Braving the Baltics 

Everyone told me when I decided to study abroad that it would be amazing — I would develop new skills, learn more about myself, and cultivate a more global perspective. Now facing the end of my semester, I can confidently say that all those things came to fruition, though not in the way I anticipated.

Three weeks ago, I had a chance to employ one of the new skills I gained: sleeping on a bus. Apparently, the trick for me involved travel excitement, a gaggle of friends, and the third overnight bus in six days. Since then, I have not struggled at all with sleeping on any form of transportation — whether it be the bus back from the grocery store or my legs as I sleepwalked with friends back to campus after an evening at a staff member’s house.

Needless to say, I arrived in Tallinn, Estonia after a surprising night of wonderful sleep, ready to see the sights. 


Mother Nature had a surprise to welcome me to the capital of the northernmost Baltic state: a beautiful snow day. As I explored Tallinn’s old town, the streets became laden with a fresh blanket of snow, revealing its beauty and making up for the fact that the marvelous outlook. I hiked half an hour to see revealed nothing but a swirling white canvas occasionally punctuated by the blue-green spires of ancient church buildings.

View of Tallinn with snow

As a city half destroyed by World War II, Tallinn’s architecture speaks of the blending of two worlds — one very ancient and one very modern — with a vibrant spirit of resilience and resistance still prominent in the streets and local population. I ended my journey in Tallinn by indulging in a medieval feast that alighted all of my senses and gave me a taste of the origins of traditions that Estonians still hold dear today.


As the largest Baltic capital, Riga, Latvia, is a bustling metropolis with an old town that expands into sprawling modernity. It was there that I truly comprehended how recently these young democratic countries won their independence.

I learned about movements such as the Baltic Way where citizens from across Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia joined hands to form an unbroken human chain of 600 kilometers from Vilnius to Tallinn in a peaceful protest against Soviet occupation. I also discovered the central market, a place where local vendors peddle traditional Latvian food and merchandise.

Investigation of famous sites as well as pointless meandering brought the joy of finding the smallest street sign in Riga, chocolate that claimed to be magic, and a black cat that serves as a reminder of the importance of trade and guilds in Riga.

My trip ended with a powerful stop at the Hill of Crosses where I took in almost half a century of remembrance, respect, and honor for those who have gone before.

And that’s a wrap! With my journey abroad coming to an end, I can look back and see the numerous ways that I have grown and learned from those around me and the cultures I have had the privilege to experience.

One last dinner with everyone!

I look forward to enjoying every moment of my final few days in Lithuania and am starting to anticipate my bittersweet return back home.

So Long, Dublin: An open letter to a city that will always be home

Dear Dublin,

I’ve been back in the States for a week and a half. Back in my comfortable life where I spend most of my time at home, petting my dogs and generally doing nothing. Back to being a daughter living with her parents.

It’s a strange feeling after living months of complete freedom and independence. It’s as though I don’t feel quite comfortable in my American skin–at least the skin of being home. Sometimes it is stifling. And yes, there is beauty in these moments of simply being known and I will always love spending time at the farm, but, Dublin, I miss you. Oh, how I miss you.

In 103 days, you gave me a lifetime of memories, a lifetime of growth, and a lifetime of wonder. There will always be something in me longing to return to Ireland, to the city I call home.

And I do still call you home, Dublin. Even before I landed on your shores, circling over the islands of your harbor, I knew. Your tangled city streets, the River Liffey which rises and falls throughout the week, the crowds around Temple Bar, the DART, the canal with its benches and swans… these places will always hold a special place in my heart.

Safe in the embrace of the Liberties, I learned how to cook and experimented with my love of potatoes. From my bedroom window, I woke each morning to the cries of seagulls–loud at first, then softer and softer as the months went on–and stared out at the spires of Christchurch Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. On Sundays, it seemed as though the bells never stopped ringing, as though their joy could not be contained.

Dublin, you taught me how to spend time in my own company. I have always hated being alone, hated seeming awkward and out of place. In Dublin, though, I wandered parks and museums and sat in restaurants alone. I even explored different cities, taking the time to see the faintest rainbows, the swirling patterns of the shells, the development of leaves of my favorite trees.

Oh, Dublin, I miss your cobblestone streets. I miss milky tea on Wednesday mornings in the middle of class. I miss cooking for myself–something I never thought I’d say. I miss walking amongst history every day. I miss my favorite stores and my favorite cookies and a hundred other moments that, undoubtedly, will soon become lost to time.

For all that I miss, though, what I gained is far more lasting. You taught me to look beyond my small bubble of the world. You showed me what is really meant by ‘a global church’ as I stood in a roomful of strangers singing the same songs as I do here, reciting the same creeds. You showed me an example of how to create a school/life/adventure balance.

You taught me who I could be.

So, Dublin, this is not goodbye and it never will be. It is simply a see you later, an until we meet again.

Slán go fóill. Goodbye for now.

Where Did The Time Go: My Final Week in Dublin

My last week in Dublin began like any other with the cry of seagulls, the tolling of bells, and the brilliant sun streaming through my window. Nothing had changed except for the sinking feeling in my stomach, the feeling reminding me that time was running out, that I would be getting on a plane in a week even though all I wanted was to stay.

Regardless of this sense of melancholy, I was determined to make the most of my last few days in Dublin. I still had to squeeze in my final assignments but the call of the sun and the breeze was strong, drawing me to places I hadn’t visited in months.

The first of these places was Phoenix Park, the largest enclosed public park in any capital city in Europe. I walked here with a few of my roommates during my first week in Dublin and hadn’t been back since. At the time, the walk felt far, the street stretching long ahead of us, the obelisk in the distance almost taunting. This time, although the distance itself hadn’t changed, I had. The walk was short, beautiful. I went deeper into the park than I had before, past ancient trees, majestic buildings, even the famous deer. Taylor Swift in my ear and grass beneath my feet, my only thought was: If I don’t come back, it was the fairies.

The next day, a group of us took the DART out to Dun Laoghaire. It’s a gorgeous little beachside town and, on Sundays, there’s a market in the park. It’s full of stalls selling baked goods and little crafts, people lying in the grass smiling and talking. To my shock and joy, I found a stand selling gluten-free baked goods and bought an entire apple tart. It was probably bigger than my head, but I regret nothing. The crust was flakey and the apples were perfectly tart. Plus, it has become a bit of a tradition to eat apple pie during finals.

After exploring the market, we headed over to 40 Foot and Sandycove–an extremely popular swimming spot. It doesn’t matter how cold the water is; a bracing jump in the Irish Sea is never a bad idea. We jumped off the cliff (don’t worry–it’s not actually 40 feet tall) and swam in the crystal blue waters. I’m gonna miss such easy access to the seaside.

Later in the day, we walked over to Phoenix Park and had a little sunset picnic. We had meats and cheese and honestly, it was lovely.

Of course, during that last week, I still spent plenty of time in my apartment doing homework. Finals don’t stop for anyone even if you are in Europe. Still, I made the best of it and prioritized taking walks in the beautiful weather.

A little PSA… Don’t listen to anyone who tells you Ireland is all rain. Ireland is the world’s greatest place! 🙂

Anyway, let’s fast forward to my final day in Dublin–the one in which I went on my final solo date. The day began bright and early because I am literally unable to sleep in. (Obnoxious but it is what it is.)

I went out to breakfast at this teeny restaurant called Goose on the Loose (if you’re ever in Dublin, go there for breakfast because it’s delicious). I drank a massive cappuccino and had a strawberry-nutella crepe.

Leaving the restaurant, I wandered my favorite little spots, read a book in St Stephen’s Green, and said goodbye to the places that had become home. I popped into the Dead Zoo (aka Museum of Natural History) and into the National Museum of Archeology. From there, I went up and down Grafton Street, listening to live music and window shopping. I wandered through the winding cobblestone streets and popped into my all-time favorite store Sostrene Grene. I’m gonna miss that place so much.

My last afternoon was spent with my roommates cleaning the apartment. We had to leave it spotless of course and honestly, it was fun to go through spices and everything together.

And then it was time to go to the airport, time to head back to the US. Writing this, I’ve been home for about a week and it’s so weird. I miss Dublin constantly and I think there will always be a part of me longing to return.

My Packing Guide for Studying Abroad

Now that I’ve been living abroad for a few months, I started to compile a list of packing tips for those who are thinking about studying abroad for a semester. I did plenty of research before this trip and so many of the recommendations were very helpful (and why my “what I’m glad I brought” category is so extensive)!

Before reading my list, it is important to note a few important details. I am studying in Milan, Italy which is a major hub for fashion. It also tends to be around 35 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter months and once April hits temperatures can be closer to the 70s or 80s.  It also tends to be pretty rainy since it doesn’t often snow. Lastly, I checked one suitcase and on the plane brought my backpack and crossbody bag. Given all of that, here is my list!

What I wish I brought: 

  1. American snacks

This might seem silly, but trust me you’ll miss them! I was able to find Oreos which are a favorite of mine, but I missed goldfish, pretzels, and other savory snacks. Bring your favorites – especially for the plane!

  1. Black clothing

Milan is known for their fashion and one thing I noticed is that they wear a lot of black. Like a loooot of black. I came prepared with a few black tops, a black rain jacket, and a pair of black jeans, but I wish I had brought a few more things. My crossbody bag was light blue which was completely fine, but had I known when I bought it that black would have been a more neutral option, I might have gotten that. 

  1. Summer clothing

The weather got warmer here faster than I thought and I only brought a few short-sleeve shirts to wear. I wish I had brought more to stay cooler during my last month in Milan. You ask anyone who knows me well and they can confirm that I do not like wearing dresses. However, when traveling to places with warmer temperatures, having a few summer dress options would have been nice. 

4. Locks

Most hostels will not provide you with a lock and I did not bring one ahead of time. I ended up buying a cheap one at the grocery store, but it would have been easier (and cheaper!) to buy a few on Amazon and bring them with me instead. 

What I’m glad I brought: 

  1. Day-trip backpack & cross-body bag

Not only would this have been a lifesaver had my luggage gotten lost on the way there, but having a good backpack was also super convenient to have for weekend trips. The number one thing I’m grateful that I brought was my cross-body bag. I’ve worn this bag every single day whether I was leaving the country, heading to class, or just going to the store. Unfortunately, since pick-pocketing is common in Europe, having a bag across the front of your body is a game changer and a great option to have. 

  1. Sweaters

Given that Milan is one of the fashion capitals of the world and my favorite article of clothing is sweatpants, I was a bit worried about what to wear. After doing some research, I decided to pack lots of sweaters and a few pairs of jeans and I’m glad I did. I rotated through different combinations of those throughout the week. When my family came to visit, I had them bring me some sweaters I decided not to pack since I was conscious about not over-packing. But if you have room, take them!

  1. Minimal toiletries

In my backpack on the flight there, I included a small toiletry bag with all of the essentials in travel bottles. After I arrived in Milan, I bought full-size bottles of lotion, shampoo, conditioner, etc., and saved the travel-size items for my weekend excursion. This system worked super well! 

  1. Umbrella

One of the last things I purchased was a small umbrella from Target. I wanted something compact that wouldn’t take up much space. It rained more than I had anticipated, so I’m so glad I brought one. 

  1. Jackets

I opted to leave my heavy winter coat back home and that was a smart decision. With me, I brought a jacket, a raincoat, and a vest. This ended up being perfect as I had options but none of them took up much space when packing. 

  1. Medicine

As I said earlier, Europe in general does not sell things in large quantities, and that includes medicine. For over-the-counter products in the States (Ibuprofen, Tylenol, Zyrtec, Dayquil, vitamins, etc.) these are really helpful to purchase before you leave. Take into consideration that the labels for medications in Italy (or other countries in Europe) will be in a different language and you’ll want to make sure you’re taking the right product and the right quantity!

  1. Portable charger & outlet adapters

Bringing a portable charger (or two!) with you is a staple. You never want to run the risk of your phone dying when you’re out and about and still need to get back home. Also, I know some people who waited to buy outlet adapters until they arrived, and to save yourself the stress, buy them ahead of time! 

  1. Credit card

I did not have a credit card before coming to Milan, but I got one to avoid the exchange rate fees. Although those charges might seem small, they will build up! It’s a great way to save money by using a credit card without foreign fees. 

  1. Tide stain stick

I was not planning on bringing one, but I saw one in the Target aisle and couldn’t help myself. This ended up being one of the best things I bought! The towels at my apartment were all white and if they’re stained, I get fined. I avoided those a few times thanks to my tide stick. 

  1. Reusable bags

These have been a LIFESAVER! I brought two tote-sized reusable bags and I use them for everything. Often places like the grocery store will make you pay for bags so it’s much cheaper/easier to bring your own. I’ve also used them for my laundry bags and are super compact to take on a trip, too. 

What I wish I left behind: 

  1. Shoes

I am not a sneaker-head. I usually have one pair of shoes that I wear consistently and never alternate. For some reason, I thought this would change this semester, and it most certainly did not. I wore the same pair of white Reeboks the entire semester. I loved having these shoes as they were comfortable, reliable and went with every outfit. However, that meant I neglected to wear my tennis shoes and brown boots which I had also brought. I wish I had left those at home and brought another similar pair of white sneakers. For those who are like me, I would bring shoes you know you are going to work with most outfits and keep it to a minimum. 

  1. Brightly colored clothes

Like I mentioned earlier, Italians love to wear black so my bright blue long-sleeve did not fit in. Of course, you can wear what you please, but in a personal effort to fit in, I wanted to dress more like the locals and wish I left my brightly colored clothes at home.

This, of course, is not an exhaustive list, but linked here is the full packing list that I made & used! My biggest tip is to start packing early! I made a list and began packing about two weeks before I left. That gave me enough time to check my list several times, buy what I needed, and make sure I didn’t forget anything. For those who are thinking of studying in Milan (or in Europe in general), please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions! 

Another Kind of Holland: Amsterdam and Keukenhof Gardens

Visiting Amsterdam and the Tulip Fields has been on my bucket list for years. Before I left home, my dad asked me where I would choose to travel outside of Ireland and I told him London, Edinburgh, and Amsterdam. Honestly, I’m still in shock writing this. I never imagined that my dreams really could come true.

So, come along with me on my final trip!

A Day in Amsterdam

In true Ryanair fashion, I woke up at 3 am to get to the airport, etc. As glad as I am that I no longer need to plan such ridiculous travel arrangements, I’m honestly really sad that this era is coming to an end. That said, this was the most obnoxious flight I have ever been on. An Irish stag party yelled across the plane for the entire flight. Meeting up with Kylie and Kalysta on the ground, we all exchanged looks, shaking our heads and chuckling. What else were we supposed to do?

Making it through customs, we did the best we could with public transportation, buying train tickets and hoping we ended up on the right train. It took us a bit but, eventually, we made it to our hostel, stored our bags, and hit the road. Combined, we created the navigation trifecta: Google Maps, Apple Maps, and CityMapper.

Amsterdam is STUNNING! Genuinely, it was magical to see blue sky and green leaves, to walk around without jackets and still be warm. First, we went to the Van Gogh Museum–Kalysta’s favorite artist. While there, we saw Van Gogh’s famous self-portraits, some of his letters, and gallery after gallery. When Kylie saw Van Gogh’s iris painting, she said it reminded her of me. I really have become known as the flower girl and I’m not mad about it.

Leaving the museum, we set out to wander the city. As a guide, we set the Anne Frank Huis as our destination, hoping to see the outside of the building. Over a month prior, we tried to buy tickets but they had already sold out. If you’re ever going to Amsterdam and this is something you want to see, set an alarm for the ticket drop and get on the website as fast as possible.

On the way, Kylie added a stop on her map: the bench Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace sit at in The Fault in Our Stars. It was only about 500 m away from us so we took off. Weaving through the canals, we managed to find it quickly. It’s entirely unassuming–no markers or anything, only a pin drop on the map. It’s tucked in a little neighborhood along a tree-lined canal. Naturally, we stopped and took some pictures.

We continued exploring the streets and taking pictures for the afternoon. At five, we took a canal cruise because it seemed the quintessential thing to do. It was a great way to see more of the city than we would have otherwise and a nice break from all the walking we’d been doing.

A Bucket List Moment: Keukenhof Gardens

I woke up the next morning giddy with excitement. This was the day I’d been waiting for since we booked this trip in January. I was finally going to see “Tulip Time”! The likelihood that I see Holland’s is slim because I’m always home for summer before it officially starts, so I couldn’t wait to go to the original.

But first, we had to eat breakfast, had to eat something that felt authentically Dutch while also having gluten-free options. Naturally, I chose Pancakes! Amsterdam. We were all very original and unique in choosing our meals… Just kidding– we all got apple and bacon pancakes. The Dutch style is more crepe-like which I personally prefer and it was delicious.

And, after another wander around Amsterdam’s canals, it was time to go to Keukenhof Gardens!!

I have never been anywhere so beautiful in my life. Walking through the gates, my jaw dropped. The blooms were in perfect condition, color dancing in the wind like something out of a movie. Except, this was real life. I wish I could have bottled the perfume of the flowers, captured their color forever. For hours, I didn’t stop smiling. Each time I turned a corner, the gardens became more and more beautiful.

As we wandered, we joked that we were in a fairy garden or that we were princesses. Despite the crowds, that’s what it felt like. Although tickets to the garden were entirely sold out, the crowd never felt oppressive. It was quiet and respectful, everyone in awe of the surrounding beauty.

We grabbed smoothies for lunch, sipping them whilst sitting on the vibrant green grass next to a patch of brilliant red tulips. We could see the windmill in the background which we were able to climb. Looking back at pictures from Holland, it was wild to see how similar images of Holland’s Tulip Time are to Keukenhof. Plus, I have a knew appreciation for our windmill having been inside this one.

I wish I could think of a better way to describe the portion of the gardens I saw. It’s hard to put into words the beauty of the blooms and really there isn’t much of a story to tell. Still, it’s a day I will cherish forever and always.

In a way, it reminded me of where I was at this time last year. My first Michigan winter was really hard, especially as a girl used to mild Tennessee winters. I was desperate for green, tired of being cold, and ready to go home.

And then the tulips began to bloom.

With those specks of color, everything changed and I felt like I found myself again. A year later, standing across the world and surrounded by the same blooms, I realized how far I’ve come.

Truly, this was the most “Anna” day possible. The sun was shining, the air was warm without being hot, there were flowers literally everywhere, and we ended the day with French fries from a school bus.

I could have spent a hundred years in the gardens and I will return one day. For now, though, it’s time to make the most of Dublin and embrace the nostalgia I’m feeling. Flying home from Amsterdam, it hit me that this was my last Ryanair flight, my last time in Terminal 1, my last time telling Irish border control that I’m studying abroad, that I’m coming home. I think it particularly struck me this time around because it was exactly two weeks from the day I leave Dublin.

And there’s a piece of me that doesn’t want to leave, that can’t leave. There will always be a piece of my heart in Dublin. Studying abroad has changed me and I will forever value what Dublin has taught me.

A Weekend in Warsaw 

With the turning of the seasons, I decided it was finally warm enough to adventure into other areas of Eastern Europe and embarked on an independent travel trip to Warsaw, Poland over holy weekend (I’m a little behind in blogging).

Aside from the gorgeous 76-degree weather and sunshine, Warsaw offered me a glimpse into deep troughs of history, culture, and resilience. I also experienced personal growth, cultivated travel skills, realized the importance of checking calendars before planning a trip, and learned that I am capable of pulling two all-nighters traveling and coming out the other side grateful for the experience. So, without further ado, I hope you will enjoy a brief look at my adventures through Warsaw!

My excitement as I toppled out of the bus at 4:30 am at Warsaw Central Station was tempered slightly when I realized nothing was open. After a full night’s travel, I wished for nothing more than a bathroom, some coffee, and a cute little place to plan out the rest of my trip. As it was, these needs were satisfied not in the idyllic way I had imagined, but through the one place that opened at 5:00 am on a Saturday: McDonald’s. After spending an hour refreshing and planning, I came to realize that many museums and shops in Warsaw closed down for the celebration of holy weekend. Nevertheless, it still held many gems to uncover.

By the time I boarded my next overnight bus to take me home, I had experienced many firsts. As I traversed the vast city of Warsaw, I experienced gorgeous parks, architectural marvels, and monuments to history both lost and gained.

I bought my first new book and read it on the first warm, sunny day I have experienced since studying abroad; I observed the whole city of Warsaw from a viewing platform; I saw my first live hippopotamus; I explored Historic Old Town; I tried Polish ice cream; I participated in an international church service; I crossed the busiest (and longest) pedestrian bridge I have ever seen; I stayed in my first hostel; I ate my first tiramisu; I viewed numerous churches; and I learned how to navigate all aspects of Warsaw public transit from metro to tram! I also discovered that I would not want to backpack across Europe and should consider luggage lockers for future trips.

And that’s it for now! I hope you enjoyed hearing about some of my adventures in Warsaw! Until my next weekend trip, iki!

My Friends Waiting for the Bus to Take Us Back to Lithuania

A Solo Day in St Andrews, Scotland

If you know much about me, you’ll know that I have long held a fascination with St Andrews, Scotland, and have been desperate to visit since 2020 during my freshman year of high school. I am fully aware that this is a strange fixation but here me out. I was bit by the travel bug at a very early age. Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out how to move abroad. Studying abroad is the first step in that goal.

Here’s where it gets interesting. When Covid shut the world down, the world moved online. At this point, I had already been researching St Andrews University and considering going abroad for my undergraduate degree. Specifically, I was interested in St Andrews’ Comparative Literature degree. Naturally, I signed up for multiple information sessions, watching livestreams from my living room.

Ultimately, I decided that 17 was a bit too young to move across the world but that didn’t mean I forgot about St Andrews. Not in the slightest. As soon as I booked my trip to Edinburgh, I made it clear that I would do everything I could to go to St Andrews. After all, when else would I be closer or in a position to just hop on a train and go?

I did my research and booked my train tickets just before bed from the comfort of my hostel. Really, I had no idea what I was doing. The next morning, I got breakfast, stored my bag, and made my way across the street to Waverly Station. My train departed at 9:10 from platform 19. To be quite honest, I was scared to take public transportation alone (something I tend to avoid) but I was also excited to have a solo travel moment.

Unsurprisingly, I fell in love with train travel. The views out my window were stunning and it was honestly very easy. I crossed over the Firth of Forth, through seaside towns, past farmland… Seriously, it was amazing. Arriving at Leuchars Station, I took the bus into St Andrews and was blown away.

St Andrews and its university are blended into each other, bound by cobblestone streets and confined by the sea. Wind whipped through the buildings, flinging sand and spray through the air. Sun beamed down and clouds floated in the semblance of sheep. I popped in and out of numerous bookstores, some chains like Waterstones but most independent shops with towering shelves and library ladders.

Making my way toward the cathedral ruins, I found myself in a graveyard. Classic Anna, I know. Still, it was beautiful, names and dates filling in every space available on many of the stones. Most of the graves were old, some marking the fallen of the World Wars. One marker was commemorative, honoring a family member buried at Ypres. Some were the graves of children, aged three or four. The span was remarkable, both striking and sobering.

From there, I made my way down to the first of three beaches. Once again, I dipped my fingers in the water, feeling the cold salt as it rushed over the sand, the stones and shells marking the shore. Near one of the benches overlooking the beach, I saw a bundle of wilted tulips tied together with string. They looked to be placed gently but I didn’t know why and I didn’t know what it meant.

I climbed back up the hill and made my way to the second beach, this one below the castle. It’s a small stretch of sand, but a popular one. People gathered there to picnic and sun themselves on the rocks. The wind was clearly something to be ignored on a sunny day.

Eventually, I moved on and continued exploring, walking up and down cobblestone paths and looking at the buildings around me. I’m convinced that they’ve seen incredible amounts of history and I wish I knew their stories, however mundane they may be.

Popping into the Wardlaw Museum, I wandered the small collection of exhibits, viewing the papal bull that granted St Andrews university status in 1413 (making St Andrews University Scotland’s first) and the Peter Pan statue gifted by J. M. Barrie who was the Rector of St Andrews University from 1919 to 1922. They also had an exhibit on the University traditions and I was surprised to see how many of them I remembered from four years early.

Leaving the museum, I continued exploring, walking up and down streets and honestly just feeling at home. I tried to go to another museum but it was closed on Sundays. I also tried to go to the Botanic Gardens but they were closed due to the high winds. Still, walking to these locations allowed me to explore the town even further so it wasn’t a total loss. Plus, the more I walked, the more I glimpsed students and, yes, they do in fact walk around in their red undergraduate robes. (Look it up; it’s fantastic).

I ended my day by popping into the University bookstore and buying a sweatshirt and t-shirt combo pack. It was a bit of a splurge, but, for four years of dreaming, it was worth it to me. I took my bag and some crisps and made my way to West Sands Beach, fighting the wind every step of the way. You think Lake Michigan winds are bad? Try the coast of Scotland.

But seriously, full sun, sand dunes, pristine beaches, and a cobblestone town crammed with learning and bookstores made for my dream day. One day, I am certain I will return to St Andrews. Maybe it will be as a student. Who knows? But that’s all in the future, a dream that may take four more years.

Here’s my advice: don’t let anything stop you from embracing your ‘saying yes era.’ Yes, it’s scary to step outside your comfort zone but if you stay you may never grow. Make your dreams a reality rather than a fantasy. Go forth and live your life to the fullest!

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9.

In Love with Hairy Coos: Edinburgh and the Highlands

I spent the past weekend in Scotland, a trip I had been looking forward to since I booked travel back in January. One thing’s for sure–I will miss cheap Ryanair flights when I am back home. I spent the weekend with one of my roommates, Kalysta, exploring as much of Scotland as possible. Get ready for a crazy ride through rainy Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands!

For starters, Kalysta and I “girl-mathed” our way into leaving on Thursday night because the flight was cheaper despite the cost of an extra night in our hostel. Unfortunately for us, our flight was delayed for at least an hour and a half. Finally, though, we made it to Scotland after a quick forty-five-minute flight. Much to my annoyance, yet again the border control was essentially non-existent and my passport was not stamped. It’s actually been really weird–so far, Ireland is the only place I’ve been this semester that consistently stamps my passport.

At any rate, our day in Edinburgh began bright and early despite the rain. We’d known in advance that the forecast called for a 100% chance of rain but, in the long run, being wet is a temporary matter when you’re in a place you’ve dreamed of for years. At least, that was my philosophy.

Kalysta and I accomplished quite the list. We spent a few hours in the National Gallery before doing some shopping and exploring Victoria Street and the Royal Mile. These streets are quintessential Edinburgh, shops and stunning facades lining cobblestone streets. Through the rain and mist, the buildings were especially haunting, appearing as if out of the set of a historical film. Over the noise of the crowd, the song of a lone bagpiper wove through the air, playing the notes to ‘Amazing Grace.’ At 13:00, we made our way up the steep hill to Edinburgh Castle. Mist obscured the city, water pooled in puddles on the ground, flowers and greenery contrasted the brown of the stones. Although we explored multiple dungeons, we were not able to see the Scottish jewels–the line was out the door and the rain coming down in sheets. Plus, we were hungry.

Because I am gluten-free, I was in charge of organizing dining locations and reservations, a task that gave me peace of mind. It was actually an easier task in Edinburgh than in many of the places I’ve traveled across America and Ireland. I’ve actually heard Edinburgh is one of the best places in the UK to be gluten-free, if not the best.

Following the reviews on my favorite app in the entire world–Find Me Gluten-Free–we ate lunch at L’Etoile Salon de Tea. There were so many cakes and goodies and the staff were quite knowledgeable. For an anxious girlie, it was perfect.

After lunch, Kalysta and I walked to The Writer’s Museum which is located in Lady Stair’s House at the Lawnmarket on the Royal Mile. The small museum features three famous Scottish writers: Robert Burns, Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. We didn’t spend much time here; the museum is quite small.

Moving on, Kalysta and I walked to the National Portrait Gallery. I don’t personally care much for portraits but the Great Hall was beautiful. (It was also lacking in portraits, but that’s beside the point.) The walls were covered in intricate medieval artwork, the wood framing dark, and the navy ceiling of the two-story room covered in stars. If it was socially acceptable, I would have laid on the floor and just stared up. Of course, I couldn’t do that, so I went to the second floor and walked around the balcony of the Great Hall. While there, I stumbled across a painting of St Columba coming to the Picts–a painting I had researched while doing a project on St Columba a few weeks ago. It was so cool to see it in person.

When the museum closed, I struck out on my own, heading up Princes Street in search of Dean Village. Pictures had been all over my social media, so I figured it was worth the trek. To be honest, Dean Village was a lot smaller than I thought it would be given its hype. It was still beautiful though.

Of course, by this point, I was soaked so I figured I might as well fully commit. Rather than going back to the hostel to dry off, I walked to Greyfriars Kirkyard which is where the Harry Potter graves are located. I didn’t particularly care about these graves but I did want to find them to send pictures to some friends from home. In a downpour and with mist circling about, the vibes were immaculate. I seriously love exploring graveyards; they’re moody, mysterious places full of stories both known and forgotten.

Dinner was fish and chips at Bertie’s Proper Fish and Chips which was insanely good. The restaurant had some of the highest gluten-free ratings I have ever seen and was absolutely packed. If you ever find yourself in Edinburgh, definitely make a reservation!

After an early night, Kalysta and I woke up quite early because we had booked a day trip up to Loch Ness. Specifically, we booked The Hairy Coo’s Loch Ness, Glencoe, and Scottish Highlands Tour which lasted about 12 hours. Much of our time was spent on the bus but it was worth it to see as much of Scotland as possible–I think we traveled around 300 miles. Plus, our bus driver provided commentary and stories of the places we passed as well as their relation to historical figures such as Mary, Queen of Scots, William Wallace, and Robert the Bruce.

On the trip, we were able to see a town called Callander, a village at the foot of the Trossachs, hairy coos (highland cows), the majestic beauty of the highlands, national monuments, the highest mountain peak in the UK, snow, sun, and rainbows. We drove through Glencoe Valley and through both of Scotland’s national parks: Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and the Cairngorms. I don’t think I will ever get over the rugged beauty of Scotland, the wind-blown plains and lochs scattered across the landscape.

The goal of the tour was to reach Loch Ness in the middle of the day, spending about two hours in the town of Fort Augustus and taking a cruise on the Loch for an hour. Unfortunately, due to high winds, the cruise was canceled and we were unable to properly look for Nessie, the legendary Loch Ness Monster. That said, my glimpse of the Loch was pure magic.

Walking up the side of the canal that flows into the Loch, the water spread out before me, encapsulated by trees and hills. At the far end, a rainbow stretched across the narrowest point of my view. As I watched, the colors became stronger and stronger. Genuinely, I have been so blessed to see so many rainbows while I’ve been abroad. It’s a beauty I will never take for granted.

In these two days, I fell in love with Scotland. Stay tuned for the story of my final day in Scotland and for my adventures in Amsterdam next week! Until then, I’ll be doing my homework and preparing for finals (I swear, sometimes school does not feel real whilst abroad). Somehow, I only have a few weeks left and I’ll be trying to make the most of them while I can.

Until next time! 🙂

New Adventures in Oaxaca!


It’s been a minute since my last blog post – these past few weeks have been crazy. Amidst classwork, excursions, and exploring Oaxaca, I haven’t found much time to breathe! My program consists of nine weeks of classes, followed by a short break, and then a month of an internship or an ISP (independent study project). Because of that, the first nine weeks are very academically rigorous. While the classwork itself hasn’t necessarily been more challenging than what I’m used to, the real challenge has been establishing a routine that works for me. Sometimes I feel like I am going through freshman year of college all over again!

However, I have now completed nine weeks of classes! For me, my time abroad feels like it is flying. How am I already over halfway done? In honor of finishing my classes and reaching the halfway point, I thought I’d reflect on some of the highlights of being abroad.


Some of my favorite memories so far have been during our excursions, which most recently have included trips to Puebla, Mexico, and the Mixteca region of Oaxaca.

In Puebla, we spent time with an organization called “Los Pueblos Unidos de la Región Cholulteca y de los Volcanes.” There, we learned about how corporations exploit the land and water of the community and how indigenous communities are fighting back. We also explored the beautiful city! I can now say that I’ve visited Puebla, and one day I hope to return.

In the Mixteca region, we spent time with a different indigenous community. We worked in the fields and learned about sustainable practices that are used to care for the land. The Mixteca is a very dry region, and it was interesting to learn about the ways they conserve the little water they have access to.

Afterward, we visited a town in the Mixteca called Tlaxiaco, where there is little tourism. Because of that, we definitely stood out (or at least more than we already do as foreigners). However, I really enjoyed experiencing a city without the heavy influence of tourism.

Many times during our excursions, I found myself thinking, “If I wasn’t studying through a program, what are the chances that I would see/experience this?” Honestly, the chances are slim. Studying abroad has given me an abundance of new opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise had. I know that many of the lessons and ideas I learn abroad will stick with me for a lifetime.

The Food

As a Mexican-American, I have grown up eating Mexican food. However, Oaxaca has made me realize how diverse Mexican cuisine is, in the best way possible. My host mom is very passionate about cooking and is eager to share her knowledge about food with me and my housemate. I often note down recipes, tips, or tricks with the hopes of recreating them when I return home, and I currently have a “meal log” where I can keep track of all my favorite meals!

While I eat the majority of my meals in my house (no complaints here), sometimes I eat lunch or dinner in the town. I have really enjoyed trying traditional and cultural foods, such as memelas, tlayudas, and mole (I’ve tried 4/7 different moles of Oaxaca). As a foodie, one of my goals abroad was to try as much as possible, and the possibilities are endless. 3 months have passed, and I don’t think I’ve eaten the same meal twice!


Surprise! I am 3 months in and yes, I still get homesick at times. Studying abroad has been new, exciting, and incredible, but there have also been moments of anxiety, sadness, and discomfort. In my experience, being abroad means that I am constantly adapting, and while at times that is exciting, it can also be exhausting. When I decided to study abroad, I thought that homesickness would disappear after the first few weeks. While that might happen for some people, there are still moments where I miss my family, friends, and environment back at home.

However, I have found that the best way to cope with homesickness is to just push through it. While I usually take time to text a friend or write in my journal, the best cure has been just going out and doing something. Some of my most memorable nights have started with me sitting in my room, wishing I could be home!

Above all, I try to remind myself to stay present during all moments, both good and bad. Studying abroad is such a unique opportunity, and while I have been challenged immensely, I’ve also grown just as much, if not more.

Now that I am done with classes, I will officially start my internship for the remaining month of my program. While I am nervous, I am excited to begin a new journey within my journey abroad. Thank you for being here, and I hope you’ll continue to tag along!

Exploring Geneva & Embracing Ramadan Traditions

The last month has been filled with a whirlwind of travel, new experiences, and so much good food! All within the last few weeks, I have had the incredible opportunity to visit Switzerland, participate in my first Ramadan, finish my classes, and begin an internship. There has certainly been an abundance of new schedules and routines to get accustomed to in the last month or so, but it has been filled with much beauty and joy, making a lasting impact.

Field Visits in Geneva

The month began with my program’s long-anticipated international excursion to Geneva, Switzerland. Because of the thematic focus on refugees, health, and humanitarian access, the main reason drawing us to Geneva was the prevalence of many international aid organizations. We have been intently studying many of the global policies for refugee protection, and having the opportunity to gain a more macro-perspective on the creation of these policies was incredibly eye-opening.

Leaving Amman after spending about two complete months in the Middle East and arriving in a European country caused a bit of a shock to my system. I was becoming increasingly familiar with many customs, cultural expectations, and my daily life in Amman, so spending just over a week in a more Westernized context was slightly disarming as I tried to adjust to some of the more subtle differences in the day-to-day. While Geneva had incredible food, I found myself missing my daily breakfast of bread, hummus, labneh, and beets, which had become a sweet, quiet time to talk with my host mom every morning.

Access to widespread public transportation in Switzerland was a welcome change, however. As my main form of transportation in Jordan is Uber, I am fairly limited in how easily I can get around the city at times. Being able to get on a train and quickly go to the countryside with a breathtaking view of the Alps was a much-needed respite from the congested norm in the city.

The United Nations

Exploring cafes, beautiful churches, incredible museums, and hiking occupied much of my time in Switzerland. Still, I was most excited for the chance to visit the United Nations, The Red Cross/Red Crescent, and The World Health Organization. Each visit was starkly different from one another but immensely valuable in their own right. Our guided tour of the UN was conducted entirely in French due to a scheduling mishap, which created a different atmosphere than the one we were all expecting. However, listening to some of the ongoing meetings and walking around the expansive campus provided a unique look into an international entity.


We also had the chance to visit the Geneva headquarters of the Red Cross/Red Crescent. I spent hours exploring their thought-provoking museum. I especially enjoyed their temporary photography exhibit on ‘humanitarian aid,’ which featured almost a dozen artists’ perspectives.

At the ICRC
Walking through one of the exhibits

Our last N.G.O. field visit was to the W.H.O. in Geneva, which proved a stark contrast from the other visits as we not only got to tour the facilities but also got to sit and hear from a few staff members and their perspectives on emergency aid interventions. One senior staff member, who had just returned from a two-month assignment in Gaza, was able to share his personal stories and answer any questions the group posed. In all, these visits and lectures painted the reality of international aid organizations in a very tangible light, reinforcing my studies in Amman and contributing to my ever-developing worldview as I seek to discern my calling and role as a global citizen.

Cheese, Chocolate, and Hikes

My time in Switzerland was filled with more than academic trips to international organizations. Serving as a pseudo spring break, S.I.T. organized for the group to do a few fun excursions as well! We spent one day traveling to Gruyères, where we went on a cheese and chocolate-tasting tour!

Watching the cheeses being produced
Part of the chocolate tour which had some interactive rooms throughout the museum

On some of our allotted free days, a few friends and I explored some of the smaller towns around Lake Geneva. We also took a lengthy hike through the pre-Alps, giving us incredible views as we summited.

Beginning of Ramadan

The day we flew back to Amman was the first official day of Ramadan! Now, nearing the end of the Holy month, I can attest to the incredible food, celebrations, and community that I have experienced thus far. My whole schedule has changed to accommodate fasting and Iftar, bringing me closer to my incredible host family, as the kids always encourage me when I fast. I have loved learning to make new dishes with my host mom and exploring cafes late at night after Iftar with some of my friends in the neighborhood.

Helping my host mom prepare the mint for one of my favorite drinks – limonana
One of our many incredible Iftar meals

A New Normal

My modified school schedule for Ramadan has given me much more time at home, meaning I have more time to interact with my host siblings. My room quickly became the new ‘hang out’ spot for the five of us. After school, they all pile in my room, finding seats on the beds or floor as we catch up about our days, study, and take a quick nap before Iftar. They even learned the “Cotton Eye Joe” dance a few days ago, and we performed it for their cousins!

About a week ago, one of my host brothers found newly born kittens in the apartment building. We found the mother and reunited the family, which provided a lot of excitement for an otherwise uneventful day.

As my classes have ended and my month-long internship begins, I am sure my daily routine will yet again shift. It has been a semester of inextricable grace, and I am anxious to see what the remaining month holds.

Above are many pictures of the “highs” from the past few weeks. They have been filled with so much joy and beauty, but know that there is a lot not pictured. Not included are visits to Syrian refugee camps and local N.G.O.s, late nights watching the news with my Palestinian host family, and the many conversations about culture, identity, and resistance with those around me. While the fun experiences certainly make a mark on this trip for me, these quiet moments of mourning, sorrow, and persistence of faith are equally important, if not more important. For what it’s worth, I am immensely thankful for both and am constantly reminded of the sustaining glimmers of hope.

This semester continues to reflect deep emotion and pull me into spaces I never dared to dream. I am clinging to unwavering hope and basking in the immense joy prevalent in this beautiful country in which I have been so graciously welcomed. Follow along for the last month of my semester, as I hope you have gained a small window into my life in Amman.