Is it December yet?

“These are the years when you learn what type of person you’ll be for the rest of your life”         -my mama (I think. Some relative. Somebody somewhere ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )

I am not the person I was five years ago. For one, I’m *kind of* an adult now and I’m in college. However, when I was 14 (five years ago) I had those two things in my five-year plan. Yes, 14-year-old me had it all figured out. I would be in college with As and Bs and have a car and cool friends and speak fluent spanish and bring all the boys to the yard. (Some of these things are still in development but I still have time. I don’t turn 20 until May). The newest development in my character though is something that old me would have never guessed.

My name is Kiara Alexander and I’ve become a holiday season junkie.

That’s right UMBC. You’re gonna see a girl on campus in a santa suit on November 24th and you’ll think, “who is this fool getting their santa on before December 1st?” and it’ll be me.

I wasn’t always like this. I used to be a holiday shamer. I would shake my head at people who put lights up outside during the month of November. I would like to take this time now to apologize to all those people I judged before. I understand now. You may ask what brought me to this new jolly state-of-mind. Do not worry. I, as usual, have made a list to explain this new character.

Kiara’s gone Krazy: Christmas Edition ;)

  • MichaelBublé
    • I’ve known about Michael but have I known about Michael? Obviously not. Thanks to his angelic voice, I see snow and hot cocoa every time I close my eyes.
  • Starbucks, particularly the one of campus
    • They bust out the red cups. They bring out the peppermint mocha. Everyone is studying harder with the semester coming to a close. The togetherness of it all makes me feel very warm and cozy and festive, just like a caramel brulée (Bublé to make a connection) latte.
  • Target
    • The sunday after halloween Target puts up their wintery holiday signage. How can I not be swayed to follow Target’s holiday schedule when upon entering their store I am greeted with a quirky santa sign.
  • Money
    • This is the first year of my life I’ve had disposable income. I can’t wait to buy cool things for my squad/crew/loved ones. Yay!
  • MichaelBublé
    • He needs to be on here twice. That’s his impact.

So this is who I am now, but I am not ashamed. Here’s a Michael Bublé Christmas playlist for the road:

Have a Happy Thanksgiving

–Your Girl, Kiki

College is Real Life

I’ve heard many times that college is not “real life”. People say that college is completely different from the rest of your life, so treasure it!

Well yes, there may not be another time in my life where I’ll choose to stay up all night after making the bad decision to procrastinate on a paper. Yes, you may not ever choose to eat at the same five place for three times a day for a year again. And yes, you may not ever wear pajamas in public all the time again.

However, the skills applied and learned while in college are very “real life”. Contrary to the portrayal of media, college is much more than just endless studying and partying. Students are changing the world, right now, even if they don’t realize it.

Not only are students participating in internships and jobs that will help them realize what they do for the rest of their life, but students are changing things in the world right now. Maybe there is more of a culture of this at UMBC, but I would like to think that students everywhere are working hard on life skills right now.

That’s really why I love to be at UMBC. Students are not afraid to make change right now. They don’t feel like they need to wait for professors. They don’t feel like they need to join something that has already started. They start programs and initiatives and research on their own.

Being at UMBC is really pretty empowering. You learn what you’d like to do for the rest of your life. You learn soft job skills to be successful. And finally, you learn that you have the power to be an agent of change now.

Here Comes Christmas!

For the last two weekends, my little sister has controlled the single TV at my house. Normally, my brother and I take it over so we can watch sports or action movies (but mostly sports). However, my sister is extremely obsessed with the Hallmark Channel, and especially with the Christmas movies that are a part of the November/December calendar. There is a new movie every Saturday and Sunday night, every weekend until Christmas, and she appears determined to watch them all.

Hallmark Channel isn’t the only sign that winter is quickly coming. There are Christmas commercials out, most of them involving beautiful people driving beautiful cars down snowy roads. Michaels, the crafts superstore, is covered with Christmas decorations and little crafty ornaments. Even Chick-fil-a has returned with its peppermint milkshake!

It tastes like Christmas!

It tastes like Christmas!

Along with all these holiday movies and crafts and milkshakes comes the final few days of school. As I’m sure you have heard, the last month of a college semester is extremely busy and often very challenging. Nearly every class has some form of final project or final exam that synthesizes what you have learned throughout the semester. Keeping on top of everything requires not only a lot of work, but also very good time management. I know that I like to find time to relax and actually enjoy the run up to Christmas, so I have to make sure I have time for myself, in addition to finding time for school.

But, regardless of all the craziness that goes on in the last three weeks of the semester, I’m glad that when its all over I will get a chance to relax with a peppermint milkshake and tolerate my sister as she binge watches Hallmark Channel. I’m looking forward to that.

My Roommate and I

Before coming to college, everyone is worried about who their roommate will be, whether they will be a good match for each other, or whether they will be able to bond or not. However, I was fortunate enough to find a great high school friend who agreed to room with me. Everyone was saying that rooming with a friend would be a problem and that we would start to hate each other. But to be completely honest, I have enjoyed living with the same roommate for the past year and a half. Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t have our ups and downs. Sure we do; everyone does. But at the end of the day, we know that we are the perfect match for each other.

Contrary to popular belief, my roommate and I have bonded even more than we did in high school. We practically do everything together, whether it be eating, doing homework, or procrastinating. It’s really convenient to have a friend who shares the same interests as me because then we can jam out to the same music and be weird together. Furthermore, it’s easier to do homework, and study for exams, because we help each other with everything.

I know that whenever I need her, she will always be there for me. I know this for a fact because after coming to college, I was having some personal issues and it was hard for me to adjust, but my roommate was there to help me out. I knew that I had a shoulder to cry on, or someone to fall back on. But most importantly, I knew that I had someone that I could rant to, who would actually take the time to understand me and give me advice.

Moreover, we have a relationship where we can communicate even without talking (I know that’s kinda cliche, but trust me, we have our moments)! Furthermore, I trust her a lot; I tell her everything and anything that’s going on in my life and I know that she won’t tell other people, but rather comfort me when I need it.

But what truly makes me happy is when people acknowledge that there are some rare cases where high school buddies can be college roommates without killing each other. For example, the other day, we were at a meeting, and the adviser said “One doesn’t go anywhere without the other!” Now, I know that might sound weird, but it just makes our friendship that much more stronger.

Therefore, I want to take this blog post, to thank her for being part of my life, and always being there for me. I also want to tell her that (even though at times I don’t go outside to get food in the cold) I am always there for her whenever she may need me, and that I will always go out of my way to help her! Lastly, I want to encourage everyone (prospective and current students) to find their one true friend. One can have many friends, but there is only one (or two) person(s) that truly brighten up our lives. It may take some time to come across such a person, but it’s worth the wait.


Scary is Good Sometimes

In just a week I’ll be traveling to Spain by myself to spend Thanksgiving with my best friend while she studies abroad. I can only imagine that she is telling all her friends in Spain that I’m great at traveling and so “hardcore”.

However, what she doesn’t know (but might find out when she reads this blog) is that I’m terrified!! I am a fairly experienced traveler, but this will be my first time going to Europe. It’s my first time traveling completely alone. It’s my first time going to a country where I really don’t speak the language.

I know everything will end up being fine, and chances are I’ll make all my flights, but I’m still nervous. Although my nervousness makes me want to avoid thinking about it and stresses me out, I made a promise to myself when I went to college.

I promised myself that I would do things that I really want to do, that are good for me, and in this case, that I already paid for, even if I’m scared. Maybe I’ll get lost from Penn Station to JFK to make from flight to Madrid. Maybe I’ll get lost trying to find my way around in Seville. Maybe I’ll even miss my flight! I know that this will be a good experience for me though.

I’m so excited to see my best friend for the first time this semester, and even though I’m scared, I’m getting on my train from BWI to start my journey around the world on Nov. 22.

Plus, there’s the whole I already paid for everything factor.

To learn about Carmen’s experiences so far in Spain, check out Academics Aboard–Literally–Part 1 and Academics Aboard–Not Literally–Part 2. 

Academics Abroad – Not Literally – Part 2

While the struggle of studying for midterms and keeping up grades is the same in Spain as it is in the United States for me, the academics and what I am learning outside the classroom is so different! Everything here is a grand cultural adventure! It is the most exciting life I have ever lived. Which life? It’s a life filled with not having internet for a week, learning how to go to the doctor in Spanish, losing your credit card and figuring out how to get it back, asking people to speak slowly, feeling like an outsider, finally feeling like I belong, then remembering why I don’t, eating dishes I don’t know how to pronounce, meeting new friends, beginning conversations with strangers, being cold because my apartment doesn’t have a heater, getting caught in the rain because I can’t afford an umbrella, laughing when I accidentally say a bad word in Spanish, laughing when the only word my Spanish friend knows in English is a bad word, staying up until 4am just like the locals, siesta, using public transportation, getting lost, finding a beautiful park, traveling for the weekend and returning to a place I feel is home, wishing my family and friends could experience all of this, learning that olive oil is a food group on the nutrition pyramid and that I should eat it 4 times a day, and finally ‘Dale la Vuelta a la Tortilla’.

The actual translation of the above phrase, as explained to me by host mother, is similar to the idea that you need to flip the Tortilla Espanola, which is made of potato and eggs (similar to flipping an omelet or egg). But the main message of the phrase is to turn around your attitude in a sense. The video below gives examples of famous people giving comedic examples. One example is the actor who plays Frodo (the guy from Lord of the Rings, correct me if I’m wrong) says “If you have lost your ring, dale la vuelta a la tortilla”. The meaning is even when things are going negatively or not as you planned, keep your head up. The video below is from a popular prime-time Spanish television show that I enjoy watching, although my host mom makes fun of me for it. In the video you will see many famous people you may recognize (my favorite is the backstreet boys).

These kinds of phrases, and the reason for why this phrase exists here in Spain is the education that I really love. I love that my real-life Spanish test is whether or not I can communicate with the store employees that I lost my credit card and whether or not I can get it back (I did by the way – totally passed the test). The education I am receiving during my study abroad experience goes beyond the classroom and into my daily life and need for survival. Sometimes, when my internet doesn’t work and I can’t find a place with wifi, I just remind myself of my newly learned Spanish phrase, Dale la Vuelta a la Tortilla.

Job Search. Whoo!

I’m going to graduate in the spring. That is crazy just to type – I feel like I just began at UMBC! But its actually been over three years, and I have to somehow go out into the world. A lot of my friends are applying to graduate school to get a professional degree (Ph.D, M.D., etc…), but I’m not there quite yet. As much as I like college, I don’t want to jump straight to another 4+ years of school. Instead, I’m beginning to look for real jobs.

The job search feels a lot like searching for colleges, surprisingly. There are resources out there that you initially don’t know about, there are a million choices, and you hope there is a “best fit” for you. It can be slightly overwhelming at times too. That’s why I’ve taken advantage of the services UMBC has to offer to help me out. I went to the Career Services Center a few weeks ago in order to fix my resume. They helped me so much that I was approached by a fellow student at a job fair, who asked me how my resume looked so good!

Thats not all I’ve done either – I’ve made a profile on LinkedIn on the advice of a friend, and have started to build a strong professional network. I’ve made profiles on various job search sites (such as USAjobs and Indeed), and have even sent a few resumes out. Its going to be a long search and I hope I’ll find that one job that fits right, but hopefully I’m getting started in the right direction!

So You’ve Conquered UMBC…

But have you conquered the greater UMBC area? That is the question.

Sure, there is tons of stuff to do on campus, (like tonight I’m getting down at El Encuentro hosted by the Hispanic Latino Student Union #ayee) but let’s say you look around campus and say, “Wow, I’d love to paint some pottery right now”. What do you do in this situation? Do not worry. I have it all worked out for you.

Say hello to The Pottery Stop down in the non-historic part of Ellicott City. It’s 15 minutes from campus (by car) and you can fulfill all your pottery painting desires.

Mmm pottery

Mmm pottery

Look. There’s me with a shot glass that I dedicated to the Ravens. I hoped it would bring good luck to the team but that hasn’t happened so far (D:). The Pottery Stop does get pricey which is why I painted a shot glass ($12). However it’s very fun and groovy and there’s great coffee. So I hope that the Pottery Stop can be a part of your greater UMBC experience and put an ease to all those pottery-painting desires you might have had.

Apply to an Alternative Spring Break!

Maybe you haven’t realized it, but this semester is flying by. Soon it will be Thanksgiving, and then the semester is practically over. That means a couple things: (1) Everyone should probably get their work done and realize what they have left to do for the semester and (2) You should start playing what you need to do for the upcoming spring semester.

While picking classes is one of the largest responsibilities of planning for the spring semester, you should also be planning what you are going to do for spring break. Well all of you are in luck because I have the answer to save you from a boring spring break.

Apply to an Alternative Spring Break trip! Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trips are student-run week long volunteer service trips designed to challenge students and combat civic issues underlying larger societal concerns– such as homelessness, health care, animal welfare and the environment. Our UMBC ASB trips will teach students the power of service and leave them with a sense of camaraderie, compassion, and empathy for the people of the world, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status.

This year the Student Life is proud to offer 4 ASB trips to choose from:
Gesundheit! Institute Trip: This ASB trip to the Gesundheit Institute in beautiful West Virginia will allow students to delve deeper into alternative healthcare system. Participants will be given the opportunity to make a difference, learn about Patch Adam’s philosophy of laughter and life while reflection on yourself, and give back to the community. (Led by Tina and Lisa)

Homelessness Trip: This ASB trip is designed to educate participants about the plight of homelessness in the hopes of eliminating stigma and uncovering the intricate complexities of homelessness. Participants will work with local organizations and interact with Baltimore’s population experiencing homelessness while reflecting and implementing small change projects. (Led by Markya and Megan)

Public Health Trip:This ASB Trip focuses on public health, including helping with free clinics or various health-focused non-profit organizations. Participants will learn about the current state of healthcare in Maryland, social factors that can affect health, populations that suffer from health disparities, and reflect on how they can change the public health. (Led by Poulomi and Neyo)

ARC Trip: This educational ASB trip is focused on populations of people with intellectual and physical disabilities. Participants will spend time each day at the ARC of Carroll County developing relationships with clients, learning about the population, and dispelling stereotypes and stigma. (Led by Simin and Cami)

So apply now! Do something awesome with your spring break, make tons of friends, and learn about a social justice issue!
ASB participant application:

Election Time!

It’s that time of year again. No, not Halloween (even though that was two days ago) and not the start of Christmas commercials (I’ve already seen two – one for cars and another for Best Buy). It’s election time!

Its easy to be insulated at college and not keep up with the “outside” world. The national news is definitely noticed, especially when it involves Ebola or social issues. Even the race for the Senate majority has been brought up in class. But a local Maryland election? That is easily passed over.

I’ve been lucky because I do live at home, so I have access to local Maryland newspapers which cover the elections in fairly close detail. I know the race for Governor between Anthony Brown and Larry Hogan is closer than expected, as is the race for County Executive between Steve Schuh and George Johnson. While it may seem unimportant, these local elections do matter for college students since the government in Annapolis is who ultimately controls the tuition for Maryland public colleges, UMBC included.

So, election day is this Tuesday. I would encourage every person who is registered to either get to their polling place, or (since its really hard for college students to get home on a Tuesday in the middle of the semester) send in an absentee ballot. Voting is one of the most important things we can do as American citizens, and I hope everyone gets a chance to do so!