An Evening at Tivoli

- Tivoli Gardens amusement park in central Copenhagen -

Last Week in Copenhagen

Christmas season is here! The Danish capital is slowly but surely turning into a winter wonderland. One can tell by the smell of mulled wine and apple cake taking over the city. Although I’m currently in a stressful exams-period, I make sure to give myself a mental break every now and then. So last weekend my sister visited me and we spent some quality time together sightseeing Copenhagen and eating delicious food. I took her to my favourite restaurants, cafés and bars, and we visited a couple of museums.

It was so nice to have her company, because this month has been mentally and emotionally draining. I already wished for this month to end before it even started, for so many reasons. The weather is darker and colder, work keeps piling up and everyone’s busy too. Fortunately my boyfriend’s coming to Copenhagen today - and it’s only eight days left till December, so better and brighter days are ahead (literally ☼).

The best is yet to come

Although November feels never-ending, this semester went by in a flash. In a way it’s sad that my time as a student is coming towards an end, but after almost six years at university I’m ready for a change. Next week I’m packing all my belongings, moving out of my apartment in Copenhagen for three months, flying off to London for a bit and then going home to Norway to spend time with my family. After that I’m traveling to Melbourne to celebrate Christmas and New Years Eve, and then I’m off to Southeast Asia where I’ll be based in Saigon for two months for some very exciting reasons, which I’ll probably blog more about later. Thanks for following and stay tuned for more!

Jet set lifestyle

Home to Norway

Time flies so fast now a days that I didn't even realise that it's been over a month since I last updated this blog. Here's a little update on what I've been up to lately: After the weekend in Istanbul I flew home to Norway during reading week to spend time with my family, which was much needed. Despite living closer to home now I feel more homesick than ever. I love living in Copenhagen, I enjoy being a "jetsetter" - but at the end of the day, there is no place like home with my family and my dog. 

 settling in Copenhagen

Just to give a quick glimpse of my life in Copenhagen so far: It's much more quiet compared to when I used to live in Edinburgh for sure. In Edinburgh everything was walking distance, I had people around me 24/7 and campus was just a five minutes walk away.  Unlike Copenhagen where it takes a bit more effort to get around and to meet up with friends who live on the other side of the city. Basically, Copenhagen feels like Norway in a nutshell sometimes; the weather, the food prices, the people and culture. In general, Scandinavians are just much more reserved than British people, which I'm starting to get used to again. Having grown up in Norway there hasn't been much of a culture shock.

Otherwise I'm just living the normal student life. I don't talk about it a lot because it's not that interesting to know, but I do spend the rest of my time off-travelling studying towards a master's degree after all. 

spontaneous trip to London

Anyway, it so happened one evening a couple of weeks ago that I received an e-mail where I had won tickets to see Sam Smith the following day at Tate Modern in London. Being the biggest fan that I am I impulsively booked a 9PM flight to London the same night (for £40 with Norwegian Airlines) and ended up spending a long weekend there; catching up with my girlfriends from uni, eat amazing food, celebrate Guy Fawkes Night for the first time and of course, see my favourite artist. And as someone who's in a long distance relationship, it was an extra bonus to get to see my boyfriend in London again. 

long weekend in Brussels & Antwerp + London

Last Friday I flew to Belgium, which I'd been looking forward to a lot. The flight ticket was only 110 DKK (approx.  £10) with Ryanair when I booked it last month so I thought why not - just breathing in Copenhagen would be more expensive. We (Rickie, his family and I) spent two days in Brussels and one day exploring Antwerp, before taking the EuroStar train back to London for his graduation ceremony on Monday (I booked my tickets quite late so I paid almost €60). I flew back to Copenhagen the next day, and again, my flight ticket was only £10 with Ryanair. And that, my friends, is what I call budget traveling.

It was an overall wonderful trip with good family quality time, amazing food and exploring new places together. More about my Belgium trip in the next post. 

Autumn feelings

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Feeling happy but sad after an amazing weekend in Copenhagen with my boyfriend who visited from London. After more than three years in a long-distance relationship you'd think it gets easier, but goodbyes are such a bittersweet feeling! Fortunately, I trust the timing of our lives and I know that there is a time and place for us to eventually settle in the same city in the future. As for now, we are embracing the magic of the moment and staying positive.

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Copenhagen Half Marathon

- The body achieves what the mind believes -

This weekend I completed Copenhagen Half Marathon! This was my second half marathon in six months (my last being the Meadows Marathon in Edinburgh), and I spontaneously signed up for the event by myself seven weeks ago while I was still living and working in Stavanger. Back then I had a really consistent fitness routine and I thought that signing up for the race would motivate me to keep it up. But moving between three cities, going on vacation, starting uni, eating cinnamon buns for breakfast etc., made it all very difficult to maintain an active lifestyle, and honestly, the final week leading up to the event I felt so anxious about the whole idea of having to run 21km when I could barely breath after 10km. But the body achieves what the mind believes and I did it!

21000 other participants from all over the world and an amazing atmosphere in the city on race day helped me push through the entire distance without stopping, despite getting soaked by a thunderstorm, hail hitting my face, mud reaching up to my ankle, and an injured right knee. Although I still have a way to go to hit my 2:00h-goal, I'm glad I didn't give up. I'm just more encouraged to train harder for next time. In running a half marathon it doesn't matter if I come first or last as long as I can say "I have finished", because there is a lot of satisfaction in that.

Otherwise I'm doing well, thanks for asking? Copenhagen is a wonderful city and my biggest challenge is to have self-control when I walk past Danish bakeries, which are basically located at every street corner. So far, struggling. Especially on Wednesday when there's something called "onsdagssnegle", which is basically an extra large cinnamon roll that they only sell on Wednesdays. I'm having one just now and it's so delicious. Any bets on how long it will take before I begin to roll?

Sticks'n'Sushi

Life has a funny way of working out. In one moment Sadia and I are studying in China together, celebrating New Years Eve in Shanghai and travelling around Taiwan. In the next moment we are flatmates in Copenhagen doing our master's degrees and having sushi dates in the weekends. However this happened, I'm in a very happy place now. Big cheers for new beginnings and nofilter-friendships - the best and funniest ones. And with appetites like ours, the most fulfilling too.

Copenhagen: A New Chapter Begins

- New beginnings -

And so it continues. These so-called new journeys I keep setting out on, where I pack all my belongings, move to a new city in a new country, and confuse people about where in the world I'm at and about what I'm doing in my life.  

Ever since I went on exchange to China two years ago, I've been living on the fast lane and somehow everything that has happened in between feels like a big blur. Just today I realised that it's been five months ago since I submitted my bachelor's thesis! How is it that I've graduated from university, completed a three-months summer internship in Stavanger, and started my master's in Copenhagen already?

It's been some hectic periods, but fast-forward to where I am right now and I couldn't be happier about how all things turned out. I'm currently settled in a bright new apartment in Copenhagen, enrolled in the fifth best entrepreneurship course in the world at CBS, surrounded by creative, like-minded people from all corners of the world who inspire me to be myself, be courageous and to fulfil my full potential. In other words, I'm really excited about the future and I look forward to document some of my upcoming experiences on this little blog of mine.

My Adventurous Year

I put together a compilation of all the countries and places I visited during my year abroad (2015-2016). I'm so glad I documented some of my experiences, not only to share with my family and friends, but for myself to have good memories to look back on. This was a year that really changed my life and I wouldn't be where I am today without each and every single moment of this journey.

Australia

Sydney & Melbourne


China

Shanghai      •      Ningbo      •      Taizhou      •      Beijing      •      Nanjing      •      Hangzhou


Taiwan

Taipei


Hong Kong


South Korea

Seoul


Japan

Tokyo & Hakuba


Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur


Singapore


MYANMAR

Yangon, Inle Lake & Bagan


Thailand

Phuket & Thailand

Sensō-ji

- Japan pt. 4 -

- Omikuji Paper Fortune -

Tokyo Skytree

- Japan pt. 3 -

Spot Mount Fiji in the distance

Skiing in Hakuba

- Japan pt. 1 -

When I said my dream was to travel to Japan, I never imagined myself at a ski resort in Hakuba with three of my best mates from China. Life has its funny ways of being adventures and spontaneous, and I'm so grateful for this amazing experience in the Japanese alps.

- Wonderful Winter Wonderland -

A photo posted by Martha Huynh (@marthahuynh) on

Post-Travel Blues

"The Hardest Part of Travelling that No One Talks About" by Kellie Donnelley

You see the world, try new things, meet new people, fall in love, visit amazing places, learn about other cultures – then it’s all over. People always talk about leaving, but what about coming home?

We talk about the hard parts while we’re away – finding jobs, making real friends, staying safe, learning social norms, misreading people you think you can trust – but these are all parts you get through. All of these lows are erased by the complete highs you experience. The goodbyes are difficult but you know they are coming, especially when you take the final step of purchasing your plane ticket home. All of these sad goodbyes are bolstered by the reunion with your family and friends you have pictured in your head since leaving in the first place.

Then you return home, have your reunions, spend your first two weeks meeting with family and friends, catch up, tell stories, reminisce, etc. You’re Hollywood for the first few weeks back and it’s all new and exciting. And then it all just…goes away. Everyone gets used to you being home, you’re not the new shiny object anymore and the questions start coming: So do you have a job yet? What’s your plan? Are you dating anyone?

But the sad part is once you’ve done your obligatory visits for being away for a year; you’re sitting in your childhood bedroom and realize nothing has changed. You’re glad everyone is happy and healthy and yes, people have gotten new jobs, boyfriends, engagements, etc., but part of you is screaming 'don’t you understand how much I have changed?' And I don’t mean hair, weight, dress or anything else that has to do with appearance. I mean what’s going on inside of your head. The way your dreams have changed, they way you perceive people differently, the habits you’re happy you lost, the new things that are important to you. You want everyone to recognize this and you want to share and discuss it, but there’s no way to describe the way your spirit evolves when you leave everything you know behind and force yourself to use your brain in a real capacity, not on a written test in school. You know you’re thinking differently because you experience it every second of every day inside your head, but how do you communicate that to others?

You feel angry. You feel lost. You have moments where you feel like it wasn’t worth it because nothing has changed but then you feel like it’s the only thing you’ve done that is important because it changed everything. What is the solution to this side of traveling? It’s like learning a foreign language that no one around you speaks so there is no way to communicate to them how you really feel.

This is why once you’ve traveled for the first time all you want to do is leave again. They call it the travel bug, but really it’s the effort to return to a place where you are surrounded by people who speak the same language as you. Not English or Spanish or Mandarin or Portuguese, but that language where others know what it’s like to leave, change, grow, experience, learn, then go home again and feel more lost in your hometown then you did in the most foreign place you visited.

This is the hardest part about traveling, and it’s the very reason why we all run away again.

Living & Studying in China

I've been getting a lot of questions about my year abroad in China, what I did and why I went there, how is it I travelled so much, did I even study? So I'd thought I'd write a little bit about it for those who's wondering - and perhaps even inspire someone out there to consider a similar experience in the future.

where

The city of Ningbo in Zhejiang Province. It's two hours south of Shanghai by train. Population: 7.6 million people. Duration of study: One full academic year from August 2015 to May 2016.

Why? 

The most common response I used to get when I said I'll be moving to China was why China? What's there to study in China? How are you going to live in China?? I received so much scepticism - the so-called "warnings" for going to China, let alone to live there for almost a year by myself. But I was lucky to have my best friends and family's support from day one so there was never any doubts of going. So to answer the 'why': Since I'm studying international business at Edinburgh uni, it was a mandatory part of my degree to spend my third year abroad as an exchange student. The location of host university was dependent on my first year's performance. I knew that if I wanted to get out of Europe, I had to prove well on my academic performance. It was my greatest motivation to work hard and accomplish certain results.

I landed on China because as a business student I think China will be a great boost for my future career. The advantages are so many considering the Chinese economy and its current relation to the rest of the world. Looking back I think living and studying in China was worth it just for the experience itself. I've learnt so much this past year that I probably would've been without had I decided to go somewhere else. Despite the many challenges, I don't regret it a second. 

Living in china

I lived in student accommodations on campus the whole year. The first semester I shared a flat with three other girls (all international students), while the second semester I decided to go en-suite just to get the feel of them both. I lived in two different student accommodation buildings but they were on the same site just a minute walk away from each other. I didn't live with any local Chinese students, because the university had a weird way of separating locals apart from the international students. It's a shame. 

THIS WAS THE VIEW FROM THE BALCONY OF MY STUDENT ACCOMMODATION BUILDING. THE BUILDINGS IN THE FAR BACK BY THE TREES IS WHERE I HAD ALL MY CLASSES AND LECUTRES; THE OVAL BUILDING WAS ONE OF THREE CANTEENS ON CAMPUS; THE BULDING ON THE LEFT IS ANOTHER STUDENT ACCOMMODATION BUILDING.

HOW and what DID I Study IN CHINA?

The university is the first sino-foreign university in China, so everything except Chinese classes are thought in English via a British education system. The teachers and professors are of mixed nationality, both Chinese and foreigners. The same with the students. Classes and lectures were pretty much similar to Edinburgh, although my timetable had bigger gaps. I strategically chose my courses so that some days I would only have one lecture or one tutorial. Or pack them all in on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays to get long-weekends every weekend when possible. 

First semester I studied four business courses and Mandarin. Second semester I studied five business courses and Mandarin, so all together 11 courses in a year which was doubled the amount that I was used to from Edinburgh. However the levels were very achievable, except language studies which was more challenging. I dedicated 3x more time and efforts studying Mandarin than I did with any business module. I passed all my courses with 2:1 and 1st but my fourth year still counts a 100%. 

Eating in china

'What did I eat in China' is probably the most frequently asked question because my mom would call and ask me everyday. I'm almost a bit sad to say that I can count how many times I cooked during my year abroad because it's probably less than twenty. There were so many food options on campus. I would walk down the stairs from my flat and get 10 dumplings for 13 RMB ( £1.50), walk fifty steps and have sushi on the right and a Chinese restaurant with hundred different dish offers on the left. Not to mention the three canteens that could put me in a food coma for less than 10 RMB. Basically, my diet was terrible in China. The food is tasty, I'm not gonna lie. But it's super greasy and not very nutritious at all. Yet eating out is much cheaper and time-efficient than cooking so that's what I did unfortunately. I ate a lot of fruit and vegetables but everything was so fertilised that at one point I almost gave up trying to eat healthy and instead I spend extra hours at the gym trying to compensate. 

Biggest challenges

  • The culture shock in the beginning because China felt like a different world. Read blog posts from my first weeks in China here.
  • The language barriers.
  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
  • Being so far away from my loved ones & the time zone differences. 
  • Seeing stray dogs and cats everywhere without being able to do anything about it.
  • The Great Firewall of China (Google, Facebook, Instagram etc: all blocked). I never had 3G on my phone during my whole time in Ningbo and the Internet connection was constantly slow when connected to Wi-fi.
  • Being an overseas Asian in China. Watch the story of my life:

Communication

I can get around with very basic Mandarin (survival Mandarin). I think I'd be able to travel around China comfortably by myself. I can also recognise about 300 Chinese characters, but yeah that's about it. I studied six hours of Mandarin per week in first semester and three hours in second semester. Additionally I did at least one hour individual study every day.

Making friends

I didn't befriend as many Chinese people at university as I hoped I would due to the lack of integration between locals and international students. But I made a few really good friends through a group project and my attendance at a singing contest. And I'm also super lucky to have had the opportunity to get to know quite a few local families in Ningbo who invited me to their homes and dine-outs twice every week. I still keep in touch with them today!

Do I recommend travelling to China?

I never oppose anyone going anywhere because I think all places needs to be experienced first-hand first. Someone's bad opinion about a country shouldn't prevent you from going because you might like it. Except when your health and safety are actually at great risk (e.g.: civil unrest etc). But yes, go to China! It's a wilderness at first, but go.  Just be prepared on the culture shock - it's going to happen if you're not used to it.

Since this post is getting pretty long so I'll answer more questions on a separate Part 2. I'll get into more details about my thoughts on China, and the topics of travelling. 

One Night in Bangkok

- All journeys have a secret destination of which the traveler is unaware -

I had a very interesting 'Night in Bangkok'. After a quite structured day with a packed itinerary, I decided to make the evening more spontaneous and ended up at Sky Bar Rooftop at Lebua, which was featured in the Hangover II movie. Note I was by myself again and it was definitely a Singapore-déjà-vu-moment. Once again my social anxiety seemed little to non-existent and I had no issue rocking up at this venue where people were having fancy cocktails with their friends while I stood there as a major loner asking for a glass of water. I probably would've avoided that scenario back in Europe but at this moment (as well as in Singapore) I just thought... Who actually gives a damn? I was having a great time enjoying this amazing view - for free! 

While I stood by the railing admiring the lights of Bangkok, another solo-traveller approached me and hence the rest of my night in Lebua was spent chatting away with this person from South Korea. I couldn't help but think how funny and coincidental it was that the very first person I met during my first days in Shanghai - and the very last person I met on my final Asia-adventure in Bangkok, were both Koreans - from the very same small town that I had never heard of before. 

As the clock passed 2am (did I mention I went for a two-hours long massage at 11pm), I got hungry (as usual) so I decided to grab a taxi to the nearest night market to get a take-away, then head back to the hotel to rest a couple hours before leaving to the airport. And in those next moments I got all these flashbacks from my last nine months in Asia... Thinking what a crazy, amazing, out-of-this-world experience this has been for me!? What a life-changing time of my life. You know, all those deep thoughts you suddenly get when you're eating Thai papaya salad at 3AM alone in Bangkok, having conversations with a sketchy taxi driver who could've been a murder or rapist for all I know. Looking back I think I was being a little crazy and naive, and I certainly will not tell my mom about this particular adventure - but as usual, everything turned out just fine. Another great personal memory for the books!