12.4.15

BIG CHANGES

So, you know how I've been totally MIA from Due East for over a month? Yeah, I apologize for that. But I've had some big changes happening around here.
First up: I moved back to the United States three weeks ago. Yes, a whole three weeks ago and, and somehow failed to mention it.
More importantly though...

PHIL AND I ARE ENGAGED!

Photo courtesy of our incredible photographer, Hannah Fine Photography
Since I'm a sucker for engagement stories (who isn't, secretly?) I thought I'd share ours. Because I think it's pretty fantastic. Though I'm potentially biased.

So after spending one week back home in Seattle, Phil and I flew to Washington DC where he and all his family lives. We had been planning on spending three weeks together in DC before flying to Norway for my good friends' wedding at the end of April. Phil wanted to be back in DC before Easter weekend though, because his mother is a music teacher and was directing an Easter musical at his church, and he wanted us to see it. 
We made it back to DC on April 1, with a few spare days before our only plan for the week: the musical. When the weekend came around, Phil's brother, sister-in-law, and nephew drove up from Richmond to join the musical party. 
We headed to church on Saturday for the musical, where lots of friends and family had come for the show. The performance went without a hitch, and afterwards there was a big lunch for everyone.
Now, what you're about to see is what happened after the musical, before the lunch. Jane (Phil's mom) goes up to thank everyone who performed in the musical, but notes that she wouldn't allow Jeff (a friend of ours) to play the accordion in the musical, even though he really wanted to. So, to make up for that, she would let him play one song for us since the musical was finished. 



When the song started, Phil was standing behind me kind of dancing with me to it. Phil will do anything in front of anyone (lack of shame or total confidence? I'll never know), and I get super embarrassed about doing stuff in front of a crowd. Specifically dancing. So, when you see him lead me to the center of the crowd, I was really annoyed because I thought he was making me slow dance in front of everyone to push me out of my comfort zone. I even turned to him at one point and said "Phil! I don't want to dance in front everyone!" which he didn't hear or ignored, because he continued pushing me into the center.
Of course, we reach the opposite side of the circle where he takes the ring from the singer (who had expertly been holding the box under his sheet music) and JKREWUQIOEUJKDOAIUEIUFIJOAKLDJKSLAJWIQOJDSAKLJDLSAK because I realize what is happening. 
As it turns out, a "musical" is just an inconspicuous way to get friends and family gathered for a surprise proposal. 
Well, a surprise only for me. I think 50% of the people there knew about it, because afterwards everyone came up and kept saying how nervous they were all day! And I had NO clue! 
The last week has been a whirlwind. I'm engaged, and currently planning our wedding for this (!) Summer. Why wait for a good thing, right? 

Current Summer to-do list:
-Write my Mater's dissertation
-Get married
-Move 3,000 miles across the country

Go big or go home, that's my motto. 
So, there are some pretty big changes happening in my life, and I can't wait to take you along for the ride!

PS I have a secret love for the accordion and I have no clue how Phil knew this. So, props to him for keeping it all a total surprise but also making it a really good one. 

PPS we've made the (obviously) most important decision for our wedding: the honeymoon! We'll be heading to Nicaragua for 8-days of wedded bliss in August. I'd be lying if I said that wasn't the most exciting aspect of all of this!

PPPS I realize that I look super short in the video, but it's really just an optical illusion, because Phil is super tall. I'm 5'7 and he's 6'4. And apparently I'm protective of that, hahaha. 


Have any expert wedding-planning tips? Any favorite spots in Nicaragua we shouldn't miss on our honeymoon? Have a super adorable proposal story yourself? Have literally anything nice at all to say because I'm floating on a post-proposal high and love everyone right now? Post it in the comments!


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8.3.15

A Surprise Trip to Norway and Finland










Sometimes I forget why I created this blog in the first place. Was it to show pretty pictures? To get the most followers? To make money?
It was more basic than all of that. It was simply to keep my friends and family updated and informed on my whereabouts, as they change so frequently.
I've been totally MIA the last few months, for several reasons. But after family and friends back home kept making comments like "I didn't know you went to Finland!" I realized that my lack of posting here affected more than just the number of readers I have.
So let's get back to the basics.

I went to Norway and Finland two weeks ago.
And nobody knew. Because it was kept a secret till after I went.
All for the sake of.... [drumroll] the bachelorette party of one of my best friends!
I was contacted by the Maid of Honor two months ago asking if I would be interested in coming to Oslo for a weekend bachelorette party, which of course I jumped on.
A weekend with one of the loveliest girls I know, in a beautiful city, with all sorts of fun events planned? Yes please.
As you may have guessed based on the secrecy, the bachelorette party was a total surprise. My friend lives in London with me, so the plan was for me to fly to London earlier in the day and meet up with her close friend in Oslo, while the Maid of Honor kidnapped her later in the evening and escorted her to Heathrow and on to Norway.
Surprise #1: flying to Oslo.
Surprise #2: me being in Oslo (she had no clue I would come).
I arrived in Oslo around noon Friday, and then spent the afternoon helping to prepare for the party and getting to know the area. I was the only non-Norwegian attending the party, so I planned to stick around for the full weekend and do a bit of exploring.
As it turned out, my friend was 100% surprised by both the party/flight and my appearance, making it a huge success. Plus, all the events planned went perfectly, including a group dance class that I was more than a little wary of (I'm making sure the video evidence will ever see the light of day, haha)
Fortunately/unfortunately though, because I was busy with the bachelorette party for the full weekend, I didn't do much typical sightseeing in the city. What I witnessed of Oslo was lovely, but I was too busy running around and having fun to take photos beyond my iPhone.
I'll be returning to Norway in April for the wedding, and look forward to really documenting the country then.

After a successful weekend in Norway, I headed home to London. But not before stopping off in Finland, where I had booked a 20-hour layover in Helsinki. One of my favorite travel techniques is to book an extended layover, because it's basically a free flight to a new destination. I didn't do any planning for my Helsinki trip, and figured I'd wing it upon arrival.
I got into the city around midnight and made it to my hostel with no issues (a marvel, considering my proclivity for getting lost), and ended up spending the next day simply walking the city. I stopped in at Fratello Torrefazione for coffee and reading (I highly recommend it; their latte was gold), and then found myself wandering the harbor.
It was absolutely freezing there, and the bay was frozen over in a thin layer of ice. It snowed as I entered the city the night before, but all that was left over by the following day was compact sleet on the sidewalks.
All in all Helsinki was lovely, though a very quiet and rather uneventful trip. Phil has big dreams of doing a Finland tour over the course of several weeks, so hopefully I'll get a chance to really soak in the city again in the future.
 
I have a love/hate relationship with solo travel. While I've only ever traveled solo on short-term trips (1-2 days long total), I've never really enjoyed them. I appreciate the learning experience that solo travel presents - how not to get lost, how to function on your own, how not to be dependent on others - but for the most part I find myself lonely and bored.
I'm a social butterfly. Give me a full day of hanging with a group and I'll be happy as a clam. But I'm not so social that I'm dysfunctional when I'm on my own. As a result, solo travel for me doesn't hold much appeal. I have so much more fun with others, why would I waste time and money to go out on my own? 
I have no shortage of friends and loved ones to venture round the world with, and a trip by myself seems like a missed opportunity to make memories with them. 
So, yes, Helsinki was beautiful. But I lost interest by mid-afternoon, because half the fun of exploring a new city is doing it with someone you love. Or at least someone to laugh with. 

So, you should go on a solo trip, at least once, because everyone should. But with a huge push for all women to go solo traveling (or so it seems there has been), don't feel disappointed if you don't love it as much as everyone else [seems to] does. Solo travel can be great for some people, but really disappointing for others. I fall in the latter category. 
Travel is wonderful, but do it the way that makes you happiest. 

Huh, that got a bit serious. Didn't mean for that to happen, haha. You should probably go read my hilarious story about my solo trip to Paris to lighten the mood. It's got flashing and closed airports and all the elements of a good misadventure. 









































What are your favorite locations in Norway and Finland? 

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28.2.15

Wait, what do you study? Discussing Psychological and Psychiatric Anthropology


This post is for everyone who holds a degree or job in an obscure subject. This is for the Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, the Ecogastronomists, the Biostatisticians, Clothing Engineers, and the Informatics out there. For anyone who gives a ten-minute lecture when asked what they do (and not just because they like to talk). We all have the curse of the unheard-of career. The type of job which has a 98% rate of "Huh?" as a response. But that's ok, because we know what we do and we love it.
So what do I do?
Psychological and Psychiatric Anthropology. (huh?)
Telling people what I'm getting my degree in is a cringe-worthy experience. Not because my degree isn't awesome (it totally is), but because nobody has any clue what it is. And that's not their fault; I didn't know this particular discipline existed until fairly recently myself.
"So you go to school in London? What do you study?"
"Oh, um, I'm getting my MSc in Psychological and Psychiatric Anthropology"
this is followed by one of three responses:

A) "Oh, that's cool... So you like living in London?" [has no clue what I've just said, afraid to ask me to repeat myself]

B) "Ahh, a shrink, huh? I might have to chat with you sometime, ha ha!" [Heard psychology and stopped there]

C) "Oh, sweet! So what kind of stuff do you dig up?" [skipped the psych part, misheard/understood anthropology as archaeology]


Induce the cringing on my part, because I'm left with two options (neither of which are particularly attractive):

A) Sound super annoying and/or pretentious and correct them, attempt to explain what I actually study

B) Smile and nod, ignore the fact that they obviously have no clue what it is I do; feel sad.

So what is psychological and psychiatric anthropology? Good question. I'm nearing the end of my coursework and am getting close to leaving for field research, which is incredibly exciting. But before I make any announcements about what my field research is and where I get to go to do it, I should probably make sure all my friends, family, and readers are on the same page about the basic meaning of my degree.
So let's do just that: start with the basics.

The term "anthropology" comes from the Greek "anthropos" meaning "people", and "ology" meaning "study of". Therefore, anthropology is the study of people.
But Taylor, lots of fields study people. What makes anthropology special?
Good point. Anthropology is one of several social sciences alongside psychology, sociology, and archaeology (among others). A famous Harvard scholar in the 80's determined that each of the social sciences was generally responsible for one particular aspect of human nature:
psychology = thought and behavior
sociology = social structure
archaeology = material objects
anthropology = culture
Obviously there is loads of crossover between these fields, especially in anthropology, since culture is an incredibly dynamic and multi-layered concept.
In fact, the term "culture" is still contested amongst anthropology scholars, and no one definition has ever been determined. How can you bound culture? Where is the cutoff? What is included?
I'll spare you the lecture, but I will clarify that culture encompasses nearly everything. Food, religion, belief systems, politics, gender, nationalism, dress code, career choice, everything.
I remember when I first spoke to my supervisor about the courses here, he said "anthropology is the art of becoming hyper-unspecialized" - and that's the best way of describing the discipline that I've come across.
So I study culture. Which means I study nearly anything so long as it affects human development.
But there is one more unique aspect to the field of anthropology, and that is the way we go about doing research. Unlike psychology which is based heavily on experimentation, and sociology which is highly statistical and uses surveys, anthropologists use a method of study called "participant observation".
This phrase can be broken down fairly easily: "participant" meaning "to join in" and "observation" meaning "to watch". Put together, the phrase participant observation seems slightly counterintuitive. How can you both participate and observe?
Well, we figure the best way to understand human behavior and culture is to see it in action. And the best way to do this is to participate in daily life, and observe how others experience it.
Participant observation isn't so simple as showing up and watching a group of people for a few weeks; it is a time-intensive long-term project. Anthropologists conduct participant observation for anywhere from 1-3 years at a time, sometimes even longer. This is because people act differently around strangers than they do around people they know well. To understand how people really work, they have to be comfortable around you, and you have to be comfortable around them. This takes time, it takes learning the language, and it takes a lot of work.
So, to sum: anthropology studies culture, and goes about doing so primarily through the practice of participant observation.

Before I move on, I'll make one more clarification. 50% of people I tell my degree to think I study archaeology. Why all the confusion? Well, archaeology is technically a sub-discipline of anthropology. So it's one of those rectangle/square scenarios (to be fair, I can't ever remember if all squares are rectangles or the other way around). Archaeologists study culture through material objects, and typically look at historical groups - though this isn't always the case. So those people who go on digs to find Incan pot sherds are Archaeologists. I do not go on digs, I do not study Incas. Anthropologists (almost always) study living groups, and while they may have interest in material objects and their uses, are more concerned with belief systems, activities, and behavior.

Cool. So now we are all clear about what anthropology is. But my degree is in Psychological and Psychiatric Anthropology. What the heck does that mean?
Well, I'll back up a bit. You know how I mentioned before that anthropologists study culture, and culture is basically everything? Well, to deal with this issue, there are dozens of sub-disciplines of cultural studies. Religious anthropology, educational anthropology, medical anthropology, and Anthropology of Gender, to name a few. So psychological and psychiatric anthropology? We are yet another sub-discipline of anthropology, and we study human behavior and mental illness in the context of culture.
Though it seems obvious enough, behavior, thought processes, belief systems, mental health - anything dealing with psychology - is culturally dependent. With everything else in the world being so heavily reliant on culture, why wouldn't behavior and mental health be as well?
There are two parts to my degree/discipline: psychology and psychiatry. The psychology part focuses on behavior, while (my specialty/area of interest) lies in psychiatry, which looks at mental illnesses.

Some topics a psychological anthropologist might study include:
-How do emotions vary between cultures? Are there universal emotions? (e.g, famously there is no word/concept for "sadness" in Tahitian)
-What constitutes as normal behavior for a certain group? Can normalcy be defined?
-When does a person have personhood? (e.g, you can gain or lose your status as a person depending on different experiences/beliefs)

On the other hand, some topics and psychiatric anthropologist might study includes:
-Symptomatic differences among mental illnesses considered universal (e.g, depression is thought to be widespread, but it has different symptoms in different places)
-Culture-bound mental illnesses (illnesses thought only to exist among a certain group of people or in a specific location)
-Local forms of mental health treatment and care (e.g what a local healer might do to treat schizophrenia)
-Why/how are shamans effective in their treatments? (e.g, many times shamans cure illness through folk treatment, contrary to the biomedical perspective)

There are loads of other topics that we study, but these are a few of the most popular/easily explained. I am most strongly interested in mental illnesses, specifically the idea of culture-bound mental illnesses. These are a highly debated subject (aren't all mental illnesses culture-bound to some degree?) but nothing will get me rambling faster than mentioning them in conversation (as a result, avoid mentioning to them to me in person if you don't want a 20-minute monologue).

Anthropologists can work in a variety of contexts, with most dreaming of doing field research full time. With an MSc, and hopefully a PhD within the next few years, I hope to work as a researcher and professor for a major university, or for an anthropology museum. Of course, the big dream would be to become a National Geographic adventurer and journalist, though that's not quite what a typical anthropologist does ;)
PS if any of you have a hookup with NatGeo, put in a good word for me.

I have the opportunity to do 8-weeks of field research for my degree, followed by writing up my master's dissertation to complete the course. I'll announce in the next few weeks my plans for research, when things are a bit more set in stone.


Do you have any more questions about my degree? Want to learn more about any of these topics? Be sure to ask in the comment section below, or send me an email!



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30.1.15

Reflections on Traveling Without a Camera




































Before our Eastern Europe trip, I made the bold decision to travel without my camera. Actually, I decided to travel with no electronics except my cell phone, but that's a different matter. The camera part is the focus, because as a novice photographer and travel blogger, it's verging on blasphemy to visit 7 new countries and have only blurry iPhone photos to account for the trip. If you're interested in understanding why I made this decision, I would urge you to read my article "Why I'm Not Bringing My Camera on My Big Trip".
So how did it go?
Likely, it went as many of you (and myself) predicted. Traveling without a bulky camera was one part freeing, and a second part disappointing. Here's why:

I had reduced anxiety. It was an incredible feeling not to have to cart around several thousand dollars worth of gear via plane, train, and automobile for fear of getting stolen or lost. I wasn't anxious about taking my camera out in public, I wasn't concerned about my bags being stolen, because for the exception of my wallet and passport, there wasn't anything to steal. Unless the thief wanted a backpack of dirty underwear and pilfered hotel toiletries, in which case, have at it. This was definitely the best part about not bringing my camera: I didn't have that constant paranoid thought at the back of my mind that every lurking stranger was going to run up and grab my bag.

I was so much more comfortable - physically. Because we were backpacking this trip (perhaps in the loosest usage of the phrase - we were just only using backpacks, not actually hiking/walking everywhere), I had a backpack of all my clothes and things, and then (usually) I use a cross-body camera bag for all my camera gear. Carting around a medium-sized backpack along with a messenger bag for several hours straight leads to very sore back and shoulders. This is mostly the fault of the camera bag, which adds an additional 10-ish pounds to one shoulder, which you have to switch off and on throughout the day. Not bringing my camera meant that I didn't have to beg Phil for back massages at the end of the day, or walk slightly at an angle. In this sense, ditching the camera was beneficial for my physical health (though investing in a good camera backpack would solve this problem in the future).

I really did live in the moment. It was so much fun to be fully present with Phil at all times. I know I can get easily distracted by whipping out my camera every few minutes for a can't-miss photo, which he would never complain about but which certainly distracts from our time together. Without my camera, we were free to adventure, talk, joke, and laugh as much as we wanted without frequent pauses. In this sense, I truly enjoyed the trip; it was some of the most fun I've ever had with Phil, and I am grateful for it.

I missed some incredible photo opportunities. Onto the cons. By far the worst part of not bringing my camera was missing out on photos I'll probably never have a chance to take again. We witnessed some truly beautiful and incredible sights, things I wish I had been able to photograph but won't get the opportunity to again. I cringe when I think about some of these scenes - the sun rising over Romanian mountains coated in snow, wandering through empty streets of small Bulgarian towns, sunsets over the Prague horizon, stunning sights that were imbued with the comfort and laughter of the moment. I'm saddened that I can't look back through an album and smile, remembering the trip as it happened.

I don't have anything to show friends and family. It's one thing to describe a scene, but it's a whole other to actually view it. I really wish I had photos that I could show people; photos make a story real, not just the memory of a friend. Plus, as my friends and family will all verify, I'm terrible at actually telling stories. I'm long-winded and include way too many unnecessary details. It's to my benefit I have photos to guide my stories along, to give them substance. Plus, people want to see photos. We are so visual, it's more exciting to see photos than to hear a story (often).

I actually missed taking photos. Who knew that taking the photos - not just looking at the results afterwards - was so much fun? I guess a lot of people could have told me that, but I didn't realize how much I enjoyed the process of photography until I couldn't practice it.

So was it worth it? Though I did experience many good things as a result of leaving my camera at home, I don't think it was worth it, overall. I love photography and I love traveling; I don't ever want one to distract from the other. I think there is a way to balance the relationship, and this is just something I have to work on. I am glad I went along for the experiment - it was certainly helpful in developing my thoughts on the matter. So in this one case, going camera-less was worthwhile. On future occasions though, I will likely bring my camera.

Want to see photos from my trip? I may share a few on here, but your best bet is to follow me on Instagram. I posted from every city we visited - you can follow along with our trip on there! You can find me @taylaurrr

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