Hello From Amman!

Arriving and Orientation

I began my semester in Amman, Jordan, a little over three weeks ago with SIT’s Refugees, Health, and Humanitarian Action program! After three flights, delayed planes, canceled trains, and very long Uber rides, I landed safely in the country I am so fortunate to call home for three months. I was welcomed at the airport around midnight by the very gracious staff at SIT, who continued to be just as welcoming as they had been on the first day. Arriving in Jordan at night, I only saw a little of the city as we were quickly shuffled into taxis, which took us to our hotel. But, in the morning, I was met with the beautiful city, and I am eager to continue exploring.

Looking out onto the skyline of Amman

During the first few days of the program, the staff and students all participate in orientation designed to give a “crash course” in all the basic skills we need to get started. One of the core elements of my program is taking Arabic classes, which drew me to this specific program. The first full day, the group of 16 students was put into a large conference room where we played games to test our Arabic skills. Knowing only a few introductory phrases, I was struck by how overwhelmed I felt after the quick Arabic lesson. I am one of only a few students who have yet to take a single Arabic class and was placed in the absolute beginner section, where we are slowly learning the alphabet, numbers, and days of the week.

Host Family

After orientation, we were placed with our host families, where we would be living for the rest of the semester. This was one of the things I was most nervous about prior to the beginning of the program. To my relief, I was placed with a family of five who welcomed me with open arms, and I have greatly enjoyed spending the last few weeks doing life with them! I have four host siblings who have all been very eager to help me with my Arabic vocabulary as well as play card games and soccer whenever we can find the time. A few of my friends from the program have been placed with my “host uncles and aunts,” who all live in the same building and neighborhood, meaning I have also gotten to know my new cousins! While there are certainly still moments of adjusting and learning how to fit into my new host family’s life, I could not have asked for a better opportunity and will cherish my time with them these next few months.

Coloring with my host sister, my host family’s cat (Chaba), and one of my favorite meals my host mom has made me – Koshari


Orientation and host family placement were such a whirlwind that the thought of academic classes was so far out of my mind until they began! Sunday through Thursday I have full days of classes, with two of them dedicated to various aspects of humanitarian action policy in the Middle East and exploring access to health care and support for refugees. SIT practices an experiential learning model, meaning our education is not confined to just the classroom. We have had a few really enjoyable weekend excursions to Jerash, Al Ma’wa for Nature and Wildlife, and the Citadel, and we have more planned for Petra, the Dead Sea, and Wadi Rum later in the semester. Every Tuesday, we also visit local NGOs and IGOs dedicated to the work of humanitarian aid in the Middle East, tour the facilities, and interview the staff as we prepare to intern at the sites later in the semester.

Walking through Jerash

Learning to be Uncomfortable

In many of the Off-Campus study orientations I participated in, I often heard that there would be times of discomfort and adjustment and that stepping into a culture different from my own would take a significant amount of cultural humility and grace with myself and those around me. In my first three weeks in Amman, I am definitely finding this to be true! Living in a country where I cannot speak the primary language has been one of the most significant adjustments I have had to make. While I am picking up the basic knowledge of Arabic much faster than I initially thought, I am finding it an incredibly humbling experience to be entirely dependent on some form of translation at all times. I am sure that the next few months will pose more uncomfortable opportunities for me – and I hope they do. If it were not for the moments I would have initially deemed ‘uncomfortable,’ I may never have gotten to experience a fraction of what I already have or heard the stories of those so gracious enough to trust in vulnerability.

Taken at the Citadel

I am loving this city I get to call home for a short time and hope to seek discomfort whenever the opportunity presents itself – It is already such a worthwhile experience!

Thank you so much for following my journey to Amman! May we all learn to love seeking discomfort where we find ourselves.

New Things in Granada!

I officially have my first week of living in Granada, Spain under my belt! What a beautiful city with so many things to offer! In this blog post, I will share some of the NEW things I have experienced in Granada!

Lema nueva (New Motto)

Say “YES” to everything that is SAFE!

I have decided that this is my motto for my semester here in Granada. A semester feels like a pretty long time, but when we received a singular sheet of printer paper that had our entire semester mapped out, I began to realize how quickly time is going to fly. So, my motto for this semester is to say yes to every opportunity or experience that is safe (you’re welcome for adding that last part, Dad).

Amigos nuevos (New Friends)

  • A selfie of two girls.
  • Four girls standing in front of an outlook to the Alhambra.
  • A table with four plates of food and three girls smiling.
  • A selfie of two girls outside.
  • Three girls standing together holding cookies.
  • Three girls sitting on a rock with a large bridge behind them.
  • A selfie of two girls.;
  • A BeReal with a professor on one side and a class full of students on the other side.

Comidas/Bebidas nuevas (New Foods/Drinks)

The drinking culture in Europe is super interesting! It is much more casual here and it is frowned upon to drink alcohol without also eating food at the same time. Because drinking is such a large part of the culture here, there are many drinks available that offer various amounts of alcohol so that everyone can partake!

  • A photo of a bowl of soup on a table.
  • A picture of a plate with two fried croquetas of chicken and sliced tomato.
  • A picture of a table with cheese, ham, bread, and wine glasses on it.
  • A picture of chocolate ice cream with a wafer.
  • A picture of a wine glass full of liquid and an empty bottle next to it.
  • A picture of a mug of hot chocolate and a plate of churros on a table.
  • A picture of a plate with rice, a fried egg, and a plantain.
  • A picture of a bottle of kombucha.
  • A picture of an açaí bowl.
  • A picture of a bowl of pasta salad with bowtie noodles.
  • A picture of two pastries.
  • A picture of a cup of coffee with whipped cream and a candy straw.

Vistas Nuevas (New Views)

It is so crazy to take in and process all of the views here! Do not fear, Hope College people, nothing could ever beat the Campus Ministries front porch, the barstools at Lemonjello’s with friends, the egg chair in my cottage (shoutout Pieter’s Cott girls!), or the top floor of Western Sem Library, but these views are pretty incredible!

  • A picture of a patio full of plants
  • A picture of a beautiful view with the Alhambra.
  • A picture of a giant cathedral.
  • A picture of a sunny room with many windows.
  • A picture of an orange tree.
  • A picture of a girl standing in front of a large bridge.
  • A picture of many white houses climbing up a mountain.
  • A picture of mountains and a sunset.
  • A picture of the street with hearts hanging in the air.
  • A picture of a coffee shop!

The Cool News Is, You’re On Your Own Now

The days are long, but the time is short. That’s how I would summarize my first two weeks here in Dublin. Right now, it’s the beginning of the third week of my program and I have a heightened awareness of how little time I really have to explore. To put it into perspective, there are about 88 days left in my program. Fewer days than when I started my countdown for arrival.

Sitting with this realization, I’ve realized every moment has a weight. Every moment is an opportunity to get out and explore, to go to museums or sit in parks and observe locals following their routines in places that are extraordinary. And, of course, there is still a “study” in studying abroad. I’m still learning to balance homework and adventure. Perhaps more importantly, every day I learn more about myself.

Classes Three Days A Week…

Last week was the first week of class here in Dublin. Starting that week was an exciting mystery. Yes, we had schedules and had chosen classes before the start of term, but we were also allowed to shop classes or sit in on classes just for fun. We are only in class three days a week, Tuesday through Thursday. Each class is two and a half hours long although our instructors tend to give us a break midway through to stretch our legs. I say ‘instructor’ because, here in Ireland, the term ‘professor’ is only used for the top tier of a university. We are invited to call our instructors by their first names, adding a layer of intimacy and connection into the classroom although we are still held to a high academic standard.

Although I sat in on the first session of Irish Playwriting, I ultimately chose to stick to my original schedule. On Tuesday, I take History of Ireland: 1798-1922 in the afternoon. So far, I’ve spent the morning studying, meal planning, and wandering the many public parks. Even in January, the grass is shockingly green and there are bright yellow clusters of flowers. I’ve yet to find a four-leafed clover, but, then, I’ve only ever found one in my life.

On Wednesday, my day begins bright and early with a 9am short story class called The Shadows We Cast. So far, unsurprisingly, it’s been one of my favorites. In the States, where I can walk across the street, 9am isn’t particularly early. In Dublin, I have a thirty-minute walk from my accommodations to the IES Abroad center. It’s a beautiful walk though, past coffee shops, pubs, the canal. Stepping onto the streets, I join the rush of the morning commute as faint streaks of color paint the sky, fading into a cloudy blue with the wind. After eating a sandwich and relaxing for an hour, I’m ready for my poetry class called The Finest Music. The class is a mixture of lectures and workshops, exploring who we are and the world around us.

And that brings me to Thursday. In the morning, I have an Immersion Writing class called Write Here, Write Now. I’ve never taken a nonfiction class before and I am excited for what this opportunity will bring. The course is a combination of memoir, travel writing, journalism, etc. Finally, in the afternoon, most of my programme congregates in the upstairs classroom for Celtic Myth and Legend. From what I’ve read so far, Irish mythology is fantastic and there are little to no rules when it comes to the magic system which perfectly suits me. It’s made up anyway, after all.

Four Day Weekends Means Travel…

When it comes to travel, so far I’ve only taken a few day trips although I’ve got some really cool plans coming up. Our first weekend here, IES took us to a coastal town called Howth which was absolutely darling and easily accessible by taking the DART from Dublin. While exploring, we came across an old church, just the walls left, standing in the center of a graveyard. Many of the graves were relatively recent, but there was one that particularly struck me. Resting against the ancient, abandoned church, was a cross, split in two. There was something deeply poetic about it, carrying both sadness and hope. Because it’s still there, a testament to the passage of time and the eternal. No matter where I look, I see God, be it in a graveyard or in a rainbow from St. Patrick’s Green.

This weekend, some of my more exciting travel plans begin. I’m going to London with some of my roommates for the weekend. I’ll be checking at least two things off my bucket list– London itself and seeing a show on the West End. We’ve got tickets to see Les Miserables at the Sondheim Theatre, a show I’ve been obsessed with since I was a little girl. The week after that, IES is taking us on a weekend trip to Cork which is about a 3.5-hour drive from Dublin which I’m excited about as well.

Learning, Growing, Becoming

To close out this blog post, I’ve decided to list some of the ways I’ve already grown or experienced that rest outside my comfort zone at home. They’re small things, but they’re important to me, especially as I look to move out of the dorms next year and learn how to live more independently.

  • Slowly, but surely, I’m learning how to cook! My two biggest successes so far are: the French Toast I made Sunday morning–drizzled with honey and dusted with cinnamon– and the Baked Feta with Hasselback Potatoes I made earlier this week. When I tell you I’ve never made anything better, I’m not kidding. Y’all need to try it.
  • I’m learning how to explore on my own! My dependence on Google Maps lessens by the day as I learn to turn by the twinkle lights or the blue building or the random palm trees. Unfortunately, street signs still make no sense to me.
  • I went to the National Museum of Ireland–Archeology after class. This may seem like a natural thing to do while exploring a new city and country, but the key is after class. I’m the kind of person that prioritises academics, so learning for my own pleasure is always impactful. The exhibits were fascinating and the building was incredibly atmospheric. I particularly found the exhibit about the peat bogs fascinating. In the collection, the museum exhibited four bog bodies, something I have wanted to see and learn more about since I read Karen Russell’s The Bog Girl in a creative writing class at Hope.

That’s all for now, friends! Thanks for sticking ’round till the end–I know this was a long one!

I’m Off to Granada!!

(With a few pitstops along the way:)

WOW!! I can’t believe that I am writing a blog for Hope Off-Campus right now, AKA, I can’t believe I am about to start a semester ABROAD!

Preparing for this crazy adventure has surprised me in so many ways. In moments that I thought I would struggle to say goodbye and leave my communities, I have been faced with excitement for what is to come and hope that my friendships from home will remain intact despite physical distance. Rather than anxiously packing the night before my flight, I prepared weeks in advance. Crazy how much I’ve already learned about myself before I’ve even left the United States!


I am in the international terminal of the Atlanta airport. Again, it is so crazy that I am here. I packed my final things this morning, ate lunch with my parents, and then was dropped off at the airport. That was a weird feeling as someone who has never flown alone. I went through security and got to my gate where I sat and processed that what was happening was real life. To say I feel blessed to be able to have an experience like this is a HUGE understatement.


I arrived in Paris and was approached by some students asking if I was in their program (I am!). Now we are traveling the rest of the way together which alleviates so much stress and makes traveling a little bit more fun!


We have landed in Málaga, Spain, and are taking a taxi to a hotel to meet up with our program staff! We are all EXHAUSTED, but so excited to see parts of this beautiful country!

  • A picture of the street with palm trees and a sunset in the background.
  • A picture of a large building on a street corner during golden hour.
  • A picture of a sunset in the sky.
  • A mirror selfie in the bathroom mirror of a public restroom.

There are still a lot of unknowns to come throughout the rest of this semester. As I’ve prepared for this semester, I’ve found myself feeling very rooted in knowing that, at the end of the day, God has control over whatever happens. I have found myself in a posture of prayer often as I prepared for this experience and throughout this travel day. (I also watched Mamma Mia! on my first flight, which definitely calmed some nerves and set my expectations HIGH for Europe haha).

I am feeling SUPER excited for what is to come — the adventures, the challenges, the personal growth, the people I will meet, and the ways my language skills will (hopefully) improve. I am so excited to use this blog as a platform to normalize the highs and lows of studying abroad, while also recording my experiences and growth throughout the semester. So, follow along if you please!! ¡Vamos a España!

TYS > DUB: Look to the Stars

I’ve been in Dublin for three days now after what felt like an endless travel day. Most of the people in my program flew directly to Dublin. Not me though–I took three separate flights, each with a hefty layover in between. In a way, this travel day scared me. I’d known about it for months and been counting down the days since August. My bags were packed and I was ready.

At the same time, nothing really prepared me for that alarm to tick down to zero. It’s one thing to go to college a ten-hour drive from home, but another thing entirely when there’s an ocean in the way.

Walking through security, I didn’t look back. Keeping busy, going forward–nothing could stop me from living my dreams.

Hours later, I stared out my airplane window, watching the sea and Ireland’s coast appear before my eyes, illuminated in the glow of the rising sun. All I could think was I’m home. I still don’t understand the feeling or where it came from but Dublin has become home. I still look like a tourist and rely on Google Maps to navigate but I’ve stepped out of a dream and into reality.

Our first week in Dublin is dedicated to orientation: learning our way around the city and to the IES center where we’ll be taking classes, getting to know each other, and experimenting with shopping and cooking for ourselves. So far, I’ve stayed in a relatively small radius, in part because my public transportation pass hasn’t arrived yet. That said, I’ve been shocked at how quickly I’ve learned landmarks to orient myself around. I guess it doesn’t matter where I am; I navigate based on the buildings I like. Ancient trees, churches, pubs, coffee shops, bookstores… there’s beauty even in the smallest places. And somehow there are flowers, poking up from the dirt, searching out the sun despite the rain.

The resilience of these flowers reminds me of the bookshop I popped into today, a small building near Temple Bar called The Gutter Bookshop. At first a bit off-putting, the name quickly earned significance. Pressed against the window, on tote bags, on journals, reads

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

Oscar Wilde

I think, at present, that’s the point of it all. I know I’m riding a wave of adrenaline, nestled firmly in the honeymoon phase where everything is new and exciting. At some point, either sooner or later, chances are I’ll get homesick, be in the proverbial gutter. But it’s not the gutter that matters; it’s what we do with the gutter. We could let the water and debris wash over us, drown us, or we could look up at the stars. We are not invincible nor are we hopeless. To be human is to get up every time, to acknowledge the gutter and move beyond it. To be human is to dream and to make those dreams reality.

Welcome to Dublin, friends. A place of dreams and stars where the gutter is not the end of the story.

Labas, Lietuva!

The Adventure Begins!

Exploring the Baltic Captial

My first thought when I stepped out of the airport in Vilnius, Lithuania, was, “It’s cold.” Indeed, no amount of internet research and mental pep talks could have sufficiently prepared me for the frigid weather that greeted me. After the shock of the weather had left my system, however, I realized that my research also had not prepared me for the beautiful city of Vilnius. 

White Christmas lights twinkled from lamp posts like antlers laden with snow, bordering streets of ancient and modern architecture that melded into a collage of eras and history. Cobblestone pathways led to cafes, bookstores, and ancient castle towers. For a few moments, snow fell and blanketed the city in a serene mist before morphing into a powerful, whitening downfall.

Despite Vilnius’s inherent beauty, there were also darker elements to the city that showcased Lithuania’s difficult history like the Jewish ghetto, KGB headquarters, and mass graves. Lithuania lost approximately 90% of its Jewish inhabitants, 7% of the total population of Lithuania, and 40% of the population in Vilnius. This reminded me that every country in the world has a story — a guiding force behind some of the customs, traditions, and cuisine that set it apart in the modern world. It also humbled me.

Onto Klaipeda!

After orientation in Vilnius, my group explored the deep history of Lithuania with a journey to Taraki to see a castle where the Grand Dukes of Lithuania presided.

One four-hour bus ride later, I arrived in Klaipeda where LCC International University is located. Like the weather here, my emotions for the first week came in waves of anxiety and excitement.

I got to learn how to navigate grocery stores in a foreign language, apply for a Visa, learn a new campus, start classes, discover a foreign city, and meet my roommates. During this time, I learned what was important to me (winter gear) and what mattered to me less than I thought it would (time difference from friends and family).

Overall, I am still settling into my life here in Lithuania, the daily differences mixing with astounding similarities and interesting novelties. I know that the next 99 days will be both wonderful and challenging, and I cannot wait to see what relationships, life lessons, and self-growth the rest of the semester will bring!

And That’s A Wrap

It’s been two weeks now since the program ended, and I write this final post back at my house, surrounded by my family, my cats, and a roaring fire to fight the Illinois cold. The program ended in a blur after arriving to Baños for our final retreat. While there, we took some time to reflect on our time in Ecuador as well as on the program as a whole together as a group. We also hit the highlights of the area, including taking early morning dips in the hot springs (twice), hiking to the Pailon del Diablo waterfall, and exploring the town of Baños. Of course, we also made to have lots of last-minute fun, including karaoke, Ecuadorian dance lessons from one of our faculty, many rounds of cards, and reminiscing on our time together with some slideshows and videos.

When it came time to say goodbye on the final night of the program, it was a hard farewell, knowing the 22 of us would never be all together again (since we live so spread out across the country and even the globe). Fortunately for me though, my time in Ecuador wasn’t up just yet. My parents, brother, and sister had made the trip down to Quito, and after reuniting we spent the next week continuing to explore Ecuador! Highlights of this week include:

  • Touring the Amazon rainforest where we swam in waterfalls, canoed down a river, were shown the traditional medicinal uses of wild plants, learned how chocolate is made at a cocoa farm, and saw loads of wild animals unlike anything I’d seen before
  • Going to the hot springs in Baños yet again (still felt just as nice)
  • Taking a day trip into the Mindo Cloud Forest where we saw and held many hummingbirds and butterflies, took a cable car across the valley, hiked to and swam in another incredible waterfall, zip lined over the tree tops, and explored the town on Mindo
  • Seeing my host family one last time

At the end of the week, finally, after nearly four straight months of traveling across four different continents, it was time to return home. I’ve had a few weeks now to reflect on my time and begin to tell loved ones back home what the adventure was like. It’s been hard to sum up my time this semester in words, so for my blog here I’ll start with a compilation of snippets from each day across the semester. 

While I do think this compilation does a good job of showing what SIT’s IHP Climate Change program can look like in brief, I’d be remiss not to mention all it leaves out. My video is just the highlight reel and leaves out all the hard moments, tears shed, and sicknesses endured. This semester was one of major growth for me (I was even voted most changed during our superlative award night during the retreat!), and serious change is never easy, but I certainly don’t regret a second of it. 

There’s been a lot that I’ve learned, most of which I can barely scratch the surface of in this post. The program has taught me so much about climate change, environmental justice, capitalist systems, and my place in making change. I’ve learned to push myself like never before, embracing discomfort and fear and as a result come to trust myself in a whole new way. I’ve gotten to understand much better the value of nature, art, and connection as sources of strength and comfort. Stepping away from campus has also made me realize a need to shift my priorities away from being endlessly busy and towards a balanced life that values taking time for myself and having adventures (big or small). The last thing I have to mention is how much I’ve realized I don’t know. I have a lot to learn, many stories to hear, and a huge world to explore, and there’s not much that excites me more than that. 

Finally, if you’ve read my blogs up until this point, I want to say a huge thank you! Thank you for following along on my journey and listening to my musings, and thank you to my family and friends for supporting me along the way. I hope my words have been a source of inspiration for us all to want to get to know our world and our selves just a bit better.

Solo Trip: Nara Edition

One goal I had for my time here in Japan was to embark on a weekend solo trip. Thanks to Japan’s transportation system, agreeable prices, and the normalcy of being alone, this trip was easily made possible. I wanted to share an overview of my experience!


I’d actually picked Nara as my travel destination before arriving to Japan. It’s smaller and quieter compared to cities like Tokyo and Osaka, so I knew navigating and creating an itinerary wouldn’t be difficult. Once upon a time the capital of Japan, Nara is known for its rich history, beautiful temples and shrines, and something unexpected: deer! More on that in a moment. Nara’s main attractions can be covered in a day, but I wanted to enjoy my weekend at a slower pace.

There are different ways to get around Japan; the fastest, most convenient is the Shinkansen. I planned to take a highway bus there and the Shinkansen back, but on the day of, I overslept my early bus. Thus sealed my fate for taking the bullet train both ways. Tickets can be pricey, but luckily, Nanzan’s Center for Japanese Studies office offers train ticket discounts at no extra cost which are worth taking advantage of!

Day 1: Saturday

The first thing I did when I arrived in Nara was treat myself to some kitsune udon from a small shop within the Higashimuki shopping arcade. After that, I was ready to go! Within walking distance was Kofuku-ji, a Buddhist temple that was one of the Seven Great Temples in Nara. I couldn’t take photos inside the main hall, but the exterior speaks for itself for how beautiful this place is.

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the streets of Nara, and then shopping around the Higashimuki shopping arcade. For dinner I decided to take a break from Japanese cuisine to enjoy some Vietnamese food. I ordered bánh xèo, a savory ‘pancake’ filled with vegetables, shrimp, and pork; I definitely enjoyed every bite.

Day 2: Sunday

The next day I did a lot more proper sightseeing. First I went to Todai-ji, another one of the Seven Great Temples. The main hall hosts three statues of sitting Buddha, as well as other impressive statues and models of the temple grounds.

I spent the remainder of my afternoon sightseeing a few different nearby Shinto shrines, including Kasuga Taisha. I went to Nara at the same time that Shichi-go-san was happening, so there were a ton of families there taking photos and dressed in traditional kimono. After learning about its significance in my Japanese Society class, it was neat to see the tradition being practiced in person.

One of the things I looked forward to the most in Nara were the (in)famous Nara deer. As I walked around, I noticed very quickly that the deer are everywhere, and socialized to the point where they don’t flee around humans like the deer in the States do. They also don’t stop in the middle of the road when a car is approaching, instead waiting to cross. For about $1.40, you can buy a stack of crackers to feed to the deer, after which they’ll ‘bow’ to you. When they’re hungry they can get pushy or aggressive, but I was able to feed them during their down time. Most of them roam around Nara Park, which is a great place to enjoy an open space with close proximity to nearby shops.

Travel Advice

For those who plan to visit Japan, here are few points of advice that I followed whenever I traveled throughout the country!

  • Always have a (fully charged) portable phone charger on hand!! Outlets are not as common in public places
  • Choose trustworthy accommodations with reviews and a comprehensible website
  • Always carry plenty of cash (Some places simply don’t take credit card!)
  • Invest in an IC card to use for public transportation. They can be used as methods of payment in many stores!
  • Type / write / learn useful emergency phrases in the local language

Sadly this semester did not grant us CJS students any major breaks, unlike what I’m used to at Hope. Most of my trips spanned two weekend days, with most being cut short in the evenings to travel back to Nagoya. Still, I’ve been able to visit many different locations throughout Japan, and I will definitely be back!

Fall Travels in Japan

I originally planned to study abroad next semester in the spring, but as this semester comes to an end, I couldn’t be happier I chose the fall semester. Autumn in Japan is beautiful. I’m accustomed to Midwest falls that start in September, followed by a temperature drop in October. Here in Japan, until around mid-to-late October, and the leaves were slow to change, showcasing fall foliage or kouyou. During my time here, I’ve had the privilege to experience fall in a number of different places, all with their own charm and sites. From here, I’ll share some moments of how I’ve been able to enjoy fall in Japan.

Shirakawa and Takayama

On Halloweekend, IES took us on an excursion a few hours north of Nagoya, to the old and quiet towns of Shirakawa-go and Takayama, located in the mountainous region of Gifu. The kouyou had already started here, and as our bus pulled into the lot in Shirakawa-go, I could already see some orange hues. Shirakawa-go’s charm lies in its old, large-roofed gasshō-zukuri style houses, spread throughout the village.

Takayama’s Hida Village is a small village worth poking around, and we spent part of the afternoon designing our own maneki neko figurines. The one I chose is holding up its right paw, which invites good fortune and money.

I got the full teishoku multi-course set meal experience that evening, which was definitely a tastebud shock for me due to the diverse textures and flavors. For those who are more open-minded and experimental with their food palette than I am, I recommend. But it was safe to say I went right back to my safe-zone of udon, curry rice, and onigiri as soon as I was back in Nagoya. However, I enjoyed seeing the presentation of each course, carefully arranged on each intentionally chosen dish.


My next trip was the following weekend; I joined up with my friend to spend the day in Ise, located in the prefecture of Mie, south of Nagoya. Ise is a coastal city and home to the Ise Jingu shrines, which are Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrines. They’re dedicated respectively to the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, and the goddess Toyouke. Additionally, it’s home to some old Edo and Meiji period architecture, and Ise style udon. The last sightseeing stop we made was to the Meoto Iwa, Married Rocks. These rocks represent the union of the creator kami and celebrate the marriage union between man and woman.


My last IES excursion to Kyoto, which I’d been looking forward to all semester. While Kyoto makes for a great tourist destination year-round, I was most excited to see it in the fall, when the kouyou would be visible, and the historic atmosphere would blend with the fall atmosphere (perfect for history studiers and fall enjoyers, such as myself).

Half our time in Kyoto was spent navigating the streets, lined with people from all over the country and world who’d come for the same reasons as us. Kyoto was packed. Our equally packed schedule took us to several famous shrines and temples, all with their own unique features, such as Kinkakuji’s pavillion gold leaf finish, or Fushimi Inari Taisha’s 10,000 torii gates.

By now I’ve been able to experience three different falls in Japan. My travels have taken me from the north’s old and quiet villages with a mountainous backdrop, to the south’s slow-paced coastal city, to cultural and religious sites complemented by the kouyou in the west. Japan has so much to offer, and I am so grateful to be experiencing it.

Unexpected Parallels: Exploring the Philippines and Accra as a Tourist

It has been a few crazy months since I have been all over the world.

As a passionate traveler, I’ve had the privilege of exploring various corners of the world, each with its own unique charm. Recently, I embarked on a journey that led me to reminisce about my home of the Philippines destinations: Accra, Ghana. What I discovered was surprising and heartwarming—the interesting similarities that make these two countries incredibly appealing to me.  Traveling with the CIEE Legon, Ghana Team, has been a very fulfilling and amazing experience thus far.

1. Warm and Welcoming Locals

One of the first things that struck me in both the Philippines and Accra was the warm and welcoming nature of the locals. Growing up around Filipinos, we are renowned for our own hospitality, often going out of our way to make travelers feel at home. Similarly, Ghanaians in Accra embrace tourists with full open arms as they share their rich culture and traditions. I am currently staying with a host family in Ghana that my program connected me with and has been hosting international students for over seven years. Whether it’s a friendly smile or a helpful gesture, the people in both places make you feel like a cherished guest.

My host Ghanaian family, Mommy Vivian, Brother Joel, and Sister Na.

2. Breathtaking Natural Beauty

The Philippines and Accra boast some of the world’s most stunning natural landscapes I have ever seen. In the Philippines, there are so many pristine white-sand beaches, crystal-clear waters, and lush tropical forests you will find and truly remember. The islands, like Palawan and Boracay, are paradise for beach lovers. Accra also offers its own brand of natural beauty with serene coastal views along the Gulf of Guinea and lush greenery in areas like Aburi Botanical Gardens. As I have visited all of these places, Ghana an the Philippines provide ample opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to explore and immerse themselves in nature.

My roommate Kobi with our Joel and Na at Boti waterfalls

3. Mouthwatering Cuisine

I personally feel that food is a universal language, and both the Philippines and Accra have a lot to say in this regard and truly did not disappoint. In the Philippines, you can indulge in dishes like adobo, sinigang, the delectable lechon, and so many more. Accra also serves up mouthwatering Ghanaian cuisine with dishes like jollof rice, banku and tilapia, and the irresistible kelewele (spicy fried plantains). As I ate some of these dishes, I was reminded of my Filipino household.

Picnic time at Aburi Botanical Gardens and Park

4. Vibrant Street Markets

If you’re a fan of shopping and immersing yourself in local culture, the Philippines and Accra have vibrant street markets to offer. In the Philippines, Manila’s Divisoria and Baguio’s Night Market are a few of the markets with so many vendors that offer everything from souvenirs to local delicacies. In Accra, the Makola Market and Madina Market are must-visit destinations, where I found local traditional crafts, textiles, and street food, all while experiencing the lively atmosphere of local markets.

Market errands with Mommy Vivian at Madina market.

5. Rich Cultural Heritage

While the Philippines and Accra come from different corners of the world, they share a rich cultural heritage. The Philippines’ history is marked by a fusion of indigenous, Spanish, and American influences, evident in its architecture and traditions. Accra, with its historical sites like Cape Coast Castle and the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum, offers a deep dive into the history of the transatlantic slave trade and Ghana’s path to independence. Both destinations provide opportunities to learn and reflect on their unique historical journeys.

Late night at Cape Coast Castle

My home country of the Philippines and my currently almost four-month trip in Accra have made me more aware of the beauty of unanticipated parallels between two seemingly unrelated locales. A few of the elements that unite a distinctive tapestry of experiences are the friendliness of the people, the beautiful natural scenery, the delectable food, the lively street markets, and the rich cultural history. We typically seek for the unusual as tourists, yet the real joy of seeing the globe lies in these surprising parallels. So, whether you find yourself in Accra or the Philippines, know that you’re in for an incredible trip packed with the magic of discovery and the beauty of human connection.