September 26, 2016

Güten tag! I just returned from Oktoberfest in Munich right in time for my first class in London, "Contextualizing Cultural Policy." Decided to be a bit of an overachiever and get a head start on my first assignment by attempting to Contextualize the German art of beer drinking ;)

What a weekend! It was full of long journeys (an attempt on the part of me and Hannah to be economical) and many memories. While we eventually met up with a larger group of Wake Forest friends in Munich, the plight began on Friday morning, with Hannah and I making our way to Gatwick Airport outside London for an EasyJet flight to Stuttgart, a random city in Germany approximately 2.5 hours from our final destination of Munich. It was much cheaper than the alternative so we went for it.

For some reason a plane with ".com" printed on it
seems a little less trustworthy but that didn't stop us!

We opted for random seating on this flight (it was extra money to pick seats) and I was lucky enough to be entertained by my seat neighbors, a groom and his groomsman who were headed to the Stuttgart Oktoberfest for their Stag Weekend (British term for Bachelor Party).

Alex (middle), Steve the groom (left) and I became fast friends. I would say 50% of this friendship was due to their fascination with my American accent and the other 50% likely due to the heavy amounts of jäger they were consuming from TSA-friendly bottles. Their friends, even more intoxicated, spent the duration of the flight rows rows behind us yelling inaudible joke/insults at Alex for "chatting up an American." The flight was quick and before I knew it, we had landed in Stuttgart and I was bidding farewell to the stagsmen and their entertaining rowdiness.

Hannah and I made our way to the bus station, a quick walk from the airport terminal and waited for our £5 per person bus to Munich to arrive. It was delayed which made for a long period of sitting in a bus station and trying to communicate with the German employees about when the bus would arrive, but we were pleasantly surprised when we boarded it and connected to the free Wifi. We were also excited to see some of the beautiful scenery as we wove through the mountains and made our way to Munich.

the view in the middle of
nowhere Germany
When we reached Munich around 9pm, we hopped in a cab and headed to a hotel to meet the rest of our group. Exhausted, I grabbed a prepackaged muffin from the hotel shop and hit the hay, with an alarm set for 5 am. We heard that getting into the tents at Oktoberfest was quite competitive and weren't about to come all this way for nothing.

The next morning, we woke up, got our dirndls on and headed for Oktoberfest. As we walked out of our hotel just before 6 am dressed in our traditional German outfits, we walked by a local man who said in a very thick accent, "you are all crazy." Fair. We managed to navigate Munich transportation despite the ridiculously long and unfamiliar words on every sign and arrived in the freezing cold as the FIRST ONES in line for Oktoberfest! Not sure why we were shocked because after all, the sun wouldn't be rising for another hour and a half.


We waited and waited and waited some more behind one of several doors leading into the tent, which opened at 9 am. Well 9 am hit and much to our dismay, the doors didn't open. At this point, large lines and crowds of people had accumulated behind us. It was madness as we left the spot we had occupied for hours and joined in the stampede through the main entrance.

Once inside, we quickly grabbed one of the last open tables and ordered two massive pretzels and nine even more massive beers. The energy in our tent was unreal, with chanting every few minutes as some dedicated people would stand on the tables and chug an entire stein. Even more fun was seeing countless familiar faces of other Wake students who are also abroad and came to Oktoberfest. We all congregated in the Hofbrau tent (a favorite of American study abroad students). 


A group of us opted to leave the tents after a few hours and explore the carnival portion of the festival. We got Nutella crepes and walked around taking it all in (like the cutest toddlers running around in lederhosen)! We decided that beer and amusement park rides were probably not the best combo and called it a day by the late afternoon. 

The next day, several people had early morning flights but Hannah and I had time to explore. We met up with her high school friend Katie and Katie's friend Sarah and visited Dachau, the former site of one of the largest concentration camps. It was definitely somber but I am thankful for the perspective it provided and I learned a lot about the Holocaust that I couldn't have gotten out of class or online research.

We took a long, scenic walk through Dachau to the train station and rushed to make a train that would get back to Munich to catch our bus back to Stuttgart. After running with luggage in tow (and a low blood sugar) my sweaty self and Hannah made it on to the bus and embarked back to good ole Stoogs.

By the time we arrived we hadn't eaten all day and were starving. With plenty of time to spare, we went to the airport grocery store and split a family sized bag of potato chips and some Babybel cheese while sitting in 5-minute massage chairs, which we were too cheap to pay for so we didn't even get massaged. Only the best for these world travelers.

We felt disgusting and joked that we looked homeless but that didn't stop people from coming up to us. A man with a young daughter asked us something in German and I instinctively nodded even though I had no idea what he was saying. It was only after he started walking away that we realized he was having us watch his daughter while he used the bathroom. We ate our chips and stared at the girl since we couldn't communicate with her. Terrible babysitters. Once he came back we were approached by what we presume to be a Slovakian scam artist who asked us to help him pay for his 75 euro bus ticket to Slovakia but pleasssee!! We knew from experience that bus tickets were dirt cheap and sent Borat on his merry way.

After clearing security, we ate part II of dinner in a fab airport Italian restaurant. We killed the rest of our time by sampling every perfume sold in Duty Free. Finally boarded our EasyJet flight back to Gatwick in time for the first week of classes in London to begin.

It was quite the adventure and I loved every minute of it. I'll be dreaming of pretzels and steins of cold Hofbrau during my first week of classes for sure. Auf wiedersehen for now!



September 21, 2016

It was close to midnight and Hannah, Abby and I were digesting our dinner of chicken and vegetable stir fry, our first attempt at cooking for ourselves. Unfortunately, it was not even close to Chopped-worthy. We had been planning on taking a trip the next morning to Brighton, a coastal town outside of London, but in our strange state of PTSD (post traumatic stir-fry disorder), we impulsively bagged that idea and put down our credit cards for an overpriced all-day guided tour through the English countryside run by a group we found on Google called "International Friends." Seemed legit.

We set our alarms for 5:30 am and stayed up until about 1 am laughing in disbelief at our out of the blue purchase. The next morning wasn't an easy wake up but I made everyone toast with jam (#justbritishthings) and once we got out the door, we stopped for coffee and boarded the Tube in pursuit of the pickup location for our tour.

We were met by our guide and boarded a van, which shockingly turned out to be a super luxurious and comfortable Mercedes. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and told us all about Stone Henge, its history and conspiracy theories. I have been fascinated by Stone Henge for a long time and seeing it in person was so surreal.

Next stop was the Roman Baths in Bath, England. Bath felt like a piece of Italy in the middle of the English countryside, and is the site of naturally occurring hot springs where people used to come to heal their ailments. It was basically a spa for the rich in ancient times but apparently the water is now disgusting (which explains its bright green hue). The architecture was insane.


I only got one photo at our final destination, Windsor Castle because of their strict no-photos policy inside the castle. Like Buckingham Palace, it was gorgeous and so opulent inside. 

We were all so proud of ourselves for our crazy last minute adventure. It was a spontaneous day but we saw so much of England and checked 3 items off our "places to see" list. We finished the day with our first meal at Nandos (I got a spicy chicken burger with mashed potatoes and a side of olives) and watched the movie Notting Hill  on my laptop. Jam-packed but good day.


September 20, 2016

I arrived to London over a week and a half ago and I am already so comfortable here.  As much as I have loved being a tourist, it has been so nice coming back "home" to our cozy flat in Clerkenwell, a quiet but trendy neighborhood in London.

Crossing the Pond
My dad dropped my mom and me off at Newark Airport bright and early two Saturday mornings ago. We bid America farewell waving Walmart flags in our hands. We left just as the sun rose in NJ and landed as it set over London.
London Adventures
After landing in London, we enjoyed a couple nights in South Kensington and spent the days shopping for bedding, towels and decor for my flat. I loved strolling around Covent Garden (the Faneuil Hall of London) despite the record-breaking heat. We tried to cover as much ground as we could the first few days. A highlight was meeting our British friends the Dodworths for dinner and taking a late night walk to Buckingham Palace. We were the only ones there and it was so surreal.

Tea at Sketch
Another favorite was meeting up with my friends from Wake who I am living with here in London, Abby, Hannah, and both their moms for an over-the-top afternoon tea at Sketch. This was definitely on my bucket list and it was even cooler than I expected. While the tea served is traditional and quintessentially British, the bathrooms there are super modern with rainbow lights everywhere and toilets in individual white pods- an experience in themselves.

Buckingham Palace
My mom's friend Jacquie flew over and joined us in London and we all took a tour of Buckingham Palace. We were lucky because the palace is only open certain times of year while the Queen is away. It was so ornate and beautiful inside but there was a no photography policy so we just snapped these outside pics.

Notting Hill
Something tells me I am going to be spending a lot of Saturday mornings wandering the Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill. It is like a giant, festive farmer's market that goes on for miles. People are selling antiques, crafts and homemade food from all different cultures.  Plus, it is famous for the colorful pastel homes which are nothing short of adorable.


So pumped for an amazing semester in London with two of my favorite people on the planet! Stay tuned for more adventures soon.


September 2, 2016

It was probably a combination of a lot of things. Exhaustion, a full day of travel and airport delays, and certainly some reverse culture shock. But the night I came home from Haiti, after opening up my fully stocked kitchen cabinet in search of some cereal, I couldn’t stop crying. I was being slightly dramatic, but we had every type imaginable. In Haiti, most people are lucky to eat once a day. Whether my tears were of sadness or gratitude, I’m still not sure.

It had only been two or three days earlier in Minoterie that I had experienced one of the most overwhelming, emotional days of my life.

We were visiting a Tent City, a plot of land that, after the devastating 2010 earthquake, was converted into rows of tin-sided, blue tarp-roofed shelters meant to provide temporary relief, only to be still fully occupied by families six years later due to the extreme poverty and lack of resources in the area.

The day started in typical fashion for me, I fell. I am probably one of the clumsiest people I know—just ask any of my friends. So it was no surprise to Grace, one of my best friends who came to Haiti with me, when I wiped out in a giant mud puddle, coating my shoes and skirt with sludge, along with ruining one of the several water purifiers we had just assembled and were preparing to distribute in the village.

Embarrassed at my inelegance, I was ready to be judged as a dumb American girl by the onlooking Haitians, whose village I was a guest in and had managed to make somewhat of a scene. Instead, I was met with the complete opposite reaction. Two Haitians rushed over to me, and, not speaking English, guided me to a
water pump in the ground where they literally washed my feet for me until the mud had rinsed off.

For perspective, water in Haiti must be rationed and is by no means readily available. In villages where they do not have a water pump in the ground, people often send their children to walk miles in the heat carrying buckets of water back to their families. My self-centered insecurity was instantly replaced with gratitude and awe at the purest form of selflessness these people possessed. This was one of the many instances throughout the trip that I witnessed firsthand how strong the presence of God is in Haiti and in the Haitian people.

The day in Minoterie was long. We spent the majority of it interacting with families and children as we dropped off water filters for them to use. We prayed with them, played with the children and took it all in. The poverty was kind of like what we see in the movies and charity commercials, but experiencing it on the ground instead of through a TV screen only intensified everything more than I can describe.

This young girl's Dora shirt struck a cord with me. In stark contrast
with the typical Dora-obsessed child in the US, it was apparent she was
simply wearing a shirt for its functionality-- her concern was not Dora,
but her hunger (she hadn't eaten all day). 
As I got back in the van to return to where we were staying, and the door shut behind me, my eyes began to fill with tears. I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. People in the Tent City had nothing and everything all at once.

While my eyes were full of tears, the eyes of the people staring back at me, occupants of the Tent City, were not. Granted, when you met people’s gaze, the desperation was there. Small children who had gone days without food. Mothers who seemed helpless and unsure of what their families’ futures may hold. Kids with distended stomachs from malnutrition or sickness. You saw fear and angst in their eyes.
But even more prevalent than the desperation was hope. (It was no coincidence that the organization leading our mission in Haiti is called “Mission of Hope.”) These people had more faith and hope than anyone I've ever encountered. They were living, breathing proof that happiness and a strong sense of spirituality trump material possessions every single time. Despite their circumstances, they were optimistic and enviably joyful. They forged ahead, determined to live- in every sense of the word. In their eyes, especially the children's, I saw the purest happiness, playfulness, and endless hopes and dreams.

If you think about it, human eyes are one of our most generic features. While some of us may be thin, overweight, short, tall, black, white, Asian, or otherwise, our eyes are generally the same. So while my Creole skills may have been lacking (okay, nonexistent), there was a universal communication that came from just looking into people’s eyes.
Widlove's only outfit, a donated girls' dress-up
 skirt made for the perfect dancing get-up.

The eyes of Widlove were bright, beautiful and optimistic. About 12 years old, she was captivated by my phone, camera and the hairs on my forearms. I introduced her to Taylor Swift and she showed off her best dance moves. Her sass and spunk will never escape me.

Another young girl, Roseline, was so young. Her eyes had a tinge of sadness. You could tell she was hungry and she seemed a little uneasy. But at the sight of herself, appearing in the form of a selfie on my phone screen, her eyes lit up and became full of fascination and eagerness. In Haiti, mirrors are a commodity item and many people have never even seen what they look like. You can imagine her excitement when she saw herself for the first time. It was as if her world had just begun in that exact moment.
Roseline's first selfie! She was a little confused by the whole thing but her face
lit up as soon as she realized she was looking at herself.
I saw so many stories in people's eyes in Minoterie. Too many to recount now, but too valuable to ever forget.

It's been a few months since I got home. The exhaustion and culture shock have dissipated. I've thrown myself headfirst into a fast-paced internship at an advertising agency in Midtown Manhattan and I often observe the stark differences between Haiti and New York. Most of the time it feels as though they could be on entirely different planets, but other times, during my unexpected run-ins with benevolence in a city often consumed by greed and selfishness, Haiti feels like it could be blocks away.

Some aspects of what I experienced in Haiti have certainly faded.  And thankfully for everyone around me, I no longer cry up upon opening the kitchen cabinet. But I do think about gratitude a whole lot more. As far as kindness, all it takes is the memory of the two locals who washed the mud from my feet to realize that there are no excuses not try to be more selfless and spread love everyday.

And until the next time I get the privilege of being back in Haiti, I'll vividly remember the eyes of the people I met. In their eyes, I saw their souls; their heartbreak, hardship and struggles, but most importantly, their unmatched joy. And that is a sight my eyes will never forget.

If you feel inclined to help change the life of a Haitian child, please click here.