Tea Talk 9: Chelsea Elzinga | English Teacher (Luxembourg)

Chelsea and I met in college, and honestly from the start I knew she was one of the coolest people I’d ever meet in my life. This girl is the definition of driven, passionate about life, and has a healthy sprinkle of Beyoncé swag. We both loved French culture, and years after college actually ended up living in France at the same time, which was such a beautifully weird coincidence! Now she resides in Luxembourg where she’s teaching English, as one does. I’m so excited to introduce this powerhouse woman to you all—here’s Chelsea!

What started your passion for traveling?

My passion for traveling has always been about moving beyond the limits of my comfort zone. It is an activity (or lifestyle, I suppose) closely tied to my love of language. For my first trip abroad, I went to France by myself at the age of eighteen. Living with a French exchange family was difficult even after five years of French classes because I often felt awkward when I couldn’t express myself. My happiest moments were when I got to explore alone. That was an important first-time travel experience and invaluable life lesson. Although I was a little pre-occupied by my linguistic insecurity at the time, it ended up transforming my confidence, pushing me to pursue French that fall at university, and has impacted every step of my journey since.


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

Make language learning part of your travel preparation and/or itinerary. While your ego may shrink with every butchered pronunciation that struggles out of your mouth, the synapses in your brain are beginning to form new paths of understanding. You become stronger! You don’t (and likely won’t) master another language for one trip, but knowing numbers, how to ask where the bathroom is, and basic phrases will serve you immensely while you travel.

On a recent day-trip in Germany, I was able to just barely communicate with the waiter after a few weeks of my beginner’s German class. It was my first time using German outside the classroom, and it was completely imperfect. Nevertheless, it’s a moment I feel really proud of thinking back on!

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

Owning next to nothing. Hah! I can fit most of my possessions (save for about five massive boxes of books packed in my parent’s storage –sorry mom and dad!) into three suitcases. It can be scary to not have a stockpile of goods at your disposal but it is also freeing.

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

Pick your destination carefully – not just because it looks good on Instagram or somebody else wants to go there. Foster your interest in a travel location via passion-driven routes such as literature or travel writing, or perhaps through cuisine or film. It will make your trip especially meaningful if you’ve put a little sweat into learning to appreciate and contextualize the place before you’ve arrived.

The other side of this argument is that there’s something special about just showing up somewhere with no clue as to what you’re going to encounter! Having done it both ways, I’ve always been more surprised and delighted by a place after having invested in some pre-departure research, however.


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

Learning how to rearrange my goals when traveling in a group versus solo-traveling. Sometimes the right group of people is magical and emphasizes everything about the trip without effort. Other times, the group encumbers each step of the journey. I’m still learning how to be more flexible when it comes to ‘getting the most’ out of a destination when traveling in groups. Maybe it means we’ll go to a crappy pub for the sake of accommodating eight people. Chances are, it’ll still be fun.

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

My fears around travel are usually related to social anxieties: Will anybody want to hang out with me? Will I be lonely? These are the same fears I’ve had since first-grade. Traveling alone has nurtured my sense of self. The people I’ve been fortunate to meet while traveling and living abroad have each impacted me and I’ve been surprised at how welcoming people are. Now, I’m much less concerned with maintaining a tight, insular social group where I feel understood, and instead I seek to meet a wide variety of people and hope to understand more about them. Inevitably, friendships form.

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

Whichever is the most convenient! In Europe, the train is often the simplest way to travel with much less hassle involved in comparison to airport travel. Planes have always felt a bit violent to me: they hurtle you so nightmarishly through the air and confuse your sense of being in the world! Plus, they’re just scary and I could fall out of the sky. (J) A calm, quiet train ride allows you to watch each mile of landscape as it goes by from your window. No turbulence, and no take-off or landing. Of course, trains can be a bit too slow if you’re trying to get from Rome to Paris, for example…

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

Take fewer pictures. (This is advice for my current self as well.) My automatic reaction is to grab for my phone before I even allow a moment to sink in. What am I even going to do with all of those pictures anyway??? One challenge I have for myself is to go on a trip and take, like, seven photos per day! I’d imagine the experience would be different if I wasn’t always preoccupied with getting a great shot.

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

I don’t have a bucket list! But, if I had to choose one place to visit say, tomorrow, I’d get on a plane and go to Dakar, Senegal. Because, in this scenario, I have a) decided that it would be a free plane ticket and b) I’m interested in doing something close but not too far from my Francophone tendencies. As a French lit student, I’ve read a lot by authors from Senegal and would love to visit and learn more about this West African country.


Let’s talk about your current trip! What was your inspiration for your adventure?

I’m living in Luxembourg this year as an English teaching assistant through the Fulbright program. I applied to the program in Luxembourg because it’s aligned with many of my own ideologies: encouraging cultural exchange, fostering international relations at the individual level, and providing language education. Next year, I’ll start my PhD in French literature and I wanted to take a pause beforehand to improve my French skills and to also recharge after finishing my Masters.

I chose Luxembourg because I wanted to think beyond the French hexagon and to expand my language skills. Luxembourg has three official languages: French, German, and Luxembourgish, so I have opportunities to learn here that I don’t anywhere else. Luxembourg’s location between France, Belgium, and Germany make it a fascinating place to be linguistically, but also culturally and historically.

The intimate yet international characteristics to this country make it truly unique. For example, this morning on my way to teach at a high school in the Luxembourgish countryside, I accidentally got on the wrong train and went to Belgium. I still made it back for the last few minutes of class. It’s both embarrassing and hilarious that this was even possible.

After my morning in Belgium, I told the story to my English class of fifteen-year-old Luxembourgish students. Although an hour beforehand I had been completely frustrated and upset, the mishap ended with everyone laughing at my groggy-morning commuter fail. Only in Luxembourg are borders so permeable and morning commutes so transnational.

What has been the best/toughest part of your current trip?

Best: Integrating in Luxembourg has been surprisingly easy! It’s an extremely international and multilingual place. I live around a university campus so there are plenty of welcoming people and activities to take part in. I have truly enjoyed meeting people from Luxembourg and from all corners of the world while living here as an English teacher.

Toughest: Being away from people I love. This year is particularly full of “life events” for friends and family back home. The longer I live away from home, the more I realize that I don’t always want to be this far.

 

What’s one thing you’ve learned from your current trip?

The real meaning of “staying positive.” At some level, it is a mental discipline that I must constantly remind myself of during tiring commutes that test my patience or when grey skies just won’t seem to clear away. If I can mentally remain positive, it completely improves the emotional and physical aspects of my life and—this is something I’m just realizing now—it will improve the lives of others around me. Nobody benefits from one more whiny expat stuck on making references to life back home where food is readily available for purchase at any hour of the day. “Living the dream” does not mean each day is dreamy. However, the more I keep myself from getting negative, the more I am able to appreciate everything about the experience.


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

I’m more adaptable to new situations and environments than I had realized, but I’m also not as independent as I thought. I need encouragement and community with other people to really succeed and enjoy life abroad. I feel blessed to have people from different areas of my life supporting me. I still don’t quite fully grasp how much I rely on the support and encouragement of others, but I’ve been learning that I’d rather ask for help and be vulnerable with people (e.g. Today, I’m worried about x, y, and z and I need to just cry on the phone) than to try and grit my teeth and go it alone.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

Ultimately, the reason I travel isn’t because I want to have fun or even escape from day to day life. Traveling sharpens and refines my perspective on everyday life, while it also poses many financial, emotional, and mental challenges. I know it is a privilege to travel but it can also be a sacrifice. In the end, I believe travel is an investment. Traveling is an investment that returns ten-fold what you put into it. You’ll benefit personally, but also become a better global-citizen. I think the world needs more purposeful travelers who are willing to do things outside of their comfort zones. In an increasingly fearful climate, thoughtful travelers can become mini-ambassadors of resistance, hope, and cross-cultural understanding.

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 December for the next feature! 

 

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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! 

The Process: Finding Yourself In The Pursuit Of Perfect

Lately I’ve been talking with some friends about the importance of process.

Let’s be honest, as Millenials we’re pretty used to instant gratification. We enjoy products we never see created, from places we’ve never been, made by people we’ll never meet.

It’s not our fault—we were born into this world. But it can become really dangerous when we start to believe that things are born into existence without any type of struggle.  

When people approach me asking why traveling is “so easy” for me, I have to sometimes stop and wonder. Should I talk more about the horror stories that have happened while I’ve traveled? It’s so easy to see the results of my adventures, without seeing the very real blood, buckets of sweat, and actual tears it takes to get those pretty Instagram photos.

But nobody wants to hear about the struggle of being robbed, or losing your credit card, or being sexually harassed in a city. Nobody wants to hear about getting horribly lost or running out of money.

But, here’s the thing: All of that mess? It’s real. The struggle is real (I can’t believe I just worked that into an actual blog post).

Here’s the good news: It’s an invaluable foundation to build dreams on. It teaches us balance, it teaches us discipline, and it teaches us how to sustain success when we reach it.

Reality check: It’s usually not a fun process.

But you NEED to go through those years of making terrible mistakes. Think of it like high school (or college, for me). Remember trying out those weird piercings and ridiculous outfits? THAT is what helped you learn. Without that process, how would you ever know what was you?

My biggest piece of advice: Don’t let people push you into one mold. Trying to fit will only break off the most valuable parts of who you are.

For me this looks something like:

  • Being okay with supporting local indie musicians, while knowing the words to every Taylor Swift song.
  • Rocking my Nikes while being able to catwalk in five inch heels.
  • Loving Legos, conventions, and comic books while ALSO loving pink, unicorns and glitter (let’s be real, sometimes those two coincide).
  • Refusing to allow people to tell me what I should like based off of my skin color.
  • Being just as proud of my African American heritage as I am of my Native American, Scandinavian, Irish and German.

I travel because I want to…because I NEED to, not because people tell me I should or shouldn’t go somewhere. And guess what? It hasn’t been all fairy dust and roses getting to the point where I can find that balance.

Don’t lose yourself in the pursuit of this imaginary perfect. You are uniquely you, and you’re equipped for more than you know.

What Happens In Copenhagen, Stays In Copenhagen

What happens when you throw together 5 solo travelers: an American, an Aussie, 2 Londoners and a German, in the city of Copenhagen, Denmark?

Well I’ll tell you…or, at least, I’ll mostly tell you.

In case you’re confused about the timeline of this post, the answer is no, I’m not still in Copenhagen. I’m writing this one from Belgium, because honestly it took me a couple of days to get over Copenhagen and be in a mental state to write, again.

Hmm…where to start?

I guess it all started when we took a walking tour. Walking tours are one of my favorite things to do in a city, and I’d highly suggest the “free” ones (you pay what you have/want at the ed) when you’re out and about in Europe. Generally you can just look for the umbrellas that say “Free Tour” on them.

An accidental photo that turned out to be my favorite

Three of us met from my hostel, and we walked over to the main square with one of the guides. From there everyone was split into smaller groups, and we ended up all talking as the 2.5 hours went on. How crazy is it that we would all meet? 5 people traveling completely alone, having such an awesome day together.

The cast of this story:

  • 2 Erasmus students (one studying in Spain, the other in Sweden)
  • A medical professional that swears by carrying alcohol wipes while traveling (a practice I may adopt)
  • A British government worker who is basically a superhero or something
  • Me the writer/artist

Our walking tour was great, although I’d be lying if I called the weather anything other than frigid. But it had snowed that morning, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise. On the topic of Scandinavian snow: I think everyone should experience it because it’s beautiful and serene and somehow just feels more authentic.

The Little Mermaid

Once the walking tour was over we bobbed our way around the city talking and taking tourist pictures. For lunch/dinner (not really sure which one to call it since it was only 4pm, but it was pitch black outside) we headed over to Christiania, which is a section of the city that is alternative to the country itself.

If you’ve ever been to a music festival in the U.S. (think Woodstock) then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what this section of the city is like, except that the structures are more permanent. The first thing I noticed when I was there was how much it smelled like home. And by home I mean that it smelled like weed. Gosh I love Seattle.

We grabbed food at one of the bars there, and I couldn’t help inwardly giggling about the fact that this place is so “edgy” for supporting a drug people just walk into stores and buy, at home.

Dinner was great, though, and afterwards we walked our tall blonde and handsome German student friend back to the train station. It would been brilliant to collect contact information so we could all stay in touch, but nobody’s mind thought about that until long afterwards #tragedy.

After our one goodbye it was time to get ready for the next part of our day: the pub crawl.

Let me tell you something about pub crawls. I love them so incredibly much and even though I don’t drink (I’m allergic to alcohol – no joke) I still try to go on them as often as I can.

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The pub crawl in Copenhagen was one of the most chill pub crawls of my life. Mainly because the city is so small that the whole thing was on the same block. The first three spots I probably could have lived without visiting, although I did get to taste some awesome Danish drinks (and some not so awesome ones) but the fourth and fifth spot were killer.

Normally I go home before a pub crawl makes its way to the last spot, which is usually a dance club. The main reason for this is because I have no interest in “clubbing.” BUT there is an exception for every rule, and Copenhagen was the exception. We danced until 2am. I went to sleep at 3am. I woke up for my flight at 6am. It was a rather crazy 24 hours.

I was pretty sad to leave Copenhagen after only one day, but I already know that I’ll be back. Next time, though, I’d love to go during the spring or fall, so that it isn’t quite so cold and snowy. Although, I honestly wouldn’t change one thing about my trip this year.

Copenhagen 2017 will forever stay in my heart as one of the best days of my life. I’m so glad I made it back to “the motherland”, and my Dane roots, and I cannot wait for my next adventure there. Cheers to next time, Copenhagen. Cheeky little city.