Italy

After my birthright trip to Staten Island I knew it was time to finally take the leap and book the flight to Italy.  In all seriousness, I don’t know how I lived in Europe for over a year when I did my masters degree and never made it over to Italy. It’s always been a place I’ve wanted to go, and part of me wanted to wait for the right time. Maybe when I was married and I’d have someone to walk along the beach with in Positano. 

Amalfi

My work went back to the office twice a week every week since california dropped the mask mandate. Our CEO made august “work from anywhere” month as a lot of my colleagues have kids and this would allow them to spend time with them and transition into the new school year routine without having to balance a commute to the office. I heard “work from anywhere month” and ran with it. I booked a trip to Norway to visit my best friend because when else would I have this opportunity? I had been in Norway for three weeks before finding unbeatable $120 tickets to Rome. I couldn’t say no to that. 

Amalfi

I had initially only planned to spend  one week in Italy, and then come home and visit friends in Washington DC before heading back to the office on September 6th. Today it is September 5th, I have work in a few hours, and I am just leaving Italy. 

Positano

My first stop was Rome. If you’re planning on visiting Rome in August, just know it’s HOT. My walking average in Rome was around 16k steps daily. I walked everywhere my first three days. I found I preferred to work in the mornings and explore in the evenings. Rome felt safe and crowded enough to be able to comfortably explore in the evenings. 

Pantheon, Rome

On my first night in Rome I took a walk to Trevi fountain and met a few solo traveler girls. We chatted a bit, took photos of each other by the fountain and made our wishes. As I was walking back to my hotel I saw a man drinking from what looked like a sculpture with water running out of it. In the US this water would usually be recycled and undrinkable. I asked him if it was safe to drink from that water and he said yes, and in fact it’s mineral water that doctors recommend over the tap water in Rome. We  ended up chatting for a few hours and he walked me to an intersection by my hotel and we parted ways. 

Rome

The next day I went to the Coliseum. I don’t know why, but a group of bikers stopped me and asked to take a photo with me. They were all 50+ and really kind. They invited me to lunch but I declined as I needed to head back to work. I was still working 8 hour days most days, but shifting the time of my work to allow me to explore the city. 

Colosseum, Rome

My last night in Rome I ended up meeting with a group of solo travelers. I have never truly solo traveled before this trip. Every time I’ve traveled I’ve either gone with friends or had been meeting people there. I begged my best friend from Norway to join me, but she couldn’t get time off work. I was so anxious about going to Italy without knowing a soul, but I ended up meeting some amazing solo travelers through the Couchsurfing app. I didn’t Couchsurf, I stayed in hotels, but I used to app’s meet up feature to coordinate a group of solo travelers to get gelato by Trevi fountain and we all really hit it off. One of the people I met was Sonia, who I ended up meeting up with again later in my travels in Palermo. 

Trevi Fountain, Rome

I headed to Naples next. My plan was only to go to Naples to be able to visit Positano and Capri during the day. When I got to Naples I was shocked at how unsafe and dirty it felt. I considered getting back on the train and going to Rome. But visiting Positano had always been a dream of mine. I used to watch Mimi And Alex Ikonn’s vlogs of Positano that made it look so magical. I had to go. I later found out that Mimi and Alex were in Positano the same time as me, but unfortunately we didn’t cross paths. 

Positano

The first (full) day in Naples, I took a ferry to a Capri. I had no plans, other than to explore the island and take photos. I quickly came to realize Capri is not very walkable, between the steep inclines and narrow roads with no sidewalks. I ended up staying by the shore and finding a blue grotto boat tour. I met another solo traveler, Molly,  on the boat, and we ended up hitting it off and making plans to visit Positano together the next day. After the boat tour ended, she decided to take another boat to go inside the blue grotto. I decided to explore the beach. I walked down the shore as far as I could until I found a spot that was less densely populated with tourists. I laid out my United Airlines blanket I had been using as a towel and sarong and got into the water. The water was the most beautiful turquoise blue and felt lukewarm. I was so happy. I looked out at the water and the view of the restaurants on the hills next to the water and thought to myself how grateful I am to be here in this moment and experience this. 

Capri

While I was in the water, I noticed a guy who kept glancing at me. He was pretty cute and kept looking at me so I decided to ask him if he knew where to get the bus to see the other side of the island. He told me where to find it and then asked me my name, where I’m from and the next thing you know we’ve spent two hours talking together in the water. It was apparent from the moment we started talking what a sweet and gentle soul he is. I really enjoyed talking to him, and he made me laugh. He told me he took a crusade from Italy to Turkey… he meant a cruise. His broken English was charming. We took a few photos together, exchanged contacts and parted ways. He asked me to dinner but since I needed to wake up at 6 am to take a ferry to Positano I declined. We did end up texting for the majority of the evening. 

Me on a boat in Capri

The next day I met molly at the ferry building and we hopped on our 8am boat to Positano. The nearly two-hour trip went quickly in her company. I feel so lucky to have met so many people that I genuinely enjoy being around on this trip. 

Molly and I in Amalfi

When we got off the boat in Positano I was overwhelmed. I teared up. For so many years I had watched Mimi and Alex come here and had wanted to go so badly. It was more beautiful than I had imagined. Words don’t do justice so I’ll include photos. We met another solo traveler (Larissa). The three of us explored Positano, took photos, and ordered gelato in a real lemon that had been carved out and frozen. The taste of lemon gelato will always take me back to this day. We went to the beach, you know, the one you seen in all the photos of Positano where the buildings and homes are build into the side of the hills that overlook the water. 

Positano

I got in the water, swam a bit and came back to shore. I looked around and took it all in. I couldn’t believe I was here and that this place is real. It was one of the top three most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. 

Positano

I headed back to Naples around 7:30 and had dinner plans with the man from the beach in Capri, Diego, at 8:30. We had pizza in Naples, which was lithe best pizza I had in Italy. He taught me about the history of Naples, and some of the Napoli traditions, like the waiter pretending you don’t need to pay, and the restaurants hanging clothes outside. He was so kind and charming. We parted ways after dinner as I was leaving in the morning for Sicily.

Cefalu, Sicily

I flew into Palermo airport and took a bus into the city. I wasn’t immediately impressed by Sicily. It was giving post- Soviet state. I walked around the historic part of town a bit, got food and called it a night. In the morning I figured out the bus to Mondello beach. I knew Sicily had blue water beaches but I was not prepared for how blue and beautiful Mondello beach was. The water was shallow and crystal clear… I walked about 20 yards out and The water was not above my chest. The water was warm and there were no jellyfish or sharks. I was so relaxed and at peace. I probably have over 200 photos of this beach on my phone from the few hours I was there. I met up with Larissa for a bit who was also in Palermo and then I headed back to start work. 

Larissa and I in Mondello Beach, Sicily

I got a text from Sonia, a solo traveler i met in Rome who told me she was in Palermo now and wanted to meet. She asked if I wanted to visit Cefalu. I had never heard of it but I said sure because I’m always down to explore new places. The next morning we got up early and took a train to Cefalu. I had zero expectations for Cefalu because I hadn’t researched it. When we got there I was blown away. Where to begin? The water looked like the largest swimming pool I had ever seen and there were old apartments along the shore that made me feel I was somewhere back in time. It reminded me of the scenes from the town in the movie Luca. 

Cefalu, Sicily

Sonia and I followed the lead of the locals who were running and jumping into the water from the pier. We swam, we shared travel stories, we floated in silence and enjoyed the view. It was unreal. Cefalu is the #1 most beautiful place I’ve ever been to. Each city I had visited in Italy I loved more and more. But Sicily was the last city I visited before rounding off the trip back in Rome. 

Sonia in Cefalu, Sicily

I came back to Rome for four days. I wasn’t able to see the Vatican the first time I was in Rome but luckily I was able to this time. I saw the Hand of God. The technique Michael Angelo used was incredibly complicated, especially given he was a turtle. Just kidding. But seriously, the complex nature of the method he used to paint the Sistine chapel could not be replicated. I wonder how they do restorations of the paintings, or if they have. Unfortunately photos inside the Sistine Chapel were not permitted, but I got some great photos of other parts of the Vatican. 

Inside the Vatican

Diego took a few days off of work and came up to Rome from Capri to visit me. We drank from the fountain at Trevi Fountain and he introduced me to Amatriciana pasta, my new favorite. We took a train to try to visit the Tivoli baths, and ended up getting lost in a city called Mandela. We were stuck there for an hour and a half before the next train, but it’s okay because we found a sweet cat and a place to grab a snack. We took the train to Tivoli and although it was too late to visit the baths, we found a street filled with tents and food trucks where you could buy food and eat outside. The day didn’t go as planned, but ended up better than expected. 

Trevi Fountain, Rome

One of my favorite things about Diego is how patient and calm he is. He never got upset or frustrated, despite my constant micromanaging and occasional hangry-driven comments. He’s the kindest person I’ve ever met and his eternal optimism and smile are infectious.  

Lost in Mandela with Diego

My last day in Rome, we had to visit the Tivoli baths. We met at the train station early and took the right train this time. It ended up being a spa… I realllllly really nice spa. They had maybe 12 different sections with saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs, massages, pools and more. It was the perfect way to end the perfect trip. 

Tibi Spa, Rome

Reality set in as we were leaving the spa and it hit me. Tomorrow at this time there would be no Marcella in Italy, I’d be on a flight back the United States and this trip would just me a sweet memory.

Mondello Beach, Sicily

 If I could pause time on August 20-September 4 and live this trip over and over again for the rest of my life I would.  I couldn’t stop myself from crying. This trip had been the most magical trip I’ve ever taken. I met so many great friends, saw the most unbelievable and breathtaking views, and felt happier than I had in a while. I was already searching plane tickets back to Italy sometime later this year while I waited for my flight home to board. If this is a life that exists I want to live it. I hate goodbyes. I’m sitting here writing this blog on my flight home chocking back tears. I can not articulate into words how grateful I am to have experienced this trip. 

Mondello Beach, Sicily

The Global Gag Rule: A Hypocritical Policy

The 46th anniversary of Roe V. Wade falls just one day before the two-year anniversary of Trump’s Global Gag Rule. One gave women the right to bodily autonomy and self-governance over her own body in the United States, and the other helped strip these rights from women abroad, respectively.

While reproductive rights in the United States stuffer under the Trump Administration, the decision of the landmark case of Roe V. Wade still stands, which established a woman’s legal right to an abortion. In contrast, American foreign aid policies, such as the Helms amendment which prohibits U.S. foreign assistance money from funding the performance of abortions. Trump’s Global Gag Rule goes even further than the Helms Amendment by prohibiting U.S. funded aid organizations from giving information about abortions, referring patients to clinics that can perform safe abortions or even mentioning the word abortion to patients.  

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At the start of his term, Trump forced U.S. funded foreign aid recipients to sign the Global Gag Rule or lose funding. Organizations that refused to sign, lost all U.S. funding, including money that would be spent in HIV/AIDs prevention and treatment, cancer screenings, contraception and overall reproductive health. Subsequently, clinics who did not sign, have been forced to close or charge fees for reproductive health services, that are often too high for patients to afford. And when access to contraception is restricted, the need for abortion rises. To point out the obvious: Trump’s Global Gag Rulehas done much more harm than good to women and families abroad. And the question lingering in my mind is: if women in the United States have the legal right to abortion, why is that not reflected in how we administer foreign aid? 

There are a myriad of reasons why a woman may seek an abortion, it is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. My coworker visited a clinic in a rural area of Kenya and had the chance to sit down at a table with Kenyan teens and discuss their views on family planning. My coworker asked “Why is birth control and access to family planning services important to you?” And while most said that they wanted to wait til they finished their education or had a better income to have children, one girl said that she needs birth control because she comes from a village with high crime rates and if she is raped she doesn’t want to get pregnant. It opened my eyes to a new perspective, one I wouldn’t have had without hearing her story. Bottom line, whatever the reason may be for needing birth control or needing an abortion, we need to trust women in the decisions that they make regarding their bodies.

Spain

Christmas Day 2015 I was sitting on a beach in Malaga in a bikini, stuffing my face with paella. I can’t say It was the worst Christmas I’ve had.
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For Winter break, my friend and I decided to take a trip to Spain for 1 month and backpack through Barcelona, Madrid and the Costa del Sol. I was excited to visit Spain because I could use the Spanish I learned in high school to help me get by. However, I realized I was only fluent when it came to ordering food. Yes, that was my time to shine. “Un cafe con leche para llevar por favor” was a daily favorite of mine.

Spain

I know this could easily be a lengthy post, so I will try to keep it short and break it down by cities and highs and lows. Disclaimer: my friend and I did not visit any nightclubs or bars, so unfortunately I don’t have any input about that. However, we were told that the nightlife in Spain is wild and is great for partying.
Spain 2First stop: Barcelona(3days). Barcelona is definitely a “young” area, full of students and nightlife. We stayed in an apartment a few blocks from the main University so we met a lot of students and people were really friendly.
Highs: Hiking in Guell Park, the outdoor food market and being able to use the metro to get nearly everywhere.
Lows: Seeing people urinating in public.
spain 5spain 4spain 7Second stop: Malaga (12 days). Malaga was absolutely beautiful. If you need to get away and relax and think, this is a really great place. This was our first stop in Costa deal Sol and we were able to visit Rhonda, Mijas, Fuengirola and Benemedina. Highs: The beaches in Malaga were really nice. It was about 16 – 18 degrees Celsius while we were there so we were able to enjoy the beach. The water is a deep Mediterranean turquoise and the water is really calm, making it easy to swim in. Visiting Mijas was another high. It was my favorite place we visited because it was so real; it had donkeys, cobble stone streets, white painted concrete buildings. One of out friends came up from the UK for 3 days and travelled with us to Mijas. We drove up a hill where we overlooked the ocean and saw the most beautiful sunset. I think if I could relive one moment of my entire trip to Spain it would be watching that sunset in Mijas with two of my favorite people. Another high was visiting Rey Morro’s palace in Rhonda. The top of the palace looked modest, with a small garden and a fountain. When you enter the palace, it is huge. There’s several floors with hundreds of steep stairs and rooms. We spent about 20 minutes just walking down the stairs. When we reached the bottom were realized we were at the river. It was so beautiful and serene. Totally worth the hike back up the stairs (side note: Rey Morro’s palace is a great workout if you’re looking to get a nice toned butt and calves).
Lows: We only used one day each to visit the other cities and the rest of the time we stayed in Malaga and we ended up getting pretty board. Oh well, I guess there are worse places to be bored in.
spain 11spain 8spain 9Third stop: Granada (6 days). The first thing I noticed upon arriving to Granada was the leafless trees that were FILLED with black birds. There were so many birds in the trees that the trees looked black and they made the most beautiful sound.. It was like music.
Highs: Visiting Alhambra and Generalife. Make sure that you book tickets in advance if you plan on visiting Alhambra because they were sold out when we came so we had to come back the next day at 6 am and there was a long line and they sold out again (but we got tickets to Generalife garden that day). On day 3, my friend got up at 5 am determined to get us tickets to Alhambra, and thank God she did. Alhambra was beautiful. The old moorish architecture and paintings in the castle were unbelievable. The walls of the castle were covered with hand carved wooden words in Arabic from the Quran. The castle was taken over by the Christians and added on to with more European looking architecture, but they did not get rid of the old moorish architecture and writing so you could see through two different cultures preserved in the architecture of this castle. The outside was full of orange trees, pomegranates, flowers and trees.
Lows: The old man who yelled (in English) “Don’t stay in Granada too long, it will fuck you up!” We were not really sure what he meant but it freaked us out. Another low was the ladies at the entrance of Alhambra who grabbed our hands, gave us a branch of rosemary and began to tell us our future by reading the palm of our hands and then demanded 5 euro. When we told them we did not have 5 euro, they got angry and threw the 1.5 euro we gave them and began cursing at us. If you see these women just walk briskly past them and do not make eye contact.

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Fourth stop: Seville (4 days). We found a deal on 4 star hotel in Seville for 20 pound per night, so we took it but it was really far from the center of town.
Highs: Plaza de Espana was so beautiful. There were horse carriages, water fountains, beautiful architecture and paintings. It really looked like a dream. There are several parks surrounding the plaza, some with ponds, some for children to play in and some for having lunch. My favorite park is Maria Loiusa park because they have hundreds of white birds that will come and eat out of your hand. Having birds come and gently nibble from your hands is a really cool feeling. It was definitely my favorite moment in Seville.

Lows: Getting ripped off at the Lebanese restaurant. We had the best dinner at this restaurant and when the bill came it was 10 euro more than we had expected and the guy couldn’t explain why. My girl friend swears it is because he knew she is from Saudi Arabia and that’s why he made her pay extra, but I honestly don’t know. Either way, it was really rude.spain 22spain 21spain 20

Last stop: Madrid (3 days). By this point in our trip, my friend and I were ready to go home and wash our clothes and have a reallllllly long shower. We were so tired and I don’t think we were able to appreciate Madrid for all that it had to offer. Madrid is really beautiful and was very different from the south of Spain in terms of history and architecture.
Highs: Visiting the Royal Palace. Spain did it again with the amazing architecture and history. Another high was meeting two girls who came from the USA to visit Madrid for a week. They were similar in age to us, so we got along well. Hearing their American accents made me feel happy. But the highest high of all was the cheesecake at the cafe next to where we stayed.
Lows: We were too tired to appreciate everything and it rained 2/3 of the days we were there.
IMG_0682IMG_0685IMG_0702Overall, I think this trip would have been good as a 2 week trip rather than a month trip. I think if I stayed any longer they would have given me a Spanish passport. However, I’m glad we stayed the entire month because it was an experience and I got to brush up on my Spanish. Adios, Espana!

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Romania

If you like sex shops, eating pork and feeling unwanted, then Romania is the place for you!
Two of my classmates and I went to Bucharest for four days on a conference about corporate social responsibility and sustainability with one of our professors. As a disclaimer, I must say that we only stayed in Bucharest and didn’t explore other cities, so I can not speak about Romania as a country, just the capital, where we visited. I’ve heard Romania has beautiful hiking trails and historic Transylvanian castles that unfortunately we did not get to see.

IMG_2394The greatest part of visiting Romania was the currency. If you want to live like a king, you can easily live like a Romanian King on a college student budget. The local currency, or the Lei, is worth .17 British pounds. For the 4 days we were in Bucharest, I took out 300 Lei, which converts to 51 British pounds, and that covered food, taxi, coffee and snacks (with an extra 5 Lei left over). The taxis were very cheap. The average price for a taxi is 1.39 Lei per kilometer, so for us to get from our hotel to the university we payed about 6 Lei (or 1 British pound). The food was also inexpensive. We ate at nice restaurants and the average price for our meals ranged between  32 lei (5.4 British pounds) and 60 lei (10.2 British pounds), which included a starter, the main course and drinks.

IMG_2377The not so great side of Bucharest is that the sex shops and brothels greatly outnumber restaurants. When we went out to find food the first night we arrived, we found 8-10 sex clubs before we found 1 restaurant. On a side note, the names of these sex clubs were hilarious. My personal favorite was “Cats on Fire,” which had a sleezy black and red neon sign above the entrance. Also, these sex clubs were spread throughout the city on every block… You could pass a supermarket or a restaurant and the next shop would be a sex club. But on the up side, at least it is regulated, rather than doing it behind closed doors or illegally.

IMG_2395Anyways… The architecture was really beautiful. It was my first time visiting Eastern Europe and I was not expecting to see such big buildings with beautiful paintings. The inside of the university we visited had a hand painted mural in the main hall that was really beautiful.
IMG_2376Also, next to every Romanian flag they have the EU flag. They want you to know that they are part of the EU. They’re very proud of that.
IMG_2399I’m trying to think of more nice things to say about Bucharest, but I can’t think of much. To be honest, I don’t see myself visiting here again and I can’t say that I’ve had a great experience. The girls I was with and I got rejected from several taxis and restaurants (that were nearly empty) for no known reason. We felt unwanted almost everywhere we went. One of our taxi drivers opened up to us about his dislike for the British because “they have small heads and big bodies.” Yes, that is his direct quote. Also, smoking is allowed in restaurants and very rarely is there a “no smoking” section. For the most part, you’re inhaling the smoke from the people sitting next to you while trying to enjoy your meal. I would say 4 days in Bucharest was more than enough time and has made me very very very very very grateful to be heading back to the United Kingdom.
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Oman

I don’t think I ever took the time to express the beauty and culture of Oman. I was looking through some pictures from my trip to Nizwa and Muscat last January, and I came across some really awesome pictures I hadn’t shared.
The Goat Souq
The pictures below are from the goat souq in Nizwa. It looked like something out of National Geographic. Men and women were dressed in their traditional clothing while hundreds of goats circled around a platform where people could bid on them.
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Date Palms
One of Oman’s largest exports is dates. Thousands of date palms cover Oman. We were able to visit a man who harvests dates every year and learn how he does it. Surprisingly, he does not use any fancy machinery, instead he climbs the date palms himself and pics them. Seems like a long strenuous process, but he is quite proud of his work.
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Handmade rugs
Nothing is more beautiful than handmade rugs blowing in the wind. These rugs were everywhere we went an each was unique and beautiful.
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omani rugs

Adobe villages
The adobe villages were so cool! Everything in the village is made from a dirt, hay and water mixture that results in a thick cement-like substance. We learned how to make the mixture and it seemed a bit difficult.It is a lot of dirt rock crushing and mixing. Omani people are certainly hard workers! We were able to go inside this adobe village and explore.
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Oman is such a unique and welcoming country. I loved the culture, hospitality and food. The only thing I did not like was this:
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London for New Years

No better place to kick off the new year than in London with my travel soul-mate! I’m so glad I could visit his new home and see what the life of Jovany is all about.
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The fireworks were amazing. We were right at the London Eye for the New Years celebration. There was loud music, drunk people and an awesome view. What more could you ask for?
london fireworks
To top it off we made some friends from all over the world. There was people from Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Turkey and more, who came to the U.K to study English.
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Istanbul, Turkey.

There’s a quote by Anthony Bourdain that goes, “If you’re 22, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel- as far and as widely possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them- wherever you go.” I love this quote and if you take his advice, you could end up some pretty interesting places. For me, it was Istanbul, Turkey.
This was my first solo trip out of the states. My family wasn’t too excited that I was taking off to a country I had never been to alone, but it was one of the best trips I’ve ever took.
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The Host Family
I decided to do a home stay to get the full cultural experience. My host family was so hospitable and loving. Everyday, Mircan, my host mom made a new Turkish dish and even taught me a few recipes too. Her family was so welcoming to me. Her husband, two sons(16, 19) and daughter(15), instantly made me feel at home. The thing I loved most about their family is how closely knit it is. Everyday after school and work the family would gather in the living room and talk and play cards or games. I loved being a part of that (event if I suck at Silent Cinema) Defne and I grew really close during my trip and we still text about every other day now that I’m back. I think out of everything I experienced in Istanbul, I miss my host family the most.
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Sightseeing
The most magical moment I had was standing outside the Blue Mosque and hearing the call to prayer as hundreds of Muslims headed inside to pray. Mircan is the best host mom/ tour guide there is! She gave me a full tour of Istanbul (both European and Asian sides) in 8 days. If you didn’t already know, Istanbul is absolutely beautiful. There are two sides, the Asian side and the European side, and they are completely different from each other. It was really cool to travel around Istanbul because there is so much public transportation, it is so easy to get from one place to another (minus the insane traffic if you are in a car). Some days we would take the ferry and some days the underground. There was so many beautiful places we visited. We saw the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, Yoros Castle, the Bosphorus, Topkapi Palace and so many more cool lesser-known spots. Nothing compares to the beauty of Istanbul.
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The Turkish Bath
I didn’t feel much of a culture shock going to Istanbul until I went to the Turkish bath. So, here is the deal. You get naked (only keeping your panties on) and hangout in a humid room with about 20 other women sitting around, chatting and washing themselves. But thats not the best part! It gets fun when an older (also naked) women lays you on a stone bench and scrubs your ENTIRE body. On top of that, I dont’t speak a word of Turkish, so I had no idea what she was telling me to do. Overall it was a great experience, but I do not think there will be anymore Turkish baths in my future.
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The Cats
If God was trying to send me a sign that Istanbul was the right place for me, the message was received. Istanbul is drowning in cats! I think I pet nearly every cat there was. Unlike most stray cats, these cats were super nice, especially if you had food.
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Seeing a Familiar Face
I think it is pretty crazy to run into someone when you are half way across the world. My good friend graduated and moved back to Dubai/Pakistan and I was pretty sure we wouldn’t see each other. Coincidentally, we ended up in Istanbul at the same time. It was certainly a highlight of my trip 🙂
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Teaching at ISMEK
I had the opportunity to visit a local trade school and sit in on an English class. I couldn’t believe how enthusiastic and determined these students were to learn English. There were men and women from 13 to 42 in that class. My first day, the class asked me questions about my life in the United States and practiced their English through conversation. For being considered beginners, these guys were pretty good! On the second day I actually got to correct sentences that they wrote in English and explain how to fix them. It was so much fun! I loved all the questions about Hollywood life, like if I knew Justin Bieber… I think it’s time America reevaluated its reputation around the world.
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If I had the chance to go back to Istanbul, I would in a heartbeat! I catch myself thinking about it and missing my host family all the time. If you get the chance to go, don’t hesitate, just go. I promise you that Istanbul is not a place that you want to miss out on.
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What traveling has done for me

raveling is expensive and time consuming, but it has been the most beneficial decision I’ve made yet. In the past year, I was fortunate enough to visit four countries (the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Mexico and the Philippines) and through it I gained more in experience than I spent on plane tickets.

Before reading this, take a moment and think about the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the Middle East. If you’re like me, a stereotype came to mind. It’s sad that I had preconceived ideas about the Middle East and its people without any experience. What is even sadder is that I stereotyped the Middle East as a whole without realizing that each country within is different from another. I grew up most of my life being post 9/11. So, growing up I heard a lot of negative things abut the Middle East. Visiting Oman and Dubai taught me to not judge based on a stereotype. I had this preconceived idea that Middle Easterners hated Americans and that I wouldn’t be safe here. Well, after being here for almost three weeks, I can say that it is not the case for Oman and Dubai. While it may not be safe for me to be prancing around Syria at the moment, what I needed to understand is that Syria is not the entire Middle East; in fact, it is on the other side of where I am visiting. Where I stayed in Dubai in Oman was incredibly safe, I felt safer walking around in Muscat at night than I do in San Francisco! The reason being is that in Oman there are no homeless people or drug issues and robberies are almost unheard of. An Omani man I spoke to told me that the government here will not let you go homeless. The more I learned about the people living in Oman and Dubai, the more I love it. Everybody that we interviewed provided us with coffee and dates, an Arabic tradition. Everyone was so welcoming and willing to accommodate us in anyway needed. How could a group of people I though hated Americans be so friendly? It’s because that stereotype is not true for Emirates and Omanis.

Another lesson I learned from traveling is to be grateful for what I have. Vising the Philippines was the most humbling experience I have had. If I ever have kids, and they complain about not having nice things, I will buy them a plane ticket to the Philippines so that they can see how to live with so little. While most people in the Philippines had very little, it amazed me how willing they were to share with my family and me. We stayed with my stepmoms son in a small house in the Batangas for a few nights after we arrived. Their house only had two bedrooms and had no stove, no bathtub or air conditioning. The family gave us their only two beds to sleep in while the parents slept on the front porch and the kids slept in the living room. We tried to stay at a nearby hotel but their family would not let us, it is in their culture to want to help and give to others. Everywhere we went in the Philippines there was extreme poverty, yet mostly everyone seemed content. It was humbling to see people living with so little and still be content.

Traveling and experiencing new places has been more beneficial than reading about it in books or online. It has allowed me to see a new place and make my own judgments about it based on what I experience. I can sit here and talk about how traveling has helped me view the world differently, but its better to experience it for yourself.

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