The GoGlobal Blog

Author: Katie Ciesla

My name is Katie Ciesla and I was born and raised in Homewood, IL, about 25 miles south of Chicago. I will graduate in August 2017 with a BA in International Studies. I am minoring in Asian Studies. I am passionate about immersive experiences and experiential learning and believe they are the best way to learn. I chose to study at Loyola Chicago in the hopes of taking advantage of their renowned study abroad programs. So far, I have studied in Belize, Tunisia, China and Korea through faculty-led programs and am looking forward to studying abroad for the next year in Vietnam (Fall 2016), Argentina and Chile (Spring 2017), Spain (Summer 2017) and Israel (Summer 2017). I have spent the past three months traveling in Asia and am excited to see how I will continue to grow personally and academically during my year abroad.
Summer in South America

Summer in South America

I have now been in Buenos Aires for almost two weeks – Thankfully this program started late, giving me a little over a month and a half at home – and even though I know Chicago has had quite a few warm days since I’ve been gone, I can’t help but miss the cold. I spent over half of 2016 in Southeast Asia, battling 90 and 100-degree weather, and I don’t think I quite prepared for the heat that is Buenos Aires in the summer.

Besides adjusting to constantly sweating again, I have been having a pretty good time. I found that because I am only gone for 3 months this time, as opposed to 7, I was much better prepared for the goodbyes, the airport shenanigans and all the “where are you from?”, “what major are you?” questions that are unavoidable when interacting with a new group for the first time.

Having had a long list of negative experiences with Loyola’s Vietnam Center, I made the decision (back on September 10th if that gives any indication of how early on I noticed major issues with the program) to finish my degree utilizing as many outside programs as possible. After some searching, I stumbled across this IES Multi-Location Program entitled “Emerging Economies” that would allow me to split my time between Argentina, Peru, and Chile. The program did not require me to have any knowledge of Spanish (though I knew it was something I wanted to practice and improve in), and it focused on economics (which I haven’t taken in 5 years), but ultimately it appeared that this program would provide me the challenge, immersion and passionate staff that my last experience lacked.

Things have not always been smooth sailing, however, as nothing ever is. I find this to be one of the joys of traveling, though. I made my second of three flights just as they were closing the gates after having my Mom’s homemade cookies confiscated, both of my perfectly packed packs completely unpacked by TSA and the usual discrepancy of not having a visa, but I arrived safely in Buenos Aires only an hour later than expected.

I arrived at my host mother’s apartment to learn that she speaks very little English (no problem, more practice for me!), and that she is a wonderful cook and talented painter. She is an extremely generous person and made me feel at home immediately. My room – basic, but larger than expected – has no fan or air conditioner. After the first few nights, I finally realized that my window opens (I promise, I really am this close to getting my college degree). This discovery allowed me to sleep more soundly for a few nights, until it ultimately led to a bat finding its way in. If you were wondering, waking up to a bat flying at your head in the middle of the night is not the most pleasant experience. Looks like the window will stay closed from now on, and I will stay drenched in sweat. I learned last year that it at least builds character?

Last weekend all IES student studying in Buenos Aires took a weekend trip to an estancia to enjoy an asado (essentially a BBQ) where I tried cow intestine for the first – and only – time. This weekend, we have a few extra days due to Carnival, so a few friends and I are taking a ferry over to Montevideo, Uruguay. I am looking forward to exploring another city (and a new country) for a few days before returning to my studies and I am excited for the coming months and to experience a unique program design.

5 Most Ridiculous Experiences From My Time in Vietnam

5 Most Ridiculous Experiences From My Time in Vietnam

In the spirit of Thanksgiving (though a week late) and as my time here draws to a close, I would like to appreciate some of the most unexpected and outrageous things I’ve experienced during my time in Vietnam. There are much too many instances to note, so instead, here is a list of my top five most ridiculous experiences:

1. Pet Squirrel – Now I should preface this by saying that I have not once seen a squirrel since leaving Chicago back in mid-May. This is not to say squirrels don’t exist in Asia, I’m sure they do, I just don’t have the luxury of looking for them when I’m preoccupied checking for random motorbikes in all directions. Either way, walking around one evening about a month ago, some friends and I noticed a few men huddled around a tree, clearly very excited about something. When we got closer, we noticed there was a brown squirrel hanging out mid-trunk. He was tied up, by the neck, with a string no longer than 3 feet in length hooked around a nail in the tree trunk. He clung to the tree in fear, unable to scurry to safety higher in the tree or on the ground. We then witnessed the men attempting to feed garbage to the squirrel, which, for obvious reasons, was unsuccessful. I pass by that tree whenever I get the chance, but have never see the squirrel since.

2. Atonal Karaoke Man – Every night outside our dorm in District 10, around 11:30PM, a sole man begins to belt out karaoke on a system whose speakers are ready to blow. He sings anything from Katy Perry and Justin Beiber (both Vietnamese favorites) to Queen and The Rolling Stones, but all of it in the most atonal way possible. His serenade usually lasts between 45 minutes to an hour and leaves us all praying for peace and quiet. Last night he was even joined by someone playing flute in our echoing halls.

3. Beijing Belly/Nose Picking– Beijing belly, or the beer gut belly of a man exposed due to his shirt being rolled up to his chest (presumably because of the heat), is a common site in many countries in Asia, though I have seen it most in of course Beijing and throughout Vietnam. One day while walking in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City, I saw a man proudly exposing his Beijing Belly, and before I could look away he began aggressively picking his nose and staring me down. Never have I been more intimidated by a beer gut and boogers.

4. Cattle Prods and Traffic – One day, we had to exit our taxi 10 blocks away from our service learning site, due to an absurd amount of traffic. When attempting to swim our way through a sea of motorbikes, we noticed a man “directing traffic”. What we first believed was a baton turned out to be something much more unexpected and sinister. This man was holding a cattle prod! Not even 20 seconds later, he was using it on a motor bike driver who was trying to sneak past him. A month into our semester and I believed I had seen everything.

5. Night Market Set-up – Last weekend I decided to take on Ho Chi Minh City as a tourist and check out the night market, where other students had gotten some pretty great deals. I arrived early, but just in time to see hoards of shirtless men parading by – some on foot, some by motorbike – carrying large tents and dragging large metal crates that I can only assume held the contents of each individual shop. There must be upwards of 100 people involved in the process of setting up the market every night. I couldn’t imagine how all of those shops could be set up so quickly but when I returned from dinner less than an hour later, it was in full swing. This was certainly a sight to remember.

Managing Stress and the Mid-Semester Slump

Managing Stress and the Mid-Semester Slump

Today marks the end of my ninth week in Vietnam. During that time, I have had plenty of ups and downs as we started classes, spent time with our partners, took our 10-day excursion to the North and Central Regions of Vietnam, and got settled into a routine. Overall, I’ve been enjoying my time here, but the last two weeks have brought around that mid-semester slump – ya know, the one where free time with friends becomes non-existent due to midterms and projects and it’s a constant battle with procrastination.

To be honest, I had been warned that the mid-semester slump while studying abroad came with its fair share of home-sickness, but because I had traveled for four months before the program started and had not yet experienced an extended case of it, I think I thought I would get through the semester without it. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It doesn’t help that Chicago is alive with the excitement of the Cub’s success and the World Series is right around the corner.

I find myself dreaming of my mom’s apple creations, homemade hard cider and raking leaves (yes, I’m surprised, too…). Without homemade desserts to distract me, it has become increasingly more difficult to manage my stress. In the past few days though, I think I have begun figuring out what works best for me.

For one, I have been cooking more meals in the dorm after discovering that kettles are a beautiful thing. I have made everything from hummus to lentil soup and discovered how refreshing it is to have fresh vegetables and a homemade snack once in a while. I have also relearned the importance of slowing down, taking a deep breath and making time for myself – which can be very difficult in a program with 17 students that live in close quarters and take most of their classes together. Additionally, long Skype conversations with loved ones and the occasional western meal by myself have been overwhelmingly beneficial as I start to climb out of my slump.

Of course, everyone handles stress differently, and I think most, if not all, of my peers are feeling a similar way. Some have gotten massages or pedicures, others have sought more alone time, while still others turn to a good night out to help lift them up. Whatever one’s personal needs may be, it is so very important to recognize them and work towards them.

Tomorrow, already, we leave for our Cambodia excursion and I think with the first round of exams and papers behind me, things will again start looking up. With only a month and a half left of this program, it’s time to delve back into Vietnamese street food, attempting to use my language skills, and neighborhood walks. I am looking forward to seeing what the rest of this semester holds, both the bad and the good.

Eating my way through Osaka

Eating my way through Osaka

After taking a cooking class in Bangkok back in August, I was hooked. It’s one thing to chow down on some local food, and quite another to learn about the ingredients and prepare it yourself. The experience provides such a unique insight into the cuisine and culture.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Japan for a long weekend and take another cooking class. Being one of the top destinations for foodies, Osaka proved to be a perfect place to explore my taste buds. Although the class cost almost twice as much as my class in Bangkok, it was worth every second of it.

We had the option to choose between a home style food course or a street food course and while both sounded intriguing – and challenging – we ultimately decided on the street food course which gave us the opportunity to cook chopstick okonomiyaki, udon noodles from scratch and chicken yakitori. All of which were delicious and not too overly complicated to make.

To make chopstick okonomiyaki (my favorite snack from our class), which is typically served and eaten at festivals in Osaka, takes a lot of skill. Our instructor told us that some of the vendors you’ll find at festivals have been practicing for over a decade. I can’t imagine spending decades preparing the same dish multiple times a day, every day, unless it was my Mom’s pasta salad or mashed potatoes.

The recipe itself starts off pretty simple with a batter of egg, rice flour, dashi and water before adding in finely chopped carrots, spring onions and cabbage. After mixing well, you pour the batter on the griddle evenly over a Shiso leaf. You can then add bean sprouts, tempura and pickled ginger to taste (the pickled ginger was by far my favorite part of the entire dish and probably the flavor that sticks out most in the finished product).

Then comes the difficult, I mean fun, part. Once the pancake is mostly cooked, a pair of chopsticks need to be pinched around one end of the pancake and used to help roll the pancake as tightly as possible. If done correctly, the recipient should be able to walk around and eat this delicious treat off the chopsticks. Of course, none of us were quite that good yet and made a bit of a mess when it came time to chow down.

To top it off, you can add chili powder, Bonito flakes, mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce. So. Many. Ingredients. My first bite was an explosion of flavors I would have never thought to put together, but extremely rewarding all the same. My next few days in Osaka I looked for a place to buy some chopstick okonomiyaki to compare, and to get one more taste before leaving, but with no luck.

Although some of the ingredients we used may be hard to find in the States, I am excited to try some of the things I’ve learned again… as soon as I have access to a kitchen.

6 Things I Learned from 6 Weeks of Traveling Abroad

6 Things I Learned from 6 Weeks of Traveling Abroad

As I continue to settle into my new norm here in Saigon, I find myself reflecting more and more on the traveling I did before arriving, particularly the 6 weeks of travel I planned – and paid for – entirely by myself and my one travel companion. I had traveled enough prior to leaving in May to understand that when traveling, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Even still, there were a few mistakes made that could have been avoided. I have taken them as learning experiences for myself, because I believe that’s what mistakes are for. Here are 6 things I learned in 6 weeks of travel:

1. To check, or not to check (your bag) – I knew from the moment I decided travel between programs, and realizing I would be gone for 7 months, I did not want to check my bags. I had done some 3-week long trips in the past without checking a bag and figured it couldn’t be much different. I’ve also almost always gotten through check-in with a bag over the normal 10 or 15kg weight limit since any airline I’ve flown has not taken the time to weigh carry-on luggage. I assumed Air Asia (my primary form of transportation), with their 7kg carry-on weight limit, would also not take the time to weigh my carry-on, especially since I had not paid to check my bag… silly me.

Without having our boarding passes printed ahead of time, and at a location without kiosks, we were forced to go through the check-in line for our first Air Asia flight. They weighed our bags – both were almost twice the limit (Oops!) – and charged us $175, nearly 3x what we paid for our flight, to check both for our few hour flight. Never again. We were determined to find a way out of it – and we did. With a printed boarding pass, or a code for the kiosk, all that was needed was a “Document Check” before heading to security. Quick and painless, but still extremely stressful.

Lesson Learned: Pay attention to rules and regulations, and plan ahead to pack less or print.

2. Overpacking – Even though I only packed a carry-on size backpack and a small over-the-shoulder bag, there are quite a few items I absolutely did not need to lug around for months.
• Notebooks: You can buy notebooks and school supplies anywhere – for cheaper usually, too. No idea why I brought 6 notebooks with me, but it was added weight and took up a lot of space that could have been used better.
• Clothes: Yes, clothes. I brought with me 5 dresses, two thin cardigans, 3 pairs of regular shorts, 3 pairs of comfortable shorts, two pairs of pants, 5 tank tops, 4 t-shirts, one belt, 3 pairs of socks, 3 bras, 5 pairs of underwear, one pair of shoes and one pair of flip flops. Holy moly. I haven’t had to do laundry more than a handful of times in the past 4 months, even though facilities have been available to me or easy to find. I could have easily cut down on at least a few articles of clothing (ie: dresses or shorts). Plus, there are malls and markets everywhere. I, myself, have picked up 3 shirts and a pair of shorts along the way from either small markets or conservation sites I have visited.
• Travel-size shampoo/conditioner: I brought two of each in the usual 3oz containers. It cost me more money and space to bring the doubles from the States as opposed to buying them along the way.

Lesson Learned: Pack less. If you need something, you can find it or wash it (don’t be afraid of laundry!)

3. Sharia abiding hotel – Depending on the country, and the country’s religious make-up, there may be hostels, guesthouses or hotels that are Sharia abiding., or have other specific policies you may not typically expect. For those that are Sharia abiding, it means, among other things, that only married couples or families can share a room. My travel buddy, and significant other, and I had originally booked a guesthouse in Jakarta, Indonesia that we did not realize was Sharia abiding. We only caught it when reviewing the reservation the day before. Not wanting to put the owners in an uncomfortable position or risk being turned away, we decided to look for another place to stay. Luckily, we were able to cancel with no additional charges and find another guesthouse for around the same price that turned out to be wonderful.

Lesson Learned: Read the fine print. Double check hotel policies.

4. Budgeting – Being very much a Type A person, I planned almost every detail of our trip, including budgeting for every country. I used the website to get a general idea of what it cost to live (cheaply) in all the cities we would be visiting and adjusted it slightly to our personal travel styles and needs. For example, the estimated cost per day listed on the website only includes one paid cultural attraction, such as a museum or historical site. Since we were only spending a few days in each city, I knew we would be visiting more than one paid cultural attraction per day and adjusted our budget accordingly. What I didn’t account for is that Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, is hot. To stay hydrated, we needed a lot of water, and nowhere we visited had drinkable tap water. In the end, we still came in under budget, but learned a lot about water resource issues along the way.

Lesson Learned: Pay attention to details. Stay hydrated.

5. Rest days – I am the type of travel who likes to Go! Go! Go! This is not sustainable. We had the first 3 weeks, almost 4 weeks of our trip planned with days packed full of activities. The first day we had planned to take a rest was not until week 5. There were many times where we had to move around our itinerary, or cut things out all together simply because we were exhausted. I do not regret our decision to rest instead of push sometimes, but I do wish I had planned better.

Lesson Learned: Be real with yourself and plan relaxation time, too.

6. Rigid Schedule – We booked every flight, every bus, and every ferry. Set in stone, paid in full, on the itinerary. Only, what if we wanted to stay longer somewhere? Or leave sooner? Too bad. Or too much money. Near the end of our trip, we took an Open Water Scuba Diving course in Koh Tao, Thailand. We had an amazing time and wanted more. The dive school we were at, Roctopus, offered us a 10% discount for their Advanced Adventurer Course, which would allow us to dive to a depth of 30m and give us 5 more dives under our belt. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity. In the end, it was worth the extra cost of buying another ferry ticket and for two more nights at our hotel on Koh Tao. Being that it was our first trip in Asia and of this length, I felt better going in with everything planned, but moving forward, leaving myself more breathing room will create space for new, and unexpected, experiences.

Lesson Learned: Allow, and be comfortable with, the unknown.

A Weekend in Long Xuyen

A Weekend in Long Xuyen

Exhausted, and a little sore, I hobbled into my room last Saturday still beaming with excitement. Just 30 hours before I was boarding a coach bus, headed for my friend, and cultural partner, Quynh’s hometown.

Having previously taken the Megabus in the States, I expected nothing more than an uncomfortable seat with limited leg room – I could not have been more mistaken. The bus system in Vietnam is run differently than what I had experienced back home. For one, you can book a ticket ahead of time, but do not pay until the trip has started and everyone pays the same price, unlike the tiered price system for Megabus. Secondly, there are three rows of bunked reclined seats/beds, which, unless you are over 6 feet tall, provide ample space for yourself, snacks, and a personal bag. Perhaps the most noticeable difference was that when boarding, we all removed our shoes before entering the main space of the bus and brought them with us to our seats. This is something I have experienced throughout my time in Asia, particularly in guesthouses and some shops or restaurants, but never before on a bus. It keeps the space clean, and is a way to respect both the space you are entering and those around you.

At around 5PM Friday evening, we arrived at my friend’s home and were graciously welcomed by her mother, brother and Aunt. They immediately made us feel at home. For dinner, we were treated to a never-ending array of homemade dishes, including beef curry, mushroom soup, papaya and shrimp salad, white rice and more fruits than I could count (or pronounce). My friend informed me that this type of meal is not typical in their household, but was prepared specially for our visit.

If that meal alone did not make me feel overly grateful – and overly full – our second dinner would. Within an hour after finishing our first meal, another friend, Duyen, treated us to a visit from her family. Mother, father, brother, sisters and grandmother all came to welcome us. With them, they brought snacks, including addictive fried bananas. Around the same time, my friend Quynh’s father returned with live crabs and shrimp. A full stomach was not going to stop me from enjoying the freshest seafood I will likely ever have!

To say this all was not overwhelming at first would be a lie, but I was overwhelmed in the best possible way. I was surrounded by people who were welcoming me into their home or had travelled hours to meet and welcome me, as well as a plethora of new foods they so graciously shared with me. The experience was exhilarating.

Before bed, Quynh’s mother made sure we were all prepared with water and leftovers for our journey the following day. It reminded me of how my own mother would always send me with my favorite foods or any leftovers, no matter how short of a time it would be before I saw her again. It seems that mothers (and fathers, too) are wonderful no matter where you are in the world.

For the night, three of us shared a room with a mosquito net, fan and bamboo mat. It was more than what I was expecting and much more comfortable than my bed at the dorm. But, just two hours later, we were hopping on another bus, heading to Chao Doc and by 4AM, we were riding xe oms through an already lively town towards the trailhead at Sam Mountain.

The hike itself only took a little less than two hours, but because of our lack of sleep, it seemed like an eternity. The trail was lit faintly, and only in random intervals, by roadside shrines and temples we passed along the way, creating a surreal experience. We reached the top just as the light began to peak over the horizon and spent the next hour watching the sky change colors as the sun rose slowly over the sprawling rice fields below.

As I watched, my exhaustion faded and for the first time, It hit me that I was really here.

Xin Chao!

Xin Chao!

One week ago, I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, fully unpacking my backpack for the first time. It was a surreal experience, but one that had to take place eventually. I had grown to love living out of my pack, even if it meant sometimes (or always) wearing a wrinkled t-shirt or getting frustrated because the way things fit perfectly meant having to dig deep for my contacts. It became my home away from home, and packing it – each time with a little something extra – became a relaxing ritual to help me prepare for the next leg of my journey.

Since unpacking, I have been introduced to a whole slew of new flavors, taken my first ride on a motorbike (I survived!), done my first load of laundry not in the sink, and gotten through syllabus week. I have met 16 other American students, as well as 17 dedicated partners from Open University, where we are studying, and countless students at our dorm, all more than willing to help us settle in, find the best food spots, and get involved.

Even with the tremendous support from our new Vietnamese friends, it has taken me until the last few days to be confident enough to order street food. I generally feel embarrassed when I cannot speak enough of a language to order what I want and have to use English, relying on others to know my language instead of knowing enough of theirs. So far, though, every local I have met has been kind enough to help me understand the menu, practice my pronunciation, or even show me how to eat local dishes. I always struggle, and we often laugh together, but each encounter gives me more confidence to interact and practice what I know. I have promised myself that come December, I will be able to correctly pronounce and order my favorite dishes.

So far, everything has seemed to be going so fast, and yet somehow still slow, but I am enjoying every second of it. Just five days ago I was zipping through traffic on the back of my partner’s motorbike after only a brief “Xin Chao!”, trying to soak in as much of my surroundings as possible while also talking over the noise of traffic. Like every new relationship, especially with my complete lack of Vietnamese language skills and incessant honking from every direction, our conversation started out a little choppy, but before long it felt like we had known each other for years. And, perhaps more exciting than my courses or the amazing view I have of the skyline from my room, in just two days, I will be heading with my partner, Quynh, to her hometown to try some more Vietnamese dishes and do some hiking. Friday cannot come soon enough!

Ready, Set, Don’t Go

Ready, Set, Don’t Go

Growing up in a family where a family road trip every summer was the norm and a “vacation” day or two, crammed with activities from museums to presidential libraries, was added to any out of town baseball game, tennis tournament, dance competition or college visit, I guess you could say the travel bug bit me early.

I am so grateful for those early years of travel, and all the unforgettable moments they provided. Learning about different regions of my own country has equipped me with an open mind and passion for learning about cultural differences that makes traveling outside of the States that much more rewarding.

Since my first trip abroad in 2010 and my departure for this journey, I traveled to 13 countries on 4 different continents, over half of which were exclusively for educational purposes. All of these experiences left me wanting more. More time, more immersion, more growth.

In fact, I had planned to spend my sophomore year doing the full year program at Loyola’s John Felice Rome Center in Rome, Italy. I adjusted my course schedule, applied, was accepted, and then something, I’m not quite sure what, told me not to go. Thankfully, I listened.

On my first day of classes, and what would have been the start of my second week abroad, my father had a severe stroke and lost his speech and mobility of his right side. Over the next 10 months he fought – first to recover, and then Stage IV Lung Cancer before passing away in June 2014. Within those 10 months, I also lost 2 dear friends, a close teacher and my grandfather.

All of this eventually took a huge toll, causing me to lose my passion for travel, and for learning. I became afraid of anything that might upset the status quo. After a year and a half of going through the motions, it was time for a change – a drastic change – to get me back on track personally and academically. That’s when I decided I needed to do something that had always brought me joy, something that always challenged me, and something that I had grown to love during long family road trips and my previous time abroad.

I decided first on Vietnam, but I quickly learned about other programs that peaked my interest, and was determined to fit in as much as possible in the time it would take me to finish my degree.

By October 1st of last year, I had already applied to Fall 2016 in Vietnam, as well as two summer Faculty-led programs Loyola was offering – China Green and Seoul, Korea. My mind was set – I would be going abroad for over half a year, traveling, alone if need be, in between programs to further my understanding of Asia.

In January, on my 22nd birthday, I was accepted to all 3 programs (one of the best birthday presents I have ever received!) and there was no turning back. I became obsessed with traveling as much as I could in the years to come.

There were two major issues:

1. Loyola has a two semester study abroad policy.

2. My plan would not fit into the traditional “4-year plan” seen as how I was technically finishing my 4th year already.

I memorized the courses offered, the opportunities provided and the classes I still needed to complete. After some highly organized planning that may or may not have fried my brain, I had devised a plan that would allow me to finish my degree abroad… and add two minors…

Fall 2016 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Spring 2017 Uppsala, Sweden
Full Year 2017-2018 Rome, Italy

I appealed to study abroad for 4 semesters, attaching the detailed academic plan I had laid out for myself, along with a 10 page letter explaining why these programs and this timing was the best way for me to complete my degree. With the support of my family, my advisor and the study abroad office, my appeal was accepted.

Even with two years of new places, new friendships and new foods to look forward to, planning to study abroad proved to be a stressful, painstaking process, especially having close family and friends I would be leaving behind. The eight months I had to plan my trip were not enough time to prepare myself for what was to come. I had my doubts almost every week, but I knew how much pushing through would benefit me.

I have been traveling for three months now and it still isn’t always easy to be gone. I am writing this while sunbathing on a boat in the Gulf of Thailand, the sea breeze blowing through my hair and mountainous islands all around. I am surrounded by beauty, but I miss home more than ever.

In a few weeks, it will be the first Bears game of the regular season, which I attend every year with my Aunt and Uncle and haven’t missed in over a decade. Last week, there were bombings throughout Thailand. Knowing my family will now be increasingly concerned with my safety makes me long for home even more.

Though I know it would bring me all the joy in the world to be sitting at home eating some of my brother’s mouthwatering dishes using vegetables from our garden, I couldn’t be more happy with my decision to study abroad at this point in my life. I know that with every passing day I am growing more confident in myself, more aware of other cultures, and more prepared for what the rest of my journey holds.

In just 10 days I arrive in Ho Chi Minh City to begin the next leg of my journey. I will meet new people, try new foods, learn (as much as I can) a new language, and continue to develop myself personally, academically, and professionally. I am not quite sure what to expect, but I am excited to see what the next four months will bring.

This time, I am ready.