Happy International Women’s Day!

Today’s post is for some of my favorite women that I’ve either met abroad or are from another country (or both)!  People are the reason why I love travel as much as I do; it’s about immersing yourself in new cultures and creating strong friendships along the way.  In case you’re reading this, thank you for all of the fond memories, laughs and sharing once-in-a-lifetime experiences with me 🙂

Saskia – friends since 2011 (met through foreign exchange)

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Hamburg, Germany – 2012
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Hamburg, Germany – 2016

Carolyn – friends since 2014 (met as roommates in France)

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Aix-en-Provence, France – 2014

Anwar – friends since 2015 (met as coworkers at our SVSU Writing Center)

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Saginaw Valley State University – 2015

Bethany – friends since 2016 (met as exchange students in Sweden)

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Chicago – 2018

Jacomijne – friends since 2016 (met as exchange students in Sweden)

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Arctic Circle, Sweden – 2016

Gloria, Jagoda & Hui Jun – friends since 2016 (met as exchange students in Sweden)

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Lund, Sweden – 2016

Kaila – friends since 2017 (met as volunteers in Chiang Rai, Thailand)

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Bangkok – 2017

Five Favorite Foreign Cities

As the friend who is “always gone somewhere,” a lot of people ask me where my favorite place is (or what city I enjoyed the most).  The truth is that after visiting 20 countries abroad, I can’t pick “one favorite.” So instead, I have five!

I put this in chronological order, not in order of preference:

Aix-en-Provence, France (2014)

  • At this time, this was the longest period I’d been away from the United States.  I spent three weeks in Germany when I was 18 (two years prior) but this felt different, because it WAS!
  • I was truly immersed in the culture.  I lived with a host family as well as someone from New Jersey (who is now one of my closest friends) and learned more about how the French saw world issues, like the Holocaust for example.  Aix will never be Paris, but on the same note, Paris will never be Aix…think about it…
  • My mother’s side of the family is predominantly French.  Although they weren’t from Southern France, I felt close to my roots here.  The experience of living in Aix for two months was something I wouldn’t trade for the world, no matter how insane my host mother was!!

Amsterdam, Holland (2014)

  • My boyfriend and I visited Amsterdam together once my two months in Aix was over, and boy was I pleasantly surprised!  There is such a bad reputation of Amsterdam here in the United States (sleazy, dirty, etc.) and although some of that can be found here, Amsterdam was one of the greenest, cleanest, beautiful cities I’ve visited!
  • Amsterdam is such a melting pot of cultures, languages, and lifestyles.  Hearing Norwegian, Spanish, French, German, and British accents all on the same street is something you can’t experience in Michigan very often!
  • There is absolutely no judgement here!!

Kiruna, Sweden (2016)

  •  On a school trip during study abroad round two in Sweden, we visited Lapland (in the Arctic Circle).  As a third grader, I wanted to visit the ice hotel SO BADLY and my dreams finally came true in Sweden!  It was more breathtaking than I imagined…
  • Being in Lapland was one of the best weeks of my life.  Still is two years later.  I was in love with every aspect of the trip, from dog sledding to seeing the Northern Lights (twice!!) and everything in between – it was perfection.

Bergen, Norway (2016)

  • I visited my mom’s family’s foreign exchange student, Kjell, after studying in Sweden for one semester.  My mom and Kjell haven’t been able to physically see each other once he returned home in the 80s, but they have been able to talk on the phone and write each other letters ever since.  Meeting Kjell, his wife, children, and basically all of his immediate family was something I’d been wanting to do my whole life.  Bergen itself is beautiful, but the sentiment behind my visit made it even more memorable.
  • Um, well…Bergen is absolutely stunning!  I think the photos above speak for themselves…

Bangkok, Thailand (2017)

  • Although I volunteered in Chiang Rai for one month, Bangkok was the best possible way to end my Thai adventure!  I had previously booked a room for myself to explore Bangkok, but then my friends Kaila, Karl, and Hee Cheol decided to join.  I’m beyond thankful that they did because I know I wouldn’t have had as much fun without them!
  • On our first night together, we ate at one of the best restaurants I’ve been to!  And right after, we had drinks on a rooftop bar, which was the perfect way to end our volunteering and begin our weekend together!  I think Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai were places I’d rather be long-term; however, because of the people I was spending my weekend with, Bangkok (and its memories) make the list for me!
  • And aside from what I’ve just mentioned, WE HAD A ROOFTOP POOL!  People, it doesn’t get any better than this!  For a month, I was taking cold bucket showers, squatted down to pee, and had mosquito spray on me 24/7.  This 180 was exactly what I needed 🙂

Where are YOUR favorite places?!

When You’re Feeling Down

Hello everyone, I’m feeling down today.  I know it’s a weird thing for me to say/admit, but it’s true.  I haven’t blogged in awhile or wrote anything worthwhile in a couple weeks.  It’s not about the views or the likes for me; it’s about how I feel while I write.  But I haven’t felt the need to write recently, and now I feel as though all of my thoughts are bottled up inside me.

Here are some things I’ve been feeling lately:

  1. Stressed
  2. Frustrated
  3. Not myself
  4. Afraid

I feel these emotions and feelings are quite normal, but I need to combat these feelings.  As an aspiring Buddhist, I believe acceptance and embracing is key; however, I don’t want to be “okay” with feeling blue.

Here are some things I am going to try in order to ease my anxiety:

  1. Take things one minute at a time
  2. Stop comparing myself to others
  3. Remember what I enjoy doing
  4. Live in the moment rather than in the past or future

I have two exams next week, on top of having to clean my room, my hamster’s smelly cage, packing for a trip up north, and having two jobs to hustle through.  Let’s just say that next weekend cannot come soon enough!  I need to just face facts and realize that my two exams are important, but will not make or break my life (although they may do that to the grade in my class).  I have always been the type who is stressing over exams and sweats the little stuff; I need to be my type-B self when it comes to my education.  Exams are exams, and exams are tough, but that shouldn’t define the day or week I’m having.

On top of the stress associated in school, I cannot stop comparing myself to other people.  Many of my friends have recently announced engagements or marriages, while I’m over here bickering with my boyfriend of almost three years like an old married couple.  We’re both stressed about work and classes, yet while we spend any amount of time together, we take that stress out on each other.  It’s not fair for either of us.  Also, many of my friends are graduating this May (I guess I “should” be, too).  I keep feeling like I’m struggling or something…?  I can’t really explain the feeling I have about it.  I guess my point is that I need to stop comparing myself, my grades, or my relationship with other people because I am my own person.  I know there are things that people think about me that they find impressive (hopefully).

Aside from writing, I have other passions believe it or not.  Maybe if I dig into my passions I won’t be comparing myself to others as much (it’s human nature – it’s bound to happen).  I really enjoy photography, playing the piano and the flute, as well as golfing.  I took homecoming photos for a good friend of mine who is running to be on court, and it made me realize that I really miss photography.  I started my own photography website via SquareSpace, and I will be publishing that live within the next few days or so.  Whenever I travel, I love capturing what I see because it brings back whatever I was feeling in that moment.  I need to keep up with that.

I have also been listening to a lot of Regina Spektor and Stromae lately, which has inspired me to play musical instruments again.  I took piano lessons as a child and I had the ability to be a concert performer, a music major, maybe even play for a living.  I turned it down when it became too challenging – I gave up on it.  But really, I gave up on myself.  I did the same thing with the flute; I was really good, but I couldn’t handle the competition.  We had to compete for “first chair,” where the best performer sat closest to the instructor.  I don’t want to be the best, but I want to be my best.  I want to play for me, no one else.

Looking on my past is both inspiring and depressing, and I mean that in the best way possible!  I look at things that I would have done different, but I would not have changed a single thing.  I am leaving for Sweden soon, which inspired me to look at a few photos from my previous study abroad adventure:

Lyon, France

Nice, France

Fourth of July, France

Lavender Fields, France

These photos bring me hope; they show me that happiness is real and that this is just a dark time right now.  I hope that I can feel like myself again soon, because I miss it when my cheeks hurt from smiling too much!  It’s always darkest before the dawn.

Market Dog, France

Aix, France

Lyon, France

Guise, France

Picnic time!

That’s all for now!  Sorry about the photo spam (not really)! 😉