #1--do your homework. Seriously. These weeks are crazy, but you are in face here to work and it will make the break that much better. Especially for those of us going home. Don't rely on airport time to get your work done. Wireless is spotty and/or expensive depending on where you go, and electronics-less takeoff and landing take a big chunk of time out of anything you might work on. The last thing you want is to be looking forward to a good break with your family and then be stuck doing homework. Times at home are brief and rare, and actually taking the time to prepare for them will make them even better. Focus on your friends and family rather than your projects.

Suggestion #2--don't lose heart. Homesickness can get much more acute when you're close to being done with it, but rather than spending your days pining away for home-cooked pies and twiddling your thumbs, get some time with the people you love at college. Remind yourself of the good things here as well as looking forward to the trip home.

For those of us not going home for Thanksgiving, fear not! Christmas break is literally 3 weeks after the Great Turkey Day. That's eleven less than you have already been here! And honestly, two things will happen. Either you will have so little time with final projects and exams that you don't even have a chance to miss home, or you will magically have classes with easy/no finals and have tons of time on your hand. Finals-less finals week is my favorite time of the semester. You get time to relax, recharge, and hang out until all hours with your other lucky friends (plus the occasional meal with the sleepless unlucky ones).

Besides, cheer up. Christmas carols are coming soon :)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Another interruption

Again, I'm taking a brief hiatus from my usual pseudo-advice posts to lean towards a pseudo-anecdote post.

You might remember my post about missing Dunkin' Donuts. A short summary for the non-clickers or forgetful among you: basically, it consisted of a rant about Oklahoma having no Dunkies (whereas in New England you literally can't drive for 5 minutes without passing one). Somewhere in there I mentioned that I wanted hot chocolate and a double chocolate donut from them.

I made that post on a Tuesday night. The next Monday, there was a package at my door. With this inside:

That's right. My mother mailed me Dunkies. She put the hot chocolate in a mason jar, but sent me the original cup for the full experience. And she sealed the deal with a cutesy marketing-ploy trick-or-treat bag.

Oh the joy of donuts. And of having your mother care about you.

Which brings me to a somewhat relevant point: contact with people from home. Now, this obviously varies from person to person. Not everyone likes Dunkies, and not everyone's mother would mail them some if said person did. Shoot, not everyone likes their mother, for that matter.

But let me speak a moment for those of us who do. Yes, you will them; there's really no way around it. So here are the bright sides:

1. We live in an age of technology. You can skype, and get the full video effect of seeing their face. You can call when you're free, or text at any time. (Let's be real. You text in class).
2. We live in an age of technology. You can fly home fairly easily, and fairly cheaply. See my post on traveling for tips.
3. We live in an age of technology. So anytime you send or receive something not using that technology (say...a package of Dunkies), it means that much more :)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Abroad in the USA

While getting my daily fix of facebook stalking yesterday, I discovered something which deserves displacing my usual "how-to's" and cultural mockeries:

Domestic study abroad.

That's right. One of my high school friends, who is going to school more or less close to home, is taking a semester to do an "off-campus study." She's trying to decide between Ohio and Kentucky.

For those of you who may not be well-acquainted with the floor plan of the United States of America, Oklahoma is about twice as far as both of those states from Massachusetts (where we're both from).

This heavily punctuated post may seem like I'm bitter--not the case at all! I just find it terrifically ironic that my school is farther away than her big semester in a distant land it going to be.

I did some web surfing to find out if lots of schools offer this type of thing, or if she just went to some off-the-wall homebody college-for-the-culturally-timid. Happily, it's the former (and her college is entirely normal--they offer "regular" study abroad in foreign countries as well). A good number of colleges have specific exchange programs set up for students to spend a semester in other states or regions. You could even do your own domestic study abroad if they didn't, I suppose. As long as they accepted transfer credit.

I can see the benefit of the program. No currency exchange, no customs hassle, no fear of sudden coup-d'etats or language barriers.

So here's my question: Does this mean that I automatically get study abroad credits? I mean, we've talked about culture shock, that has to be worth something.

At the very least, I demand a study abroad stipend to help pay for the gas back home! Call it an educational expense.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

America Runs On...

When it's 4:08 p.m., and you're just on the way home, and you're dying for something sugary or a hot sandwich or some caffeine, where do you go? What chain can you find on every corner? Where can you get a quick, completely unhealthy meal for under $5 without getting out of the car?

My own beacon of hope was pink and orange and every 5 miles:

Unfortunately, there was one thing I never anticipated in moving to Oklahoma: the loss of my comfort chain. The first hint at this tragedy was getting off of the airplane to visit the school. While waiting for my uncle, I instinctively went walking through the airport to search for something to make my life a little less jet-lagged.

I attributed the lack of Dunkies to the extreme podunkness of the Tulsa airport. Which is partially responsible. But also responsible is this:

See that one little orange dot in Oklahoma? That's the only Dunkies in the state. And it's nowhere near my campus.

Compare that to this:

This is the map of distribution of the Oklahoma version of Dunkin Donuts. The place everyone goes at happy hour. The original drive-in.

This, my friend, is a map of Sonics.

They're everywhere.

While Sonics now have a special place in my heart, and I even have reverse withdrawal for them when I go home (a little bit), I do still occasionally pine for rich hot chocolate and double chocolate $0.89 donuts.

It's not a bad thing really. It's not anything to complain about. But it's something I warn you about now, so that you don't go through the heartbreak I had to.

Call me a saint, I know.

A saint who goes straight for the Providence airport Dunkies when she gets off the plane at Christmas.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Oklahoma Coma

The day I told my mother I had decided to go to OU, the first thing she tried to do was talk me out of it. Now, I found out later from her that she was trying to make sure she couldn't; she figured that if she couldn't change my mind, then I was certain and set and meant to move out to Nowheresville Norman. At the time though, that wasn't abundantly clear to me. Here's a small excerpt from the part when she told me about culture shock and I, already upset that we were even having this conversation, heard that I was going to be a social failure.

Concerned Mother: Jen, you know that life is different down there.
Headstrong Rude Daughter: It's Oklahoma Mom, of course it's gonna be a little different.
CM: No, really. It's a completely different way of life.
HRD: What do you mean?
CM: They have a different set of etiquette. Your sense of humor might come across wrong, rub people the wrong way. Someone as forward as you might have trouble.
HRD: Are you telling me there's not a soul in the whole state who understands sarcasm?
CM: I'm telling you that it's not really accepted there.
HRD: So you're telling me that I'm not going to make any friends.
CM: I'm just saying you might have to think about your words a little more....
HRD: So you're telling me I'm not going to make any friends without changing the way I talk?
CM: Sort of...

If I recall correctly, it was at about this point that I frustratedly left the room, convinced that my mother--who was trying desperately and lovingly to make sure that I didn't have a terrible college experience--was trying to keep me at home by telling me my personality wasn't compatible with anyone's.

Ironically, she went to college about as far from home as I did. And made lots of friends.

Since "culture shock" is so often talked about, both in situations like this one and when you come home for the first time, I figured it would be worth addressing.

Though there are stereotypes for each region of the country that speak for themselves, I think this issue still merits a post. After all, how can we navigate Southern belles and New York minutes if we cannot even understand that the two places are different?

I, for one, was convinced this would not be a problem. As a well-seasoned traveler (vacations in Wisconsin, a wedding in California, a dance competition in Tennessee the obligatory childhood trip to Disney world--the works), I knew that all parts of the U.S. were the same. I'd even been to Oklahoma before--twice! (Once when I was 3 and a half and once when I spent the entire time inside in the air-conditioning with my 86-year-old great aunt.) Other than a marked lack of tall buildings, nothing was different.

But people are not the same as buildings, and it didn't take me long to find out that life here is different. People live at a rate that I can only describe as The Oklahoma Coma. Want them to get that piece of paper for you? They'll do it with a smile and a 10-minute conversation and a complete inability to move at a comparable speed. Need to get something done? No you don't--why rush!

Now, I am happy to report that this is not the extreme that one might expect from the worst of stereotypes. And it is less noticeable if you stay on campus among the relative hustle and bustle of student life. But it still exists, especially if you run into someone who's been living in Oklahoma for 40+ years. (This probably intensified by the presence of so many Texans in OK. Apparently distance from the equator is proportional to speed of living).

I'm sure the reverse effect occurs for people migration the other way. Heck, even I get left behind in the traffic of Boston proper. Chances are good that if you're not used to that fast culture you'll get turned on your head before you know it.

However, for the most part things are the same. College kids are still college kids, and buying a piece of gum at the gas station is still buying a piece of gum at the gas station. It just takes a little longer here. Don't be worried about not understanding what's going on, but do be prepared for some small, often humorous differences.

Just something to be aware of when you're packing up your sarcasm and slow southern drawls!

Also, you'll be happy to know that I've successfully made friends here. And that's not sarcastic.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Did we mention the 50 lb limit?

Now that you know whether to put your stuff into winter hibernation (also known as summer storage) or have it fly south in the plane's cargo hold, let's talk about how to give it wings.

Other than, of course, pouring red bull on it.

Even if you're planning on driving, basic packing skills are necessary. Chances are good you don't have a whole lot of trunk space (and even if you do, you should fill it with friends and their stuff and have a fabulous road trip).

1. Roll your clothes! This will give you lots more space. Fold them longways and then roll them up and stuff them into your suitcase.
2. Fill your shoes with socks--don't waste empty places!
3. Spread out your heavy stuff. Having one suitcase full of textbooks and clunky heels and one full of fluffy sheets and pillows will mean that you have 100 lbs total, spread out 98 to 2. This is not ideal for your buff friend carrying the suitcase or for trying to get it into the air.
4. Use the corners. Suitcases are usually rounded, but socks, underwear, and belts make very good suitcase stuffers. Again, again, and again, don't waste your space!!
5. Don't pack children. They usually grow to over 50 lbs once you reach your landing location. It's also frowned upon in most civilized societies (Texas excepted).
6. If you're driving, snacks ride up front with you. This not only leaves room for more junk in your trunk, but also gives you easy access to the most important thing you'll have with you.
7. For car packing, treat the corners of your trunk like the rounded corners of your suitcase. Stuff in sweatshirts, blankets, clothes, lamps, and roommates.
8. If you have a choice, make rolling suitcases your heavier bags rather than duffel bags just for the sake of making them easier to tote around (make sure you factor in the weight of the wheels though).

Follow these rules so that your entire room can look like this:

Just find someone to carry it to your car/the airport for you and you should be all set.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

50 lb Limit

Let's talk about what everyone forgets: your enormous amount of stuff.

That's right. So enormous it doesn't even fit on my blog.

While dorm room shopping is the most fun thing you'll do preparing to go to college (not hard, since it's up against things like bursar bills and application essays), it does leave you with a truckload of stuff. Which is fine! When Dad brings his truck to move you in.

But what about when you fly home for the summer with a carry-on, a personal item, and two free checked bags? (If you're flying Southwest! Nix the either the checked bags or the free with any other airline.) Without a big truck bed, you're going to need to find a place to put all of that stuff.

Here are your options:
1) Pack it all in bags and fly it home.
This will be difficult for the obvious reasons: most airlines have severe restrictions on baggage. All carry on bags must be under 25 pounds, and checked bags must be under 50 pounds unless you want to pay even more money. However, if you're going this route, stay tuned for the "how to pack stuff that shouldn't fit in small areas into small areas" post. I'm sure it's coming.

(Obviously, if you're driving you won't have to worry about this. You could just cram it all into your car.)

2) Pack it all in boxes and ship it home. Though shipping can be expensive, it's probably cheaper than paying for a checked bag if you're not flying on an airline that gives you your baggage free. On the downside, there's always the chance of cardboard getting wet or lost or fragile things being broken.

3) Store it. This probably makes the most sense. Invest in some plastic storage tubs at your local Target so that no mice decide your winter coat makes a nice summer cottage and google search for storage units in your area. If you have friends who are out of state as well, offer to split the cost and the unit with them. There's no way you need as much space as even the smallest storage area will give you, so try your best to befriend the other out of staters! Or at least make this deal with them. It benefits them as much as you.

3andahalf) If you haven't managed to befriend the out-of-state students, but have a bunch of friends who live within a few hours of campus, ask them if you can give them some (or all!) of your storage stuff. If you split it up between people, it won't be too much. But don't be too hopeful! Remember, they already have to find spaces for all of their extra-long twin bedding and posters. Their parents are probably envisioning this:
Of course, if you throw money at them they might be more inclined to take your junk.

Just never as inclined as the Goodwill!

No but really, here's option number almost4: at the end of the year you'll have bunches of stuff you don't need anymore. Moving into an apartment? Donate your XL twin sheets. Your mini-fridge. Your dear old roommate. College students don't often have the resources to make a difference! This will be one time you do: take advantage of it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Currency Exchange

An American dollar is always an American dollar, but an American tax is not always an American tax and an American price is not always an American price.

Well, alright, that sentence makes no sense (cents?), but you get the general idea.

Although staying within the country means that you don't have to deal with the comparative value of the dollar, there are still a few things to watch out for. The first is taxes: sales taxes vary (a lot!) in different states. In fact, some states don't even have sales taxes (Alaska, here I come!). Be sure to keep an eye on this when budgeting; it may be small, but it adds up.

Likewise, though less likely to influence the irresponsible college student, income tax rates also vary. But that of course implies we have income!

(No but really, watch out you part-time jobbers).

Lots of news stories will about the cost of living changing from state to state--pay attention to them. You may think, "oh, I'm just living in the dorms, it won't matter." A few things to consider on that note: first of all, you may not always be living in the dorms. Oftentimes going into an apartment will be cheaper (and generally less hassle), and so the local rent rates will be relevant to you.

Sidenote: I'm not advocating either dorms or apartments! That's completely dependent on your university, their housing, and whether or not you can find a good set of landlords/roommates. Though I will advise you to find roommates who clean when they're procrastinating.

Cost of living also affects the cost of food and of gas. Obviously, urban areas are going to be more expensive in general than more rural ones, and prices in general do vary from state to state. Places that produce their own oil (like Oklahoma and Texas) are going to have cheaper gas than places that have to pay through the nose to just get it to the area. Do a little research when you're preparing to move so that you and your bank account aren't too surprised.

And so that this:
doesn't become this:

More so than the tuition monster will already make it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Leaving on a jetplane vs. getting your kicks on route 66

The number 1 rule of traveling:
No matter how you're going, the soundtrack is the most important part.

Of course, the key question is whether that soundtrack will last for 3 hours or for 30, and whether you'll have to endure silence for takeoff and landing.

For the cross-country traveler(/ing student), whether to fly or to drive is a huge issue. So, as you need for any good decision-making, here's a little comparison for you.

Ah, the all-important question. Here's the deal: you can usually get pretty cheap flights if you plan right. Flying on days that aren't weekends or Fridays will definitely save you some money. If this means coming home a day earlier from break or missing your one 12:30-1:20 class on Fridays (depending on what it is! I'm not advocating class skipping), it's probably worth the money. By doing that, you'll shave about a hundred dollars off your airfare. The same goes for flying out of smaller airports to avoid airport fees (ie, Midway rather than O'Hare in Chicago) and packing light (baggage fees are crazy, and you can fit all your clothes in a carry-on sized suitcase. *Note: Southwest flies bags free! My personal favorite airline!) It's easy to see what your airfare cost is; for driving, remember to calculate food and hotel rooms as well as gas. On the whole, the cost will come out about even for 3 days of driving. There's no way for me to say for sure which will be cheaper for you because I don't know where you live, but there's are the things you should keep track of when looking into cost.

Airports=more fun alone; driving=more fun with friends/family. Roadtripping with people you like/want to get to know is always fun. If you have friends who live in interesting (or even uninteresting!) places on the way home, offer to drive them! This will save you money and sanity on those long boring roads. On the flipside, airports can be fun if you like exploring little coffeeshops and people watching! If you have no layovers and have no specific airplane love though (it exists; you'll know if you have it), your trip will simply be lots of reading/sleeping/jamming to your ipod.

What you Own
What are you planning to bring home? This will make a difference (especially if you're a musician!). For the summers, you'll probably want to bring more. Weigh the issue of driving and having room in your trunk for those suitcases against the cost of luggage fees (and the hassle of getting your bags under 50 pounds apiece). For shorter breaks (Thanksgiving, spring break, maybe even Christmas), you can probably swing a carry-on bag.

Of course, all of this depends upon whether you have a car to bring to school, whether you will need to have a car on campus (look up your public transportation; if you're going from city to rural or vice versa it will change), and whether it's conceivable for your parents to drive you out to school and then drive back alone.

Go forth and seek yourself a long and winding road/airway!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Happier Holidays?

This semester, I started working in the Communications Center on campus, which is a fancy name for calling prospective students and telling them to come to OU. This past week, I was talking to a high school senior from South Dakota who was less than enthusiastic about my sales pitch (I mean...my information about applying!). Since I'm from far away, I was trying to give him some insight on how being in a new place can be exciting.

"I don't know," he said. "Aren't you kind of stuck there for holidays and stuff?"

All of a sudden, I had a montage-worthy flashback to my own decision process a few years ago, with this very question at the forefront. I think it's fair to say that most people considering school far away have this question cross their mind (and look just like Macauley Culkin when they think about it). If you're more than a day's drive away, or if you have no car, there's not a super-cheap way to get home.

Here's the deal: you won't be back for the Labor Day barbecue, and unless your spring break is really conveniently times, you probably won't be hunting for Easter Eggs with your little sister. But if you want, it is feasible to get home for Thanksgiving, and of course Christmas. That long winter break is a great season for playing pranks on your neighbors from your own home.

There are ways to get cheap flights for Thanksgiving, particularly if you fly out on a Tuesday. I'll go into more detail about this when I do a post on travel. Also, if your issue is transportation more than distance, then by that point in the year you'll probably know someone who will be going near your house on their drive back. Offer to split gas or serenade them (loudly) the whole way. Trust me, people love road trip buddies.

The problem with the fall semester, of course, is that the only real break comes near the end. Spring semester has a lovely vacation smack in the middle, but the first part of the year (especially when it's your first year) can drag on. If you're lucky enough to get a fall break, take advantage of it. Even for the sake of your sanity away from schoolwork.

As for flying home for spring break and Christmas, both are completely doable. So much so that I will just tell you not to worry about them--if you want to be home, you'll be home. There are some travel tricks that I'll let you all know about soon, but neither of these has ever been a problem for me.

Of course, there are alternatives you might want to consider. Lots of people use the Christmas intersession to study abroad, or do their own Spring Break trip (be safe, kiddies). My suggestion to the newer students is this: go home for winter break at least. Even if you're not a huge fan of your family or the people back home, and they make you feel like this crazy dude. (2 points to anyone who knows who it is). It's interesting, at the very least, to see how you and the people you know have changed with a full season of being different people apart from each other. And besides, reconnecting with people, hearing their stories and sharing yours, and reliving the glory days of diapers and learner's permits is more fun than you might imagine. There's something to be said for years of memories, even mediocre ones.

What's the fun of your new lame jokes if you can't tell them to a fresh audience?