Still a Student: Sightseeing on a Budget

As an off-campus study traveler, you’re charged with the daunting task of exploring as much as you can within just four months, while maintaining that student budget. Rent, utilities, food, and transportation can add up quickly.

But there is hope! Using some college-student resourcefulness and a bit more planning, you can still experience your destination without blowing the bank. After much of my own “research,” I’ve pulled together a few tips I’ve come up with on how to go sightseeing on a budget:

  1. Don’t ditch the Student ID. Some adult independence and freedom taste good, but ramen noodles don’t after you’ve just eaten your fifth bowl in a week. Having the status of student is just as useful off-campus as it is on-campus, and opens the door to a range of activities you may not have otherwise had. Discounts and promotions are all over – just keep an eye out and be willing to trade your email address for a free cookie. Take advantage of the free museum day, the t-shirt handouts, and the $2 College Iceskating Nights every Thursday.
  2. There’s a reason it’s called Happy Hour. Nothing makes people happier than a $5 plate of mussels paired with a $2 beer. Weird combination? Supposedly. But what can you complain about when everything is so cheap? Most restaurants offer a happy hour 6 out of the 7 days of the week, and even during normal dining hours. Train yourself to get hungry between the hours of 4 – 7, and you may even treat yourself to some dessert, too.
  3. Part of sightseeing is living to see the next day: so learn how to eat on a budget too. Most big cities offer a farmer’s market on the weekends where fresh produce is sold at incredible prices. It’s not only going to save a few bucks, but fruits and veggies are going to be a lot fresher than at the local grocery store. Do a little research to find out what’s in season, and be prepared to snack on whatever you get your hands on.
  4. Become your own tour guide. Chances are, the info the tour guides are charging for is the same stuff you’ll find in that pamphlet floating around at the Visitor’s Center. I recently learned of someone gathering their friends together to go on their own version of a “Ghost Tour” through the streets of Philadelphia. Consider it a D.I.Y. Experience (for non-Pinterest frequenters, DIY = Do It Yourself). We can access the internet’s information in seconds… use it!
  5. Like I’ve said before… location, location, location. Whether you’re choosing a hotel location or the apartment to lease, position yourself in an area that is close to some great sightseeing areas. Not only will you save money on transportation, but you will be able to experience a culture first-hand from living right in it. I live on South Street, and it’s claim to fame is that “South Street Never Sleeps.” Yes, lots of shouting, bumping music, and pedal crawlers. But, I’ve been able to experience life in the city in a way that many others have not.
  6. Make local friends. You may be wondering, what does that have to do with saving money? Friends don’t let friends fall into the tourist traps. Just like living in your own town, you know the local joints where you’ll have the most organic experiences. Thanks to a local friend, I was told about the way to get the absolute best view of a city… and not the one they charge you $15 for. Better.

That old saying, “you get what you pay for,” doesn’t apply here. You can get so much more than just those things you’re handing out paper for. Be creative, be resourceful, and be grateful [financially] that it really is only four months of the year. Spend them wisely!

The Globe Theatre

In 1613, one spark from a cannon started a fire that burned William Shakespeare’s Globe theatre to the ground. Now, over 400 years later, people from around the world flock to London’s replica of the famous Elizabethan theatre to experience what it was like to watch Shakespeare’s plays back in the day.

I have been fortunate enough to see three performances on The Globe’s stage since I have been in London: As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. These shows were unlike any other play I have ever attended. First off, a ticket to stand in the yard is only £5. That’s right. The “seat” closest to the stage is the cheapest in the whole house. Yes, you do have to stand for the entirety of the three-hour performances, but it is WORTH IT. Which brings me to my next point…

Here is my view from the Yard for The Merry Wives of Windsor. This is approximately what the Globe stage would have looked like in the 1600s.
Here is my view from the Yard for The Merry Wives of Windsor. This is approximately what the Globe stage would have looked like in the 1600s.

If you ever go see a comedy at The Globe, do not be surprised if the actors mess with you when you stand in the yard. At all three plays, the audience participated in the story. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream an audience member even played a character! At The Merry Wives of Windsor, actors playing servants walked through the Yard, talking to patrons as if we were in a courtyard in Windsor. Once the play began, one of the actors spat beer at my friend and me, and dumped a shoe full of water on us as well. Talk about interacting with your audience!

Here I'm getting my "filthy" shoes shined before The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Here I’m getting my “filthy” shoes shined before The Merry Wives of Windsor.

But there’s more than just Shakespeare at The Globe. Tonight I saw Deep Nights in the candlelit Sam Wanamaker theater. As I walked into the theater, the smell of wood and wax brought cozy joy bubbling up in my chest. The chandeliers dripped wax onto the stage. The ghost stories were much, much creepier with the low light and flames flickering across the audience’s faces. During one story, the actors blew out all but one candle. When the storyteller plunged the theatre into darkness with one swift breath, I clutched my face and covered my eyes, trying to hide from the shadows lurking among us. I was thoroughly terrified, but it was so worth it. It isn’t common nowadays to light performances using only candle. But, based on my experience at Deep Nights, I can only hope that this wasn’t the last time I will be able to experience the magic of candlelight onstage.

The theatre was much darker than this picture makes it seem. But here, you can see the detailed facade of the tiring house as well as the painted ceiling and chandeliers.
The theatre was much darker than this picture makes it seem. But here, you can see the detailed facade of the tiring house as well as the painted ceiling and chandeliers.

The Globe has grown to have a special place in my heart. I know that when I finish with my program in London, the memories I’ve made at the Globe will be some of my favorite.

Learning to Live with Uncertainty

The people who know me know that I like to have everything planned out far in advance. Four year planning is one of my favorite things to do, and last minute planning stresses me out. Not knowing what’s going on stresses me out. However, I, along with everyone from my program and 18 million Chileans, am having a crash course in living in a state of constant uncertainty. A little over three weeks ago, nationwide protests began as a response to a raise in the price of the Santiago subway fare. In reality, the raise in the price became a symbol for the more than thirty years of high income inequality, privatization of everything (including the entire education system and access to water), and a lack of social programs to support the large number of Chileans making just above minimum wage. One of the many consequences of these protests has been the constant uncertainty that has been thrown over every aspect of life. 

While we were still down south, the largest march in Chilean history took place in Santiago -- more than 1.2 million people out of Chile's population of 18 million were in the capital city to protest that day.
While we were still down south, the largest march in Chilean history took place in Santiago — more than 1.2 million people out of Chile’s population of 18 million were in the capital city to protest that day.

When the protests began, my program was on a trip to the countryside of the Araucanía, far removed from everything that was happening. The Santiago airport was closed for several days, and no one knew what was going to happen. Not a single person expected the protests to turn into the enormous movement that has emerged in the last several weeks. For the last week that we were there, we were living from day to day, not knowing what was going to happen, not knowing if we were even going to be able to go back to our host families in Valparaíso and Viña del Mar. Several days after we were originally supposed to go home, we finally made it back to our home base.

An example of the graffiti that can be found all around Valparaíso and Viña del Mar (translation: This is not democracy, it's a dictatorship without Pinochet)
An example of the graffiti that can be found all around Valparaíso and Viña del Mar (translation: This is not democracy, it’s a dictatorship without Pinochet)

However, being back with our host families in our Chilean homes has done nothing to eliminate the day to day uncertainty of living in a situation of social unrest. When you walk down the street, you never know when a protest might spring up out of nothingness; whether roads are going to be open when you’re trying to get home; whether you’re even going to be able to make it to class that day. You can’t even begin to speculate what’s going to happen to the country at a national level because it changes from one minute to the next.

Genuinely, it’s very hard to live day to day, hour by hour, not knowing what’s going to happen in the afternoon, let alone what’s going to happen long term with the country. The stress manifests physically, and a lot of Chileans I’ve talked to are struggling to sleep, plagued with migraines and nausea, and constantly fatigued. I’ve noticed that as time goes on, I and the people around me have slowly adjusted to this new reality. We’ve learned to check social media to see what roads are closed and when/where protests are going to be before heading out. We know when to go into town, and when it’s better to stay home. We’ve become flexible with our plans and understanding of each other’s timing. The uncertainty has become a constant part of the context in which we live our lives, and, as with any context, the longer we move within it the more accustomed we get.

Living with Mapuche Families

For our third week in Chile, we traveled on a bus for 10 hours to a town called Curarrehue to spend a few days living with indigenous Mapuche families. This week truly marked me. As we drove into the town, I was in awe by the vast green mountains, countless miles of animals roaming free, and the fresh crisp air all around. This was very different from Santiago where the air is noticeably polluted. I was so filled with excitement as the sheep, cows, and horses greeted me.

The days consisted of gathering in various places for class, visiting different Mapuche gathering sites, and then spending the evenings with our families. We learned about the ways that the state is and has been terrorizing Mapuche people, and stealing their land for years. We learned about how the land to the Mapuche people is not just a “natural resource” to be monetized, but sacred sites that are to be cultivated, sustained, and respected. Their deep reverence for land and animals taught me so much about how to be sustainable, ethical, and convicted me of the waste I produce and of the ways in which I have perceived land. We visited the river that hydroelectric water companies are trying to privatize, and we learned the ways their community will be destroyed if that project proceeds. 

Mapuche people have been severely oppressed by the government for years. Much of their land has been stolen, and the government continues to take more. Police continuously raid Mapuche communities. 

Meal times were some of my favorite times here. As Mapuche people don’t use chemicals and antibiotics in their crops, their food was some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life. Each day, our host mom made fresh bread, vegetables, and served us Matte tea. For breakfast, we ate jam that they made from the berries they picked, and for dinner we had a salad of mushrooms that grow on the trees in their backyard. My favorite part of meals were our conversations and our time spent together. Time in Curarrehue is not rushed or centered around the list of things that need to be done. It is a time to hone in on the people around you, to look out the window together, to sit in silence, and to enjoy one another’s presence. 

We also hiked this volcano while in Curarrehue!
We also hiked this volcano while in Curarrehue!

This week composed of deep reflection, of dancing, eating well, hearing the stories of people who are fighting for their land and water, and a time to appreciate and connect with nature. This week was truly rejuvenating. 

Guide to Street Food

Ask anyone who has been to Southeast Asia and one of the first things they will probably say is how amazing the food is. In some cases, the food is quite amazing, but one has to be careful in the realm of street food. The standards for health and sanitation are extremely low; every once in a while my friends and I will turn to each other and joke about a certain food stand, and if it would meet the “health code” in the states. Getting sick from street food is very common. I have been extremely lucky and after almost 3 months, I haven’t gotten sick from the street food! 

My all-time favorite place to get street food is on Suthep- the main road off of where I live. Every afternoon, around 4pm, street vendors begin to set up and prepare to serve the mob of hungry students and citizens for the next 6 hours. I have found many delicious food stands among the 40 or so that set up along Suthep, but without any question, my most visited stands and all-time favorite dinner comes from 3 separate stands:

The BEST spring rolls on the planet!! I always get the pork with the peanut sauce. 40 Baht for 3 rolls
The BEST spring rolls on the planet!! I always get the pork with the peanut sauce. 40 Baht for 3 rolls
Edamame lady-  20 Baht for one bag
Edamame lady- 20 Baht for one bag
Thai pancakes- all sorts of flavors (Taro, strawberry, vanilla, black bean, banana, chocolate, green tea). 5 Baht apiece or 6 pancakes for 25 Baht.
Thai pancakes- all sorts of flavors (Taro, strawberry, vanilla, black bean, banana, chocolate, green tea). 5 Baht apiece or 6 pancakes for 25 Baht.

Here are some helpful tips for eating street food, if you ever find yourself in Thailand or Southeast Asia:

  • Looking for the best place to eat? Take a look around the street or market and head towards the vendors that have the longest lines. The stalls that make people sick will not have a long line of customers!
  • If you order something that needs to be cooked first, watch your food being cooked. If anything looks funky like unclean surfaces or unsanitary conditions, then choose somewhere else to go.
  • Steer clear of anything made with water or ice. The tap water in Thailand isn’t safe to drink. Smoothies, juice, and free drinking water (usually in a jug) on the street should be avoided.
  • Be careful of the spice level!!! (!!!) Enough said.
  • Be prepared for anything. Even being ultra-cautious about eating street food won’t be sufficient sometimes. Food poising is extremely common, so carrying anti-nausea and antidiarrheal medication is a good idea!

The Best Way To See Paris

The best way to experience Paris is by walking through it. The quiet, quaint streets, lights and cafés filled with people offer up some of the city’s best cultural experiences and people watching, all by just wandering around.

Last night, I walked for hours through the city with a new friend of mine that was born and raised in Paris. Since he knows Paris like the back of his hand, he took us on the most beautiful path through the city. I’m going to try and recreate it for you here, so put your walking shoes on and get ready to take a stroll through Paris!

So, first thing’s first: you need to know that Paris is made up of little numbered neighborhoods called “arrondissements”. Each neighborhood has its own claim-to-fame and atmosphere, but there’s nothing separating one quarter from the other. You can walk effortlessly through them, sometimes without even knowing you’ve changed neighborhoods.

We began in the southwest part of Paris, where it’s the most residential. We walked through Montparnasse (where famous authors and artists used to live and work, like Hemingway), up through the Latin Quarter (the 5th arrondissement with the Sorbonne University and other scholarly happenings), and over the bridge to Le Marais (a socially progressive community filled with one-of-a-kind boutiques, great thrifting, and vegetarian restaurants).

After a break with tea and coffee in Le Marais, the sun had set. However, walking through Paris at night is one of the most tranquil experiences you can have in the city–right next to reading a book in a large park. We began our walk again but this time stayed close to the Seine, the river that runs through Paris, and walked to the Louvre from Le Marais. At night, the museum’s famous pyramid lights up and is truly spectacular.

Tea, Coffee and the warmth of a Café
Tea, Coffee and the warmth of a Café

Also located at the Louvre is part of the Champs d’Elyse, the “main road” that offers up a straight shot view of Paris’ most iconic landmarks. We left the Louvre and headed to Concorde, another gorgeous square in Paris, and finally to the Eiffel Tower, which sparkles on the hour at night.

The only photo I managed to get of the walk. Still gorgeous, though!
The only photo I managed to get of the walk. Still gorgeous, though!

Though we spent hours walking, we only covered one path through the city. Every corner of Paris offers up its own magic, history and stories. The best way to find the best of Paris is to go for a walk, and get lost in it.

10 Things to Know if Embarking on the Philly Semester.

  1. A Packing Must: Your enthusiasm, curiosity, and willingness to learn about the world. This is the number one thing that will determine what this semester looks like as you look to soak up every experience. I’ve been challenged and stretched in ways that are indescribable. Be the “Yes” girl or guy. See every challenge as an opportunity – sounds cliche but it’s so true. Coming here, I said that I wanted to meet local people, and I have! Proving to myself that I could do this has led to a whole new confidence when it comes to meeting new people.
  2. Internships are a substantial part of your time here. 32 hours a week is significant, and it’s up to you to make the most of it. Never settle right off the bat, look and look until you find the perfect position. I was pre-placed before coming, yet ended up switching to a completely new business. I was so thankful that it only took a couple days on the job to find out that it was not what I wanted to spend my semester doing. Internships are meant to be mutually beneficial – so ask what you are going to get out of it! In return, find ways (beyond what they ask) that you can contribute to the company with your unique skills and abilities.
My internship for the semester -- Morris House Hotel.
My internship for the semester — Morris House Hotel.
Just a sneak peak of our beautiful decor as we prepare for an event.
Just a sneak peak of our beautiful decor as we prepare for an event.

3. Location is everything. I thought this before the home-search process, and I stand by it. As you search eagerly for a place to live: location, location, and location (disclaimer: of course, who you choose to live with is equally as important). If you do the Philly semester correctly, it will not matter a bit how aesthetically pleasing your home is or what you sleep on. (Pro tip: air mattresses are where it’s at!) What matters is that you set yourself up to be able to discover new places, and explore the different streets.
4. Be ready to speak up. Professors at TPC don’t take silence well in their classes. Each class is discussion-based and will provoke unknown thoughts and questions. Have confidence, and if you don’t come in with confidence, prepare to gain some. They’ll let you know with a great pep talk, and some healthy accountability. You really have no choice. (Tip: these people are what make the TPC Program so amazing).
5. “Normal” people don’t exist. In a city, you can’t help but notice differences. Every time I’ve engaged a stranger in conversation, I have left understanding the world a bit better. Talk to the cashier at WaWa, ask a policeman for directions, talk to the bank attendant about her food cart recommendation or pet the professional dog walker’s furry client.
6. Prepare to be a foodie. I think it’s impossible not to gain a few pounds here. Work extra hard the summer before to have some extra spending money, and prepare to unload it! So many restaurants and shops line the streets, with about every ethnic food represented. You’ll leave wondering how “American food” was ever of interest. Sip on some Thai tea, order Pad Thai in Chinatown, or pick up some Halal from the food carts.

Just a view of the fully-stocked bar, and how well decorated it is. Look at all those options!
Just a view of the fully-stocked bar, and how well decorated it is. Look at all those options!

7. Expect Philly to feel like home. It wasn’t until I had family and friends visit me that I realized I was showing them different places like it was my hometown. I was so incredibly proud to share it, and I realized just how much I had seen and done. A special shout out to my visitors – we had a blast!

8. Make mistakes like it’s your job, and learn how to ask for help. Truly, I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve messed up. And when I did, it was essential to view it as a learning experience. Just a few weeks ago, I got on one of the main (and longest) subway lines going the complete wrong direction. I made it to the last stop before figuring it out. It was a long ride, but I saw parts of Philadelphia that I had yet to see in the outer city. Worth it. Thank you to the stranger who turned me back around.
9. Your life plan is going to take a severe hit. While I knew that coming here I had no post-college plans, I thought I knew the basics. I expected to continue living in a small town, to be in a marketing position, and to continue being wholeheartedly attached to my vehicle. Now, I’m not so sure which of these will be true. I’ve learned that:

  1. Cities are where things happen. So much is happening all the time, and I love the busyness and many opportunities to meet new people. This being said, nearby nature is a must.
  2. My interest in business may not have enough human interaction that I desire. I’m grateful I’ve learned this now and am seeking a job with more humans, and less screens.
  3. Okay, I still love my car. But I haven’t given it a thought since I started walking everywhere! No parking, no fees, and more exercise.

10. You’ll get attached. To the professors and faculty at The Philadelphia Center. To the summer that lasts wayyyy longer than normal. To the $10 jeans at the downtown H&M. To the coffee shop around the corner where you write your best papers. To enough rooftop bars to do a bar crawl every night of the week (not recommended). To the local friends you watch the game with on Sunday’s. To the sushi you purchase on your walk from work and class. To the parks where you can rest on a bench and read. To the Fall Festivals that pop up randomly next to Reading Terminal Market. The attachment is real, and it’ll absolutely be hard to say goodbye.

Oh you know, just me smiling in this wonderful city. Happy to be here!
Oh you know, just me smiling in this wonderful city. Happy to be here!

Part of the Family

Now that I’m over two months into my semester abroad (crazy, right!), I wanted to talk about being part of a host family. My host family is made of my host mom and dad, who are about the age of my real mom and dad, as well as a host sister who is a year younger and one who is three years older than me. My older host sister lived with us in the beginning, but has since moved out to start a new job.

In the beginning of my stay, it felt like I was a guest. It was probably because I wasn’t familiar with the house at all, and wasn’t fully comfortable moving around on my own. Now, though, I feel comfortable in the house and feel like a part of the family. In fact, It doesn’t hurt that my host parents introduce me to their friends as their “other child.”

I’ve met a lot of the extended family, especially since I went to my host dad’s niece’s wedding. I also spent some time with my mom and great aunt making traditional bread and fruit drink for Día de los Difuntos (similar to Día de los Muertos).

The colada morado (a thick fruit drink) and guagua de pan (bread baby filled with guava jam and cheese) that I helped my host mom and great aunt make.
The colada morado (a thick fruit drink) and guagua de pan (bread baby filled with guava jam and cheese) that I helped my host mom and great aunt make.

Also, I had the joy of celebrating Halloween with my host family, who very sweetly went out of their way to put on a little family party for me, Ecuadorian style. In addition to candies and pigs in blankets, we had empanadas and bolones! Even better, though, is when I’m able to just kind of chat with my family and watch tv with my host parents or go out with my sister. We have a family dinner pretty much every day, which means that we chat about what happened during the day. My host dad hassles me the same way he hassles my host sister. It’s a bit like the way my real dad teases me, and my host mom likes to gossip to me about what’s going on in with her friends. My sister and I spent about half an hour, the other day, commiserating about classes and work.

My host parents and I all dressed up for Halloween
My host parents and I all dressed up for Halloween

I consider myself very lucky to be living with such a wonderful family. I now feel comfortable wandering around the house on my own, and taking charge of making food or doing laundry. At this point, I feel comfortable spending time with the family and even the extended family, which is really exciting for me.

A future sociolinguists take on Brexit

*dictionary definition of sociolinguistics: the study of language in relation to social factors, including differences of regional, class, and occupational dialect, gender differences, and bilingualism.

One of the classes I was very excited to take while abroad was Multilingualism. Multilingualism is simply an individuals ability to communicate effectively in 3 or more languages. I grew up bilingual, speaking 2 languages, and only knew how that affected me personally and what people thought about it through an American lens. What did it mean to be multilingual in England? Was it a normality? Was it celebrated? Would all my classmates be able to call me a dumb American in 6 different languages?

My multilingualism class also discusses language policy across the United Kingdom. I quickly learned the different appreciation levels of indigenous languages. In places like Wales and Northern Ireland with different parliaments that dictate education, people have a strong cultural identity and strive to keep their heritage alive, along with their languages of Galic, Welsh, Scottish, Irish etc. Road signs are written in indigenous languages as well as English. Academia promotes multilingualism by having primary students learn foreign and classical languages. Being a part of the European Union means you accept the expectations to be able to communicate different languages. With the pending Brexit, this could change for England and harm monolingual English speakers here.

I naively assumed that everyone in Europe would have some level of understanding of at least one other language, that the students in Liverpool would have the basic communication skills to ask a German international student how their weekend was. For one reason or another, I assumed that, due to spacial relations and the stereotype of posh Europeans, students would have an understanding of each others backgrounds. I was initially quite shocked to learn that most of my classmates were not bilingual. They had taken a year or two of a foreign language class, like how students in the States mainly take Spanish, but didn’t consider what they learned substantial enough to qualify them as bilingual.

When it comes to the sociolinguistics of England currently, and my hypothesis of England after Brexit, I feel a bit disheartened about the effects it’ll have on those who are monolinguals as well as multilingual. Without the need to communicate with other countries through the European Union, monolingualism could rise and effectively leave England behind in communication skills, trading abilities, job applications and proficiency, cultural experiences and more. Language learning in primary and higher education would decline drastically. Most of the rest of the world will be speaking their indigenous languages, in addition to English, while educational policy and social attitudes incline them to learn yet another language. A person that can share and partake in different cultures other than their own is generally more adaptable, knowledgeable and well rounded. It saddens me to think about a future culture of isolation and neglecting differences.

This also leads me to worry about those who come from non-English backgrounds living here. If people start to believe that there is no need to communicate in anything other than English, other connected aspects of language like culture, history, music, food, and more may start to diminish as well. If you can not speak to someone or do not feel the need to meet them halfway in the language they speak, it is unlikely that you will want to advocate for them in other aspects of life.

Although I am far from an expert on all things Brexit and European education policy, I do hope that the ideals of shared community and acceptance will stand and continue to grow through times of change.

Can I Be Honest for a Minute?

“Why Africa? Why wouldn’t you just go to Europe where you won’t have to worry about typhoid and malaria and unsafe water, and can actually take a hot shower?” 

I wanted something different from everyone else. I wanted to live with less; to martyr myself for the sake of learning and helping, and being one of the few brave and willing ones to step into one of the most impoverished parts of the world. Over two months in, I’m embarrassed to write that, and ashamed of my somewhat sub-conscious mindsets of white privilege and white-saviorism or as my group likes to call it, “voluntourism.” The pill of, “Just because I’m white and wealthy, and a Christian doesn’t mean I have all or really any of the answers,” is a tough one to swallow. I’m tempted to beat myself up for the fact that this was even a pill I needed to swallow in the first place- but, I give myself grace because I know it’s not my fault, or yours, that we were born where we were. It’s not our fault that we were taught in our history classes, from a young age, that the U.S. is the greatest nation in the world and that we’re better than everywhere else. It’s not our fault that some of us were taught in our churches that those who have less than us should receive pity. That, in order to be more like our Sacrificial Savior, we need to step in and save all the brokenness in the world – and then receive praise and admiration from the church. What we were taught in our safe, wealthy, Christianized communities is not our fault. However, I do believe it is our responsibility to hold these ideals up to the light and examine them closely: How well do they reflect the truth that all humans are equal? How well do they reflect the truth that God created and loves diversity? Have we considered that maybe there is no one “right” way to live? Are these beliefs a product of growing up in one of the richest countries in the world? It is not our fault that living with “the least of these” has been glamorized in our society, but I believe it is our responsibility to examine just why we see this as glamourous, as well as our responsibility to de-glamourize and re-humanize privileged individuals living in impoverished areas, treading with humility and grace with every unsure step.

Hear me on this: I don’t have answers. I don’t know why the world is the way it is, why there is so much disparity, why I have everything I need and more while some die from lack of basic needs being met. I also don’t know what to do about it. I don’t know why God brought me to this place, to a continent that, for reasons unknown, I always knew in my heart I would live in for a time. I don’t exactly know why He plucked me up out of my safe and wealthy bubble, and brought me to a place that doesn’t often fit those adjectives. I’ll tell you one thing, I am grateful He did. 

Here’s what I do know: this experience is exciting and breathtaking, but it isn’t glamourous. There is nothing glamourous about having diarrhea every other day because the quality of food is poor and my body isn’t used to it; nothing glamourous about hand washing clothes that never really get clean, and coughing from heavily polluted air; nothing glamourous about freezing cold showers and squat toilets, and nothing glamourous about witnessing firsthand a lot of the “brokenness” many of us have been sheltered from.  There is also nothing glamorous about how people I have grown to know and love here face this for their entire lives, not just for four months. Something else I know: I’m not saving anyone. Mostly because I don’t know how, and truthfully, I’d rather be people’s friend- most people here are SO friendly and welcoming. I’d rather hear their stories and share my own. I’d rather hold their babies and cook meals with them, and if they ask for a hand with something, extend it, than tell them what, to me, looks “wrong” with how they live and how they should fix it. I just don’t believe I have the right to do that. Even if I did, I wouldn’t know what to say. I don’t know what’s really wrong or how those things should be fixed, but I’m very imperfectly learning how to listen and, sometimes painfully, accept what is different from what I’m used to. Of course this isn’t to discredit real issues that exist around me like hunger and poor sanitation, or to discredit the help and effort that is being tirelessly done to eradicate them. This is just to say that I don’t have answers to these issues that I’m just barely educated on, and I’m not going to pretend that just because I’m a white Christian living in the thick of it that I do. I often compare myself to an infant here, just taking this life in breath by breath and trying to keep my eyes open, never knowing what’s coming next. I’m a student, and I’m here to learn.

Being here sure as heck isn’t glamourous or praiseworthy, but it is grounding. It’s grounding me in strength despite weariness, and peace despite unanswered questions. It’s keeping me so very human, asking a million human questions every day. It’s growing in me a curiosity and desire for a better way. There must be a way to love, and maybe even help, brothers and sisters without pitying them and diminishing their hard work and worth, without always being “right”, right? I don’t have answers; I just have where I’ve come from and what my eyes are seeing now, and the humble hope that God helps me learn better ways to love and respect his kids no matter what continent I’m living on or what conditions I’m living in.

Sometimes it all can feel heavy. The pictures above were all taken in moments that I saw something I found beautiful and felt a lot of joy because of it… which happens quite often. With open eyes we see a lot that hurts, but, in my opinion, a lot that heals, too.