Graduation and Beyond!

Reality is a lovely place, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
I wouldn’t wanna live there.

These words penned by Owl City (or to the true OC fans, Adam Young) have been a sort of mantra for this gal for many years. As an idealist and a *bit* of a perfectionist, I love sitting in my imagination and fantasy of how future events will look/feel like. Graduation, for me, was one of those things. After working so hard throughout school, one can look ahead toward the goal of graduation and  feel as if it is unattainable. Yet, here I am, 4 long (boy, do I mean long) years later with my B.S.N. Looking back, reflecting on all the events and challenges that I’ve faced in those four years, I feel so incredibly grateful that I’ve graduated from Hope College a different person.

As I finished the last days of my internship, I soaked in every moment knowing how much I had learned and grown as a nurse. Even more so, I was eager to become an independent nurse. Yet, what really captured me, as Lizzie (my Mercy perioperative buddy) and I were offering our appreciation and saying goodbye to the nurses, was that I had come to feel like a part of the Mercy family. We Hope students were the first to complete a full semester of leadership in this unit at Mercy; so, you could say that we were the guinea pigs who figured things out along the way. I grew in my assertiveness as a future independent practitioner, confident in my nursing abilities, and learned how to advocate for patients of various backgrounds, races, socioeconomic statuses, ages and cultures.

All the CS nursing students with Michelle (our instructor) in the lab coat
CS (most*) students on the last day of classes

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I sat through my last class of undergrad ever, it felt unreal that this was “it”. My roommates and I were so sad to leave each other and return home. We had gone on so many adventures and explored so much of the city together. This having been the first time I lived with people other than my family, I was so incredibly grateful to have shared a living space with two patient, kind and generous people. The semester was a difficult one for me, and they supported me in matchless thoughtful ways.

My roommates, neighbors, and I all pointing on the Chicago map where our internships were
Last roomie pic ever

 

 

 

 

 

 

Returning home, I was eager for the excitement of commencement and pining ceremony. For those of you who don’t know, graduating nurses are pinned by another nurse to show the effort and dedication the student has put forth toward the profession and honor their diligence. The whirlwind of moving back to Holland, where I live, and the two days filled with celebration had me feeling all kinds of exhausted. Not like the bad kind though. The wow-I-am-actually-done-with-my-BSN kind that ends of a deep, contented sigh.

Jacob Guyer (my geriatrics buddy) and I, after commencement

Caroline (my best nursing bud) and I, after pinning.

To be frank, my life has become less organized and more uncertain as I emerge into the world as a new graduate, but the potential that lies ahead of me is too great for me to have a stinky attitude. My plans for the next few months are to 1) pass the NCLEX (nursing boards) to obtain my licensure 2) find a job 3) enjoy my summer filled with the joys of weddings, new beginnings and the start of graduate school. For me, starting my “real” adult life is pretty scary and daunting. Yet, there is a certain peace that I find in knowing Whose I am and that He has a magnificent plan for my life. Fear of failure, while not reserved only for me, is an aspect of moving forward in life that I believe serves two purposes: 1) to remind me that all the achievements and accomplishments can only be attributed to the goodness of my Savior and 2) let’s me know that I am heading toward the tremendous blessings of my Father.

To all those out there who aren’t graduating, keep persevering because  “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23, ESV).  The Lord has a plan so perfect and full of immeasurable purpose for YOU. Don’t forget that or allow anyone/thing derail you from maintaining your focus on Him.

To all those who are, we made it! Despite the terrors of the world as we know it today, I see a generation rising up for the sake of Christ and creating a world that looks more and more like heaven every day. Therefore, I will leave you with this:

“Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” 

-II Thessalonians 3: 1-5, ESV

 

 

Mourning Abroad

As you can tell from the title, this post will be on a slightly heavier subject. However, I by no means want to end this incredible semester with a sad topic so there will be one more post following this one so that we can end on a happy note. I write this because I know that there are many other people out there who may fear going abroad because they are afraid that something will happen to a loved one while they are away, and I hope that what I write here may be of encouragement to them.

The third of February, 2019. I got up, showered, had breakfast with Katherine, and proceeded with my normal Sunday morning routine. I wandered back into my room to find that I had a missed call from my mom. What time is it over there? I wondered to myself. I was about to call her back when my phone started to ring in my hand again. There was something wrong. I knew it because my parents always let me call them back when I had the time, usually figuring that I was busy and would call when I could. When I opened FaceTime, my fears were confirmed. My mom’s face was red, the way it normally is when she’s upset, and my dad’s blue eyes shone even brighter than normal, something only seen when he’s exhausted. Passed the formalities and they informed me that my aunt, Nancy, aged 63, had passed away just hours before.

This was the moment that I had been dreading since I went to college. Nancy was diagnosed with a rare type of brain cancer just two weeks before I left Minnesota for my first year at Hope. At the time, I didn’t realize how serious her illness was, what odds she was up against, but as time passed and her condition worsened, the gravity of the situation started to sink in. I soon realized that there would come a day… I may be at home or school or even in France when she would finish her journey on this earth, and I may or may not be able to be there with her when she does.

A year and a half later and it was January 5, 2019; hours before I would get on a plane that would take me incredibly far away from home. I hugged my aunt and kissed her on the forehead. As I looked at her in her bed, she was not peaceful and she wasn’t without pain. Words cannot explain how difficult it was to convince myself that it was okay for me to leave, that she would be so upset with me if I didn’t get on that plane and go have the adventure of a lifetime. So I got up the next day and I got on the plane, fully aware that I most likely saw my aunt for the last time the night before.

Now was the day that I had been dreading for so long and I was without words. I cried, of course, but I also felt so relieved. Nancy was not in pain anymore and she didn’t struggle to form a coherent response to the simplest of questions. She was no longer holding on to a body that had failed her. She was free.

At the end of that phone call, my parents told me I should do something for myself that day, something that Nancy would have loved to do with me. I went and got coffee. I walked around for over an hour on a Sunday when everyone is brunching in the cafes until I found a place that seemed suitable. I sat under the awning with the classic Parisian wicker chairs that faced the street, and for the next two hours I watched people pass by as I sipped on the most expensive coffee I have ever purchased. The whole thing is laughable to me now because Nancy would have thought it was the most absurd thing, but she would have loved to just sit and people-watch for hours. After I finished my ridiculously overpriced coffee, I decided to go for a walk and, oh boy, am I glad I did. When Nancy got sick, she started to go for really long walks and I think she would have loved this one. I walked for what seemed like ages, but I couldn’t convince myself that it was time to go home. I followed to streets to Place de la Concorde and there I saw the most beautiful sunset that I have ever seen in Paris. The sun blazed orange along the horizon but the sky remained a pure blue, the clouds a glorious purple. At that moment I knew, that after everything that I had seen my aunt go through, she was okay and I truly believe that that sunset was the surest sign to let me know; to reassure me that everything was going to be okay.

The reason for my delay in writing about this loss is because for the longest time I didn’t feel like what had happened had really sunk in or that I was really prepared to talk about mourning, in general. For a while, I almost believed that when I got home I could just pop over to my aunt’s house for a chat, and play with her cats while enjoying a coconut La Croix together. It scares me to know that my world over here in France has existed entirely separately from my world at home. So, I fear that going back will be like learning the news all over again because I will finally see for myself that she is no longer there. Despite how difficult it has been abroad and how difficult it will be when I return home, I wanted to write about this because I know that there are many other people like me. People who are afraid to go abroad because they fear something might happen to a loved one while they’re gone. I want to let all of those people now that we can’t put our lives on hold just because we are afraid of missing something. I know that if I had missed out on going abroad because I wanted to be at home with my aunt that she would have been so mad at me. Life happens regardless of where you are, but when it comes to losing a loved one, you can’t let that fear keep you from following your aspirations.

Some days I feel the loss more strongly than others, but I know that Nancy would not want her death to be an excuse for me to sit inside and watch life pass me by. When grief hits me like a ton of bricks, there are some things that I’ve noticed help immensely:

Do the kinds of things that you enjoyed together. I’ll go for long walks, runs, drink coffee, or read for fun, literally anything that I know that she would want to do. At first, it’s really weird to do these things on your own because you desperately want your loved one to be there with you, but it’s a great way to honor and remember them.

Treat yourself with kindness. This means getting out of bed, showering, eating food in proper amounts, and getting some kind of exercise. Grief, believe it or not, puts a lot of stress on the body so it’s really important to take care of yourself. Your loved one would want to know that you are treating yourself well.

Talk about it. My sister (who was also studying in Europe) and I were able to get together and be able to talk about what that day was like for each of us, and it was incredibly cathartic for the both of us. Keeping all of those complex emotions bottled up isn’t good for anyone so it’s important to try and talk about them. It doesn’t even have to be another person. I monologued to myself in the shower about all of my feelings frequently trying to put into words I was experiencing. From doing that, I feel more at ease like I know the situation better.

Allow yourself to be sad, if you want to. I know that Nancy would not want me to be sad and grieve over her loss, but it is a completely natural response to a loss so if you start to feel those emotions, let them out so you can start to process and heal.

Closure. When I told a friend that my aunt had passed away, they asked me if I was going to fly back home for the funeral. Nancy didn’t want a funeral or a memorial service. No, she wanted a party and thankfully this party is taking place when I get back home so I don’t have to feel like I missed out. However, funerals, for a lot of people, are a means of closure and remembrance, so a lot of people feel like they have to be there in-person. I’ve talked with some friends about what has/would happen if they were in the situation of being abroad when they lost/lose a loved one. Most of them said that they would stay abroad, and they’d just Skype in to the service or whatever event was held in that person’s honor. There is no right or wrong choice and, ultimately, it has to be yours. Whether you want to be there in-person or not, you know yourself best and what would best help you to start healing.

These are just a couple of things I have done that have helped me start processing through my grief. Obviously, what works for one person might not work for another so it’s important that you listen to your emotions and do what feels right for you. A lot of study abroad programs also have counselors or can arrange for you to meet with one should that be something that you feel might be helpful.

I’m still apprehensive about going home and facing the new family dynamics, on top of the reverse culture shock I will no-doubt experience as well. I won’t lie, dealing with this loss while abroad has been difficult. Yet, I believe I made the right decision in studying abroad and I know Nancy believed so too.

Pardon my French

One of my primary motivations in choosing to study abroad in France, as opposed to anywhere else in the world, was to improve my French. Before I came to France, I had studied French for 5.5 years, 4 in high school and 1.5 in college. From those many years of studying the language, I was able to carry out conversations on pretty much any subject with minimal difficulty recalling vocabulary, and I was capable of reading and comprehending relatively simple novels with ease. I could also understand about 80% of what a French person would say in conversation.

So what’s changed?

Before I arrived in France, I had constantly been told that English is so well-known here that French practically isn’t necessary to get around. Well whoever told me that clearly has not had to live with someone who only knows the English words “yes,” “bye” and “stop.” When I got here, I was immediately dropped in the deep end, but my French is so much better for it. Instead of being able to just drop an English word here and there whenever I didn’t know something, I suddenly had to speak all French all the time and look up what I didn’t know. Over the span of four months that gets to be a lot of new vocabulary, resulting in better, more fluent French.

There is also the matter of grammar. While I tend to be able to get away with plenty of grammar mistakes with Katherine, my professors at CIEE, especially MC, fix grammar on the spot. That, too, overtime tends to iron out the kinks in my French. Grammar remains my primary struggle in French. Although, I find myself being able to form sentences with increased ease and, on very few occasions, I don’t even have to think about what I’m saying, the French just comes out and it’s right!

As of right now, I can’t exactly tell what has changed other than these more obvious factors, but it will be interesting to see what will be different when I return to French classes at Hope. I do believe there are other aspects of my French that have improved, though it’s hard to really measure or quantify those qualities of my French. For example, my accent. I’ve been really lucky to have had several great French teachers who all speak the language either as their native tongue or with an incredibly good French accent. From listening to those teachers, I was able to grasp the basic sounds of French so I have been able to speak with a relatively good French accent. Since I’ve been in France, I’d like to believe that my accent got better and more natural-sounding, but I can’t really be the judge of that.

To someone who doesn’t know French as a first language or even at all, I likely sound like a native speaker. However, to the French, I most certainly do not. I remember my first day of class at French university with my professor who is Russian. She speaks perfect French, and I had absolutely no difficulties in understanding her. Yet, soon after she started speaking, she made a comment about her being a foreigner and having an accent. All of the French students in the room nodded their heads. It was completely ridiculous! I couldn’t hear an accent, but to these French students it was clear as day! So no, I don’t sound like a native speaker to the French, but I have been told that I sound like the next best thing: German! I’ve actually had probably three conversations, all with different French people, where I’ve been asked if I was German. I replied “no, I am American,” which is always shocking to them. I asked a man that I met why he thought I was German and he said it was because I spoke French quite well with a good accent. I asked if he’d met many Americans that could, but he said that they generally don’t. Of course, it made me feel good to know that my accent is good, but only time will tell how much it has actually improved. I suspect when I get back to Hope that the French professors will have a thing or two to say about it.

There is also the matter of speed. Generally, I don’t speak very quickly in English so I definitely do not in French. However, the French people seem so driven by talking ridiculously quickly that I had to try to learn to do that as well. Overall, I find that French-speakers speak significantly quicker than English-speakers, but I find that a lot of it is very situational. The situations where I hear people speaking the quickest are on the radio and also in in-class discussion at school. I tend to think this comes from French people’s habit of speaking over one another when they have something to say. I guess they feel it necessary to speak as quickly as possible so as to say everything they want to say and avoid being interrupted. I found that when I spoke in class at French university, the professor and other students were much more respectful. They let me talk without cutting me off because they could tell very clearly that I was foreign, but when a French student spoke there were absolutely no limits. I remember a class discussion I didn’t even try to participate in because the French students were just talking over each other the entire time. There was no way that I would be able to jump right in and say what was on my mind. However, I have found that I am now quicker at organizing my thoughts and being able to speak off the cuff without mentally rehearsing what I’ll say (though sometimes that has ended in a grammatical disaster).

There is also the matter of using the ‘f-word’… fluency. I have never before said that I was fluent in French because I never felt like that accurately described my language ability. My family has been describing me as fluent in French for quite a while now, even though they had scarcely heard me speak it at all. My parents just assumed that, based on how long I’d been learning the language, I was probably coming up on being fluent if I wasn’t already. However, after they came to visit me in France and actually heard me speak French they said that I definitely was. Fluent, to me, meant flawless. Let me be the first one to say, my French is not flawless. But fluent, by definition, does not mean flawless, not even close. To be fluent means simply to be able to write or speak in a language with ease, so, by that definition, I guess I am fluent.

Truthfully, I still tend to stray from using that word because it brings a sort of intimidating expectation with it. If I say that I’m fluent in a second language, there are two responses: 1. That’s really cool! 2. How do you say… Sometimes when people ask me this second question and it’s something that I have no idea how to say, I feel like a complete fraud because I can’t “prove” my fluency to them. But, something that I wish was more evident to people is that being fluent is not the same thing as speaking at a native-level. I know and have accepted the fact that I might never speak French at a native-level, but that doesn’t mean I can’t constantly continue to improve my abilities.

Bottom line: language learning is a long and complicated journey and there is no definite way to determine your progress. But, there are little tests here and there like stopping to give directions to someone or checking out at the grocery store that reassure me that, yes, my French is getting better.

 

Also, for your entertainment, here’s a list of fun words or phrases that I learned throughout my time here in France:

Schtroumpfs: smurfs!

I just like how it sounds.

Cerf-volant: kite

Literally translates to “flying deer”.

Dodo: nap; sleep

This is a fun one because it’s actually the little kid way of saying sleep so it’s English equivalent is something like “sleepy time” or “beddy bye” (Katherine actually uses this one all the time).

Yaourter: to make up words when singing

I need to explain this one. So there is this show on French TV where people compete by singing songs with difficult lyrics and they have to try to remember them, but if they mess up then they lose (it’s weird but stick with me). So when the singers don’t know the words they will yaourter. I would also like to mention that the literal translation of this verb is “to yogurt”.

Bobo: hipster

I hear this word all the time, especially in reference to the 10th, 11th, and 20th arrondissements. I will also say that a hipster in France is usually a millennial with a job so bobo-style is more high-end, but not bourgeois.

Chou: cute

Katherine frequently calls me “mon petit chou” which can literally translate to “my little cabbage” but it is generally a term of endearment.

Cocotte: dear

Katherine also uses this one as a term of endearment. She’ll say “ma cocotte,” but it literally translates to “my chicken”.

Wrapping Up the Semester & Returning Home

It’s only been a few days, my semester in NYC feels like a dream, and I’m already missing the people I met there! But there will be no sadness in this post, only fond memories and a celebration of my time in NYC! Here’s how my semester wrapped up:

During my second-to-last weekend, my roommate and I decided get dressed up, do our makeup (i.e. she did both hers and mine because I know nothing about makeup), and go to the Museum of Illusions and take fun pictures together!

And as always, my roommate and I concluded our weekend by meeting up with the local chapter of the international writing group, Shut Up & Write!. The group meets for an hour every Wednesday and Sunday evening where participants literally gather to write silently for an hour. This group has been key in helping me complete my final project.

For those of you who don’t remember: the NY Arts Program is a little different than most off-campus programs in that instead of enrolling in classes, most of your time is taken up by internship(s). This is paired with seminars, artist talks, journaling and a final project. Final projects can be anything that you want them to be, as long as they’re in-depth and you’re applying something that you learned over the semester.

For my final project, since I was interning at a science fiction & fantasy publishing company, I decided to continue working on the next draft of my fantasy novel (a story I actually started in Dr. Trembley’s Novel Writing class last spring!). I ended up turning in 100 pages to my advisor! This was not even the first quarter of my planned out plot, but that’s okay because if my internship with DAW Books has taught me anything, it’s that fantasy books can be SUPER long. (As in, google “list of longest books” and you’ll find a DAW book on that list.)

In between my last two weekends, my roommate and I managed to snag some lottery tickets to the Broadway show, Beetlejuice, on its last night of previews! It was such a bizarre, but hilarious performance and I’m so glad I was able to see another Broadway show before I left NYC (I saw Anastasia the first weekend I was there).

beetlejuice broadway curtains

Now, for my final weekend in NYC, both my parents flew down to help me pack (I had way too many things, and this didn’t even include the many books I accumulated over the semester and had to mail home) and explore the city. We visited Central Park and simply walked around for a couple of hours and caught up, which was so gratifying and refreshing. We also went to this chocolate restaurant called Max Brenner, stopped by the famous Strand bookstore, and visited the Statue of Liberty. Here are a couple of pictures, most of which my father took, because he’s much better about taking pictures than I am:

My parents and I flew back to Michigan on the morning of April 29th. As I said before, I was sad to leave the people I met in NYC, but I was very much ready to return home. It has been weird readjusting (I have to use a car to get to places now?! Omg, there’s so much green grass everywhere!), but I’m glad to be back for the summer. Seriously, how is it already summer?? I don’t understand–time flew by!

My time with the NY Arts Program was an amazing experience and have no doubt that I made the right choice by enrolling in it. I learned so much about the publishing industry and grew in so many ways.

New York was an incredible trip, but I can only hope that it was the first leg of a longer journey, and that I’ll be able to find my way back there in the coming years.

Finals Week

May someone please explain how it is already May? It’s officially finals week—finals week in more than the traditional college sense. Classes finished this week and the preparations for final exams, projects, and essays have begun. My friends at Hope are all moving home, starting summer jobs, and taking May terms. The weirdest feeling ever is that I will be home in just two weeks and be joining into that life, once again. It is the week of all the lasts in Ecuador, and it feels surreal.

The plan is to study a little, and spend lots of time walking and eating while exploring Quito one last time. Studying abroad is one of the experiences I wanted most out of my college career. It is something that I have been looking forward to since high school. As this chapter of my education is closing, it honestly just feels quite strange and I am not sure how I am going to process it yet. Pulling out the suitcase to begin to pack just doesn’t feel quite right. I thought that the time would never come when I would be getting ready to go back home. In January, May sounded impossibly far away. Then, what seemed like just a few weeks later, I woke up and May was already here.

This past week I began to say goodbye to the people that have had the most influential impact on me this semester. It just didn’t feel quite right, it felt too soon. My service-learning placement has been the highlight of my semester with Edwin and Lili, and Tuesday was my last day with them. They thanked me and celebrated the incredible semester we had together by driving me up to the top of Illaló, a mountain that overlooks Cumbayá, Lumbisí, and Tumbaco. It was a beautifully clear day, and the feeling of gratitude and utter awe of God’s goodness and faithfulness mutually filled our hearts. We took pictures, they laughed at my not so funny jokes, and I just smiled. It’s funny how our connection began with my decision to serve them, but ended with them serving me. God truly does create, transform, and love on people who are simply ready to open their hands and wait for His plan to unfold.

Next week is a week of continuing the lasts and saying goodbye. More than that, it is a week of smiles and laughter of the memories from the semester, and wonder of the God who led me from the fear of the unknown in January to the beauty of the most transformational experience in May. I am at a loss for adequate words as my emotions feel confused. The words I do have are thank you—thank you to all the people who have encouraged me and supported me here in Ecuador physically, but also to those from my community in West Michigan. Thank you to a God that surpasses my understanding and sees me wherever I am. Here’s to the final week in Ecuador—a country that has provided me with a life-changing transformation.

Final Moments in the City

Three days! Three weeks have quickly become three days until the end of the semester. The end of my experience in the city. The end of nursing school.

The beginning of my *official* adult life. The beginning of a new start. The beginning of finally contributing to society in a larger way.

Don’t get me wrong, the last few years have been a perfect blend of sweet moments and wrestling to keep my head above water. The thought of going out into the world, where I feel I’ve been well-prepared, eases the anxiety of these new beginning stages of life. Despite my looming to-do list that continues to grow, I have been finding joy in the singular moments of peace and busyness during this last week. To be able to enjoy each second left in the city has been my goal these final days.

In the beginning of April, there was supposed to be an event with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but they went on strike. With the main performance being cancelled, I went to a lunch-break concert at the Chicago Temple. The sanctuary was so beautiful as a quartet performed some of the greatest composers: Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven. It was an excellent break in the day.

Chicago Temple

I was roughly three weeks from the end of the semester, and I still hadn’t visited the Lincoln Conservatory or Park Zoo. So, I decided to make a day adventure out of it. Since my apartment is only about 1.5 miles away from both, I decided to enjoy the warm day and walk there. While I had been to the Garfield Park Conservatory, I enjoyed the small, quiet spaces of Lincoln Park.


I love taking an entire day to sit with my own thoughts and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation around me. There is so much green space in the city, which surprised me. I’ve been trying to take advantage of it as much as I can. Not the best at directions, I wandered around the zoo for a couple of hours, just enjoying each of the exhibits. For the history buffs out there, the Lincoln Park Zoo has been around since 1868 thanks to Lincoln Park Commissioners. Since then, it has expanded its conservation efforts to a variety of exotic animals. As you might be able to tell from the picture, the weather was perfect for a visit. Others from the program had visited the zoo back in January and mentioned that not as many of the exhibits were open. So, I was thankful that I picked a warmer day to go.

The next weekend, I had been planning to go to Atlanta, Georgia for the National Conference for Undergraduate Research at Kennesaw University. The weekend was filled with thousands of students’ research projects of all different studies and disciplines. Among these thousands, Hope College sent nineteen. My research involved investigation of the relationship between a past medical history of psychiatric diagnoses and the incidence of delirium in an acute care non-intensive care unit. Throughout each presentation and poster that I visited, I could not help but be impressed at the work and diligence that the students had poured into each project. The culmination of their hard work reminded me of the unique contributions that diversity offers to exploration of the world. Being open enough to new ideas and perspectives is more and more evidently important to any field an individual may be pursing. At least, that is what I have found. In addition to listening and viewing others’ research, I went to a Braves vs. Mets game at the SunTrust Park (that’s baseball for the non-sports fans out there).

SunTrust Park

NCUR Hope College Group

Me and My Poster Presentation

One of the more structured parts of the weekend was a visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Row, in downtown Atlanta. There is a street that holds his birth home, the church in which he grew up, and a memorial center that includes his and his wife’s, Cordelia Scott, burial tombs.

Memorial fountain with MLK Jr’s words inscribed
Ebenezer Baptist Church where MLK Jr’s father preached and he grew up in

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was able to visit his birth home which was unique because his mother redecorated it, after the national parks organization bought and restored the house. While I could not snap any pictures, I definitely wouldn’t want to. In the generation of picture-perfect moments and Instagram, it is nice to be able to preserve a piece of history in one’s mind instead of a camera roll. While I had learned about MLK Jr. in middle and high school, it was good to understand a bit more deeply on the enormity of his social and civil justice work, and the hallmark events of his life. It’s in these moments that I can begin to feel as if I could never measure up to someone as great and influential as MLK Jr. To have done so much at such a young age, he seemed like a superhero. Yet, it is these “super human” ideals that can hinder one from reaching his or her full potential in life. It is here where I am constantly reminded of Paul’s thorn in 2 Corinthians 12. While we should absolutely take pride in the work we accomplish, we cannot forget Who bestowed to us these gifts of intellect, influence, and power. Additionally, it reminds me that even in all my shortcomings and faults, God is a sovereign King who uses my weakness for His glory and purpose.

On the academic front, it was a very exciting week when the nursing students all gathered for breakfast to commemorate their last (EVER!) nursing exam. How glorious and relieving it was to be done with it! Celebratory coffee and naps!

While we’re on the subject of food (again, I know. I’m such a foodie), I found a coffee shop while trying to find another place (yes, perpetually still getting lost, even at the end of the semester), called Dropshot. I snatched an iced coffee with lavender syrup. Oh boy was it tasty!
Another interesting restaurant that one of my roommates and I ventured out to is called Yassa, a Senegalese Restaurant. As part of the case study I was working on for my nursing seminar class, we had to visit a restaurant that was representative of the culture of the neighborhood of interest. For me, it was Bronzeville.

At 6 o’clock is a nem: a fried egg roll with ground beef, chicken, shrimp, and vegetables. At 2 o’clock is nataya, a spicy, deep fried salmon patty
Chicken Kebobs with Djolof Rice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the many things I’ve consistently enjoyed throughout the semester is the ability to go to more ethnically diverse restaurants than I could’ve imagined. A piece of advice to students coming to Chicago, invest in your relationships with your coworkers. They are the ones who have lived in the city for most, if not all, of their lives. Three months is a long time to spend with people, and I enjoyed becoming part of the hospital family. In this, they shared their favorite restaurants, entertainment events, and neighborhood advice (that is, which ones to visit, and which ones to avoid). So, to visit a Senegalese restaurant was very cool for me (yes, it was recommended by one of my coworkers). Not only was the food delicious (and very spicy), but the waiters were so friendly. They offered their traditional drinks and talked about each’s cultural importance. Learning is a process I hope never ends.

Another famous place in Chicago for good eats is called Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinders. They serve their 1.5 pound pizza pot pie steaming hot, chock-full of cheese and tomato goodness. As you can tell, I’ve been gorging myself on a ton of delicious foods and finding out culture via my stomach.

Mediterranean bread bigger than all four of our faces

Jerk Chicken with coconut rice and beans; Beef brisket with jerk mac and cheese. Both with po-boys and white bread
Lamb Shwarma with cucumber salad and hummus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In these last few months, it has been a good chance to reflect on what I have learned:

1) Becoming an active member of your community is not necessarily easy, but it is important. Understanding the exhausting daily grind of a full-time job, I have come to realize how much effort it will take to be involved in community events. Yet, there is something about giving more of yourself to the world that somehow, magically allows you to gain even more of yourself back. I included the picture of the blue ribbons because as I passed it on one of my many walks, I remembered my passions in life and why I chose the career I did.

2) Becoming a part of a work family was so incredibly special. While I was still a student, I couldn’t believe how welcoming the staff were at the hospital and how much I learned because of them. They offered their time, efforts, and a slower day to teach me how to become a better nurse. To make someone feel at home is a special kind of talent that cannot be measure in gold or any other monetary equivalent.

3) You don’t have to live in the city to like being in the city. During my time here, I learned more about myself: what kind of and how much alone time I needed, what areas I needed to grow in, and how much I love people. I consider myself to be a fairly reflective individual of my personal preferences, but I love that I can be continually learning about how to function in the world at my optimal performance. My intentions in the beginning of the semester was to consider staying in Chicago if I liked it, but I figured out quickly that the city life was not for me. I could’ve easily pitted myself to not enjoy the city, but I attempted to make the most of the experience and the opportunity. I feel as though I have succeeded. In this, I have taken away lessons that will apply to wherever I land after graduation. Do I have this whole “life” thing figured out? Absolutely not. But, I do see a beautiful journey ahead of me.

Blue ribbons representing the number of children who are victims of abuse

 

About what just happened in Paris…

Monday, April 15, 2019.

I was stuck inside all day studying for one of my finals. After hours of reviewing, I decided I’d finally had enough and I ought to go for a walk to clear my head. I laced up my tennis shoes and headed into the metro without a specific destination in mind. I eventually landed at the Eiffel Tour and decided to walk along the Seine, maybe I’d end up at Place de la Concorde, maybe I’d walk further depending on how I was feeling.

I walked quite a way, just enjoying the sunny spring evening in Paris. The sky was a pristine blue and there was scarcely a cloud in it, except that one… that’s a really odd-looking cloud… no wait, that’s smoke!

7:11 PM

Normally I try to be really casual about weird things that happen in Paris because, well, it’s Paris and plenty of strange things happen here. However, this cloud of smoke caught my attention because it was huge! I followed the smoke which just happened to seem to be the direction of the river, in my head trying to figure out what it could be, an apartment building fire maybe? As I got near, I noticed that the stream of smoke seemed to be growing, something was not right.

7:16 PM

The river curved and so I followed it and I was struck with the oddest view. It looked like the smoke was coming from Ile-de-la-Cité right next to Notre Dame, Paris’ oldest and most well-known church. I kept walking, determined to see what it was, and I saw flames directly on top of the cathedral. If I wasn’t already stressing out and panicking, I was at this point. Notre Dame is on fire?! How could this happen? Notre Dame is made out of stone, how does stone burn? Why is the fire getting bigger?

7:19 PM

I was in shambles: tears wet my cheeks and my nose ran incessantly. What I felt could only be described as shock. This was a church I walked by at least three times a week and it was now in a complete state of distress. All I could do was stand by and watch as Notre Dame was ravaged by flames. A few minutes passed as I looked at the beautiful cathedral on one of her darkest days. I eventually came to my senses and realized that I didn’t know what caused this. It could have been an act of terrorism and there could have been more planned so I decided it was best that I return home to safety. I was also concerned about the metro as that was my only way home. I wondered if it would be closed as sometimes is the case when there are calamities in the city.

Thankfully, I made it home in one piece with no difficulties. As soon as I opened the door, I blurted out what I’d just witnessed to my host sister, Astrid, who is in her thirties. She was stunned and immediately turned on the radio which was already reporting of the fire raging on the roof of Notre Dame. The rest of the evening I struggled to concentrate on anything other than the fire. I scoured the internet for any kind of information I could find on how it started or if it could be put out. News outlets were predicting that the cause of the fire was in relation to the ongoing renovations happening on the roof, where the fire started, not due to terrorism which relieved me immensely. For a while, I switched between several livestreams to follow the advances of the fire and my heart nearly burst out of my chest as I watched the spire fall. Eventually, I fell asleep, but woke up every couple of hours to check any updates I could find.

A smoke-filled sky over Place de la Concorde 4/15/2019 7:29 PM

Finally, in the early morning, I saw that Paris firefighters had contained the fire and that the structure of the church was, by and large, saved. I breathed a sigh of relief; Notre Dame wouldn’t be completely destroyed. I proceeded with my morning routine and checked my phone to find that I had so many messages. I had messages from friends and family checking in to make sure that I was okay and expressing their condolences. I made sure to respond to them all and thank them for their concern.

I spent the morning in a daze and picked up a 20 Minute (free newspaper in the Paris metro) that displayed the title Le Drame de Notre-Dame and a photo of Notre Dame in flames. I couldn’t read it because I had a three hour exam that I had to study for during my commute. Thankfully, the exam wasn’t too terrible, and I then had the rest of the day to process through all that I’d seen. I read the article on Notre Dame on my way to see her for myself.

Once out of the metro, I was bombarded with people. Tourists, Parisians, and journalists alike had flooded any street with a view of the Cathedral, all anxious to catch a glimpse of what remained. I managed to push my way through the waves of people to find a place where I could see her well. I was surprised to see that she didn’t look as desolate and destroyed as I’d thought though, at the same time, she was somber. Notre Dame lost her spire and roof. To the untrained eye she looked a little rough, but not terrible. For those of us who’ve seen her more than a few times, you can tell by looking at her that something is different.

Notre Dame, 4/16/2019

Why does this matter?

Notre Dame is one of the most well-known churches in the world. It actually is the most-visited monument in the city, beating out the Eiffel Tower by nearly twice the number of visitors annually. With Notre Dame now closed to the general public, for at least the foreseeable future, there is going to be a swarm of visitors flocking to other various tourist locations around Paris so it will have a huge impact on crowds. Although, I’m certain they’ll make a point to see her from afar.

Also, there is the matter of preservation of history. Construction on the cathedral started in 1163 when the first stone was placed in the presence of the pope Alexander III. It wasn’t finished until nearly two-hundred years later, in 1345! Since then, plenty of updates have been made to Notre Dame including renovations to keep the building updated in the 850 years since its construction. Most recently, a 150-million-euro renovation was being done on the roof and spire as it had experienced some normal wear-and-tear. It was to be expected from a building that has been around since before the middle ages.

However, it isn’t simply a matter of Notre Dame being an incredibly old church that draws in tourists. After the fire, I saw a lot of posts on Instagram and twitter about how Notre Dame stood through two world wars. Yes, that’s true, she did, but that’s only in the last 100 years. But these posts didn’t even mention the fact that she stood through the French Revolution, the Black Plague, and was around long before most of our ancestors left Europe. A lot of people who haven’t really gotten to know France and the culture tend to think of Notre Dame as being merely a really old and really beautiful church. Maybe they think of it as a setting for a famous book or Disney movie, but for those of us who really knew what she meant to France know better than to simply attribute those titles to her. She survived through so much and continued to stand and represent France and the French people. As the literal center of Paris, Notre Dame embodied the heart of Paris and France as a whole, and to see that go up in flames was to see a piece of the identity of France turn to ash.

Whilst scrolling through all of those posts about the incredible loss of Notre Dame, I was bothered by a general lack of reverence and comprehension of the importance of this monument displayed. I would like to point out that when an event like this happens, it is so incredibly important to research and understand what something symbolizes before posting about it or don’t post at all. I don’t believe posting a family vacation photo in front of Notre Dame with a caption explaining how “lucky you were to see her before this accident” is appropriate to memorialize the monument given the weight of this terrible event.

 

What do the French think?

The French reaction to the fire at Notre Dame is fairly mixed. In my experience, a the people who were most affected were the adults, Catholic, and non-French. When I got back to my apartment, Astrid, whom I introduced earlier, was shocked and watched the news until late in the night to follow the updates at Notre Dame. Katherine was also heartbroken over the fire.

On the other hand, in one of my university classes at Diderot, the professor (a Russian woman) asked what we all thought about the Notre Dame fire. Most of the students (all in their first year at university) didn’t seem to care, yet these were people who’d lived in Paris their whole lives. My professor seemed much more affected, as were many of my friends in my study abroad program. I’ve also been in several Catholic churches since then and have seen signs up asking parishioners to pray for Notre Dame.

Essentially, I believe that the people who were most affected by the fire were those who were capable of understanding the importance of Notre Dame. My university classmates are so accustomed to having an old church on every street corner so I assume they viewed it as any other. The adults with whom I’ve spoken on the subject appear to be far more invested in what will come of this event.

 

What’s next?

In the 24 hours following the start of the fire, three billionaires donated a total of 600 million euros for the reconstruction of Notre Dame. France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, declared that they would rebuild and later said that it would be done in 5 years’ time. This was actually quite a shocking statement given the immense amount of work that will have to be done in such a small time span so we’ll see whether that statement is followed up with action. Essentially, the entire roof and spire are completely destroyed so it will be rather precarious work given how high the ceilings are. Needless to say, it will be interesting to see what happens next as we continue in this new chapter for Notre Dame.

Do I feel safe in Paris?

My sister and I were talking on the phone, about a week ago, when this question came up. Upon her asking, I was slightly stunned, why would I not feel safe? She then proceeded to forward me an email that she’d received from the United States Embassy which, sure enough, showed that the travel advisory for France was raised from level 1 to level 2 telling people to exercise caution due to “terrorism” and “civil unrest.” After reading the full article, I was still shocked. I couldn’t imagine being scared of going to the places I’d frequented for the last three months just because of some travel advisory. In order to talk my sister off the ledge, I explained to her that I don’t feel afraid, regardless of what the U.S. Embassy says.

For the last three months, I have been living in a city that is a hub for Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vest) protests that have been frequently dubbed “violent” because of the actions of certain casseurs (people who break things) in their midsts. The 18th Saturday of the Gilets Jaunes movement was by far the most violent, at least in Paris. They marched from the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs-Elysées, a street that boasts famous luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Cartier. The boulevard epitomizes the system which the Gilets Jaunes have felt has suppressed them: capitalism. I walked on that street the very next day and was shocked to find windows completely shattered and the awning of one of the fanciest, most expensive restaurants in Paris, Fouquet’s, victim of a fire started by these casseurs.

At the same time, I’ve had very different experiences with the Gilets Jaunes. I remember one Saturday I was out shopping with some friends and I’d just said goodbye to them to head back home by way of the metro. Just next to the metro entrance, the street was completely packed with a parade of Gilets Jaunes, shouting and singing, but not breaking anything. In order to get to the metro, I had to go through them. Carefully, I joined in with the group and slipped out on the other side of the road unharmed. No one wanted to hurt someone who was passing by because those are not the people that the Gilets Jaunes want to express their frustrations with.

While similar situations have occurred multiple times for me, I know some people who haven’t been as lucky with their Gilets Jaunes experiences. A group of students my age were leaving a store when they found themselves in between the police and the Gilets Jaunes. They got sprayed with tear gas! Unfortunately, there are run-ins like this between police and Gilets Jaunes fairly frequently and I’ve almost had the same thing happen to me.

One day after class, I wanted to go buy a crepe by the Seine because that’s where you can find them fresh and extremely cheap. I took the metro to Place de la Concorde which is right next to where I’d previously seen these crepe stands. A little bit of background, Place de la Concorde is well-known because it was where thousands of people were guillotined during the French Revolution, and has since been a popular place for other protests due to its historical relevance. When I got up the stairs out of the metro, I was met with the sight of Gilets Jaunes on my left and the Gendarmerie (the French riot police) on my right. I stopped in my tracks and considered: was the crepe worth it? That question was answered fairly quickly as I saw some casseurs already starting to pick fights. I immediately retreated into the metro, the crepe completely forgotten. A woman passed me as I headed back in and she asked me if where I was coming from was an exit. I told her yes, but that I wouldn’t recommend it because there was a confrontation happening there. This is the advice that I would give to everyone who asks me about the Gilets Jaunes: don’t go looking for them, and when something doesn’t feel right or when you see them and the police together, avoid them at all costs. For my friends that got tear gassed, it is unfortunate that that happened to them. However, part of staying safe is being smart about where you go and being flexible with your schedule. If I were in the same situation as my friends, instead of leaving the store, I would have stayed inside and waited until the coast was clear because safety is much more important.

I think that explains pretty well the part of the warning about “civil unrest” and now for the “terrorism” aspect.

The Monday after the Gilets Jaunes’ most violent weekend, I was eating breakfast and listening to the radio with my host mom, Katherine. The radio hosts were discussing new measures that would be taken in order to combat the violent activities of some Gilets Jaunes. They explained that after all of the vandalism committed by certain casseurs, the French government would be releasing the national army to protect national monuments. What they said next I didn’t quite understand so Katherine helped better explain it. She told me that when someone commits an act such as vandalizing a national monument in France, they are no longer a criminal, they are considered a terrorist. This is where I think something has been lost in translation. Over the past months that I have been here, I have heard nothing about any terrorist groups plotting any attacks in Paris from any of the media outlets that I have been following. I was quite shocked when I heard that terrorism was one of the factors cited by the U.S. Embassy for raising this advisory. This isn’t to say that there is no possibility of some kind of attack being plotted against Paris, it’s just to say that I haven’t heard or read anything about it. That being said, this “terrorism” that the U.S. Embassy has discussed is possibly linked more with a situation that has been misinterpreted or that they have intelligence that has not been released to the general public.

If, in fact, there were to be some type of extreme danger in Paris, similar to the attacks of November 13, 2015, quite frankly, I would be scared. And, I came to France knowing that that event took place in the city that I would be moving to. However, I am also from a country that has been the setting of various acts of terrorism and I’m not afraid to live there, so why should I be afraid to live here? In fact, I believe that at one point other countries had placed high travel advisories on travel to the United States due to our policies on guns.

In short, yes, I do feel safe in France as I know that I’m at just as high a risk of becoming a victim of violence here or anywhere else in the world. I won’t spend my time worrying about the possibility of being attacked when I could be out exploring the beautiful country I’m in. Life is too short to live in fear of the “what-ifs”.

So now that I’ve talked about the biggest concerns that people have about the safety of France as a whole, I’ll cover some more frequent causes for worry for those who plan to visit, or know someone visiting Paris.

 

PICKPOCKETS and SCAMMERS

When I originally told people that I was going to study in Paris, one of the first questions to come up was “oh, but what if you get pickpocketed?” and then they would proceed to tell me some story about their second cousin’s spouse who got robbed on the streets of Paris. I’ll be frank with this one: I have never *knock on wood* been pickpocketed; I’ll explain how while we talk about why certain people get targeted more commonly by pickpocketers than others.

There’s a couple speaking loudly in a language that is not French in the metro. They are in their sixties wearing backpacks on their fronts and looking at their handy-dandy pocket map of Paris. As they filter out of the train and up the stairs to street level, a young man trips on the stairs in front of them. While the nice couple is helping this young guy up, another person comes and snatches the older man’s wallet from his pocket. It isn’t until five minutes later that the man reaches into his pocket to find that his wallet is missing. This is one of the stories that I heard during my orientation here and it demonstrates exactly what not to do in Paris in order to not get pickpocketed.

Quite likely, the primary factor that makes someone a target is how they dress. If you’re wearing a backpack on your chest you may as well have a massive neon flashing sign pointing to yourself with the word “TOURIST” written out on it. Literally, no Parisian person ever does this. And while you think you’re being smart about not letting someone open your backpack without you looking, really you’re just doing yourself a disservice by indicating to everyone who sees you that you do not live here and as such, you are vulnerable because you don’t know the local tricks that thieves use to rob you. Inversely, so many people come to Paris on vacation to enjoy all the amazing things that the city has to offer, one of the most popular being French fashion. I kid you not, I have seen people in head-to- toe couture with their designer handbags and thousands of dollars in jewelry. This is just as bad as tourist fashion. Basically, when people dress like this they are advertising to people that they are wealthy, and therefore make themselves targets for pickpockets. Essentially, a happy medium between American tourist and fashion blogger is the way to go because you can blend in, and ultimately avoid unwanted attention from thieves.

Sometimes, blending in just doesn’t work out so here are a couple solutions to keep pickpockets at bay and protect yourself the best that you can.

If you are really worried about someone taking something from your bag without your knowledge, keep valuables in zipped pockets, money belts, or in the innermost parts of your backpack. One word of caution about keeping valuables in bags is that it is not uncommon for people to cut open bags with knives. Please be cautious about what you choose to carry your belongings in. One of the girls I met during my study abroad orientation told me she didn’t want to wear a backpack so she got a sturdy shoulder bag that zips. She could blend in better with the French and keep an eye on her bag if she ever felt like she might be the target of pickpocketing.

It’s also a really good idea to research common scams or techniques that pickpockets use to steal from you. Most Parisians are incredibly familiar with all of them so they know how to recognize a trap when they see one. Familiarize yourself with common schemes so that you don’t have to become a victim. Before I came to France, I watched a lot of videos about scams that specifically target tourists in Paris. If you’re curious, this is the best one that I’ve found:

As someone who has been in Paris for over three months, I feel like I know how to blend in enough so as not to make myself a target. Even so, if it were to happen despite preventative measures, the best solution is to be as loud as possible and make a scene because that is the exact opposite of what thieves want. They will abandon ship as soon as you start to draw attention to the fact that they were trying to rob you, so it’s best not to be shy.

 

AS A WOMAN IN A BIG CITY

I will admit that as a female in Paris, sometimes I do not feel incredibly safe. In discussing with lots of other women here, they all have really similar experiences. They’ve all had experiences in their day-to-day lives where certain men have made them feel really uncomfortable, to say the least.

One of the teachers at CIEE, a parisienne through and through, spoke about getting in the metro and having men just stare at her, and not in a good way either. This is actually something that I’ve experienced quite frequently and it is incredibly uncomfortable. They just stare at you and when you make eye contact they don’t look away. I’ve never felt unsafe or threatened when this kind of situation has occurred because there are plenty of other people around, but really the only word I can use to describe it is unsettling.

Aside from weird eye contact, there is also the matter of catcalling. Of all of my female friends that I’ve talked to, literally every one of them have been catcalled at least once since they’ve been in Paris. This is pretty generous of a statistic to give because it does happen quite frequently. However, this happens pretty much everywhere else in the world so unfortunately, as a woman, I just have to ignore it in the hopes that the man won’t continue.

Lastly, walking alone at night. Paris is known as the City of Lights which is nice for us gals who are walking back home at night. Paris itself is really well-lit at night so it’s not like you are walking around in complete darkness! Whenever I have to walk in the dark, I don’t exactly feel scared doing so. It is so well-lit and there are usually always people out because it is such a touristy city. I wouldn’t say I necessarily recommend walking alone at night because I don’t, but I also won’t say that I feel afraid doing so. That being said, it’s also a good idea to consider asking a friend to walk with you to your neighborhood and definitely try to avoid distractions like using your phone or listening to music until you are safely inside.

All in all, Paris is not a city to let your guard down in, but it also isn’t a place that should seem intimidating or scary. As long as you are well-informed and smart about what you do and where you go, it’s more than likely that you’ll have a safe and pleasant stay in Paris.

5 things that happened after I sprained my ankle in Paris

So a little bit of background: I really like to run so as I’ve been in Paris I’ve made it a habit to go out running a couple days out of the week. Right next to my apartment in Paris is the Bois de Boulogne (see my post La Maison Française for more information) which is where I like to run because it’s a nice change of scenery from the mostly concrete city in which I live. Essentially, it’s a huge park with dirt trails and lots of rocks so it’s definitely best to watch your step. However, one day I was running and I definitely did not look where I was going and, sparing you the not so fun details, I now have a sprained ankle:)

Now, normally a sprained ankle isn’t really that big of a deal because it’ll heal in a couple of weeks and not be a big problem, BUT, that has not been the case for me. A couple of years ago, I sprained the same ankle pretty badly so this new sprain is healing over scar tissue which makes the process much, much longer. It has now been around a month since I’ve royally messed up my ankle and it is still a ways away from being up for anything more than a brisk walk. That being said, in the time that I’ve been sidelined I’ve devised a list of five things that happened after I sprained my ankle (in France!):

1. I learned how to take a break: When I got to Paris I was overwhelmed with all of the things that I wanted to see and do. Up until I sprained my ankle, I was using all my spare time outside of class and on homework to cram everything into the short time that I’m here. The day after I sprained my ankle I spent the entire day in bed and it was so nice! Katherine gave me books on Paris that let me see all of the things that I hadn’t yet been able to see in person. I started reading Harry Potter in French, and spent some much needed time on Netflix. That’s not to say that that is what every day since then has been like, but it definitely showed me that I can still be enjoying my experience here without having to constantly be going somewhere to see something.

                                                Exploring Paris from home!

2. I learned to enjoy just walking without a destination: Running was my primary source of exercise when I came to France so I was really upset when, all of a sudden, I couldn’t do that anymore. So, I turned to walking. Instead of just walking around the Bois de Boulogne (I was overwhelmed with a feeling of betrayal from my accident), I opted to walk around and see the sights I hadn’t yet experienced in Paris. I used to be so focused on doing all the touristy spots. However, from just walking around I found so many cute places that, dare I say, are even better than some of the main attractions.

3. I learned that it’s okay to say no: A lot of my friends here really like to go out and explore whenever they have free time. I do too, but sometimes I really just want to be on my own and take things in at my own pace. My ankle gave me an excuse, but gradually I learned that I shouldn’t need one. You are 100% allowed to say no to your friends, and they will understand. Sometimes you just want to be by yourself to think and breathe and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

4. I learned SO MUCH FRENCH: Alright so this may be a bit of a strong statement, but right now I feel fairly confident in my language skills and really do feel like I’ve improved. Since I’ve had to spend a lot more time resting at home, I’ve passed a good portion of my time talking with my host mom, Katherine. Meals in France take a long time to make, especially if you have a host mom like mine who loves to talk; which is something I appreciate about her. Normally I would go running in the morning on weekends and would miss eating breakfast with Katherine. However, I couldn’t do that so we have pretty extensive breakfasts and conversations that last long after we’ve finished our bread and coffee. At the start of the semester, I mostly just let her talk because I didn’t understand everything and it was really hard to interject. Now it’s much more of an actual conversation. Mostly we talk about the news since we listen to that on the radio over breakfast, but she also tells me lots of stories from when she was my age. I tell her about my family back home and how things are different there from how they are here.

5. I learned to relax the way Parisians do: While walking I found my way into Jardin du Luxembourg, a massive park on the Left Bank with lots of trees and green space which is hard to come by in Paris. The day that I found it happened to be one of the first really beautiful spring days so, naturally, it was packed with people. Luckily I was able to find an empty lawn chair in the sun and sat there for a couple of hours, just reading my book and enjoying the fresh spring air.

                                   Reading in the Jardin du Luxembourg

This last one reminded me of a conversation I had with my sister, who is also studying abroad this semester. She recounted a story of her sitting near a lake, just relaxing. The sun was shining brightly and the sky a perfectly clear blue. For just a moment when she closed her eyes she told me it felt as if she was back home. A second later she opened her eyes to remind herself that, in fact, she wasn’t anywhere near home. Looking back, I realize that I had the exact same feeling that day in the park and it was incredibly bittersweet. I miss home (a lot), but Paris is my home now, too. Even when I’m gone for just a weekend I find myself wanting to be back in this beautiful city.

Right now my life is divided between Minnesota home, Hope home and Paris home, and running was my constant. It was my way of coping with homesickness and helped me feel a little more at ease with my environment. It was really difficult to suddenly not have that anymore. To be honest, I was really frustrated by what I couldn’t do, but somehow I found experiences that are even better. I’m not saying I’m glad that I messed up my ankle because it has definitely not been fun. Yet, I’m grateful for the new perspective it has given me.

Back to Routine

We are back in the swing of things here at USFQ! After a much needed and beautiful spring break adventure, school is back in full swing. The past two weeks have been getting back into a rhythm, but with a change in perspective. Over the past week, I have finished up midterms and have begun to get a glimpse of what the second half of my time abroad will entail.

This week marked exactly 2 months until I come home! In some ways that practically feels like tomorrow, while in other ways, I feel overwhelmed by all that has yet to happen. This mid-term week provided time to reflect. Through IES, I was encouraged to discuss the things that have gone well so far with my classes, my host family, and simply living in the Ecuadorian culture. Of course, we were then asked to specify changes we would like to see for the second half of this journey in regards to each of these areas.

Reflecting is one way for me to decompress, and also to look forward in hope. In the midst of the daily joys and trials, I often lose perspective of the bigger picture of my ‘why’ for being in Ecuador. Crossing the halfway point was almost like a flip of a switch for me; a night and day difference of mentality. May no longer sounds so daunting, and 4.5 months in another country is beginning to feel like such a small component of life’s journey. Having only 2 months to go fills my heart with gratitude for the growth that has already sprouted within me. I’m even more excited to see what that little sprout looks like in 2 more months.

What a difference the changing of a month can make! What I mean by that is, how good it felt when January turned into February and when February turned into March. Each month is one step closer of achieving a goal, growing through an experience, and living differently which has encouraged me to keep pressing into my time in Ecuador. These month changes feel a bit different now as April approaches; as the end begins to feel more real. May didn’t really feel like it would ever come in January or February, but now I know it is just around the corner. I have destinations on my bucket list and final projects in classes to complete all before mid-May, and oh how I’ve realized that it will be here in the blink of an eye.

I am grateful for a time of reflection over the past two weeks, an encouraged and refreshed mind, and hope for the opportunities yet to come in my final 2 months abroad! Praise be to God for His faithfulness, and making beauty out of ashes, the ashes where my mind began my journey abroad.