An Open Letter to Pre-Study-Abroad-Me

Hi Em,

I know you’re scared out of your wits right now, even though you’re too proud to admit it. As much as you want to put on a brave face for your mom, who will worry about you for the entirety of the time that you’re away from her, it’s okay that you’re scared. Believe me, a little fear keeps you on your toes.

Whatever they told you in the off-campus orientation, remember it, but don’t cling to it. Ultimately, this is your experience which is completely unique to you so don’t leave expecting that everything will be exactly like what people had told you it was going to be. I know it was fun to hear from other students who had studied in France before you, but you can’t always expect their highs and lows to be the same as yours. I know you want to speak French all the time with your classmates and have a really awesome professor, but you have to go in with an open mind. At the same time, what was difficult for others might not be difficult for you. Regardless, listen to other people’s stories, but don’t cling to them as your reality.

When you meet people who act and believe in ways different than what you’re used to, don’t shun them, befriend them. You wanted to get out and meet ALL different types of people so do it! These new friends are going to be your lifeline for the next four months. Be open and try to understand where they come from before you make up your mind about who they are and what they stand for.

FOMO is real, but believe me, you are not missing out. It’s really hard to say goodbye to all of your friends, knowing that you won’t see the majority of them until the fall. But, the journey that you’re about to embark on is far more important than worrying about what’s going on back home without you. Knowing that life is going on without you there is a hard pill to swallow, but you ultimately have to trust in the strength of the relationships you’ve formed and believe that what was meant to be will be. Your friends will not forget you.

For goodness’ sake don’t stop learning. Yes, you have accepted the task of attending school in a foreign country, but that’s only one of the environments in which you’re going to learn in. The whole of France is your classroom so get out and learn about it! Not everything can be learned from a teacher or a textbook. The other side of it is experience and you have the perfect opportunity right here to go and experience all that you can and grow from it.

Sit down and have a conversation with your host mom. She may tell you the same stories over and over again, but with each repeated story, she always has something different to say. I know it’s intimidating to speak more than you listen when using a foreign language, but the more effort you put into telling Katherine about yourself and what you think, the better she can get to know you. She might even learn a thing or two. You tend to rush through your meals at home, but in France we take them very seriously so make sure to dedicate time to them. A meal is the greatest opportunity you have to really get to know someone. Sit down and relax over mealtime instead of jumping immediately into the next task at hand.

Don’t be so stingy. It’s scary to look at your bank account and know that you only have x-amount to get you through the entire semester, but don’t skip out on the things you enjoy just so that you can have a little extra cash. Go out to the cafe, have lunch with your friends, take that weekend getaway you’ve been thinking about for a month. You and your wallet will make it through just fine.

Your parents miss you, call them!

People will try to tell you that, because you’re abroad, you have no excuse to feel unpleasant emotions. Don’t listen to them. Just because you are in an incredibly beautiful corner of the world doing what you’ve always dreamed of, it does not mean that any of your emotions are invalid. It’s perfectly acceptable to be down and upset. It’s okay to feel loss. Of course you want to be happy because of the amazing opportunity you’ve been granted, but that doesn’t mean you will always feel like that. Your emotions don’t have a GPS; you will feel how you feel regardless of your geography.

Lastly, when you get home you might feel overwhelmed with everything: a different environment, responsibilities you haven’t had to think about for months, and people who haven’t the slightest idea about what you just experienced. All of this, at once, is a lot to deal with and you are perfectly valid in feeling as if you don’t belong in the very place that you once called home. You’re different now and so is the way in which you see things. Give yourself time to process through these emotions. You were just living life at a million miles a minute, it’s okay to slow down and re-introduce yourself to this society.

These coming months will be quite arguably the most intense and incredible of your entire life. You will meet so many people; you can’t possibly remember all of their names. You will go to places you never thought you’d make it to so soon. You will make memories you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life. Soak it all in and don’t regret even a second of it because it’s going to be amazing.

With love,



Wading in Wadis

This past weekend, I jumped off a cliff!

Well not exactly, but it was still really high. Our group went out to a place called Wadi Shab on Saturday. We also visited a place called the sinkhole. Suffice it to say, there were a lot of rocks and water involved. A wadi is a stream bed that is typically filled by rainwater. Wadi Shab is one that is often filled with water (I think). However, before we actually got to the wadi, we had to hike. And even before the hike, we had to take a short boat ride to get to the side where the hike began. It wasn’t the longest or roughest hike, but it was fairly difficult. The only thing that made it hard was the fact that almost all the rock we walked on was smooth and slippery. On top of all of that, I am very afraid of heights; just over 70% of the hike was on steep cliffs. I could be exaggerating, but it was a lot of single-filed cliff maneuvering!

Once we got to the wadi, we got into our swimsuits and began wading through the shallow water. It was about a five-minute trek before we got to a point where we could swim. Yet, just like the hike to the wadi, the water was littered with large mossy rocks, and many in our group (mainly me) took a few tumbles after slipping off the slick surfaces. The only upside was that the water was there to catch us! We finally made it to the deepest part of the wadi, where there was a small rope attached to the rock outcropping. I, along with one of our director’s young girls, took turns climbing the rope and leaping off the edge of the rocks! After a bit of the rock jumping, my classmate Anna and I ventured into the cave just a few feet from where the girls and I were jumping.

To get into the cave, we had to swim through an opening that was barely wider than my shoulders. We ended up doing a kind of side crawl along the wall of the cave opening. We used a very tiny ledge and moved in a single file. The small entrance gave way to a large cave with a small waterfall inside! Right where the waterfall was, there was a much larger rope that many people were using to climb up the waterfall. I did not witness many people going all the way up the rope because, I assume, the rock was extremely slippery and the rock was quite steep. Most people made it halfway and would jump from there. It looked to be about 8-10 feet above the surface of the water! I decided to pass on the opportunity to jump from that rope, but I did enjoy just swimming around the cave.

After leaving the cave and spending a bit more time playing with the smaller rope, our group began heading back. We went back to our vehicles on, roughly, the same route. I decided to attempt a shortcut after getting a bit lost and ended up sinking thigh deep into a marsh that looked like grass! Luckily, I was still in my swimsuit and some shorts so very little damage was done. Well, except for my pride.

Once we got across the small river on the same boat, we went to a small Bangladeshi restaurant. We had quite the feast of stewed lentils, grilled fish, biryani rice, beef stew, flatbread, and the list goes on! Due to how deliciously distracting our lunch was, I had forgotten that we had one more destination before heading home. We got into the cars and made our way to the sinkhole.
At the sinkhole, a few of the women in my group and I decided to go down the three-ish flights of steps to the actual body of water. My friend Anna and I were the only two that decided to attempt jumping off the edge of the rock outcropping. I started out by heading to a spot I had seen a man climbing. After a few steps, however, I quickly discovered that I would have two options. The first being to turn around and try to climb up from the water (we had already tried unsuccessfully) or proceed with the second option (because I was stubborn and determined to make the jump) to continue this ‘hike’ down a balance beam width off hang. It started out just fine until we reached a boulder that took up all but three inches of the path we were heading down! I pretended to know what I was doing and I tried my hand at getting around this giant obstacle. It was only by God’s grace that either of us made it to the other side of the boulder, and didn’t end up falling into the very rocky part of the sinkhole. Finally, after going through all of that, we reached the place we were hoping to get to. Well, at least we figured it was far enough. After a count of three, I jumped off my second 2-meter cliff!

I really enjoyed seeing all the landscapes Oman had to offer, this past weekend. The water, the rocks, and the marsh! It was all so different and exciting, and I regret nothing I did; no matter how terrified I was. It helped to have gone on these adventures with people I can have fun with, despite my fears. The moral of this post is that I am now the new “Indiana Jones,” and you can find me jumping off rock formations in Oman in the name or heroism! (I’m fairly sure for copyright reasons I can’t actually say that, but I’m an adventurer now and I live on the edge)!

The scene from the hike before the wadi


My friends and I walking through the first half of the wadi



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.

Arabian Nights

Arabian Nights

Last weekend, my classmates and I got the wonderful opportunity to attend a show at the Royal Opera House in Muscat! The show had performances of traditional Arabic music. Although I couldn’t understand a single word of it, it was amazing! The upbeat rhythms and the syncopated accompaniment of the harp-like instrument and tambourine was something I was not very familiar with. The vocalists were incredible and each had their own genre-specialization.

The show began with a male vocalist, Mohamed Al Jebali. Many of his selections were upbeat and quickly cadenced. He sang so beautifully and he had incredible runs. However, the runs were extremely different from the western music many of us are familiar with. The way he sang, he used a technique very similar to vibrato. It sounded similar to the vibrato on a string instrument, but not quite. On top of the very difficult runs, he would hold long notes for 15 or more seconds! He was an extremely talented vocalist. In addition to his voice, it was interesting to hear how different instruments were used and amplified in different songs and throughout some songs. The hand drum, I think, was the most interesting to hear and watch. The technique was similar to the kind used when playing the tambourine. Yet, there were some songs that the drummer would produce, quick sixteenth notes with one hand, and it was difficult to tell how they did that. The entire experience was new and exciting. Although I was not sure what the words were or what they meant, I could really appreciate the vocalist and the accompanying band.

After intermission, the next vocalist, Leila Hejaiej came out. She seemed to be well known by the audience and well liked. Many of her songs differed from the songs of the first vocalist in the sense that they reminded me more of ballads. It was very interesting to witness how many songs resonated with the audience. There was more than one moment that the instrumental would start and people would begin clapping along with the beat. This hadn’t happened in the previous performance, which I found a bit odd. Then I started to get the feeling that the songs the female vocalist had chosen were folk-type songs that many members of the audience knew, and knew well. At certain points, in some songs, she would be singing and she would then cue to the audience, and they would respond by singing what seemed to be the correct part. It was very interesting to witness a performance that was so interactive after just witnessing a performance that was not. I enjoyed being in a space where the performance of traditional Arab music became a celebration of tradition.  When she was finished with her set, the female vocalist gave a speech and invited the male vocalist back on stage. They finished the night with a set of duets, and then it was all over.

It was such an incredible experience to witness a culture through its music. In the time we had been living here, most of our cultural knowledge came from the classroom or field trips. Though I couldn’t understand the words, the music still told a story I could follow. The vocalists’ voices painted a picture. The performances I witnessed Friday night added to my understanding of the culture I was in. I was able to appreciate Oman’s beauty from a different perspective, and I am so thankful to have gotten the opportunity.

We weren’t allowed to take any photos in the auditorium so we took a picture in front of it

We also had a dress code to adhere to so we took cute pictures of our nice outfits


A Once in a Lifetime Chance

Earlier this week my group and I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to the United Arab Emirates. We were there to witness and participate in the Papal mass in Abu Dhabi! It was the most surreal experience I think I have ever had. Getting there and returning back was really difficult, but I would go through it all again just to experience something so extraordinary one more time.

The mass was on the 5th so we left a day early to make sure we would have ample time to get to Abu Dhabi, and the stadium the mass was held in. We left before the sun rose and arrived in the late afternoon. We took advantage of our time in another predominantly Muslim country to explore the different buildings of worship.

First, we visited the church because we were out around the time the Muslim evening prayers were happening. The church we visited was called St. Andrews Anglican Church. We went on a tour and learned about the church and its history. The actual building hosts over 45 different Christian congregations. I thought the church was especially interesting because it had been in the country for 50 years. The Emirati government allowed the church to be established in the 60s by the Anglican missionaries who helped build up the country’s medical infrastructure. I think the culture of religious tolerance, that began so long ago with this partnership, lead to the events of the pope presiding a mass in the UAE.

After the visit to the church and the evening prayers, we made our way to the Grand Mosque. It was really interesting to see the Emirati Grand Mosque after already having seen the Omani Grand Mosque. It was difficult to be subjective when going through the house of worship, but I enjoyed it. The compound the mosque is on is ginormous and it is as detailed as the actual building. One thing I really enjoyed is the serenity the fountains and lights gave the mosque. The courtyard is decorated with meters of crystal-clear water illuminated by soft blue lights and the light flowing from inside the mosque itself. It was so extremely surreal to be in a Muslim majority country, in a Muslim house of worship, knowing the next day I would be attending a historic event for Muslims and Christians alike.  All in all, the mosque was a wonderful experience and it was interesting to compare the different stylistic choices in both of the grand mosques I had seen.

The morning of mass had finally arrived. The only problem was that we had to queue for the bus at 3:00 am. We woke up around 2:15 to be out of the hotel in time to get to the bus stop. We had about a 15-minute walk to the bus stop. The only way we could get to mass was by regulated buses provided by the Emirati government because no cars were allowed anywhere near the stadium. That being said, they were Abu Dhabi public buses that had routes to complete so they ran from 2:30- 5:00 am. We waited in line for about 90 minutes before we got onto a bus. We arrived at the stadium around 6:15 am; the mass began at 10:30 am. Although we woke up early, we had a chance to get a quick nap in before the service actually started.

Around 8 am, the stadium began to fill up and spirits were rising.  People began chanting and doing the wave! It was incredible to see so many Christians, from all over the world and from different denominations, celebrating and worshiping together! I loved seeing how many Emiratis and Muslims were attending, as well. It was truly an image of tolerance and acceptance. The anticipation was so intense that when the pope arrived in his vehicle, the crowd erupted! The cacophony of the attendees lasted for minutes! When everything finally calmed down, the service began.

The Pope’s homily was completely in Latin so I didn’t understand much. However, there were screens with English translations on them. I gathered that he was preaching of tolerance and acceptance. The homily that was so fitting for the situation we were in: a Muslim majority country working on its religious tolerance. After the Pope’s sermon, he was escorted off the stage and mass proceeded like any other mass. At the end of the full service, the choir sang a sort of outro as everyone filed out of the stadium into chaos.

I will forever remember being a part of something so monumental and inspirational. I am so grateful for all of our coordinators that helped get us to where we were. I will hold an extremely touching and beautiful service in my heart. I will never forget the struggle of getting to and from the auditorium, and staying awake after getting two hours of sleep! Overall, the experience was one for the books and will continue to impact my life.

The arena was very dark and fairly empty when we got there.

The sun had begun to rise and the stage looked heavenly!

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”.

Interning at Intersect Madrid


**English at the bottom**

Genevieve y Joe organizando un evento de Open Mic en febrero de 2019.

Hace tres meses que tuve mi entrevista con Intersect Madrid. Durante la entrevista, hablamos sobre el inicio de la organizacion, así que pude entender las ganas de Genevieve y los líderes de Intersect Madrid, llamados Harshal, Joe, y Lela. Es una organización de las relaciones interpersonales acerca de temas de diversidad en el trabajo y en la vida diaria aquí en España. Anteriormente, solo se enfocó en las relaciones raciales. Desde 2016, Genevieve ha desarrollado la organización para la comunidad de los extranjeros que hablan inglés y para crear un espacio de colaboración entre los hispanohablantes y los anglófonos, ayudar con el desarrollo del informe de impacto, actividades para las talleres, y unos proyectos nuevos. Mi trabajo consiste en hacer el informe de impacto, tengo que utilizar el portfolio de Race Relations Madrid.

Anteriormente, Intersect Madrid se llamaba Race Relations Madrid. El portfolio ya tiene todos los eventos del inicio de la organización. Utilizo estos datos para empezar a ordenar los eventos que han ocurrido y los impactos que Genevieve notó ya. Después de ordenar, tengo que traducirlo a español. A parte de eso, hago un plan de actividades nuevas para los talleres de educación. Intersect Madrid hace los talleres de educación para ayudar a la comunidad de extranjeros de color y anglófonos con temas de discriminación y prejuicios en el sistema de educación en España. Ya he tenido mucha experiencia con el manejo de conflictos acerca del tema de diversidad e inclusión.

Hicimos un taller el 9 de marzo a las 4 y media acerca del tema Challenging Blackface in the Classroom. Consistía en una colaboración con un colectivo local que se llama Black View. Es un grupo de actores en Madrid que quiere expandir los papeles que pueden hacer los actores negros de España. También lucha contra el Blackface aquí en España. ¿Sabes que es Blackface? Mucha gente de los EE.UU ya sabe que es porque durante el principio del siglo 19 había espectáculos llamados ministriles que demostraban imágenes, obras de teatro, caricaturas, y más para burlarse de los afroamericanos. Aquí en España se aparece durante carnaval, Halloween, y una tradición de los tres reyes magos, específicamente en Alcoy. Ya existe el problema de blackface y la ignorancia de las consecuencias en los demás. Blackview lucha contra la idea de que no hay actores negros para hacer los papeles y que no pueden hacer papeles a parte de esclavos o prostitutos. Su misión es desmantelar los estereotipos de negros, presentarles como actores en la comunidad de actores españoles, y ser referentes.

Durante el taller, hicieron hincapié en el punto de que no son afroamericanos y tienen que luchar por su propia historia y presencia aquí en España, aunque se respeten y admiren la lucha de los afroamericanos en cinema estadounidense. Inmediatamente, Intersect Madrid le ofrece a los auxiliares algunas actividades y planes de leccion para discutir la presencia de blackface aquí en España. Por ejemplo, para los niños en la primaria, es útil que los auxiliares les enseñen a los estudiantes algunos términos básicos como “burlarse” en inglés.


Yo, respondiendo a los organizadores con mi opinion como siempre jaja

Para hacerlo interactivo, les dicen que traigan unas fotos de revistas o álbumes de la familia de carnaval para hablar de las apariencias de blackface. Harshil y Leela del equipo Intersect Madrid les daban a los auxiliares un paquete con todas las actividades que desarrollaron y más recursos para amplificar el impacto en los estudiantes. Fue un gran éxito. He tenido mucha suerte con esta práctica y el equipo en un país que no tiene mucha diversidad ni idea de los retos que tienen en el mundo las personas de color. Hago mis propios talleres en los meses que vienen y espero que os diga más de esos temas y mi experiencia dentro de la práctica en Madrid.


Genevieve and Joe hosting an Open Mic event in February 2019.


I had an interview with Intersect Madrid three months ago. During the interview, we talked about the start of the organization so I could understand their goals. The team leaders are Genevieve, Harshal, Joe, and Lela. It is an organization of interpersonal relationships about diversity issues at work and in daily life here in Spain. Previously, it only concentrated on race relations. However, since 2016, Genevieve has developed the organization for the community of foreigners who speak English and to create a space for collaboration between Spanish speakers and English speakers. My job is to help with the development of the impact report, activities for the workshops, and some new projects. In order to make the impact report, I have to use the Race Relations Madrid portfolio. Previously, Intersect Madrid was called Race Relations Madrid. The portfolio already has all the events from the beginning of the organization. I use this data to start chronologically ordering the events that have occurred and the impacts that the team has noticed already. Afterwards, I have to translate it into Spanish. Apart from that, I make a plan of new activities for the education workshops. Intersect Madrid conducts education workshops to help the community of foreigners of color and English speakers with issues of discrimination and prejudice in the education system in Spain. I have already had a lot of experience with conflict management on the issue of diversity and inclusion.

We did a workshop on March 9th on the theme Challenging Blackface in the Classroom. It consisted of a collaboration with a local collective called Black View. It is a group of actors in Madrid who want to expand the roles that black actors in Spain can play. They also fight against the use of Blackface here in Spain. Do you know what Blackface is? Many people in the US are familiar with it because in the beginning of the 19th century there were shows called minstrels that would show images, plays, cartoons, and more to mock and discriminate against African Americans. Here in Spain it appears during Carnival, Halloween, and a tradition of the Three Wise Men, specifically in Alcoy. There is already the problem of blackface and the ignorance of the consequences in others. Blackview works to change the idea that there are no black actors to do the roles and the idea that they cannot do roles apart from slaves or prostitutes. Their mission statement is to dismantle the stereotypes of blacks, to present them as actors in the community of Spanish actors, and to be referents.

During the workshop, the point emphasized was that they are not African-American and have to fight for their own history and presence here in Spain. Nevertheless, they respect and admire the struggle of African-Americans in American cinema. Immediately, Intersect Madrid offered to the teacher assistants some activities and lesson plans to discuss the presence of blackface here in Spain. For example, for children in elementary school, it is helpful for assistants to teach students some basic terms such as “mocking” or “making fun of” in English.

Me responding  and adding on to the presentation ( as always haha)

To make it interactive, they are told to bring some pictures of magazines or family carnival albums to talk about the appearances of blackface. Harshil and Leela gave the assistants a package with all the activities they developed and more resources to amplify the impact on the students. It was a success! I have had a lot of luck with this internship and the team in a country that does not have much diversity or idea of ​​the challenges it perpetuates in the world for people of color. I will do my own workshops in the coming months and I hope to tell you more about those topics and my experience as an intern in Madrid. So stay tuned!

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



I’ve been abroad for almost three months now, and so much has changed. As you could imagine, my perspective on life has changed, but I’ve undergone other huge changes as well. So many that I don’t know where to begin. 

For about a month in a half, I was in a shared apartment with 4 other girls: three white Americans and one Spanish graduate student. Quite frankly, this was a recipe for disaster. Many white Americans are just not culturally competent enough to live with a person of color(s) without a lot of tension. To be more specific, in a majority white European country, there is an added level of cultural pressure on the person of color. I could never catch a break because I was constantly in an environment in which I was seen and treated differently because of the color of my skin and/or the culture I was raised in.

“Did you just say, “The Italian?” said one of my housemates, who we’ll call Jessica. She often made remarks about me speaking Ebonics to the point that I would just answer all calls to my family behind a closed door. “You say your opinion a lot,” said Karen, another housemate, to me because she didn’t understand why I would actually talk about conflict when it arose. “Yeah, she said you’re such a b-word,” a friend told me after overhearing Dawn, another housemate, complain about how sassy I am. “The Sassy Black Girl” or The Angry Black Woman” stereotypes have been given to me so much I stopped responding to it with concern and realize this was unacceptable for me to have to explain myself and undergo constant cultural rejection and micro-aggression. This was not the right environment for me. Week two of the program, I talked with one of the coordinators and it was followed up with a meeting on week five in which I was given the option to move into a homestay. I moved out less than a week later.

In my homestay, there is an older Spanish woman who’s inherited a luxurious apartment with a terrace in the center of the city. She’s never been married and does not have any kids apart from two neighborhood kids who come by every weekend. Like any typical Spanish person, she loves to talk, stay up late, smoke and drink beer. Although she sometimes mothers me more than I’d like, she is an amazing woman who has lived a very full life and still has so much more ahead of her. Physically, I am in a completely different environment and full Spanish immersion because she knows very little English.

The first week in my new home, I took a trip back to Valencia to visit my host family from over the summer. They haven’t changed a bit. I realized how well I got to know them and missed them even in my time away. It felt like I actually had a family here in Spain. We spent time together in the city on Saturday, and a few hours at home on Sunday. It was nice to see that I made an impression on them when I sometimes don’t seem to notice that I have that effect on people.

It’s interesting now to compare the two experiences I have had in Spain with two different families. To give your more of an idea of that experience, I’ll give a comparison to the US. Imagine having lived two months with a family in New Jersey and a separate set of months with a family from Alabama. It would be pretty different right? This is exactly my experience here. My host family in Valencia speaks a different language, it’s similar to Catalan, and Spanish as a second language. I could understand a good amount of it because of my background in French and Spanish, however, I would have to concentrate way more than with Spanish. When they would switch back to speaking Spanish it was as clear as someone speaking English to me, and my head would hurt a lot less as you could imagine. They live closer to the sea so they have a lot more traditional seafood dishes worked into their diets. In contrast, my current host mom is from Andalusia which has its own culture and dialect of Spanish that is spoken. I understand them pretty well because I have a lot of friends from Seville, but sometimes it can be difficult because of the different words and phrases that they use on top of the accent. All in all, it’s really beautiful to see how their history affects their culture and changes my experience as an outsider. I can tell you more about this in a different blog because I learned a lot about how these cultural shifts came to be, through my Religion and Society class. Just stay tuned. Also, I’ll upload another video of my time in Valencia on YouTube so check it out when you get the chance!