School’s Out Forever – What’s Next?

Hey everyone, it’s been a while. The past 6 months have been a whirlwind, leaving me with little time to focus on blogging. But now I’m back and ready to provide some updates.

The last time I posted on A Girl and Her Visa, I was finishing up my first year in Brussels, so excited to go home for the holidays. At the time, I was interning with Women’s Economic and Social Think Tank (WESTT) in Brussels, a job that required lots of writing. I could feel myself getting a bit burnt out and I decided to take a break from the blog before writing started to feel like a chore, rather than a creative outlet. Now that my life is calming down a bit, I finally feel like I have a chance to do my adventures justice – so here we go.

I spent the second half of December in the U.S. with my family. We started off by visiting my family in New Orleans (rest assured, we stopped at Pat O’s several times) and made it back to Cincinnati by Christmas. Although I had to work on my final papers, it was such a relief to be back with family and friends after a year away.

In February, I returned to Brussels to work on my dissertation. During this time, I also accepted my current job as Program Coordinator of the American Cultural Ambassadors Program (ACA), in which I participated the past two summers. Although the days were long while I worked on these two projects, I made sure not to waste my last few months in Europe. Work hard, play hard – am I right?

In February, I met my friend Sage in Athens for a long weekend. Fun fact – although Sage is American and went to college a few hours from me, we have yet to hang out in the U.S. We met in China last summer and decided to reunite in Greece. Yay for friends who like to travel! Two weeks after Athens, I went to Rome with some friends to see one of their cousins perform in a touring dance company. Rome was as I expected – impressive and full of great food.

March 15th was the long awaited due date for my dissertation. In celebration of both my dissertation’s completion and my roommate’s wedding, a big group of us went to Spain and Portugal for a week. I absolutely fell in love with Sevilla and the Portuguese coast. I’ll be writing a blog post completely dedicated to this trip, as it was one of my favorites.

A couple weeks after Spain, my dad came to visit for eleven full days of travel. Last time he visited, we tackled Paris, Barcelona, and Madrid. This time, we decided to go a different direction and made our way through Prague, Budapest, and Krakow. This trip, once again, deserves its own post.

After some difficult goodbyes, I left Brussels and returned to the U.S. to work on ACA and wait for my Chinese work visa to process. It was so nice getting to live in Cincinnati as an adult with some of my favorite people in the world. But obviously I couldn’t stay in one spot for the whole two months. In May, my dad and I went down to Florida for my brother’s track meet (go Robby!) and visited my cousin who works at Disney World. My inner child came out for a few days while we rode roller coasters, met princesses, and visited Harry Potter World at Universal Studios. If you want to get an embarrassing story out of me, ask about the Avatar ride in Disney.

But after two wonderful months at home, it was time to leave again. I flew to China the day I received my visa and immediately started working; as usual, my exit was spontaneous and a little chaotic. But hey, that’s what makes life exciting, right?

Currently, I am traveling around the Zhejiang Province, managing a group of American college students as they teach English at Chinese summer camps. I’ll be spending the summer here, teaching and working on ACA until the end of August. From there, I’ll be starting a new life in Taiwan as a full-time English teacher!

Now do you see why I’ve had no time to write?

More updates to come!

– Christine

 

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.

A Word on Homesickness

Some days I really miss Ohio.

I miss my family.

I miss my friends.

I miss good Mexican food.

I miss little conveniences like 24-hour Walgreens and the infinite possibilities within Target.

And of course, I miss my dog.

Before I moved to Brussels, the longest I had been outside of the U.S. was two months. Obviously, I had never experienced real homesickness. So when I started feeling homesick the first WEEK I was in Brussels, I panicked.

Something must be wrong, I thought.

Maybe I wasn’t supposed to be here.

Maybe I made a huge mistake leaving my beautiful life in Ohio.

It was scary to move to Belgium with no friends and no knowledge of French. I like adventures and challenges, but this?

This was another level.

The homesickness I felt during those first few weeks was intense. It made me question my dreams of traveling the world. It made me doubt my abilities and my career choice. Homesickness is different for everyone. But over the past eight months, it has given me a new perspective on many aspects of my life.

Missing my home does not mean I shouldn’t travel. It means that I have something beautiful to go home to. And that’s something for which I am very grateful.

It also doesn’t mean that I can’t handle the challenges of living abroad. Sure, being able to speak the same language as the cashier at the grocery store is convenient, but learning French through trial and error is challenging and can sometimes even be fun.

Even on days when I really miss my family, I have to remind myself how much easier it is to stay in touch with them through technology. Whatsapp is a godsend and allows me to talk to my parents every single day, just like I would do if I were living in the U.S. I mean, when my dad studied in Ireland, he had to walk to use a payphone in the middle of the night when he wanted to call his parents. If he could do that, I can sure as hell live abroad with access to the internet

Most importantly, on days when I long to be back in the U.S., I remind myself that this time in Brussels is temporary. Soon, I won’t have access to the amazing history, the great beer, and the waffles that are to-die-for. I won’t be able to hop on a quick train to Paris or grab a cheap flight to Italy for the weekend. This homesickness has taught me so much about staying in the present moment and soaking in the incredible life that I’m currently living. Because before I know it, I will be homesick for what I have right now.