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

 

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.