Posts in People

Making Friends Abroad

Hi everyone,

how are you today?

I have been thinking about friendship and making friends abroad more specifically a lot lately and wanted to share my thoughts with you. Friendships are so special as they’re so different from any other type of relationship in our lives, right?

I had posted a piece about making new friends roughly a year ago (see here) and I am very happy to report: I’ve been successful.

Go me!


Is it easy to make new friends?

That’s a question I get asked a lot back home. Here’s what I’d usually answer.

Living abroad for two years is an immense privilege so I take it for what it is: A gift. Most people I’ve talked to that find themselves in a similar position would support this statement. It also doesn’t hurt living in an inspiring and international place like Cambridge where so many talented and bright people come together from all over the world. It’s a great starting point to making new friends I’d say.

And it was for me too. I am so grateful for having found new friends and having been able to build a new circle of trust within a few months only. A majority of people you’ll meet here aren’t originally from Boston nor are they from Massachusetts. Many are from China, India, South Korea, Japan, Europe, Mexico, South America, and the list goes on. And being away from home will force you to being open to making new connections.

Because be honest, you probably don’t go out actively seeking new friends in your hometown, don’t you? I can only speak of my personal and Swiss experience but I feel like I used to be especially lazy in that department. Looking back, I probably could have been more friendly with outsiders I met, I could have invited them over for a coffee or showed them around the city. But I didn’t. And if this American experience has taught me one thing then it’s this: To be more open-minded towards (and more friendly with) people who’ve moved to a new place.

Do you think you you’re open towards newcomers in your town?

The Native-Speaker-Friendship-Phenomenon

I will forever be grateful for meeting so many awesome people. It sounds cliché but interacting with an eclectic bunch of people will really widen your horizon and you’ll learn so many things. Even though we couldn’t have more different backgrounds and home countries, there is one thing that unites us: The experience of leaving home and starting a new life in a new country. We’re on this crazy ride together and share our experience of living in the US as Non-Americans. And that is something incredibly valuable already. Knowing that others go through similar struggles and find similar things about American daily life funny (or weird or both) will undoubtedly bring you closer.

What I also found is that your relation with your native language will change over time. I strongly believe that the saying ‘Distance makes the love grow fonder’ not only applies to people or things but also to language. I seize every opportunity to speak German therefore also greatly appreciate friendly people that speak it (I also call it the native-speaker-friendship-phenomenon).

The emotional attachment to your native language

The emotional attachment to a language is something fascinating. I realize how precious my native language is especially when talking to Swiss friends here in Boston. There is such freedom and beauty in being able to expressing your thoughts and feelings in an unfiltered way and one that feels so obvious and natural to you that you don’t even have to think twice.

As there are not that many Swiss people readily available in Boston, I have to extend my circle of German speakers to German and Austrian friends. And you know what? They are great too.

To my Boston friends reading this, I really appreciate each and every one of you, you make this American journey what it is and I’ll be forever grateful.

To my Swiss friends reading this, you’re great too (obviously) but think if you can be extra-nice to someone that’s moved to Switzerland or your town recently (unless said person is an idiot, then you don’t have to be extra-nice, I trust your call on this).



Why I Love Volunteering

Quickly after arriving here one of the first things I did was sign up with Boston Cares (see here for more info). They are the largest volunteer agency in New England and they find non-profit organizations in the Boston area that can use the help of volunteers. They put all the opportunities together on their platform where you can sign up for them. Ever since I have been volunteering every week, on average 3-4 times.

I’ve prepared and served meals at the Boston Living Center, the Women’s Lunch Place, I’ve assembled food donations at the American Red Cross, I’ve helped out in food pantries, where food is handed out twice a week to folks in the neighborhood of the East End House in Cambridge,  I’ve planted bulbs on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Those are just a few examples of volunteering jobs I have been doing and this month I’ll be doing a couple of new ones (select books for prisoners, work at different food pantries and serve at a veteran’s center).

Why I love volunteering

Volunteering is something I have always wanted to do. Back in Switzerland, I had inquired a few times with the Red Cross and Caritas on how I could get involved, yet I never followed through with it. That was mainly due to my work schedule that didn’t allow for leaving early during the week or taking time off to do it. Coming here was the best opportunity to really get the volunteering thing going. And I couldn’t be happier. There are a number of reasons why:

#1 Getting involved

I become involved with the community, the city and its people, which gives me a sense of belonging and being connected with the place I now live in.

#2 Gaining new experiences

I have learned so much during those last months. Seeing how a kitchen that produces food for larger groups of people really works was a new experience for me. Learning how to properly cut up vegetables, too (I mean, I know how to handle a knife now. Thanks to Raffael at the Boston Living Center).

I’ve learned a lot about plants and how a city park is maintained when working on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. I’ve learned how to properly plant bulbs (never done that before, now I know) and not to freak out too much every time I see a big ol’ worm when digging up the holes for the bulbs.

#3 Creating connections 

I also get to know a ton of new people every time I volunteer. Be it on the volunteer side or on the side of people we serve. I’ve experienced heart-warming encounters with people that I will never forget.

Once, I got to meet an elderly woman from Haiti with a beautifully friendly face. In the short interaction I had with her when serving her food, I noticed her French accent and talked to her in French. Her face instantly lit up and she had a lot of questions. Why do you speak French? Ah, Switzerland, I have relatives there. I am so happy to talk French to someone. No one does speak it around here. She asked if I had children, a husband. And even though she never had seen Philipp before she told me to tell him she said hello. It seemed very important to her that I’d do that. She also told me to come back next week on the same day so we could chat again. This very simple interaction made my day. I was happy to talk to her. She was happy to talk to me. 

There really have been countless other experiences like a man that I got to know at the Living Center that is  just such a talented piano player. One day I asked him while he came to get the food in the line if he would play again today (there’s a piano in the canteen). He nodded yes, smiling happily. I noticed how proud he was and it made me even more happy.

#4 Learning about people and about myself 

I’ve learned about the homelessness system in Boston, about how families struggle in the area, about what is important in your diet when you are affected by HIV/Aids.

Those are issues I never was confronted with in Switzerland. I am aware that there are also people in need in Switzerland, still it hits me even more here. I see people every week that are struggling to get through the week.

And this is when I realize how privileged I am. I don’t have to think about what I buy in the supermarket, how long it is going to last me. I don’t have an illness that I have to cope with. I have a home. I have a family and friends that care for me.

I happen to be lucky.

The interaction with the people I meet every week reminds me of how grateful I have to be and how I want to help them even more. Even if it’s just a very little help I can offer.

#5 Giving back and helping others 

This one is closely related to the last point: We are pretty lucky, right? That is why I feel obliged to give back. I want to help if I can. As simple as that.

I hope this wasn’t too long of a post, I hope it might inspire you to look into ways how you could contribute to your community in a positive way! Have a good day!

My September Favorites

Long time no Favorites post.

So without further ado, here come the things that made it on my September favorites list. What things have you been loving lately?


Seriously guys, watch this Netflix documentary! I NEVER was a fan of hers, I found all those costumes and wigs to be too much to be honest. BUT. This documentary changed my opinion on her  (my friends can attest that I have been harassing them to watch it over the last couple of days). You’ll get a glimpse into her life, her views on women in the entertainment business and on living with chronic pain. I don’t know if I was already feeling emotional but I definitely had to cry. Let me know what you thought!

#2 Everything lululemon

Buying lululemon work out gear seriously was a gamechanger. The quality is beyond amazing and worth the investment. I’m most willing to spend money on leggings and sports bras because I feel like that’s were the good quality is most important. What do you like investing in when it comes to work out gear?

#3 Everything Meyer’s Clean Day

Can you tell that I’m old? I’m including cleaning products in my favorites. Seriously though, the products by Meyer’s Clean Day are amazing. And that’s something that I really think Americans got down better than us Europeans. There’s so much choice in the cleaning section here. Bonus: They’re not full of nasty chemicals but smell delicious AND get the job done. WIN-WIN!

#4 American Fall Traditions

I’m looking forward to go apple picking, to having hot apple cider and cider donuts, basically everything apple related. Or pumpkin related (more on that to come soon). I hope to be able to go apple picking soon with friends, in case you’re a local and interested in some suggestions on where to go, check out this helpful map.

#5 Breakfast LOVE

I’ve just recently realized that breakfast really is my favorite meal of the day. Especially now the days get to be a little colder again I am all into my porridge with freshly chopped up fruit. A new favorite of ours is to put a liiiiittttleee tiny bit of maple syrup on it. It gives the whole thing a great and delicate little flavor, love it! What’s your favorite meal of the day?


My 5 Favourite YouTube Channels At The Moment

Ok, so I promised to be real around here.

And I am. If I have a guilty pleasure it has to be watching YouTube. Today’s is going to be about my top 5 favourite YouTube channels.

Yes, I know know. I watch YouTube for escapism reasons (all of my fellow media and communications friends will know what I mean). Anyways, in case you want to relax and just consume something entertaining (because the thought of actually actively doing something seems difficult or watching something too complicated and demanding). So, those are my 5 favorite YouTube channels, maybe there’s something in for you, too. (I just realized that selection might be a bit more feminine, sorry guys).

#1 The Anna Edit

Well Anna, if you’re ever reading this. I WANT TO BE YOUR FRIEND! While that might make you feel all cringy I think we’d really hit it off. Yes I do. For all of you who are interested in lifestyle, beauty, food and bits of fashion but all in a really cool and easy and not over the top kind of way, this is your channel. Also, can we take a moment to just listen to this beautiful English accent, so nice!

#2 Estée Lalonde

I’ve been following Estée’s channel for a few years now. She’s Canadian but moved to London for love and is now making videos about all things London lifestyle, beauty, interiors, style in general, books and the list goes on. She has also made a few videos on the topics of feminism and the stylishness and the house Estée lives in are JUST ON ANOTHER LEVEL. So beautiful.

#3 Pick up Limes

I’ve discovered Saida’s channel only a few months ago but really appreciate this nutritionist’s videos on minimalism, vegan recipes and just life tips and hacks in general. You really see the effort she puts in every video and her voice has just something so soothing to it. Don’t you think?

#4 Sarah’s Day

This Australian girl is just so nice. Her accent is, too. She also seems to be super easy going and approachable. Besides showing us the great life of living in Sydney she is all about that healthy fitness and food lifestyle. Check her out if you’re into that!

#5 SORTEDfood 

It’s all about the food. Need I say more? Cool (is it ok to still use cool?) and inspiring channel, check it out yo.

And last but not least, my all time favorite not needing to be in a top 5 because it is just the best…is… might have guessed it: Yoga with Adriene!

Let me know what your favorite channels are if you have any!


#ChallengeMeJune Week 3: Paying a Compliment to Someone Every Day

Hello everyone,

how has this summer been treating you so far (besides being boiling hot)?

Welcome to this third report of my #ChallengeMeJune series. This time I tried to pay a compliment to someone (to people I knew or to people I didn’t know) at least once a day for one week. I have to say that Americans are pretty great at giving compliments. They will stop you on the streets to compliment you on your shoes, your scarf or your hair (they will, trust me, happened to me before). I usually give people compliments anyway but thought it was fun to be more reflective about it for a week.

Read on more about why paying compliments to someone is a great thing and why you should give it a try (in case you’re not a professional compliment giver already, in that case you’re dismissed and don’t have to read this).

Why should I pay compliments to someone you ask?

#1 It takes the focus off of you

That might sound complicated at first but hear me out. If you’re having a bad day, paying a genuine compliment to someone can make their day a little nicer, and you will feel better than before as well.

#2 It makes the person you pay a compliment perform better!

Study researchers in Tokyo trained 48 adults to perform a task that required them to tap items on a keyboard in a specific pattern. Then the adults were split into three groups. One group received personalized, individual compliments from one of the administrators of the study. Another group was forced to watch as other people received compliments. The third group was simply meant to evaluate how they did, as participants, on the test. When the participants returned to the testing facility the next day, all of the participants were asked to perform the finger test once again. The group that received personalized compliments performed better on the test that day than either of the other groups. Researchers believe that the compliments made them perform better.

The researchers were able to find scientific proof that a person performs better when they receive a social reward after completing an exercise. There seems to be scientific validity behind the message ‘praise to encourage improvement’. Complimenting someone could become an easy and effective strategy to use in the classroom and during rehabilitation (see source here).

#3 Compliments build trust

Each one of us walking this planet has the desire to be acknowledged. When someone else notices even the slightest thing about another person, it can shout to that person, “Hey!  Someone noticed me!!” Your daily compliments to “the shy one” at work whose name no one knows can help her break out of her shyness and, who knows? turn her into the best friend you’ve ever had. We all need someone in our lives we can trust, and the more we build up others the more we’re also building up ourselves.

#4 What goes around comes around

When you give a compliment, you’re more than likely going to get one in return. As simple as that! But obviously don’t go around paying compliments expecting that people must return it.

Who I payed compliments to during this week

Day 1: To a 2 week old baby of friends I’ve visited. I just said how perfect he was and how cute his hands and fingernails were. To what the new mother replied they were quite dangerous as they grew so fast and the little one would scratch himself. Still, they were cute. 

Day 2: To an old man (he was with his lovely wife, don’t you worry) at the line before checking in at the airport. We did small talk about where we were flying to. They turned out to fly to Athens to visit family. I then said that I loved Athens and the food. He seemed so happy about it and kept on telling me about all the foods he was looking forward to eat. 

Day 3: Told Philipp that he is a great human being (just in general)

Day 4: Told my grandmother that she looked really well and fresh.

Day 5: Told my pregnant friend how relaxed she seemed.

Day 6: Told a friend how good she looked.

Day 7: Told a friend how lovely her shorts were.

I obviously didn’t limit myself to only one compliment per day, the sky is the limit if you will. I was just a bit rubbish at remembering them (should have written them down but…no). Anyway, there is no such thing as too many compliments, as long as they are genuine of course. So give it a try! You will feel better and the person receiving them, WIN-WIN! 

Try it! Be nice to someone right now and see what happens.

Meet Fernanda, Ly and Mattias (Part 2)

Hi people,

how are you? I guess you must be doing well, as it is F-R-I-D-A-Y! Yay! Happy weekend!

Join me today for the second and final part of the interview I did with the phenomenal trio Ly (Vietnam), Fernanda (Brazil) and Mattias (Sweden). We’re going to talk about adjusting to a life in a new country and looking back on their experience in the US. As applied for part 1 if you’d rather like us hear speaking, click on the corresponding audio files below.

Settling in

Sandra: What was the easiest or the hardest part in adjusting to your new life here in the US?

Fernanda: I’m going to say that the best part of living here is that it is very convenient. Especially living in Cambridge. It has a bit of a small town, suburban feeling to it, still you have Boston close by. You don’t need a car. Also, I really like being able to head down to CVS at 2am in the morning for ice cream. In Rio, shops close very early. On the other hand, things here are very expensive compared to Rio.

Sandra: What do you find to be most expensive, the food, the cost of living?

Fernanda: I wanna say health insurance. It’s painful how much it costs…

Sandra: Yeah, that’s true, I think that both Switzerland and the US are two of the countries within the OECD that pay most for health insurance.

Fernanda: The hardest part was maybe speaking to people. I wasn’t too confident in my English when I first arrived. I’m very shy and have some trouble speaking to people anyway, so talking in another language I don’t feel so comfortable in, was even more challenging for me.

Sandra: What do you miss the most?

Fernanda: Besides my family and friends it has to be the food. I miss being able to go to a café and have something savoury and not always sweet stuff with my coffee for example. I have to do it myself that’s frustrating (laughs). Also, people in Rio are very warm and open and you can basically start a conversation with everyone if you’d like to. It’s not that I particularly like that but now that I’m gone I miss it. Same goes for music. I never used to be into Samba music but for some reason, now that I live abroad, I love it! I listen to it every day to wake up.

Sandra: Does Mattias also listen to Swedish music to wake up?

Mattias: No, not really. Every now and then I will listen to a Swedish jazz orchestra. I don’t do lots of Swedish things I guess. I came here for the American music of course (everyone laughs).

Sandra: Of course. What was the easiest or hardest part for you in settling in here in the US?

Mattias: It was mostly easy to adjust ourselves to the new life here. Having moved a lot and having lived in a lot of countries has influenced us in the sense that there’s only a few basic things we need to buy to make us feel at home.

Sandra: What are those?

Mattias: Something like a good kitchen knife for example, kitchen stuff basically. Back in China and a few other countries it used to be a window scraper. Those are multi tools for getting water away from showers in the bathroom, the kitchen and stuff.

Sandra: Do you have one now?

Mattias: No. In general it’s cooking in a place and then everything will feel at home. That’s how it has been the last couple of times we moved anyway. And in Cambridge everything feels very nice. I really like that it feels like a small place that is connected to a bigger place like Boston. I’d even say that out of all the places I’ve lived I feel most at home here.

Sandra: Why is that? Besides the home cooking.

Mattias: Cambridge kind of feels like the village I am from in the north of Sweden, just bigger. It’s more spread out. The lushness of the trees, the smell of the bushes, how it looks. It kind of reminds me of my hometown that makes me feel a bit nostalgic.

Sandra: What about you, Ly?

Ly: I love to explore new cultures and Boston happens to be such a melting pot of different cultures. So I’ll have Korean food on Monday, Vietnamese on Tuesday, American Food on Wednesday, maybe Swedish next…

Mattias: Swedish fish maybe! (everyone laughs)

Sandra: That’s as Swedish as it can get here (red. Swedish fish is a gummy candy in fish shape, probably not Swedish at all).

Ly: We’ll also have cheese fondue often, even in summer time. We prepare it in our rice cooker.

Sandra: So you like the variety of cultures coming together in one place?

Ly: Yes, that’s right. What I also really like is the wide offer of events and activities in the city. I have pottery and salsa classes, everything is quite close and it’s just so exciting.

Sandra: So you really like the that you find a lot of things to do here.

Ly: What I miss is the Vietnamese language. Maybe because I don’t really hang out with other Vietnamese people. I still text my friends. I also try to listen to more Vietnamese songs. Before coming here, I didn’t like Vietnamese songs too much, they seemed too cheesy and romantic to me. But now I love to listen to them as they make me feel good.

Looking back on the US experience

Sandra: Picture yourself as an old person. If someone were to ask you about your experience in the US, what would you tell them, what would your main take aways be? Let’s start with you Mattias, what would you say as old wise men?

Mattias: How inspiring this is as a place. And how many great people are here and how open they are. They are passionate about what they’re doing and will share that with you. I’ve been also been going to seminars here and people are always so nice. I’d say this is the main take away that is different from other places.

Sandra: What about you, Fernanda?

Fernanda: I think that the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that everybody everywhere in the world is very similar. You don’t have to be afraid to interact with others and start a conversation. It’s fascinating to me how people from different cultures can communicate and talk to each other. They’re just people. And I used to be afraid of that. I have friends from all over the world now and that is something Boston gave to me.

Mattias: That’s the nicest thing I’ve heard so far.

Sandra: That’s so nice. The pressure is on now for you Ly.

Ly: Boston really is kind of a global village. There are people from all over the world here. The diversity is great and it’s just such an exciting and innovative place to be. I also appreciate how open people are and how they will be open to new opportunities as well. They want to make things happen. That’s so different from Vietnam or even the UK. That’s one of the things I like the most, besides living with my husband of course.

Happy weekend everyone!

Meet Fernanda, Ly and Mattias (Part 1)

Hi friends,

I’m keeping the interview mode on until the end of the week and am really happy to share part 1 of an interview I did with three great humans about their own experiences of arriving and living in the United States with you today. Meet Fernanda (Brazil), Mattias (Sweden) and Ly (Vietnam).

Also, if you’re a lazy bum and prefer to listen to the interview instead of reading it (I totally understand, no judgement here), just click on the corresponding audio files below (bonus material included, please excuse the wind in the audio).

The Arrival 

Sandra: Do you remember the day you first arrived to Boston?

Ly: My husband picked me up at the airport and I was just so happy to see him. On our drive back home, I was just amazed by how big it all seemed, especially the buildings and how pretty the light was during that time of day. It was in the evening during the golden hour and the sky had that beautiful purple color, it was so romantic. The next day was a different story though. Without the romantic lighting the buildings just looked like concrete.

Sandra: That’s a nice first impression, what about you, Mattias, as seen from a Swedish perspective?

Mattias: I actually had the opposite experience. It started out really bad and turned out to be a really nice experience.

Sandra: How come?

Mattias: When we decided that we were going to come to Harvard, I had actually no idea where Boston was. I didn’t know it was that far up north. And I read that it rains and snows a lot, which I didn’t know. But I thought, ok, it’s going to be fine. The day we arrived, however, it was raining like crazy.

Sandra: What time of the year was it?

Mattias: The 28th of December.

Sandra: Wow, that’s a hardcore time to arrive here.

Mattias: Everything went well, we came to the apartment that we rented and then we needed to go to the supermarket. So we figured out that the closest shop was something called like Trader Joes. So we started walking there, and there were no sidewalks. Even though now we know that there are sidewalks everywhere, just on that particular patch there was no sidewalk. Then there was this sleet coming down, this mix of rain and snow, it was really cold and we came into Trader Joes and everything was super expensive. We were used to Chinese prices (red. before coming to the US, Mattias and his wife were based in China). But if we’ll go back to Sweden we might think s***, everything is so expensive. So on our first evening here, we didn’t really want to buy anything to eat because it was expensive, we came home totally drenched and cold…

Sandra: Did things get a little better the following day?

Mattias: Yes, the next day everything was a lot better. Blue skies, pretty nice.

Sandra: What about you, Fernanda?

Fernanda: When we got here, about two years ago, it was summer. It was my first time in America during the summer. And I seriously didn’t know it could get this hot. I had this idea in my head of Boston being so far up north that it couldn’t possibly be as hot as in Brazil. So I was a little disappointed in a way.

Sandra: Would you have preferred a crazy winter scenario like Mattias had when arriving here?

Fernanda: Yes, I was a bit disappointed but now I enjoy it especially after having spent two winters here. I’ve really learned to appreciate the seasons, which is pretty cool because we don’t really have changing seasons in Brazil, at least in Rio it’s always very hot. It’s been a while since I first got here and so I don’t really remember every detail anymore. I think we were very excited to be here. We had just gotten married, were living in our first home together and were doing everything together as a married couple for the first time. So it was a really special. And I think I associate this newlywed feeling with Boston. It was a good first impression.

Sandra: And if you think back, when meeting new people, what were people’s reactions when you told them that you were from Brazil?

Fernanda: I remember some people finding it strange that I was so pale. Because they have this idea about Brazilian people, especially from Rio, that they are tanned and enjoy the sun. Speaking of Americans, I can hardly say that I’ve met one. Like everyone that I know isn’t from here. I guess the most American friends that I have are Canadians (everyone laughs).

Sandra: Well I don’t know if they’d like you to say that about them…

Fernanda: It’s just very hard to meet locals.

Sandra: What about you Mattias and Ly? Would they know that it is Sweden and not Switzerland for example?

Mattias: Yeah, exactly that’s what I was going to say.

Sandra: No actually, you always win. It’s Switzerland that people here mostly confuse with Sweden and not the other way round I think.

Mattias: Maybe because you’re a woman. I think Americans associate Sweden somehow with women. But like Fernanda, I have only met very few Americans. When I went to buy fabric recently, they asked me where I was from. And then they said, ‘Ah Sweden’, that’s that tiny country with the nice chocolate.

Sandra: That’s so funny, it’s actually the opposite from what always happens to me. They will always end up meaning Sweden and NOT Switzerland.

Sandra: What about you Ly?

Ly: It’s a bit of a similar experience to Mattias and Fernanda. As Boston is such an international place, I haven’t met that many real Bostonians up until now. Most of the Americans I meet are actually my Uber drivers.

Sandra: Interesting, what about them?

Ly: First off they think I’m from China. But when I say ‘No, I’m from Vietnam’, they’ll say ‘Oh, you’re from Vietnam, I love phở’. I think phở seems to be very popular, so everyone seems to know and like it.

Sandra: That’s so interesting, so the first association people have is with phở.

American Food

Sandra: From the top of your head, what’s your favorite American food or drink item?

Fernanda: (very fast response) Mac and Cheese.

Sandra: That was very fast. Any other foods?

Fernanda: That’s the only American food I’ve discovered. All the other foods I’ve gotten to know here are not American, like Vietnamese food, which I really like.

Sandra: In terms of drinks any favorites?

Fernanda: Well, something I like is that craft beers are a huge thing here. My husband and I are really into it and it’s very easy to find specialty beers.

Sandra: Nobody says doughnuts, I’m so surprised. You don’t like doughnuts?

Ly: No, not really. It’s quite difficult to tell if a food is American because their cuisine has so many influences from different places. I actually really like Avocado toast.

Sandra: That’s very healthy.

Ly: I’m not quite sure if it’s a special dish but I really like it.

Fernanda: I think it started off as an Australian thing.

Ly: I think they put Avocado on everything here.

Sandra: Yeah, it’s trendy.

Ly: And it’s quite surprising for me. Even though we have a lot of avocados in Vietnam too, I never eat in a savoury dish, like on bread or in a salad, we eat it as a sweet. Normally we prepare it with milk and sugar or in a smoothie.

Mattias: I pretty much always eat at home, so I couldn’t say. The most American I do, is that I drink a lot of Diet Coke, which I don’t do otherwise.

Stay tuned for part 2 of the interview where we’ll cover American daily life. It’s a good one.

Have a fantastic Thursday everyone!

Meet Ares (Part 2)

Hi friends,

as we’ve been talking a lot, here comes part 2 of our interview, which might be my favorite part of the two. Hope you’ll enjoy! If you have any questions regarding music therapy do let us know in the comments below and I’ll make sure to answer them together with Ares, who actually knows about it.

Have a great day!

Sandra: How do you see the current state of music therapy as a field? Are there differences between Europe and the States?

Ares: That is really difficult to say. Generally, the States are pretty far ahead, it’s a bit more established as it has been around for longer. I’ve been lucky to have been trained by great music therapists in Spain that themselves have been trained in the US.

Sandra: What’s the situation like in Spain especially?

Ares: It’s becoming a bit more popular, as there’s a growing public interest in complementary types of therapies that don’t use medication. What I also observe is that programs targeting children will usually get more attention and more funding. Then there are also music therapists in major hospitals in Madrid and Barcelona that have a fixed position, which is great. However, as a music therapist you’ll often be confronted with financial restrictions and a lack of resources. What is also really important in my opinion is that music therapists still have to make a big effort to be involved in the medical network. Teachers, doctors, nurses etc. have to know what music therapists do, vice versa and work together.

Sandra: Could this be due to being a relatively young profession historically speaking that it still isn’t fully established within the medical world yet?

Ares: Yes, that could be a reason why.

Sandra: How did the profession came to be anyway?

Ares: The profession of music therapy in the United States began to develop during W.W.I and W.W. II, when music was used in Veterans Hospitals as an intervention to address traumatic war injuries. Veterans  engaged in music activities that focused on relieving pain perception. Doctors and nurses witnessed the effect music had on veterans’ psychological, physiological, cognitive, and emotional state. I like to compare the history of nursing with that of music therapy as they both started off with the World Wars and despite of being so important never really get the attention socially and politically they deserve. 

Sandra: Are there certain ideas or music therapy concepts that people can apply in their daily lifes without having any therapeutic need?

Ares: For sure. Music is beneficial to everyone. Obviously, if you feel healthy and fine you won’t need any form of therapy. However, that music be part of your daily life is super beneficial to everyone. It activates all of your brain, your whole body actually. If you’ll go for a run and put on fast rhythmic music, it will activate you even more. What I also would like to add is that we will usually talk about music that has lyrics. The lyrics however greatly influences how we perceive music.

Sandra: Do you really think that the lyrics are that important?

Ares: Absolutely. We once did a little experiment in Spain, playing a group a song, once in French and once in Spanish. And even though it was the exact same song despite the lyrics, people perceived the songs as very different. If people approach me saying that their kid has trouble sleeping, I will always recommend them to listen to music but always, always without lyrics. That is super important.

Sandra: Even for a kid?

Ares: Yes. Because without lyrics, even for a kid, it will leave room for your own imagination. And thereby you’ll create your own dreams and will fall asleep.

Sandra: That’s actually a good transition to my last question. I have quite a lot of friends that are either pregnant at the moment or have little kids. In what ways could they ideally “use” music in their respective situations according to music therapy?

Ares: Well that’s a field where there’s a lot of research. You’ll often find a paper saying one thing and another contradicting it. Generally speaking, your baby has ears from week 12 on, from week 14 or 16 on they’ll hear you perfectly. So talk to them, they’ll feel the vibrations of the mother. That’s the first stimulus. Studies will often suggest putting on classical music. I would just recommend the mother to listen to the music she likes, because her feeling good will transfer to the baby. In regards to kids: What most studies agree on is the fact that music as having an effect on all of your brain influences your state of mental health and in the end your abilities and your intelligence. The fact of playing an instrument itself is a huge exercise in developing all different types of  capabilities, coordination and motoric skills. So I would definitely recommend signing up your kids to music. But very important, let the kid choose the instrument it wants to play.

Sandra: Noted. Lastly, is there anything you’d like to tell people out there?

Ares: Well, what I’d like to tell people is to make a personal collection of songs that mean something to you.

Sandra: How do you mean that?

Ares: I used to sit in in sessions with Alzheimers patients. Patients that hadn’t had an appetite for days or didn’t want to talk to anybody. Or maybe had been feeling angry all day. If the music therapist would play a song that had been hugely popular in their generation, however, they would start eating, talking, moving, even dancing. This effect would keep on for about a half day. There were even situations where family members would come and visit their relatives during or shortly after those music therapy sessions and they wouldn’t believe what they saw. Especially in the times that we live in now with such a huge selection and variety of music, it would be hard to know later on when you’re older which music you were enjoying. So compiling a personal list is a good way to go. In my personal collection for example there’d be a song by the Spice Girls in for sure. It brings me back to a time where I was 11, 12 years old, where I was super happy listening to them in my room. It doesn’t mean that I still think it’s great music (laughs) but it transports me back to a younger me. If a song means something to you, put it in your personal repertoire.

Meet Ares (Part 1)

Hi everyone,

one of the things I am most grateful here in the US is that I get to know interesting people with lots of different backgrounds from all over the world. One of those people is Ares, a 27 year old Catalan girl that happens to be a music therapist. I overheard her talking about it a few times at our weekly get togethers with the Harvard group and wanted to know more. What it is, how it works (if it works) and why it is so important. So I thought why not create a new segment on the blog where we (as in you AND me) meet interesting people and talk about interesting stuff.

So there you go. Without further ado, I’m happy to introduce you to Ares and her work as a music therapist (because let’s be real, you probably don’t know much about it, do you?). 

Sandra: What is your favorite song?

Ares: Wow, that is a difficult one. I can’t give you an answer from the top of my head for one particular song. I for sure have songs I love when I hear them, it also depends greatly on what mood I’m in.

Sandra: Do you think that you consume music differently compared to a person that doesn’t have a professional background as a music therapist?

Ares: Music is really powerful. It affects us all, in our way of being, feeling or behaving. I am no different in that sense. When preparing for a therapy session I will have to obviously put my personal emotions behind and think about what choices will benefit the patients condition and his wishes best. And sometimes it’s difficult, because your background in music might be really different than the one from the patient. To sum up, yes, I think that I listen to music differently. But mainly due to the fact that I grew up with taking piano lessons and being very involved with music from an early age on.

Sandra: We’ve already jumped into the discussion but let’s maybe quickly explain to everyone who has never heard of music therapy before, what is it,in a sentence or two?

Ares: Put very simply, I’d say it’s a form of therapy using the means of music in every possible form to make the patient feel better. The therapy part implies an engagement with the patient, a therapeutic agreement, the patient recognizing his needs and what he needs to improve on. Without those elements it’s making music in a group or alone, enjoying music but without the therapeutic aspect.

Sandra: You used to be a nurse before becoming a music therapist. Why did you want to change careers?

Ares: I actually always had this thought in the back of my head that I wanted to study music. But I also always liked helping people. So life happens and I chose to train as a nurse. After finishing my undergraduate studies I had to choose which specialization I wanted to pursue in a Masters. I somehow didn’t feel like pursuing a Masters in nursing so I ended up with music therapy as it is the perfect combination of all the things I love. It wasn’t easy for me as people kept telling me it’s a hard field to find work in. What also was nice was that I knew if things wouldn’t work out as a music therapist I could still apply a lot of my knowledge in my day to day work as a nurse in a hospital.

Sandra: How?

Ares: When I lived in Oxford, I used to work with rehabilitation patients that had suffered from strokes, cerebral palsies or car accidents. During the week it was impossible as they were busy with their physiotherapy and other occupational therapy sessions. But on the weekends they were free and I would occasionally do some exercises with them after my nursing work was done. At the school of music I used to work in Barcelona I started doing music therapy with little kids. I remember one boy that suffered from cerebral palsy, all of his right body side was paralyzed. He loved to play the drums. I encouraged him to use his right side to play even though at the beginning he really didn’t want to. He obviously wanted to play with the side he was able to play with. And you know what? After a year I saw real progress.

Sandra: That is fascinating. What does a normal day in the life of a music therapist look like?

Ares: It all really depends on the target group you’re talking about as music therapy is practically applicable to everyone, be it pregnant women, babies, toddlers, kids, teenagers, seniors etc. What is also very important is the type of therapy that you’ll apply in your sessions, there is a variety of schools. Norton-Robbins for example is an approach where there are two therapists, one playing the piano and one minding the patient. There are other models where you do everything in groups, some where you never talk during your sessions, others that only do improvising, some that only listen to music and don’t do anything else…the list goes on.

Sandra: So from what I understand there’s no typical day in the life as the whole set up and context varies greatly according to your patient and the type of therapy model that you’ll apply, right?

Ares: Correct. Generally, however, I will plan a session of 45 minutes. My main focus will usually lie on improvising and on the fact that patients should enjoy themselves and the music. What I love to do at the end of every class, if the patient’s condition allows it, is a feedback round. They are asked to reflect on what they’ve done and created during the session, if they had been improvising for example and created a song only using their body as instruments. Of course it’s not compulsory. But it is a beautiful way for the patients to reflect on what has happened and what they’ve experienced and created.

Sandra: What have been patient stories that you like to remember?

Ares: I used to work with a group of teenagers that mostly suffered from conduct disorders. There was a girl in the group that was a bully a school and another kid, they didn’t know each other, that was a victim. Two personalities that in a normal school setting would never have talked to each other, respected each other and heard each other, which is really important. Feelings of mutual understanding were able to be formed, which in my opinion never would have been possible to be formed in a psychologist’s office in a more conventional therapy set up.

Sandra: Does the music help as a connection maker?

Ares: Yes, it definitely does! And the interesting thing is that while they are in the session they really aren’t aware of what’s happening. It just happens. It’s actually at the end of the session, when I do the feedback round where they’ll understand what happened to them.

Sandra: What were things those teenagers said in the feedback round?

Ares: The girl that used to be a bully would say things like “I heard the sound that the other kid was making”, or “When you sang that part, I really liked it”. Those were sides of her personality as a bully that she never had shown or expressed before, actually listening to others, sharing something with others. That was fascinating. Also, a psychologist was always present during those sessions and she really was surprised to see certain aspects of that girl’s personality that she hadn’t seen before in sessions with her.

Sandra: How long does such a transition take time to happen?

Ares: It really varies a lot. In this case we did the sessions for about a year. Generally I’d say it takes about 10-12 sessions in minimum to see a change. The first sessions are needed to build trust, the fact of making music is difficult, the matter of reflecting on it is challenging as well.

Sandra: Have you also seen cases where the therapy just wouldn’t work or wouldn’t be the right choice?

Ares: Yes, that can happen. Especially when a person is very closed-off. If you offer them exercises and they will block any attempt. Or if parents for example don’t see the value in the therapy sessions and will transmit that feeling to the kid coming to class. That will also be difficult.

Sandra: Will you leave those cases be?

Ares: There will always be an attempt to try and upkeep the therapy. But it doesn’t always work. Which is ok. There are also cases where you just can’t do music therapy due to the conditions of the patient. As listening and engaging with music will activate all of your brain parts and will animate the visual and imaginative part you’ll have to be very careful with patients that have bipolar or schizophrenic problems for example. You’ll have to be very mindful and know what the limits are.

Sandra: So that also requires you to have a lot of knowledge of physical and medical conditions?

Ares: Yes! You definitely need to know what conditions there are and how they’ll most likely react to music. During your training you’ll have to have medical backgrounds.

Stay tuned for tomorrows continuation of part 2, where we’ll talk about Spice girls, babies, instruments and lots of other things. And listen to some music today, ok?

Happy Monday!

American Daily Life Etiquette

Hi friends, how are you today?

The topic we’re about to talk today might be one of my favorites: Daily etiquette.

Meaning as in how you are expected to behave in public space according to the norms of the country and its culture you’re living in. I’ve had an interesting conversation with my international friends about that last week and found it just so interesting that even a seemingly simple act of greeting someone can be interpreted and done SO differently depending on where you live. One of my favorite examples was that in South Korea male friends go walking around the city holding hands, same goes for friends who go out with their female friends. Isn’t that interesting? Or how kissing (or the lack thereof) as a form of greeting is so different in every country?

This is also one that always greatly confuses me as I go on to kiss people on the cheeks three times here and they look at me even more confused (I ALWAYS forget, it’s a reflex, trained over so many years). Swiss people seem to be into kissing.

Anyways, I’ve compiled some of the things that struck me as most different in daily life etiquette as compared to Switzerland. Let’s go! 

The art of sneezing correctly

It’s been cold in winter (very cold), there’s the allergies going on right now (damn you pollen), in conclusion:

People sneeze a lot around here. 

It happens, like anywhere else actually (maybe I’m making too big a deal out of it)  but I find that people are way more considerate when sneezing than in Switzerland. I tell you how it goes: You’re sitting in the T (the Bostonian subway) and someone next to you sneezes into his elbow (important detail, he/she doesn’t just sneeze into the open air, no no). Anyways, what surprised me the most was that people actually apologize and will say something along the lines of “excuse me”, “sorry”. And I’m like?

Whoa, you don’t have to apologize for sneezing but ok.

Holding doors open

This one I find is really nice. Be it in the T stations, in restaurants, the library or anywhere where there aren’t automatic doors, people WILL HOLD THE DOOR for you. YES. Like really. They will wait and hold it open if they see you behind them. That’s a whole other level of politeness as compared to Switzerland (where I at least) find that people tend to do that less. Also, if you hold the door, people will ALWAYS say thank you. ALWAYS.

Excuse me…

Politeness seems to be the red thread throughout this post, doesn’t it? The conclusion being that Americans really try and be very polite (when they’re in public space at least). During rush hours and when the T and busses are super busy and people need to get off, they will always politely say “Excuse me”.

Keep your distance

When two Americans are standing and talking to each other they stay at least 16 inches (aka 40 cm) away from each other (I’ve read that somewhere. How do they find that out in the first place?!), farther away than is customary in many other cultures it seems. An American may feel threatened if you come too close. They should go to a Southern European country, would they like that?

On Winning My First Award (Joking): The Liebster Award

Hi everyone

The Frenchy Way (check out her lovely French blog and insta) nominated me for the Liebster Award so I thought why not give it a try and tell you something about me in a way that I normally probably wouldn’t (#introvert). Let’s get the “facts” out of the way before getting started, alright?

The rules of the Liebster Award (I’ve translated those from French, so bear with me. Also, I’m not sure if those are the most recent ones. We’ll go with those for now)

  • Tell 11 random facts about you.
  • Answer 11 questions by the person that nominated you.
  • Now ask 11 bloggers (I cheated on this one a little) to answer a set of 11 questions that you’ve created.
  • Eat 11 chocolats (is that really a rule? Not that it would bother me, just asking).

11 random facts about me

  1. I drink more tea now than coffee.
  2. Hello, I am a YouTube addict.
  3. Hello, I am a Netflix addict.
  4. I would love to know how to really crawl. And not just for a few seconds, like really.
  5. I would like to now how to cook more creatively.
  6. I love discovering and exploring new places, museums, restaurants and cafés.
  7. A great scenario for a casual sunny Sunday: Sitting in a café, enjoying a nice cup of coffee, basking in the sun (without a coat on) and watching people walking by.
  8. Indulging in a donut every once in a while and LOVING it.
  9. Somehow I find breakfasts at a hotel exciting and always look forward to them (even though they sometimes aren’t as great as I hoped they would be).
  10. I love improvised evenings with friends, where nothing is planned and we just sit in a kitchen and eat and drink and talk for hours.
  11. It genuinely made me happy going swimming in the lake in the summertime (back in Zurich).

Answering The Frenchy Way’s Questions (I got a bit lazy and didn’t translate everything (I’m sure you’ll understand)

  1. Pourquoi as-tu ouvert un blog ? Because I somehow wanted to document my new life in the States. Also, I think I’ve always wanted to do it.
  2. Quel a été ton tout premier voyage ? My first trip must have been as a baby from Paris to Barcelona I guess, I’d need to ask my parents.
  3. Quel est ton meilleur bon plan voyage ? See as much as possible while also allowing enough time for relaxing and enjoying being in a new place.
  4. Quelle est ta playlist du moment (6 artistes ou pistes) ? Maggie Rogers, Lorde, Bombay Bicycle Club, Two Door Cinema Club, Ed Sheeran.
  5. Une série à voir absolument et pourquoi ? Currently I am loving “Call The Midwife”, it will just make you feel good. On my all times favorites list though are “30 Rock”, “Parks and Recreation” and “The Office”. All will make you laugh. FOR SURE.
  6. Quel est l’objet dont tu ne peux pas te passer ? My sofa and my bed. Both very necessary.
  7. Si tu étais un juron ? People would have a good time because I find it hard judging people and being mean. Does that make sense?
  8. Mer, montagne, ville ou campagne ? Everything.
  9. Quel est ton plat favori ? Everything fresh and tasteful will make my belly happy, doesn’t have to be complicated.
  10. Qu’est-ce qui te fais rire ? A lot of things, animal or human babies doing cute things, clever people making fun jokes.
  11. Que fais tu pour te ressourcer ? Take a bath, do a face mask. Drink a glass of wine. Relax.

And the nominees and my 11 questions are…

  1. What is your favorite thing to do on a Sunday morning?
  2. What is a talent you have?
  3. Your favorite piece of clothing (or accessories) and why?
  4. Your favorite item (could be furniture, a mug etc.) in your living space and why?
  5. What are you scared of?
  6. What makes you laugh?
  7. How do you treat yourself?
  8. What is the favorite part of your day (like in a “ordinary” day)?
  9. What makes you genuinely happy?
  10. My favorite candy/sweet is…
  11. Your first word as a baby was…

You all rock girls, have a lovely day!