The GoGlobal Blog

Month: March 2017

Tree Lined Streets

Tree Lined Streets

Saigon paints a deep and intricate portrait of the past; it just takes looking a little closer. The streets, as in other Vietnamese cities, are typically named after heroes and heroines that contributed significantly to Vietnam and its history. Of the 3,600 roads crisscrossing Saigon, many carry fictional stories of ancient utopian cities, while others detail significant women warriors. Even the countless trees that line the city blocks have stories to tell. Looming over nearly every street in Saigon, they create a unique canopy that frames the hustle and bustle of the city perfectly. Originally products of French imperialism, the trees were planted to contain the disorderly environment and were an attempt to give the cities structure. The shards of glass that haphazardly poke up from the walls throughout district 10 are also reminiscent of French domination – a solution to wanting to keep unwanted people out without using barbed wire. Cities like Da Lat and Hanoi show powerful reminders of French imperialism through city planning – with the goal being to make Vietnam the ‘pearl of Southeast Asia’. In Da Lat, for instance, the French replaced large swaths of the jungle with tall pine trees. On a 6-hour motorbike tour of Da Lat, a city initially developed in the 1900’s as a resort by the French, I felt a strange mixture comforted by the pines and disgust with the echoes of colonialism represented by a luscious jungle on one side of the valley and tall pines on the other. In Hanoi, the city squares and romantically styled buildings can still be seen today. The old French buildings that once belonged to a single regime are now conserved and used by the Vietnamese, exhibiting a careful and harmonic combination throughout the city.

In contrast, learning more about how deeply the US impacted the development of Vietnam left me wondering how I was ever supposed to fit in. Being a foreigner here is unlike any other experience I’ve had; the language barrier is so strong I am often unsatisfied with the depth of interactions I can manage. Settling into a routine is one thing, but being accepted into a community is another altogether. Having my host partner walk with me and simply speak a mechanics shop owner, Ha, opened a whole new world gave the hint of life to a city that seemed so impartial to foreigners. Ha’s story was certainly a hidden gem, without a translator, it might have never been found. Ha fled communist China only to enter Vietnam’s version of it early on; she speaks Chinese, Vietnamese, and has been taking English courses for the past 2 years. Within the first 10 minutes of meeting her, we were welcomed with open arms and offered dinner. Hearing Ha’s story added a fresh perspective on the people I interact with, how many amazing stories will I never hear because of such a strong language barrier?

In contrast, the littlest interactions show how Vietnam is clinging to traditional ideals. For instance, Confucian gender roles still play a large part in the functioning of Vietnamese society. Confucian tradition holds that men should be the ones handling a majority of money and dealing with transactions. In daily life, this means I get flustered when the bahn mi lady disgruntedly waves my 20,000dong aside and gestures to her husband, who mutters something while grabbing my change. Understanding the reasons for why the interaction plays out the way it does fails to make it any less unsettling. Similarly, the refusal to simply not add beef/shrimp/egg on a traditional dish like ‘pho’ because then it simply isn’t ‘pho’ reflects a perplexing resilience to small changes. You don’t change pho and still get to call it pho.

Despite all of this, the country shows its eagerness to transition into a major player in southeast Asia, readily adopting laws and measures that would make it more friendly to tourists. Two weeks after outlawing food carts on sidewalks, the district 10 I have come to know and love has already changed. Countless Vietnamese earn their livelihoods through food carts and stands scattered throughout street corners or being pushed along the roads. For tourists, the added appeal of finding the noodle lady, or risking a long night on the toilet for the dare that comes with eating street food adds a unique allure. Street food gives tourists and locals alike a chance to build community, to rub shoulders over a bowl of noodles swimming in chicken broth. Food carts are now more mobile than ever, police cars send people sprinting at breakneck speeds to hide their carts in order to avoid fines, and the rapid busyness of the streets are slowing down. The banh mi lady that knew my vegetarian order every morning on the way to class now has two family members keeping watch on the street corner, while she hands me my Banh mi’s from behind a bush.

The whole appeal of coming to Vietnam was because it is, in a sense, shrouded in mystery. Even saying the name of the country left a bitter taste in the older generations’ mouths, and the question of, why? Why venture into a country that divided the nation and brings up vague images of substance abuse, PTSD, and the shame associated with using Agent Orange? As an American studying here, I am not only reminded of how much the US shaped the country, but also the long reactionary history of the Vietnamese. I was expecting to be met with far more animosity and distrust, how could I be accepted in a nation the US worked to destroy. Talking to Vietnamese students, however, gives a wide range of reactions. Many students feel the need to globalize and reach beyond the borders of Vietnam. In fact, many Vietnamese students closely followed the US presidential race and were interested in sharing their thoughts about it. Outside of my dorm, reminders of US intervention comes in various forms, from wacky t-shirts sported by Vietnam’s youth to singing slightly outdated songs like “Impossible,” “Just Give Me A Reason,” or “Everytime We Touch” in karaoke bars and on blasting from speakers on street corners. Although younger generations readily accept the call to globalize, the country as a whole is struggling between yearning for modernization and keeping their tradition.

Learning more about my home for the past three months has certainly added perspective and given me more empathy for why things are the way that they are. The feeling of being ‘other’ lessens the more I learn about Saigon, and district 10. There is a certain element of comfort that comes from being constantly uncomfortable all the time. There are many ways to make a place feel like home, to make it familiar to the point of never wanting to leave. Tying experiences and memories to landmarks is one way; for a place with a time limit like this, finding out more about the streets I walk regularly and the trees that loom over them was my method of finding comfort in an environment that isn’t easy to navigate. Dig a little deeper into your “normal,” even if you’re not sure you’ll ever find it.


Time to (Santia)go to school

Time to (Santia)go to school

After an entire month of traversing essentially the entirety of Chile, I was definitely ready to get back into the routine of being a student. However, to take a page from The Wizard of Oz’s book, “we’re not at Loyola anymore.” School in Chile, and more specifically at Universidad Alberto Hurtado, is kind of wild. You sign up for a bunch of classes and then drop the ones you don’t want. Professors and students show up 5-20 minutes late to each class (Chilean time is too real). Students cook food and sell it on the very small, very crowded campus. The wifi will inevitably not work.  It is a learning experience and takes some patience, but vale la pena because you also learn cool things and meet interesting people.

It certainly hasn’t been easy. Some professors are hard to understand, while others are extremely conscientious of the intercambio students and will speak slowly and repeat things often. We don’t have access to the UAH equivalent of Sakai yet, which has been a blessing in disguise, as it forces us to make friends with the other students in our classes. The students here are generally extremely friendly and really willing to help us (one even called out to me when we passed each other on the steps of the metro!). I’ve also been able to meet other international students from all over – Germany, Belgium, France, Mexico, Venezuela, and Brazil.

Part of the program at UAH is a class called Pobreza y Desarrollo, which is a class that focuses on the issues facing Latin America from a social, political, and theological perspective.  It also involves volunteering at an organization for four hours each week, immersing the students in parts of Santiago that are less developed than the ones in which we live and study.  So starting tomorrow, I will be heading out of my little Santiago bubble and beginning to work at my service site, where I will be hanging out with kids and teens. Vamos a ver, I’m super excited to start and encounter a new community.

While life has certainly slowed down some since the traveling has stopped, it has been anything but boring. What have I been up to, you might ask? Let me fill you in:

  • Hiking Cerro Manquehito and admiring my beautiful city from above
  • Planning a surprise party for a dear friend with the help of her sneaky host mom
  • Exploring the exhibits of Museo Nacional de Las Bellas Artes
  • Baking Irish soda bread with my friends and host sister to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day
  • Finding real coffee in a country that seems to only have two extremes: instant and espresso
  • Eating a Santiago delicacy: a strawberry fields waffle from Buffalo Waffles (imagine this: a waffle filled with nutella, dulce de leche, strawberries, bananas, and topped with whipped cream…heaven)

While I will be back on the road again this weekend traveling with my parents, it’s nice to be growing some deeper roots in Santiago. Stay tuned to hear more about my many adventures to come!

Chao, ¡nos vemos!

First Trip of the semester: Kraków, Poland

First Trip of the semester: Kraków, Poland

Here it is finally: my blog post for my first trip of the semester! Took me a while to sit down and write it properly…

Kraków, Poland January 26th-31st.

I never in a million years thought I would travel to Poland, let alone Kraków, a city I had never even heard of. There wasn’t any particular reasoning, it was more that I knew nothing of the country and therefore had no desire to travel there.

Serendipity always catches me when I least expect it. Some night in the beginning of the semester, a lot of us were all hanging out in our friend Zach’s apartment. I remember distinctly sitting on his desk when my roommate Cami and our friend Nick said let’s go to Poland. In the matter of an hour, we had booked flights and accommodation—it was all so surreal! As I do when I get excited, I started shrieking with joy, almost bouncing off Zach’s desk. It was going to be my first trip of the semester, for 6 entire days, with 5 other strangers who I would soon call my good friends. Poland here we go!

Like I mentioned, I went to Kraków with five people: Cami (roommate, Argentina), Will (North Dakota, USA), Zach (Michigan, USA), Sam (Adelaide, Australia), and Nick (Auckland, New Zealand). These were still people I barely knew and yet I was about to travel to a different country with them—utter craziness.

The trip began with an early morning, meeting outside the local grocery store, Rema, at approximately 6:00am. Ironically, Sam; the eccentric and lovable Australian, otherwise known as Sammy K, Gutten (The Boy, in Norwegian), and various other names; happens to not show up. Turns out, in anticipation for our big journey, he had woken up at 4am only to fall asleep again and miss his alarm. He miraculously got ready in 10-ish minutes and then we were all set to go, even though Sam was upset he couldn’t perfect his hairstyle for the day (he really loves his hair).

It was funny how little we knew about where to go and what to do to get to the airport. Thankfully Cami is a strong, take-charge Argentinian and while at Oslo Central Station she found a nice gentleman who literally walked us to the Airport Express train we needed to take. While on the train, I dozed off as I was thinking about how I was already leaving Norway when I had only just moved here…

Once at the airport, we got our boarding passes. In the Norwegian airport, to get to the security line, you must scan your boarding pass. Of course, I go first and the pass I scanned wasn’t working. The machine kept saying, “Wrong airport, check boarding pass”. This cumulated in me panicking that we somehow had the wrong airport and that we were basically screwed. Luckily, Nick—who is the most responsible person I think I have ever met—happens to be the intelligent one who realizes that I was trying to scan my boarding pass for our stopover in Trondheim to Kraków, rather than Oslo to Trondheim. Thank the heavens for Nick!

On the plane, Will, Zach and I all sat separately while Cami, Nick, and Sam sat in the same row. It was nice to get some alone time to read my book before such a long trip. Like I always do, I packed an absurd amount of food to eat because I vow never to purchase anything in an airport (don’t ask why, because it is just a weird quirk I have). I gorged on my veggies, bread, and avocado while I awaited landing.

When we arrived, the guys all converted some money—I didn’t because I wanted better rates—and then we found a taxi driver to take us to our hostel. This driver was such a nice guy, and just a wonderful way to start the trip! We asked him how to say basic words in Polish, like “hello”, and “thank you”. The most important word we wanted to know was how to say “cheers” in Polish, which now I know is “Nazdrowie”, pronounced ‘nostrovia’! He told us all about the city, some cool places to go, as well as his home town that was a few hours outside the city. As we drove, I kept getting more and more excited to be in such a different place.

We finally got to our hostel and we couldn’t figure out where it was exactly. The hostel was located in what seemed like an apartment building but we had somehow found the courtyard in the center of it, rather than a front desk to check in. After a few minutes of confusion, this cute, little Polish man greeted us and showed us to our room. We had one room for all six of us with 3 bunk beds. It was cozy, to say the least! Sam and I took the bunk bed in the corner near the window, and he was kind enough to let me have the bottom bed.

Us in the courtyard of the building when we were lost trying to check in to the hostel.
The view from the window in the common area.
The crew within the first few minutes of entering our room we would call home for 6 days.

Before we had even settled in, the man (who I believe might have been the owner) came back upstairs with six complimentary shots of mint vodka—the best vodka I have ever had in my life. The hostel apparently provides one free shot of vodka a day, and unlimited malt wine—to which we took full advantage of while we were there. I told my Polish friend back in the states about it, and he said that was the most Polish thing he has ever heard. It was a great, culturally infused stay already!

Once unpacked, we left to go exploring. Our hostel was located right outside old town, with the Jewish quarter a short walk away as well. All the roads are cobblestone and the buildings are beautiful and historic. The Wawel Royal Castel and Cathedral was where we watched our first sunset in Kraków, as well as took some group photos.

The group walking in front of Wawel Castle.
S/O to Cami for capturing this candid photo of us taking in the views – Nick, me, Zach, Will, Sam
My flatmate, Cami and I.
The beautiful sunset outside the castle.

We did some of the usual touristy attractions. We went to the Schindler’s Museum, which I highly recommend, as well at toured the Wawel Royal Castel and Cathedral. To gain access we bought tickets for about $2 and it was well worth the money. The cathedral is astonishingly beautiful; however, photographs were forbidden. I snuck a quick one of one room I was in because the ceiling was just too beautiful to ever forget. I was glad we took the time to go there.

Outside the Cathedral.
The ceiling I illegally took a photo of because it was so impressively gorgeous.

The Kraków historical foundation provides free walking tours of the city to anyone who wishes to go on one to learn more about the city and its history. Nick, Cami, and I lost the other three guys when we were making our way to get lunch before our 2’oclock tour. Where they went is a story that is better told in person, but because of that setback we didn’t get lunch before the tour began. All the guys and Cami just quickly got McDonalds, but the ethical environmentalist in me would not give in to getting anything from the popular food chain, so I withheld from eating basically the entire day. The tour lasted four long hours in the cold. It was certainly interesting but as I was tired, cold, and starving, I was starting to feel closer to a zombie than an excited tourist. I never, ever miss a meal, so this was quite peculiar for me. I still remember the relief when we finally headed back to our hostel and stopped at a quaint Polish restaurant where I ate my first traditional Polish soup, that will undoubtedly, forever be the best soup I have ever eaten. (It was some fermented soup with a hard-boiled egg and sausage).

On that note, all of Poland is impeccably cheap, and we lived like kings and queens while we were there. The hostel didn’t have a kitchen, so we literally ate out at every single meal and went out on the town every night. It was a nice juxtaposition to Norway, in which absolutely everything is absurdly overpriced and I have yet to eat out even once. For breakfast, we always went to this bagel shop for delicious bagels and coffee. For lunch and dinner, we would try to eat Polish foods, or even just cheap bread that you could get on every street corner by a vender. At night, during and/or after going out, we would always get kebabs—always. I think a really good kebab is probably my favorite meal on this planet. I can’t begin to describe to you how much I miss those massive, two-dollar kebabs with fresh meat and spicy sauce. (Sadly, I have no photographs of the glorious kebabs).

The massive amount of sushi we got for dinner on the first night – Sam even befriended our waiter enough to hug him when we left!
My last dinner in Kraków – very Polish, very cheap, and very delicious!

In fact, one our favorite kebab places happened to have a shisha bar beneath it. On our third or fourth night (they kind of blend together at this point), we had gotten kebabs and then decided to spend the night chilling and talking around a big hookah. Instead however, Cami, Nick, and Sam decided they weren’t feeling it and left to go home. That left the three of us: Will, Zach and I. The owner of the bar came over at one point to offer us free tea, and then proceeded to sit down with us for one of the best two hour long conversations of my life. His name was Mustafa, an Egyptian muslim who immigrated to Poland. We talked about so many controversial topics, but in such a respectful, eye-opening manner. We discussed the racism in Poland, what his experience as a Muslim has been, his children, Israel, Syria and the refugees, and more. He was such an open, humble man and I was grateful to share that conversation with Zach and Will. We left the bar around 3am thankful for the time we had spent there.

Some other significant people I met while in Poland were two women from our hostel. One was a 21-year-old Australian, Tess, who we only were able to spend time with for one night before she left the following day for her next adventure. Tess was such a free-living person with a high degree of independence and an aura of maturity beyond her years. One word I would use to describe Tess is fiery. As she is my age, I found it fascinating to get to know her, hear her life story, and learn what she plans to do with her life.

The other woman who made an impact on me was named Brenda, a 60-year-old Brit who has traveled previously to Kraków and returned because she loves it. She, too, was intriguing to me. She had divorced about 10 years prior and now was doing what she had always wanted to do—travel and feel free. I thought she had such courage to do what she was doing, and her story, like Tess’s, really touched me. Us three talked together for hours in the hostel, before Brenda took my friends and I to a great pub in the Jewish district, called Alchemy. We later went to a club to go dancing and I could tell Brenda was having the best time. At one point, she literally pulls me aside and tells me thank you. I asked what for, and she said she was grateful that we made her feel young for the night—that we didn’t treat her as this old woman who was tagging along. I smiled and told her she was the youngest one out of all of us…

The next day, Tess had already left and Brenda was leaving in the afternoon. Before she left, I made sure I said goodbye. She gave me the warmest hug, squeezed my shoulder, and told me not to stress; that I will figure out my life in due time…

Me, Brenda, Cami, and Tess at the end of the night when we went out. 

An ironic, funny in retrospect, moment of my trip was when I woke up early one morning to go for a run. We had been out super late the night before, but I had promised myself that I was going to still go for runs while we were in Poland since we were there for such a long time. So, despite a lack of adequate sleep, I somehow woke up naturally at 9am and quietly got dressed to go for a run. Poland was even colder than Norway at the time so I dressed fairly warm and set out for a short run.

Within the first five minutes some woman stopped me and began speaking polish to me. When I said I didn’t speak polish, she waved her hands in defeat and kept walking. Confused, I started up running again. All awhile, everyone I passed kept staring at me. I was slightly uncomfortable to be honest. It made me wonder if Polish people had ever seen a runner before or something. Not 10 minutes later, another woman stopped me on the street and this time when I said I didn’t speak polish, she answered in English. Turns out that the pollution in the city was something like one-hundred times worse than usual and there was a general warning put out to stay indoors. She said I should cut my run short for my health. It scared me, so I ended up only running for 30 minutes and I held my hand over my mouth, almost like a mask, to try limit my inhalations of polluted air.

Upon returning, hence the ‘funny in retrospect’ part of the story, the hostel door was locked and no one was answering the it. I was stuck now in this freezing hallway, sweaty and hungry, with no hope of getting indoors. I messaged my friends in our group chat repeatedly starting from 10:26 to about 10:46 upon which I was just about to give up hope. I decided to knock one last time in desperation, as at this point I was violently shivering from the cold. Suddenly Brenda opens the door!! She heard my knock and apologized for not hearing it sooner (such a sweetheart). I thought I was going to cry I was so happy. I then immediately proceeded to enter our room and screamed for my friends to wake up. They awoke grumpy and confused as to why I was loudly waking them up. I explained and they laughed as they read my messages I sent them while they were sleeping. Looking back, it was pretty funny, but at the time it wasn’t the best… For your entertainment, attached below are my messages I sent to the group. They are quite amusing, now I am sitting here in my warm kitchen with a full stomach…. Again, bless Brenda, my savoir <3

The first set of messages I began to send in our group chat
The more desperate messages followed the longer I was locked outside.

On a different note, another crucial aspect of my venture to Kraków was visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau. About a week before we left, Cami asked if we would be ok with doing a six-hour tour on our second to last day. We all thought that was a good idea, but I was scared about how I would handle it. I am Jewish, and I had family members who had lived and died within the camp. Cami and the guys said they would be there for me, and I appreciated it whilst knowing it would be a difficult day.

I can’t really go into detail about everything I felt and experienced while I was there. I truly hate crying in front of people, even in front of myself for that matter, so at times I wished I were alone as we walked in and out of the buildings of the camp.

After three hours we got a break, and I had not brought any food, nor did I have any desire to eat. I knew I was probably starving, but I felt extremely sick to my stomach and couldn’t image taking a bit of anything. Sam, the sweetheart that he can be, bought me a slice of pizza without me knowing and gave it me. It was a surprisingly kind gesture that I needed to get through the last three hours of the tour.

It was a harrowing, but vital aspect of my trip, and I am grateful I was able to experience it. I highly recommend going if you are ever in Poland.

The entrance to the concentration camp – the only photo I took while there.

Now our trip was coming to a close, and it felt weird. Poland had become our home for what seemed like forever, but in reality it was only 6 days. On our last night, we ate a delicious Polish meal together to close the trip off. Mine, despite its size, cost me approximately $4, including the tea I got for dessert (sorry, still can’t get over how cheap everything was!). Some of my friends, Will specifically, mentioned how they were ready to leave and go home. I, on the other hand, was sad that we had to leave. I loved and still love Poland! I am not sure if it is because it was my first trip, or if it was actually because I loved it, however, I am more certain it is the latter. Even just writing this blog post helped me to remember all the crazy fun times we had there. Poland was the best place I have traveled thus far while studying abroad. It was such an awesome place; so beautiful, and so historical, and with a lovely group of people. I am extremely grateful for how things turned out.

Love ya, Poland. 🙂

The group: Nick, me, Zach, Will, Sam, Cami
It’s Almost Thai-Me to Go

It’s Almost Thai-Me to Go

6 weeks left. I can’t believe my flight from Saigon back to Chicago leaves in exactly 6 weeks from now. Sometimes it feels like I have 6 more months to go, and sometimes it feels like I’m supposed to have left already. My outfits have consisted of colorful pants and too-sweaty t-shirts, I have a general disdain for anyone who drives their motorbike on the sidewalk, my wallet is emptier now than I thought it was going to be, and my playlists consist of a mix of travel-inspiring and homesickness songs (Rivers & Roads, anyone?).

I was having a low week a couple of weeks ago where I really didn’t want to be in Saigon anymore, not because of Saigon itself, but just being away from my support system, (first round study abroad homesickness y’all) so I made myself a list of accomplishments. So tacky, I know, but when I looked at all of the things that I’ve done so far, the ways I’ve grown as a traveler and as a person, it’s pretty incredible what can change in the course of a couple of months.

Everyone usually hates when I remind them how much time we have left because it’s a gentle reminder of the idea of returning home and the pressure of not missing out on anything while we’re still here. In honor of the limited time left, I took advantage of this past weekend to visit the southern half of Thailand before jetting back over to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a concert. Once again, I had a day where I was in three different countries in the course of 24 hours, which is unfathomable to me seeing as before I showed up to Vietnam, I had been in ONE other country other than the US. Many expats and Viet-Kieu (Vietnamese who grew up outside of Vietnam and have returned) that I’ve met are very surprised to hear that Vietnam was my second country. As I’ve found, Vietnam is not for the weak or the faint-hearted, let alone solo-traveling around SE Asia. In all, my trip to Thailand consisted of 24 hours in Bangkok, two and a half days in Krabi, Thailand, and 24 hours in Kuala Lumpur. Here are a few of the more interesting little moments I observed in my time in Thailand:


The Wai: The Thai greeting consists of a slight bow with palms pressed together in front of you. It’s similar to the Indian namaste and the Cambodian sampeah This in itself isn’t the most interesting thing I saw, but it was the fact that as people were driving their motorbikes, they would BOW to other people as they got into another lane, kind of like the wave we do in the US. If you’ve ever driven a motorbike, you understand how difficult this is to do. Most didn’t press their hands together, but still. Also this is completely different from the way that Vietnamese drive what with the intense beeping, constant cutting off of each other, and the skillful avoidance of accidents (for the most part).

Speaking of motorbikes, I finally had a female grab driver! Since being in Vietnam I’ve had one woman taxi driver and not a single woman grab driver. Needless to say, I did a little internal fist pump. I also watched someone flossing while driving their motorbike, and also saw someone driving with an open flame in their basket. Y’all, literally ANYTHING happens on a motorbike. If you can imagine it, it happens.

The death of the king: It’s been more than 100 days, but people are still paying their respects to the King at the Grand Palace and huge murals and pictures of him are everywhere. Never have I seen such deep respect for someone who’s passed away.

Evolution: As I pulled away from the Krabi airport, I noticed there were street signs with pictures of what Krabi used to look like… 3 million years ago?? After getting in at 9pm, I had some questions.

Cute couple things: Putting in eye drops for each other, but continuously missing. I don’t know why I found this hilarious, but I guess on your fourth flight in 6 days, anything outside of the safety instruction is comic relief.

Scales outside of every convenience store: Because who doesn’t want to know what they weigh after unashamedly stuffing themselves with three rolls of oreos and cheap drinks.

Other things of interest included motorized uni-wheels, a golden monk blessing a group of small children and a husky café.

Aside from the basically normal (but interesting to me) little moments, I saw beautiful cliffs and beaches in Krabi, rock climbed until my arms gave out on an outdoor 5.10 route, and had a life-changing night at the Bethel worship night in Kuala Lumpur. I’m extremely blessed to be here in Vietnam, and it does come with its challenges. On Thursday our group heads out for 12 days on the road through Central and North Vietnam where we’ll get to see a whole different side of the country. Homesickness can be hard, but letting it stop me from taking in all that I can while I’m here is not on the agenda. I’ve been pushed to find inspiration in places I never have before and have learned what it’s like to be truly independent and how to love alone time. The lessons I’m walking away with can’t fully be captured in words, but I hope I’ll be able to hold on to what I’ve learned here long past when I return home to the States. For now, I still have more cafes to discover, more mountains to climb, more papers to write, and more life to live. Catch you on the flipside!

Here’s some more musings:

“The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there” – Vince Lombardi


Novaturient (adj): A desire to change and alter your life.

Coddiwomple (v): To travel purposefully towards a vague destination.

Table for one, please

Table for one, please

The average college students Spring break is normally spent with dozens of their closest friends, traveling to a tropical place involving lots of sun, sleep, and partying- right? As the non traditional girl I am, I traveled to 50 degree weather – 18 degrees for the non North Americans- France with nothing but my laptop, camera, and tiny carry on suitcase. No travel buddies. No cell phone data. Nothing but me, myself, and I. Seems scary, right? WRONG.

My original plan was to meet my friend in London for the second half of my Spring Break, but I decided to take the off beaten path and leave early to do some exploring by myself. I was, in fact about to jump on a plane and travel to another English speaking country and I really just wanted a little time to myself- or an excuse to do something I had never done. I had never been to France, somewhere that has always called me to travel to, and I knew that even if I had the opportunity to travel to Paris in the future, the experience for seeing the country for the first time wouldn’t be the same if I saw it with friends. So, I booked a last minute connection from Rome-Paris and packed my bags for an adventure of a lifetime.

For context, I partially knew the French language- Thanks to my amazing high school French teacher, Madame Dykes (repos en paix, doux ange). Even with enough French to get by, I have never had the opportunity to speak it in a live situation, besides the few times I would translate simple words on makeup boxes for customers at Sephora (but believe me “eau de toilet” or “gel douche pour femme” doesn’t prepare you for social situations). It didn’t help that I would also confuse my newfound Italian knowledge when replying to waiters like, “si” instead of the obvious “oui”. No matter, I still mustered up the courage to order everything in the best American accented French that I could and it worked every time- expect the first few times when I would say “io… oops I mean je… uhhh scusi moi, je parle anglais”

So being in a city for a little over 24 hours wasn’t enough to immerse myself in its culture, but I wanted to try to gain as much French street knowledge as I could during my time so I booked an Airbnb Experience – a new creation on Airbnb’s websites that allows you to book tours, dinners, or excursions in the cities you’re traveling to. I decided to book an art gallery tour and dinner at Les Frigos, a famous art gallery from the 80’s and 90’s that still houses the studios and galleries of well renowned Parisian artists. I took a short tour of 4 amazing artist who answered all of my silly questions, like “what material is this made out of?” and even entertained me with stories behind some of their ongoing projects. I surprisingly was the only one on this tour- mainly because it was Thursday and it was Fashion Week, so I assume #priorities for locals and other tourist were elsewhere- but it made for a more intimate time with the artists which I appreciated. I even got to play with one of the artist’s dogs– a win in my book. One artist in particular was Italian and thought it would be fun to tell his part of the tour in Italian once he realized I was studying in Rome, which I somehow completely understood (I’m guessing Italian 102 really is retaining???) and even held a conversation with him- funny how small the world is sometimes.

I ended the night with a fantastic Parisian dinner, hosted by my new friend, Emilie of The Office, La Table d’Hotes. She owns her own dinner hosting service, where people are invited to share a classic 4 course French meal at her table that is housed inside her father’s old art studio on Les Frigos. We talked over wine, munching on real hors d’oeuvres and discussed everything from outrages American wedding proposals to French cuisine and culture and dined with two other guests who brought even more amazing conversation to the table.

I left Les Frigos feeling more cultured, very welcomed, and most of all like I accomplished something on my own that I never would have in the past. Never in my life would I have had the guts to book a plane ticket to Paris- let alone go there by myself. To travel on the tube navigating my way without data or Google Maps, more impotatntly. Walking into neighborhoods where I knew not one person. Seeing sights on my time. Exploring my new favorite place on Earth…until now. A Bientot, Paris.

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Defining Modern Vietnam

Defining Modern Vietnam

Vietnam is not a country that is easy to categorize or define. It is a place full of perplexing contradictions and subtly hidden answers to them. Despite living here for two months now, the only thing I feel like I can accurately portray to everyone at home about Vietnam is everything I do not understand.

Just mentioning the country still tends to leave a bitter taste in the mouths of many Americans who lived through the era of the Vietnam War. It serves as an unsettling reminder of our futile and costly attempt to halt the spread of communism—what was once perceived to be our nation’s greatest threat. Surprisingly, though, I have found that today, in many ways, Vietnam is no longer very “communist” at all. Besides the hammer and sickle flags and propaganda plastered on billboards, it’s hard to find other tangible remnants of the Marxist-Leninist revolution. While the Communist Party of Vietnam (CVP) still manages to hold onto the reins of power, its modern-day rhetoric leaves one with a sense of dissonance.

The anti-Western sentiments that once fueled the revolution have been lost to an enchantment and arguably even an obsession with consumerism and Western culture. In fact, it was the failure of the regime’s centrally planned economy that warranted the revitalization of the free market and open door policies otherwise known as the Doi Moi that purposefully abandoned the main tents of communism in order for both the regime and the Vietnamese people to survive.

Because of this, within Vietnamese society lies a palpable sense of nostalgia for tradition and a thirst for modernization. It is this juxtaposition that makes Vietnam such a fascinating and often baffling place to navigate. The Vietnamese identity is somewhat of a reaction to a history of imperialist influences—first China, then France, and finally US. Upon perusing the motorbike-filled streets, it is not uncommon to see women in traditional rice hats and tunics riding right next to youth sporting trendy graphic tees emblazoned with English phrases and Western logos. Popular American songs that were once banned by the CVP can now be heard blasting from karaoke bars, boutiques, and coffee shops all over Saigon. It is hard not pass down any street without being greeted by Western Capitalism in the form of KFCs, Dominos, and Circle Ks. Supermarket aisles are lined with goods like Oreos, Ritz crackers, and Coca Cola.

The Vietnamese youth of today embody the spirit of globalization. Many of the students I have met express enthusiasm for learning English, international entrepreneurship, and even moving to the West. As an American, I expected to be greeted with much more resentment than I have; how could I not serve as a glaring symbol of both privilege and imperialism in a country that had faced so much devastation at the expense of my own? Nevertheless, the idea of America somehow manages to stand as a glimmering symbol of both hope and opportunity in the eyes of many Vietnamese. I often feel that much of Vietnam’s persona today is characterized by this sort of optimistic yearning for the future. As the country witnesses such rapid and expansive development, many hope it will bring a better quality of life, one that is similar to life in the West.

How Westerners themselves could possibly ever fit into this newly molded modern Vietnamese narrative, though, has yet to be determined. In fact, I do not think we are necessarily meant to. Even though this society is riddled with reminders of home, they’ve all been carefully curated to the taste of the Vietnamese. As an outsider, I’m constantly met with stares that ask, What are you doing here? Some of these stares are purely curious, wondering what my purpose here could possibly be. Some of them carry an air of suspicion with them. Others are invasive, coming from men who are unfazed by my awareness or even my sneers.

This happens especially in the neighborhood I live in, District 10, which is far removed from the tourist-clad streets of District 1 where you’ll find the iconic Independence Palace, bustling markets full of souvenirs, and streets that could sometimes pass as downtown LA. District 10 is unforgivingly Vietnamese. It finds its identity in its crumbling sidewalks (due to too many motorbikes taking shortcuts across them) and its pop-up banh mi stands run by the same ladies day in and day out.

Being a foreigner here gets exhausting and that is simply because that is all I am meant to be in this culture: an outsider. As an American, I always struggle with this idea while traveling abroad. Even though my country is intended to be a place for people from all sorts of backgrounds, many other countries are not. The challenge is learning to appreciate a place knowing you will never really understand or be a part of it. As I mark the halfway point of my journey here, I am reminding myself to bear this in mind.

I’m almost at the two month mark. WOW.

I’m almost at the two month mark. WOW.

Hi all!

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post. I apologize for not writing on this blog more than I should. I write more on my personal blog. If you would like to read that blog, I will post a link down below when I finish writing this. But anyways, happy Thursday! Every Thursday marks the start of a weekend for me. Studying abroad in Spain has given me the opportunity of being able to see all types of new things that I don’t think I would be exposed to back in the states. And I guess you know what I mean if you have been away from home for a really long time. There is so much history and culture in Europe and I am trying my best to go to as many places I can in my short time here. I recently had Winter break on my campus and I had the privilege to visit France. I stayed in Paris, but I was able to visit Versailles as well.

I was able to visit the following places:

Eiffel Tower


Arc de Triomphe

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Musée de Louvre


Palace of Versailles


Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris

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The Catacombs of Paris

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Disneyland Paris


and others that I cannot remember the name at this time.

It was such an AMAZING EXPERIENCE! I had a wonderful time. France will be one of the many trips I hold in my heart dearly for the rest of my life because I never thought I’d actually be able to see the other side of the world. I’m so blessed to be able to have this experience of studying abroad in Europe and being able to travel to places I’ve dreamed of since I was young. The language barrier was difficult, but I got through it with my friends by my side. 

I’ll include some pictures from my France trip on this post. And here is the link to my personal blog if you want to give it a read:


‘Sta logo! 🙂

(^ this literally is a shortened version of ‘hasta luego’ that Spanish people say as a form of goodbye).


Go on a Study Trip if you’re Hip !

Go on a Study Trip if you’re Hip !

(I’m sorry … that title was painful to type… )

ANYWAYS … three weekends ago, I got the opportunity to go on a study trip to Malta with 18 other JFRC students !!

First of all … what are ‘study trips’? Well, they are these trips that JFRC plans each semester and all you have to do is signup and pay for your part of the deal! They plan everything and literally all you have to do is show up! Okay, now that may not seem like a big deal to you BUT when you only have 14 weekends in Europe and until this past summer the only country you had been to in Europe was Greece … you begin to plan and make lists and look up flights and find things to do and try to save your money through it all and and and …. well the list could go on and on. Basically what I’m saying is that, especially when you haven’t grown up doing this, setting up short weekend trips can become exhausting SO why wouldn’t you want to go on a trip where you simply have to show up?!?!

For this semester there were SO many options as well that ranged from a spring break trip to either the Balkans or Greece all the way to an Assisi Pilgrimage !! SOOO why did pick the Malta trip … I mean where even the heck is it on a map ?!?!)

Basic facts:

Malta is an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and North Africa’s coast.

They speak English and Maltese … BUT mainly English.

Use the Euro currency.

And they drive on the other side of the road for various reasons that I will not get into right now…


WELL yes there are a lot more facts that are extremely important about Malta, however, this is all that I had heard about it when I signed up to spend a weekend there.

During this weekend I found out that, Malta is a beautiful country and there were many photo opportunities on the island. Also, per usual, I overate to the point of zero movement while still having fun. BUT, this trip was a little different than what the rest of my weekend plans would look like for the semester. How so? Simply put, it wasn’t all about me.

You see, because of it’s location, Malta has been extremely affected throughout their history with migration, and at present times this still holds true. SO … our study trip was not necessarily focused directly on us, students, but rather it gave us the opportunity to learn about something that is so much bigger than ourselves and that we don’t have to experience on a daily basis.

So during our short 3-day trip, I was privileged enough to … listen to the facts about the refugee crisis specifically in Malta … hear a heartbreaking testimony from a refugee about her journey to Malta … learn about what the Jesuit Refugee Services are doing to help undocumented migrants that come through Malta … experience the Maltese festivities of the Festival of St. Paul’s Shipwreck … appreciate all that Malta has to offer through a hike along the Dingli Cliffs … embrace the Maltese values of hospitality that were seen everywhere we went … and celebrate Mass with a refugee community.

It was truly an experience that I would never forget.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the trip was a life changing one. I was given an opportunity to peer into a life that was completely unlike my own yet I was welcomed with open arms to do so. And in the words of the refugee that shared her testimony with us, learning about the lives and experiences of others helped my peers and I to become “a little more human”.

So uhm yeah … all in all … just go on a study trip if you’re hip !!!!!