Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Excursion #1

Sorry to keep you all waiting on this one--I know I talked up the excursion so much that I left you quivering in anticipation (...right? no?).

It's incredibly difficult to sum up this one week in a single post, just as it's becoming increasingly frustrating to try to explain the entire experience I'm having here to people who aren't with me (is it strange that the one thing I'm worried about going home is that I'm going to have to talk about it?).

Anyway, I don't have the time to write you a novel and you don't have the time to read one, so just know that this excursion was by far the craziest week of my life. It's absolutely surreal to leave a rainy, chilly city one day and be in the middle of a green forest the next--and then to drive through snow-capped mountains, only to end up in the desert a day later. It was equally exhausting and rejuvenating, as inspiring as it was defeating at times. I think every single person on the trip experienced every human emotion at some point, and due to our limited time in each city, we went from long rides to immediately get off the bus and see as much as you can. Which inevitably wares you out. Even still, I had the best time and I'm so grateful to have seen more of Morocco.

Our first stop was Fez. Here's the whole MOJ crew in front of the royal palace.

The walled-in area is the medina, the oldest part of the city. Fez's medina is massive--and I thought Rabat's was complicated!

The narrowest streets in Morocco can be found in the Fez medina.

The famous age-old tanneries where leather is dyed.

The madrasa (Islamic school) in Fez with incredible ancient architecture.

Our guide informed us that the niche in the wall is very important, as it indicates the direction of Mecca so that students knew where to turn for prayer.

We visited a weaver--the fabrics and colors were gorgeous!

We stopped in the cedar forest on our way to Azrou. It reminded me of Vermont a little!

Our land rovers raced on the way to our destination in the Merzouga Desert.


I named mine "Habibati" (the female form of "my darling/my love" in Arabic. I think it was a she...)

PS I bought this awesome coat from a guy named Youssef before I left Rabat. I told him I was going to the desert and he was glad I was buying one since it gets so cold at night. He told me to bring back pictures so I did and now we're good friends!

We took turns rolling down the dunes...looks like Badrdine didn't want to get back up!

Our campsite in Merzouga

The Todgha gorge outside of Tinghir. It was GORGE-ous!

Of course, the food was awesome too. This is one of many forms of chicken tagine.

The Glaoui Kasbah in Ouerzazate

While traveling through the Atlas Mountains we often had to stop for herds of goats!

The Majorelle gardens in Marrakech

The largest palace in Marrakech

We stopped at a women's co-op that produces argan oil and other argan products. It is SUCH hard work!

Our last stop was Essaouira. We ended up staying an extra day because nobody wanted to leave this beautiful city (known as a favorite spot of Orson Welles, Jimi Hendrix and various other celebrities).

If any of you have been following me on Facebook you'll know that I've been documenting the cats I run into!

My friend Ahmed taught me about Tuareg culture. If I ever return to Essaouira I'll have to visit him!

The square before the medina in Essaouira

So that's a glimpse of my first excursion. I could go into a lot more detail but I'm already half an hour past closing time at school. The crazy thing is that Excursion #2 is already coming up--we leave on Sunday for our rural village stay. When we get back it's only one more week of classes, then Excursion 3, then (gasp!) ISJ time. NOT READY.

But I will be...more on that soon!

Laila saida,


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Gal-entine's Day at the Hammam

Yes, Valentine's Day is a thing in Morocco. As a newly pieced together group that has already professed love for each other, we figured there's only one way to celebrate V-Day in Morocco: MOJ style, specifically the girls (sorry dudes). What better way to get out with the girls than go to the hammam, AM I RIGHT?!

(PS--a hammam is a public bath.)

I'm going to admit it, I was super nervous. I made sure my friends would meet me out in front of the hammam so that I didn't have to go in alone, and before we went in I was a little freaked out. There I was, walking down the street with a towel and a bucket, thinking everyone walking past me knows what I'm going to do. It's not a big deal for people here, but since cleaning yourself is such a private thing in America, I felt awkward and way too public about it.

However, once I got inside and got past the initial stage fright, I realized that it was very relaxing. I thought I'd be more...intimidated?...being surrounded by a bunch of half naked women, and feel way too vulnerable. But everyone keeps to themselves or to their own group, so it's not awkward at all. And it makes sense...if you go with a group, you have someone to scrub your back for you!

So there's a small fee to get into the hammam, and then you go inside and undress. Then you enter another room where the actual bath is, but it's divided into three parts. You hang your towel in the first room, and the last room on the end (which you actually start in) is like a sauna. Very hot! The middle room is where most people stay longest and do their washing, and there are a bunch of faucets lined along the wall where you can fill your bucket. You bring a special type of soap that's either henna or argan based, and a scrubber glove that's just the right amount of rough to get the dead skin off (gross, I know, but you wouldn't believe the amount that comes off of you). I came out of the hammam glowing!

So, that's it, Friday is hammam day with my gals. Do something that makes you feel uncomfortable at first. You never know if you'll like something until you try.

(In case you were wondering, my friends and I feel much closer now.)

Just a quick note--I am traveling this week. Yay, excursion #1! I will be going to Fes, Marrakech, south toward the desert where I'll be riding a camel (!), and Essauoria, with some stops in between. We will be gone for a week. I'm bringing my laptop for when we're in hotels, but I don't know if I'll have time to blog. I'll certainly update when I get back though!



Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Doha Makes Couscous

On Friday we got out of language class early for cooking class! It was pretty fun, because we learned how to make couscous but the entire cooking class was in Arabic. I picked up some new vocabulary while learning to make a Moroccan delicacy!

Fridays are for couscous--every week, we get out of school early so that we can enjoy lunch with our families. The most popular type is "7-vegetable couscous" which is what most of our families make for us. For this lesson though, Doha, our homestay coordinator, made a sweet-and-salty version with caramelized onions and golden raisins (YUM!).

(By the way, yes I did make couscous at school, eat it, and then go home and eat more couscous. You can never eat enough here.)

Couscous here is not like in the States, where you can open a box and spend five minutes boiling it and bam, couscous. It's steamed here, and takes at least an hour to cook. It's a meal that takes a lot of time, so families eat it on Fridays when everyone is home due to it being a holy day.

Doha informed us that her mother is much better at making couscous, but we enjoyed it nonetheless!
My classmates smelling the spices.
The mixture had onions, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and tons of other delicious flavors!

Hungry? I don't blame you. It was ladeed--delicious!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"In this house, everyone is family."

Salaamu Alaikoum!

Wa alaikoum salaam!



I understand it's been forever since I updated you all--sorry! Between not having the best WiFi, dealing with a packed schedule, and trying to explore a new country, I haven't had much time to get my thoughts on paper (or screen). But I sure have had a lot of them! And it can be difficult communicating thoughts when you're surrounded by very limited amounts of English and massive amounts of languages you wish you knew (or thought you knew--Spanish!) but don't. So it's nice to have a blog for that.

Wow, where should I even begin?

First things first, you'll notice there's been a bit of a makeover. I figured, I'm not at SMC anymore so I should go for more of a Moroccan vibe. On our first day here, I was so inspired by something Badrdine said that I wrote it down: "The more confused you are, the more you understand Morocco...it's a mosaic; it's not a melting pot."

(Don't you just love Badrdine? So wise!)

That's where the new title came in. This is My Mosaic, a document of what Morocco is starting to mean to me. I'm also very confused (in a good way), so I think this works. The photo is looking down from the second floor of my school, the CCCL. It's a very old building and that mosaic on the floor is the original.

The last time I wrote on here I was about to meet my host family...I was so nervous. Terrified, even. But as soon as they called my name and my sister walked up to me and kissed my face, I knew I'd be okay. I'm glad Azizah was the one to pick me up, though it was a surprise because the info sheet I was given said I only had a mother and four brothers (wow). However, I quickly learned that Azizah is married to one of the brothers (who actually left for California the morning I moved in so we never met) and another one moved with his wife to Australia. That leaves two brothers, Abdelilah and Mostapha, who are the kindest/funniest/most caring people I've probably ever met. Abdelilah is also moving to California (emigration is actually a pretty big issue for Morocco) at the end of this week, so we're all excited for him but quite sad to see him leave.

My mama, Rahma, has been a joy for me since the second we met. I was sitting on the couch in my room (it's a living room type of area with my bedroom curtained off) when she came running through the doors with open arms smiling and saying "Lauren, Lauren!" She grabbed my face for a double-kiss and immediately began feeding me, and she hasn't stopped since. She's an incredible cook and it's hard to turn down food...not just because it's so delicious, but also because it's her mission to make me "fat," according to my brothers. (SIT warned us this would happen--when you finish your food, your family yells "kuli, kuli!" and motions for you to keep eating by pushing bread into your hands). We do not speak the same language, but I find it surprisingly easy to communicate with her through hand gestures. She speaks to me anyway, as if I know what she's saying, and I just smile and she pats my back and that's enough for the both of us. Actually, one of my favorite times of day is right before I leave for school in the morning when I join her for breakfast. We're the only two awake at that time, and I always walk into the kitchen area (which is also a living room/bedroom where my brothers sleep) to find her sitting on the couch waiting for me with bread, cheese, olive oil and a pot of hot coffee. She pats the seat next to her on the couch to motion for me to sit, and I've found that she likes to pour the coffee and make everything for me so I let her do it and say "shoukran" (thank you). We eat together in the quiet and then I say thank you again and get on my way to school.

(By the way, for those of you who know me, you'll be surprised to know that I actually LOVE the coffee here. My mama makes it well because it's mostly warm milk with a little bit of coffee and sugar--Moroccans love their sugar!)

I realized I made the description of the house sound small, so let me clarify: this house is HUGE. When you walk in there's an open square with no roof (a typical architectural style for houses in the medina) and then you can go inside to the rooms that branch off of it. My room is straight ahead, with Azizah's room behind it. The kitchen area is next to it, and the bathroom next to that, but they're not attached so you walk through the open square to get to them (at some point I'll get pictures up here). The bathroom has both a western and a Turkish toilet, but to shower I just use the faucet in the wall with a big bucket (the hammam is still very popular in Morocco, so I'm hoping to try it sometime). The kitchen/living room is a long room with a big couch going along the wall, long enough for two or three people to line up on it to sleep. This is very common in Moroccan homes, and even my bed is more of a small couch.

I haven't seen much of the rest of the house because the whole extended family lives here and each family has their own space. I wait until I'm invited inside, which usually happens with the kids (playtime is a universal language). I did go up to the roof with Mostapha the other day, and it's awesome up there. You can see pretty much the whole medina and I was able to pick out my school (it's the tallest building inside the medina). It's a great reading spot for warm days!

But anyway, the kids! They're great. There's Azizah's daughter, Mellek (meaning "Angel"), who is about a year old. She's a very happy baby and she loves to walk, even though she's not awesome at it quite yet. There's Sivdeen, Bediaa's son, who I guess would be my cousin? He's an adorable little troublemaker who was very shy with me at first. He'd burst into a room yelling something, and when he'd realize I was there, he'd hide behind someone and timidly say "salaam" and then run away. However, it's a good thing I thought to bring toys, because I gave him a slinky and we've been buddies ever since. Sivdeen has (at least) two toddler-aged siblings whose names I can't remember, and there are at least three little girls around here somewhere too. Then there's Oussama, who is a 14-year-old English/Arabic speaking computer whiz and is just as awesome as I made him sound. He was with Azizah when she came to pick me up (he pulled my heavy suitcase all the way through the maze of the medina for me!), and he's been by my side ever since. Although he's technically a cousin (or...nephew?) he calls me sister and I call him brother. He is my resident Fus'ha (Arabic) tutor, and in exchange for his patience and linguistic expertise he gets to play around on my laptop when I'm done with my homework. It's a win-win for both of us.

I have so many great stories about my host family already. As soon as I got here, Azizah showed me my room and helped me get settled in. Then, she took me by the shoulders, looked directly into my eyes and said, "Lauren, everyone in this house is family. YOU are family." I am so grateful that this family was so quick to welcome me into their home and (quite literally) give me all they have to give. I feel like I don't deserve to be treated so lovingly without them even knowing me at first, but now I truly feel like they are my family, just like how I felt the same way about Saint Mike's after a few weeks.

On my first night in my new home, my brothers took me for a walk through the medina and the casbah (a beautiful ancient fortress right on the beach, about a minute's walk and one scary street-crossing away from the medina). In the casbah, they stopped so I could get a henna painted on my hand, and then they bought me cotton candy out near the beach. On the way back home we stopped for soup (I don't even know what it's called but you can find it everywhere and it has chickpeas in it and it's SO good) AND they bought sweets. Then I had to go home and eat dinner! I have to admit though, going for a walk with my brothers is one of my favorite things. We always end up having an adventure, whether it was the day we ventured in a tiny rowboat over to Sale or the time they were teaching me how to get to school from the house and they let me take the lead (I got lost, obviously...but I've got it now!).

Basically, I could not ask for a better family. I'm lucky, too--everyone in my group gets along with their families okay, but it seems only very few of us have formed great relationships while everyone else is more or less left alone.

OH! And my brothers even helped me with my first reporting assignment! I had to write a food story, so I decided to go talk to some food vendors in the medina and eventually chose to write about the snail soup guy. Abdelilah would not stop talking about how good the snails are one day, and it piqued my interest. I asked them to go with me so that they could translate during the interview, and they agreed. I bought us a round of snails, and I thought I would just try one, but the vendor wouldn't quite go for that (neither would my brothers). So, I ate a whole darn bowl of them. To tell you the truth, they weren't bad! I'm definitely glad I had the experience--and even more glad that I feel fine 24 hours later so they didn't make me sick (I was already sick this weekend--I knew it was going to happen, and I'm kind of happy to have gotten it over with sooner rather than later).

My brothers are so cool, they even helped some of my friends with their assignments too. One was having trouble even finding a vendor who would agree to an interview, but since Abdelilah and Mostapha know pretty much everyone (it seems), they got her a good last-minute chat with a fig/date seller.

I could go on forever about how great everyone is, but instead I'll leave you with some pictures of snails. Just think about me eating them. Mmm mmm. Hungry?

People just gather around the cart and the vendor puts a steaming bowl in front of you. You pick up a shell and pull the snail out with a toothpick, simultaneously separating it from the stomach contents. Not very easy...it took me a few tries and my bros had a good laugh! 

Snails are very good for you, full of protein and a popular winter snack in Morocco. You can also drink the broth, which is pumped with flavorful spices!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Salamu Alaikoum!

"Peace be with you!"

Tuesday, January 28th

I have now ended my second full day in Morocco! I'm sorry for not updating sooner, but the WiFi is quite spotty at my hotel and I haven't had much time to spare. I figured tonight would be a good time because I am completely exhausted and I don't want to wear myself out or get sick.

Rabat is absolutely beautiful, and I am so happy I chose to come here. The views are gorgeous, the people are warm and friendly, and my group is awesome. There is still a lot that I need to get used to, but that's expected for any first-time experience in a different culture.

I was pushed out of my comfort zone before even arriving in Rabat! I was about to board my connecting flight in Paris when my name was called over the loud speaker. I had been standing in line with some brand new SIT friends and I realized I had a different class on my ticket, so I thought they just wanted me to board before them. But when I got up there a man pulled me aside and told me (in English, thank goodness) that the receipt on my luggage had been ripped off and I had to go to the plane with him and claim it before they board it on the plane. I said okay without a second thought, but as he led me outside and down a flight of stairs to a white van and told me to get in, I got a bit worried. It just seemed so strange and I hadn't told anyone where I was going. I've never flown out of the country or by myself before either so I was already overwhelmed and tired from jet-lag and my previous 6 or 7-hour flight.

He could detect my discomfort, so he explained that the plane was not attached to the ramp and parked further away. Then he asked me about my trip and why I chose to go to Morocco. We chatted the whole way to the plane and he told me that I was going to love it and not to worry because the people are wonderful, the food is delicious, the sights are breathtaking, and it's very safe. In the end he completely settled my nerves about everything, not just the luggage, and after I said the suitcase was mine he allowed me to board the plane early.

Sorry for the length before we even get to Morocco, but that story has been on my mind since it happened because it's just so crazy!

When we got to the airport in Rabat we were pleasantly surprised that it was over 60 degrees and sunny. We were silent with awe during the drive to the hotel, watching all of the people and seeing the beautiful archtecture, open spaces and the Atlantic Ocean (which has much bigger waves on this side, by the way!).

I just tried uploading a picture but it's taking forever and I need to get to sleep soon, so I'm going to ignore all of the blogging rules and write you a long text post with no pictures. I'll post those when I'm at school and the WiFi is better.

Speaking of school, it is the most beautiful building I have ever stepped into. I can't believe I'll be taking classes there--it's called the Center for Cross-Cultural Learning, or 3CL as I nicknamed it, which has caught on with many of the students. It's an Andalusian-style building (influenced by the Andalusian era, 1400-1600) built in the 19th century with all of its original mosaics and structure still in place. We have a rooftop terrace where you can go up and see all of Rabat and its several districts, all with architecture influenced by French, Spanish, Moorish, and Arab styles.

Our school is the tallest building in the medina, or the old city that has completely tiled streets and is surrounded by walls. Everything is in there--homes, marketplaces, even cars although I think they're technically not supposed to drive through there with the narrow streets and mass crowds of pedestrians. It's chaotic, but you learn to navigate it quickly and it's a wonderful experience. The food areas always smell amazing.

THE FOOD. Oh my gosh, the food. I'll admit, I'm not a big fan of the meat, but that's expected from a previous 4 and a 1/2-year vegetarian. I try everything though in order to practice for my host family (we meet them on Thursday), and the chicken isn't bad when it's not dark meat. I really don't like the beef though, but the sauce is always really yummy so normally I have a little bit of meat and then just dunk my bread in the sauce. The bread is amazing, and it's served with every meal. We also get chocolate croissants every morning from the hotel. Yum! There is always fresh fruits and vegetables, and now I understand what people mean when they say American produce has no taste. I've had the best bananas, oranges, apples, cucumbers and tomatoes I've ever eaten. So far my favorite things are the tagine (vegetables that are stewed in a certain way, and sometimes chicken or other meat is added), and the lentils and sweet squash we had with lunch today. I want to try the street food too, but the program coordinators told us to go slow with that and make sure we get something served hot so as to avoid illness.

Today we went on a "drop-off," where we all got on a bus and were dropped off in groups of 3 around the city (the "new city" outside the medina) and try to find our way back to 3CL. My group was the first to be dropped off and we were still quite close to the medina, so it wasn't as challenging as we hoped. We even had time to stop and buy minutes for our cell phones (although mine still isn't working...hmmm...). We were still the first ones back! But don't worry, we were all given 20 dirhams to take a cab in case we got too lost.

By the way, it's about 8 dirhams for a US dollar. Cab fare is very cheap, as are most things--I paid 215 dirhams for a cell phone with SIM card. A cup of mint tea at a cafe is about 7 dirhams, less than a dollar. By the way, I'm already addicted to the tea!

We also went on a bus tour today, so we got to explore all of Rabat and Sale (Sah-lay), which is a more French-influenced city right over the bridge from Rabat. While in Rabat, we drove through a protest in front of the parliament building. Our guide Nabil said he thought the protest was for teachers (hey dad, you reading?!) demanding better pay and asking to not have to take exams in order to get a promotion (all teachers already have a degree). It seemed pretty peaceful, with people walking in lines holding hands, chanting and carrying signs. Badrdine (Badr for short), one of the journalism program coordinators, said they're very common due to the high number of human rights organizations and NGOs. He told us not to participate in them, but as journalists we will be fine standing on the sidelines and asking someone near the edge what they're fighting for. I may never end up doing that depending on what I choose to research, but it was good to know that students have done it in the past.

Among the many orientation lectures we've had so far, I've enjoyed the ones with Badr most. He gave us a lesson on bargaining today because in the medina, it's not appropriate to buy something for the first price offered. Especially as an American, bargaining is a way to show an understanding of the culture. To prove that, it's obviously best to bargain in Arabic, so we learned some key words and phrases (I think I will make a sidebar at some point to keep track of words I'm learning). We also take a "survival Arabic" course tomorrow before we're given 20 dirhams and sent off to bargain on our own. I'm more nervous about this than the drop-off because I know zero Arabic besides what I've been told so far. All of our classes start Monday.

I'm so sorry for the length, and believe it or not I haven't told you everything! I'll try to update more frequently so that you don't get novels. And pictures to come!

Besslama (Cheers!),


Saturday, January 11, 2014

15 days.

It's strange--the longer I wait, ironically, the less ready I feel. If I could hop on a plane right now and be landed in Rabat in the morning, I'd do it. Then I wouldn't have all this time to think about everything that could possibly go wrong. I'd be immersed already, the nervous jitters fading as the acceptance of a new place and "no turning back now" sets in.

I know that's how it'll happen, too--I'll be terrified right up until I step off the plane and into an unknown city. Then I'll be too busy to be scared. I'll preoccupy myself with trying to find my group, get to the hotel, unpack, and begin orientation. I'll be nervous to meet my host family, but again, too busy to really soak it in. I wish I could be there already and get all of the awkward parts over with, so that I can really settle in.

That will all happen soon, of course, but not soon enough for me. Until then, I'll wake up thinking about Morocco. Spend the day trying to get things done while in a daze wondering what my life will be like in Morocco. Go to sleep imagining the night sky in Morocco. Over and over again. Just as I've done for the past ten days already!

I was looking through my itinerary and a little saddened to see that Casablanca was not listed. No Tangier, either. I'm hoping to possibly explore those cities either on a weekend or perhaps during my ISP period, as I already have my plane ticket purchased for my return trip and didn't allow for any travel time after the program ends. I really don't want to end up regretting that decision, so I hope I can get there at some point. Otherwise, it looks like a great schedule packed with some really interesting places. I'm particularly excited for Marrakech, Fez, and Ceuta.

Most of my friends who are studying abroad are either at their destinations already or leaving within the next few days. My friends returning to Saint Mike's are starting school this week. The reality is sinking in now, and the range of emotion it brings is insane. One minute I'm depressingly sad about not going back to Saint Mike's, the next I'm practically jumping for joy over the prospect of this new life in a new country and all of the opportunities it brings, and even in the next minute I'm perfectly content just sitting on my couch at home reading books for the rest of my life. I'm going to miss my friends and family, and I'm going to be uncomfortable at times, and I'm probably going to get lonely too. But it might be time for me to get a little uncomfortable. It's in these circumstances when we truly learn, right?

To all my friends out there--no matter the destination, safe travels!


Monday, December 16, 2013

My SMC Family

So, it's kind of insane that fall has come and gone.
And now I'm home.
And I won't be returning to Saint Mike's until August.

Yeah, I'm freaking out a little.

I'll return to those thoughts in my next few posts, but for now I wanted to take this semester-in-review and focus on some of the crazy, awesome, fun, ridiculous happenings that went on while living in #TH103.

Since this could easily turn into another novel, I figured I'd let the pictures do the talking this time.

However, you'll find that the general theme of these photos revolves less around academics (which, trust me, is a VERY important part of college, but certainly not the entire experience) and more around family. Because my SMC friends are not only friends: they are my home away from home. They are an extension of my family. I started thinking about this much more when this happened:

My mom sent me a Christmas package, and inside were a number of little gifts for not only me, but all three of my housemates. This was her way of saying that she understands when I'm with her for Thanksgiving break but then I talk about "going home to Saint Mike's." These girls started out as friends, but they're no longer friends. They're family.

My housemates and I did pretty much everything together this semester. Here, we're dressed up as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for Halloween. Yeah, we're those kinds of girls. Be jealous.

My housemates and I, plus our friends Emma and Merrill, on the day we all moved in. L to R: Emma, Cara, Merrill, myself, Alex, and Cait.

Liz (L) and Sheila (R) have been part of my SMC family since day one. Even before that for Sheila, who lives in my town and went to high school with me!


Not that I condone climbing furniture or anything, but if you're running out of places to owl or you need a quiet spot to read, don't rule out the top of your fridge. Cait and Cara had quite the blast with that!

Cara was my roommate this semester. She's an MJD major just like me, so it was pretty cool to have someone to come home to who could share ideas and relate to some of the stuff I was working on--she was even my editor for one of my Defender articles! Whether we were working, acting like 2-year-olds and having finger painting fights at the Art Hop, or getting dressed up for no reason on the weekends, we made some great memories this semester before we part ways for studying abroad this spring.

Nate is another one of my MJD buddies, and we spent a lot of time together this semester with two of the same classes and a group project. We're pretty darn hilarious (or at least we think we are), and we can be pretty crazy sometimes...he even got me to dye a strip of my hair blonde this semester!

Some more MJD family. Juliana, Lauren ("Mazzy") Mazzoleni, and Lauren Carter got me through my 8am Magazine Writing class with lots of laughs. In fact, the two Laurens and I collectively became known as "the Lauren Corner" in that class because we always sat together. When our professor (the fabulous Allison Cleary) asked a question and called on "Lauren" for a response, all three of us would answer!

My blogging family. Juliana, Boates, myself, and Mazzy. Not pictured: countless incredible others, such as Lisa Ritter, Alex Byrne, Alex Brenock, and Merrill Poor, just to name a few...and our fearless leader Christian, who held a Christmas party for us!

Alex was one of my housemates this semester, and I can't tell you the number of times we told each other we wished we had gotten closer sooner. As a fellow blogger and my friend Cait's sophomore year roommate, I was always acquainted with Alex, and we were basically brought together this year because we were both going into our townhouse with Cait. She is now one of my best friends, and we're scarily similar. We did everything together this semester!

Those are my most recent photos from this semester, but it's hardly an accurate representation of the true size and depth of my SMC family. For instance, I've yet to upload photos from our Secret Santa celebration, but that's something I do every year with my core group of friends from freshman year, including my old roommate Maya and three of my go-to guys, Shawn, Danny and Cori. There are the lovely ladies I go to Sloane with every Tuesday, the people I met through group projects, or my entire Reporting for Media class, which got very close as we helped each other revise our final projects. There are the numerous faculty members who I've come to view almost as parental figures in their wisdom. I even had an alumni mentor this semester who did everything from share his personal story to review my resume to make sure I was presenting my best self to possible employees. 

These are all SMC family members, and they are what makes the difference for me. I've been saying since Day 1 that the best thing about Saint Mike's is the people, and I'm still a firm believer in that.

Now, we're all going off in different directions: Sheila, Lauren and Liz to England; Alex, Mazzy and Merrill to Ireland; Juliana to South Africa; Maya and Emma to Spain; Mary to South Korea; Greta to Denmark; Cait to Ecuador; Cara to Costa Rica; my friend Jesse to the Navy; and myself to Morocco. I imagine this is what senior year feels like, except to a lesser extent because we're all coming back. I can't even bear to think about graduation day, but I know it'll be here faster than I think.

I'm really proud of my family and the things we're all accomplishing. These are the people who push me to be my best, and they know what I'm capable of before I even realize my potential. I can't imagine an entire semester without them, but I know they'll be with me in spirit every step of the way. It's great that we're going to have so many different experiences. Then, when we come back, we won't be able to stop talking!

I know I said I wouldn't write a lot, but I lied. Sorry. 

Moral of the story: tell your family (no matter who that means to you) you love them. Not because it's the season to do so, but simply because you do.

Happy Holidays,