2013: My Year in Review

2013 my year in review

Five countries. 17 cities. 1 year.

2013 was definitely the year of travel.

This was the year I took action and let go of my fear of failure and my fear around meeting other people’s expectations. I  did what felt right at the time and I did it for me, not anybody else. From planning a daunting two week trip to Cambodia and Thailand to deciding to get married, I felt the fear and did it anyways, knowing that sometimes you have to struggle to succeed. This was the year I felt confident in my decisions and confident in myself.

So let’s see what happened in 2013 shall we?

January

I kicked off the year in Italy, celebrating New Years Eve in the small ski town of Selva di Val Gardena. I have loved Italy ever since a high school trip to Florence and I was excited to visit northern Italy and Peter’s mom’s homeland for the first time. I fell in love with the stunning mountain vistas and quaint German architecture that reminded me of Salzburg, my favorite city in the world.

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After days of skiing and lounging at our luxurious hotel, Peter moved to Malaysia while I explored the grand city of Turin with Peter’s mom. I adored wandering through the various museums, palaces and shopping centers while stopping to snack on chocolate pastries and frothy cappuccinos. Watching the sunset from the Basilica di Superga was one of the highlights of my trip. After 10 glorious days in Italy, I flew home to Florida to pack up and prepare to join Peter in Malaysia.

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February

Back in Florida, I spent time with Carina and my sister, visited the beach, attended my friend’s bridal shower and stocked up on dresses and t-shirts. Mostly I freaked out about moving to Malaysia and tried to prepare as best as I could.

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March

On March 4th, I finally packed up my bags and took a long series of flights to Penang, Malaysia, my new home. My hopes of living in a tropical paradise were consequently crushed by the reality of a small and densely populated island with congested traffic and unbearable humidity. It didn’t help that Peter often worked 12 hours a day, leaving me home alone without a car. Every day I was forced to walk (and sweat) to the nearby mall to buy groceries and work at Starbucks with unreliable internet. Malaysia and I were not off to a great start.

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Two weeks later, Peter and I joined our other expat friends for a weekend trip to Langkawi, an island in northern Malaysia. Now this was the Malaysia I was expecting! We spent all our time on the beach, in the ocean or in the pool, soaking up the sun and having a great time. I especially loved getting pulled around on a banana boat!

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April

April crept up on me quietly and before I knew it I was graduating from IIN! After one whole year of online classes and monthly calls with a coach, I was finally a certified Holistic Health Coach! It was finally time to start coaching clients… I just needed to find them.

But before I could focus on health coaching, I had to plan my birthday trip to Thailand! I never considered myself an anxious person until I started booking a week-long vacation on the Phi Phi Islands. I spent weeks researching and agonizing over every little detail to the point where I was scared to go. What if I mixed up the dates? What if I booked a horrible hotel?

May

Well I guess all that planning paid off because our trip was PERFECT. We stayed at the incredible Holiday Inn on Phi Phi Don and had the most amazing trip of our lives. I went scuba diving for the first time and absolutely fell in love with the entire experience. I came face to face with sea turtles, clown fish and eels and enjoyed the feeling of pure weightlessness. I cannot wait to go scuba diving again.

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We reluctantly left Thailand and I celebrated my 25th birthday back in Penang. At the end of the month, Peter had an unexpected 4 day weekend so we packed our bags and headed Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. I loved this big and clean city and wished we lived there instead of Penang! We climbed the endless staircase at the Batu Caves and took a tour through the darkest recesses of the mountain. We also visited the Aquarium and went for a quick hike and dip in a deliciously cool mountain waterfall. I really enjoyed our time in Kuala Lumpur and wished we could stay longer.

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June

Most of June was long and boring except when I was frantically planning yet another big trip, this time with my best friend Carina! At the end of the month, Carina flew from Florida to Penang and we immediately started exploring. Carina helped me see my home in a new light and I actually grew to love the beautiful architecture and cultural complexity of Georgetown. We also discovered the incredible Tropical Spice Garden and had some fun at the Georgetown Festival.

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July

But our trip had only just begun. First we flew from Penang to Siem Reap, Cambodia and were immediately awestruck by the magnificent Angkor WatAngkor Thom, Banteay Kdei and Ta Prohm temples. Our worst experience was our pushy tuk tuk driver and that night Carina had an allergic reaction to an oil massage. But our favorite experience by far was the KKO Off-Road Bike Tour which took just the two of us on a ridiculous mountain bike ride on dirt roads through the countryside and hidden temples in the jungles. It was one of the most challenging yet rewarding moments of our entire trip.

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Next we flew to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand and I immediately fell in love with the laid-back and friendly vibe of the city. Most days we toured Old Town by foot, exploring little shops and gorging ourselves on fresh juice. We spent one day at an elephant park learning about the elephants, feeding them, riding them and even bathing them in a pond. It was an incredible experience. But my favorite day was an overcast and misty day spent in the nearby mountains to see Doi Suthep, a hilltribe village and the royal palace. Chiang Mai is a city I will never forget and long to return to.

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Our last few days were spent lounging on the beach in Koh Samui. But even that got boring so we hiked up a nearby mountain and went swimming in a waterfall. It was awesome!

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After almost two weeks traveling, Carina and I flew back to Penang where we were attacked by monkeys on Penang Hill. It was great fun. Then Carina flew back home, leaving me in Penang to get some work done and prepare for another trip home.

August

I had already planned to fly home for my cousin’s wedding and then Peter learned that we were leaving Malaysia sooner than expected. Since it wouldn’t make sense to fly back out to Malaysia for just a few weeks I packed up all my stuff to leave Malaysia permanently. What a great surprise!

Back in Florida, I drove with my family up to Tallahassee for my cousin’s wedding. I loved seeing my Canadian relatives and being reunited with my family once again. 

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Peter flew back to Malaysia while I did some decidedly Florida activities like ride my bike, take the boat to Egmont and pet kangaroos at Busch Gardens.

September

While the weather stayed hot and humid in Florida, my mom and I planned a little trip north to Boston and Pennsylvania to visit Taylor and friends. I was happy to travel within the United States and visit one of my favorite northeastern cities. In Boston we did endless walking and shopping in the brisk fall weather and saw an outdoor ballet performance in the park.

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My mom and I then took a train to Lancaster, Pennsylvania and reveled in the slowness of Amish country. I have never been more grateful to see cornfields, cows and farmers markets in my entire life. God bless America!

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October

This month was big for me professionally when I attended the ACE Symposium East in Orlando. I met some of my favorite trainers and fitness advocates and attended amazing classes on things like personal branding and self-myofascial release. My favorite part was taking Shakti with Lawrence Biscontini, meeting my fitness idols, and winning Bose headphones for best tweet of the conference!

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On Halloween I dressed like Sandy from Grease and had an absolute blast. The next day Peter left Malaysia permanently and moved back home! He would start another position in Shanghai but we were not sure when.

November

At the beginning of the month I was selected for Jury Duty and spent a crazy week in court. During deliberation I was selected as Foreman of the group and announced our decision to the judge. It was an exciting experience that proved that I can be a leader.

The next week Peter took a business trip to New Zealand, we celebrated my mom’s birthday, and then we celebrated Peter’s birthday. I organized a big party with all his friends and was thrilled to see him so happy.

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Thanksgiving was spent in North Carolina with our family friends and it flew by too fast! I ate a lot of pie, took a lot of long and cold walks and even went boating in the snow! This is one of my favorite family traditions. 

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We came home early for our friend’s wedding and a Sound of Music viewing party. Both were awesome. We had a lot of fun with the photo booth at our friend’s wedding. Speaking of weddings…

December

We got engaged! Peter proposed after a Goo Goo Dolls concert and totally caught me by surprise. This was by far the biggest surprise of 2013! Totally unexpected and wonderful at the same time. Wedding planning is extremely daunting but we’ll see how it goes.

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December was also the month for parties! First was a Great Gatsby themed party for Peter’s company. We were able to hang out with our good friends from Shanghai John and Barri! They have a sweet little baby named Sloane and she is such a cutie.

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We also celebrated Taylor’s Birthday, Peter’s dad’s birthday, several friend’s Christmas parties, and the Debutante Ball. We were in Sarasota and Fort Myers with family for Christmas Eve and were back home on Christmas Day. I bought matching Christmas sweaters for me and my sisters which was hilarious and just like when we were kids.

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Surprisingly, December was my busiest month in terms of responsibilities but it was also the most fun. While I enjoyed traveling this year, my favorite moments are probably the ones I spent at home with the people I love the most. Ringing in the new year with my closest friends and fiancee in Florida was a perfect way to end 2013, the year of travel.

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As for 2014, I know I will be planning a trip to New Zealand, moving to China, all while planning a wedding in Florida. As usual, I don’t know how things are going to pan out but know that somehow they will. Bring it on 2014! 

The Blue Feather

Recently, Peter turned me on to this hilarious British comedian, Simon Amstell. So when I was in Orlando for ACE Symposium, Carina and I watched a few clips together from his “Do Nothing” standup. One of his stories stood out to us in particular:

Simon tells the audience about a book called “Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah” by Richard Bach in which the author manifests a blue feather. He imagines that he is holding a blue feather and a few days later it comes true. By simply imagining a possibility, it becomes a reality. Carina and I agreed that the same phenomenon applies when you think of a person who then calls you out of the blue. Is it coincidence or not?

Now I do believe in the power of intention but I also believe that when we focus on achieving something, we ultimately take the actions required to make it a reality. It is not a perfect alignment of the universe that creates your reality, but it is your active pursuit of that reality which makes it so.

Well the next day, everything changed. I had just spent 3 incredible days learning, connecting and getting inspired at ACE Symposium. I felt elated by the possibilities of my health and fitness career and proud of myself for connecting with so many wonderful people. The day after the conference I forced myself to join Carina for my first ever hot yoga class and was very nervous. About 45 minutes into class, I began to feel panicky and left the room in tears, overcome by emotions I didn’t understand. I sobbed in the bathroom for about 20 minutes with no idea as to why in the world I was crying. Eventually I pulled myself together, stepped back inside the unbearably hot room and finished the class with my pride barely intact.

I felt like I had failed.

After class, Carina and I sat on the curb to recuperate before driving back home. As we sat and rehashed the class, Carina suddenly paused and said “Oh my god…Look.” I followed her pointed finger to the ground by our feet and saw it.

A blue feather.

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My mouth dropped open. I asked Carina to go and pick it up. Was this really happening?

It was real. It was a feather and it was blue. I held it between my fingers just as I had imagined the day before during Simon Amstell’s monologue.

WTF.

It shook me to my core. Whether by chance or divine providence, a blue feather from a craft store had found its resting place by our feet after an emotionally and physically draining class. Just moments before, I felt like a complete and total failure. As a perfectionist, I hate failure and always struggle to keep faith in myself and my abilities.

This blue feather was a sign from God that everything was going to be ok. Even though I failed, I am not a failure. As long as I continue to put myself out there and give it my all, I am on the right path. And most importantly, everything happens for a reason. 

Now you’d think there had been enough miracles for the day, but no. The next morning, Carina and I were enjoying a wonderful pancake brunch and we started talking about Peter. I randomly thought out loud that I had not heard from Peter’s mom in several months. I did not know if she was in Italy and I mentioned that I should call or email her.

Less than and hour later my phone rang. Guess what?

Peter’s mom was calling. 

She had just come back from Italy a few days before and wanted to know if we could catch up. Just one day after finding the blue feather, God was already reminding me that if you put good out into the world, it will come back to you. He knew I needed support, and He knew I needed another sign that this was not just coincidence.

Now whether or not you believe that this was God or just a dirty blue feather in a parking lot, it doesn’t really matter. What I do know is that I found faith that day in not only God’s goodness, but in myself. I was reminded that it is OK to fail as long as you pick yourself up and press onward. From that point on, I knew that I needed to continue on my journey and have faith in the process. Because “life is a journey, not a destination”. 

When will you find your blue feather?

Just an Observation: Why is my front door stuck…again?

This is the first post in a new Kirsten Captures series called “Just an Observation”. Every day I will attempt to post a photo and quick thought or observation from the day. This is a sincere effort to become more involved in my life here in Penang. But as you will see from today’s observation that although I was ready to open myself to Penang, Penang was not quite ready to open itself to me…

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Why is my front door stuck… again? 

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I asked myself this as I violently jostled the deadbolt on my front door early yesterday afternoon. But I already knew the answer and was annoyed that it had happened again. Why today? I had just found the excitement and motivation to go out and get to work at the nearest coffeeshop. Well, our faulty deadbolt had other plans in store for me.

A couple months ago I encountered the same situation as I attempted to leave my apartment for some lunch. When the deadbolt would not budge I called Peter in a panic. “I’m locked in!” I exclaimed. “You’re what?” asked Peter incredulously. “I’m locked inside the apartment! The door won’t open! I swear I’m not making this up”, I replied. “OK I’ll be right over”, he said.

Twenty minutes later, Peter and his coworker Munther knocked on the door while laughing at my bad luck. I opened a window in the kitchen to talk to the boys from the hallway, which is separated by a low wall and a 15 story drop. “I’ll just jump inside through the window!” said Munther. “What??” I hollered. “No freaking way! What if you miss and fall? We’re on the 15 floor! I absolutely forbid you to jump. I’m serious!” “Ok, fine”, Munther said.

I turned around and started walking back to the door when I heard the sound of shoes landing on the floor. I spun around and saw Munther walking towards me with a grin on his face. “Oh my god! Are you insane!” I yelled. “Peter, don’t you dare!” I said through the open window. For the next few minutes Munther got to work unscrewing the deadbolt while I took deep breaths, trying to calm down from the near death experience that just took place. About 10 minutes later, the boys put a loose screw back into place and unlocked the deadbolt. Mission complete.

We thought all of our problems were over until yesterday when I tried to unbolt the door in the early afternoon. I was energized from an amazing workout and had my things packed for my usual walk to Queensbay mall for some quality time with my laptop at Starbucks. However, the door would not budge. AGAIN. I unscrewed the lock and found a loose screw but could not figure where it belonged. Scared of breaking something, I settled back in my office and started writing 6 Ways to Stay Inspired for the Next 6 Months.

I was inspired to get inspired again. That stuck deadbolt was a physical representation of the personal barriers I had constructed around myself. I addressed my lingering lack of motivation and set some goals for myself right then and there. Nothing could stop me now, not even my front door. 

It turns out, getting locked in gave me the motivation I needed to get out and start living my life to the fullest. Who knew I would be so grateful for a broken lock? 

6 Ways to Stay Inspired for the Next 6 Months

Lately I’ve been searching for inspiration. After living in Malaysia for almost 4 months, I have hit a wall in both my personal life and professional life. It is difficult to get my butt moving every day to work out, blog, and complete projects for my marketing job.

When I first arrived in Penang this March, I was excited to get busy and involved like I did during my brief stay in Shanghai. I was going to find a gym, start coaching clients, travel around South East Asia, blog about my everyday life as an expat, and kick butt with my marketing projects. Somewhere along the way I lost my motivation. In order to have motivation, I need to be inspired by what I do and where I am headed in life. Sadly, this has not been the case.

I realized in the last few months that I do not like living in Malaysia. The expat community is small and I do not have many friends. There are few activities or groups for me to join and the things I want to do require driving myself during rush hour. I am terrified of driving here so I avoid it all costs. Over time I found myself reasoning that we are only here for a year so it was ok to not get involved. This has been my undoing. Now I actively AVOID investing any time and energy into making Penang feel like home which in turn makes me feel even more isolated. It is a vicious cycle that I am determined to stop.

So I am turning things around, shifting my focus to find my groove again. Here is how I am going to do it.

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6 Ways to Stay Inspired for the Next 6 months: 

1. Hit the gym 4x a week-  We decided to save money on a gym membership by working out in our apartment complex gym. However there is no air conditioning so it is a real challenge to go down and sweat in an already hot and humid room. 4 weeks ago I started Tina’s Best Body Bootcamp and have been excited to workout again. I will continue to follow a program like this for the rest of my time in Penang. Working out consistently always gives me energy in other areas of my life. Plus I need to lose this expat belly! It is getting ridiculous!

2. See/do one thing in Penang every weekend- Peter and I made this pact a month ago and stuck with it for oh… about 2 weeks. Fail. I hope to make it a weekly thing once again starting with this Saturday! There are so many touristy things to do in Penang beyond going to the mall and watching movies like Peter and I tend to do. Hopefully exploring this island will help me like it more.

3. Stay connected with friends and family back home- I need to skype my family and friends at least 3 or 4 times a week. The 12 hour time difference is difficult but talking to them grounds me beyond belief. I miss my family so much and cannot wait to visit home in August. I am also excited out of my mind for my bestie Carina to come here and travel with me for 3 weeks! I missed my friend.

4. Go back to daily blogging- Completing the 365 project last year was crazy but so much fun! I really enjoyed blogging daily when I moved to Shanghai. It forced me to open my eyes, explore my surroundings, and make observations about life in China. I will go back to posting one photo with some thoughts or observations every day in an effort to engage with my surroundings. Keep an eye out for “Just an Observation” posts!

5. Sign up for one Spiral Synergy event every month- This expat group organizes activities and events like wet market tours, cooking classes, and author meet-and-greets in and around Penang. I signed up for their wet market tour last month but the thought of driving and parking downtown during rush hour freaked me out so I skipped it. Fail. I will sign up for one event each month and hopefully will actually make it to one!

6. Explore another kind of photography with filters- As much as I love taking pictures of my travels, I have been bored silly with the results. Lately I have become obsessed with the beautiful vintage photography in lifestyle blogs like Love Taza and Sincerely, Kinsey. Since I lost Photoshop Elements when my hard drive was wiped, I recently installed fun photo apps as a cheap alternative. I love laying filters on my photos like Instagram (my other obsession) to create a different feeling. Although I am still unsure if I will use filters for all my travel photos, I want to start playing with photography again.

Here are some of my recent creations with Instant and FX Studio Pro:


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The Petronas Twin Towers, black and white style 

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The Petronas Twin Towers, with flare 

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The light of God in the Dark Caves, vintage polaroid style

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Chinese temple in Xiamen, vintage Polaroid style 

Peter in shades- Phi Phi Islands

Peter chillin’ on the Phi Phi Islands, vintage polaroid style 

I am totally digging the Instant Polaroid app. It automatically gives photos a touch of nostalgia. The reason I fell in love with photography is because I am a sucker for nostalgia. I hoard memories with my camera. I am so excited to explore these filters and create pictures that inspire me and others. I lost my creativity for a while and now I am fighting to get it back.

Just writing out these 6 goals for 6 months inspires and motivates me to push the play button on my life. I will seize this amazing opportunity of living abroad and will strive to create a life that fulfills me every day. 

The time is now! 

Broken

Bad news.

I broke my laptop.

Well that is an exaggeration. My lovely little Macbook Pro is not physically broken, it just gets stuck on the loading page. And it refuses to actually load. It started this weekend after my poor (stupid) attempt to create more space on my startup disk by deleting files. Well obviously some of those files were crucial to the basic functioning of my laptop because immediately afterwards it refused to start. And I am an idiot.

This means I cannot do anything… no work, no photography editing, and no Internet surfing at home. The worst part is definitely my inability to work. My laptop is my lifeline and my only tool required for my remote digital marketing position. It’s hard to do digital marketing without, you know, a digital device.

Right now I am awkwardly typing this on my iPad (which by the way, has a cracked screen from when I dropped it last month) and trying to enjoy typing with two fingers ( I don’t). I have a tendency to break, drop, and spill things and this extends to expensive electronics. In addition to dropping my iPad, last year I dropped my brand new (expensive) Nikon DSLR camera and broke the top of the flash device.

I told you. Terrible luck.

The good news is that I have been expecting the worst when it comes to my precious laptop and have been consistently backing up my files.

All my files are safe!!! Woohoo!

Yesterday I dropped off my baby at Switch, an Apple products repair store, where they will run a few tests to see what is wrong. In two days they will let me know what needs to be done which will most likely include a complete disk reboot. Hopefully I will get back my baby back at the end of this week. Until then, there will be little done on the blogging front. Seriously, typing on this IPad is a pain.

You will just have to wait for my awesome pictures from Kuala Lumpur and the Batu Caves!

Wish me luck…

Expat Confessions: How to Stand Out (and Like It)

Happy Memorial Day to my fellow Americans out there!

Peter and I just got back from a long weekend trip to Kuala Lumpur and had a great time! We left Friday evening and spent 3 days relaxing and adventuring in the capital of Malaysia. Let me tell you, it made me miss the convenience and excitement of city life. Although life in Shanghai was hard, it was definitely never dull! Just so you know, Shanghai is high up on our list of places to live next year and I am kind of excited! Wow, I never thought I would be excited to live in China again, but there it is.

Now while I work on finishing up my Phi Phi Islands posts and edit all my KL pictures, I though I would share another article I wrote for the American Women’s Club of Shanghai last fall. I had a column on expat life called Confessions of a Wandering Expat and I wrote about trying to blend into a country where blending is impossible for someone like me.

I hope you enjoy it!

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How To Stand Out (and Like It)

You know that moment when you’re walking down the streets of Shanghai, ready to tackle the grocery store or the nearest Starbucks, and suddenly you notice that everybody is staring at you? You start to wonder… Is there something on my face? Is my outfit all wrong? Are my pants on backward?

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Then you remember that no, there is nothing wrong with you. In fact, it is the unchangeable aspects of your appearance, the color of your hair, the whiteness of your skin and the shape of your eyes, that make people stare with wide eyes and gaping mouths.

Sometimes it can be frustrating. As a white, blond woman in China, I stick out like a sore thumb. But you know what? I like it.

Growing up, I was a shy kid who cared a great deal about what other people thought about me. I was never one of the popular kids and as I got older had no desire for a stable corporate job in the United States like my peers. Instead, I wanted to pursue my passion for health and fitness, travel the world and take pictures. No matter how hard I tried, I never felt like I fit in. Although I looked like everyone else, I felt very different on the inside.

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But in China, I know I do not fit in. It is a fact confirmed every day in the faces of my fellow Shanghai dwellers. My presence is an anomaly, a blip in the fabric of this homogeneous society. With every “Hello!” shouted in my direction or photograph with a random Chinese family, the more different I feel.

After living in this vibrant and unique city for almost a month, the pressure is finally off. Why stress about fitting in when it is inherently impossible?

Now there is slight bounce to my step and a smile on my face because I fully embrace my individuality. My hair, skin, and eyes may never change, but what I can change is how I think of myself. By accepting that I do not fit in, I am determined to stand out.

Today when people stare at me on the street, I stare right back. Why? Because, like them, I belong.

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24 Things I Did When I Was 24

Happy Tuesday!

I think we can all agree that Tuesdays are not as great as Fridays. However this Tuesday is my last day as a 24 year old which makes me feel the need to commemorate this incredible year. So here is a list of 24 things I did or accomplished in my 24th year of existence. I can only hope that 25 will be just as fun, challenging, and joyful.

24 Things I Did When I Was 24

1. Threw my very first birthday party

2. Made new friends and rekindled old friendships back home

3. Spent many weekends with my best friend in Orlando and St. Pete

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4. Celebrated my sister’s graduation in Boston

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5. Flooded my car in epic Hurricane Debby

6. Started training my first personal training client

7. Was awarded the Exceptional Contributor of the Year at work

8. Celebrated an amazing Fourth of July with my family and best friend at the beach

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9. Enjoyed an incredible week in the mountains of North Carolina with my family

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10. Moved to China!

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11. Took a cruise to Japan

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12. Joined a Crossfit gym and fell in love with the sport of fitness

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13. Joined a net ball team (and was hit in the face with the ball too many times to count)

14. Became a columnist for American Women’s Club of Shanghai magazine

15. Celebrated Thanksgiving in Shanghai with fellow expats

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16. Mourned my dog Holly’s passing

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17. Skied the Alps and celebrated New Years in Italy

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18. Completed the 365 photography project! One photo every day for 365 days in a total of 4 countries!

19. Moved to Malaysia!

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20. Spent a weekendon a beach in Langkawi, Malaysia with friends

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21. Graduated from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition

22. Launched my very own health coaching business

23. Celebrated an early birthday in Thailand on the Phi Phi Islands

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24. Learned how to scuba dive in Thailand

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Wow. What a year!!

I lived in 3 countries, traveled to 6 countries, and basically jumpstarted my life. I was stuck in a rut for a while but it all turned out ok in my 24th year. While I did many fun things with family and friends back at home, moving to China was the moment when my entire life changed.

Life as an expat is definitely not easy but it has thrown me out of my comfort zone and pushed me to try new things. I have officially caught the travel bug and want to visit as many places as I can and photograph the crap out of them.

It is amazing to see all the things that I have done and accomplished and it motivates me to make 25 even better. Who knows what this next year will bring but I plan on making it AWESOME.

Bring it on 25. Bring it on.