A Year in Reflection

A year ago from today my mother dropped me off at the Windsor airport.

I held back my tears on the drive there, but ultimately began sobbing once I hugged my mom goodbye. It was the first time we would be so far apart for so long. I was terrified.

Now, when I think back to everything that I experienced when I was away, I can’t believe I was so terrified.

I watched the sun set from seven different countries over the course of 200 days.

I ate Belgian waffles in Belgium, and I fell in love with Kasteel Rouge.

I drank a Guinness in Dublin, and I sat on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher.

I saw the entirety of London from the London Eye, and posed for a typical tourist pic next to a red phone booth.

I toured the oldest castles in Wales, and watched the biggest rugby game of the year in a pub.

I tried banana beer in Germany, and walked the beautiful streets of Kleve.

I did my best to make zero eye-contact in the Red Light District, and I visited as many coffeeshops as possible in Amsterdam.

I went snorkeling every day in Malta, and I ate the best burgers from the Hot Shots burger van every night.

I cried tears of joy and tears of sadness when I landed in America.

After coming home, I finished my last semester at Ferris and I was a featured student at my commencement ceremony in December.

I spent my semester co-planning the Conversations on Race event on campus, and I tutored Umair, a Pakistani international student, in English. He passed his Michigan English test and I somehow managed to pass my exams.

I applied to the Peace Corps and was accepted as a Secondary Education English teacher in Mongolia, my country of choice!

This past year has been the best year of my life – so far – but I know the years ahead will be great too.

Below, you can watch the short video I made composed of pictures and videos from my time in Europe:

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Post Travel Blues

It’s been awhile since you last heard from me, but rest assured, I’m alive and well.

I returned home on July 31st and was thrown right back into my old, every day lifestyle. I bought a car, learned to drive in Detroit traffic again, went shopping at the over-sized American supermarkets, and began living in my old apartment again.

It was great seeing all of my friends and family members because I missed them so much, and I loved telling them about my trip, but I probably repeated my favorite stories five times a day and eventually it got old. For everyone.

After the initial excitement I felt upon returning home, I eventually started experiencing some post travel blues. I wanted to go back to my life in the Netherlands, where I could hop on a plane and fly anywhere in Europe, ride my bike along a canal, or even go back to Malta where the only thing on my daily agenda was sunbathing on a beach.

But instead of annoying people and sulking over my amazing experiences, I decided to take action and plan for my next one.

Don’t get me wrong, Michigan is great, but now that I’ve had a little taste of life across the Atlantic, I can’t wait to go back!

Since I’m scheduled to graduate this December, I began researching careers and volunteer opportunities abroad that I can begin applying for right now.

I considered joining the circus, working for a U.S. embassy, selling my car and traveling until I go broke, or applying for the Peace Corps.

All of the above are great options (joining the circus the most tempting all), but I decided the best one for me right now would be joining the Peace Corps.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Peace Corps, it is a volunteer program for Americans who want to help communities abroad. It’s different from the other volunteer opportunities abroad because you don’t have to pay a high fee to join, and instead you actually get paid to be there. The volunteer opportunities range from teaching school children English (what I applied for), to health outreach, and even agriculture related positions.

If I were to be offered a volunteer position with the Peace Corps, I would be shipped overseas (I’m hoping for Mongolia) and live and work in a new country for 27 months! It may seem like a long time, but in the big scheme of things, it’s really not.

Plus, I would be working in a controlled environment near other volunteers and have access to adequate health care.

I think this would be the next big step for me, and I have already been contacted by a recruiter who thinks I have a pretty great shot.

Fingers crossed!

20 Reasons to Travel in Your 20’s

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Original photo taken by Gabi Zerafa.

Your 20’s can be some of the best years of your life. You may be approaching your final year of college and you’re clueless with what you want to do for the rest of your life (hello!), or you could just be an adrenaline junkie looking for your next fix. Either way, traveling is a great way to meet new people, make new memories and open yourself up to new ideas and possibilities.

Here’s a list of reasons why I think you should book your next plane ticket now:

1. You gain practical experience that will always be beneficial.

I learned how to live with people from all over the world, share my space and ask for help when I really needed it. I can say I have shared a one bedroom apartment with three other girls and survived! I learned how to communicate my needs effectively and also compromise when I needed to. All of the experiences I had while traveling have taught me something that I can take back with me when I finally return to my “normal” life.

2. Traveling helps you remember the history lessons you forgot about during your freshman year of college.

Like the fact that England colonized the entire planet.

3. THE FOOD.

Oh man, don’t even get me started about the food. I strongly despised pizza in America but that’s because I was sheltered from the pure cheesy goodness that is an Italian pizza. The day an Italian man in Malta whipped me up a traditional pizza my life was forever changed. I feel bad for my old self.

I also fell in love with Dutch fries dipped in mayonnaise and peanut sauce and the unforgettable deep fried gravy known as bitterballen. Sounds weird but don’t hate!

4. You will meet new people that will impact your life forever.

Although you’ll probably run into the occasional a-hole, you’re also guaranteed to meet a ton of great people. Whether they’re locals or fellow travelers, these people will impact your life in ways you couldn’t imagine.

5. You will challenge yourself.

6. You will learn how to take care of yourself, mentally and physically.

I previously mentioned my episode of culture shock in this post, but I think it deserves to be brought up again. I was depressed, scared to be in unknown surroundings and I felt helpless. I wasn’t used to being so far away from home and I didn’t think I could manage the distance for such a long period of time (approximately 7 months). Luckily, with the help of my mom’s pep talk, I pulled through and learned how to enjoy myself. I learned how to handle the homesick feelings and I learned that it’s okay to not always feel okay.

7. You will gain confidence.

When my mom came to visit me in the Netherlands after I had been living there for three months I realized how much I knew about my new home, how well I could navigate the city, and all of the best places to see in Utrecht. It made me feel so great to be able to share all of that with her. I started to feel like a local and I gained so much confidence because of it.

8. You could learn a new hobby.

Okay, so I didn’t exactly learn a new hobby but I did learn that riding a bike wasn’t so bad. That still counts, right?

9. You’ll learn how to live out of a backpack/suitcase.

I was the idiot who arrived in the Netherlands with two suitcases, a backpack and a carry-on bag. Why? What could I possibly have brought with me that was so important? Nothing.

I left the Netherlands with one suitcase and my backpack but to be honest, I wish I could have left with less.

10. You’ll appreciate your hometown more.

Talking about Michigan and Detroit made me realize how great it truly is. I am fortunate enough to live in a state that is known for the Great Lakes, beautiful wildlife, the Motor City and Vernors.

Yeah, I had to mention Vernors because it’s the first thing I’m buying once I get home.

11. You’ll experience another culture.

Other cultures can look pretty weird from an outside perspective, but once you start living like a local you begin to understand the customs and traditions.

12. You might find out something about yourself that you didn’t know before. Bonus if it’s something really cool.

13. Traveling can open up new doors for you.

14. …it may also close a few.

Before leaving for the Netherlands, I never would have known that I was going to be spending my summer in Malta. Traveling sometimes does the unexpected and presents things in front of you that you would just be silly to not take advantage of.

Because I decided to spend six weeks in Malta, I had to cut back on my car budget for when I return back home. In the long run I’m pretty sure I’ll look back and know that I made the right decision.

15. You might learn a language.

I didn’t, but there’s no stopping you!

16. Cheap accommodation!

Hostels are a backpacker’s haven and really popular in Europe. Or if you’re really up for an adventure, there’s always CouchSurfing.

Okay, so this one isn’t just for people in their 20’s but both options are typically used by younger people.

17. Your Instagram will look ~fabulous.~

My iPhone currently houses over 2,000 pictures. That’s about 20 years worth of Instagram worthy footage.

18. You’ll feel freer than ever.

No bedtime, ice cream for dinner, no one to tell you what you should/shouldn’t be doing. What more can a 20 year old ask for?

19. There’s always a possibility for a new, exciting adventure that wouldn’t be available to you at home.

Buying my first plane ticket was one of the most terrifying, exciting things to happen in my life. It was the first time I was traveling on my own and I had no idea what to expect.

When I was in the Netherlands, I learned about a website called srprs.me. Although this website is only useful to people in the Netherlands, it sounds really freakin’ cool.

You basically decide on what your budget would be for a little vacation, decide if you want to take this little vacation with a friend or go solo, and choose your dates. Then, the website does the rest and they literally surprise you with a vacation. You have no idea where you’re going until you get to the airport. It has awesome reviews and I wish I would have done it.

There’s always next time.

20. Why not?

Why aren’t you traveling?

Are you waiting for the “perfect time?”

There will never be a “perfect time” because we always make excuses for ourselves. I mean, I did that for three years. Finally, I shut up and decided the time was now and it was.

Are you waiting to save up enough money?

Traveling on a budget has never been easier with all of the resources you have online. You can do a Workaway (like me!), CouchSurf, or even hitchhike. If you want it bad enough, $500 can be enough to get you somewhere.

Do you want to travel with another person but you kind of hate all of your friends?

Bad idea. Don’t rely on others because you’ll be waiting for years. Solo travel can be scary but hey, ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

Do yourself a favor by visiting Skyscanner, typing in your local airport as the starting point, and “everywhere” as the destination.

You might be traveling sooner than you think.

A Midnight Walk

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On a houseboat with Polina and Gabi.

I know I said that my previous blog post was my last post from the Netherlands, but I lied.

Something so amazing happened to me tonight and I had to share it with you all – even if that means writing this to you after a few glasses (or a bottle) of wine later, at 1 in the morning.

Let me set the scene.

My night started out at around 9 p.m. when my roommates and I decided to crack open a few beers and a bottle of wine to enjoy our last night together in Utrecht. Gabi, Zee, Polina and I sang a few songs in our garden (a tradition of ours) and decided to take one last walk along the canals together.

We packed a backpack with 6 beers and the rest of the bottle of Cabernet, and headed out for the closest canal to our apartment.

This canal happens to have a few bridges that are beautifully lit with Christmas lights and lined with houseboats.

In my previous blog post, A Tour of Utrecht, you may remember me mentioning Gabi’s plan to visit one of these spectacular houseboats.

Well folks, we finally did it!

As we were walking along this canal with the houseboats, we started hearing music in the distance. Since we just finished our karaoke session not too long ago, we figured we would follow the music. After all, we were still in a singing/dancing mood.

When we walked to the end of the canal, we pin-pointed the music to a houseboat and saw two people dancing in the living room.

We stood across the canal from this houseboat, dancing to the music and singing along with these strangers across from us. If you were around to witness this scene, you would have thought we looked crazy.

During a pause between songs, we shouted to the couple, “Hey! Do you mind if we join the party?” They invited us right in.

After running across the bridge and knocking on their door, we were greeted with open arms and loud music.

The two people who greeted us were a couple, Mieke and Herricke, in their late 40s. They reminded me of a young couple, carefree and in love.

We shared a dance, a few drinks, and Mieke shared some words of wisdom with all of us that I will never forget.

She said, “Go for [whatever you want out of life] totally. Don’t ever go for something half way.”

She also said a lot of other inspirational things, but my wine brain cannot remember them right now.

We shared an amazing 30 minutes together, sitting on their dock next to the lit up bridge, enjoying the beautiful view and each other’s company.

The four of us ended up leaving Mieke and Herricke’s houseboat after exchanging contact information and kind words. They were the sweetest Dutch people I have ever met and I will never forget this night.

A few months ago, when Gabi mentioned visiting a houseboat randomly with biscuits and tea, I kind of thought she was crazy. Yet here I was, with a six pack of beer and a bottle of wine, dancing on a houseboat with two strangers and my roommates, living life the way it was meant to be lived.

I love my crazy, beautiful life.