What I Learned in 2012

Without sounding too overdramatic, this has undoubtedly been one of the most exciting and challenging years of my life. I kicked it off with three weeks in Turkey; I graduated with my Master’s degree and left a city I had called home for six years; I spent a summer bouncing around different cities on the East Coast; and in August, I packed up and moved to London to work for the fall. Now I’m at the other end of it. I can count my number of days left in Europe on one hand. This time next week, I’ll be back in my hometown preparing for Christmas, celebrating birthdays, and barreling forward to the Next Thing.

As I finish my time in London, I’m comforted by the knowledge that this isn’t the end of my relationship with the city. It just can’t be. I’ve been lucky enough to have visited, studied in, and worked in this beautiful city multiple times over the past seven years. Besides, I’ve cultivated a relationship with a waiter at my local Turkish restaurant so strong that he knows my order by heart and feeds me unlimited cups of tea and free dessert. I’ve just got to come back!

I’ve been reflecting a lot over the past week or so about my time in London, and the past year in general. I won’t keep you in suspense – a list of lessons learned!

“Ladies, we sell soap: A lesson about perspective”

This is one of my all-time favorites things that I’ve ever heard, and it kind of became my mantra throughout the past month or so. I haven’t exactly been shy about the difficulties I have had over the past four months, from trying to figure out balance to working through the concerns of living the dream to FOMO. I had a fortuitous visit from one of my former roommates at the beginning of November; as I was talking about my life and (obviously) complaining, I said something off-hand like, “I have to remember I’m not like, holding on to the nuclear launch code, it’s not THAT big a deal.”

She shared with me a story from one of her old jobs at Bath and Body Works (coincidentally, my first foray into being a workin’ gal): Her manager was on a regional-managers call and they were all having a really serious argument about some sale tactic or next step in shower gel or something. The person leading the call kind of interrupted them and said, “Ladies… we sell soap. Let’s keep it in perspective.”

I just LOVED that! I kept repeating it to myself afterwards, and every time I found myself getting frustrated or overwhelmed, I just reminded myself… some things in my life do require legitimate concern and can be serious, but most of it? It’s just soap. Not a big deal.

I am thankful for such an amazing support network of old and new friends 

Hand-in-hand with that, I’ve realized how much I love the people around me, new and old. I had visits from some of my favorite friends in London:

Outside of my personal visits, the number of people who reach out to me in times of need and even just to say hi is heart-warming and incredible. I’ve received random, “thinking of you!” emails. A wonderful email from the wonderful Laura Maas, who is basically a recurring guest star on my blog, telling me how proud she is of me. Even the little things make me so, so happy – like me writing on a best friend’s Facebook wall about a TV show I’ve started to watch that I figured she did too, and another best friend almost immediately commenting on it saying she loved it too. Little things like that that make me realize why these people are my friends. I plan to keep them around.

I don’t need THAT many things…

I moved a lot this year. Like, a lot. In May, I went from DC – a city I had lived in for six years and an apartment I had been in for two – back to Norfolk, VA for a month. In the process, I lost all the furniture I had had and consolidated down to boxes that fit into a closet in my parent’s condo. After being in Norfolk for a month, I moved to Boston for training and the first bits of my job. In mid-August, I went back to Virginia for a week before turning right back around to go to London for the next four months. And now I’m looking at all my crap once again packed and ready to go back to Virginia for the holiday season. And what have I learned? I have TOO MUCH STUFF and don’t need most of it. Convenient lesson to learn as I am about to backpack in SE Asia for a month with a bag I’m fairly confident (and hopeful) will count as a carry-on.

…But sometimes having a fixed life is worth it…

People keep asking if I’d want to do this position again, and I – quite maturely, I might add – usually respond that I need time to mull it over outside of being smack in the middle. Part of me really wants to, for professional and personal reasons. But another part of me yearns for the fixed life. As nice as it is not to have to worry about buying furniture and figuring out apartment rentals and everything, I want to be able to do something like buy mixing bowls and bake more. I want to live somewhere “indefinitely” and work to build a network and a life somewhere. In retrospect, the biggest challenge of living in London for the fall was knowing how short-term it was. Having that knowledge regrettably meant that I didn’t try nearly as hard as I should have to establish an actual life.

…And I will ALWAYS want my onesies.

I don’t care how much I have to throw away as I move from place-to-place, my onesies will be a part of my life FOREVER. Best thing I did in London, end of.

So there you go. A semester, and a year, in retrospect. I’m staring down the barrel of 25 years of life and will be soon thrown into unemployment, confusion, and (hopefully) adventure. Don’t go anywhere – the K10 Travels aren’t anywhere close to being done.

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Giving Thanks in Ireland

For someone who has a blog about traveling, it turns out I’m sometimes really bad at it. When I first got my position working in London for the fall, I was super stoked, imagining all the cool places I could travel. Things fall through, but one of the plans that stuck? Ireland. My entire reason for going there? I had become pretty good friends with the person I secretly (or not-so-secretly) call the Me in Ireland – the person with my job at the Ireland site – and I would have a free place to stay.

So what did I get up to in Ireland?

*insert list of all the fun things I saw*

*insert moving, life-altering photos to make everyone else jealous*

*conclude with some moving thing about how travel expands the mind and heart*

Ummm.. MY BAD. I didn’t do any of that. This is literally how my weekend went:

Saturday afternoon: Arrived in Dublin, met up with Rachel. Immediately return to her flat, chatting about life, work, the future, blah blah blah.

At some point we realize we should proooobably leave and do something, you know, Irelandy. So we take a walk outside, continuing to talk, and manage to just meander without any meaningful sightseeing. Eventually that melds into…

Saturday night: Well HEEY I don’t know about you but I’ve had a busy day of sightseeing! Better pull up at a pub and grab a pint. Or three. That’s all I have to say about that. Just kidding. I’m not NEARLY that interesting. After tucking in to a super late dinner, we got immediately tuckered out, returned to hers, watched ten minutes of Love Actually, and fell asleep. Wah waaaah.

Sunday morning… into the afternoon: Continue watching Love Actually, you say? While eating cake for breakfast? OKAY! Oh, but we’re still talking the whole time. SERIOUSLY. WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING DUBLINY. We walk to the nearest museum (the National Museum of Ireland or something). Spend half an hour or so there, realize we’re STILL just spending the entire time talking, and return to hers again.

Sunday evening: That’s a wrap! Back to London!

So there you go. The entire sum of my time in a whole other country was spent catching up with a friend and eating cake. I didn’t even take a single picture – heck, I didn’t even turn my camera on. This is the only photo I have of us – taken over the summer because all the student staff thought we were sisters. YEAH YEAH?

I could beat myself up for paying $$$ for a flight and then spending the weekend basically on a 10th grade sleepover, but you know what? Travel and life aren’t just about expanding your mind and heart. The biggest thing I felt upon leaving Dublin was not disappointment with myself for not “taking advantage ” but gratitude (in this month of thanks giving, how appropriate!).

I am grateful that I still have “friend soulmates” out there. I am grateful that the time for making new friends isn’t over after grade school, and that instead of only having a finite number of people in my life to love I can keep expanding it out further. I am grateful knowing that I have people in my life – new and old – who care about me and about whom I care in return.

Basically, I am grateful to you (especially if you read this far). I’m nervous as anything about what comes next, but it’s a genuine blessing to have you lot in my life.

(Oh, and I’m also thankful for this little nugget of love)

Very Factual Information About Edinburgh

One of the best parts about working in international education is that any time I travel, I’m honestly expanding my resume (you can bet that I have a section on “international travel and work experience”). The bonus of working on a study abroad program? Excursions with the students! I’ve already been on a few (notably to Bath & Stonehenge and Dover), but the first weekend in November took me on my first overnight excursion with this group, and my first time to our neighbor to the north: Edinburgh, Scotland!

Aside from the complete stress leading up to and encompassing the weekend, what with planning the logistics for 60+ students and then ensuring their health and safety the entire weekend, I ADORED Edinburgh! I was even bold enough to declare that I like it more than London. My flabbergasted students pointed out, reasonably, that I had only been in the city for 36 hours compared to an overall total of about a year in London (taking every trip into account). Sure, sure, go ahead and use logic. I maintain that I prefer exciting, mid-sized cities to the super-large cities: see my love of DC and Boston, compared to NYC. Still a great place, but not necessarily perfect for me. And so, Boston:NYC::Edinburgh:London. (Yep, I just went there).

My weekend in Edinburgh was largely spent wandering around and soaking in the gorgeous weather (so lucky!) while keeping my heart rate under control wondering what the students were currently doing. I did a lovely hike to Arthur’s Seat and a visit to Edinburgh Castle, but besides that I was mostly compiling a complete dossier on Edinburgh. You’re welcome.

My conclusions:

Scottish accents sounds fake

Every single time I heard someone speaking in a Scottish accent, I scoffed and thought confidently, “All right, buddy. Who do you think you are, Shrek?”

Haggis doesn’t taste badly, but it’s not the MOST delicious thing in the world

I can hear you already: “Whaaaaaaa?? Kristen tried HAGGIS?”

Yes, friends, she did. For the less-informed-about-random-Scottish-foods, the interwebs defines haggis as such:

Haggis [contains] sheep’s pluck (heart, liver, and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered for approximately three hours

I know. YUM!

I was determined to be adventurous and give it a go. When in Scotland, amirite?

However, I am a bit of a squeamish eater – I’m the girl who has a well defined “food face.” See below for an example memorably captured by Jenny. Note I am eating a delicious piece of pasta and am not actually repulsed by it – for some reason any time I eat anything, I look inexplicably sad.

In deference to the Face, I decided to do the baby version of haggis in the form of haggis quesadillas! Armed with the knowledge of a well-reviewed place, I journeyed out Saturday night with some pals and dove in to a sheep’s stomach in the best way possible: covered with melted cheese.

The product:

Essentially, the haggis quesadilla was like any generic minced meat (it thankfully did not come in a sheep’s stomach), but it tastes… different.

Now that I think about it, this is fairly similar to my Food Face, only the “THIS IS REALLY HOT” version.

Verdict: It tasted okay – I got through most of my meal – but it wasn’t the best. It tasted very spicy (flavorful, not necessarily hot, minus the initial temperature). But something about it was a little off… it was also a bit gritty to the taste.

No need to worry – we had ordered enough other food items to feed, well, four hungry people.

As previously discussed: If you do a hike with me, I WILL suggest turning back 200m from the end

And the most important thing to know about Edinburgh:

Any city that welcomes me with blue skies, beautiful views, and great pubs is good in my books

Good weather aside, this is simply a gorgeous and brilliant city and I pray to the spirit of William Wallace that I will be back!

Kristen’s Exercise Series: Hiking in the UK

I readily admit I am not the world’s most outdoorsy person. I keep convincing myself I enjoy hiking (although I mostly enjoy it when it is called “a long ramble outside in nature”), but then I am completely unprepared for what is before me.

The benefit of so many comical mistakes? I’ve realized exactly what kind of hiking partner I am. And now, for those looking to get as little meaningful exercise as possible while feeling lost 67% of the time – but damn well fed – look no further than the next edition in my exercise series, describing what to expect when hiking with me!

What to Expect #1: I will walk confidently along, convincing you I have a “pretty good” idea of what I am doing, and end up on the completely wrong path.

This was painfully evident a few years ago when I hiked the “Bronte moors” in Yorkshire with my partners-in-crime, Jenny and Molly. I had procured a map from the visitor’s center and was positive we were on the right path. Sure, it described it was a “well-defined” path, but what we were following was reasonably well defined. That’s such an iffy statement anyway.

Fast forward half an hour, and we’re fording creeks (honestly – my friend slipped and got her whole right shoes covered in mud) and literally cutting through private property. 


It’s about when we have to clamber over a wall using a fairly unsafe ladder than I reluctantly agree that something doesn’t feel right. Turns out when they say “well-defined,” they MEAN well-defined. Also turns out we had been walking approximately 50 feet to the right of the correct path the entire time. Whoops.

Along those lines…

What to Expect #2: You will probably have to ford a couple of creeks, scramble up some rocks, and hoist yourself up a hill using the grass – and prayer – as handholds.

After the comedy of errors in Yorkshire a few years ago, I thought I had learned my lesson. Turns out that wasn’t so – when I decided to go on a hike to Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh with literally no knowledge besides the vague understanding that the “easier path is around the back of the hill and the hard one in the middle,” I thought it would be fine. Of course this was assuming I was someone else, because I ended up taking a few of my students on a complete wild goose chase that had us tromping through ankle-high grass, scaling a 90 degree grassy inclined using grass as a handhold, and – I’m not lying about this – bouldering up the side of a cliff. Thank god I made them sign a liability waiver. (As a side note, I was the one who had to put it together and think about what dangers lie in wait in Edinburgh, and I settled on, “Danger from slipping on historical cobblestone.” Who needs a lawyer when you have me?!).

Even though I was the one setting the ridiculous path, I usually lagged behind everyone else, resulting in a lot of unattractive pictures of me trying to catch up. I feebly protested it was because I have “older legs” than the rest of them, but the Cadbury Creme Eggs probably have more to do with it.

What to Expect #3: I will want to turn back 200m from the end, suggesting, “We’ve seen it, do we really need to climb it?”

I like to think this is now a fun tradition with me. It started in Haworth (the Yorkshire moors). After a grueling 8 mile hike (half of which was on the wrong path) in the fog and rain, my friends and I were within site of the pinnacle of the hike – “Heathcliff’s House,” or Emily Bronte’s inspiration for it in Wuthering Heights. Noting it was at the top of the hill – but very much within a 3 minute walk – I immediately suggest, “Well, I’m good. Shall we go back?”

Thankfully I have friends who push me along and force me to go to iconic sites I will probably never see again… and I get the chance to do the fistpump of victory. Or the “praise Jesus face” of victory.

Obviously I didn’t learn my lesson, because I did the same thing in Dover, and obviously the same again in Edinburgh. I think I waited until around 10.45am to start suggesting, “Shall we go to lunch?” I almost didn’t make it to the very peak of Arthur’s Seat – I had JUST slumped down on the grassy hilltop next to it and started to gnaw into my apple when those pesky students peer pressured me. Hence the face.

But, I grudgingly stood up, shoved the apple in my mouth to hold while I rock-climbed up the side of a cliff (clearly the most safe route) and made it to the top of that city. By god, I did!

In all of these difficulties, the most important thing to know about me as a hiking buddy:

What to Expect #4: I will have snacks.
It’s a fairly well-known fact amongst my friends that without constant feedings I tend to get… challenging. Some say cranky. Some may even say harsher words than that. I just like to think that I am a grazer and do best with constant food intake throughout the day. With that knowledge, I tend to pack my pockets like I am about to be donating food to the food kitchen. My pockets prior to Yorkshire looked like I had a baby.

Obviously nothing changed for Edinburgh. Early in the hike one of my students asked what was in my surprisingly heavy tote bag I was carrying. My response: “Oh, you know, a notebook, a book (just in case I get bored in the middle of the hike, apparently), a water bottle, an apple, a granola bar, another type of granola bar…” Apparently they don’t think ahead like I do, because they were flabbergasted at the amount I was packin’ for an hour-long hike. I do have a Master’s degree, though, so clearly I am smarter than they are.

So what have we learned? As a hiker, I’m not the greatest. I complain, I get lost, I peer-pressure you into giving up.

But what is the benefit? The simple views of nature. The beautiful expanses over the town.

And more importantly, the food.

Finding Solitude in Slovenia

As you are probably well aware (since I won’t stop talking about it), I consider myself an introvert. I’m not shy or weird around people but I simply enjoy my alone time and am perfectly fine with being by myself.

I’ve long known but am constantly reminded how being an introvert is both a blessing and a curse. I love that I love going to restaurants or shows by myself, but it also means that I prefer flying solo rather than seeking the company of others – which is pretty snotty of me and can get mighty lonely.

This was very much challenged on my first holiday away since I arrived in London: a weekend mini-break to Ljubljana! (Before you ask: yes, I know going to the capital of Slovenia is a random choice. I’d heard great things about it, didn’t really have any ‘conventional’ quick getaways left, and it was cheap to fly to.)

My holiday came after a particularly long couple of weeks and I was eagerly looking forward to going somewhere that I could explore without running into any of those pesky students and just be with my thoughts. It was also my very first time traveling solo, and while I was nervous I was excited to step out of my comfort zone.

So what did I learn on this miraculous trip?

Baby steps out of the comfort zone are okay as long as you keep on walking

I was a terrible solo traveler on this trip. I literally didn’t engage in conversations with people for a 48 hour period. I can honestly say I probably spoke about 20 words per day. That was due to a number of factors: my aforementioned weariness and desire to get some alone time; the fact that the hostel was pretty quiet and didn’t really have a giant vibe of hanging out; and mostly because I was just stubbornly laconic. That was fine for the first day and a half, but by the final stretch I was pretty bored with reading and bored with myself.

I’m telling myself that this first solo trip was my first trip out of the comfort zone, so just doing it was an okay first step. But I need to make sure I don’t have three months of silence in Asia – and so I need to actually, you know, talk to other people.

How to pronounce Ljubljana – and other fun bits about it

For the record, it’s Luh-blee-ahn-ah. It came highly recommended to me via travel blogs I enjoy, and for good reason. It’s basically a cute little European capital city, highly reminiscent of Prague or Budapest, but with approximately 10% of the people. The Old Town is cut in half by a wonderful flowing river, and as recently as a few years ago a mayor closed the Old Town to vehicles, making it a pedestrian’s paradise. It’s incredibly walkable, tourist-friendly but not tourist-accommodating (which is nice), and just a lovely place to wander.

The downside? There’s not a tooon to do there. There’s a great castle up on a hill overlooking the city, a couple of museums, some churches… and that’s about it. Most of the value comes from taking in the scene from a river-side cafe, restaurant, or bar, people-watching and watching the world go by. That’s nice and all… but mostly if you’re with someone else. I did finish two books in two days, but by the end of the second day I was itching to get back to London. I think two days in Ljubljana for a solo traveler is a bit too much – day and a half would have been perfect. Again, if I had actually, you know, spoken to other people I may have had a different experience, but that’s how the cookie crumbled.

Being alone is not always lonely 

Despite having a bit too much solitude, I still had wonderful moments of stillness and serenity… most notably on the first night. I was doing an evening walk and moseying across a bridge when I caught a glimpse of the Famous Ljubljana site of the Triple Bridge. I was so struck I immediately pulled out my journal to record the emotion I was feeling: incredible gratitude and disbelief that I had gotten to that point. Who would have thought I would have been spending a beautiful October evening wandering the streets of Slovenia, soaking in a beautiful site? Not this guy.

So despite the lazy and lonely way I may have seen Ljubljana… moments like that make it all worth it.

London as a Tour Guide

After an incredible amount of persuasion (i.e. saying Hey, you should come to London and hang out with me!) I was lucky enough to be graced by the presence of one of my favorite people on the planet: Missy Moxie.

Us when we were young and naive and both had bangs… OH HOW THINGS CHANGE!

She’s one of my favorite people on the planet for several reasons:

1) She introduced me to Cry-Baby, a movie which I frankly can’t BELIEVE I never watched before because it is precisely up my ally.

2) She’s the best house guest because she is so low-maintenance and still super fun (I should do PR for her).

3) We spent the entire week talking about a huge dog we saw on the Tube

4) We also spent the entire week talking about these amazingly ugly leggings we saw in Primark and ended up going to purchase them on her last day. It was a lot of really serious discussions.

As I do with all visitors (or at least I did this when my parents visited a few years ago), as soon as she landed and we had tucked into a delicious breakfast I dragged her out for a long walk around London. I stubbornly insist that this is the best way to keep a jet-lagged visitor awake and help them get a feel for the city while taking in the major landmark, and is NOT in fact a death march as my mother claims to this day.

Luckily the weather absolutely cooperated, putting the city in its best light. I plan things that way because I am the master tour guide. I am also amazing at being a tour guide because most of my landmarks are described as such: “So I think that like three centuries ago a really famous person did something here, but I can’t remember what. I CAN tell you about Christopher Wren, his architecture in London, his impact at the College of William & Mary, and the name of the library at WM, but that’s it.”

Go ahead and hire me. I benevolently accept.

I did act as an amazing tour guide because the second the clock hit noon I decreed it to be Pimms O’Clock. It was a Sunday, after all. Must respect the Lord’s day.

Even though this day was about keeping my best friend awake and making sure I was the most interesting person ever so the seven hour flight would be worth it (and yes we did end the day by watching Bridget Jones’ Diary), it was a nice treat for me to get to see the city I love and to show it off to others. Sometimes I just stand by the Thames and get a crazy feeling about how my life actually ended up with me here. You just never know, you know?

Philosophical musings aside, best part of the entire day: creamy pumpkin and goat cheese soup. Please and thank you.

Kristen’s Exercise Series: Dover

I’m no stranger to traipsing around Europe and seeking the highest points by climbing every tower possible. It’s always a kick in the butt, but a fantastic way to see the best views on the cheap and tone up those glutes.

The tower of Europe have absolutely NOTHING on Dover. Three days later, I’m STILL sore. To allow you to have the best possible experience ever, I now present my own version of a work-out tape: how to be completely unprepared for Dover.

First, definitely dress like you are going sledding in Alaska in January. I wore a tank top, sweater, jacket, rain jacket, scarf, jeans, AND knee socks for good measure. That was about 2 layers too many; at one point I almost stripped down to my tank top – in 50 degree weather – just to get some relief.

Next, only have a vague understanding of Dover Castle. This was the first stop in our itinerary and I GUESS I knew in the back of my mind that it was at the top of a hill, but I didn’t really stop to think about it.

Not only is it at the top of a hill, it has grabbed ALL the hills in England and carried them over to the Castle grounds to ensure you somehow always have another hill to climb up.

Then, despite having already had PTSD flashbacks to that time I decided to climb up the side of a steep hill and fell down INTO a marathon, go up any flight of stairs you find. Don’t worry about what’s at the top. You have a mission to complete! 
Mission accomplished. 
After utterly exhausting yourself at the Castle, go seek out those famous White Clifs you’ve heard so much about. But don’t bring a map or anything – it will be much more fun to wander down to the beach and assume if you keep walking west you’ll find it! 
Clearly, that is a terrible plan. Backtrack. Find a little sign that says “Gateway to the White Cliffs.” That’s GOTTA be it. 
Gird your loins for the most intense and inclined walk the world has ever seen. 
It starts out fine. You can see an old woman carrying a BACKPACK in front of you so if she can do it with that extra weight you can do it hopping on one leg! 
Okay. Flight of stairs. It’s all good.
The final stretch and OH MY GOD. I know this picture doesn’t really capture it, but I’m not even exaggerating when I say it was basically a 90 degree incline. This mother was STEEP! 
Finally – FINALLY – reach the top. It starts to become flatter…
You start to catch some glimpses of the Channel….
And suddenly, it was all worth it.
Go ahead and treat yo’self to a scone after. You earned it.