Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about returning. I got back from Jordan about seven months ago, but I’m finding now that the return process isn’t something with a clear beginning and end.

So while I’m currently on a different off-campus study program, in this post I would like to talk about the return process that I’ve been through already, as well as look ahead to returning for a second time at the end of this semester.

Image credit: Mental Health Abroad | International Center University of Florida (

If you’ve thought about studying abroad you’ve likely seen some version of this graph. It’s meant to provide some rough expectations for what the wave of culture shock might feel like as you leave and then return to your home country.

What the graph doesn’t show is that culture shock is much more unstable and unpredictable. It might trend in a general direction, but you will probably also experience multiple ups and downs in a single day. It also doesn’t have a clear end upon returning home—you might think you’ve successfully managed the reverse culture shock and reintegrated into your home country, but then a new challenge might hit you out of the blue.

Lately, I’ve been missing Jordan a lot. Part of that has to do with the situation in Gaza. I’ve been doing my best to stay up-to-date with the news, and it’s hard to watch everything unfolding from so far away.

It’s also been difficult to engage with Jordanian or Arab culture here. I’ve fallen out of practice in speaking Arabic, and I haven’t been able to find Arab restaurants or stores in Ashland.

Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco: this definitely reminded me of the Roman Citadel in Amman.


You don’t have a home until you leave it and then, when you have left it, you never can go back.

Baldwin, James. Giovanni’s Room. Vintage Books, 2013.

So how to deal with feeling homesick for a place that isn’t quite home?

It’s been helpful for me to stay engaged with Jordanian culture in whatever ways possible here. I cooked Jordanian food for my cabin one night and got a little taste of Amman! I’m also trying to keep my Arabic language skills from completely disappearing. I put sticky notes all over my cabin bedroom with the names of furniture in Arabic, and when I have wifi on the weekends I often listen to Arabic music or Al Jazeera news in Arabic to keep my ears used to the language.

There is a fine balance between holding onto the lessons and growth you experienced while abroad, while at the same time not making studying abroad your entire personality. I certainly don’t always succeed in striking the right balance, but I’m grateful for good friends I’ve made here who are willing to put up with me on the days when I feel the need to bring up Jordan a little too frequently.

Back to Hope

Don’t believe our outlines, forget them

and begin from your own words.

As if you are the first to write poetry

or the last poet.

Darwish, Mahmoud. “To a Young Poet.” Poetry, March 2010.

The semester is coming to an end, and in just over a month I’ll be back on campus! I’ve definitely struggled with competing feelings about the return process. Thinking about returning as an opportunity to incorporate the new lessons I’ve learned and person I’ve become into who I am back at Hope has been a positive way of thinking ahead.

Maybe I won’t be directing Uber drivers in Arabic or milking goats back at Hope, but I’ve learned skills during my time off campus that will be important when I return. I’ve become more confident and better at placing myself in challenging situations. I’ve learned how to deal with conflict and speak up for myself, but also making sure that I’m considering other people’s perspectives. I’m willing to try new things that I might not be good at. I’m more patient with others and myself.

All of this to say, studying off campus has been incredibly rewarding, and I certainly haven’t stopped learning from it even after returning to the U.S.

Here’s a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge for making it all the way to the end! Thanks for reading!

Treasured memories: my time on the UK DiscoverIES field trips

A few weeks before I left for my semester in London, I was sent the UK DiscoverIES field trip sign up. For IES London, the field trips were to Bath and Stonehenge, Canterbury and Dover, Windsor, Edinburgh, and Oxford. At first, I was hesitant to go on many of them because I knew that there were other places outside of the UK that I wanted to visit and I was worried about time. But, after having gone on four of the five field trips, I can say that I am happy with my decision. Here are five reasons why I am pro-IES field trips: 

1. Making Friends

I was pleasantly surprised with how many friends I made during orientation week. So, when it came to the field trips, I was happy to be able to hang out with people that I had met. Studying abroad can get really lonely at times, so it is important to make an effort to see people. The field trips were a great opportunity to do this. 

On top of seeing people that I had previously met, I was also able to meet new people that maybe I wouldn’t have met at all. For example, IES was partnered with another study abroad program for the field trips, and I felt like we were divided into our groups for a lot of the activities. But, when I was in Edinburgh, we went on a deer safari and a hike with them. From this, I was able to talk to a few new people and even made a new friend! I also met a few people from an IES dual enrollment program that weekend as well. 

I was also able to foster new friendships while on the field trips. For example, our first trip was to Bath and Stonehenge. In our freetime, I went out with quite a few new friends, where we just hung out and talked for hours. We were enjoying ourselves so much that we missed the last bus back to the hostel and had to walk all the way back. And then in Dover, I hiked around with a different friend. We ended up getting lost and were nearly late for the bus. Even though both of these experiences came with learning lessons, they were some of my favorite memories from the field trips because I now have some fun stories to tell about time spent with cherished new friends. 

2. Planning trips on your own can be hard

Planning your own trips can be really stressful. For instance, the first trip that I did on my own without the help of IES was with my roommate Emily. We went to Fort William, Scotland to ride the Hogwarts Express (The Jacobite). This trip was wonderful, and the train made the whole thing worth it, but there were many downsides as well and it was overall an exhausting trip. 

The nice thing about the IES field trips is that pretty much everything is planned out for you, so all you have to do is pack and show up!

3. You don’t lose your whole weekend 

Both Canterbury/Dover and Oxford were day trips. This was really nice because then I could take the rest of my time that weekend to explore London and catch up on homework. This was also nice because normally not all of your friends go on the field trips, so having only a day of travel allowed for time to catch up with them. 

4. Learning opportunities

On all of the field trips that I went on, there was some sort of walking tour that covered the history of the town that we were in and we visited many historical sites such as the Canterbury Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle, Dover Castle, and the University of Oxford. These tours were really interesting because we could learn about the town while enjoying the architecture and taking pictures. 

5. They’re fun!

Overall, these field trips contain some of my favorite memories from my time abroad thus far. It is so fun getting to explore places that I’ve never been before throughout the UK alongside my new friends.

Some of my favorite memories include: 

  • Going to the top of Dover Castle with Bri and Emily and making up a song all the way up the stairs. 
  • Getting lost at the Cliffs of Dover with Kiki. 
  • Visiting Harry Potter sites at Canterbury Cathedral, Edinburgh, and Oxford. 
  • Seeing Bridgerton and Jane Austen (Persuasion) filming locations in Bath. 
  • Getting rained on in Stonehenge and Edinburgh. 
  • Punting in Oxford. 
  • Going to an arcade-themed bar with Bri, Emily, Catherine, and Lauren. 
  • Talking so late that we missed the last bus back to the hostel with Maeve, Emily, Maura, Trevor, John, and Alex in Bath. 
  • Feeding deer and hiking in the highlands of Scotlands. Getting my shoes absolutely drenched. 

All and all, my recommendation is to have fun during your time abroad and do what makes you happy because chances are, you won’t get the opportunity to live abroad again. I believe that one way of having fun and seeing a lot is through the field trips. 

Student Life, Cats, and Small Victories

I’m a couple weeks past the halfway point in my semester at Nanzan University here in Nagoya. Since it began, my semester has been full of exciting, new, and immersive experiences, but most days I’m just an ordinary student: attending classes, grabbing lunch with friends, finishing up a reading for class, and heading home to cook a quick dinner. I’ve become accustomed to my daily routine here at Nanzan, and while it’s completely different from my life back at Hope, it’s been a nice change.

Student Life

Life at Nanzan compared to life at Hope has quite honestly been more manageable and less stressful for me. I have 1-2 classes per day, and us study abroad students get Wednesdays off, which has been a great way to break up the week. Weekends have been mostly open, apart from daily Japanese studying.

My mornings are spent in my Intensive Japanese language class, divided into two periods and totaling 3.5 hours of intense language instruction. It’s not a difficult class if I prepare, but the class requires prolonged focus, so my friends and I often feel tired by the time we’re done.

After a bite to eat at one of the cafeterias, I have around 2 hours to study (or nap) before my next class: Ikebana (Flower Arrangement) on Tuesdays, Japanese Religions on Thursdays, and Japanese Society on Fridays.

Ikebana is conducted entirely in Japanese and each week we work with different flowers to create an arrangement as instructed by the professor. It’s not easy, but I’m so grateful to experience such a unique class! Below are some of my arrangements:

Japanese Religions is a lecture-based course that focuses mostly on the two major religions of Japan: Shintoism and Buddhism. I expected to have lots of outside reading, but apart from a group presentation for the midterm, there’s been no other assignments! Japanese Society is a discussion and reading-based course, where we go over various topics like life courses, schooling, and ethnic minorities in Japan as well as our own countries and cultures. It’s been very informative, and my classmates come from all over the world, so I get a diverse range of perspectives, and share my own, too.


A few weeks ago, my friend and I decided to visit a cat cafe. Cat cafes are incredibly popular here in Japan, and unlike the I’ve been to in the U.S., I find Japan’s cat cafes a bit more exciting. We decided on Cafe Mocha, which is about a 30-ish minute train ride from Nanzan.

Cafe Mocha is home to a multitude of cats, and is an open space where you can study, play video games or board games, read, take a nap, and enjoy refreshments. The cats were enjoying their mid-afternoon nap when we arrived, so they weren’t the most social– that is until we purchased cat treats. Suddenly everyone was wide awake and willing to socialize.

Small Victories

Celebrate the small victories. Studying abroad is a great time to explore and experience new things, but it’s also a great time to discover new things and work on aspects of yourself. Since I came to Japan, here are some of my new developments, or small victories:

  • Cooking for myself. This is something I never had to worry about at Hope, as a quick 3 minute walk to Phelps twice a day eliminated the need for it. Now I spend evenings parked in my shared kitchen with my living group in the evenings, experimenting with dishes and expanding my palette.
  • Asking for help. It’s far too easy to maintain the Do-it-yourself mindset, but there are times where that’s just not possible. I’ve gotten more comfortable being willing to let go of my pride and approach people to ask things like: Does this train go to _ stop? I can’t read the kanji for it or Is there a store named _ here? I can’t seem to find it…
  • Developing a study method for language learning. I’m not the best studier and I don’t enjoy it, but I’ve recently commit to developing a study routine that works for me. Cramming and ‘winging it’ only get me so far.

All of these are small victories, but valuable ones that have enhanced my experience in Japan. My December departure date is steadily approaching, so I don’t want to leave with any regrets.

Nepal Vol. II

After the main two days of the Dashain festival were over, we jumped back into classes with a few exciting site visits. First, we headed to the Nepali World Wildlife Foundation headquarters to learn about their mission and projects as an NGO. Afterward, we headed to what was probably one of my favorite site visits so far at ICIMOD, or the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. At this mountainside facility, we got to witness agroecological solutions to the changes in land, water, and energy that Nepal has been experiencing under the pressures of climate change. 

Our next excursion was to begin shortly thereafter, but fortunately, before we left, Jaime (my homestay partner) and I were able to have an amazing day full of activities with our homestay mom and sister, Pari. We spent the bulk of the day getting our nails done at a local salon together, trying (and falling in love with) some Nepali snacks, and then getting henna (a first for me!). In the evening we fumbled our way through learning how to make momos, the popular Nepali dumpling, but enjoyed every bite of the delicious result. 

The following day we woke up bright and early, ready to embark on another day-long bumpy bus ride full of long chats, pretty mountain views, and unsuccessful attempts to sleep. This time we were headed to Pokhara, a city located closer to the mountain ranges of Nepal. When we finally arrived there in the evening, we enjoyed our dhal bhat dining over the city while soft live music set the ambiance. The following morning after a brief orientation about the area, we loaded into jeeps and began our three-hour, equally bumpy trip up into the mountains while jamming out to some songs the whole ride there. The jeeps brought us up to Sikles, a remote village in the mountains with some of the most stunning views of the semester thus far. It was from here that we embarked on a two-day trek to Kapuche Glacial Lake, the lowest glacial lake in the world by elevation. The trek was 12 miles in each direction and was rarely flat, making it undoubtedly the hardest hike of my life, but it was certainly the most rewarding one. We crossed numerous suspension bridges, drank out of waterfalls, and had a beautifully restorative lunch lying out in the sun watching the clouds float over the mountains. 

By the time we made it to Kapuche, the sun was already beginning to set, casting a beautiful light over the pristine lake and throughout the peaks of the surrounding mountains. As I breathed in the fresh air, dipped my face into the freezing waters, and basked in the accomplishments of the day, I remember feeling a peace unlike any other I had ever really known. Just as the hike was indubitably the hardest of my life, this moment was undoubtedly one of the best. We spent the evening warming up around a fire, singing songs in the kitchen, and snacking on fresh popcorn, tea, and of course, dhal bhat. When you’re cold straight to your bones, there truly is nothing as special as the comfort of hearty food or the warmth of friends when falling asleep. Another highlight was waking at 2 am, scrambling outside with friends, and being met with a stunning lunar halo lighting up the sky above us. 

post face dunk

The following morning we went down by the lake again to take another dip (I wasn’t so bold as those who fully jumped in and instead opted to just dunk my face) and warmed up with more tea and stew with bread for breakfast. We then began the long trek back, which included lots of solo time as well as a couple close calls with some angry bees. By the time we made it back to Sikles, I was truly wiped but got some energy back after chowing down a delicious bowl of noodles and taking one of the best showers of my life. To cap off our time in Sikles, we visited the local school the next day, complete with more mural painting, and then had another lecture about sustainability in and the history of the area. Back in Pokhara the next day I indulged in some Korean BBQ, did some shopping with a few friends, walked around the town, and caught yet another beautiful sunset over the lake. 

Later that evening, much to our surprise, we were hit by another earthquake around 11 pm. Although less severe than the one in Morocco, we still felt the shaking and the quake was still deadly, particularly for those in more remote villages. Despite the amazing past few days out in this part of western Nepal, the earthquake brought us back to reality as a stark reminder of the inequalities of the region and the injustices of the world. 

Back in Kathmandu, we began to wrap up our time by presenting our findings on the state of water, land, and energy management in Nepal that we had been researching thus far. Outside of class, I tried to squeeze the most out of the last few days by getting another incredible massage, indulging in plenty of tea and samosas, and attending a live concert that blended jazz with traditional Nepali music (so so fun!). On our final day, I did one last yoga class with some friends, checked out the Museum of Nepali Arts, and packed up my stuff before heading to the farewell dinner where we were to say goodbye to our homestay families over one last dinner. It was a bittersweet moment — hard to say goodbye to the family but filled with excitement about our travels ahead. 

If it wasn’t clear from the wording of this post, Nepal was full of a lot of “the bests,” new experiences, and big changes. I never could have predicted what this month had in store for me, and a lot of this change goes far deeper than what I can touch on in this post. If there’s just one single thing that stands out to me, however, it is without a doubt the value in connection — with new cultures, with nature, with friends, and with myself. In the end, we don’t really have anything without it. 

Signing off until Ecuador.

Sprig O’ Fig

It is from our roots that we draw sustenance (Maathai 293). Waters of life swirling amidst microorganisms, bitter dirt, and waste. Waters of life rushing, carrying the burdens of the soil, punching at the tenderness of root walls. Flowing, cleansing water pushes through roots, knocking on the tenderest spots of fragile walls. Tapping, drumming, pounding until a gush of water springs out, rising to the surface of the underground story. Reservoirs of grace made of flowing, cleansing water are life-givers to the tree that rushes up to the sky to proclaim the story of the underground.

Roots burrowed deeply in soil packed with nourishment signify the connectivity of the Giver and Receiver. The Giver of life penetrated by the Receiver of sustenance. In this moment of interconnectedness is home, safety, and warmth. Imagine being a root surrounded by the very necessity of your survival. Imagine snuggling up amidst the very source of your life. Imagine the potential of Root sustained by soil flourishing into Tree bursting up out of the ground.

No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine” (John 15:4). The story of burrowing down into shelter and rising up in fruitful proclamation is the story of root to tree top.

To burrow is to snuggle up, to get comfortable, so that receiving from the vine becomes the only source of movement or change. To rise up is to proclaim the experience of burrowing.

Burrowing and fruiting are gifts of life to the Receiver; the gift is the responsibility.

What happens to one happens to all. We can starve together or feast together. All flourishing is mutual (Kimmerer 15). Mutual sustenance prunes away selfish ambition. It is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit (John 15:8). The gift of fruit-bearing insists on a tangled up and indistinguishable mess of mutual flourishing.

In Wangari Maathai’s Epilogue, she reflects of the importance of trees throughout her life. It tells us that in order to aspire we need to be grounded, and that no matter how high we go it is from our roots that we draw sustenance…It signifies that no matter how powerful we become… our power and strength and our ability to reach our goals depend on the people…who are the soil out of which we grow” (Maathai 293).

To be grounded in the depths of soil and nourished by the rushing of water through my thin walls is the gift that pulls me toward flourishing.

My mom visited me this past week and I got to show her the place that I’ve begun to give a sliver of my “Home” pie to. Throughout college, I’ve realized that home is more than just a place, but mostly people. As I experience growth in Oregon, I have expanded my “Home” pie to include a new place and a few new friends. In my homesickness, I have been reluctant to expand my circle of loved ones because of contentment with relationships I already had.

The fact that this experience is temporary has not been far from my mind. I have used this as a shield for vulnerability and as a hesitancy in giving space for more people to love and be loved by.

Our cohort spent 2 days on the Oregon coast (and stopped by the Redwoods!) and this trip allowed me the openness and the encouragement to find space for the possibility of life-long friendships that are (rightly) common in this place. A specific moment I will cherish is sitting on a rock by the Pacific Ocean, thinking about the qualities of water that my pastor instills in me each baptism he celebrates. It goes, baptism is a visible sign of an invisible grace. The sign is water and we use water because it cleanses and refreshes and gives life. We use water because Jesus said, “I am living water”. The water points to the promise; God’s promise to forgive us our sins, to send the Spirit to us day after day, and to bring us into a whole new family.

As I sat on a rock, contemplating these words, talking to God, and listening to the waters rush over the sand, I began to praise God for my new friends Sophia and Cait. I thanked God for their resilience in opening me up, in showing me love, and in being examples of life lived in joy. As I was speaking these words over them, a wave crashed over the rock I was sitting on and washed over me completely. At that moment, I was filled with joy and connection with my completely joyful friends. We proceeded to frolic in the waters like we were 6 years old again.

Temples, Terai, and Tranquility

On paper, a month can sound like a long time, but based on how fast my time in Morocco flew, I was determined to squeeze every last drop out of my month ahead in Nepal right from the moment our plane landed, and fortunately our orientation gave us an exciting insight for just how much this country had in store for us. After a winding bus ride up the hillside out of Kathmandu at 3:00 am, we were greeted with hearty bowls of soup at a resort in Nagarkot where we were to spend a few days resting and getting oriented. Besides catching up on sleep, I used this time to reset my mind and body with long walks (including a cloudy hike-turned-run-in-the-rain with friends), yoga sessions overlooking Kathmandu valley, and organizing my plans, assignments, and fun activities for the month ahead. 

After our few days long retreat up in the hills, we took a winding bus ride down into Kathmandu valley to begin the next leg of our time in Nepal. For our time in the city I was paired with my sweet friend Jaime as a homestay buddy, and placed with a Newari family made up of a host mom and dad, our 19 year old host sister, and our 10 year old host brother. The home is six stories tall (meaning we have quite the hike to our room on the fifth floor) with a rooftop terrace that makes for great views of the city (and even the Himalayas on a clear day!). In the spirit of seizing the day, I spent my first full day exploring the city by checking out the farmers market, trying some yummy veggie momos, stopping by a film festival, and getting the most incredible Ayurvedic massage at my first ever spa. 

The following day Jaime and I switched to a more cultural and historic focus by spending the morning exploring Patan Durbar Square nearby our home. The square is packed full of historic temples, buildings, sculptures, and art, all with a rich, lengthy history. What stood out most to me was the concept of “living history” in how despite the great age of these structures and the massive destruction they’ve faced from earthquakes over the years, they still are well preserved. Communities have prioritized their upkeep through the generations and still see as much cultural value in them even when they are totally destroyed and must be rebuilt, which I think is really beautiful. In the afternoon we had our renowned guest lecturer take us along the river and to the Boudha Stupa temple and nearby monastery to learn about water and city planning, Buddhism, and culture. 

A short bout of sickness put me out of commission for the next few days, but once I felt better I immediately jumped back into exploring by checking out a local art gallery, visiting the so-called “monkey temple” (which was indeed full of monkeys, some a little too friendly) and watching the sun set over the city, and enjoying some live jazz with friends into the night. 

The first of two excursions of the month was to the Terai lowlands, a region that paints a very different picture of Nepal than the typical mountainous perception that comes to mind. Full of waving plains of rice and rhino-filled jungles, the lowlands were a long, winding, bumpy seven hour bus ride out from the city. We spent the next couple days learning about the history of conservation, human-wildlife conflict, and research ethics. By interacting with the gracious local community, we learned how to harvest rice, came to better understand the impacts of nearby Chitwan National Park, and experienced a beautiful cultural dance performance. My favorite part of the excursion was without a doubt the safari, where we saw wild rhinos, peacocks, endangered crocodiles, and more, which we followed up with some community building on the riverside as dusk settled over the lowlands (see picture of our impressive human pyramid).

a wild rhino getting its afternoon snack
moments before collapse

After an equally bumpy bus ride back out of the lowlands into the city, we were given the following two days to rest up and enjoy the nationwide holiday for the Dashain Festival, an extensive religious holiday celebrating good harvest and worshipping certain religious deities. To celebrate, Jaime and I learned (rather unsuccessfully) how to fly kites over the city with our homestay family, dressed up in traditional Nepali clothing, and went with our homestay sister to get a blessing from the kumari, or living goddess — an important religious figure in the Nepali Newari Buddhist community. 

Needless to say, I think I’ve been doing well on my intent to squeeze everything I can out of this month. I would be remiss, however, to gloss over the moments of rest and peace during these two weeks. All good adventures must be balanced out with restoration of the mind and body, and living in a majority Hindu country that places such high value on this has made this quite opportune for me. Remembering to take rests is something I must constantly remind myself of, but I’ve found that being in Nepal has made it easier for me to find these moments of peace, whether it’s through a yoga class, during a meditation in the morning, when reading outside in the courtyard, or while enjoying all the stunning nature. As with all things in life, walking this line between rest and adventure is a delicate balance, but a journey worth every second.

Does traveling with your parents really conquer homesickness? 

An overarching struggle that many students seem to face while studying abroad is homesickness. This could be triggered from various things such as illness, seeing a dog that reminds you of your dog, something going wrong while traveling, and the list goes on. 

One thing that I was really nervous about upon entering my abroad semester was making friends. While I consider myself to be an outgoing individual, sometimes I can get really shy around strangers or people that I don’t know very well. Going into my semester abroad, I kept reminding myself of one fact: everyone is in the same boat as you are. Keeping this in mind allowed me to talk to a lot of people in my program as well as people living in my student accommodation. I am honestly shocked at how many friends I’ve made so far and I think that it is going to be really hard to leave in December because of this. 

From this, a nagging question resonated in my mind: with my lack of homesickness, what would happen if someone from home got thrown into the mix? Honestly, with how happy I was feeling, I was left with a sense of dread at the thought of seeing my dad, who came to visit me for 12 days. This isn’t to say that I don’t love my dad– I love my dad so much and was excited to show him around my new neighborhood and to tell him about all of the things I’d learned so far. But, would seeing my dad in the middle of my semester make me finally fall out of the honeymoon phase with London? 

Luckily, all of my fears were washed away when I saw my dad coming up the escalator, out of the Tube Station on a random Thursday morning. Rather than crying, I was filled to the brim with joy at the thought of the following few days.

That night, we flew to Switzerland, where we stayed in Zurich, Grindelwald, and then Interlaken. The sights were beautiful, but more than anything, I was happy to have the one on one time with my dad, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life in the big city. While there, we did a cable car up the side of a mountain and we tried out e-bikes, fondue, and chocolate strawberries.

My dad then stayed in London for a day. He toured around the city, taking in the various tourist attractions while I was in my acting class at RADA. Next, I showed him a few of my favorite breweries in my neighborhood, Walthamstow– Big Penny Social and Signature Brew.

The next few days were when I felt a little bit of fear for my dad, as he was traveling solo to Dublin, Ireland while I was still in class (sad face). But, come Thursday when I met him there, I was reassured that he was safe and sound, having the time of his life by himself. Isn’t it odd that as you become more of an adult, you start to worry about your parents? Like the roles are slowly reversing? I had never felt that sensation before in my life until I saw my dad flying all by himself. 

In Dublin, we went to many of the touristy sites and we also did The Cliffs of Moher, Galway, Burren, and Howth. I even got to catch up with my Hope friend, Grant, as he is studying in Dublin for the semester. What I found nice about Ireland was how cheap the trains were– we were able to get a round trip ticket from Dublin to Howth for just 5 euros each! 

Another thing that I found nice about traveling with my dad was that instead of having to plan trips myself (which is not fun in my opinion), I was able to just hang out with my dad and we could plan things together. This is also what I like so far about the IES field trips– everything is already planned, all you have to do is show up. 

All and all, it was really fun getting to travel with my dad. It definitely helped that he came in the middle of the semester for multiple reasons: first, he brought me more clothes and I sent some back with him, second, I was able to have something to look forward to (in the case that I did get homesick), and third, I was able to go to some cool places! If anything, the worst part was saying goodbye. But, it helps to know that I’ll be home in less than two months, and in the meantime, I’ll get to experience more new things and go on more adventures!

Apple Season

“That’s not what I’m talking about!” he said,

“I’m talking about a fig straight from the earth—

gift of Allah!—on a branch so heavy it touches the ground.

I’m talking about picking the largest fattest sweetest fig

in the world and putting it in my mouth.”

(Here he’d stop and close his eyes.)

Nye, Naomi Shihab. “My Father and the Figtree.” Words Under the Words, Eighth Mountain Press, 1995.

Hello! Happy Fall!

This past weekend was the OE apple fest. The following post is an essay about apple picking. I wrote it a few weeks ago for an assignment and thought it would fit well here. Enjoy 🙂

Photo credit: Ashlee!

I joined the group that went apple picking during Friday chores. This was a transgression. I had signed my name under “wood-chopping,” but Friday morning had been the roughest part of a long rough week. Seaton let me slip into the van, with the ladders and the bins and Kuma very very excited to leave, all wagging tail and lanky happiness.

The apple orchard, when we arrived, was full of hip-length grass and blackberry brambles. We picked our way to the trees, smelling the apples before we saw them. The bruised fruit on the ground perfumed the air, smelling of cider and dry leaves. The trees hadn’t been trimmed in years, growing undisturbed by the side of the road. The branches were matted and overgrown. The fruit was feral too: most of the apples had a worm hole or two. Some of them had rotted on one side or pushed themselves into odd shapes. The trees sent crazy offshoots completely covered in fruit down to the ground and higher into the air than we could reach from our ladders. I didn’t understand abundance until I came to the OE and watched one garden feed all of us, observed how the goat milk in the cookhouse fridge never runs out, saw decades-old apple trees with more fruit than we could ever possibly pick falling off the branches.

Stringing apples for drying in the cabin

Picking apples might be the most anti-capitalist thing I have ever done. Imagine a tree, all but forgotten by humankind, that continues to give and give and give. The only response possible is to receive. We hung grocery bags around our necks so that we could pick with both hands and dumped the bags into plastic bins when they became too heavy. We bit into the apples, cautiously at first, then surprised by how sweet they were. It seemed like our picking barely made a dent in the trees’ supply of apples. I moved to different trees only when I became bored of standing in one place, picking from the same branch. It was impossible to exhaust any one tree’s hoard.

At some point I found myself separated from the group, at a very overgrown tree that the rest of the pickers had moved on from. I glimpsed a clump of apples underneath the outer branches that were too deeply tangled for me to reach from outside the tree. I slipped my bag over my neck and crawled down underneath the branches into the open space against the trunk. It was a tighter fit than it appeared to be from the outside. When I tried to straighten my back, twigs poked my face and arms. I pushed my head into a small opening in the branches, straightening my spine, and suddenly I was surrounded by the firm arms of the tree. My breath caught in my throat: it felt like a hug. A sudden, unexpected embrace. I couldn’t move without bumping into the knobbly branches that encircled me: the tree wanted to touch me, wanted to hold me close.

Making apple cider vinegar from the peels & cores

I’ve heard of human tree-huggers, but I’ve never heard of trees hugging people. Why is that? When did we learn to ignore the ways that nature reaches for us, holding sweet apples in her hands, longing to embrace us?

Maybe democracy and human rights are in decline, and humans are killing the only home we will ever know, and my generation is the one that will watch everything burn. Maybe systemic change isn’t worth hoping for because it is impossible. But maybe there also exist forgotten trees which long to love us. Maybe our home can only be where we pick through the thornbushes to reach branches hanging heavy with fruit. We learn to share with squirrels and apple worms. Maybe we learn to love the trees back.

When I emerged from the tree there was a rainbow in the gray sky, and Kuma was sprinting in circles around us, excited to move on. All our bins were full. It was time to drive back up the mountain.

Morocco Vol. II

You never really realize how much you’ve missed the quiet — the type that comes only from being in nature — until you’re finally experiencing it again. After spending two weeks in the heart of San Francisco, flying to Morocco, and then spending two more weeks in some of the largest urban areas, it was quite the breath of fresh air to travel to Ben Smim, a remote village in the Moroccan countryside that was surrounded by large hills dotted with flocks of sheep. As soon as our bus pulled in, the whole group of us ran outside to take in the sunset and reconnect to what we’d been missing. Our hotel was also located close enough to Ifrane National Park that we were able to travel there a few days later on the weekend and take an incredible hike in the woods that, much to my surprise, were filled with friendly monkeys! 

As for academics, our week in Ben Smim was full of amazing site visits, including: 

  • A fish farm working to repopulate rivers and conserve trout species
  • AIN University where we learned about Islamic views on the environment
  • The Al Ikhlass women’s cooperative where we painted murals and learned about the co-op’s beekeeping business
  • A local apple orchard where Jawad the farmer discussed climate challenges facing the agricultural sector
flock of sheep at the apple farm

After our week in Ben Smim, we used our free weekend to head to Chefchaouen (also known as the Blue City) from Tangier. Although the reason why this stunning city was painted blue is up for debate, it certainly lived up to its name, and exploring its Medina — filled with the richest, most saturated blues I’ve ever seen — felt almost magical. Our AirBnB was equally gorgeous, with four floors topped off by a rooftop terrace overlooking the city, perfect for watching the foggy sunrise while eating our breakfast the next morning. We spent the first day ambling through the Medina checking out the jewelry, art, clothing, and beauty vendors, and then watched the sun set over the city from the local mosque. The next day we after our sunrise breakfast we crammed in a taxi bright and early to head to the Cascades d’Akchour, where we spent the morning hiking through the mountains along a beautiful clear stream. There were countless waterfalls along the way and even though the water was colder than I thought I could stand, my favorite part of the weekend was without a doubt taking a dip under one of them with my hiking buddies. The rest of the weekend we spent relaxing at Cafe Clock and playing endless rounds of cards, before heading back to Tangier. 

Our time in Tangier was quite brief, but we made sure to explore the Medina and get another sunset viewing in (this one featured Spain in the distance across the Strait of Gibraltar), take plenty of dips in the hotel pool (where I learned to dive!), and as always, play lots of cards. I even got an impromptu hair cut at what was supposed to be strictly a manicure appointment with my friend Jaime (no regrets). Our Tangier site visit was to the Amendis wastewater treatment facility, where we learned how the facility was using treated water to cut back on new water demand for irrigation needs to combat the water shortage. As our time in Morocco came to a close, we headed back to Casablanca and had some wrap up sessions synthesizing what we had learned so far.

This left us with just one last weekend to make the most of before our flight to Nepal, so a group of 8 of us decided to book another AirBnb and take the train to Fes for one last adventure. The Medina in Fes was probably my favorite thus far and had this truly indescribable energy about it: colors seemed brighter, shopkeepers were friendlier, and my sugar high from the fresh juices I kept consuming left me buzzing with excitement. My favorite interaction was with a generous shopkeeper who sold us some jewelry and then kindly took us on a tour of his highly-regarded shop’s museum and then to a hidden 800 year old courtyard with beautiful tile work. We also took a quick stop in the Wood Museum before watching the sun set at the ancient Marinid Tombs and grabbing dinner at a vegetarian restaurant in the Medina. 

outside the Medina

I am writing this on my final day in Morocco, on the swelteringly hot train back from Fes. Somehow in just 12 hours our month in Morocco will somehow be over as we fly out to Nepal. This month has taught me more than I could have imagined about privilege, common humanity, stretching my limits, and environmental justice. Not all of these lessons have been easy by any means, but they’ve all helped me understand the beauty of life just a little better. 

Signing off until Nepal. 

Life in Japan, so far

Inuyama, orientation week, dorm or homestay?, & Kanazawa

こんにちは!Since you last heard from me, I’d made it into Nagoya. IES orientation week went great; I was able to meet everyone in the program, do some sightseeing, and had the incredible privilege of a nice hotel room to myself for the duration of orientation.

Inuyama. On the second day of orientation, we visited Inuyama Castle, one of the oldest remaining tenshu– central tower that defines the structure- still standing today. It’s well over 500 years old! Nearby the castle are several shrines, and pictured below is one of the red torii gates of the Sanko-Inari shrine, a Shinto shrine.

Orientation week. By the end of the week, we moved into our respective housing for our semester at Nanzan before student orientation the following week. I won’t bore you with all the details, but it consisted of a placement test to determine our language class level, many, many, procedure briefings (what to do during a typhoon and an earthquake, driver-pedestrian laws, important deadlines and dates for visa-holders, etc.), and course registration. At the end of the week, we had our entrance ceremony. I’d fully expected it to be a whole big affair, a multi-segmented program with various speakers. Instead, we were sat for all of 20 minutes before we were officially declared enrolled students!

Edited photo of my friends and I under Nanzan's south gate.
my friends and I, post-ceremony, now official Nanzan students

Afterwards, some friends and I hopped on a train to Sakae, a lively district packed with shops, restaurants, numerous izakaya (stay-drink-place, aka a pub) malls, and sights like the Sky Boat Ferris Wheel, Shirakawa Park, and Nagoya TV Tower. On our way to dinner, we came across a lively performance from some members from the popular Nagoya-based idol group, SKE48! We weren’t allowed to take pictures or videos, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

students in front of the Nagoya TV tower, posing.
my friends and I in front of Nagoya TV tower in Sakae

Dorm or homestay: which is better? This is a very understandable question. My immediate answer to this is: which is better for you? There are endless pros and cons lists online, and I could definitely tell you my personal opinion, or your family or friends could. But because I see studying abroad as a very personal journey, the best thing you can do for yours is decide this on your own, based on your comfort level, living style, and preferences.

I’m grateful to have experienced both from previous and current abroad experience. What I enjoyed about my homestay was that I had a family to interact with, a place to call home for a time, meals prepared for me, dogs to play with(!!!), and doing laundry was free. Additionally, my comfort level in speaking the target language improved. This is a constant goal of mine, and I strongly believe immersion is the best possible way to do it.

This time, I decided to live in a dorm. I have a small, private room with a community kitchen (shared between 10 students, which makes up one living group) and the bathroom (shared between 20, two living groups). My favorite parts of living in the dorm is the close proximity to campus, lack of a daily commute, coming and going as I please, and daily interaction with students– Japanese and non-Japanese alike. In my living group, besides four native Japanese speakers, there are also Khmer, Azerbaijani, Russian, and Chinese speakers. We don’t speak each other’s languages, so I’d say 95% of our conversations are held in Japanese. This is not uncommon at all here- for Japanese to be the only language in common between international students.

So my advice for those of you faced with the same decision: weigh your options based on your preferences, then choose accordingly. Host families can be a hit or miss. Some are simply not compatible with their student, and may be stricter (or on the flip side: seemingly uninterested and uninvolved) than what the student is used to. Dorms are nice, but having to constantly buy meals and pay for laundry, as well as sharing living spaces with so many people can get tiring. Host families can provide a sense of family and a home away from home, and dorms can provide a sense of independence and community. The decision is ultimately yours; you get to determine what you hope to get out of your living abroad experience.

view of a window and curtain from inside the dorm room. on the left is a desk and chair and on the right is a bed.
view from my dorm room

Kanazawa. The first weekend after classes, IES students had our first field trip: a weekend in Kanazawa! It was a welcome change of pace from the steady wake up-class-eat-study-shower-sleep routine I’d developed at Nanzan for two weeks. Not to mention a well-deserved break from Nagoya’s brutal heat and humidity!!!!! Kanazawa is on the north coast of central Japan, and was spared from much of World War II’s destruction, so its historical sites have been preserved. I could give you all the wordy details about Kanazawa, or I could give you the pictures. I’ll (mostly) give you the pictures.

After a 2.5ish hour bullet train ride (which holds true to its reputation of being fast and convenient), we poked around Higashi Chaya (東茶屋街 Eastern teahouse district), a historic entertainment district of Kanazawa with a variety of teahouses, taverns, and shops- one that sells the Kanazawa specialty of gold leaf products.

The next day we went to 兼六園 Kenroku-en, one of Japan’s biggest gardens. There was lots of incredible greenery here, along with shrines, teahouses, bridges, and more, all with deep history and value to the overall garden space.

Of course we also did some shopping and eating; I got a shiba stuffed animal (after some peer pressure (didn’t take much though)), a 2-inch tall maneki-neko or beckoning cat figurine, and I tried sakura icecream. It tasted mostly like vanilla, with hints of floral. Slightly underwhelming, but still refreshing and worth a try!

I’ve experienced a lot of traveling and major transitions all in less than a month, but surprisingly, even for someone like me who is used to routine living, it’s been manageable and enjoyable. I’ve seen a variety of different cultural practices, historical sites, and tried a myriad of Japanese dishes and sweets. I’m someone who’s always planning, organizing, and thinking ahead, but being abroad reminds me the value in stopping to enjoy the present, remembering to value the people I’m surrounded by and the places and spaces I get the privilege to be in.