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

 

 

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

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

 

Say “YES” to life

Back in April, I was selected as a recipient of the Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA, for short). Never having heard of RYLA, I decided to do my research and submitted an application a few hours later. The program consisted of 4 jam-packed days of leadership and teambuilding exercises at Loyalist College, as well as opportunities for self-growth and self-awareness. Over the course of the conference, I would be given opportunities to identify with myself on a much deeper, more significant level.

Leadership has always been a very strong quality that I have always strived to portray. Before going into the RYLA program, I would define a leader as someone who is able to lead a group of people into the direction of success, assisting them in overcoming challenges and obstacles that stood in the way. It always seemed very clear to me what characteristics and personality traits a leader would possess, but it never really occurred to me that they could also come with different strengths, weaknesses and frames of mind. I know that sounds self-involved, and so very shallow, and I apologize to all you leaders out there who didn’t fit into my stereotypical idea of what and who a leader looked like. But that’s why RYLA is such a wonderful thing. That’s why RYLA should be known. RYLA has taught me that leaders fall within DiSC – they are dominant, influential, steady, and conscientious – and while they are often more of one thing than another, every person has different traits that make them unique. It taught me that leaders can be soft-spoken, yet passionate. Or they can be outspoken and fiery. A leader does not need to fit a selected range of criteria – they just need to be. They need to do what works best for them, and what will assist them in leading their team to success.

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RYLA participants enjoying a night of getting to know each other better through “the skittle game”

During our time at RYLA, we participated in several different leadership and team-building activities. Amongst the most frustrating were a game of “blindfold squares”, which consisted of making a perfect square out of tangled rope while blindfolded, and a game which consisted of crossing a jumbled rope maze without any talking. We also had the opportunity to put on blindfolds and be led by our partners around campus, instilling trust in people we hardly even knew. One of our nightly activities turned into a game of “Across the Floor”, which opened up a huge release of emotions and we found ourselves consoling our new friends.

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Team-building activities in the sun

There has been a lot of really important moments during my week at RYLA. Our District Governor came to give a talk, and the most influential, most inspiring thing he has told us was that we need to say yes to life. We all have an idea of what we want our life to look like, but it will never look like that unless we say yes to life. Say yes to the opportunity that comes up that scares you a little bit. Say yes to accepting that new job offer. Or, do what I did and say yes to traveling across the world alone for a month. Do what is slightly uncomfortable. Do the unthinkable. Do the daring, and the strange, and the unique. Do something that you would regret not doing when you’re 90 years old and nearing the end of your life.

Rotary, and RYLA, have given me the tools and the skills to say yes to life. It has allowed me to find myself, explore my personality, and meet other leaders who all have the same goal – to make a difference in this world. I am not the same person I was 5 days ago. I have felt and seen so much change within myself that it is astounding. I feel more confident in myself, and I feel that I can be a more effective leader in the future. RYLA has changed my life – now I’m excited to start changing others.

ROTARY

RYLA at Gleaner’s Food Bank in Belleville, ON doing community service work.

xoxo,

Your RYLArian

Kiddo, you’ve got to love yourself

As you know, I am a second year BScN student in Ontario. That being said, my opportunities for abroad travel are very slim because of the specific course requirements and practicum requirements that are put into place for our success. Fast forward to this year. In February 2016, I was presented with an opportunity I never thought I’d follow through on, one that I never thought in a million years would be possible. I was informed by my school’s International Office that there was a program this summer that would allow me to study for 4 weeks at Linköping University in Linköping, Sweden. I made an appointment with the International Office to go in that same day, and I filled out the application to the university, not even really thinking about actually getting accepted. It is a super competitive program and I applied on the last day. Literally, I sat down and my advisor said to me “so it’s the last day to get applications in so if you are even thinking about it, apply. You can always withdraw the application later”. So, I did. And it may very well be the best decision I have ever made.

A little while ago, I came across this post on facebook:

KID

I came across it before I ever considered traveling abroad; and to be fully honest, its part of the reason I took that spur of the moment opportunity and filled out the application. Sure, I want to travel the world and explore new places and fall in love with stupid addresses (I’m looking at you, Sweden) but I realized then that even more so I wanted to explore my own mind, my own body and fall in love with myself. I think there are opportunities in life that you just cannot say “no” to – I think this is one of them. I’ve never fully known who I am – I’ve never really been “alone”. I’ve been through some things that have made me a better person, but I’m still deeply rooted in my past, and I need to break free of those roots and let myself grow – for the sake of me now, in this moment, and the me in 10 years who will be caring for patients in a hospital somewhere listening to their life stories and wishing I had taken chances when I could.

I’m tired of living my life in the passenger seat – doing what I think people would want me to do and not doing what I want to do. I’m a people pleaser – I always have been. I seek approval for my actions, and never, ever do anything without running it by someone else first. I want people to want me, to love me. But the sad part is, while I was so busy trying to make people love me, I forgot to love myself.

And it’s really about time that I start loving myself.

xoxo,

your little world traveler.