Saturday, April 27, 2013


I’m on my way back to The Netherlands from Italy after three weeks of independent travel with my best friends, on a train at 2 o’clock in the afternoon somewhere in Switzerland, and I’ve been starring out my window in awe for the last hour.  I only visited Switzerland in winter, and I loved it; it was beautiful, but this place comes alive in the springtime.  At each stop, I have a hard time restraining myself from busting out of the train and into the sunshine and beauty.  I’m convinced Switzerland is the most beautiful place in the world.  It’s weird, because I feel like I now have at least a tiny bit of ethos saying that because I have seen a good portion of it.  That’s crazy to think about.  As my travels begin to come to an end, I get the feeling that they are just beginning.

I love this.  I don’t mind living out of a suitcase.  I don’t mind long train rides.  I love everything about traveling.  I’m slowly forming plans for the future: teaching math in Spain when I graduate, getting a summer job in Greece, going to grad school in London, spending an entire summer rock climbing and boating daily in Switzerland with my husband someday, going on a family vacation to see Denmark, Sweden, and Norway… of course all my dreams are in God’s hands so I’ll see where His plans take me, but I really just want to run around the world, experience the way people live, and tell everyone I meet about Jesus.

Going into this trip, I knew I would learn and experience a lot of amazing things, but I never imagined it would get me so psyched about traveling.  I don't want to come home.  I mean, I miss my family and friends, but I wish they could just come here instead of me going back there.  I never thought I could live in another country, but now I’m not even sure if I want to go back to America at all.

Besides wanting way more than three months to travel, I have learned a ton and changed so much.  I’ve tried, but I can’t put words to it.  I think my life attitude has shifted: I always knew it was true, but I feel like I am finally seeing what it means to live like nothing really matters but Jesus and to finally believe that I can do literally anything through Christ.  God has given me a weird combination of passions, and I still have no idea why He has given me them and how He will use all of them to further His kingdom for the rest of my life, but I see no point in waiting to find out.  I’m chasing after whatever he puts on my heart right now, starting with serving Him in Africa this summer.

Anyways, I know I haven’t finished my blog; I still have to do all of Italy and Crete (which I promise to get to in the next week!)  So it seams kind of silly to be posting a trip reflective piece before writing about all my travels, but I wanted to post this before coming home simply to say that I have changed in a million ways this semester.  From appreciating art and history in ways that I never thought possible, to seeing reasons to worship God in everything and responding with praise daily, to learning to love myself thanks to indescribably wonderful best friends I have made, I hope you don’t expect me to come home the same person.

That's basically all I wanted to say.  Please please please, don't expect me to be the same person.  I will try my best to explain it to you, to talk about it if you want me to, but I promise I won’t do my experience justice.  All I can say is go see for yourself.

Monte Carlo, Monaco

From Nice, we took a day trip to Monoco: a beautiful, ritzy city in a tiny country along the coast surrounded by France.  This fancy city full of expensive cars, fancy stores, and wealthy people made us feel fabulous for the afternoon.  We saw the most famous casino in the world, and the hotel that Selena Gomez stayed in in her movie Monte Carlo.

We laid on the beach for hours, drinking milk shakes and enjoying perfect weather: sunny, a blue sky, but not too hot to be uncomfortable with a tiny fresh breeze.  It was heavenly.  We got lunch at a cafe ON THE BEACH of the french riviera, which made us feel fantastic and was a wonderful, ritzy experience, perfect for such a fancy place.

We enjoyed walking through the gorgeous japanese gardens because you could see everything from that one spot: up close gorgeous gardens and flowers and a little pond, a beautiful colorful city on one side, the glorious sea on the other side, and the breathtaking french alps in the distance behind the city.  It was the perfect combination of everything great to look at in a landscape and an overwhelmingly beautiful site.

It was a lovely day in a little country!

Nice, France

The French Riviera is the perfect place for an unreal, beautiful vacation.  As Leigh and Kristin joined Jaime and I, we had the most perfect time in this southern France beach city pronounced "nees".  Here's an entry from my journal to try to explain how it made me feel:

"I was so filled with joy and awe of the beauty and unspeakable amazement that I was really witnessing the sights I was seeing and living the life that I am living, but I couldn't figure out how to express myself.  I wanted to spew out happiness, to flail my arms and scream, but I just had to resort to silence as I tried to really believe that I was where I was and was seeing what I was seeing.  I could not comprehend that this is really the reality of my life.  I am so insanely blessed beyond belief.  I in no way deserve this incredible, life changing experience.  I am just in shock that this is really me traveling the world and seeing these places and living a life better than my wildest dreams.  I feel like I won the lottery, I feel unworthy, I feel so little.  So in awe.  So full of a joy greater and more pure than any I've ever felt before.  This place is heaven.  My life right now beats my wildest dreams.  I am so happy.  I never want to stop traveling."

Anyways, here are the highlights of our time in Nice:

every morning going to this incredible, cute little french coffee shop around the corner from our hostel and getting some of the best coffee I have ever had;

laying out on the beach, reading A Linage of Grace (which is an INCREDIBLE book!);

taking a walk along the beach and climbing up on the rocks to witness the insane, indescribable beauty of the rocks and waves crashing into them;

hiking up the hill through a beautiful garden to an incredible park and insane view of Nice and the shoreline;


and eating crepes at a little local hole-in-the-wall crepe place at night, making friends with the guy who works there even though he does not really speak English well at all.

Overall, I love this place.  I love my life.  I love my friends.  I am so blessed and thankful and can't believe the highlight of my whole trip is just beginning!

Barcelona, Spain

Ok I'm moving here (or Madrid) as soon as I graduate.

A few days in Barcelona was simply nowhere near enough, but I was okay with that because I know I want to come back for a very long time anyways.  I love everything about it here.  But enough of my excitement; my friends have been joking about how often I use the word "happy," so I am trying to restrain myself some.  Although I literally loved it so much.  Okay anyways now on to the highlights:

After a long day of trains, for our very first evening of independent travel, Jaime and I went to a fancy dance club on the beach.  Our night ended with a beautiful walk along the beach, and the whole thing was just so much fun.  An amazing start to an amazing three week adventure.

On Saturday, I got some alone time in which I spent an hour and a half walking along the beach with my toes in the sand, the sun on my face, and worship music playing in my ears.  It was so perfect.  I explored a bit of the city along the beach and loved every minute of people watching and city seeing.

I will tell the story of one of my favorite moments from my journal entry about it: "Sitting at my meeting spot for Jaime and I met some really fun people just chilling there.  We talked, joke around, and just had a good time.  It was fun because they were way too cool for me, so I felt like such an awesome local person hanging out on the beach, listening to their fun artsy music shamelessly loud with a ton of neat high-fashion-y people, eating store-bought tapas one of them provided, laughing, joking, relaxing, and enjoying life.  I loved it.  I can't wait to move to Barcelona and do this every Saturday."

Tapas.  Sangria.  100 Montaditos on Sundays and Wednesdays.  Enough said.  Mmmmmm lots of options and however much food you want and all of it absolutely delicious.  Best food in all of Europe.

International Church of Barcelona.  So wonderful to experience a Christian community seeking after Christ across the world.  The service was in English, but we sang a couple of the worship songs in Spanish, and it was a super powerful experience for me.  Singing a couple songs I knew and a couple spanish worship songs reminded me of how huge my God is and how incredible it is that we are all worshiping the same Creator.  I loved getting to be where God is clearly moving and working in different parts of the world: it is always such an incredible reminder of God's strength, unending love for humanity, and presence in this fallen world.

Park Guell.  The architecture of Barcelona is incredible: completely different from the rest of Europe.  It's strange and modern, but still absolutely beautiful.  Park Guell, located on a hill overlooking the city, is the most perfect culmination of it all.  The structure and architecture of the gardens are unlike anything else.

We made new friends!  Jordan and Allie are au pairs in Paris and Madrid, and we spent all weekend with them.  It was so fun to get to know a few girls who are living the dream by spending time living abroad on their own, stretching themselves further outside their comfort zones.  It's crazy how we really got the chance to know each other personally in just a couple days, and it was amazing to get to talk to them about God, love, and forgiveness.  They inspired us to really take a chance and move back here when we graduate and reminded us what it means to love people like Jesus.

I sum up my love for Barcelona and Spain in my journal by saying:

"Spanish, wonderful people, delicious food, beaches, fun culture, gorgeous architecture, and fantastic weather.  I can't wait to live here some day!!!"

Saturday, April 6, 2013


I can’t believe the living in Maastricht and taking classes part of semester is over.  It has gone by so incredibly quickly.

Yesterday, I took two finals that will determine my grades in half my classes, wandered around Maastricht for what is likely the last time with Molly and Jordan, and then spent the rest of the night packing, preparing for the next three weeks, and hanging out in the room with Ellen before we parted… until 5am rolled around and I hadn’t slept a wink and had to leave for the train station at 5:30.  I am loaded up on more coffee than I think I’ve ever had in my life thanks to the last couple days and sleepless nights of studying, paper writing, people loving, and travel planning. 

Today, I am sitting next to Jaime somewhere in the middle of France, armed with my backpacker’a backpack carefully, strategically, and tightly packed to last me three weeks with some extra room for new purchases.  Luckily, I am wandering Spain, southern France, Italy, and Crete with my two best friends, so we can all borrow and share clothes.  I am prepared to re-wear jeans, sleep only on trains, utilize caffeine, spend more money than I want to on tickets or food, and finally enjoy some nicer weather.

In my blog, I’ve focused on my weekend travels and completely neglected to talk about my weekly classes and day-to-day life in Maastricht, so it’s hard to explain why, although these three weeks are the best part of the whole trip, it was so hard to leave what has become home.  Transitioning from school and weekend traveling to three weeks of nonstop backpacking through Europe is bittersweet—I am so insanely excited for this incredible culmination to the trip, but so sad that it means that the incredible chapter of my life of school in the Netherlands is over.

It has been absolutely unreal.  The beautiful church that I walk by on my way to class; take five, kiwi, and the shamrock: the places my friends and I prefer to hang out at night; the five minute walk to albert heign for groceries; and the place to get free coffee in the CES building are all engraved in my memory forever as pieces of my home abroad.  It’s crazy that this little city in the middle of Europe has become my comfort zone, has turned into a place where I feel like I belong.

I have learned so much in my classes this semester, including how much I really do enjoy class, learning, school, education, and all that jazz.  The material in my classes this semester has been fascinating, and the Dutch perspective has been truly eye-opening.  I’ve learned that in order to understand someone’s motives and choices, you have to get their cultural context.  Instead of looking at the world from my own perspective, as is natural, I need to empathetically look at how others see the world to understand their choices and accept them.

Also, meaning is produced from how facts are discussed and how words are defined.  Words don’t just have one meaning; the way you say something can greatly alter its meaning, and concepts and ideas can very greatly based on how you define words.  I know that probably doesn’t make sense, but that’s the main idea of what I got out of my classes this semester, and it has been super eye-opening for me.  I’ve learned a lot more about truth, the world, knowledge, human nature, international relations, how America and the American perspective is viewed globally, and much more than I ever imagined I would.

It’s heartbreaking to be done with this part of this adventure, but I take comfort in knowing that I will be back.  I am not saying good-bye to a home in Europe forever; I will return to make another city home and experience the world like that again soon enough.  Be it next summer or not until I graduate, I know that, if anything, living in Maastricht for a semester has just made me want to live abroad again.

In the meantime, I will enjoy wandering around southern Europe with a few of my favorite people and making memories that will last me forever.  Even sitting here, on this adventure, I cannot believe that I have been this insanely blessed with this experience that most can only dream about.  I know I am truly living a dream right now, and I am insanely thankful.

Finally, I would like to apologize because I anticipate getting behind on blog posts in the next three weeks, especially because I still have a 4,000 word paper to write for one of my classes and half a semester of Mathematical Statistics II to learn, so I expect those to take up all of my train time, but I promise I will share everything eventually!  Au revoir!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is a gorgeous city.  There are really no other words for it.  Unfortunately, we were not blessed with the best weather for it, very cold and lots of rain, but we still managed to have a good time!

Madison, Steph, and I decided to explore the city a bit, so we walked around and made the cross from "Pest" to "Buda" by walking across a huge bridge because each side of the river apparently has different names.  It was super fun to see all the gorgeous Hungarian architecture.

This weekend for Austria and Hungary, I traveled with a group of people I haven't traveled with yet, so I really enjoyed getting to know a lot of the students on the trip that I hadn't really gotten to know yet.  These girls are all about community and have a ton of fun together and don't mind just sitting in a restaurant or chilling in the hostel, enjoying each other's company.  A good amount of time was spent sitting at restaurants, talking and laughing about anything and everything.  I loved getting to know everyone in the 11 person group that came along this weekend and discovering how differently they travel.

It was Lissa's birthday, so we celebrated with lots of delicious dessert all day and an evening cruise on the Danube River, which was a lot of fun and gave us a beautiful view of the architecture of the city along the river at night; it looked unreal.

As beautiful as Budapest is and as fun as the city was to enjoy it, the highlight of the weekend was going to church.  We went to an English-speaking international Baptist church for an Easter morning church service, where we met missionaries, Bible school students, and teachers from the States and other parts of the world.  The service resembled a typical protestant service in the states, which ended up being such a blessing and moving many of us to tears because it had been so long since we've connected with God through a church service that we understand.  Here's an exert from my journal about it:

"It was such an incredibly powerful and moving experience... to finally get to see and draw close to God in a normal worship setting.  In Hungary.  The Holy Spirit was so evident there.  People who are loving Jesus stationed in Budapest by God's calling coming together to worship Him in the same way that we do at home is so encouraging.  Singing praises to God with other believers in a church setting after having not done so for so long... filled us all with the Spirit and brought me unexplainable joy for the remainder for the day that can only come from Christ.  As fitting for Easter, the sermon was a... salvation message, comparing it to Abraham in Genesis.  It was so refreshing to hear someone preach the gospel, an incredible reminder of Christ's sacrifice and God's love, and then to watch people come to Christ was beautiful.  God's work is being done and his story is being told in an eastern European city full of poverty and dry of religion.  Praising God with songs I know and surrounded by people truly living out God's calling was such a blessing.  God is so good and provided me with exactly what I needed this morning."