And she’s back at ‘er

Well friends, it’s been over a year since I last spilled to you – and let me tell you, there have been a TON of developments in that time. 

Kiera B

This is what I look like now!

 

I’ve been away from this blog because I took a much-needed break from school. I wanted to step away from my studies to make sure I was really doing what I was passionate about, and work to pay off some debt that I’d accumulated while living abroad. I wrote about my plans to take time off here.

This year was exhausting.

Most of the time, I was working 7 days a week. I worked my 9-5 job for a website called Travelzoo, but it didn’t stop there. Over the past year, I’ve worked at a café/whiskey bar on the Harbourfront and a cult taco joint in the Annex, as an Elf at the Christmas Market, and a Brand Ambassador at the Distillery’s first-ever light festival. I even thought it was a good idea to take an online course during this time, and occasionally stepped in as tour guide for the company I’ve worked for for 4 years.

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Light Fest 2017

With the exception of two weeks over Christmas, I didn’t really take breaks, and that really wore me down. I had a tough time keeping my room clean and my fridge stocked; even my (incredible and patient) roommates saw very little of me. Trust me, y’all: if you can, keep your weekends sacred. I’m not trying to glorify my busy, it was simply my reality at the time. I didn’t do it to seem important or needed, I did it because it felt financially necessary for me.

This year was refreshing.

Even though I was working myself to the bone, I was learning a million new skills. I gained experience in hospitality, sales, production, client relations, account management, web publishing, travel and tourism, event planning, public relations, and more. The jobs I held presented a new set of routines and expectations, and a completely different group of people. I’m a hands-on learner, so learning on the job and applying my skill set every day felt so much more fulfilling than simply talking about theory.

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It was also nice to have a break from thinking about grades and classes and credits and exams. Going through a lot of health issues in the past few years really derailed me academically, and I started to think I wasn’t smart or deserved a place in my university. I’m a high achiever who wasn’t really proud of how I was performing in school, and I became disinterested and lost motivation. Thinking about my grades gave me massive anxiety, and I finally had a chance to define myself by something other than transcripts, while learning new skills that built my confidence.

This year, it got personal.

Being away from school meant that I was away from my core social circle. Between that and the frantic busyness that comes from working all the time, I learned who my real friends were.

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Roommate friends

I quickly weeded out those peers that looked down on me for not sticking with school – I had no time for their condescending remarks about how easy my life must now be, or the insinuations that I wasn’t smart, determined, or a hard enough worker to stick with it. I knew in my heart that I simply needed to make sure I was doing what was required to achieve my own goals and find balance again.

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Restaurant friends

I became so grateful for the people that both encouraged and empowered me to take time and do my own thing. The ones that honestly cared about how I was faring in the corporate world, and reminded me to take care of myself. These were people who checked in when my health got thrown out of wack, and when my family was going through tough times. They were a mix of old and new faces, who would gladly boost me up when I felt lost and celebrate the little wins I had each day. I shook off the emotional vampires who tried to belittle me, and I learned that I would much rather live a balanced life than a prestigious one prescribed by someone else’s definition of success.

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*****

And so, I’m back on campus and returning to eAmbassador role yet again. I’m trying to always remain present and attentive in class, and continue to engage with the unique communities that will always exist here at Glendon. This time around, though, life is a little different. I’ve pressed the re-set button in my life, and I have a better sense of what my priorities are.

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 “I took the road less traveled, and that has made all the difference.”

 

Until next time,

– K

 

 

 

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Today, I woke up in a very different Europe.

For those of you who may be confused about what this “Brexit” thing is, or why the heck everyone is losing their cool over it – that’s totally cool and fair and I GET IT. Not everyone is captivated by world politics, nor are they easy to understand – our world systems are infinitely complex. I’ve been studying politics in Europe for the last 6 months, so in case you’d like to join the conversation, here’s a couple of things to know.

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If this is how you feel about the Brexit, I suggest you read on.

 

DISCLAIMER: I am by no means an expert, and I am aware there are several generalizations in this piece – I simply want to give an overview/summary of the referendum and its possible implications in Europe and the world at large.
The European Union is made up of 28 members states (countries). This union was started in the 50’s to create strong economic ties, so that it would enforce peaceful relations between historically warring states, namely Germany and France (at this point, we’re rebuilding from World War II – Europe is in total devastation). The strategy was/is that you won’t want to start a brawl with someone whose economy is interdependent with yours. Over the years, the union has become a powerful political entity that shares common economic structures, a common currency in 19 states (the Euro), cultural and social values – they even have a “Europe Day”, a theme song – all the bells and whistles.
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The EU map…as it was

An important thing to note is that Europe has a policy called Schengen – that means that within the Eurozone, europeans have the right to free movement of goods and people. This creates a borderless Europe (read: no customs checks or visa requirements for citizens), and a common economic market within the 28 member states.

You still with me? 

Good. 

The United Kingdom held a referendum (country-wide vote) yesterday (June 23, 2016) on whether to remain a part of the European Union. This was dubbed the Brexit (Britain’s exit). The whole kerfuffle generally boils down to current nationalist sentiments in Britain – some Britons believe that the UK is putting more into the EU than they are getting out of it, some take issue with positions in the EU not being democratically elected, some feel that the institutions of the European Union (ex. the European Parliament, the Commission, the Council and all of their many branches) infringed on the sovereignty of Westminster (sovereignty: right of a country to self govern within its own borders without interference by other states, Westminster: the UK’s parliament). The thing to note here is that no matter which way the referendum turned, there would always be issues that needed resolving. 
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The Union Jack or the EU drapeau? Voters thought it must be one over the other

British Prime Minister David Cameron promised in 2013 that if elected, he would hold a referendum to appease the people. Cameron was in the “Remain” camp, believing that the UK would be stronger, safer, and more stable if part of a united Europe – he even promised to make a deal with the European Union that would make it more appealing for the United Kingdom to stay.
Cameron made a little bit of a mess, however, as he never believed that the results would be as they were: 51.9 % in favour of the UK leaving the EU.
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There were generally two types of voters in the referendum – under 30’s and university educated voters tended to be in the REMAIN camp, while seniors (baby boomers) and less educated people tended towards LEAVE. At 70%, this was the highest voter turn-out since 1997 

Got that?

What does this mean for the United Kingdom?

The UK = England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland.
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Since it officially takes 2 years for a state to leave the EU, nothing will happen drastically or overnight. However, these are some possible/probable outcomes:

 

  • There were a few areas that came out as strongholds to REMAIN in the EU. These were Scotland, Northern Ireland, and parts of England like London.
  • Scotland will likely hold an independence referendum and decide whether or not to leave the UK. They have held one before in 2014, which ultimately resulted in them staying. However, now that they are no longer connected to the EU and being ‘taken out against their will‘, this union could disintegrate.
  • Northern Ireland has seen a ton of conflict since the declaration of the Irish Republic in 1922, and have only *really* had peace for 14 years. There are generally two groups in NI: Irish catholics, who wish to be reunited with the rest of the Republic, and Protestants who wish to keep their ties to Britain. There is still a physical barrier wall between these two groups in cities like Belfast, and a certain religious apartheid continues to exist. Northern Ireland also receives “peace payments” from the European Union. To enact a stronger border and divide the country even further will probably push them to a referendum as well, or Northern Ireland’s borders may not be included in the “New UK”. Read more here.
  • Life in the United Kingdom will change. Border control, passports, visas, working relationships, and life changes – things could get very complicated for those trying to come and go. I’ll admit, I’m not so educated on this one and the changes have yet to be announced. The beauty of the UK being an EU member state is that many people used Britain as a gateway to the rest of Europe – 27 other countries and a wide market to trade in. We can already see changes, as the British Pound has dropped to it’s lowest value in decades as investors scramble.

What does this mean for the EU?

  • Many people are worried that this will pave the way for other states to leave, and that this is the “beginning of the end” of the EU. Sure, the EU isn’t a perfect system, but I don’t think we’ll see the demise of it drastically soon. Just listen to President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker’s speech this afternoon, and then this great comeback!
  • Scotland will possibly try to join the EU, but it is likely that Spain will veto their membership (they do not like the idea of Scotland being recognized as an independent state, as their own region of Catalonia has a lot of separatist movements).
  • The results have yet to be rolled out and seen – the UK is technically a member until 2018, but we hope that their leaving doesn’t destabilize this unique political/social/economic structure.

 

What does this mean for countries like Canada, and the rest of the world?

  • Canada has a lot invested in British markets (yoooo Commonwealth, represent!). Since the pound is dropping, our investments and our markets may too. It’s also possible that we will see the rise of a strong US dollar – making it more expensive for travel across the border.
  • Make no mistake, this is part of the rise of the far right nationalists. The Leave campaign used a lot of xenophobic fear mongering about ‘border security’ – this is all linked to the European Union’s response to the migration crisis (though that’s a story for another day). One of the leaders of the Leave campaign, Nigel Farage, has been compared to Donald Trump (read here and also here). There are euroskeptic, Trump-type figures across Europe as well. America, and the rest of the world, should watching and taking notes.

There is going to be a lot of change in the world very very soon, so let’s brace ourselves to go through some growing pains. Thanks for engaging by reading, responding, and keeping your awareness up!

DFTBA,

– K

Nearing the finish line

I am now more than halfway through my exchange semester in Brussels, nearing final classes and exams now! It’s totally wild. School is really tough, and yet I’m finally settling into a social life here and sometimes that’s all I can think about. Time to put my genius cap on! Across the ocean, my relationships with loved ones have changed, as has my relationship with myself. You really don’t understand the differences that 3 months will make until you take the time look behind you.

With that being said, I thought I’d give you all some insight on some distinct elements of life in Brussels/Belgium/Europe so far.

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One of my first days in Brussels!

It is always raining. Always.

Mother Nature is the moodiest when she’s hanging out in Belgium. A day could start gorgeously warm and sunny, and as soon as you step outside you’ll be greeted with an absolute downpour! Let me tell you – this makes the country bloody flipping cold. Belgians like to laugh at me and say that I’m Canadian and should be used to the cold, but the wind will blow the dampness into your bones and you will experience a chill like no other. Last week, her weather of choice is abrupt and aggressive bouts of hailstones and freezing rain about 6 times a day. This week, I’ve seen unprecedented amounts of gorgeousness – 25 degrees and sunny! Who even knows what is next to come.

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Unity…is just not a thing.

Most of us Canucks can agree that Canada is not the greatest example of cultural unity ever – we are generally united only in diversity itself, and the idea that we are NOT Americans – just really polite maple syrup aficionados who say ‘eh’ a lot.

Yet Belgium is even more befuddling to me. First, you have 3 competing languages – French, Flemish, and German. There are political and cultural regions divided linguistically with their own councils and responsibilities, not to mention a heck of a lot of levels of national government for ONE COUNTRY. Two intelligence forces. A Flemish separatist movement. A constitutional monarchy. Several competing transportation institutions, both regionally, nationally, and municipally. Not to mention that each city in Belgium has at least 2 different names and pronunciations, for example;

Bruges = Bruge = Brugge

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Anvers = Antwerp = Antwerpen

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Brussel = Brussels = Bruxelles

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Louvain = Leuven = Löwen

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This country hangs in a balance that I will probably never understand…and yet I still try!

OH…and let’s not talk about the magically impressive yet headache-inducing creation  that is the European Union.

Canadian undercover? NOT GONNA HAPPEN.

I am IMMEDIATELY singled out whenever I say more than a few words in French. The Belgians have ‘Canadar’, I’m telling you! English is my first language, but I’ve studied French from a young age – my particular way of speaking is a bit of an ugly mutt, influenced heavily by Acadian, Québécois, and Montréalais rhythms. It’s going to sound silly to anyone, really – but it is very distinctly Canadian, and people in Belgium WILL ask about it, 9 times out of 10. Even my Canadian friends who speak French as their first language will often have shopkeepers immediately switch to English when talking to them. Even so, a lot of people here think it’s super attractive to have a Canadian accent. I’ve even been called a “sexy caribou”…WHAT AM I MISSING HERE? AM I EXOTIC NOW OR SOMETHING? This must be how people with British accents feel…

OH! And before I forget: are you wearing a scarf and carrying an umbrella at all times? No? HA! You’re a newbie foreigner FOR SURE.

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We Canadians found a Trudeau lookalike in a Museum last week

French fries aren’t French!

First of all – the reason they are called French fries is because some silly Americans during World War One came across these lovely fried potatoes and didn’t know which country they were in – they just heard French being spoken and made a snap judgment. Don’t you be thinking that the fast food industry in North America is the top player when it comes to fries; it’s the Belgians that have NAILED the recipe! True blue “frites” are made by double frying the potatoes in oil (and sometimes duck fat), and served with a variety of mayo-based sauces in a paper cone. Great snack at any time of day or night – and you will definitely run into your friends at the local snack hut!

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Other things that are distinctly Belgian? Waffles, truffles or prailiné chocolate, René Magritte (surrealist painter – “Ceci n’est pas un pipe”), Stromae (singer of Alors on Danse, Papaoutai), and famous comics like TinTin.

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Traveling is a cinch

Europe has a beautiful thing called Schengen – the ability to move between countries in Europe freely. Belgium is a small country bordered by France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. There are several cheap airfare companies, like Ryanair, where you can get a return flight to many places in Europe for under $100 CAD. Not into flying? There are 3 major train stations in Brussels alone with trains leaving for all sorts of destinations. Buses and rideshare programs like BlaBla Car are abundant as well! Get out and go!

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Snap of my time in Berlin last weekend!

All in all, I’ve really enjoyed my time living abroad so far. It took a lot of getting used to, but I’m hoping to make a lot more memories here before I head back home. Remember – exchanges aren’t just about where you choose to live, but the experiences you have. Successful semesters abroad are what you make of them!

Stay tuned and DFTBA,

-K

#OneWord365 : Risk

Let me begin by admitting that resolutions are so not my thing. I mean really, are they anyone’s? I’m willing to bet that more than a handful of you muse over your goals on New Year’s Eve and *maybe* even write them down, only to forget a week later or absent-mindedly lose the slip of paper you etched on.

So as I watched 2015 come to a close and the clock struck nearer and nearer to 12, I didn’t even pause to reflect on the goals I had set for myself that year because, SURPRISE! I hadn’t bothered to make any.

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Perhaps this is a direct correlation between my passive attitude about New Years celebrations in general, or perhaps I was just incredible lazy last year and not willing to work on myself from January to December.

However, I think this lack-of-resolutions roots itself in my particular fear of failure. While I am aware that this is hardly an original thing to be worried about, I am self-aware enough to recognize that my fear of failing has become intoxicatingly paralyzing over the last couple of years. So much, in fact, that I refuse to even ruminate on the idea that I could actively change something in my life because I have CONVINCED myself that I have already let myself down before I start. I mean, I’m really freaking good at messing things up! Frankly, I believe my aptitude to do this increases as I age, though for the sake of positive vibes I’m not about to draw up a laundry list of my failures. (You’re welcome)

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The fact is, I WAS a really big goal setter. I WAS totally gung-ho about resolutions – for years, even! God, the old diaries I could dig up would be evidence enough (though thoroughly embarrassing and not at all worthy for the internet)! In my adult life, however, I have felt the need to innately shrink my world and possibilities because I am so desperately afraid that I won’t achieve even the smallest of things.

And so, in my third year of blogging for the Glendon eAmbassadors, I am FINALLY taking the #OneWord365 challenge.

Instead of writing down a laundry list of possible achievements, I am hoping to join #TeamAwesome in choosing one itty bitty word that will govern my reflections, behaviour, and self-talk as I awkwardly waddle and skip through the year.

It took me all of 6 seconds to realize that my word would be risk.

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I’m not likely to jump off a platform with an umbrella. Don’t get any ideas.

As a person who struggles with chronic health issues and mental wellness, my reaction to upsetting or unexpected events tends to be to find a safe place. A tight-knit group of friends, a non-stressful and ever-so-mundane routine, a manageable workload. These things have been essential over the last few years in managing my health…

And yet.

And yet I look in the mirror these days and feel a sense of mourning for the high-spirited, top-energy, wild thing I used to be. The girl who worked 2 jobs so she could save up for a plane ticket and then disappear for a while. The girl who was involved in every charitable endeavour, who jumped onstage at any chance, who fiercely let her peers forward.

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I have been struggling with the idea that I have simply lost this girl. That my more hesitant and timid nature is maybe just the by-product of getting older. That maybe that girl is just “too much of a lot of things” to exist in my world now.

Then I found myself playing cards.

I was sitting across from my boyfriend as we played euchre against my parents, and found myself calling the shots even when I had the crappiest of hands. When the cards looked dim, I was taking chances and still coming out on top.

Now, a statistical analyst would probably say I had dumb luck and that in all cases, my choices weren’t the most informed or probable.

But I say that I’ve gotta be gutsy to reap the rewards.

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(Non-Gilmore Girls fans, this pep talk preceded the umbrella jump)

I realized need to take more risks in my life, because that curiosity and gutsiness is at the very core of my being. I might be terrified of it sometimes, but that girl from long ago still adores going out on a limb and proving the doubters wrong.

That spitfire girl has GOT to still be in there, because she has set up a year worth of risks for me, starting with the fact that I’m moving to another country in 2 weeks. New language, new friends, new food, new living arrangements. New life!

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I know that before I even cross the ocean, I’m taking risks every day in preparation for my life abroad. I’m navigating changing relationships day by day. I’m attempting to set up the necessities of life so I can walk off a plane and really start LIVING. Hell, I’m even ordering from Amazon when I’m not sure the items will arrive in time!

Every day, I have a choice to create an adventurous life. To take chances and opportunities as they come. To pick the safest route or the road less travelled.

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I know I’ll have even more opportunity to do so once I’m set up in a place that is (at first) unstable and unknown. I expect the adrenaline to be pumping through my veins for an extended period of time…

WITH THAT BEING SAID. I am hoping to document all of my risk-taking wildness with a video blog as I prepare to leave my safe space behind and venture into the great unknown. Be on the lookout for audio-video versions of my babble!

All in all, I think I know that I have spent too long being comfortable – wish me luck in my attempts to shake things up and roll the dice in my life!

Lots of love, risk, and good wishes for 2016!

DFTBA,

-K

 

The most exciting and terrifying email I’ve ever received

Three days ago, I opened my inbox to find a particular e-mail that I had been waiting not-so-patiently to receive.

There, with a simple click of my mouse, sat my information package for my exchange session in Belgium next semester. Cool, right?!

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As I read through the package and learned that I had three months before I was expected at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, a number of thoughts ran through my head. In all honesty, I was pretty mixed up in my emotions.

At first, a HUGE wave of relief came over me – apparently, European schools do things very last minute, and for MONTHS I had been worrying that I’d been forgotten or rejected from the program. I finally knew when I would start my classes, and what kinds of things I should be doing to prepare for my departure. Yaaaaaay, progress!

The second thing to happen was, “Oh, crap.” when I thought of all the things I’d have to wrap up at Glendon before I left. I still have my classes and other commitments to follow through on (including some oh-so-lovely paperwork…yuck), and a lot of money to earn to fund my future travels.

Thirdly, a sense of total panic overcame me. I was moving halfway around the world. Across an ocean. To a country I’ve never visited. With people I dont know and who sure as hell don’t know me. On my own. What if something happened medically (a very real concern for someone who is chronically ill)? What if something drastic and awful happened at home while I was away? What if I couldn’t tough out the rain 200 out of 365 days of the year? (Clearly, Belgium is a wet country)

And fourthly, I felt an indescribable sense of premature homesickness.

Leaving Canada means leaving my tight-knit family for 6 months.

Leaving Canada means being separated from friends and colleagues who have become my family in Toronto.

Leaving Canada means a questionable turn in my new relationship.

Leaving Canada means moving out of an apartment with roommates and a neighbourhood that I absolutely love.

Leaving Canada means throwing caution – and routine – to the wind.

Are you overwhelmed yet? Because I sure as hell am.

After telling myself not to panic…and then COMPLETELY ignoring my own advice, I tried to turn my thoughts around.

Arriving in Belgium means attending a university that is world-renowned, and smack-dab in the centre of EU territory. Think of all the cool perspectives and insights I’ll gain on international matters!

Arriving in Belgium means I’m living and learning in French – a language and culture that has always ignited my curiosity and passion. Oh man, can you imagine how much better my understanding and communication of the language will be?

Arriving in Belgium means discovering a new city, neighbourhood, and community. I get excited thinking of how I’ll get to learn a new transit system and explore different quartiers and the shops, restaurants, local culture, and people that will soon be familiar to me.

Arriving in Belgium means my insatiable sense of wanderlust will FINALLY be explored. I’ve got Europe at my doorstep, baby! Bring on the unique food, stunning photo ops, incredible people, and unforgettable adventures!

Arriving in Belgium means six months to discover a new part of myself. All the world’s a stage! Ain’t that right, Shakespeare?

I've been ready for this since I was given a suitcase on my seventh birthday!

I’ve been ready for this since I was given a suitcase on my seventh birthday!

It’s going to be a rough three months, I know. I’m going to be an emotional roller coaster (early apologies to all those who come in close contact with me). I will have some tough decisions and plans to make. I will undoubtably be running around like a chicken with my head cut off applying for a visa, finding a place to live, buying the cheapest possible airfare, and ticking off every insurance box that I can.

Yo, exchange life! Hit me with your best shot.

With adventuresome worries and excitement,

DFTBA,

K

The world could potentially be my oyster…

As an iBA (international bachelor of arts) student, I’m required to spend at least one semester abroad as part of my degree. 

Last week, the process for exchanges opened upWOOHOO! York International and the Glendon Exchange department came to present us with the application process, requirements, and the possible locations and schools we could study at. 

Needless to say, I’ve spent many hours day dreaming since.

I am equal parts excited and terrified

I am equal parts excited and terrified

The Dream:

Université Libre de Bruxelles (Brussels, Belgium), starting September 2015

I could see myself living here, couldn't you?

I could see myself living here, couldn’t you?

(other possibilities include Institut d’Études Politiques de Strasbourg (Strasbourg, France) and MICEFA – Mission Interuniversitaire de Coordination des Echanges Franco-Americains (Paris, France)

I visited Strasbourg 4 years ago, and fell in love

I visited Strasbourg 4 years ago, and fell in love

I could also live in the most romantic city in the world...the possibilities!

I could also live in the most romantic city in the world…the possibilities!

The Plan:

Maintain a 6.0 GPA (B or 70% average), acquire two academic reference letters, and succeed in a French proficiency interview.

I'll be hitting the books from now on!

I’ll be hitting the books from now on!

The Motivation:

Without a nod to the restless, anywhere-but-here, wanderlust-stricken travel bug that I’ve caught…

I’d be able to study what I love in a different environment and from a totally different perspective. Just imagine what politics and world issues mean to a European class compared to a North-American one!

…Not to mention I’d be living and studying in my second language, with a whole new dialect and accent than I’m used to. On top of that, a new culture to adapt to! Can’t you see it? CHAMELEON KIERA: The Europe Years

I hope to make new friends overseas and strengthen old friendships in the process. I have a ton of friends in France, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands that I’ve met over the years that I hope to see again, and as for my Canadian friends – nothing tests a friendship like a year of Skype-dates between different timezones!

So many places, so little time!

So many places, so little time!

I have to go through the application process before Christmas break, but I won’t know the final results until the end of this school year. Until then, it’s up to me to prepare my butt off! If that means sticking a map of Belgium on my laptop to motivate me to study harder, so be it. On my study breaks I will reward myself by looking at apartments with my possible future roommate. I will save my pennies to buy a new camera to capture my future adventures…

This time next year I could be writing to you from across the Atlantic…until then, dreams be dreams.

DFTBA,

– K

P.S. A lot of my Glendon friends have been on exchange or are currently overseas themselves! Check out their blogs below.

Gillian was a student at ULB in Brussels last year! http://gillianwassgl.wordpress.com/category/exchange-2/.

Michelle was on exchange to Ireland… http://michellekgl.wordpress.com/category/exchange/

Elizabeth partook in an exchange to Strasbourg. http://elizabethbgl.wordpress.com/category/exchange/

Jen is currently spending her days in Middelberg, in the Netherlands! http://jennifercgl.wordpress.com