Make Everyday a Journey

Though I’ve ended my Fran’s Lands 7-month adventure, my spirit of trying new and crazy things is here to stay.

         I’m back!!!!!!!!

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When I was 7-years-old, I dressed up like a princess with a magic carpet for a rabbit costume competition. We could travel anywhere then, and we can travel anywhere now!

I can’t say I was eager to return to America, but life always catches up with us, even when we wish it wouldn’t.

Back to Cornell University. Back to courses and jobs. Back to TAing, Bible study, and conferences. And of course, back to friends and family, who’ve been beside me since before my journey began.

The same ol’ Francine is back. But I insist that being gone for 7 months and in 7 countries has changed me. How could it not?

This post is the final wrap-up to my Fran’s Lands journey. So what could possibly make my ultimate Fran’s Lands list? Read on!

 

 

Things you’d never learn if you were a travel-phobic American homebody:

 

  1. Legitimately spicy food exists… and can make you happy.

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This pic is from my friend Camille’s Instagram post of my spicy noodle eating (and water gulping!) at Satan’s Noodles. The words in the post mean, “Go Francine! You can eat spiciness level 5!”

I’m from the American Midwest, where food is tasty but lacking in the spice department. It took lots of Mexican jalapeño salsa and exploring world cuisines for me to develop taste buds that even accepted mild tang!

During my Fran’s Lands journey, my spice tolerance hit an all-time high. From winning a South African chilli-eating competition against 3 tough guys to downing noodles with 50 cabe peppers at Indonesia’s infamous Satan’s Noodles restaurant, I’ve developed a passion for spice. In fact, when tangy food prods tears down my cheeks, I’m ecstatic!

 

 

  1. Whiteness (and Americanness) is real.

Being abroad was a huge eye opener because I learned that race matters. And as a white person, it’s a position of privilege.

On the streets of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, I can’t tell you how many times women and kids set their hands smack-dab in front of my face begging for money.

I also can’t recall how many people approached me wanting to be friends and, as soon as they learned I lived in New York, would say something like, “Ooooohhh! New York. The city that never sleeps…the city where everyone’s dreams come true.”

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Privilege also means opportunity. During my research in India, my fellowship provided enough funds so that I could give each respondent household some kitchenware.

I would rarely tell them that New York was a state—not only a sprawling urban center—and that there’s challenges there like the rest of the world.

“I’m saving my money so one day I can go to America too,” many of them would say, often mentioning a friend or brother or cousin who had gone through the immigration fiasco to get there. I’m a lucky, white American – I won’t deny it.

 

 

  1. There’s never a good excuse to say ‘no’ to fitness.

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One of my favorite activities is climbing mountains. Here I am on Mount Bromo in Indonesia!

I could have been healthier the last few months, but as a lifelong foodie, how could I resist the decadent international dishes? Besides, it’s part of the experience.

However, as far as exercise goes, I give myself 5 gold stars. Fitness, I learned, can be adapted to wherever you are.

In Indonesia, I took on Muay Thai, a Thai martial art that was perhaps the most intense physical activity I’ve attempted. You use hands, elbows, legs, knees, face…

In South Africa, I got involved in a hiking club and found a few mountains to scale every couple days. When nature’s around, make the most of it!

Most recently in India, I did one of my favorite activities of all: riding bicycles! My research center had plenty of peacocks, so I enjoyed evening rides to watch those awe-inspiring creatures in action.

 

 

  1. Having a bizarre foreign accent is pretty cool.

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I know one thing: I couldn’t have developed my bizarre accent from speaking Indonesian for 2 months! Here I am with Mbak Mei (left) and Mbak Vita (right), my Indonesian language tutors.

I don’t sound American anymore, and I don’t sound British either. People tell me it’s like a fusion of the 2 accents. How did that happen?

Well, most of the countries I’ve been to were formerly British colonies, so I could have picked up their pronunciations.

I also have a habit of speaking clearly and slowly, sometimes over-accentuating words, especially when I’m with people whose first language is not English. That could have contributed too.

Is my voice strange now? Absolutely! But I don’t care – I’m unique!

 

 

  1. Traveling can make you realize, accept, and embrace yourself.

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At Phang Nao Bay in Thailand, I felt as alive as I physically, mentally, and emotionally could be.

I wasn’t very outgoing growing up, but I always had lots on my mind that I wish I had the courage to say.

Traveling, particularly traveling solo, made me rediscover my bubbliness, humor, and other personality traits I had always had but had somewhat closeted.

I figured that for each person I met I could start on an empty slate.  I began living every moment as the best version of myself. In the process, I found people who liked me for me, not for my accomplishments, Americanness, or background. Just plain ol’ Francine.

 

 

***

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Hiking in South Africa with my hiking club! I’m not sure what this look on my face means.

That was my fun final Fran’s Lands list, but since it’s my last post, it’s time for a sentimental closing note.

Throughout my Fran’s Lands journey, many people have told me that I’m living their dream. And I would respond by saying that I’m living my dream.

I had wanted to travel because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to see and understand people’s needs and use my pen, academic training, and wit to do something about it. I don’t know if I’ve succeeded in that, but I do know that I’ve tried and that whatever career or rabbit hole I end up in, I will do something that positively matters.

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Woah! Zebras on the road. A South African safari never felt so thrilling!

Being internally changed by being abroad was just a side effect of my experiences. I learned that my words are powerful and influential, and when used with authenticity and conviction, there’s little they can’t do.

I also learned that confidence is one of the hardest lessons to pick up but among the most rewarding skills to have.

And on a personal relationship note, I discovered that even if a guy likes me—maybe even says he loves me—I should never feel obliged to return his feelings.

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Looking silly but feeling amazing! For my final Indonesian presentation, I discussed my research on cats’ tails… and dressed up like my feline friends.

The more I explore and the more I accomplish, the more I understand that the same things are just as important today as they were the day I was born: my inner worth, my family and friends, and God.

Even if your name isn’t Fran and even if you never have had a Fran’s Lands journey, I implore you to not be afraid to do something you’ve never done before. Chances are you’ll fall flat on your face while doing it, and that’s okay. What’s not okay is living your life in your own little nook, torturing yourself under the haunting question: “What if?”

Be a Fran. Make everyday a journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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