In honor of the New Year and before I recap my winter holiday, I would like to dedicate this post to a reflection of my year through the amazing travels I have had. The past year for me has been one of great learning experiences, primarily brought about by experiences through traveling. As much as I traveled during my semester abroad in 2012, my international travels throughout 2013 have proven to be more diverse and meaningful. I can definitely say this year has been full of ups and downs, and my travels abroad were there to invigorate, teach, inspire, and simply provide a lot of FUN!
January 2013: US-Mexico Border
The year started off with a trip with my university, William and Mary, to the US-Mexico Border to learn about the immigration issues going on in the United States. We talked to many organizations, officials, and people living on the border through the programming of the non-profit, Borderlinks. Although the trip took place on about 2/3 US ground and 1/3 Mexican, I felt like I was in another country the entire time. This picture is from one of the craziest experiences we had on the trip. Before our first crossing into Mexico, we stopped to eat lunch in front of the massive and disruptive border wall. The entire time the Border Patrol truck sat by us, with its engine running, as we gazed out over the vast desert. Being in a place at the heart of such political debate and humanitarian loss taught me more about the immigration issue than any book, policy brief, or news article could. As our group reflected on our experiences throughout the 1-week trip, courses lasting the semester, and our final symposium in Washington DC, it was impossible to forget the unique insight we had due to traveling to this dynamic place.
March 2013: Cancun, Mexico
On a slightly different trip to Mexico, I spent my week of spring break on a vacation in Cancun, Mexico with four of my friends and sorority sisters. This week was pure fun and a needed break from the gloom and stress of a long winter in Williamsburg. The entire trip was one big exciting surprise with a gorgeous hotel, gorgeous weather, yummy food, and freedom to do what we wanted over the course of the week. Our first day was spent freaking out about how beautiful and amazing everything was as we got acquainted with the beach, pool, and hotel grounds. However, my favorite day was our first time swimming in the ocean when we went on a tour of the ancient ruins in Tulum. I will fault our guide with cutting the tour pretty short and directing us towards the beach down the hill from the history. I do not think we had ever been so excited to swim! The water was warm, clear, and irresistibly blue. I think we all felt like we were 5 years old splashing, swimming, and smiling in the water. It was an amazing day spent with amazing friends in an amazing place.
July 2013: Israel
Perhaps the most personally meaningful trip I went on was to Israel this summer. After years of anticipation, I traveled to Israel for the joint opportunities of touring the country through the Birthright program and watching my grandfather be inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame for his participation in the Maccabiah Games. My 2.5 weeks in Israel were filled with amazing and challenging experiences, but it was so special to be on the adventure with two of my favorite family members–my cousin and my service-fraternity Big. I think my favorite 12 hour period involved going to sleep at a Bedouin tent complex after stargazing into the vast Negev Desert, waking up at 4am to hike the ancient fortress of Masada, watching the sunset over the Dead Sea, and then returning to the tents to ride camels through the desert. Pretty awesome! Most of all this trip invigorated my view of some of the “big picture” aspects of life: family connections, the interplay of history with current events, the endless number of people there are to meet, open-mindedness to different attitudes, lifestyles and ideals, and the adventures to be had when outside of your comfort zone.
August-December 2013: Prague, Czech Republic
While traveling to Prague barely feels like a “trip” at the moment, I am constantly grateful to have the chance to return to my favorite international city since coming to live in the Czech Republic. I can officially say that since starting my Fulbright semester I have visited Prague at least once a month, and each time it does not fail to impress me. Each time it is breath-taking and refreshes my appreciation of where I am. While I might be biased after my amazing study abroad semester here, I swear this city is magical at all times of the day and night. It has been tough to return without the great friends I made in 2012, but I have been lucky to rediscover Prague with great new friends and through new relationships with some old friends from my previous time here.
October 2013: Florence, Italy
Visiting Florence was the perfect medicine for a mini-valley of culture shock and the transition into a Czech winter. The warmth of the weather and people were so uplifting and the food was, of course, amazing. The best part was being able to experience such a great city and region with friends. One of my favorite days was traveling outside of Florence to see the view from Fiesole. Various people had told me that the excursion was worth it and that the view was “the best they’d ever seen.” They were definitely right! My two Fulbright friends and I decided to go and after getting off at the wrong bus stop and then hiking up the massive hill, we were speechless. Sitting on the stone wall overlooking the city and Tuscan countryside was breath-taking with the sun shining down. I think we simply sat there for 45 minutes appreciating the view.
December 2013: Kitzbühel, Austria
After not skiing for 4 years, it was great to get back on the slopes in Kitzbühel, Austria. More than that, I think it was my first time being back in the mountains in 4 years. Sometimes it feels good to feel small. Driving with my Dad and Denise through the dark to get to the small town of Kitzbühel meant we could only see the outlines of the Alps. It was a happy surprise in the morning as the sun shone down on the snowy mountains. Each day skiing was full of stunning views. However, the best view came from spontaneously deciding to go paragliding with our ski instructor, Leo. Given that I am a little frightened by the idea of skydiving or bungee-jumping, paragliding seemed like a better baby step. We picked the day, ran down the slope and flew into the air. While the gliding part was only about 15 minutes, it was so beautiful to soar through the mountains and over the cute town. I would definitely recommend it 🙂
August 2013- : Znojmo, Czech Republic
Despite all of these great travel experiences, my greatest adventure is taking place in the little town that has come to feel like home. Even though I have said it countless times, I am so lucky to have been placed in such a beautiful town full of amazing people. Every day, rain or shine, shows me a new aspect of my little/big town. In this place, 4188 miles from home, I am constantly challenged and feel I am growing up–though definitely in a different way than the typical post-grad in NYC or DC. Some things are the same: I have a job, I signed a contract with my apartment, I’m learning to cook, I clean a lot. Many things are different: everything I do comes with a language barrier, and usually a cultural barrier, I’m the only American I know for miles, all of Europe is at my fingertips, and most of my interactions are with people I only met 4 months ago. Now that I am settled, I look forward to seeing where the next six months take me as I am now surpassing my current record for travel time away from home (my semester in Prague was 4 months). So as 2013 comes to a close, my greatest travel adventure is still going on, and in many ways is really starting to begin.
May your 2014 be filled with adventure, wherever you are. HAPPY NEW YEAR!