The GoGlobal Blog

Month: April 2017

Oslo’s Charlie’s Angels

Oslo’s Charlie’s Angels

Simply put, I love my roommates. Like, wow—I really love them. There are six of us total, and we had one Norwegian roommate who was a ghost before she moved out and another amazing Norwegian moved in. For clarities sake, the following are my roommates’ names and home countries:

Cami (Argentina)

Juli (Germany)

Frida (Norway)

Shannon (Ireland)

Frances (Canada)


Our last Sunday family dinner all together. Pictured is Cami, Frida, me, Julie, and Shannon (Frances was the one who took the photo).
Shannon, me, Cami, and Frances outside one of my favorite places to go on Sunday’s; a jazz bar called Blå.

Obviously, I am the only American which has been an eye-opening experience for me to live with people so vastly different than me, while simultaneously learning just how well we can mesh together as one unit despite those differences. I firmly believe, through my own experience, that one of the best advantages to directly enrolling for an exchange semester is getting to live with people who are not American.

Furthermore, there is so much my roommates have done for me and vice versa, I wouldn’t even begin to describe how grateful I am for them in one blog post, or even one full length conversation. However, I am writing this today (with Shannon and Frances sitting beside me watching the sun set over the buildings of Sogn) because things are about to change after so many months. Frances is about to leave on Wednesday back for Canada; a least a month earlier than the average international student. (I still have two whole months left—the same amount of time I spent in Iceland last summer to put things in perspective).

Thus, I am dedicating this blog to my last few days with Shannon and Frances and our friendship that grew one silly night when Shannon drunkenly offered to make us food, starting a friendship I could have never imagined would flourish in the way that it did.

One of the first pictures we took together in our apartment.

It all began towards the beginning of the semester. Cami definitely was the roommate I was closest with at the start. We traveled to Kraków together and had the same mutual friends. When she left for 10 days to go traveling, it was slightly tough for me. She was my only girlfriend in Oslo at the time because the rest of my friends are all guys; guys that I love, but it was nice to not always be the only girl and to have someone to have meaningful, engaged conversations with when I came home.

Then one night Shannon had a lot of her friends over to make and enjoy sangria. Me and Frances were soberly enjoying talking to them as they got louder and funnier the more they drank. It began almost as a bonding moment for Frances and I, just before Shannon came over. She put her arms around us, and I can literally picture her face and voice as she said in her roaring Irish accent, “I am going to make you guys food sometime!” Those words were all we needed. Over dinner just a few days later our real friendship began.

Because I can’t even put to words everything that has happened in the period between the start and end, I am going to fast forward to few days before Frances left. So bear with me, it will most likely be a little long because there is so much to say. But here’s to my last few days with such an amazing person, and to the life long memories that took place.

Friday, April 21st

All throughout the semester, we had always thrown parties at our apartment so we decided to dedicate Friday night’s gathering to Frances and her departure from Norge on April 26th. It was a really fun night, spent with good friends and mostly with each other.

Frances, very much in character, came home from a friend’s place and went to bed without even telling anyone that she had arrived. Luckily, she felt bad doing that at a party dedicated to her and she eventually came out to enjoy a fun evening. We even had a record timing for getting everyone to leave which was nice because it is always Shannon and I who stay up until everyone is gone. Shannon had to eat, and I started washing the mound of glasses while she enjoyed her meal at 3:30 in the morning—it was deemed a successful night that celebrated Frances’ exchange semester.

Frances, Shannon, and me that Friday evening in our yellow hallway.

Saturday, April 22nd

That morning, we somehow were all up and ready around the same time for once—usually it takes several hours to finally gather in the kitchen for tea and chatting. Frances, the early-bird that she is, had already gone out and bought Shannon and I a lovely pastry with a note reading, “This breakfast is sweet, but not as sweet as you”. We sat there drinking tea, enjoying both the treat and each other’s company. Frances decided that because my lucky number is 14 and Shannon’s is 6, that in 10 years (the number in the middle of the two) we must all come back to Norway together. We loved the notion and all set reminders on our phones for April 22, 2027.

Shannon and I enjoying the treat Frances bought us – she definitely shows her love by giving and sharing food to those she cares about.

Soon after we decided that, about 6 other people came and we all had brunch in our kitchen. It took a while to cook and prepare everything, but it was the most proper brunch I’ve ever prepared with a group of people outside my family.

Everyone didn’t leave until around 4pm in the afternoon from brunch and then the three of us went for a walk to Sognsvann, the lake that is about a 15-minute walk from our apartment complex. It was a beautifully sunny day, with crisp air that required a warm sweater but not anything heavier. The lake was gorgeous–it was the first time I had finally seen the water completely unfrozen. While sitting on a rock next to the simmering waters, an idea came to us from out of nowhere.

“Let’s get a tattoo together.”

It was no one person’s idea, but it was certainly more of their idea than mine; I was just enthusiastically encouraging the notion. In the period of about an hour, we had an appointment booked for Monday and everything was set to go. By some miracle, we all easily agreed on the same tattoo—something I never thought would happen or would want to happen.

After that, we proceeded to spend the rest of the night sitting together, journaling and talking, remembering the amazing times we have had together and our first impressions of each other at the beginning. It’s funny, Frances told me that she didn’t think we’d get along at first because I talked about the environment too much (lols).

Our view of Sognsvann – keep in mind this is just a 15 minute walk away from my apartment (Oslo is just fantastic!).
Frances and Shannon sitting at our kitchen table. We had completely destroyed the kitchen that day, which was highly out of character because typically we are quite clean.

Sunday, April 23rd

Now it is Sunday, the day before we got our permanent “good-bad decision” as it was soon to be denoted. We woke up super early and took part in Oslo’s “Be a tourist in your own city day” which meant all the museums were free to the public. We went to 7 different museums all over the city over the course of the day. It was such a fun, tiring day, and if you ever want to check out an extremely strange artist, hit up Robert Gober and you won’t be disappointed. Also, if you are ever in Oslo, you gotta check out the Fram museum. It is so unique and you get to explore a massive ship that is modeled after one that traveled to the North Pole for scientific expeditions.

That night we had family dinner. It was the first time all 6 of us had dinner together. Frances, Shannon, and I cooked and the other girls cleaned up afterwards. It kept feeling more and more surreal that Frances was soon to leave us….

This is the boat you can explore inside the Fram museum. It was all about the scientific explorations done in the North Pole and how the ship got stuck in Ice, extending the trip longer than expected.
We also got into the Ice bar for free! We didn’t stay long, but it was fairly cool just to get to see a bar completely made of ice and various sculptures.

Monday April 24th

Finally, Monday came. I awoke to Olso’s first snow storm in a while. Of course, after having warm weather for so long, the one day the three of us planned to spend the day outside hiking and exploring it had to be snowing. It wasn’t even regular snow though. It was the stereotypical spring snow—ya know, the extremely wet kind that soaks you just as much as if it had been raining.

I had my math class until 12 and the plan was to go meet the girls at the National Theater stop in the sentrum around 12:10. I went to class, kind of in denial that in just a few hours I would not only have something permanent on my body, but a matching tattoo at that. I don’t think I fully comprehended what I was about to do…

It figures I showed up late to meet the other two because, well, I had to get coffee before I departed the Blindern campus. They told me when I finally arrived that they wouldn’t have been surprised if I had backed out without saying anything (which I would not have done, FYI!).

We set off walking to find the tattoo parlor. Get this, it is called “Old Bastards Tattoo Oslo”—very fitting for a couple of 21-year old women, am I right? Not surprisingly we couldn’t find the place and Frances entered a near-by shop to ask for help. The place was a religious pilgrimage office, run by a cute elderly woman who was kind enough to help us find where to look. Shannon told the woman that only Frances wanted a tattoo (don’t ask me why), and the woman replied with “You’re crazy”! We couldn’t stop laughing as we left the store to keep looking for the shop.

Once outside again, I noticed the place was just around the corner and we all laughed once again at how stupid we were to have not noticed it sooner. Upon entering, the tattoo shop was just one big open room that was decorated tastefully—the opposite of uninviting. There was only one man working named Thomas. He had already printed out our designs on separate pieces of paper and I was taken aback with how fast Shannon sat down and began to have something so permanent placed on her arm.

Frances was to go second, and I last because this was my first tattoo ever and I was timid. Nervously, I started eating the celery and carrots I had packed as a snack. Thomas laughed at me because they had told him this would be my first tattoo and here I was, shaking and eating vegetables just before him. I still hadn’t decided on a placement and it was beginning to dawn on me what I was about to do. Moment before I got mine done, I decided on a spot only to have Thomas tell me that it was one of the most painful places to get a tattoo. That scared me at first, but then I remained calm knowing I am good at handling pain because of all the times I have accidently gotten injured.

As I sat in the chair, I suddenly got nervous because all at once this decision became real. All I can say is it wasn’t bad at all, even tickled at times. We paid and left, and I remained in shock, unable to grasp what just happened.

While walking back, I can’t even tell you what we talked about because I don’t think I could comprehend anything in the moment. But I do remember Frances saying how we were Charlies Angels because there are not only three of us, but also two white girls and one Asian. So, that’s us; Charlies Angels with matching tats. (Although it is important to note both Shannon and I have not seen the movie, so we don’t quite understand the reference).

We spent the rest of the day together in our lovely kitchen drinking tea, watching a movie (Wild Child because Frances hadn’t seen it), chatting about our futures to the tune of The Lumineers, and watching the snow fall from our porch. It was a melancholy day, and we could all feel it, but it was still beautifully peaceful.

Frances still amazes me sometimes at how well she understands certain aspects of me and she demonstrated that once again during our conversations about where we saw ourselves ending up. I said how I thought I could end up in a small town of only a few thousand people, where I could farm, ride my bike everywhere, and hike in any direction. She pointed out she couldn’t see me living in a small town for too long because I am a person who is constantly growing and feeding off the environment and people around me. Eventually I would need something “more”, whatever that meant for me. Damn girlie, way to hit the nail on the head before I even could.

We also spent a lot of time together in silence—something that Frances has pointed out not only on that day but previously to me as well. To be silent with someone (or two people, in this case) and not feel uncomfortable, but rather the opposite, is something rarely found in interactions. It is special that we can naturally be silent together, as Frances noted before Shannon made a joke how us talking broke the silence.

Our plan is to not tell anyone about our tattoo decision unless they notice it for themselves. In fact, I am really only writing this blog for myself to remember these events someday way in the future, not necessarily to declare to the world what we did.

As we sat in the kitchen all day, of course our roommates noticed. When we told Cami, she said “Oh wow, that’s cool”, just before skirting off to catch the bus. When we told Juli, she said “I love it! But you shouldn’t get in trouble with each other because now you’re bonded”. Shannon joked maybe we shouldn’t have gotten something so permanent… lol. When Frida noticed, she made the connection to our “art session” that she saw on Saturday and started laughing. Now it made sense to her why we had drawn so many mountains over and over on our notebooks…

To be one-hundred percent honest, we are freaking crazy—I recognize that. But somehow it fits our personalities with each other in a unique way. Most people would never have done what we did for fear of others judging them, or in case the friendship fell through sometime in the future. I believe us three, however, are extremely strong minded individuals who must not care what others think—and this is symbolic of that. I think all of us wanted to do something a little crazy, and so we just did it, without much forethought or contemplation.

The fact that we have matching tattoos does not signify that our friendship is the best one we have or will ever have in our entire lives. Instead, it hints at our special semester spent together here—both here in this apartment (Sogn Building 46, floor 3—forever in my memory), and here in beautiful Norway as exchange students.

Shannon is the most carefree about tattoos and this kind of stuff, so she seemed very calm the entire time and was just excited to do it for her own reasons. Frances, on the other hand, could be thought of as rather up-tight when you first meet her. However, I think that description falls through once you get to know her. I have noticed that she has become more relaxed this semester, perhaps the most relaxed she has ever been. Thus, to me it makes sense that she did something so “crazy” without any regret.

For me, just as the hot dogs were symbolic of me not knowing who I am anymore, this tattoo is a more permanent representation of that same feeling. I would never in a million years have thought I would ever do something like this—it isn’t (maybe now I should say, wasn’t) me. Nevertheless, unlike how upset I was at the beginning of the semester when I felt like I had lost myself, I am now rather at peace with the fact that I have no idea who I am in many ways. It is kind of beautiful, actually. As Frances pointed out, I am constantly changing and growing, and I love that about myself. It is rather exciting to not even know what I am about to do, or how I might surprise myself next.

As Frances said, even if the tattoo means nothing to us in the future, it did mean something in the moment, and that’s what counts. We finished off the day with journaling together in silence, and a short venture into the snow where I tried to get both of them to catch snowflakes in their mouths (I failed because Frances wouldn’t do it). But in regards to journaling, it was only Frances and I who were journaling and well, Shannon…. Well, she was on Facebook when she should have been working on her take home exam! Very typical of her, in the funniest way.

All in all, it was an extremely average, yet special day that I hope I will never forget. If I start to, I guess I will not only read this, but just glance down at my arm for a quick reminder.

Love these individuals…

Tuesday, April 25th

Frances, given that see was leaving, had a lot to do on Tuesday and thus was not around for much of the day. I had my math class and then just did some errands because my friend Hope was coming in from Ireland to visit me for the next few days.

Despite being so busy, we did have dinner again together. Shannon’s famous pasta was the dish and we all ate a ridiculous amount of it. It was hard for me to watch how quiet Frances was during dinner. I could tell she was somber but trying to hide it…

The last supper featuring my friend Hope who was visiting.

It is extremely difficult making such good friends when you are abroad and then just leaving, never knowing if you will ever see them again. It happened to me when I went to Iceland, and I know its going to be even worse this time around when I leave Norway because I’ve been here three times longer.

For Frances, she tried really hard at times to keep a distance to make leaving easier. For example, she would always try to stop herself from calling Oslo her home, because in her words, “It isn’t home” and she just can’t think like that. But I could tell, despite her best efforts, it had become home to her just as it has become my home as well. Goodbyes are never easy, but that doesn’t mean you should try to diminish your experience with those around you in the moment to make it simpler to leave….

My friend Hope and I joined Frances and Shannon for a quick trip into the sentrum to get falafel (even though we had just ate heaps of pasta). Only Shannon and Frances got more food, but I wanted to go to just be with them still and that way Hope would get to see some of the city on her first day in Oslo.

When we returned home from Gaza Kjøken (the 50 kroner falafel place), Hope and I left immediately to my friends place because it was one of the guys 21st birthdays. I felt weird leaving Frances knowing the next day would be her last…

We purposely took Hope to see the famous tiger statue in the sentrum and she took the typical tourist photo of Frances, Shannon and I in front of it for us.

Wednesday April 26th

This was the final day. I couldn’t stay home to see Frances off because Hope was only here for a few days and I had to show her my favorite parts of Oslo. Also because of her, I couldn’t really get too emotional when saying goodbye to Frances. Around midday, she walked Hope and I to our door as we were leaving and we exchanged two hugs and a quick goodbye. It didn’t feel real saying bye. It just felt normal, almost as though she was just traveling for a bit and then coming back. Hope and I left for an adventurous day, and my last words to her were “See ya later”…

I can’t stress enough the strange dichotomy that April 26th was for me. Having Hope with me was amazing, no doubt, and I had one of the top 5 best days of my semester that Wednesday (Ekebergparken is my favorite place in all of Oslo now). However, such an amazing day was juxtaposed to my roommate and friend leaving the country. I was grateful Hope was visiting me, but it didn’t allow me to process what had occurred. I had just said goodbye to someone I honestly might not see again (although that better not the case).

Overall, after this long and extensive blog post that was rather personal, my main message is just about how difficult saying goodbye is when you are on exchange. You can’t really understand the feeling until you experience it yourself, I think. Even though I still have about two months, being forced to say goodbye to those around me is akin to parting with my life here in Oslo up until now. Although I am still here, my experience has now evolved with Frances gone and will continue to evolve and feel different with each friend who leaves. It’s tough and honestly, I haven’t fully processed the events of this past week. But at the end of the day, I would never have done it differently. I am glad I got close to those around me here, even if that makes the end that much harder.

Here’s to my lovely friend and roommate, Frances. May she have safe travels back to Canada and a strong final year in university.

Until next time, lola blog…

Oslo ~ Os(love)
The Earth Is What We All Have In Common

The Earth Is What We All Have In Common

“Studying abroad will transform you!”

A few weeks into my study abroad experience, I was unsure I would undergo this transformation everyone was telling me about. I was uncomfortable, a little homesick, and afraid I was doing something wrong. As I begin my last week in Rome, I reflect on the last 3 and a half months and realize how much I have changed. I was born and raised in Chicago and have spent my whole life in the same city. Growing up, my dad loved to road trip and brought me along since the young age of…2 weeks! It seems as though I was meant to love travel since a young age. As a sophomore at Loyola, I realized I had never truuuly been taken out of my comfort zone. Chicago was familiar, Mexico was familiar (the only other country I had been to), and well, anywhere in the states is still America and the language is still English. I signed up to study abroad at the John Felice Rome Center and was quickly accepted into the program. At the time, a year seemed so far away. I sit here now, about to finish my Junior year and about to return to Chicago in less than a week, truly inspired by my study abroad experience with a whole new perspective on the world.

First, I want to say American privilege is real. I have never been more aware of that until I crossed the Pacific Ocean. Let me tell you, when you go to a foreign country and your Airbnb host who is a native of the country apologizes for their inability to speak English…American privilege has never stuck out more to me. I went abroad to force myself out of my comfort zone. I needed to be forced out of my comfort zone to appreciate the things I wasn’t aware I had or loved. I have grown more confident in myself and what I want out of this life. I am more sure now than ever about my education goals, career goals, and personal goals. Once I get started, nothing will get in my way. I am excited for the future.

In addition, I needed to go explore different cultures and ways of life to appreciate my own culture more. Diversity is wonderful and I should be proud of my Mexican culture. Immersing myself in many different cultures made me more open to exploring my own and I have learned to appreciate and love my differences. Learning from all kinds of different people and really trying to learn a new language has given me a new perspective. Diversity is beautiful. There are things you simply cannot learn inside of a classroom. When you go abroad, the world is your classroom. Each flight, train, interaction, and footstep is a learning and new experience. Adventure awaits at every corner and I don’t know when I will ever get the opportunity to travel every weekend ever again, but I sure will long for the next trip to come.

So, I’ll leave you with this. There is no “right” way to study abroad. Just be flexible, be open-minded, and breathe in every single moment.

“We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic to creativity. When we get home, home is still the same, but something in our minds has changed, and that changes everything.”

Reflection Turns to Action

Reflection Turns to Action

My time in a world far, far away is almost coming to a close. It’s impossible to believe that I’ve spent nearly four months in VIETNAM of all places in the world, and the lessons that I’ve learned here will last a lifetime. I’ve done more in one semester than I ever thought possible, and even still I felt like there was so much more to do. While I won’t be able to fully reflect on my time abroad until I’m home, I’ve started thinking about all of the things about Vietnam that I’ll miss (and trying not to think about the things that I won’t) and have even started making Pinterest boards of ways to incorporate Vietnamese food into my diet back home. I’ve been asked by every professor if I would consider coming back, and I would emphatically answer yes, although maybe not just to Vietnam or for an extended stay. I still have so much more of the world to go but I’m glad I started here!

Memories from the first trip to Malaysia!

The amount of markets I’ve been to this semester is nauseating, but I just can’t stop. It’s almost become an addiction wherever I travel in SE Asia. The scariest market experience I’ve ever had was in the famous Ben Thanh Market in Saigon. It’s the most touristy and also the most aggressive market. I went just to say that I went, with no real intention of buying anything here because there are several cheaper and more local markets around. However, when in Saigon, you must attend! As I walked through the numbing amount of aisles, I thoroughly enjoyed squeezing past crowded stalls and being poked and prodded to buy something, even to the point of being followed for several minutes to come back to one person’s stall. After I escaped I realized what a hilarious experience it is, and then proceeded to hit up some of my favorite local-business/hipster markets around town.

Kayaking in Halong Bay – The day before they shut it down completely

Another aspect of life here that I’ll miss is how cheap everything is. I know, I know, I’m a cheapskate. But when you can get by for $3 a day, it changes you. I have epically failed in sticking to such a budget just because the cheapness of everything tempts you to buy more, but I don’t regret any purchases I made or experiences I had because I’m coming away with so much more than monetary value. There are many frustrations that come with being a foreigner, most decidedly how an “authentic” experience is far from achievable. As a white female who doesn’t speak the language, I can get close but never be truly involved in the real lives of the Vietnamese. I struggle with this fight every day between my desire to be a part of the community and my recognition of my status as a foreigner who has few avenues to become involved. I have this never-ending feeling of not having done enough but I also have a long list of accomplishments from this semester. While the Vietnam Center was nothing like I unconsciously expected, I still learned so much.

A group picture before heading up Mt. Fansipan!

There’s going to be so much more that I’ll miss. What I do love is how robust the culture is here if you know where to look. On one Sunday morning, I was on the back of an uber bike and as we drove along the river, I saw a group of local people having a drawing and painting class. It was a beautiful moment, and sparked my interest in how the arts are used in Vietnam. On that same uber bike ride, I rode past a man biking with an open flame in his basket, an extremely hip couple dressed to the nines having a photo shoot, naked children running on the street, and one of my now favorite coffee shops. Thinking back on all these moments of absurd contradictions and times of confusion, you just have to laugh and go with it. There have been so many days that I’ve been tempted to give in to the cynicism that one can face when you are constantly challenged, and some days I have given in. More often than not, I’ve somehow found the courage to laugh. The blend and struggle between modern and traditional is as clear as day when you step outside the dorm gate. Back to the art, there’s also a huge influence of pottery and music on society here. As much as I sometimes despise it, karaoke is a monumental part of the daily life of a Vietnamese person. To see such a blend of art from painting workshops to poetry to song and dance (Vietnamese break-dancers are amazing) has been something that’s brought life to my study abroad experience. In a place that I didn’t have any specific expectations from, I had the time and inspiration to find my own creative voice.

Studying abroad has added so many more dimensions to my college career and even to me as a person. This semester I had time to grapple with who I, Kelly Ravenscraft, really am and what parts of me were just borrowed from other people or from definitions of who I thought I was supposed to be. If I were to do anything differently, I would have asked more questions, especially more difficult questions of other people, and would have tried to be more intentional with asking the Vietnamese partners. Even just taking someone out for coffee feels different here, but I wish that hadn’t stopped me from continuing trying throughout the rest of the semester. I struggled with community this semester as I was cut off from all of my normal communities and wasn’t exactly used to being thrown out of my comfort zone in this way. I wish that I hadn’t been afraid of awkward one-on-ones, as I never had been before back at home. Even with other big personalities, I wish I had been my “full” self the entire semester. It took a lot longer for me to get comfortable with the community here than I was used to, but I also think that it took longer to be my real self because this semester was dedicated to actually understanding who that real self is. Even if there are small things that I wish I could change, I don’t regret any part of my Vietnam experience. I’m so happy that I went to the Loyola Vietnam Center as my first study abroad program, and I’m hopeful to go abroad a second time, preferably to a direct enrollment program so that I can continued to be challenged! If you’re considering studying abroad, I urge you to pursue it, no matter the financial cost or the anxiety that may accompany your decision at first. I still have so much more to reflect on (and more blogs to post!), but overall I’m excited to see where the next step of my journey forward takes me. No matter where you are in your journey, I urge you to step outside of your comfort zone and get lost in the thrill of it all. Chase after fears with a goal of overcoming them, seek out love and community in places you’d never think to find them, and jump at any chance to see the world with a perspective you could never have without seeing another side of the world. Go forth and set the world on fire.


“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world”.

– Mary Ann Radmache

My Dense, Pastel City

My Dense, Pastel City

Prague, Czech Republic – March 11-12, 2017

I have become accustomed to calling Oslo, “My Frosted City” for reasons I will explain at a different time. Hence, while traveling in Praha, I couldn’t help but develop a name for that city as well. The city is remarkably dense, and the staggering architecture is generally painted lovely pastel shades of pink, blue, yellow, etc. Thus, it seemed fitting to call Praha “My Dense, Pastel City”.

I was blessed enough to have a friend studying in Prague who let me crash with him for free. Ben was originally going to try to come to Oslo along with me through USAC but instead he chose the USAC program in Prague. Throughout my time in Praha, I found it interesting to juxtapose his experience with a different USAC program to my experience here in Oslo.

Here in Oslo, USAC is the definition of hands off. I don’t consider myself a USAC student, but rather a student at Universitet i Oslo for several reasons. I am mostly friends with the numerous other international students, the Americans I am friends with are numbered, especially those I know through USAC. Furthermore, my 5 roommates are all non-American, and it is quite common for me to be the only native English speaker in the room at most times. I even had to request for my classes to be taught in English, for example, because everyone in my math class at least was Norwegian, apart from me and two German friends of mine from my buddy group. Although USAC doesn’t do anything with us, the University of Oslo truly does an impeccable job orienting the 2,000 some international exchange students. Thus, I am extremely well adjusted and couldn’t be happier with how things have turned out.

Ben’s experience is quite the opposite. He is always with the 80 USAC participants in his program. He lives with them, only takes classes with them, parties with them, and travels with them. USAC even treats them to various excursions quite frequently. I am not saying my experience is better than his, or vice versa. I was just intrigued at the vast difference between our two exchanges. For me personally, it validated that I chose the right program for me (I utterly love Oslo and Norge as a whole).

Moving past that, I loved the trip. Ben was a great tour guide and I was able to see basically the entire city while I was there. In order to save money, we did not purchase transit tickets, and instead walked everywhere. We averaged about 15 miles a day, which I loved because I love exceedingly long walks.

At one point Ben took me to one overlook and told me that the very far tower on the horizon was where we had walked from. I was blown away and took a picture with my finger pointing to it to remember! It is so easy to travel far distances when you’re having fun exploring!

Ben not only picked me up at the airport but also dropped me off, even though it is easily an hour’s trip from his apartment. The public transit can just be very confusing and the language is extraordinarily difficult, so he wanted to make sure I wouldn’t get lost.

While on the train back to his apartment, we tried to start catching up for we hadn’t seen each other since the fall semester back at Loyola. Unfortunately the trains in Praha are unbelievably loud that we practically had to scream to hear one another.

Everything in Prague is just so old—Ben’s apartment building included. Even the key to his room is ancient looking. It is all so different to me. I was blown away at how lovely a street he lives on, and especially how huge his apartment and subsequent room is. I live in a small apartment in Oslo with 5 other people, where my room is maybe the size of his bathroom!

The key to Ben’s apartment – ancient, I know!
The beautiful street Ben lives on.

Everywhere I went, I was blown away at the buildings, what with their age and history. America just doesn’t have stuff like that, we are too young. We walked around Old Town Square, which was filled with history and people, followed by the famous Charles Bridge. I loved being on there, taking in the beautiful cityscape and the enormous statues. Ben made sure to show me his favorite statue at the very end of the bridge, before taking me to what he called ‘a special surprise’. I asked where he was taking me and he just asked if I liked the Beatles. I answered “Of course!”, but still he didn’t reveal where we were going until we had reached our destination.

The Lennon Wall is precisely everything that I love—rebellion plus art plus creativity. We stood there for ages, picking out new bits and pieces the more we looked at it.

The entrance to Charles Bridge.
The view while on the Bridge. Keep in mind this was taken on a Friday. When we walked past it again on Saturday, the place was so packed you wouldn’t even be able to walk without touching someone next to you! Blessed we went on Friday!
The view of part of Praha from Charles Bridge.
Ben’s favorite statue on the Bridge.
The famous Lennon Wall.

As we kept walking and exploring, we would come across the funniest statues and the nicest walking paths. I got the sense that Prague has a unique sense of character compared to other cities. I also learned from my Czech friends back in Oslo that the reason the city wasn’t destroyed during the war like many other places was because Hitler had fallen in love with it and wanted to preserve it. I can see why someone would fall in love with the city, it is quite impeccable.

Yes, you see that correct. That is a statue/fountain of men peeing. Fun fact, it also moved! So quirky, Praha…
These statues of these giant babies are all throughout the city. Honestly, they freaked me out a tad…
Pictured is Ben on one of the various paths we wondered on.

The second day Ben also took me to some fascinating parts of the city. We found this strange park that jutted out on a tall wall, with winding stairs to get down to the ground. Then we walked through another park, which the only way I can describe it is magical. The sense I got while wandering through there truly was fairytale like—I don’t know any other words to use for it.

The park that jutted out on top of the wall. It had strange statues of wooden legs, and nice benches to sit on when the weather is nice.
That is the wall in which the park is located, as well as the spiral stair case we used to get down. All so old!
The “magical” park I described previously.

Following that we entered the old grave yard of the city, Vyšehrad Cemetery. There’s something about walking through graveyards that I enjoy—not so much in a morbid way or anything but for reasons I can’t exactly put into words. I guess I just like to think about all the lives that had been lived with each gravestone. Moreover, every country (every city, even) has their own twist on how they built and manage their cemeteries. This one was filled was greenery and trees everywhere. It was delicate and inviting in a strange way.

One section of the Vyšehrad Cemetery. You can see all the plants and trees everywhere – quite beautiful.

Lastly, we crossed a different, but also beautiful bridge to hike up to the Metronome. There were stairs leading up to it and once up their there were lots of people laughing with their friends, drinking beers in the sun. In addition there was a skate park where we watched various people try to improve their best tricks. It was a nice spot, and I told Ben he has to come back he with his friends at sunset with a few beers before his semester is over (he finishes school a lot earlier than I do).

The bridge with the Metronome in the distance on the hill.

The food was also so cheap, which was a nice break from Norway, where I haven’t eaten out once because the prices here are exorbitant. I really loved this particular café we went to called Standard Cafe. The art on the walls was a collection of photographs, probably about 8 frames in total. Each picture had a pair of two photographs highlighting a single person among a crowd. The people were all looking up at something with looks of amazement and awe. The lead people sometimes had phones in their hands to capture whatever they were looking at, while others simple stood there in the picture with their jaws hanging down. Their facial expressions were radical and quite humorous. Seriously, this installation was just so dope! It makes you wonder what the heck all these people were looking at, and it made me want to meet the artist…

Of course both nights I was in the city, I just had to stop for a late night kebab—among the best meals on this planet, the kebab <3 You can also see a bandaid on my thumb; I had cut it on a donut box and was bleeding profusely at one point.
Some cheesecake and coffee that I got at the Chocolate Café.

As for the night life, Prague is so diverse. On the first night, we bar hopped a lot (5 to be precise). The goal was just to get a sense of the diversity within all the various bars and clubs. Almost any scene you could possible want, you can find in Prague.

The cutest and sweetest dog ever that was at one of the bars. I just sat with it the entire time, utterly in love!

I especially enjoyed my second night out because I was able to meet and converse with some of the coolest strangers. First, we went to a bar that was literally in an old, World War II bunker, which was fascinating, followed by this club which is where I met those groovy people. There were 2 different bachelor parties going on at the club, so the place was primarily filled with men. The first group was huge and all the guys had on the same matching shirt. The groom was wearing a veil and they were hilarious to watch dance. The second bachelor party was one that I conversed with for quite a while. They were all from Ireland, and the groom was wearing a long, red wig and a dress. They were the funniest people; I kid you not. One of my roommates, Shannon, is Irish and so I bonded with them over talking about where she is from and such. I’ve learned over the semester that people from Dublin (where these men were from) have a sort of rivalry with people from Cork (where Shannon is from). It is a running joke that they hate one another. I got a video for her of all of them saying her name, and making jokes about Cork and Dublin. Then they proceeded to teach me how to do some Irish dance. It was just fun to meet such friendly, welcoming people.

Following that, I came across a group of eight guys speaking English and turns out two of them were studying in Prague with Ben, but the others were students studying in Barcelona and Italy. A few of them were Jewish (one had the same last name as me) so it was extremely awesome to connect with other Jews after so many months. I am not kidding, I am pretty sure I am the only Jew in all of Norway. That is not necessary a big drawback, but I certainly miss being able to connect with people that share the same values and background as me.

Overall, I am so glad I had the opportunity to come stay with Ben in Praha. The city is gorgeous and while I left reeking of cigarettes (EVERYONE smokes there), it was a successfully fun weekend that I would do again in a heartbeat. S/O to Ben, once again, thanks for letting me crash with you for the weekend!

My Venture into the Arctic Circle

My Venture into the Arctic Circle

Tromsø, Norge: Feburary 9-12th, 2017

I am getting more and more convinced that I belong in the arctic, especially after my visit to Tromsø, a city located in the far North of Norway. My friends and I wanted the opportunity to see the Northern Lights, and like most students who wish to see them, we planned a trip to this Arctic city. Originally it was going to be me and 10 other guys, but then my German friend Carla asked if she could join the week of our departure, and so it was 12 of us in total venturing North (so many people!).

My friend Trond (also from Colorado, surprisingly) and I booked our flights together so we had seats adjacent to one another. He had the window seat, but as we were flying into Tromsø, I was able look past him to see just how untouched the landscape was for miles. There were pure, snow covered mountains as far as the eye could see. My excitement for the trip kept rising the longer I stared out the window.

The view from the window of the plane as we were descending into Tromsø.

When we arrived in the airport, it took a little while to get the keys to the two cars we had rented for the trip but then we set out for our accommodations. I was included in the original car rental group: Graham (Vermont, USA), Trond (Colorado, USA), Brad (Florida, USA), and Will (North Dakota, USA). We decided weeks before that we wanted to rent a car to be able to ski and hike the dope mountains outside the city. The other guys on the trip decided last minute to rent a car and unfortunately Sam (our quirky, lovable Australian) was accidentally left out and thus had to ride in the boot of one of the cars. Additionally, Carla (the German girl I mentioned previously) was an extra person we didn’t anticipate. So to get everyone to fit, including all the ski equipment, two people had to sit in the trunk everywhere we went. Definitely not the safest, and absolutely not my choice, but it worked out…

Joey, our Airbnb extraordinaire, booked the most incredible house for us to stay in. It was very historical, dated in the 18th century, and it was MASSIVE. Literally, a mansion. Plus, it was located towards the top of a hill in the city, so the view we had was spectacular. I slept on one of the couches in the main living room with Graham the entire time we were there, and I loved waking up to the spectacular views outside the window. I am still blown away that we managed to get our safety deposit back, because, as you can imagine, 12 people can really wreak havoc when set wild in a large house for three days—especially when 10 of them are guys. Let’s just say I have never seen a group of people pull off such a thorough cleaning job in such a short period of time before the owner returned—it was the feat of a lifetime!

The backside of our glorious Airbnb (Thanks again, Joey!)
The view from inside the living room in which I slept each night. I took this picture upon awaking one morning.

We had decided before we left for the trip that we would do one communal dinner together each day. Hence, when we first arrived, we set out the game plan of who would oversee what meals and then we went food shopping just down the road. When we came back, we explored the house and surrounding area before we got our belongings organized for the long night we had before us.

This is just down the road from our house, taken on our way to the grocery store.

Our plan to witness the Northern Lights on our first night was to drive an hour or two outside the city and find a random mountain to hike up. Once there, we would make a fire, cook some hot dogs for dinner, and basically camp out for most of the night to watch the Aura Borealis.

We drove West of Tromsø for about an hour, with Trond, Graham and I analyzing the mountains as we drove to see which ones would be good to trek up for the night. We finally came across one that seemed perfect—seemingly manageable for those in the trip who were not avid hikers. Even the mountain we choose proved surprisingly difficult, but I am getting ahead of myself now…

With all our gear—food, fire wood, drinks, and warm clothes—we began hiking somewhat diagonally up the side of the mountain. It was a full moon which was perfect, as it allowed us to see where we were going. After a while, we found a good spot to make fire and start roasting our hot dogs, or pølser, as we say in Norwegian. It was fun to once again be drinking, eating, and chatting around a fire in the middle of nowhere, just like I do back in the states. This was something I do a lot back in Colorado when I go camping so it felt warm and familiar to me. While our pølser were cooking, Brad was the first one to just barely notice the Northern Lights in the distance. The excitement around the fire grew exponentially, and I couldn’t wait to see them with my own eyes.

The outline of myself huddled at the fire to stay warm while the full moon shined above us. You can see the rest of the mountain we climbed in the background.

After we finished our meal, we put out the fire and set out to hike further up the mountain. This is where the climbing got rather difficult. It was freezing, with thick layers of snow surrounding an increasingly rocky mountainside. The group began to get divided between those who moved faster and those who were struggling to get up the mountain. Additionally, Will took a huge L when he accidentally dropped his phone down some hole in the mountainside, never to be seen again. I felt so awful for him as our frantic searching for the phone proved fruitless. To his credit, he had such a good attitude about it all, especially when later in the trip he also broke his skis (but again, I am getting ahead of myself!). Let’s just say, Tromsø truly was a savage while we were there, despite all its glory and beauty.

Graham took one for the team and dived into the hole where Will believed his phone fell. Andy was holding his legs so he wouldn’t fall in.

With Will double fisting two cigarettes, we eventually kept moving up the mountain in hopes of getting an ever better view of the Northern Lights. As soon as we had started moving, something magical happened. The Aura Borealis appeared in the sky, one-hundred times stronger than previously. We all instinctively started screaming, and I am not kidding you, the louder we screamed the stronger the lights became! They were a glorious shade of green, all dancing across the sky. I couldn’t believe it, and sadly no picture will ever do it justice, but it helps for the memories… It by far was one of the happiest, magical times in my life as stood there screams with people who have become some of my good friends while watching the Lights grow bigger and stronger.

The first glimpses of the Northern Lights. The pictures made it look like day time, even though it was dark.
Taken at the time when we were all screaming and the Lights kept getting better and better – so amazing!

Some of us tried to summit the mountain but conditions got way too dangerous the higher we got. I was content with where we had reached and just how well we could see the lights.

Going down the mountain will forever be one of my most favorite experiences of my life. The mountain, like I mentioned, was quite steep and there were feet of snow everywhere so making our way down by merely walking we would soon realize was less than advisable. Before we knew it (and I still don’t remember who started it, probably Graham) we were flinging our bodies down the hill, sliding either on our feet, on our stomachs, but mostly on our butts. What took hours to climb, took maybe 30 minutes to descend!

As we are making our way down, laughing and pushing each other as we soaked our clothes through to our skin, we overheard Joey scream. Yep, savage Tromsø did it again—Joey announced he had lost his phone. We all stopped and many of us, including myself, had to climb back up the mountain to help look. Joey literally sprinted up the mountain in search for his iPhone, because sadly he had already experienced great loss with apple products when he accidentally left his Macbook on the plane when first traveling to Oslo. Lucky for Joey, he found his phone with all but 2% battery remaining! I still remember him standing with his arms above his head, grasping his phone as he yelled he found it. We celebrated immensely as we returned to flying down the snowy mountainside, butts in the cold snow.

The crew at the bottom of the hill! Despite the freezing temperatures, we were overheated by coming down the mountain and thus some of the guys crazily took off their shirts. I do apologize!

The next morning, Graham and I were awoken very early—me by the early sunlight breaking through the sunroom, and Graham because he is the biggest morning person I have ever met. He peeled the rest of the guys out of their beds upstairs to make sure we got moving at least somewhat early to go skiing and hiking at a near by mountain. I stuffed my face and backpack with food before we set off on our next adventure.

The day was just gorgeous. It was still freezing (artic circle and all…), but it was cloudless and sunny. Five of the guys had skies and I was planning on hiking from the beginning and anyone could join me if they wanted to. At first, the rest of the group said of course, but as we began to hike, Sam (ausie), Zach (Michigan), Joey (Michigan), and Pedro (Argentina) immediately pulled off to the side to start taking pictures of themselves. That was their choice, but I was not about to spend the day taking photos when I could be hiking. I told them I was just going to leave them and as I was walking away, Andy (Minnesotan) and Carla (German) joined me to hike. I was glad to have their company just in case something went wrong like getting lost or injured.

The mountain and trails were unlike anything I had ever seen. Unique ice crystals decorated the landscape due to how cold it was. We found a trail that was about 4 miles long so we made it our mission to try to get to the end and back before the time we agreed to meet up at the cars with the rest of our group.

The amazing ice crystals that lined all the trees and bushes.
Even the way the rivers are frozen are vastly different than back at home.
Part of the trail towards the middle of the valley.

As we were hiking, Andy thought he heard some of the guys up ahead. I tried to listen, but before I could hear anything he just sprinted off in the distance. Turns out he was right, we had somehow managed to meet up with the skiing crew! We talked for a little and then all decided to climb up this steep mountainside to get to the top. This was were our trail was heading but the snow and ice was so bad you couldn’t even see the trail anymore so once we summited, that was as far as we went.

Climbing up that mountain though was extremely difficult. It was pure ice in most places and the wind was far stronger than even the strongest winds in Chicago. Finally, we all reached the top. The views (and the wind) were unreal. We ate our lunch huddled around each other and took just a few celebratory photos because it was quite an accomplishment that we made it. That hike is definitely in my top 5 favorite hikes in my life.

The crew when we first reached the top.
One of the dopest photos of my life – you can see the crazy landscape we were hiking around. (Living on the edge!)
Pictured is me and Vince (Netherlands) doing the famous butt sliding technique to get down the hill.
I was lucky that Brad gave me his pole to help me get down the mountain. (Thank you Vince for the cool, candid picture!)

As it was starting to get dark, we decided to head back once we got down from the summit. Cross country skiing downhill is really tough so although some of us were hiking, we mostly stayed with the skiers because (Graham and Trond excluded) the guys kept falling—especially Brad. This is when Will lost it and ran into a snow bank, breaking both his skis. Tromsø really hated that kid, and I felt so sorry for him, for they weren’t even his skiis. A Norwegian family he calls his ‘host family’ here had let him borrow them. But just as he did with his phone, he had a great attitude and eventually we made it back to the cars. The other guys rolled in shortly after and then we set off to return home.

That night we took the gondola up a mountain to overlook the city. The tickets were cheap and it was definitely worth it to see the city lit up at night.

Glorious Tromsø at the top of a mountain. You can see the edges of the gondola in the picture.

Later, we stayed in the house and had a great time together, all awhile listening to Graham 2000’s music playlist. Everyone was dead the next morning but of course Graham woke up at the crack of dawn, thus waking me up. A few more followed suit and we decided to do our part in cleaning the house before just getting in a car and going on a road trip. We knew the rest of the group would not be able to get themselves ready in time so we opted for just ditching them—sounds mean but it was such a good decision. I still feel bad for them that they missed such a wonderful day.

It was Graham, Andy, Sam, and me in the car. Last minute Brad was able to through on a jacket and join us as well. We drove for hours, through a rain and snow mixture of weather, while surrounded by mountains and the Arctic ocean. This was also probably one of my favorite parts of the trip. For one, I just really love road trips in general. Something about the meditative aspect of it to me puts me in a peaceful state of mind, especially if I am driving through gorgeous landscapes, like I was in Tromsø. Another reason is I adore listening to music in the car. It is simply sublime to lose yourself in either thought or conversation while your ears are surrounded by the gentle melodies of some of your favorite songs.

We would make a few stops here and there to stretch our legs or get a better view of some outstanding outlooks. At one point, the wind was so strong that Graham’s door almost broke and flew off—talk about strong winds!

The view while driving. You can see the rain and clouds covering the mountain in the distance.
Pictured is Sam, Andy, and me stretching our legs on the side of the road.

The best part was when we decided to pull off on the side of the road, cross it, and walk onto this piece of land that jutted out into the ocean. The waters were a blue-green that I had never seen before and the icy, rainy winds were out of this world. We were screaming and running around like children on the playground. I was unbelievably happy and freezing at the same time. Graham even ended up walking into the water quite far while the rest of us just tried to not get blown away on the land. A crazy boy, that one is. The rest of us continued to play around and as soon as Graham came back out of the water, he sprinted back to the car because he was so cold. The rest of us followed suit, reaching the car cold, soaked, and beyond satisfied. I will never forget that tiny road trip to nowhere that we took.

You can see the amazingly unique colors of the Arctic waters.
Look how far Graham traveled into the freezing cold water. He’s that small outline in the distance! Crazy dude, I’m telling ya!!
Pictured is me about to get blown away by the impeccably strong, icy winds!

When we returned home, we came across the rest of the crew sitting in the living room. I felt kinda bad for them that they missed out on such a wonderful day, but hey it wasn’t our fault that we didn’t want to sit around and do nothing on our last day while everyone slept.

Like I mentioned earlier, cleaning up that house was a disaster. Additionally, we had one more communal meal to cook which made the kitchen a mess again. In the middle of our rapid cleaning and cooking, the owner walks in—astonished at how well we destroyed her home in just a few days. She kept saying, “I just don’t understand how this happened.” Joey (our savior) calmed her down and promised everything would be spotless in an hour. She said it better be just before taking off again. In that hour, we performed a miracle—no joke. In the end, we not only got our deposit back, but the woman left Joey and wonderful review on Airbnb.

Tromsø may have been the most beautiful and savage city I have ever been to–quite the dichotomy. I am forever grateful that I had the opportunity to go there and that I was lucky enough to see the Northern Lights, especially on our first night (many other international students who traveled there were not so lucky).

Thanks for everything my lovely Arctic city, and thank you for reading about my adventures.

Until next time bloggy blog 🙂

P.s. Our one and only Bradley Lazar makes incredible videos, and this is the one he made for our trip that is only about a minute but shows the beauty of the city! It also features him falling while skiing if you’re into that!

A Caffeinated Culture

A Caffeinated Culture

If there’s one thing that people know about me, it’s my addiction to coffee. There’s no rescuing me because I’m way too far-gone, so I’ve gone ahead and embraced the addiction. If you think about technicalities, a cup a day is good for you! Anyways, something that I will miss when I leave Vietnam (IN LESS THAN THREE WEEKS) is the café culture. It’s everywhere that you turn! Even if I went to a different café for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for years on end I still wouldn’t make it to every café in Saigon. Throughout my semester I made it my goal to go to as many cafes as possible. My grand total is….. 38! I don’t have that much space in this blog though to list off each one, but here are my top 20 cafes in Saigon, ranked loosely in order.


  1. Work Saigon – This space saved me when I started feeling homesick. When you walk in, you see huge workshop style tables, beautiful food, a variety of creative expats, and a collective vibe that brings everyone all together. The only request is that you buy something to use the creative co-working space, which almost every time I’ve been there I’ve had the Salted Caramel French Toast with a caphe sua da, and I tell you that heaven on earth really does exist. This is a great place if you’re feeling homesick, want a space that’s big enough to spread out and do your work, or if you just want to meet some really cool expats! Also, there’s a pool. Enough said.
  2. Vietcetera – This place roasts from the heart. There’s two parts to this collective, both the café and the website. The owners of both are incredible and have a passion for telling stories. Also, the food here is incredible! I love the fusion of locals and expats here, as well as the vision for the future that the shop and collective have. There’s also a really cool airbnb located upstairs (Sunday Studios).
  3. The Workshop – There’s no ca phe sua da here, but there is GREAT European-style coffee. Once again. The huge work tables are a huge plus, and it’s a really awesome hidden space (although it’s not as hidden as it once was). Expect to find troves of Vietnamese business professionals in meetings or tinkering away on their laptops.
  4. The Maker – Another creative collective (can you see the trend here?), this space offers a hipster oasis inside of the famous 42 Nguyen Hue building, which is an apartment building turned café/boutique haven. There are two shops, one that’s completely dedicated to fashion and one that’s half boutique shop and half coffee shop. Everything from the design work to the coffee is enough inspiration for a productive afternoon!
  5. Oromia Coffee Lounge – One word: CATS. Not necessarily marketed as a cat café, there’s a secret population of cats on the second level, including day old kittens. The cats are treated very well and added the perfect bit of cuteness to an afternoon of productivity. Also, Oromia has an incredible branding strategy and ample workspace that’s fit for any project or group outing.
  6. L’Usine – The crowning jewel of fashion meets café culture. There are two shops and are extending into a third space as well. Think Urban Outfitters meets hipster coffee shop/wine bar and you basically have been there. With the coolness comes more expensive taste, but definitely worth a couple of visits.
  7. Shelter Coffee – Their coffee is strong and their cups are large, which means their typical coffee is enough to power a small town, let alone you for the day. You can get a coffee and a banh mi for the same price as one L’Usine coffee, and the shop has a ton of natural light on the upper two floors. It’s also located a block away from the Vietnam Center, so you can bet that it’s been frequented a lot by us!  
  8. The Loft Café – The Loft offers everything from an open workspace to the cool factor of being inside an old abandoned apartment building that housed employees for USAID and used to be a CIA safe house back in the day. This space is on the way to the Vietnam Center which adds in a level of convenience, too.
  9. Mockingbird – Back in the 42 Nguyen Hue building, Mockingbird has some great food and drink options, and a ton of photo op opportunities. It’s a great space if you need a break from all of the great shopping on the other floors!
  10. Things Café – This place was so cute! Also located in 42 Nguyen Hue, this humble shop had a great vibe and a sweet balcony. It wasn’t exactly the most impression-leaving spaces, but it had its quirks!
  11. Monologues – Outside of the fact that we convinced our literature professor to have class here (we only had three students in our class) this is probably the most frequented spot of the semester, mostly out of convenience. Down an alley next to open, there’s usually a ton of space and really good wifi, so if you need a place for early-ish skype calls before class, this would be it.
  12. Heart Coffee – Honestly this was some of the most unadultered espresso I’ve had here, and its only 25,000 (about a dollar). It’s also right next door to open. There’s not exactly a work-friendly environment though, so takeaway is your best option.
  13. The Old Compass Café – Although I was a bit turned off by a strange smell in the shop at first, I was convinced to stay by the presence of good coffee (albeit a bit more on the expensive side), a quiet workspace, and nice waiters!
  14. Le Saigonais – A combination of fashion and coffee, this shop is also on the route between Open University and The Vietnam Center office. You get to finish the process of making ca phe sua da yourself and the staff are attentive to every need! If you look around with even the slightest look of franticness they’ll come to your rescue. The main downside is the price of the clothes and how tempting they are.
  15. Klasik Coffee Roasters – A sweet spot with a ton of local roasts, this place knows how to create a name for themselves. As a poor college student though, I couldn’t keep up.
  16. Journal Coffee – Here you can get great blended coffee and a ton of space upstairs! Their takeaway coffee is super cheap, but the downside is the poor wifi and the music that blasts while you’re trying to get work done in the shop. If you’re down with loud Vietnamese ballads, though, be my guest!
  17. Id Café – An interesting café, there’s a ton of cool décor and great smoothies and coffee. I highly recommend avoiding the food though, and the wifi can be spotty.
  18. She Café – Filled with pictures of Angelina Jolie and musical hits by women, this café is full of female fatale. The downsides are a dark work environment and more on the US-level of pricing for coffee. It’s a hidden oasis though if your hope is to escape the heat and stay in district 1!
  19. Heritage – Located on the edge of district 1, this café features its own mascot, a sassy bulldog who even got his own logo. There’s an interesting vibe here and more of a hangout space than a workspace. My greatest achievement was meeting said mascot and escaping the heat.  
  20. BK Coffeehouse – More out of convenience than anything, this shop is right next door to the dormitory and gives you a low price but also a low amount of ca phe sua da. For what it’s worth, you’re better off going with the smoothie lady across the street, but in moments of desperation, BK Coffeehouse comes through.



As you can probably tell, coffee has been a very formative part of my study abroad experience. From meeting new friends to learning more about coffee, I will forever hold in my heart the experience of the coffee culture here in Vietnam. Here are some honorable mentions of coffee shops in other areas of Vietnam and SE Asia!


Hanoi, Vietnam:

  • Cong CaPhe
  • The Maze
  • Café and Chat


Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:

  • Mingle
  • Merchant’s Lane
  • LOKL Café



  • Sister Srey


Here’s to more caffeinated adventures!

If I Were A Boy

If I Were A Boy

“Three and a half months is just enough time to make observations of the culture here, not judgments”. A hard line to draw, this wisdom came at the beginning of the semester from our assistant director when talking about what we’ll experience throughout our time here. After the honeymoon phase of Vietnam wore off, it became easy to just make judgments of the culture. Simple things that once blended in with the surrounding aura of Vietnam greatly stood out and became aggravating to a point that it could make or break a day. Once I was able to get to the point of seeing Vietnam for what it is, both positively and critically, I feel that I got to a point of being able to just make observations, rather than imposing my own judgments on the culture. Something that hits close to my heart, and to many people’s, is gender equality. Vietnam has an interesting history with gender equality, from the Trung Sisters and Lady Trieu early in Vietnam’s history who led rebellions from the front lines to women being used to fill roles in the wars to an era of crushing gender inequality in family and social roles to a modern view of women that is somewhat less unequal role of women but still not at a level that promotes true gender equality. Throughout this blog I want to lay out a few observations that I’ve made that points to a lack of gender equality as well as point out customs of traditional Vietnamese society that reinforces a paternalistic culture. I am by no means suggesting ways to change, although in conversation with Vietnamese women there is definitely a desire for change present. All in all, these are just a few moments dispersed throughout the semester I’ve been here in Vietnam.


Imagine you want to buy a smoothie on the bust streets of Vietnam. You’re talking with your Vietnamese partner, who happens to be a guy, and you’re talking about your families and hometowns. You walk up to a smoothie lady (not THE smoothie lady that everyone usually goes to, but a different one), and you ask in broken Vietnamese for a mango smoothie and go to hand her your money. She shakes her head and hands at you and continues talking to your Vietnamese partner. Confused, you stand there for a second before she has your Vietnamese partner take your money from you and give it to her. Thinking it maybe just had to do with the language barrier, you think nothing of it. She then hands your smoothie and change back to your partner who he then hands both to you. He later explained to me that in traditional Vietnamese society, shopkeepers wouldn’t take money from women unless it was a close friend or relative, but that men had to do all of the exchange of money and women were not allowed to. There are many small interactions like this one that reinforce male power that could be mistaken for something else if not observed closely. While this moment did not necessarily affect me as an individual, it’s easy to see how a culture of this leads to a greater level of repression of women.


Much of the gender inequality comes from how children are raised by their parents. While the past couple of generations of Vietnamese youth have had less strict expectations from their parents to stay home and allow their parents to make big decisions for their lives, like marriage or vocation, there are still these little moments where you can see how boys and girls are raised to lean in to different expectations, not unlike the US. For example, motorbikes are a huge thing here. Everyone rides and drives them, regardless of gender, but I’ve found it interesting that I’ve had all male uberbike and grabbike drivers. The Vietnamese are also incredibly skilled at stacking any number of objects on their motorbikes, and I’ve seen it all from mattresses to wheelbarrows to families of five. I saw a boy riding his tricycle down the street with two large boxes strapped to the back, just like his father would have on the back of his motorbike. This child seemed to be about three or four years old. Next to him was a girl who by the standards of the society she lives in, will be raised to be a good wife first and a professional second.


In the traditional standards, women are expected to take care of the home while men are supposed to take care of his parents and his family, being the breadwinner for them all. If families only have daughters, it is seen as having a sense of “karmic misfortune”. However, families that only have daughters are still happy and parents growing in age don’t have to worry about not having any sons to take care of them as the daughters have been said to do an even better job than the sons would. Sometimes, the sons will even abandon their duties of taking care of their parents to their sisters, who end up helping take care of their own parents and their husband’s parents. Even still, they are given none of the respect that sons are given.


Something that is just as present in Vietnam as in many other countries is cat-calling. Because of the notion of exoticness and just the roles that men and women hold, this has happened a ton since being here. 30 years ago, it would not have been uncommon to find men with several partners, with whom the wife had to accept and deal with. Due to the unfavorable male attention, one Loyola student decided to try an experiment where she only responds to and converses with the females on the street. When we first got here, everyone would say hello wherever we went, mostly males, and we were unsure whether that was just because that’s what everyone did here or if it was unwanted attention. The more that we were here, the more we realized that it was very much tied to the gender roles here. Even in talking about self-expression with some of the Vietnamese students, I was told that it used to be that anyone with tattoos were associated with the mafia, especially women who chose to get tattoos. I have so many more stories and little moments where I’ve been made aware of my gender here, but not enough time to share them all here. On the other hand, I’ve chosen to study the role that art is playing in the fight for gender equality in Vietnam for my final research paper for one of my classes and what I’ve found is truly inspiring as art and gender come together.

All in all, at the end of the day these are just observations of a select group of people in the southern part of Vietnam, although the North has historically held on to the traditional views of women for longer. Whatever these observations say about Vietnam, what is true is that Vietnamese women are strong and put up with a lot. My hope is that you have learned something about Vietnamese history and culture as well as illustrating how the problems in the US are just as real in Vietnam, if not more so, and that fighting for gender equality needs to be a worldwide effort.


The last group bus ride for the semester – it’s been real Vietnam Fam!