Why You Should Visit Brussels in December

Winter has finally arrived in Brussels. It’s cold, sometimes rainy, and the sun sets at 5pm. While most people visit this beautiful city in the summer, there are a few special things that make a winter in Brussels something to look forward to. Here are a few reasons why you should think about visiting Brussels in December.

  1. The holiday decorations – Almost overnight, the city comes alive with lights and decorations on every corner. There is nothing like walking through cobblestone streets with Christmas lights overhead.
  2. Waffles! – Who wouldn’t want a warm waffle to eat while walking along those decorated cobble-stone streets?
  3. Beer! – If you’re cold, pop into a bar and grab a Belgian beer. They won’t disappoint, I promise.
  4. Fries – Okay, I promise this is the last food item. But seriously, all of Belgium’s snacks are made for winter.
  5. The Christmas Market – You’ve never seen a Christmas celebration until you’ve been to a European Christmas market. Ferris wheels, food tents, vin chaud, ice skating, and more. It’s a dream.
  6. It’s less crowded  – In the summer, many European cities are packed with tourists. But if you choose to travel in the off-season, you’ll have a lot more space and better prices!
  7. Hot Chocolate – Okay I lied about the food thing. Belgian hot chocolate is special for two reasons. 1. Belgian chocolate 2. The hot chocolate is made with actual pieces of chocolate. If you’re not into beer, this will definitely warm you up.
  8. Mussels – I already broke my promise once, so I might as well do it again. Belgium is known for its mussels and fries, a hot meal that is perfect for winter.

 

These winter specialties are a perfect addition to everything else Brussels has to offer like Grand Place, Mannekin Pis, the Atomium, museums, parks, the EU institutions, and more. While the winter may prevent you from sitting outside at an outdoor café, Brussels can still be a great travel destination for the winter! In fact, my best friend is visiting next week and I am going to make sure she experiences everything this city has to offer. If you’ve been to Brussels in the winter, let me know what I missed!

 

Visiting Tenerife – the island that has it all

It’s hard to pass up the opportunity to visit friends AND explore one of the most beautiful places on earth. So when my friend Nicolette told me she would be teaching English in the Canary Islands for 10 months, I knew I had to visit. This past week my friend, Annmarie, and I traveled to Tenerife to see Nicolette. With its beaches and mountains, this island ended up being the dream location for our reunion.

Tenerife is one of the seven Canary Islands that rest off the coast of Morocco but belong to Spain. While the flights aren’t as cheap as they are to the rest of Europe, I still found a round-trip flight for less than 200 euros. Compared to most international travel, that’s a steal. My friends and I found an affordable Air Bnb on the edge of Puerto de la Cruz that overlooked the ocean. Since it’s an island, I was expecting things to be expensive here but the prices were half of what they are in Brussels, which was a pleasant surprise. Before I go into the details of my trip, here are a few quick facts if you’re looking to travel to Tenerife:

Transportation

The island has a great transportation system with busses and an above-ground tram they call the Tramvia. However, if you rent a car, the entire island is accessible – my friends and I decided this was the best option for us since we would only be there for a few days and wanted to see as much as possible.

Language

Spanish is spoken throughout the Canary Islands but the accent is very different from mainland Spain. If you’re a non-native Spanish speaker, you might have some difficulties at first. Otherwise, most people speak some English, especially in the tourist areas.

Nature

Tenerife is a volcano. So in addition to its black sand beaches, it has beautiful mountains throughout its center. Teide (the mountain) is actually the highest point in Spain. As you drive to the top, you will pass through several different landscapes including pine forests and something that looks like a desert. The contrast is mind-blowing.

Food

The food in Tenerife is nothing short of incredible. While traditional Spanish food can be found, las Canarias have their own famous foods. A few of my favorites were papas arrugadas (which literally translates to wrinkly potatoes), arepas, and mojo (a sauce from heaven)

The five days I spent in Tenerife were so full of peace and joy that time stood still. So without further ado, let’s talk about the trip.

Nicolette picked me up from the airport on Thursday night and we checked into the Air Bnb on the outskirts of Puerto de la Cruz. Then we went to a restaurant where I tried papas arrugadas with mojo sauce which was so good that it brought tears to my eyes. After trying these potatoes, I knew this trip would be incredible. We walked around Puerto a bit but it was late so we decided to go home and get a good night of sleep.

The next morning, Nicolette and I went to the beach. It was my first time seeing black sand and my jaw hit the floor. It’s been on my bucket list forever so it was a really special moment. We spent a few hours on the beach (yes, I wore sunscreen), then Nicolette left for a teacher meeting. I decided to walk the coast and explore Puerto and the town is beautiful. I even accidentally stumbled upon an area full of stone piles (I’m not sure how to describe this in a way that sounds appealing. See picture). Afterward, Nicolette and I picked Annmarie up from the airport and we rented a car. Although we took several wrong turns on the way back, we finally ventured into Los Realejos for the best arepas we will probably ever have. In fact, we returned to this little hole-in-the-wall place (called Millenium) for arepas twice more throughout the trip. After the arepas that changed our lives, we spent the night drinking champagne and catching up in our Air Bnb. There’s nothing like seeing old friends.

 

 

On Saturday morning, we took a drive up the coast to a restaurant overlooking the ocean. Here we ordered Arroz Caldoso de Mariscos (a soupier version of paella) and gazpacho. This was yet another life-changing meal. We spent the afternoon laying on the beach and at night, went to a Christmas festival in La Laguna, the university town. It was like a Christmas wonderland. We ate more arepas and got vegan hot chocolate. Oh, and a couple of beers, of course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday was the day we decided to tackle Teide, the mountain. Our little Fiat, who we lovingly nicknamed Fifi, had a hard time making it up some of the steep inclines but we eventually made our way up. Like I mentioned previously, the contrast between the landscapes on the mountain was like nothing I had ever seen before. From pine trees to desert-like canyons with lava rocks, I had a hard time believing it was real. Teidi is a must-do if you visit Tenerife.

 

 

On my last day, Annmarie and I revisited the beach while Nicolette went to work. I’ve never seen such big waves before and the lifeguards wouldn’t let people near the water due to the riptides. But we had a pleasant time just sleeping on the sand. We ate lunch at a nearby restaurant and then drove up to Monje winery for a wine tour. The view and the wine were spectacular. Once again, it was hard to believe I was living in reality. Nicolette met us at Monje and we returned to La Laguna for dinner and more vegan hot chocolate. It was a sweet end to a sweet trip.

 

 

Thanks for inviting us to visit, Nicolette. It was an incredible adventure.

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Spending Thanksgiving Away From Home

A year ago today, I woke up on Thanksgiving morning excited to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with my dad. We made New Orleans-style beignets for breakfast (our tradition) and got ready for lunch at my grandparents’ house. A year ago today, I was wondering what next year’s Thanksgiving would be like. Where will I be living? Will I be able to come home for the holidays? Is this my last Thanksgiving in Cincinnati? I didn’t know the answers so I made sure to cherish every second of that day.

A year later, it’s Thanksgiving morning and I’m living in Brussels, Belgium. Instead of watching the parade with my dad, I am on my second cup of coffee, desperately trying to finish my Dissertation Proposal which is due tomorrow. I’m making myself pasta because I’m too lazy to make actual food and I can’t figure out how to live stream the parade. Please excuse me while I throw myself a pity-party.

Sometimes missing the holidays is just something that happens when you become an adult. It’s hard and sad but it’s just reality. If I were in Cincinnati to celebrate with my family, that would mean I wasn’t pursuing my dreams in Belgium. Since Thanksgiving is about being grateful for what we have, I’ve decided to focus on the good. While the list is endless, here are 10 things I’m grateful for in this moment:

  1. My incredible friends and family
  2. Technology that allows me to stay in contact with the people I love
  3. Having the opportunity to pursue an education
  4. Getting to live in Europe
  5. Hazelnut coffee
  6. An internship at a great organization
  7. The two cats that I’m currently cat-sitting
  8. Christmas music
  9. The pasta that is on the stove (I am lucky to have food to eat!)
  10. I get to come home for Christmas!

Like I said, the list is endless once you start writing. So if you can’t be home for the holidays and find yourself feeling down, try to focus on the good in your life and the things you would be missing out on if you weren’t living your current reality. Wherever you are right now, there is a reason for it.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Is Teaching English in a Foreign Country Ethical?

Over the past few years, as I’ve gotten more involved in the world of teaching English, I’ve wondered if it’s ethical to teach English in foreign countries. Am I imposing my culture on someone else? How is this different than some of the practices of cultural imperialists? These are all things I considered while taking Anthropology courses and considering the Peace Corps during undergrad. In order to find answers, I spoke with former Peace Corps volunteers and decided to go to China for a month to teach for the first time. The answer to this question? Well, there is no exact answer. But I do believe that teaching can be done in a way that truly helps people live and work in this globalized world, without undermining their native language and culture.

English is becoming the new global language. I’m not saying this is a good thing or a bad thing. It just is what it is. In almost every tourist city to which I’ve traveled, English is the bridge between locals and people visiting from all over the world. Chances are, most tourists you meet in Czech Republic, for example, probably don’t speak Czech. But they might speak English, allowing them to get around, order food, and read signs while traveling. Additionally, most job advertisements working internationally require applicants to speak at least some English. Without a basic understanding of the language, the job pool shrinks tremendously.

Having seen the necessity of English in traveling, working, and general social settings, I know that by helping others learn the language, I am helping to expand their opportunities in life. This does not mean that the English language is superior and that you should not make an effort to learn local languages. If you are living and teaching in a foreign country, you must respect that culture, do your best to learn their language, and never ever impose your ways on your students. But language is a gift, and if you can give someone a gift that can open countless doors for them, then I believe it is absolutely ethical. So whether your native language is English, Japanese, Portuguese, or Mandarin (all of the languages in my apartment), take the opportunity to teach! Not only is it rewarding for you as a teacher, but all of your students will have access to a brand new culture and a world of opportunities.

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear your opinion.

Feel Great and Stay Healthy While Traveling

Oftentimes, when people hear the word healthy in association with travel, they assume that it requires missing out on experiences like food and drinks. But when done properly, prioritizing your health can add so much more to your trip and you’ll end up feeling amazing, rather than weighed down and tired. When I’m traveling for a week or so, I’ll admit that my health routine takes a back seat. But with longer periods of travel, I find myself longing for the trip to end so my body can start feeling good again. With how much I like to travel, I knew I needed to find a way to combine taking care of my body with seeing the world. So here are a few tips for feeling your best without missing out on great experiences:

1. Choose at least one healthy meal per day.

By no means should you skip out on all your travel destination has to offer, but you’d be amazed at how much better you will feel if you make sure you’re eating vegetables. Pizza for every meal sounds like a great idea but sometimes your body just needs a break. “But I can get veggies on my pizza, and order a Bloody Mary!” says my father. Hey, whatever works. Eat those waffles, fries, cupcakes, and drink all the beer your heart desires. But make sure you get yourself a salad too.

2. Walk as much as you can.

It’s tempting to take public transportation or an Uber when you’re trying to get somewhere. But if you take the extra time to walk, not only are you getting some exercise, but you will see new things along the way! As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I love finding free walking tours on my first day in a new city.

3. Incorporate physical activity into your schedule.

Rent a bike. Take a hike. Go for a morning run to explore. If you’re at the beach, don’t lay around all day. Play volleyball or swim or even just take a walk. Try something new like surfing. I personally love finding beautiful parks and working out or doing some yoga. You may get some strange looks but you’ll feel like a new person.

4. Try to maintain your at-home routine.

I’ll admit, I’m still working on this. When I’m at home, I usually spend 5-10 minutes doing yoga every morning to stretch and wake up my body. When I’m traveling, I don’t always prioritize this and I can really feel the difference.

5. Get enough sleep.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t go out or do pub crawls but just don’t do them every night. Yes, you have to take advantage of every moment but if you don’t get enough sleep, you simply won’t enjoy your travels and you might even get sick. So make sleep a priority….at least some nights.

6. Hydrate hydrate hydrate!

It’s very easy to get dehydrated while flying, walking around, and drinking alcohol. Carry around a reusable water bottle and your body will thank you. If it’s safe to drink the tap water wherever you’re traveling, just fill up your bottle in bathroom sinks. It’s not weird, I promise.

When traveling, it’s important not to miss out on new opportunities. It’s also important to give yourself time to relax and truly enjoy taking a break from the stress of everyday life. But making a small effort in maintaining healthy habits can really change how you feel which in turn, can transform your entire vacation. Take care of yourself and enjoy your travels!

Falling in Love with Solo Travel – Prague

When I ask people which cities I absolutely have to visit while in Europe, Prague is always at the top of the list. I didn’t quite understand why until I visited the city last week. From the Prague Castle to the Charles Bridge, there is so much to do in Prague that I wish I could’ve stayed for much longer than three days.

I flew into the city on Wednesday night and took a bus, then the metro, to the city center. The public transportation is super easy to figure out and the system is very convenient for using multiple types of transport. Instead of tickets being valid for “one trip,” for example, they are valid for one hour or ninety minutes. Within that period of time, you can use any public transportation – tram, metro, or bus – for as many trips as you need.

I had booked a cheap room in an apartment on Air Bnb and was pleasantly surprised to find it was located right along the Vltava River. I took that night to walk around the city, eat a trdelnik (basically a giant cinnamon roll that is sometimes filled with ice cream), and listen to some live music on Charles Bridge. I hadn’t even seen the city in daylight and I was already in awe.

 

 

The next day, I went on a free walking tour with Sandeman’s – this is an awesome company that gives tours in cities throughout Europe, asking only that you tip the tour guide at the end. I’ve found that these tours give much more depth to the cities in which I’m traveling because without them, you miss so much history while you’re walking around. They’re also a great way to meet people! I usually do a free walking tour on my first day in a city in order to orient myself with my surroundings and get an idea of some things I want to do while I’m there. On this tour, we saw the famous Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square, which may seem a bit underwhelming without the historical context so read up before you go. We also explored the Jewish Quarter which houses beautiful synagogues and is home to the Golem of Prague.

 

After the tour, a new friend and I decided to try a cool vegetarian, Indian place that his hostel recommended. It was called Beas Vegetarian Dhaba; it was incredible and cheap. I spent the rest of the day exploring the city, walking through its parks and squares, soaking in the history and the beautiful nature. Prague in October is a must-see. I’ve never seen such a stunning autumn. That night, I met up with a few people from the tour for a pub crawl. We had a great night.

 

 

 

On Friday morning, I visited the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius, where the soldiers of Operation Anthropoid hid while Nazis searched for them. They were ultimately killed in the crypt, which is open to visitors and includes a small museum.

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Afterwards, I met back up with some friends for a Prague Castle tour (also with Sandeman’s) and let me tell you, I am so happy I didn’t try to explore the castle by myself. The “castle” is more like a 70,000 square foot palace grounds with architecture from at least nine different centuries. Without a guide telling me the historical contexts of each part of the castle, I would’ve had no idea what I was seeing. It ended up being a really great experience and we even got to see the Changing of the Guards.

 

After the tour, two other solo travelers and I made our way up to a monastery that our tour guide told us about. Here we had dinner and were able to try some of their beer. I will admit, I’ve become a bit picky about beer after living in Belgium but this beer was really great. They even had a blueberry flavor that was surprisingly good. Strahov Monastery, with its stone walls, candlelit rooms, and live violin, was honestly one of my favorite parts of my time in Prague. It was too dark to get proper pictures but I would definitely recommend it.

Just when I thought the night couldn’t get any better, we found a rooftop bar called the Dancing House, overlooking the river. As we were sitting on the terrace, taking in the view of Prague, a fireworks show began on the river. It was one of those moments where time stood still and I felt incredibly overwhelmed by gratitude. It was a beautiful end to a beautiful trip.

Thank you, Prague. I hope to be back soon.

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Note: I was traveling alone and felt completely safe walking about the city center by myself. That being said, I always made sure to stay on busy, well-lit streets. As long as you’re using common sense, Prague is a great place for solo travel.

A Practical Guide to Finding Jobs Teaching English

Do you want to travel the world? Do you want to learn about new cultures while still making money? Do you want to have an impact on the next generation? If so, teaching English may be for you.

Personally, I never thought that I wanted to be a teacher. After all, I was interested in politics and travel, and until last year, I never knew that teaching could be the key to pursuing these interests. As a native English speaker (or even a non-native speaker with fluency), the possibilities for teaching English are endless. With the number of people seeking to learn the language for social and economic reasons, the market is growing at an enormous speed. There are jobs available on every continent and unlike other fields (including mine), businesses and schools are actually competing for teachers rather than the other way around. Whether you have a teaching certification or not, there is a place for you start. Let’s talk about some of your options.

Getting started: obtaining a certification

Types of certifications: ESL, EFL, TEFL, TEFOL, CELTA

A quick Google search will reveal hundreds of websites offering online courses for obtaining your certification. However, some of these can be pretty pricey. One way to get a discounted (or even free) certification is to find a program that provides your certification in exchange for volunteer teaching. The company through which I received my TEFL certification is called Angloville, which offers a TEFL Scholarship to anyone who completes an online course and three programs with them. The online course was quick and easy and the programs allow you to go to Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, or Hungary for a few weeks with free room and board. If you don’t have classroom experience, don’t worry. Angloville programs simply involve speaking with non-native speakers to improve their English. It’s fun and you make lots of interesting friends.

While this is an exciting option, it’s not possible for everyone to take three weeks and travel to Europe. In this case, there are many options online or within the U.S. You might even have a center in your area. Although a certification isn’t necessary for all English jobs, it certainly increases your chances of finding a job you love.

Government Programs

Governments understand the importance of knowing English in the 21st century. As a result, many have created their own programs that place teachers in schools around their country. Some of the most well known are:

The only downside to these programs is that they tend to pay less than other options.

Placement Companies

There are now countless organizations that accept applications for placement in private learning centers or in schools. Many of these programs offer large benefit packages like free visas, vacation time, language classes, and housing assistance. Some even offer free flights. Here are a few that I’ve looked into:

Independent Search 

There are many websites that exist to help you find the perfect teaching job. A few favorites include Dave’s ESL Cafe, EL Gazette, and TEFL.com.  Although you can find great opportunities on these websites, you also need to watch out for scams. I have heard stories of people arriving in a new country to teach and not receiving the housing they were promised or not getting paid for months. If this worries you, you may be better off with a more structured program like those sponsored by governments or company placement.

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With all of these programs, it is important to do lots of research before committing. Read reviews, talk to current teachers, and compare benefits. Moving across the world to teach isn’t for everyone so really consider all options before signing a year-long contract. Whether you teach for a few years or for a lifetime, it can be an incredible way to see the world, learn about new cultures, and ultimately, change the lives of others.

Check out some pictures from my experiences teaching children in China and adults in Poland. And stay tuned for a post all about teaching English online!