A Taste of Reality

When I started Tuesdays with Jordan at the end of my freshman year, I intended to create a place to house the memories I’d make over the remainder of my college experience. I felt that I had grown so much in my first year away from home that I was bound to develop exponentially over the next few years. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but I’ve always felt that the power of words can create an infinite number of pictures. I wanted to be sure that as the photos lightened and memories faded, the sentiment of my life’s critical moments weren’t lost.

Over the past few months, I haven’t written once. That was something else I promised myself; Tuesdays with Jordan wouldn’t become another assignment or chore. When I felt like writing, I’d write. When I didn’t, I wouldn’t. This summer, it was partly that I didn’t feel like it, and partly that I didn’t have the time.

When I say I didn’t have time, I know that’s not entirely true. I didn’t have any fewer minutes this summer than I’ve had during any other period of my life; there’s always 24 hours per day, 1,440 minutes, 86,400 seconds. But this summer has been different from any other time in my life because I truly got a glimpse of what it’s like to be in the “real world.” And the pace of the real world is FAST.

Being immersed into post-grad life this summer has provided me with more awareness than I’ve gathered in 16 years of school. Through these past ten weeks, I have been given a glimpse into what life will be like after college.

I’ve always been someone who is eager for the next phase of life. In eighth grade, I fantasized about walking the halls of the high school across the street, taking fascinating classes like Contemporary Issues and A.P. Spanish instead of the dull middle school subjects of Social Studies and Algebra. The next year, I set my heart on Vanderbilt and spent the following four years dreaming about being a college student in the South, where I’d live within the enchanted walls of a dorm room, spend Friday afternoons playing Frisbee on a perfectly manicured lawn, and write an internationally acclaimed book in my free time. Once my freshman year at Vanderbilt began and the reality of college set in, I started browsing the pages of the Vanderbilt Global Education Office website, wondering whether in two years I’d be passing the Eiffel tower on my way to class or taking a gondola through the streets of Venice to dinner each night. Quickly, I found that Barcelona would be my city of choice with the opportunity to become immersed in a vibrant culture in a place where wine was supposedly cheaper than water. And before I knew it, I was exiting the BWI airport last December, home from four months abroad in Barcelona, realizing I was halfway through my junior year and therefore closer to college graduation than I was to high school graduation. Naturally, I started thinking about my next step: post-grad life.

As spring turned to summer and my internship commenced, the reality of post-grad life set in. Within weeks I realized that just like school doesn’t end when the professor walks out of the lecture hall, work doesn’t conclude at 5:00pm. While I was no longer worried about grades and professors, I was now preoccupied with bi-weekly performance reports and bosses. And instead of living in a building that houses all of my best friends, I was now in a city with just a handful of acquaintances. And when I’d stop and think about the fact that I only have one year left of school and forty years left of work, I was suddenly not so desperate to grow up. For the first time in my life, I was anxious for what’s next.

This summer has been incredible. I experienced all of the exciting parts of growing up from living in a bustling city to taking a train to work to being challenged in a job that I enjoyed. As I slid on my cropped pants and buttoned my business casual blouses each morning, I felt like a girlboss in every sense of the phrase. I wore my Deloitte badge like an Olympic medal, giving me access to the building that housed the most intelligent, innovative people I have ever met. I spent Friday evening happy hours chatting with colleagues ten and twenty years my senior, feeling like I fit in just right.

IMG_7873IMG_8138IMG_8193

I also found that you’re never too old to make new friends. From a relatively randomly selected roommate to a fellow Vanderbilt intern who I’d never spoken to at school, this summer brought me incredible friendships that wouldn’t have emerged back in Nashville thanks to the tightly knit circles already formed on campus.

IMG_7942IMG_8197

On weekends, I explored the streets of Atlanta like a true new city dweller, finding favorite restaurants in my neighborhood (Babalu) and establishing the best places to take friends when they visited (Ponce City Market). I acted like a tourist on Saturday mornings by hiking Stone Mountain and playing kickball in Piedmont Park, followed by visiting the famous Coke Museum and Georgia Aquarium on Sunday afternoons. I sipped drinks by the pool of my building, chasing the sun as it hid behind the walls of the towering surrounding apartment complexes, and sang karaoke to celebrate my 21st birthday in the basement of a crowded Atlanta bar.

IMG_8024IMG_7933IMG_8007IMG_8041IMG_7989IMG_8012IMG_8027

I am so thankful for this summer for so many reasons. For pushing me outside of my comfort zone, for challenging my preconceived notion of the charm of post-grad life. For bringing me new friends, and for filling my camera roll with new memories. But most of all, I’m grateful for the summer that made me want to live in the moment. Although I’m in no way dreading life after college, I’m no longer in a hurry to finish up. My taste of reality this summer will push me to savor each moment of senior year and to seize every opportunity. I will no longer be the girl who is wishing days away, but the one who is hanging on to the last minute of each experience.

IMG_8015

And when senior year comes to an end, I hope that I’ll realize that the next chapter won’t be so bad. However, it will be different, and that’s okay.

xoxo,
jordan

three years, four walls

Written Monday, April 24th: Last Day of Undergraduate Classes at Vanderbilt University 

“Happy last day of classes of junior year!!!”

As I’m scrambling to pack my laptop in my backpack, while reciting General Logic definitions in my head and listening to the combined sound of the most basic, on-sale, average-coffee-making Keurig chugging away and my faulty printer spewing papers out across the floor of my single dorm room, my wrist vibrates and I see the most simple of messages slide across my new Apple Watch screen (it was a prize; I know, you’re probably thinking that you never win prizes – neither do I. But alas, here I am sporting the slightly obnoxious, but oh-so-sleek piece of technology).

How is it the last day of classes? I feel like just last week I was lugging my life into this 10×12 box-of-a-room. And yet, today marks the end of my junior year classes. Four months have disappeared without me even noticing. The end of junior year feels different. There’s something somber about realizing that these next 10 days will include my last moments padding across the moldy Towers II bathrooms in zebra-striped shower shoes and these days will mark my final times filling my water bottle in the communal hall water fountain while attempting to avoid the inevitable stray noodle stuck in the drain (I am eternally perplexed by whoever thinks the water fountain is the place to dispose of day-old Chinese takeout).

Next year, I’ll be living off-campus (as in across the street) in a “grown-up” apartment with my two best friends who I met on my freshman year hall. We’ll have our own bedrooms, our own kitchen, and thankfully, our own bathroom (there isn’t a single part of me that thinks I will miss hall bathrooms). I’ll be completing my Capstone Internship at a wealth management firm during the fall semester, waking up before 8:00am to pack my lunch, dress in business casual, and drive to work like a proper adult. I won’t have a normal class schedule during that fall semester, and I won’t be living on campus. As excited as I am to leave dorm room living behind, a part of me will miss how distinctively college it feels to enter the depths of Towers II at midnight, making a late-night run to Munchie Mart, or what it’s like to lose sleep because the person in the dorm room next to me is blaring music until 1:00am. I’ll miss my morning breakfast of microwaved eggs and the simplicity of my tiny collection of kitchen utensils (one bowl, one plate, one mug, 2 forks, 2 knives, 2 spoons). On the other hand, I won’t miss washing my clothes in the shared laundry room, nor will I reminisce about the neon-red lights from the Chili’s across the street that leaks into my room after the sky turns black.

But at the same time, I met my closest college friends on my first dorm room hall. I’ve spent countless late nights sitting on the floors of my friends’ dorm rooms, laughing for hours about nothing particularly amusing, and I’ve gotten ready for years of date parties and group dinners under the shine of the distinctive fluorescence that comes with dorm room lighting. I’ve written papers and applied for internships from my small dorm room desk, I’ve completed countless Kayla Itsines ab workouts on a yoga mat spread across those vinyl dorm room floors, and I’ve spent a number of pre-tailgate Saturday mornings dancing and belting out the lyrics of Keith Urban and One Direction songs in the various dorm rooms of my college friends.

There’s just something quintessentially college about a dorm room. For three years, I have complained that my friends at other schools have had nicer living arrangements than us Vanderbilt students, for many never even lived in a typical no-frills dorm room (with no sink, bathroom, kitchen, common room etc.). But as I look back, I wouldn’t change my dorm room living for the world. Despite the fact that some of these buildings haven’t been updated in seven decades, they have character (though that sometimes comes in the form of moldy showers and ill-functioning heating systems).

As this weekend closed the last tailgates of the year, I thought about how it was probably my last time celebrating any event within the tight space of a college dorm. It won’t be so easy to see all of my friends next year when I’m working 8:30am-5:00pm and we’re not all living in the same building, but then again, we’re all graduating in a year and it definitely won’t be so simple when we’re scattered across the map. Moving out of a dorm is a stepping stone to a bigger move that will come in just twelve months.

Although I’m definitely not ready to think about that large-scale change quite yet, I hope that as I experience this mini-move, I make every possible effort to treasure each moment that I have left on this campus and in this city. With twelve months left as a college student, I must remember to appreciate the simplicity that college life has to offer (even in the upgraded space of my new apartment). As I pass through the next years and the many years after, I hope to never forget the laughs, the tears, the hugs, the dance moves, and most importantly, the friendships made over the past three years within the four walls of my Vanderbilt dorm rooms.

xoxo,
jordan

balance.

The end of my experience abroad was met with a month of incessant activity back in the U.S. The first morning I woke up in my bed at home, it was Christmas Eve. That was followed by several days of holiday events, and then a ten-day visit from Knut. I followed Knut’s departure with a 13-hour drive to Nashville where I moved myself in, and then began the long days of sorority recruitment. Before I knew it, classes had started and I was back to the usual busyness of university life with meetings every other day and more pages to read than I physically thought possible.

img_6465

Despite the intensity of being back at Vanderbilt, I can honestly say that I missed it. Before I came back, I was worried that returning from Barcelona would leave me resenting my usual life. I had heard stories of “reverse culture shock” and dreaded the same happening to me. I just could not fathom how I could go back to school when I had just lived another life for the past four months. Although I have never been much of a homebody, I think I may have missed my normal life to some extent. Barcelona was absolutely amazing – it will probably still be the best semester of my college experience. However, in some ways, it is not even possible to count it as college. Life in Barcelona is so different than at Vanderbilt. The fact that my classes were not even in English already separates it from my conception of what school is (mostly because I had only ever learned in English up until that point). Further, jet-setting across the continent every weekend made it feel like some charmed, surreal life that was not my own (mostly because that isn’t at all what my life is usually like).

Nonetheless, I am back, and I am genuinely happy to be here. When I look at the pictures of other students abroad in Barcelona, I’m not jealous. I simply think to myself that they are temporarily visiting my city. Because it’s true, right? I was there first. In some ways, I feel like a freshman again because each time I do something classically Vanderbilt, I am filled with excitement. Whether it’s going to Desano’s with my pledge class or grabbing dinner at Kissam’s gourmet dining hall, being back reminds me of how grateful I am to attend such an energizing school in such an exciting city. On the other hand, returning to school as a junior gives me a sense of confidence that only comes with being an upperclassman.

img_6466

Yet another friend turns 21! Too bad I am months behind everyone 😥

With that being said, I can already see myself falling into the Vanderbilt trap of over commitment. Within days of coming back, I rejoined my Dance Marathon committee, began an executive position in my sorority, secured a twice-weekly babysitting job, and inquired about joining Vanderbilt’s new Women in Business organization. After doing so, one of my friends told me that she had recently quit an incredibly prestigious organization that she had been a part of because she realized that it no longer interested her and she was not giving it the attention it deserved. Her declaration made me pause. Too many times, Vanderbilt students – myself included – feel the need to schedule every minute of their lives in order to achieve maximum efficiency and to promote an image of involvement and accomplishment to the public. The problem is that by proving ourselves to the world, we spread ourselves too thin. The ironic thing is that sometimes, we aren’t even doing it to prove ourselves to others, but rather to ourselves.

As I continue through these last three semesters of college, I am hoping to be more selective in what I say “yes” to. Right now, I think I have identified the three organizations that I want to continue being a part of until graduation, with varying degrees of involvement in each. Sophomore year was by far the most scheduled and stressful year of my life. It resulted in the biggest accomplishments of my college career, but sometimes at the expense of my own sanity. Going to Spain was the perfect break I needed to recharge and eliminate some of the unnecessary self-inflicted stress that I had put on myself. Living in a more laid back culture where an emphasis on relationships sometimes outshines a focus on credentials, I learned much about the importance of balance in my life.

img_6448

Although it may seem cliché, I think that’s what I am aiming for the theme of this year to be: balance. My hardworking, competitive spirit is not going anywhere, but neither should my loquacious, extroverted personality. At this point, I have less than two years to make my time at Vanderbilt matter; therefore I cannot attempt to do it all without sacrificing that essential social aspect of college. Here’s to hoping for an equally productive 2017 with significantly less unnecessary stress!

♡jmd

hasta la vista

*Written on December 23*

And so, here we are. 122 days later, and I am back in the U.S. I’m currently sitting in the Newark International Airport for the next five hours, which gives me the perfect opportunity to sit down and think about these past four months.

On August 23rd, I took the first of what adds up to 30 flights this semester. I set off for the first of 9 countries that I’d travel to and the first of 12 trips I’d be lucky enough to go on. I left my little town with the dream of seeing the world and I did just that. Today, December 23rd, I have landed in the US with a bittersweet feeling that naturally comes with returning home and leaving a beloved place.

This semester, I have learned so much about my country, Spain, travel, and myself. I have seen the U.S. through the eyes of many different cultures and I have viewed those same nations through my own American perspective. I have become vastly more independent and I have discovered small aspects of myself that I didn’t realize before. Some people return from abroad claiming they feel like a new person and that they realized something life changing about themselves when removed from their comfortable environments for a few months. Personally, I don’t think I’ve gathered any drastic insights about myself, but I certainly think living in a new country for four months has taught me a few lessons and has left a few lasting marks on my personality and character.

img_3304

Oslo, Norway // August 2016

IMG_3351

Rotterdam, the Netherlands // August 2016

What I learned about my country

Beginning with what I have learned about the US, I think the most important lesson comes in the realization that there is a world outside of the United States that functions differently from the U.S., but just fine. After living outside of the U.S. for four months, I have realized that I can survive just fine without 24/7 air conditioning, a drying machine, American brands, and all of the other things I am accustomed to in the U.S. In fact, I now see how wasteful Americans – including myself – can be. Will I start turning off the air conditioning when I leave the house and start recycling every piece of plastic, paper, and glass? Probably not. But I do think living outside of the U.S. has given me a new appreciation for the environment and I hope to develop increasingly more environmentally conscious habits as I continue living in the U.S. and potentially even abroad in the future.

Something else I have learned is that although the U.S. can seem uninteresting compared to other countries, that’s just because it’s where I live. Life in Barcelona is exciting, but the day-to-day activities are honestly not any different from what they would be if I lived in any major U.S. city. Where we live never seems as interesting as other places because it’s what we are accustomed to. Due to my extremely obvious American accent, I was asked many times where I am from and just about every time I received responses such as “Wow, that’s so cool! I have always wanted to go to the U.S.” After traveling for 4 months and being exposed to so many different cultures, I have really come to appreciate the U.S. and everything that seemed so “boring” a few months ago.

img_4008

Munich, Germany // September 2016

img_3803

Barcelona, Spain // September 2016

What I learned about Spain

Before moving to Barcelona, I honestly didn’t realize that Spain’s different regions were as different as the North, South, East, and West regions of the U.S. In fact, they are arguably even more different because different languages are spoken in the different regions. I was expecting to hear Castilian Spanish – what we think of as Spanish – everywhere I went, but Catalan is by far the dominant language in Catalonia’s capital city of Barcelona. Additionally, Catalonia isn’t nearly as conservative and traditional as the other parts of Spain, which I really didn’t know until living in Spain with a Catalan roommate. It was such an amazing life experience to live in another country and really become a part of the city by living in an apartment with a Catalan roommate, learning through Spain’s public university system, and experiencing the night life and cuisine while speaking another language.

img_4343

Mallorca, Spain // September 2016

img_4771-1

Figueres, Spain // October 2016

What I learned about travel

I have always loved airports and that feeling of endless possibility that comes with being in a building in which there’s the opportunity to reach every corner of the world. However, I have never travelled as much as I have in the past 4 months. After hopping across Europe just about every weekend, I have found a greater appreciation for travel and for the purpose of it. I am thrilled that I was able to go on 12 trips to 9 different countries in the past 4 months. I saw so many cities and made memories that I am sure to never forget. However, what I really noticed is that the cities are different in their historical buildings and significances, but the itineraries we follow when exploring these new places are largely the same. We take pictures with iconic sights, observe exquisite architecture, and enjoy delicious local cuisine. Some cities I’ll go back to, others I don’t know that I’ll ever see again. But honestly, in most cases, it’s not the city that matters. What really matters when I travel is whom I am with. I was lucky enough to be with some of my absolute best friends as we travelled all throughout Europe. In 10, 20, and 30 years, it’s going to be so great to be able to look back on this time of my life and be able to share it with friends that I know I’ll still have for decades to come.

Travel is exciting, but if you make it about checking destinations off a list, the magic can be lost. There were many cities I didn’t get enough time in, but at least I have the memories with my friends to keep those cities clear in my memory forever. What’s even better is if you get the chance to meet locals and actually experience the city in an authentic way. Last weekend, I returned to Knut’s home in Norway, and once again it was one of the best trips. I attended a 3.5 hour rendition of Singing in the Rain in Norwegian with his family, and although I understood very few words, I felt like I was really getting to see a genuine part of Norwegian culture that I never would have had I gone to Oslo without a Norwegian. Although seeing Oslo was not new to me, I enjoyed that trip more than some of the trips to new cities because I got such an authentic cultural experience.

Finally, I learned that travel isn’t always pretty. I have had trains cancelled, too many flights delayed to count, and many other travel complications. What it’s taught me is that there are situations that are completely out of my control and that panicking is the least helpful way to cope. Does this mean I don’t panic? Not exactly. But I am more aware of the fact that things won’t always go as planned and that it all works out in the end. I have also learned to really appreciate being home in the comfort of my own bed much more.

img_4559-1

Lisbon, Portugal // October 2016

img_4853

Rotterdam, the Netherlands // October 2016

img_4947

Barcelona, Spain // October 2016

img_5200

Seville, Spain // November 2016

What I learned about myself

As I said previously, I haven’t experienced any great revelations about myself in the past few months, but I have been able to see my own strengths and weaknesses a bit more clearly. I have learned that I am a lot more independent than I thought I was, and I’m also largely low maintenance when it comes to travel. However, the Spanish culture has really exposed my perfectionist attitude. In Spain, life moves at half the pace I am used to and I am told “traquilo” (calm down) about 100 times per day (along with most of the other American students). The lack of urgency for most things really does drive me crazy. However, I notice that that’s not exactly a good thing. Throughout my time in Spain, I have come to appreciate the Spanish way of relaxing and spending time with people over books/working. Although I don’t think I could adopt such a lax lifestyle, I really value it.

Finally, taking five courses in Spanish and spending an entire semester learning in a different language, I have really seen myself stretch my comprehension skills much further than I ever thought that I could. I remember the first day of my 20th century Spanish literature class when I felt like I did not understand a word. Four months later, I was reading a 300+ page books in Spanish and writing four page essays in class. I eventually realized that I’d never succeed if I dwelled on every complicated conjugation and every individual word, so I tried to just sit back and understand what I could. Learning in Spanish and successfully completing the semester was one of the most valuable parts of my experience because I was able to see my confidence and my execution of the Spanish language grow in such a short amount of time. Although my speaking still isn’t great, my understanding, reading, and writing have definitely advanced significantly. Leaving Barcelona, I really feel as if I can now communicate with an entirely additional population of people thanks to just about mastering a second language.

img_5303

Prague, Czech Republic // November 2016

img_5471

Budapest, Hungary // November 2016

img_6057

London, England // December 2016

img_6173

Paris, France // December 2016

img_6245

Tranby, Norway // December 2016

Ultimately, this past semester has been everything I expected and more. I was able to live and learn in a new culture, travel the world, and make so many incredible friends. To anyone contemplating studying abroad, my advice is to do it. This is truly the only time in your life that you’ll have the chance to travel the world without the pressure of real-life responsibilities weighing you down. Thank you to every person who made this experience so wonderful, especially my parents who made it possible. There is nothing else you could’ve given me that compares to the thrilling adventure of these past four months. Here’s to the end of one of the best chapters of my life. Although this one was great, I’m sure there are so many more great ones to come. As Carla told us the night before we left, home isn’t just where you’re from, but also every place you’ve loved and been loved by. I know I loved Barcelona and I sure feel like it loved me.

Hasta la vista,

♡jmd

Women Should Be More Outspoken

A few weeks ago, I witnessed (eavesdropped on) a conversation in the Barcelona airport that really stood out to me. Naturally, my curious (nosy) self listened and then promptly wrote a quick reflection on it. With just 3 days left in Spain, I’d rather wait to write about leaving until I’ve actually left, so stay tuned for a post this weekend about what it’s like to leave the place I’ve learned to call home and return to the place I’ve always known as home. As for this post, it’s slightly dramatic, but what else do you expect from a 20-year-old female college student about to enter the business world dominated by men?

“Women should be more outspoken”

As I stood in line at the Barcelona airport awaiting my trip to Budapest, this statement echoed loudly in my head. I was standing in front of two business professionals – both women – who had just finished some type of conference in Barcelona. One was heading back to her office in Munich, the other home to California. They spoke English to each other, but both carried accents that pointed to a lifetime spent elsewhere. Their voices differed – they weren’t of the same nationality. But what they did share – and what the 20-year-old American college student unbeknownst to them also shared – was a strong belief in women.

“Women should be more outspoken” the lady traveling to California said. She continued to talk about how women aren’t valued if they don’t speak – how they’re forgotten amongst the men. She explained how she surprises the men in the room with her confident, direct voice. The woman on her way to Munich agreed. She spoke of how “they”, meaning men, are sometimes scared of her because she unexpectedly offers differing opinions with a force that they didn’t think she had. They continued speaking as my mind drifted.

The closer I get to the real world, the closer I get to this understanding that women are not equal to men. I used to think it was an exaggeration, an excuse for people to complain. This, I can assure you, is not the case.

What I’ve also learned in the past few months is that although today’s woman is not equal to today’s man, we are on our way.

Putting political opinions aside, the recent U.S. presidential race was a great achievement for women. Despite the outcome of the election, there were moments in which the world believed that a woman could be president of the United States of America, the leader of the free world. Although the time for a woman to run the world hasn’t quite arrived, I truly believe that the perspective has shifted. The glass ceiling is cracking. I used to think a woman couldn’t ever become president, and now I wonder which woman it will be. I know that I’ll see a female president in my lifetime, the question is only a matter of when.

This week I was also given a precious gift from my professor of Spanish Romantic Literature. Professor Caballé gifted all of us with a book that she compiled titled La pluma como la espada: la vida escrita por las mujeres – “the pen as a sword: the life written by the women.” This book includes the poetry and writings of female Hispanic writers from the 18th century who broke the rules of society and began to publish their own works – something only men were permitted to do. Some of these women wrote about the lack of freedoms they had, others about their struggles. But what stood out to me most is the writings written by women against their own sex. At the time, the only literature they had studied was literature written by men and for men. Because of this, some female writers didn’t know how to write about women in any context other than in mockery of them. Fortunately, the majority didn’t write like this – but that minority that did reminds me much of today. It reminds me of why women must be more outspoken: because deep down, we feel as if we are not as qualified, smart, or capable as men. We refer to ourselves, and other women, in a derogatory manner that we’d never use when referring to men. We hide our voices within ourselves and wait until it’s our turn. Well, the majority has spoken. It’s our time.

As for the ladies on my flight, they give me hope. Hope that one day I’ll be traveling the globe for important conferences and will unknowingly inspire a young girl to do the same. Their strong belief in women and their bravery in facing a room full of men without an ounce of inferiority in their composure is why I know that we are on our way to the top.

Forget the pen and give us the sword; we’re here to make that ceiling shatter.

♡jmd

 

Last trip, best trip

This past week, I went on my final weekend trip with my friends. To think that just a few months ago we were dreaming about traveling through Europe together and now it’s over is slightly sad, but mostly happy because I know I have made so many lifelong memories. After four months of traveling during almost every weekend, it’s definitely going to feel weird to have my feet on the ground for more than 5 days in a row once I return to the U.S next week. However, I’ve still got one solo weekend trip left, plus the long flight back to the U.S. next Friday.

As for this past week, my friends and I visited two of Europe’s most exciting cities: London and Paris. I’ve dreamed of visiting these two cities since I was a little girl, so it was definitely the trip I was most looking forward to.

We began the trip with London where we spent the first day enjoying teatime at Harrod’s and then ice-skating in Hyde Park. Walking to Harrod’s, we all completely fell in love with London. From the fact that Aveeno lotion is available in the pharmacies (hint: it’s not in Spain) to the city’s lively New York City vibe, we felt like London was home – only with a richer history and a cooler accent. Teatime completely lived up to my expectations with an assortment of finger sandwiches, pastries, and of course, an abundance of tea. We didn’t have to wait to be seated and I honestly felt like I was the epitome of English class as I sipped tea in one of London’s most iconic spots. As for ice-skating, I’d like to thank the classic “Friday Night Skate” of my middle school days and my body’s apparent muscle memory for allowing me to stay upright on the ice. Skating in Hyde Park with Christmas lights surrounding us and a soundtrack with Paul McCartney singing “Wonderful Christmastime” may have been the most English we felt throughout the trip. Needless to say, the first day was a hit.

img_6213img_5960

The next day, we got up early for a full day of sight seeing. We hit just about every important sight from Buckingham Palace to Big Ben to Westminster Abbey to the London Eye to Shakespeare’s Globe and finally to the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. Accumulating over 25,000 steps and only using the metro once, we covered just about every historic spot in London. We finished the day with dinner at the fancy shmancy Bob Bob Ricard restaurant where there’s conveniently two “Press for Champagne” buttons at each table. We toasted the night to our last and best trip together and to many more celebratory dinners in the future.

img_6064img_6057img_6065

Our final day in London consisted of a tasty brunch followed by exploring some of London’s Christmas markets and neighborhoods. My favorite neighborhood was the posh, yet quaint Marylobone. Marylobone gave me that village-within-a-huge-city feel just like Greenwich Village in New York City. Here, we wandered through the charming streets and walked in and out of the shops. At the end of the day, we packed our bags for our nighttime flight to Paris.

In our opinion, Paris is the D.C. to London’s New York. Although that’s a bit of a compliment to D.C., Paris is more spread out than London, has a large number of neighborhoods, and is filled with many museums and monuments. The gardens remind me of D.C’s parks and the classy buildings have that historically chic vibe that D.C. breathes.

We quickly learned that two days in Paris was not going to be nearly enough time to see everything, so we narrowed it down to what we could see. We started with an hour and a half at the Louvre where we really only explored one section – the 13th-15th century Italian paintings – and also caught a quick glimpse of some Spanish paintings. Our reason for looking at the Italian paintings isn’t surprising in the least, as we were being classic tourists who wanted to see the famous Mona Lisa. Although most people say they are disappointed when seeing it, I was actually impressed because my expectations were so low that the painting ended up surpassing them. I was surprised that it was as big as it was because I had heard that it was practically the size of an 8.5×11 piece of paper, which is a vast exaggeration. I’d say it’s at least the size of 4 8.5x11s combined. Regardless, I thought it was cool to see a painting I have learned so much about since my elementary school days and found that it was definitely worth it (Note: I got into the Louvre for free with my EU student card and there was absolutely no line to see the Mona Lisa, so my opinion is quite biased).

img_6215

img_6107

This may look strange, but a girl was offering everyone around her to use her balloons, so we went for it 🙂 

We continued the day by sharing a picnic of champagne, Brie, and a baguette on the lawn of the Eiffel Tower, then making our way to Champs-Élysées to grab macaroons at Ladurée and explore the Paris Christmas markets. We ended the night in a typical French bistro where we enjoyed escargot and free tap water (Note: Water is rarely free in Europe and is definitely not free in Spain, however we were surprised with free tap water in every restaurant in France).

img_6214

The next day, we headed to the Musée d’Orsay, which I’d have to say was the best museum I have been to. I absolutely loved the exhibit of the Impressionist painters, particularly Monet. The exhibit brought me back to my 8th grade art class where I chose to study Monet for my final project. Seeing his works in the flesh was definitely a cool experience. The museum also offers the stunning view of the Seine through the clock tower, which I was more than excited to see (and take a picture in front of). I found it fitting that we took one of our last pictures abroad in front of a giant clock looking out on a river and a beautiful city because that view embodies the essence of our time abroad: fleeting, yet absolutely full of adventure.

img_6182

img_6198

The rest of the day was spent enjoying a cruise on the Seine, visiting the famous Notre Dame, and finally finishing our trip without another fabulous meal at a French bistro.

img_6192

As I currently sit in my little bedroom in my old-fashioned, quirky apartment in Barcelona, I can’t help but think about how quickly this semester has gone by. With just 10 days left in Europe, and only 6 in Barcelona, I cannot believe my semester abroad is almost over. But before I can dwell on what’s ending, I look forward to my last weekend trip and my last week in this magical city. As for my final trip, I’m going “alone” to one of the coldest countries in Europe. I’ve been there twice before, so this shouldn’t be too hard to guess. Let’s hope there’s no snowstorms that cause me to miss next week’s exams. (Well, maybe that wouldn’t be so bad…)

♡jmd

Back in Barcelona

Finally, I took a break from travel this weekend to focus on exploring my own city. From visiting the renowned Sagrada Familia to trying out numerous touristy Barcelona treats to experiencing my first time in a foreign doctor’s office, I really got to know my city a little bit better this past week.

La Sagrada Familia

Beginning with the Sagrada Familia, it was absolutely beautiful. Fortunately, I was able to avoid the 30 EUR ticket fee and go for free with my Masterworks of Catalan Art class. Although I am not the world’s biggest art history fan, there’s something to be said about learning about Gaudí in the classroom, and then personally experiencing his work a day later. The Sagrada Familia is truly as impressive as people say it is, partly due to its grandeur and partly just because of the sheer number of people that are there on any given day. The church is still ten to fifteen years away from being completed, yet there are still three million visitors each year. To see so many people appreciating what may be the ultimate masterwork of Catalan art is quite remarkable.

img_4624img_4621img_4620

Sweet Treats and Yummy Dishes

On a less cultured note, I also used this week as an excuse to visit some tasty sweet shops and delicious restaurants. Two of the dessert places I went to include Happy Pills and Chök. Happy Pills is a sweet shop where tourists can select a “pill bottle” to fill with different types of colorful gummies, and then they can choose a sticker that names the “prescription” of the bottle. I fittingly chose “Para Después de Una Noche Loca” (for after a crazy night), as my friends and I finally lived up to true Barcelona culture and stayed out until the early hours of the morning the night before (it was slightly fun, but slightly dreadful when we realized we were honestly just so tired and ready for bed). Other (less fun) prescriptions include “Universal Remedy for Everything”, “Happiness Overdose”, and many more. Later in the week we went to Chök, a chocolate shop that is famous for its chök doughnuts: doughnuts made with less fat, less sugar, and less frying time. I chose a raspberry dark chocolate doughnut, which was absolutely amazing, but they also have a selection of krönuts (doughnuts with filling), truffles, and other chocolate treats.

img_4700img_4703

As for restaurants, I went to El Nacional and Bar Lobo this week. El Nacional is definitely a restaurant that you must go to if you visit Barcelona. It’s a big warehouse filled with nice, trendy bars and restaurants that serve typical Catalan food and tapas. We went to La Taperia where guests can order food from the menu, or they can choose dishes from trays as the waiters bring them around. We ordered some from the menu, but we quickly realized it was much more exciting (and faster) to pick dishes as the waiter animatedly presented them to the guests. Bar Lobo was a more classic restaurant, but the food was quite amazing. I would definitely still recommend this one for a quieter, more typical dinner.

As I’ve mentioned before, my study abroad program is great at organizing exciting day trips and activities. Last week, my friends and I participated in a “Cook & Taste” where we had the opportunity to cook a classic Catalan meal with a fabulous Barcelona chef. I was expecting us to be cooking in the kitchen of the program building, so it was a nice surprise when we showed up at the elaborate Cook and Taste Barcelona kitchen. Together, we made tomato bread (a Catalan staple), vegetables with romesco sauce, paella, and crème de Catalán (a more lemony crème brûlée). The class took roughly four hours, but it was definitely worth it. If you come to Barcelona and are looking for a fun, cultural activity, this is definitely something you should consider.

img_4638img_4635

About that Doctor’s Office Comment…

It turned out to be quite perfect that I wasn’t traveling last week because unfortunately, I caught a virus. It was not serious at all, but my study abroad program recommended that I visit a doctor. My doctor’s office visit ended up being another cultural experience as it was quite different from the typical modern, antiseptic feel of the doctor’s offices at home. Situated on the third floor of a historic building in a beautiful area of town, the doctor’s office I went to used to be the home of the doctor working there. His father worked there when he was a child because doctors didn’t have their own offices back then. It was interesting to be getting my blood pressure taken and my lungs checked with a wall of books behind me, but I liked the library-doctor’s office arrangement. Looking back, it’s great to see that something as mundane as going to the doctor can be turned into a cultural experience when in a new place.

Costa Brava

On Sunday, my Spanish flatmate invited my roommates and I to her home in Costa Brava. Carla is from Figueres, the same city that Dalí was born in and the one that houses the famous Dalí museum. Although we did not have enough time to explore the museum, we did get to see its splendor from the outside. Later in the day, we ventured to her stepdad’s city of L’Escala where we enjoyed a delicious Catalan lunch with her mother and her stepdad. L’Escala is a beautiful beach town in the Costa Brava region with stunning cliffs, exquisite water views, and beautiful beaches. Seeing where Carla is from and learning more about the region of Catalonia was a great way to end the weekend. As much as I love the bustling city life of Barcelona, spending a day relaxing in a beach city was a perfect end to a fabulous week in Barcelona.

img_4771img_4769

img_4755img_4773

As for my upcoming plans, I have midterms next week! It’s honestly insane how quickly this semester is flying by. Despite the fact that we have midterms next week, I am traveling once again this weekend (before you scoff at this, remember I’ve got to take advantage of my one semester in Europe). This trip isn’t as exciting as my others since I’ve been to this city three times before, but I am definitely ready to go somewhere that feels a little bit more like autumn (it’s still in the 70s almost every day in Barcelona). Hopefully, it’s not too cold! Check back in next week to hear about my fourth visit to the land of clogs, canals, bikes and dykes!

♡jmd