My early return from Africa

As you know, I was recently in Tanzania, Africa, with the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) and Uniterra as a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship. I was mandated to complete communications work with a small-scale farmers group based out of Moshi, Tanzania. My mandate was supposed to last 3 months, from May to August. What a lot of people don’t know is my reason for my return home.

I want to start by saying, Tanzania was incredible. The things I saw and learned about a culture worlds apart from our own are indescribable. Anyone who has been to such a different country can attest to that. Having to load your own “luku” (electricity) when your meter runs out is not something I was expecting, or even prepared for. Walking to the corner of the street to buy fresh fruits from the Mama’s was also an interesting experience. At one point I was able to buy a watermelon, 3 mangoes, 2 avocados, 2 carrots, a bushel of bananas, and passionfruit for the equivalent of 9$ – not a feat that you could accomplish in Canada.

There was a lot that I wasn’t prepared for though, and anyone who knows me knows I tend to over-prepare for things. But I wasn’t prepared to be sexually harassed in a group, nor was I prepared for the anxiety attack that followed suit. See, this encounter brought up some pretty hard memories, and I felt helpless and isolated. Then again, you would too if you were in a foreign country, essentially by yourself, with no means of self defense. I am lucky that what happened did not escalate. I am lucky that I did not retaliate and put myself in danger.

The men who touched my back, shoulder, hips and *almost* my butt saw no reaction from me, except moving away, in which they followed. I was in a group of people, and this advance was still made. I think it is important to note that even in a group, you aren’t fully safe. Safer than being alone, yes; but still not safe. Not the way we know it.

When the customs in a country are so different from your own, how do you react to things? You don’t want to make a big fuss about it, but you don’t want to stay quiet. I am a riot – I don’t keep my mouth shut about things that bother me, but I had too. So I did what was best for me in that moment.

I made the decision to move away from the city I was placed in for fear of my safety, but was told that finding more work would take up to 6-weeks, and I had already been there for 3. 9 weeks without something to do when you are only there for 12 is not something I wanted to do.

UOIT, WUSC and the QEII program were very accepting and accommodating. They booked me a new flight back to Toronto for less than a week after I reported the incident. They got me into contact with a counselor who finally put it into words. He said to me, “Jessica, you were assaulted. In a foreign country.” Putting it into words made it real; it made it raw.

I’m not sharing my story to gain pity. I don’t want recognition, or people messaging me saying “you are so strong” or “you are so brave”. I’m not. I am using my voice for the hundreds and thousands of girls, boys, women and men who are assaulted every day, in their home country or elsewhere, who don’t feel like they have a voice.

I have no regrets from my time spent in Africa, nor do I regret coming home early. I do plan on returning in the future, and maybe giving it another go. Never fear your ability to go on adventure, even if there are things to fear while on your adventure.

Your world traveler signing off until next time,

J xo

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Up, Up and Away.

More than 12 hours ago (for me, at least; it is 1100 in London, England), I waved goodbye to my amazing boyfriend as I stepped passed the invisible line that is airport security and into the fate of the next 48 hours: travel, travel and – yup, you guessed it – more travel. Within 48 hours from 6pm, I will have seen the inside of 4 different airports; and 3 countries that is not my own. As I sit here in London Heathrow Airport sipping a latte and fighting the urge to close my eyes for just 2 minutes, I feel strangely at ease. Except for the fact that when I went to the coffee shop and asked for a regular coffee, they asked if I meant a latte. We are not at Tim Horton’s anymore, Toto.

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It’s a cloudy day in London, England.

In the weeks leading up to this departure, I was facing a mix of excitement and nerves; I very often thought to myself “what the heck am I doing??”. I second guessed my ability to do this, and especially for 90 days. My thoughts ranged from “what if something happened?” to “what if something went wrong?” to “what if I don’t accomplish what I am supposed too?” and “what if I love it so much I don’t want to come home?” And then I realized – it’s okay if something goes wrong, or if something happens, or if I suck at my job, because I am strong and I can get through it. I’ll be safer, I’ll work harder, and I’ll get stronger. It is so surreal to be doing this. But, I think the weight of what I am setting off to do is finally sinking in, and it’s a heaviness that I now embrace with open arms. I am setting off, more than half way across the world, to make a difference. There is something very calming about that. Even though I am not 100% sure how this mandate will play out, or if it will be anything like I have imagined thus far, I do know it will be great.

My boyfriend has been more supportive that I ever could have hoped, and I find myself thanking the universe for bringing me to him. He has never failed to tell me how proud he is of me for setting off on this adventure. 90 days is a long time, but I know he will be right there at the airport the second my flight touches ground, welcoming me home with open arms and the smile I have come to love.

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This goodbye was only a “see you later” – thanks for being an amazing man.

My stay in London will be short lived; in less than 12 hours I will be on my next flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and then onto my final destination in Tanzania.

Bring it on, Africa.

J xo

Living among the lions in AFRICA

When I was preparing for my exchange to Sweden last year, I heard about the Queen Elizabeth II (QEII) Diamond Jubilee Scholarship. I remember being in awe of it’s’ recipients, thinking I would never have what it takes to be awarded with that opportunity. I didn’t think much else of it, finding satisfaction that I was going out on exchange and that I didn’t need the QEII experience – until one day, I decided I did.

In November of 2016, the applications for the QEII came out. I applied, thinking that the worst thing that could happen was that I wasn’t selected. Fast forward to December, where I found out I was chosen as one of the recipients for the summer of 2017. The next part was trying to choose a place to complete my 90 day internship.

Africa has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. In fact, Facebook recently notified of a post that I made in 2015 about trying to find an experience in which I could travel to Africa and volunteer. Fast forward 2 years later, and that dream is finally coming true.

With my QEII experience, I chose to complete with the World University Service of Canada, CECI and Uniterra. I completed a Skype interview with the team from Ottawa and Montreal, and was told I would know in 10-15 days if and where I would be going. Let me tell you – those were the longest 13 days of my life. This morning, I had an email in my inbox offering me a position in Moshi, Tanzania, working as a Communication and Documentation officer for Mtando was Vikundi vya Wakulima Tanzania-Kilimanjaro.

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Moshi, Tanzania – with a view of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

This is the first step on my journey. My first step as a QEII recipient. My first step as a humanitarian. My first step in my dream to Africa.

Africa, I’m ready for you. See you in 6 weeks.

Back home in the land of Tim Horton’s

It has been 4 days since I have landed back in the motherland. Those 4 days were filled with a lot of sleep and a lot of jet lag side effects. I didn’t realize that jet lag could be felt in the stomach, but it was – nausea, sharp pains.. you name it, I probably felt it. I also spiked a fever of 102, which sucked, but I am now back to feeling my regular self.

There’s not a lot I want to report on, but there are a few people I wanted to mention for their everlasting support of my first abroad experience:

To my parents: thank you for teaching me that sky is the limit, and to always follow my dreams no matter what. Without you, I would not have grown up into the confident young adult I am now, nor would I ever have embarked on such an incredible journey.

To my family (aunts, uncles, grandparents and everyone else): thank you for supporting me, and for spoiling me as a child – you have taught me how to enjoy the novelties in life.

To my friends: you guys are amazing for putting up with me. Thank you for being there for my 2am texts about how nervous I was, or for checking up on me while I was away. Thank you for your kindness, and your laughter, and your selflessness. And thanks for helping me finalize the small details. And to my new friends I met abroad; I miss you, and thank you for making Sweden & Paris what it was. You guys are incredible.

To my international office: thank you for supporting this trip and pushing me to apply to study abroad.

To my travel agent: you are a miracle worker – thank you.

To my website followers, via e-mail or other: thank you for making this website worthwhile. With you, I have hit 400 visitors and over 800 page visits in 1 short month. Thank you for being interested in my thoughts, and thank you for all of your amazing feedback via my submission form! Love you all.

Without everyone mentioned above, this trip would not have been what it was, so again, THANK YOU, and until next time.

This is your world traveler, signing off until the next adventure. Stay tuned xoxo

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Bonjour, Paris!

It has been about 30 hours since I left Sweden, and 28 since I’ve landed in Paris. I miss Sweden like I missed my parents place when I moved out – fiercely and unapologetically. If I’m being honest, I hadn’t been looking as forward to coming to Paris as I should have been. Something about leaving Sweden and Linköping hurt a little too much to imagine having fun somewhere else. As soon as I landed at CDG airport though, I felt a little bit better — even better later when I found my way to my hotel and noticed the Eiffel Tower standing strong in front of me. Everything froze for a minute, and nothing hurt anymore.

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Le Louvre

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Mona Lisa

It’s been 28 hours since I’ve landed in Paris, and I’ve managed to get lost twice (once inside my hotel (don’t ask)), crashed a couples wedding pictures, and I have seen a lot. Today my ventures consisted of me taking the metro to l’Arc du Triomphe, le Louvre, and to Pont Neuf, where I placed a lock on the famous bridge. I started my morning with one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had, and set out to the metro. L’Arc du Triomphe was beautiful — standing tall in the middle of Charles de Gaulle Etiole, there is a constant sea of tourists and vehicles. I attempted to go up the monument, but halfway up the spiral staircase I felt extremely claustrophobic and panicked, so I made my descent. Le Louvre was magnificent – I walked around for 3 hours, 2 of which I spent on a search to see the famous Mona Lisa and I found her. We can cross that one off the bucket list. Le Louvre cannot be done in 1 day, so if you are planning on checking it out, definitely save 2 or 3 days just to walk around the museum.

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I crashed this couples wedding pictures and this was the result.

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#ParisWeLoveYou

I don’t have much time in Paris, and as much as I miss Sweden, I’m glad I made the trip. Something about this city is so magical, and maybe it’s the fact that I am visiting it and it has been one of dreams since I was a little girl. Just like every experience, I am thankful for this one, and look forward to exploring the city more within the next couple of days.

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L’Arc du Triomphe

 

 

Au revior pour maintenant

xoxo

 

 

Farewell, Sweden. Jag älskar dig.

​I’m sitting at the bar of my hotel, drinking a vodka & orange juice, reminiscing about the most incredible month I’ve had here in Sweden. Leaving is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I have made so many memories, and have met so many wonderful people, I am the happiest (and saddest) girl alive. A very good friend of mine told me the other day “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”. My heart is torn between smiling, and crying, and it is the strangest feeling in the world.

The past month has been filled with laughter, smiles, (some) tears, and love. Love for the country. Love for my new friends. Love for myself. Sweden has taught me that it’s okay to be alone – that I am okay. Sweden has taught me how to laugh until my tummy hurts and love until my heart is full. I never thought I could love such a diverse group of people as fiercely as I do. Leaving is going to tear me apart, but I have learned that I can put myself back together.

From exploring Linköping (and occasionally getting lost), to taking the train to Norrköping and going on day trips to Vadstena, Söderköping, Omberg and Motala, I have seen a lot. I have been to the flygvapenmuseum, Gamla Linköping; I have eaten more ice cream than my body allows, and I have played more Kubb than I could have ever thought possible. I have eaten (and kept down) fermented herring, I tried authentic Swedish pancakes, and I learned that Canadian Maple Syrup in a different country is awful and tastes like cough syrup. I have made puns, FINALLY watched the Lion King, and mastered the art of IKEA and Swedish meatballs.

I have taken a Drug Addictions course in which we (almost) mastered the neuroscience behind the disease. I have learned alot this past month. But the one most important lesson I learned was this:
I have made friends from all 4 corners of the earth — some I am leaving behind in Sweden, others who live in France and the USA and South America. No matter where you are, I am confident we will meet up again soon. 
This concludes the Sweden portion of my adventures. Next up is Paris, France.

See you on the flip side, mes amis 
xoxo 

Thank you, Sweden, for teaching me that I am okay.

Today, I took a solo day trip – something I had yet to do since my arrival in Sweden. I hopped on a train and got off in Motala, a beautiful town located on Lake Vättern and part of the Göta Kanal. I walked from the train station to the city center, found a cute cafe in the harbor and grabbed myself a bite to eat. I wandered over to the Motor Museum, grabbed an ice cream bar and sat on the pier in what may very well be one of the most beautiful days in the two weeks that I have been here.

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Since I got here I found myself feeling a bit unsteady. Not really having a routine, my brain has been in a constant whirlwind of thoughts. I’ve had a lot of fun, and I have seen a lot, but today I needed to take some time to explore things on my own.

Today, an incredible thing happened. Something people always talk about but it never feels like it will happen. Today, I made peace with myself. I forgave the people in my past – with or without an apology – I let my worries go, and I found my center. It’s something I have struggled to do, and today sitting in the harbor in a foreign country watching the waves, something within me finally clicked. I felt free. I felt full of life. Emotions crashed over me, and I felt like crying and screaming and laughing all at the same time, but that click was definitely there. Something I had been looking for finally made sense. I finally made sense.

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In life, I feel like we take things for granted. Money, happiness, friends, family, health. It’s all taken for granted. I’ve spent a good chunk of my life feeling like I’ve been in a trance; feeling lost, sometimes confused, sometimes alone. But what I realized today, what I wish I had realized sooner, is that it’s okay. It is okay to be sad, and angry, and frustrated, or incredibly elated at everything. But it’s important to find your center. Every high has a low, what goes up must come down, every peak has a trough – it is all so true. But in the middle of the parabola of life, there is a center. Everyone has one. Sweden showed me mine. Sweden taught me that I am okay. 

xoxo

Your centered traveler

Week one, check!

It’s hard to believe that exactly one week ago today, I moved into my dorm room in Linköping and started my (official) Scandinavian adventure. This past week has been a whirlwind of emotions and events. Between taking my first class on the 4th to meeting new friends to celebrating France’s victory against Germany at the bar, I have adjusted (somewhat) to life in Sweden. The fact that it is only dark between 12am-3:30am still throws me off, but for the most part I am adapting quite well.

I wish there were words to describe this experience thus far. I am not often speechless, but there is really nothing that I can say that describes how this country feels, or how my town looks. I guess if I had to choose one word (and for the purpose of this blog post I will choose only one word) it would be ‘surreal’. I can’t fully explain it, and I don’t even know where to start trying to explain it, but it is a good thing. I think I am still waiting for someone to pinch me, and tell me that I am daydreaming in class again.

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There is so much to see and do here, and it makes me feel kind of sad that I only have 3 weeks left and there is still so much I want to do. I wish I was going to Norway to visit Oslo and see the beautiful sights there, or going to Copenhagen to experience Denmark (cream cheese Danish’s anyone?), but there is so much left for me here that I don’t mind sticking to local sights and attractions.

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Norrkoping Station

 

Today, with some friends, I went into Norrköping, which is a picturesque town on the Baltic Sea, about 40min from where I am staying. We took the train (and when we got there it was a raining mess…) but it eventually cleared up and we walked the entire town, snapping pictures and sharing laughs. It is the Venice of Sweden, with waterways in between buildings and free flowing waterfalls under bridges. I even found an imitation Ponts des Arts (known as the “love lock bridge” in Paris). Ultimately the thing I learned today, is you find the cutest gems in the most unlikely places.

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Swedish Venice, anyone?

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Water. Water everywhere.

I won’t lie to you. The adjustment process was really hard. I initially went 48 hours with less than 3 hours of sleep; I was grumpy, sad, and felt a little sick. Jet lag does unwelcome things to your body. The 20hrs of daylight took a while to get used too (I’m still not fully adjusted), and sometimes being with so many people gets a bit frustrating. But in all honesty, these past 7 days have been phenomenal. I have already learned so much about myself, and I look forward to continuing to grow on this trip.

If you want to understand how wonderful this country is, you need to be here. Seriously. Get here. Be here. Love it as much as I do. You won’t regret it.

With love,

J xo

Linköpings Universitet

To quote my all time favourite movie (Finding Nemo): “First day of school, first day of school!”. Today, I started my Drug Addiction studies at Linköpings Universitet (Linköping University) in Linköping, Sweden. My day started out a little rough, with construction hammering away outside my window at 6:30am. 6:30am! In Canada, nothing really starts until 8 or 8:30am. I was not impressed. But that was quickly replaced by the excitement of the realization that today was my first day as an international student.

I pulled myself out of bed and into the “school” mode, my body still protesting the jet lag that has been in place ever since Saturday morning. Kaffe (the Swedish word for “coffee”) was needed today, and desperately. I lollygagged around my room for 30 minutes and the next thing I knew, it was time to go meet my new friends so we could catch the bus to the Campus US, which shares a campus with the hospital in the city (something I am used to from back home, of course). 2 buses later, we had arrived and were filing in for our morning orientation session. This is the first year that Linköping University has offered an international summer academy program, which makes us its guinea pigs. We have students from all over the world (the majority coming from Singapore and France, each with 30 students!) There are 10 from the USA and 9 from Canada, and a few from Germany, Austria, the UK, Mexico, China and Argentina. Overall, there are 132 students enrolled and ready to learn.

My day ended around 5:30pm, which was followed by a quick visit to McDonald’s for my American friend, so she can celebrate the 4th of July. I managed to give my mom a call, and we chatted for a half hour or so before I got back to preparing for tomorrow’s lectures.

I knew coming into this intensive course that it was going to be a lot of work, but I am not sure I was fully prepared for everything that is involved. On average, I am in class for 7-8hrs a day, 4 days a week with a half day on Fridays. We have journal clubs, practice-based learning (case studies), laboratory hours and lab reports, and a final examination in the form of a presentation and lab report. That does not include the lecture preparation we are expected to do every night. It will be a lot of work, but I think I am going to learn a lot of really interesting things that will really complement my major back home in Canada. This may very well be one of the best summers yet.

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The beautiful city in which my university resides.

Love from Sweden

J xo

 

Sweden, here I am!

The past 48 hours have definitely been interesting. In 48 hours I have gotten no more than 3 hours of sleep. The adjustment to the time zone difference (6 hours ahead of Canada) has been tough, and I have been in overdrive since I first landed in Copenhagen. The adrenaline has not settled, and it is 2:30am my time and I should really be sleeping but I promised myself I’d write this post today.

First things first. Sweden. Is. Beautiful. The architecture I saw in Stockholm was unlike anything I’ve seen before. All of the buildings are of equal height, which of course satisfies the little perfectionist in me. And they are all painted different, unique colors. One thing I’ve noticed is that everyone pretty much walks everywhere, or has a bicycle. Cars (especially in Linkoping) are limited, which is really neat to see, and of course keeps the fresh air feeling exactly that – fresh.

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Do you understand my satisfaction?

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Stockholm, Sweden

In Stockholm, my friend and I decided to take a walk and find a bar that we could have a drink at. We found one – and neither the bartender or the waitress spoke English, which is uncommon in Sweden. Needless to say, my friend and I learned the Svenska word for beer (öl, pronouced “oh-le”) really quickly. I’m starting to notice that the people here are quick to help if needed, too. If you don’t know how to pronounce a word, they will phonetically sound it out for you the best they can (not going to lie, I learned öl, and it took me a while).

Today, I finally arrived at the university. The arrival and settling in at Linkoping was a little rough – again, just adjustment. For starters, being so sleep deprived, my emotions have been ALL over the place, which of course resulted in me crying for a solid 5 minutes before I pulled myself together and put that well known smile back on my face. Whoever said there’s nothing that good company and hot water can’t fix really knew what they were talking about.

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My happy, tourist-y self

There’s so much that I could say about this country, and the cities I’ve been in thus far. It’s different here than in Canada. A good difference. A GREAT different. I am already in love with this place. I can only imagine how much that love will grow within the next 4 weeks, and how hard it’s going to be to leave.

With love from Sweden,

Jess