Forget the Bucket List

Within my 21 years of life, my biggest passion has been traveling. I have had a travel bucket list as long as I ca remember. The danger in the bucket list is that it limits you. You become so attached to the cities that you want to visit, and you forget that there’s so much more. One of the saddest realities that has hit me this trip is how touristy and commercialized some cities have become. Being a Floridian, I know how great of a business tourism can be. Yet, you can see how the influx of people etches away the authenticity of the local.

This past weekend I visited three different cities in the Netherlands: Amsterdam, The Hague, and Delft. Of the three I was originally the most excited about Amsterdam, for somewhat obvious reasons. It was the one city I really knew of. I knew I what to expect, which is why I have to say that it was my least favorite out of the trip. Part of the magic that comes with travel, I’ve found, is discovering the city. Finding those areas that are so overwhelmingly beautiful that you start to look up the cost of living in that area. This charm, personally, is hard to find when you already know what to look for. It’s as if you’re on a blind date that your friends set up. You kind of know what to expect and, barring any surprises, already have a preconceived notion of how it will go. Even in the best of circumstances, the pressure that is placed becomes overwhelming and the experience flounders. This phenomenon isn’t solely attributed to Amsterdam. I found myself feeling the same way in London. I LOVED these cities, and feel so fortunate to have been able to go, but I felt slightly robbed when I left. Walking through the cities, I would find a McDonalds or Burger King every few streets. Similarly, souvenir shops outnumbered local shops by what felt like 5:1. I was constantly being reminded that this was a vacation destination. It was hard to fully delve into the experience, when the world around me wanted me think of either the comforts of home or what I was to bring back.

Now let me tell you about my favorite destination. Delft is a beautiful and very historically significant city in the Netherlands. It is essentially where the Netherlands, as we know it today, began. The older sections of the city are covered with rich history, culture, and great food. I’m slightly embarrassed to inform you that I spent at least a half-hour in a cheese shop trying all the samples. I knew somethings about this city, enough to understand the significance. I have to admit that this is one of my favorite cities thus far, but it is not my favorite location. The best part of my Netherlands trip was a guided bike ride through the surroundings of Delft. Here, on this hour long bike ride, I was able to see windmills and open pastures. I was able to see real neighborhoods and people happily walking around. In that hour, I feel like I saw more of the character of the nation than in the rest of the trip. The sights were incredible as well. Windmill after windmill, overlooking vast green fields that were only interrupted by picturesque canals. This image, is the one that will come to mind when I think of the Netherlands.


All In


It’s always funny to see how fast you can watch an amazing experience pass right in front of your eyes. I’ve been in Israel for two weeks now as a participant in Taglit Birthright. Starting Thursday, I will begin my summer abroad at Tel Aviv University. Every day has been packed with traveling from one site to the next, but at the same time, I have felt like all the experiences have become a blur. One promise that I made to myself before this trip was to fully be present and to be more appreciative and reflective. While I may not remember every detail of my trip so far, I do remember my feelings and the attitude I maintained. With the commitment of my group, I took part in a team effort to be “all in” for our trip. Now, this one saying has become the foundation to the success of my time in Israel.

When my birthright group constantly chanted the phrase “all in”, we committed to putting 100% energy into being active and present. When we hiked the steep trek of Masada, we were all in. When we slept less than 4 hours a night only to have a full day ahead of us, we remained all in. When we said our final goodbyes at Ben Gurion Airport, we were all in until the end. Through the more difficult, but also the most enjoyable parts of our trip, we learned the power of staying positive and always looking at a glass half full.

This is the uphill trail to the peak of Masada, an ancient fortress built between 37 and 31 BCE and located in the western end of the desert overlooking the Dead Sea.

Every birthright trip welcomes a group of soldiers from the Israeli military. These soldiers come from every branch and unit within Israel and typically are within 6 months of completing their mandatory 2 or 3 year service.

The soldiers helped me to stay motivated to be fully present and appreciate the gift of this trip. These men and women are between 18-22 years old and are instilled with a sense of nationalism since a young age to feel pride in serving for their country. They helped show our group how fortunate we are to feel safe traveling through Israel because of their service.

The soldiers were a true addition to the mischpacha, or family, that our group had grown into. Every participant joined this trip as an individual, with almost no connection to the others in our group. We came from all walks of life, regions of the country, and Jewish backgrounds. But every one of us had one detail in common….we had made it to a country that many of our family ancestors were never given the opportunity to see. While I have been fortunate enough to have visited Israel before, this trip gave me a new perspective to the power a group can create in leaving a legacy.

A new friend from Stamford, Connecticut and I, posed in front of the city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem has history that dates back over 2000 years and provides a spiritual home for all who visit.

While I certainly am not excited to be “all in” to spending most of my time studying again, I know that there is a memory to be taken from each day I spend in Israel. My time here is limited, but the possibilities are not. As I sit in my new dorm room in Tel Aviv tearing up reliving these past two weeks memories, I will continue to love every moment I am given here and always go all in.

The First Week

It’s been a little over a week since I landed in Barcelona last Friday morning, but it seems like I’ve been here for months. Okay, maybe not months, but definitely enough time to drain my bank account, gain 20 pounds from croquettas and patates bravas, and walk at least 50 miles total back and forth all around this huge city. Basically, it’s been a long week. But definitely in the best way possible.

My apartment is on Carrer de Valencia, which my roommates and I have realized isn’t really that close to anything. So after an exhausting few days of trying to walk literally everywhere, we invested in a metro pass and now we’re pretty much metro pro’s. Considering that I have absolutely no sense of direction whatsoever, I’m very proud of myself for feeling confident in my metro-navigating abilities. I’m also pretty proud of the few Spanish (and Catalan) words and phrases I’ve picked up so far. By that I mean I know how to read a menu in Spanish or Catalan. I’m sure my Spanish will improve over time.

If I tried to recount everything I’ve done so far this blog would become more like a short novel, so I’ll just go over the highlights.

    • Sitges: my program (ISA) has a few set trips just for us, which is really cool because we don’t have to do any work planning them and they’re free so it’s a win-win. Our first “excursion” as they call it was a day trip to Sitges, a beach town about an hour and a half outside Barcelona. On the way to the beach we stopped at a vineyard for a tour and a cava (still not completely sure, but I think it’s basically just champagne) tasting. The cava was delicious and the beach was gorgeous, so it was a really really good way to start my visit.
    • Sagrada Familia: amazing. I have no words. Even though it’s technically unfinished, and probably will be for a while since they’ve been working on it since the 1800s, everything that’s been done so far is breathtaking.

  • Los Bunkers: an old fort on top of a huge hill that overlooks the entire city. I hiked 30 minutes up a dirt path with a sprained ankle for that view and it was worth every second of awkward limping.
  • La Boqueria: huge market on La Rambla street that has every kind of food you could ever imagine. My friends and I literally just walked around and bought cheap tapas from like five different places. They have these amazing juices with exotic flavors like kiwi coconut or peach papaya. Also chocolate covered strawberry kebabs that are actually a work of art.


  • Costa Brava: our second ISA trip was a weekend excursion to Costa Brava. We basically just hopped around to different little beach towns (ijfisdjs) and did our own thing. Coming from Pensacola’s “whitest beaches” to Spain’s much browner beaches is really different, but what they lack in sand cleanliness they make up for in amazingly clear blue water. The Mediterranean definitely wins in that category. We also went to the Dali museum, and like everything else I’ve seen so far, it was awesome. Super weird, but still awesome.

Now that I’ve been over the highlights (yes, those were just the highlights), I’ll share a few bits of the newfound wisdom I’ve gained from my week-long stay here in Barcelona.

  1. Food is cheap and good. I haven’t had one thing I didn’t like so far, which is surprising because half the time I don’t even know what I’m ordering.
  2. Sangria is a staple food item. Bars literally have sangria on tap. ON TAP.
  3. Wine is also cheap and good. I have the farthest thing from expensive taste when it comes to wine so this probably doesn’t mean much coming from me, but I bought a bottle for 62 cents at the supermercado and it was definitely better than the cheap wine I buy at home.
  4. Sleep is for the weak. Everyone really is on a different time schedule here. The sun doesn’t set until about 10 so no wonder they eat dinner so late. Then because we eat so late, we don’t go out until late so we don’t come home until late (or early, I guess would be the correct term) and it’s just a never ending cycle. I think the most sleep I’ve gotten consecutively is probably 6 hours and that was on one maybe two occasions.
  5. Pick pocketing is real, but don’t get over-paranoid about it. One of my roommates has already had money stolen and two unfortunate guys from my program got their phones taken on the metro, so pick pocketing it 100% real life here. BUT as long as you keep your stuff safe and close to you, it will be okay. DON’T, for example, get so sketched out that you go out without your keys or phone and end up sitting on the street in front of your apartment from 4:30 to 7 a.m. because you have no way to get in or contact any of your roommates. Lesson learned. Never Again.
  6. If you play your cards right, you’ll probably never have to pay to get into the clubs (if you’re a girl you won’t have to pay for drinks either) because there are literally a million promoters that offer deals every night. A world where you have the option to out every night without having to pay for anything is a dangerous world, my friends. Refer back to #4.

I could go on and on about lessons learned, bridging cultural gaps, and mistakes that turned into funny stories, but like I’ve emphasized time and time again, it’s only the first week.

“The sun will come out tomorrow”



I hope that from my last sentence you can pick up on my excitement. For the first week and a half that I was here in Paris it was cold and gloomy. Last Sunday, however, rays of sunshine broke through the clouds as my roommate and I did laundry. We were both in shock and ecstatic, taking pictures outside our window. This sudden weather change turned Paris into a completely different city. There were more people out in the street enjoying the rays of sunshine and even though they remained in the forever black wardrobe there was an added air of happiness. IMG_7655

Now that the weather was nice there was much more exploring to be done. I told myself I had to take advantage of the amazing weather even through I had a Management exam in the middle of the week. Side note: Something they don’t tell you when you go abroad is how much classes get in the way of being abroad. I know, it’s called “study abroad” but there’s so much to see in so little time that studying just seemed so hard to concentrate on. However, lots of late night studying was done that week. The first thing I did once the weather was nice was go to a rooftop to get a great panoramic view of the city. A couple of friends and I went to the rooftop at Printemps and took in our surrounding. Every time I get to see views like that it makes me thankful that I got the opportunity to study abroad.


My favorite youtuber Casey Neistat always says that the best way to see a city is to go for a run in it. While I have been sticking to running around the Jardin (garden in french) du Luxembourg I have already learned so much about the city; like the fact that people here run a lot faster than me, people constantly passed me as I ran through the trail. This park is one of the most beautiful in Paris, and it’s only a 10 minute walk from my dorm. One of the most amazing things I saw this week was the 180 degree change the gardens went through. Most of my runs the first week featured foggy and muggy mornings and the only people around were my fellow joggers. The sun transformed this place into a paradise for picnicking, reading and napping. The tennis courts were full of players, the playground vibrated with the laughter of  the children running around and the grass was packed with picnickers and nap enthusiasts like myself, who fell asleep for an hour basking in the sun. This is a Paris I should not get used to but one I have come to adore. IMG_7633


The Not So Bad Beginning

Before I went to Vietnam, I heard news about the red tide in Central Vietnam and a few other issues, I could not help but think about how I wish I chose to study abroad a different year or a different country. However, after visiting my grandfather’s grave and delivering canned goods to my grandmother, who thanked me because they lost their second most staple food, I couldn’t help but feel guilty for being so selfish. Many of the residents here do not have much and during my first week in Vietnam, I was able to talk to and learn more about their culture and their daily struggles.

The villagers start their day as early as 4am: selling goods at the market, preparing food, or working. Shown below is small market in Vietnam. It has a style similar to a flea market, where individual vendors set out their goods and customers are allowed to bargain for prices. Unfortunately because of the cheap quality of their materials and goods, these small vendors only make a few dollars a day at most, a problem for many individuals throughout Vietnam. Some families are fortunate enough to have family who live in other countries who send money back home, but there are many others who travel far from the outskirts of this village to sell their goods at this market try to make those few dollars in a disparate attempt to feed their families.

A photo posted by Leah Phan (@leahtphan) on

Grocery Shopping with Ngoại

A photo posted by Leah Phan (@leahtphan) on

Small Market in An Bang, Vietnam

My family is one of those families who are fortunate enough to live in another country and work; however, the hardworking, luxurious life I have back at home makes it easy to adapt in some aspects and extremely difficult in others. For one, the weather here is very similar to Florida, except it is not as humid  thank goodness! So, in spite of the lack of AC, the heat hardly bothers me. It has also been very easy for me bathe using a bucket of cold water; I find it more enjoyable and eco-friendly than actual shower heads.

A photo posted by Leah Phan (@leahtphan) on

“Showers” in Vietnam

One thing I struggle to adapt to are the bathrooms here in my grandmother’s home. My current bathroom has two openings that is supposed to act as a window, but it more so a decorative hole in the wall with no screening or way to close it, so it is easy for a hoard mosquitoes to come and attack me while I’m brushing my teeth or using the bathroom. Out of paranoia of being bit by a mosquito carrying a disease or virus, I have resorted to brushing my teeth in my own bedroom. I also have struggled accepting that I am not “Vietnamese”, but a Viet kieu, a Vietnamese-American. The people here treat me differently and it bothers me that they would want to treat me as a “Queen” merely because I am an American and someone they consider of higher status. I cannot help with housework, throw away my own trash, or even walk to places without being escorted by someone. It’s frustrating because while other people may think of it is a compliment, I have trouble accepting that we are anything but equals, who just live in different parts of the world.

Although traveling to another country has a few cons,  I do enjoy being in Vietnam overall. For starters, I love the fact that everything is in close proximity of one another; this village is so small I can walk to one place to another without having to rely on someone for transportation. Since very few people have cars, it is also very common to see an ox transporting heavy materials through the village. Also, everything here is so CHEAP. Going out to eat or having fun generally costs about one dollar per person or dish, I mean who wouldn’t love that, not to mention the food here is absolutely delicious. This is just the beginning of my adventure abroad, I cannot wait to see what else this beautiful country has to offer.


Leah Phan

A photo posted by Leah Phan (@leahtphan) on

A photo posted by Leah Phan (@leahtphan) on

A photo posted by Leah Phan (@leahtphan) on




The Bridge between Two Worlds

Hello… It’s me!

It’s been a while since I’ve wrote, but so much has been happening, I’ve been losing track of time. As the days go by, I can feel myself falling into step with Moscow life. Everyday has become a similar occurrence: wake up, go to class, explore a new hidden treasure; however, I continue to get this overwhelming feeling of awe when I realize I am surrounding by so much history and tradition. Compared to Russia, the US seems so young. In a way, although you understand that the rest of the world has more history than we do, you don’t really feel the difference until you actually step foot in another country.

I felt this feeling most prominently in St. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral:

This very cathedral houses the remains of almost all the Russian emperors and empresses from Peter the Great to Nicholas II and his family. To know that at that very moment I was standing amongst all of Russia’s royals is a feeling that I couldn’t describe even if I wanted to. 


Some other major differences I’ve come face-to-face with are:

  1. Social Behavior: Americans are very expressive and loud. This may seem a bit harsh from an American’s perspective, but hear me out. While in America it is acceptable to express oneself in whichever way one deems is best (even in public places), in Russia, people are more reserved in public places. Don’t get me wrong, perhaps in their homes, surrounded by family and friends, Russian’s are quite expressive; however, I never once had to strain to hear my neighbor nor myself during a conversation while walking down a busy street or eating at a restaurant filled to capacity. After the first couple weeks you become much more aware of your own voice, how loud you talk and what kind of language you use when surrounded by friends. I have developed a new appreciation for this kind social atmosphere. It’s very pleasant.
  2. Language Barriers: When I first got here, I was worried that my Russian wasn’t going to be good enough. Although I was a heritage speaker, I still feared the possibility of being singled out as not knowing Russian well enough; after all, the language did come easier to me than for those students who were studying the language for the first time as a second language. However, when I got here, I was pleasantly surprised that many Russian’s were surprised themselves, that I knew the language so well, being born in the US. I can somewhat understand their surprise, because I know several families in America, that have sons and daughters who are close to my age, who have lost the language or don’t make the effort to keep up with it. After getting over this initial shock, I felt more comfortable, a bit like I felt at home. My new local friends, professors, and program sponsors have been correcting my grammar where need be. I’ve also noticed that since the time I’ve been here, when speaking in Russian, I no longer think about the fact that I am trying to speak another language, but in my mind, I make a “switch.” The best way I could describe this switch is similar to a light switch. The only time I’d have to switch back to “thinking” in English is when I cannot think of a certain Russian word. I’d have to work backwards to the definition, then translate for the person to then give me the Russian equivalent. Overall, I am proud of how far I’ve come with my grammar!
  3. Religious Beliefs: The most prevalent religion is Russian Orthodox. Personally, I am from the Pentecostal faith, which doesn’t seem too common here. I’ve heard of other Orthodox denominations, but I’ve never known them in detail, so it was interesting to learn how different Russian Orthodox was compared to what I believe in. The main difference is in the way that service is led. In the Russian Orthodox Church, people stand throughout the entire service, pray in front of iconostasis (standing icons in front of the alter), cross themselves with three fingers touching (representing the trinity – God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit) and kiss the icons, and light candles. They also have confession and communion every Sunday.
  4. Fashion: Caution! Everywhere you go, you will see people dressed to the 9’s! Apparently here, every day is a special occasion. I am so used to seeing people dressed in what I’d call “everyday” clothes (comfortable pair of jeans/shorts and a teeshirt) anywhere I went, and when I saw someone dressed up, they were either going to work or a special event. Now that I’m here, I very rarely saw someone dressed in “everyday” clothes. Everyone seems to put in a great effort to look their best, rain or shine, a quick trip to the market or class, you can guarantee they’ll be looking very put-together. It still boggles my mind that people have the time to do so every morning. I’d rather get a few extra hours of sleep.
  5. The Metro: Where I come from, there is no such thing as a metro, let alone any form of underground transport, that I know of at least. If we did, I guess it’d be called the Submarine Express, because once you dig deep enough, you’d be swimming in water. As for Moscow and other large cities, the metro is the most common form of transport. The first couple of trips were a bit confusing, but once you get the process of changing between metro lanes, it seems to click and afterwards the metro becomes your best friend. Need to get across the city and have no car? Take the metro! It’s affordable and practical, and takes a lot less time, especially if it’s rush hour.


Ekaterina’s Palace Garden: Feeling Content

Although at times I feel as though I’ve seen everything and life here has become normal in a way, the realization that I am here – seeing the things that I am, experiencing the culture I am – never fails to leave me speechless. It still amazes me that I am actually here.

Until next time!

Signing off. ✌

Too School for Cool

It’s easy to forget why I’m here sometimes–to study. Sure, I see the sights, eat the foods, travel to nearby cities and countrysides, but the “abroad” part of this experience hasn’t been the only influential part. In fact, my classes have taught me the most and have played the biggest role in allowing me to become immersed in Florentine culture.

My first three weeks here I was enrolled in Watercolor and Tempera Gouache Techniques with Professor Nicoletta Solomon. I have had fantastic teachers in my past but none can match the passion and clarity through which Nicoletta taught. Born in northern Italy, she introduced to us her background and how her relationship with art came to be. She says that without art there is no emotion. It isn’t something to see, it is something to feel and that experiences begin with art. This was the basis of her teaching style and our classes revolved around experiencing the techniques-not just learning about them. We built on everything we learned as the course progressed and she taught us to develop a style that was our own and was respected for its originality. Through this experience I learned that I love whimsical and colorful pieces because it challenges my obsession with perfection. Below are links to some of my favorites.

Eye Study

Alvin Mark Tan Duomo Copy

Oscar Koller Copy

Paul Cézanne Copy

Original Koi

Now that I’ve reached the halfway point of my time in Florence, I’ve begun a new class called Food and Wine Pairing with Professor Massimo. Massimo has a certain zest for life and told us today that he has never had a happy date with a woman who didn’t share the same love for food and wine as he. His exact words were, “for me, is very boring.”

We spend our two and a half hours learning the regions specific wines come from and analyzing what differentiates the types. Today we tasted a Chianti Classico and a Chianti Colli Senesi and paired it with prosciutto, salami, and mortadella. The Classico, which is a more spicy and full red wine, seemed to overpower most of the sweetness in the mortadella and the saltiness in the prosciutto and mortadella. Massimo suggested pairing a sparkling wine with the mortadella to complement its sweetness. The Senesi, on the other hand, is a more medium red and paired very well with the salty salami because it was lighter and cleansed your palette after every bite. I truly will never look at deli meats the same when I go back home. From now on I will be asking for wine with lunch–Massimo’s orders.

Overall, my classes have made me feel like I’m at home here. When I run to Salvini for art supplies, I feel like a local (even though finding the right paints is difficult when you don’t speak italian). When I am ordering wine and can tell the quality by looking at the reflection in the top of the glass I feel like a sophisticated Italian. Even walking past the Duomo on my way to class every day and knowing my way around the city has made me feel independent in a place that was once so foreign. I’ve come to miss my apartment on Corso Tintori while I’m away on weekend trips. During our excursions I sometimes wish I were back in Florence just because it’s familiar and I know my way around. These are feelings I don’t believe I would have if I weren’t here to study. My classes are giving me an invaluable sense of feeling like I belong here-something I couldn’t get on a “cool,” week-long vacation. My classes are making me too school for cool.

Tour de Middle East

Hello friends! It has been a fun but yet exhausting couple of weeks since I’ve last filled you in on my adventures. My laptop and cell phone don’t always like to play nice with the nearby Wi-Fi networks L Currently I am in Amman for my intensive Arabic-language and internship program, but before I get into telling you about life in Amman thus far, I want to tell you about my travels and experiences in the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Palestine.

The United Arab Emirates:

I was beyond excited to finally have the chance to explore an Arabic-speaking country and you know, actually practice my Arabic. Boy, was I wrong. Finding someone who is a native Arabic speaker in Dubai was tough, but finding an actual Emirati was like finding a needle in a haystack! This is because majority of the country’s population is composed of expatriates, which represent about 120 different countries. Only about 19% of the nation’s population is actually Emirati. Taking that into consideration, I feel lucky that I had the opportunity of meeting two Emiratis. With that said, the question “Where are you from?” is a common one and oftentimes served as a conversation starter. There was the rare occasion that I did run into some Arabic speakers who were taken aback when they met a Cuban-American girl speaking to them in a mix of broken Modern Standard Arabic and Syrian dialect. They expressed to me how happy it made them feel that someone who had no ties to the Arab World took the time to learn their language. Oftentimes they were so shocked and in a way grateful that I made the effort that they would give me discounts at shops, special opportunities or sometimes free stuff all together!

My aunt and I thought that five days would be enough to do everything in Dubai, but we were so wrong about that. There is honestly sooooo much to do and see! We packed in as many activities as we could before heading out to Abu Dhabi for a couple of days. Below check out some pictures and videos from our adventures in Dubai and Abu Dhabi:


The tallest building in the world Burj Khalifa

Dubai Mall: The Village

Dubai Waterfalls

Souk replica

Giant Aquarium

Souks: lamps, handmade rugs, souvenirs 

Sunrise hot air balloon ride in the desert  over rural villages and date farms

Desert safari excursion on quads and later watching the sunset and eating dinner at a restaurant in the desert

Burj Al Arab: dined and explored the world’s only seven star hotel

Visited the Atlantis hotel on the Palm Islands

Abu Dhabi

Went to the first ever Ferrari-themed amusement park

Heritage village displayed artifacts and information about life in the U.A.E before the discovery of oil

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque: replica, chandeliers, Qur’ans, courtyard, required modest attire

Israel and Palestine:

My experience in the Holy Land was completely different from my time in the United Arab Emirates. Both places certainly have their charm in different ways. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are very young and modern places, which was in stark contrast to the thousands of years of history that can be seen, felt and experienced at nearly every corner of Israel and Palestine. It was quite a surreal experience for me for two reasons. First, this is the place that I’ve heard about, read about and have study extensively for years, and I couldn’t believe I was finally there standing on the very soil that has seen that passing of many kings, empires, religions and people. I was in the epicenter of at least three major world religions. For me, it was beautiful and sad at the same time because you can almost physically feel the tension in the air when traveling to certain parts of diverse cities such as Jerusalem. The old city is separated into four quarters: the Armenian quarter, Jewish quarter, Muslim quarter and the Christian quarter. The second reason this visit was so special was because I finally got the chance to visit one of my best friends and the person that changed my life. I met my friend Noor back in 2011 at a program in Vermont on current issues and youth activism. She is an Israeli citizen of Palestinian origins who lives in a small village called the Oasis of Peace, which quite frankly lives up to its name. It is a village founded on the purpose of promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

I hit the jackpot by befriending Noor. Since she holds both identities she is able to travel with relative ease between Israel and the West Bank, so it was like having two private tour guides between her and her mother as they showed my aunt and I around Jericho and Bethlehem. In addition to visiting historically and religiously significant sites, I also had the opportunity to walk along the wall that separates Israel and Palestine. It is almost impossible to describe the feelings that are evoked once you take a look at some of the amazing graffiti and murals on the wall. It served as a snapshot into the lives and sorrows of generations of Palestinians, much like how visiting Yad Vashem (The Israeli Holocaust History Museum) moved me in the same way. Visiting both sites was quite emotional and insightful to both narratives and histories.

I invite you to take a look at my time and different experiences while in Israel and Palestine through the following photos:

Tel Aviv: Walked around the beach city and stumbled across Old Jaffa, which is a 4,000 year old port city

Jerusalem: Walked the streets of the Old City including Via Dolorosa, which is the path that Jesus walked while carrying the cross,

and visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchral and the Western Wall

Oasis of Peace: Stayed in Noor’s village and was even invited to an amazing wedding with over 700 people!

Jericho: Toured some of the historically significant sites such as Hisham’s Palace

Bethlehem: Visited the Church of the Nativity and walked along the wall that separates Israel and the West Bank and checked out some of the amazing murals and art installments such as the “Wishing Wall”

Adios, Au Revoir, & Good Bye

Thank you, Spain and France, for hosting me this summer. I loved every minute of it.

I might be back to having a dryer machine in the same house as me. I might be able to get Chik-Fil-A whenever I want. I might even be able to drink tap water now.

But I wouldn’t trade my time abroad for anything else. I miss Europe all the time.

You’ll definitely be seeing me soon.
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Peace out,

Kelly Hatton

The last post

My last week in Dublin was so, so bittersweet. I don’t think leaving home felt as sad as leaving Dublin and all the friends I’d made. I spent my last weekend going to Louisburgh on the west coast of Ireland with Chris. We actually swam in the  freezing cold North
Atlantic ocean, and it was just a really beautiful, relaxed weekend enjoying Ireland. On the way back, all my whining about lambs finally paid off as we stopped by to see Chris’ best friend, and e let me feed one of their lambs. It was honestly the cutest thing ever, and I’m so sad that I can’t have one in Florida because the heat would probably kill it. We got back in the evening, and I was able to spend the rest of that Sunday night chatting with the other girls’ I’d made friends with at Griffith. It was very low key, but probably one of my favorite nights there because we just sat around eating way too much food, laughing, and looking back on some of our favorite memories. The next morning my mom and sister arrived! They were very tired, so we spent most of the day doing one of my favorite things: aimlessly wandering around Dublin and its parks. Luckily, it wasn’t too cold or rainy, so it was very easy to enjoy the day. The next day we went Blarney Castle and in Cork for a bit. I’m really glad that my family got to see some of what the Irish countryside is like. The next three days we spent in Dublin casually around the museums, restaurants, and some of my favorite places. We finally got to go to the Guinness factory, and that was pretty neat. Playing tour guide was a lot more difficult than I expected, but I think they enjoyed the city. I wish that I would have planned more, but I wasn’t sure how exhausted they would be, so it would have been difficult. It was also hard to divide my time at night between the friends’ I had made and my family coming to visit. I think more pre-planning would have made that much less hard. Overall, it was really fun to be able to show them all the places that I had grown to love. Seeing them also enjoy it made me fall even more for Dublin. Additionally, my family got to meet some of the people that I had spent the past four months with. We went to a couple of pubs so they could meet my best friend here, Chris, and then on Thursday, we went to John & Mary’s for dinner.I was very stressed about whether or not everyone would get along with each other since the only definite thing they had in common was me.
It made me indescribably happy to see my family get along with Chris, John & Mary, Jacquie, and Vincent by the end of the week. My last day in Dublin I spent the whole day with my family, and then the night with my friends. Of course, I also waited to pack until that day, and I was the last to leave my dorm room, so I had to make sure that the place was in enough order to pass inspection. We spent the last night in one of our usual places, Flannery’s. It was perfect, even with the tearful goodbyes and hugs in front of way too many strangers. My flight was early, and, because of that, I had to bow out a little early as well. The airport the next morning was more than a little insane. Chris drove us and stayed for a bit, so we had another tearful see-you-later in front of way too many strangers.

Saying goodbye to everyone was one of the saddest things I’ve ever done. I kept trying to come up with a comparison in my life, so I could better get through it, but the closest I could get was to incredibly short summer camps that comparing them kind of felt like an insult to the relationships we’d all built together. The summer before my junior year of high school, we were all standing on the Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence really late one night. I was sitting on the bridge looking down at the water, and my teacher came over to me and marveled about how strange a feeling it is to know that you can come back to a place, and the place may look exactly the same, but you won’t be. I think about that every
time I am in a moment that really matters. So, essentially, the entire last two weeks or so I had on study abroad. It made every moment that much sweeter, but also sadder to remember because the memories are so clear from deliberately trying to remember those times. I hope I will never forget all the nights we spent dancing, drinking, and eating cheese fries as we walked home because Dublin bus stops at 11:30pm and all of us are too cheap for cabs. And not just those nights, I hope we never forget all weird field trips in our history class, the funny moments we had with each other traveling, and, in general, what it was like to be together trying to figure out how to live in a foreign country on our own. I feel like study abroad is one of those experiences that binds people together forever because no one else in our lives will understand what the high moments and the low moments were like. I know that we will grow older and probably not see each other for a while, but I am confident that we’ll all be able to get together and have it feel just the same when we do. I am so ridiculously thankful for all I have learned, the skills I gained, and the people I met while abroad.

Since being home a week, I’ve already encountered some strangeness. The memories are clear, but I came back to my life just as I had left it. This doesn’t feel good or bad; however, the sameness almost makes my semester away feel like it had been a dream. I’ve been doing my best to stay in contact with my friends from Dublin and CAPA because 1) I miss them and 2) as a way to stop it from feeling like a dream. I can’t look at pictures, but talking to Ciara or Chris, and snapping Calleigh and Kaylee, or liking each other’s posts reminds me that it was real and that they are probably feeling similarly. I’m uncertain if I am adjusting well or not. I’ve started a full-time job to get back to my life of making money, not just spending it. In my interview, I spoke a lot about my study abroad experience, and I am certain that my time in Ireland was a huge part of me getting the job. In the one day that I’ve been there, it was a good distraction from being mopey and gave me something to talk about that wasn’t just “Well, in Ireland…”

My supervisor, and friend, Jacquie was another good-bye that I spent sobbing. Once I was home and feeling more than a little sad, she reminded me that one of the best things to do is to pick a day to come back and start saving up for it. I still have to sort many finances here before I can pick a day, but I know that that is what I plan to do.

Thank you to everyone who has been keeping up with me here; I’m incredibly grateful for you reading my posts. I hope that I have some how made you want to travel more, or have taught something useful, even if it is just to not fly into Stansted Airport.  Writing this blog has been interesting. It was very helpful in organizing my thoughts; although, I sometimes feel that I couldn’t give a 100% accurate view of what our lives were like here because it is a school run blog. If you have any questions, please feel free to find me on Facebook, or if you’d like to keep up with me, you can find me on Instagram at @courtneyyevans