21 Free or Cheap Things to Do in Chicago This Summer

View of Chicago's The Bean and Lake Michigan

Chicago's The Bean in Summer

Since I’ve been job searching this summer, I’ve been watching my pennies a little more carefully than normal. Luckily, that doesn’t mean I miss out on all the fun, either. I’ve been doing a lot of research lately on free and cheap things to do in the city that actually sound legitimately fun, so I thought I’d share with you guys in case you’re looking for something to do!

Check it out and let me know if there’s anything missing that’s on your list!

Art & Culture

Concerts in Millennium Park: Various Dates, FREE.

Chicago SummerDance (Dance Lessons and Music): Every Wed – Sunday in Grant Park, FREE.

Art Institute of Chicago Free Nights: 5-8pm Thursdays, FREE to Illinois Residents.

Museum of Contemporary Art Free Days: Every Tuesday, FREE to Illinois Residents.

Lincoln Park Zoo: Open and FREE everyday!

Garfield Park Conservatory: Open and FREE everyday! (This would be a beautiful photo shoot location – looking at you blogger friends or newly engaged people!)

National Museum of Mexican Art: Tuesday – Sunday 10-5, FREE.

Half-Price Theater Tickets (or check out my favorite shows here): Various Prices on Hot Tix.

Asian American Theater Fest @ Victory Gardens: August 13-18, tickets start at $10.

Chicago Jazz Festival @ Millennium Park: August 30-Sept 2, FREE

Keith Haring Mural Exhibit @ The Chicago Cultural Center: Now through Sept 23, FREE

 

Food & Street Fests

The Taste of Chicago: July 11-15 in Grant Park, FREE Admission and only $10 for 14 Food Tickets.

Square Roots Festival in Lincoln Square: July 13-15, $10 Suggested Donation.

Taste of River North: July 20-22, $5 Suggested Donation.

Tacos y Tamales Festival (Pilsen): July 20-22, $5 Suggested Donation.

Wicker Park Fest: July 27-29, $10 Suggested Donation.

Randolph Street Market: July 28-29, $10 in advance or $12 at the door.

 

Sports & Workouts

White Sox Baseball Games: Various Dates, Tickets start at $7 – lol that’s not a typo. (Pro tip: If you show up around the 6th inning they’ll sometimes just give you a FREE ticket.)

Millennium Park Summer Workouts: Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, FREE.

5K Timed Runs in Humboldt, Washington, and Warren Park: FREE, just make sure to sign up in advance!

Workouts at Gallagher Way (Wrigleyville): Mondays-Saturdays, FREE.

 

[This guide from Choose Chicago and this list of street festivals from LakeShore Lady were super helpful in putting this together, go check them out!]

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The Official Toast Guide to Madison, Wisconsin

Best Brunch

Heritage Tavern – My go to for a proper brunch. They have a variety of Benedict’s, breakfast cocktails, and really good sides so there’s something for everyone. Where I take my parents and out-of-towners when they come to visit. Get the Heritage Tavern Benedict, the Lobster Scramble, and the ham cinnamon roll.

Short Stack Eatery – For a hangover cure or breakfast for dinner. They have all the classics and some fun features like a ‘blind special’ and some pretty insane hours. If you’re looking for a fun and simple brunch place in the morning or the middle of the night, this is it. Get there early, though, because they tend to have a line out the door. Get the chocolate chip pancakes, the breakfast sandwich, and the bloody mary (if you like beets).

Marigold Kitchen – For a fresh, healthy brunch. The food is here is always really well made and delicious. Recommend if you’re looking for a great breakfast during the week (or the weekend, but you won’t have as many options M-F). Get the duck confit hash and their homemade pastries.

Plaka Taverna – For family restaurant vibes and an affordable meal. I love this place for its homegrown feel – family artifacts along the walls, lots of regulars coming in and out, and a really relaxed vibe. Plus, the bill ended up being like 10 bucks a person. Definitely more diner-ish food, but so nice to hang in.

Best Breakfast and Coffee

Greenbush Bakery – Famously delicious donuts made daily. You can buy Greenbush donuts all over town, but you have to go their bakery on Regent street for the real thing. It’s super sweet and local and make sure to get there early before they sell out. Get the Sour Cream Old Fashioned.

Collectivo Coffee – A favorite for lattes and lunch. Whenever I got antsy on the weekend, I would head out to Collectivo with a book or to meet a friend for a bagel with lox or a chicken salad sandwich. There’s always open room to sit and do work, too, if you’re looking for a place to plant yourself for a few hours.

Barrique’s – Reliable local chain for coffee, pastries, and wine. There’s a bunch of Barrique’s all over the Madison area and they’re all good. Friendly staff, good coffee, and room to sit down and work or read or relax by the fire. My go to for meeting a friend or coworker for coffee.

Michaelangelo’s Coffee House – A friendly local haunt. I used to come here sometimes to write or read or get tea with a friend. It’s right off of State Street so it’s a great place to hide out from the cold. More locals and fewer business people here, too, if that’s more what you’re looking for.

Gotham Bagels – The hangover bagel capitol of Madison. I have never seen more miserable people pull themselves out of bed for a bagel before and it is so worth it. Be ready to stand around and wait, though, since this place is soooo popular on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I love their Brighton Beach bagel and their Williamsburg sandwich.

Best Lunch

The Great Dane – For a taste of local Madison. It’s actually the first place I ever came in Madison when I interviewed for my job and it’s still the place I take friends and family when they come from out of town. They have a surprisingly big and varied menu and they make their own local brews, so you’re sure to please everyone here. Get the cheese curds (duh) and the Asian BBQ chicken wings.

Cooper’s Tavern – For hearty dishes and European sports. If you’re looking for a spot to watch Barclay’s Premiere League, eat a pretty delicious sandwich, and drink a dark beer then look no further than Cooper’s. They also have one of the better selections of Irish whiskies in town.

Tex Tubb’s Taco Palace – For more chips, dip, and tacos than you can eat. This place is a little off the beaten path, but it’s worth leaving the downtown neighborhood for. It doesn’t strike me as the most authentic Mexican place in the world, but it’s vibrant and affordable. My friends and I plan on meeting here every time I come back to Madison. Get the queso dip and thank me later.

Weary Traveler Freehouse – For a taste of old town Madison. A great spot on the Willy Street, one of my favorite neighborhoods in town, with updated pub food and craft beer. It’s a great spot to hang out after walking around the Willy Street shops or coming from Olbrich Park for a burger and drink. Recommend if you’re looking for something more local.

Best Casual Dinner

Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry – A great casual date spot. Despite the name, they serve mostly burgers and beer here, so it’s more traditional Wisconsin fare. For me, though, the atmosphere does it: wooden booths and low lighting make it a great date restaurant especially on a crappy winter night. Really cozy with lots of comfort food.

Ramen Kid – Super casual and delicious ramen. I loved this place in the winter because there’s nothing like tucking into a giant bowl of hot ramen on a cold night. Be ready for a lot of college students and barely there waiters, but it’s worth it for cheap, great food.

Maharani – My favorite local takeout place. I’m no connoisseur of Indian food, but it definitely cures my basic white girl cravings for chicken tikka masala and samosas. Food is always delicious and typically doesn’t take too long to get carry out. Maharani was always a treat for me.

Best Fancy Dinner

Tornado Steakhouse – Old school supper club with really good steak. There are other steakhouses in town that are more upscale and traditional, but Tornado is by far my favorite. It’s super vintage – they even give you the traditional assortment of vegetables when you sit down – and the food is really good. Plus, the bar in the basement is one of my favorites in town. Get the venison if you’re not in a steak mood.

Field Table – For hipster, artisanal cocktails and farm to table food. I started going here for the drinks – they have a lot of great house specialties or they’ll concoct something just for you – and ended up eating the food at the bar and wow is it good. Even the bread and butter is out of this world. Get the salmon, the roasted chicken, and any dessert.

Estrellon – My favorite place for tapas and sangria. A great mix of small plates, breads, large plates, and paella so you can do any style of dinner you want. They also have some great house cocktails and you HAVE to get the Basque cake for dessert – I had multiple people tell me how amazing it was and it lived up to the hype.

Muramoto – The best sushi place in Madison. I spent most of my time in Madison looking for a great sushi restaurant and Muramoto has to be my favorite. So so good and great drinks too – the lychee martini is bomb.

Tempest Oyster Bar – For great seafood and late night oysters. With fresh seafood abound on their dinner menu and a surprisingly great selection on their late night menu, I was really excited when I learned about Madison’s only oyster bar (I’m pretty sure). I’ve done dinner here, oysters and wine, and just drinks so it’s pretty versatile as long as you like seafood.

Fresco – For champagne and the best view of State Street. Full disclosure: I’ve never eaten here, but I have gone just for a drink and the view. It’s location about the MMOCA and view of Madison’s main street makes Fresco super special. It also has beautiful outdoor seating in the summer. Great place for a celebration or birthday dinner.

Best Late Night Food

Ian’s Pizza – For crazy pizza at any hour. With flavors like mac & cheese and chicken pot pie it’s no wonder that Ian’s is a late night favorite. You can get huge slices for only $4 with more topping combos than you can even imagine. The line gets pretty long after the bars close but if you have the serious munchies you’ll be glad you stuck it out.

Best Bars

Genna’s – My favorite local place. I like Genna’s because it’s a good mix of locals and transplants and it’s far enough away from State Street that it’s not too college-y. There’s always something going on at Genna’s and with two floors you can choose to watch whatever slam poetry or music they have upstairs or just relax with a drink downstairs. Plus, they’re dog-friendly so sometimes people bring their pups.

Cask & Ale – Another casual favorite. I started coming here regularly because they show the Bachelor on Monday nights (which I highly recommend if you’re local) and it became one of my favorite spots to grab a drink. It has a little bit older of a crowd (i.e. not college students) so it’s not as crazy and it’s generally nicer. Great beer selections and friendly bartenders, too.

HopCat – For the largest selection of Wisconsin beers in Madison. With over 30 local beers on tap at any given time plus a bunch of out-of-state drafts, HopCat is where I take my beer loving friends. I’m not too into the whole craft beer thing, but even I’ve tried some pretty unique stuff here. Oh and get the crack fries – they pair well with anything.

Lucille – For something a little nicer. Nice cocktails, good music, and low lighting this is a regular favorite of mine. Pro tip: Lucille used to be a bank so head downstairs to the vault-turned-bar.

Eno Vino Rooftop Bar – For the best view of the capitol in town. Located in the AC Hotel Madison, Eno Vino really shines in the summer when you can go out on their rooftop bar. With views of the lake and the capitol, it’s a pretty great spot to hang for a few drinks or get dinner – the food is really good, too.

Corral Room Bar – For a speakeasy feel. Beneath my favorite steakhouse in Madison, Tornado, is a little tucked away bar. With a great late night menu (think escargots and steak) and a super nice staff, I love hitting this bar for after dinner drinks.

The Old Fashioned – For a classic Brandy Old Fashioned. I didn’t even know Brandy Old Fashioned’s existed until I moved to Madison, but if you want the best and biggest variety in town head here. I wasn’t impressed by the food, to be honest, but I like bringing friends from out of town here for a little taste of Wisconsin. The Apple Old Fashioned they have is particularly delicious.

Buck and Badger – For a shot-ski, the most Wisconsin shot in town. A traditional Wisco bar in downtown Madison with traditional pub favorites and everyone’s favorite: four shots that come on a ski that four people do all at once. Yup, that’s a thing.

The Ivory Room Piano Bar – My guiltiest pleasure in Madison. After doing your shot-ski, head next door to the Ivory Room for some dueling piano action. Put in some requests, make some friends, sit up front, and definitely go later on in the night after a few drinks lol.

 

Best Things to do Around Town

The Farmers Market – Hands down my favorite thing to do on a Saturday morning. Wrapping around the entire capitol square, the farmers market has everything from produce to cheese to dried gourds. Everyone comes out for it and hangs out and it’s just so lovely.

The Majestic Theater – For intimate concerts and events. I’ve been to a bunch of awesome concerts for super cheap (like $15) and it’s so small that you can pretty much always have a great spot in the crowd. They also do movie events, themed DJ nights, and holiday parties so check out what’s on the schedule when you’re around.

Chazen Museum of Art – A surprisingly awesome art museum for a small city. I was really impressed by their collection and it’s definitely one to check out if you’re into the museum thing. They don’t have a ton of exhibitions but their permanent modern collection is great.

Memorial Union Terrace – The best place to hang out in the summer. Grab a drink or a pitcher with some friends and hang out on the famous terrace chairs for the evening. This is honestly one of the things I’ll miss most about leaving Madison.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens – If you’re into some manicured nature. With beautiful outdoor gardens and a Thai pavilion in the summer and a butterfly garden in the winter it’s a nice place in the Atwood neighborhood to spend an afternoon. In the summer, there’s also a beer garden across the street to hang at, too, with great lake views.

Live on King Street – A series of free concerts right off the square. Every year the Majestic plans several great free concerts outside on King Street and they’re a blast. Get there early because the line to get in gets long or just catch the end before you go out.

Walk on a Lake – If you’re around in the winter and you see ice fishermen out on the lake, then it’s (probably) safe to walk out onto the lake. It sounds kind of odd as someone not from Wisconsin to do as an activity, but it’s actually beautiful to go out there. Sometimes it’s windy, but usually it’s quiet and snowy and nice. Even better with friends and dogs.

Best Day Trips

Devil’s Lake State Park – A great day trip if you’re looking to do something outdoorsy. Devil’s Lake is super beautiful all year round and has lots of beach and trails to spend the day on. It’s also safe to swim in the summer so bring some towels and coolers.

Shopping

Anthology – For best feminist gifts in town. Owned by two sisters with a penchant for political statements and wisco love, this is my go to place in town for any and all gifts. I’ve bought birthday cards, political pins, Wisconsin tea towels, and narwhal swaddle cloths here. It’s the best.

A Room of One’s Own – My favorite book store in town. Lots of new titles, feminist novels, biographies, Sci Fi written by women, and local books. Drop by if you’re looking for a new read or a good book-related gift.

Fromagination – What would this list be without a cheese shop? Lots of local cheese options, appetizers, and cheese-related accoutrement for all your cheese-loving needs. What could be more Wisconsin?

Little Luxuries – Another one of my favorite spots for gifts (despite the cheesy name). I’ve gotten my favorite purse from here and countless other gifts for myself and others. If you’re looking for calendars, jewelry, leather goods, ornaments, or Wisconsin paraphernalia you’ll find them there.

Hilldale Mall – The best mall in the Madison area. I love Madison, but the shopping there isn’t it’s main attraction. There aren’t a ton of big name stores in the area, but if you’re looking to get a shopping fix in this is the place to go. Plus, they got some good restaurants and a movie theater there for all your mall rat needs.

Hotels

The Madison Concourse Hotel and Governor’s Club – For free booze and excellent people watching. My mom and I always joked about staying here so when she came to visit in December we finally saw what it was all about. She stayed in the higher floors which gave us access to the Governor’s Club, which is this hilarious little bar with a great view of the capitol that gives you all you can drink booze and appetizers. We pregamed all of our nights there and I think we got our money’s worth.

AC Hotel by Marriott – For updated amenities and a stellar rooftop bar. The newest hotel in Madison, I’ve had friends and my parents stay here and really liked it. The rooms are beautiful, clean, and modern and the restaurant in the hotel also made the list, particularly for it’s rooftop bar. It’s where I’d recommend staying if you’re willing to spend a little more.

Best Western Premier Park Hotel – For the most convenient location. This is the only hotel on the square so you can’t really beat it for that. I’ve stayed here myself and it’s definitely nice, especially if you ask for a room with a view of the capitol. Recommend if convenience is your top priority (although tbh nothing is that far in Madison).

I did a similar guide for Dublin when I lived there if you want to check it out.

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San Francisco Recap + Why I’m Taking More Friends’ Trips

In the midst of all of the craziness of moving and coming back to Chicago, I treated myself to a little vacation time. I spent a long weekend in San Francisco with some of my oldest friends, Haley and Megan, and we did a whole lot of eating, drinking, touristing, and sitting around watching choreography YouTube videos. It was awesome.

Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to travel quite a bit, but I’ve done most of it with either my family or significant others. Ever since planning this trip to SF, though, my friends and I have been asking ourselves more and more: why don’t we travel with each other? Schedules can be challenging and money can be tight since we’re all young women working a bunch, but this trip reinforced for me how fun and revitalizing it is to make friends a priority when it comes to travel.

Now that we’re all over the place and we don’t have the same regular breaks from school to see each other we have to carve out time to spend with each other. I’m so glad we’re getting into the habit of it now because these girls are so important to me – when you’ve been friends for 15 years you hang on to them. I can always be myself with them no matter where I’m at in life and I never laugh harder or often than when I’m with them. Here’s to another 15 (and beyond) of travel, adventure, and long life talks over wine.

I put together a little recap of things we did and (mostly) where we ate since I always like to have that stuff for reference. Haley and her boyfriend, Miller, took us to such good spots and had great recommendations that we were stuffed and happy basically the entire time. Here’s my list and some photos, if you’re heading out there sometime soon:

Where We Ate

Where We Drank

Sights We Saw

  • Clarion Alley Mural Project: Political art by the gallon, very grammable
  • Napa Valley Wine Tastings: Definitely a day trip, but worth it if you’re looking for a more relaxed, bougie vibe. Bonus points if you know someone who’s a member at a winery.
  • Lands End: My favorite thing we did! Amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge, pretty laid back “hike”, and can’t beat listening to the ocean for an afternoon.
  • The Painted Ladies: Cute and grammable, not really much else to do but walk around though.
  • Fisherman’s Wharf: Enjoyed some seafood and beer after our hike in this area. Touristy and cute.
  • SFMOMA: Great rainy day activity. I’m a sucker for a great modern art museum and they have a great permanent collection.
  • Shopping at Westfield Centre: Right near MOMA and another great spot to stakeout on a rainy day. Is it a vacation if I don’t go to a mall?
  • Golden Gate Park: I ran through here one morning and it was gorgeous change of pace from my treadmill.
  • Lots of hanging out, watching YouTube videos, eating takeout, and drinking wine.

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My Trip to Japan: Nara and Tokyo

As much as I want to keep living vicariously through my photos of Japan, this is my last post! This was honestly the trip of a lifetime and it has been such a joy going back through my pictures and reading my journals from it. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned, but I was actually really nervous to go on this trip – this was the furthest I’d ever travelled on my own, my first trip to Asia, and only the second time I’d travelled alone in a country where I didn’t speak the language. But I knew it would be such an incredible experience and I was ecstatic to see my best friend from college, Betsy, after such a long time.

Anyway, enough exposition – today I’ll be sharing the last several days from my trip including a brief trip to Nara (home of the bowing deer) and our weekend in Tokyo. This may be the longest post I’ve ever put together – so make yourself a cup of coffee and buckle up!

Day Five – Onsen Day

After the last few days of walking and drinking, we decided to take it slow and head to the onsen for the day. An onsen is a traditional Japanese hot bath and there are hotels that specialize in having some sweet onsen facilities. We grabbed lunch at one of Betsy’s favorite local places in Otsu, where the owners were super sweet and we had the whole place to ourselves. It was humid and rainy and felt like the perfect day to hang out and relax.

I was a little nervous about going to the onsen because there’s a lot of etiquette to follow, but luckily I had Betsy to guide me. She got us through the paperwork and actually to the onsen itself, which I already couldn’t have done, and then walked me through when to take off my shoes, how to appropriately wash up before going into the pools, and what each of the pools were designed for. You go into the baths naked, in case you were wondering, so I advise doing this with people you’re already pretty comfortable with (luckily, Bryn Mawr prepared us pretty well for this whole thing lol).

There were a few different bath rooms we did throughout the day. The first room had one big hot bath with an indoor and outdoor portion. It’s essentially a big hot tub, but without the jets. The second room had a variety of pools with different healing properties. There were pools that helped with your skin or circulation, there was a walking pool that massaged your feet, and another with a slight electric current running through it (this was the craziest one!). The third bath (pictured at the top) had an incredible view of Lake Biwa and we had the entire place to ourselves. 🙌 Best place ever for having life chats with your bestie, I’d say.

Day Six – Nara and Betsy’s School

The next day, I struck out on my own again for Nara, a town south of Kyoto famed for it’s incredibly tame deer population. It takes a few trains and a bus to get there (so give yourself time), but you’ll know once you’ve made it. Deer are literally roaming the sidewalks like pedestrians. You can buy cookies to feed them, but even without food they come right up to you.

I’ve gotta say – the deer are cute, but also kind of awful. They follow you around, sort of pummel you with their antlers, and can bite if you’re not careful. I didn’t even bother buying cookies because I didn’t want them all over me. Still, I’m glad I went because it was sort of surreal being so close to animals like this and I got my #deerselfie.

After my dances with deer experience, I raced back to Otsu to spend the rest of the afternoon with Betsy’s students! I have to say, if you ever want to feel famous/special for doing absolutely nothing, be a 20-something white girl from Chicago in a small Japanese town. I got to meet Betsy’s English Club students and it was hands-down the best part of this entire trip. Her students were so sweet and it was awesome to see how amazing Betsy is at her job. She is totally on their level and is so present and joyful with them. I’ve never been good with kids and teaching makes me nervous, so it was incredible to see her at such ease with them.

The first part of class the kids asked me questions about Chicago, what I eat, what my hobbies are, and the question on every 16-year-old’s mind: do I have a boyfriend lol. Then they prepared short presentations for me in English about different parts of Japanese culture. I learned about Japanese festivals, local kinds of artwork, and traditional stories (like Hatsuyume: where it’s good luck if you dream about Mt. Fuji, a hawk, or an eggplant on the night of January 1 – drawing below). I got to keep their artwork and I seriously treasure them. Below are a few of my favorite drawings from that class and some Dos and Don’ts that another one of Betsy’s classes put together for me.

A drawing of Hatsuyume.

A picture of their fireworks, which really do include animated characters. Plus, a little person with a camera because I told them I do photography as a hobby. 😊

Some things not to do in Japan – eat too much wasabi lol and make loud sounds while drinking. Other donts included: tipping, talking too loudly at dinner or on trains, and putting sushi back that you’ve picked up at conveyor belt sushi restaurants.

Some dos: bowing to your boss, giving up your seat to older people and pregnant women on trains (there was a lot of train etiquette), and enjoying my trip! So cute!

Days Seven, Eight, and Nine – Tokyo

The next morning we headed out on the Shinkansen to spend the weekend in Tokyo! We found a good hotel last minute near a big train station and set off for a weekend of exploring. Honestly, the weekend was kind of a blur – we packed in so much in so little time – but here are some of the highlights.

After checking into our hotel, we searched the area for somewhere to grab lunch. We ended up at this little ramen place that was literally in an alley, but the line was out the door which seemed promising. When we finally got into the restaurant, everyone was crying and had a pile of used tissues next to their enormous bowl of ramen – this place was not fucking around. I’m not usually a fan of super spicy food, but it seemed like the thing to get so I ordered one of the milder options (note the crazy amount of chili peppers on the menu below). I was a teary, snotty mess but it was seriously delicious.

After lunch, we took the train to Harajuku for some shopping and to find a Purikura photo booth, sort of the original snapchat pretty filter on steroids (results below). As a fashion lover, I’ve always wanted to visit Harajuku and see the girls’ fun, over the top style. We went into so many cool shops and tried on some crazy pieces. It was also funny to see a lot of vintage American clothes on the racks – things like big 90’s t-shirts from Orlando and remade Levi’s jeans were all over the place and looked 100x cooler on the Japanese girls.

For dinner, we grabbed some Tonkatsu (deep fried breaded pork cutlets) and picked up a few Strong Zeros to drink before going out on the town. To be honest, we were pretty dead by this point in the week. I was still getting over the jet lag (14 hours is rough) and Betsy had worked and been hostess with the mostest to me all week. But it was Saturday night and our only night together in Tokyo and we were going to make the most of it, damn it! We straight up rallied and took one of the last trains of the night to Shibuya, where a lot of the clubs and nightlife is in Tokyo.

Our plan was to hit up a club called Womb (for obvious reasons), but since the trains stop pretty early we wanted to kill some time before walking over there. So we grabbed a few cans of beer from a convenient store and sat on the curb in busy downtown Shibuya for a few minutes just to hang out. And before we knew it, we were out at an Izakaya with a Japanese reporter and a diplomat to China getting ready to sing karaoke until 6 o’clock in the morning. We never made it to Womb and we had the best freaking night ever. If there was ever a case for rallying.

I was content to let the next day pass in the haze of my hangover, but Betsy made sure that I actually saw more of Tokyo than the inside of a bar and got us up for some sightseeing. We walked toward Tokyo tower, stopping at some shrines and parks along the way, and I was surprised at how many peaceful places we found in the one of the most crowded cities in the world. Here are few of my favorite shots from our adventures that day…

That night, Betsy had to head back home and I had to prepare for my 30 hours of travel ahead. It was a tough goodbye after such an amazing week and I know we were both really bummed not knowing when we’d see each other again. I tried to distract myself from the blues by stocking up on some last minute souvenirs and planning my route to the airport, but it felt so weird to be alone in Tokyo. The next morning, my giant suitcase and I took the cramped Tokyo morning commute to Narita and started the long trip back to Madison.

Looking back, I can’t believe I did all of this in a week. I was so nervous about this trip: that it would be so hard, that I would be worried the whole time and not have fun, that Betsy and I wouldn’t get along as well as we used to. But I jumped in and went anyway and, although things were tough and I did have to push myself at times, it was the best decision I’ve made in a long time. I learned that I can always rely on myself, that I have the best friends in the world (literally), and that people can be kind in even the smallest ways.

I’ll end on this last little story: when I was taking the train from Tokyo to Kyoto on my first day, I was absolutely drained. It was the last leg of my journey and I had found out that I’d gotten on the wrong train. It was going in the right direction thankfully, but would take even longer to get there. I was so frustrated that I cried and promptly fell asleep from exhaustion. When I woke up, sitting on my suitcase was a tiny note from the conductor giving me the time we would reach Kyoto and wishing me a nice trip. It was the sweetest, smallest gesture and it meant the world to me in that moment. And that’s what I’ll take away from Japan.

If you want to see more from my trip, check out my other posts from Japan: Fushimi Inari, the Miho Museum, and Heian Shrine and Kyoto.

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A Few Snapshots from Colorado

Boulder Colorado Mountain

Last week I was in Denver for work and got to tack on a weekend in Boulder to visit my dad and stepmom. I don’t travel a lot for work (unlike a lot of people) so it’s nice to be able to make an event of it when I do. My parents have been living half the time in Chicagoland and half the time in Boulder for a while now and are planning on setting up shop full time out there soon so they were happy to show me around. They know the good hiking spots and fun bars and it was such a treat to relax after a week of stressful presentations at customer sites.

I worked remotely on Friday, but we still managed to get a great hike in at lunch at Chautauqua Park complete with picnic and perfect weather. It was great to get outdoors in the middle of day – I might try going for a walk before lunch now that I’m back in the office. It’s always good to remind yourself there’s an outside world, right?

The rest of the weekend was grilling and hiking and drinking beer and damn did it feel good. I also got to meet up with my friend, Emily, who is going to grad school in Colorado – I hadn’t seen her in a year so it felt extra special!

I didn’t bring my nice camera since I was packing light for work, but I wanted to share a few snaps from the weekend. Lots of nature and chill weekend vibes. I also shared some of my favorite local spots below, in case you’re curious. Enjoy!

Chautauqua Park

A few places I loved around town:

Spruce Confections – I’ve been here for coffee and pastries a couple of times now and it’s delicious. Great iced coffee and creamy cheese danish is my weakness.

West End Tavern – We had dinner here on Saturday night and I loved their BBQ brisket and chill local vibes. They also have great bourbon cocktails (and I’m not a bourbon fan) so I was pretty happy.

Walrus Saloon – My friends and I left the parents behind for this spot at the suggestion of a couple of CU kids I cornered on Pearl Street. It was your typical college bar, but I’m a sucker for an open dance floor and $4 drinks.

Walnut Cafe – After a night out on the town we were in desperate need of a good brunch. We whiled away the wait reading the most well thought out horoscopes in the local paper and chowed down on Belgium waffles, fresh fruit, bacon, and quesadillas. Really nice staff and super cute spot.

Red Rocks – Technically this spot is closer to Denver, but it’s honestly the coolest place to catch a concert. I had low expectations when my dad got us tickets to see someone called Trombone Shorty, but we actually had the best time! Gorgeous views and funky tunes all around.

 

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My Trip to Japan: Heian Shrine + Kyoto

Kyoto Garden Japan

Kyoto Garden JapanKyoto Temple Japan

Day Four – Kyoto, Heian Shrine, and Teramachi Street

My first full day with Betsy started out with a serious hangover and an incredible lunch. After a night of drinking a boat load of mugi the night before – a potent Japanese liquor – and still being very jet lagged, I was not in great shape. But we dragged our asses off our mats and went to grab yakiniku with Betsy’s friends from the night before. They seem somehow unfazed by the entire ordeal or maybe I just couldn’t tell in the flurry of Japanese. Hangover or not, though, yakiniku was by far the best thing I ate in Japan, which really surprised me. I’ve been a die hard sushi fan my entire life and the sushi in Japan was delicious, but I was blown away by how incredible this lunch was.

Yakiniku, as I understand it, is Japanese grilled meat. They brought a big platter of raw meat to our table and lit a small grill in the center of our table. One of Betsy’s friends graciously grilled for us and obviously knew what he was doing because each piece was perfection – tender and flavorful. Betsy said that yakiniku is terrible to do with Americans because everyone is trying to grab enough for themselves, but with her Japanese friends it’s so pleasant and everyone always gets enough.

Japan Yakiniku Meat

After lunch, Betsy, her friend Hinaco, and I set off into Kyoto for a day of exploring. Our first stop was Heian Shrine – a beautiful complex of burnt orange torii gates and unbelievable gardens. We walked the grounds of the temple, watched others do traditional prayers, and even took a stab at a hand washing ritual that I had seen at several other local temples. Even though Heian Shrine was only built in the late 1800s, it still had that ancient feel to it, like it is part of a much longer lineage than that.

Japan Taxi KyotoKyoto Temple JapanI was most impressed by the expansive gardens that surround the shrine. Blankets of moss, blossoming lily pads, twisted branches – I was pretty much in photo heaven. The grounds were glorious even against the clouds and rain and each pond seemed even more ornate than the last. And in true Japanese magic fashion, we got a visit from some pretty spectacular great blue herons, which are one of my favorite birds.

We chatted and laughed our way through the garden – and major shoutout to Betsy for translating between Hinaco and I all freakin’ day. She was exhausted by the end of it, but it honestly felt so amazing to be able to interact and joke with someone who is actually Japanese. She definitely knew more English than I did Japanese (my single vocabulary word being ‘yabai’ which means dangerous and is used in a lot of ways), but there was a lot of back and forth. Needless to say, Betsy is a translating rockstar.

Kyoto Garden Heain ShrineJapan Garden Sign Heain ShrineKyoto Japan Lily PadsKyoto Garden JapanJapan Kyoto Garden Heian Shrine

After we tired ourselves out at the gardens, we stopped for some parfait, which I had no idea was a thing in Japan. And they go all out – these things were works of art and absolutely put American ‘parfaits’ to shame. I got a matcha parfait, which seemed like one of the safer choices, and I encountered textures that I didn’t realize food could have. Some were soft and melted in your mouth, others stuck to the roof of it and took some getting used to. Although I don’t think I’m going to jump aboard the matcha moment American culture is having right now, it was better than I expected!

We spent the rest of the day walking around Kyoto, ducking into vintage shops and souvenir depots. I bought the most amazing pair of vintage earrings that I’m sure will make an appearance in an upcoming outfit post and picked up a few Gudetama knick knacks to take home. Gudetama is a cartoon egg characterized by his extreme laziness and is also the cutest thing in the world – just sayin’.

Our last stop before heading home was getting sushi for dinner! I was so excited to try sushi in Japan and it did not disappoint, especially after a long day of walking. I tried a little bit of everything and loved it all, of course. We then hopped on the train back to Ishiyama station and totally crashed. Betsy and I agreed that tomorrow would be a day of relaxation after all of today’s walking and translating  – keep your eyes peeled for the next post featuring a pretty unbelievable onsen. Oh and lots of deer – stay tuned!

Be sure to check out my last posts from Japan here and here. And let me know if you’re traveling over there sometime soon – would love to share my tips and hear about your plans!

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My Trip to Japan: The Miho Museum + Betsy’s Birthday

Miho Museum

Miho Museum

Day Three – The Miho Museum

My third day’s adventure started with a bus ride up into the Japanese mountains. I discovered the Miho Museum on social media because Louis Vuitton presented their Cruise show there just a few weeks before. The entire setup looked incredible: the museum features super-modern architecture set against a backdrop of pure forest green. Once I found out it was only an hour away from where I was staying in Otsu, it made the top of my list.

To get to the Miho Museum, I crammed into a small bus leaving from Ishiyama station. This is the only way to get to the Miho Museum so get in line early or else you’ll end up riding in the luggage carrier like I did. The ride is about an hour and the views on the way are pretty spectacular. It was nice to get away from the crowds of Kyoto and Fushimi Inari and just take in the atmosphere of summer in Japan. It always feels like something special is right around the corner.

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I mentioned in my last post about the magic of Japan, especially in the forest, and the Miho Museum has the same effect. It’s a modern gem tucked away in the middle of nowhere. There are so few people there, too, that it was like stumbling across a secret.

To get to the museum itself, you start at the welcome center and walk through a long aluminum tunnel. The tunnel opens up to to a long bridge overlooking the forest. You’re suspended above the landscape looking out over a valley of trees. The weather was hot while I was there, but everything felt breezier and less congested outside of the city.

The bridge leads to a staircase and into the museum itself. Walking into the main lobby of the Miho Museum was like looking at a real life painting. The windows are framed around the peaks in the distance and a beautiful overhanging tree in the foreground. The building is made up of geometric architecture that casts patterned shadows across the warm limestone floors. The whole place seemed so clean and fresh, completely unfazed by the hot summer weather.

The entire experience of the museum flows into the next – the tunnel, the bridge, the museum, the lobby – they all feel connected into one piece. The museum was a lifelong dream of Mihoko Koyama and it’s obvious the level of care and precision it was created with. The architect, I.M. Pei, created a modern space integrated into the landscape – you can even see another one of his creations, the Bell Tower of Misono, in the distance from the lobby.

Miho MuseumMiho MuseumMiho Museum

The Miho Museum is really hard to capture on camera because it’s a 360 degree experience. Each element of the modern design is stunning on its own, but its amazing to encounter it in conjunction with the landscape. It still feels organic. I think that’s the magic of Japan: the way everything feels both modern and timeless simultaneously. The country is so groundbreaking and futuristic, but it’s also deeply grounded in tradition and history. The Miho Museum encapsulated this sentiment really well.

After eating lunch in the cafe, I grabbed the bus back to Otsu and headed back to Betsy’s for a very special night… Betsy’s birthday!!! I was so excited that my trip lined up with Betsy’s birthday and that I got to celebrate this amazing woman in Japan! We honestly had the best night: grabbed dinner with friends, went to Bar Fuckin’ Skulls for drinks, and smashed cake into people’s faces until the wee hours. What more could you want?

Here are a few photos to commemorate the evening…

I was so touched by how obviously loved Betsy is here in Japan. Her friends all came out to celebrate, got her a cake, and the bartender even made a shirt with her name on it. It made for such a fun night and I was really happy I could be there for her special day. We love you, ya weirdo!

Stay tuned for more Japan posts (I promise I’ll get to them quicker this time) and let me know if you have any awesome travel plans coming up! Would love to hear!

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My Trip to Japan: Fushimi Inari Shrine

Japan Fushimi Inari Shrine Toro Gates

About 2 weeks ago, I went over to visit my best friend from college, Betsy, who has been living and teaching English in Japan for over 3 years. We were inseparable in college (we sometimes got mistaken for a couple) and I hadn’t seen her since she graduated from Bryn Mawr in 2014. She had plans to come visit me in Dublin last summer, but her flight literally got cancelled while she was on the plane. It was tragic, there was lots of crying on both ends, I almost rented a puppy in my grief. But a year later, we finally got it together, prayed for no flight cancellations, and were reunited. Once again, there were tears, but of the good and extremely jet lagged variety.

I spent 6 days in the Kyoto area, where Betsy lives, and 3 days in Tokyo. It was honestly one of the best trips I’ve ever taken for so many reasons: reconnecting with Betsy, traveling to a new place by myself, visiting Asia for the first time, and investing in personal experience instead of material items. I was nervous before I left (and I’m rarely ever a nervous traveler), but I was so proud that I pushed myself and did something amazing.

It took me a little longer to get over the jet lag than I had anticipated (2 full weeks), but here’s my first post from Japan!

Japan Street Otsu

Day One – Madison to Kyoto

So, Japan is far away… I drove from Madison to Chicago O’Hare (park in Lot G, if you’re doing long term btw – $10 a day!) after work. And had my first flight from Chicago to Seoul, South Korea. It’s a 14-hour flight, but by some glorious magic I slept through most of it. Also, I watched Hidden Figures and cried a lot.

I tried to make the flight a little less arduous and make it feel more like part of my vacation because, let’s be honest, how often do we really take 14 hours to be completely unplugged? I read a book (Big Little Lies – review coming soon!), wore cozy wool socks, and pampered my skin a little bit. I also brought snacks I never buy for myself and hydrated like crazy. The whole thing was kind of nice, actually.

Flight two was from Seoul to Tokyo after a 5-hour layover. This was a way shorter flight, only about 2 hours, and I learned that Korean airplane food is superior to American airplane food.

Japan Mount Fuji

After landing in Japan, I took the Narita express from the airport into Tokyo itself – the airport is about 1 hour outside of the city – and then I transferred to the Shinkansen, the Japanese bullet train, which took me down to Kyoto. I finally met up with Betsy at the Kyoto train station and we made our final transfer to Ishiyama Station in Otsu, where she lives. Definitely a satisfying reunion.

I’ll be sharing a separate post of my Japan-specific travel tips, but I want to emphasize this one if you’ll be traveling around a bit: get a Japan Rail Pass! Betsy told me about it before I left so I had a chance to order one online and it made train travel sooo much easier while I was there – I just flashed my pass to the conductor at the gate any time I wanted to get on a train. Plus, if you take the Shinkansen twice it essentially pays for itself.

After taking the most incredible feeling shower ever, Betsy and I went into town for some hearty food and cold beer and all was right in the world.

Day Two – Fushimi Inari-taisha

Japan Kyoto Fushimi Inari Shrine Japan Fushimi Inari Shrine Kimono

Since Betsy had to work on my first full day in Japan, I hit the ground running by heading out on my own for Fushimi Inari shrine. An easy train ride from Kyoto station, you walk off the train and are greeted by large red gates and a flurry of tourists. But don’t be deterred, the big groups dissipate as you go further up the mountain and soon you’re gloriously alone in the Japanese forest following miles of these vibrant Toro Gates. There are some places in the world that have felt magical to me, like I’ve been in the presence of something larger than myself, and Fushimi Inari was certainly one of them.

I’m someone who is often moved by beautiful churches and grand artistic gestures, so I guess it’s not a surprise that I felt deeply connected to this place. But a friend of mine, who I would safely categorize as a skeptic, insisted that I visit Fushimi Inari because it is so incredible. Betsy kept talking about how magical Japan feels during the summer and I began to understand why.

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To me, the experience of climbing Fushimi Inari felt a lot like the journey of faith. At first, I was afraid to face this challenge in a strange land by myself. I wasn’t really sure what I’d gotten myself into. I wished someone had come with me. But once I started climbing and the crowds began to dwindle, I found the excitement of going it alone. Row after row of red gates curving up hills in the dappled, afternoon sunlight. It was the Japanese magic Betsy had talked about. Even amongst the crowds you could feel that something with gravity lived here. The route was confusing and several times I thought I had reached the top, but I hadn’t. More people started to turn back to the busy main shrines in the foothills. But I kept pushing, partly out of stubbornness and partly because I felt pulled by something to make to the final shrine at the top.

I reached a few quiet shrines along the way and wow is there something ancient and profound that mingles in this place. Whether it is a spirit or God or centuries of sacredness left by humans, I felt a real fear and humility at the feet of these shrines. I had to push myself to stand at the steps of these temples. I felt strangely curious and deeply complete.

Japan Fushimi Inari Shrine Red GatesJapan Kyoto Fushimi Inari ShrineJapan Fushimi Inari Shrine KyotoJapan Fushimi Inari Shrine SpiderwebJapan Kyoto Fushimi Inari Shrine

When I did finally get to the top, it took a literal sign saying “Top of Mountain” for me to believe it because the shrine there looked just like all the others. With that kind of lead up, you expect something magnificent at the top! I hadn’t considered that there might not be some bright shining reward at the end, so I was confused and a little disappointed at first. But then I laughed at myself. It was a total reminder that I needed to open myself up to this trip and I couldn’t have any expectations of what things would be like. It also made me think in a more profound way that we don’t know what’s coming in life – maybe the hard times are rewards in and of themselves, maybe we’ll work hard and there won’t be a prize waiting for us at the end, but we can’t let that stop us from experiencing life. As MyCy would say, it’s the climb.

I cried after I reached the top. Alone in the middle of the Japanese forest surrounded by miles of magical wooden gates. Jet lagged and exhausted and overwhelmed. But after months of working in a windowless office looking at a computer screen, I was just happy to be experiencing the world.

I made my way back down to the foothills in what seemed like minutes and took the train back to Ishiyama to meet up with Betsy for dinner. We sat at her kitchen table drinking cans of cold beer I bought at the convenient store in the thick heat and chatted about her students and my adventure and religion and family. It felt like 3 years had never passed, like I hoped it would.

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That night we went into Kyoto for ramen, which tasted incredible after a long day of hiking. We ate gyoza and fatty broth, slurped noodles, and watched the men in the kitchen greet folks as they came and went. The jet lag was really starting to get me, though, and my calves ached from my day of walking. I was ready to pass out as soon as we got home, all warm and sleepy, and I knew I had to sleep well because tomorrow was Betsy’s birthday! Stay tuned for mile high museums, giant wooden utensils, and the best named bar ever. Next time!

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Biddies Abroad: Emily Schumacher in France

Hey there! This is the first of a series I’m doing here on TOAST called Biddies Abroad. After having my own experience living abroad, I’ve become really curious about the lives of other young women who are spending time outside of their home country. So, I decided to ask! Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing stories of some majorly amazing women and the challenges, joy, and growth that came with living abroad.

Up first, we have my lifelong friend, Emily Schumacher, who has spent the past year living and working in France as an English Teaching Assistant. We talk about letting go, living in a second language, and how to get a bunch of french teens to care about Social Justice…

Where she lives: The way that Paris works is you have the main city which is surrounded by this giant highway that they literally call the periphery, it’s hilarious, in French it’s Périphérique. Outside of that is what they call the Île-de-France region, which contains Paris and all the suburbs around Paris and that extends outside of the city 2 hours in each direction – it’s never ending! I’m 40 minutes Southeast of Paris so not that close to it. My town is called Athis-Mons because it used to be two cities that they combined. It’s a really old town – a lot of the buildings are built up from the 1500s or even before that. It was a feudal town back in the day and kept being renovated.

Living with a French mom: The woman who owns the house started renting out the rooms because her kids moved out – her daughter just peaced out and moved to Australia. She makes dinner for us and speaks French to me for 3 hours a night. There’s been a few different situations: the room I’m living in was once lived in by an artist who makes costumes for the Disney theme park in Paris, she’s living the dream. And we had another girl who lived with us that our host mom took in because she was sleeping in the airport, her situation was insane.

The real dish on her program: TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France), my program, doesn’t give a shit about you. It’s an offshoot of CIEP because so many people apply to be teachers in France they actually had to start another program, TAPIF. The program doesn’t do anything: they give you a work contract and that’s it. You have to find your own housing and figure out all of your paperwork and only get paid 790 euros a month. For reference, you literally can’t find apartments in Paris for less than 800 and even then maybe your shower isn’t in your apartment, you’d have to share one.

Who she would recommend her program to: I would honestly recommend this program to someone who is a really independent person and organized and who can get their shit done because you have no one behind you telling you when your deadlines are or how to deal with French administration. You kind of just have to figure it out yourself, which is insane. But because I have this really Type A personality, it’s helped me on that front.

How to have your best experience: I get it, it’s really enticing to move somewhere and live in another country but you really have to have a solid path of what you’re going to do and a solid way of paying for it. I think a lot of people are enticed with the idea that they’re going to show up to a country and make it work – that can happen, but I feel like it’s really rare. There’s no way you’re going to have a good experience because you’re going to spend all of your time being stressed about not being able to live.

But don’t plan too much: The biggest thing I’ve learned from this experience is to let things go because 90% of the time they’ll work themselves out. There’s only a certain level of planning you can do: once you have your job, once you have your housing figured out, that’s all you can do. You can spend hours a day saying I’m going to do this and I’m going to get this done at this time, but it’s probably not going to work out the way you think it will. There’s just no way you can plan how you’re going to meet people and who you’re going to connect with.

On living in a second language: I found that I have a lot of trouble putting myself out there because I’m speaking another language. I’m so insecure – I’ve always been a good student and academically oriented and all of a sudden I speak like a toddler… I just don’t know grammar rules or I use things incorrectly. The French people are not the most forgiving. I’m really lucky because the French friends I have are actually really forgiving about my French not being perfect, but when I’m talking to new people I feel really insecure about it. It’s been a constant struggle to feel comfortable.

When she started asking for help: I really didn’t actively do it until about January [about 3 months in]. I’ve been so used to automatically knowing what to say and always knowing what to do so it’s been really humbling asking “did I say this right?” I think as an adult you’re so used to knowing what’s right – it takes a removal of your ego to actually ask people if this is wrong and to know you’re not always going to be right. You can’t plan every single word you’re going to say in a foreign language. You have to just try. You have to revert back to being vulnerable. I’ve had to take a step back. I can’t control everything, I’m not perfect. There are some things I’m not going to be good at, but I have to keep trying.

Her embarrassing language moment: I got here a week before my program started so I went to talk to the people at my school. Within minutes of arriving at my collège, which is the middle school, I’m being walked around by one of the teachers and I meet the principal. With all the teachers, I use tu [the informal you] obviously, but with the Principal you’re supposed to used vous [the formal you]. So, the teacher introduces me to this Principal and I’m automatically intimidated by her – I’m like shit this is my boss, don’t fuck this up! And off the bat I immediately start using tu with her… I couldn’t think and was just like fuck! So that was bad…

Her proudest language moment: I was talking with a French teacher and he was telling me that I honestly speak as well or better than some of his Terminale students, which is the last year of high school. That means I could pass the Bac, which is the most difficult test that exists in the world… That was a very, very good moment. The French teachers are hard as shit.

On the school she teaches at: Because I’m in the suburbs and not in the city, it’s the opposite of America: all the rich people are in the city and the young people can afford to live here in the suburbs. This is the lower income area so there are a lot of discipline problems. A lot of the parents in the area have to work a lot so they don’t spend a lot of time disciplining their kids – most of the parents have 2 or 3 jobs. The kids are then in charge of the other child care because a lot of my kids have 3 or 4 siblings. No one is really encouraging them to do their homework and focus on school, so I have very few kids that seem like they’re really interested in English or even good at it because they don’t have the time to devote to it. Also, a lot of the teachers that are at the schools don’t really want to be there, but they have to be. When you’re a teacher in France, you basically work for a certain amount of time and accumulate points and then when you get a certain amount of points you can move academies and move to a place you want to work. I don’t like it; a lot of the teachers don’t want to be there.

How she gets her students fired up: I feel like when we were growing up, school always talked about racism as a thing of the past. Even before Black Lives Matter, I really didn’t know how bad it was with Black people and the police. There are still so many problems and it’s really important to talk about with the students. We can’t rest on this idea that we’ve solved all of our problems. With my high school classes, all the teachers themselves will focus on social justice issues – one of my teachers was doing a lesson on street art so we got to talk about street art. I can actually talk to them about the Women’s March; I designed a lesson plan about Climate Change. One of my teachers was talking about how they wanted to cover segregation and the 1960s and I felt like it was incomplete to talk about Martin Luther King without talking about current events. And of course, not everyone is interested but there have been some lessons where I’ve gotten almost the entire class really invested in it.

Why it’s important to talk about race with her kids: French people get on Americans for being racist all the time and yet they will never have a Black person or a Muslim person running for office; that would be unheard of. Even the kids in my class, the White kids can be very racist against the Black kids. Everyone has blind spots. All the kids hear a lot about the racism that goes on in America, but a Black man was assaulted by a police officer in the North of Paris and they didn’t really know about it. This is happening in your country, don’t think it’s just outside of the country. I would say a lot of my classes are like 50% White – I have a lot of Muslim students, a lot of Tunisian students, Moroccan students, all the North African countries because that’s where they speak French so a lot of their parents have immigrated here. I have very, very diverse classrooms and I love it. It’s cool talking about Black Lives Matter and having my students that are Black, and some of the White kids too, being very interested in it, saying “We need a movement like this in France”.

On meeting new friends: I got really lucky – pretty much all the teachers at my school are actually 25 and under. Oh my god, it’s so great. I’ve basically made all of my friends from having other teachers my age. We’ll go out on weekends and have parties for everyone in the school. And a lot of my friends are also Americans that I met through the program, which is another thing that let me meet people.

Why it’s important to stay open: Honestly, I think it’s really easy when you’re in a new place to choose to isolate yourself. In December, I was in a bad place because I was so sick of teaching and I was really homesick. I knew I wasn’t going to see my parents for Christmas which was a tough thing for me to deal with. I didn’t really talk to people and didn’t put myself out there as much as I should have and I ended up getting really depressed because I was cutting myself off. I think it’s really important to keep putting yourself out there because even if you’re not in a good place, keeping yourself from people is not going to help. For me, it felt like I didn’t want to talk to anyone because I was sad, but the more that I talked to people the less sad I felt.

How dating’s difference: The way guys flirt in France is by coming up to you and saying “you’re really hot.” Not asking me about myself, not talking, just “we should fuck”. At least find out my name! I think French guys think women are walking vaginas… And with the language difference, I haven’t really gone out with guys or flirted with guys because there’s already a power disadvantage. I’m much more a verbal person and it’s been a really interesting adjustment; I’ve become much more okay with just being friends with people. Also, I low-key get cat called all the time here, even in my small ass town!

 

France vs. Australia (her college study abroad program): Being a teacher in a school compared to going abroad are very disparate. This job is so crazy, there’s no way I was going to have as much fun as I had in Australia. I think I worked literally 2 hours a week when I was in Australia… It was insane. All of my classes were graded on a midterm and a final grade, so like everything in between was partying. I had so much more free time. Also, Australians are just very different people. They’re so open and friendly. Even my French friends, they have this distance. I’m loud, even when I speak French I’m loud, and a lot of French people don’t respond to that. I’m so open – I said like “Oh, I have to go pee” and my French friend was so taken aback that I said that to her! That’s just what we say in America!

  

What she loves about France: I love living in Europe, I love the train systems, I love how easy it is to get around, to experience new cultures, it’s amazing. The culture and the amazing food and just the way the country looks. I don’t know, it’s just wonderful.

What she misses about home: My shower doesn’t have a mounted shower head so I have to take my showers like this [curls up into a ball]. I love living in Europe, but I cannot with it! Also none of the mattresses in France are comfortable, like every mattress is a sofa mattress. It’s like they don’t believe in padding – the mattresses aren’t thick enough!

Where she wants to go next: Not home!

Since this interview, Emily has accepted a spot going to grad school! She’ll be attending University of Northern Colorado to study conservation genetics and continuing to be a badass. Thanks so much, Emily – you’re awesome!

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Winter on Lake Monona

With all this beautiful weather we’ve been having, I had to get outside so I took a long glorious walk down by Lake Monona last weekend. I feel so lucky to live right on the isthmus (the best geographic term, right?) and to be so close to both of Madison’s gorgeous lakes. Winter has been a tough time to move to a new city – everyone is in hibernation and there’s not so much going on – but this little thaw we’ve had has gotten me so excited for Spring. After being away from the Midwest for so long I’ve forgotten how much the cities come alive with the weather!

I didn’t expect my walk to turn into a photography expedition or else I would have brought my big camera but I had to share some snaps I took on my phone while I was out. How crazy is that ice?! I’m such a sucker for that sort of thing so these are only a few of the like billion photos I took of it.

Anyway, I hope you have a wonderful Tuesday and soak up the sun while we have it for a moment. 😎

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