Over the past six months, the combination of my job and a disposable income has meant a lot more travel. Working in study abroad means that sometimes we visit campuses to meet with students and study abroad administrators. It also means that sometimes we get to go abroad to actually see where we send our students! Here are some photos and stories from the past six months of travel.
I first went to Turkey with my friend Danielle in 2008. It was a powerful experience, as two young women with plenty of European travel experience ventured into the land of crossroads: Europe and Asia, Christianity and Islam, familiar and unfamiliar. I will always look at those four days I spent in Istanbul in as inspiration behind the four months I spent traveling the world in 2009.
Just a few months into my new job, I was asked to go to Istanbul to see our newest study abroad location. Among the group of coworkers, I was the only one who had been to Turkey before. As someone with very little sense of direction, I amazed myself with what I remembered about the city. Istanbul surprised me again, with noticeable changes in just four short years, like new subway and light rail lines. I felt different in Istanbul, too. While before I remember being a bit nervous and overly cautious about safety, food, talking to strangers, blah blah blah, this time I was relaxed. I felt comfortable being alone. I talked to everyone. I ate everything. Maybe Istanbul has changed, but I’m pretty sure I grew up, too.
When I talk to people about travel, they like to bring up Italy. People love Italy. Americans, Danes, Chinese, Canadians: they all have gushed to me about Italy. I had never been to Italy, so I just smiled and enjoyed their stories. I gathered from their gushing that if I were to go somewhere in Italy, Florence would be my first choice. Lucky for me, that’s where we send students to study abroad! I was also warned that Italy is hot and overly-touristed. Again, lucky break: we went in January.
I only spent two days in Florence, but I have a few words of wisdom. Go to Italy in January. Eat gelato. Wear walking shoes. Florence was certainly beautiful; there are so many churches, plazas, and statues that it’s hard to tell whether or not you’re in a museum! I can very clearly see how arriving in Italy as a college student, or as someone who had never been to Europe before, would immediately fill your heart with romance and adoration. I understand why people flock here and then gush about it later. For me, however, my heart was stolen by a different country, starting when I was 14 years old and spoke my first sentences in French. While I could never compare entire countries, I do believe that my love for France and my desire to see every corner of it is equivalent to the way many people feel about Italy. France was and still is my quintessential Europe, just as Italy fulfills many people’s dreams of European travels. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
London, United Kingdom
Ah, London. This was my fourth trip to this monster of a city. I try something new every time and always leave wanting more. While I was mostly working at our London office during the week, I did have a Saturday to get out to a new area. I decided to venture south of the Thames to the neighborhood of Brixton, known for its multicultural population and lively markets. I had been a bit disappointed the week before to be in Turkey for Chinese New Year (Istanbul isn’t exactly known for its Chinese community), especially after learning about Boston’s large Chinese population. But then Brixton made it all better.
As I was browsing the fruit and vegetable selection of the Caribbean street market, I heard drums and bells approaching. People ran toward the noise, anticipating a parade or performance. All of a sudden, I turned around and was face to face with dragons. I just happened to be in front of a Chinese storefront where the dragons were about to do a ten minute performance which included drumming, dancing, and ceremonial grabbing at heads of lettuce. People clapped and sang, the shopkeepers passed out Chinese candy, and the dragons sparkled on the streets on this cloudy January day. And I thought to myself: this is why travel never gets old. I am surrounded by people from all over the world — China, West Africa, India, the Caribbean — in a city they now all call home. Every choice I make to go somewhere new is an invitation for experiencing and understanding life from another point of view.
Buffalo, New York
I work with a school in downtown Buffalo, a city I had never been to before. With tickets bought to fly there in February (on Valentine’s Day, to be exact), I was a bit fearful of the wicked winter they’re known for. Fortunately for this newly minted New Englander, the winter was extremely mild everywhere in the northeast. I think I saw about two inches of snow on the ground in Buffalo, which is very odd for February. I was stuck by how nice and friendly everyone was in Buffalo, and I couldn’t help but wonder how they view New York City. While the biggest city in the country often defines the state, other cities like Buffalo have their own culture, their own sports teams, and their own concept of “New Yorker.” Deep thoughts while I stuffed my face with the original Buffalo wings…
St. Louis, Missouri
Home sweet home. This work trip took to me to schools across Missouri, from STL to Springfield, Maryville to Kirksville. As someone who grew up in the biggest city in Missouri and then immediately moved to the east coast, I did not know a lot about the college towns of MO. One interesting part of my job is meeting the people who work in international education but live in very small towns, physically very far away from the global atmospheres we advocate for. But college campuses can be surprising. Sure, there are not as many international experiences in Kirksville, Missouri, as there are in Boston or DC. But American campuses are filled with diversity and students who are eager to learn from one another. While passing out study abroad information about London at a student center in Springfield, I found myself seated between two young women promoting dance performances: one was Indian and the other was African. Both students remarked happily how many tickets they had sold. While I will never get over the travel bug, it is refreshing to see people finding the world in their own backyards.
There are lots of reasons to go to Chicago, but for my whole life my reason has been to see family. I have an enormous family, living all across the country from California to Florida, but the largest number live in Chicago. This year, my cousin Amy got married and Bularziks from every corner of the nation gathered together to celebrate.
One of the best parts of the wedding was the photographer. He was extremely entertaining and enthusiastic about his job, and he was set up at the edge of the room to take group photos of anyone who wanted them. Of course my immediate family did some nice ones together and with my grandpa, but then the cousins got together for some more non-traditional poses.
My first conference for work sent me to the Wisconsin Association for International Educators annual conference in Appleton, Wisconsin. As a Midwesterner, I had been to Wisconsin in the summertime to visit the lakes and beaches. I had heard of Appleton, but I had no expectations whatsoever of what the city would be like.
I was only there for 48 hours, but I fell in love. Appleton is in an area called the Fox Cities, along the Fox River and Lake Winnebago in eastern Wisconsin. Other Fox Cities include Neenah, Menasha, Oshkosh, and Kaukauna. The cities are settled in nooks and valleys around the river, full of parks, town squares, and beautiful old homes. I saw kids riding bikes and selling lemonade. It was all-American and Midwestern in the ideal way: no suburbs, no sprawl, just communities that work. I obviously know very little about the Fox Cities, but they made such an impression on me that I now get unrealistically excited when I meet someone from Wisconsin. Sorry, no photos, google it!
One of the schools I work with is Mizzou, which is fantastic because it means I have to fly into St. Louis or Kansas City to get there. Plus, I have family and friends in Columbia to stay with. It’s quite funny that my visits to Columbia have occurred mostly post-college. If I had come here between 2003-2007, I would have known a lot more people in town! Even though I didn’t go to to school at Mizzou and I don’t have a huge loyalty to Missouri sports, I am very proud of this beautiful campus and the surrounding downtown.
I also work with the University of Kansas, which I try to keep quiet when I’m in Columbia. This is also convenient as I have more family and friends in the KC area, including my best friend in Lawrence. I have actually seen her more in the past six months than I did my entire time living in Pittsburgh. Lawrence is a really nice town, set in the prettiest part of Kansas (full disclosure: this is the only place in Kansas I have been outside of the KC suburbs). But we also make some trips in to Kansas City, MO, when the need arises. As a St. Louisan, I see Kansas City as the “other” city in Missouri, clearly secondary to the Gateway to the West. But there are some nice things to do in KC, like the art museum with a lawn covered in giant shuttlecocks.
My sister moved to this small, south Florida rural town in September as part of a volunteer program. She works toward migrant farmer rights with the CIW and teaches their children in an after-school program. During the four days I was in Immokalee, it rained the entire time as a tropical storm worked its way up the Gulf Coast. So I got the tour of the town and the CIW’s facilities, including this awesome painting in the three languages of the town: Haitian Creole, Spanish, and English (the Spanish speakers are mostly from Mexico and Guatemala).
Since we couldn’t go to the beach during the storms, our only outdoor activity was visiting a swampland reserve called the Corkscrew Sanctuary. The two of us mostly had the trail to ourselves, as it was still drizzling out. Until we met the bear. Yes, we came upon a black bear munching through the leaves just ahead of us. I’ve always wanted to see a bear in the wild, but I’ve never thought much about what I would do if that wish actually came true. What we did was run away, slowly, then call the park ranger, who told us to just wait a bit and then keep going. It turned out to be uneventful, as I wasn’t even brave enough to get a photo of the little guy. But for a moment, my sister and I were thinking about the headlines for the newspapers: City Sister Duo Pay Ultimate Price for Bear Photography.