The Adventure Continues

11:53 PM

The past eighteen months of my life have taken me across 26 countries, 50+ cities, and to countless tiny cafes, including the one I’m writing this in, located in Southern Taiwan, surrounded by new friends and avoiding writing a Chinese presentation on the agriculture of New York. But I suppose to tell you that story, I first need to start with this one….

When I explain what this year and a half of my life has been like, people’s first question is generally “Wait, so how did you do this?” Not an easy question to answer, as it is kind of a long story, but I hope to give it my best shot here. It’s also a chance for me to do a giant photo dump interspersed with words, which is one of the best blog post formats there is. Please enjoy the following very  brief description of where I went, who I saw, and what I ate, and know that each place I mention here frankly deserves its own blog post, if not its own blog.

January 2017

In January I set off for a study abroad semester at Leiden University in Leiden, the Netherlands. I took classes in Dutch culture, anthropology, religion studies, and museum curation. In the Netherlands, I made friends from around the world, including a very special group comprised of a Texan, a Virginian, a Finnish gal, and a Scottish guy. Together with some other key characters we ate fries with mayonnaise and frequented the local bar Einstein’s international student night.
The best vriendjes a girl could ever have
 In February, not even a month after arriving in Holland I hopped on an overnight bus with my dear friend Carolyn to Paris, where I also spent time with my friend Alexandra, who is another WAC student studying abroad at the American Business School of Paris.
Croissant etc
Later in February, I went with Carolyn to Vienna, where we spent three beautiful days wandering around eating cake and staring at gorgeous buildings. Also in Vienna I met up with James, one of my YES Abroad Malaysia batch-mates, who I hadn’t seen in four years.
Very happy in Vienna 
In March my best friend from high school came to visit me in Holland! We ate a lot of cheese, played tourist in Amsterdam, and took a day trip to Brussels with Carolyn where we overdosed on Belgian waffles. Later that month my family also visited the Netherlands which was such a cool experience!
Just two lactose sensitive gals taking on cheese stores
Later in March I took my first solo trip to Sarajevo, Bosnia, where I met up with current YES Abroad students and YES Abroad alum Emma. The weekend was filled with Bosnian coffee, cevapi, and learning about the history of the Balkan conflicts that shaped Sarajevo into the city it is today.
Emma and I at a rooftop cafe in Sarajevo 
The next weekend I returned to the Balkans to celebrate Carolyn’s friend’s birthday with her in Belgrade, Serbia. Another hidden gem of Europe, plus the birthplace of the very cool Nikola Tesla.
Also home to some pretty cool Orthodox architecture
Budapest, Hungary was a long weekend getaway with Carolyn and the Virginian Adam, where we learned a lot about Hungarian culture, history, and nightlife. If you’re wondering, yes, a lot of hungry in Hungary jokes were made.
Three pals 
To round out my string of B visits (Brussels, Bosnia, Belgrade, Budapest) my (now ex) boyfriend's family included me on a family trip to Berlin. They were Dutch so the entire weekend was filled with German-Dutch language, bratwurst, beer, museums, and roast duck that was worth writing home about.

To round out one of the most joy-filled semesters of my life, Carolyn and I backpacked around South Europe for two weeks, hitting Lisbon (Portugal), Barcelona and Madrid (Spain), Rome and Milan (Italy), and Lugano (Switzerland). We drank sangria, ate Iberian ham, drank tiny cups of espresso, and hit a ridiculous amount of step counts each day. Did I mention the gelato? There was a lot.
Lake Lugano swimming spot our lovely Couchsurfing host Brian took us to 
Around this time I was planning to study abroad in South Africa for the next semester, but got caught up in a very complicated visa process that probably would have cost me over one thousand dollars to successfully complete. Instead of returning to the US for a semester, I decided to stay in the Netherlands, but move to a different city for a different experience…

July 2017
In mid-July I left my studio apartment in Leiden and moved to a shared student accommodation in the heart of the Hague. I acquired a new bike, dealt with a disappearing washing machine, and made friends with my flatmates—a law student from Aruba and a musician from Rotterdam. My boyfriend (now ex) was working in the south of the Netherlands at this time so I spent a lot of time exploring the city on my own and working on the beast that is the Dutch language. I went home for two weeks to see my family and eat guacamole, something lacking in the entirety of Europe.
Downtown Den Haag
The end of August brought a new wave of international students to Leiden University, and I served as a group leader for a wonderful group of 20 students from around the world. One of my good friends and an awesome YES alum also moved back to the Hague around this time and I got to catch up with him which was a neat opportunity! And he cooked me Malaysian food, so of course I was a happy gal.
Eating sweet potato fries but thinking bout nasi lemak 
This semester, I took classes in archaeology where I met some great Dutch folks from the north of the country, as well as classes in Statistics and Economics, which despite my humanities-minded brain, were not too bad.
Dissecting a deer for an experimental archaeology class
Coincidentally, one of my long time family friends was interning in the Netherlands this semester, and we went to Oktoberfest together, with one of my most ambitious travel itineraries yet: 9 hours on an overnight bus to Munich arriving in the early morning, a day spent at Oktoberfest, drinking very large steins of beer, followed by an 11-hour bus ride back to the Hague that same night. It was, to be honest, pretty miserable but very worth it.
Note: I did not wear my dirndl for the 11 hour bus ride
In November I visited London and Edinburgh where I got to see one of my very first friends at WAC during her study abroad semester, and also visited my Scottish friend. I was rained on, windblown, and thoroughly broke, thanks to the comparatively strong pound sterling.
WAC ladies in London!
I visited the Netherland’s northernmost and southernmost province and had my pants charmed off by canals and windmills and flowers alike.
Exploring Groningen
I cooked my boyfriend’s family a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at the end of November, almost entirely on my own, with several frantic phone calls to my parents back home about how on earth one cooks a turkey.

My last month in the Netherlands brought as many kroketten as I could possibly eat and a goodbye party where all my favorite people in the Netherlands were in one room together. The final guest list included other exchange students from my college, my boyfriend, his brother, his brother’s girlfriend, my boyfriend’s best friend and his girlfriend, my friend from Malaysia and his significant other, students from my OWL group, classmates, roommates, and enough snacks and Heineken to feed a small army. It remains one of the happiest nights of my life and I’ll always treasure the incredible feeling of having so many people I love in one room.
Leaving my dear bike was one of the saddest goodbyes
Christmas was spent stateside with family in Maine, just like almost every year of my life. Traditions include a Christmas Eve party, church service, and eating Chinese food on Christmas Day.

January 2018

On January 1st, I flew to India with two of my college professors and ten of my peers to learn about the music, dance, and culture of Northern India while also pursuing an individual research project on India’s textile markets.
Mosque attire in Delhi
From India, I flew to China for my third study abroad semester, this time in Beijing. At Peking University I participated in a program through the China Studies Institute, where I took intensive Chinese classes, classes on Chinese economy and social stratification, while also interning at a non-proft based in China’s developing philanthropy sector. About 22 students participated in this program, from colleges across the US, and the group ended up being like a big family, which was beautiful to be part of. After taking a year off of Chinese while studying in Holland, this semester pushed me in the best ways possible and boosted my language skills and confidence in speaking Chinese to the next level. During the semester I visited my friend from WC and her family to celebrate Spring Festival in Xi’an, ventured to see cherry blossoms in Wuhan, and took a day trip to Tianjin. A lot of very cool people lived in my dorm and I took trips with them too!
Emma and my very first matching outfit at Beijing Olympic park
The last two weeks of the semester, all CSI students traveled around China studying different topics—my group’s was Buddhism, which took us from Beijing to Luoyang to Xi’an to Xi’ning to Lhasa, Tibet, finally to Chengdu before heading back to Beijing.  Seeing different Chinese cultures and taking a 25 hour train ride (the highest in the world by elevation) was a beautiful  ending to the semester.
Ptola Palace in Lhasa, Tibet
After China I flew with two of my classmates including my dear roommate Claire, to Japan where we ate so much sushi and took on the busy streets of Tokyo, the gleaming temples of Kyoto, and the hungry deer of Nara, all while speaking almost no Japanese. I also met up with two WC students, including one who was my former Chinese TA!! Small world.
Shinto Shrines in Tokyo 
I then headed off on my own to Brunei, where I saw oil-rich splendor in the form of golden mosques and extravagant palaces, before returning to my beloved Malaysia which was so special that it definitely deserves, and hopefully actually might receive its own blog post. Highlights included returning to Ipoh to see my host family, witnessing a historic election, and catching up with the people that made my study abroad there so incredible.
With my former teachers in Ipoh
From Malaysia I flew to Vietnam where I met previously mentioned dear friend Carolyn, from where we began five weeks of backpacking across Southeast Asia, hitting Hanoi, Vietnam, KL and Melaka, Malaysia, Yangon, Myanmar, Siem Reap Cambodia, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, and Phuket, Thailand, Luang Prabang, Laos, Cebu, the Phillipines, before ending up in Beijing, China. I promise a post on this trip later, but for now I can tell you it was a once in a lifetime experience, and Southeast Asia will always hold a very special place in my heart. And I owe so much of this trip’s memories due to spending time with Carolyn and our never-ending quest to seek out vegetarian restaurants across the subcontinent.
Yangon Pagoda
And now? In February I received news that I was selected for a scholarship to study Chinese in Taiwan. After four months on the mainland, living in Taiwan is a good change of pace, although switching from simplified to traditional characters may be the death of me. I am enjoying putting in hours of studying every day while sipping bubble tea, and look forward to an upcoming service learning trip to interview indigenous Taiwanese people displaced after Taiwan’s devastating 2009 typhoon.
Friends!! Temples!!
Life is good, and busy, and crazy, but there are so many great people in it, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to be where I am, surrounded always by people I care about, doing what I love, and sending that love right back into the universe.


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