From Portland to Prague

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Ahoj!

My name is Tara and I am a twenty-three year old studying abroad in Prague. Every day I ask myself in awe, how did I get here? Today I want to share that story.

“Follow your dreams”, “Do what you love”, “Listen to your inner child.”

This is the advice I received. I was told, by individuals and my community, to find the one thing I’ve always been interested in and run with it. That’s easier said than done. As far back as I can remember, I wanted to follow a different career path every couple months. The earliest career goal I remember was to be a singer or actress, or both. Then I wanted to be a dancer, painter, writer, president, fashion designer, musician, graphic designer, librarian, bookstore owner, knick-knack shop owner, bakery owner, teacher, journalist, photographer, lingerie designer, publicist, magazine editor, public speaker, matchmaker, director and the list goes on. So deciding on one thing that always spoke to me was a difficult task. But I spent some time on it and thought about all the things I loved over the years despite my changing heart. My answer was, and is, travel.

There are three things I’m very sure of at this time in my life: I love to talk, I love people, and I love to travel. My parents took me to so many places in my childhood and I am so grateful for those experiences. My first trip abroad was at the age of three when I attended my aunt’s wedding in Ireland. This is how the travel bug got me. I was only three years old and I remember this beautiful foreign country and wonderful times with my family. The next trip was about two years later and we went to Amsterdam, Paris, Marbella, Gibraltar, and Tangier. I had my sixth birthday in Spain. By this point, I started falling in love with traveling and with Europe.

It took me almost fifteen years before I visited Europe again (this time solo, which will be a blog post later). But in the meantime we traveled in the states: Oregon, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, and Florida. Then there were also the trips to Canada and Mexico. There was a cruise (which I did not like but that’s a story for another time) to the Caribbean and several countries. By the time I got to be eighteen I had a complete stranger call me a “World Traveler” after hearing me list all the countries I’d been to. I liked the sound of that: “World Traveler”. That is a title I can live with, I thought to myself at the time.

A few years later, as I went back to college at Portland State University, I had to decide on a major. I had transferred in at a junior level standing so choosing my major was a serious matter. After a term as a Communications major I switched to International Studies: Europe and then took on a minor in History. This decision was made after concluding that travel would become the main motivator in my life. So I chose a degree program where I would learn about the world and Europe. Will it help me get a job? I’m not sure but I am learning about what I love.

In December 2015 I started the process of choosing a study abroad program with my school. Studying abroad or living abroad is a common thing in my extended family (whom I am close with). Out of my eight aunts and uncles, six have traveled extensively, three have lived abroad outside of any school program, and three have studied abroad. My sister also studied abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico as a college student and my brother spent time prepping for the SAT in Singapore. So my family was not entirely surprised when I announced I wanted to study abroad.

By the end of December I chose my program to travel with USAC in Prague, Czech Republic, studying Politics, Culture, and Art. I applied and was accepted by spring. I put my dreams before any potential roadblocks like the lack of funding I knew I would have to work through. I put the practical part of me aside a little bit so that the dreamer in me could take charge. That choice was for the best in the end but it scared me every step of the way to getting here (and still some days, even now). To solve part of my funding problem I started a crowdfunding page on YouCaring which is a non-profit site that only charges for credit card processing. That fundraiser was followed by another (still up at this point). Through those fundraisers I collected over two thousand dollars from seventeen different donors (both online and offline donations). I can never say thank you enough to all the people who donated to my fundraiser or have helped me out financially in some way to get me here. I could not be here without you.  

The majority of my trip is being paid for in school loans followed by private funding and grants. I finally got through to FAFSA that I am a broke college student and my school rewarded me with all they could. Unfortunately I was unable to win any of the scholarships I applied for. But I made it. I got here, to Prague, with almost no money to my name. If I had worked full time consistently since returning from Ireland I would have been able to afford this trip out of pocket. But that was not an option. Again, I am really thankful for my friends, family, school, and government for making this trip possible.

Ok, so back to my story. I bought my plane ticket to Prague in March and a return ticket from Amsterdam in May. I’ll be studying for three and a half months in Prague followed by a two week vacation visiting my family in Amsterdam and Dublin for the holidays (and my birthday). I flew out here on August 30th/31st on three different planes and with very little sleep. Then I landed and took Prague into my heart almost instantly.

I really believe this is where I am supposed to be in my life at this time. Every day, there is something that reminds me I made the right choice, even on the bad days. While I am here I will be blogging and journaling my experiences. I also love taking photos (unfortunately these days I’m limited to my cell phone) and posting them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and of course right here on my blog. My writing will be far from perfect but I hope you get something from reading it. I am willing to talk about nearly anything on here and I want to hear what you’d like to read. What do you want to know about Prague? Do you have any questions about my trip or program? Please let me know in the comments section below or through any social media platform I am on.

Čau for now!

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Living Off the Farmer’s Market

This post was originally written as a work sample for a job at the Vanguard, Portland State University’s weekly school newspaper. Also note that the photo below is not mine and none of the photos I use are mine, unless I state otherwise. 

produceIt’s a cold Saturday morning but the sun is shining. As you make your way over to the Park Blocks you hear a guitar and something that could pass for a folk song. You arrive to see the walkways flooded with early risers and a pinch of irregular students, studying at the library. Food stands flank the paths but you make a beeline for C’est Si Bon for a pork, caramelized onion, apple butter crepe.

This is what my Saturday morning feels like when I visit the Portland Farmers Market at PSU. If I am up early, I might make it there by 10:00am. The market, however, is up and running at 9:00am during the winter and runs until 2:00pm. I usually arrive later than I plan.

During the summer, the market is in full swing with well over a hundred vendors running a stand of one sort or another. The produce beats Safeway by a mile but you can also find meat, dairy, baked goods, and lots of specialty shops selling things like gourmet pasta sauce. Even in winter the Portland Farmers Market has a lot to offer. You can still find perfect pears, apples, root vegetables, kale and squash galore, among other things. I do recommend getting there early for the best selection.

For a student budget, you can find a lot of good food. Your best best will be in produce, dairy, and bread or bakery items. Meat will always be pricey as will specialty items. I like to take advantage of the token program in place. I get Food Stamp money every month and I take my EBT card to the market. At the information booth they can exchange a token for every dollar for EBT as well as credit/debit cards. Every stand has to take these tokens (not all take cards) and you can use them to barter down prices to the full dollar (e.g. $2.35 becomes $2.00 and you save $0.35). If the barter doesn’t work in your favor monetarily, and you end up paying $4.00 for something that cost $3.75, most vendors will throw in an extra vegetable or extra free samples. Also, the tokens are refundable at any time and never expire.

So you can get great food (including hot food), meet vendors who actually know the farmers, and maybe save a little money along the way. Going to the Portland Farmers Market is an experience that is healthy, entertaining, eco-friendly, and full of food. This includes free food, and how can you say no to that?

The Blogs I Read

When I’m not writing on my blog, pinning on Pinterest, checking email, or scrolling on Facebook, I like to read a few blogs. Now, I haven’t really gotten into a routine of checking out more Word Press blogs (I know, shame on me), but I do read some outside of the WP world. I’m going to include a few websites that aren’t blogs but feel bloggy to me. So here we go:

  1. Apartment Therapy – This site offers some great ideas on interior design and organization. Some are great ideas and some are actually doable. They include a lot of info for renters on what they can do with a tight space and limited decor options. I read it almost daily. House Tours are great for pinning (if you pin) onto Dream House boards.
  2. Zen Habits – This blog is very minimalist in both layout and topics. I only go to this site monthly or so because the author doesn’t write often. But when he does write its that kind of “stop, take a breath, look at your life” stuff that gets me going. It’s about living a minimalist lifestyle and appreciating the non-material things in life.
  3. The Pioneer Woman (Cooking) – Now I only really read the cooking section of this website but its a good source for recipes. When I bake I like to look stuff up via Google and Google kept leading me to Pioneer Woman. I only go to the site when I need to bake/cook but it’s well written and funny.

And that’s it right now! Any blogs to suggest?