Quirky insights to science, art, studying abroad, & other miscellaneous happenings.

Quirky insights to science, art, studying abroad, & other miscellaneous happenings.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Intro: Reverse Culture Shock

Heading Home: 

Return. Rediscover. Readjust. 

My journey back seemed uninteresting to me until now. I'll be documenting it with these steps of return, rediscover, and readjust. Not every student will experience this to the same degree, and it doesn't affect everyone. I'm curious to see as to where I'll stand!

1. Return: the re-entry process back to home

The initial shock at this time can refer to the disorientation and perhaps frustration when you realize that 'home' isn't everything you remembered it to be. The basic stages are shock (I don't recognize this place anymore, everyone moves so fast), honeymoon (it's great -- my dog recognizes me, I can have Chipotle again), homelessness (for Italy: missing the interestingness, the independence), making peace (beginning to fall back to routine), and acceptance (being able to compartmentalize the experience in its proper niche). 

2. Rediscover: your own culture

I'll probably view American culture from a new perspective, and the different understanding can cause some minor hiccups. 

So, to you all at home, here's some thoughts you might have (or already have had) about me:
"I can't relate to her perspective. I'm tired of being reminded to 'think globally'."
"She's had the time to travel -- now it's time for her to come back to reality."
"If she mentions how they do things in Italy one more time. . . "
"All she talks about is Italy! I feel like my life is so boring when I hear about her adventures."

How I might be feeling:

"My friends have not matured and changed as much as I have."
"I feel like I am in the middle of nowhere -- really cut off."
"I thought I would be able to pick up where I left off with my friends, but I've had to start over again."
"No one listens to me, or cares about my experience, or how I lived."

Although all of the dialogues above are examples provided by the school, a few are freakishly accurate. I know I've already heard a few similar things from friends, and I've experienced feeling selfish on Skype dates when I'm constantly talking about me, myself, and I in Italy. It helps when I'm receiving updates in return, but I also think the last examples are the most accurate -- about others not wanting to hear and for me, no one wanting to listen. I'm in a constant stage of adjustment.  

3. Readjust: with a plan 

If you're reading my blog, you're already part of my support system for this journey back. To reconnect with you all, I plan on being proactive with setting up coffee/gelato dates with everyone. ;)
For myself, I'll create new opportunities and adventures by reading more (I have a list of books already), getting more involved with my community, painting constantly (while reviving my Etsy shop), exploring local events, somehow maintaining the Italian I've learned, improving my photography, job searching, and cooking Italian food. I'm excited to get back in the field of healthcare and see how my experience here will change the way I interact with patients and view medicine as a whole. 

Although I'm positive I'll pine for Italy like never before, I'm more ready to jump on the next boat, and see where that takes me. 

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. 
Ralph Waldo Emerson 

{a sweet friend acquired on the road}

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Am I ready to go home?

This post may seem premature, since I don't return to Ohio until May 23. My school, however, ends on May 9, so discussions center around plane tickets home and summer plans. It didn't help that one of my closest friends here left yesterday (she took the picture above at my school), as her program already finished.

The big question is: am I ready to go home?
or, from the other perspective, am I ready to leave Florence?

To a certain degree, yes.
Each passing day, I am more conscious of the fact and reminded of one more thing I'll come back to. This entire time, I haven't thought about the clothes I've left behind, and now I'm having visions of certain shirts in my wardrobe in Italy. I'm suddenly remembering all the cool things I own, including Italy-themed gifts from my friends, because to be honest -- I've completely forgotten about my things, after living like a minimalist here in Italy. Remember how much (or little) I packed? (Read about it here). Sadly enough, I'm also looking forward to fast, reliable internet. Walking into a cafe that advertises free wifi that's actually there. The affordability of food and clothes. Free bathrooms and water. Food variety. Chocolate chip cookies. Pancakes.

But most importantly, my assured readiness mainly comes from some major epiphanies I had recently about science and art. If there's only one thing I could share about what Italy has done for me, this would be it. Having this said epiphany facilitated my awareness and preparedness to return home -- because ultimately, I've gotten what I've come for.

On top of that, I've something to come back to -- and I'm beyond excited, to say the least. I'll save the details of grad school applications, summer plans, and gap year ideas for another post, but basically, I'm ecstatic about all the opportunities that await me: including the variety of jobs and ways I can spend my time. I have so many different cool experiences to look forward to (we can call the first part of my gap year: life in applications, since that consists of 97.5374% of it).

I'm ready to start another adventure when I return, because apparently, when you're out of school, you are FREE. Want to work full-time? Do it. Start up a new painting series by staying in your studio for 3 days? Why not. Work night shift? There's no class in the morning. 'Tis a strange transition that I've yet to wrap my mind around. I suppose society entrusts that I'll do well with my time.

But then the worries always sprout up: I won't be able to walk everywhere, I can't speak in Italian anymore, I won't eat as much (we'll see about this), or eat out as much (those handy meal tickets have spoiled me); I won't have a painting class, and I'll have to seek out where to satisfy my gelato cravings. I'm afraid I'll fall back to routine, and that my memories of Italy will fade away in some dark, distant corner in my mind. I cannot fathom how that's possible, as I think of my life now as before Italy and after Italy. I'll miss the fresh pastries, walking across the Ponte Vecchio, seeing the Renaissance that lives on here. 


To be honest, I'm almost scared to come back. Everyone else, I'm sure, has been undergoing their own changes in life, and I'm fearful of the term we call "reverse culture shock". I hear it's worse than culture shock, which describes the experience when you first are immersed in a new culture. Coming from someone who didn't experience immense culture shock coming to Italy, I'm truly afraid it'll be so much more difficult for me to adjust back. I think of Italy as my home, and the other day, we received a talk about what to expect for reverse culture shock, and I almost got emotional in class. I'll share more on this in future posts, because it's truly helpful for y'all to understand my perspective and for me to understand yours. 

Nowadays, my feelings consist of relief at coming home as well as nostalgia for Florence. I look forward to days when I don't have the hovering thought that this is a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity; I must make every moment count; I need to try something new today. There's a subconscious pressure of constantly budgeting (hello, no paycheck right now?), constantly learning, absorbing, taking in new things, and making the most of it. It sounds like a great problem to have, but 'tis stressful
But on the other hand, I can't imagine not being here anymore, and that makes me into a more desperate person. The other day, I got up at sunrise to sit on the column of the Santa Trinita bridge (which may or may not be illegal), pulled out my watercolors, and painted the Ponte Vecchio with a frenzy I didn't know existed. 

So am I ready to come home? Yes
But am I ready to leave Firenze?
Not quite yet. 
I'm getting there, and my brain is adjusting, but we will just say that it's good thing that my time's not over yet.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Reflections: What Solo Travel Teaches You

To travel alone is to seek, discover, and pursue all the answers to your thoughts and questions. 
It is your adventure. 

Here's a short blurb of some notes I jotted down after my first solo trip. 
Far from a comprehensive list, this is a simple reflection of a few things I've learned -- I've got plenty of stories to share for each point. 

But from my experience, solo travel teaches you. . . 
  • about how possible life can be -- that usually the thing that limits us the most is ourselves
  • that you are in the world, as opposed to living in a bubble and interacting only with people you know
  • about the magnificence of human generosity 
  • that despite the immense differences throughout the world, they all pale when we realize we are merely human beings in ONE world {this registered whenever the classic iPhone ringtone went off wherever I traveled -- sad but true}
  • the value in stopping, taking the time to capture that one fantastic photo, which can serve to transport you back to the moments
  • people are fascinating: I'm more interested in the whys and hows of people's lives
  • about myself: I'm a happy introvert with extrovert tendencies; I'm a planner that adds spontaneous touches
  • how to tell your relevant life story in minutes to strangers -- the basics being where you live, what you're currently doing, where you've traveled, and why/how you're here. 
  • that memories need to be valued. These memories are not the kind to experience and forget; they're worth holding onto, remembering, and sharing over and over and over 
  • who you are. For me -- I'm a sojourner, perhaps more than I'd like to admit. {I became aware of this fact when I journaled: 
"I'm a sojourner, plain and simple. As I'm on the train from Milan to Santa Margherita -- a spontaneous decision prompted by the rainy weather -- I realize I feel so at home. Oddly enough, I'm more comfortable than I've ever been even in Florence, a surprising revelation to admit."

I got far more than I ever expected, and it complemented my study abroad experience perfectly. 
The deliberate leap was unknowingly scary, but it became one of the most fulfilling experiences in the end. 

“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.” – John Muir

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Hunger Banquet

The other night, I was invited to attend a charity event (called a Hunger Banquet) hosted by Oxfam -- a nonprofit, worldwide organization that aims to change the world by ending the injustices causing poverty. Apparently, this is the first time they've done this event with American students here in Florence, and they asked two staff members from my university and a few students from our program to attend and provide feedback.

Always one eager to try new things (and then entering self-doubt right before the said event), all I knew was that it was about world hunger. And that food would be provided. 

Little did I know this would be one of the most interesting events I've attended. 

First, you receive a character card that basically tells you who you are by chance, and we are divided into three main categories -- high income (over $6000/year), middle income ($1300-6000), and low income (<$1300). Joining half of the people there, I landed in the low income group. I was a farmer's wife in Guatemala, going hungry due to a famine that year. 

They seated us accordingly, with the high income folks on the stage. A speaker started off by introducing Oxfam and the goals for that night -- for us to realize the crisis of world hunger and keep that perspective in mind. We got plenty of facts; for example, approximately 9000 people die every year as a result of hunger and malnutrition. 

They also called out a few names from the audience and facilitated some changes in income, and consequently seats -- for example, seamstresses who started a business and moved up, or a natural disaster that financially ruined a family. Interestingly enough, the ones who did switch income classes were only between the middle and low -- the high were untouched. When you consider that only 20% of the world is in that class, it opens you to see the global reality a little more.

During the break, everyone was fed what their respective income classes could afford: a nutritious meal on a plate, then rice with beans in a bowl, and last of all, a mere cup of white rice served with dirty (dyed) water -- which I got. The dirty water even ran out (I couldn't tell if it was intentional) so I simply had my fistful of white rice. 

During our "dinner" break, I had the chance to talk with the volunteer coordinator at my school. This whole experience was quite fascinating, and I wasn't sure yet what to think of it. She explained the Hunger Banquet from her perspective. 

"It's different when you present this information to young people. For us [she is in her 40s], it is difficult to change. We can help by giving money, but our life is, for the most part, already set. But for you, being in your 20s -- your life is not drawn out yet. You all are still malleable, and this can affect your idea of the world and you can be the change."

Wow. I told her I loved her positive way of thinking. Because meanwhile, I was considering the opposite -- a false impact. Where we are emotionally moved by the facts, we want to solve the injustices of poverty and world hunger, and yet because most of us have no remote idea what it's like to be in that situation ... It becomes a social event that reaches only the superficiality of the issue since we are so far from reality.
We see it, we understand it, and now we're at loss. Because we don't have enough life experiences yet to even fathom the political and economical complexities involved, we treat like a "based on a true story" movie that we can talk about, think about, and sadly, often forget about -- despite our good intentions

Perhaps this just all proves how cynical I am, but I prefer the term 'realistic'. Both ways are crucial to analyzing such a unique event. But I understand her side, too. Sometimes, just knowing this is enough, for now. We don't have the answers, but recognizing this problem of world hunger is the first step in changing our attitudes and mindsets, and eventually influencing our choices and actions. 

After the dinner break, the speaker asked for our thoughts so far. She posed questions relating to feedback, as well as deeper questions about poverty -- the last question asking what we can do to solve this (perhaps a little too deep. I don't think anyone chimed in for that one). 

Unfortunately, the response was minimal. It was enough, but I would've wanted to hear more. Perhaps it was the type of questions, or the way it was phrased that didn't incite thought-provoking responses -- not sure. Dylan, a fellow deep thinker in my program, went a little more complex in his answer to one of the questions, and yet the speaker simply acknowledged the answer. Perhaps smaller groups could have set a better scene for discussion (for perhaps a resource-based economy that Dylan really wanted to talk about). 

The event was pleasantly interesting in structure, which became a nice surprise. The innovative idea of the rice allowed a bit more connection, but of course, we all knew we could eat later, so I'd hardly call it a simulation. Interesting, nonetheless, and it brought my considerarion to international issues such as poverty and hunger.

(A photo I entered into their Instagram contest and won a certificate for gelato)

Personally, I feel that resources and opportunities are key. If it could somehow be set that people in disadvantaged situations could choose to get an education or simply have a fair opportunity to switch income classes, that would help even it out. Another concept that came to mind was globalization. Yes, we would lose cultural aspects, history, and a big part of the diversity that makes up our world. But it's happening already, and globalization is what flattens our world and makes education and opportunities all more equally accessible to all humans on planet earth.

It's a difficult topic. How can we begin to comprehend this when the average American will have a car, own 2 televisions, and have the ability to even choose their food -- versus plain rice?

What are your thoughts on this? Charity events, world hunger and poverty, then the audience of study abroad American students -- impactful, or not?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Just an Ordinary Conversation

I think being here has made me a more all-around, deeper thinker. I'm actually seeing the ordinary as something surprisingly remarkable, and so, my posts have been less about what I'm doing and more of what I'm thinking and what's impacted me recently. There's so much documentation to keep up with that I just need my blog to be different. I'll try to keep it balanced for all my faithful readers, but for those wanting pictures -- Tumblr would be your best source. 

I knew it'd be a feat to get out of the American study abroad bubble in Florence, but I'm excited to share that it's finally picked up. Sad, I know, as I only have about a month left. But just in the last two weeks, I've met up with an Italian medical student twice, had dinner with an Italian family, and now had this deep discussion with this Italian boy about life under the Tuscan sun. (In contrast, I don't think I had an actual conversation with an Italian for the first month and a half.)

Life under the Tuscan sun: 
through the eyes of a young and hopeful Italian 

This boy is doing a short internship at our school. 
He's here for 5 days and from my perspective, taking a short break from school and being used by American students. The intermediate-level students have to give a presentation on Italian lifestyle, and he's the prime victim for information. 

The Americans sign up for an hour of conversation with him, and he practices his English (but due to that, I've heard few Italian words exchanged, even though ideally, the Americans are supposed to practice Italian.)

Well, after one such appointment he had, I happened to be in the library near him, and we started talking. 

The Facts

He's 17,
got 9 turtles (that multiply every year), 
eats pizza with his family every Sunday, 
and lives on the outskirts of Florence.
He goes to a scientific high school 
(here they are segregated into classical, linguistic, art, etc. depending on what you want to do. They think about this earlier than we do). 
Usually these students want to be an engineer or doctor, but of course, he says he doesn't want to stay in school till he's thirty. The doctors here don't have as much job security as we'd think, so it's iffy. 

He's traveled within Europe - Barcelona, Paris, and Germany, but doesn't think highly of traveling solo just yet. When I tell him about my trip, he accepts my reasoning but refuses to call it a vacation. 
"What's the fun in going by yourself? If I want to visit somewhere, I would want to go with my friends." 
I'm just waiting for the day he converts -- because I'm pretty sure I would have said the same thing at 17. (Actually, I thought something similar -- a fear of not meeting people to travel with -- only a few months ago in January: see Travel musings post here.)

Ordinary conversation: 
revealing the hopes and dreams of an Italian boy

We then talk about comfort zone, and despite not wanting to travel solo, he loves the idea of expanding your zone. He says that once it gets bigger, you can't go back. That life is about expanding that zone -- of course, he's demonstrating this with his hand gestures -- and seeing a little bit more each day. He likes changing it up, doing new things, and he explains to me that the idea of having a real job for the rest of his life scares him. 

"I feel this heavy burden on my shoulders," he says when describing his feelings, "knowing that I have to do the same thing over and over again for the rest of my life."

That thought proceeds to freak me out too, so I say, That's why we choose something we love. 
We both agree on that. 
He asks what I'm doing, and I tell him about the PA profession that I'm trying to get into. 
This is quite a difficult thing to explain, as PAs don't really exist in Italy. Only a handful of countries have adopted this profession. He's interested, so of course, I explain more about it -- why I want to be a PA, and the differences from a doctor. 
I'm pretty sure I convinced him it was the coolest job ever, because he consequently asked me if they have it in Italy and how he could become one. :) Who knows -- maybe one day it'll happen and I'll have recruited an Italian, a Florentine, into the pre-PA club. 

Like many Italians his age, he has never been to the United States. If he can, he'd also like to visit the top destination Italians go to when arriving in North America -- New York. But of course, that'll be a ways forward in the future, due to the unspoken obstacle of money. I say, anything's possible. It may be extremely difficult, but figure out your priorities. It can happen. But until then, continue to enjoy all the Europe has to offer. 

We settle on that. Does he want to stay in Italy for the rest of his life? 
His answer is equally elusive as the future: "I don't want to work here, but I'd like to live here." I'll leave that interpretation open to you. 

Well, there you have it -- the highlights of our conversation that made me almost late for class and him missing most of his lunch break. But it was worth it (at least to me). I'm learning to stop, take the time, and see a bit more of the world through someone else's eyes. Although my days are overwhelmingly busy (yes, the "study" in study abroad does exist), I'm trying to snatch every opportunity I get. 

I'm all for those moments that do not directly change my life, but are remarkable and memorable at the same time. All of these amazing experiences are finally catching up to my brain, and I'm so excited to share all these life epiphanies. :)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Missed Opportunities

When I got onto my train from Milan to Geneva (during my 11 day solo trip), I promptly decided to forgo deciphering the languages being spoken. Perhaps it was due to my miserably failed attempts, or the fact I thought any European language outside of French, Italian, German, or Spanish -- always sounded like German. I've no idea why, as I studied German for two years and should be able to recognize it. After mistaking Finnish, Dutch, and Lithuanian all for German, I finally conceded, confessing my lack of linguistic education.

So when two elderly ladies happened upon the seats behind me, conversing loudly in English (with some indecipherable accent -- I told you, I gave up), I felt taken aback. It then arose into a situation in which you could either disregard them as fetchingly obnoxious, or simply (and passively) listen in.

Opting for the latter, I heard a firm declaration: "We make our life what we want it to be."
As they discussed the life of a mutual friend (who had apparently been defying this mentality), I imagined myself in a movie, straining to figure out where this conversation was going.

"You cannot say, because this happened to me, I cannot be this. You need to stand on your own feet."

Such serendipitous words. After some vague back and forths about missing out on life opportunities, self-analysis naturally wormed its way in.
"Now, I could care less what people think of me. Because look -- even today, she is not free. Not free in herself to do what she wants." 

Rather than setting an atmosphere for criticism, the tone of these ladies mourned the regrets in life and made me reflect on how I was doing. Feeling more grateful by the moment for doing this trip, I vowed to deliberately choose to make the moments count -- to never shy away out of fear from past experiences or let myself limit my options. To make myself go out of the comfort zone (which we all have) and step out of the box.

Of course, it's one thing to apply this motto under unique circumstances, like when traveling or studying abroad. But what about in the daily humdrum of working life? Or even school?

Do we ever consciously realize when we fit the mold of others' expectations (versus our own) -- or is that a privilege left for others? When was the last time you felt like you couldn't do something because of something that has happened? Practical limits exist, of course, but we usually over exaggerate them, spinning them into excuses that simply grow larger and larger as we get older. 

I believe it's a healthy thing if you can recall choices you've made, and you sometimes wonder -- but what if? From the flip side, have you ever had moments when you chose the path that deviated from the "normal" expectations, and were rewarded with utter freedom? And you wondered how you ever could have considered doing anything else?

Too often we see our limitations more than our prospects, so I wanted to encourage everyone to initiate, to pursue, and shorten that list of missed opportunities.

"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose."
Dr. Seuss

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What to Do in Florence: The Gelato Guide

Gelato is Italy's regional variant of ice cream. Let me tell you -- it is far from overrated. Its history goes back to frozen desserts in ancient Rome and Egypt (when they brought ice and snow from the mountains to make it). It was served at banquets in the Medici court in Florence, but gelato did not become immediately popular and accessible until the 1920s and 1930s, after the first mobile gelato cart was developed in northern Italy. Containing less butterfat (4-8% compared to 14% in ice cream), gelato also typically has less sugar content as well -- perhaps the argument for being healthier? It's like a soft ice cream that contains significantly less air, so the flavor ends up being denser, tastier, and just plain delightful. :)

Here are some helpful hints when on your search for the real gelato in Italy:


1. Don't go for the obvious.

The beautifully decorated gelateria that's conveniently located next to the Uffizi Gallery or the Duomo? The one called Michelangelo's Gelateria (I'm making the name up) with hoards of tourists and boatloads of brightly colored flavors? Sorry -- but chances are, it's not going to be cheap, or tasty, or healthy, or authentically fresh. Go for the ones that may look like a hole-in-the-wall, or where the bins are covered with tin lids. The less the gelato available, the better, as it indicates that it's probably made fresh everyday. Ask to try a flavor before getting a wad of it in a massive cone: "Posso assaggiare. . . [the flavor]?" is a fairly simple way to ask to try the flavor, and you'll start on the path of becoming a gelato expert.

 Florence is one of the renowned cities in Italy for gelato --  don't settle for less.

2. Cone or cup? (Cono o coppetta)

Hate to break this to my anti-cone audience, but in my experience -- if you want quantity, go for the cone. It's usually almost always in greater amounts for the equivalent cost of the cup. If you want the pure gelato flavor, though, then the cup will give you that unmarred tasting of the classic Italian gelato. Personally, I started off always getting the cup, but I've learned that some flavors taste pretty great (or dare I say -- enhanced?) when combined with the crunchy dryness of a cone. Choose wisely.

3. Try new flavors.

Confirm how many different flavors you can choose, and ask what flavors generally go well together! Try something different each time (despite how tempting it can be to come back for your 'newly deemed favorite') and that way, you'll have an assortment of gelato to form a colorful picture collage upon your return from Italy. In addition, places that use the best ingredients will also use only what is fresh and in season, so take advantage!

Lastly, my recommendations:

1) La Carraia (first gelato picture above and also the one below) is one of my personal favorites. I direct all tourists in Florence to La Carraia. They've got a particular, mysteriously tasty flavor aptly named as the "La Carraia special" -- but it's one of the most popular. I also recommend the biscotti (cookies) but really, you can't go wrong here. The picture at the very top is "melone".

2) Another one is Gelateria della Passera. It's slightly more difficult to find, and I usually refer to it as the "hole-in-the-wall". The consistency is lighter, especially for their fruit flavors, but they are also freshly made every day. I highly, highly recommend the coffee flavor (Starbucks is put to shame). Both these places start at €1 for a massive scoop, and at La Carraia, €1,50 can get you two flavors.

Have I inspired you to go get gelato yet? (To my readers in the United States -- don't fret. You won't be the first I've inspired to make a run to Target for some pseudo-Italian gelato. :)

When done right, eating gelato in Italy will complete your experience here.
Get your gelato, enjoy some great conversation, and appreciate your existence on the planet for a few moments. :)

(yogurt & nutella)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

I Lived: notes from my first solo trip

To start off, there exists no tangible way to describe everything meaningful I've gone through since starting on my solo trip. I've brainstormed, pondered, and agonized over what to share and how to share it. I had some of the best experiences of my life, and at the end of the trip, arguably, some of the worst. (But not to worry -- I'm safe and nothing happened in that regard.)

If God had told me before embarking on this trip that I'd be walking around Geneva at 5am alone, doing major problem-solving on 1.5 hours of sleep, bawling my eyes out in front of Swiss men at a train station while relaying my dilemmas, or missing my train back because my baggage (and passport) was locked up, I probably would've passed out from an anxiety attack, ditched the trip, and remained in Florence. 

But if I'd known that I'd be in moments of utter peace at the top of a mountain, overhear deep life regrets on a train, share a bittersweet hug with an essential stranger, pray with people I met just the day before, share a 3 hour conversation about family, travel, life, and God with a Texas stranger -- then none of the mishaps would have mattered.

This trip reminded me that there's so much you can do in such a short amount of time. I can't believe my time here in Italy is almost gone -- and that just keeps me motivated all the more to take advantage of every moment. Volunteering. Choir. Meeting up with Italians. Taking photos. Cooking. Speaking Italian. Painting more. All while sorting out plans for when I return to Ohio.

I'll surely be sharing more about lessons learned the hard way, the eclectic people I met on the road, skills I didn't know I had, and the beauty of uncertainty -- all from a 10 day improvised 11 day trip. I've got a boatload of stories to tell that would last me years, and will be posting plenty of photos on my Tumblr (Instagram also has a "picture-a-day" theme I did for the trip).

Being that blog posts cannot tell the whole story, here's your motivation to have a coffee date with me upon my return. :)
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