2016 Year in Review

Well, the end of 2016 is here and with it comes the start of a new year, so here’s a recap of my 2016:

  • January
    • Spent most of Jan at home in NC
    • Started semester 2 of Master’s
  • February
    • Mentally prepared for March and April
  • Mar
    • Family friends visited Dublin
    • Went to Milan (same day the fam friends left)
    • Met family in London (a week after Milan) and then traveled Ireland with them
  • April
    • Met different family friends in London (less than a week after family visit)
    • Went to a Library of Ireland talk and met Eoin Colfer (he signed my Artemis Fowl book, but I really wish I’d had my slightly beat up copy from middle school)
    • 9 assignments due in 4 weeks
  • May
    • Created a digital repository as part of a class project, kept updating it throughout the year
    • Wrote the first book review of the year: Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age (even though I didn’t start posting them on here until after I’d gone back and written them for Jan)
    • Lisa came to visit
  • June
    • A friend from China and her girlfriend came to visit Dublin
    • Came home for my bro’s graduation, resulting in the decision to move back to the US so I wouldn’t have to worry about missing big family events
    • Started a portfolio series called You Can Teach a Mouse to Click
  • July
    • Went to London to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
      • Met up with a comic artist I follow on Tumblr and a friend I used to work with at Best Buy in 2012 who I haven’t seen since then
    • Volunteered at the Festival of Curiosity
    • Final Capstone Thesis presentation
  • August
    • Finally wrote a follow-up to Fernweh called Heimweh
    • Went to a Gatsby party with some friends, wearing a dress I made myself
    • Started teaching myself to crochet
    • Wrote the article series Travel in (Relative) Style
    • Went to see friends in Killarney
    • Went to Barcelona (saw some friends there) and Paris
    • Celebrated my 25th birthday a few times
    • Submitted my Master’s Capstone Thesis
  • September
    • Visited a friend in Limerick
    • Katie came to visit Ireland and we went to Scotland
    • Moved back home
  • October
    • Started volunteering at the Kernersville Library and Körner’s Folly
    • Got my thesis grade & final transcript
    • Voted early
    • Opened my Etsy shop
  • November
    • Quit volunteering at Körner’s Folly, started volunteering at UNCG’s library, the local comic shop, and started babysitting
    • Thanksgiving with family friends!!
  • December
    • Made Christmas gifts for my family (took FOREVER)
    • Saw all of my US best friends within a week (one lives in NYC, one in SC, and one here at home)
    • Almost got a job (SO CLOSE)
    • Got my degree in the mail
    • Wrote the first book review of the year: Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (kind of perfect, right?)

So yeah, that’s pretty much it. I’m sure there’s a lot I missed, but there were a few months where I was really busy and a few where I didn’t seem to be very busy at all. Mostly, those months (at least in the Spring and Summer) were spent working on my Group Capstone Thesis project thing!

Anyway, happy new year!! HEllo 2017, pls be good to us!

Travel in (Relative) Style: Making the Most of Making It

This post is part of a series called Travel in (Relative) Style. It is the third post in the series.


Alright, you’ve made it to your lodgings! Since we’re not planning a trip for the purpose of this series, hopefully you’ve figured that out already… Now, how to make the most of being where you are?

Tip #1: Don’t stress it.
Whatever it is, I’m sure it’ll be fine. A lot of times, something not fine will happen. I have a theory about this: for every 7 days of travel, there must be 1 bad one. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, but if you think of it this way it’s a lot easier to shrug off the bad ones. Don’t stress even the worst ones (unless, like, you’ve been arrested and someone took all your stuff or something like that) because that’ll detract from the other 6 good days.

Tip #2: Embrace the tourism.
A lot of people will tell you not to look like a tourist. They’re full of shit. You’re gonna look like a tourist unless you keep your head down, ignore everything around you, and just go from point A to point B without looking at the sights. Just enjoy yourself. They’re not paying for your holiday, so why should they tell you how you should look?

Tip #3: Don’t be a dick.
That being said, you being a tourist is not a free pass for you to be a dick. Self-explanatory.

Tip #4: Ask for help.
Some people will say no and wave you off, whatever dude. Chances are, your best bet to find help is in a shop or something. If you’re in a big tourist city, especially in Europe, there’s going to be a tourist center somewhere, those people are literally paid to help you. A lot of times, if you’re somewhere where you don’t speak the language, people will be less helpful because they might be embarrassed by their English. Just be patient and reassuring, even though you’re the one who needs help. And don’t be afraid to ask for clarification about something. A lot of times, someone I’m talking to will use slightly the wrong word in English, so I’ll ask them what they just said but in native-English to double-check.

Tip #5: Travel cards.
A lot of cities (at least in Europe) have travel cards that tout discounts. They’re usually not worth it unless you’re traveling with a group and going to see everything they offer a discount for. Look at what the discounts are/are for and then check how many of them you were interested in and see if it’s cheaper that way. A lot of times, you’ll feel the need to “get the most of it” and spend the time crunching to see enough to get your money’s worth and that does not sound like fun to me.

Tip #6: Day tours.
Sometimes, day tours can be a pretty good deal. Dublin, for example, has some really good ones. They’re around 50EUR each in Dublin, but they include the bus there and back and to a couple of places. It would probably be about the same for a train ticket and you’d probably have to take a rounder way because of the travel method. If you’re spending a lot of time in a place and you’ve run out of things to do, check for day tours.

Tip #6: Everybody loves post cards.
Get people’s addresses before you go and send post cards if you can. You don’t need to write them a long letter, you’ve got limited space. If every post card is going somewhere different, you can write variations of the same simple “This card is from ____. Today I went to ____ and saw ___. The weather is ____. Miss you!” (NOW YOU KNOW MY SECRET TO HOW I WRITE TENS OF POST CARDS AT A TIME.) They’re a cheap souvenir, too. I love visiting people I’ve sent post cards to and seeing them hanging up on their wall. Plus, they’re everywhere. Finding stamps might be a bit harder, but usually a shop that sells post cards will also sell stamps, or at least know where the closest shop that sells stamps is located. You’re not the first tourist to ask and you won’t be the last.

Tip #7: Gifts.
A lot of people turn their noses up at tourists in tourist shops (refer back to #2 for how I feel about those kinds of people), but a lot of those places will have 2-for-whatever deals or something like that. Gifts that are small and pretty universal are a good idea. My brother, for example, collects shot glasses and I’ve only had trouble finding them in Milan and China, but everywhere else they’re everywhere. I collect pins and buttons, my cousin and I collected bracelets in every country we visited in 2012, etc. If you’re stuck on what to get someone, send them a post card.

Tip #8: Universals.
There will be some things you didn’t/couldn’t pack that you can buy when you get there, but just be aware it might be a little more expensive. Just today, the day I’m writing this, I had to buy a 100mL thing of sunscreen and it was more than buying a big bottle of sunscreen back home, I just couldn’t bring my big bottle with me. (I have so. many. bottles of sunscreen, I ALWAYS have to buy it when I travel….) You’ll be able to get pretty much whatever you forgot/couldn’t bring where you are, unless it’s something really specific. The actual details of whatever it is might be slightly different, but it’ll work.

Tip #9: Relax.
I’ll admit, I’m still working on this one. I always feel the need to get my money’s worth during a trip, so it’s hard for me to have a day where I didn’t “see anything” or whatever. It’s good to have some down-time though, it helps you enjoy the trip that much more. And you can use that time to write your journal/blog entry and those post cards you got!

Tip #10: Have fun, but be aware.
You don’t have to be paranoid, everything will probably be fine, but you should still be aware of where you are and what’s around you. Little things like turning your backpack around to the front when you’re in a crowd to keeping your wallet and phone in a zipped bag instead of your pockets might make things a little inconvenient, but safer. I am always fidgeting, so even in the most crowded Beijing subway, I could tell when someone was even lightly brushing against my backpack because I’m always shifting back and forth. Be aware, but seriously, don’t go overboard. Unless you’ve gone somewhere really dangerous, in which case, why are you even reading this, this is not that type of blog??

That’s it. That’s what I’ve got so far. Feel free to comment on any of the posts if you think I missed something or if you have a question. I might make a separate series about packing and maybe another about planning trips, if that’s of interest to literally anyone. Or maybe I’ll do it because it’s my site and I’ll write what I want to!!

Travel in (Relative) Style: On Your Way

This post is part of a series called Travel in (Relative) Style. It is the second post in the series.


Your trip is booked, your bags are packed, your ride to the airport is here. The panic starts to set in, a lot in airports has changed in the past few years, maybe even the past few months. I’m here to tell you Rule #1 of travel:

HHGTTG
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. Perhaps the most remarkable, certainly the most successful book ever to come out of the great publishing corporations of Ursa Minor – of which no Earthman had ever heard of. … it has the words DON’T PANIC printed in large friendly letters on its cover.

Well, ok, at least don’t visibly panic. It’ll be fine. Airports can be confusing lines and lanes and terminals, but you’ll be fine. If something goes wrong (which it usually doesn’t), there’s always a way to fix it.

Step #1: Arrive on time and dress appropriately.
I always wear a lot of layers when I travel. Sometimes one part of the airport will be freezing and another part will be hot. If you have a delay while you’re on the plane, it’ll get hot because they’ll shut the system off to save fuel. A lot of times, the plane is freezing once they get the facilities back on.
Most airports have suggested arrival cushions for how long you should arrive before your flight. They usually give you extra time, which is good. They know what they’re talking about, but if you have the option of arriving 2.5hrs early or 1.5hrs early and the airport suggests 2, go for that 2.5hrs. You definitely won’t need more than what they recommend, though.

Step #2: Check-in and check your bags.
Chances are, you’ve checked in online (or tried to), but if not, don’t worry. There’s plenty of places to check you in and you have plenty of time. It’s best to have some kind of ID handy (driver’s license or the like if you’re traveling domestically; passport if you’re traveling internationally) and the reference number from your booking. Also make sure your tags have the information for where you’re going. If you’re staying at a hostel or hotel, put their number on there.
If you’re checking a bag, you’ll need to make sure you haven’t got stuff they won’t let you have in your carry-ons and that kind of thing, but you should’ve at least thought about it before you left the house anyways. A lot of airlines have weight limits where they literally will not take your bag if it weighs too much. The number of people I see who think “oh, it’s extra heavy, it’ll just be oversized” and then find out that it’s extra, extra heavy and the airline won’t take it at all.

Step #3: Security.
This can be like WOAH, super anxiety-inducing. Here’s a tip: if you have nothing to hide, don’t sweat it! You’ll be fine. You’ll have time to fuss around with your things as you’re standing in line, so use that time to:

  • Get your laptop, iPad, and liquids out of your bags (not every airport will have you take out the iPad, but it’s better to take it out now than have to do it later)
  • Empty your pockets into your bag
  • Same thing with jewelry and the like, just pop em in your bag
  • Put your passport, ID, and boarding pass somewhere in your bag (you’ll need it at the gate)
  • If it’s winter, you can shove all this stuff into your coat pocket because you’ll have to remove your coat anyways

One trick I do is to take my coat off with my backpack. Then, when I go to grab my stuff again, I just slide my arms in the sleeves and go! I did that once with my sweater AND my coat and a little boy getting his shoes back on next to me went “Woah…” Yeah, buddy, I do this a lot.

Step #4: Find your gate.
Sometimes, you’ll arrive earlier than you have a gate, which is fine. It just means you’ll spend some extra time in the food area. Don’t worry about food or snacks just yet. Figure out which terminal you need to get to and get there. A lot of airports will have designated international terminals, so that should be pretty easy. Other airports are the central hub for a particular airline, so you’ll go there. Chances are, your terminal and gate are on your boarding pass, but if the gate isn’t there, the terminal definitely should be.

Step #5: Get some water and go to the bathroom.
If you brought an empty water bottle, fill it. Unless you’re flying to/from Asia, they’ll probably make you dump it out. Or buy a water. Again, unless you’re flying to/from Asia. I’ve gotten bloody noses on flights before, so to avoid that: stay hydrated!
Now that you’re near your gate, go to the bathroom. Airplane bathrooms are tiny and I always have to pee while we’re taxing or the fasten seatbelt sign is on or there’s a line. It’s the worst.

Step #6: Have a breather.
Have a seat! Relax! I like to sit on the floor during this part of the journey because I’m going to be sitting on a plane for the next however long and then the transport to where I’m going. Also, I like sitting on floors.

Step #7: Time to board.
Have your boarding pass and ID out and ready. They’ll board by zone, so if you aren’t worried about there being enough room for your carry-on luggage above you, there’s no need to be That Person standing really close to the gate desk. Seriously, no reason. You’ll just get in the way of people who are boarding or people with stroller or BOTH. Don’t do it. There’s time. They’re not going to leave without you.
When it’s time to board your zone, hand the person your boarding pass and ID at the same time. They might not need the ID, but it’s better to just hand it to them. Sometimes, they’ll tell you to board through a certain door because of where your row is. Sometimes, you’ll have to take a bus to the plane or walk outside for it, so be ready for that.

Step #8: In-flight.
By this point, you’re on the plane! You’ve made it halfway. There’s a few ways this can go:

  • You leave on-time and land a few minutes early!
  • You’re a little delayed on the runway before leaving and/or in the air before taxying and arrive on time (airlines usually add a bit of time to the estimated landing time for this very reason)
  • You’re very delayed on the runway before leaving and/or in the air before taxying and arrive late.
  • Everything is so delayed they offer you the chance to reschedule your flight.

In case of the last one, don’t panic. They’ll reschedule you for a flight or figure out a way to compensate you for the flight cost, but they probably won’t get you a hotel for the night. The airline isn’t on the hook for weather.
Once you’ve taken off, there will be a drinks/snack cart coming around. There will be complimentary things (if you’re not flying super cheap) and the longer flights will have a meal. When you booked your ticket, there’s the option to pay extra for the better meals and you’ll be able to buy alcohol, just don’t imbibe TOO much, it’s expensive.
Finally, for plane etiquette:
Don’t be a dick.
There’s going to be people in your space, people making noise, children who are screaming, etc. Don’t be a dick about it, that just makes it worse for everyone. Try to be aware of where you are in relation to those around you, too. Yes, sometimes it’s a long flight, but it’s a long flight for everyone around you. Also, the babies on the planes are literally in the worst pain they’ve ever experienced in their lives, try to have a little compassion for the babies and their parents.

Step #9: Disembarking.
Listen, friends, if you don’t have a connection to make or a screaming baby or a really pressing engagement, sit tight. People are always in such a rush to get off a plane, but then they end up standing there like doofuses for 10min waiting for the plane door to open. Plus, if you checked a bag, you’re going to have to wait for that eventually anyways, so just hang tight. There might be some people in a hurry to catch their next flight or get their poor baby off the plane. If you’re expecting someone to pick you up, they’ll understand.

Step #10: Connections.
Most of the time, you’ll have plenty of time. Sometimes, it’ll be a little tight. It’ll be fine. The gate agents once you disembark can sometimes let you know which gate you need to go to for your connection flight, but your best bet is to check one of the boards. Getting to the next terminal might be a little difficult (LOOKING AT YOU CHICAGO), but you can ask someone who works at the airport for directions. If you’re flying with the same airline and you’re worried about making it to the next flight, you can ask the gate agents to call the connecting gate.

Step #11: Customs and Border Patrol.
If you flew internationally, you might have to go through customs and/or border patrol. There’ll be signs about “EU Passport” or “Non-EU Passport” or something like that, just get in line! Also, be patient. There’s nothing you can do to speed this up and you can’t skip it. Have your passport and any other documents you need ready to hand to the person. They’ll ask things like “What’re you here for? Where are you staying?” That sort of thing.

Step #12: Baggage Claim.
From the plane, follow the signs to baggage claim. Once you’re there, your flight will have a turnstyle that might be shared with another flight. Because of the number of bags you’ll have to glance at to find your own, my family always puts colored duct tape on the handles. Make sure that there’s at least one kind of tape visible no matter which way the bag is laying. I have some striped duct tape on the top, side, and bottom handles of all of my suitcases.

Step #12: Leaving.
However you’re getting where you’re going, this is that time. You might have to go through customs at this point, it depends on the airport. A lot of the airports I travel through Europe have a little like customs box with automatic doors and it’s a breeze. If you’re meeting someone, they’re probably waiting out past baggage claim or out where cars wait. If you need a bus or train, there should be signs. SHOULD BE. There might not be, though, but you can ask airport staff for help.

The takeaways here are:
Don’t panic.
Don’t be a dick.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Travel in (Relative) Style: Before You Go

This post is part of a series called Travel in (Relative) Style. It is the first post in the series.


For the past three years, I’ve lived out of two suitcases. For the four years before that, I was back and forth between college and home, so I can pack my things up pretty quickly and go. Well, now. It’s taken a lot of practice and packcrastination (procrastinating on packing, which I do frequently enough to name), but I’ve finally sorted out the best ways to get ready to travel.

Tip #1: Sort yourself before you go.
There are a few things I always make sure I have sorted out:

  1. Where am I going?
  2. How am I getting there?
  3. Where am I staying when I get there?
  4. How do I get from how I got there to how I’m staying and back?
  5. How do I get around once I’m there?

These are all things that I list as the utmost important parts of travel. A lot of times, I’ll need to plan for something like sleeping in an airport because I’m flying the 6:30am RyanAir flight (not only is the flight cheap, but sleeping in an airport is free). Sometimes, the airport isn’t open 24-hours (LOOKING AT YOU PARIS), but luckily I’m not the only one trying to sleep in airports.
The point of this anecdote, is that I need to make sure I know that I’m not going to end up without a place to stay when I’m traveling and that I’ll be able to get around (to and from the airport/train, to and from attractions). If I’m in a familiar country, it’s not a big deal, but if I’m traveling pretty far and can’t change my flights, then I need to make sure I check these things before I book.

Tip #2: Don’t worry about it.
I know, I know, I literally just listed things to worry about before you go. However, chances are if you’re going somewhere, you already have a reason you’re going. Maybe you’re visiting a friend or family, maybe there’s something you really want to see there, maybe you’ve always been interested in visiting this place. These are all things that you already know. If you try to make Big Plans for your trip, you won’t be as flexible when you get there and you’ll start to feel sort of guilty if you can’t get done everything you thought you would.
One of the best trips I’ve ever had came because I was in Shanghai with no plans. When I went, it was just because I was living near Beijing and Shanghai is “one of those places” (you know, the ones you have to visit). Since I had no plans, I was flexible to spend the week with Lisa, Alex, and Victor. That was over a year ago, and I’ve made plans to see all of them again! If I’d had Goals or Big Plans when I went to Shanghai, that never would have happened.

Tip #3: Make a list of what to pack, then cut it in half.
First, count up how many days you’re going to be gone. Then, think about your laziest days around the house. How many days in a row are you comfortable wearing the same clothes? How often do you change your pants/shirts? After living in China, I started wearing the same two pairs of leggings until I got camel knees or there was something spilled on them. Sounds gross, right? Well, it means that now when I pack, if I’m only going for a week, I only need one pair of leggings! See how great that works out for me? LESS LUGGAGE IS BEST LUGGAGE.
I also always bring a “Bag o Stuff” with me:

  • Medication(s)
    • Allergy meds
    • Aspirin
    • Alka Seltzer Cold Plus
    • Lemsip
  • Bandaids
  • Feminine products
  • Chapstick
  • Hair ties + Bobby pins
  • Small thing of vaseline (HEAT RASH IS NO JOKE)
  • Deodorant (get the rolly kind, it’s not a liquid and it won’t break)
  • Tissues (I started carrying these in China because the bathrooms never had TP)
  • Pen + something to write on
  • Napkins
  • Tape
  • Gum

These are things I always used to go “DANG I WISH I HAD THAT” and now? NOW I DO.
As for electronics and things, think about what you absolutely need. How long are you going to spend with dead time (layovers, getting to the airport early, etc)? I bring a paper book and my iPad with books on it (sometimes there’s no plugs nearby), my wall-to-USB, a power pack, and my headphones. Some airports won’t have WiFi (looking at you London, 1hr WiFi in airports people frequently sleep?? Madness).

Tip #4: Bring a camera (or don’t).
Good question. I have a digital camera, but I pretty much just use my phone camera. I used to take a bunch of pictures until I lost my camera and then realized I spent more time looking through my camera screen than looking around. I know some people like to make scrapbooks or have prints, I kind of want an instant camera, but I don’t NEED one. I do like that my digital camera is good for low-light photography, though, since I spend a lot of times in museums taking pictures inside without flash.

Tip #5: You don’t need to be pretty. Also, your hair dryer/straightener/curler is going to blow up anyways (if you’re traveling abroad).
Think of it this way: You’ll likely never see these people again in your life. And they’ve never seen you before in their lives. Save space in your luggage and leave your cosmetics behind. Otherwise, you have to deal with the liquids rules and plus, it means you’d get to sleep later while you’re traveling, which will be especially important if you’re jetlagged.

Tip #6: Bring a pillow.
Airplanes will have blankets and pillows, but the pillows might as well be non-existant. They’re great for lumbar support if you fold them in half, but they’re not great for sleeping. Plus, you might end up in a hostel that has super flat pillows you can’t sleep with, but hey, good thing you brought that neck pillow with you!

Tip #7: Bring a journal.
I always forget what I’ve done on trips. It’s best to write down what you did, even if it’s just a bulleted list, that day. You can fluff it out into more of a piece later, but the reason all of my travel posts are rambly and lengthy is because I’m literally typing out things as I remember them. And sometimes, I never write a post because I waited too long and then I forgot what I did.
You don’t need anything fancy, just make sure it’s not going to fall apart. If you’re worried you won’t be creative enough, don’t. But like if you’re really worried about it, there are some “premade” travel journals. Find something you like that will work for you and won’t fall apart.

Tip #8: Start a blog.
If you’re going to be traveling for a while, start a blog! Take that journal and… type it. People you know will be excited to read about your adventures, although I’m still convinced the only people who read this are my parents. (My dad is, like, the only person who comments on my posts, even though I know people are seeing my posts on Facebook and Twitter!)
This website started as a journal that got typed. May 2012, I went on a river cruise with my gramma, aunt, and cousin, so I started a blog to keep my family up-to-date on our trip, then I studied abroad Fall 2012, moved to China in 2014, and moved to Ireland in 2015. Now, it’s 2016 and this is post #125, so who knows. Maybe you’ll stick with it. (Still convinced it’s just my parents read. HI MOM)

Tip #9: Have some sort of fitness tracker.
Most smartphones have this feature (not sure about Android, but Apple Health will do it and I know that Fitbit’s iOS app will use your phone to track how far you’ve walked), so you don’t need a fancy fitness tracker. But trust me, when you climb the Great Wall of China, you’ll be curious to know how many flights you climbed (227).

Tip #10: Packcrastinate.
Seriously, this links back to #2. Don’t worry about it, packcrastinate. If you forget something, you forgot it, not a big deal. You’ll be able to buy a new one and it’ll be a story later. Make sure you check the airline’s luggage regulations, I usually travel with a large suitcase (checked), a small suitcase, and a small backpack (which is basically a two-strapped, large purse) because most airlines don’t care! The cheaper the flight, the more they’ll care about your luggage. You didn’t pay them that much, so you’ll just have to suffer. But if you stick with the “calculate what you might need, then cut it in half”, you’ll be fine.

And that’s the final takeaway here:
You’ll be fine.

You might have some bad travel days (I have a theory on that I’ll cover later), but it’ll be fine. You’re going somewhere new, so don’t hold on to the “Oh no, this isn’t working out” and keep in mind the “even the shittiest experience will be a great story.” It might just take a (few) month(s) for it to be a great story.

Article Series: Travel in (Relative) Style

So as my time in Ireland nears its end, I have a lot to get done. A lot of traveling, some thesis writing, and my best friend from high school is coming to visit! She’s been asking me a lot of questions about traveling, so I’m going to compile a list of travel tips and tricks that I’ve picked up since I started this blog (and started traveling internationally) in 2012.

The way I travel has vastly changed since then, and only part of it is due to my increased experience! (Most of it is due to my decreased budget since I primarily travel alone and out of my own pocket…)

So, to ease my friend’s travel anxieties and to sort of compile some of my travel tips, the posts will start tomorrow and post every other day. They are split up into the following categories:

  • Before You Go [scheduled for 29 Aug 16:30] – This will primarily cover packing, since that can be so hard to do!
  • On Your Way [scheduled for 31 Aug 16:30] – From check-in to leaving the airport, this will cover the journey through the airport
  • Making the Most of Making It [scheduled for 2 Sep 16:30] – This will cover what happens after you have gotten to your accommodation, although some of these things will be useful to look up before you leave

As of the time of writing and on the post date for the entire series, I am on holiday. I have my computer with me, but y’know, Barcelona and Paris beckon!

Article: 4 Ways Living Abroad Changes You Forever

So I’m scrolling through Facebook (once I finally get my VPN to connect and stay connected) when I see my cousin’s friend (with whom I am friends on FB and who is currently in Spain studying abroad, I think) has liked an article on someone’s page called 4 Ways Living Abroad Changes You Forever.

So here is my take on Russell V. J. Ward’s 4 Ways Living Abroad Changes You Forever.


 

I think for me it started long before I made a choice to go abroad, let alone visit. By the time I started high school, we had lived in three states, four cities, and I had attended school in four different districts.

Phoenix, AZ – born; Charlotte, NC – 4 years; Greensboro, NC – 1 year; Kernersville, NC – 2 years; Jamestown, NY – 4 years

My thirst for traveling abroad started with the first Harry Potter book. Even though I knew Hogwarts wasn’t real and that I couldn’t catch a train from King’s Cross Station to the magical school, I still remember thinking “I want to go there.” London was really where I wanted to go, but I’d settle for anywhere in that area (even now, my geography skills are subpar).

When I went to university, that’s when I started making plans of how to study abroad. I had a plan from freshman orientation on how to get there. And so I went. In the summer of 2012, I went on a cruise with my gramma, aunt, and cousin (Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Italy) and I didn’t want to get off that ship. Except in the fall of 2012, I studied abroad in Ireland.

Kernersville, NC – 4 years; Wilmington, NC – 4(ish) years; Maynooth, Ireland – 1/4 year

Between moving home and back to school every winter and summer break (I lived on campus and wasn’t allowed to stay) and my study abroad experience, I moved sixteen times in the span of my four-year degree. Of course, by this point the wanderlust had settled in completely, so I was home for the summer after graduation before I moved to Colorado to live with my gramma. Then, of course, I moved to China, which is where I am now.

Kernersville, NC – 4 months; Lakewood, CO – 9 months; Langfang, Hebei, China – 12 months

My contract in China will end in May (but I might end up staying until June? I’m not sure) and I’ll return back to Kernersville, NC, which is obviously where my parents live. Ten years and they’re still in the same house, I’m impressed! Of course, I’ll be heading off to Dublin, Ireland in August/September so… Anyways. Here’s the four ways:


 

1. You’re not the same person you were.
Boy howdy. If that’s not the truth, then I don’t know what is. Even my trip to Ireland, which was only a few months, was life-changing to say the least. These twelve months in China, even more so. Ward talks about how you might not realize it immediately, but I think somewhere as vastly different in culture as China is to the US makes you realize it a lot sooner. Once you’re over that culture shock, you start to think back “Remember how hard this was when I first got here?” My personal huge oh my god moment involves a lot of “Remember how frightened I was when I first got here?” Now I can navigate my way around Beijing, I’ve gotten used to the way things work in China (even if some of the practices still annoy me), and I have the courage to travel from one end of this giant country to the other — on my own. (In fact, I’m heading to Shanghai in a week and a half.)
You learned about you.
Before I spent the summer here, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. As a driven 22 year old who always had a Plan, that terrified me more than moving across the world. I thought my problem was that I liked too many things and couldn’t pick between them, but it turned out to be my strength, in a way. After a summer on my own – 100% on my own – I finally figured it out. What I want to do, what I want to be, but most importantly, who I am.

(China 2014) New friends I met in China and I in Xi’an! (Thanks to Erin for the lovely picture)

2. You can never go back home.
I think part of this is also me growing up. I hear about things from my family well after they happen now, I’m not constantly up-to-date like I was when I was just living across the country. I can’t call my mom just to chat when I’m walking somewhere and I spent my first summer without my brother for the first time since he was born. When I first studied abroad and had a taste of what it was like to live not-there, I came back and tried to go back home. It didn’t work. People had gotten so used to my absence (a mere semester!) that they forgot to include me in things later. It hurt at first, I was so used to being in that place and being surrounded by people that it was hard for me to let go and do things on my own. Plus, I missed Ireland a lot and didn’t want to return in the first place.
At some point, you realize you couldn’t go back even if you wanted to.
Admittedly, I currently want to go go go and not stay stay stay, but these are the times I realize who I miss the most and who misses me the most. (Shout-out to Katie, my bff since high school, Gagey-poop, who I miss dearly, Marcus, for constantly asking me when I’ll be back in Ireland {SEPTEMBERISH}, and my family, cause well duh.) I don’t want to go back to what I was, to where I was before. I love the people I miss, but I’m ready to go go go!

3. Your world became a whole lot bigger.
Holy moly the world is huge. But at the same time, it’s really not. Since I’ve been here in China, I meet new people every time I go to Beijing. My world is a lot bigger, but the world itself seems a lot smaller. It’s a lot more manageable now. I used to think “Gosh, I don’t know if I’ll ever visit [insert place here], it’s so far.” Now, it’s not. I can go anywhere. “I always wanted to visit” has become “I’m gonna visit…”
And there’s no turning back.
I always wanted to go go go, but I was afraid. “What if” I asked myself a lot. Now I know, the only room I have for “What if”s is “What if I don’t?” I have never regretted a single thing I’ve done in my life (no, seriously) and the only thing I regret is not having done. I was afraid and living in the What if zone too much, but now I know. The world is huge and completely, utterly manageable. I am no longer content to be in one place for very long. I wasn’t before, but even less so now.
Let’s go.
Because it’s all good.

4. Anything is possible.
Let me repeat that:
Anything is possible.
This, I think, is the truest number on this list. When I graduated college, I was so afraid. I was afraid I’d end up “stuck”: stuck in a job, stuck in a place, stuck in myself. And I did get stuck for a bit. Now, though? Now I can do anything. I wanted to move (back) to Ireland. I wanted to go back to school. Now I know I can and I will.
You proved you can live abroad – and you survived.
And I’ll do it again. The US to China culture jump was terrible. There were days I didn’t want to leave my apartment because it was just so overwhelming. Eight months in and I still get those days. But eight months in and I know this is the hardest thing I’ll ever do. And even if it’s not, I’ll survive that just as I survived this. Anything is possible and anything is survivable and there will be times in the future when I will be afraid, but I will think of this time in my life and say to myself “Well, we did that. Let’s do this.”
You did it.
Almost. I have a few months left, but when I’m done, this will be the thing that gets me through everything. I’ll be going back to school and everyone says how hard that is, but I will think of the drive and determination that brought me here and kept me here and I will pull those up and say “Okay, well. We can do this. We can do anything.”

 

Article: The Sounds I Hate (but might miss anyways)

  • The Class Bell What is this? High school? Why do we need to have a bell that signals class starting, break starting, break ending, class ending, and everything in between? More importantly, why is it a fifteen-second song that still plays on the weekends and over the holidays when the students have all gone home and the school is closed?!
  • The Back-up Sounds of carts, cars, and various other motor vehicles It’s a sentence. Not just a beep beep but like an entire sentence. I imagine it says “Watch out, bitches, I’m backing up and if you don’t move, I’ll back up right over you.”
  • Car horns A taxi drives past me, it honks. Oh, but there’s three people walking ahead of me, so it honks at them, too. And those two people across the street? Honk. Oh great, here comes another taxi. IF I WANTED A RIDE, I WOULD’VE RIDDEN WITH THAT TAXI YOU CAN STILL SEE YOU DON’T NEED TO HONK AT ME
  • High-pitched screaming and squealing I live at a school inhabited by teenage girls. ‘Nuff said.
  • “Hello, teacher.” This sentence usually is uttered when I am well past the person and walking in the opposite direction or when I’m peacefully trying to eat my dinner and someone sits across from me to stare at me with big blank eyes as I try to eat my noodles. It’s usually followed by my second-least favorite sentence: “I’m sorry my English is so bad.” Then go away, I’m eating.
  • “Hello, picture?” I don’t know you, please don’t ask me for my picture that’s really weird please let me just walk through the Summer Palace/to the store/through the store/outside on the side walk/to the bus/off the bus/everywhere in peace. I have a feeling at least one-fourth of the Chinese populace have seen my picture by now, with the number of people who want to take it. They really don’t think it’s weird.

Article: A List of Things I’m Really Glad I Brought with Me (and Some I Wish I’d Brought)

  • Nasal Decongestant
    • Okay so I had trouble with breathing through my nose when I was in the US but it was nothing like living near Beijing. There are days when the pollution here is so bad I can’t see the line of trees just across the road from my bedroom window. Those days, I stay inside. But when I get back from Beijing, I’m so happy I can clean out my nose and get all that black air out of there. If you’re coming to China and living in/near a city, this is a must!
  • Alka Seltzer Cold Plus
    • My family swears by this stuff when we’re getting sick and I am so happy I brought some with me. Now when I can feel the tinges of a sickness coming on, I don’t have to hear about “Chinese Traditional Medicine” from the adults, I can say “Oh, no I’ve got some medicine, thanks.” If you’ve seen Chinese Traditional Medicine, you’ll know what I’m talking about….
  • Aspirin
    • I did not bring enough with me because I can’t buy just a bottle of ibuprofen at the supermarkets here. When I can find it, it’s expensive and there’s not many tablets in the package. I now am hoarding my aspirin.
  • Sunscreen
    • Not really a problem on the super pollutiony days, but when I was in Hong Kong my ginger paleness could not handle that sun. But I left my sunscreen at home. Thankfully, I found my favorite brand in a shop by chance because all of the Chinese sunscreen has whitening agent in it. (AKA snails. There’s snails in the sunscreen.)
  • My Laptop
    • The computer supplied to me by the school is old and slow along with every other computer at this school. At least the one they gave me is in English? I guess…
  • Kraft Mac and Cheese Powder Packets
    • I’m definitely buying some Kraft Mac and Cheese before I go to Ireland because I know for a fact macaroni and cheese isn’t a thing there. I could still make stovetop mac at least because I had access to cheese, but there is a disturbing lack of cheese in China. I just want cheese!
  • Non-Chinese Tea
    • It’s so expensive here and kind of hard to find a variety of, so when I moved here I brought with me lots of Irish tea. When I leave China, I plan to buy lots of Chinese tea to bring back with me. I really have a thing for tea. Like, my apartment has no food, but it’s got tea!
  • Perseverance
    • I spent the first few weeks in China absolutely terrified. “What if I can’t get to the supermarket? What if I can’t go to the bank? What if I can’t get home from where I am?” A lot of it was self-doubt. I cried a lot. I wanted to go home. I was ready to give up. But I said I would do this, and so I would. Maybe that’s stubbornness. Maybe they’re the same thing. All that matters is seven months later and I’m still here. There’s nothing I can’t do. Well, except speak Chinese.
  • Taking “It’s Good Enough” for an Answer
    • “60 students?! for 2 hours?! Most of whom speak as much English as I speak Chinese?!” Now we do 1 hour of lecture and 1 hour of a movie in English with Chinese subtitles. I slow down how I speak and simplify my grammar and use incorrect grammar because that’s the grammar they use and are used to, so watching a movie in English will help them get used to listening to it at full speed. Plus, what the hell am I supposed to do with them for two hours (from 7-9 at night) after they’ve been in class since 8 or 9 in the morning? I feel bad for the kids when I think of my university schedule.
  • Not Taking “It’s Good Enough” for an Answer
    • I’ll be honest. I’ve always been that way. I lived on campus all four years at university and I was always the roommate to call maintenance. I bet I annoyed the shit out of them. But if I was given something and told it would work, guaranteed, I was going to take them up on that guarantee. So when I was told my apartment would be up to my foreign standards, I was going to take them up on that guarantee. (Plus, it was in the contract.) When autumn was becoming winter, my apartment was unbearably cold. (Imagine a standard 4-person dorm apartment on campus with tile floors, blank white walls, and large windows and you’ve pretty much got my apartment. Which I live in alone.) I found that using the toilet with my winter coat was still too cold. So I complained. They brought me another duvet, which helped. Then it was winter. The radiators weren’t on. So I complained. Now my radiators run and my apartment is warm.
    • Basically, people will take advantage of you if you keep your mouth shut. If you’re unhappy and were given different expectations, don’t keep your mouth shut.

Article: The Book Continues, Chapter by Chapter

As I sit in the little cafe I found in the University City, I read my book and drink my tea (Earl Grey), realizing that I like the sounds of Chinese coffee shops better than their Western counterparts. This one is full of students, if rather small, but they’re all so easy to tune out. Granted, it wasn’t difficult when I was in the US, but it’s considerably easier here. And I know why: I can’t understand them.

When I first got here all the Chinese was overwhelming, but I’ve reached the point where I’ve gotten used to it. I can sit with a group of people who don’t speak English and feel only slightly out of place. Partially because the people I now sit with occasionally translate for me, but mainly because I’ve gotten used to the way Chinese sounds. Even though I still can’t understand even half of a conversation that’s happening near me, the language doesn’t really sound foreign anymore.

Before I came here, my experience with culture shock was limited to hearing about it or reading about it online. Now, I’ve lived it. And after six months here, I’m beginning to imagine how the reverse culture shock is going to go. It won’t be as bad as the initial culture shock because I’ll only be in China for a year, but I can already tell I’ll go through it, if only to the extent of jet lag and wonder at how clean even the dirtiest thing seems in comparison.

Along with these realizations is an awareness of how much I’ve changed since I’ve been here. Although China isn’t the place for me and I haven’t enjoyed being here as much as I thought I would, it’s still been a great experience. In getting a fresh start in a country where the people don’t understand me, I’ve learned who I am and who I want to become, even though I graduated from college without a boyfriend and without trying to obsessively hold on to what we are told are the “best years of your life.” Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret a single day, a single choice, or a single experience of my college career, but it’s over.

If I’ve learned anything from my obsessive reading, it’s that all chapters end. My college chapter has ended and so too will my Chinese chapter. And that’s okay, because the book’s not finished yet. I was terrified when I graduated because I thought I needed a plan, I needed something next, but I don’t. The book will continue, chapter by chapter, and some days I know what chapter is next and sometimes I have no freaking clue.

That’s okay. Life goes on.