How Study Abroad Changed My Life-10 Years Later

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A lot has changed in the last ten years; my physical location, my career, my age (ick), my friends, my hair color, but one thing has remained constant; my desire to travel.

It’s hard to imagine that ten years ago I was just a scared College student about to fly across the pond to a world of unknowns. For many who know me, you would agree that I am more the type of person to have a plan and a back-up plan, and then probably another back-up plan. But for whatever reason I didn’t when I left and it all worked out beautifully.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget how it felt arriving to campus majorly jet lagged and full of anxiety. I get almost choked up now thinking back to that day. I lugged my suitcases up the stairs ready to embark on what would become the journey of a lifetime.

Looking back over the four months I spent studying abroad in London, it isn’t necessarily the classes I remember so much of, it’s the people and the experiences.

At the time, I had no idea I would go through study abroad and come out a different person on the other side. I figured it would be fun, but I never expected it to shape who I became as an adult.

In the last ten years I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to more place than I ever thought possible. None of which would have ever happened had I not gotten on that plane to London and experienced the world outside my familiar walls.

I made friends that semester that I will have until I die. We can spend days, months, or years apart, but it never matters, because when we are together we pick up right where we left off.

To me London is one of the most magical places in the world. My heart is there and probably always will be in some ways. I learned so much about traveling, myself, life. One could argue I grew up there.

It’s funny to think about milestones in a way, because they are often insignificant. If I hadn’t continued to travel, then maybe I wouldn’t feel the same way I do now about my time studying abroad. It ignited a fire in my soul and that is something I will be eternally grateful for.

I’m literally about to fly to Peru with some great friends, one of whom I met during my time in London and I couldn’t imagine a better way to celebrate.

If you’ve ever thought about studying abroad, I cannot encourage it enough. Just take a leap of faith and go. You won’t regret it.

Happy Ten Years Richmond STABS!

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Something Old and Something New

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The dawn of our last day in Delhi was bittersweet. We were excited to explore, but super sad that at the end of the day we had to leave. Plus we were without our friends and it just wasn’t the same.

Our tour in the morning was a student led subway tour of Old Delhi. We had no idea what to expect, but were excited to see the city like a local.

As it turned out, our guide Arun, had studied in the US and spent a good amount of time in the states. His English was great and he made us feel at ease. Walking into the subway station you would not know you were in India. It was seriously so nice. The only “different” thing was the sign asking people not to spit. Its cool I won’t, promise.

Arun bought our “tickets” for us after explaining how the zone map worked. The map had all these areas with big numbers in them. He explained that the numbers represented how many ruperts (as we so lovingly called the Rupee) it cost to ride. So if you were in a 5 zone, it was 5 ruperts or $0.07 dollars. Yes that math is correct. Or at least it was when this was written! They also don’t have tickets. They use these silly little chip coins. I’ve only ever seen the chip coin one other place in my life and it happens to be in a parking garage where I live. They are literally the dumbest things ever. Arun told us that if we were there longer than a few days, that a metro card would make sense. For this it did not. But you better hold on to that little coin because I’m pretty sure they’d never let you out if you lost it.

Once we made our way to the platform, Arun told us that the first two or three cars in each subway train were for women only. We thought that was really cool. You also had to go through security getting into the station. Again, totally okay with that.

Ascending the staircase into Old Delhi was almost like we had traveled back in time. No, that’s actually exactly what it was like. I don’t know what I thought we would see, but it wasn’t this.

So picture a narrow street lined with light poles or power poles. In a normal city these poles would mainly be for lights and you wouldn’t see any wires or anything attached to them. In Old Delhi, there were wires EVERYWHERE. To the extent that I thought if someone accidentally pushed on one of those poles hard enough, the whole web would come crashing down completely blacking out that part of the city. Like am I the only one seeing this? How is this even working?! The fact that anything has power in Old Delhi is extremely impressive. I’m pretty sure my mouth was hanging wide open for at least the first five minutes we were there. Poor Arun, I have no idea what he was so passionately talking about.

We grabbed a rickshaw and the three of us climbed in. As we slowly made our way through the streets, we passed men getting haircuts, people arranging their produce to sell, shop owners setting up for the day, food being prepared, animals of all kinds, and people, lots of people. It was noisy, smelly, dirty and unbelievably fascinating. We couldn’t get enough.

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How is this working?!

Arun took us to three different temples that morning and each one was so totally different than the other. But one thing was the same. They were all playing super loud music and there were people everywhere. Some places you had to cover your hair, others you didn’t. It was a really cool experience.

We ended the morning with some lunch at a place that had a mixture of northern and southern Indian food and was very good.

That was the end of Old Delhi. Walking back to the subway I could have happily gotten lost in all of the streets and markets. By this time a few hours had passed and the number of people in the area had at least doubled. It was wall to wall. Old Delhi is seriously so captivating. And it’s a photographers dream. We will be back for you.

The last part of our day turned out to be a perfect ending to our trip. We went to Swaminarayan Akshardham, temple (I highly recommend clicking that link, especially since we couldn’t take pictures). So one interesting fact is that if you are Indian you can get into any of the heritage sites in the country for free. It’s really nice. And this one was actually free for us as well. Score!

Right, so this temple. First of all it’s HUGE. Second of all, you couldn’t bring anything in with you. No phone, camera, gum, jewelry, nothing. If you had those items with you, you had to check them. Not happening, I’ll just go with nothing. My friend carried our passports in a money belt and the last of the ruperts we had.

So as we were waiting in line to get in, it became very apparent that we were the ONLY white women around. Both of us realized at the same time that everyone was casually, or not so casually, staring at us. Thank goodness they couldn’t have cameras or we never would have made it. Finally after some more security we made it inside.

The temple itself was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. But since there are no photos of it, or of me there, you’re just going to have to believe me on this.

There was still a lot of day left (well we assumed, not having a phone or watch) so we decided to check out the attractions. Yes there were attractions. The first one was a series of rooms with animatronics telling the story of the temples founder. It felt very Disney. The other “ride” we did was on a boat. You got on and it starting playing “It’s a Small World,” no it didn’t, but it may as well have.

The oddest part was at the end of the ride there was a room full of propaganda to stop eating meat. Like cutouts of animals with speech bubbles saying “we have feelings too” and things of that nature. It was pretty crazy. Not exactly something you’d see in America.

I will say snacks and drinks were silly cheap which was nice because it was about a million degrees out. We also got the most attention of the entire trip this day. It was Sunday, but there were tons of school groups. One group was staring at us (like mouths open, whispering and pointing) so intently that I waived at them. That was all it took for the group to run over to talk to us. They were so sweet and innocent, that it was cute. Again so glad they didn’t have cameras or phones.

After wandering around a little more we deemed it time to leave and headed to the airport. That was one quiet car ride. We were sad.

On the Road Again

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Our last full day together started out with yet another infamous India road trip back to Delhi. I’m not one to stay awake in cars, but there was SO MUCH happening the whole time that I couldn’t fall asleep.

India has the craziest trucks on the road I’ve ever seen. They are kind of like dump trucks, only smaller and they are totally decked out in bright paint, tassels, writing, everything. It’s super cool. And when they honk their horns (just like everyone else does) it plays a fun little song.

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Crazy decorated India truck and of course cows


Traffic on this road trip was literally insane. They diverted the highway onto a dirt road for part of the way and it was like four lanes of traffic all squeezed into one. We were completely surrounded by huge trucks for a vast majority of the time. Our driver got an A++ that day for sure. And some extra Ruperts for his efforts!

Lunch this afternoon was comical. We got delayed by quite a bit getting into Delhi, so I told our bus driver to just find somewhere quick and simple for us to eat. This is a moment where I wish I had spoken the language. We ended up at just the opposite. Walking in the front door of the restaurant where we were dropped off, the servers were in suits boarderinf on tuxes; there were linens on the tables and families all around. We roll up slathered in deet and sunscreen, in clothes that desperately need to be washed, just looking for a sandwich. It was a great lunch actually and the staff did not care at all what we looked like, so it worked out, but it was not a simple place for a sandwich at all.

Because it took longer to get into Delhi than it should have, we ended up having to kind of run through our tour that afternoon.

We saw Qutb Minar and Humayun’s Tomb right at golden hour, which made everything pretty beautiful. Plus they used that red sandstone I enjoy so much. Unfortunately none of us thought our tour guide brought much to the table, but we had fun all the same. After a whirlwind day, we went to check-in to our hotel before our friends had to go to the airport to leave. Insert super sad face here.

What surprised me about driving through Delhi during the daylight was how much traffic there was, yet how organized the city was. It felt very European to me. Come to find out, it was developed by the British, so duh it’s organized. But I had no idea. You can find me living under a giant rock. The one thing that set it apart (okay not the one thing, one of the things) was the fact that you would be driving by the embassies and there would be monkeys ALL around, just running and having a grand ole time. Hey Mr. Monkey!

So our hotel for the night was really adorable. It was an old house that you have a room in, but it has a common room shared with other guests and then a rooftop “restaurant.” More like a kitchen on the roof, but hey a round of Kingfisher was like 600 ruperts or $9, yes $9. I miss you ruperts. I really miss you.

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Last Kingfishers


The only unfortunate thing was saying goodbye to our friends. It was awful. We absolutely did not want them to leave and they didn’t want to leave either. The four of us just got along so well it was perfect. Clearly if we had hated each other at this point we would have been like “okay, bye, see you later (or not).” But that was not the case.

It was an absolute fact that India had stolen our hearts.

To the Taj!

Grounds at ITC Mughal
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As an addition to our itinerary, we wanted to take the train from Delhi to Agra, instead of driving. We arrived at the train station well before sunrise since our departure was at 6:30 AM (ish). Driving the streets of Delhi at 5 AM was the quietest I would see the city and it was rather peaceful all things considered.

That peace was shattered the second we pulled into the train station parking lot. All of the station porters wanted to help us to the train, and we were pretty well surrounded. We sent our luggage with the van (thankfully) the night before and just had backpacks with us. Bye Porters. Our driver pulled into a spot and made his way with us to the train platform.

There were people everywhere, lots of them asleep amidst the hustle and bustle of the station. Some stared at us a bit, but no one bothered us at all. There was security at the station, which I appreciated. Then we stood on the platform taking it all in. A truly impossible feat at the end of the day.

Once the train arrived, our driver helped us find our seats. Since there were four of us, we fully expected to be in a little carriage or compartment. At the very least, two and two together. Nope, not the case. The seating was three and two. I’ve been on a lot of trains and haven’t seen that before. I sat “alone” with the girls across the aisle. We were also very clearly in the middle of a family, which was rather interesting.

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In our area we were served a giant bottle of water (yes!) and a meal. We had our hotel prepare a takeaway breakfast and ate that instead. Good recommendation travel company, because the train breakfast did not look appealing. Eek.

About ten minutes away from the Agra station people started lining up to get off the train and they were pushy. The train would stop for five minutes. Not a lot of time. In those ten minutes chugging into Agra, we saw everything. There was so much happening that I wasn’t even sure it was real. I will spare you the details, but I think you can use your imagination on this one. And if you can’t, feel free to ask me anything you want to know. Just remember that you can’t un-know it.

The train lurched to a stop, and we hopped off greeted right away by our driver and a liaison from our tour company. Immediately I noticed the much worse air quality in Agra and the smell, an unfortunately common theme throughout our time in the country.

We drove straight to the hotel from the train station.

As the gate to our hotel opened, I had no idea what to expect on the other side. Heaven, it was actually heaven. If I could live in a hotel it would be the ITC Mughal in Agra, India. This place was incredible. Google it, now. Then stay there in Agra. You are welcome.

It was interesting because we did go through security before entering the hotel, but I’m good with security. Super good.

Our rooms were not ready when we arrived, and we didn’t have anything on our dossier until 3 PM, so it was shopping time! We looked up an area to go to and had our driver take us over. As we walked through the streets, nothing was really open yet (it was before 10 AM) and it didn’t seem like we were in the best area. After a few minutes we all decided this wasn’t where we wanted to be and called our driver.

We drove across town and found a little plaza with two stores. Our goal was to find an outfit for our Taj Mahal outing the next morning. The first store we went to was nice and it gave us a good idea of what our options were, but we really wanted to shop at Fab India. And shop we did. I’m pretty sure between us all, we tried on everything in that store. The level of customer service we received was amazing, and everyone bought more than they expected. Fab India, Agra, you rock. Seriously. Beaming from ear to ear, we made our way back to the hotel to check-in.

This is when things went from awesome to amazing. Agra was already killing it and then they kicked it up a notch. We were upgraded to two Junior Suites. Yes, a free upgrade because of a conference that was in town. Thank you super international medical conference, thank you. Our rooms were spectacular. And the hotel staff was amazing. We hit the pool for a little bit, then got ready for our tour.

The first tour we had in Agra was to the Red Fort. I had zero expectation of this fort and was completely blown away. Red sandstone is actually super gorgeous. And we were there around 3PM so we started to get some of the golden hour. It was stunning.

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After the fort, it was to the other side of the river to see the Taj at sunset. It cost something like 100 ruperts ($1.50) to access the “park” where you can view the Taj.

Because we were all so enamored by the Red Fort we didn’t have a ton of time to look at the Taj before they came by and kicked us out. But it was worth the time we did have. It’s seriously so cool.

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First sighting of the Taj!

Back to the hotel for dinner and bed. Another super early morning for the Taj coming up!

The Wheels on the Bus

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Please enjoy part three of my Dubai adventures, adapted from emails sent in October 2016.

Monday morning, October 10th was our first morning in Dubai. We arrived at night, hadn’t gone anywhere but our hotel and we were bears looking for food in the winter hungry. We needed food/coffee before things got ugly. So what did we do? We went to the Dubai Mall. Not to be confused with the Mall of the Emirates (more on that later).

Yeah, I hear you saying to yourself she’s in mother f*ing Dubai, and she’s going to the MALL?!? But this my friends, is not just any mall. This is a combination of EVERY famous brand from around the world AND an aquarium and ice rink, all rolled into one hugely massive building. Guys, they have everything you could ever want. Including Ben’s Cookies! It’s phenomenal.

But let’s face it, we are American, (and why pretend to be someone else, when it’s just who you are) so we had some Caribou Coffee for breakfast. Yes, we did, and I’m not even ashamed. I did burn my tongue though, I hate that. As we were about to leave, I noticed a group of moms with their kids over in the corner. One had two children, both dressed in Ohio State gear, so I obviously had to say something to her. I learned the whole group is married to Emirates Pilots, and they are all living in Dubai. This lady of course was actually from Michigan, but her husband was from Ohio. The world is really so small.

You are probably wondering now what the weather is like. So I’m in the desert. But it’s a tropical desert. What the what does that even mean?!? Well it means it’s hot as F, but also humid as F. Fantastic. There is literally NO way to look good and be outdoors. Not possible.

So to continue on our path of being tourists/westerners, we got a ticket for the Big Bus tour. You know, the double-decker kind that go all over the place. Ruby was our sales lady and she cut us the best deal (right) for a week-long ticket. We got our headphones, free water (SCORE) and headed up to the top to see how long we’d last before actually turning into sand.

Not going to lie, this was a great choice. Dubai is SO spread out that it’s impossible to get a feel for the city before you come here, trust me we tried.
There are three lines to take, so we did one on Monday and ended back at the Dubai Mall. This is also where the Burj Khalifa is and the famous fountains. Think Bellagio in Vegas, but bigger. And they do two shows an hour. One set to traditional music and one set to a pop-song. Our first experience was a Celine and Andrea Bocelli duet, it was magical.
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And guys, I’m pretty sure we had Texas Roadhouse for dinner ‘merica!

Until the next time!

I’m a woman and I’m going to Europe. Now what the heck should I pack for two weeks?! Part 1 of 2

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Packing. This is most likely everyone’s least favorite part of traveling and yet it’s one of the more important things to consider. As a woman traveler it can be extremely overwhelming to think about spending two weeks without unlimited choices everyday, but it is an absolute necessity. Since I started traveling I’ve gone from “that girl,” who had a suitcase you couldn’t lift, with a large carry-on duffel (this was back before strict weight restrictions), to someone who backpacks and has a small carry-on. Through my experiences I’ve learned a thing or two, so I wanted to share a few thoughts that might help you prepare for your next adventure.

One of the first things I do when traveling is check the weather. I’m a bit of a weather freak and look at averages months in advance. Part of the reason I plan so far ahead is because living in Florida we do not have access to colder weather clothes as often, and it is important to find things you need when they are available. It’s also partly because I love weather. Anyway, Europe can be tricky depending on where you are and what month it is. Just because it’s July, doesn’t mean it will be hot and dry. So I recommend checking the weather averages in advance, then start stalking the 10 day forecasts once it gets close enough.

After I’ve checked the weather, I start to gather things in my closet I might need. This is where living in Florida can be an advantage. Since I travel mostly in the fall, a lot of the clothes I travel with I wouldn’t be wearing here until late Fall or Winter, so I am able to put them aside. I also do this well in advance because it gives me a chance to cut items out. I pack knowing that I will do laundry while I’m away, which is helpful. It is not necessary to bring 14 shirts for 14 days. Doing laundry abroad is not a big deal. It’s also a good idea (and somewhat necessary when packing light) to try and coordinate your clothes for layering. So I make sure all my tops mix and match with each other and the scarves I bring, that way I feel like I’ve brought more with me.

This leads me into my next point; make a list. And when I say make a list, I mean a list of everything. From taking out the trash, to setting your out of office, to how many pairs of socks you need. This helps ensure that you have all the loose ends tied up State-side while you are gallivanting around the world. It also helps you to relax knowing you have all of the vital essentials packed and ready to go. I am a firm believer in light packing, but if you don’t have a plan it is impossible. Once you know what the weather is and what activities you will be participating in, sit down and make a list of everything you will need. Trust me this is key!

Knowing what your itinerary is, is also super important. If you know you will be attending specific events (Oktoberfest), hiking, or going into ice caves, you need to be prepared.

Another big things us women struggle with is our hair and makeup. Believe it or not gentleman it takes a bit of work for us to look so beautiful all the time, and it can be really daunting to figure out how to accomplish this while abroad. Fist and foremost, do some research to find out what the voltage and plug type is where you are traveling. Once you know that, if you plan to bring any heat tools be sure the are DUAL voltage. I killed a chi straightener in Ireland because you cannot use them with a converter. Be sure to check and see if you will have access to a hairdryer as well, because they are a pain to travel with! If you are like me and you use products and specific shampoo, try and find them in travel size, or invest in some travel containers because you don’t want to be lugging around full size products.

On the makeup side of things, see what colors you use the most and do some practices to make the whole process as simple as possible. You really do not need all those lipsticks and eyeshadows, I promise!

Overall, my main tips are: know your itinerary, check the weather, pack early (then take items out), pack light, get travel sizes of your favorite products, check your voltage, and remember simple! LESS IS MORE! Good luck ladies, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it! Check back for a follow-up of what I’m actually bringing on my trip!