A Comfort in the Unknown // Thinking about the year ahead

It is that familiar time of year when I find myself in constant conversation about new years resolutions as well as excitement and grievances over the new year. People are reflecting on the dismays and upbeats of the past year, while also longing for an improved new year, a year that can be better than the last. Over the past several years, I have neglected to set new years resolutions. Instead I try to set goals in the present, in the now. I am more prone to change and challenge when I set goals rather than new years resolutions that most seem to break anyways. The way that I achieve some of these goals (because I am human and do not fully succeed in every goal I set for myself) is maybe not everybody’s definition of achievement. I will work to accomplish where I want to go and what I want to do little at a time. This is determined by setting smaller, more realistic goals. As a result, I have learnt I am more likely to accomplish these goals, leaving me more fulfilled and with more overall joy, granting me more motivation for another goal. While this year managed to bring me difficult, heart wrenching pain, it brought me so much joy and love. I am going into the New Year feeling more refreshed and empowered than I have ever felt. There is light when you open your eyes to life, as I strived to do.

This year has to have been one of my most unique years, reason being, I spent half of it abroad. I did not know how deeply this experience would affect me, and how deeply it would want me craving more opportunities for growth and to feel alive in the present moment. I found myself making deep connections at home and abroad. I have found peace in spending time with nature and myself. I have recognized a deep love of beauty and art even in the smallest things like a smile from a stranger on the bus in Ottawa or the attempt of an injured bird to fly in the streets of Rome. There are so many treasures around, and while I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, these treasures have a way of coming back to me and giving me clarity to appreciate life in a meaningful way.

So this year I have set some goals:

-Do something creative at least 10 minutes a day (writing, colouring, reading, baking, doodling)

-Buy Less food out

-do something spontaneous

-Meditate every other day

-Be more active – swim more, bike more

-eat at least one vegetable and one piece of fruit every day

-Do something fun/makes me happy at least once a week

-Reflect at the end of the week on goals and to dos for the coming week as well as successes from the week that has passed

-put my phone away whenever I sit and enjoy company or conversation with somebody

-LOVE MORE

My mission for this year is to be consistently engaged with these main goals. Everything else that happens within school or work is important to me, but not in the sense of my overall being and identity. I will be graduating from my undergrad this year and shifting between work, jobs and applications. This will always be shifting and changing, so I decided to put my goal priority in things I have complete control and autonomy over. Because life is unpredictable; it is exciting. With these goals in mind, I feel prepared and ready for the year ahead. More importantly, I feel ready to take on challenges and opportunities that come my way with a sense of steadiness and comfort in the unknown.

 

 

Why you should travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina

So it has been a while since I have posted here! I have kind of been going through writers block as well as several drafts of a couple of different topics I have wanted to write about since arriving back in Canada after my nearly 6 months abroad in Europe (Read: The time of my life). But this one specific topic is one that is dear to my heart, especially because it can be difficult to convey how my experience in this country had such an impact on me. Often I will talk to people about the fact that I worked in a hostel in a beautiful city called Mostar for the month of June. Or if I hear somebody is traveling to Europe my immediate instinct is to tell them to go to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The reactions I typically get are a mix of “yah, cool” or “Really, Bosnia?”. Then I get a bit overwhelmed with sadness because I just want them to know how special this country is and most people have underlying assumptions. But to understand where I am coming from, you have to visit and really take some time to meet the people and learn about the country. Bosnia and Herzegovina is truly one of a kind, and it was such a happy accident that I ended up there. Realizing that I too would have never thought to travel there at the beginning of my exchange experience, I try to persuade people into feeling confident that going there will really be one of the best travel decisions you will ever make.

So I have sort of broken down why you should visit Bosnia and Herzegovina into 5 catergories: The People, History, Scenery, Culture, and the fact that Tourism is still picking up there. My hope is that you will be more inclined to visit after reading this!

1. The People

This has always been first in my mind as to why I love this country so much. The people are truly some of the nicest people I have met along my travels in Europe. I lived and worked in a hostel and the family that owned the hostel was wonderful. Specifically, Miran of Hostel Miran (And yes, shameless promotion because if you visit Mostar, you have to stay here). His family was so kind to me and always made me feel like a part of the family. From the minute I got off the bus in Mostar, he was there to greet me with a big hug and drive me to the hostel. He often went out of his way to make sure myself, guests and his family were comfortable and having an enjoyable time. He is one of the most selfless people I met and was lucky enough to really get to know. He would go out of his way and drive a bunch of us to the top of a mountain so we could make the hike down and really enjoy the view. He would not let a couple of euros or Bosnian Marks be a big deal if you didn’t have enough. I really have an endless amount of positive things to say and this was not my only amazing encounter with the people. I would walk throughout the town of Mostar daily. I frequented a little tea and coffee cafe that was right by Stari Most (The Old Bridge) in town and really started to realize how wonderful the locals are. I had one experience with the woman who made the coffee and tea. She was a more mature woman who had lived and fought through the war in Mostar. She was hearing impaired and spoke little to no English. Everybody who came to the cafe called her Mama, to which I also became accustomed to calling her. Our first moment together, we were both sitting alone in the cafe: listening to tourists flocking from both sides of the bridge, feeling the cooling breeze coming from the windows off the Neretva River and getting excited from the build-up of somebody jumping off the famous bridge. While we couldn’t really communicate, ironically I was able to communicate more with her than I have with some people who speak English. We used out hand gestures, we used our smiles, body language and just our energy. We were both patient with each other with no frustration. In that moment, I felt connected to the country and the people more than ever.

2. The History

Now, I am not going to delve too much into the history of this country, feel free to research more about it though as it is very complex but very interesting. I think this is a core reason for why Bosnia and Herzegovina had a profound impact on me. I was very naive before I arrived about the still recent history. While I lived in Mostar for the month of June I learnt pretty quickly about what the people have been through and I came to admire and respect their strength, their persistence, and their resilience. Of course each individual has their own story and their own lived experiences, so the country deserves more than just a couple of days for you to discover these. I just kept thinking: these people have been through so much, have lost dear friends and family, yet still were some of the most kind, selfless, and humble people I met throughout my travels. Then there was a place in Mostar called Sniper Tower which was used throughout the war for exactly what it sounds like. You can still see history with your own eyes whether it is bullet holes in buildings, the sniper holes in this tower, or shattered concrete and debris. But I went to the roof of this tower on numerous occasions with different people every time and would watch the sunset in the valley. Standing on top of a place that once created terror, but using it for something positive is one of my fondest memories. The tower also had many displays of street art with political and social messages. But this one particular message has always stood out to me and continues to be a constant inspiration.

3. Scenery

The scenery in Bosnia and Herzegovina is jaw-dropping and stunning. I had no idea before I arrived how incredibly spectacular and out of this world everything is. From the jade-emerald green Neretva River, to picturesque Sarajevo, this country is truly underrated for it’s beauty. Here are some pictures that will just do more justice than words ever will. All pictures unless otherwise stated were taken by me from my own device.

Sitting on top of the beautiful 3000 year old town Pocitelj

The gorgous sunset in Mostar from the roof of Sniper Tower

The sunset in the capital city of Sarajevo

The cobblestone streets in Mostar’s Old Town

The gorgous Neretva River

4. The Culture

I have never felt more at peace throughout my travels than while in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The culture and the pace of life are completely different than what I am normally used to. People welcome you into your home with open arms and everyone knows everybody. Even though money is a barrier for many people, money is still NOT a barrier. The locals that I met and made connections with would rather lose all their monetary possessions if it meant that they could just be with their loved ones. In addition they would rather YOU not fret about a few Euros here and there (Or Bosnian marks), then take your money for that one cup of coffee. In Bosnia and Herzegovina I found the day-to-day movement to be at a much slower pace, with time to take breaks and enjoy life, rather than busily going about their days numb to anybody and anything around them. There was no such thing as coffee to go, and I rarely saw people plugged into their phones and ipods. Then in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Muslims, Orthodox, Catholics, and Jews all reside in the country and it is truly a place where East meets West. In fact, there is an exact spot in Sarajevo called the meeting of cultures. You look to one side and you see the mark of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and then you look to the other side and you see the mark of the Ottoman Empire: a mini Vienna and a mini Istanbul both in one city. And then I cannot forget about the food! Whether it was Bosnian coffee, cevapi (minced meat kebab stuffed in a pita), baklava or borek (flaky dough pastries usually filled with meat or spinach and cheese), my stomach was always satisfied!

photo taken from Google

5. Tourism is still picking up

Unfortunately, people continue to misconceive today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina with how the country was when the war ended in 1995. Although there are signs of the war as I previously mentioned, the country’s beauty and all it has to offer should not be missed. It is continuously rebuilding itself and as time goes on, more people will be visiting this remarkable country. But right now is the perfect time to visit if you want to skip out on super crowded/touristic areas. You will help the country’s future tourism industry grow and you will enjoy it while it is a bit more calm and tourism is still kicking in.

I have no doubt that tourism will pick up in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It really disheartens me when I talk to people about my experience here and they seem so surprised as I begin to explain how special and amazing it is. I really hope this post has inspired you in some way to make a visit to this country or at least consider it. It is truly undermined and underrated. If you travel here, you will see exactly why it shouldn’t be and you will see why I fell in love with it.

On Traveling Alone

This post is coming a bit later, because I traveled alone right after Easter weekend, but I’m getting to it now. At the beginning of my study abroad experience I had contemplated the idea of traveling alone, and I thought about doing it for a weekend sometime during the semester. But I didn’t think I would actually do it. It kind of happened accidentally, I was meant to be traveling with a friend, but there came to be personal reasons why that friend couldn’t travel with me during that time so I was left with a decision: Stay in Ireland for the week (which I would have been happy to do to), or seek an adventure, and go to two countries that I had really wanted to visit, Austria and Poland. I took a leap and booked the flights and the hostels. With the click of a button, came a sense of freedom and independence. I wasn’t just thinking about it, I was doing it. I was traveling alone for 6 days through two countries in Europe.

The most common questions I have received from people regarding this solo travel experience have been: Were you nervous/scared?, and Did you ever feel lonely?. Now to answer those questions.

I was really only nervous a bit before the trip, because I was left to my imagination and thoughts of possible scenarios of things that could go wrong. But I was also dreaming about things that could go right. Once I got on the plane to Vienna, there was no turning back, and from that point on the nerves sort of just wiped away. I felt the most empowering confidence come over my body and mind. I think if I were to travel solo through Europe at the beginning of this experience abroad, I would have been a lot more anxious. But over the course of the semester I have traveled and stayed in hostels. I have experienced challenges and miscommunications especially where English is not the native language. I have come to realize that I can explore a new place with energy after the failed attempts of sleeping on a night bus. I have come to grow in patience especially when things do not always turn out as planned, but I have learnt how to make the most out of everything, even the little things. But most importantly, I remembered that I jumped into this study abroad exchange feet first, not knowing a single person. And it has been the most amazing experience ever since. Once I thought about all of that, I felt ready.

Now on to feeling lonely. There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. Loneliness is a state of seeking what you need and crave. One can feel lonely in the midst of a crowd or a group of friends. Loneliness is more of an emotional state. Being alone is neither positive or negative necessarily, it is just being in the presence of yourself. As I continue to grow up I feel more comfortable with spending time alone. Don’t get me wrong I love people and human connection and affection but there is something to be said about loving yourself and not being afraid of being alone. Through all my experiences, but especially this one I have learnt that I can rely on myself. I can make decisions and I can change my mind. I can be independent. Once I arrived in Vienna, I didn’t have much plans to stay in the city. My main place of interest was Salzburg, and I had a hostel bed booked there for 3 nights. But when I arrived into Vienna late morning, it hit me that I was really alone, there was nobody to make decisions with about how we were going to spend the day or what we were going to do. Then with that, I realized that even though I was set to go to Salzburg for the evening, there was no rush, I only had myself to turn to. So I spend the afternoon walking around the city of Vienna and enjoying its beauty. This is something that I may have not gotten to do had I not traveled solo. Then I made my way to the train station to hop on a train to Salzburg. All of the transportation to and from places, and from Austria to Poland was figured out by me, there was nobody to split the work with, and this added to the feeling of independence and autonomy and I loved it.

Something that crossed my mind while traveling alone was also the opportunity of meeting new people. Of course I had to completely rely on myself for this as well. There was nobody holding me accountable to starting up a conversation with a new person but me. So that first night in Salzburg, I was ending the evening at the bar in the hostel, going through which table I was going to approach and getting up the courage to do it. I ended up meeting a girl from the States who was about to start her exchange in Germany. She was also a solo traveler and we engaged in a wonderful conversation to which I am so thankful for. The next day I woke up when I wanted to, explored where I wanted to, and stayed at a certain place for how long I wanted to. I can’t tell you how liberating this was. In the afternoon I went on a Sound of Music tour because it is my favourite movie and of course an inspiration behind my decision to go to Salzburg. During some of the best 4 hours of my nerd life, I met another solo traveler from Canada (woop!) but who is living in Germany. Her and I connected quite quickly and went on to sit on the bus together, be each others picture takers and even have dinner together. It became clear to me that meeting people while traveling solo is not as hard as I thought! That evening her and I were enjoying the Mirabelle Gardens (where the Do-Re-Mi sequence is filmed) and we accidentally met another solo traveler who coincidentally was also staying in our hostel. Then we all met up in the hostel that evening and planned to do activities around Salzburg the next day. It was wonderful, because we all wanted to do similar things. But by being alone, I didn’t feel obliged to go with them either. But the next day I ended up having the time of my life seeing things with them, enjoying meals together and just getting to know one another. It is a day that I will always treasure and would have missed out on otherwise.

Once I arrived in Krakow the next night after a days worth of travel and train connections, I was sitting in my bed at the hostel planning out what I wanted to do and see during my couple of days there. There were four friends from Germany in Krakow for the weekend staying in my hostel. They invited me to go out with them that night. While I was terribly exhausted and tired I kept an open mind and went out with them. You don’t meet new people when you sit around in your room! I had no regrets, I had such a fun time that night, and again, this is an experience I probably wouldn’t have encountered had I not been traveling alone. The next night I ended up going out with them again, this time on a pub crawl, and I ended up meeting a ton of other new people from around the world and having another amazing night.

Now I have traveled with wonderful, kind, fun people over the course of my time abroad. I have had incredible experiences everywhere I have traveled and memories that will last a lifetime. My positive experience from traveling alone does not mean I do not enjoy traveling with company, it just means I am completely fine on my own as well.

Essentially traveling alone taught me to just say ‘yes’. It taught me that meeting new people in these circumstances is one of the most enriching experiences. It taught me I can sit in and have a meal alone and be completely content, but I can also speak to anyone and within hours be planning an activity to do together. While I met new people and engaged with them I wasn’t always in company. But it became more clear that this not a bad thing and more of an opportunity to grow, learn and accept myself, from this the rest is easy. But most importantly I came to realize that I have faith in myself and that has been the most rewarding part. I can definitely say I will be traveling alone again.

Ups and Downs

Wow, my last post was February 10th. As I said, I wasn’t going to be posting often, but I can’t believe how fast time is going by. So much has happened since then. So many positive, amazing things have happened, but some not so positive, very hard things have happened.

My fear came true, when my family’s dog passed away towards the end of February. I woke up early that morning because I had to go to immigration to pick up my registration card, and I got the news. My heart shattered, I immediately burst into tears. I’m not going to gloss over that day. It was awful, emotional, sad, and heartbreaking. To be so far away from home, and not know about it until after the fact was extremely difficult to bear. I wasn’t able to be there with my family and mourn with them. Our dog was very special to us, and while many can empathize with losing a dog or pet, nobody can empathize with losing Kip, like my parents and sisters can. He was our special treasure, and I will really miss him, and I know that when I get home, it will be hard. But that day would have been so much uglier, if it weren’t for the outpouring of love and support I received from friends and family back home. But most importantly the love I had here brought so much light to a cloudy day. Special shout-outs to Grace and Sarah, who I was going to the immigration office with, and embraced me with hugs after I got the news half an hour prior. Special shout outs to Eva and Nicole, who came to my door about an hour after I posted on Facebook to give me hugs and love. It is truly amazing that after being friends with them for only a month, they without hesitation were there for me, when I needed it the most. For me, it confirms that although putting yourself out there to meet new people can be challenging and scary, especially in a new environment, the outcomes are inspiring and wonderful.

I got to participate in my first Relay of Life here at the university I am studying at, and given what happened with my dog being so recent, it was even more meaningful. We relayed outside, and lit candles in paper bags that had names of people who have suffered from cancer. These bags then lined the track and in the middle spelt out HOPE. I relayed with new friends arm in arm to the beautiful music of the choir under the stars. Even though we all had our different reasons of being there and given the fact that cancer is an awful disease, it was really beautiful that we were there in solidarity with each other. It was like the coming together in that setting rid the ugly side of cancer, and made it into something so beautiful and human. I am so glad to have been a part of it.

The emotions are still very raw, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have very sad moments. I can be fine, or happy one moment, and then think about Kip and start crying still. I’ve accepted that this is going to happen for a while. It’s okay. It comes with the experience, feeling the ups and feeling the downs. But I should go on to say the ups have been quite overwhelming and incredible. Since my last post, I have traveled outside of Ireland. I have ventured to: Koln and Berlin in Germany, to Paris, France, Budapest, Hungary, and Prague, Czech Republic. These are all amazing and beautiful places and I would recommend them to anybody. I don’t want to go into full detail about all of these places because that could take up a whole book! But I will mention my favourite part in each place (this is even difficult to do).

Koln, Germany – Cologne Cathedral, a massive Gothic Basilica

Berlin, Germany – East Side Gallery, a 1.3 km long section of the Berlin Wall used as an international memorial for freedom with some of the most beautiful graffiti and artwork I have ever seen

Paris, France – the view from the Arc de Triomphe, just breathtaking views of the city

Budapest, Hungary – The Thermal Baths, the most relaxing pools I have ever been in

Prague, Czech Republic – The Easter Market, to our pleasant surprise started that weekend, it was just nice to walk around and see the vendors and enjoy all the yummy FOOD

All of these places have so much to offer them, and I feel nothing but lucky and blessed to be able to visit them. The people that I have travelled with to these places have only made these trips that much more fun and amazing. I already have fond memories of funny miscommunications, meeting locals, being crunched for time, seeing amazing views, having interesting conversations, learning about history and eating the most delicious food.

So I am experiencing the ups, the downs, and the in-betweens, but I am still enjoying every minute of it. Because slowly but surely, Ireland is becoming a home away from home.

A lot of craic to be had here

First, if you are confused by the above title, let me clarify. “Craic” is a term used in the Irish language which means “fun” or “entertainment”.

I can’t believe I have already been in Ireland for about two weeks now. It doesn’t even feel real. But it’s happening, and I can honestly say I made the right choice in studying abroad and picking Ireland as the place that I reside in. I haven’t posted since before I left because I have wanted to give myself time to digest this experience myself, to not do too much reflection online, and enjoy the present as much as I possibly can. For this reason, I will not be posting too regularly. This blog is firstly a more general blog, and I don’t want to post too many details week after week. Rather, I want to post when I really have something I want to write about throughout this adventure, whether it is the places I travel or the emotions I am feeling or the lessons I am learning.

It was not as easy as I thought it would be to leave. I consider myself at this point in my life someone who longs for adventure and travel. I love the idea of going to places I have never been and meeting people I have never met, mostly because I feel like I grow the most in these situations, and I knew that studying abroad would be an amazing opportunity to deepen my understanding of the world and broaden my perspectives. But a couple of weeks before my departure, my family’s dog was diagnosed with cancer. He is very much loved by my family and I, and people close to me especially know how much he means to me and how much he has changed my life. So leaving with that news in the back of my mind was difficult. I try to remain hopeful, but a pinch of real life always pushes my emotions. I am thankful that I had some extra time off to spend time with him, in addition to my parents and youngest sister. I put on a brave face and as excited as I am for embarking on these experiences, it is never completely easy saying goodbye to my family. The first night that I arrived on the campus where I was studying, I found myself becoming homesick and not necessarily questioning my decision to come, but more so asking myself, “will I make any friends” or “what if something happens to my dog while I am away”. But I feel that everybody is always leaving something behind, leaving home without everything fully being in its place. And that’s okay.  But into two weeks after that first night, I am reassured about how positive this experience is. Besides, if everything were perfect, then coming here would be too safe and too easy; leaving would not be a challenge and my openness for new possibilities and new risks would not be as intense.

Within the first week, past orientation, the small amount of stress of getting classes together, and figuring out all these different housekeeping details, I was starting to feel my place here. I met a lot of people, and have already made some friendships. My roommates that I share an apartment on residence with all have different backgrounds, and it’s very exciting to live with them because I feel like I learn something new everyday! One is from Mexico, another from Ireland and two from China! Within the first week, I really got to know the two girls from China, in addition to their peers from China that came here as well. The language barrier that they face here really opened up my eyes, and pretty quickly I found myself learning so much about Chinese culture and even a little bit of language from them. All of the people that I have befriended thus far are so unique, kindhearted, compassionate, and intelligent. I have also had the amazing luck of meeting people who have the same idea of travel as I do, which makes it more fun to think and plan of places to go.

I have already visited Dublin and I immediately fell in love. There are so many treasures and so many things to explore in this city. The fact that I reside very close only further encourages me to make frequent visits. This past weekend was only the second weekend in, and it completely blew my expectations out the window. It was a weekend trip to Cork, Kerry, and the Cliffs of Moher. I knew this country would be beautiful, because that was one of the many reasons I decided to come, but I was not fully aware or in tune with how truly incredible and majestic Ireland is. Throughout the whole trip, I was in complete awe of everything around me and my eyes were peeled to the window. I was on a bus tour with about 20 of us, which made it a bit more intimate and personal. Additionally, our guide and driver knew so much history about Ireland. So in between singing songs like “American Pie” and “With our Without you”, he would give us historical stories about Ireland and it’s people. The weekend included: driving the Dingle Peninsula, horseback riding through Killarney National Park, two spectacular beaches with breathtaking mountain backdrops, The Cliffs of Moher at sunset, the Rock of Dunamase and Blarney Castle. I kissed the Blarney Stone, which was way more freaky and awkward than I was expecting it to be, but it is said that if you kiss the stone you will have “the gift of the gab” meaning you will be able to be persuasive and clever in your words. The pathways and hidden gems around the castle were spectacular and mystical and it felt as if I was in an episode of “Once Upon a Time”.

With the evenings of the weekend holding memories of karaoke-ing till our voices blew out and dancing and drinking during our night in Cork for a new friend’s 22nd birthday, it is completely worth being sick right now.

Looking ahead to more nights out at the local nightlife here, and more weekends spent traveling and exploring more of this wonderful country and other outside countries, I am in a state of excitement for what is to come during this experience. But for now, I am just taking everything in day by day, moment by moment and enjoying all of it.

new year, new experiences

This year has been a difficult one for me, in several ways. But I have learnt a lot about myself. I feel like every year, many feel like a changed person because of specific experiences in their lives. I especially feel that from this year.

I am close to embarking on a new adventure, in a new place for a long duration. I could not be more excited. One of the things I discovered about myself from this year is my restlessness, my longing for adventures, new places and new people.

I felt this feeling satisfied after my trip to Ghana this past summer. Going into a completely different culture and location had me anxious, excited and a little scared. But I also felt a weird sense of comfort in feeling completely ready and open-minded. I kept myself as void as I could be of expectations, and I opened myself up to the possibility of anything. I learnt I have an inescapable addiction of immersing myself with different cultures. My knowledge that people in another place could be extremely kind and personable was confirmed. I learnt that here, people are so scared of the quiet, and of connection without technology. I thrive off of connections with people, where it’s real. I learnt what it’s like to be the minority, to be in an uncomfortable position where I recognized my privilege more than ever.

I look forward to putting myself out of my comfort zone even more. I look forward to learning more and embarking on this adventure of studying abroad in Ireland.

Ghana

On July 13th, I departed on a plane from Toronto Pearson Airport to London Heathrow, then finally to Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana. About 15 hours in flight, and several hours of customs, layovers, and delays I finally arrived in Ghana around 9 pm Ghana time on July 14th.

I was lucky enough to have met two girls at the gate in London who were also volunteering in Ghana with the same organization and the same placement. I grew to be fast friends with them throughout my stay and I was lucky to meet many volunteers from around the world. There was approximately 11 of us who arrived that same evening. We were all taken to spend the night in a hotel, as the volunteer house was full capacity with volunteers who had arrived previously.

The following morning included a wonderful breakfast, meeting other volunteers and orientation. Then we were split into our specific placement groups which are designated by colour, mine being purple. There was 4 girls in their 20s and 1 in her 50s. We had the furthest placement in a town called Frankadua, about 2 hours of a drive from the capital. Frankadua was more of a rural community than Accra, and as I came to realize quite quickly, a pretty amazing community as well.

And we were off to our placement, and I was off to 2 of the most amazing weeks of my life. I won’t bother to go into crazy, insignificant details on this post, because they are kept in my memories for me to remember and smile at. Hopefully I can summarize somewhat my experience. But there is no way I will be able to fully communicate or properly phrase how this experience deeply affected me, how it made a lasting imprint, or how it made my heart so much fuller. There are no words.

Throughout the 2 weeks I was able to be an assistant teacher to two classrooms: kindergarten at a school called Freedom School, and P2 (Grade 2) at EP Primary School). I was able to read to them, teach them spelling, numbers, animals, and a bit of geography. But outside of academics, I taught the P2 class (I grew to be very fond of them) the hokey pokey and a polish campfire song, to which they giggled with excitement at each chance to do it. They in turn gave me a mini Away lesson (the main language they spoke in Frankadua), taught me playground games and handshakes, and gave me a constant smile. There were a few kids who became very special to me, and the love they gave me will be with me forever.

I was surprisingly able to do a morning of construction work, smashing concrete with the other volunteers in 2 school classrooms, then scooping it away and sweeping the dust. Now that was an experience.

Evenings were laid back. We would finish dinner by 7, then proceed to have a couple of beers, play cards, and listen to music until we went to bed around 9:30-10. It was wonderfully simple.

The new volunteers had a night of “initiation” where we had to each take a shot of Akpeteshie.

But, twist – shot glasses there are about 2 and a half times the size of shot glasses here! But we took them, then headed off to a local’s party with dancing, African drumming, and lots of amazing fun and laughs.

A Saturday during the trip, me and 4 of the other newer volunteers went on a day trip to the monkey sanctuary to feed adorable, wild monkeys, and then to Wli Falls and mountains. The waterfalls were stunning and the hike up the mountain was one to remember. That’s all I can really say, but it was one of the most physically intense activities I have ever accomplished.

Excursions to nearby towns were frequently made, especially Jaupong, which had market days on Wednesdays and Saturdays. We mostly went to the market to pick and buy fabric at one of the many vendors, then brought it back to Frankadua, for the town tailor or seamstress to make something from it. I was able to get a pair of pants, a skit and a shirt made for me.

I was not used to standing out as much as I did in Frankadua and other towns. I was one of the small number of white people there. Being a white girl gives rise to stares, smiles, flirts, and marriage proposals. Yes, I was proposed to about twice, to which I replied “I am already married”. They leave you alone after that, but it is not uncommon as a tourist to receive those. It is also quite strange being back home and not hearing “YAVOO” being shouted my way which means “Look out, white person!”.

But I fell in love with the country and Frankadua. Ghanians are some of the friendliest, nicest, most welcoming people I have ever met. I was always told “You are welcome” from everybody I encountered, and pleasant small talk was made with practically every stranger. Walking around the town leads to many “hellos” and “how are yous”. It was very nice, as opposed to here, where people never look up from their phones, so as to avoid eye contact with strangers. No technology for 2 weeks either, only the beautiful backdrop of lush Ghana landscapes.

This does not properly capture my trip or emotions in the least bit, and it is weird to share it with people back home. I find myself missing the people and culture, and I’m always speechless, because it’s hard to find the words to explain the time I spent there. Please, I encourage you, to go to Ghana if you can. You will not forget it.

And, lastly, I was honoured to be driven to the airport on the last day by the mayor of Frankadua!

Plans Change

I am inspired to write this post shortly after my sister’s high school graduation. It’s the time for her and many of her friends to leave a chapter of their lives behind and jump into a new, scary and exciting adventure.
I can vividly remember how I was feeling at that time. I thought I had my life all figured out. I also thought that the decisions I made were finalized and concrete. I was going to complete my undergraduate in one field, go to law school straight after and become most likely a criminal lawyer. Man, do things change.
All it took for me, was one or two people to introduce me to a whole world, actually two worlds to be exact: two worlds that are deeply intertwined. Now my time is gladly spent working myself into these two worlds, partly for building towards my career and goals, but also because I simply love it and enjoy it.
For me, and many others that I have had the pleasure of meeting, this was the case. Simply put, I NEVER in high school thought I would want to be involved in politics, or more or less pursue a career in politics. Now, I find myself volunteering with campaigns, networking with politicians, and attending political conventions. Needless to say my life path really changed, and I am happy I met that one person who introduced me to it. If I hadn’t kept an open mind about it, I would never have met incredible people, been a part of amazing teams, or been able to create amazing experiences. It definitely shook up my world though, because I had always thought becoming a lawyer was a career path for me. Not to say either, that I will not ever pursue law school, because I might. ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. That’s was so exciting, and enthralling and exhilarating.
Of course, there are many who set a path and stick to it all their lives. There is definitely nothing wrong with that either. The point of this post is to just consider the fact that life is always changing and pulling you in different directions. Try to take a leap and try other things EVEN if you are comfortable in what you are doing. You never know where or who it will lead you too. You will never know if it could lead you to an undiscovered passion.

Rejection

I meant to write this post a while ago, after a recent event in my life that had just happened. But to be honest, I was kind of lacking the inspiration to write it at that time. The fact is that rejection is sort of an ugly term to even describe what it was. But I was turned down from an opportunity that I wanted like crazy. I had worked for it, and to be honest I was an inch away from receiving it as was told to me by the person that gave me the disappointing news. The thing is, the kind of rejection I received was probably the best kind, as I know the woman as a friend, and she went on to say really sweet, kind things about me that I won’t disclose in this post.

Of course, I still allowed myself to be upset about this as one usually does with any form of rejection. Then I came to realize that there will always be people with more experience, more skills than you. But everybody brings something different to the table as well. The aftermath of an event like this is so important. I put it to myself to use it as motivation. If I was motivated before (which I was), I was even more motivated after this. I was more motivated to work harder, volunteer even more, and it took my head, heart and soul to keep my passions and dreams alive.

So I guess I am writing this post now, because I sometimes let myself believe that my strong emotions make myself weak. But those emotions have led me to a place today where a lot of things have been working out for me. I have landed a volunteer internship in an amazing organization. I have been accepted to work with a team to plan a social justice driven convention in the near future. Basically, I kept myself moving forward. Life doesn’t always go your way, but you can always take control of an alternative route. Then maybe sometime in the future, I will return to that original path.

(I know that last part was cheesy but bear with me)

Bring Back Our Girls

Hi there!

This is my first blog post for this new blog that I felt was time to start up! I was inspired to start it after reading enough on the 276 Nigerian girls who were recently abducted from their school by Boko Haram. This Islamic militant group opposes Western values, specifically the education of girls. They abducted the girls right from their dormitory in the middle of the night to simply prevent them from receiving an education. The United States, Britain, France, and Israel have all pledged their support and will do whatever they can to stop this injustice.

Education is something that many will die fighting for; this was demonstrated with the shooting of young Malala Yousafzai. For us, in the Western education, it is a privilege that many shrug off, because of lack of appreciation and commitment. But it is something that we should not take for granted. Of course, there are assignments and tests that we feel we could do without. Then there are days where we just don’t want to get out of bed because the thought of going to school and sitting in a classroom, seems less than ideal for lazy or adventurous souls. It is key in that moment to turn your mind to Malala, and the 276 Nigerian girls who live for learning and going to school so that they can form prosperous lives for themselves and families. They are denied this because they are girls. I am a young girl and can freely attend university and pursue an education. While I sometimes dislike the workload, through it I learn about people such as Malala, and then I cannot bear to be ungrateful. I am so blessed to be able to go to school, to talk freely about important issues, and to feel safe while doing it.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the missing girls and their families and I hope they are found soon.