Monthly Archives: May 2012

My Swap Meet Find: Prisoner of Tehran

A few weeks ago I went to Kobey’s Swap Meet here in San Diego. (For my Southern readers, swap meet = flea market.) Kobey’s is a cultural experience in itself. Walking up and down the table-laden aisles, I heard Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin spoken by both the buyers and the sellers. That’s just proof that all nationalities like a good deal!  For the most part, I go to Kobey’s to browse through junk and buy books at a $1 a piece. On my last visit, I got 6 for $5 and was thrilled.  While not all of my book purchases were worthy of the $1 price tag, Prisoner of Tehran, A Memoir by Marina Nemat was worth $5 on its own.

Although born and raised in Tehran, Iran, Marina Nemat was not the typical Iranian child. Her father a dance instructor, her family of Russian decent, and herself a devout Christian, Marina’s way of life contradicted everything that was associated with the Islamic Revolution of 1979. But it was when she demands to be taught calculus, rather than Islamic political propaganda that she was marked as an enemy of the Iranian government and imprisoned at the age of 16 in Evin, an infamous political prison outside of Tehran. In Prisoner of Tehran, Nemat details her life in prison as well as her childhood leading up to that ominous day.

My interest in the experiences of Middle Eastern women has significantly increased over the past month. Between reading My Embassy Letters and watching Salaam Dunk and Beauty Academy of Kabul, I have learned pieces of the current situation in the Middle East but have lacked awareness of the historical background.  Prisoner of Tehran provides significant insight into the timeline of women’s rights in Iran and helped my fill in some of my historical holes. Not only did Prison of Tehran inform me, but it was also well-written, honest, and redemptive. Nemat has excellent flow and I was able to finish the whole book in 4 days.

If you are looking for a good read that will challenge and enlighten you, I would highly recommend Prisoner of Tehran.


Navigator’s Delight: 7 Fun Ideas for Map Decor

I have noticed a trend among my traveling companions that we all love maps. Whether vintage, scratch-off, or artistic, there is something that draws us to them.  Perhaps it brings back the good ol days when we were lost in Venice, Cusco, or Kyoto.  Navigator, I am not!  Here are some fun ways I’ve found recently to incorporate maps into home decor:

Kate Sproston Designs pillows could mark the location of your soul mate or soul city. 

Shed some light on the world (or through it) with the All Around the World Hanging Pendant from Naturally Heartfelt.

I saw these scratch-off maps at Paper Source yesterday and want one for me! 

16 maps + 1 frame = all the places I love on Sassafassed

Chalk the world up with HANNAHJM’s Chalkboard World Map

Add some extra seating with this pouf from Impressionen.

Give the kitchen a mini make-over with mapped drawer pulls from Sherri Truitt.

For more map ideas, check out these Pinterest boards:


Abroad Blog of the Week: Soulshine Traveler

If you are looking for adventurous inspiration, Soulshine Traveler is a blog you should definitely check out.  Taking a year off from the corporate world starting last October, Meghan is traversing the globe on the roads less traveled and serving along the way. Currently she is in the small city of Yaroslavl, Russia with Cross-Cultural Solutions (a great international volunteer organization!) working in the community for the next two months.  I’ve only been onto this blog for about 2 weeks but here is what I love so far:

  1. Soulshine’s photos would make just about anyone want to go to Russia.  Unfortunately Russia is usually not on the top of someone’s travel bucket list but I think Meghan’s photos may just be the nudge someone would need to add it to the list. For example (wow, right?):     
  2. Each week on Soulshine Traveler, Meghan shares a variety of online resources she has stumbled upon pertaining to her interests, travel, other blogs, etc. Check out her most recent Dose of Soulshine – the Diary of Foreign Language Class Clown is a good one.
  3. Meghan is an excellent storyteller. I have never been to Russia, however, when I read her last post I could imagine myself in Yaroslavl. Her travel stories are a fond reminder of my own independent global adventures and are truly a delight to read.
  4. But what I think I love most I found out last night in a message from Meghan. She shared with me that she never studied abroad but that perhaps this year of traveling is making up for that.  I have so many students that think once college comes and goes, their chance at seeing the world is over.  I think Soulshine Traveler is indication that this simply is not true. It serves as a good reminder to me (and I hope you) that the world is only a decision away.

Ethnic Food Fair at Balboa Park

If you ever visit San Diego on a Sunday, Balboa Park is a must.  Each Sunday afternoon from 12pm to 4pm, the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages showcase national traditions from around the world.  This Sunday hubby and I headed to the International Cottages for the annual Ethnic Food Fair.  Each house was open for viewing and had a variety of traditional foods for sale.  There was also great (FREE!) entertainment representing various countries.  Here are some pictures from our ethnic outing:

Dragons danced through the streets courtesy of the House of China.

The House of Argentina served grilled sausages – delicious!


Each house decorates both the inside and the outside to represent their home country.

The Beauty Academy of Kabul

While flipping through Netflix, I came across the documentary The Beauty Academy of Kabul.  Having been thoroughly entertained by Salaam Dunk, I liked the idea of another documentary based on women in the Middle East and I was not disappointed.  The documentary follows the opening of the first beauty school in Kabul, Afghanistan led by 6 American instructors (3 of which were Afghan refugees) and starting with 20 Afghan students.  The film depicts the reactions of the refugees returning to Kabul, the hardships that the students go through to get the training, and the culture of beauty that is hidden due to the Taliban regime.  The film is really well done and worth the download.


Elise’s Piñata Coconut Cookies

In the US, this weekend marks the beginning of summer.  The pools open, school gets out, and its time to throw a FIESTA! For a student event we had a few weeks ago, I thought we could have a little Mexican flare.  (Warning: the food for this event was not authentic but rather inspired by Mexico.  I’m still working on my cooking abilities so you’ll have to forgive.) For decorations, a good old fashion sombrero served as our chip container and then some homemade tissue flowers gave a little more color to the table.  Our menu included fresh watermelon (for $.29 a pound, I couldn’t refuse), individual Mexican layer dip, and Elise’s Piñata Coconut Cookies.

Note on the piñata cookies: So everyone has been raving about these Piñata Cookies from Project Denneler on Pinterest, blogs, etc.  They have real treats inside!

I 100% agree that these cookies look amazing but I ran into several problems when attempting to make them: 1) they take a TON of dough, 2) they take a TON of time, and 3) I am just not this skilled at baking yet.

Here is my much easier version of piñata cookies:



  • 1 package Pillsbury sugar cookie refrigerator dough (or your own sugar cookie recipe)
  • 1 can vanilla icing
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • Food coloring


  1. Roll out Pillsbury dough to 1/4 inch thickness and cut out donkey shapes (our in my case, cut out giraffe shapes and mold into donkeys)
  2. Bake according to directions
  3. Divide coconut into four bowl and stir in 3-4 drops of different food coloring into each bowl – I did red, blue, yellow, and orange
  4. Once cookies are cool, spread vanilla icing and then sprinkle coconut in lines to give the striped look

 They aren’t quite as cute as above but they do the trick…and tasty too!

The Art of Choosing

Sheena Iyengar just took me around the world in 18 minutes through her talk, “The Art of Choosing,” on TEDGlobal.  Although based at Columbia University, she starts her lecture with an experience in Japan where she tells a story about ordering tea.  From there Dr. Iyengar humorously, yet with scholarly background describes how the concept of choice varies around the world in comparison to the U.S.  She addressed the following American assumptions regarding choice and how these assumptions hold up in other cultures:

  1. If a choice affects you, you should be the one to make it.
  2. The more choices you have, the more likely you are to make the best choice.
  3. You must never to say “no” to choice.
Her talk reminded me of my experience choosing a college.  My dad was pretty determined that I should go to Emory University so I applied early decision, was accepted, and enrolled without applying to any other colleges.  At the time I was furious because I felt I didn’t have a choice.  It’s a story I tell students often and I always joke at the end that it was the best decision my dad ever made for me (it really was).  It’s funny the responses I get depending on who I tell.  My American students tend to be slightly appalled that I didn’t decide where to go to school, however, when I’ve told international students my story, I don’t get the same reaction. What are your thoughts on choice?

First Postcard through Postcrossing

A few weeks ago a student introduced me to after I told her about my love for postcards.  (I shamelessly try to bribe students to send me postcards from abroad.)  Postcrossing is a postcard swap, unlike regular pen pals. There is no reciprocation between members (unless desired). It allows you to mail your postcards all over the world and receive postcards from all over the world.  In the past two weeks, I’ve sent postcards to the Netherlands, Russia, Taiwan, Japan, Germany, and Canada.  But yesterday, I received my first one from New Zealand.  If you are a stamp collector, love to give/get mail, or just interested in an international exchange, this is a great way to do it.  Check out a few of my postcards that I’ve sent and my first arrival!


This is the one I just got!


Start sending your own postcards by signing up for an account at

Abroad Blog of the Week: Fluent in 3 Months

I came across Fluent in 3 Months this past week when a friend posted on his Facebook 29 Life Lesson in Traveling the World 8 Years Straight. The blogger, Benny, has been traversing the globe for (you guessed it!) 8 years and learning new languages along the way.  His blog is funny, insightful, and he brings in a variety of guest bloggers to spice it up.  I thoroughly enjoyed this Life Lessons list and think there is a lot to be appreciated from his experiences.  All 29 are pretty good but these were the ones that resonated with me the most:

1. Everyone everywhere basically wants the same thing

100% true

5. Seek out people with different beliefs and views of the world to yours and get to know their side of the story

It was actually at Emory University as a college student that I learned the value of this principle.  Having grown up in a sheltered suburb of Atlanta with little diversity, I started college incredibly closed-minded.  Surrounded and forced to interact with students who were of various faiths, sexual preferences, socio-economic statuses, and ethnicities, I finally was able to realized how really we are so similar and my role is to love, not judge.

15. Modern foreign culture does not have to satisfy your stereotypes

This one and number 5 go so hand-in-hand. I find it is so easy to stereotype other cultures and try to fit a whole county into a nice little box. Not only have I succumb to this abroad, but I’ve also been guilty here in the U.S. Think about the common stereotypes we have in the U.S.: people of certain ethnicities can’t drive; people from a certain country are here illegally; or this certain people group is lazy. If I take the time to get to know people, the likelihood that I will try to fit them into a box severely decreases. 

20. Wear sunscreen

Of course I have to agree with this one…my hubby is a dermatologist

23. Making new friends is easy and so is appreciating your current ones

This one reminded me of a recent experience.  I was at a wedding a few weeks ago by myself and the woman next to me befriended me.  We had little in common – I knew the bride, she knew the groom; we were probably 20 years apart in age; she’s a nurse, I’m a study abroad advisor; the list goes on.  But despite our differences, she saw a young woman on her own and decided to pull me in her circle. I cannot express how thankful I was. It made me really think about how I act when I am in the position of comfort.  Do I invite outsiders in, especially those of different cultures? I’m not as consistent as I would like…but I do hope to improve.

That is Very Pinteresting

Have you gone pinsane with Pinterest?  They finally have created a social media tool that I LOVE and I have gone a bit wild with pinning over the past few months!  Pinterest has given me inspiration for internationally themed parties, recipes, and destinations.  Click the pictures below to check out some of my favorite travel-themed Pinterest sites for vacation ideas, books to read, and incredible global photography.  Don’t have Pinterest?  Post a comment and I’m happy to send you an invite!

100 Places to Visit Before I Die

  BootsnAll Indie Travel


The Purple Passport

Conde Nast Traveler

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