Tea Talk 8: Jane Streicher | English Teacher (Seoul, Korea)

Jane and I have known each other pretty much our whole lives, and I love that we both have a passion for traveling. Something I’ve written about before is how homeschooling opens up your mind to being able to do things like live in other cultures, or travel the world, because it encourages that sense of constant curiosity. Jane and I both had that as kids, growing up, and I love seeing her adventures as she lives and works in Korea. I’m so honored to have such amazing women surrounding my life, and being able to share their stories with you all! Without further adieu, here’s Jane:

1. What started your passion for traveling?

I grew up going on family road trips every summer including camping for a week a few hours away on the coast or cross country trips to visit relatives in the midwest. Because of these trips, I learned to love going places and experiencing new things from a young age.

2. What’s one travel tip you think the world should know?

Stay with locals. One of my favorite things to do is to find an Airbnb or hostel run by locals and get their advice on where to go and what to eat. They will usually have secret spots that I could have never found without their insight.

3. What’s your favorite cultural habit you’ve picked up (ex. food dishes, lifestyle changes etc.)

One simple thing I do subconsciously now after living in Asia for four years, is taking my shoes off whenever I am inside a home. I remember in high school and college, I would wear boots inside all day long but now I feel so unsettled if I have my shoes on for more than a few minutes.

Another thing I have learned to appreciate is gift giving. It’s a simple way to show someone you care about them or respect them after taking a trip or visiting their home. Obviously this is done in the US too but I never truly saw its purpose until living in Asia.

4. What would you suggest for other women who are thinking about traveling?

Don’t over think things. Be open and flexible to what can happen. Make plans and be smart but also have an open mind so if/when things go wrong you can still have fun and enjoy yourself.

5. What’s one failure that you learned a lot from, when it comes to travel?

Always check times (especially if its military time). When I was leaving Vietnam last winter, I accidentally missed my flight completely by 12 hours because I thought my flight was in the afternoon when it was actually late at night. Luckily I could buy another flight for $100 but I now make sure to triple check all times.

6. What’s one fear that you overcame, while traveling?

Being alone. When I first moved to Vietnam in 2013, I preferred doing things with other people and felt a little bit intimidated going places alone. Over the years I was there, I learned to navigate going out alone and now I love going to coffee shops alone to read or work. My introverted side as defiantly become much more dominate as I have traveled and lived abroad.

Accepting help. As an American, I think it’s ingrained in me to want to do things without help from other people. Living in Vietnam and South Korea, there have been countless times when I have had to rely on my friends from those places to help me get simple things done like going to the doctor or fixing a flat tire on my motorbike.

7. What is your favorite way to travel (ex. plane, train, automobile?) and why?

Plane. There is always such an excitement I feel when taking a flight. I love the whole process and especially enjoy the meals (?! I know most people think they are gross.)

8. What is one piece of advice that you wish you could give your past self?

Money will come and go. So much of the time when traveling and living abroad, money can be a huge worry. I am still learning how to be smart about it but as an expat I think I have to expect times when money is tighter.

9. What is one place at the top of your bucket list that you’d like to visit?

Japan! I am hoping to take a trip to see the cherry blossoms there next spring.

10. Let’s talk about your current adventure! What was your inspiration?

I was really curious about South Korean culture and learning the language. I had met lots of Koreans in Vietnam and decided it was time for a new challenge. Instead of wondering what life was like there, I wanted to experience it first hand.

11. What has been the best/toughest part?

One of the best parts is my job teaching English to kindergarteners and elementary students. I spend most of my work day with four and five year olds and they are so precious and curious. They make it fun to come to work!

I have also been loving all the food and places to discover here. There are so many tasty things to try and new coffee shops to go to! A tough thing is starting over and everything that comes with it – making new friends, learning a new language and new city.

12. What’s one thing you’ve learned?

Being uncomfortable is okay, especially when going through change.

I came to Seoul after living in Vietnam for three years. I loved my time in Da Nang and by the time I left last winter, I had a comfortable life with so many special friends and connections. I knew the city so well and everything was fairly easy and simple.

One of the main reasons I wanted to come to Seoul of all the cities in South Korea was because it scared me a little bit. It sounded so big and intimidating and I loved that idea. I wanted a new challenge of living in a highly developed city and learning a new language but what that meant didn’t fully sink in until I got here.

The last six months have been exciting and fun but also awkward and challenging. I have been able to study Korean with two amazing teachers and have also made friends and have a good job. But there have also been days where things aren’t perfect and feel uncomfortable.

13. What’s one thing you’ve learned about yourself from this trip?

I truly love to learn. I have always know this but over the last few years, it’s really hit me that I am a life long learner. In Vietnam, I was a part of a Christmas choir and also took a dance class. I had never done those things well but decided if I was interested I could do it.

14. Anything else you’d like to add?!

The experience of traveling and doing new things is always worth it, even if you have to budget or rearrange things!

Tea Talk is a monthly series featuring extraordinary women who travel around the world! If you know someone who should be featured, or would like to be featured yourself, shoot me an email at morehouseemilee@gmail.com or post a message on this blog post! Join me again in November for the next feature! 

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Tea Talk 6: Hayden Wahlman | World Traveler

Hayden and I have known of each other practically our whole lives. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration…but our moms were both homeschool moms/friends and so we’ve been connected in the same homeschool circles since we were pretty young.

Hayden had the awesome opportunity to live in Germany, recently, and I’ve been following along on her adventures ever since our mutual friend suggested it! I love how so many of my homeschool friends have taken up their passports and traveled the world. It takes me back to that fact that homeschoolers are the best travelers. Meet Hayden!

1. What started your passion for traveling? 

I always wanted to travel, just like anyone. But I think it was joining the air force reserves that really got me motivated to see the world.

I had been at a minimum wage job for 3 years before joining the reserves and didn’t have many qualms about it. But once I signed the contract for the military I started getting anxious about being “stuck” in a contract. I took a trip to san francisco right before I left for bootcamp.

Once I was in the military my desire for traveling really caught on fire. I felt a little bit like a bird in a cage, which is something I never felt before I joined.

The day after my full-time training ended and I was going to just one weekend per month, I put a sleeping bag in my car and drove to the grand canyon. After that I planned my first eurotrip. I had 5 months to kill before school started and I had been waiting ever since I signed my contract to see the world. So I really felt like I needed to do it immediately.

It’s been 3 years since my first eurotrip and I haven’t been able to kick the habit of spontaneously traveling whenever I get the chance!


2. What’s one travel tip you think the world should know? 

Packing light has been said over and over again, so I’ll skip that one.

One big one that people might overlook is your choice of hostel. You should choose one that is social and has a pub crawl or tours throughout the day, and also one that is in the city center (the price difference should only be a few dollars per night, and well worth it).

I highly recommend going on the free tours they offer and the pub crawl the first night you get there. That way you meet the people and see the highlights of the city. After that, you can kinda make your own way. But skipping the day tours in order to figure out the city for yourself can sometimes leave you missing out on some gem of the city you never would have found on your own.


3. What’s your favorite cultural habit you’ve picked up (ex. food dishes, lifestyle changes etc.)

Opening my widows. In Germany (and I’ve heard the rest of the….world..?) they open their windows daily, 365 days per year. I hated it at first, since I was there during the FREEZING winter. But once I got home I started leaving the windows a crack open in my bedroom and I swear it makes a huge difference. I actually hate being in a house with no window open now. I never thought I would get to that point.


4. What would you suggest for other women who are thinking about traveling? 

FOLLOW YOUR GUT! Seriously.

I have definitely done some things during my travels that a lot of people would consider dangerous, but I followed my gut and ended up having the best times of my life. I have also avoided situations that some people would deem perfectly safe, because my gut was just not having it.

Have an open mind and listen to your gut.

5. What’s one failure that you learned a lot from, when it comes to travel? 

Not being organized. I have finally perfected backpack and am very comfortable with the items I choose to travel with and the placement of everything.

I lost my entire backpack while in Switzerland once because I had shoved so much stuff inside grocery bags and jumped off the train before realizing my backpack was not on my back! I blame having so many random bags to account for.

6. What’s one fear that you overcame, while traveling? 

Talking to people! I am pretty shy, but getting lost in multiple cities around the world will definitely pry you out of your comfort zone and get you talking to whatever stranger is in sight!

7. What is your favorite way to travel (ex. plane, train, automobile?) and why?

I’d say train. The scenery is nice and they usually are really comfortable. I still travel by bus mostly, since it’s cheaper. But if there is a cheap train to somewhere I want to go, I’d take a train over everything.


8. What is one piece of advice that you wish you could give your past self? 

To meet more people during my first Eurotrip. I was still pretty quiet my first time abroad.

9. What is one place at the top of your bucket list that you’d like to visit? 

I got a small taste of Turkey a few months ago and I’m aching to go back and see the rest of it…all of it!

10. Let’s talk about your most recent trip! What was your inspiration for your adventure? 

I got an internship at a company in Germany, it was arranged through my University. I minored in German because it seemed like the most logical language to learn for traveling Europe, which in turn got me this internship.

11. What has been the best/toughest part of your most recent trip? 

The toughest part was definitely making friends while trying to learn the language. I was not in the best state of mind when I moved to Germany and all I wanted was to talk to family and friends. But when you are meeting new people everyday, the only appropriate things to talk about are pretty small. A lot of my conversations revolved around the weather and politics, as my language skills were not advanced enough to speak of anything else.

As for the best part. I think learning how to LIVE in another country. Living and traveling to another country are very different things.

 

12. What’s one thing you’ve learned from your most recent trip? 

To be ready. I was NOT ready to leave for Germany, not by a longshot. Even with my constant desire to travel. I left very reluctantly.

In hindsight, I wish I would have spent the summer (I left for Germany in September) with more friends and got my life in the States more organized before I left.

13. What’s one thing you’ve learned about yourself from your most recent trip? 

I learned how quickly I shut down when I’m overwhelmed. I never knew this about myself at all. I think when you are in your own country, speaking your own language, it is easier to work through problems. I always felt like I was pretty resilient and could tackle most problems.

But man, I think living in a foreign country has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t know how quickly I would give up on it. I think I cried daily while I was there, the smallest task could turn into such a chore. Everyone told me I would be homesick, which I scoffed at. But it was true, it was not the type of homesick you have as a child. It’s different. I can’t even explain it. But I really learned I need to go into my next move much more prepared.

If you are an American, keep in mind that there are a lot of people who have an opinion on America and American citizens (whether it be positive or negative). I had no idea how much Europeans knew about America and was not ready for all the questions they had for me concerning our politics and other things.

I highly recommend reading travel forums and learning about how the citizens of that specific country feel about americans. It’ll help you navigate some pretty common conversations you’ll be bound to have with the people you meet.

10 Ways I Save Money and Travel More

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Saving money has always been a hobby for me. It really does feel more like a game, at this point. How much can I save? How far can I stretch one amount? This is not because I have to, but because I love being able to do twice as much with what I have. Not only do I think that it’s fun, but I also think it’s important to be a good steward of your money, in general. During the holidays this can get a bit tricky, but here are some of my ideas for saving a little extra cash so you can travel more!

1. Popping Tags


I have a degree in fashion design. That being said, I love expensive clothing (or well made clothing, which is usually very expensive). I love well made fibers and fabrics and leather boots are my weakness. I know that clothes are important to my psyche, so I make room for them in my budget. But there’s a catch. First off, if I want to go shopping for clothes, I have to sell clothes to Buffalo Exchange or Crossroads. This way I’m not only buying new clothes at a discount price, but I’m also cleaning out my closet and using credit to reduce how much I’m spending even more. There are also apps that do this, so don’t panic if you don’t have a store near you. The best part of this system is that I end up paying 1/10 of the price for designer clothing.


2. Discount Tickets

I grew up doing theater and I’ve always loved the stage (whether I’m on it or not). That being said, paying to see theatrical performances can feel like cutting a hole in your bank account and watching it drain. But I NEED theater, so I’ve found a few ways around the system. I usually go to previews or first performances (which can be based off of a “donate what you can” system) or I buy my tickets through GoldStar which is a discount site for just about everything in your area. I’ve literally paid $6 for a performance, before. Some aren’t quite that discounted but it does save a whole ton of money, especially for date nights.


3. Volunteer

I am hugely into volunteering. I grew up volunteering basically every weekend and I think it’s so important to give back to causes that you’re passionate about. For me, this includes some local venues that promote the arts. In exchange for volunteering I get free access to the performances and I’ve even been able to catch one by the amazing spoken word artist and poet, Sarah Kay.


4. Buy And Cook In Bulk

I have a bit of a dietary advantage because I’m allergic to pretty much everything expensive (cheese, dairy, alcohol) but I still keep an eye on how much I spend on food. Not only do I make massive meals which I then store so I can eat them in the future, but I also buy in season (fresh food that are usually on sale). This is a great technique for people not onboard with a Top Ramen diet.

I’m also very pro stats and analytics, so I love drawing up lists of what I’m going to buy and then trying to keep it all within budget. You might not be so nerdy. But here’s one small tip: Do not go in the store without a list – and stick to it. You’ll be surprised how much money it saves you.


5. Monthly Phone Plan vs Contract

I decided a few years ago to go off of a contract and grab a “pay as you go plan” for my phone. Why? Because it’s really important for me to be flexible about where I live and what I’m paying for. If I end up moving back to Europe, I don’t want to be tied to a three year plan. This also saves me a lot of money since Verizon offers plans for as little as $40 for 3gb of data and unlimited texting/call.

6. Phoning A Friend 

I’ve had my iPhone for three years, and while it’s not cutting edge, it’s also not cutting into my savings with a $700 bill. I do like technology, but I’m not onboard the get further in debt to get a phone the size of your face train. My phone is just now starting to show signs of wear/needing to be replaced, but even in replacing it there are ways to save money! For instance, I’m going to be buying a refurbished phone rather than shelling out for a brand new phone. You might be surprised how much you can save! Check out some buy options HERE, if you’re not crazy happy about searching Craigslist.


7. Breaking Up With Netflix

Here’s the controversial one. I don’t have Netflix. I know: how do I survive? But I manage it with only having to occasionally explain that I don’t have it, to people who refer to shows/movies based off of them “being on Netflix.” To clarify, I also don’t have Hulu. These services just aren’t something that I need in order to be happy. A lesson that I didn’t learn until I lived in France and couldn’t afford them. Even now that I can, I just don’t need the temptation. I do have access to PBS because I donate to them monthly. Supporting public programing is really important…and I love documentaries.

 

8. Negotiate EVERYTHING

I save $240 a year on my wifi bill because I negotiated it down with my provider. Why? Because prices are arbitrary and companies would rather be getting some money from you, than for you to go to a competitor because of $10/month. The moral of this story? Ask! If you’re paying bills you can always call and ask if there’s any way they can decrease the bill. The key here is to be really nice. Customer service people get yelled at 60% of their day ( #unofficialstat) for things they have no control over. Show them some kindness and you’ll go far.

 

9. Invest In Things That Last

Okay so this goes back to the same idea as saving money on clothes. Something I never realized (being raised in the consumer capital of the world: the U.S.) was that if you buy a good pair of shoes then you can literally wear them for YEARS. Well, I apply this principle to everything I buy. If there’s a sturdier option, I go for that one. It might be a few more dollars initially, but if you don’t ever have to buy that thing, again, then it’s so worth it. Example: buy glass, not plastic, to save food in.

 

10. Make It Myself

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Here’s another thing I learned whilst being hopelessly broke in France: there are a lot of things that are pretty easy to make. While I realize not everyone is crafty, there’s always the option of hopping on Pintrest if there’s something you love, but can’t swing budget-wise. Chances are, there’s a tutorial (let’s be honest, Pintrest has everything). Especially if you found it in a store that rhymes with Shmanthropology, look it up on Pintrest – you can probably save 60% just making it yourself. Check out my crafting Pintrest board for more fun ideas!

Phew! Fun, right!? Here’s the great part – even if you only follow one or two of these, you can save a little more and put that money toward travel. Want more ideas? Check back for part two (because I have that many ways I save money) next week!

Did I miss something? Comment below with your money saving ideas!

Why I Cut ‘Jealous’ Out Of My Travel Vocabulary

Last week I bought a plane ticket to Europe. In January I’m going to be taking a trip through 5 countries and honestly I’m so excited to be going to my second “home,” again.

With every trip/travel experience I’ve taken, I come across people who say that they’re “jealous.” And while I know it’s not generally meant negatively, I wanted to have a quick housekeeping talk about it.jealousy-quoteObviously I’m not immune to the green monster that is jealousy, but I’ve noticed this conversation happening a lot, lately. I had to stop and think: Do we know what we’re saying?

Note for the love of linguistics: When we say, “I’m jealous!” what we’re actually saying is that we’re afraid of losing something.

“Jealousy is an anticipatory emotion. It seeks to prevent loss,” said Ralph Hupka, Professor of Psychology, Emeritus at California State University at Long Beach.

Despite the common misuse of the word (what’s new? #English) what we generally mean is that we’re envious of what the other person has. For this piece we’ll move forwards with the common knowledge that we, as a society, use the words synonymously, and that ‘jealous’ is interchangeable with the meaning of envy.

And now, back to your regular program/rant…

Why am I even talking about this? Well, in the travel community I think it can be easy to look over at someone else’s accomplishments (I’m lookin’ at you Mr. 153 countries in 2 years) and feel a certain tinge of green.

When you see that someone bought a plane ticket to a place you’ve always wanted to go, your initial reaction, as you’re sitting in your cubicle typing, probably isn’t going to be to high-five them. But guess what? You should. Why? Because that’s how we build community. You have to CELEBRATE.

As a woman, I think a lot of us grew up being pitted against each other. For some reason we’re supposed to be in competition with every other woman on the planet, and we’re supposed to sit in a corner moping, if we don’t sing like Taylor Swift, and have moves like Beyoncé.

When have we EVER been encouraged to throw a party when one of us kicks ass and conquers?!

Three years ago, after a rather tragic and heart breaking experience (#storyforanothertime) I decided to stop using the word “jealous” in my conversations with people (and to be honest, even in my mental conversations).

Why was it that when those people accomplished their dreams, I felt like I needed to protect myself from losing my own. Sound ridiculous? Sound familiar?

Hint: That’s not how it works.

I started my little vocab experiment when I realized how terrible I felt after I said I was jealous of someone. Even if it was meant to be light-hearted, it didn’t feel right. And generally speaking (unless the person was a smug-ass) I noticed that nobody was reacting positively to me expressing my jealousy.

At first it was really hard, I’m not going to lie. And to be more honest, it still is. Sometimes the words bubble up to my lips before I even get a chance to think about them and I have to push them back down. It’s a bit like trying to get a rolled sleeping bag back in its bag.

The Results: What I noticed when I stopped using “jealous” to describe my feelings is that my mindset changed. I started to replace stagnant thoughts with questions like, “How can I do that?”
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A few years ago I wanted to do a lot of things that I didn’t have the courage to do. Mainly because I spent hours on Pintrest/travel websites drooling over what other people were posting.

That’s no way to live.

When you start to ask yourself “how” you can make things happen, you start to open doors, and you start pushing yourself forward. Believe me, the universe knows when you’ve opened yourself up to new experiences. You might even land in another country, attempting to speak somewhat fluent French.

I’m just saying. It’s happened before.

The part that breaks my heart is that society is (generally) not on our side. Spend 5 minutes looking at ads on your TV and you’ll quickly see that we, as Americans, are constantly in competition with each other. MAKE the grass on your side greener so the Jones’ (and everyone else!) has to drool in envy. Go on a Caribbean cruise so your coworkers are envious (not to spend time with your family, don’t be ridiculous). The list goes on and on.

Fight it.

Get off your couch and go DO something. Buy a plane ticket, or start saving to buy one. And stop saying you can’t. Before I really even knew how to budget (or anything about travel), I would put away the tiniest amount of money every month, daring not to hope. When I finally had the guts to buy a plane ticket I had the backup that I needed. Literally EVERY SINGLE person told me not to, but I did anyway. Why? Because that was MY dream.

And now it’s time for yours to start.

Jealousy is a stagnant emotion. It doesn’t move you forward. It’s like one of those stupid gumdrop traps in Candyland that makes you lose a turn.

Stop jealously looking at what others are doing, and start making things happen in your own life. You’re so much more powerful than you know.

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Why Tina Fey is Wrong – You Shouldn’t Have It All

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The other day I was clothes shopping and spent close to a millennia in the store…but only 3 things. SHOCK. Despite what my American upbringing echoed in the back of my mind:

“You should have bought it all!”
“You’ll look better walking out with overflowing bags on your arms.”
“How do you call yourself an adult without being able to splurge on payday?”

I wasn’t “sad” that I had “only” found a few things – I was elated. Why? Because what I bought was what I really really wanted. It wasn’t because I was broke, it wasn’t because nothing else worked, it was because I only bought what I was really passionate about.

I know, crazy.

Yesterday I went to the grocery store. And while I was there I had to wonder: Why are American grocery stores the size of small villages? Have you ever been in a European grocery store? There’s like 8 aisles and one option of each thing (Yes, even in Paris). Why? Well for one thing, it’s because they don’t have to worry about organic – it’s all organic. The other is because life in general is more straight forward. You get what you need and then you move on with life.

And while we’re on the topic, have you guys seen that “Impulse Buy” Tina Fey commercial, if not watch it, below.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a BIG Tina Fey fan, but every time I see this commercial I think about how intense the culture of, “I can, therefore I will,” is in the U.S. Not saying it’s always a bad thing, just that it’s problematic, in that it creates this idea that all that is going to make you happy.

Clarification: I am no proponent of the kind of minimalism that Scandinavian countries advocate for. I know that works for some, and high-five to them, but that is NOT my aesthetic. I love having tons of art supplies, and bookcases overflowing with vintage/sketch books. But, something that I think has really stuck with me, from living in France, is that you don’t NEED to have every version and every color and every brand of something, in order to be happy. I mean, I basically lived out of two suitcases for A YEAR (and one of those suitcases was just art supplies) and I was perfectly functional.

During that year I had a lot (probably too much time) to think, and I was able to really analyze what was and wasn’t important/necessary in my life. Essentially, I learned what makes me happy. And, the emphasis here is what makes me happy (this is not a guide to making the world happy, again).

So, here’s what I learned and continue to implement in my day to day:

Languages are my passion:
I’ve always loved learning other languages (except Spanish, which for some reason I CANNOT pick up) and I love exploring the cultures that come with them. Studies show that learning/speaking other languages can actually make you happier for a multitude of reasons, including reducing stress, helping you feel more connected to other people and of course there’s the “chocolate cake high” that comes with learning new words. Regardless of what the motivation is, I love the idea that we can add so much value to our lives for (especially with online resources like Duolingo etc) little or no money.

“If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world.” –

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Art makes me whole:
While I was in France the two things I chose to spend my pitiful allowance on was postcards (another passion of mine!) and art supplies. Why? Because I literally start losing my mind if I can’t create art. Whether it’s painting or drawing (I learned in France, I actually can draw) I love having art as a meditative part of my life. Hop over to my Facebook page if you’d like to see what I’m currently up to, or you can check out my Pintrest board to see some of my drawing projects from France.

Learning new things enriches me:
Three words: Khan. Coursera. Skillshare. These are the trifecta of my learning (with perhaps some PBS worked in there) and I love taking classes, picking up new skills and learning about the world around me.

Khan Academy
was one of my favorite resources when I was in France, because it’s totally free and you can take classes on a million different subjects, including Pixar animation (also, because I’m a Trekkie – ha). I’ve taken ALL the history classes, and I regret none of the time spent. They also have science, art, coding, and math (gross – but if you’re into that kind of thing).

I also love Coursera, although now they’re starting to charge (but you can find hacks by Googling how to get the classes free). Coursera allows you to take academic classes from universities and professors all over the world, which I also think is amazing.

And lastly Skillshare is amazing for learning new creative things like drawing, photography and even cooking! I’ve learned so much from this resource, and the monthly subscription rate is about the same as Netflix/Hulu (but way more valuable, in my opinion).

Books are beautiful:
The Christmas before last I spent my day wandering Paris, and buying a bunch of classic literature. Why? Because for some reason, in Paris, the cheapest books to buy (we’re talking like 1 euro) are the classics in English. Needless to say, I’ve now read pretty much all of Jules Verne and Jane Austen. Books don’t have to be super expensive (especially if you’re finding them used) and yet they have the amazing ability to transport you all over the world and on a million different adventures. I’ve always been such a bookworm, but I think there was definitely a post college (or even during college) period of time when I forgot how much I loved them. I don’t have as much time now, because obviously I’m not a kid running free, but I do try to make sure to carve out 30min-1hour of reading time, each day. What am I reading right now? The Outlander series, and it’s making me want to go back to Scotland real bad.
WARNING: These books are mammoth.

I don’t need a million friends:
Okay, so let’s talk popularity contest. Why, oh why, do we have to feel like we need a million people who you’re “best friends” with? Unknown. But it’s a thing. And, as a proud introvert, it’s a lie I’m not buying into, anymore. I love me time, and I love alone time. It’s when my brain is settled and happy and free and I come up with my best ideas and creations. I do love the friends that I have, and I do love meeting new people, but not under the pretense that if I don’t have 12 friends I’m Snapchatting every night I’ll shrivel up and die like a raisin. Nope. I’ve had to fight hard for it, but creating that space, and bringing in only people in who understand that I need alone time has made me much happier than a thousand friends ever could.

My faith is really important to me:
My faith, like meditation or exercise, is something that keeps me whole. While I’m not sure that I would describe myself as specifically one denomination, Christianity is a really important part of my life, and one that inspires and strengthens me, daily. It’s not perfect, and neither am I, but it’s something that no one can buy, trade or take away and that makes it an invaluable treasure in my life.

What about you guys? Yeah, shoes are awesome, but what else makes you really glow with happiness? Comment below!

Memoirs of A French Au Pair: 1 Year Back In The U.S.

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This time last year I was packing my suitcases and planning on getting the hell out of France. I was so over it. I was over my job. Over my living situation and over the idea that I had made the right decision moving there in the first place. In short, I was over it (and everything that ‘it’ encompassed).

If I sound like an angsty teen here, I apologize. And then I unapologize. Because life is hard sometimes, and we have a right to look up to the heavens and shout, “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING BRINGING ME HERE!?” There was a lot of that when I lived in France. And that’s okay. Because I don’t believe that God wants subservient robots and I strongly believe that he likes us having real dialog with him. Even when things are hard. Especially when things are hard.

When I moved to France I thought it was going to solve all of my problems. I was sick of seeing people get engaged/married or posting baby pics on Facebook and I decided to DO something with my life. So I quit my job, bought a plane ticket and went (way harder than that, but you get the point). Then the first bad thing happened… and then another. And another and another and another and finally I started to wonder if I had made the right decision? Had I done something with my life, or had I ruined the perfectly good life I had already had?

Risk.

I’m not usually a very risky person. In fact, I would go as far as to say I adore being comfortable and secure. I don’t gamble. I don’t really like taking chances. I’ve ordered the exact same flavor of bubble tea at the exact same place for six years. It’s who I am. I like knowing what I’m getting into. So when I felt the extreme push in my life to move to France, I felt so certain that it was a divine intervention. Let’s be real, it pretty much had to be.

Fast forward nine months and my little idealistic dream boat had been battered and thrown into the shoals. It wasn’t painted and glowing with idealistic promises, anymore. That shit (sorry, mom) was borderline Titanic-post-iceberg status. All I wanted to do was to run away. So I did. And I’m okay with that decision, but I what I did next was wrong.

I tried to ignore and repress and never ever ever think about France.

In fact, I can honestly say I’ve been almost entirely removed from my experience up until the last couple of weeks. It’s very rare that I’ll talk about my experiences there. In fact, I basically don’t talk about that year, at all. At first I told myself that it was because I was too busy or that I had too much on my plate. But the reality was that I didn’t want to have to think about the fact that I had failed at something (or, at least, my definition of failure). France was not magical, fun, beautiful, a fairytale or anything like Audrey Hepburn described it. That’s a tourists dream. Not this expat’s reality.

And at the end of it all I’m still not sure that I have an answer for, “What I learned.” I know that I’ve become a much different person, because I can see it in the reflection of the people who were closest to me, before I moved. Since those changes were gradual they’re much harder for me to personally distinguish.

But I have changed. And I can feel it.

This year back in the U.S. has been one of the most hectic and crazy that I’ve ever had. At times I’ve felt like I was drowning in an ocean, too overwhelming to overcome. Other times I’ve felt so overwhelmingly loved and supported. Overall, this has been a year of drastic highs and earth-shattering lows.

I can’t even believe that one year has already passed. On the one hand it feels like no time at all, and on the other I feel like five years has passed in the course of one. Such is life.

It’s taken almost the entirety of the year for me to finally start having some pieces fall into place. A lot is still up in the air, but things will hopefully click, soon. Over the past year I’ve been bouncing between more jobs than I can count, I’ve moved four times, and I’ve been dutifully pay off the debt (Paris is hella expensive) that I incurred while living abroad (halfway done!) in addition to my student loans (also halfway there). If there’s one thing I learned in France, it’s that I NEVER want to have to think about student loans again, and the sooner they’re gone the better. I hate how “normal” it is for people my age to have tens of thousands of dollars in debt before they really even start their adult lives. It’s basically nonexistent in so many European countries, and I cannot wait to be done with them for good.

The highlights of this year? I’ve gone to three conventions, which was something I had placed on my bucket list while I was living in France. I’ve taken one trip out of the country (Scotland, Ireland, England) and three smaller trips (soon to be four) within the U.S. I’ve seen Riverdance (twice!) and Lord of the Dance, I started a Star Wars painting that will someday be awesome, and I started the process of writing/putting together a comic book with one of my friends. All in all this year has been so incredibly hard, but I’m so thankful for the friends who have held my hand, wrapped me in wool blankets with cups of tea and given me comic books to help me through.

Moving back from France was a really hard decision. It was a hit to my pride (because I honestly didn’t think I would ever come back) and it was a life lesson in how much I actually do need others to make it through this crazy circus called life. Today I was looking at pictures from just two years ago and it’s insane to think about how different things are, now. I was a completely different person. From my ideals, to the way that I approach life, I can honestly say that basically nothing is the same. Maybe this transformation will prove beneficial in the upcoming year. Maybe it won’t. But the point of this long-winded tale is: Fail you might, but try you must.

So here’s to one year of making shit work (sorry for the swearing, mom). The past few years have been just about anything other than what I thought they would be. And that’s OKAY. I give you all permission to be confused, and angry, and elated and to feel torn in a hundred different directions. Life doesn’t have to be exactly what we plan, we just have to be ready to keep moving forward, not matter what is thrown our way.

Review: Cafè Besalu

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Fact: Pretty much every food item tastes like dirt in comparison to its French alternative. And this fact has not escaped my notice. Because, the truth is, France has completely ruined my taste buds. And it wasn’t until someone suggested this little cafe to me that I realized that not all was lost, just because I’d moved back to the U.S.

Cafe Besalu is THE most authentic French food I’ve had since being back in U.S. without a doubt. Sure, I’ve tried out some other spots in Seattle but they’re either priced by the deranged or completely off the mark. I was so happy to not only find this spot, but to have it just down the street from my house. J’adore.

Ordered: Hot chocolate (w/ rice milk), pain au raisin

Where:  5909 24th Ave NW Seattle, WA 98107

Went: Too many Saturday mornings to count

Wifi: No

Reservation Needed: No

Tip: On the weekends, get there before the 10:30AM rush!

Website: http://cafebesalu.com/

5 Ways Paris Changed How I American

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It’s not grammatically correct – I know. Get over it.

Visiting any place will change the way you interact with the world, but living in a place changes you right down to the core. There are so many little differences I’ve noticed since I’ve been back from France – it’s crazy to think that it has already been more than four months since I’ve been back! What a crazy thought.

But, France is still with me in so many ways. No, I don’t have French speakers surrounding me, anymore, but I do have a lot of things that I’ve changed in my own day to day life, that weren’t even noticeable while I was living in France. Today I realized just how much my American has become French. It’s okay, though. I think these changes (for the most part) are making me a healthier happier person!
Here are a few examples:

  1. I eat dinner for lunch: If there’s one thing that the French are known for, it would be their food. Beyond this, I would say they’re known for their love of food. It’s not uncommon for Parisian businesses to be closed down for multiple hours, as workers wine and dine their lunch breaks away. As a young professional navigating the professional (very American) world, I wouldn’t say I’m quite to this point, but I definitely do pack lunches differently. When I was in France it was the first time that I had ever eaten anything more substantial than a sandwich for lunch. But lunch in France? It was a huge, gourmet (and quickly became favorite) meal of mine. And I’ve noticed the remnants of this practice in my day to day life even now. I pack meals, not yogurt and burritos, for lunch – and I’m starting to realize how much more satisfying my day is after having a substantial meal to look forward to, and to enjoy the energy from.
  2. I cross the street whenever I damn well please: Okay so this one I actually have to rework in my head every day, because I now live in a city where the police DO care if you jaywalk. In Paris I got so used to just walking across the street whenever I felt like it (as long as there wasn’t oncoming traffic, duh.) that I’m still trying to retrain myself to stick to the crosswalks and wait for lights to change. It isn’t easy.
  3. I CANNOT enjoy regular bread: It’s actually really sad to me that I can no longer enjoy non artisan bread. But I just can’t. Unfortunately, the U.S. doesn’t exactly accommodate my French taste buds with the penny prices that you can get bread for in France. Here in the U.S. they’re more than happy to charge you your first born child in order for you to enjoy the light fluffy goodness that bread should be. And now I’m sad to say (sorry to my budget), I don’t have any intention of ever going back.
  4. I can’t enjoy sweets/soda: WHY IS EVERYTHING SO SWEET IN THIS COUNTRY!? My salt levels were pretty off when I first got back, as well – but I definitely got over that one. Mmmmm salt. Sugar – not so much, I can barely sip off of a soda, it’s so high in sugar. Everything, in fact, seems to be dumped with piles and mounds of sugar and sweeteners. It’s a little more than I can take – but this is a pretty easy something to fix since I love fruit and vegetables more now, anyway.
  5. Old isn’t old, anymore: Last weekend I was driving past a field when I saw an old barn. It brought up a really interesting conversation/thought process when I called it ‘old’, though, because I realized that it was probably built within the last hundred years. In comparison to the thousand (and older!) year old structures I was used to seeing in Europe, it’s interesting how my thought process has changed as far as measuring the age of things around me. The U.S. is such a baby nation!What about you all!? Have you ever lived/travelled somewhere that changed your perspective on how you live your own day to day life? Comment below!Blog Signature

Your Questions Answered: Becoming An Au Pair

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I’ve been getting a lot of questions, lately, from various sources about my au pair experience and I thought I would do a kind of “post au pair year” post to answer a few of your questions! So here it is, the good the bad and the ugly.

One of the questions I get the most is whether or not I “liked” my experience. First off, this is a broad question because asking if I “liked” an entire year of my life is about as easy to answer as if you asked a five year old if they liked the last 24 hours of their life – they probably don’t remember, there were probably good and bad things that happened, but they’re still alive so it’s all good.

The thing is, being an au pair is the same as being in any other work profession – there are good days and there are bad days. The thing that is different, is that you don’t get to leave work when you’re having a bad day. You can’t walk away from your boss, you can’t fake sick days (or even take sick days, in general – I knew several au pairs (myself included) who worked through colds, the flu, and even the chicken pox. That’s right – she didn’t get off from work when she had chicken pox). While being romaticized mentally by many, I would say the most accurate/closest portrayal I’ve ever seen is The Nanny Diaries. It’s no piece of cake, that’s for sure.

The best parts of being an au pair would probably be the same as when you’re working as a nanny – you have A LOT of free time. While some families require for you to work in the morning (taking the kids to school) as well as the afternoon, my au pair family only required that I worked after school, meaning I started work every day at about 3pm (NOTE: Except Wednesdays – which, in France, is a no/half school day – depending on the age of your children). Which means I had time during the day to go out and do things, or just stay in my house and work on projects. This also meant that I was able to come back a little bit later from (the many) weekend trips that I made.

This brings up another really great fact and that is: All au pair families are not the same. These differences can include, but are not limited to:

  • Whether you work mornings or just afternoons
  • Whether you have a room in the house or separate
  • Whether your transportation (public transportation card/card/etc) is paid for
  • Whether your communication is paid for – some families will pay for your phone
  • Whether your au pair family will have you babysit on weekends
  • Whether the family will pay you for working additional days/nights (some don’t)
  • Whether your language classes/lessons are paid for
  • How much you get paid and how you get paid (direct deposit/cash each week/monthly)

Most of these things didn’t work in my favor with my au pair situation. While I did have weekend freedom, as well as no need to babysit (generally, since there were older kids who could), I didn’t have any additional resources paid for, which did make living a little bit harder, overall (since actual pay only came to 80 euro/week). This is something to REALLY think about/ask about when you’re finding an au pair family. Look at your own personal finances and make sure that things align with what your  income will be for the next year of living in a foreign country and make sure that you fill in gaps with your own savings, before the move.

My biggest piece of advice, in general, would be for you to check, double check, Skype, phone call, email and talk to your potential family as much as possible. I would also highly suggest talking to past nannies or au pairs that they’ve had. While I wouldn’t recommend the family that I worked with, I have been asked by other au pairs who were thinking about working for them, and I was able to let them know. Communication is key! This is also a great indicator of how you will be able to communicate once you move there – if your au pair family isn’t willing to communicate with you while you’re abroad that might be an indicator of other underlying problems with the position, which will come up once you actually get there.

I would also say make sure you have a really great support system. The only reason I was able to come out sane, after my time in France was because I had such an amazing support system back at home that was encouraging me, sending me snail mail and Skyping me. Asking your au pair family about whether they know other au pair families in their city, s also a really great way to connect with other au pairs.

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When it comes down to it, being in a foreign country is really isolating and can be incredibly lonely (like a whole different level of lonely than I had ever experienced before). Having this support system really CAN make or break your experience. Also – if you know you enjoy living in a city and being active socially don’t take a position in a small town. I know it might seem adventurous, but overall it probably isn’t going to be a good decision. Keep true to yourself, even if the “perfect” family doesn’t come around right away, it’s worth making sure they’re the right family for you, before making the leap.

Maneuvering the realm of being an au pair is an adventure that isn’t for everyone. There are benefits to leaving your comfort zone and striking out in the world, but make sure that you look before you leap. As I always say with any kind of travel, don’t take on something in order to escape something else. Make sure you do your research, and make sure you aren’t settling.

And, as always: If you ever have questions or comments, or find yourself in an au pair position that just doesn’t seem right email me at morehouseemilee@gmail.com Blog Signature

My Not So Guilty Pleasure: Ireland

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You all may have noticed that I have a tiny obsession (okay, maybe not so tiny) with the little island of Ireland. Why, you might ask, have I imprinted so deeply on a country where the sheep population is about par with the human? The answer? I like sheep. Also, because so many of the “selling points” of Ireland, aren’t that at all – they’re just simply truths. No sales, no manipulation needed to get you there. It’s one of the rare things in life that really is as good (if not better) than people say.  Not convinced? Here’s a taste

First off, the people in Ireland really are as nice and welcoming as you hear. I’ve never known someone to travel to Ireland and to not have a welcoming experience. I remember hearing  a story in the hostel I was staying in, a while back, about a girl who had asked an elderly lady for some travel/map help in Dublin and the woman had hopped on the tram with her and took her all the way to her destination. Having lived in Paris, a city founded on briskness, and Seattle, which is known for its “freeze” – it’s hard not to instantly fall in love with the welcoming arms of the Irish.

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One of my favorite things is that, in Ireland, the scenery really is as beautiful as it looks, and what’s better, you can travel across the country and back in a day to see it.  I’ve taken so many tour bus trips while in Ireland (and plan on taking more), just because one of the best things in the world is sitting on a bus hearing stories about Ireland from Irish natives. Not only do you learn things you might not otherwise learn, while your my face is pushed up against the window, but you also get a great way to meet other travelers and become acquainted with the country (which is especially perfect if you’re running short on time).

The food in Ireland is another thing I’m in love with. Fun fact: they don’t only eat potatoes, so get that garbage idea out of your head. Some of the best food I’ve ever had was while I was in Galway and Dublin. To be fair, I do have an overwhelming love of hearty food that fills you up, makes you want to curl up in a ball and fall asleep with a tranquilly sublime smile on your face – which might not be your thing. I don’t know? Who am I to judge? Also, not just a stereotype, grab some seafood while you’re in Ireland. Such prime dishes.

If you know me well, you’ll probably be aware of the fact that I don’t drink alcohol, as a rule. There are several reasons for this, but the long and short of it is that I’m probably allergic, and I have no desire to pass out in random places after having half a glass. The exception to my rule of drinking is in Ireland, where I absolutely allow myself to indulge in a half pint (which normally I can’t even finish – don’t judge me) of Guinness. I’ve tried it outside of Dublin and it just IS NOT the same. You really have to go straight to the source to fill up on the silky smooth goodness that is Dublin Guinness. Take it from me – if you’re gonna drink: do it in Ireland.

And while you’re drinking, you should probably/most definitely plan on enjoying some amazing music. As a former Irish step dancer, and a Irish music addict, I can promise you that going to the source, once again, really as rewarding as you might think. Whether it’s some more traditional music, or some more contemporary, the Irish know music (and don’t even get me started on storytelling) as well as they know beer. Although you probably would have trouble escaping it, make sure to enjoy some great live music while you’re visiting – and don’t be afraid to sing along.

Lastly, I’ll wrap up the same way I began this loving tale. Have I mentioned sheep, before? Okay, so I love sheep – yes yes, we all know. But mainly the reason I love sheep is because I LOVE wool, and I love all the beautiful things that happen with wool when you knit, weave, crochet and worship it (is that just me? Oh…). Irish wool really can only be matched (perhaps) by the fibers of Scotland (but they actually do have more sheep than people, so really you can’t blame them) and I love every bit I’ve ever bought. If you happen to land on the Emerald Isle, I would highly suggest that you grab some gloves, hats, scarves – or all of the above. Especially if your body tends to keep you in a state of perpetual cold, like me, the items that you get are sure to (like the whole damn country – do you get the point, yet!?) warm your heart.

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