12 Things I Have Learned from a Year Abroad

It’s hard to believe that over a year has gone by since I first left the US. When I boarded the plane last January, I knew everything would be changing, but I never could have imagined where I would be now. This weekend will mark my one year China-versary. This year in Asia has been absolutely incredible and challenging and frightening all at the same time. There is so much that I have learned outside of the classroom while living in China.

1. You can never prepare for how the experience will change you.

You can spend months preparing to travel. You can read every book ever written. You can create the perfect packing list and study culture and history. But there are just some things you could never anticipate. Living abroad comes with unique experiences and challenges.

2. You can get by with a lot less than you ever thought you could.

After months of carrying all of your belongings on your back, you begin to realize how much your baggage can weigh you down. Literally. It’s the perfect metaphor for life, but it really is amazing how freeing it can feel to let go of some of your stuff. When I was back in Chicago over the summer, I realized how much more stuff I had left behind. I never missed any of it, but there were definitely times when I wished I had brought less with me.

3. Living your life in two different countries is extremely difficult.

This experience has been amazing, but it has also come with a lot of sacrifices. There is so much more than the romanticism of traveling. Sometimes it is really hard. Sometimes you are homesick for two places at the same time. Skype is great, but there are times when I still feel so disconnected. I love knowing that I have friends in so many corners of the world, but that also means I am always missing somebody.

4. Living your life with an expiration date is also extremely hard.

I know that I won’t be in China forever. And this can help me get through the rough days, but it is also a constant reminder that my time here is limited. In some ways this can be good motivation to make the most of the time I do have, but it is also creates a lot of added pressure to fit everything in.

5. If you can convince other people that you know what you’re doing, eventually you can convince yourself, too.

Sometimes you really just need to fake it till you make it. When I started teaching at the beginning of last semester, I had no idea what I was doing. The thought of having to speak for 8 hours in front of a classroom of people was pretty overwhelming. But a little bit of confidence can get you pretty far.

6. The train may not be on time, but it’s coming.

I am a horrible procrastinator, and never quite on time myself, so you would never know that I am really also somewhat of a perfectionist. I hate it when things don’t go exactly as planned. But even when the train doesn’t arrive on time, remember that it will still get there eventually. Everything doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches.

7. Living in a foreign country does not automatically make you an expert in the local language.

People always say that immersion in the best way to learn a language. And I thought living abroad would be a great way to learn a new language. The reality is I have a lot of great resources, but I still have to work really hard to learn Chinese. Even after a year in China, there are still days when I feel like an idiot when trying to communicate with people.

8. At the end of the day, we are all people.

Sure, culture between one country and another can vary greatly. But we all have the same wants and needs. We all feel happy and sad and nervous and excited. We all want to feel appreciated. You don’t need to speak the same language to understand the meaning of a smile. Some of my favorite travel memories are moments shared with people that I was unable to communicate verbally with. A smile can often express more than words ever could. When you look beyond the boundaries of a country, you can see that we are all just people.

9. Some things just don’t make sense, but we can learn a lot from each other.

When you live in a different country, you begin to notice a lot of things that are just, well, different. And you begin to realize that there are a lot of things that you are accustomed to doing because of what your society dictated was the normal thing to do. Sometimes we just need to accept that there will be things we don’t understand. And sometimes we learn that the way we do things isn’t necessarily the best way either.

10. Sometimes it is alright to take a break.

I spent the first three weeks in India trying to see and do as much as I could. By the time we reached New Delhi, my friend and I were both pretty burnt out. We spent a few days doing nothing but eating pizza and watching movies in our hotel room. Travel can be a lot of work sometimes. And while I think you should take advantage of every opportunity that you have, sometimes taking a moment to relax can help you recharge and appreciate everything a little more.

11. Life keeps going, no matter where you are in the world.

While I was away, everyone else continued living their own lives. Don’t expect the home you left to be exactly the same as it was when you left. And remember, while you were off traveling, big things happened to other people too. As much as you want to share your experiences with other people, don’t forget to hear someone else’s story.

12. Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers

There’s something about being a foreigner that automatically draws other people to you. I have experienced this in many of the countries that I have traveled to. Some people are genuinely interested in learning about where you come from and why you have chosen to travel to their country. It is important to always keep safety in mind and try to use good judgment and common sense, but I have encountered some truly helpful and friendly people while traveling. It’s a great way to get a deeper insight into a culture and enjoy traveling.

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Back in Action

Hello? Is anyone still out there?

So it’s been a little while since I last popped in. Alright, almost two years. Oops.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog. My own little corner on the Internets. And I really miss it. I had big plans to start writing again for VeganMofo this year. Until I realized mid-September that it had already started. So Chreese on Toast was put on the back burner once again. And a few weeks went by and I got busy with other things. But I realized that I was still thinking about it at the most unexpected times. I miss sharing my thoughts and connecting with other people. So I’m here now to say that I’m back!

Seriously, what have you been doing for the last two years?

It’s funny how life just keeps going when you aren’t paying attention. I won’t go into too much detail about the last two years now, but here is what I am up to these days:

I’m currently living in China.
Most of my time is spent studying, teaching, or working on research. I’m in a classroom allll day.
When I’m not in a classroom, I like to spend as much time outdoors as possible.
I just got a rice cooker that I’m head over heels for.
There’s also this guy on the other side of the world that I miss terribly.

One of the last posts I wrote was about my resolutions for 2012. Looking back on it now, it’s certainly interesting to see what was important to me then and how my values have grown or changed. Sometimes when I think of crazy ideas, I actually go out and do them. Here are a couple goals I actually accomplished:

Complete a 50k ultra marathon – I ran TWO of them. And am currently training for my third. I don’t know what happened to that high school girl who used to walk the mile in gym class.

Improve my Spanish/ASL – I haven’t worked on this as much as I would like to. But I am currently studying Chinese and French.

Plan trip to Nepal – Earlier this year, I spent a month in Nepal. Including two weeks trekking in the Himalayas. I belong in the mountains.

EBC

 

You’re back! So what does this mean for Chreese on Toast?

I think part of the reason I stopped writing was that I felt like I was trying too hard to write for other people. I tried to be what people wanted to read. And I didn’t always feel like I was being me. Things have certainly changed now. I think my life is somewhat unconventional and maybe even a little bit interesting to some people. I want to share my passion for healthy living. And maybe a few stories about living in a foreign country every once in awhile. What will you find here? The answer to that question may always be changing, but you can expect a few rice cooker recipes and pictures of my adventures. I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to post, but hopefully I’ll be seeing you around much more frequently now.

Thanks for stopping by!

Daily Rice
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Snow and Whole Wheat Baguettes

After a long day on the ski slopes yesterday, all I wanted was a hot shower and some warm, crusty bread.

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This recipe isn’t all that exciting, but it can be combined with so many other recipes. The possibilities are endless. I’ll be sharing some of my favorite combinations later this week. But then again, warm, crusty bread is sometimes best eaten plain and fresh from the oven.

Whole Wheat Baguette
Ingredients:
1 1/4 c. Warm Water
1 T. Active Dry Yeast
2 t. Sugar
3 c. Whole Wheat Flour (I used half whole wheat and half whole wheat pastry flour)
1 t. Salt

True story: When I was making these, I accidentally added a cup and a half of water. (..oops) I ended up adding extra flour and they were still delicious. Crisis averted.

What I’m really trying to say: you might have to play around a little bit to get the right consistency. If you end up with a sticky mess, add a little more flour. Whole wheat flour also tends to absorb more liquid.

Also: I’m sure you could have figured that out, but I do crazy things like setting toaster ovens on fire and shouldn’t be allowed in a kitchen in the first place.

1. Combine warm water, yeast, and sugar in large bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes.
2. Add flour and salt. Knead dough for 10-15 minutes.
3. Set covered dough in a warm place to rise for 2-5 hours.
4. Punch down and allow dough to rise again, until doubled in size.
5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and place a pan of water in oven.
6. Knead and divide dough into 4 even pieces.
7. Form mini loaves into desired shape and place on greased baking sheet.
8. Dust loaves with flour and bake for 20-25 minutes.
9. Enjoy!

On the New Year and New Resolutions

2011 was definitely a roller coaster of sorts. I spent a month volunteering in Africa, Hearts were broken- literally, hours were spent in hospitals anxiously waiting through bypass surgeries and stent placements, I started grad school, celebrated weddings, and completed my first marathon.

But through all of these events, I have come to realize that we are capable of so much more than we may know.

And however insignificant or unattainable they may seem, I think it is important to set goals. Ultimately, only you can determine what you are capable of becoming or creating or accomplishing.

To the handful of people that may stumble upon this post, I encourage you to put yourself out there. Do something you didn’t think was possible. Do something a little silly, a little daring.

Some things on my list?
Complete a 50k ultra marathon
Finish two chipotle burritos in one sitting
Plan trip to Nepal
Practice yoga every week
Improve my Spanish/ASL
Try a new recipe every month
Aim for at least 7 hours of sleep each night
Read at least one book every month

Will I accomplish everything on my list? Probably not. But I have the whole year to find out.

And if you don’t take a moment to examine what you want out of life, then what? After all, you only live once.

Looking for inspiration or don’t know where to start? Here are some interesting articles that you might want to check out:

3 Steps for Setting New Year’s Goals that Actually Work

Popular New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions: Start Small, Dream Big

New Years Resolutions and 31 Days of Healthy Eating

Kind Classics: My Thoughts about Celebrating the New Year

“How often in life we complete a goal that was beyond the capability of the person we were when we started it.” -Robert Brault

MoFo Roundup: Week One

I can’t believe it’s already the second week of VeganMoFo! Here’s a look back at some awesome posts from MoFo bloggers last week.

All You Eat is Vegetables shared a recipe for Kale Pesto Pizza with caramelized onions and kalamata olives. Yum!

Awesome. Vegan. Rad. learned two things to never do, including trying to caramelize onions in the oven.

Sometimes the best meals are born from a little innovation and nutritional yeast, like this Spicy Balsamic Monster Meal that later evolved into something beautiful. Or not so beautiful in this case. Looks delicious!

Manic Beans shared a Whole Wheat Naan recipe that sounds absolutely amazing. Whole wheat and ghee free? I’m sold.

The Vegan Test episodes created by Cadry’s Kitchen had me laughing all week.

Better With Veggies veganized her way through vegetable pot pie, fettuccine alfredo, and Buffalo Chik’n Dip!

Heathen Vegan cooked up a scrumptious Jamaican Ginger Cake!

There were so many amazing posts. I can’t keep up with them all! Happy MoFo-ing everyone! I’ll see you tomorrow for HalloWednesday!

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Iron Chef Challenge: Chickpeas

Hello out there!

As I mentioned on Friday, VeganMoFo announced the first Iron Chef Challenge! This week the secret ingredient was chickpeas!

So I grabbed some chickpeas and started scheming of new and exciting things to do with them. Except there were so many possibilities that I couldn’t even pick one.

My post-marathon stomach was not patient enough for me to decide, however, and I started chopping up some veggies. While eating quinoa straight from the pot. And then I realized how much I wanted brussels sprouts. So I cut up those, too.  Since the oven was on anyways, I decided to roast the chickpeas. But not after a little love from some chili powder. And into the oven they went. With some corn, because that sounded good at the time. By this time smells were wafting around my kitchen. So I had a little snack.By the time that was finished, I had some delicious chickpeas that wanted to be eaten. So I decided to throw everything into a taco shell. And that’s how these chickpea tacos were born.

To see some awesome chickpea recipes from other MoFo’s, make sure to check here.

I would also like to announce that I can still walk and I didn’t die. Which is certainly enough to celebrate. And I made it to the finish line! And maybe tomorrow I will actually be able to think coherently. It’s been a long weekend. See you tomorrow, folks!

Figgy-licious

Hey MoFo’s, have you heard about the Iron Chef Challenge? The first secret ingredient will be chickpeas! I love this little legume in any form- roasted chickpeas, hummus, falafel, chickpea flour- you name it. I’m excited to see everyone’s creations! If I am still able to walk this weekend/don’t die, I want to try and come up with my own recipe too. (Did I mention that I’m attempting going to run a marathon this weekend??)

I spent today appreciating the feeling of being able to move. And remembering that I willingly signed up to run 26.2 miles. Followed by questioning my sanity. And then, contemplating Larabars. Because they are so delicious, afterall.

Dates + Cashews= Yum

This I know to be true. But what would happen if another fruit was added to the mix? Dried cranberries, raisins, banana chips. The possibilities are endless. So I rummaged through the pantry and pulled out some dried figs. After a little experimentation, I arrived upon a new conclusion.

Dates + Figs + Cashews= Figgy-licious

Figgy Larabars

(makes 3 large or 6 small bars)

  • 1/2 cup cashews (raw, unsalted)
  • 1/2 cup pitted dates
  • 1/2 cup dried figs (or you could use all dates)

In a blender (or food processor), pulse the cashews until finely chopped. Place cashew pieces into a bowl. Cut the dates and figs into pieces and add to the blender. Pulse until no large chunks remain. Combine all of the ingredients and form into a ball. Press mixture into desired shape.

If you want to get really creative, you can use cookie cutters to make fun shapes and designs. I formed a rectangular shape and cut it into 6 pieces.

With this basic recipe, you could easily add or substitute other ingredients. Peanuts and cocoa powder? Coconut or dried peaches? Don’t be afraid to experiment. And enjoy!