Does traveling with your parents really conquer homesickness? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apple Season

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

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

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

I’m talking about picking the largest fattest sweetest fig

in the world and putting it in my mouth.”

(Here he’d stop and close his eyes.)

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

Hello! Happy Fall!

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

Photo credit: Ashlee!

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

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

Stringing apples for drying in the cabin

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

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

Making apple cider vinegar from the peels & cores

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

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

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

Morocco Vol. II

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

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

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

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

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

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

outside the Medina

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

Signing off until Nepal. 

Life in Japan, so far

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speedrunning Tokyo

36 hours in Tokyo & how we spent it

Shibuya Crossing

At the end of September, my friend and I set off for a weekend in Tokyo. To get there, I booked us overnight bus seats. It’s a cheaper, though lengthier and less scenic, convenient alternative to taking the Shinkansen (bullet train). We boarded at 11PM on Friday, and after a smooth and quiet ride, we arrived at 6:30AM at a bus stop in Tokyo’s Chuo ward.

The first thing we did was park ourselves at Starbucks for breakfast. My friend got the Osatsu butter Frappuccino, a seasonal drink containing crushed sweet potato flakes and honey butter sauce. Afterwards, we quickly washed up, and then we were off!

Tokyo Skytree

The first place we went to was Tokyo Skytree. Tembo Deck stands at 350 meters and gives an incredible 360-degree view of the cityscape. On other floors, there’s shops and eateries, and even a viewing point 100 meters higher.


When we got to Akihabara, it was already 11AM, and we were getting hangry hungry, so we opted for a Japanese curry place by the station. We got our meal tickets and sat at one of the small booths until our order arrived. It wasn’t crowded, so the food came right away and we enjoyed the calm atmosphere as we refueled for the afternoon.

Akihabara is packed with electronics shops, arcades, and themed cafes to explore, but we managed to narrow down our options to a retro game store and a claw machine arcade. Claw machines are an easy way to empty your wallet, so after three or so failed attempts, I gave up and opted for watching everyone else’s attempts.


Between Shibuya and Shinjuku is Harajuku, known as the center for youth fashion. Takeshita street is, warning: full sensory overload due to how many people, shops, restaurants, and overall activity and noise there is. There’s many fashion subcultures seen in Harajuku, so it was fascinating to see how people were expressing themselves through fashion.

To end our afternoon, we headed to Meiji-jingu, an impressive historic Shinto shrine dedicated to the emperor and his wife of Japan’s Meiji era.

One thing to note about the shrine’s torii is that you are not meant to walk down the center, but instead on the sides; the center path is for the gods. When approaching torii, bow in front of it once before entering the sacred area. After, we lined up at the nearby water basin to rinse our hands and mouth, an act of purification before entering the main sanctuary.

Once we entered the courtyard, we lined up to pray. When it was my turn, I cast a 5 yen coin into the offertory box. Why 5 yen? The pronunciation for five yen is the same as the polite way of saying ‘good luck’, which conveys desire for good fortune. Afterwards, the routine is as follows: bow twice, clap twice, brief silent prayer, then bow once more before stepping back for the next person.

There are places on the grounds to purchase various amulets to bring luck or protection for various purposes, such as studying, soundness of the mind, or even finding a good partner. There are also places to write down one’s wishes.

In my Japanese Religions class we learned that Shintoism is less of an organized religion and more a way of life valuing things like nature and ancestry. There is no founder, no holy scriptures, no path to ‘convert’. While many Japanese identify as non-religious, many still go to Shinto shrines to pray or for Shichi-go-san. Additionally, Shintoism does not require people to follow only Shintoism. Japanese society is, for the most part, religiously pluralist, and even at an individual level, many practice multiple, not adhering to one religion over the other. These points are a stark contrast from what I see in the U.S., and it really made me stop and reflect.


In the evening we met and reconnected with friends in Ikebukuro near our hotel for dinner! We had okonomiyaki, a savory pancake made with vegetables, meats, sauces, etc. and cooked on an iron griddle.

The following morning, we poked around the Animate Ikebukuro store and Sunshine City, a massive shopping mall.


Our last stop of the trip was Shibuya, where we spent the rest of the afternoon shopping and viewing popular attractions before heading home on the Shinkansen. It was a busy 36 hours, and we definitely made the most of it!

The Gift Economy & Finding Community

For every atom belonging to me as good
Belongs to you.   Remember?

Howe, Marian. “Singularity.”, 2019.

We just started our segment on “What is community?” here at the OE, and it’s come at an opportune time. This is the point in the semester at which living in community stops being a fun little experiment and we realize that authentic community actually takes lots of hard work that sometimes isn’t all that fun.

Not that I’m not having fun! Last week everyone at the OE went on a backpacking trip. My group hiked in the Sky Lakes Wilderness, where we encountered pikas, chipmunks, and black bears, ate way too many wild huckleberries, and were chased by Bigfoot (in the form of an angry hornet nest) out of his territory.

One concept we talked about in the segment we just finished up was the gift economy: a more expansive view of the exchange of goods than the one that capitalism offers. The gift economy is built on gifts that constantly cycle through communities, creating ties of kinship that ensure that no one has too much or not enough.

The gift economy is a way to honor the gifts that nature gives us. Instead of only taking, we can show gratitude to nature by giving back. This can take many different forms: advocacy for policies that protect natural spaces; wasting less and stewarding the natural resources we have; educating other people about the gifts of nature and the best ways to take care of them… the possibilities for giving back are endless.

The gift economy ties us to each other and to nature by constantly cycling gifts through relationships. Instead of the alienation from labor that capitalism provokes, the gift economy brings communities closer together. I’ve seen that happening here at the OE already: We cook each other food from vegetables that we receive from the garden. We take turns collecting waste streams, chopping wood, and preserving food for our community. I find myself feeling grateful for things that never would have occurred to me at home: I am grateful that my vegetable scraps are taken away to feed the chickens and the garden. I am grateful that my cabin is warm in the morning because my lovely cabin-mate starts the woodstove fire. I am grateful that the wind and sun dry my clothes after I do laundry. Everything is a gift.

it is hallelujah time,

the swallows tracing an arc

of praise just off our balcony,

the mountains snow-sparkling

in gratitude

Browning, Sarah. “When the sun returns.” Poetry, January 2016.
Photo credit: Ashlee!

An Unexpected Start

After an exhausting travel day flying from San Francisco to Montreal to Morocco, our group spent the day battling to stay awake so we could explore Casablanca, catch up on school work, and hopefully fend off any lasting jet lag by getting to sleep at a reasonable time. When I finally went to bed that night, ready to get a full 12 hours of sleep, I never would have expected to be woken up by the worst earthquake to hit Morocco in over a century. The shaking woke me up around 11:15, and after a brief moment of confusion, I went with my roommate, Sasha, to hide under the hotel desk. While certainly scary, being so far from the epicenter fortunately meant our group was safe and no damage was done in Casablanca, although at that point we had no idea of the true extent of the earthquake’s damage. In the following few days as the news spread and the death toll increased, I grappled with a lot of emotions: relief for my own safety, heartbreak for the country and its people, and guilt at the privilege I carried as a tourist who didn’t have to deal with any of the very real devastation so many people so close by were facing. Although the earthquake did mean our program would have to change about half of its plans for Morocco — which brought some disappointments and uncertainties of its own — this was still nothing compared to the changes the earthquake was causing for residents of Morocco, particularly near the epicenter. To not take away resources from those who needed them, our plans changed from going to Marrakesh and Ouarzazate to Bensmim and Tangier instead, although our first two weeks of plans in Casablanca and Rabat remained the same. 

sunrise coming in to Casablanca

This, coupled with our sessions learning about the discrimination and harassment women and members of the queer community could face in Morocco, certainly made the transition more difficult than I anticipated, but getting out into the city helped me to reconnect with the energy and excitement of this new place. The first weekend we spent exploring Casablanca and immersing ourselves in the new culture by drinking plenty of mint tea, visiting the Hassan II Mosque (full of some of the most beautiful and intricate architecture I’ve ever seen), and roaming through the streets, soaking the city in. On Monday we headed to Rabat, where we would spend the next week and a half living with our homestay families and taking classes in the city. 

As a part of the program’s experiential learning component, we stay with host families for a week or two at a time in each country, so we had our first homestay experience in Rabat. Ruthie, a friend in my cohort, and I lived with a family in the Medina, or the walled, historic part of Rabat. Although there was quite a strong language barrier since they mainly spoke Darija (the Moroccan dialect of Arabic) and we only learned the most basic phrases to communicate, we were still able to feel the generosity and beauty of the family’s life. Throughout our time in Rabat, we were taught how to make the most delicious vegetable tajine, discussed Moroccan politics with our host brother, and learned what it means to truly get clean through the cultural experience that is the hammam (getting scrubbed down at a communal bathhouse). 

As for our classes, besides fumbling our way through basic Darija lessons, we had lectures from a variety of speakers, ranging from activists to government representatives to researchers. Through these lectures, we learned about the struggles of rural women for land rights, the aspirations of youth in agriculture, the implications of the tourist industry for Moroccan locals and ecosystems, the history of people’s protests in Morocco, and much, much more. 

Outside of class and home, I tried to spend as much time as possible (when I wasn’t fighting my traveler’s sickness) walking around and exploring the city. Although not necessarily the most comfortable place to walk around alone as a young woman, the Medina was still an amazing place full of bustling life, intricate artisanal crafts, and delicious fruit juice vendors, and always made for a fun adventure exploring with friends. Outside of the Medina, my other most frequented spots would have to be the beach — perfect for long walks and stunning sunsets — along with a lovely garden and an incredible Syrian restaurant with some of the best falafel and lentil soup of my life. Seeing the Hassan Tower, an old unfinished mosque, with my friend Diarra was also another highlight, since the architecture of it and the mausoleum are so unlike anything I’ve seen back in the Midwest. 

To end our time in Rabat, we had a farewell party with our host stay families, the SIT faculty, and our entire cohort, at a cafe just outside the Medina. There was, of course, mint tea and lots of pastries, but the real excitement of the party was in the live music, played by a Moroccan group. I danced with my host mom, with my friends, until I thought I couldn’t dance much more, and the energy in the room that evening certainly made it one of my favorite moments in Morocco so far. Needless to say, the emotions felt across these couple weeks were nothing I could have planned for, and wherever our change in plans leads us next, I couldn’t be more ready to follow.

with Ruthie and the homestay family at the farewell party

Zucchini Bread and Thoughts of Home

More and more recently I find myself searching for things that feel like home, like the zucchini bread my Grandma Donna used to make for us at my grandparents’ cabin in Tawas, Michigan. That place was such a special hideaway for my family. It was a place where we all came together to celebrate holidays, birthdays, and summer. My mind has been wandering to this place, to the place where my family was joyful and together and celebrating life.

I’ve never really been the type of person to get homesick or feel like I can’t stay away from home for too long. Maybe that’s because I’m adaptable and can acclimate fairly easily to new spaces, but I can’t say that I haven’t been thinking about home. I am surrounded by newness here, new housemates, new learning styles, and new experiences every day. I reflected on home this past week as I ventured to the Hoover Wilderness and Yosemite on a 6-day backpacking trip. I can’t say why it took bush-wacking in the backcountry of Yosemite to get me to feel homesick, but it did.

I had known it would happen from the first time I held her – from that moment on, all her growing would be away from me. It is the fundamental unfairness of parenthood that if we do our jobs well, the deepest bond we are given will walk out the door with a wave over the shoulder. We get good training along the way. We learn to say “Have a great time, sweetie” while we are longing to pull them back to safety. And against all the evolutionary imperatives of protecting our gene pool, we give them car keys. And freedom. It’s our job. And I wanted to be a good mother.” – Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Thank you, mother, for giving me freedom when I thought you gave me another rule to follow. Thank you, mother, for letting me go, for letting me make a new home. A home surrounded in growth, in love overflowing. A love that tells me who I am as much as it tells me who I am not. A home that gave me four lives, entangled by red string, all together, yet all different shades of red distinguishing one from the other. One for Grace, one for Madelyn, one for Chloe, and one for me.

I know, mother, that you are longing to pull me back into safety, into your arms for “nuggles” and so you can “hug me and squeeze me and keep me forever and ever”. I am beginning to grasp the depth of your unconditional love for me. Your love that tells me how proud you are of me for becoming the “happiest person you know”. Your love that tells me I’m a good daughter even when I know that I’m not. Your love that doesn’t ask me to be perfect, but to be vulnerable. Until I can give you a story of who I am, you only have the story of who you believe that I am. Thank you for believing that I am good, that I will go far, that I am someone for you to be proud of.

Momma, I want to give you three gifts that are not mine to give, “A compass: to find your new path. A packet of smoked salmon: because they always come home. Pens: to celebrate having time to write.” I am proud of you for growing with me as I learn who I am. I thank you for accepting my forgiveness and for forgiving me in return. I am healing one step at a time as I learn how to be me and my wish for you is that you would do the same, knowing that I will always come home so I can hug you and squeeze you and keep you forever and ever.

Smells Like Home…

  1. Zucchini Bread
  2. Cubed potatoes and onions in the oven (Sunday Brunch)
  3. Pine Sol

Sounds Like Home…

  1. Booster Seat by Spacey Jane
  2. Monumental by Coastal Club
  3. Surefire (Piano Version) by Wilderado

Feels Like Home…

  1. Dance parties in Mouw Cottage living room
  2. Trashy movies on the couch with my mom and dad (I always pick the worst ones)
  3. Morning coffee brewed for two

Off to Japan!

why nagoya, confronting challenge, and konbini


Three weeks from today I officially landed in Japan and began my semester study abroad in Nagoya!

Leading up to it, there was an endless list of to-do’s and to-buy’s. From buying the right power converter, to researching restaurant etiquette, to making multiple trips to the nearest consulate to secure a visa, feelings of stress, anticipation, nerves, and disbelief kept accumulating and snowballing until they became indiscernible. It wasn’t until I was sitting in my seat, plane rolling down the runway at O’Hare, that I discerned the most prominent emotion I felt: excitement. After months of preparation and hard work, I was actually, finally going to Japan.

Image of Mount Fuji, or Fuji-san, taken from my plane as we fly into Nagoya.
view of Mt. Fuji from my plane

Why Nagoya? Nagoya was not at all on my radar when I first started to look into study abroad locations in Japan. I knew almost nothing about it, and until then I’d assumed I’d be studying somewhere in Tokyo. But when I looked into the available programs and locations, IES’s program in Nagoya stood out to me.

Nagoya is conveniently located in the center of Japan, with major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka all accessible by bullet train. It’s an industrial city, home to Ghibli Park (for all the Studio Ghibli enjoyers out there), hosts impressive castles and shrines, and is known for the craft of mechanized puppets– some of which can serve tea! As a major bonus: Nagoya boasts a rich and expansive food scene.

I wanted to experience the busy city life I love without getting too overwhelmed by all the activity and people. Nagoya is the third most populous urban city in Japan, with under 3 million residents (compared to Tokyo’s almost 14 million!!!), and has a solid public transportation system. Because this program is direct enrollment, I’m enrolled at Nanzan University, a private Catholic university in Nagoya’s Showa ward. While it’s lesser known and less populated than the neighboring Nagoya University (they are literally within 10 walking minutes of each other), it’s a respectable university with a range of educational opportunities, activities, and events.

What appealed to me the most was that I’d be taking courses through Nanzan’s Center for Japanese Studies (CJS) designed for study abroad students. Through this center, cross-cultural interaction and learning about DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) are encouraged, and now being a resident in the international students’ dorm, I have access to events and workshops hosted by it that facilitate those things. If you know me, you know that cross-cultural interactions and DEI are things that I’m passionate about.

Confronting Challenge. The one thing I’ve learned to always carry with me when I travel is the expectation of the unexpected.

After a long 13-hour flight, I arrived in Tokyo in late afternoon, eager to quickly transfer to my hour-long flight, be met by IES staff, then settle into my room at the designated hotel to catch up on sleep (I’d pulled an ‘all nighter’ on the plane to avoid jetlag), before IES orientation started the next day. However, the flight to Tokyo landed 20 minutes after the expected time, and upon arriving to the check-in point, I was informed that check-in for my flight had closed– the last flight to Nagoya for the day.

Already tired, overheated, and so hungry, this was not the news I wanted to hear or accept. It wasn’t until after having to miss several packed buses headed to my designated terminal, finally arriving at said terminal, and being told once again that I couldn’t board, that reality settled in: I was stuck in Tokyo overnight. Additionally, I was unable to place phone calls, even to the program directors. All I could do was helplessly text my program’s group chat and update them about the situation.

However, it was not all doom. Firstly: I’d been able to travel with my friend because we had the same flight. Secondly, upon learning the news about our flight, we met two additional IES students from our flight who were stuck in the same boat. I now had three other peers to share the experience with, so I was not navigating this alone.

After walking back and forth to various terminals and being told conflicting information from well-meaning staff, we were finally rebooked for the first flight the following morning, and then settled in for the night at First Cabin, an accommodation of semi-private cabins / capsules in Haneda Airport.

cabin at haneda airport, featuring a bed, side table, and various amenities.
our accommodation at Haneda airport for the night.

The next day we boarded our flight with no issues, landed in Nagoya, were met by IES representatives, hopped on a train to Inuyama (IES’s orientation location), and that was that!!

This experience wasn’t an ideal one, but having three friends to lean on during a situation of uncertainty, stress, and frustration helped my mentality immensely. And this definitely served as a reminder that no travel itinerary is guaranteed foolproof.

Konbini. Convenience stores– or konbini— are absolutely everywhere here, and yes, they are incredibly convenient– from picking up packages, to printing, to using an ATM, to buying ready-made meals at any hour. Konbini has quickly become part of my daily life here in Japan (it does not help that the prices are far too convenient with the current exchange rate).

Upon arriving to the hotel in Inuyama, we had just enough time for a quick bite to eat before we had a Japanese language class half an hour later (nothing like a flight and class in the same day). We were brought to the nearby konbini to pick something out. I was amazed and relieved by the cheap prices and quality options I had to choose from, and after a long morning, having good food made me feel rejuvenated again, feeling my original excitement from O’Hare coming back again.

Just to wrap things up for my first post, it’s been three weeks since I landed in Japan, and I can safely say by now I’ve established a steady living routine that will keep me afloat in the long run here. I’ve met a variety of new people- friends, classmates, professors- and seen a variety of new places. These remaining 13 weeks will fly by, as the first three have, but I’m determined to make the most of each one, and every moment!

Why go?

Hello again! I’m back from Jordan and embarking on another off-campus study adventure, this time (a little) closer to home.

I’ve been in Oregon for three weeks now, and so far it’s been really great. In a few pictures, here’s what’s been going on:

Cabin Life

I live in Cabin 10! I have two awesome cabin-mates, and we each have our own room.

We shop for groceries together once a week, and we cook our dinners together as a cabin in our cute little kitchen.


We’ve been exploring Lincoln as well as venturing out on longer trips. Last weekend we hiked Mt. McLoughlin.

The Oregon Extension is located within the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, so there are tons of wildlife and hiking trails easily available to us right on campus.


There are forty-ish people living on this campus, and it takes a lot of work to keep the whole place running. Every week groups of students cycle through chore assignments. So far I have taken care of the chickens, stacked firewood, and distributed vegetables from the garden.

I stacked that!

Why go?

With the slower pace of life in Lincoln, I’ve been thinking about why I chose to come here. What makes an off-campus study semester worth missing everything happening back at home and at school?

The sea that calls l things unto her calls me, and I must embark.

For to stay, though the hours burn in the night, is to freeze and crystallize and be bound in a mould.

Gibran, Kahlil. The Prophet. Albatross Publishers, 2015.

One reason I chose to study off-campus was that I did not want to stagnate. I think there are so many personal growth areas and new lessons that I will only encounter if I push myself out of my comfort zone, into places that are unfamiliar. I saw that to be true in Jordan last semester, and I believe that this semester also holds growth opportunities.

That being said, it is difficult to be so far away from my family and my friends at Hope, and not having a phone during the week can make it especially challenging. Something I’m trying to keep in mind this semester is that growth only happens when circumstances are difficult. One of the reasons I am here is to place myself in hard situations, in order to become more resilient. Hopefully, I will emerge with stronger friendships and a better array of tools to navigate staying connected.

I expect I’ll have more thoughts on this topic as the semester goes on. And if you’ve made it all the way to the end of the post, thanks for reading.

Photo credit: Eliana!