Destination: Amman, Jordan

As cliché as it sounds, studying abroad has been a dream of mine since the day I enrolled into college. Having never travelled outside the States, I rightfully yearned to explore far beyond their borders. To put things into perspective, I was born and raised in New Jersey, the same state where I attended school, shy of a 15 minute commute from my home. Indubitably, over the span of my academic career, I seemingly developed an intense desire to experience an academic environment both out-of-country, and out of comfort zone.

Just a few months into my junior year, I decided to turn my dream of studying abroad into a reality. One year, and one International Studies Abroad acceptance letter later, I find myself sitting inside of my student apartment in Amman, Jordan writing this very post.

At this point you may be wondering, why Amman, Jordan? Why didn’t I opt for a more ravishing European scene, where the sandy coasts of Barcelona, or the picturesque Isles of Greece would surely attract any first time abroad student? Albeit alluring, I based my choice upon a passion for Arabic language, culture, and an academic pursuit within degrees of Political Science and Middle-Eastern studies. Studying abroad in Jordan would make it possible to learn Arabic in an adequate setting, all while embracing authentic Middle-Eastern culture to the fullest. Besides, if I ever wanted to branch out of my comfort zone, studying in the capital city of Amman seemed like a good start.

I arrived a day earlier than expected (my original flight was actually cancelled & re-booked due to a pilot strike), and I was subsequently faced with the daunting task of making housing arrangements for the night. Equipped with a rusty Arabic vocabulary and an eager mindset, I stepped out of the airport with an intent to engage in conversation amid surrounding locals. Among the first things I took notice of upon exiting the airport was the geography. The barren landscapes were met with a sense of tranquility and calmness. Surprisingly enough, the weather allowed for a dry, yet comfortable atmosphere. Despite soaring temperatures, the air lacked a sense of humidity, and surely enough trumped any summer day in New Jersey.


Nevertheless, my first real experience of Jordan was during a tour of downtown Amman, referred to as “Al Bilad”, or the old country. Upon a tour of the city, I instantaneously fell in love with its cultural affluence. Between breathtaking mountainsides and photographic horizons, my eyes drifted into an astonished daze. One of the stops along the tour was a renowned restaurant known as ‘The Hashem Restaurant’. We ordered a round of hummus and falafel, which was undoubtedly the best of its kind. Stomachs full, we successfully ended our day with our first taxi ride back to the apartments.



My newfound love for Amman was not solely influenced by its cultured downtown region, but rather solidified through an excursion made to the ancient Roman Citadel in a district known as “Jabal al-Qal’a”, or the The Castle Mountain. This historical site remarkably distinguishes itself from the booming metropolitan area just a few hundred feet below it. Standing tall are the archaic Temple of Hercules, and the Umayyad Palace; both of which illustrate previous occupations by the Assyrians and Persians, whose influence still linger across the scene even thousands of years later.



My time spent in Jordan falls short of one week, and I can assure you it’s been the most culturally shocking, frenetic, and rewarding weeks in my entire life. In the short week that I have been here, I have experienced a variety of cultural differences, environmental adaptations, social adjustments, and academic challenges. Simple things that are taken for granted in the States seem to be absent across Jordanian norms, including long hot showers (Jordan lacks an abundance of water resources), or being able to wear a pair of shorts in public without being deemed as unprofessional. Despite facing a variety of personal challenges, the experiences I face while in Jordan will allow me to grow both as a student, and as an individual. As difficult as they may be, I personally promise to approach each situation with diligence, and utilize every experience (including the tough and ugly ones) as a tool to learn and grow.

And even though I’m still in the honeymoon phase of my experience, my time here in Amman, Jordan thus far has been unforgettable. If things continue going the way they have been, I may not get a chance to feel homesick!


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Learning the Way of Life in London


I landed in London’s Heathrow airport two weeks ago, sweaty and confused. My plane ride from my hometown, Dallas, Texas was nine hours long and I was majorly jet lagged (London is six hours ahead of Texas). My biggest fear was something going cinematically wrong as soon as I stepped off the plane: being arrested at customs, getting lost in the airport, someone stealing my bag, etc…

But everything went frustratingly smooth.

Which is nice. But it doesn’t make for a very good story, now does it?

Preparing for studying abroad in London was a lot of work: visa forms, proof of support, passport…blah, blah, blah. Also, I’m sure my wallet shed a single tear when I converted from dollars to pounds (Britain’s currency). Great Britain’s currency is stronger than the U.S. dollar. It takes one dollar and sixty-four cents to receive one pound. That makes it very important to me to be money conscious. But that’s hard when there are so many great stores in London: Topman, All Saints, Selfridges…I should stop!

The only real calamity was my denim jacket becoming decorated with sweat stains. After three months of nothing but dog-hot summer days, the Texan in me shivered when I saw it would be sixty-degrees Fahrenheit when I landed. But because of all the lethargic drizzling rain and sad grey clouds, London’s really humid. It’s important to dress in layers because it can be nice and sunny one second and then raining the next. It’s amusing how insignificant rain is to Londoners. They just walk through it, no umbrella or hood over their head. That’s because it’s usually a mild drizzle and only lasts for fifteen minutes.

Prior to my arrival, there were talks of The Tube going on strike the day I arrived (The Tube is London’s subway system). The Tube always closes at midnight, however the city wants to begin all-night service on weekends despite Tube workers’ protests. Thankfully, the strike was called off. However, as a precaution, my university (New York University) had ordered double-decker buses to transport us students from the airport to our dorms. I forced myself to stay awake and take in everything as we drove through the city. Immediately, I was surprised by how many American chains are here: American Apparel, KFC, Starbucks, Urban Outfitters, etc. There are enough similarities to America (especially New York City) to make me feel comfortable, but enough differences to make me feel excited.

The gates of Buckingham Palace.

The gates of Buckingham Palace.

Of course, the good Fashion Journalism major in me took in everyone’s street fashion. Londoners dresses sharper and more polished compared to New Yorkers. In New York, wild hair colors and wearing black head to toe is the name of the game. In London, even young twenty-something guys can be found wearing Burberry trench coats, loafers, and cable-knit sweaters. To be fair, NYU’s London campus is located at Bedford Square, a more posh area of London. South London is the more funky and young area. There, it felt more like New York. There were girls with completely shaved heads and some with purple hair. The teenagers were wearing an eclectic mix of clothes they’d purchased at vintage stores.

One misconception I had was that everyone would be snobbish as soon as they heard my American accent. For the most part, everyone seems to be really warm and interested in hearing about my life back home. They do poke fun at Americans’ large portion sizes (a size small drink is the only option at their fast food restaurants), and different way of doing politics. Through the deep conversations I’ve held with Londoners, we’ve seen that America and Britain share many of the same fears and issues- they are just wearing different outfits.

I am beginning to miss the familiarity of America. In Manhattan, the city is always alive. If you have a late-night craving for a dollar slice of pizza at 2:00 a.m., you can roll out of bed and go get it. Here, most shops close at 9 or 10 p.m. It’s really weird for such a big city to have such an early bedtime. Also, there are a lot of differences in British slang that I always forget until I receive playful laughs from my British friends. For example, here, “pants” refers to underwear. “Trousers” is what you’re supposed to say. So next time I go shopping I have to make sure I don’t say, “Do these pants fit okay?”


Then there are differences in how Brits say time (14:00 is 2 p.m.), measure weight (170 pounds is 12 stones) and measure temperature (70 degrees Fahrenheit is 21 degrees Celsius). It gets frustrating but then I have to remind myself: the world wouldn’t be interesting if everything was the same.

I really love it here. What I want to bring back home isn’t a post card or key chain. It’s politeness. People are just so nice here. And in a very real, unforced way. When I had trouble figuring out the correct change to give my cashier, she took the time to go through each one and explain their value to me (there are so many!). It may just be because all my NYU friends and I are obvious wide-eyed foreigners but still, everyone just seems so much happier and relaxed compared to Americans. So that’s definitely something I’ll try to take back home with me. Hopefully I remember this the next time I’m on the 6 train and have someone’s sweaty armpit inches from my face.

So far, London has been a rainbow of joy.

So far, London has been a rainbow of joy.

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Becoming Part Foodie – Snags and Cooking Class

Food! Brisbane has many things to offer in the culinary arena. I have two events to share that happened the last two weeks that were both on a whim, and not necessarily planned out as you will see. The first happened during my first foray into South Bank with my friend Harry, and the second took place at a food class that I signed up for online.

On our first weekend in Brisbane, 31/08/2015 (the day goes first in Australia) my housemate, Harry, traveled with me to South Bank to walk around, explore, get purposefully lost, but also see what kind of events and food Brisbane has to offer. Harry and I turned into the gardens near the famous ferris wheel in South Bank, and walked into a street set up with wooden tables and large tents that had sellers hawking and displaying their wares for sale. We saw kangaroo wallets, clothes, jewelry, bracelets, and bars set up along the pathway. It was such a lively atmosphere of commotion and revelry.

Turning around the corner to head out, we saw a stand selling sausages, or what is known in Brisbane as “snags.” They had different varieties of snags such as the cheese kransky and smoked bratwursts, topped with helpings of sauerkraut and sautéed onions. Of course we were hungry, so we had to try it out.

I elected for the cheese kransky, which was so, so savory. The hot oils inside overflowed in my mouth, giving me a taste of Brisbane’s offerings. The only minus was the sore mouth I had afterwards from the hot oil, but that was from eating it while it was too hot and because it was just so tempting to eat. Harry had the beef bratwurst, which was just as good! We had eaten our snags by the time we reached the bus station to go off on the rest of our journey.

I also went to a food class last Sunday 06/09/15. The cooking class I chose was by a company called “The Golden Pig.” Going into the class, I had no idea what to make of American or Australian cooking. I am a Cantonese Chinese Bostonian that has grown up in a Chinese culinary household and I have no idea what exactly Americans eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner at home.

My recipe guide and apron for the day.

My recipe guide and apron for the day.

We first learned how to crush and chop garlic into mince, then we worked together in groups of three to put together a three course meal and dessert! I did feel very lost at first. Where are the extra cups? Where are the whisks? How do I use this stove? How about the convection stove? But, I was just like—go for it and see what you can do yourself.

So I pushed to action. I grabbed a pan and spatula and started putting together the stuffing. The butter went in first to help add flavor and serve as a non-stick surface for the food. Then the onions, bacon, garlic, and herbs were added. And afterwards, the other ingredients: bread crumbs, figs, pine nuts, and lemon zest. As a group of ten in the class, we ended up with fish, beef, chicken, ratatouille, and an apple and frangipane tart.

Beef Fillet with Béarnaise Sauce

Beef Fillet with Béarnaise Sauce

Mhmmm... bacon.

Mhmmm… bacon.

The fish was sweet but meaty like a nice charred steak. Beef and chicken came next, and they were the centerpiece of the meal. The stuffing was agreed upon as the highlight of the evening. The ratatouille was served next—a complex combination of vegetables creating a stock of incredible flavor. The tart was last, which was light and sweet, to end off the heavily buttered 3 course meal. All good work in the days work.

Chicken with Fig, Bacon, and Hazelnut stuffing.

Chicken with Fig, Bacon, and Hazelnut stuffing.

Apple and Frangipane Tart.

Apple and Frangipane Tart.

Food in Brisbane is incredible. There is so much flavor that I have not tasted yet. The simple and subtle flavors in Cantonese cooking is very different from Australian and American foods—oily and greasy, but also much of the same in terms of chicken and beef. In Brisbane, my mouth has never come across so many good flavors at once. It is the few things in life that you can appreciate instinctively. In these two instances, it completely swept me off my feet.

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Deciphering Chinese Dialects

One thing that eluded me until I studied abroad in China and started my intermediate Chinese studies was the countless number of dialects. What many Chinese teachers neglect to tell their first-year students is the fact that Mandarin itself, or the concept of a standardized language, is called“国语”(In Pinyin: guó yǔ). Directly translated it means “country language.” This idea dates back to the early 1900s, but was only created and implemented in the mid-20th century, but I’ll spare you all a long history lesson. What I’m trying to get at here is that every region of China has its own unique, and for the most part indistinguishable dialects, but they’re essentially entirely different languages. For example, the city my study abroad program is in has its own dialect, and lucky for me, it’s very similar to Mandarin. Sometimes, dialects vary from province to province, or even city to city, which can make the task of communicating quite difficult. Of course everyone speaks Mandarin, but for many Chinese people the first thing they learn is their dialect, and use the way they speak their dialect to speak Mandarin. This is mostly why you get so many variations in pronunciation among the Chinese. I asked almost all of my teachers if their grandparents could speak Mandarin, and they mostly told me they only spoke their dialect (I even had one teacher whose grandma spoke French!). From what I observed and heard, the elderly mostly speak their dialects, unless you’re in an area near Beijing.

Some of the main dialects of China are: Yue, Ping, Xiang, Hakka, Gan, Hui, Wu, and Min. (Keep in mind this isn’t an exhaustive list. Many minority groups have their own language, and there are many different variations between cities and provinces.)

Some of the main dialects of China are: Yue, Ping, Xiang, Hakka, Gan, Hui, Wu, and Min. (Keep in mind this isn’t an exhaustive list. Many minority groups have their own language, and there are many different variations between cities and provinces.)

To Americans and other outsiders looking in on this phenomenon, it seems so foreign and daunting to fully grasp. The way I like to think of it is that the Chinese have retained their languages and culture for almost four thousand years, and the way their dialects work is very similar to how the Native American tribes were. Each tribe had its own distinct language, and whenever I think of dialects I just think of it as the same thing, but the Chinese were never uprooted like the Native Americans were.

Since we’re on the topic of history, I came across this huge diorama of what Kunming would have looked like in ancient times. You can’t see everything (it was in a glass case, it was a pain to take a picture of!), but I wonder what life was like living there?

Since we’re on the topic of history, I came across this huge diorama of what Kunming would have looked like in ancient times. You can’t see everything (it was in a glass case, it was a pain to take a picture of!), but I wonder what life was like living there?

Just thinking about what life would have been like before Mandarin is exhausting! I can barely understand people talking amongst each other at the airport, let alone somewhere where the people don’t speak much Mandarin. There is one failsafe though: if you don’t understand what the people around you are saying, write out what you want to say. Although different dialects use different characters than Mandarin for certain words, if you write things out they’ll understand your meaning.

For example, people who don’t speak Mandarin but another dialect could read the sign.

For example, people who don’t speak Mandarin but another dialect could read the sign.

I know I barely scratched the surface of this topic, but I hope you find it as interesting as I do! It’s pretty much impossible to describe the differences in dialects, so if you’d like to hear the differences, check out this video of Frozen’s “Let it Go” sung in Chinese dialects, which should give a general idea of how the sounds differ, but there’s always some words that sound similar. A random goal of mine is to learn Cantonese, a dialect spoken in Hong Kong and the surrounding areas. Alright, until next time! Stay wonderful!

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It’s hard to believe it has been nearly three weeks since I started packing for what would be my final year of undergraduate spent studying abroad in Heredia, Costa Rica. Three years of experience in mental health advocacy and suicide prevention drove me to gain Spanish as a second language before pursuing post-baccalaureate and graduate studies. While mindlessly tossing my staple maxi skirts and basic tees into my luggage, I anticipated how fast I had hoped to pick up the Spanish language, what my host family would be like, and what my courses abroad would teach me during this journey.

Thus far, my adjustment in Heredia has been a roller coaster of emotions from excitement, frustrations, joy, and intense homesickness. August 27th officially marked my full second week of living and studying in Heredia. I met my host madre and host hermano in the San Jose International Airport on August 13th around midnight. Driving to my new home, the first thing I noticed was the roaring noise from the streets. The first two nights of sleeping was a challenge because of how loud the motorcycles and cars were when driving by the house. I am surprised to see how quickly I have been able to adapt to sleeping with the sounds from outside.

I took this photo of the backyard door opening my first morning here right before a brief shower of rain. I thought it looked like a painting!

I took this photo of the backyard door opening my first morning here right before a brief shower of rain. I thought it looked like a painting!

A Catholic church in San Rafael

A Catholic church in San Rafael

My host university is Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica, comprised of a student body population of 15,000 students. As a student in the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) program, I am in courses with only other students in my program. My professors are all very nurturing and passionate, especially my Spanish Track 1 professor who has lived and studied in various countries and is always quoting famous literature to remind us to make the most of our youth.  Because this course is intensive and moves from Beginning Spanish all the way through Intermediate Spanish in one semester, the professor moves rapido!  As challenging as the pace and the homework assignments have been, I continue in being diligent by making flashcards and doing extra exercises to help my understanding as a first-time Spanish learner. Though very broken, I am pleased to say I have had several basic conversations in Spanish with my host family!


A beautiful photo I took walking home from my evening course…

Some initial frustrations I have faced with the culture within my first two weeks has been adjusting to the machismo aspect of Latin America, particularly being excessively catcalled and stared at.  During my previous time studying abroad in India, I faced unwanted attention as a woman and never would have thought a city would come close to even remotely comparing, but I was very, very wrong. Luckily, my fellow feminist companeras and I have found sharing our stories as a healthy start to our three hour courses because we are able to joke about how those particular type of men here are chanchos (my Spanish professor taught the class that useful term).

Beyond any other frustration, the hardest part of my adjustment has been the intense waves of homesickness I have been experiencing. Because Heredia is relatively close to my home in Houston, Texas, I did not anticipate feeling as emotionally distressed by it as I have been feeling. At the root of it, I believe adjusting to my host family has been emotionally difficult for me. Humor and family-closeness are strongly valued in the home in which I was raised, which seems to contrast with the family environment I am currently living in. The coldness I have experienced since arriving has made me feel very solitero.

Before the start of my third week of school, I made the conscious decision to communicate to my host family and program coordinator my feelings of loneliness. Thankfully, both my host family and program coordinator were receptive. Tomorrow, I will meet with my program coordinator to discuss the possibility of a new family placement.

Luckily, my first day joining the university’s chess club left me walking home feeling overwhelming grateful for feeling so welcomed. I was a little nervous about joining a club here because my Spanish is very basic and also because I was nervous the instructor would not permit an international student, given the language barrier. I was so moved when the instructor, Martin, a bubbly and enthusiastic chess coach told me I was officially “pate le familia de Ajadrez.” The club meets twice a week, and already in the past four practices, I have made several friends. They’ve all been so patient with me in explaining the daily puzzles and lessons to me slowly and communicating with gestures. I’m so excited to grow with my chess family and hope come time for my departure in May, I will be as advanced a player as most of the other members are.

Familia de Ajadrez!

Familia de Ajadrez!

My friend Gabriel from the club even met with me over the weekend to play chess with me and also was kind enough to treat me to Columbian ice cream. Mucho tieme pasa en la Parque Central communicating with my basic Espanol and his basic Inglis and with a Spanish to English dictionary (and a lot of laughter of course). I’ll always remember spending time laughing with ice cream and chess as the best part of my first week in Heredia.


El Fortin en el parque

Mi amigo, Gabriel!

Mi amigo, Gabriel!

These past two weeks in Heredia have truly been a journey in and of itself. In terms of my growth with the Spanish language, I have such a long journey ahead of me filled with many more challenges, I’m sure.  With the support and encouragement from my loved ones, I know I have the strength to achieve my goal of fluency which drove me to spend my senior year of college abroad. I know learning Spanish and gaining a stronger understanding of Central American culture and politics is important to my growth as a future professional and the changes I wish to see happen in my community. It is with great wonder and curiosity, I look forward to the many experiences which lie ahead in Heredia!



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Dolphins, mudflats, and speed-dating?

It’s been six days since I landed in Australia on Sunday morning and somehow I survived. The journey was 21 hours from my home town in Boston, Massachusetts. I flew on Virgin Australia with three of my college mates: Matt, Mikhail, and Harry. After a particularly sleepless flight, our first journey was to a small eatery just outside of Stradbroke Island— nicknamed by locals, Straddie— where we had a cup of tea and snacks. Then, we took a ferry towards Straddie. It was amazing to see a whole ship carry a bus. Yes— to take all our belongings along and by the nature of Australia’s nonexistent beaches between mainland and island, it was now I see, a real necessity. That was perhaps the first thing that I noticed: the lack of bridges. Taking the ferry to the Straddie Island, I noticed the clouds seem to shift away and the blue skies started to overtake us as the ferry moved eastward towards the island. We also saw a pod of inland dolphins breach the water near Straddie, though they were just far enough to just make out. It was nevertheless quite a sight, combining a slight breeze, deep blue skies, and a feeling of openness stretching out for miles.

Since Sunday afternoon, the Hobart and William Smith College/Union College group has completed the sort of tasks that are needed for a semester together. We bonded over icebreaker activities—“speed-dating” and bingo with Australian slang. I also began to appreciate Australian’s morning tea time, which is the time after breakfast and before lunch, and their hankering for sweets in all varieties. Through sand and mud flat field work, trudging through chest-height level water, and learning the Australian sport cricket, I think a lot of changes in my life have taken place in the form of learning new activities and games.

I miss very much my comforts of my home; knowing where everything is and having everything organized and in one place in my bedroom. In my first few days, everything has been on the whim. Packing for excursions, getting ready for class, and using what precious free time we have to try to work together cohesively.

I am anxious about not being prepared. I am afraid of missing out because of not having an essential piece of item, whether physical or mental. I can tell you that I am not trying to control what cultural experiences I have or making it the utmost perfect study abroad experience ever, but it is such a vast undertaking, that it is almost overwhelming.

I can say I had this kind of realization going away 358 miles away by car from home in Boston to Hobart College in New York. But look, that was going to a new place in the same country. I could pinpoint exactly what I might expect culturally or what I may expect from the majority of other students. However, in Australia, most of the people I will come across will not be from a college town. My host family will have their own ways of living that they have developed through the years and I will be expected to conform to some extent.

And there are many more examples of my small anxieties.

1). Being prepared for week-long academic excursions to islands, national forests, and the outback.

2). Walking around in an Australian city.

3). Meeting people that could be speaking in a completely different vernacular.

Though, this is the reason why study abroad exists. There is no way around these feelings unless you immerse yourself in the experience.

I like to play tennis, run cross country, and try out new things. Moreover, I like to make it a challenge— challenge to beat what is exhausting, but in the end an accomplishment I can be proud of.

I believe that I still have a lot more room left to grow, and my first few days have shown me there is much more to discover in Brisbane.

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Dear Prague, How you have inspired me…

Having returned to the United States, the way I function in relation to the rest of the world is completely different.  I would consider myself a homebody who typically leaves the home to go to school or work but not to explore or be part of the community simply for the sake of being part of the community.  I am happy to volunteer for specific events or dedicate time to activities that have set times, but I don’t generally go for walks in unexplored territory or further than a radius beyond a couple blocks of where I live.  Dear Prague, you have inspired me to increase my footprint in the world.

As an adult student registered with Students Services for Disabilities, I think having that mark really impacted my view of myself and what I am capable of doing.  I know that I have overcome a lot but due to the amount of time I have spent in hospitals or convalescing I am comfortable being indoors.  Now that I know that I can explore the world, I am empowered to continue to do so.  Dear Prague, you have inspired me to empower myself.

This week, for example, I spent time with one of my classmates from our study abroad program.  We are both adjusting to life back in the States, and it was a beautiful connection to meet at home with a friend who lived a similar experience.  It became clear to me that I can travel around the city at my will and that I am not limited to my little corner of the city of Chicago only going to campus to study or to a job site.  Armed with a liter of water, my UPass, and supplies for the day I can spend a day out in the city of Chicago just as I did in Prague.  Dear Prague, you have inspired me to live in a more worthwhile way.

My friend and I shared with each other that it was a bit of culture shock to return to the States and encounter common behaviors of Americans.  From O’Hare airport and back to our neighborhoods, we traded stories of how we missed walking down the streets of Prague because the people we encountered had a quieter, more respectful, perhaps, demeanor.  We laughed about how we can look at behaviors of Americans in the Lincoln Park or Lakeview neighborhoods and how those neighborhoods specifically cater to the idea of remedying hangovers.  In Prague, however, Pilsner Urquell is a commonality but the expectation is that people enjoy their beers with friends and won’t require a “Hangover Smoothie” the next day.  Dear Prague, you have inspired me to have a beer every once in a while.

My new-found feelings of limitless exploration and self-empowerment are perfectly timed as I extend myself into the professional world looking for full-time work.  I have decreased anxiety about a commute to get to a new location and don’t mind the idea of visiting friends in different neighborhoods.  The confidence I have gained from traveling is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.  And because of my travels, I am confident that now my life will be more interesting.  Dear Prague, you have inspired me to test my limits and look for new challenges as I continue to write my story.

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