Last Travel

I tried something new…

I sat at my desk today to write a blog post and I wound up staring at photographs on my wall for more than an hour. This is not the first time I’ve lost myself thinking about my travels this year. I’ve only been home for a few weeks, yet the travel itch has already returned. I’m beginning to realize just how much I miss France and Russia. France, especially, has been a consistent throb in my side this last week. I tried to write a typical blog post about just how much I miss my exchange, but nothing I wrote sounded right.

I gathered up a few songs that said it just right, (To Build a Home by The Cinematic Orchestra, So Close to Magic by Aquilo… ) but that felt like cheating.

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with poetry to sort through my thoughts, and it’s something I’ve found both cathartic and rewarding. I wrote something about this strange sort of longing that I feel for the life I had in France last year.

Here it is…

Last Travel

Air falls from my lungs when that song hits just below the ribs–

The one I listened to on metro nights just shy of 299 times.

I ride the crescendo till I’m knocked off my feet.

 

Looks like longing found her way in.

 

She’s woven through September air,

stirred into my coffee,

bleeding through headphones,

reaching out from my camera roll and

lunging from a polaroid.

 

She settles down onto my chest.

 

She crawls out of my heart and winds down my spine.

She’s an ache that rests behind my eyes and casts 6:00 AM fog

so thick I choke on tendrils of molten music.

 

She taps at my head

like she smells the sweet, sticky memories I left on the counter

and wants a taste.

 

Six weeks of Russia and six months of France bundled beneath my eyebrows.

 

Warm memories freeze my fingertips.

Neurons trapped under frost

fire slow signals that lull across glass tipped grass and

are broken by stumbling feet who seek to save a lick of dexterity

so I may write my way away.

 

Today’s plans cease into long winter slumbers with the ring of Fall outside the window,

of a home I once longed for

plagued tonight by this evening’s treasured guest,

the friend who settles over my shoulders,

at the ring of a piano’s first key.

 

She, who thrives on memory, lives in past tense

eager for the future where I return to far away–

far away across an ocean,

 a few hundred miles of sea churning with demons

that once lunged for my wrists.

 

I lay on my mattress, lulled by piano strokes

that grab at wanderlust with greedy fingers

and choke my new today,

too busy missing yesterday to remind me to breathe.

 

I remember the last sidewalk café,

last bus ride through Theater Square,

last croque monsieur and bowl of borscht,

last “Oui, madame” and “Non, merci”,

last sunrise trek and morning bises,

last click of black boots on cobblestone streets,

last embrace with a foreign friend.

Last month,

last year,

last travel.

Why?

Just Because

There have been many moments at Project Just Because that could be considered “life-changing”. Considering the organization has been operating for around two decades and I’ve only volunteered for 2 of these years, this means there have been so many more that I have never witnessed. And it’s interesting because these moments of realization don’t change your entire outlook on life, but they make you realize how important what you are doing is.

I very distinctly remember my “life-changing” moment. I began volunteering in September 2015 and this moment occurred in January 2016. In between the beginning of my life at Project Just Because I was volunteering because I wanted to volunteer and PJB was the closest option I had. By January I had built better relationships with the other regular volunteers once they realized I was actually coming in on a regular schedule. I had been promoted from sorting clothes to distributing them, and let me tell you, I’ve never been happier. Now this is going to sound kind of weird, but I remember vividly what this woman looked like. I had just walked out of the backroom after completing the children’s portion of the order and I looked up and saw this woman just standing there wearing a tank top and leggings in the middle of winter. And since PJB is really sensitive about keeping client’s identities private I don’t want to say what she looks like beyond that. The other volunteers and office manager are kind of frantically rushing around and talking to this woman trying to figure out what they can do. Routine is that a request form is sent in and then a week or so later you come in and pick up your order, but this woman had never submitted an online form and she just came in hoping we could get warm for her children.

She kept repeating that she only needed stuff for her children and she didn’t need anything if her children weren’t going to get something because she did. I was instructed to go get some winter coats and clothes and eventually we got her clothes for herself and her children. I came back into the main room and I caught onto tidbits of the conversation as she explained her really troubling situation that I won’t go into detail about (again for privacy issues). And it wasn’t until later when I got home and I could not stop thinking about it that I realized how important my work is at PJB. So many of the orders that I fill everyday are changing someone’s life somehow and it’s an easy thing to forget. There are occasionally times when I don’t want to sort through 6 bins hoping to find 32×34 pants for Adult Male #2 that I’ve never met. But then I think of how important it is for these people to have size 32×34 pants because they can’t just go out and buy them. These kinds of moments when people come in with their heartbreaking stories are the ones that remind me to keep pushing. And for those 4 hours a week I’m able to be a part of something bigger than myself.

It may sound silly, but the best parts of my days are the ones where I get to go to Project Just Because. It’s such a loving, calming, healthy environment. The other volunteers who are all retired act as my mentors and treat me as one of their own. I owe so much of my growth to this small, local charity. Sometimes I forget how integral volunteering is to my existence. It makes me so much happier and excited about my future of changing lives. I believe that for the rest of my life I’ll try to find some place as wonderful as Project Just Because.

Project Just Because is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that serves as both the Hopkinton Food Bank and a donation driven clothing redistribution service for all of Massachusetts. There are also seasonal programs such as Back-to-School and Christmas. If you or a friend are in need of services from Project Just Because or would like to donate please visit their website. 

Week One Host Family Recap

Russian Barbecues and Minty Tea

This past Sunday, I packed up my bags and said goodbye to the hostel where my fellow Americans and I spent our first month in Russia. Though it still hadn’t dawned on me that I would no longer be spending 24 hours with all of my amazing roommates, I still felt quite a depressing pang in my chest when I closed the door to room 304 for the final time. Within the span of two flights of stairs, I left my comfortable American-tourist bubble and ventured out into the “Real Russia” – my very own бабушка by my side.

Now, I knew that I would spend most of my first few days with my host family in a constant state of confusion, but I didn’t expect to meet a random Russian uncle that would guide me into the back of a van and drive me down a pot-hole ridden dirt road to a lake 30 min outside the city. At this point, it was 90 degrees outside, the van had no windows, and I hadn’t had any breakfast, so needless to say, I was a bit grumpy and would have rather taken a nap than swim in the lake. By the time we finally pulled over at our destination, I was ready to fall asleep on the sand, but my eager grandma and her friends pulled me onto my feet and lead me to the water.

I cautiously waded up to my ankles, the frigid water nipping at the 800 mosquito bites I’ve acquired throughout the last few weeks. When my friend’s uncle dove head first into the water, I gaped and made sure that everyone knew that I was deep enough already. Mr. Russian Uncle either didn’t understand or didn’t care, and he sent a wave crashing into my chest with the slap of his hand. Basically soaked at this point, I dunked and the headache I’d been building all day fell away.

After a few more minutes floating around in the water, the grandmas called us all to lunch– an perfect barbecue spread with fresh vegetables, sausages, and even a watermelon!

My host family helped me name everything on the table, and I promptly added those words to my notebook. After we packed up our picnic, we were back in the van and driving to my friend’s host family’s dacha.

Walking around the dacha was like a tour through an early 20th century country home. The house was small and colorful and smelled like fresh wood with only a few rooms but plenty of places to rest and relax. After the grandma’s led us through their gardens and let us taste everything they grew there, we sat down for tea, and if there’s one tradition from Russia that I’ll be packing in my suitcase, it’s mid-day tea.

I’ve never been much of a tea fan, but the minute you put fresh mint leaves and lemon wedges into your cup, English Breakfast becomes a lot less boring.

Coupled with a bowl of fresh strawberries and some sugar cookies… Mmm! Delicious.

That night, back at our apartment, I had my first nightly tea-time conversation with my host sister, half in Russian, half in English. This would become a part of our nightly routine, and probably the time my Russian improves the most every day.

The following morning, on Monday, we took the bus to class where I spent my typical five hours drilling grammar concepts, frantically writing vocab words into my notebooks, and receiving lists upon lists of homework assignments that I would later rant about in our LC meeting. After class, I got my first opportunity to roam Kirov with my host sister and a few other friends– something that I had been hoping to do since we arrived. We walked along the riverside, bought giant bottles of soda at the grocery store and went on a pancake hunt that brought us all the way across the city to a 24 hour cafeteria and a chocolate museum.

On Tuesday I was told that we were going on a “Quest” which ended up being an abandoned orphanage-themed escape room where I was reminded with every note of creepy, suspenseful music why I don’t watch horror movies. Fortunately, an intense rainstorm (which my teacher referred to as a “hurricane”) forced us to take shelter in a Vietnamese restaurant where I ate my weight in egg rolls and beef with broccoli.

Wednesday, our group wrote our dialogues in the park and toured an ice cream museum, and Thursday the van was back, this time driving my friend and I into the woods to a state park to ride horses. While we waited for our scheduled horse riding time, we took paddle boats onto the lake.

At that moment– paddling around and scaring мама утка and her ducklings with some country music– it felt like summer; the summer that I would be having if I were in the US right now.

Summer is stereotypically lazy; the time when we’re supposed to kick back and relax, but my experiences with the season have always been quite the opposite. I’m always busy, whether it be running around from rink to rink when I was younger, to pre-college programs these last few years. Although I’m happy that my Summer has always had a purpose, sometimes I wish that there was nothing on my schedule. It’s hard spending the 4th of July abroad every year and having no control over what food you eat or what activities you do. Sometimes, though, you’re just pedaling along in a lake at some state park in Kirov, listening to your favorite song on a cloudy day, and you think to yourself that at this moment, you could be anywhere in the world. No matter where you’re being dragged by your family, program coordinator, or strange Russian Host Uncle, you’ll wind up somewhere that feels remotely like home, and that can be just what you need.

The Effects of Brute Memorization: Navigating Around a Mental Block

How to Train Your Dragon : Making sleepy NSLI-Y students confident in how to say “But I don’t want to kill dragons!”

18, 23, 28, 53 –  these are the amounts of Russian vocabulary words I’ve been told to memorize each night over the last few days.  Granted, some words were repeats, some days our dictation quizzes were cancelled, but that doesn’t change the fact that in the last three weeks, I’ve added 308 flashcards to my “New Russian Words” Anki deck and every term was added with the intention of being memorized within 24 hours. I’ve often criticized language courses for their slow pace when it comes to introducing new vocabulary, but having now experienced a class with an opposite  approach, I miss the lazy days of writing out pages worth of sentences and Quizlet Live. 

I’ve never had too many problems with memorization, however, in the last few days, I’ve been struggling to cram even one more word into my brain. I spent an hour on the bus glaring at my phone as my mind completely erased everything I had learned the night before. I could repeat a word six times, turn my gaze to the window, then completely forget what I was saying. Carrot, Cucumber, Beetroot… all of these words are must-know, basic Russian words, but for some reason, they refuse to stick. Being the lazy, easily-frustrated, slacker I am, I gave up that day on the bus and grudgingly accepted that the day’s vocab quiz was going to be more red X’s than smily faces. When we were assigned a poem to memorize that afternoon, I began to panic.

I assumed that if my brain couldn’t even remember the word for tomato, there was no way that she would agree to letting a nine stanza poem into her memory.

That night, however, as I sat down at my desk, tea and cookies in hand, I found myself reciting lines by heart after only a few minutes. Confused but pleased, I considered myself cured– maybe my brain just works better between midnight and 2:00 AM. Naturally, I took another look at my vocab list from the day before, but once again, not a single word could get past the double-locked doors to wherever Russian food vocabulary gets stored. That magical memorization of the poem I’d done moments earlier seemed to be nothing but a fluke.

This time though, instead of giving up, I thought about why it was that I could learn poetry but not name the ingredients in borsht. I reminded myself that:

A. Nobody is meant to learn 30 foreign vocab words a night,

B. I’d been using the same method of memorization for the last three weeks, and

C. Flipping through a virtual flashcard deck is one of the most un-interesting and mindless things that a person can do.

And so, with these three things in mind, I grabbed my computer and headed off to Youtube Land where I searched “Learn Russian!” (Yes, exclamation mark included). I started watching videos that tested my listening skills and listened to various explanations of the prepositional case. When I logged onto Fluent-U, I considered myself advanced enough for the “Elementary” category, and watched a Russian Nespresso commercial staring George Clooney, where I finally figured out the meaning of “правда” and for the first time that week, felt myself improve.

There’s nothing wrong with learning new words, it’s necessary to speak in another language,  but the way you learn new words is important. My teacher here in Russia says “quantity grows into quality’, but I think I may need a new motto for my personal learning style.

I need a stimulus more active than a virtual flashcard to improve my Russian.

I need to generate my own language and focus on identifying familiar words in a dialogue or video before I sit down and flip through Anki. For me, I’ve found that recapping my day in Russian– what I wore, what I did, how I’m feeling– and watching videos online with Fluent-U to be the most useful learning methods.

Every few days or so, I switch it up. If I’m feeling like a blob, I’ll watch a movie I’m familiar with in Russian with English subtitles, or listen to a language learning podcast (Actual Fluency is my favorite) to gather inspiration. 

Sure, my grades on Dictation have taken a bit of a blow, but I’m able to stumble my way through a paragraph or two describing my daily routine in front of my teacher, so I think she knows that I’m doing okay.

Sleep Deprived on a Russian High

32 hours later…

It was a typical Tuesday morning. I crawled out of bed at 8:00, stumbled my way toward coffee, ate a banana and walked toward my car. This morning, however, I picked up more than just my backpack on my way out the door. With more than a few yelps and groans, I managed to get a 50 pound suitcase and 30 pound carry-on down the stairs and into the trunk of my car without falling flat on my face or breaking any toes. For the third time in a single year, I packed up my life and headed to the airport, not for a month of Spanish camp or a semester in France, but a six week stint in Kirov, Russia.

Fortunately, it only took a 45 minute puddle-jumper flight to get me to my orientation in New York, but this was only the first leg of what would prove to be an exhausting travel journey. When I arrived at the orientation, I knew what to expect. I met my  first group of friends at the airport, where I was instantly labeled “the one not from the Southwest”.

Our orientation was as all orientations are– a friendship factory meant to ally us before we were shipped off to our final destination, safety packets and pre-departure language guides in hand.

After two days of various seminars and history lessons, we headed to the airport to board a 10 hour red-eye to Moscow. As per usual, I didn’t sleep a wink, but I was smart enough to pack a toothbrush, cleanser, and concealer in my backpack, so I looked more, “Post-airplane Tousled” as opposed to “Exhausted, Caffeine-deprived Zombie”. From the airport we dived straight into the city, plopping down right in the center of Red Square. Seeing something that amazing surely shakes the sleep from your eyes, let me tell you that. From Red Square we headed to a small restaurant/buffet where we ate our first dose of Russian cuisine and experienced our first involuntary photo-op from a pack of confused strangers.

I supposed that Moscow would be similar to Paris, underwhelming at first and filled to the brim with tourists, but surprisingly, a group of rowdy Americans stuck out like a sore thumb. Anywhere I walk with my friends in Russia, native’s stares cling to our cameras and loud voices. It definitely didn’t help that we decided to do “morning energizers” at the park in front of the Kremlin. On the bright side, some of the guards started laughing at us and waved, so… win? Somehow, the constant walking tours and 3rd grade activities kept all of us at least partially awake, so we were able to appreciate our first day in Russia in its most recognizable city.

Flash forward 14 hours and voilá! Our train arrives in Kirov– home for the next six weeks. Sleep-deprived and somewhat wilted, I once again dragged my boulder of a suitcase up the hostel’s two flights of stairs to the suite I’ll share with three other girls, some of the best friends I’ve made so far. These suites consist of two bedrooms connected to a small, dimly lit common area with a bathroom, toilet, and a fridge– the best part of any room for every study abroad student. The rooms are adorable with window seats, armchairs, a table for tea, and two comfortable beds for those rare occasions on program when you actually get to sleep.

So, sleep.

If there is one thing that NSLI-Y lacks, it’s time to rest. Classes fill the morning hours until 1:15, excursions run until about 5, followed by culture classes, meetings with our local coordinator (also known as tea-time therapy hour), and activities with Russian peers until 10:00. As you may be able to imagine, the homework load for a language program this intense is enormous and takes about 3-4 hours to complete (with tea and rice cake breaks as needed). That puts bedtime at around 2:00 in the morning allowing for five hours of sleep on a good day. Whether it’s memorizing vocab lists for the following day’s spelling test, grammar exercises, memorizing presentations and dialogues, or reviewing the day’s lessons and looking up words you want to know, there’s always plenty of work to be done.

Because of all of this work, it’s hard to appreciate all of the excursions and activities that fill up our schedules.

I find myself dreading anything that inhibits my study time, but fortunately for my sanity, I wind up enjoying myself 90% of the time.

So far, we’ve taken walking tours around the city, visited a museum dedicated to a famous Russian heart surgeon from Kirov region, and spent a day line dancing to entertain kids at a Summer camp. With each step I take in this city, I appreciate this program ten times more. Kirov is beautiful, full of stunning landmarks, open squares, ice cream carts, and, most importantly, and Adidas store. Where else would people buy their matching track suits?

All in all, my first week in Russia has been quite an experience; I feel like I’ve been here for a month, though I know that I’ve only dipped my toes into this country’s  language and culture. I’ll keep plowing through the verb conjugations and continue adding cards to my Anki deck and continue taking as many pictures as humanly possible.

Rice cakes with peanut butter and Nutella await…

 

A Random Ramble About a City I Love

Boston, Boston, Boston

In my mind, I have possessed the city of Boston since I was young. In reality, I have never possessed something so magnificent or grand.

Only a few days of my childhood were spent shopping for overpriced Christmas gifts for my mother and playing in the fountains near the Mother Church after Sunday school. Of course the airport and field trips to the Science and Children’s Museum were sprinkled in there as well. Yet these fleeting moments accumulated and allowed me to believe that I’ve known the city better than my peers. I don’t know street names, nor do I know what color T line connects South Station to Back Bay. How far away is TD Garden from Fenway? I couldn’t tell you. I have never known what the streets smell like in summer or how it differs from what they smell like in the winter. I’ve been misinformed about the history of the city and the injustices that have occurred on the same streets that smell of molasses on a warm summer’s day.  

The Red Soxs were the last MLB team to desegregate. When I first heard this fact I thought I had hear them wrong. “You mean Austin, as in Austin, Texas?” No, Boston. I would continue to repeat “Boston, Boston, Boston” until the word sounded foreign on my tongue. The word sounded nearly as foreign as the possibility of Boston being a racist city. How could my cherished city be one that harbors a racist history?

My sister wrote her capstone about the desegregation of busses that occurred in Boston from 1974-1988. In history we read about the bussing problem and saw a picture of a white man trying to stab a black man with an American flag. An unexpected, and unwanted, surprise. How much do I really know about the city I claim to have grown up in? I can recognize the skyline, but I can’t recognize the continued displays of racism. The tradition of singing “Sweet Caroline’ at the bottom of the 8th inning must have made me deaf to the racial slurs chanted at the players on the other team. It makes me wonder to what other injustices I have been ignorant to.

Boston is a beautiful city with an ugly past. I loved walking on the streets with my cousins and siblings during hot summers, but I loved marching with my mother, sister, and little brother to stand for women’s’ rights even more.

Why I Strive to Become Mr. American Flag Guy

That Dumb American Tourist

He struts off the plane with his head held high. His jacket swings open as he swaggers over to customs so you can see the T-shirt he has beneath with that obnoxious eagle wearing a red white and blue hat. If you were to open his backpack, you would see a travel sized American flag rolled up in the side pocket because, as he often reminds us, “A good American never leaves home without one.” The backgrounds on his laptop range from George Washington to Reagan, and if you ask his why, his answer is always “because I’m an American”.  

He wears his sunglasses indoors and refuses to use any voice level below eight. He pronounces Je voudrais as Jenny Craig- and unlike me, he’s having the time of his life.

When I went on a school trip to Europe with 42 other members of my class, I knew that no matter where I went, I would instantly be labeled as a dumb tourist- one of those annoying ones whose group takes up all the tables in a restaurant and refuses to speak anything but English. I hate being perceived like this when abroad, so, I did what any reasonable person would do and tried to blend in.

I brought all my European-esque clothes, hid under my scarf, and tried to stay towards the back of the pack where it wouldn’t be obvious that I was with the group. When in France and Belgium, I tried to only speak French. In Amsterdam, I downloaded an app to learn some Dutch so could at least say Hello, and ask for coffee. On the metro in Paris, when my group hogged an entire car and kept yelling about whales, I drifted to the back, put in my headphones, and kept my head down. I’m not going to lie, I was not only embarrassed, but miserable.

For six months while I studied abroad in France, I made it my primary objective every day to fit in. I wanted people to forget that I was just another exchange kid- I wanted to be seen as French. Obviously I still wasn’t able to completely shake that mindset, as I was very, very uncomfortable on that metro months later. But that night, I made it a point to observe and emulate Mr. American Flag Guy.

Mr. American Flag Guy is shamelessly American; patriotic, confident, aggressive, and has no problem relating everything back to big business. He was having a great time making a fool of himself on the metro, yelling on the streets, and taking tacky tourist photos at every turn. Meanwhile, I was trying my hardest to become a speck of dust on the bottom of some Parisian woman’s shoe. At that moment, I realized just how pathetic I was and reminded myself that I have years upon years to blend in and feel like a true Parisian. I would never be back in Paris with my high school friends; this opportunity to whip out the selfie stick and laugh at the top of my lungs would be gone forever in a matter of days. So, I got my ass out of the corner and joined in the ruckus.

Sometimes, it’s good to be “that” American tourist.

Sure, I was still that kind-of-obnoxious friend/mom that told all my friends to hush if they were causing too much of a ruckus on the train and I still winced when Mr. American Flag Guy expressed the cultural sensitivity of a toddler, but I was definitely enjoying myself far more than the Mandy from a few hours ago. She still uses her headphones to block out the noise.

Little does she know, however, that it’s not the sound of dumb Americans that she’s tuning out- it’s comforting melody of friends from home.

 

The Danger of Political Parties: We Were Warned

Why don’t we just stop yelling at each other?

A few days ago, during a socratic seminar in my Time to Think class, my teacher interrupted our discussion to congratulate the class on our ability to debate like rational human beings. In a time when the country seems split down the middle and with politics as polarized as ever, it seems that we have forgotten the key to having an effective argument: acknowledging validity of the other person’s ideas.

Humans have this really cool ability to communicate with each other through the advanced language system that we’ve been building and editing since the first person ever pointed at something and gave it a name. These days, however, we have all mastered our mother language, but for some reason, we’ve lost the ability to really communicate. Sure, we can tell each other our ideas and argue till the cows come home, but are we really gaining anything from our conversations? Think about the last time you turned on your TV to watch CNN. You most likely read a caption on the bottom that said “BREAKING NEWS: New Allegations Against President” then watched a reporter try to interview a few experts before eventually bringing the issue to a panel discussion. If you’re anything like me, this process has probably brought you more anxiety and frustration than a working sense of the day’s news, which, by the way, is not the way cable news is supposed to work.

An interviewer asks a question and gets no response or is interrupted, a panel of experts talk over each other for ten minutes straight, there’s a split screen between a daily White House Press Briefing and a running commentary by a senator from the opposite side of the aisle; all of these scenarios are more confusing than educational and convince me that the only source of news I need is Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. But here’s the problem:

I identify as a liberal, someone who typically favors candidates from the Democratic Party and believes in a welfare state, so I tend to find get my daily news through more liberal-leaning sources of media; The New York Times, CNN, PBS, and the occasional satirical late night television host. I hear the words Republican or conservative and I’m immediately prepared to disagree with the source and brace myself for an argument. But here’s the thing, that’s really bad.

Labels cause a lot of trouble and the moment someone or something identifies as either liberal or conservative, most audience members have already decided whether or not they’re going to agree or disagree with the source. I’ll admit it, I’m guilty of this. Political parties are so polarized in today’s day and age that nobody even dares to be a moderate. Unfortunately, parties are typically simplified down to a few controversial policy points and whoever happens to be the party’s most popular, recognizable member becomes that group’s symbol. This is not the way things should be done. Once we generalize politics down to two angry groups arguing all day long and refusing to compromise with each other, we enter a dangerous political climate that can only hurt our country in the long run.

We have this notion that if a Democrat wants to introduce some form of policy or nominate someone to the Supreme Court, all the Republicans will vote against their decision and vice versa. These days, a Republican President has very little sway over legislation if he/she doesn’t come with a matching House and Senate. Politicians are so stuck in their party’s lines that they forget to collaborate and consider issues from all points of view. Just because a social reform comes from a Republican doesn’t mean it’s going to cut some program’s budget or discriminate against a group of people, that’s not what the party stands for, but most Democrats will dismiss the Republican suggestion immediately. If they’re looking through the proposed plan, they often search for that which confirms their pre-existing expectations. I would argue that it’s this confirmation bias that makes our government seem so useless.

George Washington, our country’s arguably most widely accepted and appreciated president, warned us all about the danger of political parties all the way back in 1796. To this day, his words drip with premonition and leave me wondering if he was truly capable of seeing where our politics would wind up a two centuries later. In the words of our first president:

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions… the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it (Washington, 1796).

A Love Letter to Getting Mail

What Time Does the Mail Truck Come?

There’s something quite romantic about receiving a handwritten letter. I always love to see a letter waiting on the counter with my name written on it, although recently it’s almost certainly an advertisement for a certain college. But sometimes it’s not. It could be a ‘thank you’ or a birthday card, or hopefully it’s a love letter from Harry Styles. No matter who wrote it or how much they wrote, opening a letter is always lovely. I don’t know why it’s the best feeling, but I have some assumptions…

  1. Someone spent time actually sitting down to handwrite a note just for you
  2. Typically the reason people write instead of text nowadays is because the contents of the letter aren’t urgent, so getting mail means something good or exciting has happened
  3. You can keep the letter forever and never accidentally delete it (unless you throw them out)
  4. The person who wrote it probably loves you a lot
  5. It’s a pleasant surprise
  6. Letters are a simple, but thoughtful gift
  7. They feel more professional and more heartfelt
  8. Opening envelopes is extremely stress relieving and gratifying

I assume my letter loving addiction was founded soon after I first attended camp in Maine. Homesick and friendless, I waited for mail time each day hoping that my mom replied to my tear stained letter. It was the only way we could communicate so letters were often lengthy and took my mind off missing home. One year when my best friend wasn’t returning to camp with me, my sister packed 21 letters (one for each day of camp) into my trunk so I could open one each day. A thoughtful gesture that helped me feel a little less lonely and inspired me to not waste my time at camp.

Writing and receiving letters has got to be something that I most love.

Top 5 Travel Bag Items

Clean, Organized, Satisfied, Fragrant, and Energized

Tomorrow, I leave for a week-long trip to Europe with my school. I packed last night, hugged my dad goodbye about 15 minutes ago, (he’s golfing in the morning and I plan on waking up at 11:00) and looked up the Dutch translations for, “Hi, do you speak English?” and “Yes, I’m American”. So basically, I’m prepped and ready to go.

At this point, I consider myself more or less accustomed to the whole packing process, having managed to fit enough stuff into a suitcase to last me anywhere from a three-day weekend in New York to a six month stint in Northern France. I thought that my last blog post before leaving on yet another trip should be a walkthrough of the bag that I take with me wherever I go.

The Top Five Things You Need in Your Travel Bag

  1. Hand Sanitizer

Let’s face it, travel is dirty. Your hands touch all sorts of screens, doors, and railings that are covered with germs and you can never be sure when you’ll be able to find a sink. I recommend Bath and Body Works “PocketBac Sanitizers” (warm vanilla sugar being a must).

  1. A Notebook

If you’re anything like me, then the key to keeping track of your thoughts is a good, old-fashioned notebook. Whenever an idea pops into my head, I see something a little funky, or learn a new vocabulary word, I always write it down. Not only is this super useful when looking back on your trips, but also is a great way to keep organized throughout your journeys around the globe.

HINT: If you’re traveling to a country where they speak a different language, have a page dedicated to “Need-to-Know” phrases: greetings, ways to ask for directions, how convey personal information like your country of origin, allergies, etc.

  1. A Snack

It seems obvious, but a lot of people forget to keep a protein bar or bag on nuts on hand. Between busses, trains, and cabs, transportation can take up a lot of your time, making it easy to miss out on meals. A snack a day keeps the headaches away. Candy DOES NOT count!

  1. Antiperspirant

We all sweat; we all smell. The sooner we accept it and fix it, the happier all our noses will be.

  1. Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee

Sure, we’d all love to think that we’ll be popping in for a café au lait et croissant every time we need a pick-me-up around mid-day. Whether you sleep in late and miss your early morning morning Cup o’ Joe or find yourself getting droopy eyed at three, on the go caffeine can go a long way.

HINT: Want to avoid not so tasty airplane coffee? Take your favorite instant brand and ask for hot water on the plane. They always have it, and you save yourself from choking down mud. You’re welcome.