All posts by Jennifer Stevens

Hi, I’m Jennifer, a native Floridian who left the Sunshine State in 2009 to travel the world as an international school teacher. I’ve since lived in Seoul, Bogota, Shanghai, and now Bucharest, eating my way through each city, and traveling as much as possible.

The Quarantine Diaries #2: We’re all in this Together

Friday, March 27th, 2020

Last night, my husband and I spent some time looking out the window. All around us, apartment buildings were full of light. Even the old, gray Communist block down the street–the one I assumed was condemned–had suddenly sprung to life. 

A man in his living room did squats. A woman folded laundry. We saw people cooking, eating. A couple danced in their kitchen. 

I thought back to a few months earlier when Luke and I were on an Alfred Hitchcock kick. We watched “Rear Window,” and the whole time I kept thinking, Why doesn’t anyone just close their blinds?

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The Quarantine Diaries: Entry #1

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

It’s day 8 of distance learning, day 11 of social distancing. At first, people were jokingly referring to this as “Corona-cation.” It was sunny and warm, and the first day of online teaching began with pancakes and coffee on the balcony. I believe my husband and I even toasted to the “time off.” A few days later, we found a Coronavirus playlist on Spotify. We made Aperol Spritzes and listened to “It’s the End of the Word as We Know it” by R.E.M. 

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Filing Taxes as an Expat: What you need to know if you’re an American Abroad

I have a confession to make: before yesterday, I hadn’t filed my taxes in three years. I know this is awful, but I was honestly just too overwhelmed.

Before moving abroad, I filed my taxes every year. It was easy: I claimed 0 on my W-2 form, then when tax season rolled around, my employer gave me all the information I needed. I typed it into Turbo Tax, and then got a nice refund in the bank and treated myself to a new outfit.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy when you move out of the country. I’m going to do my best to explain what I’ve learned over the past ten years as an expat, but first…

Here are some basics that you need to know before filing:

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Cancer Diagnosis + Revisiting my Bucket List

This summer has not been what I expected. I’d planned to go home for three weeks to get a branchial cyst removed, catch up with family and friends, then come back to my husband for a trip to Armenia and Georgia. But one week after my surgery, I went for my post-op, and heard a word I wasn’t prepared for: cancer.

Most of my time in Florida was spent in doctors’ offices. Luke had to hear the news over Skype. My sister and mother cried, and Dad went quiet. Even with a good prognosis (thyroid cancer is one of the most curable cancers), that C-word rattled us.

After hastily canceling our trip to the Caucasus region and returning to Bucharest, I’ve had a lot of time to think. What’s my purpose in life? Do I believe in a higher power? Should I stay abroad or move back home?  

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International Teaching Community ‘Devastated’ by Anthony Bourdain’s Death

Almost two weeks ago, Anthony Bourdain took his life, and the news has formed deep wounds within the international community.

“He was our guide, our teacher,” says longtime expat Erin Connolly. “International teachers live uniquely transient lives; it was comforting to know that we could always turn to Anthony Bourdain to give us insight into the strange new places we were diving into.”

Connolly and her husband, Chris Powers, moved from Beijing to Romania two years ago, where they currently work at the American International School of Bucharest (AISB). “Anthony Bourdain was the person we turned to every time we visited [or moved to] a new country,” says Connolly. “Book a trip, watch Bourdain. He showed me not only how and where to eat, but how to be a thoughtful, sensitive, and productive traveler.”

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A Weekend in Veliko Târnovo

Homes in Veliko, Bulgaria

Before I moved to Romania, I had never heard of Veliko Târnovo. And to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have  been able to point to Bulgaria on a map.

Even though Eastern Europe is quickly becoming a popular tourist destination, Bulgaria (and Romania) is often skipped over, in favor of Hungary or the Czech Republic. I’m personally pretty happy about this fact, as it means my husband and I get to explore abandoned castles and fortified churches without waiting in lines, and are able to have picturesque medieval cities like Veliko Târnovo pretty much to ourselves.

Since Veliko is only a 3-hour drive from Bucharest, Luke and I just went for the weekend, staying Saturday night and coming back Sunday. It was enough time to soak in some of the town’s history and charm, but I would’ve liked another day or two. We’ll be back.

In the meantime, here’s a look at what we did, where we stayed and, of course, where we ate. Continue reading

3 Days in Cappadocia, Turkey: A Suggested Itinerary

“Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia, Turkey” has long been at the top of my bucket list. I’d imagined gliding over the moon-like landscape at sunrise, taking in scenes of fairy chimneys and rose-colored valleys, then returning to my hotel room, built into the side of a cave.

It was a scene I had dreamt about so many times that when my husband and I booked the trip, I was scared the real thing wouldn’t live up to my enormous expectations. Spoiler alert: It did.

Here’s a look at our three days in Anatolian paradise, with some tips along the way. Continue reading

Insights on Living Abroad

Today I received a Facebook message from my friend Austin, who paid me the best compliment: “You’ve inspired me to move abroad.”

He’s heading to Costa Rica, with plans of running an online business, while learning Spanish, hitting some waves, and hopefully meeting a girl. In his words, he’s searching for “pura vida,” or “pure life.”

His message reminded me of something I wrote myself eight years ago, just before moving to South Korea. I was full of excitement and optimism and would spend hours scrolling though images of temples,  reading about weekend trips from Seoul, and daydreaming about what my life would be like. I emailed everyone I knew who had spent time abroad to hear their stories.

But Austin included something in his note that I wish I had: he asked for advice, for insight. I thought about what I was going to say for awhile, and figured I’d share my reply with all of you. So, here goes: Continue reading

Inside North Korea: Running the Pyongyang Marathon

Why the hell would anyone want to go to North Korea? This is a question my parents posed, and even my students, as I told them my husband and I were heading to its capital to participate in the annual marathon.

The short answer: curiosity. While living in Seoul, I had the opportunity to listen to stories from several North Korean refugees. How they escaped through China, how they left behind loved ones, and how they lived in a constant state of fear. I remember feeling completely ignorant, as I knew nothing about the country other than the fact they harbored nuclear warheads.

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A Look Back at 2016

Year-Fire-MonkeyWho does a “year in review” post in the middle of February? Apparently I do. And I’m not going to apologize for it, because one of my New Year’s resolutions is to stop feeling so guilty for things I shouldn’t feel guilty about. Plus, this is my blog and I can do what I want.

2016 was a crazy year, end of story. Future generations will look back on 2016 and think, Geez, I’m so glad I didn’t live through that year! (Ok, they probably won’t say the word “geez.” In fact, I’m not even sure why I’m saying it now, in 2017.)

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