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Underrated Tourism: Ecuador 🇪🇨

Students who go abroad with hopes to see many countries and travel as much as they possibly can often study in Europe where traveling is cheap. Of course, where one chooses to study ultimately should be a reflection of their interests and academic goals, but if we are being honest, everyone who goes abroad is hoping to see, learn, and experience new parts of the world. Let me be an advocate for what the underrated country of Ecuador has to offer.

Ecuador is the land of four distinct and diverse landscapes in a country the size of the state of Colorado. There are the famous Galapagos Islands, the Coast, the Sierra/ Andes/ Mountains, and the Amazon. You don’t have to travel far to see anything and everything. They are four regions of diverse climates, animals, food, lifestyles, cultural traditions, and even some languages. The best of all– traveling within the country is cheap! Hostels are typically $10 a night and are honestly nicer than some hotels I have stayed in, and some even include meals! While buses are not always the most fun way to travel, it gives you the opportunity to see even more of the country and the transportation is very cheap, and is available throughout the country! (When you get to the point of retirement, come to Ecuador to get the most bang for your buck!)

Where do you go and what do you do? Well, I am glad you asked! A better question would be, what do you want to do? There is a coast and islands of gorgeous beaches to simply relax and enjoy the sunshine and incredible sea food, or adventures of surfing, snorkeling, and experiencing ocean wildlife. In the mountains there are many hiking, biking, and bus excursions to see the mountains and volcanos that make up breathtaking landscapes. The amazon has its own adventures with distinct wildlife, indigenous communities to learn from, and adventures of hiking, river rafting, and spelunking. Don’t let me forget all the lagoons in the craters of volcanoes, canyoning, waterfalls, and archeological sites! In the big well-known cities of the country such as Quito, Cuenca, and Guayaquil, there is well-preserved and rich historical centers with museums, cathedrals, and architecture. There are the cute coffee shops, chocolate tours, and great eats that will give you meals to fill your belly for just $3!

As we all know, there are pros and cons to everything and one of the cons to being in South America is that flights/ travel to other countries is expensive. Being in Ecuador however, there is really everything in one small country that outside travel isn’t really necessary, (however fun, of course, if you are willing to bite the bullet of the cost of a flight).

My WHY to Ecuador: Since my college search endeavor began, I was interested in the opportunity to study abroad because of my interest in Spanish (my WHY behind that interest also has a backstory for a later day). Taking advantage of my time in college to go abroad was/ is important for me to gain language fluency as my primary goal. Often, I think students forget the lifestyle and culture that impacts one’s experience when studying in another country. For me, I knew the options were Spain, or somewhere in Latin America and Spain was a no-go. Don’t get me wrong, Spain is a BEAUTIFUL country with a rich Spanish speaking culture, but I knew the European lifestyle wasn’t something I wanted to live in for an entire semester. When I began searching programs in Latin America, I was primarily drawn to the more globally well-known countries of Argentina, Peru, and Chile. The further I researched and the more I talked with other students who had gone abroad, I stumbled upon the program in Ecuador and was intrigued by their Spanish primarily. Ecuador is different than most Spanish speaking countries in that Ecuadorians typically speak slower and without a strong/ distinct accent. This made me excited because learning a language is hard enough, and picking up a distinct accent on top of that would be exhausting.

I was drawn to Ecuador primarily in search of an effective way to achieve my academic goals through the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, and the benefits of cheap travel became another benefit later. Now that I am here, I would say I have been a Student Tourist. I am obviously still here primarily for academic purposes, but believe me, I have been taking advantage of weekend trips since Week 1! Believe it or not, I have traveled so much already that I am burnt out and ready to take a break, but my bucket list says there is still much to see this semester.

While Ecuador may not be the hot topic Google presents for tourism, it is truly a country of beautiful diversity and adventure in every way! If you don’t believe me, let me be your tour guide. 🙂

Blessings,

Morgan

Life is Life is Life

When you walk into my room, you see a shelf above my bed with a picture of my mom, dad, and I. By its side is a candle from Paradise Funeral Home. Below it there’s the dream catcher that hung in my dad’s car when he used to take me to school. These things were essential to my packing list for Spain.

A year ago, my dad passed away. It was spring  semester, during winter break, and I had just arrived to Ann Arbor the night before. That day we got a call from my mom, she was crying hysterically, and I already knew what she was going to say. I knew this day was coming, but nothing could have prepared me for February 10th, 2018. Afterwards, I often felt mood swings as the 10th of every month would approach. There was always a combination of thoughts and emotions that triggered this behavior. The semester before he passed, my mom had left him, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship, and I was constantly struggling to be who I thought I was at the time.  It felt like everything that kept me grounded was now being cracked by the earth’s surface. Subconsciously, I was experiencing everything all at once, however, my mind could only process everything one at a time.

Three months after he passed, I was preparing to go abroad for the first time. I had just finished the semester and I felt like I had nothing left to give because I was drained.  I experienced so much loss. Multiple friendships disappeared before my eyes, family members went into the shadows, classwork piled on me, new people came into my life, I cried, and I felt so much anger that I cried some more. I experienced a lot of loss, and still carry it with me. You might even be thinking why didn’t I take a break or give up.  I had no choice. I’m a young black woman from a poor community. What other choice did I have but to keep going? I have generations of black women and men, like my father, who spent their lives in oppression and hoped that their children could live a life that is just a little bit better than them. This is what helped me push through.

My da was born to sharecroppers in small city in Arkansas. He said that he could remember working fields with them. The stories that I have of my da are a little choppy. I only got these stories from my mama. I wasn’t really close to da. To me, he was always this mysteriously big, “little” chocolate man. We called him da, (dah), not dad, daddy, pops, or father. He was just da. I knew that he loved to draw when he was a kid, that he always had a supernatural gift, and that he never could sit down for more than 20 minutes without falling asleep or getting up to go somewhere. There’s much more that I started to realize that da and I have in common, especially after he passed. Such as my curiosity about other cultures and a deep desire to share with others my experiences and wisdom. Without a doubt, it’s what led me here to Spain. Right after he died, I wrote down memories I had of him and lessons he taught me, good and bad, just so that I won’t forget them when I’m older. I wrote them as if I was telling him the story and thanking him for his time with me. 

His heart was always in the right place and he taught me to follow my intuition. Even when I was irritated by him as a teen, I knew that he just wanted to help. He would always say, “Aww Cherish, you kno dah-d don mean no ha-m.”As I started going to a majority white school in high school, I was so embarrassed by the way he spoke. Now that I’m older and research the language, I feel so much closer to him. There were times that I misunderstood him as a kid, and it was because I was looking at him often through someone else’s lense. Whether it be the lense of the world or a family member. However if there’s anything I learned in this past year, it’s that at the end of the day your intuition points you in the right direction. You already have the power and knowledge within yourself to understand others and most importantly yourself.

So how do I feel now, you may wonder? Well, I realized that it’s not something you can explain. This week, was a rough week as it led up to the anniversary of his passing. Two days ago, I felt tears coming on and just let them out. This is completely okay, but the problem was that I’m in a foreign country with people I only met two weeks ago. So I talked with family and called some friends from back home and cried with them. However, I realized that it didn’t really matter that I am abroad at the same time as the anniversary. It would have been hard no matter where I am in the world. Life is Life is Life. I have to trust those who don’t necessarily understand, like my friends from back home and the new people in my life here in Spain. This continues to be hard for me since my relationship with trust has been reevaluated so many times by family members, significant others, close friends, and strangers. I had to realize that trust is earned, but also you have to give it in small instances like this one. It’s the only way to live a life that’s more than just worthwhile.

As many people say, death is inevitable. Most people only think of their own death when they hear this statement. However, the truth is that it’s bigger than our own deaths, but the deaths of the people around us, hopes, and dreams. We can’t escape pain in this life, but there are resources for healing. Vulnerability is not weak, but courageous. It’s not about what people think about you, but what you think about yourself. You are daring to be seen and heard in a world where most people we encounter are only waiting to be loved. The beauty in the bitterness of a loved one’s death is to know that their being now lives on through you as love. We’ve all learned at some point in our lives that energy can never be destroyed nor created. Therefore, love is love is love. No matter where we are in this world, life still goes on and the things of our past continue to be with us.

 

Family is Everything

How often do you drop everything to have three hour meals with your family? What age were you (or will you be) “kicked” out of your parent’s house? Do you always hug and kiss your family when you first walk in the door and when you’re about to leave?

I have been blessed to have grown up in a family that values one another and time spent together, and has positive relationships with extended family. I grew up having family dinners after school, going to church together, going on family vacations, working together around the house, and celebrating all holidays and birthdays with both immediate and extended family. What I thought was a lot of family time, is nothing in comparison to the time that Ecuadorians dedicate to family.

My family never spends three hours eating one meal… not even on Thanksgiving or Christmas! Sure we have gatherings in which we spend quality time together for hours, but it is often focused on other activities. In Ecuador, it is normal on the weekends to have meals with extended family that have no schedule but typically are all afternoon or all night events. This is a weekly custom, not a holiday event.

I am learning that while in my West-Michigan culture family is valued, as it is in Ecuador, the dynamics within the family are very different. The issue of machismo is very prevalent throughout Latin America and is evident in the family dynamics in Ecuador, for example. The purpose of the wife or mother in the home is to work in the house so that the man of the house can rest. It is frowned upon for a man to be helping with cleaning in the home or doing laundry or cooking. Because of this reality, many women either are unemployed to work in the house, or the families hire a family employee to help fulfill this role. Often in the United States, we think of people who have help in their home to be upper class individuals but in Ecuador it is more weird if the family doesn’t have someone helping in their home. Finances are not a factor in the equation.

Growing up in my home, Saturday mornings were dedicated to “job lists.” Given the fact that my siblings and I always dreaded them, I realize how important this aspect is in being part of a family. In Ecuador, all of the household chores are for the wife/ mother/ maid to take care of so that the man of the home and the children can rest. If you are a working man, earning money is your only responsibility. If you are a child in a family that has given you the opportunity to study, your only responsibility is to study. Children and young adults in Ecuador do not learn how to work or save money, and this becomes problematic when they themselves get married and move out. (A quick side note on when “kids” move out of their parents home in Ecuador: it is normal for kids in their upper 20’s up until 30 to be living with their parents). They move from a world where everything was given to them, literally everything, to a world where they are on their own without any phase of transition. I was talking with a woman yesterday who was talking about this issue who told me that this is a problem because she got married at age 30 and had no idea how to do a load of laundry, clean, or cook anything. My parents have always helped and supported me and my brothers tremendously, but they also taught us to be responsible by giving us specific responsibilities that had to be carried out from a young age. Wow, am I so thankful for that now!

Hellos and goodbyes are also of incredible importance in Ecuador. This goes for family especially, but really applies to every aspect of the culture. One cannot enter or leave the house without saying hello to everyone and giving them a hug with a kiss on the cheek– it would be considered very rude. This same custom is important with friends and anyone you meet. The first day I got to school I was so thrown off by everyone greeting everyone, (including professors). The first time one of my professors greeted me, I was so thrown off by what was happening and I felt like a rude gringa. I greet my friends and family at home, but not so formally. Physical contact is also not always required when meeting up with friends and family at home, but in Ecuador they explain that they are very affectionate.

It has been very interesting to learn and experience these different cultural dynamics within family. I have learned about the aspects that could benefit the family culture of the United States, but also some of the difficult cultural realities that Ecuador faces within familial roles.

Ya estoy en España!

**English Below**

¿La última vez que he estado en este país? El 12 de agosto. Me acuerdo de los sentimientos pesados. No quería volverme a los EE.UU. ¿Por que? Pues, a ver…

Hablando de mis primeras impresiones de España, yo estaba enamorada de la cultura, la gente, y el estilo de vida. El primer día sentí una especie de sobrecogimiento cuando finalmente llegué a Valencia. Durante el verano, especialmente en la costa, España es maravillosa. Puede ver las montañas y las palmeras de cualquier sitio. La playa no está tan lejos del centro. Había fiesta del jueves al domingo. Siempre la comida es fresca y  se acompaña con un vino tinto o una copa de cerveza con limón. A partir de la segunda semana, la gente española me mostró que “se vive” en España.

Es una locura que  todo eso hace 4 meses y estoy en España de nuevo. ¿Sabes que? No me siento como hace 4 meses. Desde el momento que ha aterrizado el avión, me siento como hace 2 semanas que estuve en este país. ¿Se lo cree? Pues, yo tampoco. Esperaba que hubiera tenido un choque cultural. Cuando conocí a las personas de mi programa, enseguida, comenzé a hablar en español con ellos. Estaba llena de emoción y quería comenzar la experiencia con confianza en mí misma. Si quiere mejorar un aspecto de vida, hay que tener confianza en sí mismo. Esto es clave en un ambiente distinto. Sin embargo, el tener confianza en sí mismo no significa no necesitar la ayuda de otros. También esto es clave.

Solo he estado en España durante una semana. Todavía estoy enamorada con el país, especialmente la ciudad de Madrid. Si quieres saber mas de mi experiencia durante el verano, eche un vistazo a mi blog en tumblr (enlace). Tambien, estaré cargando unos videos bisemanales, más o menos. Abajo tengo la primera semana ya.  Espero que disfrute los blogs y videos. ¡Hasta pronto!

 

English

The last time I was in this country? It was August 12th. I remember this heavy feeling. I didn’t want to go back home. Why? Well, let’s see…

My first impressions of Spain were those of a love affair. I was in love with the culture, the people, and the way of life. The first day I was in awe when I finally arrived in Valencia. Over the summer, especially on the coast, Spain is magnificently beautiful. You can see the mountains and palm trees from anywhere. The beach isn’t too far from the city. There were fiestas from Thursday to Sunday. The food is always fresh and they eat it with a glass of red wine or a beer mixed with lemon juice. From the second week on, Spanish people showed me that “one lives” life in Spain.

It’s crazy to think this was all 4 months ago and now I’m back again. You know what? I didn’t feel like it had been 4 months ago. From the moment the plane landed, I felt like it had only been 2 weeks ago that I was in Spain. Can you believe it? Me either. I was expecting to feel a culture shock. When I met people in my program, I immediately began speaking in Spanish. I was filled with excitement and I wanted to start off on the right foot with confidence. If you want to improve an aspect of your life, you have to have confidence in yourself. This is key in a new environment. However, this doesn’t mean that you don’t need the help of others. This is also really important.

I’ve only been in Madrid for a week. I’m still in love with the country, especially the city of Madrid. If you want to know more about my experience over the summer, check out my blog on tumblr. Also, I’ll try to upload videos every two weeks or so. Below is a video from the first week. I hope that you enjoy my blogs and videos! See y’all soon!

 

 

La Vie Française

Hello, world! I am back at it and this time not suffering from the negative effects of jet lag! I have now been in Paris for almost a month so I feel that I’m much more able to start posting about happenings and life in general in Paris now that I’m better acquainted with the city. This week we are talking about: the French home.

My study abroad program, French and Critical Studies with CIEE, is a language intensive program which means that everything that we do associated with CIEE is in French. What that means is that the program forces us to be fully immersed in the language ALL .THE. TIME. CIEE in Paris has two options for housing: student apartments or a homestay with a French family. The students in FCS, however, don’t have a choice; we are required to live in a home stay in order to keep us exposed to the French language.

That being said, for the past month I have been living with my host mother, Katherine (pronounced Kat-rine with a nice French rgh) who, as I mentioned in the previous post, doesn’t speak a word of English. When I first learned this, I was terrified that she and I would struggle to relate with one another; I feared that I wouldn’t be able to express myself. However, we are nearly a month into living, speaking, and dining with each other every single day and I can confidently say that my fears were completely unfounded.

You see, Katherine loves, and I mean LOVES to talk. She sits with me at breakfast every morning and listens to the radio, but as soon as she hears something that sparks her interest the radio is forgotten and she is speaking, with a relatively high level of knowledge about the subject and flowing right on into the next one. This was especially great for me the first few days into living with her because there really wasn’t a need for me to talk and I could get used to the pace of speech from an actual French speaker. These days I’m much better able to interject with my own opinions on the subject and she and I can have more and more conversations which I think both she and I really appreciate.

As I’ve been able to communicate with Katherine, I’ve learned a lot more about her and her life. She is in her 70s with three grown daughters, two of whom live nearby and frequent the apartment. She started her professional life as a secretary but somehow got connected with someone in the art restoration business which led to her second and most favorite career as an art restorer. She told me that she’s worked on a team that has restored big pieces of art such a painted ceiling in the Louvre and another work in l’Assemblée Nationale. She still does some smaller pieces and I occasionally come home to the smell of some of her chemicals that she uses on the paintings.

Speaking of home, for Katherine and me home is a two bedroom apartment in the northwestern suburb of Paris called Neuilly-Sur-Seine. There I have my own room with a big window that looks out over our ally with those cute white Parisian window shutters. I also just have to mention: in the bathroom we have a heating rack for our towels! It’s pretty standard for French homes but I just find it amusing and also incredibly amazing when I get to wrap myself in a warm towel — it’s just great.

My bedroom

Our living room

A little bit about Neuilly: it’s smack dab in between l’Arc de Triomphe (that fancy Roman-looking arch that Napoleon built way back when) and La Defense which is just a gigantic hollow cube in the more business-y part of Paris. Neuilly, as I’m told, is rather chic, although I can’t say that stops people from letting their dogs “relieve” themselves on the sidewalks and not clean up after them. Yeah, watch your step.

Other than that, I’ve found that our apartment in Neuilly is actually in quite an ideal location. It takes me about four minutes to walk to the metro which will then take me straight into the city which can connect me to ten of the fourteen lines in the city. I am also just a ten minute walk away from the Bois de Boulogne which is to Paris what Central Park is to New York. Saturdays are especially hectic with runners and walkers everywhere, not to mention tons of adorable dogs out playing in the fields.

Bois de Boulogne
Some new friends I met in the park

Another essential part of my French home life is the food. Katherine is an amazing cook. She can turn anything into a delicious and nutritious meal. I remember my first night with her I was a little apprehensive when she put my first meal in front of me: cabbage wrapped in ham and covered in cheese. As far as looks went, I was strongly questioning whether what I was about to put into my body would even be worth it, but I was starving so I dug in and it was incredible! Also, leftover night at our place is not to be dreaded because she just whips something completely new together from the ingredients she used previously. I’m serious — carrot and mushroom in a creamy sauce over angel hair pasta…who would have thought?!

At times Paris can feel slightly exhausting and incredibly lonely; it’s hard to live in a place that you’re unfamiliar with around people who don’t know you or even speak your language. In a city where it is so easy to be anonymous sometimes you just want a taste of home. I’m sure every student who has studied in a foreign country understands exactly what I mean, but I have to remind myself how lucky I am to have this opportunity. When I get these kinds of feelings I’ve found that it’s best to talk to friends and family; they really are just a phone call away! Also, if you can find it, eat some of your favorite food. If you can’t find that, listen to some of your favorite songs or do the same activities you would at home. For me, I’ve found that going for a run helps me immensely because running has always been a very cathartic activity and it’s something that I’ve done first at home, then at school when I moved away from home, and now I can do it here!

No, things will not be exactly the same as they are at home but that’s precisely the purpose of study abroad: to gain a new perspective. Instead of being stuck on what I miss about my home in the U.S., I go out and explore to find new things that help me feel at home here.

Reporting from the Coldest Place on the Earth

Saturday officially marked the third week that I have been in Chicago. It seems like I’ve been here for so much longer than that already! As a small town girl, I imagined the transition to go much less smoothly, but public transit and getting around the city has been intuitive and fun. All the Chicago Semester students have settled into their schedules and internships, as well as I have!

I am at Mercy Hospital, which is just southeast of Chinatown (one of my favorite neighborhoods). My placement is in the operating room (OR), pre- and post-operating care units, and the recovery room. So far, I’ve only spent time in the operating room, but I am thoroughly enjoying every case in which I’ve watched and helped. A unique challenge has been that the OR’s atmosphere and nursing expectations are different to a regular hospital unit. There a technical skills and instruments I have never seen before. Now that it’s the third week in the OR, I’m finally getting used to the roles that are expected of me, multitasking well, and the unique oddities of the OR. I am learning so much and anticipate using these lessons in my future nursing career.

The fact that my internship has come into full-swing has definitely not hindered my adventurous spirit. From spontaneous taco nights to swing dancing, I have fallen in love with all the exciting events that happen daily in the city, which reflect it’s unique history. Even though I’ve been *social* swing dancing for almost three years now, it felt like I had been dancing for three months. The style and energy was high above my technical level, and I anticipate getting much better in my dancing skills. Here’s a video of these talented dancers. I mean, what was I supposed to expect of one of the cities where blues/jazz originated?

I attended a play at Court Theatre, “Photograph 51”, about Rosalind Franklin. Commonly known for their discoveries about the characteristics of DNA, Watson and Crick owe the credit to their concept of DNA’s double helix to Franklin’s x-ray images of DNA, who is far less-popularly known. The story was captivating, dynamic, and full of emotion. What’s really cool about the Chicago Semester is that they offer free art events for the students every week. From the Art Institute to operas, I plan to go to as many as I can! There’s not many times in life where you get to go to free events that showcase Chicago’s diverse culture and history.

Most of my hours and days off have been spent exploring random parts of the city. Google has been a beautiful tool with which I’ve discovered interesting venues with fantastic events. From free arcade games to Lakeshore runs to the Navy Pier, I continue to settle in my internship, growing and learning and enjoying the city more than I would’ve imagined.

My favorite part of the city is how the people are all so connected. Somehow we live separate lives that converge at random points in time. I like to think of them as magic moments in which two strangers can somehow connect at a pre-destined time. I had to leave exactly 2 minutes after my shift ended to meet Ron, the 90-year old Chinese man, on the subway. After moving here in the late 40s, he bought a house in a north Chicago neighborhood and has since lived there. This short 15 minute conversation reminded me of how small I am in the grand scheme of life (a good reminder).

Overall, the past few weeks have been filled with small victories: conquering public transit, exploring a new city, and braving -50 degree weather, which made life very interesting and full of layers. Weird to think that I was in the coldest place in the world last Wednesday. Thankfully, I was bundled up inside with a cup of hot tea and fuzzy socks. Thankfully, the turn-around of 50 degree weather (yes, you read that right. We had a 100-degree difference in three day’s span) has allowed my adventurous spirit to re-emerge.

My goal for the next couple weeks? Continue learning at my internship (Gosh, it’s felt weird to be so young in my workplace). Hear more people’s stories. Find new ways to be uncomfortable (’cause that’s how humans grow to be better humans). Keep an open mind to new experiences that come spontaneously. Embrace city life.

Lili & Edwin

This week I began my service learning placement in a small town called Lumbísi. This small village is only about 15 minutes from where I live and here I met two shining lights for Jesus! I am serving in a business run out of the home of an indigenous family. They work in agriculture, off of the land that they have inherited from their family to produce Chocho (a locally grown healthy protein) and a large variety of fruits and vegetables.

Tuesday was my first day. After meeting the couple and getting to know a bit of their story, I worked with Lili to harvest avocados for this week’s sales. As we were harvesting we got to know each other a little bit and she was glowing the entire time. She played worship music and spoke truth over me as we were in the garden… it was exactly what I needed.

Before Tuesday, I hadn’t met any Ecuadorians who were Christians. There are many Catholics here, few Christians, and many who don’t practice any sort of religion. I quickly found out that Lili and Edwin, the sweet couple I have the opportunity to learn from, were hurting from these facts as well. They choose to live out their faith daily around people who don’t appreciate it. They choose to live their lives following God’s Word, despite their community’s rejection. They choose to live out their faith, knowing that God has a purpose for them exactly where they are at.

Thursday was day two at my placement site. We spent three and a half hours sorting through the chocho, (see attached picture), to make sure that all the broken and impure chochos were taken out. Though this task was long and monotonous, I loved it! We just sat and talked for the duration of these three and a half hours, sharing about our lives and listening to worship music. The couple was elated that I was there to help them make this process, that takes them at least 6 hours together, take 3.5 hours instead! It is amazing how even the simplest things can bring so much joy and how much you can learn by simply taking the time to talk with people.

I know that I needed this time with Lili and Edwin this week, and it feels good to know how appreciative they were of my presence as well! Knowing that I get to spend my Tuesday and Thursday afternoons with people who love Jesus, care about people, and are passionate about healthy living gives me feelings of joy and hope for what this semester will bring. I am ready to cultivate the harvest the Lord has abundantly set before me this semester!

Fresh Air is Good for the Soul

Ever since I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, I’ve dreamed of living in a city.  Getting an apartment in New York or Chicago, taking public transportation to work every day; it all seemed like the dream. And living in London was the perfect trial run for it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am loving living in the city. There’s so much to do and see every single day. It really keeps you on your toes too. The other day as I went by on the bus, I saw a man serenading some people very enthusiastically with his saxophone. But one thing I didn’t anticipate was how much I was going to miss grass and trees and air that doesn’t smell like bus fumes all the time.

This past weekend we had a field trip to go see Stonehenge and spend a night in the city of Bath. I missed most of the drive up due to being asleep, but once we arrived at Stonehenge, I was surprised at how green everything still was. I’m so used to everything being brown and dead-looking in the middle of January.

After we walked around the stones for a while, my friends and I decided to not take the bus back to the visitor center and hike along the path through the hills instead. It was a bit blustery, but eventually the sun came out, and it was gorgeous. It was then that I realized how much I missed my shoes slipping in the mud while hiking, and the damp smell the earth gives after it rains.

In Bath we had a similar experience. The line to be able to sit in one of the baths fed by the hot springs was much too long, so once again, we decided to walk around. As we looked around the city, we noticed a large park that was situated a bit higher up than the rest of the city. We had no idea how to get there, but we were determined to find it anyway.

We walked out of the city center, into a neighborhood just outside of the city (accidentally walking through a few people’s garden paths in the process). Soon, we found the park. It’s green carpet was a vivid difference in comparison to the pale architecture of the rest of the city. We made our way up.

All of us decided not to look at the view until we hit the very top of the hill. As we stood with our backs facing the city, panting slightly from the incline, there was no doubt that smiles were plastered on all of our faces.

“One…Two…Three”

 

 

It was worth the biting wind, the muddy shoes, and forty-five-minute hike. If nothing else, it made me realize just how much I loved exploring in this capacity. It was refreshing to be able to clear our lungs and take a moment to appreciate this amazing journey we’re on.

Pre-Departure Thoughts

I leave in TWO days!!?? Don’t get me wrong, I’m really excited. But now that it’s here, I’m afraid something will go awry. I mean, I’m just a black girl from a poor black community in Saginaw, Michigan. You’ve probably never heard of the city, it’s next to Flint. Yeah, the place known for the on-going water crisis. Okay, this is sounding a lot more depressing than I intended. Wait, just let me backup a moment. Espera

The day I met the enthusiastic and wide-smiling Karl from Hope Admissions was the day that actually changed the course of my next four years. I was a junior in high school at the first ever career fair at my school. This guy was too excited; I had to figure out what he was smiling about. He told me that he went to Hope College and majored in both Spanish and International Studies. This idea immediately caught my attention. I loved Spanish and at the time I was thinking of diplomacy in a foreign country. He went on about the opportunities to study abroad, his time in Argentina, and the ability to double major and finish in two years at Hope. I was down! Fast Forward to freshman year at Hope, I was already talking with Amy Otis at the Center for Global Engagement. I knew that I wanted to go to Europe, preferably Spain or France. I kept this idea in my head for a while, but I honestly did not believe it was going to be possible. You know my background, poor black girl from a small town in Michigan and it’s only reference point is in relation to one of the nation’s biggest scandals. But to my surprise, the universe had something different aligned.

 

Let’s dwell in the past for a bit longer. Sophomore year, fall semester, I was highly encouraged to apply for the Art/History May term in Paris, France. I applied, and the scholarships came rolling in. By December I was sure that I was going. Then, I thought, I should truly make the best out if this opportunity. I’m still not sure that it’s possible for me to go abroad my junior year. Espera… there’s a way for me to do a cultural exchange in Spain. I decided to look for a Spanish family near a town where a summer friend of mine, Carmen, was going to school at the time. Long story short, it all worked out. I had the best four months of my life traveling across Europe.

Now you say, why am I so nervous? To be honest, as I think about how I get here, there is no reason for me to be nervous. I have beaten all the odds against me repeatedly, and I am not just talking about being the black girl from a poor community. My experience abroad gave me a new appreciation of the meaning to live life to the fullest. Confidence is a big part of living. And I am not talking about the egotistical kind. True confidence comes from the center of our desires and is nothing without faith. Confidence is just faith wrapped in a smile and laughs. It’s the willingness to be vulnerable and reveal your fears and desires. So here I am. Are you coming?

***Heads Up, Spanish in Future Blogs with English translation***

Maintaining My Book-Nerd Status Away from Home

As an English major and a book-nerd, I eat, sleep, and breathe books, so it only makes sense that I talk about them here!

I’m slowly adapting to the busy life style of New York and starting to explore events around the city. Of course, my favorite excursions have included hitting up nearby bookstores and comic stores with my roommate, especially the times when I got my books signed and meet some of my favorite authors. I’ve only managed to go to a couple events so far, but I will no doubt be keeping my eyes open for more!

On January 17th, I hit the subway and made my way up to the Barnes & Noble on 86th street to hear 3 YA (young adult) fantasy authors (Roshani Chokshi, Melissa Albert, S.A. Chakraborty) speak and celebrate the release of Roshani Chokshi’s The Gilded Wolves. I had been fortune enough to win an ARC (advance reader copy) of the book beforehand, so I was ecstatic to hear and meet the author. I was completely unaware of the event until a couple days prior when I was googling “Free Events in NYC,” so it was such a coincidence that I had been reading the book at the same time!

The week after that, on January 23rd, I hit up the famous Strand bookstore to see Holly Black, co-author of the Spiderwick Chronicles, and author of the Tithe series, The Cruel Prince, and the recently released The Wicked King. Holly Black is amazing and has been dubbed by her many fans as the “Queen of Faeries” (she even has the bright blue hair and pointy ears to prove it!).

(As you can see above, I totally failed to ask Holly Black for a picture, so my roommate only managed to snap a quick pic of me getting my book signed, hence my head being cut of in the picture)

One of my favorite things about book events is the sense of community it provides. When the author references their own work, everyone in the crowd knows what’s they’re talking about, allowing for inside jokes and shared laughs. A lot of my friends don’t read the same type of books I do (or at least not to the same extent that I do), so it’s comforting to sit beside readers similar to myself and “fangirl” alongside them.

And as a book-nerd, hearing all of these brilliant ladies speak was insanely inspiring. From hearing Holly Black explain how she never writes a book right on the first try, to Roshani Chokshi stating that writing projects don’t have expiration dates and that “they won’t go bad if you give them time,” really spoke to me as a student, artist and a writer. Not to mention, my TBR pile (to-be-read pile) has grown immensely from hearing these writers speak.

Prior to NYC, I had only been to a handful of book events and I have ambitious plans to change that this semester. I have no doubt that by the end of the semester, I will be leaving NYC with a suitcase full of books.