All posts by Armstrong Abroad

About Armstrong Abroad

Travelling the world and turning "I cants"s into "I did"s

Go Do 2016 Video – My Overseas Adventure

On my last adventure in Italy 2014, I compiled all of the video footage I had taken and created my European Adventure video.

This time around, I took the same idea, but twisted it a bit. Last time I showed you all the things I did, but this time I wanted to let you see through my eyes. The things my eyes have seen, and my feet have touched, have left me scared, brokenhearted, lost, overwhelmed, hopeful, inspired, and speechless. Most importantly, it has left me wanting more, and wanting to share what I have experienced thus far with anyone who will listen.

As I have said many times before, my initial goal with this blog, was to simply keep my family updated in my major activities while abroad. Since then, my dream behind this blog has expanded. I love to write, I love to inspire, and I love to travel. So, why not put it all together. From my keyboard in 14 different countries, I have been able to not only keep my family updated, but also share my favourite stories with friends, fellow travelers, and internet enthusiasts.

I have a love for writing. However, I also have a love for videoing, especially my feet (They are my most photographic feature). I hope this video compilation will explain to those I met along my journey, as to why I was always staring at my feet.

Clearly, my dad had the same idea (where I obviously get my home videoing joy from). Thanks to him, and a behind the scenes friend, I was actually able to capture my homecoming from 3 different perspectives. Thank you to everyone for your love and support.

Walk on,

You Armstrong Abroad (at home)


Saying Sayonara to Japan and the Korean ‘No Fly’ List

I can’t believe it’s that time already. After 3 jobs, 2 houses, 1 passport extension, 13 prefectures, and countless hours spent on trains, my 286 days in Japan have come to an end. This will be my last blog post of Japan, but with still 2 countries to go before getting back to Canada, I assure you the fun is not over yet.
I’m really happy I chose to stay here to see the autumn season in full colour. It is actually starting to get cold here (or I’m just turning into a total baby), but I’ve already sent home all my warm clothing. So, I’ve been doing a lot of shivering while pretending I’m okay with it; walking around in my light sweater while everyone else is rocking Canada Goose jackets…. seriously. It has become full on scarf, mittens, toque, weather for them now. That being said, it still hasn’t cracked 0 degrees yet.

Since my last post, I have officially become unemployed (shout out to anyone hiring in Canada! Get at me). I said goodbye to my kindergarten kids, who were being extra satan-like that day, which made it a lot easier to leave. In fact, one child punched me in the crotch twice on my last day as I was teaching. That was my “I’m finished teaching kids for a while” moment. I said goodbye to my one-on-one adult students that same day, who were a bit more thoughtful upon saying farewell (none of them punched me in the crotch). I received many wonderfully written cards, letters, and small gifts. The next day, I said goodbye to my university students, who encouraged me to one final dance off as we parted ways for the last time, as I’m always dancing while I teach. That’s my thing. It’s the best way to learn to enjoy education; dance it out!

Students aside, the greatest people I met here were my coworkers. I had to say thank you and goodbye to all of them. It was overwhelming, and I really suck at goodbyes, so we made it as informal as possible. A few drinks, so many laughs, and a couple of selfies just for good measures.

One bonus of having a house the size of a rabbit hole, is that there isn’t much to clean or pack, and I really don’t have many belongings. As my anxiety issues have increased throughout my travels, I’ve found ways to deal with it… like packing. Packing and list making sooth my anxiety, which brings me to “The Stages of Leaving” list:

  • 2 months to go – “Ya, I’m going home really soon. I’m so excited, but I haven’t really though about it much yet.”
  • 1 month to go – *avoid talking about it, avoid talking about it* anxiety kicks in. Start packing and immediately unpacking again because I realize I still need everything.
  • 3 weeks to go – “Ok, I’m ready to go home. I’ve accepted it and I’m excited about it”
  • 2 weeks to go – “DONT BRING IT UP!” *still packing and unpacking every day.*
  • 1 week to go – * buys all the souvenirs, eats all the food, drinks all the coffee, spends all the money*
  • 3 days to go – “I have tons of time left. This isn’t goodbye, I’ll totally see you again before I go ” *runs away and never looks back*
  • 2 days to go – Everything’s packed. There’s nothing else to do to curb the anxiety.
  • 1 day to go – “In my head I’ve already left.” *turns into emotionless sack of potatoes*
  • Leaving day – 

I’ve been trying to avoid the topic of “when will I see you again” with my friends here, because the reality is I have no plans to return, and let’s be honest, nobody visits Saskatchewan. Of course, most of my time spent overseas is full of amazing adventures and educational opportunities, but when the leaving commences, it feels like weeks of teary goodbyes. These people have been my crutch while I’ve been here. They helped me through real issues: finding a house, a job, not getting lost, and so on. However, they were also there for me when I needed help on a personal level: brought me food when I was too sick to leave my house, ate countless cookies and chocolate with me as we ranted about life problems, organized adventures that I would have never been able to do on my own, encouraged me to remember I am not a Japanese person and it’s okay to stray from the norm and use a fork once in a while, and also helping me understand the culture, language, and expectations in this country. Needless to say, without seeking any professional services during my time here, I had a doctor, a tour guide, a personal driver, a bartender, a therapist, a chef, a translator, a real estate agent, and a family. I will miss everyone dearly. The laughs have far outweighed the stresses.
Thank you Pixie for being as weird and crazy as I am, and always being there to lend an ear and a few curse words of support when I needed it most. I’ll never forget beers and stories by the river, chopstick Jenga, and having a ‘fika’ (did I use that right?).

Thank you Taka for asking me 1,000 English questions every day, but also answering my 1,000 Japanese questions. I will never forget Hiroshima, so many cups of coffee, and hilarious translation mistakes.

Thank you Anna for being so loyal and honest. Seeing you grow in your English, and as a person, has been amazing. I will never forget Snapchatting with you and watching you fail miserably at beer pong. I wish you the best in finding Prince Charming.

Thank you Maiko for accepting me in Japan and including me with your friends in Kyoto. I will never forget meeting you, reading the dictionary together (hōto), and meeting your friends.

Thank you Brandon and Vivi for making every Friday easy to wake up and go to work knowing it was going to be full of laughs. I will never forget giving you all the details of my week adventures in the ten minutes before work, epic dance battles, looking at memes on the train, and courtesy laughing at Brandon’s jokes that no one understands.

Thank you Hayato for being so sweet and understanding that I am a very picky eater. I will never forget ALL of the adventures you took me on, saving me from cockroaches, and teaching me real, useful Japanese culture and language. 

I love you all so much and would never have survived here if it weren’t for you.

My last week I got to finally check out 紅葉 京都 ライトアップ (koyo Kyoto light up). This is where they illuminate the もみじ (momiji – mini maple) trees at the temples. It was absolutely breathtaking, and we enjoyed some traditional warm drinks as we sat and enjoyed the beautiful evening. I had 抹茶 (matcha) and Hayato had 甘酒 (amazake – a hot drink like sake but non-alcoholic). 

We finally made it to Hayatos favourite restaurant (he’s been telling me about this place for months) and I tried おばんざい (o-banzai – food/eating style native to Kyoto with many small traditional Japanese dishes prepared in a simple way using foods usually discarded as waste [better than it sounds]). Every dish we ordered that night was a new food for me! I had to take a picture of the menu to show just how traditional this place was. 

Yes, we took off our shoes and sat on the floor. No, there was absolutely no English. No, I couldn’t read the menu. Yes, I was scared to try every single food, but he pushed me to. Yes, I would eat it all again. We ordered: おから (dryish tofu), ナス たいたん と しそ (cooked mini eggplants with shiso leaves), おでん (daikon, tofu, and egg in a soup broth with a spicy yuzu [small citrus fruit] dip), あつあげ と カツオ (a type of deep friend tofu with bonito flakes, onions, and ginger), チス と みそ (cream cheese with miso paste and shiso leaves), ゆば と わさび (tofu skin with wasabi). He also ordered me 梅酒 (umeshu – plum wine) which is my favourite drink and told the staff I don’t eat fish or pork. He knows me well, and clearly we have eaten together too many times.

I finally had a free weekend, with good weather, that I could dress up in my yukata and go walking in traditional Kyoto! Pixie and I got all dressed up (I did my own hair with a Kanzashi and tied my own kimono bow. Thank you very much!) We gave up counting how many times people stared at us as we walked down the streets like this. It was too many to count. Two guys about our age stopped us and asked where we were from. We said Sweden and Canada, but we currently live in Kyoto…. it never gets old, telling people that we live here. Their reactions are priceless. They then asked where we rented our kimonos from and again we blew their minds by saying that, actually, we owned them. Ya we are the coolest gaijin around.

Things I’m looking forward to at home:

  •  Men with facial hair
  •  Space
  •  Driving
  •  Being literate again
  •  Tim Hortons
  •  A real kitchen with a real oven
  •  Multigrain bread

Things I’m going to miss about Japan:

  •  Trains
  •  Matcha everything
  •  Being a rare and unique species
  •  Heated toilets
  •  Respect for keeping places clean
  •  Cockroaches (JOKING)

So, after the final goodbyes, I headed to the airport to start my final journey home. Things didn’t exactly go so smooth….First of all, my flight was delayed a half hour. Then, as we were lining up to finally board, a loud alarm started going off and an announcement came on as follows: “The fire alarm has been set off. We are investigating. Please stay tuned for more information.” Okay….. 30 seconds later “A fire has been confirmed. Please evacuate the building as quickly as possible!” Cooooool. There were three non- Asian people in my line and we all were looking at each other like ‘oh my god what do we do now?’ Meanwhile, everyone else was as calm as ever, even the staff. One girl turned to us and said, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s no problem”…. and then we proceeded to board during the fire alarm. I survived and saw no fire…. onto Korea!
I finally got to Korea for my layover. Bags came, filled out the declaration correctly, all was good. Then, just as I found a spot to sit and wait for my flight, over the loud speaker in the airport I hear “would Armstrong Jody please report to gate 8 IMMEDIATELY”. Naturally, i’m the ONLY non-Asian person around at this time, so everyone stared at me like they knew it was me, Armstrong Jody. So I go to the desk like, I guess I’m Armstrong Jody. He tells me I have to follow him to security to be questioned about my bags… um, what?! So, awkwardly I follow him though a multitude of security checkpoints and he says to me “don’t worry, I’ll stay with you the whole time and translate everything for you.” Thank God for this sweet, young man, he was so comforting and explained everything to me as I had to show and re-show my passport a million times. I was taken to this little room behind the baggage check desks. So It’s me and about 10 Korean security staff. They speak in Korean and he translates, telling me they found a bullet in my bag and I need to explain it as it’s forbidden material. A BULLET!!?? A bullet!!? Ohhhh…. that bullet.

So I proceed to explain that I went on a war tour in Bosnia in January and was given this AK47 shell from the minefields. This prompted them to then ask me if I was in the army. No. I’m just a stupid, but harmless, tourist. They told me they’d have to confiscate it and that they also found more metal in my bag they were going to search in front of me. I couldn’t think of anything else that could possibly be a red flag in my bag…. then he pulled out a bag of nickels… yes, I had a bag of 5 cent Canadian coins. After confirming all the details and being satisfied that I was not a threat to the country, they seemed to actually find it funny. I had to sign some documents and then was escorted back through all the security lines. On the way out, my translator told me that he has worked here 3 years and never seen a bullet, and the staff had never seen a bullet like that before either. He said they were all very interested in it and found it amusing that I (a little blonde, innocent, lone travelling Canadian girl) was the owner of such a thing. He assured me all was cleared and they finally returned my passport they had been withholding from me.

Needless to say, I’m sure that bullet of mine will be on display in their office and it’s highly possible that I’m flagged as a suspicious person on Korean airways now.

After that I was allowed to board the plane. After we boarded, we were informed our flight had been, again, delayed about a half hour. They then served dinner, which happened to be seafood friend rice. Im sorry, I know I don’t like seafood, but myself aside, it just seems like a terrible thing to serve on a plane, unventilated and all. I politely returned mine and plugged my nose for the next hour until the shrimp stink started to disappear. The only good part of this day: I had a whole row of seats to myself on the plane.

Baggage came, visa was approved, and I walked into Cambodia having NO idea what to expect….

Stay tuned for my final travel blog: Cambodia and Thailand. I will see you all in 9 days

Your Armstrong Abroad

“I Have No Idea What I’m Doing” – Cambodia, Thailand, and Homeward Bound

Cambodia, oh where do I begin? How, how did 6 days go by so fast? The very first thing I did when I got off the plane was look up. Stars. Finally! I couldn’t stop smiling. I hopped in for my first tuk tuk experience and I could not stop giggling as he drove. For those of you who don’t know what a tuk tuk is, it’s a scooter with like a small carriage hooked to the back. It’s probably my favourite mode of transportation now. If I didn’t live in a country with snow half the year, I’d make one.

I had booked all 6 nights at a new hostel called Tipsy Turtle. As I got there the one owner said, so where are you from? I said, Canada… Saskatchewan. He said the other owner was from Red Deer, Alberta. In fact, we had mutual friends. What a small world. From there on, the Canadians just kept flocking in.

The hostel had their grand opening while I was there and it was like a mish mash of some of the coolest, most laid back travellers I’ve ever met. I got to speak Japanese with a few people, tried out my Italian with one guy as well, and shared Canadian prairie jokes with a group of girls from Alberta. 

I splurged and got the 3 day pass to the Angkor temples. Another bucket list item. On the first day, I shared a tuk tuk with a girl from India and we went all day around the main temples. To be completely honest, Angkor Wat itself was a bit disappointing. The pictures are better than the real thing, however, the less popular temples were absolutely amazing! 

As we watched the sun set that night over the temples, a group of high school kids approached me for a picture. I immediately could tell they were from Japan and I started speaking in Japanese. Their faces showed a cross between shock and amazement. I had my Japanese baseball hat with me and so I put it on and they couldn’t stop giggling and taking pictures. One brave boy who could speak some English talked to me for a while, telling me he wanted to study abroad. In front of his friends (who were shyly watching from a safe distance) he asked for a hug, I said sure. As he hugged me his friends went craaaaazy! Laughing and shouting. So I turned to them in my best Japanese and mockingly said “yabai” which means like ‘risky’ or ‘exciting’. This made them lose it again and the teacher was even cracking up and thanking me for talking with them. It was just as funny for me as it was for them. 

Unfortunately on our way home that night, we got mugged outside our hostel. It was scary and stressful, but neither of us were hurt. A guy on a motorbike cut the purse strap as he drove by and stole everything from my friend, but nothing from me. We screamed and yelled and some locals came running to help, but by that time it was too late and he was long gone. As wonderful as places are, you can never forget how carful you really have to be with your belongings. Travelling alone, it’s always something to be aware of, but I’ve never actually had this situation happen before. I guess there has to be a first for everything. I’m just glad everyone came out unharmed. 

I took a bicycle for my second day at the temples, which I definitely recommend to anyone if you feel you can physically do it, and go to the less known temples for the best photo opps. I even had a street fight with a monkey… that sounds way more badass than I mean it to be. Basically a monkey wouldn’t get off the road (also a wild pig…) and me, being stubborn, wouldn’t give in. So we had a stare down as I got dangerously close to running him over with my bicycle, but he finally gave in a I felt victorious as I peddled on. 

My third Temple day I woke up at 4:30 with 2 Canadian guys and a guy from Hong Kong and we went out to catch the sunrise in a tuk tuk. It was beautiful, but by noon we were exhausted and headed back to the hostel.

Before I went to Cambodia, I read a blog about the different charitable organizations and eating sustainable products. Cambodia is definitely still recovering from their devastating history, but there are so many organizations that have sprung up to help give back to the community. I made it my mission to try and hit as many of these as possible. I mean, a girls gotta eat, may as well give back to the community while doing it. 

Over 5 days, I managed to make it to New Leaf Eatery, Sister Srey, Blue Pumpkin, and Genevives. They were amazing! They each had a different charity to support or reason to give back, and I was happy to support them all and see local people coming together to make a difference for their future. I also hit the fair trade market, giving fair market opportunities to disabled people in the community. I met one of the artists who was in a wheelchair and he showed me his work. He was so proud of what he had done, and I found his paintings so unique I bought some for myself. 

I really wanted to see New Hope Restaurant, but after biking around for an hour through a very rough area, I had to give up. Although the experience was not wasted. I got to have a look at how people outside the city centre actually live. It was the most poverty I’ve ever seen, but the smiles and waves as I rode through, made my heart so happy. Small children running beside me on my bike, yelling “hello!” While laughing and smiling. I think it’s very possible I’m one of the first white people they’ve ever seen, from the looks on their faces, they had no idea why I was there, but they were happy to see me. 

Things I learned from Cambodia:

  •  you can make use out of everything
  •  $1 can go a long way
  •  “Lady” is the most well known English word
  •  A smile is a beautiful thing and the resilience I saw here has made me be more grateful for what I have in my life.
  •  6 days is so short

So I made my way to Thailand. Guys, I am not joking when I say I had no idea what I was doing. Maybe I gave off the impression (to my parents.. cough cough) that I was totally okay, ya no problem, I’m a travel guru, I know what I’m doing. Well, in reality, I had absolutely zero plans. So I got on a bus from the airport to Au Nang. On the bus I met a guy from France and that started it all. I met a ton of people all sort of on the same travel agenda. We met up, separated, and met up again several times during my week there and I’m grateful for their part in my travels, though short, it was sweet. 

I made it to Railay Beach with a Scottish guy who coincidentally had also just come from a year working holiday in Japan. It was super cloudy and we decided it was a good day to try and rock climb. Those of you who know me from home, know I have a bit of a shoulder problem at the moment and don’t have the ability to pull or lift with my right arm. So, climbing was interesting to begin with. 

We tried climbing to find the “blue lagoon”. It was crazy muddy. The red mud that just sticks to you and slides everywhere. Using a combo of ropes and tree roots to climb, we made it up in about 20 minutes, but then this lagoon was nowhere in sight. We were then told no, no now you’ve got another climb down to the lagoon. As we started climbing down an even steeper cliff, a wild monkey started jumping from tree to tree overhead. Sounds exciting, but those little guys are demons. So we tried to avoid drawing any attention to ourselves. 

As we got to the bottom of this one we looked down and (straight down with just a rope) was the lagoon. Getting down wouldn’t be the problem, but with my arm getting back up was a bit iffy. At that point it started pouring rain and the mud started running everywhere so we decided to play it safe and head back before things got unbearable. It took probably 45 minutes of slipping, sliding, and clinging onto any sturdy tree roots you could get your hands onto, before we got to safe ground again, but we were so happy we did it. Huge highlight of my Thailand trip.

I then headed to the famous Phi Phi Islands. I’m not really a beach person or a big party person so not sure why I thought this would be a good idea, but yolo I guess. First night on the island we realized how much of a party place this was. I’m telling you, lights flashing, music blaring, fire dancers, and booze as far as the eyes could see. So after a day out on the beach, we decided to give this party a try. It was crazy. From a limbo competition (which I got 3rd place in thank you), to a light up giant jump rope, to a game of musical chairs that I apparently missed, all along the beach. I pretty much have nothing else to say about that night other than a fanny pack is a great investment. 

The next day I was super sick (obviously thinking I was hungover) but it just persisted all day. Turned out to be sunstroke, and I had a really rough two days spent between my bed and the bathroom ( which had no toilet paper and a wild rooster that would run through randomly screaming all day and night). I had to get out of the sun and off the island, so I got the next ferry to Krabi town. 

As soon as I got there, I noticed everyone lining the streets wearing black. I assumed it was something to do with he Kings passing, so I sat on a nearby bench to watch. A police officer came over and told me to kneel down as the Royal Family passed. I weaselled my way in to sit with a Thai family and they showed me what to do with my hands as the new King passed. In a wave like fashion, the crowd of people waved flags and yelled something in Thai (I later found out to be “long live the king”) as he drove by. It was a really interesting historical event to be part of. 

Once I got settled in Krabi the sickness got worse, and I basically spent the rest of my trip like this. I managed to pull myself together for two outings in Krabi. The first, I made the hike up the 1200 and some stairs at Tiger Cave Temple to watch the sun set. It was totally worth it. The giant golden Buddha paired with the panoramic view as the sun lowered over the sea and the hills was the best sunset I’ve seen on my trip (apart from Mt. Fuji). I managed to get in with a really cool group of people to hike down with, and stay safe with. Monkeys are crazy everywhere here and they immediately attacked my bag and found my crackers I had with me. I let them have them. There ain’t no way I’m fitting a monkey for a pack of 50 cent wafers. 

My second outing was on my last day. My roommate and I got our butts out of the city and went on a kayaking tour through the mangrove trees and limestone caves. It was absolutely fantastic. We could see monkeys, crabs, fish, mud gliders, and lizards in their natural homes. Our guide was amazing and had learned a combination of words in many different languages. He even spoke to me in Japanese for a bit, and by the end of the trip, he was calling me teacher, and told me I can come back for free kayaking anytime if I teach him more English. He was a gem. 

Things I learned in Thailand:

  • It’s hot. 
  • I suck at bartering 
  • There are tiny invisible things in the ocean (jellyfish) that sting you and I can’t deal with it (damn the jellyfish… damn alllll the jellyfish)
  • Most bathrooms don’t have toilet paper
  • You will forget what it’s like to have a solid bowl movement…

Finally, it came. The day to leave. So after 8 countries, 17 flights, 5 jobs, and 422 days, I prepared to set foot on home soil again. Or should I say home snow. I’m incredibly grateful, amazed, overwhelmed, and touched by all the experiences I’ve had, the people I’ve met, and the things I got to try. The pictures I have don’t do justice to what my eyes have really seen. My feet have walked through 6 seasons, touched down on 12 countries, and wore through an uncountable amount of shoes. I have learned languages, cultures, and life lessons along the way. I have taken trains, planes, cars, motorbikes, busses, ferries, long boats, kayaks, tuk tuks, taxis, hiked, and rode in the back of a truck. 

Am I excited to come home? Of course! Will i miss this life? Absolutely, but I won’t be settling for good quite yet. Don’t bother asking me what I’m doing next, because I honestly have no clue what even tomorrow holds. All I’m focused on is hugging my parents, kissing my grandma, laughing with my sister, gossiping with my friends, and and doing some much needed laundry. 

Please be patient with me as I come home. After 47 hours of travel across so many time zones, I’ll have some trouble adjusting to life back in Saskatchewan. Return culture shock is a big thing, and I’m trying to prepare myself for it. I’ll be really emotional for a while until I can get myself on my Canadian feet again and I’ll need all the help I can get. I want to see each and every one of you, but please be patient with me. Your support and encouragement over these past months have meant the world to me and have kept me following my dreams. I can’t begin to say thank you enough.

For the last time …
Your Armstrong Abroad

Ranting, Raving, and Real Life

I’m going to get real here for a second, because, as much as I love people supporting me in my life abroad (and I do), it’s more than roses and sparkles over here. Only those who have been a traveller themselves, will understand half of the joys that I’ve talked about in my blog. However, on the same level, only those who have been abroad for any period of time will understand the stresses and frustrations that come with it as well. Before I continue sharing my unicorns and rainbows with you, I want to be honest. Every single day I wake up alone, in a bed made for a small child, in a room the size of a closet, but doesn’t have a closet, that I pay way too much for. I get up, eat the same thing, put on the same boring pantsuit and head to the train for my 1-2 hour commute. I eat the same foods everyday because I don’t actually like Japanese food, and my grocery budget isn’t exactly something to brag about. I’ve lived here almost 9 months now and I still sometimes go home at the end of the day and cry because I can’t understand anything. I’m an extremely independent person and having to ask people for help everyday really wears down on your self confidence. You will never realize your pet peeves faster than when you’re in another country and suddenly they’re all around you. Get your damn bicycle off the sidewalk. If I’m walking and you narrowly miss me with you bike, and then ring your bell at me, I’m going to give you the deathiest death stare there ever was (yes I just made death an adjective). And at the end of the day, I take the same commute home, with a couple hundred other people, who all wish there were more seats on the train so we didn’t have to stand for an hour. I go back to my closet house and binge watch Netflix until I fall asleep, alone, and do it all again the next day. (Can anyone tell me how to turn on the heating in my house?)

So then, why do I do it? You must be thinking that, right? I do it because that one time that I go to the grocery store, the coffee shop, or the train station, and I actually understand what they say to me, or they understand my question, makes it all worth it. I literally said “can I have a bag please?” at the store the other day in Japanese, and they gave me a bag without any hassle or confusion, and I felt like I just won an Olympic gold medal. Recently, I ordered an egg mcmuffin and asked for it without meat. She asked if cheese was still okay and I said yes, with the biggest smile on my face, because I actually had a useful conversation (she probably just thought I was really stoked about cheese or something). 

I want nothing more than for people to choose to travel and experience this for themselves. For me, the days I feel like an absolute piece of garbage, are all part of the journey. The boulder of anxiety that hits me when I lay in bed at night and realize I’m going home in a month, reminds me that I’m going to feel the same kind of shock and frustrations when I return back to Canada. I’m going to get angry and frustrated when people talk to non-English speakers like they are stupid and incapable, because I know EXACTLY how that feels. I’m going to be upset when I realize the grocery store doesn’t carry okra and that the 7-11 is not a gem like it is here. Selfishly, I’m going to put up a stink when Starbucks tells me they don’t serve matcha frappes, and that I can’t use my Tokyo card there. But, again, its all part of the journey. 

 You might be sitting at home thinking ‘wow, her life is so cool, I’m so jealous.’ Thanks, but no thanks. For one, it’s a hella lot of ups and downs. It’s missing out on the most important people in my life and not being there for people when they need me most. And second, to say you’re jealous is an insult. Don’t you dare be jealous. First of all, realize that I didn’t have this opportunity handed to me. I worked my butt off to get where I am, I gave up all of the comforts of my Canadian life, and I continue to work hard every single day. Nothing was easy. Also, if you feel ‘jealous’ because you’re bored with where you are in life right now, then YOU need to make a change. And if I can help in any way, I’d be more than happy to, but being jealous isn’t healthy for anyone and it’s not going to change anything for you. Let your feet take you wherever makes you happy. 

That all being said, I simply can’t wait to see you all at home so soon (anxiety attacks aside). Please be patient with me as I adjust to life in Canada again. I can’t wait to hear about all your lives, see your wedding pictures and your babies that I haven’t met yet. Take a tour of your new houses and chug back Bear Flag with you (you know who you are). I’m so excited!

So, rant over, and back to the last month! Whirlwind of adventures and emotions (clearly. Reference to above rant). It’s become like a game. Crossing things off my Japan bucket list. You know that feeling where you finally get to cross something off a to-do list that you’ve been staring at for months; or rather it’s been staring at you (shout out to all my list people, you know what I mean). I have to face the facts at this point, I won’t be able to cross everything off, but I think I did some serious damage to the list in these last two months. To be completely honest, at this point my body and my brain are a mix of complete exhaustion and a child who just drank their first red bull. It’s a weird combination, but so far it’s working for me. 

This summer I got myself a Hanshin Tigers hat (the Japanese major league beloved baseball team in Osaka/Kobe area) and I finally got to show it off. My friend Andy and I pretty much went for the beer (they walk around the stands with a keg backpack filling people’s cups… unreal) as we don’t really follow baseball. By the last inning, we were so into it (the beer helped, I won’t lie) and our team ended up winning. The crowd had a different cheer for each athlete.. and I mean like a full song, that everyone knew and sang together as they went up to bat. Crazy fans. It was like being at a Saskatchewan Roughriders game, but on an even bigger scale. I would have loved to go again, but time did not allow for that, and we lost out of the playoffs pretty quickly. 

My 2 minutes of fame finally aired on Japanese TV, and my students all found it incredibly quickly. I felt like a big deal for about 3 days and then it all blew over. I have the DVD copy to prove it really happened though. If anyone wants to watch some ridiculous Japanese TV when I come home we can easily make a comedy movie night out of it. Crack open the さけ (sake- Japanese rice wine). After writing this the first time, I had to come back and edit it. I went to the university yesterday and a student came in, looked at my name tag and said, “are you Jody?” I said yes, obviously… “Did you wear a kimono on TV for a Japanese show?” Wow.. five minutes of fame continues. “Yes, yes I did”. He ended by saying he knew I looked familiar from somewhere and then fan boyed for a bit before leaving . I felt like Joey from friends when people recognized him from Days of Our Lives. #winning.

Taking Saturdays off this month proved to be the best idea, as me and my friend have the same days off now. We made a point of doing something new every weekend. He is Japanese and a low level English, so it was also great practice for both of us culturally and language wise. We went hiking to the famous Minō waterfall, saw a wild monkey, hiked the trail marked “じごく だに” (jigoku dani) which literally translates to Hell Valley. He told me this translation AFTER we hiked it. We made a day of it and headed to Kobe city to enjoy the cooler weather at the port and watch all the city lights come on. It was so beautiful. 

Our next day off we headed to Katano city to hike to ほし の ブランコ (hoshi no buranco- kind of translates to star swing). It was a really long walking bridge hanging over a valley. The momiji trees were starting to change colours and it was beautiful. After that we went to a famous shrine (which apparently no foreigners know about!) To be completely honest, I didn’t want to go, but I didn’t want to say that. Well, man, am I glad I went! We couldn’t take our bags or cameras and I wondered why. We also had to fill out some sort of safety form before going in, I was confused. Then we stepped inside and I understood.

A bunch of massive boulders had fallen onto each other and we had to squeeze between, under, over, and around them in almost complete darkness. At one point we actually had to lay down flat on our backs and use the rocks like a slide to get to the underground part. I barely fit! Clearly, this is why no foreigners go there. The crawl spaces were so incredibly tiny and you had to really trust yourself (and the arrows) when we got to the end it was like getting off a roller coaster and he looked at me and said “I want to do that again!” 

Another friend and I headed to Hiroshima (finally!). We took the night bus there and arrived around 6am. I, surprisingly, slept the whole way there, and he did not. Also surprising, because I now have a stereotype that Japanese people can sleep anywhere at anytime. We started on the island of Miyajima, famous for いつくしま (itsukushima) which is a giant red tori gate that, when the tide comes in, looks to be floating in the ocean. We climbed Mt. Misen and he fell asleep on top of the mountain (There. Like I said, typical Japanese, can fall asleep anywhere). We enjoyed a few different flavours of もみじまんじゅう (momijimanju – like pancake batter shaped like maple leaves with red bean paste inside) and some Hiroshima Carp chu-hi (Carp = Hiroshima baseball team. Chu-hi = like an alcoholic cooler) before heading back to Hiroshima city. 

The next day, we went to the Hiroshima Peace museum and saw the Peace Park. This was a big ol’ check off the life bucket list, not just the Japan bucket list. I have been looking forward to this for so long, and it didn’t disappoint. If you EVER have the opportunity to go, GO! It’s an absolute must if you visit Japan. I was really overwhelmed and full of emotions, but I felt like I learned so much. After that we visited a traditional Japanese garden before eating はろしまやき (Hiroshimayaki – noodles, cabbage and egg fried together) and some more あげまんじゆう (agemanju – deep friend momijimanju). Hiroshima did not disappoint, and I’m so satisfied with Japan now.

For Halloween, I agreed to go out with my American friend who is crazy about Halloween. I personally, am not a fan of all the Halloween chaos, I’m more of Christmas person. However, I thought it was probably something I should experience here. After putting off costume making for a solid month, I whipped together something the night before the party. I decided to be a Pokeball (Monsterball). I didn’t feel the costume was very impressive, but at least it had relevance in Japan. So I made a sign, which, on one side, said ポケモン ゲット だぜ!(which is the Japanese equivalent of Gotta Catch ’em All). On the other side I wrote 黙ってポケバール に 入れ (dammate pokeball ni haire. Which translates to ‘shut up and get in the ball’). The sign is definitely what made me popular. Nobody expected this blonde girl to be yelling Japanese Pokemon phrases at them all night. Not many people celebrate Halloween here, but those who do go all out. I was so impressed with the costumes, and it was nice to be in a country where October isn’t freezing and we could enjoy being outside. Also, drinking in the street is legal, so that’s a plus. (Costumes I didn’t get a picture of: guy dressed as a person at an Onsen, wearing only a towel and walking around washing himself with bubble bath; mom dressed her 4 year old child as Chuckie and he would scream at you and chase you with a knife; guy in full Chubaka get up and committed to character; two guys dressed in female 80s workout attire including blonde wigs. Nobody does Halloween half assed here, except me.)

Finally, it seems, all the ridiculous weather has subsided. And by this, I mean no more +50 days, no more spur of the moment downpours, no more cicadas, and no more typhoons. You know how at home when there’s a storm coming, animals get a little crazy? Well it’s the same here with insects. The last typhoon that hit my area made the cockroaches fly for no apparent reason (oh yeah, that’s right, cockroaches fly here). When I got home from work, there was a big ol roach walking across the head of my bed. I (of course) freaked out and attempted to kill it, but it ran somewhere and I couldn’t find it. As mentioned before, my house is closet sized, and so I felt I had nowhere “safe” to sleep. I considered going to a 24 hour McDonalds, a Karaoke place, or back to my office in Osaka to stay the night, but that wouldn’t have worked. So, I poisoned the crap out of my house and proceeded to make myself a tiny bed…. in my bathtub. I didn’t want to use the pillows or blankets that the cockroach had been walking on, so I took all my sweaters and lined the tub with them. Fast forward to the next day at work, I had bruises on my knees and elbows and a sore back from trying to fit in the tub all night, and was running on 3 hours of sleep. Learn from me, not worth it. Thank God no more typhoons are being predicted, and its getting too cold for cockroaches now. 

That being said, earthquakes still strike in any season. I felt my first earthquake in April, but it was at night and only registered a level 1. This time, I was at work at the university. I was talking with a student and a coworker when suddenly this ringing sound started echoing around the whole building. We had about 60 students in for an activity, so I thought it was part of that, until my coworker loudly stated “earthquake!”. I just had enough time to say “how do we know when it hits?” When everything started moving under my feet. I started freaking out a bit, as I really don’t know what to do in a quake. My coworkers assured me we were safe where we were. I said I was feeling really dizzy, but they told me I wasn’t dizzy and that it was actually everything moving around me. After about 30 seconds, everything was stable again. This was the 6.6 quake that hit Tottori, for those who saw it on the news, and it was about a 3 when it hit us. For the rest of the day I felt a bit sick and had a really bad headache. They told me lots of people experience motion sickness and that that is probably what it was. Turns out, the ringing was a emergency disaster warning sent out to all Japanese cell phones as soon as they know a quake is going to hit. The ringing I heard was about 60 phones all buzzing at the same time. Efficiency is Japans middle name. Glad I got to experience it, but I don’t want anything stronger to hit while I’m still here. 

In terms of everyday life funnies, I’ve seen some characters on the train recently, including Asian George Bush, an elderly man who kept track of every person getting on the train (clearly his hobby), and I myself got the be the interesting character too. Morning after Halloween, with no change of clothes, I had to take the 6am train from Osaka to Kyoto wearing my Pokeball costume, sitting next to the salarymen on their way to work. I then had to walk home from the train station wearing it. Everyone dressed in winter coats and scarves… me in a t-shirt and a tutu. Also, when October hit, Japan exploded with pumpkin everything, including ice cream. And, to round off the randomness of this paragraph, I was finally instructed on how to wear a face bag while trying clothing on. It’s a real thing. 

To wrap this one up, I’ve started saying my goodbyes to students and friends, as I only have a few more days of work left. I’ve started selling my belongings, and packing things up in my place. As I’ll get home around Christmas, I’ve started a very real wish list (you’ve got to know by now how much I love lists). This list includes: a job, a home, underwear, a cat, and Tims coffee. It’s very serious. I’ve put a lot of thought into it so far. If you can help out with anything, that’d be great.

Keep the countdown going. 20 days left in Japan and 34 until I’m home. 

Stay beautiful,
Your Armstrong Abroad

はじめまして Jody です。日本語 is Hard…

こんにちわ Konnichiwa!!! 

Do you ever wake up one morning and realize a month has passed and you can’t even remember what happened yesterday? That’s pretty much my life right now. Where has time gone? If you didn’t catch my last blog, I revealed that Ive extended my stay an extra 5 months. Flights have been rebooked and I’ll see you all December 13 at the Saskatoon airport, clear your schedules. Why do I want to stay longer you may ask? How about the fact that the “close door” buttons in the elevators here actually work, microwaves double as actual ovens (I literally bake pizza and muffins in my microwave), and Starbucks always writes cute things on my cups. Ok, in reality, my main reason for staying is I haven’t done anything yet! I finally have friends here (Japanese and English), I’ve committed to taking personal language lessons and I’m actually making headway now, I’m just getting settled in my new house (I’ll explain later), I want to experience every season here, and I have so many things on my “must do” list that haven’t been check off yet. I’ve been working like a dog, 16 hour days far from home, so that I can take the summer off and just enjoy Japan and travel with my new friends! 

The most exciting thing since my last post, was that one of my best friends from University came to visit me for a whole month! Jenna came in April, just in time to catch the last of the cherry blossoms.​

Oh cherry blossoms, the iconic emblem of Japan. In the brochures and travel guides you can find absolutely stunning photos of Sakura season in Kyoto. But, what they fail to mention, is that they got up at the earliest ray of sunlight to take these pictures of Kawaramachi, Arashiyama, and Heian Temple before the people flocked in for the day. At any other given time, you will be faced with the reality that your gorgeous photos will include an accidental photobomb by Jack, Jim, Jane, Yuki, Mami, Roberto, Stefan, and their entourages from every corner of the world. Walking the Kawaramachi area, it was not uncommon to see 10 wedding photo shoots going down. From traditional Japanese wear, to modern white dresses and tuxes. There are now about ten couples who have an awkward and embarrassed blonde unmentionable (ya, me) accidentally walking through the background of their beautiful photos. What can I say, the blossoms are simply mesmerizing. 

All over Japan, people engage in “hanami” (はなみ). This is the custom of going to view the blossoms and basically having a picnic under them. There is literally no English translation for hanami. Although Jenna and I never formally took part in hanami, we did get to try some new foods. First we had takoyaki (たこやき), which is fried dough with octopus, next we tried okonamiyaki (おこのみやき), which is like grilled cabbage, vegetables, and meat with a special sauce. It’s looks like a crazy pancake and literally translates to “as you like” “grilled” which is exactly what it is. We tried fish shaped pastries filled with green tea cream (taiyaki- たいやき), mochi shaped like the aliens from Toy Story, dango, and many many kinds of Pocky and Kit-Kats (matcha, mint, Easter egg, raspberry, to name a few). 

Jenna and I started our adventures in Osaka with the blossom viewing at the Osaka Mint, rode the giant Ferris wheel on top of a mall (the day of the giant earthquake! Thank god we didn’t know this yet), and saw Osaka castle. Next, we started our adventure in my city of Kyoto. We started at the monkey park, which was both overly exciting and terrifying at the same time. Wild monkeys just running around: DONT look them in the eye! We followed the flow of tourists through Arashiyama and ended up at Kinkakuji (the golden temple). 

We found this amazing pass called the Kansai Through Pass that allowed us to have unlimited travel through the Kansai region for 3 days and boy, did we get our money’s worth. We started in Nara, home of the tame deer and I got in a tug of war match with one of the deer after he stole the map out of my pocket and was trying to eat it. I won, but it took some serious negotiating to get it back. I also forgot their Japanese name (shika- deer) and instead was trying to call them by saying “Shinkansen”… Shinkansen is the name of the bullet train here. Apparently the deer knew this, because they were rather offended and would not come to me anymore. To finish our first day off, we went to a lesser known town called Ikoma. We found a singing cable car shaped like a birthday cake and took it to the top of a mountain where we found a deserted theme park. Obviously a prime photo opportunity, but also quite eerie. 

 Jenna took off on her own to Hiroshima and then to Tokyo and I headed back to work. My parents finally convinced me to meet Jenna in Tokyo so we could go to DisneySea together. Surprisingly, work gladly gave me the day off, saying the Disney deserved a day off… Well okay then. I now realize how important Disney is in Japan. So, I hopped on a plane and got to Tokyo Monday night and we went to our first sushi-go-round restaurant. It was amazing. You order on your own personal computer screen and an automated belt brings it to you on a plate. We left there feeling incredibly full (I even tried shrimp!) and satisfied for a small amount of yen.​


The next day we were up early and on our way to Disney. Cue the inner children in us both. We squealed our way through the lineups of families and (matching) couples. We had a plan, thanks to our Disney enthusiast friend Laura who gave us the tips and tricks to follow, as this is the only DisneySea in the world. Our first ride was the Tower of Terror, and, although it was all in Japanese, we knew the idea of the ride: Dropping. We strapped in and at that moment I decided I didn’t want to be there, as the strap was locked around my injured shoulder. Thinking about the car accident that injured me in the first place, and how the strap was in exactly that place, had me in tears, but it was too late. Up we went. Once we were in the air, I forgot about everything and Jenna and I held each other screaming as we dropped 12 floors, went back up, and dropped again. Exiting the ride, we were both shaking; a mixture of laughing and crying. We were now fully awake and ready for Disney! 

The rest of the day was nothing short of magical. We must have picked the best day possible to go, as I had heard horror stories about the 3 hour long line-ups. We waited no more than a half hour for a ride and were able to do every ride at the park. Our favourites were Journey to the Centre of the Earth, which somewhat resembled the Log Ride in California, Indiana Jones, and Storm Rider, which was a simulation of being inside a storm. To my surprise and enjoyment, they had a Mediterranean themed section, which featured replicated Italian buildings, the Ponte Vecchio, a volcano, and gondola rides. We managed to get on a gondola for sunset. I’ve been to Italy 3 times, but my first gondola was officially in Japan.

We got pictures with the characters, went on the kiddie rides, laughed so hard we cried, and stuck around long enough to see the evening water show. All I can say is amazing. We didn’t speak for 20 minutes, totally mesmerized by the lights, character dances, fireworks and familiar childhood songs dubbed in Japanese. After 13 hours of Disney, we were exhausted and we had to put the kids to bed (aka ourselves).The next day, I hopped on a plane to make it back in time to work that evening. Needless to say, I had a 2 day Disney hangover of exhaustion, but it was COMPLETELY worth it. What an amazing day with some amazing pictures to remember it by.

When we recovered from Disney, we headed out on our final two days with the Kansai pass. We started with Mt. Koyasan and Wakayama beach. We got to see a very unique mountain top cemetery. Turns out they like to dress their rocks and statues with bibs… Dont ask me why. It was a very long day, most of it spent on the train, but totally worth the 4 hours to swim in the ocean in our bathing suits and CANADA tshirts while everyone else had on wetsuits, staring at us like “what are those crazy people doing? Ohhhh Canadians, okay”. We spent a few, more relaxing, days in Kyoto. We went hiking in a bamboo forest near my house, hit up Fushimi-Inari, famous for its red tori gates and endless stairs, and Kiyomizudera, famous for having the largest wooden deck overlooking nature. We went during the holiday, Golden Week here, which was a terrible idea, but we had no choice. So many people, everywhere. Again with the accidental photobombings.

 We finished things off with a trip to Himeji Castle and Kobe. Imagine a giant white wooden castle. Then imagine it with even more wood and even whiter. Yeah, that’s Himeji. It was beautiful and unique to look at, but i would never go inside again. Packed with people, all I could think of was, ‘what if there was a fire right now’. I personally didn’t enjoy it, but glad I got to say I saw it in person. In Kobe Jenna finally got her Kobe beef and I watched as she ate it. We went to the port and then to the waterfall and the observation deck. Visiting all of these places makes me happy I chose to live in Kyoto. It’s still definitely my favourite!

We had two more things to check off Jenna’s list: party and karaoke. Although you may think of Japan as being very reserved, they have a pretty bumpin night life in Osaka. The only catch is, trains. The last train back to my house was at 10:35. So, we either had to party in the afternoon….. Or all night. Following the nightlife code, we chose the later. To kill time before going out, we did some shopping, became famous in Shinsaibashi, and killed 4 hours at an arcade. How did we become famous? Well after we got someone to take this picture we drew a bit of a crowd. People clapped and then one by one came forward to ask if I they could get a picture standing on my leg. There is now a multitude of pictures floating the Internet of people standing on me in front of the Glico man. In the end, an elderly man came to shake my hand and in broken English said “thank you, thank you. Welcome to Osaka.” And backed away slowly repeating “thank you” a few more times. Classic Japan. My knee was literally swollen for two weeks after that. 

At the arcade we also made a scene… We actually thought we were gambling, so when we hit the “jackpot” on the Mario game, we thought we were going to be rich. Turns out, it’s just a game. But, people enjoyed watching us get so excited and they just kept giving us buckets of free play tokens so we would keep going. Again, classic Japan. When we finally got to the club, we pretty much instantly became the coolest people there, not going to lie. We knew all the words to all the songs and weren’t afraid to dance the night away. We caught the first train in the morning and made it home at 7:40. Exhausting, but a hilarious day and night. On her last night, we invited my old housemates and went for an hour of karaoke. Our booth was leopard print and we rocked the spice girls, Vanilla Ice, and sang our university song: Roxanne. 

Needless to say it was a teary goodbye the next day at the airport and I felt so alone the next couple of days not having her around. Her visit was such a surprise and it was such an amazing experience. I always travel alone, but when someone joins for a short time, it just makes me so thankful and happy I get to be a part of their experiences. Thank you Jenna for the memories! I will see you at Christmas.

Now, back to real life. After she left, I began teaching kindergarten. Well folks I’ve officially done it all. I now teach adult business men and women, university students, and now Kindergarten and nursery school students. I agreed to this job before really thinking about it, to be honest. As the days came closer I thought: I have NO idea what I’m doing, I can’t do this, I don’t want to do this. But, the only way to expand your knowledge and develop yourself as an individual is to challenge yourself and work from outside of you’re comfort zone. And guess what, I did it! Kids are weird. My students don’t know what blue is, what a hamburger is, or what a triangle is, but in perfect English my student said “sensei you’re strange” to me. He’s 5! 
To add stress to taking on a new job, I also discovered that my bedroom had a cockroach nest in it. How did I figure this out you ask? Well, I heard something in my garbage can, picked it up, and the damn thing ran up my arm. Now, these aren’t like Canadian cockroaches, no, these things are the size of small dogs, and they can fly. Flying cockroach dogs. Ok, that is probably a huge exaggeration, but they’re really big! After I found one, I found more, and more… My roommates (don’t speak English) found me in my bedroom crying and yelling, holding a can of poison. They very calmly killed the roaches and made me a bed in the spare room. Worst part, I sprayed my retainer with cockroach poison…..

After a month of sleeping on the floor in another room, not sleeping at night, and terrified to be at home, I decided to move out. To my surprise I found another place really fast. And so I moved that week, to a place of my OWN! I’m probably paying way too much for a house the size of a walk in closet, but I don’t care, it’s my walk in closet and I’m so happy to be there. 

Now that I have relaxed, been able to sleep more, and have settled into a new routine with my new jobs, I’ve been able to focus on learning Japanese. I have lessons every week and I study every day. I refuse to be illiterate in Japan any longer. Although I’m personally employing the iced coffee industry it seems, with the help of coffee I’ve been able to even go out with my new friends after work. My Japanese friends have been great with taking me out and teaching me new things, and my English friends have been great to experience new things and enjoy the expat life with. 
Rainy season has now commenced. Yes, Japan has 5 seasons. I will be facing about 30 days of rain and then 3 months of unbearable humidity. It’s so hot, they have a country wide policy that from June to October, business professionals (myself included) can dress for ‘cool biz’. This means I don’t have to wear a suit jacket. Woohoo’s all around. 
An update on things I’ve learned about Japan:

Japanese people say ‘recommend’ and not ‘suggest’, ‘dustbin’ instead of ‘wastebasket’, in some situations green is blue, eating raw chicken is okay, people love Armageddon and Die Hard, coffee is life and if it’s not then you’re doing life wrong, people here believe me that my uncle is Neil Armstrong, nobody knows what the word gymnastics means (not one single person!), they have Costco here, and people know where Yellowknife is but not Edmonton or Ottawa.

My mind is exhausted every single day, but in a good way. To everyone who has been sending me periodic life updates, thank you! Even if I don’t reply right away, I always read it and I always appreciate hearing from you. To all of my friends who have had a major life event lately (my god so many people) a baby, a wedding, engagement, new house/job, convocation, etc. congratulations! I’m so happy to see everyone doing such amazing things with their lives and I am excited to see where everyone will be when I return. And just remember, if you have a new house, ill need a place to live when I come home, hint hint. If you had a baby, I’ll need a job when I come home and I’m great with kids, hint hint. If you got a job, I’ll need money and things when I come home, hint hint. Thanks y’all. 

In the meantime, I’m looking for suggestions of other Asian countries that people have visited, unique Japanese things you’ve heard of that you’d like to see me try, recommendations on how to live with 5 hours of sleep. The first two for real though.

Until next time, stay weird

Xoxo Your Armstrong Abroad

#GoDo – Meet Jack

One night over the Christmas holidays, while all of my friends were celebrating with their families or back home for the break, I ended up at a pub by myself in some attempt to get myself out of the house. That night changed the remainder of my time in Italy. I met so many amazing people that night who, in such a short time, became a really great group of friends to me. That night I met Jack. If I had to describe Jack in two words it would be ‘bright eyed’. Jack is the most caring, open, honest, eager, and genuine young chap I have met in a long time, possibly ever. He once told me that I had inspired him more in the 6 days we knew each other, than anyone before. That’s something I’ll never forget. He was my companion for a week and I was lucky enough to be able to ring in the new year with my new friend. Ladies, he’s single, a British soldier, AND he’s coming to Canada (wink, wink). It is my please as my first #GoDo, to introduce you to Jack.

Introduce yourself: Hi! I’m Jack! I come from a small village in Yorkshire, England.”

Where have you all been in the world? “I’ve been to many amazing places in the world, mostly due to my work as a soldier: Scotland, Wales, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, Kenya, Cyprus, Greece, Vatican city (yup technically it’s a country), Belgium, Holland, Turkey, and The US”

Why do you travel? “I want to travel Because… To me, life is all about the experiences that you have, the variety of the things that you do, and the people that you meet. 

There’s so much world out there to find! And so little life in which to do it, I just feel that travelling opens your heart, and your mind and makes you a better, more fulfilled, more interesting person.”

What’s your craziest experience while travelling that you’d be willing to share? “Craziest experience…. Mmmm. I guess work ones don’t count (driving a tank on the public roads is pretty crazy) but travel wise… Meeting a Californian girl in a Rome nightclub, and realizing that we were EXACTLY the same age, to within like, a few minutes of each other… At the time that felt pretty crazy.”

What advice or tip could you give to people wanting to travel? “My tip? Hmm.. my experience is somewhat limited so far, but it has to be this: Talk to everyone! You meet so many interesting people who, more than likely, are just like you; looking to expand their horizons. You see a girl at the bar on her own.. Just go and talk to her. You’re standing in the que for a historic building, ask the people around you where they are from. I’ve made so many random friends by just not being afraid to say ‘hi’ and break that first later of social ice that most people are afraid of stepping onto.”

“I hope my travels take me, well, everywhere! I don’t really have an aim, I like it to be unplanned and just let things happen. As long as you have the right attitude and approach, I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy it”


Give Me Florence and a Little Italian Drama

Ciao Firenze! I have arrived! 
  Although I promised myself I would blog more often to keep things shorter…. As usual things have been hectic and this will be a catch-up post. So buckle up here we go.

Let’s start with the positives of the trip over: I think I had the easiest flights in the history of my travels, the terribly creepy hat guy in Saskatoon was NOT on my flight, I had a row to myself on each plane, I made it to all of my flights with time to spare which never happens, and… my bags made it with me! Smooth sailing from Saskatoon to Vancouver, Vancouver to Frankfurt, and Frankfurt to Florence. Even the bus from the airport to the station, and taxi from the station to Annie’s was cheap and easy…. Too easy. Yeah sure I cried through security when they took away half my liquids, through boarding as the tiny lady from the bag check-in asked me if I said goodbye to my parents okay, most of the way to Vancouver, throughout the flight to Frankfurt as I opened the goodbye cards from the amazing Laura and Kelsey (who drove all the way to Saskatoon just to be with me and say goodbye. Precious friends I love you dearly!), and when Kelsey sent me the pictures she took of my goodbye with mom and Emory. But all in all, much easier than anticipated. I honestly thought to myself, wow, maybe I’m just so accustomed to Italy and this whole travel thing that I’ve got it all figured out now. WRONG. Big fat wrong…. But I’ll get to that soon. 

Sorry, I’ve already strayed from my first topic; Positives, right. Getting to Annie’s and seeing a familiar face after travelling over 21 hours, 8 time zones, and carrying a giant blue whale of a backpack on my poor old back was so comforting. (side note: on top of having all my shoulder problems prior to this trip, the day before my departure I went to the emergency room for some crazy back pain which they believed to be a slipped disc in my lower back… Totally typical… But nothing a shot in the butt won’t fix) It was great to see Annie, even though she’s a die hard Kansas City Royals fan (poor Blue Jays), I love her to death. She allowed me into her home, every nook and cranny let me tell you, for a gracious week! That poor girl had to deal with jet legged, missing her family and friends, sore, cranky and stressed out Jody for 6 days! Yup, there’s the kicker. 6 days people… Now we’re getting to the big fat wrong part I mentioned earlier..

My original ‘plan’ was to land, stay a night or two at Annie’s, and find a room to rent ASAP. That last part did not happen as per ‘the plan’. Day 1 and 2 I got to see my babies at the school right away and casually started looking for a place. It was nice to be back. Day 3 and 4 were a complete 360 of Holy Jesus of Italy where are all the rentals at?! Those of you who have had to look for a rental before, whether it be for vacationing, school, whatever, it sucks right? Now try doing it in a foreign country, in a foreign language, with a ticking clock breathing down your neck and your bank account shaking its fist at you. Try that for an image, am I right? This brings us to day 7…. After walking 15 Km a day (I’m not joking at all, my feet and calves are dying) all over the city looking at apartments, meeting potential roommates, and realizing what my price range actually got me, I was stressed to the max. And I mean max. I trekked an hour and a half across the city to a sketchy neighbourhood that I didn’t even feel safe during the day in to look at a room where the landlord didn’t even show up (I cried on his front porch) and then used my best Italian to score a viewing of a “cute little room” in the centre only to find out the bedroom was just a mattress on the floor (I cried shamelessly walking down the street). Finally it was time to leave Annie’s so I checked into a hostel. After contacting an uncountable number of people in the morning, I returned to my hostel and wifi on the evening of day 7 to find I had been accepted! I have a room, ladies and gentlemen, I’m not going to be homeless! Sure I had to up my budget a bit, but it’s much better than sleeping on the streets of Italy in the winter during a financial crisis. Thanks to my sister for helping me search from back home, mom and dad for continually telling me it’ll get better, Annie for offering everything to me, the random girl in the coffee shop that sent me room listings, and Emory for continuing to Skype me even though all I did was cry and complain. Needless to say I ate, drank, and slept better that night than I had in a long time.  

So, what now? Well, I’m still in the hostel for a couple more sleeps until my room is ready. November 1 marks the beginning of my adventure when I can FINALLY unpack my bag, maybe wear a new outfit, and definitely wash the 3 outfits I have been wearing on a rotational basis. I haven’t cried in 2 days, so that’s a big deal, as you may have noticed there was a trend going on above. Things are looking up and I am sitting in a little coffee shop with a fellow Canadian right now planning a few adventures I have up my sleeve. Amen for wifi and espresso.

Today I am meeting up with some Italians to do a conversation exchange and tonight is my first run with FirenzeCorre ( a running group in the centre. Wait till you see the sexy vest I get to wear). Next week I will be extremely busy with the kids at the school. Halloween is this weekend and I got myself invited to a little party. Thanksgiving is just around the corner and with the plethora of Americans that I have here with me, I’ll be eating well that night. 

So far I have had my favourite schiacciata from Puggi, a real espresso macchiato (suck it Starbucks), gelato from De Neri, pocket coffee, ricotta cheese (no, it’s not the same as home), breadsticks with fennel, bought a jar of fig jam, and I had a glass of limoncello (terrible, but like a right of passage). I’m going to be okay I think. 
So who wants to come visit? Taking applications.

Until next time,

Once your Italian Armstrong, now your Armstrong Abroad.


My European Adventure

Here is my final video. A compilation of all the wonderful memories I have that were caught on video. Its a little long, and I apologize, but so was my journey. This is for all of my family and friends that I have not yet had the time to talk to and tell you about my travels, and to all of my friends I left behind. Without those I met along the way, this trip would have been filled with feelings of homesickness, but you all became my family, and a family I will never forget. Ciao, cheers, salute, enjoy ❤

At This Point, My Blood Has Turned To Espresso


Ciao Ragazzi!

So it’s March I’ve been told. So let’s be honest here, February was kind of boring in terms of doing awesome things and having new experiences. March though, March has exceeded expectations. I really delayed this post because things kept happening and I knew I wanted to write about it all. So, my bad I guess.

I didn’t particularly want to post about our trip to Venice, but I needed to get this off my chest, because I agreed to share my experiences through this blog, and I guess that includes my strong dislike for Venice. I will however sum it up with this (to the tune of the Christmas favourite, the Ten Days of Christmas):
10 Hours in a monsoon
9 Umbrella funerals
8 Times almost buying boot sacks (see page called “no giving any cares” for a visual)
7 Billion people trying to catch the same taxi
6 “Zero out of 5” Trip Advisor restaurant reviews from angry GE students
5 Failed attempts to dodge the falling hail
4 Flooded Piazzas
3 Hours of driving on a bus with soaking wet feet
2 Hours waiting Titanic style for our lifeboats
1 Mess of a trip to Venice
The end!

On to more positive thoughts. Finally! Finally, ladies and gentleman, I got to visit the love of my life: Cinque Terre. You would think every picture you see of this majestic sight on the internet is edited with crazy “filters” that kids use these days, but I swear they are accurate. I can now say that with confidence. After almost dying twice, being rebels and getting lost on a “closed” trail, and crying (actually though) over the natural beauty of this place, I am able to say that I’m starting a piggy bank to buy a house there. Who’s in for visiting?/paying my mortgage? I’m now accepting donations. I am already looking forward to going again in two weeks. That is actually all I can say about this place because nothing else can sum up my feelings other than, “Wow”. You done good Italy, you done good.

Crossing things off my “to do before I die” list, is exactly what I’ve been doing. Last Friday I was given such a great opportunity to enjoy the wonderful weather on a bicycle in the Tuscan countryside. Having connections here has paid off. I had a blast and took some ridiculous pictures (as usual with this group). Saturday was Compleanno di le Donne, and I ran in the Rosamamosa women’s race through the hills in Firenze with a wonderful friend from work. After convincing the officials that yes, yes indeed I did have my heart examined by a doctor prior to registering but I forgot my papers in Canada, I was able to race and ended up finishing in the first quarter of the runners. Proud proud. But above all, we got t-shirts… So that happened. Enjoyed supper out with my work family and then wine with lady roommates. Wonderful celebrations. Sunday I finally went on my tour of the Tuscan countryside which Lauren and I won in January. We had a BLAST! So much wine, not enough food, meeting the equivalent of Irene in Italian male form, and baby sheep. BABY SHEEP! needless to say, it was a stellar weekend. Oh, yeah, and I now have an addiction to fresh ricotta.

This week after having 2 lovely dinners with the Linguaviva family I had to say my first real goodbye. Our family of 4 surprised Boas at the train station before he left. It was film worthy. Climbing on board the train 5 minutes before it left for a bitter sweet group hug and tearful goodbye. It’s really hard to say goodbye to someone you love so much when you know you’ll most likely never see them again in your life. No. No! We will see each other again. We will. This I promise to myself.

After 3 hours of sleep we were up Sunday morning and at the bus station for our final GE group trip to Chianti country for hiking and wine tasting. What a great day full of funny pictures (duh), great wine, quality time with my lovelies, and of course grappa.

I hate goodbyes and lay awake at night thinking about how I don’t know if I can say goodbye to these people. The thought alone breaks my heart. At the same time, guess what, Jo-Anne and Wendy are coming in 10 days!!! I simply cannot wait. I can’t wait to show them just how much I have learned and share with them as much as I possibly can.

I have been in pure bliss lately as I try and take in as much as I possibly can with two weeks left with my wonderful Lauren and everyone else I’ve met through this experience, but that aside, I am still my ridiculous self and so I shall share a few stories with you as per usual:
1) An elderly lady started talking to me on the bus. Instead of listening and figuring out what she was saying, my brain went into panic mode. As she babbled away, she winked at me and started laughing. I joined in and said “hahaha ohhh, si, si!”, which must have been the appropriate answer because she continued. The only word I caught was “Domenica”…Sunday. What? She cackled in the liveliest, friendliest way and yelled a bubbly “Ciao, Ciao!” as she got off the bus. To this moment I have NO idea what she said, or what was suppose to happen on Sunday. I can only imagine my facial expression after she exited. Brain dead.

2) So our kitchen flooded (aka a nameless roommate opened the washing machine while it was still going and then left for 5 days…. #responsibility). As Lauren tried to clean up the mess, she used every towel we have (which unfortunately makes a grand, sad total of 3). She rung them out our window and two minutes later an angry, old woman appeared at our door yelling in Italian, explaining that Lauren had poured water out the window onto her head below. Hilarious now…. Not funny then. Needless to say, we have made zero friends in our apartment building.

As our time here comes to an end, we are trying to come up with something crazy to do…. Were officially taking suggestions. But seriously… I have Italian blood running through my veins (espresso), as I prepare myself for the next two weeks of sleepless nights and long days filled with everything I have put off until now.

~ If you can’t life longer, live deeper ~
– Italian Proverb

Until next time,
Your Italian Armstrong

Fiesole for the Win!


Ciao tutti!

Canada for the win! I am proudly the only Canadian on the trip, and guess who takes home the prize for the ultimate Florence scavenger hunt. ME! Briefly here’s a few of the best things I had to do: drink a “cioccolato caldo” (hot chocolate the Italian way, basically a melted piece if dark chocolate similar to the thickness of pudding) at one of the fanciest places in Florence, and when the man found out I was from Canada he said “where? Toronto? Montreal?” (Typical guesses) “No, you’ve never heard of where I’m from” (my typical response). “Saskatchewan?” He guesses… My jaw dropped, and he spent the next ten minutes hysterically laughing and telling the other customers I was from Saskatchewan, to which they obviously had no idea what he was talking about. Onwards! I had to bite into a Panino con Lampredotto (pictured below). A panini with cow stomach… Apparently a very traditional Florentine dish (throw up in my mouth), and after I did this I was featured in Studentsville Italia as “the intern who actually did it”. For those of you at home in complete disbelief at this, to defend my image a bit, I didn’t eat it, but just bit into the bun :). I also had to climb the very steep hill to Piazzale Michaelangelo to view the entire city at sunset (molto bello!!). I had to find one of the illegal “secret bakeries” in Florence, only open between 2 and 5 am, and purchase a freshly baked pastry (probably the best night of my trip so far…. Totally worth having to walk for 2 hours in the pouring rain at 4 am with 3 amazing people pictured below). My final voyage was to take a bus to the top of Fiesole and take a picture with Florence in the background… Soooo picturesque (pictured at the top)! What is the prize for winning such a contest you may ask? Well bragging rights of course, AND a free Tuscany wine tour to Chianti! Ohhhh mama mia! I cannot wait 🙂

So aside from finally finishing the scavenger hunt, I have spent the last week with a nasty sore throat. It got worse and worse until I finally made the decision to attempt a visit to the hospital (Guardia Medico). As I was assured there would be an English doctor, me and another sick friend ventured into the streets on a very very wet, cold, Florence night. To sum things up, he was not English, but was so nice, speaking slow enough for me to understand and translate for my friend. By the end we discovered that we both had a very bad case of laryngitis and that I was contagious (who wants a free kiss?). After telling us a 15 minute story about his travels to America and Canada, questioning me on my musical talents (obviously I resemble Louis Armstrong), and bonding over the fact that his son has the same birthday as me, we were sent on our way to pick up some crazy Italian drugs. So in my first week of practicum I missed 3 days due to my contagiousness… Great first impression. I am finally starting to feel better now, have a voice, can physically function, and am beginning to eat solid foods again, but am sitting here on a Saturday night doing homework and writing to all my lovely readers instead of going out with my classmates. Being responsible, so difficult sometimes.

I have started my practicum, as mentioned, and so far don’t have much to write about other than there is nothing more adorable than Italian babies. Maybe my suitcase will just be filled with toddlers on my way home instead of souvenirs. Or is that illegal? Anyways….

Though language barriers can be difficult, stressful, and exhausting to try and conquer. They can also be extremely entertaining. Especially in class where we are all on a beginner level and, for many, this is their THIRD language. As I only have one week left with this class, I will finally introduce you to some of my favourite characters:

– La ragazza Cinese: Italian is her second language, And she does not speak English. She is training to be an opera singer of some sort, she meows at me every single day, and communicates with the rest of the class through broken Italian and extreeeeeaaaamly over exaggerated body language and gestures. She eats a McDonalds doughnut or two and a Coke for breakfast every day and offers to share with me every morning. When paired with the Columbian boy for group work the other day, she hugged my arm and in completely clear English yelled at our teacher, NO, Jody is my best friend!! Lui cattivo, cattivo, cattivo. (He is bad, bad, bad). She also once tried to tell our group that she had a picture of her sister… She accidently told us she wants two sons and that she had pictures of what she wants them to look like. Miscommunication at its best. We absolutely died laughing. As over the top and difficult as she is some days, I will miss her entertainment so very much.
– Il ragazzo islandese: this little ball of energy is the highlight of my day and one of my closest friends here. He is silent all class, and then will randomly shout something obscene, or some completely inaccurate English phrase that clearly did not translate well. He once told his host mother that he didn’t want to eat the salad she made because it was “insalata vecchio” .. Old salad. When you don’t know much italian, you just make use of what vocab you have, and it usually ends up offending someone. He is also fifth cousins with Björk (the singer), which is kind of cool. But then again, everyone there is related…. Literally. There’s an App for that…
– Il colombiano bambino: This youngster is my partner in crime, is attached at the hip to Old Salad (see above), and finishes off our wonderful group of four (Roommate Lauren included). “baby face” is our “in” into Italian culture as he speaks the language at a higher level than the other 3 of us combined. His hobbies include imitating our accents in a British voice whilst whipping his head from side to side. Not sure why, but it is always entertaining. He became my official best friend when he called me “Jelissa” last weekend and helped us cross off many things on our scavenger hunt list including leading us to the secret bakery where we enjoyed savoury chocolate croissants together.
– L’insegnante: i dont know how he deals with us every day, but he is one if the greatest humans ever; quote me. He told us about a wonderful little restaurant we must go to in order to remember the sentence “a casa mia” (the name of the restaurant). When we decided to try it out one day I asked him “dove è a casa mia?” His reply… Ohhhh, Jawwwdyyy!… I really had no idea why I had received that reaction until I realized I hadn’t specified I was looking for the restaurant, but instead just basically asked him to go home with me…. Jody’s Italian Fail #84, but who’s counting. He has taught us more than just language, but life skills as well. He even gave me a “whiteboard medallion” for coming to school when I was sick. We share a sense of humour and I want to stay in his class forever. He is like the flamboyantly Italian brother I never had. Mom, whyyy??

In other news, I have mastered “the look”. What is “the look” you may ask? Let me elaborate a bit. Something I have learnt since being here is that I wear my emotions on my face. My classmates find it hilarious to watch me tell a story because even if they can’t understand all of it, they can watch my face and get the gist of things. Even when I am at the other end of the corridor at school, I often hear one of the Brazilian guys laugh and say, Jody! Your face! Because of this, I am such an easy target when in the streets. “Here madam, buy my purses!” “Nice boots, would you like a jacket to match them?”, “Come back please, We can start a family.” Uhh what? And one of my all time favourites so far, “hey there, do you speak italian?”… You literally just said that in English, sooo obviously you’re already aware that I don’t speak it. I have decided I am no longer to hold the “tourist” status, but rather the “temporary resident” status. Because of this, I must no longer look like a tourist, and thus we begin mastering the skill of “the look”. I will describe this to you once and only once, but those of you who are just so curious, feel free to ask me to send you a more descriptive picture (as I have it completely mastered and it’s well worth having a picture of for future reference).

Okay. The look:
– Let your face go blank. Don’t show any emotion.
– Now slightly life your forehead/eyebrows, like you got Botox. Who! Not that high, release a little bit… Remember still emotionless. Too high and you’ll just look surprised. They will pounce on you with that emotion.
– Now stare straight ahead and have a partner, or random stranger I guess, stand on either side of you and wave, dance, yell, or whisper dirty things (like how they havent washed their clothes in a month!) any of the above will work. You’re goal is to act as if they are not there and continue to stare blankly ahead.
– If your partner takes things over the top, you may glance in their direction (without making direct eye contact!!) and give a slow blink as if to say, “you are causing me slight discomfort” and then resume the blank look ahead.

This my friends is “the look”, also sometimes called the stink eye, or stank face. It is most effective when paired with the “I’m a boss” walk, or the “my hair is on fire and I’m trying to put it out” dance move if you are at a club. Both of which are too advanced for beginners like yourselves. Now that I have this mastered, nobody messes with me. Heck, nobody even talks to me anymore. It’s… Great?

Sickness and scavengering have been my focus for the last week, so instead of more updates, here’s just a look at thoughts my brain has had and random information I feel like sharing with you today.
– Canadian fact: we say sorry too much and in too many situations that do not require thou to feel truly apologetic. There isn’t even a word in the Italian language that resembles our “sorry”. Rumour has it that there is also no word that directly translates to mean privacy in Italian either…. Which I can believe.
– Took a “field trip” to a wonderful library that use to be a convent. Got to sit at the rooftop caffe with university students. It was a very nice outing…… Then we went to the children’s section and sat with books labeled 1-3 anni and had story time… Nothing kills your confidence more than reading a number book for two year olds, and not understanding it.
– there is a legitimate law here regarding everyday actions. It is illegal to: speak in the stairwell, wear high heels after 11 in the stairwell, have unregistered guests stay the night in an apartment, drag furniture without picking it up, make noise between 2:30 and 3pm, turn the heat on during the day, and sell pastry at night to name a few. I’m probably going to get deported for sneezing in the hall after 11…

Update on words easily confused:
Colore is colour, Collare is Collar, and Coccolare is to Cuddle…. I give up! Also, want to order penne? You order one penne (uno penne), or two pennes (duo penni). Want to ask for a pen? Ask for one pen (uno penna), two pens (duo penne). Careful what you order or you my be eating ink for supper. In addition, ordering la pasta, or uno pasta are completely different. You might be ordering spaghetti, or you might be ordering a croissant (pasta is the singular for pastry). They distinguish the difference by what time of day it is…. Omg… Who, who came up with this? Lastly (for now) when working on listening, and the people are talking about pomeriggio, they’re not talking about Pomeranians. I win idiot of the year in Italy for sure.

Having a blast, learning a lot (although this post might not make it seem like it), meeting so many wonderful people, and looking forward to the coming weeks.

Ciao, Alla prossima volta,
The Italian Armstrong