Tea Talk 9: Chelsea Elzinga | English Teacher (Luxembourg)

Chelsea and I met in college, and honestly from the start I knew she was one of the coolest people I’d ever meet in my life. This girl is the definition of driven, passionate about life, and has a healthy sprinkle of Beyoncé swag. We both loved French culture, and years after college actually ended up living in France at the same time, which was such a beautifully weird coincidence! Now she resides in Luxembourg where she’s teaching English, as one does. I’m so excited to introduce this powerhouse woman to you all—here’s Chelsea!

What started your passion for traveling?

My passion for traveling has always been about moving beyond the limits of my comfort zone. It is an activity (or lifestyle, I suppose) closely tied to my love of language. For my first trip abroad, I went to France by myself at the age of eighteen. Living with a French exchange family was difficult even after five years of French classes because I often felt awkward when I couldn’t express myself. My happiest moments were when I got to explore alone. That was an important first-time travel experience and invaluable life lesson. Although I was a little pre-occupied by my linguistic insecurity at the time, it ended up transforming my confidence, pushing me to pursue French that fall at university, and has impacted every step of my journey since.


What’s one travel tip you think the world should know?

Make language learning part of your travel preparation and/or itinerary. While your ego may shrink with every butchered pronunciation that struggles out of your mouth, the synapses in your brain are beginning to form new paths of understanding. You become stronger! You don’t (and likely won’t) master another language for one trip, but knowing numbers, how to ask where the bathroom is, and basic phrases will serve you immensely while you travel.

On a recent day-trip in Germany, I was able to just barely communicate with the waiter after a few weeks of my beginner’s German class. It was my first time using German outside the classroom, and it was completely imperfect. Nevertheless, it’s a moment I feel really proud of thinking back on!

What’s your favorite cultural habit you’ve picked up (ex. food dishes, lifestyle changes etc.)

Owning next to nothing. Hah! I can fit most of my possessions (save for about five massive boxes of books packed in my parent’s storage –sorry mom and dad!) into three suitcases. It can be scary to not have a stockpile of goods at your disposal but it is also freeing.

What would you suggest for other women who are thinking about traveling?

Pick your destination carefully – not just because it looks good on Instagram or somebody else wants to go there. Foster your interest in a travel location via passion-driven routes such as literature or travel writing, or perhaps through cuisine or film. It will make your trip especially meaningful if you’ve put a little sweat into learning to appreciate and contextualize the place before you’ve arrived.

The other side of this argument is that there’s something special about just showing up somewhere with no clue as to what you’re going to encounter! Having done it both ways, I’ve always been more surprised and delighted by a place after having invested in some pre-departure research, however.


What’s one failure that you learned a lot from, when it comes to travel?

Learning how to rearrange my goals when traveling in a group versus solo-traveling. Sometimes the right group of people is magical and emphasizes everything about the trip without effort. Other times, the group encumbers each step of the journey. I’m still learning how to be more flexible when it comes to ‘getting the most’ out of a destination when traveling in groups. Maybe it means we’ll go to a crappy pub for the sake of accommodating eight people. Chances are, it’ll still be fun.

What’s one fear that you overcame, while traveling?

My fears around travel are usually related to social anxieties: Will anybody want to hang out with me? Will I be lonely? These are the same fears I’ve had since first-grade. Traveling alone has nurtured my sense of self. The people I’ve been fortunate to meet while traveling and living abroad have each impacted me and I’ve been surprised at how welcoming people are. Now, I’m much less concerned with maintaining a tight, insular social group where I feel understood, and instead I seek to meet a wide variety of people and hope to understand more about them. Inevitably, friendships form.

What is your favorite way to travel (ex. plane, train, automobile?) and why?

Whichever is the most convenient! In Europe, the train is often the simplest way to travel with much less hassle involved in comparison to airport travel. Planes have always felt a bit violent to me: they hurtle you so nightmarishly through the air and confuse your sense of being in the world! Plus, they’re just scary and I could fall out of the sky. (J) A calm, quiet train ride allows you to watch each mile of landscape as it goes by from your window. No turbulence, and no take-off or landing. Of course, trains can be a bit too slow if you’re trying to get from Rome to Paris, for example…

What is one piece of advice that you wish you could give your past self?

Take fewer pictures. (This is advice for my current self as well.) My automatic reaction is to grab for my phone before I even allow a moment to sink in. What am I even going to do with all of those pictures anyway??? One challenge I have for myself is to go on a trip and take, like, seven photos per day! I’d imagine the experience would be different if I wasn’t always preoccupied with getting a great shot.

What is one place at the top of your bucket list that you’d like to visit?

I don’t have a bucket list! But, if I had to choose one place to visit say, tomorrow, I’d get on a plane and go to Dakar, Senegal. Because, in this scenario, I have a) decided that it would be a free plane ticket and b) I’m interested in doing something close but not too far from my Francophone tendencies. As a French lit student, I’ve read a lot by authors from Senegal and would love to visit and learn more about this West African country.


Let’s talk about your current trip! What was your inspiration for your adventure?

I’m living in Luxembourg this year as an English teaching assistant through the Fulbright program. I applied to the program in Luxembourg because it’s aligned with many of my own ideologies: encouraging cultural exchange, fostering international relations at the individual level, and providing language education. Next year, I’ll start my PhD in French literature and I wanted to take a pause beforehand to improve my French skills and to also recharge after finishing my Masters.

I chose Luxembourg because I wanted to think beyond the French hexagon and to expand my language skills. Luxembourg has three official languages: French, German, and Luxembourgish, so I have opportunities to learn here that I don’t anywhere else. Luxembourg’s location between France, Belgium, and Germany make it a fascinating place to be linguistically, but also culturally and historically.

The intimate yet international characteristics to this country make it truly unique. For example, this morning on my way to teach at a high school in the Luxembourgish countryside, I accidentally got on the wrong train and went to Belgium. I still made it back for the last few minutes of class. It’s both embarrassing and hilarious that this was even possible.

After my morning in Belgium, I told the story to my English class of fifteen-year-old Luxembourgish students. Although an hour beforehand I had been completely frustrated and upset, the mishap ended with everyone laughing at my groggy-morning commuter fail. Only in Luxembourg are borders so permeable and morning commutes so transnational.

What has been the best/toughest part of your current trip?

Best: Integrating in Luxembourg has been surprisingly easy! It’s an extremely international and multilingual place. I live around a university campus so there are plenty of welcoming people and activities to take part in. I have truly enjoyed meeting people from Luxembourg and from all corners of the world while living here as an English teacher.

Toughest: Being away from people I love. This year is particularly full of “life events” for friends and family back home. The longer I live away from home, the more I realize that I don’t always want to be this far.

 

What’s one thing you’ve learned from your current trip?

The real meaning of “staying positive.” At some level, it is a mental discipline that I must constantly remind myself of during tiring commutes that test my patience or when grey skies just won’t seem to clear away. If I can mentally remain positive, it completely improves the emotional and physical aspects of my life and—this is something I’m just realizing now—it will improve the lives of others around me. Nobody benefits from one more whiny expat stuck on making references to life back home where food is readily available for purchase at any hour of the day. “Living the dream” does not mean each day is dreamy. However, the more I keep myself from getting negative, the more I am able to appreciate everything about the experience.


What’s one thing you’ve learned about yourself from this trip?

I’m more adaptable to new situations and environments than I had realized, but I’m also not as independent as I thought. I need encouragement and community with other people to really succeed and enjoy life abroad. I feel blessed to have people from different areas of my life supporting me. I still don’t quite fully grasp how much I rely on the support and encouragement of others, but I’ve been learning that I’d rather ask for help and be vulnerable with people (e.g. Today, I’m worried about x, y, and z and I need to just cry on the phone) than to try and grit my teeth and go it alone.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

Ultimately, the reason I travel isn’t because I want to have fun or even escape from day to day life. Traveling sharpens and refines my perspective on everyday life, while it also poses many financial, emotional, and mental challenges. I know it is a privilege to travel but it can also be a sacrifice. In the end, I believe travel is an investment. Traveling is an investment that returns ten-fold what you put into it. You’ll benefit personally, but also become a better global-citizen. I think the world needs more purposeful travelers who are willing to do things outside of their comfort zones. In an increasingly fearful climate, thoughtful travelers can become mini-ambassadors of resistance, hope, and cross-cultural understanding.

Tea Talk is a monthly series featuring extraordinary women who travel around the world! If you know someone who should be featured, or would like to be featured yourself, shoot me an email at morehouseemilee@gmail.com or post a message on this blog post! Join me again in December for the next feature! 

 

12 Favorite Moments

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This year has been full of so many crazy amazing experiences, that I thought it would be appropriate to look back over the last year and  show you all some of my favorites. As this chapter comes to a close I’ve really been trying to take a few moments to reflect before I hop on the plane back to the U.S. The whole last week has seemed so surreal, and I can’t even believe that in only 3 days I’ll be back in Seattle!

While I am (of course!) so excited to be coming back to the U.S., it still is a bitter-sweet experience to be packing my bags and leaving Europe. I have definitely not taken the ability to hop on planes and visit places I had only ever read about in books. During this experience I’ve learned SO MUCH about myself, and no matter what my was happening in the smaller picture, I can now look back and say “That was a great adventure.” I feel so amazingly blessed to have been able to travel the world, meet amazing people and live a life some spend their lives dreaming about living. So without further adieu, here are my top 10 beautiful memories (in no particular order)!

1. I got to see the Berlin Wall!Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 10.51.52 PM

2. I got to visit a 14th century REAL castle (with its original moat!!!)! DSC_0837

 

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3. I saw the Mona Lisa (and, like, all the original art I could ever wish for) and probably should have just moved into The Louvre.DSC_0008

4. I went to 3 scifi/manga conventions and met the real life (okay, Cosplay, but damn awesome) TinTin!1424510_10204495246754590_986803764695503958_n

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5. I became part of, and viewed, original Miyazaki sketches from all of my favorite movies! 10850296_10204622487375526_4532807605400135729_n

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6. I made beautiful friends and we made beautiful memories all over Paris.1528591_10204755801748302_6677248749756096313_n

 

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7. I WENT TO THE VAN GOGH MUSEUM, and almost died from an art love overdose!! Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 11.04.52 AM

8. Galway, Ireland stole my heart and Ireland won the “Most Visited” award for the year!DSC_0683

9. I went to Normandy and saw history in real life (also biked 22 km)!DSC_0082

 

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10. I spent Easter weekend in Rome and went to the Colosseum! DSC_0234

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11. I went to the Cliffs of Moher and unintentionally spent my Spring Break falling in love with Ireland.DSC_0526

12. I went to Versailles gardens/Palace and became the little Marie Antoinette fangirl I always wanted to be.10421139_10205851538021024_2635329984024940649_n (1)

Thanks to all who have made this such a crazy wild experience. Cheers to next time!

Rome, Italy: Day 2

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Day two of Italy was such a beautiful whirlwind. I started out with breakfast (REAL DOUGHNUT) at the hostel and then headed out to find the metro. I was so happy to figure out that in Rome the metro consists of two lines, and each goes in two directions. That’s really all there is. Hallelujah. There was a direct route from where I was staying, so I hopped on the metro and headed to my first location: The Vatican.

While I was riding the metro I was reminded of how terrified I was of the tube when I made my first ever backpacking trip. I wouldn’t take it. I took buses around London for an entire week. And if you’ve ever been to London, you’ll know how incredibly insane that is. But here I was, sitting on the metro in Rome, Italy thinking, “Well this is easy.” Paris has changed me in a lot of ways. I had to smile when I thought about how “young” I seemed on my first trip, even though it was only a couple years ago. So much can change in two years.

The Vatican was as crazy as you can imagine. Going on Easter weekend was an absolute dream in most regards, to be honest. There were so many more benefits than negatives. But when it came to The Vatican, there was the single negative; it seemed like the entirety of Italy (and maybe everywhere else, too) was there. The line was wrapping around the entire piazza and everyone was buzzing with excitement. It was a pretty amazing experience. EVERYONE was there – from the elderly to tours filled with children. I didn’t wait in the line, because I knew that I had limited time to see the whole city, but I did take some awesome pictures of the surrounding area. So fresh, so clean. I love Roman architecture.

My next stop was the Castel Sant Angelo, which was amazing and absolutely enormous. I kind of wish I had gone in, but there was just so much to see and I was on a time crunch. I loved walking along the “Fiume Tevere”. The water seemed so clear in comparison to The Seine and since the sun was out and shining all day it was the best place to be.

Like I said, I really think I went at the best time that I could have. I had all the street vendors to myself and picked up some amazing “Roman Holiday” (Audrey Hepburn) prints, which I’m definitely going to get framed when I get back to the US. The Piazza Cavour was one of the most beautiful sights you could ever imagine. I’m so used to the (sorry France) gaudy Parisian architecture that it was refreshing to see the clean, but nonetheless ornate and beautiful, architecture of Rome.

My next stop was the Piazza Navona, where I bought some gelato and simply laid in the sun next to a fountain as a jazz band played next to where I was sitting. Sounds perfect, right? It was.
I stopped in on quite a few churches while I was in Rome. I loved how simplistic they looked on the exterior, but how ornate they were on the inside. I spent a lot of time just sitting and mediating in one of the smaller chapels next to the Piazza. Such beauty.
At this point I decided that I needed to see at least one actual museum so I jumped in the one that was nearest to me. Of course (because I can never escape France) it was the Napoleon museum, which was actually amazing and beautiful and I loved it. When I walked in, though, I walked straight up to the huge Napoleon painting and said “Well, I didn’t expect to see you here.” I’m pretty sure the security guards thought I was insane. Oh, well.

My next stop was the Pantheon, which was an absolute madhouse (in all the best ways). There were just SO MANY PEOPLE THERE. I loved being able to walk around amidst the beehive of people inside, though. The ceiling was one of those moments that seems like a cut from a movie montage. You just stand there and turn around and around. How did people build this so long ago? How is it still here? Why do I get to come here?

After the Pantheon I picked up some postcards and walked up along the Tiber River. I headed up to Piazza del Popolo where there was the coolest obelisk. That was another favorite thing about Rome, since I’ve always been in love with ancient Egypt (I dressed up as Cleopatra probably 5 Halloweens in my childhood). I loved being able to see these massive obelisks engraved with hieroglyphics. I mean, come on. At this point I was just thinking – what even is this life that I’m living?

NOTE: This whole trip I had to keep pinching myself. How was it real that I was there? How was I there? How was it real?

After the Piazza I made my way along the Via del Corso, which is pretty much just a huge extension of shop after shop after shop. I did buy a wallet, because I figured that going to Italy and not buying something made out of Italian leather would have been a crime.
Another thing I really enjoyed about Rome was that, even though it’s such a massive city, there are still live street musicians and artists. There were some absolutely incredible chalk artists on the streets there, and I could not believe how well they were replicating famous works of art.

The next stop on my adventure were the Spanish stairs – and I really don’t have much to say about them because my little introvert self saw that many people sitting in that one place, and ran for the hills.

Or rather, Trevi Fountain, which was under construction (the saddest thing ever) but was still lovely. Hopefully someday, when I go back, I’ll be able to see it with actual water in it. Wouldn’t that be nice?

The Quirinale was my next stop, and I arrived just in time to see the Italian version of the changing of the guards. The whole ceremony was pretty awesome, but I don’t think it’s publicized because there weren’t a whole ton of people there. Those of us who were there, though, loved every moment.

Phew. I’m getting tired just writing all of this out (and you’re probably getting tired of reading it) but just image that this was 12 hours straight of walking. Fun times.

On my way back to my hostel I found an old church (like all the churches in Rome are old, so I don’t know why I needed to add that), and wrote out the postcards I needed to send out – all while being surrounded by gold and renaissance style paintings. Think angels with outstretched fingers. That.

Piazza Republica was my next stop on my way back to my hostel, where I dropped off my postcards, and went back to the hostel to collapse. Unfortunately, it was then that I realized I had forgotten to get Spaghetti (I had checked off Panini and gelato already during the day) somewhere, so I dragged myself back out of bed and across the street for a plate. I will say this about that meal: I don’t think I’ll ever be able to enjoy bread anywhere, ever again, now that I’ve lived in France.

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Rome, Italy : Day 1

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(Written last week, but I didn’t have time to edit it – oops!)

Day one of Rome started with me flying into the airport, missing buses because of the enormous demand (due to Easter) and then ultimately getting into the city! When we drove in, the bus went past some of the southern monuments, including the Colosseum. My first thought, honestly, when arriving there was “Whoa. That looks just like the Colosseum.” Sleep deprivation does things to you, and I don’t think my mind had quite figured out I wasn’t in France anymore.

Obviously, I figured it out a split second later, and whipped out my phone to snap some pictures as we sped by. The bus took me pretty close to my hostel, which was so nice! The name of the hostel where I was staying was called The Freedom Traveler Hostel and I really really enjoyed my time there. The staff was just so extremely helpful and so incredibly nice. When I checked in, the staff woman pulled out a map that showed Rome and circled all the “must see” places. Basically it was every highlighted attraction. Which meant I needed to get started right away, despite being barely able to walk straight due to my 4am wake up time.

So I dropped my stuff off and headed straight back out the door. The thing to remember about Rome is that there are only two subway lines and neither goes near anything you’ll want to see, with the exception of The Vatican. The reason, as you can probably guess, is because it would endanger so many of the ruins and monuments to have tunnels running underground near them. But it does make transportation (other than by bus) a little more tricky. The good thing is, a lot of things are clustered together, and there are beautiful structures to see that aren’t even on the maps for your walk to in between places.

Day one I decided to head back down south of where I was staying, BACK to the Colosseum. The great thing about traveling on Easter weekend was a lot of monuments were FREE! The bad thing was that there seemed to be the whole of Europe there to visit.

When I walked up to the Colosseum the line was impressively long stretching out farther than I could really see. It was at this moment that for some weird reason the movie Big Hero 6 came to mind, and I started looking at the insanity in a different way. I started walking around the building and found another line to the side that apparently no one knew existed except for the 10 people in front of me – so I got into the building in about 15 minutes (in comparison to waiting hours). Getting in so quickly, and not having to pay made the experience all that much better and I got to savor the guided tours that I joined up inside. I honestly spent so much time in there just in awe and wonder at the magnitude and history that made up the Colosseum. Absolutely crazy.

After the Colosseum it was pretty late for museums, due to the fact that I didn’t get into the city until almost 3pm and they closed at 6pm. So I walked across the street to the Roman Forum where there are just ruins for as far as the eye can see. I also discovered, while walking around, that Italy has doughnuts – which was one of the best moment I’ve had in months. I don’t even know why, but I’ve been craving doughnuts for months and to finally get a real fried doughnut (France has them, but they’re baked – gross) was just heaven.

Even though it rained the first day, the overall mood of the city was on fire. Everyone was having such a good time and you could tell. That’s something I really miss from Paris. As weird as it sounds, happy people are not in an abundance there and it starts to rub off on you after a while.

Italians are loud and expressive and sarcastic and fun. Italian couples, not matter what age, were my favorite to people to watch because they are hilarious – so much teasing but in a I’m going-to-play slap-you-and-then-kiss-you romantic way. It actually really reminded me of Ireland and the Irish sense of humor. Which is saying a lot, because Ireland is my absolute favorite place ever.

After all the walking I went back to my hostel and got to chat with my hostel roommates – Pat and Kat. Which is just awesome that those were their names. One was a student from The Philippines, who was studying in Denmark and the other was a single mom from Hawaii who just decided to go to Rome on a whim. They both were just so incredible.

That really is so much of the experience of travel. Yes the sights and the ruins are amazing. I love museums and paintings and castles and churches. But what really makes a trip a good one is the people you meet. I absolutely love bing able to hang out with other travelers and swap stories and ideas – they really are my favorite kind of people.

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Easter Sunday: Rome, Italy

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They say that to truly feel alive you should do things that scare you. Today is my day.
I’ve been pretty terrified to go to Rome for a while. Big cities in general terrify me, but with other cities like LA, London or Paris I’ve always felt a little more at ease since I speak the language of each of those places.
I don’t speak a word of Italian. In fact, I can barely spell Italian (I keep writing it the French way). When I was in the airport I actually had to stop and mind swap over because the people boarding with me were (of course) speaking Italian and I seriously had to stop and think about what Italian sounded like. When was the last time I heard actual (not 9th generation Italian-American, sorry guys) Italian? I honestly can’t think of a time. Which kind of makes me sad, because I really like Italian as a language. It just really isn’t that prominent in the past of the US where I’m from, but I never realized that until today.

This morning I woke up at 5am with birds chirping and a full moon outside my window. It was eerie, but also kind of nice to get to watch the Easter sunrise. HE IS RISEN!
I love Easter so much because it’s just a huge party – it is hard not to be with my family this year because this is one of the three times per year that I usually get to see everyone. What I wouldn’t give for a plate of Morehouse deviled eggs. Yum.

But this is the year of doing things a little different. So I’m currently sitting on an airplane to Rome, Italy. Which is insane. The trip was pretty sporadic because I just found out earlier this week that I had a three day weekend off. While I was looking up places to go I knew Italy was next on my list of places to visit, but I was torn between Venice, Florence or Rome (or Milan just because it’s close and cheap) but after thinking it over, and looking up each city, I realized I would never forgive myself if I didn’t go to Rome.

So I bought the hefty ticket (everything was overpriced for the holiday weekend, but in comparison to traveling from the US obviously it’s like nothing no matter how high you buy flying from Paris) and I immediately knew it was the right choice. The hostel situation in Rome this weekend is madness. It took me two hours of sifting through every possible place before I finally found a hostel that fit what I was looking for. It was the last bed in the place, and I can only imagine what the city itself is going to be like when I actually get there. It’s funny, but I already feel like I want to go back to Italy and I’m not even there, yet.

About the airline I’m flying: This time I decided to try out the Spanish owned airline Vueling. I honestly had no idea what to expect since the airline is fairly new and there wasn’t a lot about them online, yet. But I love it (especially in comparison to RyanAir). The staff is so nice, and they actually seem to like their jobs. The atmosphere of the plane is great, hipster approved music is playing and everyone seems to be having a great time. The one warning I would state is that, if you’re on the taller side, make sure you have an aisle seat – the leg room is the only not so impressive aspect of this airline. If you’re smaller, though, you’re good to go. The nice thing to remember, also, is that the flights are only around 1-2 hours long. So if you do end up feeling cramped, it will only be for a short while. I lucked out this trip, though, because both of the seats next to me are open, so I’m the queen of row 29 A-C (also window seat – eeeeee! 🙂 )

The one downside of this trip is that Paris is gorgeously sunny today, and Rome has supposedly inherited the rain we’ve had all this week for today. But it is supposed to be sunny tomorrow, so I think it will still be a great trip! Ciao!