Where is your breath?

Right now, in this moment is your breathing shallow, deep, quick, slow, in your stomach, in your chest? Can you find it?

When you do – think a little about what the location of your breath tells you about your day and your state of mind in this moment.


Now, I can tell you that the past month has been a roller coaster for my breathing.

I’ve had calm days where the expanding of my chest seemed infinite with each breath because I felt so solidly in each moment. I’ve felt my breath tighten, quicken, and even sometimes pause for a bit too long due to minor or major anxieties that usually hit with no warning.

Over Spring Break I returned to Lucea, Jamaica on Hollins’ Jamaican Cultural Immersion Program. What a gift that was – seeing how much I had grown as a person from the first time I went three years ago. My growth as a Hollins student alone helped me feel more confident about teaching in the primary school and serving in the infirmary of the small Jamaican community.

Whether my breath was tired from walking around six miles a day or my breath was deep as I looked out at the Caribbean Sea, I felt connected to my breath and disconnected from the pressures and technological burdens that go hand in hand with being a full-time student back in Roanoke.


Upon returning from Jamaica, rehearsals for the spring play kicked into high gear.

Memorizing lines under my breath;

Keeping focus with each inhale under the stage lights;

Huffing my way through dance choreography;

I held on for dear life until opening night when I could literally feel my exhales quake with nerves and adrenaline in the most delicious way.


In my rare downtime I wait with bated breath on news from job applications and try to keep my breathing steady as I make some tough decisions about where to go next after graduation.

I’m lucky though – I always find my breath at Hollins. Whether it is an inhale of chaos or an exhale of accomplishment, I know exactly where I stand when I’m breathing in the familiar air around campus.

So I take brief moments each remaining day I have here to give thanks for the chance to Inhale~Exhale~Repeat.


Here’s a photo I took about a week ago that I’ve been wanting to snap for awhile.

It helps me find my breath…


Taking Risks and Trusting Myself

Taking Risks and Trusting Myself

I consider myself a person instinctively averse to change and risk. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in my daily life – however, I try to never actively shy away from situations that call for change or risk.

Take for example my involvement with the spring play here at Hollins.

Distracted by Lisa Loomer, is a beautifully vibrant and funny play that deals with the hard-hitting topic of a mother exploring ways to help her nine-year-old son with ADHD. I play an educational psychologist with a whole lot of her own issues in the first act. The second act, however, I’m in the ensemble.

Some of my best memories in theatre were made as an ensemble member so I was initially thrilled. Then they told me – the ensemble will personify the son’s ADHD world through his favorite music and dance: hip hop.


  • I have no background in dance. Period.
  • I think I have a sense of rhythm, but always fear that because I only think I do, that I really don’t….
  • I’m very out of shape. Like, can’t remember the last time I worked out, out of shape.
  • AND with my ‘Mom’ haircut I don’t look like I could even convincingly dress like a hip hop dancer.

Walking into that first dance rehearsal, all I could think was: What the hell did I get myself into?

I won’t lie, that was the longest, most embarrassing, extremely exhausting hour and a half of my life. I had sweat pouring down my face and was already sore. (Which believe me, didn’t leave my body until about the fourth day post-hip hop experience…)

Around campus I started joking (only slightly) with folks that I hoped my director took one look at the rehearsal videos that were taken that night [preferably not the one in slow motion – YIKES] and just say, “Maya, you gave it a good college try, but I need you out of my ensemble”.

I think I dreamed about just that conversation happening and cried as I woke up… only to realize it was from barely being able to move due to the excruciating soreness seemingly all over my body.

Then I thought: But, did I really try?

The more I thought about that first rehearsal the more I realized that being out of shape wasn’t my biggest problem – it was that I had been so averse to this change that I hadn’t taken any risks.

Hollins has never failed to challenge me and offer some amazing opportunity for the risk. So, why was I scared to risk looking foolish in a room full of Hollins theatre people who love me, when I’ve risked so many bigger things like maybe not knowing a language enough to survive abroad?

Our second hip hop rehearsal went very differently for me. I tried harder to take risks, to look foolish, to fail – and to ultimately attempt to trust myself.

What else can you do but take a risk and trust yourself when you are asked to start working towards a handstand by placing your hands on the floor and kicking your leg up in the air?

That first moment of placing my palms to the stage and tensing up my shoulders as I raised a leg, I thought I felt my heart quake with fear.

But I took the risk and kicked my opposite foot up off the floor and felt weightless.

In that swift moment in the air I felt terrified, ecstatic, and foolish. Then I felt my weight rush briefly down my shoulders into my palms as I hit the peak of my small hop off the ground and… trusted myself.

The reward for my risk? A room full of my Hollins family cheering me on.

That sensation of taking a risk and trusting myself crept over from hip hop rehearsal, slowly but surely into my life as a senior.

That reinvigoration was exactly what I need to take some risks and trust myself enough to make plans for post-graduation that weren’t fraught with fear from the biggest change in my life I will face to date.

As one of my favorite actresses and women’s activists, Geena Davis, would say…

“If you risk nothing, then you risk everything.”


If you want to see my attempts at hip hop choreography or more importantly, this amazing little show called “Distracted,” reserve a ticket with the Hollins Theatre box office.

Showtimes: April 7-9th at 7:30 and April 15-16th at 7:30, 17th at 2:00



Internships, Networking, Blizzards: Oh My!

Internships, Networking, Blizzards: Oh My!

This will be my third internship with Hollins, my second big city blizzard (one in NYC and now in D.C.), and my umpteenth opportunity for networking thanks to HU.

Doesn’t a whole weekend snowed in give you so much time to think? Well that, and to Netflix, to eat, to catch up on work, and to stay in pajamas for three days straight.

It’s the thinking that’s new this J-Term. I mean, really thinking. If I had to diagnose it, I would say that my upcoming graduation has put several things into focus this year. Why did I think my last January Short Term would be any different?

All the same, here I am. Thankful for the ongoing electricity and for all of the amazing experiences I’ve had during my January months with Hollins.

This month I’ve been completing some assignments for a professor in our Communication Studies department – you know, to show some academic work went into these weeks in D.C. Tonight, I finished up my third weekly report and had the chance to relay some of my experiences and conversations about networking while at my internship.

My internship is fabulous by the way – a whole month with the DACOR Bacon House. Located only two blocks from the White House, this house built in 1825 holds artifacts from around the globe, brought back by current and former Foreign Service Officers, Ambassadors, and State Department officials. DACOR is a non-profit membership organization that promotes thoughtful discussion and networking between its well-travelled members.

I’ve met former Ambassadors and worked across the table from two of my favorite pieces in the House: an elephant foot umbrella stand (apparently shot by Teddy Roosevelt) and a photo of a meeting in the 1940s between several important officials and heads of state. Signed by FDR and Churchill as they sit side by side in the stately frame.

What’s been equally as amazing though, have been the people I’ve had the chance to work with and get to know. The conversations I’ve had at DACOR have been invaluable, for several different reasons – not the least of which has been realizing how comfortable I am networking with and discussing networking amongst these people.

Before my internship experiences with Hollins I had thought of networking as this huge, scary professional necessity one had to master in order to ‘make it’ in life. Whatever that means.

What I’ve had the pleasure of learning as I interned with The Estée Lauder Companies and with DACOR and every other encounter I’ve had with professionals in and outside of my industry thanks to Hollins, is that networking can be the most comfortable thing in the world.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still nervous as ever and in constant worry that I’ve misstepped, but I can now officially declare that networking is something I’m comfortable with.

This January I’ve been trying to read two books that promote healthy perspectives to take on connecting with people professionally and really getting the most out of networking.

Some of the information is new and enlightening, and both authors are skilled at what they do. However, I’ve been realizing the more I read that all of my networking attempts through and with Hollins have intrinsically placed me ahead of the game. I already know the way each self-help book will end, what the big secret is to be revealed.

Connecting with people at a deeper level than a simple ‘Hello’ means building a network of people that matter and who will actually help you in your professional journey.

I’m comfortable with networking because with Hollins I’ve had practice unlocking this big networking secret.

Even in the smallest ways, Hollins connects us all.

‘Tis the Season

‘Tis the Season

This holiday season, having a full schedule is only the beginning.

Busy is an understatement this time of year.

Even part of my Thanksgiving break was split between relaxation and visits to family with a Model United Nations Conference in Chicago. As always it is an amazing experience for Hollins students to make some new academic contacts with other university students. (Oh, and naturally for Hollins students to enjoy passionate debate with male students who rarely see us coming…)

My To-Do list before the end of the semester seems to grow with every second.

Papers, presentations, meetings, work-study hours, and finishing my thesis.

Facebook is filled with the campus community’s best efforts at procrastination and motivation.

On the other hand, excitement about internship opportunities, study abroad plans, and post-graduation job offers fills the air on Hollins campus.

Recently, a mentor of mine gave me an impactful piece of advice:

You are valuable for who you are, not what you produce.

At Hollins, we are proud of what we produce. Our academics, our community, our plans for going places. All the same, we can value those things without being valued for only those things.

With only a few weeks left in the semester, self-care and perhaps even more importantly conscious self-value should be at the top of our To Do lists.

I’ll be putting on a mud mask as I finish up term papers and taking power naps between study sessions for final tests.

Even more so, I’ll be waking up every morning between now and the last day of classes telling myself that I will produce the best work I can, but never forget that I am most valued for who I am.

Luckily in the Hollins community, I’ve got the best support system of them all to help me make it.

Thoughts on Top of Tinker Mountain

Thoughts on Top of Tinker Mountain

IT’S TINKER DAY!!!!!!!!!!!

Hollins students always wait anxiously as the month of October creeps by, hoping to hear those simple words.

So many different things mean Tinker Day has come:

  • seniors decked out in robes, banging pots and pans and screaming through dormitory halls
  • chapel bells ringing out at 7am, sharp
  • Krispy Kreme doughnuts gracing every counter top in Moody dining hall, a breakfast fit for climbers of Tinker Mountain
  • silly costumes (fairy wings, tiaras, bowties, hats, face paint, and above all – massive amounts of GLITTER)
  • President Gray in her crazy Tinker Day outfit, standing on the front steps of Main

Climbing Tinker Mountain means banding together in an attempt at dragging each other up the side of a mountain with sheer force of will and determination. Encouragements are shouted down the line of excited students hiking up the trail. Soon conversations start to dwindle as the climb gets steeper – the Hollins community is now a set of individuals hell bent on making it to the top of Tinker Mountain.

As you focus on putting one boot in front of the other, you can’t help but wonder at the first Hollins women to climb the mountain.

1895. That’s right – long dresses, heeled boots, tiny corsets – scrambling over the exact same rock faces that you are, only 120 years apart. The question just keeps running through your mind – how in the world did they do this and for the love of all things holy – WHY?

Then, you reach it. Senior Rock. The top of Tinker Mountain.

As you catch your breath you cheer on other students so close to the finish.

Exhaustion seeps away from you as you pose for photos in front of the view and laugh alongside peers that you suddenly seem that much more close to.

Songs are sung – bringing smiles, tears, and laughter.

Lunch is eaten – traditional fried chicken and chocolate Tinker Cake.

Skits are performed – with awards given to cheers that scratch your vocal chords in the best way.

By the time Tinker Day ends and you are back on campus, showering off and snuggling in for a much needed nap, the elation still hasn’t really left you.

More than any other day of the academic year at Hollins, Tinker Day brings the whole community closer than they’ve ever been before.

Tinker Day 2015 was October 24th – a beautiful fall day with clear skies and warm air.

Even these few days later as I am writing these words I don’t think the magic of Tinker Day has worn off just yet. My vocal chords still scratch, my calves still burn ever so slightly, and my heart still yearns for the view from Senior Rock.

Something happened the other day that made me smile though. Prospective students were visiting campus and I got to speak on a panel for them, then join their families for lunch. I received several questions that day, but my favorite was a simple one:

Hollins has so many traditions – how do you pick a favorite one?

My response was warm but uncomplicated.

Each tradition is my favorite because each one exists for a reason.

It’s like the campus knows exactly when to provide a day of community love and bonding. This past Thursday was Tinker Day and even if students chose to sleep in and not climb the mountain, the tradition was just what each person on campus needed.

Sleep, time for homework, exercise outdoors, dress-up opportunity, or needed interaction with the Hollins family – it didn’t matter what you found yourself lacking in the days before Tinker Day. Only that on that bright Thursday morning, a Hollins tradition gave you exactly what you needed.

I can’t wait for the next one.

View from Tinker Mountain

Change is a Beautiful, Terrifying Thing

Change is a Beautiful, Terrifying Thing

Each year I return to Hollins, I feel it.

The changes, small or large that have occurred, whether inside myself or around campus.

Senior year has been a whole new ballgame when it comes to change. I mean, woah.

Maybe noticing these changes is simply an after-effect from studying abroad for a whole year. Before I left, I at least thought I had a handle on recognizing everyone around campus by face. Now…  It seems like 75% of the faces I scan everyday are strangers. Yet with that unsettled reaction to not knowing so many people, comes a calming sense of, that’s okay – I don’t have to feel obligated to meet every single one of them. I’ll be gone in a few months.


Improvements and renovations around campus jolt me just as much as the changing faces. Walking into Moody dining hall and seeing the natural light play across all the HU merchandise in the bookstore’s new upstairs location sets my sense of “Wait, where am I?” just a little off.

Even the paving of walkways (figuratively) trips me up.  I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever noticed how much of my sensory memory exists in the steps I take around campus. Even when I’m thrown off slightly by new blacktop where I pick up my pizza delivery in the minutes before midnight.

To top it all off, I’ve changed.

I don’t know when exactly it happened, or if I’m even not simply right in the middle of changing, this very second. Thinking about life’s changes is all too common for me now. I’m not just deciding what to have for lunch; I’m deciding how to live my life after Hollins.

Maybe students don’t recognize the beauty of a place like Hollins until change starts to show itself. Changing perspectives, shifting priorities, evolving friendships, transforming responsibilities, growing hearts. All of that happens at Hollins. If you don’t feel it now I can promise you – you will.

That’s why change is beautiful and terrifying. Like a really breathtaking landscape rolled out before you, as though looking at it feels all at once like the most glorious sense of the blessings of life, and the scary realizations that you are one small piece in a much larger puzzle. And guess what? You aren’t putting that puzzle together.

Senior year feels like that.

A change so amazing, yet nerve-wracking that you just feel like you’re along for the ride.

My favorite school motto is “Women Who Are Going Places Start at Hollins.”

What they don’t tell you is that you start to go as soon as you feel the change in the air.

For me? That was the first week of senior year.

Faced with a workload that is simultaneously overwhelming and electrifying, I finish each day out of breath and feeling like I’m glowing with all this energy coursing through my insides. As a student, I am definitely one that thrives on how tight their schedule is. I’m sure it aids some false sense of importance I’m harboring, but that can be another topic for another time.

For now, I am in a love affair with my planner, and hopefully changing for the better.

So, Is This Where It Ends?

So, Is This Where It Ends?

Okay, so I made my headline a question very deep and too sensitive to answer just now – so I’m going to change things up for my last post from across the pond…

How about a virtual postcard at the start of my blog post, instead of the end? Ya know, to really get us through the sappy words that will come later by beginning on a high note! 🙂

London Bridge

London Bridge – A photo I took in my first few days in the city!

February 2015

Now, for the tough stuff – which I hopefully pull off with a humorous story and not too many tear inducing (on my end) thoughts.

On my commute home today I was giggling under my breath while riding in the prized top level front window seat of my W7 bus (you know, those cliché red double deckers? Yeah we actually use those here in London…)

While I was trying to keep my laughter in check and not get car sick – the W7 traced its route to Crouch End.

The article I was reading in the “Evening Standard”?

A very tongue in cheek piece written in response to the surprising General Election results that no one over here was really expecting, even the Conservatives who came out with a clear majority in Parliament. (Crazy – right??)

Anyway, the article was written as a guide of the Top 15 Things Essential to Being a Londoner, or something like that.

Intended for all the Scottish Nationalist Party MPs descending from the Highlands into the city, among other surprise candidates that usurped once-solid Labour seats, the list was a hilarious comment on how in-touch the newly-elected batch of MPs would need to become in order to survive their terms.

As I was reading hungrily through those bullet points, I was understanding each comment, riddled with Londoner references and jokes.

Then, I realized something monumental:

Without me knowing it – London got under my skin.

In my first few weeks here, I decided this dreary, fast-paced city was a pale version of Paris.

I wouldn’t love it as much as my beloved City of Lights – even if it did smell far less like urine, and you could get on the Tube without constant fear of a man with a stereo cart and an instrument “serenading” you for a few stops in exchange for coins.

Well London, I admit defeat. You found your way in somehow and I can say now, in my last week here, that I will miss you. Sure, to keep my emotions in check I will say to myself that I’ll only miss my time here a little bit – and that going home to Tennessee is all I need right now…

But deep down I know that after a year abroad – living anywhere else will feel like a pale version of these two amazing cities I now call home.

I feel at home in a café on Boulevard Montparnasse, just as I do waiting for the my Victoria Line train at Euston Station. 

Home will also be each time I bite into a Pain au Chocolat, no matter where I am eating it.

A sense of home will come to me whenever I hear a British accent, or yet another mention of Princess Charlotte.

I always knew that Tennessee would be my original home. Eventually, I even discovered how much Hollins would become a home that is never far from my mind.

But, with these last days in London I am realizing that Hollins gave me two more places I can call home in the world.

One of my favorite quotes (as a person who loves travel and views other cultures of the world as THE most important factor in the future well-being of human existence) is:


Wouldn’t you know, I’m so excited to explore all the destinations I haven’t reached.


Because with this Hollins Abroad experience at my back, I know I can adapt myself enough to eventually call any new place I travel to, home.

(**Good thing since my after undergrad plans consist of trying to pass the Foreign Service Exam. Fingers crossed y’all. That could mean I’m finding new homes all over the world as my life’s career! How amazing would that be??**)

To answer my question I posed in the title of this piece, “So, Is This Where It Ends?”:

Not by a long shot. In fact, this is only the beginning.



Finding Beauty in the Chaos

Finding Beauty in the Chaos

Where have I been you may ask? Fighting off the wrath of travel gods and generally attempting to survive my semester. Midterms rolled around at the beginning of this month, followed swiftly by Spring Break.

No, this wasn’t a party heavy vacation of debauchery……… After the roller coaster that was my journey over those 11 days, I’m almost wishing I had danced the night away in Panama City Beach. Yeah, the stress of traveling had pushed me so far as to dream a terrible vision of lounging on the beach with frat boys in bro tanks that say #PCB2K15 on them.

Luckily, the allure of seeing as many landscapes in Europe as possible helped to keep me strong in the face of the Travel Gods wanting to ruin all the best laid plans of mice and this abroad student. Long story short and cutting out some details: one flight cancellation, one plane delay, a missed train, and the last bed on a night train all pushed me to the traveling edge. Of course, I was able to look out my window and see beautiful sites like these so, I will quit complaining now…..


Coast of Southern France


Sunrise in Madrid


Mountain View in Salzburg

Instead of complaining I wanted to share a bit about what I learned over those 11 days. I will go city by city to give a little bit of a sense of place when I tell my little stories.

  • Paris With my return to the City of Lights, my heart soared. I don’t think you ever really appreciate a place until you leave it – well, I found out with my first trip back that you don’t ever really love a city until you return for the first time. I ate my favorite foods and strolled down my favorite streets once again – it was glorious.
  • Nice I had not travelled as far south in France as the Côte d’Azur, so this opportunity was lovely. The beach was stones instead of sand and yet for a few amazing days I didn’t care about risking bruises to lie in front of the Mediterranean Sea and find some much needed relaxation. (Surveying hot guys behind sunglasses tipped low was simply a nice bonus…) Ha!
  • Madrid Due to the Travel Gods, I had only one night in Madrid. We arrived late and made our way to meet up with a great friend I hadn’t seen in so long. Feeling out the city at night, I just knew I would return soon enough because there was no way I was going to feel cheated out of discovering Madrid and perhaps other parts of Spain in the daylight! Hugging my friend goodbye and carrying her signature smell in my clothes back to the airport helped to make my few experiences there seem that much more sweet – like the beautiful sunrise I saw just before flying out.
  • Milan Still under the Travel Gods’ thumbs my time in Milan was short, yet not altogether the worst hours of my life. As all my plans were falling apart in the Milano Centrale train station, I broke. I rushed to buy tissues and find the nearest bathroom. After some deep breathing inside the stall, listening to the different Italian and foreign female voices arching over each other I made a promise to myself:

“No matter what happens, I will not break and I will find the beauty in the chaos”

[Of course, moments after I cleaned myself up and went back into the main hall – a handsome train conductor spoke to me in Italian, revealing himself after in broken English to be offering me help in making new plans. The world is funny isn’t it?]

  • Zurich Somehow I was reassured when my only option was to take a train to Zurich in the hopes of buying another ticket upon arrival. Having travelled through the same station last semester back to Paris – I stepped off and breathed some fresh air, feeling immensely better. My mood improved even more when I was able to snag the last bed on the night train to Salzburg, even though my bank account definitely suffered. At this point I was down to twenty euros in cash and no wifi to check my card balance. That twenty was what I needed to pay for my hostel in Zurich, so I decided not to eat dinner. Some water though, sounded magnificent. Low and behold I stepped on the night train and the attendant came by to check tickets and drop off complementary water bottles. He noticed how delighted I was to get one, so he winked and handed me a second. I tried not to jump off the top bunk and hug him while sobbing in a very unladylike fashion.
  • Salzburg With my arrival in Austria, I had travelled alone through four countries in under 24 hours. To say I was dead tired was an understatement. Meeting back up with Hollins girls the next morning over breakfast laid a blanket of pure calm and contentment across my soul. Also, the chance to wander freely around such a beautiful city was refreshing after not being able to investigate fully so many cities before then.
  • London Although the Travel Gods had given me more stress than I ever thought I could endure, they awarded my perseverance with two flights (Salzburg to Dusseldorf & Dusseldorf to London) that felt like a cool towel on a hot summers day. The buttery soft leather seats in the final British Airways flight back into the United Kingdom felt like heaven and I gladly sat the whole flight running my hands along the armrests and reading every word of their inflight magazine. (I now want a job with that publication…. Seriously, pick one of those bad boys up sometime).

So what did I learn, in the end? I know now that I can weather any struggles life throws at me and find the beauty in the chaos. Am I suddenly more naive? Nope. Will I never travel again? Absolutely not. Keep up with me then, and perhaps we both will see what I learn the next time the chaos overtakes me.


Virtual Postcard!

A gift for you! The view I had each day on the beach in Nice. Take a few moments in whatever chaos may be trying to overtake you and find some beauty (or a lot) in this postcard from the South of France.

xo, Maya

Finding Inspiration; By Chance & Through Bagpipes

Between Paris, New York City, and now London (not including Christmas at home, obviously), I have been abroad around 170 days.

That’s approximately:

  • 4,080 hours
  • 244,800 minutes
  • 14,688,000 seconds

Those 15 million seconds have been weighing on me recently.

Not to say I haven’t been having fun or experiencing amazing things here in London. Or, that I don’t have great trips on the horizon for this spring (hint: Eastern Europe & the Mediterranean…!)

What I mean is that those 170 days have exhausted me, like a child on a roller coaster of emotions at the greatest birthday party they have ever had. There have been tears, laughter, sadness, joy, boredom, and (of course) frustration.

Long story only kind of short – I had lost my inspiration.

My inspiration to travel, to seek out new food, to find cool events, to NOT Netflix and sleep away all my free days – poof! Gone.

I needed to feel inspired again. Especially if I wanted to not only make it to the end of the semester, but to truly enjoy every moment of it as I know I should.

As with most moments of inspiration desperately needed, it came upon me completely unawares in my pajamas in the late hours of the night, scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed.

Now, in between celebrity gossip, Buzzfeed videos, and friends’ status updates – I actually do get hard news.

(Al Jazeera, BBC, BBC World Service, Huffington Post, NYTimes are all news outlets that I have either liked online or that come up so frequently on my wall I feel as though I have subscribed to them…)

An article from The Telegraph caught my eye. The article photo was of a guy in a kilt, holding bagpipes, with a sunny mountain range rising up out of the background.

“Meet the man who is bagpiping his way around the world”

Now if that isn’t inspiring I don’t know what is!…

Turns out, the sunny mountain range is in Rwanda and the guy’s name is Ross O’Connell Jennings, or as his Facebook page declares him, The First Piper. He has played his bagpipes in approximately 35 countries (you know, the complexities of international statehood…) and he plans to pipe in all 190-ish. That’s right – all the countries he can get to.

I had to know more – so I read the Telegraph article, and then liked his page – which led me to an interview he did with the BBC World Service.

At this point I was thinking to myself:

Maya you are practically giddy, following along on this random guy’s piping adventure!

What I’m telling myself now:

Not giddy, Maya; inspired.

I immediately wanted to share this experience, this re-found feeling with Hollins. Instinctively, I knew that the Hollins community would understand, but I paused just long enough to consider how – how would I share this inspiration?

The idea for this post formed all at once and I knew I had to try and make it happen.

I went to The First Piper page and clicked through to send Ross a message.

Usual stuff: My name is Maya, university student here in London, blogging for Hollins, answer some questions maybe?…. 

Luckily for me – Ross was kind enough to respond.

So, here it is – an informal Q&A with The First Piper to inspire you, in case just like me, you need it.

Maya (Trying to sound normal & failing):

What is your favorite way to travel (plane, train, bus, hitchhiking with bagpipes in tow – ha!)?

Ross (Actually normal):

“Favourite way to travel has to be plane. I grew up abroad (mainly in China) and I spent my childhood on planes so when I fly I get SO EXCITED and feel a bit like a child. Sorry if that sounds weird but I get schoolboy excited whenever I sit on a plane. I also like the idea of not knowing who I’m sitting next to…(unfortunately I’m one of those annoying people who like speaking to other people whilst in transit). Hitchiking is also pretty fun – particularly in a kilt!”


When did the idea for this epic journey begin?


“The idea kicked off last year at the end of January. I went to the Adventure Travel Show… and I was like I HAVE TO QUIT MY JOB – so I did and I did this. I’ve always taken my pipes with me when I travelled but never thought to put it into a mission like this. So, I’m over a year into it and I’m loving life. Everyone I meet is so amazing and the stories are phenomenal.”


Has any part of this experience surprised you?


“As for being surprised – I was pretty surprised that giraffes liked the bagpipes! I was piping in Nairobi at “Giraffe Manor” and all the giraffes started walking towards me in unison.

This is also going to sound massively cheesy so brace yourself….I think I’m also surprised (although more heart-warmed and humbled) by how well I’ve been received everywhere I go. It reminds me that most people out there are good and kind hearted. There’s such horrid news constantly being reported that it’s easy to think the world is a vicious scary place (and although some places can be) I’ve learnt that there’s a serious amount of love out there as well… Inshallah! -Ross”

Inspired yet? I hope so!

As for me and keeping my inspiration? I’m going to delight in sharing with you each post (as I promised) a virtual postcard from my travels. And I think I will research some on the countries I will visit this semester, to keep that fire for travel and new cultures burning as bright as I can.

For this week’s postcard, I chose a view that I captured from the parapet of a castle in the Loire Valley of France. A road stretched before me then, just as my future does now. I cannot wait to see what traveling down it will bring me!


October, 2014 Loire Valley, France

Where Do We Go From Here?

Today is a soul-searching kind of day for the women’s institution community.

Hollins most especially has needed to take some time to reflect and practice our university motto:

Levavi Oculos


Lift Thine Eyes


The campus community received word that Sweet Briar College, our ‘sister school’ will close at the end of this academic year.

Shock, sadness, and worry spread like wildfire across my Facebook news feed. Kind words were sent out, perhaps to specific Sweet Briar students, but mostly to the Sweet Briar community as a whole.

What seems like each and every heart on Hollins campus feels for the end of another all-women’s institution so close to our home in the mountains of Virginia.

From professors to students, thoughts on the college’s closing collected like fireflies in summer – grouping together two communities always at odds with each other, in our Hollins versus Sweet Briar rivalry for the ages.

Suddenly, with the end of our ‘Other’ – Hollins saw the writing on the wall and couldn’t help but wonder if our same wall was close to crumbling.

As always though, some very important words, those written by President Gray, were spread across campus emails and attached to Facebook posts. Read them here, if you’d like.

Like a lifeline wrapping us all around the mast of our university ship, gripped in a storm of uncertainty not one of us saw coming, President Gray’s reassuring message comforts and encourages each of us as we read it.

PGray Quote.001

I don’t think anyone could argue with the note of inspiration at the end of her address:

“…we know the future makes no promises to anyone. Together, we will continue to preserve and strengthen Hollins for the next 175 years.”

Oh, yeah – in case I forgot to mention, HU has been going strong since 1842. (That’s soon to be 175 years in 2017!)

So, while the news of Sweet Briar College closing its doors shook me to my core – I am reminded through the outpouring of support from my classmates and professors and most especially the remarks of my President that Hollins University has more than enough courage, determination, and solid support to last for several more years to come.


As promised last week, let’s take a turn from these sad tidings from Virginia.

How about a virtual postcard from easily one of my top three favorite places I visited last semester?

Fitting isn’t it – that just when I need to be reminded for Hollins’ sake that there will be a tomorrow, I find the picture I took of the beginnings of a beautiful new day in Italy…


Say hello to the first rays of sun piercing the fading dark of dawn in Venice! In this town floating on the canals, I gleefully lost myself in back alleys and gorged on gnocchi and plates of fresh tomatoes and mozzarella. Even with the creeping touch of commercialized tourism, Venice succeeds in still feeling like a tiny Italian town, simply trying to survive at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea.

All my love,