Category Archives: travel

Montenegrins – Brave, NOT Aggressive

Generous, caring and brave are some of the words that describe the people I met during my EMU Study Abroad in Ulcinj, a small town on the southern coast of the breathtakingly beautiful country of Montenegro.  My positive experiences with Montenegrins will resonate with me forever and here are a few examples:

  • There are no words to fully thank Silvija, who is hugely responsible for opening her native Montenegro to us. As busy as she was, she graciously educated us on the culture, answered even our silliest questions, and went above and beyond to ensure the program’s success. Who does this? A Montenegrin does!
  • My daughter and I were whisked off on an unforgettable late afternoon tour by Medina, a gregarious woman who wears many hats, including being a local English teacher. Knowing how busy Medina is, I kept thanking her and telling her to go home to her lovely family. She insisted that she wanted us to experience some of her favorite places and continued to grace us with her time, energy, and fun personality. Oh, and we saw INCREDIBLE areas that we probably would not have seen on our own. Who does that? A Montenegrin does!!
  • One of our local drivers (we called Joseph) opened car doors, patiently waited for us to have our morning coffee at the local bakery, happily agreed to our often-inconvenient requests of driving ALL OVER, made helpful connections for us, and MUCH more — with a smile and without keeping the meter running. In fact, on numerous occasions, Joseph refused to charge us for short trips! Who does that? A Montenegrin does!!
  • The staff at the Copacabana Beach Restaurant graciously treated our entire Study Abroad team of teachers to a delicious dinner – just to thank us for being teachers! Who does this? You got it. A Montenegrin does!!

I have countless more stories like these. Needless to say, I was appalled to hear anyone describe Montenegrins as aggressive. That was quite the opposite of my experience and anyone who takes the time to get to know the people would surely agree with me.

Thank you to the lovely people of Montenegro!


Montenegro – Day 2



Excited faces and voices crowded the foyer of the Montenegrin elementary school and then suddenly it was time! This is what we’ve been preparing and waiting for! Originally we had 16 and as if by magic, we now had 26 eager 3rd/4th graders.  The classroom was smaller than my own classroom back home and we literally could not squeeze another desk or chair. Despite the large sized group, the students behaved so well and we had no behavior issues. It was a productive and fun-filled day! They were all still smiling at the end of the day, so this was definitely a successful first day! I loved every minute of it! More about the kids later.

Later in the afternoon, we hit the beach. The beaches in this area have funny names. This one was called Copacabana! The sand was a dark gray color and very soft. The water looked a brilliant blue (more pictures coming soon), and the sun was hot — until the clouds started getting darker and we finally made a run for a beach cafe when a sandstorm practically threw us at it.  More on the food another time.

Here are some observations and things I’ve learned about the culture and community, so far:

  • Montenegrins don’t buy coffee on the go.  On our walk to the school, I stopped for a quick breakfast bite and wanted my coffee in a “to-go” cup. They laughed at me and amongst each other for a minute before handing me a tiny cup with the coffee, which was delicious, by the way).  I guess they don’t believe in Starbucks here and are not upset about it.
  • Cows roam free on the streets. I saw at least 4 cows on this same morning walk. So cool. They didn’t bother us at all as we basically walked around them on the path. I love cows!
  • The kids in our class are VERY SIMILAR to the kids back home. They love many things and especially SOCCER (they say football) and DOGS! They loved EVERYTHING we did with them and especially anything with music, dancing, singing, movement,  and interactions with partners or in small groups.
  • The kids here do the FLOSS dance too!! If you’re not a teacher or a parent, you may not be familiar with it — omg! Youtube is most likely behind this! Ditto with FLIPPING water bottles — well, only one kid was doing this, but it’s a fad I’m glad is mostly over in the U.S.

My jet-lagged brain needs a break…more tomorrow! And yes, more pictures too…



Montenegro – Day 1

I made it! As I write this, I still can’t believe how everything aligned so perfectly well. First, I arrived at Detroit airport three hours prior to departure. I discovered that the airport has a Leo’s Coney Island and it serves WINE! After a glass of Moscato, I began to relax and begin to truly get excited about my overseas adventure and fortunate to have my daughter along for the ride. Priceless!

Our nine-hour flight was excellent. Aside from minor expected turbulence here and there, it was a smooth flight. My daughter thought it was quite the bumpy ride, but I’ve been in much much worse. One thing about flying on KLM to Italy — they want to feed you almost the entire way! We had snacks, a full meal, endless drinks, including WINE, dessert, more snacks, and even breakfast! I appreciated the sleeping masks and decent choices of movies — I finally watched A Wrinkle in Time, Pitch Perfect 3, and some parts of other movies. I did not fall asleep, but then I usually can’t when I’m flying AND I was still worried if I’d make my connecting flight to Montenegro.

So…we arrived in Rome a couple of minutes early, like 9:00 am, and my flight to Montenegro (on a different airline) starts boarding at 9:20 am and departs at 10:00 am. THE STRUGGLE IS REAL. As you can imagine, clad with only our backpacks, my daughter and I (politely) charged through to the door as soon as it was possible. Passengers and crew were accommodating and we were the first to get off the plane. Buongiorno! The Italian airport was easy to navigate and within minutes, we were at our gate! To my relief, we did not have to go through customs and made the time for boarding! We were shuttled on a bus a few miles over to our plane. Talk about sweating a hundred buckets, but we settled in for the short flight and I was able to finally BREATHE.

The short flight to Montenegro was uneventful (yay!) and customs was a piece of cake. Of course, since we were warned about pickpockets in these situations, I was a bit paranoid at times and didn’t completely relax until we were picked up by our van driver (arranged by our amazing EMU professors).

First impressions of Montenegro — the mountains are simply gorgeous and I can see how the country got its name – black mountains. During the bumpy and curvy hour and a half bus ride to our apartments in Ulcinj, we saw picturesque sceneries of mountains and deep blue beaches. My jetlagged brain can’t think of the perfect words to describe everything, but I promise I’ll post pictures soon.

One thing I discovered on the bus, however, is that I get motion sickness! Really? Luckily I was surrounded by an entire bus of teachers and they were so supportive and helped me get through it (or should I say “threw-up” it — yikes!).

Soon we settled into our apartments and after a heavenly shower, I was beginning to feel better and tagged along for a grocery trip and then later met everyone for dinner at the Flora restaurant. The Montenegrins know how to cook! The food was delicious and we ate like queens! Seriously.

Day 1 was a traveling day and I’m just thankful I made it and my luggage did too. I went to bed about 10:00 pm and (unfortunately) I’m up now when I should be SLEEPING.

Tomorrow we get to meet the children.  I’m so excited…stay tuned.


Study Abroad Countdown….1 day to go


Soon I will be in a foreign land and utterly and completely jet-lagged. I will experience culture shock, be working, and feel 1,000 years old in every crevice of my body. All the while, I’ll be smiling like the summer sun behind a cloud. Why? I will be learning about a different culture and, hopefully, making a positive impact on a group of children. Where am I going and why? MONTENEGRO! It’s for a Study Abroad for the TESOL graduate program at Eastern Michigan University in which I get to teach English to Montenegrin children. I get to do this within a brief walk to a hot vacation beach spot. Oh, did I forget to mention, the gorgeous beaches!!!

I’d never heard of Montenegro before now. Most people I’ve spoken with hadn’t heard of it either unless they’re from that part of Europe. To the north, Montenegro borders Serbia, while in the southeast, it borders Kosovo and Albania, and to the west are Croatia and Bosnia. Here’s a Google map to show where’s it’s located in proximity to the U.S.:


My suitcase is mostly packed and I’m a bit of a nervous wreck (due to a too short layover from Rome to Montenegro — ugh — will I miss my connecting flight?), but MOSTLY I’m super excited!! What an opportunity!! I know it will be a life-changing experience because I went on a similar trip (Educators to Japan) years ago.

Stay tuned to see if I made my connecting flight and how I endure jet-lag, but most of all, what I learn about the Montenegrin culture and how it goes with the kids. I can’t wait to meet them!!


Travel Tip – staying connected for cheap

My adventures in Japan included walking about town in Asakusa where locals ride bikes everywhere.

Vending machines were abundant.

You could even buy BEER from vending machines. Hmmm…

Needless to say, I saw a lot of different customs.  To combat the culture shock, I was happy to stay in touch with family and friends back home.

I played Draw Something … on the bullet train en route to Hiroshima, Japan.

I introduced my host Japanese family in Toyota City, Japan…to my family back home in Michigan.  They even got a tour of my home (thanks to my daughter) and watched a YouTube video of my son’s garage band gig. How cool is that?

I kept up my blog posts, including pictures, during early jet lagged mornings and airport layovers…in Japan and later Seattle, Washington.  Writing as I went helped keep things fresh.

I exchanged texts with my teenagers in the U.S…while I was in Tokyo, Toyota City, Hiroshima and Kyoto.  I loved seeing what they were up to and they knew they could text me any time. Read the rest of this entry »


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Kyoto – Days 9 to End

Prior to leaving Hiroshima, we toured the Calbee (snacks) plant. What’s unique about these snacks is that many of them have shrimp!  Also, at this particular plant, none of them are fried.  I loved the snap peas snack the best.  I hope their snacks will one day be in America soon.

Like at most places we visited, we wore slippers (gray ones).  Then, when you go to the bathroom, you switch into bathroom slippers (pink ones).  I also switched to bathroom slippers at my host family’s home.

After the tour, we headed off to the train station.  Isn’t this little guy cute? In Japanese you say “kawii” –rhymes with Hawaii. The children learn to take train very young.

Their public telephone doesn’t look like ours, but what’s similar is that people only use it for emergencies since Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on July 5, 2012 in kids, travel


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Hiroshima – Days 7 and 8

Toyota City was an interesting place.  While in my Japanese homestay, I felt like I was in the country side because there were many trees, gardens and nearby rice fields.  However, the town is very much a Toyota manufacturing town with buildings sprinkled throughout. There were trains, cars and buses running at all hours of the day and night, yet many people walk to work.  It was such a mixture of nature and industry. Despite that, there was a peace among the people, who smiled at you on the streets.

Day 7

After breakfast, I went with my Japanese family to watch the youngest (6th grader) play basketball at another Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on July 3, 2012 in Family, Teaching, travel


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Toyota City – Days 5 and 6

The staff at the elegant Shinagawa Prince Hotel in Tokyo was helpful and friendly. I will miss Tokyo.  It’s a happening city — very much like what I envision New York City, where I’d like to visit one day.

Saynonara Tokyo!

Day 5

Going on a ride in the Shinkansen (bullet train) was a lot like flying in a plane, except everyone must board in 60 seconds or you are left behind!

What a cool experience! We zoomed all the way to Toyota City in 2 1/2 hours; by car this would take about three times longer!

Mount Fuji was spectacular! This picture doesn’t do it justice since we were going too fast, but we could see it from our seats.  It was a bit surreal. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on July 2, 2012 in Family, travel, Uncategorized


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Tokyo – Days 3 and 4

The jet lag is getting slightly better and it’s been unexpectedly cooler in the mornings. Also, it’s been sunny in the afternoons — during this “rainy season”.  I lucked out!

My breakfasts consist of fish, like salmon, veggies, white rice, fruit and LOTS of coffee.  (The coffee is really to help the jet lag).  Of course, I’ve been eating from the hotel’s amazing buffet, so this is not necessarily what everyone eats.

Counter-clockwise: fried vegetables in the small bowl on the left, sweet potato, salmon, fermented beans, white rice, bread with chocolate filling,and  seaweed.  I LOVE the fried vegetables but the fermented beans are gooey and needs lots of soy sauce. 🙂

Day 3:

I went to an elementary school to both observe and teach classes. This is the main purpose of my visit.  When we first arrived, I was struck by the combination of urban and nature areas.  The school is across from a train station and large senior citizen apartments while it is also surrounded by beautiful old  trees, fields and gardens. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on June 28, 2012 in kids, Teaching, travel


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Tokyo – Days 1 and 2

Despite jet-lag, I’m having a splendid trip.  Here are brief highlights:

En Route:

Bumpy ride, but not bad overall. Kept busy.  Believe it or not, the food was decent and there was plenty of it!  They served shrimp cocktail, salad, chicken with paella rice, fruit, bread, fried rice and more!  The beverages, including beer and wine, were complimentary.  Need I say more?

First Impressions:

The airport was surprisingly quiet and, after getting my luggage, I HAD to check out Japanese toilets!!

It’s recessed into the floor and you use it by squatting, facing the top.

Ah….no way.

I fancied this one. It had BUTTONS!

There was a bidet, spray, and a “flushing sound”, if you absolutely need that sound as you go.

To my complete surprise — it was NOT humid when we arrived at our hotel – about 7:30 PM.  It was a little nippy Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on June 25, 2012 in travel


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