Hiking the Iztaccihuatl Volcano in Mexico

Since arriving in Mexico City, I’d practically hit the ground running. I got a little personalized tour of the historic district, rode the hop-on/hop-off bus around the whole city, and took a day tour to Teotihuacan. To say I was having the time of my life would be a complete understatement. Check out parts one, two, and three to read more about those experiences.

Amigo Tours

Day Four – Hiking the Iztaccihuatl Volcano

Iztaccihuatl Volcano

I woke up on my fourth day in Mexico City not realizing it was going to be one of the most exhausting, yet exhilarating days of my life. Just like the day before, I had to be at Hostal Amigo bright and early to catch my tour to the Iztaccihuatl Volcano with Amigo Tours once again. Like I mentioned in my previous article, I highly recommend Amigo Tours for any excursions based out of Mexico City. They are prompt, organized, and run things safely and smoothly.

This time, only Tito was our guide. His eccentric attitude kept everyone in the group eager and motivated to begin the trek. Unlike the previous tour to Teotihuacan where everyone was packed like sardines on a tour bus, this time only a handful of us were loaded into a rather large van. It was certainly a more comfortable experience. As we set off, Tito went over some of the ground rules and what to expect during the hike.

Since I had previously hiked for four days to Machu Picchu a little more than a year prior, I only half-listened to Tito’s speech. I mean, I was practically a pro at hiking, right? The answer is no. I was a damned fool. In less than a few hours, Iztaccihuatl would make me its b****. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t try this excursion if you’re not in the best of shape. Just know that it isn’t for the faint of heart. I would definitely train for it a little bit for it a few months beforehand. 

Approaching Iztaccihuatl Volcano

As we approached Izta-Popo Zoquiapan National Park, we had a clear view of Iztaccihuatl. Although the Iztaccihuatl volcano is dormant, I was still expecting to see that classic cone shape that every volcano has. Iztaccihuatl is more of a very rocky mountain. However, Tito explained to us that the volcanic mountain is Nahautl (the Aztecan language) for “White Woman” because it resembles a woman sleeping on her side. Once I noticed that, it totally blew my mind and took away any sliver of disappointment I had. Don’t worry, I’d actually get to see an active, cone-shaped volcano very shortly.

Popocatepetl

We pulled into the visitor’s center for a bathroom break and to get a rundown of the park and the trail we’d be taking. As I hopped out of the van, I kept staring at Iztaccihuatl, fascinated by the silhouette of the sleeping woman and also eager to begin our hike. But when I turned around, my jaw hit the floor. Towering over us was Popocatepetl, an active volcano and the second highest peak in Mexico. It had that classic cone shape and even a slight haze of smoke billowing from the top. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of it. Funny enough, the volcano erupted less than two months after this hike.

Searching for Views of Popocatepetl

I was now more excited than ever to begin the hike because I knew that the higher we got on Iztaccihuatl, the better the views would be of Popocatepetl. And so, after a short drive from the visitor’s center, we arrived at the base of Iztaccihuatl. The bright blue sky made the snow-capped volcano mountain pop. Where my hike to Machu Picchu was more slow-paced and rhythmic, Tito started flying up the mountain like a bat out of hell. 15 minutes into the climb, I was gasping for air and my legs were burning. Not once did I want to give up, though. I pressed on with the group.

As the hike continued, the views became increasingly picturesque. Tito luckily gave us some time to rest a little and take some photos of Popocatepetl in the distance. He also explained to us that the saddle between Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl was known as the Paso de Cortes. It’s where the Conquistador Hernan Cortes and his army passed through on their way to the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City).

Volcano in Mexico

As we trudged on, the trail began getting steeper and rockier, and I started falling behind in the pack. Man, this hike was a lot tougher than I had imagined. I had to stop a few times to collect myself before carrying on. After about an hour of this we started nearing our endpoint. Thank God, too, because I was afraid that if we went on any longer, my legs would give out. And before anyone makes fun of me, I was not the last person to reach the top! Nonetheless, I did have to sit on a rock for a while to catch my breath before enjoying the majestic view of the valley and Popocatepetl.

Back Down the Volcano

Hiking the Iztaccihuatl Volcano in Mexico

We stayed up there for about thirty or forty minutes chatting and getting to know one another. We had a very diverse group of people from all over the world. I wished we could have hung out at the top longer, but Tito was pushing for us to head back down Iztaccihuatl so we could enjoy a nice surprise lunch he had planned for us. Luckily, going down was a whole lot easier. Despite that, though, I slipped on a rock and jammed my big toe. It still hurts to this day but it makes for a good story, no?

mexican food tour

After taking one last gaze at Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl, we piled back into our van and exited the national park. We stopped at a small hut just outside the park where a family was waiting for us. They were preparing all kinds of traditional Mexican food: tacos, burritos, enchiladas, etc. I tried as much of it as I could along with a variety of different types of hot sauces. It was really delicious and a great way to end the day after an exhilarating experience. 

The excursion to the volcanos was an exciting one even though I didn’t expect to struggle as much as I did. The best part of adventures is pushing your body and mind and getting out of your comfort zone. It may suck in the process, but you will leave a much better person. You’ll be filled with motivation and confidence in yourself that you can’t get by playing things safe.

Thank you for taking the time to read this part of my trip hiking the Iztaccihuatl volcano in Mexico! Stay tuned for next time where I enjoy a night out courtesy of Casa Pepe and a wonderful food tour!

 

Languages Spoken in Spain: Learning Valenciano

edgar llivisupa profile photoUpon reading my placement letter from the Valencian Community, I noticed it was odd. I assumed I was reading a Spanish-written letter. However, there were dashes within words, a notable lack of the letter “ñ,” a reverse accent mark I’d never come across (`), and words that appeared to be misspelled by a letter or two.

After some research, I learned that my assigned region utilized a co-official language, valenciano, alongside Spanish. What I originally envisioned as an opportunity to improve my first language by living in a country where it was primarily spoken now also presented a second opportunity to experience one of the most challenging yet redeeming aspects of living abroad: learning the local language.

History of Languages Spoken in Spain

At the time, I was completely unaware of the linguistic diversity in the country. Obviously, the average Spaniard knows that a few other languages are commonly spoken in Spain. Like many, I knew that the region of Catalonia speaks Catalan a significant amount. However, I came to discover that there are other regions that similarly promote the use of their traditional language.

For those unaware, Spain isn’t homogenous when it comes to culture. There are different foods, traditions, festivals, and languages across the country. This stems from medieval history. The Iberian Peninsula once composed itself of distinct kingdoms that utilized languages derived from Vulgar Latin. Townsfolk of the time spoke Vulgar Latin, the non-standardized version of Latin spoken during the medieval era.

Ultimately, Spanish became the most prestigious, widely spoken, and heavily associated with the country. It originated from the Kingdom of Castile, which is where the alternative term for the language, Castilian, derives from. Originally located in central Spain, it grew during the Reconquista, a period where Catholic rulers attempted to rid the peninsula of Moorish rule. During this time, Alfonso X (The Wise) began favoring one language over others. Spanish became the language of higher education, science, law, and more rather than Latin.

Bilingual marketing posters in Ontinyent, Spain
Bilingual marketing posters in Ontinyent, Spain.

Spain Unifies

Centuries later, the crown would unite with the neighboring Crown of Aragon through the marriage of Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, unifying most of Spain under one dynasty. The pair would later finance Columbus’ voyage to the New World. Succeeding journeys eventually enabled the spreading of Spanish throughout the world. In the peninsula, other languages met a similar fate to Latin, and private conversations are the only place to find such languages.

Bilingual regions make efforts to revitalize historical languages. The regime of General Franco restricted the use of other languages with nationalist policies. Other languages were further limited to private use. Book burnings and a ban on foreign names limited the use of other languages. As the country transitioned to a democracy, the newly-created autonomous communities received the freedom to express their cultural heritage.

The Co-Official Languages of Spain

While every community has Spanish as an official language, six more utilize another in their educational systems, in an official capacity in different levels of government, or in everyday speech. In the Basque Country and parts of Navarra, the Basque language has co-official status. In Galicia, it’s Galician, which some consider being the cousin of Portuguese due to their similar phonology and morphology. Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, and the Valencia Community all use Catalan. However, some prefer to refer to their variety of Catalan as balear or valenciano, to differentiate the dialects.

Thousands speak the other unofficial languages found in Spain. Some find themselves classified under the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. These include Aragonese, Asturian-Leonese, and Gascon.

This means that things like traffic signs, supermarket displays, public service announcements, and public school instruction, present both languages. Bilingual regions expect service workers to understand and speak both languages fluently. In addition, public television airs in the local language, with programming varying from movies, cooking shows, news programs, and live music.

Bilingual sign in Ontinyent, Valencia showing a supermarket’s operating hours and day
Here is a bilingual sign in Ontinyent, Valencia showing a supermarket’s operating hours and day.

What is Valenciano?

A return to medieval history is required to understand the origins of valenciano. Two entities ruled the eastern side of the Iberian Peninsula: the Kingdom of Aragon and the County of Barcelona. They eventually unified under the name the Crown of Aragon around the early 12th century after the marriage of Petronilla of Aragon and Raymond Berenguer IV of Barcelona. In line with other kingdoms, expansion was a goal and as a Catholic crown, they also joined in Reconquista efforts.

In the 13th century, King James I of Aragon conquered territories south of its location, including Valencia and the Balearic Islands. He incorporated them into the Crown of Aragon. While northerners settled the acquired territories, Catalan became more common. Over time, the Catalan dialect spoken in these regions evolved and differentiated itself from standardized Catalan. That is why today the terms catalán, valenciano, and balear can be problematic. To some, each can be their own language, all part of a family, or simply different dialects. All three stem from a strong cultural identity or reluctance to use a term associated with another region.

The Difference Between Valenciano and Catalán?

Bilingual sign in Ontinyent, Valencia listing different ATM signs
Here is another example of a bilingual sign in Ontinyent, Valencia listing different ATM signs.

While both Valencian and Catalan have distinct academies that regulate and promote the use of the language, the Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua defines valenciano as another term for catalán. For what it’s worth, the Real Academia Española, the Spanish-language regulating body, describes valenciano as “the variety of Catalan spoken in the former Kingdom of Valencia and is commonly felt as its proper language.”

The differences between valenciano and catalán include vocabulary, conjugations, and pronunciation. They are minor enough that speakers can understand each other, and language teachers can work in either region.

Compared to Spanish, valenciano has two more vowels: (à) (è), the letter (ç), and the letters “ny” replace the iconic Spanish letter, “ñ.” There are more orthographic differences, but as a Romance derived language, they share a lot of similarities including conjugations for person, tense and number, gender, etc. 

It’s been very exciting learning about valenciano and how it became the co-official language of the area where I teach. It’s fascinating to see the long-lasting effects that history has had on the language.

Deciding to Learn the Language

I discovered all this information weeks before relocating to Spain as I felt curious to see the extent of other languages spoken in Spain in my assigned area. Upon arriving at my worksite I realized citizens spoke valenciano as much as Spanish. This encouraged me to learn the language.

The First Night in Venice After a Pit Stop in Verona

If you haven’t read my last article about our trip up the Swiss Alps, check it out!

After a stunning day on the mountain, we returned to our fancy hotel for a night of each other’s company. We broke out spare wine we had collected in the previous cities. We spent a good half hour looking for a wine opener while trying alternative bottle-opening techniques. The next morning, the hotel provided us with a gourmet breakfast (twelve different types of bread, six kinds of cheese, fresh fruit preserves, and more!) before we headed out at 8:30 AM. 

verona italy

An Afternoon in Verona

Everyone had forgotten that there was a planned stop in Verona before we finally landed in Venice. For me, it was a welcome pit stop as the very first Italian city on our tour. Italy was warm and gorgeous, and the architecture felt rich and ancient. Nikos took us on a quick tour of Verona, showing us several points of interest. We started with the Portoni della Bra, a large clock nestled in the gates of the old medieval walls of the city. This served as our landmark and meeting point later on.

portoni della bra clock verona

Nikos led us down cobblestone alleyways and Via Mazzini as he guided us past fancy restaurants, boutiques, and brand-name clothing lines I’d never heard of. We passed a giant coliseum that had red curtains hanging in the archways, suggesting its history of entertainment was far from over. We stumbled into the courtyard where Romeo and Juliet supposedly fell in love, and saw Juliet’s balcony. Nikos bought everybody gelato as a treat before we visited Statue Dante and broke up for the afternoon.

Freetime While Touring Verona

After a long wait in a bathroom line, I found that most of the group had left. Only Emily, Alyson (and one other person, but their name escaped me when I wrote my journal entry at the time), remained. We meandered through the market before we wandered into Via Mazzini to explore. I looked at the marble ground that lined the street with horror. I could only imagine how slippery in the rain it must be (I have a high propensity to slip and fall in public). Luckily I had an inkling of which alleys to take to get back to the Portoni della Bra, and we popped out in front of the coliseum. Considering its age, it was really in fantastic shape. 

coliseum flavian amphitheatre

Emily offered to take pictures of me in front of it, which is exactly when I realized that most of the pictures I’d been taking the entire trip lacked an important element: people. Anybody can Google a picture of Europe and see the same images I had been frantically running around taking. But what makes pictures special after a trip is the fact that you’re in them, or that people you care about are in them. I felt silly that I hadn’t realized that until halfway done with our trip. 

Panic at the Alleyways of Venice

the mainland of veniceWe all eventually made it back to the Portoni della Bra, with an exception to Dounia and Georgina, who got lost trying to make it back. Nikos left the group to find them and guide them back, which made us 30 minutes late leaving Verona. This mattered because Nikos had made a dinner reservation for everyone at 7:00 PM in Venice. 

Once we finally arrived at Mestre (the mainland of Venice), we dropped our luggage off at our hotel. We immediately left to hop onto a bus that would drive us over the bridge that connected Mestre to Venice. I felt thrilled to be in Venice. In the setting sun, it was everything I wanted it to be. In fact, I was so excited about visiting Venice that I didn’t realize that Nikos — our faithful guide — was lost! 

I had been so caught up in racing around the window displays and photographing public squares that it was only once it was finally dark did I realize that we were seriously turned around. Nikos kept ducking into stores and restaurants to ask for directions. We didn’t show up to the restaurant until 9:00 PM, two hours late. While I’m sure he felt bad about getting lost, I had a great time taking the scenic route! Besides that, finding your way in Venice is incredibly challenging. The alleyways are so narrow and winding that keeping track of where you are or where you’re going is impossible, especially as someone who doesn’t know the area well.

Summer Heat Affects All Cultures

After a great dinner of pizza and pasta, we left to take the bus back to Mestre. Apparently, however, we had arrived during the driver’s break! We wound up waiting on the bus for over twenty minutes. We piled into the bus, packed like sardines amongst tourists and locals alike, sweating in the Italian summer heat. Nikos refused to take off his jacket for fear of “being stinky.” I tried opening the bus window, and when I couldn’t get it because of the angle, the passenger sitting next to it helped slide it down. The entire front of the bus cheered as the cool outside air swam in.

venice italy

Finally the bus driver arrived and we took off. The bus lurched back and forth and we all quickly realized the bus malfunctioned! The tension while the bus driver restarted the bus was palpable. When the engine roared to life and we were finally on our way, the entire bus cheered again. 

Join me next time as I talk about our next day in Venice, my favorite city of the trip!

shopping in venice

Working Diligently Towards the Future

walking around townLeesa Truesdell is a hard-working entrepreneur and the founder of Dreams Abroad. She has worked diligently to get this website off the ground after her grandmother passed. Leesa finds inspiration from her time teaching abroad in Madrid, Spain. She loves to connect with friends (both old and new) over everyday travel woes and triumphs. This passion developed into the community that is the backbone of Dreams Abroad. From a small handful of expats to a collection of beautiful contributors that continues to grow every day, Dreams Abroad has expanded beyond any expectations Leesa had.

Now, Leesa manages Dreams Abroad while also maintaining a full-time job at Florida State University in the International Student and Scholar Office. She has exciting personal and professional plans scheduled for the rest of the year and is excited to share her updates with the Dreams Abroad family!

What have you been up to since moving back to the United States?

“When I moved back to the U.S., I moved to Tallahassee and began working with international students at Florida State University. I assist students with questions on how to maintain their immigration status while studying on their F-1 visa. I also provide assistance on campus by acting as a liaison for our international students and their academic departments. If departments have questions, oftentimes they call our office.”

eating dinner abroad future

What is your best Dreams Abroad memory?

“I have many memories that I would call favorites. The initial start-up phases in Madrid are some of my most special memories. One of my fondest memories was the day a friend and I sat at my laptop and started thinking of website names right after my grandma passed away. At the time, I was grieving but I was also using the grief to be proactive. Starting the Dreams Abroad website helped in many ways. I have many special moments and times abroad with forever friends who will always be part of Dreams Abroad.”

fondest memories

What are your future plans?

“I tend to live from moment to moment. Right now, I am planning to continue to live and work in Tallahassee. Dreams Abroad will continue to grow to its full potential. Meanwhile, I would really like to live abroad again one day in the future. We will see where it takes me.”

What would you say to someone interested in traveling abroad to teach, work, study, or just to travel ?

Center for Intensive English Studies

“I waited a long time to travel abroad mainly because I was afraid of the unknown. Furthermore, I was tied to family and did not want to leave my grandma in her later years of life. I took a chance leaving and have realized that even though she passed while I was living abroad, the way in which things happened, happened. I saw my Tata for the last time on Christmas Eve — her favorite day of the year. She was playing the piano and smiling and the music was bouncing from wall to wall. I remember her that way — a very good way.

Take the chance, feel the fear, and let your heart guide you. Keep going and try not to second guess your decision. Be the best version of yourself that you can be because you only have one life to live.”

A Look Ahead at the Future

Leesa will begin a new chapter of her life this summer working at the Center for Intensive English Studies (CIES) as an immigration advisor and instructor. She is really excited for the future and getting back into teaching since it is something that she has always been passionate about. Leesa has been building the Dreams Abroad community since the start and wants it to continue to grow and flourish in an organic way. Stay tuned for more from Leesa!

by Dreams Abroad

Eating Vegan While Traveling

 

Eating Vegan While TravelingYou must think eating vegan while traveling is impossible. Or if you don’t, you must be here looking for some tips. Well, tuck yourselves in, because I have some advice in the form of cute little stories from my experiences abroad.

Now, I’ve been vegan for over two years and traveling helped solidify why I’m fighting for animal lives more than anything else. Explaining your position to strangers in foreign countries and having the look of understanding cross their face is super satisfying. It’s one thing to convince your family to go vegan, which is a feat in and of itself, but it’s another to convince a stranger who lives in a culture different from your own.

Ask for Local Advice When Eating Vegan While Traveling

It might seem tricky to be a vegan on the road, but fortunately, most airlines offer vegetarian (or sometimes even vegan) alternatives. On my British Airways flight to London, before realizing that they had a vegan food option, I had to get a little creative. My friend, who is a vegetarian, got served the veggie meal, which came with a salad and an oat bar. Luckily, she offered me both, and the flight attendant offered me another pair of the two as well. So, I ended up getting a pretty decent salad and two oat bars for dinner. Not bad, if I do say so myself.

Don’t Worry, Plan Ahead

When you finally arrive at your foreign country with a budget to eat out, just be careful which restaurants you choose. Most places have vegan/vegetarian restaurants, even if they’re not explicitly labeled as such. Do a quick Google search on the Wi-Fi and choose the place that sounds most appealing to you. When I was traveling in Maui, we ended up going to a Thai restaurant during our first day. Thank goodness most Asian food places offer at least vegetarian meals. I was fortunate to have a hostess who understood what veganism was and guided me to a delicious Massaman Curry. If you’re not so lucky, don’t worry, just tell them you’re vegetarian with a dairy allergy. They’ll get you something vegan, or close to it (just watch for the eggs).

Vegan While Traveling

On the Go When I Am Hungry

Most of the time, when I’m traveling on a low budget, I go to a local grocery store. When I went to Denmark last summer, I arrived severely underprepared, with no plan besides hanging out with my friend (it was a wild time). I barely brought enough money to last me the two days I was staying. When it came to food, I just ended up going to the cheap grocery store and buying bunches of bananas. I would shove those into my backpack and that was my sustenance for the day, no joke. Honestly, it ended up being really convenient and gave me a lot of mobility.

Vegan pizza

Hostel Kitchen

But, if you’re not in the mood for bananas, you can always buy raw ingredients to cook in your hostel kitchen or Airbnb. I’ve made some bomb tofu dishes in hostel kitchens for hella cheap. And even if the store labels are in a foreign language, grocery stores tend to fall under similar organized structures, so don’t worry about getting lost. Thanks to modern day conveniences, eating vegan while traveling has never been easier.

Snacks and Water Are a Must

Vegan food Traveling

Consider if you’re going to be spending long days out exploring the cities in which you are traveling. If so, it’s crucial to bring snacks and water to keep your energy up. This applies to everyone, not just vegans. When I was out on day trips to places outside of Seoul, I would make sure to go to the convenience store and stock up on snacks before I left. There were always fruits available, as well as other snacks and goodies I could bring with me. It just took reading the ingredients and asking the store workers questions and boom, I had amazing vegan snacks I could take with me while I traveled.

It Is Not Impossible to be a Traveling Vegan

Traveling vegan adds another fun level to my adventures. It’s not even close to impossible and I would encourage all of you to follow that path if you so desire. There’s something really encouraging about being able to maintain your lifestyle choices while you travel.

Don’t let travel inhibit you, let it empower you.

 

Do it for the animals,

Zoe

A Day at Notre Dame and the Louvre

cassidy kearney travel tales

We had woken up early to beat the crowds. We got onto the crowded subway, joining the Parisians in the rat race. The subway was particularly intimidating. It had one of the fastest-closing doors I’d ever seen! Our whole group raced on and off the train in order to stick together. The night we arrived, one member of our group, Jenna, was separated after the doors closed. Luckily, she and her sister knew sign language. Jenna signed to her sister that she’d get off at the next stop and come back through the window of the train!

We definitely avoided a major situation thanks to their quick thinking. After that, however, the rest of us knew that we’d be flat out of luck if we were to be the next one who didn’t make the doors. We all took the subway extremely seriously. I’m sure those two have a travel tale they can tell all their friends about!

Excited to See Notre Dame

We walked a few blocks from the train station. I was incredibly excited to see Notre Dame. It was something that my dad had talked about from his time abroad, as well as something I’ve read about in fiction and nonfiction alike. As we approached Notre Dame, I craned my neck up to look at the gothic cathedral that rose in front of me. My blood raced through my veins as I cracked a smile. It was just as beautiful as I’d heard from my parents’ travels.

france cathedral travel tale abroad
Notre Dame

Expect the Unexpected

france cathedral travel tales dream abroad

The crowds weren’t as bad as they could have been. Since we were there so early, the sun had enough time to peak through the Parisian clouds. It was warm, and the greens of the shrubberies popped. I saw people dressed as pale, white clowns roaming around, hassling the tourists.

The clowns seemed like an odd addition to the gothic church. When I got close to one, I could see the paint dripping from his face. He reminded me of the costumed people you can find in Times Square, New York: dirty, but more sinister because of the clown makeup. I think I saw more than one reach around into someone’s pocket, only to get pushed or slapped away. I avoided them at all costs. This was one tale I didn’t need to explain to my parents.

The Ultimate Gothic Cathedral

The line to get into the cathedral was not too long. Luckily, Mass wasn’t being held. However, there was an automated voice that spoke to the tourists in several different languages, telling them to be respectful. Unfortunately, pictures and videos were frowned upon (they were allowed). Regardless, it didn’t feel entirely right to me to whip my phone out to observe every detail. Some things are worth just placing into memory, so you can be just as inspired when you return.

inside cathedral travel tales abroad dreams abroad
The inside of Notre Dam

After we exited the church, Nikos took us on a brief tour around the building. When we had circled it, he showed us some lesser-known historical spots of Paris on our way to the Louvre. We also took a quick boat tour of the Seine. Unfortunately, the sun was, once again, clouded over by the dismal rain clouds that had seemed to haunt us since our arrival. As a Floridian, I’m used to heavy, intense, hot showers that are over within twenty minutes. Paris was the exact opposite! There was a constant light drizzle that seeped into my bones, no matter how many layers I was wearing. I couldn’t believe that this was what Parisians thought of summer!

Down into Culture

By the time we made it to the Louvre entrance, we were freezing. Nikos left us ambling around the park above the Louvre while he secured our tickets. Unfortunately, it was so cold and wet, none of us felt like ambling! As we waited for Nikos to return, Dounia and I huddled underneath an archway with street vendors that looked similar to the Arc de Triumph. After my last street vendor incident, I was a little wary of them, but luckily, they seemed to understand that we were simply avoiding the weather.

Louvre

Nikos returned, and we quickly began our excursion into the Louvre. We passed through a mall-like area that had stores that breathed wealth. Afterward, we took a pitstop in the Louvre’s cafeteria. It was ridiculously expensive! The bathroom cost upwards of four euros, not to mention the price of food! Finally, finally, I was going into the museum that my parents had visited on their own journeys so long ago. I purchased a map simply for the scrapbooking opportunity.

Arc de Triumph ravel tales abroad
Arc de triomphe du Carrousel next to the Louvre

Even Trips Abroad Need Down Time

Dounia and I saw as much of the Louvre as we possibly could have. It was absolutely incredible. There was so much artwork, it was honestly a little overwhelming. I raced past the Mona Lisa, catching a quick side glimpse because of the crowd that stood in the queue in front of it. I think I saw Monet’s Day at the Park, but I can’t be sure. It was not until we reached some of Van Gogh’s paintings on the fifth floor that I finally began to feel some ease.

The fifth floor was filled with famous impressionist and classical paintings that I had previously studied in my art classes. It was exciting to see things that I had learned about. After such a full day, it was nice to calmly meander around the fifth floor, where there were fewer crowds.

Once we had finished, we met the group again at the Louvre’s underground subway station. As we leapt through the subway doors, we talked about going to see the Eiffel Tower. Nikos offered to take us there and guide us back to our hotel room. I could feel exhaustion creeping its way into my bones. Dounia and I decided to spend the afternoon at the Eiffel Tower! Join me next time for my travel tale as I talk about all of our iconic adventures!

Expat vs Depression

The emotional roller coaster of moving abroad is multifaceted; it is filled with those breathtaking ups, but is also plagued by those heart-wrenching downs. Without our typical support systems, known environments, and comfort zones, those downs can quickly spiral into some depressing times. And unfortunately, it happens more than we would like to discuss in my post of expat vs depression.

Reality vs Instagram

instagram reality photos pictures expat vs depressionSocial media has a funny way of influencing our lives. We can use Instagram as an example. Instagram is a photographic platform to express our perceptions of the world through our own lens. Personally, I post only my best pictures on Instagram, capturing the moment in the most creative and enticing way I can. By default, all my followers only see my world through my altered lens. Pictures of Spain, Morocco, Italy, England, Switzerland, etc. fill my Instagram from top to bottom. But how often do people stop to reflect on the accuracy of my portrayal of the world? Probably not much.

If I honestly posted my traveling life through Instagram, it would look more like: boxes of rice (I could not afford anything else to eat), a cold floor (where I slept in the airport because I could not afford accommodation), panic (my bank account rarely has enough to support me in case of an emergency while traveling), and the hostel (with all 20 beds shoved into a room that should only accommodate 8).

My point? Well, to get you to understand the reality of depression while being abroad, we all need to step out of this false narrative that everything is as beautiful as we make it out to be online and start understanding that there are complex, “behind the scenes” layers that many choose not to share.

Home vs There

Home is comfortable. Home is happy. Home is love. Home is family. Home is friends. When I moved here, I had no home. If I had a bad day, I did not have anyone to listen to me. Additionally, if I needed help, I had no one to call. If I wanted to make plans, I had to do them alone. Leaving your support system back at home means giving up everything and being alone with yourself. Some people thrive, while others do not.

hostel dormitory traveling abroad expat vs depression

Leaving so much behind can mentally cause a strain on your life. I missed Christmas with my relatives and celebrated it alone. My birthday was spent alone with cake that I made myself, and a movie on my laptop.  Day to day life felt uneventful because I had no one to share my memories with. Additionally, the added stressors of finding friends, learning a language, assimilating into a culture, starting a new job, finding somewhere to live, opening a bank account, adjusting to a new city, etc, etc, etc, is a lot to take on at once.

On the other side of things, some days I just watched my old life back at home as a third person and how it moved on in my absence. I missed the celebrations of holidays, birth of new family, engagements of siblings, and simple family dinners that once were taken-for-granted. I could not even understand why I decided to give up my past life. Why did I leave my loved ones? Why did I choose to move away and be alone? Where do I belong now? And what on Earth am I even doing here?

Me vs Me

traveling-abroad-expat-pressional-depressionOnce you start questioning all your decisions and plans, things can quickly go downward. It hits you quite hard when you realize you have no one to help you through the changes you are experiencing. At one point, it caused me to become my worst enemy. I started to second-guess so much about my life. From career to relationship to family to my own happiness, I could not get a grip on my own future.

My career?

I move back and continue with lots of money and benefits or I stay here and am much happier, but make a significantly lower income and not much advancement.

My relationship? – He is here and definitely not there.

My family? – They are there and definitely not here.

My happiness? – I love the lifestyle and culture here, but that doesn’t include my family, which are there.

Everything turned into a personal struggle and my mental battle turned into a physical battle. I couldn’t sleep, eat, or enjoy anything about my life anymore. I felt that I was constantly being pulled between two places, or essentially two lives.  What made things worse was the feeling that no one understood my dilemma. My family just wanted me to come home. My friends wanted me to continue my adventurous life. Anywhere I looked, I couldn’t find the answer to any of my questions or anything to alleviate the torn emotions I was experiencing.

traveling abroad expat airport

So, what did I do? Well, I wish I could wrap this story up with a happy ending and a solution like I normally do. Unfortunately, this time is a little different. I still grapple with these emotions. I often find myself waking up from a nightmare about my future, my family, my relationship, and my life. What has helped is focusing on the things I want and the things that make me happy. I try to remind myself that I’m not alone and my family and friends are always with me, whether it’s here or there. I try to remind myself that I’m living a dream in another country and it may or may not last forever. If I don’t seize my day in Madrid now, when will I ever get the opportunity to do so again?

Us AND Us

To my expats,

Don’t forget: we are a big network. There are people just like you who have leapt into a new world and are trying to keep their head above water. Talk to others in the same boat as you. Share your experiences to help uplift yourself and possibly someone else who feels the same. Reach out via meetings, social gatherings, or even Facebook where “Expats in ____________” groups are always there to help bring people together. And most importantly, remember the positives. Living in another country is a giant learning experience. You see the world, connect with others, learn about yourself, and gain such valuable lessons that you could never achieve from staying in your comfort zone. Remember that what you are doing abroad is shaping you into a remarkable, well-rounded, and cultured person. These are true qualities that change your life forever. Don’t ever forget that.

Us AND You 

Sometimes you win and other times you learn
Sometimes you win and other times you learn.

Do you have a loved one abroad?

Check in with them often and take note in any change of behavior.

Support their endeavors because sometimes they can’t even support it themselves.

Encourage them to stay strong and remind them that they are doing a superb job so far.

Recognize that they are facing new challenges every day and any negativity can sincerely affect their mental statuses.

Praise them for following their dreams. Just because we are far away doesn’t mean we want to lose the feeling of your presence in our lives.

by Bebe Bakhtiar

Teach Abroad Orientation After Arriving in Spain

meet leesa traveler and teacherby Leesa Truesdell

“What’s in a name that which we call a rose? By any other name would smell as sweet.” – William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

It’s been one week since my arrival in Spain. We just wrapped up our teach abroad orientation. Here, we learned many things which will help us around the city of Madrid. For example, how to use the Metro — easily one of the cleanest I’ve ever seen. Also, I got to see my very first Flamenco show. What a beautiful dance, what sensual music.

Thought-Provoking Questions

There are around 70 of us in this orientation group; therefore, we have been trying to get to know one another each day by doing different activities. On our first day at dinner we paired up with a partner in our group — my group was number eight. In this exercise, we asked each other some pretty thought-provoking questions such as what was your most embarrassing moment or if you could invite someone to dinner, living or deceased, who would it be? When my partner asked the question about who I would invite to dinner, the first person that came to mind in a split second was my grandfather. There are so many questions that can be answered over a meal and also, it would be such an honor to sit and speak with him as an adult.

Grand father

My grandfather loved to cook, so of course, as an adult, it would also be such a treat to taste his cooking just one more time. The goal of this exercise was to get connected with your partner. But, also, the exercise helped us get in tune with some of the things we hadn’t thought about before. For me, it made me think once again about the memories of my childhood and how much I truly love my family.

Teach Abroad Orientation Exercise

The most interesting orientation exercise and one that connected me yet again to my grandfather was the exercise that we practiced when we discussed culture. This exercise involved pairing up with a partner and asking them about their given name. Each participant asked the same set of questions to each other. For instance, my partner asked who named me, why they named me, what my name means to me, and what others think about my name.

What I learned about my partner, who happened to be our group leader, was that he was from the south of Spain, from a city called Sevilla. In the south of Spain, it is traditional for your first-born son to be named after the father of the family. Since my partner was the second born, his mother chose to name him after her father, or his grandfather. His name was Luis. For Luis, his name carried a special honor to him because his grandfather was seen as a very intelligent man.

Learning to Live in Spain at Our Teach Abroad Orientation

After speaking to Luis, I realized I have so much more to learn about others while living in Spain. I am going to try to reflect upon the interactions I have with Spaniards and other Americans in order to understand more about them and myself. I need to make a commitment to pause and reflect while being abroad. Often in our daily lives we are so busy that we miss the meaning of what things really mean. Or, maybe we don’t realize the importance of why something means so much to someone else when it may seem so irrelevant to us. Every day we say multiple names as we greet one another but have we really stopped to think about who that person is or where they come from? Or, perhaps thinking about what makes up their life story.

Everyone has a Story

Everyone, no matter how old they are, has a story — at birth, we start off with a story given to us by our parents who in turn have been given a story to them by their parents — our grandparents. That’s personal history. After you finish reading this, think about what your name means to you. Also, what does your name mean to others in your community? What’s your story? Has anyone that you interacted with lately made the effort to find out? Or, vice versa?

Anticipate the Next Chapter Living Abroad

As we anticipate the next chapter of our immersion program, we are excited about the challenges that await us. These challenges for some mean renting their very first apartment after post-undergraduate studies all while in a foreign country and speaking a different language. They are using foreign currency… working at a new job… meeting new coworkers… finding new transportation and so on. For others, it means learning a new language and exploring a city that doesn’t get dark until about 10:00 pm. For all of us, it means making everlasting friendships and preparing to teach abroad very soon!

teach abroad orientation
This was Group Eight at orientation. There were eight of these groups and Luis (standing) was our group leader. He was Spanish.