My Love Affair with England

This summer, I had the opportunity to work in North Devon, England.

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It was the tail end of my year abroad and when June hit and most of my auxiliar friends left Bilbao, I was starting to second guess my epic idea to stay in Europe for the summer. To say that I was “over it” was an understatement, but the instant I got off off the plane in Bristol, I couldn’t stop smiling. It was the same smile I had when I landed in NYC after backpacking and when I landed in Atlanta to visit home for Christmas in 2013. It’s that warm feeling you get of being home after a time away, the recognition of the language, feeling a deeper connection with others around you and just the feeling of being at home. I never thought I would experience this in any country but the USA, but when I landed in England, I knew I was in for a great summer. 

Did I mention I was traveling this whole time with a camp of 80 spanish students and 12 counselors? Definitely made for a more interesting travel, but I was used to working with spanish highschool students from the year before. Once we landed in Bristol, we hopped onto charter buses that drove us the 3 hours to North Devon. On the bus, I immediately made friends with the bus driver, who I am not kidding when I say, looked like Prince Harry. It was so cliche, but I can’t even make this up! I asked him what to expect about North Devon, because I honestly did NO planning before hand and frankly, wasn’t even sure where I was going in England (side effect of being “over it” at the end of a year of living abroad). He explained the towns we were staying in (Barnstaple and Bideford) were sleepy towns but definitely had their own culture (as a local, he kind of bashed it the way I bash Mason, OH; which I thought was hilarious). I had mentioned that I had visited London, but he assured me this was nothing like London–not even the accents were the same.

Rolling hills of Devon

Rolling hills of Devon

I arrived late in Barnstaple and was promptly taken to “Elizabeth’s House”, where I would be staying. Angela, the english coordinator for the camp, assured me that I would get along with Elizabeth, as she was a retired fashion designer from London (she had designed dresses for Julia Roberts!). Opening the door to Elizabeth’s house, it was the most elegant house I have even been in. Chandeliers hung from the ceiling, elegant artwork filled the walls, rich furniture infused every room and the house had a color scheme that looked like it was from a Jane Austen movie. Not to mention, the house overlooked Barnstaple and outside was a magnificent garden with small wooden bridges and fountains. Each night, Elizabeth cooked a huge dinner and I definitely improved my manners. I was staying with 2 other english teachers and a spanish student. The 2 other english teachers had been students at Cambridge and the girl, Nora, was the most elegant and proper english girl I had ever met. She had the quintessential english accent and the best table manners I had ever seen. Dinners became hilarious for me and the spanish student because, quite frankly, we were messes at dinner relative to every one else. There were some dinners we couldn’t even make eye contact without laughing–that’s how bad it was. Ron, Elizabeth’s husband, was pretty deaf so we were always shouting so he could understand us, or he would make a comment that actually had nothing to do with the conversation we were having. It was great.

Part of Elizabeth's backyard

Part of Elizabeth’s backyard

My love affair with England continued when I met Elle, another english teacher and her awesome host family. Elle and I clicked immediately and spent every day in England together, from going to the water park with our students to making sushi with her host family. We definitely worked hard to teach the students english, but had fun along the way! I spent a lot of time with her host family, at barbecues and just exploring Bideford, as I was staying in Barnstaple.

Elle + me + snake

Elle + me + snake

While my love affair with England was cut short when the camp ended, North Devon will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s travel adventures like these that make you realize it’s less about the places you go and more about the people. My summer in North Devon came at the perfect time in my life, as I needed to leave Spain, but wasn’t quite ready to leave Europe. Now, when people ask if I fell in love abroad, I always reply that I did…with North Devon. #singlegirlproblems 

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The Return to Blogging

So I’ve been absent from the blog for awhile. I’ve actually had a few posts ready to submit, but I just haven’t. It’s always difficult, because I am such a private person, and sometimes struggle with the idea of posting everything on social media. But then I remember I love blogging and instagram and just want to live my life and the haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate. I’ve also been busy trying to get my shit together (excuse my french), which hasn’t exactly happened but I think things are falling into place kind of, maybe. I’m currently back in Cincinnati, OH, for the first time in 6 years! It’s crazy being home, because nothing has really changed, except I’m 24 now and could use a bigger selection of young, single men here, not the suburban dads; but the suburban moms like to drink wine so we get along fine.

The last really hip passport picture I got to take on my travels home in August

The last really hip passport picture I got to take on my travels home in August

Anyways, after spending the summer in England, I returned to the USA on a high from traveling, making international friends, a crazy summer in England, and a plane ticket back to Madrid already booked. Well, home was a wake up call, and I panicked and decided I wanted to apply to grad school while my MCAT scores were still valid (I CAN’T TAKE THAT AWFUL, LIFE RUINING TEST AGAIN), so on September 22, the day my flight was scheduled to go to Madrid, I got my wisdom teeth out. If that doesn’t explain reality coming crashing down and slapping you in the face and making your cheeks really swollen, I’m not exactly sure what does. 

North Devon, England...Where I lived this summer!

North Devon, England…Where I lived this summer!

So my life right now consists of figuring it out….whatever that it may be. But in the mean time, I am still really focused on travel and health/wellness, so that’s definitely the direction my life and this blog is going to take!

So you would believe the previous picture was actually England...there were some telephone booths nearby.

So you would believe the previous picture was actually England…there were some telephone booths nearby.

Now, I might take the plunge and try to self host…..so I’ll probably not post again until I figure that out….which probably will be in 2015. 

10 Things All New Auxiliares Should Know

I remember last year at this time when I was thinking about doing the Auxiliar de Conversacion program in Spain. I had about a million questions running through my head, and I felt like every blog post I read or facebook group post I read was giving me some solid answers, but also some mixed answers on a few different topics. So, I decided to write this for new auxiliares about the top 10 things I think they should know BEFORE coming into the program.

1. It’s in Spain. I know this is obvious, but with the program being in Spain means that it operates under a spanish timeline. What I mean is that everything takes a little longer here. Everything from a visit to a restaurant to getting your NIE card. With that being said, you also won’t find out about your school placement for awhile, and even after you do, you probably won’t get too much information until the first day you walk into the school. Also, basically the whole month of August, Spain is on vacation, so don’t expect any emails regarding your school to be returned then. Unless you get a school director that’s super into technology and communication, which is rare. But remember the positive too–it’s in Spain! Siestas, vino, parties, different culture, travel, etc. 

Spain in a nutshell. (source)

Spain in a nutshell. (source)

2. It’s run by the Spanish Government. Be prepared for bureaucracy at is finest. It took me FOREVER to get my NIE/TIE because I live in Bizkaia but my school is in Gipuzkoa, so I had to go to San Sebastian police station to get my NIE (just the number), but then had to get my TIE (the actual card) from the Bilbao police station. Why? Not really sure. It really depends on who is working what day and your luck. But in my experience, put a smile on your face and attempt to speak spanish and (most) people will be helpful.

3. Brush up on Spanish BEFORE you come. Listen to music, study general vocab and verbs, etc. Check out my post about learning spanish if you need some ideas!

Don't be this person when you come. (source)

Don’t be this person when you come. (source)

4. Find housing AFTER you come. Don’t agree to anything before you come. It’s better to book a hostel or hotel for a week and figure out where you want to live once you get a feeling of the city or pueblo you’re living in.

5. Come with money. There have been lots of posts in the auxiliares facebook page and the general consensus is come with about $2000-$2500 saved. I came with that much and it really helped me when I needed to quit aupairing and live on my own.

6. Settle first, travel later. Yes, you’re living in Europe and it’s really exciting that you can travel everywhere so easily. But if I could go back and change something, I wouldn’t have traveled so much in the beginning here. It was overwhelming and I feel like now I have a good group of friends who have become my travel buddies and I enjoy the trips I take more. I think trying to settle and getting to know the city you’re living in first is really important. I didn’t feel settled here until late December, then I went to the USA for Xmas and it took me another money after I got home to resettle.

Me, when I got here lolol. I'm still like this. #wanderlustproblems (source)

Me, when I got here lolol. I’m still like this. #wanderlustproblems (source)

7. Use social media and word of mouth for private classes. I got the majority of my classes using the facebook groups. People always post about people wanting private lessons, and once you find a family or two, it usually just snowballs to more people wanting them. Be open to teaching both children and adults. I give a lot of lessons to adults and they are my favorite classes!

8. Bring an unlocked iPhone (or other phone that is unlocked). Seriously. This is one thing I STRUGGLED with when I got here. I don’t like to be that person that is attached to their phone, but when you move to a foreign country and are trying to settle, technology is VITAL. You need it to schedule private classes, for apartment searching, maps if you get lost. I didn’t have a working iPhone here until the middle of November (about 7 weeks after I got here) and it was just awful. If you have an unlocked iPhone, all you have to do is get a sim card and pop it in! It’s so easy. I use Yoigo and I love it. It ends up being about 10 euros a month and I have 3G and cheap texting/calling. In Spain, everyone uses Whatsapp, so text message prices never factor in anyways. And I only call for emergencies. I can recharge my sim card online and I do it every 2 months. So just bring an unlocked phone and save yourself the hassle of getting it unlocked here, or worse, having to buy a phone here. 

9. Not everything is going to work out–be flexible. When I first got here, I was a live in aupair. It was awful. It seemed like it was going to be the perfect situation because I would have free rent/food and only had to watch the kids a few hours a day. Well, a few hours turned into a lot of hours and I was overwhelmed and felt like I had no life here. After a month, I quit aupairing, moved out, find an apartment and began giving private classes. Just remember to be flexible and if something doesn’t work out, change it. 

Always true! No matter the situation. (source)

Always true! No matter the situation. (source)

10. Just breath! It’ll be fine! It’s going to be overwhelming at times, but it’s an adventure and a HUGE learning experience. The best part is, you’re in Spain, so everything is more laid back here. In the USA, I felt like my life NEVER slowed down and I was always going and stressed. Here, while I was really overwhelmed when I first got here, I did have time to relax and breath once I quit aupairing. So relax, half the struggle is making the decision to come and the first 1-2 months of living here. But like any big change in life, it takes time. You’re not going to feel settled and comfortable over night, but give it time. I really think it’s about making it over that 2 month mark, and then it’s pretty smooth sailing. 

Just go! (source)

Just go! (source)

I hope this helps any auxiliares who are thinking about doing the program! I would highly recommend it. And if you hate it, the time FLIES. I am in month 7 or my 8 month contract, and it seems like I just got here YESTERDAY. Let me know if you have any other questions, I’d be happy to answer them!

 

Vegan Brownie Batter in a Mug

LO SIENTO for the blog disappearance, but a few weeks ago was CARNIVAL (or, CARNAVAL en espanol) in Spain and I jetted off to Tenerife in the Canary Islands for the week and I’ve been SO BUSY since then figuring out future plans, planning trips, working, etc. Tenerife is definitely one of the coolest places I’ve ever been in the world. There’s not too many places in the world that have snow, volcanoes, volcanic rock, mountains, beaches, cliffs and the ocean all within 1 hour driving distance of each other. Check out my Instagram for pictures from the trip!

You know it's a successful trip when you get a new profile picture for Facebook....

You know it’s a successful trip when you get a new profile picture for Facebook….lol

Onto something equally as important as traveling–chocolate. Do you ever get chocolate cravings? Some nights, I just CRAVE chocolate and I finally found cocoa powder in Bilbao, so I’ve been experimenting a lot with it. I have a recipe that I HAVE TO SHARE BECAUSE IT’S THAT GOOD. I’ve told a few of my chicas en espana about it, but I wanted to share it on here too! It’s ooey gooey chocolatey sweet goodness in a mug. And who doesn’t like eating things out of cute mugs? When I was little, I remember always eating ice cream out of mugs with my dad at night. Since then, eating things out of mugs has always made stuff taste better to me.

Vegan Brownie Batter in a Mug

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Ingredients: 1/4 c instant oats, 2 tablespoons cocoa powder, 2 teaspoons honey, 1/2 banana, 1-2 tsp peanut butter or nutella (optional, but I HIGHLY recommend)

Prep time: 5 minutes | Ready in: 5 minutes

Directions:
Put ingredients in mug in this order: oats, cocoa powder and then honey. Break or slice the banana into smaller pieces and place on top of oats, cocoa powder and honey. DON’T MIX ANYTHING YET. Place in microwave on high for 20 seconds. The honey should be boiling and the banana should be softer when you take it out (if it’s not, microwave a little more). AFTER microwaved, mash and mix ingredients in the mug. Place in microwave for an additional 20 seconds on high.

Nutrition: whole serving contains (without peanut butter)
197 kCal | 2.7g fat | 44.7g carbohydrates | 7.1g dietary fiber | 5.3g protein
*with 2 tsp peanut butter, add around 63 kCal, 5.4g fat, 2.1g carbohydrates, 0.6g dietary fiber and 2.7g protein

This seriously tastes like brownie batter, but it’s healthy and doesn’t have any raw egg, butter, oil, flour, is gluten-free (depending on if you consider oats vegan free–I do), vegan, under 200 calories AND hits the chocolate cravings. What more can you ask for? 

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What’s your favorite food to hit chocolate cravings? Have you every visited the Canary Islands in Spain?

A Day In Tuscany

click for source

click for source

When it rains in Bilbao, I always let my mind wander. Today, my mind has been in one place, and one place only: Tuscany.

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During my Eurotrip last May and June, I spent a little over a week in Italy, visiting Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre and Rome. We stayed in Florence for a few nights and decided to do a day trip to the Tuscan vineyards. BEST DECISION EVER.

View of Florence from Tuscany

View of Florence from Tuscany

We made a last minute decision and booked a day trip through Tuscany Bike Tours.

I remember taking this picture with our helmets on to prove that we rode bikes....lol

I remember taking this picture with our helmets on to prove that we rode bikes….lol

I remember sitting in our hostel in Venice (the city we visited before Florence) and just deciding to book a tour. For booking small tours or day trips, I would always recommend to wait until you are in Europe or in the specific city before you book them. Lots of hostels offer day tours or have a wall of brochures for every day tour imaginable, that you probably wouldn’t find through a google search. We booked day tours for the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, Stonehenge in Great Britain and Tuscany in Italy while we were in Europe. I know this might seem like a bad idea, but trust me, when you travel plans change and you want to have flexibility without feeling like you HAVE to go on a certain tour because you dropped 80 euros for it. For other tips on planning a Eurotrip, check out my blog post: How To Plan Your First Eurotrip.

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Anyways, the Tuscany Bike Tour included shuttle to/from Florence, bike/helmet rental, guided tour through vineyards, villas and olive groves of Tuscany, tour of a wine cellar, tasting of Tuscan wine and Tuscan olive oil, meal at a family run restaurant near the vineyard, which was amazing.

Wine cellar

Wine cellar

The guys who led the tour were awesome and I would recommend this day trip to anyone who likes wine, exploring, vineyards, pretty scenery, riding bikes and TUSCANY!

Classic Italy

Classic Italy

My favorite part of the tour was tasting the wine and getting a nice buzz during the day then riding through the hills of Tuscany.

Olive groves

Olive groves

Visiting the old castle and wine cellars weren’t bad either.

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Basically, if you are in Italy, anywhere near Tuscany, GO. If you are thinking about traveling to Italy, add Tuscany to your list. It was one of my trip highlights and my favorite thing I did while I was in Italy. Tuscany is one of those naturally beautiful places. It doesn’t have the fanciest architecture or big cathedrals everywhere, it has rolling hills of vineyards and olive groves. And to me, the natural beauty and simplicity of Tuscany is prettier than a lot of cities I’ve visited in Europe.

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Have you been to Tuscany? Do you prefer places with more natural beauty or more architecture? 

Hiking to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

Since moving to Bilbao, I’ve spent a lot of my weekends hiking and exploring! Basque Country is also known as The Little Switzerland because it has so many mountains. After living in Ohio my whole life, living around mountains is such a nice change from the flat farms I’m used to! My first hike I did was  one of my favorites and definitely my most memorable. Two of my auxiliar friends and I decided to hike from Bermeo to Bakio and make a stop at San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (pronounced: GAZ-TEL-U-GA-CHE). Our hike overall looked (something) like this:

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We took the bus from Bilbao to Bermeo (about an hour). Bermeo is right on the coast and had a beautiful port.

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On the way to the mountain, we ran into a market in Bermeo and took a few minutes to explore it! It was adorable.

Different kinds of tea leaves

Different kinds of tea leaves

After that, we began our ascend into the mountain and after some climbing, we could see a view of Bermeo.

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When you leave the pueblos in the Basque Country, there are a lot of farms and random houses along the roads in the mountains. Whenever I hike, I always see more animals than people….sheep, cows, chickens, etc. I always get a good laugh from the farm animals in Spain.

Get some serious side eye from the cows

Get some serious side eye from the cows

After about 3 hours of hiking, we reached San Juan de Gaztelugatxe POR FIN (okay, let’s give it a nickname… SJDG for short)! The thing about SJDG is you have to hike to it. There isn’t a bus that goes to it, but once you are there, you also have to climb 274 stairs to get to the top. After a hike up a mountain from Bermeo and back down to see SJDG , the stairs were a little rough, but totally worth it! One things I’ve learned through all my travels is that the climb is always worth it (whether it be the Bell Tower in Florence, the million stairs in Cinque Terre, etc).

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After seeing SJDG (and climbing the stairs to SJDG), we were pretty tired. It had been about 5 hours of hiking at this point, but like I said, there is no bus that goes to/from SJDG, so we had planned on hiking to either Bermeo or Bakio. Luckily, when we were hiking to SJDG, we already saw a view of Bakio, so we didn’t really care which pueblo we took the bus back to Bilbao from. We just really wanted to get to the closet bus stop and get back to Bilbao.

Bakio

Bakio

We began walking on the road, thinking we were going the right way only to be greeted with some traffic cones and the road being closed. Did I mention this whole road was uphill? At this point, we were stumped. We thought we were heading back to Bermeo to catch the bus, but the road was closed. A car drove up and we tried to ask them a question, but they weren’t very helpful and they drove off. So there we stood. Three Americans on the coast of Spain by a dead end road, completely exhausted from hiking all day but 5k from BOTH towns with bus stations. The struggle was real. Just when I was running out of hope and coming to terms with the fact that we were going to be walking from SJDG to Bakio, another car sped up the mountain and stopped at the dead end. We asked them which pueblo was closer and they looked at us like we were crazy for considering walking to either. In the car was a lady, man and their child. I heard the lady and man speaking in Basque. Next thing I knew, he was rearranging stuff in his compact car to make room for us! They drove us from SJDG to Bakio. When we got to the Bakio bus stop, the lady promptly got out of her car to check to make sure the buses were still running for us. Once she found out the buses were still running, she let us leave. We graciously thanked her and her family, and then hopped on the bus back to Bilbao. At least now, I can officially check Hitchhiking off my bucket list….

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Have you ever hitchhiked? Do you enjoy hiking? What’s your most memorable hike? 

How To Battle Homesickness Abroad

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Hi lovies!

Happy Friday! I’m currently on my way to Salamanca for the weekend, but I wanted to share this blog post (side note: follow my Instagram or Twitter (both @wanderlustkait) for updates during my Salamanca trip! I always post pictures while I’m traveling!). So I wrote a post a few months ago about The Spain Struggle and cultural adaptation, so this is kind of Part II in the series. Now that I’ve had my fair share of culture adaptation and homesickness, I think I’ve finally figured out the key to beating it. I’m going to be completely honest when I say coming back to Spain after spending the holidays in the USA was harder than the first time I left. The travel itself was easier because I knew what to expect when I got here, but leaving my family, friends and Ohio was just a lot harder the second time around. Now I’ve been back for about a month and a half and while it might be that I have readjusted to the culture, I think there is one thing I’m doing a lot different than when I arrived in Spain in September that is making all the difference.

Instead of missing things about home, I am making Bilbao my home.

It’s as simple as that. Instead of missing everything about the USA, I am embracing more things about Spain. I also am beginning to realize that a lot of the things I was missing, I just needed to look a little harder for. For example, my little sister, Emily. It turns out she was living a few pisos down and I just wasn’t looking hard enough. JUST KIDDING. But little things like peanut butter, a yoga mat, a cafe that has to-go soy lattes, indulging in watching #TheBachelor, etc (so many #whitegirlproblems necessities). So if you’re abroad, lonely, homesick and reading this, here’s some simple instructions to get you started. First, leave you house. Go out and get something that reminds you of home. Anything. A book, music, a coffee, a candle, a food. Second, start building your own home in your current city. For me, investing in things that make me feel more at home, are actually turning Bilbao into more of a home for me. And lately, despite all the rain, Bilbao has been growing on me (I can’t believe I just said that!).

I think it’s important for people to remember that when you move abroad, you don’t have to lose yourself. I know all those pinterest quotes are like “LEAVE YOUR IDENTITY BEHIND AND JUST LOSE YOURSELF IN THE TREES AND GRASS OF EVERY CONTINENT AND BECOME ONE WITH THE WIND AND NEVER LOOK BACK” or something, but in all honestly, I think that’s far from the truth (And yes, I’ve probably pinned every single one of those quotes, in case you were wondering). I think the key to battling homesickness is bringing elements of home to you. And I’ve found, the more home I bring to me, the less I feel like I need it, and the more I can truly embrace living in Spain. 

**Note: A close second for the key to battling homesickness was giving someone a hug. Not even kidding. Hug it out. It helps. 

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Have you ever been homesick while being abroad (or just away from home)? What do you think helps battle homesickness the most?