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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5 Ways to Cut Down on Money While Traveling

There are many ways you can travel or study abroad and not break the bank. By being in the Netherlands for 6 months, I am actually saving money.

I came here with a budget of $6,000 USD, or  ‎€5,300 after being converted from dollars to euros. Five months ago that didn’t seem like much and I was right. That budget would have left me with a little under a thousand per month to afford rent, food, travel and extra expenses for six months. Despite knowing this, I was determined to make it work.

Since arriving back in January, I have been able to afford traveling to England, Wales, Germany, Belgium, Ireland and soon to be added to the list: Malta.

I have also been able to treat myself to the occasional dinner out with friends, movie tickets, concerts and day trips around the Netherlands.

Even with all of these nice extras, I’m going home with money in my savings!

I couldn’t believe it either, and I wouldn’t have been able to if it wasn’t for these money saving tips and tricks:

1. Workaway.info

I will forever be grateful for stumbling across workaway.info. More information about this useful website can be found in my previous blog post here, but this website has been my key to saving thousands of dollars.

In short, you pay approximately $30 for a two year membership on workaway.info, and with that membership comes endless opportunities around the world.

Whether you’re traveling for two weeks, two months, or two years, there’s a workaway position that’s perfect for you. Most of the volunteer options listed on the website are working in hostels (what I’m doing), working on a farm, or teaching English to a family and living in their home. While all of the positions vary slightly, they all promise free accommodation and food in exchange for your volunteer work!

Since room and board is the biggest expense in any trip, this website was a huge help and probably the only reason I was actually able to study abroad. Living in the Netherlands can be expensive!

2. Cheap airfare

Flying from the United States to anywhere in Europe is way overpriced.

Luckily for myself, being from Detroit means I’m really close to Canada, and flying from Canada to Europe means saving $500 on airfare. I wish I was kidding!

For a round trip ticket from Detroit to Amsterdam, I was looking at spending $1300 or more for the dates I was searching. When I purchased my ticket from Windsor to Amsterdam, I only paid $850. It’s still disgustingly expensive, but I’ve seen worse.

If you’re able to fly from Canada, seriously consider it.

If you’re flying from Europe to the U.S., consider flying into Boston and then to your final destination. For some reason Boston is really cheap and I’ve found tickets from Amsterdam to Boston for $250, depending on the dates. Although this means you won’t be flying direct, it can save you so much money in the long run.

One tip I wish I knew before arriving: do not book a return flight for such a long trip.

Plans change and I’m a walking example of that.

Instead of getting on my return flight June 11th, I am now getting on a flight to Malta instead!

Obviously when I booked my flights back in December, I had no idea I’d end up living in Malta. I would have saved myself some money by booking a one-way flight, but those things can’t be predicted and I was better safe than sorry.

I’ve learned my lesson, and I won’t be booking my flight back to the U.S. until I’ve arrived in Malta. Who knows what I’ll want to do once I’m there?

Also, when you’re flying from country to country across Europe, your best bet for cheap airfare is Ryanair or Aerlingus, depending on your destination.

3. Pack basic clothes and don’t bring accessories!

Clothes in Europe can be expensive – so expensive it hurts not only my wallet, but my heart as well.

My first month here I made the mistake of buying all of these fancy European clothes because I wanted to “fit into” this new European culture I was exposed to.

Except here’s the thing: most of these people wear basic colors (black, white, brown) and make their outfits unique through accessories. And the accessories can be cheap!

The H&M accessory section has become my new best friend. Whether I’m looking for jewelry, a scarf, or some shoes, I know I can go to H&M and find something that will be in my budget. This has proved to be helpful on more than one occasion, but specifically when I wear the same black shirt five days in a row and try to make it look like a new outfit every time. Not kidding, wish I was!

4. Cook your own food

As a part of my workaway agreement, I am able to order practically everything from the supermarket, apart from meat, and it’s all covered by my employers. Even wine!

Because of this, there is almost no reason for me to eat at restaurants or order take-out (although sometimes I have to splurge).

Food at the restaurants in the Netherlands can get really expensive, really fast. A simple burger and fries for €16 can turn into a $20 meal after the exchange rate and fees. No thanks!

5. Do as many free or discounted activities as possible

 

If the local bar offers drink specials on a Tuesday, don’t go there on a Thursday and pay double the price. That’s just silly.

If it’s a nice sunny day, go for a walk, ride a bike, or have a picnic in the park. Some of my best memories in the Netherlands have been on days where I didn’t spend more than €5, and that money went toward having beers on the canal.

When you’re surrounded by good company, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a great time. Sometimes all you need is each other.

Too cheesy? I think so.

 

 

 

Culture Shock: The Ugly Truth

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Photo was taken during my most recent weekend excursion at Castell Coch in Cardiff, Wales.

 

If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m kind of bad at blogging. I forget to check my e-mail daily, so I’m having a hard time keeping up with this thing. Apologies.

Since my last post about Belgium I have traveled to The Hague, Germany, England, and Wales. I had so much fun in all of these cities/countries, and they each deserve their own blog post, but I have more important things to talk about.

I’ve started this post a handful of times, trying to figure out the best way to put my thoughts into words. I’m finding it hard to be honest with you all, but I started this blog to document my journey and it would be unfair if I didn’t paint the correct picture for you.

I’m dealing with serious culture shock.

While I briefly mentioned the culture shock I was feeling during my first few weeks in Utrecht in this post, the full effects didn’t sink in until two weeks ago.

If you have me on Facebook, you might have gotten the idea that I’m having the time of my life. And while that’s mostly true, I’ve also been dealing with the not so picturesque side of study abroad.

I was having a very hard time settling into my new home. I cannot read or speak in Dutch, most of the time I have no idea where I’m going, and people in the city can be less than pleasant on an average day (but that’s anywhere).

I also felt very trapped. Since I’m from America, the average one way ticket to go home would cost me approximately $700. It would also take a full day of traveling and a new time zone to get used to, so I wouldn’t be able to swing a weekend trip like most of my fellow European study-abroaders (new word, Webster?).

Two weeks ago, I was crying to my mom over the phone about how much I missed home. I didn’t think I could make until July in the Netherlands. I was googling cheap tickets home and panicking when I saw the prices. Thankfully, she convinced me to not be impulsive and to sleep on it before making any rash decisions. And I’m so happy she did, because staying is what’s best for me.

Throughout the past two months of this experience I have learned so much about myself:

I learned that it’s okay to be really uncomfortable in a new place. 

I went through a lot of changes by coming here and they all happened to me at once. From starting my job at the hostel to starting classes at Hogeschool, I was bound to feel extreme emotions of excitement, shock and anxiety. It’s okay to not always feel okay.

I learned that home is not necessarily a place, but a feeling.

I feel at home every time I talk to my mom on the phone. She tells me stories about her coworkers, my family members, and even the crazy Michigan weather. Talking to her reminds me that living in the Netherlands is only temporary and I cannot take this experience for granted.

I felt at home when I visited my friends Taylor and Jens in Kleve, Germany. Taylor was my roommate for six months when I was at Ferris last semester, so being around her always feels normal. It also helped that Jens’ mom made us dinner one night, because obviously a home cooked meal is comforting.

But I’m also learning to accept Utrecht as my home. I have three amazing roommates and a handful of coworkers that always bring a smile to my face. We often have karaoke and jam sessions in the living room, and they always make me the happiest. My apartment is surrounded by green grass, canals, tulips, and millions of Dutchies riding endless amounts of bikes – which is so great I almost take it for granted.

And lastly, I’m learning to try new things.

In the middle of writing this sentence, my roommate offered me to try Turkish pita bread topped with a “liver spread” and a funky smelling cheese. I loved it so much I am now eating it for dinner.

But on a more serious note, I work, live and interact with people from different cultures on a daily basis. When someone asks me to go somewhere with them, or even try a new food that’s unusual for me (raw herring thanks to Andrew), I have learned to always say yes. It could be the best raw herring in the world (it was), or it could have been the worst. But I never would have known if I didn’t try.

It has taken me so long to write this (much needed) blog post because I feared my readers would think I was crazy for not always enjoying myself during my study abroad. I don’t want you all to think I’m ungrateful for this experience, because I most certainly am not. I worked very hard to get to where I am, and I wouldn’t change a thing. But I want you to all understand that there can be other sides to studying abroad that aren’t always noticeable through smiling photos on Facebook.

Below you can see a few pictures from the trips I’ve taken since Belgium!

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