The key goes in the ignition.

Turn. Breathe.

Seat belt. You’ll need that here.

Adjust the mirror, holding your own gaze for a brief moment.

Readjust your seat.

And then the mirror again.

This car doesn’t feel like the close fit you remembered.

Right foot gas. Left foot break.



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.

Jet Lag

This evening I was making oatmeal, but I was a little short on oats. (Which is an absolutely horrible problem to have.) I also had mix for a sweet bean drink, part of which contained oats. So I decided to add one of the little oat packets. It made perfect sense at the time. Except I soon discovered that it was actually a leftover spice packet from a package of noodles. After I had already dumped it’s contents into the rice cooker with my oatmeal. (China problems.)  (I’m so in love. I use that thing to cook everything.)

You’ll be relieved to know that I still managed to salvage most of the oatmeal and just added some powdered cappuccino mix and a chocolate euro. (best souvenirs ever.) Crisis averted. So that’s pretty much how my day went. My body has no idea what time zone I’m in now. (it was a very looong way back to China.) And tomorrow when I’m actually awake I’ll laugh at myself.

I had an absolutely amazing week in Berlin. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to attend the World Health Summit this year. It was such a great experience. I’m so inspired by the amazing speakers that were there. I plan to do a more detailed trip report about Germany. So in the interest of sleep, I’ll leave this post short. For now, here are a few pictures from a pretty fantastic week.


Daily Rice Coffee and Muffin

Gone to Germany

Current location: Past customs, but not quite to the gate
Feeling: Somewhere between sleep deprived and bursting with excitement, if there was such a thing
Listening to: Chinese TV show (that counts as studying, right?)
Local time: 0249
Last meal: almond cookies, coffee, and coffee

Friday afternoon I was finally able to pick up my passport from the Public Security Bureau, which means I am now in possession of a brand new residence permit! I’ve been back in China for nearly two months now, so it is nice to see my passport again.

So what’s the first thing I do now that I’m officially a resident of China? Leave the country, of course. I am currently on my way to Berlin where I will be attending the World Health Summit! I am very passionate about global health, so this is such an amazing opportunity for me. I’m looking forward to hearing some pretty amazing speakers.

Right now I’m at the airport in Beijing. Taking advantage of the free WiFi and trying to stay awake until I can check in for my next flight.

Insert random picture from the last time I was in Beijing:


See you from Germany!

Getting Lost in the Trees

“Going to the woods is going home”

John Muir



It has been a busy week. So when my alarm clock went off Friday morning, I didn’t feel bad about hitting the snooze button. A few times. I had big plans to fit in a long run before class that morning. But sometimes you need to listen to your body when it’s saying you need more sleep. You might say this was the start of a coincidental series of events that led to an amazing discovery.

I woke up later feeling well rested. Lately mornings have involved large amounts of caffeine and a rush out the door. It was nice to have a little extra time to enjoy breakfast and breathe for a minute. My classes went really well that morning (I was only teaching – next week starts molecular immunology on Fridays!). After lunch I finally set off on my run. I had planned to run down the road towards the city. Trails will always be my favorite place to run, but at least it was a way to get off the track. And the view wasn’t horrible.

But as I ran further down the road, I found myself myself in the middle of construction and heavy traffic. I decided to turn down another street. I just wanted to get the miles in. So I continued running. I was considering turning back until I saw an apartment complex that looked nice. I thought it might be nice to run around there for awhile. But the road I was on soon came to a dead-end. Which exactly is when I noticed the trail.

Of course my curiosity convinced me to follow that trail. And I’m so glad that I did. The next think I knew, I was winding up a hill and surrounded by trees. I discovered a complete network of trails that I had almost run past. And that is how I found myself getting lost among the trees, moved by the sound of my own feet beating against the earth.

The deeper I went, the more I wanted to continue exploring. Eventually I had to turn back. I didn’t want to get caught in the dark. But I’m absolutely certain I will be spending plenty of time there.


By the time I got home, the sun was setting.

Which not only meant I had just enough daylight to make it back, but it was also getting close to dinner. And I was getting hungry. So I bought some tofu and vegetables and turned on the rice cooker. By the time I was done stretching and taking a shower, I had perfectly cooked black rice.

Daily Rice


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.



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