World Wide Wanderlust: 5 countries, 1 car


What happens when you put a Dutch, a Hungarian, a Scott, a Belgium and an American in a Volkswagon Golf? A 14 hour car ride extravaganza of the sorts, I tell you what.

This past weekend I got to go on my first trip of the semester. I traveled with 4 friends (also exchange students) in a rental car to Levi, Finland. Levi is in the northern most part of Finland in a region known as the Lapland. It is literally like a Christmas snow globe. Santa Claus lives in the Lapland in a city called Rovaniemi, so obviously we had to make a stop to make sure we were all on the nice list for this Christmas. We also go to see some reindeer and husky dogs among other things.

The Lapland is also known for the Aurora Borealis. Unfortunately it was extremely cloudy every day we were there and we were unable to see them. I know I was pretty bummed but I’m pretty dead set that I’m not leaving Finland without seeing them (and photo evidence).

Anyways, back to the trip. During our extremely long car ride that seemed like forever, we did a lot of singing to try and detract from the pain and numbness we started to feel in our butts from sitting for so long. Eventually we made it to Levi just around 11 pm. We struggled to find our lodge but after a short trek through the snow, we found our quaint little cottage to live in for the weekend.

Friday morning, first on the agenda was heading to Yllas ski resort. I for one had never touched a pair of skis or snowboard so it ended up being quite the experience. Rachael (Scottish) and I both being inexperienced decided to experience it together. We were able to rent a snowboard, boots and a helmet for 35 euro for two days which is far cheaper than any ski slopes in the States. Krisztain (Hungarian) and Romain (Belgium) both had been before so they got the pleasure of attempting to teach us the basics. The first time down the slope we mostly just tumbled/rolled to the bottom. The boys stuck with us the whole time though helping us get up and trying to explain how we were doing it all wrong (language barriers suck in situations like this). After a few struggling attempts down the mountain, we got the hang of things and are now self proclaimed professionals and are now training for the Winter Olympics. Place your bets now on the US and UK taking the gold and silver.

After a windy, cold morning on the slopes, the lifts were closed for the day so we had to find some other way to spend our time. We coincidentally were staying less than 100 yards from a snowmobile shop. We went in to check out their safaris and they were pretty pricey and we couldn’t go during any of the scheduled times. Fortunately we were able to get some cheap prices and our own private little safari…… Must have been my American charm or something. Anyways, we had an hour or so to eat quick and get back to the shop before our little trip. Rachael and I shared a snowmobile while the boys rode alone. We definitely had more fun together but caused more problems. I may have flipped the snowmobile on its side a couple of times and the tour guide may have said he wasn’t surprised but hey, it was all in good fun. It led to lots of laughs, mostly at us and not with us but if you can’t laugh at yourself, then you’re not really living life. Friday also was Rachael’s birthday so we bought a case of beer and had a few drinks to celebrate.

On Saturday morning, we once again headed back to the slopes since, you know, we’re professionals now. We stayed on the mountain into the afternoon and then headed home for some food. Our next stop was an ice bar. It wasn’t nearly what we expected and actually turned out to be more of a museum/ice castle. We may have brought our own supply of alcohol in to make it really an ice bar….. Oops. It was pretty cool though. There were etchings in the walls and an ice hotel. The owners claimed they’re booked every night but there’s no way I could sleep in a building made entirely of ice. I’m too big of a pansy. I need heat. After the ice castle we tried to look up some husky and reindeer farms to visit. Well….. long story short they were all closed and we thought we would take a shortcut back home and we got lost on a road that didn’t exist on googlemaps and couldn’t turn around because it was a one-way road and the snow drifts were a solid foot high on either side of the road. So that was the fun we had on Saturday night.

Sunday morning we slept in awhile and left for Pori around 11 am. We had to try once more to see some reindeer so we went to a farm that (of course) was closed. Don’t worry though, I used that good ‘ol American charm I talked about before and the owner let us feed the reindeer for free. It was pretty cool. Reindeer are beautiful creatures. And of course since we saw Rudolph, we had to go see Santa Claus. So we hopped in the car and drove two hours to Rovaniemi to get a picture with the fat man himself (picture to come soon). That was the last official stop on our trip.

Although I didn’t get any new stamps in my passport from this trip, it was more fun than I could have expected. My advice: take a quick weekend trip with your friends, or even with people you aren’t really friends with. You will have the time of your life, I promise. Even if you’re a poor college kid like me. It will be worth it.



World Wide Wanderlust: Life lessons are hard to learn

Things I’ve learned:
1. Do not ever let anything important out of your sight, possession, etc. Make sure you know AT ALL TIMES where your valuables are at, even if it means you have to stop at every street corner to give yourself a pat down.
2. Lock everything. Always lock everything. Lock your phone, lock your computer, lock your apartment (but don’t lock your keys in your apartment) and lock down your bike like freaking fort knox.
3. Always have a back up communication device (or two). I had my phone stolen last night, had serious computer problems tonight and lost all communication, but then remembered that I had my iPad packed away as well. If you only are relying on one form of communication to get you through an international trip, you thought wrong. I forgot a lot of valuable travel accessories on this little adventure of mine, but lots of technology thankfully was not one of them.

After all the chaos that has happened in my life in the past couple of weeks, it is easy to look at myself with utter frustration. It’s easy to say ‘screw it, I’m coming home’. But then I have to think to myself…… Nothing about coming to Pori, Finland (of all the places I could have chosen) was easy. Moving away from my family and friends to a community where I am the only American and only native English speaking person was probably one of the hardest things I will ever do in my life. But I didn’t hesitate for even a moment. I have had my moments of weakness on this journey, sure, but as I’m evaluating my situation, I can see all of the wonderful people at home that I have grown to appreciate so much more just in the 3 short weeks I have been away from them. I also have met some of the most amazing friends in Pori that I know I will be friends with for the rest of my life and I know that I can’t complain about a thing. Life goes on.


World Wide Wanderlust: Bikes and seas and classes oh my!

Hei hei,

With my first week abroad officially under my belt, I have so many amazing things to share.

First things first, all the students here use bicycles as their primary mode of transportation. I was lucky enough to find a cute, second-hand bicycle from a Pori local for just 35 euro. It took my body some getting used to (I haven’t rode a bike since middle school) but now it is so much more convenient than walking and takes about half the time. On my first bicycling adventure, I was heading to my first class. The class was in the evening, so here the sun had already set and it was as dark as you could imagine. I was cycling alone, thinking I could use the map on my phone for guidance. That was a decent idea except that I didn’t factor in the below freezing temperatures. My phone froze and turned off, so what should have been a 10 minute bike ride turned into about a two hour bike ride and I missed half of my Introduction to Finland course. All is well though, I made a few friends out of the deal and of course they took advantage of making the American the butt of the joke.

After that endeavor, a Dutch exchange student offered to help me get to the other campus the following day for class. Now I’d say I’m pretty accustomed to the route, no phone necessary! It’s safe to say now that I’m comfortable with the trip to class that I am loving it! My classes are all wonderful and I love them (maybe more than American school). This week a class of mine is going to a refugee camp to interview war refugees. This is an opportunity of a lifetime and I never could have anticipated anything like this! The workload is also much less here. Lots to do, but much less stress.

I also got the opportunity to visit the Baltic sea as my first little adventure here. It is absolutely beautiful and a nice little getaway here in Pori. I am in complete awe at the beauty here. Pori is kind of a hidden beauty and I’m very blessed to have this wonderful city as my home for the next few months. It makes me so excited to explore the rest of the country and the world. So far I am planning a trip to Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day and another to Spain in May before I travel back to the states. I also am just a short boat ride away from St. Petersburg, Russia so I hopefully will get the chance to visit.

Finally, I experienced my first international “gathering” and boy was it something. All of the international students here are so kind and I love all of the new friends I’ve made! We all kind of just hang out in one of our apartments and listen to music and talk about life and home and everything. Also, for anyone ever travelling to Europe, be easy with European alcohol. It has a much higher concentration and puts you on your butt far more quickly.

Anyways, that is all I have for now. Until next time,

Hannah IMG_7321IMG_7322IMG_7404IMG_7411

World Wide Wanderlust: Hello my only one


So Pori is still just as beautiful as ever. Adjusting to the short daylight hours and the eight hours I lost during travel has been quite the task (I’m still not adjusted), but I think the biggest struggle I have faced thus far is being American…. the only American. There are only about 20 international students (students not from Finland) at my University. The majority are from France, a small amount from China, and then me. I can’t say I am entirely surprised though.

For those who know me well, you know that I am a pretty loud and outgoing person in the states….. Well you could only imagine the way that comes across to Europeans. My roommate tried to explain to me the difference in what I would consider “personalities” between Americans and Europeans from different areas. Basically what I grasped from the conversation is that I scare them. I think they’ll start warming up to me though, sooner or later.

I haven’t really gotten out to do a whole lot of “fun” things yet. I’m trying to take advantage of some quiet time to adjust as best I can and try to be as prepared as possible for the upcoming semester. Paperwork, paperwork, and more paperwork has pretty much consumed the first three days of my trip, but I’m not complaining. I have a pretty nice view out my bedroom window.

I don’t want to share too much with you all on just my second post, so until then.

Niin kauan nyt,


World Wide Wanderlust: Tervetuloa, from Finland

Hei (hello) all from Pori, Finland. I must say, I could not have every anticipated the shear bitterness of the Finland winter. It is very frigid, but still very beautiful. The sun sets at 3:37 pm, my time so it gets very dark, very early. It is a wonderful city and today I got to experience a European shopping mall. Surprisingly, it is very similar to American shopping malls, however, navigating can be a struggle. Really, navigating any and all of the city is fairly difficult on my first day. I am waiting to receive a bike to use for transportation for the length of my stay, so I will be getting in plenty of exercise while I am here.

I had some road bumps along the way trying to make it to Pori in one piece. First I left my wallet (with all of my important documents, IDs, credit cards, cash, etc.) at home in Fairbury. Luckily I was able to bump my flight to a later one that would not conflict with my remaining two flights. I made it to Chicago and then onto Paris safely. I didn’t have much time in either city to stop and look around. Once I got off my plane in Helsinki, I was lucky enough to have LOST one of my bags. No worries though, it did not board in Paris, but made a flight all by its lonesome last night. Hopefully I’ll get ahold of that puppy sooner than later. Right now I’m just trying to take in the sights and praying for a peaceful adventure (of a lifetime I might add).




Rainbows in Limavady

As we get further in December, it’s been raining more here, but the temperature has stayed pretty consistent, around 50 or so. However, when I saw sunshine approaching on the weather forecast I knew I had to squeeze in one more outdoor excursion.

Some friends and I headed to Limavady, to walk in Roe Park. It was a beautiful nature trail along the Roe River, and the day was perfect with blue skies. I was also glad for some time with the friends I’ve made here, as people are starting to head home after classes end. I’ll miss the people I’ve met here most of all, as I think people are what make any experience worthwhile.

Limavady itself was a cute little town, all decorated for Christmas. Another thing I will miss about Ireland is all the cute small businesses, from the little shops to the unique cafes. After we walked in the park, we stopped in town to grab a tea and a pastry before making our way back home to Coleraine.Limavady 2 Limavady 3 Limavady 4 Limavady 5 Limavady

And a Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas from Belfast!Belfast Christmas market Belfast City Hall Christmas lights in Belfast Christmas tree

The Christmas markets are open all over Europe, so I had to take a train trip down to Belfast to experience it for myself. It was just as beautiful as I expected, with lots of stands selling homemade wares and of course it was all lit up for Christmas! I did lots of eating, as everything smelled too amazing not to try. My favorite was a baked apple from a German stand, with cinnamon and butter. I also had a hot cider, as it was pretty chilly, although nothing like the snow on the ground back home.

Even City Hall got into the spirit with tons of decorations in an already beautiful building. I loved the giant Christmas tree right in the main entrance. If I wasn’t in a festive mood before, I sure am now!

And most of all, I am so glad I got to share this experience with my brother. My Christmas present from my parents was sending my younger brother Jeremy out for a week-long visit. I loved showing him where I’ve been living these past couple of months, and sharing these memories with him. Best of all, I know I’ll be seeing him again very soon for Christmas Day.

The Lion, the Witch, and Jon Snow

This weekend I had the literary adventure of a lifetime hiking the Mourne Mountains, reaching the top of Slieve Donner, the highest peak in Northern Ireland.  I’m not much of a hiker, so I expect I will be spending this entire next week recovering from this experience, but despite the pain in my calves and my knees, I can say without a doubt, this was worth it.

The Mourne Mountains are famed for having inspired C.S. Lewis to write his depiction of Narnia, and I can definitely see how he could have been so inspired. There is something so ancient feeling and magical about these mountains, it feels as if a giant could be around the next rocky corner.

Near the Mourne Mountains is Tollymore Forest Park, with a beautiful hiking trail along the River Lagan. This is also the filming location for woods scenes of Winterfell in Game of Thrones, so I was especially excited to see some spots of memorable scenes. It was an incredibly perfect time to visit, as the leaves were turning and the weather was cool, and I think this little adventure will be one I remember for the rest of my life.

Mourne Mountains

Mourne Mountains

Tollymore Forest Park

Tollymore Forest Park

Oh… You mean I have to go to class?

Classes have started here, which is an interesting change. At first, it seemed as though this was just the vacation of a lifetime, but sitting in the classroom reminded me of why I came here in the first place. The classes I’m taking are Adaptation and Historical Fiction, Modernist Literature, and Writing and Publishing. If you’re a nerd like me, this sounds very, very exciting.

I have to say, even though I have been through the routine of starting a new semester eight times now (Oh that makes me feel old), I was pretty nervous for the first day of classes here. I had no idea what to expect.

Part of me thought when I came to class, the rest of my Irish classmates would think it was super interesting that I was American. I thought they would be thrilled by my accent, and ask me lots of questions about the grand ole U.S. of A. And then, I would politely turn the attention back to the teacher. This was not the case. In fact, no one even mentioned my American-ness, if they noticed at all. My first foray as a lone international student in a sea of native Irish was actually extremely normal; to the point where it verged on… boring. It was just a normal syllabus week.

The major difference that I can see is the work expected outside of class. My classes meet once a week, and the rest of the week, the students are expected to read, write, and explore their subjects on their own time. This self-direction is nice in a lot of ways, but also potentially makes it easier to not keep up with my studies.

This was also the first time I have only taken 3 classes in a semester, which gives me a lot of downtime, and lots of time to focus on being a student, without a job or any extracurricular activities. Beyond, you know, exploring Ireland.

50 shades of green

Even the sidewalks are green

Campus 3

Northwest has stiff competition for ‘Prettiest Campus’.

Talking Politics in Portstewart

The view from my backyard here at University of Ulster

The view from my backyard at University of Ulster

This Friday concludes my first week as an exchange student in Northern Ireland. Reflecting on the week, I already feel as if I have experienced so much, as if I have been here for much longer than just one week. Today is also the first day that jet lag finally caught up to me and I slept until late in the afternoon, completely exhausted from all the new things.

I think the most unexpected aspect of my time here so far has been the other international students sharing this experience with me. Not only am I being exposed to Irish culture for the first time, but the home cultures of students from all across the globe. My housemates include three girls from Spain, one girl from France, and one other American girl.

The wonderful diversity of perspectives was more apparent than ever as I spent last night in an Irish pub, a live band performing “Galway Girl” in the background, as I talked politics with two guys from Malta and three Spanish girls. We touched on topics ranging from gun control, religion, health care, and feminism, and I felt wonder struck by the discourse unlike any I’ve experienced in my life.

I am learning that my study abroad experience, just as in my life, the people are what matter most. I feel incredibly fortunate to have met so many wonderful, warm, lovely people here.