Category Archives: Life

Strangers Like Me: Meet 22-year-old Catherine

It’s time for another weekly installment of “The Strangers Like Me.” Hostels are a funny thing, you know. For reasons unexplainable, you share a random room in a random hostel in a random city with a random person on this random night. You think to yourself, “What could I possibly have in common with this person?” But you both came from somewhere and you’re both going somewhere. They might be strangers. But then you realize they’re strangers … like me.

Catherine

Meet Catherine from Yoshkarola, Russia

Where’d I meet her?
Barcelona, Spain

Why is she traveling?
She just finished up studying abroad in Germany and chose to vacation in Spain. 

Where else would she most like to go?
England, both London and the countryside

What’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to her?
Attending university in St. Petersburg, Russia, which is 24 hours away from her village by train. Though it’s been a challenge, it’s given her more career opportunities.

What’s on her bucket list?
“I know that it’s never happened, but I’ve always dreamed about some specific skills, like (learning how) to control wind. It’s like a fairy tale, a thing that’s never happened  but still, maybe.” (She also wants to go parachuting and visit famous world cities.)

Let her tell you about the first time she saw the ocean.

“Until I was 21 years old, I had never seen the ocean or swam in it. It was in Italy, and it was good weather, and everything was beautiful.”

“What did that feel like the first time you touched the water?”

“Ahh!” (Laughs.) “I can’t (name) this emotion, but it was, ‘Ahh!'”

Strangers Like Me: Meet 24-year-old Maryam

It’s time for another weekly installment of “The Strangers Like Me,” but this week comes with a twist. I’ve met so many interesting people in Barcelona, so choosing a person to profile was a challenge. But as it turns out, serendipity had a very specific person in mind I should interview.

On Wednesday, my friend Gabriella and I trekked up to Antoni Gaudí’s whimsical dream of a place, Parc Güel, where we met Maryam, a dental student at the University of Pittsburgh. Due to some ticketing issues and time constraints, Gabriella and I couldn’t actually go inside the main part of the park. (No worries, we’re saving it for another day.) This meant we had to quickly bid farewell to our new friend after only having met her just moments before.

A few hours and a couple of pit stops later, I found myself getting off at the same Metro stop as Maryam on the way back to my hostel! For city with 1.62 million people with a big tourist pull, what are the chances?

Now generally, I only interview the strangers-turned-friends I meet in hostels, but rules are meant to be broken. Afterall, Maryam is traveler too and a pretty cool one at that. We both came from somewhere and we’re both going somewhere. She might have been a stranger. But then I realized she’s a stranger … like me.

Maryam

Meet Maryam from Dallas, Texas

Where’d I meet her?
Barcelona, Spain

Why is she traveling? 
Having just finished up her second year of dental school, she doesn’t get a lot of free time. Now that she’s on a month-long break, the longest she’s had in a while, Maryam decided to travel all over Europe instead of returning home to Texas.

Where else would she most like to go?
Amsterdam, Netherlands

Where is she happiest?
“I don’t think it’s like actually a place that I’m happiest. It’s more like the people around me and the things that I’m doing that make me really happy. When I was younger, my home, Dallas, used to be my happiest place ever, but then I moved around and  went to college, and I went to grad school. Everywhere I go and the people I meet, that becomes my new happy place, if that makes sense. My happy place is really anywhere that I’m happy.”

What’s on her bucket list?
“Well, I feel like people’s bucket lists are huge things like skydiving, which is also on (my) list and ziplining. I want to zipline in a really amazing, beautiful place. But another thing that is small but I really want to do  because I’ve always lived in big cities  I want go somewhere where there are no lights and stargaze. I just want to spend the whole night stargazing because I love stars and I never get to see them that well at night. It’s so small, but I’ve always wanted to do it.”

Let her tell you about her family’s unlucky luggage.
“Well, this doesn’t happen to me anymore, but I’ve been traveling since I was younger to Pakistan because my grandma and my other family lives there and other places. Every time we would travel, every single time, our luggage would get lost. No matter what. We plan for it, like, ‘Our luggage is going to get lost.’ Every time I travel with my mom and my brother together as a family, our luggage gets lost.”

Strangers Like Me: Meet 28-year-old Heejung

It’s time for another weekly installment of “The Strangers Like Me.” Hostels are a funny thing, you know. For reasons unexplainable, you share a random room in a random hostel in a random city with a random person on this random night. You think to yourself, “What could I possibly have in common with this person?” But you both came from somewhere and you’re both going somewhere. They might be strangers. But then you realize they’re strangers … like me.

Heejung
Meet Heejung from Seoul, South Korea

Where’d I meet her?
Seville, Spain

Why is she traveling? 
She’s taking a break from monotony of work to travel Europe.

Where does she find happiness?
“Turkey  the town is Kas  it’s on the seaside. The reason is, I met my Turkish boyfriend there one month ago, and l loved it so much.”

What makes her happy?
“I love to see the natural places, not the city. I love the natural places, the trees, the mountains, the seaside. It’s so strange because happiness, it’s so small. So like, you give me some chocolate, and it makes me so happy. I think happiness is so small, so I can find happiness always.”

What’s on her bucket list?
“Actually, I didn’t write a bucket list, but I’m always doing a year plan, just for the year. This year my plan changed because I met my boyfriend in Turkey. So, I’ll come back to Korea, and maybe I’ll come back to Turkey again and stay there.”

Let her tell you about her couchsurfing miscommunication.
“I’m a couchsurfer, so in Tatvan, Turkey, I stayed in my friend’s home, and my friend has a flatmate, so there are two boys living there. One of the boys, he can’t speak English, so we met in Burger King together, and the host can speak English. The friend wanted to talk to me, and he (tried to tell) me, “Let’s go.” He is not good at speaking English, so he (accidentally) told me to get out. It was funny. He’s a good person  it’s just that he can’t speak English.”

Strangers Like Me: Meet 19-year-old Fergus

Happy Thursday! I’m rolling out a new weekly segment that features (just some of) the interesting people I meet during my European travels. Though it might not have the same photographic merit, think of it as an international version of “Humans of New York” that focuses specifically on people’s bucket lists and their definition of happiness.

By attending and writing about cultural festivals, you get to learn a lot about what locals value in life, but those traveling among you have just as interesting of stories to tell. That’s why, for now, this segment will solely focus on the people I meet in hostels.

Hostels are a funny thing, you know. For reasons unexplainable, you share a random room in a random hostel in a random city on this random night. You think to yourself, “What could I possibly have in common with this person?” But you both came from somewhere and you’re both going somewhere. They might be strangers. But then you realize they’re strangers … like me.

IMG_9916

Meet Fergus from Christchurch, New Zealand

Where’d I meet him?
London, United Kingdom

Why is he traveling? 
He’s taking a gap year and volunteering on a farm in France.

Where else does he want to go? 
Athens, Greece and Iceland to see the Northern Lights.

What was the happiest day of his life? 
“Probably in Queenstown, and it was like two days before New Year’s. We rented out this huge house, like a holiday home. Me and this guy were skating down this huge hill, and I broke my arm, which sucked. But it was still one of the best days of my life because we were just hanging out and going to the hospital. We were drinking, obviously, like a little, not too much. I don’t know, it was just such a good day because we were just hanging out and being carefree, I guess.”

What does he want to do before he dies?
“Skydive, 100 percent. I want to swim with a great white shark and dolphins and a manta ray, like a really big manta ray. I want to go to all seven continents. If I could visit every single country, (I would), but definitely all seven continents. I want to live in Asia with the people there.”

Let him tell you about his milkshake tattoo. 
“Me and my friend were going to go get some money out from some ATM, and then we start walking there. Because I’m in Bali, people just come up to you on the street like, ‘Come to my store, come to my store.’ People hand out business cards, and (a man) gave us his business card and around the back it said ‘tattoo.’ We were talking about tattoos, and we were like ‘F–k, we should get tattoos.’ So we ended up walking down this back alley, which seemed a little bit dodgy, to this tattoo studio, and it was called ‘Panda’s Tattoos.’ So this Indonesian guy at the Panda was like, ‘What do you want done? I’ll do whatever you want.’ So we started drawing, and obviously I drew a milkshake or a doughnut, and then I flipped a coin, and it was a milkshake.”

Traveling on a budget: Tips for the frugal foodie

With exotic destinations comes incredible food — but also exorbitant prices. Europe is notorious for its expensive restaurants, and to the cost-conscious traveler, that currency exchange rate doesn’t help much. Only having $20 a day to spend on meals has been a challenge for this self-professed foodie, but I’ve learned a few things along the way. Here are some of my tips:

Drink your own water. Many restaurants only offer bottled water even if the local tap is safe to drink. Sure, a water bottle is just a dollar or two, but that money could be better spent on another round of gelato. Fill up an eco-friendly bottle at the hotel before taking on the day.

Opt for food with a view. Take advantage of Europe’s gorgeous parks and riverside views by packing as many picnics as possible. Don’t have a way to prepare food of your own? Many cafés offer their sandwiches and pastries at lower prices if you’re getting carry-out instead of dining in.

Eat lunch out and dinner in. Lunch is always more affordable than dinner. If you have a kitchenette in your hotel or hostel, pick a few nights to make your own meals.

Check out the market at closing time. When it comes to cheap eats, open-air markets are a no-brainer. If you’re looking to get a real steal, head to the market around closing time as vendors drop their prices. Bonus: They can sometimes offer up the tastiest, most authentic food around.

Do your research. When you’re petered out and starving after a long day of sightseeing, the last thing you want to do is sacrifice taste and affordability for an overpriced eatery teeming with tourists just because it’s what’s nearby. Check out reviews online ahead of time for no unpleasant surprises. Know when to splurge and when to save.

#YesAllWomen endure sexism abroad, at home

Saturday marked my fifth day in London, and it was bound to be a pleasant one. I was ecstatic to have a familiar face, my friend Chelsea, accompany me for a few days of my 110-day journey through Europe, during which I will mostly be by myself.

We spent the afternoon at Tower Bridge, and as cliché as it might be, it is one of my favorite spots to head to on a warm day. But the tourist hangout also brings with it one of my least favorite parts about the city: the rude, pushy men dressed in costumes who try to get you take pictures with them and then demand payment.

While living here, you develop a certain skill set in avoiding these men. Put on a stone cold face, don’t make eye contact, become intensely aware of the whereabouts of your belongings and ignore, ignore, ignore. If they get too close, tell them to back off.

I’m very familiar of the game, but what one performer did to me Saturday was beyond anything I could have prepared myself for.

As Chelsea and I headed over to the Tower of London, a man in black and white face paint, who was masquerading as Charlie Chaplin took his prop cane and lewdly smacked it across my backside and smirked at me while he did so.

By the time I was able to process what had happened in order to speak up, he was gone, but I was left to deal with the humiliation that comes with being sexually harassed.

When I told others of the opportunity I landed to travel this summer, I was greeted with excited faces. But when adding that I, a woman, would be doing it alone, eyebrows would raise skeptically.

I’ve heard the question “Are you really going to do this?” more times than I can count. Upon arriving in London, a woman who noticed my backpack approached me on the Tube, and warned me to “watch my back.” Some friends have called me brave for what I’m doing.

Most mean well when they say these things, but I don’t like to be called brave for being a female solo-traveler. It only reinforces the notion that traveling alone as a woman is — and should remain — the exception, not the rule.

Women can read maps just as easily as men. Men find themselves lost as often as women. When we’re abroad, we all fumble over the same messy pronunciations of words our tongues just don’t seem to be built for.

I know there are tons of women who would love to be in my position, and if I didn’t receive this scholarship, I would only be daydreaming, too. But I fear that even if all women were offered this same opportunity, many would still turn it down due to the threat of violence against our gender that pervades our consciousness every single day.

And though it did require a bit of bravery to get on that plane, I do live in fear here. All these “pinch me, I’m dreaming” moments come along with the terrifying reality that I might be harassed or assaulted while I’m just pursuing what I love.

I’ve greatly enjoyed and appreciated my time here — but to the fullest? I don’t know if I ever will be able to due to the fear I feel as a female solo-traveler, but I try my hardest. While travel brings with it certain anxieties about lost passports and missed trains, the daily fear of being raped or killed shouldn’t be one of them.

I want to be able to take a late-night stroll alongside Westminster Pier by myself.

I’d like to not have to worry about whether I’ll be the only woman staying in my 12-person hostel room.

And when a friendly man asked me out on a date after a warm 45-minute conversation, I wish I had felt comfortable enough to say yes and trust that his intentions were innocent.

But here’s the thing: Though I’ve become hypervigilant of my safety as a woman in unfamiliar Europe, I still live in fear about sexual violence when I’m back home in the United States.

We tend to blame rape on “the other.” We conjure up these images of rapists being strange men who don’t speak the same language as us and lure us into an alleyway of a foreign city.

But if it’s other countries with the gender-based violence problems, talk to me about how the United States has the highest rate of spousal homicide of any developed nation.

Tell me why consent doesn’t even become a talking point in educational programs until college.

How do you explain a man could go on a killing rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., leaving six people dead because “girls have never been attracted to (him)” and he felt he should punish them for it?

We’re good at pointing out what we find to be misogynistic in other cultures, but we rarely recognize our own failures. We flippantly dismiss the use of headscarves among Muslim women as blatant oppression, but we’re dumbfounded as to how alcohol-facilitated sexual assault could get so out of control on our hallowed college campuses, as if our culture doesn’t have anything to do with it.

Statistics demonstrate a small percentage of men are repeat perpetrators of gender-based violence. So, most men are good people, but the bottom line is that men are most often the perpetrators of sexual assault, and this type of violence occurs all the time and to so many women.

Just as a female survivor of sexual violence is somebody’s sister, daughter or mother, a male perpetrator of violence is somebody’s brother, son or father. These men live among us, speaking the same language, strolling along the same familiar streets of our hometowns. We bear the responsibility of teaching them about decency, respect and equality.

It’s time we stop dismissing gender-based violence as someone else’s issue. How many other terrible events need to occur before we recognize it is a problem and it is ours?

Ending the violence starts with us, no matter where we’re located on the map. And when women do travel by themselves, we shouldn’t be questioning them but instead questioning those who hurt them and — perhaps, most importantly — ourselves for giving rise to a culture that makes it OK for gender-based violence to exist in the first place.

The thought process behind ‘In a Blink’ video

Every day of senior year from the start of classes to graduation, I filmed 1-second clips capturing my experiences, emotions and the people and place I love. All clips have been compiled into a bigger video I’d like to call “Senior Year: In a Blink.” I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the project, so I thought I’d answer some of the most common ones.

Where did you get the idea from to film one second of every day?

Someone had tipped me off about a TED Talk in which Cesar Kuriyama spoke about what he learned from filming one second of every day of his 30th year of life.

When you’re filming days both good and bad, there’s this bit of emotional vulnerability, and to me, that is what is most moving. Is my life worth remembering? Will I be remembered by others? What do I value?

I thought if I could pull it off, I would love to create my own twist to the one-second-a-day concept by honoring a time in my life and a place I love so much.

Was it hard to remember to film every day?

Initially, yes. It took a good month to get into the habit of landing footage every day. I did have a few close calls, only remembering that I needed to film something when it was 11:30 p.m.

What I’ve loved about this project though is that it has made me more presently focused. When I wake up in the morning, I ask myself “What will I do or experience today that is worth remembering?” If I don’t really have anything that is necessarily worthy of filming or that is going to break the monotony of the day, am I really living?

It’s been a huge reality check, even for someone who prides herself on her bucket list.

How did you choose what to film?

Each day, I’ve had a general idea of what would be cool to film, but that footage doesn’t always make the final cut. Sometimes my best days are the ones that feature spontaneous footage where the result was unexpected.

Also, as Kuriyama mentioned in his TED Talk, if there is a day you have a bunch of things you’d like to film, it’s OK if that doesn’t all make it into the final video. You’d be surprised how much you can remember about any given day after seeing just a 1-second snippet.

Not all days can be good days. What about filming those days that weren’t so great?

This past year has been the most transformative of my life, so this project came at the right time to capture the changes. But with growth comes challenges, setbacks and pain. For instance, I lost my grandfather to Alzheimer’s disease in November and had a health scare of my own in April, which were both documented in the video.

On bad days, my gut reaction was to not film anything at all, and in many ways, it really gets down to our collective unwillingness to present ourselves to others as anything less than constantly happy and perfect.

Take a look at your Facebook and Instagram feeds. How often do you see people write about their fears and flaws? Publishing footage on the bad days allowed me to step away from this dominant, and oftentimes destructive, narrative.

How did you choose U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” as the song for the video?

Picking the music to go along with the video was probably one of the more challenging aspects of this project. I wanted a strong song to reflect the sentiment of the piece, and there were a lot of contenders. I had considered Bastille’s “Pompeii,” We Were Promised Jetpacks’ “Keeping Warm” and Imagine Dragons’ “On Top of the World.”

But then I as I began to think about the message of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” a longtime favorite of mine, the more it seemed to embody my experience at UNC. Bono has said he wrote this song about Belfast, Northern Ireland, where people could tell a lot about you just based on the name of the street you lived on given the gaping wealth disparities and religious tension in the region. But the song speaks of paradise, a place where the streets have no name.

There are a lot of competing interests that exist on college campuses  and you’ll figure that out really quickly working on the university desk of your college paper  but at the end of the day, we all are fortunate enough to call this beautiful, beautiful place home. There’s a reason why UNC is referred to as the southern part of heaven, and in my mind, it’s the closet place you can get to what U2 sings about in the song. Now if Bono would just pay a visit…

What’s been your biggest take-away?

There have been so many things I’ve learned. As a former social media editor, I’m really interested in how we use technology to mediate our day-to-day lives. And as a restaurant server, I’ve recently noticed so many of my customers plopping their earphone-wearing children down in front of a tablet playing a movie while everyone else eats dinner. That terrifies me.

There’s been a lot of talk about the pervasiveness and even evilness of technology, and I hate parts of it too, but it isn’t something that’s going to go away. We just have to reteach ourselves to use it in a constructive way.

Prior to starting this project, I was fearful that my iPhone I used to record my videos on would dominate my life as I aimed for that perfect shot, as many do for the elusive perfect selfie or 6-second nugget of Vine gold.

What I found, however, is that the sentimentality of the piece did not come from the quality of the shots but from the memories that prompted them. It wasn’t long after I published the video Tuesday that I received an series of messages from UNC alumni sharing their experiences as students. I even had some who told me it made them cry. It’s been really humbling to realize that the documented experiences of someone you don’t know can stir up such strong memories of one’s own past. To me, that’s just the greatest, and I’m incredibly thankful.