Monday, August 13, 2018

It's Okay to Change - Ukraine (pt. 3)

I've changed a lot over the last three years. I lived in three countries, became vegan, witnessed my 93--year-old father experience the hardships of old age, started loving my curly hair and thick eyebrows, embraced a sustainable lifestyle, lost my dearest brother, fell in love in unexpected places, found strength in God, lost and gained friends, traveled to the mountains of China, the ancient cities of Morocco, and far places in between...

It's no wonder that I've changed. How could someone not change after living in a foreign country where everything is new and different? After watching the one you love take their last breath? After sitting under the stars on a rooftop in Morocco talking about the beauty of life? After experiencing the power of God answering your prayers? 

I remember sitting in the Chapel in Ukraine. I had just finished the second week of teaching and I was filled with so many emotions that I just started crying. As the tears dripped down, I took a deep breath and thanked God. I thanked God for allowing me to experience all of the changes I went through because each and every change brought me to that exact moment, to a small village in Ukraine to teach English and be surrounded by some of the most inspiring people I've ever had the privilege of being with. 

In that moment, everything in my life made sense. I realized that it's okay to change. I used to fight change because I was scared of what was on the other side. I was scared of the judgments I would receive, of the friends I would lose, of the feelings I would feel. Change is good. Change is life. Change is shedding the layers to become exactly who and where you are supposed to be. 

I am where I am and where I'm supposed to be. As I enter into the next chapter of my life and this blog, I am building a story of this crazy journey called life, one change at a time. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Walking into Love - Ukraine (pt. 2)

I breathed a sigh of relief. The day's classes were over and my roommate and I were laying on our beds. She turned to me and said, "I have a song that I want you to listen to." 

We sat in silence and listened to the powerful words of the song. When it was over, I asked her if she could play it again. 

The song finished and one phrase kept ringing in my ears...

Walk into love. 
Walk into love.
Walk into love.

I had read many books and quotes about love, and experienced love in many forms, but I never heard it said that way. 

My roommate turned to me and asked me what my favorite part of the song was. I whispered, "Walk into love". 

As I whispered those three words, thoughts began to enclose my mind. I thought about falling in love in high school with a boy who I thought would remain my love for much longer. With him, I naively thought I knew what love was. As I fell more in love, he fell less in love. Soon enough, we parted our ways as I went on to live in the Czech Republic, China, and Italy and travel to over 20 other countries. In each country I lived and traveled to, I searched for love. I had fun, I was free, but deep down I knew I was afraid to walk into love, the real love where you do more than just fall in get a glimpse of someone's soul, you hear their dreams, you walk together with Christ. 

I am no longer afraid to walk into love. Ukraine taught me that love comes in many forms. Walking into love isn't just falling in love. It's listening to someone play the guitar under the stars and wondering how you never heard the sound of their music before. It's sitting in the Chapel after a long day with your best friend and giving everything to God. It's writing a note to someone who made you smile after a long day. It's giving yourself of service to others exactly how you are, imperfections and all. It's allowing yourself to be worthy of the love you will receive in turn.  

Ukraine taught me how to walk into love. I am strong, I am confident, and I am no longer afraid, and for that I'm forever thankful.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Power of a Smile - Ukraine (pt. 1)

I had just arrived at the Monastery where I would be spending the next few days for teacher orientation. The mentor who had picked me up from the airport said, "Here we are." A thousand questions filled my head...

"What am I doing here?"
"Why did I leave the comfort of my home?"
"How am I going to teach English with a degree in Business?"
"Is there wi-fi?" 
"How am I going to stay vegan when I can't speak Ukrainian?" 
"Will I make friends?" 

The questions billowed as I headed to dinner with a few of the teachers who had also arrived that day. As I munched on my first vegan meal of buckwheat and bread, I overheard a girl at the table next to me say that someone had already put their suitcase on the other bed in her room. 

I interrupted, "Wait, what room are you?"

She responded, "215". 

We spent the remainder of the night talking about our blogs, our struggles, and God. As I was falling asleep, I took a deep breath and whispered, "Thank you, God." We went on to spend the next three weeks laughing until our stomachs hurt, listening to worship music, drinking beer after a long day, and laying in our beds wondering how blessed we were that God brought us to Ukraine. 

Orientation came and went. Before I knew it, Monday morning was here and it was time for the first class. I had my coffee in hand and my lesson plan ready. I lifted my head and shoulders, pretending to be confident as I walked to my "classroom" (a circle of chairs outside the Chapel). I looked at my nine students who were all about my age. I smiled the biggest smile I could, hoping to hide my nervousness, and said, "Hi, my name is Kat." 

My lesson plan tanked numerous times throughout the first class...we finished activities way sooner than I thought. Some tasks were too easy, some too boring, some too challenging. I kept doing the only thing I knew how to do, I smiled and laughed at every opportunity. When I smiled and laughed, my students smiled and laughed. I thought, "Maybe I can do this." 

As the days and weeks passed, I shared conversations with my students and many others in the camp. We went on walks and they wrote to me. They shared their dreams and their hardships. They told me about their families and their friends. They told me what life was like in Ukraine. All the while, I smiled. 

The day I had been dreading finally arrived: the last day of camp. The hours ticked on and I knew it was time to say goodbye. The tears flowed and wouldn't stop. For the first time since my arrival, I couldn't smile knowing I had to leave the people who had made every day a beautiful one. As the tears kept pouring, I noticed something. With every hug came a student who was smiling, a student who said thank you for making them smile, a student who wrote me a letter about how seeing my smile brightened their day. I knew in that moment, my job as a teacher was done. 

If you're reading this, smile. Keep smiling and when you don't feel like it, smile more. Someone is watching. Someone is healing. Someone is falling in love. Someone is turning their fear into confidence. Someone is seeing God in you. Someone is happy and by God, that's a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

5 Reasons Why You Should Travel Alone at Least Once in Your Life

Hello from Prague! I arrived here yesterday after 18 hours of travel and am so happy to be back! This is my 12th solo trip. If you're new around here, I've traveled to 6 countries and over 10 cities solo! I began my solo adventures during my fall semester in Milan in 2016 for two reasons. Foremost, I found that I couldn't always do what I wanted to do when I traveled with a group since most of the time my values didn't align with the group's values. For example, I would rather wake up early and explore the city as opposed to stay up late and drink. While I understand there is value in the latter, I would rather direct my energy towards exploring a new city and learning about a new culture. Secondly, during that period of my life, I lost sense of who I was and subsequently lost my confidence. Traveling solo gave me the opportunity to gain all of my confidence back. I realized if I could survive being alone in a foreign country, I could do anything I set my mind to! 

Here are five reasons why you should travel alone at least once in your life: 
  1. Traveling solo builds confidence because you don't have anyone to rely on but yourself. To me, this is the most rewarding part of traveling solo! There is no greater feeling than finding your way around a foreign city all by yourself. 
  2. When you travel solo, you are the boss of your own schedule which means you can do whatever you want, whenever you want. Wake up as early you want, eat wherever you want, and embrace the freedom! 
  3. When you travel solo, you are forced to step outside your comfort zone. For example, you may find yourself eating alone at a restaurant for the first time. Don't stress it, just put your phone away and talk to your waiter or people sitting near you. You'll be surprised at the stories you hear and the friendships you build.
  4. Traveling solo gives you more time. What I mean by this is that when you travel solo, a day seems much longer because you're by yourself and you're only doing the things you want to do. When I went on my first solo adventure to Venice, I didn't know what to do with myself after the first few hours! I couldn't believe all the time I had. 
  5. Traveling solo allows you to meet more people. I have met people from India, Indonesia, South Korea and beyond during my solo adventures. I would have never met these people had I not traveled alone. This is not to say you can't meet people if you're traveling in a group, but it may not be as likely or may require more effort since you already have a companion. 
Of course, while I love traveling solo and encourage others to do so, this list is not to discard group travel. I've also had some of my best memories while traveling in a group. I am simply encouraging you to step outside your comfort zone and see the world from a different perspective! 

Have you traveled alone? If so, I'd love to hear your experience!! 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

My Low Waste Vegan Graduation Party + Tips for an Eco-Friendly Party

This weekend I celebrated my graduation by having a low waste vegan party! I was on the fence about having a low waste vegan party since most people have a preconceived notion of what vegan food is and are not familiar with the "zero waste" movement. However, I ended up deciding to just go for it and I'm so glad that I did! 

In order to plan for the party, I started by creating a menu which included appetizers, dinner, and dessert (I'll list it below). After creating the menu, I made a list of what we needed and separated it by produce, bulk items, canned goods, and everything else. For the produce, my brother and I went to the farmer's market and bought all of the fruits and veggies for the party without plastic. I used my reusable produce bags and tote bags so that I didn't have to use any plastic bags (#plasticsucks). I like going to the farmer's market because most produce doesn't come wrapped in plastic! In total, the produce only cost about $50. Although none of it was organic, it was still a step in the right direction. 

The next step was to go to the grocery store for bulk items, canned goods, and everything else. Normally I go to Whole Foods, however I knew it would be too pricey for the party if I'm being honest. Instead, I went to Fairway Market which is similar to Whole Foods. There, I bought rice and coconut flakes from the bulk section, a few cans of chickpeas and sauce, and the rest in packaging. I tried to buy all of the packaged products in glass, paper, or aluminum to support a circular economy. However, this wasn't feasible for items that only came in plastic like veggie burgers, buns, sprouts, chips, and pita bread. Normally, I would not buy anything in plastic. However, this was an exception since I needed to be more flexible for the party and cater to different preferences. This grocery haul cost about $140. 

After buying all of the food, I realized I needed to buy compostable plates, cups, and bowls since we didn't have enough real dishes for all of the guests to use. Another great option would have been to purchase secondhand plates, cups, and bowls from Goodwill since they're usually affordable. You can always donate them back if you don't want them to clutter your home after the party. I've also heard of having a BOYP - bring your own plate - party where all your guests bring their own dish! Either option is a great alternative to using disposable plates that end up in a landfill. In terms of silverware, we had enough real forks and spoons so we just used those! All napkins, plates, cups, and bowls were composted. (:

I said I'd get back to the menu so here we are! 

Appetizers: Hummus w/ Pita Chips, Guacamole, Mixed Veggies (bought in bulk and then cut), Vegan Garlic Bread (toasted with nutritional yeast and oil), Olives, Grilled Zucchini (also bought in bulk then grilled), Marinated Mushrooms, Mango Bean Salsa

Dinner: Impossible Burgers and Boca Veggie Burgers on Buns, Pasta Salad w/ Artichokes and Sun-dried Tomatoes, Corn on the Cob, Salad w/ Strawberries, Oranges, and Cherry Tomatoes, Potato Salad, Vegan Coleslaw 

Dessert: Banana Nice Cream (Cherry, Chocolate PB, and Chocolate), Vegan Raspberry Tart, Assorted Fruit (bought in bulk then cut) 

*If you want any of the recipes, message me on Instagram @anewerkatintown!
In order to reduce waste, I set up three bins: compost, recycles, and trash. I labeled each one with instructions so that guests would know where to put what. All food, plates, bowls, cups, and napkins were composted. All plastic soda, wine, and beer bottles were recycled. All other items that couldn't be composted or recycled were placed in the trash bin!
By shopping from bulk, purchasing items that were mostly in paper, aluminum, or glass, and composting, all 25 of us only created about one jar of trash which I couldn't be happier about! If you're having a party soon, here are some tips for having an eco-friendly party:
  • Don't be afraid to live out your values (i.e.: veganism, zero waste, etc.) 
  • Shop from the bulk section to avoid plastic and excess packaging 
  • Buy produce naked or use reusable produce bags 
  • Don't tell people you're having a vegan party (unless you want to), just let them enjoy the vegan food! 
  • Buy compostable or secondhand dishware 
  • Let go of the idea of having a perfect zero waste party...trash happens 
  • Have fun!!!!