College Essay

Last week, while reading a book about the radio, I came across a reference to the 1998 college essay by Hugh Gallagher. If you’re about my age, you probably know it too: the one about “a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice” who “repairs electrical appliances free of charge” and “…makes extraordinary four course meals using only a mouli and a toaster oven.” That one.

When I read the essay the first time as a sophomore in high school, I didn’t know what to think of it, other than that I loved it. It was fresh and fun in a way I’d never seen before. At the time, it never occurred to me that I could write my own string of fantasy sentences just for kicks. I was consumer of the page, not a creator. Now, almost 20 years later, as I celebrate my second quitaversary, I’ve decided to post my own essay of rapid-fire absurdity… The only difference being, mine is totally true.

Getting artsy with the infinity pool. #madagascar #nosybe #travel

A post shared by Nova Halliwell (@adviceineeded) on


It’s March 2016. I went on a safari through South Africa and the most interesting thing I saw was a large rabbit. It was terribly boring, unlike the time I outmaneuvered a cyclone in Madagascar in a 4×4 that was being held together by a tree trunk and a man’s leather belt. Still, that seemed like nothing compared to the time I got trapped in a salt mine in Poland and then did the limbo during a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in New Zealand.

I’m no stranger to excitement, is what I’m saying. I was once under siege by an army of white-tailed rats while living in a tree house in the rainforest. I saw a shark in the open waters off the Great Barrier Reef and the only thing I had to defend myself was a hot pink water noodle. Later, while taking out the garbage, I ripped a back door clean off its hinges. And that was only Australia.

In Barcelona, I was nearly struck by a woman who was riding a bike at breakneck speed through a crosswalk. She called me a puta, which was convenient because I learned that word the day before when the lady who was giving me a $400 haircut used it to describe her sister. I wish I knew how to say “raw amber” in Estonian because that would make things a lot easier next week when I try to buy a 20 inch beaded necklace for my friend who is experimenting with new age treatments for a thyroid condition.

That’s hardly the weirdest thing I’ll have done. I went to see the circus in Paris and the guy who sold me popcorn at intermission offered me a ride back to the Metro in the company’s tour bus. In Canada, I saw three bears while I was pedaling a mountain bike through a canyon. Just last week, there was a forest fire wreaking havoc in Dubrovnik, but I still dialed into a conference call to give update about a whitepaper on artificial intelligence. The people on the other end of the line had the nerve to tell me that their need was “urgent.”

Couple other mishaps, while we’re at it: I lost one of my favorite shoes in a rice paddy in Indonesia. I fell off a boat launch in Croatia. I got pink eye from a snorkeling mask and talked a pharmacist into giving me antibiotics for that plus strep throat, just to be on the safe side. In Bern, I suffered through a cup of the world’s worst low-fat yogurt, which turned out to be a tub of tzatziki. It was especially annoying because tzatziki is much more expensive than yogurt and it is also not low in fat.

I don’t always travel alone. In Amsterdam, I teamed up with a friend from trapeze school and a Swiss girl I met on the bunny safari. My friend Katie joined me in Portugal; she’s a reporter and she always talks like she’s on deadline, even when she’s doing simple things like ordering a ChocoTaco. My friend Ryan and I took a days-long roadtrip, during which we passed the time by keeping count of the dead kangaroos we saw on the side of the highway. Twenty seven, in case you’re wondering. I also saw Chris Noth on the street several times in Budapest and we never had words or anything but I still think it’s worth mentioning given all the talk of Law & Order nowadays.

Helsinki was not my favorite city, which is a shame since that’s where I met my boyfriend. On our first date, he suggested I jump into the subzero waters of the Baltic Sea, which was actually not totally unpleasant and now I spend a lot of time explaining where Finland is and why I’m going to move there.

This fall, I have a trip to Thailand planned. I hear there’s an animal preserve where you can wash an elephant with a car brush for $20. I’m interested in that, for sure. Afterwards, I’d really like to go to Bhutan but every time I try to find a flight, the search engines redirect me to India and I’m not patient enough to figure out what I’m doing wrong. I haven’t ruled out Vietnam.

Anyway, that’s how the past two years have been, and that’s probably how the next two years will be. I used to think that quitting my day job was the craziest thing I ever did, but it turns out that was only the beginning.

  1. raw amber, according to google translate:

    toores merevaigukollane</i) –the pronounciation is up to you. Thyroid, by the way, isn't something to muck about with. Get her to see an endocrinologist–thyroids control the whole body, one way or another.

    Love the photos, especially the one of HongKong, with the trees apparently waiting patiently to take back their space where the buildings are…

    • thank you! i’m going to give it a go. oh, and she’s been to many specialists and no one can figure the damn thing out, hence the raw amber. she’s at the point where she’ll try anything :( as always, thanks for reading! hope you are well :)

  2. Tzatziki story had me busting up. Great delivery. Thanks for the entertaining read while I’m in a refreshingly not-so-exciting locale; my front porch. Keep living ridiculously!

    • Aw – you’re sweet. Just know that there are some days I would love nothing more than to sit on my own front porch, particularly if it comes along with that dream of a bathroom you have! thanks for reading!

  3. Nova, you better make a book out of your adventures. So, so amazing! Which reminds me: Have you read “What I was doing while you were breeding” by Kristin Newman? She’s a writer and a traveller, and if you’d ever meet IRL I’m pretty sure you would be besties. Now excuse me, I have to click at every single link from this post.

    • Ha! First of all, I’m going to – and I will be hitting you up for publishing advice once I get the draft in good shape. Second, no I have not, but I just finished my last batch of books and will be shopping for more tonight… perfect timing! Finally, thank you! I’m so glad we crossed paths. I love your writing too… and your Corgi too, as you well know. xx

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