Today’s post is for some of my favorite women that I’ve either met abroad or are from another country (or both)! People are the reason why I love travel as much as I do; it’s about immersing yourself in new cultures and creating strong friendships along the way. In case you’re reading this, thank you for all of the fond memories, laughs and sharing once-in-a-lifetime experiences with me 🙂
Saskia – friends since 2011 (met through foreign exchange)
Carolyn – friends since 2014 (met as roommates in France)
Anwar – friends since 2015 (met as coworkers at our SVSU Writing Center)
Bethany – friends since 2016 (met as exchange students in Sweden)
Jacomijne – friends since 2016 (met as exchange students in Sweden)
Gloria, Jagoda & Hui Jun – friends since 2016 (met as exchange students in Sweden)
Kaila – friends since 2017 (met as volunteers in Chiang Rai, Thailand)
The cold, windy air hitting my nose and cheeks in Michigan reminds me of Swedish Lapland. We visited Abisko and Kiruna, and even crossed the border into Norway for an afternoon. From visiting the ice hotel I saw in Nat Geo as a third grader to sledding in the town after bar hopping, riding on the back of a dog sled, feeding the reindeer and seeing the Northern Lights (three times!), Lapland was probably the happiest week of my life…
As the friend who is “always gone somewhere,” a lot of people ask me where my favorite place is (or what city I enjoyed the most). The truth is that after visiting 20 countries abroad, I can’t pick “one favorite.” So instead, I have five!
I put this in chronological order, not in order of preference:
Aix-en-Provence, France (2014)
At this time, this was the longest period I’d been away from the United States. I spent three weeks in Germany when I was 18 (two years prior) but this felt different, because it WAS!
I was truly immersed in the culture. I lived with a host family as well as someone from New Jersey (who is now one of my closest friends) and learned more about how the French saw world issues, like the Holocaust for example. Aix will never be Paris, but on the same note, Paris will never be Aix…think about it…
My mother’s side of the family is predominantly French. Although they weren’t from Southern France, I felt close to my roots here. The experience of living in Aix for two months was something I wouldn’t trade for the world, no matter how insane my host mother was!!
Amsterdam, Holland (2014)
My boyfriend and I visited Amsterdam together once my two months in Aix was over, and boy was I pleasantly surprised! There is such a bad reputation of Amsterdam here in the United States (sleazy, dirty, etc.) and although some of that can be found here, Amsterdam was one of the greenest, cleanest, beautiful cities I’ve visited!
Amsterdam is such a melting pot of cultures, languages, and lifestyles. Hearing Norwegian, Spanish, French, German, and British accents all on the same street is something you can’t experience in Michigan very often!
There is absolutely no judgement here!!
Kiruna, Sweden (2016)
On a school trip during study abroad round two in Sweden, we visited Lapland (in the Arctic Circle). As a third grader, I wanted to visit the ice hotel SO BADLY and my dreams finally came true in Sweden! It was more breathtaking than I imagined…
Being in Lapland was one of the best weeks of my life. Still is two years later. I was in love with every aspect of the trip, from dog sledding to seeing the Northern Lights (twice!!) and everything in between – it was perfection.
Bergen, Norway (2016)
I visited my mom’s family’s foreign exchange student, Kjell, after studying in Sweden for one semester. My mom and Kjell haven’t been able to physically see each other once he returned home in the 80s, but they have been able to talk on the phone and write each other letters ever since. Meeting Kjell, his wife, children, and basically all of his immediate family was something I’d been wanting to do my whole life. Bergen itself is beautiful, but the sentiment behind my visit made it even more memorable.
Um, well…Bergen is absolutely stunning! I think the photos above speak for themselves…
Bangkok, Thailand (2017)
Although I volunteered in Chiang Rai for one month, Bangkok was the best possible way to end my Thai adventure! I had previously booked a room for myself to explore Bangkok, but then my friends Kaila, Karl, and Hee Cheol decided to join. I’m beyond thankful that they did because I know I wouldn’t have had as much fun without them!
On our first night together, we ate at one of the best restaurants I’ve been to! And right after, we had drinks on a rooftop bar, which was the perfect way to end our volunteering and begin our weekend together! I think Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai were places I’d rather be long-term; however, because of the people I was spending my weekend with, Bangkok (and its memories) make the list for me!
And aside from what I’ve just mentioned, WE HAD A ROOFTOP POOL! People, it doesn’t get any better than this! For a month, I was taking cold bucket showers, squatted down to pee, and had mosquito spray on me 24/7. This 180 was exactly what I needed 🙂
As an American student studying in Kalmar, Sweden, I need a residence permit for my five-month adventure. Unfortunately, Kalmar doesn’t have a migration board office; fortunately, the six Americans had to travel elsewhere.
Vaxjo, Sweden is a small town, but much larger than Kalmar. We definitely packed a lot into one day!
The vibrant colors of the cathedral and the unique architecture cannot be beat; however, the Swedish slides are very confusing, even for twenty-something year-olds!
Umami Monkey was perhaps one of the best burger joints I’ve ever been to…and I’ve been to some good ones in Germany and Ann Arbor, Michigan! To think we were mad that the Mexican place was closed…
The glass museum in Vaxjo really brought out how modern the town is, as well as how innovative they are with their creations! As an American who really knows little about Sweden (excluding Ikea and the famous ice hotel of course), these unique creations were exactly what I imagined Sweden to have!
The Vaxjo town model and Ice Man replicas were neat to see in order to put all I’ve learned from National Geographic in perspective!
The Loranga part of the museum was interesting at first, but then it really brought out our inner child-like behavior!
All in all, we had a great day at the museums, bookstores, cafes, and restaurants in Vaxjo! A day of chores seemed to turn into a day of fun instantly!