Radiating Sunshine: July 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

So, Now I'm in Texas

This has truly been the summer of traveling for me! From studying abroad in Austria, to flying across the USA for an Alaskan Cruise, to now. I feel like I have truly spent my last summer before true adulthood so well!

While in Austria, I got a job opportunity to come back to Texas and work for Duke TIP again! If you missed any of my posts from last summer about my adventures at Texas A&M, check them out here. Anyways, on the Sunday night before I left to come home and then fly out to Alaska I got hired to work at Rice University as Duke TIPs Residential Program Assistant!

A quick background scoop on Duke TIP is that it is a program for high school students who have been identified as gifted and talented. So, these amazing and wonderful students come to one of the multiple sites that Duke TIP provides and they receive a college level academic experience and a ton of residential activities.

Unfortunately, because of travel plans I had to come 5 days late so I couldn't be here the entire term but, I have loved every second of working with the staff and these amazing TIPsters. Last year after working for TIP, all I thought about was coming back. When an opportunity to study abroad came up, I had to make a really tough decision. So, as you know I chose to see the world, but I still lived vicariously through my friends who were working for TIP. When I got an email asking if I was available to be an RPA at Rice University I knew it was meant to be! After freaking out to my study abroad friends, frantically emailing my mom to see if I could go, and sending an apologetic..."It's only two more weeks" email to my lovely boyfriend; I committed to spend the rest of my summer at TIP. It still feels so weird to be here, I mean how could I be so lucky to have all of my hopes for the summer to come true? I saw the world, spent time with my family, and got to work for a program I love!

Anyways, for the past week and the rest of this week as an RPA my duties include: writing and publishing posts on the Parent Blog, help coordinating evening activities, Dances & Termbook/Slideshow Chair, and basically doing anything that needs to get done! Since I came late into the game I was worried that it would be hard to get into the swing of things, but my bosses are great and my good friend, Brandon an RC that I worked with last year has been so helpful.

I have loved my experience with TIP... but, I've discovered that I can no longer stay up all hours of the night and I've also discovered that I probably won't ever live in Houston (voluntarily)... or if I did I would just never ever drive on the roads around here because they are just genuinely terrible. I don't know whats happening but, the drivers are aggressive, the road conditions are awful, and driving has become such a stressful activity. Oh and Houston has officially attacked my curly hair, because the whole hot & extremely humid thing is just not working...

I've been able to do so many cool things these past two weeks. I've gotten in both my Sonic and Whataburger fixes for the year... if you've never had a honey butter chicken biscuit then, unfortunately you've never lived. I have explored Rice University and have learned all about the different colleges at Rice and traditions like Beer Bike and other various activities! Rice University also has really good food. I love their healthy food options and I've been taking pictures of the things I like so maybe my university can start making it too! Oh they also have Blue Bell ice cream available at all meals, like how cool is that! If you don't know what Blue Bell ice cream is then, you also haven't lived! If I could send you some I definitely would :)

Winter Wonderland Program: Watched Elf and had an Elf themed dessert!
*Disclaimer: It is actually really gross, but strangely enjoyable to eat*
The awesome Residential Staff! 
clearly going to be a burger bun for Halloween
We always do a night out with the TIPsters and last Friday night we went to the Sugar Land Skeeters game versus The Lancaster's Barnstormers. The Skeeters lost, but technically the Barnstormers are closer to my actual home so, I cheered for them! And after the third inning, me and three other res staff members participated in one of the sideline shows. Basically, what you see above is us dressed up in burger buns and we had to build a burger. When I originally said yes, I thought I would physically build an eatable burger... well, that is not what the activity was. Basically, the bottom bun had to run across the field and the top bun had to run back and forth adding the different ingredients like the patty or lettuce, while racing the other group of burger builders. Once the ingredients were on top of the bottom burger, the top bun had to jump on top to make it complete. Well, I was the top bun and not only was this a thrilling activity but, it was also an incredible workout! So, its not every day that you get to wear a bun costume and build a burger in front of an entire group of people :)

So, that is just a little update on what I've been up to! I'll officially be home in a week and although I love my TIP family, I can't wait to be home with my actual family and be able to finally see J. I don't know what I did to deserve such a patient man, but I am constantly thanking God for sending me so many blessings!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Planes, Trains, Automobiles, & CRUISES

Less than 8 hours after I returned from Austria, I was on to my next adventure. My family and I traveled to Seattle to board an Alaskan cruise for a week. I had never been to Alaska and I was really excited to knock off no. 8 on my 101 in 1001 while over there! So, after flying for 20+ hours, doing three loads of laundry, repacking, and getting a few hours of sleep I was on my way to Alaska with the family. 

After an exhausting day of traveling
I am so glad I got to spend an entire week with my family. Not to mention while cruising we didn't have access to cellular reception or wifi so, it was like an unplugged vacation that I really enjoyed. We sailed on the Celebrity's Solstice which, is a beautiful ship. The ship had several different restaurants, two pools, a spa, theaters, a wonderful workout facility, and observation deck, casino, shops, wineries, gelato stands, purell stations, and great outside seating. My parents have done a few cruises and they said that the Solstice was the best boat they have ever been on, so if you're looking for a vacation of a lifetime check them out!

When I went to college I didn't realize how much "family time" would be cut down! For the past two summers I have lived in different places, so this was the first time in awhile where I got to truly spend so much time with them. I've missed my family so much and now that my younger sister is going down South for college it is even more crucial that I squeeze in as much family time as possible. 

The first port we stopped at was Ketchikan, Alaska! I think this might have been my favorite city out of all the Alaskan cities I saw. It was just so quaint and homey.
There were so many totem poles all throughout Alaska and it was awesome hearing about the stories and customs that come with totem poles. Totem poles are very expensive and depending on the quality of wood and how big they are they can sell for several hundreds of thousands of dollars. One nice thing I like about the traditional aspect of totem poles, is that the creators believe that you should honor and use what you take from nature. So, if a totem pole falls down they are not to be touched and (or) repaired.

And while in Alaska I managed to send a post card to J! I wanted to make sure he knew his pen pal wasn't gone. He has really been so supportive and nice about me being gone on different adventures. J has even had to deal with all of my time zone changes (Austria: +6 , Alaska: -4 , Texas: -1). I'm glad I'm currently in the States with access to cellular service and wifi so, we can talk more regularly. But, thankfully we only have 2 more weeks until we see each other next. 

While in Ketchikan, we went on a crabbing and wildlife adventure. We saw bald eagles swoop down and eat fish out of the water. We did a little whale watching and saw some cute little seals sunbathing. I even got a chance to do some actual crabbing. And on a side note, who knew crab cages were so heavy. It was the struggle to pull that crab cage out of the water. I definitely do not have a career on The Deadliest Catch or anything like that.  
Eating delicious dungeness crab! I think it actually beats Maryland's blue crab and that is saying something!
Killer Whales!
So many beautiful bald eagles!
One morning on our way to Juneau we woke up bright and early and saw the giant glaciers and icebergs. Thankfully we didn't have any titanic moments (too soon?) but, I was able to catch some really nice pictures of the bluish/green glacier fed water with ice caps floating around. 

And boy were we cold! Honestly, the hot chocolate was the only thing that inspired me to not crawl back in bed! After we arrived in Juneau we went to a dog sledding camp and got to see sled dogs. We learned how much they cost on average ($3-4,000), what maintenance they need, iditarod (dog race), and help puppies. Needless to say out of all the above, the puppies were my favorite activity. I mean seriously just look at the cuteness of that puppy. 

After I bid farewell to the puppies and got to call J! We headed back to the ship and cruised up to Skagway, Alaska. This was our last Alaskan port and we decided to do zip lining. This was another fun adventure and it was awesome to watch my mom overcome her fear of challenge courses.

Our final port that we sailed into was Victoria, British Columbia. I absolutely loved Victoria. It was the perfect temperature and had zero humidity. We got to the port in the early evening so we go to have dinner and watch the sunset in downtown Victoria.

Obviously, I can't share every moment of the trip! I didn't even tackle all of the delicious food that they served on the ship (lobster, creme brûlée, beef carpaccio, shrimp cocktail, etc) Oh and it would be unfair for me to not mention the molecular drink bar, where I tried the famous "Coming Up Roses" drink and (or) the other molecular creations. I loved the Alaskan cruise and I really loved being able to spend so much time with my family.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Best Moments of My Study Abroad

So, this time two weeks ago I would have been enjoying my last day in Salzburg. And as I write this post from my office desk while on lunch break; I can't believe that it was just two weeks ago I was in one of my favorite cities, with some great new friends, eating delicious food and making wonderful memories. Salzburg left an impact on me... most of the time people strive to leave their impact or footprint on the city but, I know Salzburg has left an impact on my heart. 

In the two weeks I have been back I've had reverse homesickness and have pretty much been annoying my family left and right with details of my trip. It is amazing how every little thing reminds me of some story from my trip abroad. I mean seriously EVERY LITTLE THING. I'm at the point where I realize that not everyone wants to hear every story, so when I see these little sweet reminders I just smile to myself because in the five weeks I was across the pond I have changed. 

I went into the study abroad experience as one person, and left another. I've seen some of the most beautiful and unique places in the world. I have been on top of mountains with snow on them in the middle of June. I have learned how to deal with language barriers and the lack of free public restrooms (my bladder is significantly stronger). I was able to go to religious services in different languages and still feel God's love surrounding me.

Europe has changed me. She has enlightened my soul.  So, I wanted to share with you some of the best moments of my time across the pond.

The flowers of Mirabell Gardens!
Delicious wine at dinners

The lake of Königssee, Germany
The Vienna State Opera's performance of 'The Magic Flute'
Meeting wonderful new people!
Finding nature's artwork beautiful <hearts>
Being silly in a meadow on top of a mountain in Italy
Regressing back to childhood on various playgrounds
Beer tastings... I've only been able to find one bar that has carried my
beloved Hofbrau and I am truly missing my German/ Austrian Beer
The trick fountains at Hellbrun
The Salt Mines with Noelle and Kelly!
The first night at the Shamrock a month and a half ago!

There is no favorite part of my study abroad trip. There is no moment more cherished, than the rest. There is simply this, while abroad I climbed every mountain. I tried different foods and spoke terrible German. I walked everywhere and occasionally crawled through the child's entrance to use a public bathroom for free. I ate as much gelato as I could handle and had schnitzel at least twice a week. I became a beer snob and a wine enthusiast. I developed a deep appreciation for public drinking fountains. Europe has changed me and a part of me will always reside in Salzburg. 
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