The Reasons Behind the Photos: Part 1

I’ve recently taken the SD card out of my old phone and started combing through the over 3,000 photos and videos I saved to it.

I owned this phone from January 2015 to December 2016, so these photos cover two years of life experience including three jobs, my college graduation, my time studying abroad in Korea and my trip to Russia and China.

For some of these photos there is an obvious reason why I took them—a notable event, an extraordinary moment, a scenic view. However, for others, the reasons behind the photos are known only to me.

This post is in honor of those photos, the ones that at first glance may seem unworthy of space on my SD card, but hold special meaning in the space in my mind. Part 1 of this series is dedicated to Korea.

Photo 1: Tater Tots


The Reason:

During Calum and I’s time in Korea we tried many new and unfamiliar foods. This was not one of them. During our first month in Korea I went to an event with some foreign friends and our Korean buddies (from the KUBA organization) and we all ate fried chicken together afterwards. When the waitress brought out our food I pointed and squealed in delight–“No way, tater tots!” The whole table stared at me in confusion as I explained my excitement…I realized I was the only American present at this dinner, and therefore the only one familiar with this funky term for cylindrical fried potatoes. Some of my friends were convinced this must be Texan or a Southern thing, but I assured them it was quite common in the US. Luckily another group of students came and met us for dinner, and the American present in their group was able to back me up. 🙂

Photo 2: Healthy Bread


Yes, another food photo. This dense bread was my favorite snack from the local bakery nearby our guesthouse in Korea. The label above it in Korean translates only to “healthy snack.” Our friends, Korean and foreign alike, poked fun at me for my obsession with this bread, which was obviously not even close to the number one choice for customers visiting this sweet shop. The owner of the bakery came to know me because of this bread, and she even gave me a free one when I came to buy a cake for Calum’s birthday. The friendly relationships we had with local store owners and vendors in our neighborhood are something I really miss about Korea.

Photo 3: Jindo Dog Puppy


The Reason:

Maybe it is not the fact that I have this photo but the fact that I have so many just like it that makes it seem strange. This Jindo puppy and his twin brother lived down the street from our Korean guesthouse and could often be found outside of their owner’s storefront. I could not get enough of these adorable pups and I stopped to play with them multiple times a day. You could say I was a little obsessed!

Photo 4: Mariia’s Bracelet


The Reason:

For a week in May 2015 my “Russian sister” Mariia came to visit me in Seoul. This was the first time I had seen her since she left the US nearly two years prior, but one of the ways we had been keeping in touch during that time was through packages and letters. Included in her packages from my family were individual additions to her charm bracelet. Of course I knew which charms we sent, but this was my first time seeing all of the charms together in one place. It seemed appropriately symbolic.

Photo 5: Momma duck and Babies on the Cheonggyecheon


The Reason:

One of Calum and I’s favorite things to do in Seoul was to walk along the Cheonggyecheon stream that flows through the city. We were able to see the stream transform during three seasons of the year–Winter, Spring and Summer. During the Spring the stream was filled with cute duck families. It was another one of those little things that gave meaning to our daily life there.


Hope you enjoyed these photos and the reasons behind them! Part 2 coming soon.


Feeding My Addiction: My Travel Wish List

I have been fortunate to visit many places in my life so far, but as some of you may know, traveling is a bit of an addiction! I spend a lot of free time flipping through travel books and Googling places to visit…I sometimes go so far as to look up the prices of flights to places I really want to go, even if I know I can’t afford it at the time. In the spirit of dreaming big, here are a few (but not nearly all!) of the places still on my travel “wish list”..

Staying here in Mongolia:

I have my doubts about the “authenticity” of this experience, but it still seems incredibly interesting and fun. Also, for a trip that involves staying in non-traditional lodgings, it looks really cozy! I would love to get a peek at this culture’s nomadic lifestyle through this trip.


Ice Hotel in Sweden:

Chances are you have seen this hotel featured on the internet before, probably in a post titled “The World’s Most Unique Hotels” or something like that. I will admit it seems a bit gimmicky, but I would like to go and try it for myself. Probably for just one night, as I can’t imagine these hotel rooms to be very comfortable!



I traveled to China for the very first time in August 2016, when I visited my dear friend in Beijing and traveled briefly to Yinchuan. I now have a tourist visa that is valid for the next ten years and I would love to make use of it, starting by visiting another big city—Shanghai. I want to eat some of the delicious street food, especially the famous soup dumplings, and experience some of the famous “cosmopolitan” culture of the shopping districts!




What intrigues me the most about Singapore is the mix of cultures from all around Asia that find their home there. The writer in the above lonely planet post describes the different districts that exist side by side—Chinatown, Little India, Bangkok district…I cannot tell a lie, the first thing that comes to mind when reading this list of districts is ‘so many delicious foods!’ But beyond food, I would like to experience one of the many different religious and cultural festivals that are celebrated here. Also, the green spaces in the city look beautiful.  


Hot Springs in Japan:

Visiting one of the places on this list seems to be a great way to experience a bit of traditional Japanese customs and the island country’s natural beauty at the same time. Plus, soaking in a natural hot spring just sounds incredibly peaceful and relaxing.



I have visited Cancun twice, and although it is beautiful and fun there, I would like to venture outside of the typical tourist destinations in Mexico. I would especially like to visit some of the towns that exist in Mexico’s central mountainous area, such as San Miguel, where my aunt has visited many times. Seeing how Mexico is so close to home (in comparison to other countries), it seems a shame that I haven’t seen more of it!


Lake Malawi National Park (Malawi Africa):

When I was little my dad had a fifty gallon fish tank full of brightly colored cichlids, which I loved to watch. Lake Malawi is home to hundreds of varieties of cichlids, as well as the greatest number of fish species in any one lake in the world. Because of the lake’s isolated location, the fish that live there are a great source of study for scientists who want to learn more about evolution and adaptation. In addition, the area around Lake Malawi is full of natural beauty and like everywhere, a unique culture.


Madrid, Spain:

Okay, I have to admit that one of the main reasons Madrid is on my list is because of food—I really want to try some tapas! Also, the streets of Madrid look like they would be perfect for endless walking and exploring, with plenty of charming cafes to stop at when you need a break. I need another excuse to keep practicing Spanish as well!


Quebec, Canada

Quebec has actually been on my mental travel wish list for a long time, but it recently resurfaced in my thoughts because of the recently concluded Korean drama, “Goblin”. This drama was filmed partially in Korea and partially in Quebec, and the display of Quebec’s scenery is incredible and beautiful. The atmosphere of Quebec City seems to fit the magical theme of the drama perfectly. The travel site above advertises Quebec as a place to experience European culture without leaving North America, which sounds intriguing to me.

I hope you enjoyed reading my list. What’s on yours?


Image Source: Michael Tompsett



My Worst Experiences Abroad: Part 1, Accidents and Injuries

Note: This is the beginning of what will be a multiple part series on my travel “Horror Stories”– the most painful, creepy and uncomfortable experiences that I’ve had while outside of the United States. The point of me sharing these experiences is to encourage everyone to embrace the good and the bad when it comes to traveling, and find ways to grow from negative experiences. (Fortunately, I’ve been lucky enough not to have experienced anything seriously life threatening while traveling.)

Some of these stories can be pretty comical now that they are over and done with. Others are just scary, no matter how you look at them. Either way, I hope you enjoy reading about my experiences!

Part 1: Accidents and Injuries

Costa Rica, July 2011

When I was 16 I traveled to Costa Rica for two weeks through a Girl Scouting program called Destinations (yes, Girl Scouts do more than just sell cookies!). The trip itself was a very valuable experience for me, and completely changed the way I viewed myself and what I was capable of as a teen. The two main focuses of the trip were performing acts of service and learning the basics of surfing.

On one of the last days of the trip our group of 13 girls and 4 instructors was returning to San Jose from a surf camp on the Western coast of the country. On our way, the school bus that we were riding in started to have mechanical problems and we were forced to stop on the roadside in a small town. One of the surf instructors and I needed to use the restroom so we went inside a small convenience store and asked the attendant if we could use the bathroom, but she refused. With no other options in close proximity, the instructor and I decided to slip into the edge of the nearby jungle in order to…well you know. The instructor said that I could go first and she would keep watch and then we could switch.

I took two steps into an area covered in thick underbrush and immediately fell about 6 feet down a steep slope in the ground.

The instructor heard me scream on the way down and started calling my name, asking if I was okay and if I could move. At first I was frozen in shock and I couldn’t answer her, but after a few seconds I was able to snap out of it and yelled back that I was okay. On the way down I hit the right side of my back on a rock but I could still move just fine.

Slightly awkward 16-year-old me in Costa Rica during the summer of 2011.

The moment I remember the most clearly is when the instructor said “I’m coming down to get you!” I rolled over onto my side and when I looked up I could see her a few feet above me, crouched down on her stomach, extending her hand to me. She was a very petite girl but also very athletic, and when I grabbed her hand she pulled me back up the ledge with one yank.

After we returned to the group, one of the other instructors cleaned and bandaged the cut on my back with supplies from our first aid kit (I still have a very light scar). Then the instructor who had been my savior gathered a group of us to walk about half a mile to the nearest gas station so we could use the restroom. Lesson learned.

I still have the image in my mind of the surf instructor reaching out her hand to pull me up after my fall. At the time, the rescue felt much more dramatic! I remember that her name is Rose, she is from California and she was in her early 20s that summer.

Rose, wherever you are, if you’re reading this, thanks for saving me that day! 😉

South Korea, February 2015

During our second week studying abroad in South Korea, our good friend SungSu graciously invited Calum and I to go skiing with his family during the Lunar New Year holiday weekend. It was my first time skiing, ever, let alone in a foreign country. Even my Mom was nervous and cautioned me against going out on the slopes due to the risk of injury.

However, Calum and SungSu insisted that I give skiing a try, so I did. The two of them were by my side almost the entire time, and I was actually really enjoying myself despite the difficulty of trying a new sport. I was trying my best but I still had trouble slowing and down and stopping on the crowded slopes.

SungSu, Calum and I on the ski lift at Vivaldi Park in South Korea, February 2015. Photo credit goes to SungSu!

Here is Calum’s recount of my accident (based on our blog entry from that time):

“That’s when trouble hit. Ok, maybe not that bad, but as I was skiing in front of Maddie and making my way down the hill. As I looked back for her, instead of seeing her skiing behind me I look just in time to see her crash through the side fence. It was honestly a little heart stopping. I stopped on the side, threw off my gloves, ski poles and skis and ran back up the hill towards her. SungSu was above us so he got over there pretty quick. Both of her skis had come off and her glasses were on the ground (surprisingly unbroken) a nearby slope worker saw what happened and called the snowmobile. She asked me if her eyes were dilated and seemed very shaken up. The snowmobile came and we got her on it. I grabbed the poles, skis and gloves and started down the mountain after it. Smart Sungsu put on his snowboard and rode down but I got down fast enough. After getting checked out and multiple blood pressure checks it was shown that she was fine. Though she was a little bruised it wasn’t a big injury. She still had a lot of fun though!  Looking back at it now she really didn’t do anything that bad but it was scary at the time.”

Though my head was a bit sore for a few days after the accident, but as the saying goes, I think my pride was hurt the most.

Thanks Mom, for not saying “I told you so!”