Getting to Know my New Home

A month and a half ago I woke up at 4:00 am with a mild stomach ache and headed to the airport to start a journey that had been in the works for about six months. Everything I needed for the next six months had been packed the night before, in true Emma fashion. It was finally time to head to Lithuania and study for six months while living with my aunt, as well as travel all around Europe and beyond. As I drank my mint tea in a heavy daze on the drive to the plane I had no idea that it was possible to miss something as much as I missed the sun, or ranch dressing for that matter. All I could think about was how I had gotten myself into this, leaving everyone I knew behind to go to an entirely new city in a country that few have ever heard about.

Flash forward to Valentine’s Day and I am still not used to weather that only gets sunny when it is in the negative digits. I have however, grown accustomed to taking the hour long walk home from school through old town Vilnius, passing by the cathedral and stopping at one of the numerous “pop up” stores to grab a croissant for the equivalent of about $1.50 (which is a lot better of deal than the $6.00 slices of stale pound cake they sell at school). I learned that the first time I walked home was the “road less traveled”, as I really had no idea what I was doing apart from the directions my phone was giving me. My phone took me the less desirable way home, through the industrial part of town, and then my phone really through me for a loop when it decided to turn off at 23%. I guess my phone also needed time to acclimate to this cold weather. Long story short, after walking home with friends several times, I learned a better way home that took me home through the main street, and a way that didn’t require the use of all my phone battery to navigate. 

I have slowly found my away around the traffic signals here, learning that just because the crosswalk says you have the right of way really doesn’t mean anything. I have also slowly gotten used to the small streets, and how it is quite normal to be in a car with a trolley bus seemingly inches away from the side window mirrors of the car.

I have yet to tackle the beast of navigating my way around town by bus, but I have gotten the hang of using a taxi app, and by “getting the hang of it” I mean that I have discovered how useful coins are, so that I don’t end up giving 50% tips to every taxi every time with my 5 euro bills. With taxi’s readily available at all times of the day, I was able to grab one and go to one of the numerous malls in Vilnius, and it was there, while meeting up with a friend, I discovered the single most glorious item to date…bubble tea! Back home I drink this stuff religiously, and so I was quite disappointed upon arrival learning that there was no bubble tea in Vilnius. My disappointment dissipated as soon as learned that hot chocolate here literally means you get a cup full of melted chocolate, but never the less when I found the bubble tea stand in the mall I was quite happy. Drinking the bubble tea felt more like home to me than the numerous burgers I tried here, I guess stereotypical American food doesn’t remind me of my America.

With all this being said I leave you with several photos of the town of Vilnius, a town I am slowly being able to call home, as well as a local castle about 30 minutes outside Vilnius.

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As Always,

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A girl in a ger

For ten days this summer I spent my time in a ger. In the middle of nowhere. In Mongolia. Without my newly formed American family of teenagers. Often times I find myself sitting at my desk attempting to get some journaling done amongst my piles (literally) of homework and I think about what my homestay family is doing. Is my host mother making milk tea, with milk that was inside a living thing five minutes prior? Is my host father off herding his sheep with his horse, or maybe motorcycle if he is in a rush?

I regret not getting my host sister’s Facebook, because the one thing that all Mongolians had, wether they were in the city or in the middle of the Gobi desert, was a Facebook. Earlier I was looking through my Mongolia journal, which overtime essentially became a group journal for the trip, with people from my group grabbing it and adding to it whatever they deemed fit (this ended up including stickers from various black markets, odd quotes from members of the group, and numerous inside jokes). Among my homestay journal entries I have an entire page devoted to trying to figure out how to pronounce my host siblings names. I swear there were at least three versions of my sister’s name, and even more for my brother’s. Eventually I decided that I heard the name’s Monko and Dorthjo the most, so that is what I circled in my journal for their names. My homestay was when I wrote the most, from observations to the making of milk tea (which, side note, is not the same as pouring milk into black tea. It involves steamed milk, and sometimes salt and butter. At home when I made this it tasted like water with a hint of tea, I was quite disappointed).

As per usual I have not written in a long time, but I blame it on school, and the fall weather. What can I say, when fall comes around the mountains start calling and my computer doesn’t look that appealing to me. That being said, I will make a consolidated effort to write a post once a week, to help me say that I am an organized individual. With that, I leave you with some photos from Mongolian homestay (more to come).

 

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Tents

Every year it is a tradition to go on a camping trip over Labor Day weekend. This year it turned into an all boys trip, + me, so we ended up eating Lucky Charm’s for lunch and Cheetos for dinner. In the morning we spent most it fishing beaver ponds, until it started to rain, and my brothers friend took a nose dive into the pond. A tip for any future beaver pond goers, it is a good idea to look where you are stepping, unless you want a nice swim with some brooke trout.

This was the first year we went without a wall tent, so it was also the first year we noticed all the rain. Instead of checking my tent for any rain I decided to avoid the situation and hang out in the truck listening the Walk the Moon and Atlas Genius. Once the rain stopped it was time for a trip to an old mine that processed rhubarb, our dog had plenty of fun traveling around sniffing the old nails and wood.  Apparently my brother’s friend was not deterred from the previous fishing outing, so they continued their hunt for the king fish in other ponds.

We ended the trip with a McDonald’s meal, a solid end to trip full of fish, rain, and many many cheetos.

 

As Always,
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Mongolia Part 1

The past four weeks have gone by in a blur, and now that I am home again, with bathrooms that have toilets, not holes, I finally have time to think back and reminisce on the summer I spent exploring Mongolia.

The trip started on June 27, when I headed out to LA to meet my group for the fist time. Meeting everyone was awkward at first, luckily we had a twelve hour plane ride to sleep and prepare for the next several weeks. After traveling through a time warp we landed in Ulaanbaatar, the main city in Mongolia. I was expecting major culture shock, but for me there really was none. Mongolia did not feel like an asian country, most likely because it is the most sparsely populated country on earth (horses outnumber people 13:1). Half of its inhabitants live in UB, which has a population of 1.5 million. It was crowded, but not like what you’d expect for a country in Asia. Upon arrival we traveled to the school where we would be taking language lessons, and we were able to experience first hand how Mongolian traffic works. I found it quite miraculous how all the cars were driving so chaotically, yet there were no accidents. Plenty of honking, mind you, but everything seemed to be well orchestrated. People used traffic lights as more of a suggestion and honks were used as means of communication, not anger (usually). Mongolians danced across crosswalks, evading cars by what seemed like sheer inches. At the school we had our first Mongolian meal, buuz, which are soup dumplings.

In Mongolia, the traditional cuisine consists of few ingredients, prepared in different ways. The foods are potato, meat (beef or mutton, there was so so so much mutton), cabbage, carrots, and dough made from flour and water. There was also plenty of milk tea, made from steamed milk and tea boiled and then reboiled. Mongolians have very strong stomachs, and us Americans could not drink tap water or stomach the straight chunks of fat that were in all the meat dishes (and all dishes in Mongolia are meat dishes).

During our stay in UB we also attended the black market to buy some deels for naadam, a large summer festival in Mongolia. Deels are traditional clothing items worn by both men and women all over Mongolia. Naadam is the Mongolian equivalent of the Olympics, celebrating the strengths of the Mongolian people. At the black market we were on the lookout for pick pocketers, due to a two hour briefing we had on them right before our arrival at the market. Anytime someone brushed by I would get jumpy, because the black market is a very popular spot. I bought a pink deel from a lady and tried to barter down the price by saying “dosh oh” and making hand gestures. I had no luck, and paid the full price, around $40 American dollars.

I have only been home for two days and the time change has given me the ability to stay up all through the night, and I am testing my luck with using caffeine to get me through the day. I have an emotion that I can not describe when I think back to Mongolia. I think back to the time I spent with my home stay family in the Mongolian plains helping to herd sheep. I think back to the time spent in the ger with a group of people who I made lifelong bonds with, knowing that we will most likely never be together as a whole group again. I have only pure love and gratitude towards my experience, and I look forward to attempting to communicate through words the profound effect Mongolia has had on me.

As Always,

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A Small Stroll

Yesterday I went up to Boulder with a few friends to enjoy the college town feel. When we went up we walked around the college campus, and it was kind of weird to not see anyone there, because usually when I go up there are people around, even in summer.IMG_2387

We also went to my favorite tea place to get boba, and after exploring the town we went up Flagstaff Mtn. Unlike last time, we actually went up all the way, and got some pretty cool views.

We kept driving up the mountain and stopped by the road for a bathroom break, but we noticed that there was a hiking trail. So, with some of us wearing flip flops and dresses, we decided to go on a small hike. Lets just say I did not keep in mind that the hike in the beginning was all downhill, which meant the way back would be all uphill.

Once the hike was over everyone was very tired, but we had it in us to make one final stop for photos. The view was gorgeous, you could see all of Boulder.

When we got back to town we were all starving, so we stopped at a Pho restaurant to refuel. Overall I’d say it was quite a good day 🙂

As Always,

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New Mexico

Recently my family decided to take a spontaneous trip to New Mexico. It was a seven hour drive, so luckily I had many playlists on Spotify. The only times I had been to New Mexico was in the fall, so I was excited to see what it looked like the summer.

On the first night we stayed in Santa Fe, and the next day we stayed in Abiquiu, after a long day of fishing on a ranch for my brother and dad (my mom and I had a long day of shopping).

In Santa Fe we walked around Canyon Road, which is a road that is full of art galleries. Most of them were closed when we got there, because we got to Santa Fe kind of late. Since most were closed, we decided to go to dinner early, we ate at a really good Spanish tapas place. We had fried avocado, calamari,steak, the list goes on and on. For dessert we had a churro, tres leches (my favorite), lemon tart, and chocolate mousse. After dinner we went to a small tea place where I had a mango latte, and we watched our dog run around. The really nice thing about Santa Fe was that dogs seemed to be allowed in almost every restaurant, since almost every restaurant had an open patio.

The next day my brother and dad went off fishing on a nearby ranch while my mom and I stayed in Santa Fe to shop and eat. The first thing we did was go to a flea market, where many of the people were selling things from their previous travels around the world. Surprisingly, we met three people who had gone to Mongolia, a place where I’m going this summer. At the market I ended buying a couple pendants for some friends, and then three things from Burma. I bought two screens made out of wood, and then a wooden buddha. Whenever we go to Santa Fe we stop at the Governer’s Palace, a place where a bunch of Native Americans sell the items they have made. It is hard to get a “spot” in the Palace, and all the Native’s items are 100% authentic. I bought a turquoise ring, to go along with the other jewelry pieces I had bought there throughout the years.

Once we finished shopping we ate at a place that was having their taco day, so my mom and spit two homemade tacos. We then drove to meet the rest of the family at a ranch they had spent the day at.

In the afternoon we drove to Abiquiu, where we spent the night in a hotel that felt more like a cabin. We hung out in the hammock, ate some Mexican food, and then slept in preparation for the road trip back home. In the morning we stopped at one final ranch to see some last minute views. It was then time for some more Spotify, and one big nap 🙂

As Always,

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A Birthday Part Two

It is weird to think that soon I’ll be saying goodbye to a friend who I feel like I’ve known a lot longer than four or five months. This exchange student always says yes to anything, and I’m glad an impromptu invite to a birthday dinner was no different.

We went out to a restaurant on Main Street in our town, and although the weather was nice outside we opted for an inside booth.

 

After eating about three pizzas and four burgers between the six of us, we went out to Dairy Queen and then over to the lake in my neighborhood. There we went out to the dock and took many photos, which my neighbors having a bonfire did not like. The flash was very bright, and it was night out, so it pretty much looked like a strobe light rave on the dock.

 

 

On a side note, one of my friends decided to wear black, so in many of the photos she kind of looks like a floating head, which is pretty cool. We took photos for about ten minutes, and stopped before my neighbors got too mad, because I do actually have to go to school with them. We then had my friend open up his present, we got him a watch 🙂 After that I debated jumping in the lake, but eventually decided against it.

Overall, it was another birthday and another night well spent.

As Always,

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