Featured Alumni Stories

A Journey From ella to ELLE

For Justine Harman, a glass of water and a missing passport helped shape her SYA experience and life beyond as much as any other part of her year abroad in Zaragoza. She'd wanted to take a break from attending the "same small school with the same people for the bulk of my life." Her sister Hilary Frank Peck FR'92, parents and high school Spanish teacher encouraged her to take the leap, to "begin an unreal adventure."

Harman has worked at ELLE for four years, the last two as senior entertainment editor at ELLE.com. She began her career by walking celebrities down red carpets and making connections with the people who did what she ultimately wanted to do. Then she spent two years working in entertainment public relations before making the jump to journalism, which had always been her end goal.

Currently, Harman's position primarily consists of writing about cultural trends, interviewing and profiling celebrities, and helping pull together an online magazine, as she puts it, "every. single. day." She said, "The Internet is endless and competitive. There are always new ways to be — as William Randolph Hearst said — alarmingly enterprising."

And she finds that the lessons learned and memories made during her time abroad with SYA have impacted her in both subtle and surprising ways.

"SYA helped me to refocus on academics without the typical pressures of private school. I was able to relax while taking my SATs and SAT II's, which I believe resulted in a better outcome. It also gave me a story that separated me from the 10 (!) other kids from my high school who applied early to Penn," said Harman. Perhaps most surprising is how much her time in Zaragoza sparked her interest in literature. She said, "I found myself drawn to reading and writing in a way I hadn't before experienced."

Only 15 years old when she arrived in Zaragoza, she found that "studying abroad at such a young age can be an isolating experience and, as such, I found real solace in books." Additionally, the newfound alone time — an hour walk to and from school each day — gave her time for self-reflection, something she came to relish. "From carpools, to family life, to team sports, I had never really been alone before living in Zaragoza," said Harman.

Another takeaway comes from a teacher in Zaragoza. "Our math teacher, Stu [Stuart Remensnyder CN'00F ES'00-'01F], always said something like, 'If you're feeling overwhelmed, have a glass of water.' I always, always do this. I am a huge water drinker — something I strangely attribute to my time abroad." Water to calm her nerves no doubt comes in handy putting together ELLE's online magazine every day.

And surely interviewing and scheduling photo shoots for celebrities pales in comparison to a solo trip to Barcelona at age 16. After losing her passport, Harman found herself traveling alone to procure a new one from the American Embassy. As she says, "it was quite the odyssey and the kind of adventure I am quite certain most 16-year-old American girls don't experience."

Ultimately, that was a huge takeaway for her from her time spent abroad. That "there really are no limits to what I can do, where I can go, who I can be friends with, or what I can learn. Studying abroad at such a young age simply changed my mindset of what's possible. It's a remarkable thing."

Read Harman's work at ELLE.