The best things come in twos…

I took a leave of absence in order to rest and focus on my (mental) health, but the former hasn’t really been on the docket since I got home. I think that my not resting, though, has in some ways been helping me work on my mental health, and I couldn’t be more grateful. However, sleep ISN’T for the weak; even if I’m not lounging at home as much as I probably should be, I’ve been making sure to get enough sleep (usually) so I can be at my best.

So here’s my comprehensive, personal guide to filling your mind and heart with good things during a leave of absence!

2 internships | I decided to continue with my virtual internships with EducationUSA Armenia and U.S. Embassy Bishkek. Things slowed down in November to allow me time to recover, but they’re picking back up again before the holidays, and I’m excited! I’m working on Christmas content and U.S. state profiles for my Armenian students and international relations-related projects for my Kyrgyzstan internship. I’m grateful to have supervisors that look out for my health. 🙂

2 jobs | I’ve been working part-time at Abercrombie and my best friend’s dad’s insurance management office as an assistant (definitely something new for me, and I’m learning lots!), but both of them together end up being like a full-time job! There are some 12-hour days when I go straight from 7/8 hours at the office to another 4 or 5 at Abercrombie. I’ve found that this lifestyle isn’t very sustainable for me because I’m constantly exhausted, but I’m grateful for the opportunities, and my office job ends next week. I do love working, though, and I enjoy retail because I get to interact with customers who speak languages from all over the world! (And run into people I know! Today was a Spanish teacher from my middle school, and on Thanksgiving it was friends from my high school French exchange – including one of the French girls who was back in town to visit her host family!)

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2 languages | I’m self-studying Korean (level 3 out of 6 in the Yonsei series) and Russian (Intermediate 1), but it’s a bit slow. Still, I have a process for how I study, including taking notes, looking up unknown words, filling out every exercise, and writing sentences using newly-learned vocab and grammar. I’d love to add some Duolingo/Mango work with Greek and Azerbaijani, but that can come after I’m not working 12 hour days, haha.

2 more languages! | I signed up to take 10-day intensive Arabic and Portuguese courses at University of Illinois!! I’m so excited to start languages 9 and 10, especially Arabic, and to live on a real college campus with my best friend, who will be taking Spanish and French. We already have Netflix binge dates and cute cafe study seshes planned.

2 leadership positions | I received funding from the CLS Alumni Development Fund to implement a NSLIY to CLS mentorship program and host a networking event, and I recently was selected as a NSLIY Alumni Representative, so I get to host even more cool events! I’ve been trying to get a head start on brainstorming event ideas and venues, and mentoring my students has been super fun and rewarding. They’re all so driven and kind!!

2 confirmed trips | Party in D.C. with the other NSLIY Alumni Reps for training! And unfortunately, my grandpa is very sick, so my brother and I are going to visit him at the end of this month in China. Pretty shitty circumstances to return to such a wonderful country, but I’m grateful for a chance to see him and spend time with him. He’s the kind of person who is always smiling and laughing, even as you are annoyed with and yelling at him. (Mostly my grandma.) He takes nothing seriously, and that’s why he lives such a full, happy life. I’d love to learn to be like him and just think positively, smile often, and laugh in the face of negativity.

2 planned trips | I made an awesome friend at an embassy event in Korea this summer, and he’s back in Salt Lake City after completing his State Department internship. I can’t wait to visit him and meet his cute cat and even cuter son! I’m also arranging a trip to Yerevan and Bishkek for spring break so I can meet my internship supervisors and students and see with my own eyes the countries I’ve been working with this year. 🙂

2 days of therapy per week | Well, so far it’s only been once a week what with my crazy work schedule, but it will become 2 soon, even if only temporarily given everything else I’ll have going on! My therapist has been incredibly empathetic yet rational, and she’s helped me see angles to my feelings and the way I approach them that I didn’t realize. The office is in downtown Chicago, which is great because that city brings me so much happiness and also lots of great memories with my favorite people. I honestly don’t know the city well at all, though, so I’m hoping once things calm down with work, I’ll have more time to explore different neighborhoods and cultural offerings in the city. On another note that’s harder to explain, nostalgia is something that weighs heavily on me. The better the memory, the more difficult it is for me to deal with the fact that it’s over. Since so many of the best memories of my life were created in Chicago, being in the city can be difficult for me at times, but I’m trying to use what I’m learning from therapy to appreciate the city and the memories it holds, not be weighed down by it all.

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So as you can see, things have not slowed down just because I’m home! I’m excited to rest a bit more after this week, though, and to dedicate some more time to my internships – and, well, to taking care of my health. By the time I go back to NYU, I want to be able to hit the ground running!

 

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Mugeuk, Korea | October 2017

Centuries ago, when he was young, my friend taught in the Korean countryside through EPIK. Called back to it for a ginseng festival, he brought me along too so I could meet ~real Koreans~ and speak lots of Korean and see a different side to Korea. Ironically, my diary chronicling this day is buried at the bottom of a suitcase, so I’m using his notes to write this post – my first time using someone else’s perspective to write my own.

Jarret’s and my first stop was Nanum Cafe, owned by his mentor of sorts – and honestly my mentor of sorts now too after hearing this guy’s story. He works in international development, started his own awesome cafe, and was literally constructing with his own hands a building for his wife’s fashion business as we strolled up. People like him show me that even though I have diverse interests, I can make it all happen. Why be limited to just one? Also, Jarret will kill me for the next picture, but it’s an accurate representation of how much trash I made from all the Belgian sugar cookies I wolfed down with my coffee. I also didn’t put that book on the table to seem more intellectual for this picture; I assumed Jarret would bring his backpack, but he didn’t because he assumed I’d bring my purse, which I did. Guess whose book was kicked out of whose purse in order to make room for his gross snacks?

We made our way to the river to meet up with Seuli, one of Jarret’s gym friends from his EPIK year. She also has a cool story, of traveling all over Asia to do whatever the hell she wants, when she wants – and absolutely killing it. She used to be a body builder, and she has the most adorable little spitzer, Mingki. She let me live out my dream of owning a dog by walking him the whole time. ❤ She also let me live out my dream of speaking Korean well by complimenting even the simplest of my phrases. Jarret did not lie when he said his friends would be great for me to practice with.

After Seuli peaced out (“I have to go help my brother” gotta love that Korean tact), Jarret and I walked around the festival area. I honestly still don’t know what ginseng is, but I enjoyed the decorations and music! I also liked that basically anywhere we wanted to go was within walking distance of each other.

Jarret’s coteacher during EPIK, Jason, came to meet up with us and take us to the school where they used to teach together! Jarret had shown me so many pictures of it over the years, and it was so surreal seeing it with my own eyes, in the flesh [brick?]. The track next to it took me back to my own high school days, and there was even a little workout room for teachers to make some #gains during their lunch breaks. Or is that just Jason? It’s a school that specializes in technology and engineering, and many students from there actually don’t end up going to college – they get straight to work at tech companies all over Korea and the world. Jarret took me to Mugeuk because he knew it would be meaningful for me, but it also made my heart warm to know he was getting his meaning too by returning. He still keeps in touch with some of his students and speaks fondly of them, the city, and the experience in general. It got me excited for what’s to come for me; I know teaching English or at least working with youth abroad is in the cards for me in the near future, and I can’t wait to forge as deep of a connection with my students and host city as he did with his.

Jason was kind enough to drive us out of town to a beautiful lake nestled between little forested mountains. Jarret thinks he’s a photographer and wouldn’t stop snapping candids of me, but a lot of them turned out better than I thought they would! Is it his photographic intuition that I now trust, or the superior camera of his Samsung phone?

After a satisfying meal of bibimbap (pretty much the only Korean food I enjoy), we went back downtown, where the festival was in full swing. Seuli was actually singing in it, but we had to leave before she came on. 😦 I don’t doubt that she did an amazing job, though! Is there anything that woman can’t do? Meanwhile, as he pulled out his phone, Jarret’s bus ticket flew out of his pocket. We couldn’t find it anywhere, so at the bus station, we asked if he could get a new one free of charge. The woman behind the counter explained that the child in line right in front of us had tried to refund a ticket he was pretending was his, so Jarret could just have that one. And it was his exact ticket that he’d lost!! What are the odds?!

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It was a fun first foray into the Korean countryside (I know I need to calm down with the alliterations), and I hope I can go back someday, if for nothing else but to see the wonderful people (and pupper!) that I met. It was honestly a really special day that I’ll always look back on fondly for the people I spent it with and the much-needed fresh air and change of scenery.

다시 한국에 돌아갔을 때 무극에도 꼭 다녀오려고요. ^^

Henan & Shanghai, China | October 2017

During my fall break, my dad went back to China to visit family, so of course I joined him! It was my first time seeing them in four years – my first time seeing a couple of my cousins in SEVENTEEN years. I spent part of the trip sick and honestly just sad and in my own headspace, but there were many highlights!

Squatting Success

Let’s just get this over with. I managed to pee without making a mess and came to realize that squatty potties might be the superior potty…. At least for #1.

Cousin Reunion

The last time I had seen some of these people, I was still wetting the bed. Now we’re all adults.

Pouty Paula

My aunt showed up with some pictures of me the first time I’d visited them. Let’s just say, before I was a Paulaglot in Progress, I was a Pouty Paula.

Holiday Heart-to-Hearts

I walked with my aunt and youngest cousin to a park with a water and light show going on for China’s National Day! We dined at the fine establishment of Burger King, where my aunt reminded me that as fierce as my dad can be sometimes, it’s because he bears the stress of supporting a family in a foreign country, with no support of his own immediately around him. That gave me new appreciation for him and for the struggles of immigrants everywhere in the world.

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Longmen Grottoes and Songshan Temple

The only touristy things we did while in Henan. Also can we talk about what a fun fam I have?! I’ve always dreamed of having a big, fun family, and this trip reminded me that that dream is a reality just an ocean away.

Mosque

On our drive to the Songshan Temple, I spotted minarets and insisted that we pull over to go check them out. This was the first mosque I’ve ever seen in China, and I was entranced. The Middle East is an area of the world I want to study more in-depth, and my Middle Eastern Politics class last semester only confirmed my interest in this enchanting, complicated region. Seeing Arabic and Chinese side-by-side literally gave me chills.

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NYU Imperialism

After visiting my dad’s family in Luoyang, we went to Shanghai for vacation. Our first stop was NYU Shanghai – visiting it marked the point when I’d officially visited over half of NYU’s 15 global campuses. It was itty bitty but with relaxing gardens both in front of and behind the main building. Don’t sit on the benches in the front, though, or your NSLIY internet friends will end up having to help you wipe your ass as their first impression of you.

NSLIY Meetup ❤

It wouldn’t be me visiting a major city without a NSLIY meetup, duh! I’ve been talking to Jaime (Deyang 2016) and Ashley (Chengdu 2017) on social media for a couple years, but it felt like we’d known each other IRL for that long too when I finally met them. ❤ My dad and cousin accompanied us to lunch and dessert, with the former entertaining them with tales of his Duolingo French progress and Bahamas bus stories. My dad has never been super social with my friends, but he was a hit with Jaime and Ashley! A good time all around.

Yu Garden

Another location whose pictures speak for themselves.

The Bund

If you know me by now, you know that I’m unashamedly SUCH a sucker for touristy sites. I mean, there’s a reason people flock to these things! I admit that I’m not always one to go off the beaten path, that I am one of many sheep bumbling to things like the Eiffel Tower, Burj al-Khalifa, and the Bund. I’ve seen the latter now at 3pm, 7pm, and 3am, and my breath has been taken away each time. What an incredible world we live in.

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Going to China with my dad and spending time with family was exactly what I needed in the midst of a pretty turbulent semester. As much as I rejected my Chinese heritage as a kid, it’s something I’m immensely proud of now and feel connected to. If you come from an immigrant family, hold onto your culture. I know that my saying that will not change any minds, but I really wish that I hadn’t strayed so far from my Chinese roots when I was a kid.

Good thing I have the rest of my life to plant more.

BLACKOUT: Shanghai, China | August 2017

On my way to Korea, I had an overnight layover in Shanghai. My parents were kind enough to book me a hotel not far from the airport, where I took a grateful nap upon landing. I woke up around 1am, when I decided that late as it might be, I wanted to see the Bund.

The hotel called me a taxi, and I was on my way! It’s odd to be in a country where I can speak the language easily, but not well. Usually I speak a language both with difficulty and poorly, or easily and well – not just one but not the other! Third culture kid problems… Many a taxi driver was confused by my Chinese.

I was excited to see the famous Bund lights, but because I arrived at 2am, they were all turned off! Now that I have seen the Bund both during the day and lit up at night, though, I have to say that the complete blackout was even better. Definitely a unique twist from all the pictures I see scrolling through Instagram, and with almost no one at the pier, it felt like I was in my own world.

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To get back to the hotel, I grabbed another cab. This guy was friendly but had no idea where he was going, and I watched anxiously as my fare increased. I told him to just drop me off at the airport, but at one point, we were on a straightaway to PVG and he STILL made a wrong turn into an abandoned parking lot. I had never had a panic attack from anything besides my phobia, but as I sat there wondering if he was going to kill me, I could feel the cold numbness of a panic creeping up my throat. I texted my mom frenetically, and, usually fearless and calm, she responded with words that chilled me: “My worst fear.”

It ended up being okay; my driver was in fact just lost as heck, not out to kill me, and he eventually got me to the airport in one piece and even turned the meter off so I didn’t have to pay the extra amount. I caught another cab back to the hotel and just sat there for the next few hours before my flight, trying to calm my heart rate.

Anyone who has traveled alone has an experience like this, when you’re not sure if you’re going to die or not. For most people, it makes a great story to tell later, but it’s something that I still have difficulty thinking about. I hate remembering how scared I felt; it reminds me that every day, there are people out there that feel the exact same way and worse, and for good reason, before blackout.

Paradoxically, the world is safer than we imagine it to be, yet we are not safe anywhere we go. Certainly, nationality, money, wits, and linguistic abilities can afford us varying levels of comfort and security. However, we cannot control the intents of individuals, the force of nature, or the inevitability of what’s to come.

I think it’s because of this, though, that we should push ourselves out of our comfort zones and into our dreams. Whether we stay at home, travel to the familiar, or completely break from our norm, there’s an endless sequence of possible consequences.

A black out view would not have been worth a blacked out life. I’m happy that was not the hand I was dealt.

St. Louis, Missouri | June 2017

Before our summers in Baku and Gwangju through CLS, my best friend Nico and I spent a few days together in his new home city, St. Louis! 90% of our time there was spent cafe hopping with Felix, Gwenydd, and Madison, all from the NSLIY community of course. It was a fantastic first time in the Gateway City, and I’m here to give some recs for the next time you’re there!

Left Bank Books

This independently-owned bookstore has secondhand tomes, funky finds (like a Latin-Hungarian dictionary!), and a black cat! I somehow walked out empty-handed, but not without quite a bit of self-control. Nico picked up a fun book about responsible tourism in Iceland.

City Hall

For the best arch pictures, I’d recommend City Hall over the actual arch. From the right distance away, you can get an awesome shot of the arch curving over the building like a steel rainbow. The interior itself is a rainbow of colorful walls!

Cafe Natasha

Yummy Middle Eastern food (specifically Persian) can be found at this beautiful restaurant on Grand Blvd, boasting kabobs, curries, pilaf, and (so I’ve heard) amazing Turkish coffee.

MoKaBe’s Coffee House

A Felix fave and now my fave too. The walls are covered in social justice and political posters, which is just my vibe, and there was plentiful outdoor seating. The biggest worry I had there was which flavored coffee I wanted, but I decided on a raspberry latte.

Comme A La Maison

If it’s French and/or pastel, I’m for it! Bonus: the pastries and sandwiches. Nothing is better than walking into a cafe and knowing your intestines will be saved pain because you WON’T be drinking on an empty stomach here!

Cahokia Mounds

These are in Illinois, not St. Louis, but if you have a car, they’re not difficult to get to! Scattered around the site are over 100 man-made mounds that were used for all kinds of different functions – and they still stand today and offer some pretty dope views of St. Louis in the distance.

Missouri Botanical Gardens 

I’ll just let these pictures speak for themselves.

Kayak’s Coffee & Provisions

Feeling something more rustic than the hipster vibes of MoKaBe or the sweetness of Comme A La Maison? Kayak’s has excellent lattes and flatbread pizzas.

Washington University in St. Louis

Construction prevented us from wandering too far into the campus, but I absolutely love strolling through university campuses and getting a feel for where people like to hang out and what the vibe of the architecture is.

Da Nico ❤

For some wonderful Italian homecooking from Nico’s mother, invigorating espresso from Nico, and cuddles from Ginsburg the cat. I can’t thank them enough for hosting me and making my stay so fun and comfortable. Nico’s mom even brought me along to dinner with her Italian society, where I got to practice Italian for the first time in a while and listen to her and Nico perform in a little play.

Grazie per tutti!

Hungary | May 2017

As this was my 3rd time in the wonderful Magyarország, I’ll just list some highlights from the trip!

  1. Small world: We had our layover in Frankfurt. As Norbert and I charged through the airport, I suddenly heard, “Paula?” I whipped around, and there behind me was Laurel, a NSLIY Chinese alum I’d been talking to on Facebook for the past year!!! It turned out she was on the same flight as us?! What in the??!! Her twin sister is also a NSLIY Chinese alum, and I’ve hung out with her in Paris and NYC, but this was my first time meeting Laurel in real life! What a small world…. I later found out that my ex boyfriend’s aunt (with whom I still keep in touch) and all of the YES Abroad Morocco students (who were on their way back to America) were at the airport at the same time as us!

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2. Felines and foreign languages: As always, being welcomed home by Norbert’s sweet mother, grandfather, 3 cats, and rabbit was a treat. Norbert’s mom had prepared some really thoughtful gifts for me, like a Pikachu stuffed animal and a Russian-Italian dictionary! I unfortunately didn’t have room in my suitcase to bring them home with me…

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3. My fave cafe in, dare I say, all of Europe? Every time I’m in Miskolc, stopping by Cafe Frei is a must. It boasts an intense menu of creative coffee drinks inspired by brewing methods, beans, and ingredients from all over the world. This time, I tried the Damascus Almond Iced Coffee, which was what it sounds like, plus a dash of cinnamon. A refreshing start to the day!

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4. Day trip to Budapest: Photoshoot at the Parliament, laying in the grass with NYU friends, and a hearty serving of goulash – what more could I ask for?

5. Night out on the town in Miskolc: We caught a few of Norbert’s friends who were in town: Dávid, his girlfriend Fanni, and his brother Alex. They all claim they don’t speak English well, but I was honestly impressed by the depth and breadth of our conversations. I’d met Dávid and Fanni before when they visited Norbert and me in Paris and really liked them, so it was great to see them again a year later! Fanni has by now started a new job in Barcelona and Alex school in Denmark, which is amazing for them. I’m don’t usually leave the house past, like, 8pm unless it’s to sit around watching Netflix at someone’s house, so I’m glad I embraced my extroverted side and cracked a cold one with the boys (and girl) that night.

6. From Seoul to Budapest – the NSLIY reunion: In 2014, I participated in the NSLIY program in Seoul, and three years later I got to reunite with one of the students on my trip, Sloan! He was just as a I remembered him, and it was great to see him again. We talked about his semester in Budapest over more goulash at Paprika (highly recommend – from Hero’s Square you just cross the street, turn left, and walk straight for 15 minutes). Even though he isn’t studying Korean anymore, it was nice to reminisce on our Seoul saenghwal (lifestyle) and hear about some of his classes, like Hungarian!

7. Birthday boy: Norbert turned 23, so we had lunch at a Chinese restaurant owned by a family friend. I got to meet the daughter, who is now attending United World College in China! Ádam, one of Norbert’s hometown friends who also attends NYU Abu Dhabi with him and was in NYC with us this past semester, came too. So many cool people, so little time, though we did grab a coffee and beer with Ádam later. We also visited Norbert’s great grandma, grandpa, and their adorable cats. As we walked there, I was trying to practice some Hungarian vocab words, so I pointed at the trees and shouted, “Fák!” That’s, um, not what Norbert heard.

8. Last time using my second passport: I’ve had two valid US passports for the past couple years because once upon a time, I needed to apply for a French visa as I was about to leave for the UAE, so I was proactive and got a second passport while I was still studying abroad in Madrid. My second one expired a couple weeks ago, and the Zurich airport was the last place I got to use it. Goodbye, my friend. You have served me well and had way more pages than a passport that was valid for only two years really needed.

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9. After so many goodbyes, an unexpected hello: One of my best friends (whom – you guessed it – I also met through the internet thanks to the NSLIY Facebook group, except we’ve been friends for 5 years now and have hung out so many times in real life), Thomas, was stranded at the O’Hare airport on his way to Hong Kong, so I got to briefly see him when I landed! What a great way to end my trip to Europe and be welcomed back home!

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That’s the last of my Europe posts – for the time being. I have no plans back for the immediate future, but who knows where the next year will take me!

Košice, Slovakia | May 2017

Since everyone in the friend group I’ve had since middle school has at least one immigrant parent, I’d been saying for years that I wanted to visit all of their countries someday. China had obviously already been checked off since I was a wee child, given that I am Chinese too. Then in 2017, I suddenly got the opportunity to visit all the rest of them: Denmark, Greece, and Slovakia!

Norbert’s hometown, Miskolc, is not far from Slovakia, so we took a day trip over the border to the colorful city of Košice. We didn’t really do anything but eat and walk around, so I’ll just leave this post to be a photo journal of sorts! One note is that Slovak has some Russian and Polish cognates, which were cool to recognize, and because of the city’s proximity to Hungary and historical ties with it, many signs were in Hungarian. 🙂

I hope that the next time I go to Slovakia will be soon, as it’d be great to actually take some tours and enter some churches and museums so I can learn about the history, culture, and language! Even though no “learning” really happened on this jaunt into Slovakia, though, I’m grateful for the afternoon spent sipping coffee or laying in the grass, talking about everything from identity politics to Iran.

Dakujem, Košice!