Run-A-Muck & Countryside Bash

Yesterday I spent the afternoon at Heartwood in Newtown Square for an event hosted by the Willistown Conservation Trust. After a 5K run/walk through the countryside, Victory beer and chili-filled bread bowls were served beneath a giant white tent. I'd say there were an equal number of kids as there were doggies as there were adults. A mechanical bull, a band, and a basket crane that lifted us up to the sky were the main attractions... at first. Later on, a hay fight erupted amongst the kids that captured everyone's attention.

Our team! I was at Run-A-Muck to support Sunshine Landscaping's new business endeavor: Vegetable Gardens R Us. The team also included our English Springer Spaniel, whose name is Emma :)

In the Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods is a national natural landmark and public park outside of Colorado Springs. It is free and open to the public; visitors and local families alike come to walk on a gentle slope through gorgeous red sandstone formations up to 300 feet high. When I visited, I met a couple of friendly blue Western Scrub Jays, too.  

According to the park website, the name was given to the park in 1859 by two surveyors. One remarked that it would be "a capitol place for a beer garden," to which the other replied: "Beer Garden! Why it is a fit place for the Gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods." 

We're still waiting for the beer garden... 

Encounters with Wild Animals

Fearless or Reckless?
You decide.

An elk approaches our group on horseback...
My dad approaches bison in Yellowstone National Park...
I mistakenly assume that this is the baby bear and allow it to approach me... it's not. 

Meet Mama Brown Bear! When I noticed her cub, which was about the size of a labrador puppy, scaling a nearby tree, I held my breath and slowly... backed... away... 

These photos were taken in Yellowstone National Park and its environs. Of course we saw many more beautiful animals - animals by the flock and herd in one of the most majestic settings on Earth. These photos just demonstrate our close encounters with, uhh, nature. Not included: the snake I almost stepped on by the Yellowstone River. 

How To Study Abroad At Home

In the wide world of study abroad, the options and opportunities available to American students seem endless and exhaustive. Unless the country you want to visit is in a state of civil war (or Antarctica) you can go there. There is one opportunity, however, that so far has gone shockingly under the radar: study abroad at home.

That sounds like a contradiction, doesn't it? Yet it's true: it is possible as an American citizen to study abroad in the United States.

This is what you need to know about DOMESTIC EXCHANGE, something you won’t find at your school’s Study Abroad Office.

  • Nearly two hundred state universities, as well as universities in Canadian provinces and U.S. territories in the Caribbean, participate in the National Student Exchange (NSE). Through this program, students at participating state schools can attend almost any other state school in the country for up to one year. 
  • All schools that participate in the program must have a one-for-one exchange, meaning each school must receive the same number of students on their campus that they send to a host campus. Thus being from a school that is large and/or in a good location is an advantage. 
  • Depending on the home and host institution, there are two options for tuition payments: either the student will continue to pay tuition at their home university or they will pay in-state tuition at the host university.

To gain a better understanding of the National Student Exchange program, I treated my friend Allie to a caffè americano before inquiring about every last detail. As an alumna of both domestic exchange in Southern California and an international exchange in Rome, I knew that she would be just the person to point out the pros and cons of the NSE as well as compare it to traditional study abroad.


Despite having always known that she wanted to study abroad, it was pure chance that Allie happened to hear about domestic exchange from a campus tour guide as an incoming freshman. Not all tour guides even knew it existed, and it was rarely mentioned on tours. In the Consortium Office at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst she learned about the National Student Exchange, including the lengthy application process, and began right away.

In between classes and work at a part-time job, Allie considered schools and interviewed with an NSE advisor. Ultimately, she chose to spend the spring semester of her sophomore year at California State University at Northridge for two reasons: she believed it would be the exact opposite of Massachusetts culturally and geographically, and because Cal State offers fashion and textile courses not available at UMass.

Immediately after arriving Allie began to notice differences between her home and host cultures. As a white Pennsylvanian in predominantly Latino Los Angeles County, she became a demographic minority for the first time in her life. While the university campus in Amherst is a hub of student activity, Cal State had many commuters and a small on-campus population. Many things were new and subtly different: the pace of life, the landscape, the food, things like slang and political views. Mostly she viewed the differences as positive. On the weekends, Allie and her new friends would take trips to the many beaches nearby: Malibu, Long Beach, Manhattan Beach, and her favorite: Santa Monica, where the girls would hang around the Pier for the amazing food and to watch the 2009 tuition hike riots.

Allie recently graduated from UMass with a dual degree in Economics and Anthropology. Although she still prefers the East Coast, the self-awareness, independence and connections she gained in California prepared her for study abroad in Italy and continue to serve her well in life and in her career. Allie’s story demonstrates that travel, even within one’s own country, can induce culture shock, teach us things we never could have hoped to learn otherwise, and prepare us in important ways for life.

Easy credit transfer, comparatively low cost, common language, and networking opportunities make domestic exchange an appealing alternative to international study abroad. The application process is lengthy. It is necessary to plan one year in advance. The activities and excursions on the host campus are fewer and less organized than with most international study abroad providers. For any student who is independent and organized, domestic exchange could be a fantastic opportunity to explore a new region of the good ol' U. S. of A. No foreign language skills? No passport? No problem! You can still "study abroad." Ever considered Hawaii? Colorado? Louisiana? And with a passport, the options grow: how about Saskatchewan? Guam? Puerto Rico?

America is one of the top five largest countries in the world by land area, and amazingly we share one common language and American identity. Why not take advantage and explore our country, breaking down stereotypes about other Americans you didn't even know you had? Who's to say that this is not as great an adventure as crossing an ocean?

To learn more about the National Student Exchange, visit their website at

What's Up, Philly?

Credit: Christian Carollo of photoblog Picture Philly

A few weeks ago, two of my girl friends from Pitt came to visit me in my hometown. Mary is from southern West Virginia, and Kristina was raised in Latrobe, near Pittsburgh. Neither of them had ever been to Philadelphia.

I grew up in Malvern, Pennsylvania. That's in Chester County, in the western suburbs of Philadelphia referred to as the Main Line. Malvern is less than 30 miles from Center City; about a 40 minute drive, depending on traffic. Throughout my life I had gone into Philadelphia for many reasons: museums, field trips, sporting events, parties, restaurants, concerts... Even when I was in school in Pittsburgh I drove home once every 4 to 6 weeks, and often made the trip into the city to see friends. 

Which is why I was surprised to learn that my friends had never been before. It's true that Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are about as far east and as far west as you can get in Pennsylvania, respectively. It's a 300 mile drive on the Interstate from one to the other. Yet I felt that at some time or another most Philadelphians would have visited Pittsburgh and vice versa. Apparently not. These cities are very different and have distinct cultures, not to mention a heated sports rivalry. Even I have to admit that before enrolling at the University of Pittsburgh, I knew absolutely nothing about whatever lie west of Harrisburg. 

Anyhow, to prepare for Kristina and Mary's visit, I thought hard about the best things to do in my city, the City of Brotherly Love. And this list is what I came up with. Here are some of the best things for students to do in Philadelphia year-round.


Philadelphia Museum of Art   A world-class collection in a beautiful building. Take the back exit for a view of Boathouse Row. $14 for students, closed on Mondays. 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, click here for more information.

Barnes Foundation   So long as your tickets are reserved in advance, you will enjoy a wonderful and uniquely curated collection at Barnes. $10 for students, closed on Tuesdays. 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, click here for more information. 


Reading Terminal Market   This year marks the 120th anniversary of the historic Reading Terminal farmer's market. Given its location in center city beside major hotels, bus and train terminals, this indoor market could well be your first or last stop during your visit. Although the booths can be hit-or-miss, there are several established and consistently delicious food stands worth visiting. [I suggest ending with Bassett's Ice Cream or Hope's Cookies!]  51 North 12th Street, click here for more information. 

Pat's and Geno's   Ahh, the Philly cheesesteak. True, you've probably tried one elsewhere, but it only hails from one place. If you end up in South Philly for any reason, you cannot leave without trying either Pat's King of Steaks or Geno's Steaks. Decide if you want your cheesesteak 'wit' or 'wit-out' onions and what kind of 'whiz' (cheese) you're going for. As far as the best cheesesteak in Philly goes, Cathy of food blog Gastronomy said it best: "While there are definitely superior cheesesteaks to be eaten in Philadelphia, it's Pat and Geno who get the most press and accolades due to their hilarious rivalry and close proximity." It's time to take a side. Head to 9th Street and East Passyunk Avenue and you'll find them both. 


Theater of Living Arts   Converted from a single-screen movie theater into a small concert venue, the TLA on South Street has something going on almost every night of the week. See up-and-coming acts like Emeli SandĂ©, White Panda, and Kimbra, as well as bigger names like Newfound Glory, Waka Flocka Flame and Owl City. 334 South Street, click here for more information. 

Trocadero   The Troc is located on the border between Center City and China Town and can boast that it is "the only 19th century Victorian theater still in operation in the United States." It is only very slightly larger than the TLA. This fall Bloc Party, Stephen Marley, and Sean Paul will all be playing here.  1003 Arch Street, click here for more information. 

Electric Factory   Before you ask, yes it was converted from an electric factory... into one of the biggest venues in Philly. Look to the Electric Factory for a constant line-up of big names in music. In the next two months catch Tyga, Alanis Morissette, Citizen Cope, and Taking Back Sunday will be getting down on this stage.  421 N. 7th Street, click here for more information. 

Mann Center   The Mann Center for Performing Arts is a nonprofit organization. This Fairmount Park concert venue can seat 5000 people inside (not to mention outdoor and lawn seating) and presents a range of music and performance art from classical to contemporary. Upcoming events include Bon Iver, Animal Collective, and Disco Biscuits. 5201 Parkside Avenue, click here for more information. 


John F. Kennedy Plaza   It's a simple park, with a large fountain and plenty of steps and benches (occasionally being used by the homeless). What makes this tiny plaza special? It's former reputation as a beloved skateboarding locale and, oh yeah, the LOVE sculpture designed by Robert Indiana. You've just gotta snap that touristy picture (or pay the hustlers there $1 to do it for you.) Intersection of 16th Street and John J. Kennedy Boulevard.

Historic Philadelphia   Philadelphia used to be the capital of our great nation and is home to such historical gems as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Both of these sites are free to visit (though timed tickets required to tour Independence Hall). My favorite place to go for history is the third museum on Independence Mall: the National Constitution Center. There is a charge for admission ($13 for students) but I think it's worth it. Constitution Center at 525 Arch Street. Independence Hall & Cracked Bell at 6th and Chestnut. 


Rittenhouse Square   It may surprise you to learn that Philadelphia was named one of the World's 10 Best Cities for Parks by Frommer's. Rittenhouse Park is just one small park among many, but it is a peaceful lunch spot in Center City, surrounded by luxurious hotels. It also marks the beginning of some great shopping. Walnut Street, which branches off of the park, as well as Chestnut Street, which is one block away and runs parallel to Walnut, are probably two of the the chicest and highest-density streets in the city for shopping. BONUS: In Pennsylvania, clothing is tax-free! Check out's ideal three-day shopping itinerary.

South Street   When visiting South Street, I usually begin around 10th and wander all the way down to the Pier over the Delaware River. If you come here to shop, you'll find plenty of delightfully counter-cultural stores to explore. Try Condom Kingdom for laughs (read: penis pasta); I also like Garland of Letters and Retrospect Vintage. In between thrift shops and hookah bars, there are plenty of spots to grab a bite or a beer. On the cheaper side, Johnny Rockets and Lorenzo's are reliable. Keep an eye out for the tile and mirror mosaics on alley walls.  ***Note: Lorenzo's is recovering from a fire this June - Get Better Soon!


If driving to the stadiums is too daunting - or you don't have a car to tailgate with - there are other ways to reach the stadiums. Either take the subway (Broad Street Line southbound from Center City) or hail a taxi; neither option will break the bank. Standing room tickets can be found cheap. Be prepared for, ahem, passionate fans.

Citizens Bank Park   Catch a Phillies game from April to September. Click here for more information. 
Wells Fargo Center   Watch our fly boys knock the puck around from October to April.  Click here for more information. 
Lincoln Financial Field   E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles! Watch 'em fly from September to December. Click here for more information. 

For special events and seasonal or once-a-year occurrences, the best websites to check are Philadelphia Magazine and Uwishunu (the official tourism blog of Philadelphia).

The Brewery Tour Face-Off

Well, we've got a beer-themed post today, so why not start with some beer trivia? Answers at the bottom.

1. In 1954 Robert Hawke set a world record for speed drinking when he downed 2.5 pints of beer in 11 seconds. He then went on to become the Prime Minister of what country?
2. Which country consumes the most beer per person in the world? (Hint: The top 5 are all European countries.)


For any American traveling overseas before their 21st birthday, the prospect of a lower drinking age (and relatively lax enforcement) is always hugely exciting. I know that as a young traveler, one of the first questions in my mind when I stepped off of the plane was "Where's the nearest bar?" Now that I've been to Europe a couple of times, I'd like to think that I'm more mature than that. Usually I am.

If your wondering "What's your poison?" I have no problem telling you that I prefer a tasty beer, a simple gin and tonic, or a scotch over ice in an old fashioned glass to any sugary, fruity froufrou drink. Margaritas are good on certain occasions, but typically you won't find me with a Bay Breeze or Long Island in hand. Don't get me started on how much I love wine, especially a full-bodied red or a dry chardonnay. I did study abroad in France, after all!

In my travels, I enjoy seeking out more information about my libations. I have taken tours of vineyards in Chateauneuf du Pape and visited the Liquoristerie de Provence where they distill versinthe (a type of pastis). I have listened to friends rant and rave about distillery tours in Scotland, and tried sticky sweet homemade cordial in Cornwall. This is something any study abroad student should do. That way, when your parents and other grown-ups ask whether you drank abroad, you have an answer that's more sophisticated than "F*** yeah!"

All this to say, I have taken some really awesome tours, but there are two breweries that stand out in my mind. And since this post is about breweries, I'll save the awesomeness of vineyard and distillery tours for another time. Now here we go:

The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam
  • €17 admission (€15 purchased in advance)
  • Highlights: 
    • 4D Experience
    • Record a green-screen video, email it to friends and family
    • High tech and modern feel
  • Visit the website

The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin
  • €16.50 admission (10% discount purchased online), or €13 student ticket
  • Highlights:
    • The 7th Floor Gravity Bar where they teach you how to pour a proper pint 
    • Cool History: Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease
    • Well-organized Historic Area
      • Browse advertisements and commercials by year
      • See bottles from different decades and parts of the world
  • Visit the website

In the Heineken-Guinness face-off, I'd say the winner is Guinness. It has a more historic feel, an excellent bar, and an amazing story. But you'll just have to visit and see for yourself. I hope that I can tour more breweries, and that this will all lead to a Brewery Tour Smackdown! A girl's gotta have her dreams.

For safety's sake I have to say: Everything in moderation, people! Just because you can drink doesn't mean you should go crazy with it. [Don't be this girl! Drinking can be fun, and a good way to meet and speak with the locals, but it's pretty disgraceful to spend several days in Paris without being sober. Traveling with a hangover is not fun.]

1. Bob Hawke was the Prime Minister of Australia from 1983-91. 
2. The Czech Republic, followed (in order) by Germany, Austria, Ireland, and Estonia.