At the End of the Day, We’re All the Same

LEAH Leah9

Age: 23

Occupation: I am currently an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Malaysia as a part of a Fulbright Fellowship. I majored in public relations and history at the University of Miami and graduated in May of 2012.

Hometown: Washington, DC


Leah6Where have you traveled?

I have been blessed to travel to 28 countries: Canada, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Honduras, El Salvador, Senegal, The Gambia, South Africa, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France, Spain (lived here for 5 months. Whattup Barcelona!), Italy, the Netherlands, Malaysia (my current home), Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), India, the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, and Japan. I have also been to over 40 states in the US.

What inspired you to go abroad? 

I really owe it all to my family. Although I am born and raised in DC, my family has always thought it was important to expose my Leah1sister and I to the rest of the world. I did not fully appreciate it at the time, but there were summers when my friends would be playing with the newest Sega games or hanging out at recreation centers and instead I was taking road trips across the country with my family or going to Europe, Africa, etc. My parents are not materialistic at all so I was never one to have the newest clothes or toys but what I realize now is that they were giving me life experiences that has encouraged me to seek out what the rest of the world has to offer.

Leah5A lot of these trips were very short but still amazing. Some of my longer trips were in Spanish speaking countries because I have always wanted to learn Spanish. I spent a summer in between Honduras and El Salvador doing service projects and a semester my junior year college in Spain. When I applied for my Fulbright grant I initially wanted to return to Spain, but when my grant adviser recommended Malaysia as something different I decided to give it a shot. This is my second year teaching in Malaysia and I have really enjoyed exploring the country as well as Asia as a whole. Definitely an amazing part of the world! Once I’m in an area if there are countries close by I will most likely try to get there, whether I know much about the country or not. There’s always an adventure to be had.

What has been your best experience? Worst experience? 

I absolutely loved Spain! I think a piece of my heart is still over there and I cannot wait to go back and find it. Barcelona is completely different than the Spain I learned about in school, so I enjoyed living there and learning from a Catalonian perspective.

I thoroughly enjoyed the two weeks I spent in Santa Marta, El Salvador, just a beautiful rural area where it gets dark at 5 p.m. and the stories of the civil war are rich. I stayed with an abuela and her daughter and granddaughter, none of whom spoke English, and by the end of it was able to converse with family about how most of the abuela’s family was killed trying to flee during the civil war, including her husband. Although I was only 14 or 15 when I went, this experience still stands out as one of the richest I’ve had traveling.Leah7

Living in Malaysia has been one of the most enriching experiences I’ve had but also one of the most challenging. I have not run into many race related issues being an African-American female, but race tension throughout the country is very prevalent making for some hostile and unpleasant interactions. The gender differences can also be very taxing. Malaysia is a country where a majority of the Muslim women wear head coverings (here they’re called tudongs), and clothing that covers everything from the neck down, but there’s still a sizeable percentage of the population that is Chinese or Indian and don’t adhere to these clothing restrictions. Leah2This makes being a foreigner engaged in the teaching culture very difficult, but then exercising your freedom of personal expression through dress outside of school is also difficult because no matter what you wearing you will almost always feel objectified. There have been times when my housemate and I have been walking back from the gym wearing a long skirt and a long sleeve shirt and still have still had to hastily walk to our home due to people following us on motorbikes or cars. I feel very safe here, but there are some things I’m extra alert about just because of how I know I’m perceived as a foreign female.

How did you hear about these opportunities?

My high school presented me with a lot of international service trips so I went to Honduras and South Africa with members from my high school. I always knew about studying abroad but I had to seek it out in college. Because a lot of students from the University of Miami are from other countries I didn’t feel like information was readily available, but once I found the office I never left. My best friend Kelly actually told me about Fulbright. I remember sitting in my sister’s apartment the summer before senior year of college and freaking out because I knew I wanted to live abroad after college but just didn’t know how I financially could. Kelly mentioned that Fulbright was a fully funded government program and that I could virtually go anywhere in the world. I’d heard of Fulbright Grants but was not aware that there was an English teaching fellowship as well. That day I contacted Kefryn Reese, the adviser at the University of Miami, and she helped me tremendously to make my dreams become a reality.

Leah3How did you fund these opportunities?

Some of the service trips in high school were able to be included in my tuition (I attended a private school). The study abroad program I did (CEA Global Education) actually cost less than a semester’s tuition at UM so my parents paid for my semester. And yea big ups to all the tax payers for bringing me out to Malaysia because my Fulbright grant is fully funded by the American and Malaysian government. Once I get to my initial destination though any additional travel I pay for or my parents help me out.

What have you learned from your travels? 

Through traveling I’ve learned how humans are inherently all the same. Yes you may come across different customs and Leah4experiences, but the fundamentals are all the same. When I travel I enjoy wandering and meeting people more than visiting the sites that are included in tour books. It’s when you meet the people that you realize how much you have in common with the inhabitants of a place that is so far from home. The architecture tells one story, which I will not discredit, but the personal interactions tell something a little more powerful for me. Traveling throughout Asia has taught me to be a lot more flexible. Almost nothing will go according to plan, so you just have to be open and accepting to whatever adventure you are about to embark on.

Where do you plan to visit in the future?

We have a school break coming up at the end of May, so I have tickets to go to Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, and back to Thailand. Before I leave Asia I would like to check out Nepal because I’ve heard amazing things. Next up on my big adventure list is South America. I have heard nothing but positive things about the people and beauty in South America so I would like to try and spend some time there. Also Prague is high on my list as well as Germany, Greece, and Egypt. Pretty much I want to see the world. Every place has beauty and a story to tell and I would consider myself truly blessed if I am able to even get a snippet of those narratives.


Want to get in touch with Leah?

Facebook: Leah Imani


Website: (Still in progress) http://ldanville.wix/the-eta-exchange


Learning About Other Cultures

ANGELAAngela 1

Age: 18

Major: Studying Communications at St. John’s University

Hometown: Oxon Hill, MD

Where have you traveled?
So far I’ve been to Spain (Pamplona, Barcelona, Madrid, Toledo, San Sebastian, Segovia and Hondarribia) and France (Biarritz and Hendaye). In a couple weeks I’ll be adding Rome, Italy to the list of places that I’ve travelled to.

What inspired you to go abroad?
What inspired me to go abroad was ultimately my love for travelling. My mom and I had always taken our “mother-daughter trips” to different places in the U.S. such as the Mall of America in Minnesota or Orlando, Florida, and I wanted to expand my horizons and truly see the beauty of other countries. I’ve always wanted to see how other people lived and taste authentic cuisine from those places, and the more I traveled, the more I fell in love with it. Another big reason I began travelling was that I was taking Spanish at the time and I wanted more experience at the language, and where’s a better place to practice than in Spain? After that experience it became more than just wanting to practice the language and more about wanting to see the world. At this point I consider myself a “travel junkie” and I’m always looking for the next opportunity to travel abroad.
La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

What has been your best experience? The worst?

My best experience had to be seeing La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. La Sagrada Familia is an absolutely stunning work of architecture, and what’s amazing is that it isn’t even finished being constructed yet. Every touch of detail is beautiful in that church. From the birth of Christ being depicted in the architecture and design on the front of the church to his arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection on the back of the church, it is a breath-taking design. It’s definitely a must-see for anyone in Barcelona. I was in complete awe at that church, and no other church or cathedral we saw in Spain compared.
My worst experience probably had to be visiting France. The parts of France that we visited (Hendaye and Biarritz) are absolutely gorgeous, especially Biarritz. However, even though those places were in Basque Country (meaning the people were essentially of Spanish descent) they spoke French, and unfortunately, myself and the other students did not. The French people we encountered were rude in a way that if we didn’t speak French, they didn’t speak to us, which made it hard for us to enjoy our time there. Fortunately, one of the Spanish host students spoke French, and that made our day much better. But I now know to learn some French for the next time I go to France!
How did you hear about these opportunities?

San Sebastian, Spain

San Sebastian, Spain

Every trip abroad I’ve done has been with my schools. The trips to Spain and France were with my high school, the first in Spring 2012 was solely travel, but the trip in Spring 2013 was partially an exchange program where I stayed with a host family the first half of the trip, and then we travelled the latter half of the trip. My upcoming excursion to Italy is with St. John’s, and it is one week abroad while taking a one credit course.

How did you fund these opportunities?
I have to thank my parents for these opportunities. I never fundraised or received a scholarship for these trips and my parents paid out of pocket for me to go to Europe, not once, but now for my third time. I can’t even begin to explain how grateful I am for these opportunities my parents have blessed me with and continue to bless me with.

Royal Palace of Madrid

Royal Palace of Madrid

What have you learned from your travels?
I’ve learned that I truly enjoy learning about and partaking in other cultures. I can even say that I’ve adopted many of these customs and I still use them to this day, such as, putting olive oil on my bread and salad instead of butter or salad dressing. It’s amazing to see how other cultures live as opposed to our own. I learn new things every time I go somewhere and I can’t wait to tell people about what I’ve seen. I’ve also learned how much I like food from other countries! Being in another country did make me miss foods like Chick-Fil-A, but there is nothing compared to eating authentic Spanish Paella or a croissant from a French bakery or having helado (ice cream) for dessert. One of my favorite things about Europe besides the food, has to be how laid-back the people are and not in a lazy way at all. It never once seemed like people were in a rush to get to work or had road rage. Everyone would be at the park with their pets or their loved ones just enjoying life, soaking in the European sun. It was relaxing and refreshing to see.

Where do you plan to visit in the future?
In the future I plan to study abroad in the Spring spending a semester in Seville, Spain,

Biarritz, France

Biarritz, France

Rome, Italy, and Paris, France as well as possibly visiting places such as England, Ireland, Germany, Amsterdam, and Morocco. Other places on my list that I definitely want to visit are Portugal, Australia, Brazil and South Africa, just to name a few.


Want to get in touch with Angela? Email her at








Just Want to Get Up and Go!

BELLABella 1


Age: 21

Major: I am a senior at Wagner College in NY studying Education and Spanish with two minors (english and philosophy).

Hometown: Columbus, OH

Where have you traveled?

Well I have traveled around the US to different places such as San Antonio, Texas, Seattle, Washington, Washington DC, Florida, Philly, Boston, Chicago, etc. but my abroad travels have been to Canada, Mexico, England, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, and Haiti.

What inspired you to go abroad?

WELL I never really knew I had a love for traveling until I went on my third trip abroad by myself to London, England. The trips before were just fun little vacations with my family but I had a friend who was studying to get his PhD in Oxford and he asked me to visit him because he was very lonely. I begged and begged my parents for the longest time (they actually thought it was a joke that I asked). They finally allowed it and I was overjoyed. It was scary leaving by myself like that for a little over a week but I had been away at school for about a year now and was a little accustomed to it. London opened my eyes to a whole new world (sorry for that copyright Aladdin). Just being in front of Big Ben made me want to see every major monument I could. What can I say, I fell in love.

So after that I decided that I wanted to live somewhere new for an extended period of time and that’s when I looked into studying abroad. I really didn’t pick Costa Rica for any reason other than it was the cheapest place to go haha. I was actually quite ignorant and didn’t even know about it as a country…embarrassing. So my best friend and I decided to go together and man did we have an amazing time. While in Costa Rica we were fortunate enough to go on an excursion to Nicaragua for a few days and then spend our Spring Break in the ACTUAL Panama City. We thought it was funny because everyone wants to spend break in Panama City, Florida and we were in the actual Panama City. When I returned from Costa Rica I diagnosed myself with “Post Travelers Depression” haha. It was the worst…I just wanted to get up and go. Anywhere! Everywhere!

Bella 3

Around January or February of last year I got an email talking about the Military Extension Internship which allowed you to intern on a military base and work at the youth center there. Of course I was hooked, being a military brat myself, so I applied right away. I was awarded the internship and was lucky enough to be selected as one of the four other interns who were chosen to go abroad instead of stay on a base in the States. I was so pumped I could hardly wait. I think my mom and dad really inspired me for that one because I would have never thought to apply to work on a military base if I didn’t grow up around it and already understand the surroundings.

Haiti was inspired by my want to go to places that no one would think to go. I also wanted to go on a trip where the sole purpose was to help people. It was truly amazing.


 What has been your best experience? Worst experience?

It is hard for me to pick my best experience because all of them were so different and life changing in multiple ways. I will say that the experience that changed me the most as a person would be my mission trip to Haiti. Going from a first world country to a third world country is a truly humbling experience. There wasn’t a day I didn’t reflect on my surroundings and just break down from it. But what really got to me was the conditions these children were living in…many without families or clean clothes…and the smiles that they had everyday. It made me really rethink the way I go about my day to day activities and the attitude I put into it. Those kids taught me way more than I could have ever taught them in that short week. Living simply is all people really need. America really has an excess of material that could be cut down to make things so much easier.Bella 2

Some bad situations that I had were mostly in Costa Rica. I got very sick at one point and had to be hospitalized. It was really scary because my family wasn’t with me and the doctor was speaking in a language that I didn’t quite know at that time. I was very lucky to have my best friend from back home with me so she comforted me a little. I also wasn’t looking and  fell down a big hole (there are HUGE potholes in the streets of costa rica…its ridiculous) and sprained my ankle. I just had to laugh at that one though haha. Then, I found out that I am allergic to red ant bites because I couldn’t walk for a few days due to my foot inflaming from a few ant bites. Lastly, I got over $400 dollars of merchandise and cash stolen from me in a hostel. I wouldn’t call them bad experiences…I would just call them experiences because…well…I lived didn’t I? 🙂

How did you hear about these opportunities?
Well I heard about Study Abroad through my spanish class I was taking. It is also a requirement for language majors to study in a country where their language is taught so I didn’t really have a choice haha. I actually heard about the Spain opportunity a few days before the application was due and was running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to get that application done. That was right around the time of a major breakup of mine and I knew I needed this opportunity to just get away from everything. I was fortunate enough to get it! While in Spain I made friends with a family who loved to travel and they took me everywhere with them! Again I was quite lucky because without them I wouldn’t have been able to go to many of the places that I did. Haiti was actually an accident trip. I was signed up to go to Israel through a course that I’m taking at school and it got cancelled because of lack of people SO i quickly looked at different extended spring break trips that my school offered and signed up at the last second.

Bella 4How did you fund these opportunities?

Costa Rica was actually very difficult to fund even though it should have been easy. You see, my mother awarded me her Post GI Bill from the military so it pays for most of my college education. We thought that it would pay for studying abroad as well but there were lots of paper work issues and I’m actually still to this day confused on how Costa Rica was paid for haha. Spain was an all expense paid internship. They paid for my flight to orientation in San Antonio, my flight to and from Spain, and awarded me a stipend of $1,500 every other week. Long story short I made BANK last summer haha. My parents made sure I saved some of it instead of go crazy like I probably would have. Haiti I paid for all on my own…I was kind of proud of that 🙂 It was $600 for everything! It was really a great deal.

What have you learned from your travels?

I have really learned to be by myself and what that entails. Its helped me to find myself and learn to love that person. I’ve learned to not judge ANYTHING before you try it (i.e. foods, zip lining, 2 second showers, etc). Most of all I’ve learned that this world is full of amazing and inspirational people. I’ve learned to not complain, for someone out there has it sooooo much worse than me. Those guy troubles I was having, that flat tire I got, those shoes I couldn’t buy…thats nothing compared to the struggles that some go through on a day to day basis and THAT has humbled me.

Where do you plan to visit in the future?
My number one bucket list place is INDIA!!! I am trying to plan a trip there this summer. I am in love with their culture and oh my goodness their weddings are beautiful. I also want to ride an elephant in the water. One day…one day…Bella 5




Want to see more of Bella? Follow her on Instagram @peace_love_puravida