I’m sitting at my desk, poring over the hundreds of notecards I’ve prepped for exams.

I have read and re-read the titles a hundred times. “Scaffolding Methods for Teaching ELLs.” I knew this card by heart yesterday. My intense concentration becomes distracted observance of the graceful snowflakes kissing my window and collecting on the sill. I’m so caught up, the interruption of my roommate knocking on my door makes me nearly fall out of my chair.

“Yeah?” I answer, righting myself.

It’s B, asking if I want to go with her and P to Zoe’s Café to study. Zoe’s, our favorite study spot, is a downtown hub for college students, artsy people, and basically anyone who loves coffee and muffins. Desperately needing a new environment, I agree. I stuff every last notecard and textbook into my cripplingly heavy backpack. We don our beanies and scarves and, looking like a trio of camels, we trudge with our loads through the snow to the car.

It’s a frosty drive over to downtown Greeley.

Our breath fogs the windows as we sing along to Michael Bublé’s “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” Pulling in to the parking lot, we notice a mass of cars filled with similar-looking groups of students, armed with backpacks, coffee mugs and scarves. Winter Break is nearing.

Inside the café, we are greeted by the buzz of students studying and laughing. We find our way to a set of couches in a warm corner and begin to lay out our materials. 

Studying in college isn’t like studying in high school.

In high school, when you have a test, you memorize the terms and information so you can answer the questions. In college, there is a sacred ritual you must follow. First, you must dedicate a solid 10-15 minutes to stressing about studying. Then, in order: procrastinate, make notecards, study, take a break, study, cry, pray and, finally, take the test. We see the tradition echoed throughout the café as we finish setting our things out and get in line for coffee.

Back in our seats, my studying begins anew, this time with a motivational atmosphere and a group of friends surrounding me. We quiz one another on notecards, make stupid gestures to help with memorization, consult our notes and crack open book after book. We drink one coffee, then two.

Finally, Zoe’s managers decide it’s a good time for a study break.

Everyone leaves their papers behind to watch a hula hooping competition. The music livens from study music to an upbeat mix to encourage the competitors. We quickly choose a favorite to win and cheer them on. When the winner is declared, we go into a mad craze of whooping and congratulations. As the music changes, back to a slower tempo, we return to our comfy corner, more awake and prepared to return to the grind.

We study for another hour. Gradually test prep conversation turns into winter break conversation. We talk of plans for New Years, connecting with old friends, and seeing family. I myself will be riding the train back home for the holidays. The trip will be a full eight hours of snowy peaks and peaceful mountain towns. We share our plans until another break is called, and snack food is brought out.

The night ends not long after that.

We repack masses of materials and sleepily bid our little corner goodnight. Stepping out into the holiday light-lit streets of Greeley, a winter breeze makes us burrow deeper into our coats. We put the heat on full blast as we journey back home for the night. Then we dream of memorized formulas, train rides and tomorrow’s study snack from Zoe’s.

Students studying at Zoe's


is a senior majoring in Elementary Education at UNC. She’s working toward her licensure to teach in a third-grade classroom. In the meantime, she is studying leadership in the President’s Leadership Program and working with the Bear Hug Club and the Ambassadors for Student Leadership Club. She’s forgotten the meaning of "free time.