A Trip to Sakartvelo!

მოგესალმებით საქართველოდან! Mogesalmebit sakartvelodan! Greetings from Georgia! Welcome to Georgia, a country laden with history, churches, diverse climates, awe-inspiring geography, and the best FOOD. As you might have already guessed, I spent my spring break in Georgia, known to Georgians as Sakartvelo or, more correctly, საქართველო.

Starting in Kutaisi, we journeyed across Georgia to the capital, Tbilisi, made a day trip into the mountains, and came full circle, returning to Kutaisi on an eight-day snapshot of this marvelous country. Due to the sheer amount of information, locations, adventures (and misadventures), and lessons acquired, I have chosen to make this more of a non-traditional blog post, relying heavily on photos to tell a story that words would not do justice. Therefore, without further ado, I introduce a brief visual journey through Georgia.


Starting in Kutaisi gave me a taste of the vast array of experiences Georgia had to offer, from the humid depths of Prometheus caves to the cliff edge retreats of Motsameta monastery and the hilltop wonder of Bagrati cathedral.


Welcome to Georgia’s bustling capital, hosting anywhere from 30,000-50,000 stray dogs (depending on who you ask) and 1.1 million people.

It’s ancient, modern, and heavily dotted with churches, history, and phenomenal food. Some highlights include seeing Mother Georgia (with a fun little trip up the mountain that made me confront my fear of funiculars), witnessing philosophical thought in architectural form (the Leaning Clock Tower), visiting the sulfur baths that assuage my aching feet, and experiencing a massive church that I was surprisingly older than (Holy Trinity Chapel)!

Caucasus Mountains

A journey that is not for the faint of heart. With winding switchbacks, occasional snowstorms, slightly dilapidated roads, soaring heights, and foothills that sprawl for miles, the Caucasus Mountains truly inspire awe and a healthy level of fear.

In my seven-hour journey through them, I got to experience it all – including Gergeti Trinity Church located at an impressive elevation of 2,170 meters and only accessible through hiking or a journey in 4x4s driven by fearless drivers. It was truly a memorable experience, especially when we got stuck in the mountains due to a stalled truck in the tunnels.

Georgian Food

I had been told for weeks about how amazing Georgian food was, but I did not actually understand how good it was until I tried it. From khinkali (dumplings) and nigvziani badrijani (eggplant rolls) to khachapuri (filled bread, the best one was with cheese and egg), Georgia had something for every palate.

Some of my friends making traditional Georgian bread!!

Much to the delight of other members of my trip, they also had more traditional American fast-food places like Dunkin Donuts, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s, though their offerings and tastes are unique from their counterparts in the United States.

US returaunts at the mall!
(Including KFC, Wendy’s, McDonalds, and Burger King)

I hope you enjoyed that brief look at the beautiful country of Sakartvelo! Until the next adventure, iki (Lithuanian for come again)!

A Long Awaited Mystery: The Writers Retreat

If you look up anything about the Dublin Writers Program, you’ll start hearing about the Writers Retreat. You’ll learn that the location is kept secret until you arrive, that it changes from year to year to keep the mystery alive. If you’re curious, keep reading and you’ll find out where I ended up. 🙂

Before leaving Dublin at 8 am on Friday morning all I knew was the objective for the weekend: Eat well, sleep well, read well, write well. I seriously couldn’t imagine anything better.

Weirdly enough, I didn’t care that I had no idea where I was going. I’m a pretty Type A person. I like to be prepared and have a plan. This weekend, though, I was simply along for the ride. It was nice to let go of expectations and plans, to simply look out the window and wonder where I would end up.

As the bus started, I realized we were going north. We went through the street I drove with my parents (the one that reminds me of the Dark Hedges or a Victorian parkway). We got on the highway and it was strange to be driving the same route I traveled three weeks earlier. The road was so much greener, truly coming to life in these few short weeks.

Eventually, we stopped at the same rest station my family stopped at. At this point, I was intrigued because I knew where I was the entire time rather than being completely lost in a mystery.

Back on the bus, we crossed into Northern Ireland. Funnily enough, I hadn’t even realized that the North was a possibility even though the border is basically nonexistent. At this point, I decided to hedge my bets and lock in a guess of where we were going: Portrush, Northern Ireland. I desperately wanted to be right–not just to win but to return to the only town I wanted to go back to from my family’s road trip around the island.

We passed through Belfast, through Ballymena, and I was feeling weird. I still knew exactly where I was. As the miles passed, I became more and more convinced that we had to be going to Portrush but I didn’t want to disappoint myself. I tried to convince myself of Antrim but we passed that sign. I tried to convince myself of Coleraine but we didn’t take that exit either.

There was only one exit left: the exit for Giant’s Causeway and Portrush. It was then that I knew for certain that I was right. I was going back to Portrush. A grin spread over my face. I could not imagine a more beautiful place to spend the weekend.

After getting some lunch, I set out to explore the beach. When I was here a few weeks ago, I was only able to walk around the tip of the peninsula with my mom before we continued on our way. The beach was sandy, dunes rising in the background. As I explored, the wind was actually insane, whipping the waves into a frenzy, tossing spray into the air, and picking up sand and driving it along the strand.

Of course, this was fine until I turned around to make my way back into town. The wind hit me full in the face, catching me in its icy grip. Grains of sand were flung into my face. I wrapped my scarf around my nose, squinting to see while my eyes watered. And then it started raining. The shower was a brief one but I still managed to get drenched from the combination of wind and rain.

Later in the afternoon, I sat on the rocks by the shore watching the waves crash down, foaming bubbling up. As they rose, I could see tangles of seaweed swirling green before the water curled again. Wind whipped my hair and salt spray dusted my skin. It was wild and free and magical. Peaceful too. Slipping and sliding on the rocks, I searched for sea glass, filling my pockets. Naturally, a wave snuck up on me. I thought I could outrun it, but no. My feet were soaked for hours. I only brought one pair of shoes for the weekend.

Spoiler alert: this became the theme of the weekend. If anyone asks why I keep getting sick… just don’t.

The next morning, I woke up for the magical sunrise. Droplets of rain still fell and the wind was howling past my window. I went downstairs all the same and I am so glad I did. The waves were actually insane–foamy and crashing over the rocks, tossing spray into the air, over the railings, onto us. I could have watched for hours and I did return to the ocean many times that day. As we walked, my feet got soaked again. Similar to my sea glass hunt, a wave snuck up on me that I thought I could outrun. Naturally, I couldn’t.

Later, after warming up, reading, and working on a few projects, I set out to explore again. The sun came out and I needed to feel it on my skin. Plus, we were on the edge of the Atlantic, and staring out across all the empty space is such a fascinating perspective. It makes me feel small in this world. I did some more sea glass hunting and found so many beautiful fragments. From there, I set out on my walk, repeating the steps I took with my mom.

I went around the peninsula, the very tip of this stretch of land. Although the cliff isn’t particularly high, it’s somehow more striking than part of the Cliffs of Moher because there is no barricade. I was literally on the edge of the world, fighting the wind for my footing. The waves were wild and spray was just crashing over me. I swear, I have never been happier or felt more free than standing on the edge of that cliff.

Next morning, I woke up for the sunrise again. This time, I wore a swimsuit under my clothes because why not jump in? Plus, salt air, sunrises, wind on my skin, and rainbows make for the most beautiful morning.

We got down to the beach and this morning I was the only one wearing a swimsuit. Feeling self-conscious, I almost didn’t get in the water. That said, I wanted to go into the sea, wanted the rush of cold and adrenaline.

So I did. Alone, I ran into the sea and again it was the freest I have ever felt. It wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be–I’m convinced jumping into Lake Michigan on Easter last year was colder. To be honest, I felt like I could have stayed in the waves longer, but I knew I shouldn’t.

I came out of the water and was so happy and refreshed. Walking out of the ocean, the biggest smile spread across my face.

And, of course, it got better, confirming my decision to do that polar plunge. A rainbow spread across the sky, transforming from a wee pillar to a full arch. A second arch spread over the top, dim at first but quickly growing in strength.

Soggy and chilled, I ran across the peninsula because I knew the rainbow was going to come down into the sea. It’s the strangest thing here in Ireland–I can almost always see the end of the rainbow. Sometimes I wish the Pot of Gold myth was true. But, of course, it’s not and it doesn’t need to be. Personally, I think the real gold is the memories made and the beauty that lingers, waiting to be found.

I see God most clearly in rainbows and for this one to come as I rose out of the water… I’ll let you find your own symbolism in that.

The Art of Being Alone: A Solo Date to Malahide Beach

They say studying abroad changes you, makes you more independent, teaches you about yourself, and broadens your perspective on the world. All of these things are true, yes, but they are also abstract. Nothing prepares you for what you will see, what you will do, what you will take away. 

If I’m being honest, I thought I would have it easy. I’d already moved away from home for college and, really, how different could a ten-hour car ride and an eight-hour plane ride be? I was used to being alone, used to making friends out of strangers however long that process may take. In this respect, nothing really changed. 

Still, I am a different girl than I was when I moved to Dublin. I’ve learned to shop for my food and cook my own meals. On my morning walk to class, I pass now familiar sights and watch as flowers grow and bloom in radiant colors. 

I’ve settled into a routine quickly and, to be honest, that’s a dangerous thing. If I do the same thing every day, what’s the point of moving halfway across the world? 


Today I decided to step outside my comfort zone. I took the train to Malahide alone, reading my book as my body swayed to the gentle rocking motion. Making my way to the beach, I dipped my fingers into the Irish Sea, hunted for rainbows, and searched for extravagant shells. I sat alone and watched the world go by, people walking past and waves washing everything new. I even took myself out for fish and chips. 

Even now, writing this blog post a month later, the few hours I spent in Malahide are still some of my favorites. Towards the end of the day, before I walked back to the train station, I remember an older couple walking along the sand below me as I sat, swinging my feet, on a wall above the shore.

“She’s probably laughing at us slipping in the mud,” the woman below me said.

Sitting up on the wall, I thought, “No, I’m not. Don’t you see how beautiful it is out here with the sun sparkling on the shore?”

Her husband laughed, holding the dog’s leash. They continued on across the sand, moving out of my periphery. I stayed still, feet swinging, knocking against the stone. My Converse were damp and dirty, my leggings splattered with muddy sand, splashed as I jumped from rock to rock. My shirt’s discolored too from the puppy that ran to me, bouncing with the joy of being alive. I didn’t speak to his owner, but I am grateful for the interaction–the soft fur beneath my fingertips, the simple giving of love that asked for nothing in return.

If someone had told me a year ago that I’d be studying abroad in Dublin, I wouldn’t have believed them. But here I am, making my childhood self proud, living out my dreams. 

I’ve always been scared to go on a solo date, thinking people would judge me or I would judge myself and ruin the experience. But, that didn’t happen. Don’t let anyone else–or your own fears–get in the way of living life. Looking back, I’d tell myself I made it. At the beginning of 2023, I decided I was in my “saying yes” era and here I am. Consider this your sign to take the chance, to say yes. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

P.S.: If you want to see a bit more of this day, click on the link below and you’ll be able to see my solo date in video form. 🙂

Exploring the South of Jordan

It has been a while since my last post, but it has been a busy and joy-filled month or so and I wanted to share some of my recent adventures!

The Dead Sea

A few weeks ago, SIT arranged for my program to take a week-long trip to the south of Jordan. We began our week with a short day trip to the Dead Sea, which is only about a 45-minute drive from our school in Amman. This was a ‘bucket list’ location for me, which filled the early morning drive out of the congested city with anticipation as we approached the lowest point on Earth. While I have been loving my time in Amman, I had not realized how much I missed being in the quiet of nature. The sounds and fast-paced energy of the city prove quite a stark contrast from my quiet life at Hope College, but it was a nice refresh to find myself in more rural areas with some peaceful moments of stillness.

As we checked in for our beach day passes, the hotel informed us that there was a double red flag warning on the beach, meaning we would not be able to actually float in the Dead Sea. As the 16 20-some-year-olds trudged to the beach with an air of disappointment, we were met with the reality of a beautiful view. We spent our morning wading on the banks and leisurely reading and napping as the air warmed up. After a few hours of simply relaxing, we found out the hotel we were at had a “Dead Sea experience pool,” which was a pool so highly concentrated with salt that it simulated the weightless feeling of the actual sea. We were explicitly warned not to get any water from the pool in our eyes or mouth. However, this proved incredibly challenging as this small pool continued to fill with fellow tourists over the course of about half an hour. Overall, the pool was an incredible experience, but we were all still clinging to the hope that we would be able to float in the sea later that day.

After the pool, a few of us walked across the hotel and noticed that one of the red flags had been taken down, meaning we could get into the sea! We spent the rest of the day floating in the sea until we had to make our drive back to Amman.

Floating in the Dead Sea
Looking out on the incredible view

A Very Fast Week

Once we returned from the Dead Sea, we had only a few days before we left for our week-long excursion to Mt. Nebo, Petra, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba. The week of classes flew by! Our Arabic class became increasingly intensive, and the many assignments from other courses made it a very challenging week to stay on top of. We visited King Abdullah I Mosque for an Arabic field trip to learn more about Islam and prepare for Ramadan. It was such a beautiful mosque, and our Arabic teacher was so excited to share her experience of Ramadan with my class.

Not only was I consumed with academics and studying, but we also had a few birthdays to celebrate over the coming weeks! It might sound silly, but I often hear that birthdays are a considerable concern for some who want to study abroad. It can be unsettling to spend your birthday in an unfamiliar city with unfamiliar people, but being able to celebrate one another has been a highlight of the semester so far!

The view from my balcony
Visiting King Abdullah I Mosque
Celebrating a fellow Hope student, Kaylee’s, birthday!

Kissed by a Camel

Following a short stop at Mt. Nebo, we caravanned in our vans down to the Old Village resort, an ancient city near Petra renovated into a beautiful hotel! After a much-needed night of sleep, we woke up early to begin exploring the ancient city of Petra. Filled with many Indiana Jones and Lawrence of Arabia jokes and references, the day consisted of us walking down to the Treasury in Petra, which is generally the structure most people think of when they hear ‘Petra.’ After taking an abundance of pictures and getting unexpectedly kissed by a camel, our guide offered to take us about 2 hours past the Treasury, where we got to see the painted caves and ate lunch over an ancient amphitheater. 

Eating lunch looking out onto the amphitheater
Getting kissed by a camel
Standing in front of the Treasury at Petra
Exploring more of Petra!

Wadi Rum

Our two-night stay in the Old Village at Petra was followed by a couple-hour road trip further south to Wadi Rum – a protected desert in Jordan. Upon arrival, we were given the keys to our accommodations, a beautiful structure built to resemble traditional Bedouin lodging. The village-like hotel sat in the middle of the desert, which provided a perfect spot for star gazing later that night. After a quick nap and some time to rest, we all got ready for the long-awaited camel rides. Only eight of us could ride at a time, meaning our sixteen-person group had to split up. I was lucky enough to be ready in time for the first group and was brought to meet my camel for the next 45 minutes, Hasif. Once everyone got a chance to explore the desert on their camel, we took a jeep tour of the surrounding areas, which brought us to some of the filming sites of Dune, a Bedouin tent where we drank incredible tea and took a small hike, and cartwheeled through the red sand. 

Cartwheeling through the desert
Camel riding!
Watching the sunrise outside my tent in Wadi Rum
Exploring some cool looking rocks on our jeep tour

That night, we ate a delicious meal, Zarb, a traditional meal prepared in the ground. After our dinner, we danced Dabke with some other guests and found some rocks to star gaze on.

Watching our meal (Zarb) getting pulled out of the ground and brought to the dining room


After a short rest stop to see the fifth tallest flagpole in the world, we arrived at our most southern location – Aqaba. As Aqaba is a gulf city right on the Red Sea, we were all very excited to swim but were met with cold weather when we arrived. However, the town we stayed in has beautiful restaurants and shops, which we explored all day. Because all the students in the program live with different host families, we don’t often see much of each other outside of school and studying. However, all of us staying in the same hotel meant we could have a few movie nights over the excursion, which was a fun time to relax after a few busy days!

The view from an early morning walk around Aqaba
A few boats close to the 5th tallest flagpole in the world

Back to Amman

The southern excursion was one of the things that drew me to this particular SIT program. Seeing many of these long-awaited locations certainly met my expectations, and the memories will undoubtedly last a lifetime. While enjoying my time exploring the new sights, I missed my host family immensely. I was so happy to be met with many hugs and stories from their week when I returned.

Once we returned to our busy lives back in Amman, we had a lot of work waiting for us. As we were preparing to embark on another excursion to Geneva, Switzerland, in just a couple weeks, we had ample homework, exams, and projects commanding our time. The change in pace was welcome, however, as I realized how much I had become acquainted with my daily routine in Amman.

I have many updates and stories to share from the last couple of months, and I will be sure to post again soon. Thank you for keeping up with my journey, and I hope these small glimpses of life in Jordan have proved encouraging and served as a sweet reminder of the immense beauty in this world we share.

Italy Update #2!

Hello again! It’s been a while since I last wrote, so there’s a lot to catch up on!

Week 4 

This weekend, I went on a quick trip to Rome with a friend from back home who is also studying in Milan but through a different program. We took a high-speed train bright and early on Saturday morning to visit Galleria Colona, the Colosseum, and St. Peter’s Basilica. That night we ate the most incredible truffle ravioli I’ve ever had. Then, after staying in a hostel for the first time, we saw the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon before taking the train back! 

That following Monday we finally began our official classes! In addition to Italian, I’m taking an art history class on Leonardo da Vinci, Strategic Management, and a history class on Italian cities. After my first week of class, I traveled to Nice, France to meet up with my friends Macy and Tatiana from Hope. The weather was gorgeous & the city was beautiful! Although we didn’t plan it, Carnival began that weekend, so we were able to attend the opening night. It was filled with floats, music, and dancing.

Week 5

Classes continued this week and on Wednesday my Italian cities history class took a field trip around Milan. One of the first places we stopped was the Roman ruins of the building where Constantine legalized Christianity in 313 AD. We also visited Sant’ambrogio Basilica which was just a short walk away. 

This week also happened to be Milan Fashion Week. While I am not a big fashionista per se, there were many celebrities in town which was pretty exciting. Anna and I tried (twice) to visit a show to see some celebrities, but due to class and the torrential rain, we weren’t very successful. 

Although I am so grateful for the travel I have been able to do, I wanted to stay near Milan for the weekend to get some rest. So, I took a day trip with my friend Ingrid to Verona. We saw several art galleries and museums and climbed several hundred steps up the Lamberti Tower to get an incredible view of the city. We even got to see Juliet’s balcony from Shakespeare!

Week 6  

On Tuesday, I participated in another event that IES organized – a pasta-making class! We learned how to knead the dough before learning how to put it into different shapes. They even provided some ricotta cheese to make ravioli. It was so fun! 

This weekend I got to go back to my Dutch roots! On Thursday I flew to Amsterdam with my friend, Olivia, from IES. To begin the trip, I visited Corrie ten Boom’s house in Harlem, which is about an hour outside of Amsterdam. I had read her book, The Hiding Place, in middle school so it was incredibly surreal to be able to stand in the place I had read so much about. If you’re not familiar with her incredible story, I encourage you to check it out! Later that afternoon, we visited the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and walked passed Anne Frank’s House, too. Before we left on Saturday, I did a biking tour through Amsterdam and it might have been my favorite thing I’ve done abroad so far! It was a beautiful day to see a wonderful city.

Week 7  

I spent most of this week relaxing & catching up on homework. On Wednesday, Anna and I explored Chinatown for her birthday and I tried boba for the first time – it was not my favorite, but I’m glad I tried it. We didn’t have class on Friday this week so I went to the Natural History Museum in Milan for the afternoon. Later that evening, I spontaneously bought train tickets to Lake Garda for the following day. It was my first official solo trip and I’m so glad I went! Although it was a cloudy day, the city was beautiful. I’m so grateful to have explored the castle and Roman ruins there – paired with the Swiss Alps in the background, it was a breathtaking view. 

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for recapping the last few weeks with me! I have some more exciting adventures planned, so stay tuned! But for now, ciao!

I’m in Oaxaca!


I have officially been abroad for four weeks through SIT’s Migration, Borders, and Transnational Communities program! While the first week of our program started in Tucson, Arizona, I have officially been in Oaxaca, Mexico for three weeks now, and I’m excited to begin sharing insights into my life abroad through the Off-Campus Study Blog!

Arrival to Tucson

As my program launch date continued to approach, there were many mixed feelings involved–excitement, fear, anticipation, anxiety, and most of all, hope. When I arrived at the airport, I hugged my parents goodbye, turned towards the security gate, and then I was off! While there were some minor hiccups, such as delays and re-books, overall, my flight went smoothly. I even got upgraded to first class on my flight to Tucson! Before I knew it, I arrived at my destination, paid for an Uber to the hotel SIT staff organized for me, dropped off my suitcases, and walked to an Airbnb about 5 minutes away. I was greeted kindly by my program directors, classmates, and delicious pizza (which I was very excited for after a long day of travel).

Class Structure

For my program, our first week was spent in Tucson, Arizona, and it served as both orientation and classes. SIT focuses on experiential learning, which means that while we have classes, our learning also consists of many lectures and excursions. In Tucson, we spent the week learning from professors, journalists, and organizations about humanitarian issues along the border, and we also visited the wall separating the United States and Mexico.

In Oaxaca, we have a more formal schedule that consists of four classes that alternate daily, and our weekends mainly consist of excursions to various parts of Mexico. My housemate and I walk to class every day, which is about a 10-minute walk from our house. Much of our classwork consists of readings and reflections, and within the class, there are lots of discussions. On the weekends, we will usually have excursions to various parts of Mexico. While our directors are there to teach us, they have also been eager to learn from us and hear our opinions, thoughts, and feelings about what we see and experience!

Adjusting and Adapting

Upon arriving in Oaxaca, I was immediately enamored by all the color and the vibrant feel of the city. There is color everywhere, from the color of the buildings to the handicrafts that vendors sell on the streets. Additionally, Oaxaca is very culturally rich–full of life, delicious food, and amazing people! Upon my first glance, I felt that studying abroad in Oaxaca was a match made in heaven!

However, once I settled in with my host family, I began to feel the effects of both culture shock and homesickness. I vividly remember my first meal with my host mom. During our meal, I struggled to speak even one full sentence in Spanish. After we finished, I went back to my room and cried, questioning my decision to pursue a program that would be conducted entirely in Spanish. I felt very overwhelmed and in over my head.

I will admit that even after four weeks, I am still adjusting. However, living with a host family has definitely been a huge help in my adjustment. Over time, I have found it easier to have conversations in Spanish (although still very short). Additionally, she has been a great resource for all the questions I might have about life in the city. My host mom is very kind, funny, and attentive, not to mention an amazing cook. I have yet to have a meal that is not delicious!

While I still miss the stability and comfort of life back home, I am excited to continue learning and growing amidst moments of challenge. Thank you for being here, and I hope you’ll continue to tag along!

Enjoying the Marathon

Philip McGraw once said, “Life’s a marathon, not a sprint.” It’s been just over five weeks since I arrived in Vilnius and had my first taste of Lithuania. The initial week was a whirlwind of orientation, acclimation, and establishing a new routine.

Subsequent weeks have seen increasing sunlight and warmth, along with a settled weekly rhythm. Weekdays are filled with academic pursuits, complemented by spontaneous ice cream runs, visits to local coffee shops, group movie nights, and extracurricular activities like intercultural dance classes and worship nights. Weekends offer opportunities for exploring Klaipeda, grocery shopping, spiritual growth, and culinary experimentation.

Enjoying gelato with friends in Klaipeda

Amidst the excitement and daily adventures, there have been moments of personal challenge, cultural learning, and community building. Transitioning to a new culture is never easy, but as Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing worth having comes easily.” Below, I’ve shared some brief excerpts highlighting some of my adventures, growth, and learning experiences.

Study session with Agathe!
Adventures in the Kitchen

At LCC students are expected to prepare most of their meals themselves. While I do not consider myself a kitchen expert, I ambitiously decided to make potato soup during the first week of classes. Thinking it couldn’t be too difficult, especially since I was feeling cold and soup sounded comforting, I spent two hours in the grocery store gathering ingredients. Despite returning confidently to the dorms, ready to showcase my culinary skills, the two-hour shopping trip turned out to be just a taste of the commitment required to make this soup.

Making potato soup

I began my cooking adventure around 5:00 PM, expecting to eat by 6:00 PM. However, after peeling five pounds of potatoes and putting them on the stove to cook, I realized they would take much longer to cook than anticipated. Additionally, I discovered I didn’t have a potato masher or blender. Despite these setbacks, after about three hours, several burns, and many moments of doubt, I managed to create a delicious soup.

Although the process was laborious, the taste made it worthwhile, which was a good thing considering the large quantity I made ensured I would have soup for weeks to come. In fact, I’m currently in week five and still have some frozen in my freezer for a special occasion!

Dancing to Intercultural Rhythms

Every Thursday night, LCC hosts intercultural dance classes where participants learn about the cultural background of various dances and practice basic steps. I’ve been introduced to traditional Lithuanian folk dances, dances from Mozambique, and American East Coast swing through these classes. Despite not being a great dancer, I found it enjoyable to explore other cultures and traditions through dance.

Lithuanian folk dance involves flowing skirts for women and heavy jackets for men, along with group weaving movements, rhythmic clapping, and partner spinning. It was fun getting dizzy with friends and trying not to embarrass myself too much.

Participating in traditional dancing at a Lithuanian festival

Swing classes were enjoyable for a different reason. I convinced my sister to join, and we spent the evening messing up, flinging each other into turns, and stepping on toes while attempting the Charleston together. It amazed me how beautiful it was to learn a somewhat familiar dance like swing in an intercultural setting with classmates from around the world. Dance seems to transcend cultural barriers, uniting us despite our diverse backgrounds and experiences. 

My sister and I practicing swing dancing!
Becoming a Real Traveler

It was a beautiful Saturday morning when the recently exposed green grass glittered in bright sunlight when my sister and I decided to take an excursion to visit the Klaipeda travel center. The start of our trip went flawlessly — the bus we wanted to take showed up on time and deposited us exactly where we needed to be.

As we stepped off the bus, we were met by a beautiful city, warmth, and sunshine that made it so we were positively skipping down the cobblestone pathways. However, when we arrived, the center was dark inside. It turned out that the travel shop was not open on the weekends. So we changed our plans, strolled through the beautiful old town of Klaipeda, took a photo in Theater Square where Hitler gave a speech, and walked up a tiny staircase. Although our original plans did not work, we still had a wonderful experience and learned how to slow down to acclimate to the pace of life in Lithuania. 

While I’m sure there are many more experiences to come, that’s all for now! Thank you for joining me on this adventure!


I have now spent about three weeks in Milano so I thought I would recap! 


I landed in Milan, Italy on the morning of Monday, January 22. My flights went smoothly and my luggage did not get lost, so praise Jesus for that! I then taxied to my apartment with some people in my program and after a tour of the building and unpacking, IES treated us to dinner at a local pizzeria. Then, it was off to bed! I was exhausted after a long day and a half of travel with little sleep. 

Week 1

The following day we began orientation by learning how to use the metro to get to the IES center, as well as a tour of their new center building, and some informational presentations. 

The rest of my week consisted of travel around Milan including visiting the Duomo for the first time & stumbling across a beautiful church, too. 

To end the week, I attended my first IES field trip where we were bused to a parmesan cheese a balsamic vinegar factory. I was able to try a balsamic vinegar that was aged for 100 years – how crazy is that! We concluded the day by going to the Ferrari museum, and that was very cool.

Week 2

I began my two-week Italian intensive class. We met every day Monday through Friday for 2.5 hours at the IES Center to learn some basic vocabulary, verb conjugations, greetings, pronunciation, and numbers. It was really fun to get to know some of my classmates – one of them is from Wisconsin too!

My second weekend in Europe I spent in London! My roommate at Hope, Macy, is studying at IES London so it was lovely to see her there and tour the city she’s been living in! Coincidentally, three other Hope students spent their winter break in London so it was quite the Hope College reunion — shoutout to Elsie, Clara, and Haley! Macy took me to almost every major attraction in London in just one day — that trip has been my favorite memory of my abroad experience so far.

Week 3

Our Italian intensive class continued this week and on Tuesday IES treated us to a light lunch at a local cafe so we could practice our Italian with the vocabulary we had learned so far. It was a success!

In addition to all-day field trips, IES Milan also puts together a list of “bucket list” items that students can sign up for. On Tuesday, I attended an Italian cinema to watch a movie (with English subtitles) that was entirely filmed in Milan. The movie was called L’ultima notte di Amore (Amore’s Last Night). It was a thrilling movie with an enthralling plotline that kept us engaged the whole time. While we watched the movie, we were served a traditional Italian aperitivo.

That’s all for now! I can’t believe I’ve already been here for three weeks, but I’m so excited for the adventures I have planned. Arrivederci e a presto!

A Weekend in County Cork

Cork, County Cork, Ireland

It’s about a three-hour drive to Cork from Dublin. Piled into the bus, we rode past brilliant green fields, dotted occasionally with sheep and cows. Rain slipped down the windows for much of the drive but the sun emerged as we entered Cork City. Like Dublin, a river runs through the city which is the second largest in the Republic of Ireland.

That afternoon, we were led on a walking tour of the historic city, past iconic sites like St. Anne’s Church, where I saw the first rainbow of the trip, and The Butter Museum. Built on a marsh, we crossed both the right and left channels of the River Lee, exploring the city center which rests on the original island. At Elizabeth Fort, I climbed to the top of the ramparts, the river below, and houses and churches dotting the landscape in front of me. Here, too, I was graced by a rainbow. As the walking tour drew to a close, we explored the grounds of St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral and walked through the iconic English Market which sells locally produced meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables… the list goes on.

In the evening, I explored the city center on my own. Although I’ve never been to Cork, I felt at home in the city, able to navigate the winding streets easily. Chances are, it’s because I’ve spent the past month in Dublin. After living predominantly in small towns, city life has definitely been an adjustment. I explored bookshops and wandered my absolute favorite store, Søstrene Grene. Inside, it’s set up in a loop of booths which are categorized by type of item. Everything is carefully made and, dangerously, in my favorite pale greens and pinks.

Cobh and Spike Island

Up bright and early Saturday morning and it’s back on the bus for the quick drive to Cobh (pronounced Cove). The town is right on the harbor, colorful buildings climbing the cliff. Even in the rain, it was beautiful. Hiking up to St. Colman’s Cathedral, bells range over the city, announcing morning Mass. The belfry contains a 49-bell Carillon, the largest in Ireland. The sound was truly majestic, as were the views from the top of the hill, looking out over the city center and the harbor. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to check out the Titanic Museum–Cobh was the last place the Titanic stopped before heading to New York.

At eleven sharp, I boarded the ferry to Spike Island, AKA Ireland’s Alcatraz. Initially used as a monastic outpost, the island functioned as a prison from 1779 to 2004. The prison only closed in 2004–the same year I was born–becoming a functioning museum in 2016. Historically significant, the island catalogues 1300 years of Irish history.

Whilst on the island, I explored the 24-acre Fort Mitchel, walking through the cold, dark punishment block, up the six bastions or lookout points, and past the timeworn shells of prison buildings. It was truly haunting walking through the grounds alone, with only the sound of the wind in my ears and the seagulls calling. I stared into two-story buildings open to the sky, trees growing inside, vines coating the walls, floorboards sloping in defeat.

Leaving the Fort, I walked down the hill to the abandoned village. Houses, a school, family stories, and history were abandoned to the elements following the prison riot of 1985. Many of the roofs had caved in, the earth seeking to reclaim its own. I wondered how long it would be before the woods swallowed the village, if these buildings could be fully erased.

As my time on the island drew to a close, I walked along the shore, rocks and shells crunching beneath my feet. I couldn’t shake the feeling of sadness, the history of the island weighing heavily upon me. Whilst walking along the shore, I found numerous pieces of broken crockery: plates, bottles, perhaps cups… all thrown into the harbor when the British evacuated the island in 1938 after finally signing it over to the Irish.

Blarney Castle and Gardens

On the last day of the trip, we drove about fifteen minutes to Blarney Castle and the surrounding gardens. I’m sure you know the castle–it houses the famous Blarney Stone which is said to give the gift of eloquence once kissed. And yes, I did kiss the Stone because…why not? When else will I have the opportunity?

The air was crisp as I stepped off the bus, brushing against my cheeks and rustling through my hair. I walked past vibrant green fields, showered with sunshine and the blue of the sky. Through the gates, ticket in hand, Blarney Castle rose before me, partially hidden by the soaring trees. The gray-brown branches were still bare, twining into the sky like arms raised in supplication, not yet the flourishing shade that would be formed come summer. The castle was still a long way off along a winding path up the hill. Crossing the bridge, I climbed the path toward the castle, past purple, white, yellow flowers pushing up from the soft, rich soil.

Standing amidst the gardens, my body relaxed. There was a river running through the grounds and everything was soft and green and quiet. Captured by the riverbank, the water was crystal clear, rippling over stones and small plants. Birdsong filtered through the trees along with the sunlight, creating a patchwork against the brilliant blue sky.

Ahead, there was a crossroads, one side leading to the castle and the other to the gardens. Stepping toward the gardens, I could see the entrance of a cave which, obviously, I had to explore. The floor of the cave was muddy, moisture streaking the walls. Mosses and minuscule fern fronds crept from the rocks, taking life into their own hands, refusing to be denied. Outside the cave, on the high stone walls, vegetation clung to life, coating the stones in kelly, chartreuse, forest greens. 

I climbed slick stairs set into the hill and emerged on a mulch path. The earth was springy beneath my feet and I could smell the nutty scent of its decay, the cycle of death to new life. The scent rested heavily on my shoulders, against my tongue, connecting me to the earth in a manner absent from the stone of the city. Fallen leaves squished beneath my feet and ferns brushed against my ankles. If I stood still, all I could hear was the birds chirping, the wind in the trees, the water bubbling below, the sound of my breath rushing out in a sigh as the knot of tension resting between my shoulders evaporated. 

Following the path, I passed by centuries-old stone structures, weathered, nearly overtaken by the growth of the forest and its determination to regain its own. In the fern garden, I watched as water spluttered down rocks into the pool below. The ferns here were different, like little trees rather than those that rest close to the earth. Vines curled down the hillside, reminding me of the mountain paths of my home. 

Soon, I emerged from the depths of the gardens to the tangle of red and pink camellias leading up to the castle itself. I ran past an old lime kiln, and paused to stand at the top as though this was my domain. I passed an ancient tree that was bigger than anything I’d ever seen. Stepping into the cocoon of its branches, the world was muffled and the air was cooler. From the main trunk, branches dipped back into the ground, rising again perhaps ten feet away. They were all connected, these trees, standing strong throughout centuries. 

Closer to the wall, I entered the poison garden or, as the sign jokingly called it, the carnivorous courtyard. The plants in this garden, hidden behind the battlements, were carefully curated, contrasting with the wild green of the estate. Some plants even rested in cages. Here lay wolfsbane and mandrake, chamomile, and rhubarb. As the saying goes, these plants could kill me or cure me. It’s a chance I wonder if someday I’ll take. I think I’d like to run off to these woods and never look back. Maybe one day my feet will find their way here again. 

To be honest, the grounds were far more impressive and impactful than the Castle itself. I think I may have a new favorite place and I do not say that lightly as someone obsessed with traveling and exploring new places. Then again, perhaps it’s because I’m a country girl at heart and I miss being immersed in nature. Either way, I’m convinced no one could ever be sad in a place this beautiful.

48 Hours in London, England

My alarm goes off at 2:30 am, pulling me out of a deep sleep. Despite attempting to prepare for this early morning by going to bed around 8 pm, the sound of my alarm is still painful. Still, I jumped out of bed as quickly as I could, using my adrenaline to motivate me.

Flicking my light on, I pulled on tights, a skirt, and a fitted top. My outfit is a monochromatic black, matching the bow in my hair. It may be early for such an outfit, but there will be no time to stop throughout the day. I may as well be prepared. I shoved the last of my belongings into my tiny backpack before heading to the kitchen where I gulped down a cup of steaming coffee and ate some breakfast. Even in the middle of the night, I will always love breakfast.

Accompanied by two of my roommates, I left the apartment at 3:00 am, catching an airport bus alongside the River Liffey at 3:30 am. From there, it’s a 45-minute drive to the airport where we made our way through security and to the gate. It’s my first time flying out of Dublin Airport and my first time flying Ryanair. Needless to say, we arrived in plenty of time for the 6:15 am flight to London Stansted. I was lucky enough to be assigned a window seat along the wing–my favorite seat–and to be able to watch an absolutely stunning sunrise. These simple beauties never grow old to me.

Once in London’s city center, I made my way to Trafalgar Square which we had pre-determined as our reference point for day one. Two of my companies had popped to the hostel to drop their bags so I had time to explore some of the bookshops that were on my list. First, I wandered through Cecil Court, a small pedestrian street with adorable Victorian shop fronts. Since the 1930s, it’s been called Booksellers Row, hence my desire to visit it. I also made my way to Waterstones Piccadilly which is Europe’s largest bookshop. There are plenty of other Waterstones locations but this one in particular houses over eight miles of bookshelves. Absolutely wild. I literally had to be dragged away.

Meeting up with the rest of my group, we walked through St. James Park toward Buckingham Palace. Even before the Palace came into view, I recognized the street leading up to it from years of watching royal weddings, etc. In the park itself, flowers sprang from the ground and birds covered the protected waterway. I simply had to stop and smell the scent of the flowers on the warm wind. Flowers, at the beginning of February. Nothing could be more magical.

Following our brief glimpse of Buckingham Palace, we walked through the city streets to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. The area is simply beautiful, full of little streets just begging to be explored. Funnily enough, until standing there in person, I hadn’t realized how close these sites were to each other.

That said, we soon moved on, taking the Tube to Camden Market where we spent the afternoon. The Market is literally massive, full of eclectic shops selling leather, vintage clothing, touristy souvenirs, jewelry, and food of all kinds. To be honest, it was rather overwhelming. Online, photos I had seen only showed one strip–that of the colorful umbrellas. Let’s just say it took up probably two and a half hours to find this street. I almost started thinking it was in a different market altogether.

And, at long last, the showstopper that was the evening. For dinner, we went to a restaurant called Bella Italia which was genuinely one of the best meals of my life. The service was amazing and the staff were very aware of my allergies. Eating at restaurants typically makes me anxious but I did not worry the whole time I was here. On this occasion, I splurged on a two-course meal which included tomato bruschetta with delicious gluten-free bread, and a plate of pollo cacciatore even though I don’t typically like noodles. If I’m ever in London again, I will go back.

Following dinner, we walked about a block to the Sondheim Theatre where we had tickets to see Les Miserables. We were practically in the roof, but I didn’t care. Seeing a show on the West End has been on my bucket list forever and to have the show be the story that got me into musicals… It was magical. The set and lighting designs were so intricate and, combined with the music and acting, it was everything I ever imagined it could be.

Day two in London began with an Americano in Costa Coffee. Here’s where things get interesting… obviously, nowhere close had any gluten-free options. To cut a long story short, I did’t end up eating until about 7 in the evening. Luckily, I didn’t feel hungry until then either.

Taking the Tube, we walked to London Bridge which, honestly, was ridiculously underwhelming. It’s literally just… a bridge. Nothing special besides the name. At any rate, we crossed it and walked to St. Paul’s Cathedral where we stood up at the majestic building. After a while, we walked in the opposite direction along the River Thames, passing the Tower of London. Although I have always wanted to explore this historic site, we did not make it inside. Tickets were already expensive and the exchange rate between pounds and dollars is honestly terrible. Traveling on a budget, we simply couldn’t justify the cost. Still, at least it’s an excuse to return to London one day.

Crossing the Tower Bridge, my travel partners and I wandered into Borough Market, home of the TikTok famous chocolate-covered strawberries. The market was packed with tourists and locals on their lunch breaks. I loved the anonymity of the crowd, the bustle, and the vibrancy of foods, colors, and accents. There were so many arrays of pastries and fruits, drinks, etc.

At the end of the market, we popped into a Tube station and traveled to the British Museum. When I say I booked it through the exhibits, I mean it. I had about an hour and a half to explore which may sound like plenty of time, but the museum is massive. Still, I managed to see everything on my list: the Greek, Etruscan, Roman, and Egyptian exhibits, the Rosetta Stone, and the Parthenon exhibit. Standing in the presence of historical artifacts I spent my entire education to this point studying never grows old.

After a pit stop at our hostel in Elephant and Castle, I convinced one of my friends to go to Evensong at Westminster Abbey with me. Bear in mind that Evensong started at 5:00 pm and we left the hostel at about 4:25. We made it onto our train and should have had plenty of time but the train just kept sitting on the tracks with the doors open. Heart racing and palms sweating, I stared at my watch as the time ticked down. We probably sat there for five minutes before the doors closed. By the time we made it to our stop, we had ten minutes to go before Evensong started and a sixteen-minute walk.

We literally sprinted through the Tube station, emerging where our adventure had begun the day before. Sprinting along the Thames, we passed the London Eye as Big Ben began to chime the hour. We were out of time but we didn’t give up. At about five past, we made it to Westminster and were ushered inside. The building is truly majestic and the acoustics of the choir, the organ, and the harp created a melody like none I’d heard before. We recited the Apostle’s Creed and Scriptures were read over us. Sitting in Westminster that Saturday night, my body relaxed and my eyes closed, taking in the Bible in a way different from how I do at home. Worship in different countries reveals the truth of a global church. The word of the Lord is truly living and breathing, even in scheduled services.

Back at the hostel after eating a burger and rosemary-dusted chips for dinner, I set my alarm for 4:15 am. It was yet another early morning and I was absolutely exhausted at this point. But that’s the nature of insane international trips whilst studying abroad. Homework is crammed around adventure. Early mornings lead to forever memories. I’ll never forget riding a red double-decker bus in London or taking a train back to the airport. I’ll never forget absolutely sprinting through the streets, sweating and laughing, to Westminster Abbey.

These are the stories I will tell for the rest of my life.