Birthdays Spent Abroad

To understand this story, you have to realize how much I freaking love birthdays. Birthday cake is literally my favorite food on the planet (regular cake is #2). I say it’s because I just love the taste of melted wax, but really I think I love the happiness that surrounds birthday cake. One of my best friends, many years ago, got TWO birthday cakes for her own birthday party – one for me and one for the other guests – just because I tended to eat more than my fair share.

So it was through some strange twist of fate that I have spent three of my past four birthdays abroad. In all of these situations, I was with people who mostly barely knew me. So for all of these years, I was steeling myself for a less-than-hooplaish hoopla.

Boy, was I wrong. 

Birthday Number One: The big one. The big 2-1. 


My first legal drink… I want to say Long Island? Go big or go home.


You know, turning 21 in London isn’t as exciting as it seems. You can already drink legally. I was just starting out a study abroad program, so I didn’t have a ton of friends (except for the aforementioned best friend who fortuitously was in London as well).

Despite my assuming it wouldn’t be too big of a shindig, it actually turned out… pretty awesome. And I quote from my terrible study abroad blog three and a half years ago:

yesterday was my FABULOUS 21st birthday. A bit of a damper since it was in London and 21 doesn’t mean toooo much… but that doesn’t mean I didn’t FORCE everyone to make a big deal out of it! (including the bartenders and the cute old Brits sitting at the counter). Some incredible folks graciously took me out and bought me a series of drinks to help me celebrate, which was especially nice because most of them I only met a few days ago. But I did have a RIPROARING time, and I didn’t make a fool out of myself. Basically the perfect 21st birthday. And I shall end the public stories there…

And I shall AGAIN end the public stories there. Although to be honest, it wasn’t really too crazy of a night. Mostly it was nice to kick off my stay in London with such a grand evening.

Birthday Number Two: 23! 

First picture of me taken as a 23 year old. Note the sophisticated wardrobe choice.

After spending my 22nd birthday back in the States, enjoying drinks with Titanic-shaped ice cubes (I have no memory as to why) and karaoke, I randomly ended up in the most random of places for my 22nd: on a short-term abroad program to Turkey!

I ensured everyone would be ready to properly celebrate by reminding them over… and over… and over about its date. (They think I’m endearing, don’t worry). The day of my birthday, I was really bummed – we had had kind of an “eh” day, and it was about to be capped off by an overnight train ride from Konya back to Istanbul, so we couldn’t even do a nice dinner or go out anywhere.

As we started to move from the train station to the train, the faculty director (my good pal Kevin, not to be confused with my father, although I do call Faculty Director Kevin Papa Kev, to make it extra confusing) started to fumble with his papers and asked me to help. He and I fell behind the pack as we gathered up his belonging, waited a prolonged amount of time for him to track down his ticket, and finally boarded the train.

As we got on, I was struck by how …. weird it was. I knew my friends had gotten on before me, but couldn’t see or hear them anywhere. Papa Kev and I started to trudge down to our compartments, when suddenly the compartment door next to me slid open and I heard the best thing ever: “HAPPY BIRTHDAAAAY!!!” and a group of 12 people who love me start to sing LOUDLY and to the anger of the Turks next to us. They had even found a little cake and candles!

We spent the night as all surprise birthday parties should be spent – cramming all 13 of us in a train compartment, eating cake, and drinking Turkish beer.

Birthday Number 3: 24! 



Papa Kev decided one birthday spent with me wasn’t enough, because he asked me to be the TA for his program in Turkey the NEXT year. And so, 24 was spent in just about the same spot as 23, only much differently. Since I was a (cough cough) grown up, I couldn’t expect my students to be super into my birthday celebrations. Plus the day of my birthday they were leaving to spend a few nights in a homestay, leaving PK and I to a few days of quiet in hotel rooms.

We went out to a nice dinner, and I figured that was it. But really… why do I doubt people? I return to my room and spot the most beautiful thing: a birthday cake with my name on it! (Literally… including last name, just so the other Kristens in the room didn’t get confused.)

And yes, the above cake/wine shot does seem very romantic. PK is fairly convinced the concierge (who helped him arrange it) thinks that Kevin and I are involved, which is awkward for everyone, not least of all Kevin’s wife. But no matter.

And for my next birthday? The big 2-5, the Quarter of a Century? I’ll be where I belong – Virginia. I’m deliberately planning not to leave for Southeast Asia until after, so I can spend time with family and friends.

But who knows what will happen? 🙂

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