"Welcome to America": Maroon Blazer + Black Criss Cross Top

Cleveland, OH, USA
maroon blazer outfit, black criss cross shirt outift
maroon blazer outfit, black criss cross shirt outift
maroon blazer outfit, black criss cross shirt outift
navy tie knot shorts outfit
Blazer, LC Lauren Conrad | T-shirt, sponsored by ZAN.STYLE ($27); also on Amazon ($14) | Shorts, thrifted Mango | Shoes, Target
Photos by my brother

I received this t-shirt from ZAN.STYLE in exchange for an honest review. I wrote a more detailed post on ZAN.STYLE a couple weeks ago, but didn't get a chance to feature the second piece they sent me. I'm incredibly happy with the t-shirt--the material is so soft, and the cut is versatile and edgy. If you haven't already, take a gander at my previous OOTD with my thoughts on the site!
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It's been awhile since I've written my life here. Since launching Thank You for the Tragedy, an online collection of romantic tragedy memoirs, I allot my free time to skype essay editing sessions instead of photoshoots and daydreaming. 

I've been writing, but elsewhere; I've penned my personal love tragedy, a reflection on my year abroad, postgrad fellowship essays. I've been writing, but it's been awhile since I've let myself write aimlessly. My thoughts yearn to waltz across this blog again--unrehearsed, clumsy, and free.

So I'll take these 10 minutes for myself and write.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

"Welcome to America," says the man passing by.

"Thanks, but I was born here..." I reply, bewildered.

The witty response always comes too late. Dang, I should've said "You, too."


On my walks and runs, I almost always greet any passersby with a smile and "Hello!"

This time, I wish I hadn't.

"Hello!" I smile at the older trio strolling through campus.

"Ni Hao," one of the men replies.

I'm too dazed to respond.

Perhaps these words are meant to be well-meaning and compassionate. Instead, they feel malicious.

If I'm greeted with "Ni Hao" before I speak, then that person has assumed my identity from my appearance. It's ignorance at best--they're not wrong, but there's much more to my identity than my ethnicity. If I'm greeted with "Ni Hao" after I speak--in English just like theirs--then they are refusing to accept me as a fellow American. That's a step beyond ignorance, and is far from well-intentioned.

The witty response never comes. Sorry, I don't speak Chinese? That would be a lie. Bonjour? Well, that would sure confuse them. But I already said hello. Have a good night? Too polite. You, too? Even more confusing, but all the better. Not you too.


"Welcome home," says the immigration officer when I clear customs in Boston.

"Thank you," I smile and tuck my navy passport back in my coat pocket, "Have a good night."

Funny how one word makes all the difference.

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Mountains and Flower Fields: OOTD + ZAN.STYLE Review

choker neck top outfit
choker neck top outfit
choker neck dress outfit
choker neck top outfit
book and plow farm amherst
collar v neck top outfit
book and plow farm amherst

collar v neck top outfit
book and plow farm amherst flowers
Dress (worn as shirt), sponsored by ZAN.STYLE ($78) | Skirt, Forever 21 | Shoes, Target
Photos by Md

I received this dress from ZAN.STYLE in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

ZAN.STYLE is a China-based clothing company offering simple, hip, and confident pieces. When I first visited ZAN.STYLE's website, I was immediately taken by the boxy dresses and edgy solid tees. The site itself is also clean and navigable, and each item description provides details about clothing care and fit. Some decriptions even link to Amazon, where you may find the item at a cheaper price. For instance, the criss-cross black t-shirt I also picked (to be featured in a future post) is nearly 50% cheaper on Amazon at $13.99. The v-neck collar dress in this post isn't on Amazon US, but it's also over 50% cheaper on Amazon UK and Amazon FR (as well as the Spanish and German sites). 

I was also impressed by the prompt and polite communications I received from the ZAN.STYLE team, especially since a lot of blog sponsorship proposals can feel incredibly impersonal and disingenuous. The representative I spoke with even told me a bit about the company culture--each afternoon, the employees gather for a tea break, and every month, they do an outdoor teambuilding challenge. 

Here's the rundown in numbers of what I thought:

Aesthetics--5/5
As I mentioned, this is probably ZAN.STYLE's strongest point. The polished pieces remind me a bit of tlnique's aesthetic: crisp and confident. 

Selection--4/5
ZAN.STYLE does have a distinctive aesthetic, so there may not be something for a more whimsical or colorful dresser. That being said, I do like how the pieces fit a general feel. The selection, however, did feel a bit sparse, especially seeing as there are only 4-5 options for women's pants and tank tops. This made picking pieces much easier for indecisive me, but I would've liked to see a few more options. It would also be cool to one day see ZAN.STYLE expand to offer shoes and accessories.

Fit--5/5
Unlike some Asian retailers, ZAN.STYLE doesn't run small--I ordered both my pieces in size S, and they fit just right. The product descriptions also offer size charts with model stats as a gauge and precise measurements for each option. 

Shipping--5/5
Despite being posted internationally, the items came within a week. They were well-packaged in a padded envelope, which each piece carefully-folded in separate reusable clothing bags. 

Quality--5/5
The material feels sturdy and the pieces are well-made, with no loose threads in sight. I especially liked how soft the material of my t-shirt was. It's been through the wash and dryer a few times already, and is still holding up well.

Value--4/5
ZAN.STYLE does run on the more expensive side for a thrifty shopper like me (my dress is listed as $78 on the site). But I do appreciate how they offer several pieces on Amazon at a much cheaper price. At $14, for instance, my the price of my black t-shirt is pretty reasonable. And at £24 on Amazon UKmy choker neck dress is also worth the price. 


Basically, ZAN.STYLE is far from your typical online Asian retailer--I was incredibly impressed with their aesthetics, quality, and professionality. I was happy with the pieces I received and definitely recommend taking a gander at their site. Let me know if you have any questions about my experience!


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** ZAN.STYLE currently has some promotions, including up to 75% off on select pieces. You can also get this flowy tank top for $6 and free shipping with the code 209236104 **

5 Day Trips from Bordeaux, France

5 day trips from Bordeaux France
In Fall 2016, I studied in Bordeaux with the Middlebury Schools Abroad. This post is part of a series on life in Southern France.

I was antsy each weekend. 

After a few program-organized trips, I itched to explore the region even more. Bordeaux was beautiful, but what else was out there? 

My wanderlust led me all across France during my year abroad. The southwest, however, remains a personal favorite--from historic ports to renowned vineyards, the diverse landscapes never failed to impress. 

Here are some of the gems surrounding Bordeaux, perfect for a day or weekend trip. 

First, a couple logistics:

Transportation--
I took the train most frequently, so approximate prices I list are for train tickets with SNCF. The lower end of the range is for Carte Jeune holders (those ages 18-27 who've purchased a discount card). The higher end is for any adult without a discount card. 

You may also have some luck with BlaBlaCar, a car rideshare service, or KelBillet, a site to find discounted or secondhand (original purchaser can no longer make the trip) train/car/plane fares. 

Housing--
If you're looking for places to stay, I normally use Airbnb and Couchsurfing. On Airbnb, you can rent a room or entire lodging through locals. I've been able to find well-reviewed places for as low as $20/night. If you haven't joined yet, you can use my invite code to get $40 off of your first trip of $75 or more.

On Couchsurfing, you can stay with locals for free. This might sound sketchy, but I promise that there are many incredible hosts who really just want to share their culture and town with tourists. I've taken 4 trips with Couchsurfing, and had all positive experiences (check out my profile here). Just be sure to reach out to hosts with many good reviews (10+ is best!) and reach out with personalized messages (read hosts' profiles and comment on how you might get along). Couchsurfing is less reliable than Airbnb since potential hosts don't have to respond to your request within 25 hours, and they also have less disincentive to cancel on you since the wouldn't be losing money. So be sure to reach out to many people and also have a backup plan! 

And of course, if you have any questions, shoot away via comment/email/insta!

1. Arcachon
La Dune du Pilat
La Dune du Pilat
Distance by train: 1 hour
Roundtrip cost: 10-25
Known for: tallest sand dune in Europe, beaches, forests, seafood

Arcachon is an unexpected fusion: thick forests, miles of sand, and vast ocean. Perfect for a summer outing, Arcachon boasts plenty of beaches, shopping, and the tallest sand dune in Europe. To reach the Dune du Pilat (Pyla), take bus 1 from the station. Be sure to bring lots of water and be ready for a sand-walking workout. 

2. St-Jean-de-Luz
St-Jean-de-Luz beach
St-Jean-de-Luz
St-Jean-de-Luz
Distance by train: 2 hours
Roundtrip cost: 30-50
Known for: beaches, mountains, artisan shops, food (desserts and seafood)

The Pays Basque, a region near the Spanish border, is famous for beautiful weather and warm people. If you take a bus in nearby city Bayonne, for instance, you'll notice that locals personally thank the driver before getting off at their stop. While riverside Bayonne and beachy Biarritz may be more well-known, I personally prefer St-Jean-de-Luz. You really just can't beat the quaint town, cliffside views, and calm beaches. While you're there, be sure to try a gâteau basque, a mini-cake traditional to the region. 

3. Saint-Emilion
Lussac vignoble
Saint-Emilion
Distance by train: 45 mins
Roundtrip cost: 10-25
Known for: vineyards and wine chateaux, medieval architecture

I ran a half-marathon here in October, but never actually had a chance to walk through the city itself (I'm cheating a bit--the first two photos are acutally from Lussac, a neighboring town where my airbnb was). Saint-Emilion is a must-do as a Bordeaux resident--it's just a hop away by train, and also one of the more cost-efficient daytrips. Here, you'll find sprawling vineyards, a quaint medieval town, and some of the best-reputed red wine in France.

4. Toulouse
chapelle des carmélites
Toulouse
Distance by train: 2 hours
Roundtrip cost: 30-50
Known for: colorful buildings, violette candy

The "ville rose" (pink city) had some of the most insta-worthy buildings. I was awestruck when I stumbled upon La Chapelle des Carmélites, a very unassuming color-coordinated chapel that's covered in stunning paintings, from walls to ceiling. I also loved La Bibliothèque d'Etude et du Patrimoine, a public library with gorgeous art deco architecture. Le Musée des Augustins, an art museum free to students, is also worth a see. Be sure to also try some bonbons de violette, a candy that tastes a bit like lavender ("violette" is a type of purple flower). I especially liked violette dark chocolate.

5. La Rochelle
La Rochelle port
La Rochelle vieux port
Tour Saint-Nicholas La Rochelle
Distance by train: 2.5 hours
Roundtrip cost: 30-60 
Known for: history, port/tower views, seafood

I wrote on La Rochelle back in September, and it remains one of my favorite trips. The town is bustling enough to keep you busy, but also very walkable. The views from the historic towers are also stunning--the ships in port are so colorful, and the seawater is such a pure blue. The food scene is impressive as well--for lunch, I munched on a quick vegan meal, and for dinner, I scarfed up a traditional galette and lychee-rose sorbet. 


Happy travels,

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Seascapes: Latest Writings + Ribbon Tie Floral Navy Dress

Shoreham-by-Sea, UK
ribbon tie dress outfit
ribbon tie dress outfit
navy floral ribbon tie dress outfit
blogger beach outfit
shoreham by sea beach
Dress, sponsored by eShakti (no longer available, similar here) | Shoes, Primark | Sunglasses, random store in Marseille, France
Portait shots by Yihao

I received this dress from eShakti in exchange for an honest review. I've worked several times with them over the years, and I've always been impressed by their selection of retro/vintage charm as well as the quality of their pieces. 

Another perk: you can customize any of the items for an extra $9.95, from exact measurements to collar style and sleeve length. It's always disappointing to find a gorgeous piece in-store that doesn't fit quite right. Or to order something online that doesn't work at all. I had neither of those problems with this dress. In previous years, the company has even reached out to me if something seems off with the measurements I submit.

 Feel free to browse their website or check out more customer-submitted photos on instagram.
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I've been MIA again, for good reason. 

I returned to the States in late June after 10 months abroad. Since then, I've been overcoming reverse culture shock, working full-time with a math research group, and writing reflections on study abroad.

Instead of sharing my usual ramblings on this blog, I'm leaving you with a couple links to my most recent writings on other websites.


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On Thank You for the Tragedy, a site curating romantic tragedy memoirs: 
Best By: Study Abroad
illustration by George Liu

"I would rather love recklessly and suffer than remain safely aloof."

In this personal essay, I reflect on my previous relationship. Because of study abroad, our romance essentially had an expiration date. This is a story that takes me across countries and through months of pondering. I'm incredibly proud of this memoir, and it would mean the world to me if you gave it a read. 

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On Beyond the Bubble, the Amherst College study abroad blog:
radcliffe camera st. mary's church view

"I went abroad naively hoping to "find myself"; it seemed instead that I was losing myself."

Half narrative, half reflection, this piece shares the biggest surprises of the year. It also links to some of my other writings on study abroad. Through this essay, I was able to find a bit of closure to such a jarring and resonant adventure.
Until next time,
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Piece by Piece: Vintage Velvet Top + Reflections

vintage velvet top outfit
vintage velvet top outfit
vintage velvet top outfit
Velvet top, vintage market | Button-down, thrifted | Skirt, Forever 21
Photos by Yihao and Esse

It’s been a month and a half.

1.5 months, and my calluses have smoothed over, no longer a distraction from my ragged nails.

1.5 months, and the physical traces of a 10-year passion have faded away.

The skin on my left fingertips looks so foreign when so smooth. The delicate lines of my fingerprints are now discernible, no longer disfigured by the arduous hours of waltzing upon vibrating silver strings.

My violin case sits in the nook between my desk and wardrobe, upright and unobtrusive. My music stand has become a makeshift clothes rack, often adorned with a summer top or silky chemise.

I forget they’re there sometimes. I barely recall the deep resonance that fueled the countless rehearsals, the daily screech sessions, that whole decade of my life. And sometimes, I even forget that all of this was once indispensable.

I would’ve been appalled in another life; another Lily wouldn’t have approved.

She wanders into my dreams sometimes, orchestrating nightmares. Violin is no longer part of my reality, but it consumes my sleep world. I struggle through rehearsals, I arrive at important auditions having not practiced in months…

I awaken unsettled. Yet I still feel no inspiration to play again.

She used to fantasize about her life without violin. What would it be like to regain the weekly 10-15 hours of rehearsal and personal practice? What would it be like to be able to attend the events that always conflicted with orchestra? 

She brushed the thoughts away. Violin was part of who she was, or at least who she thought she should be.

But I was ready for a change. During a brawl with my parents on postgraduation plans, I realized that external expectations too often directed my life. So this time, I took charge.

I realized the ideas I had entertained but had suppressed: I got my helix pierced. I cut and dyed my hair (photos before this change). I gave up violin--and took up other creative pursuits.  

Will I pick my instrument up again? The answer is indefinite. All I know is this: piece by piece, I'm constructing who I want to be, and that’s enough for now.
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P.S. We've just launched the project I mentioned in my previous post--please take a gander at Thank You for the Tragedy, a vision for a collection of atypical love essays. It's a chance for personal love tragedies to become catharsis and resonance. We're calling for creative writers and hope you'll contribute and spread the word!

Also, apologies for my absence in my normal blogroll--I'll catch up on my reading as soon as I can!

Forever Fleeting: Life Lately + CaseApp Review

Disclaimer: I received two ipad mini cases from CaseApp in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
caseapp personalized ipad case
Long ago, I accepted a collaboration with CaseApp, an online store with premade and custom phone/ipad cases.

I ordered two ipad mini cases: one premade, with a dust pink and marble pattern, and the other custom, with instagram photos from my semester in France.

Then life happened, and this review post didn't (oops!). In the last three months, I:

  • finished my first term at Oxford
  • went back to France for a month to travel solo and complete a personal language immersion challenge; I spoke English only twice, once during a call with my bank, and another time during an interview
  • saw my family for the first time since August
  • accepted a math research internship with my advisor at Amherst
  • returned to Oxford for my final term abroad
Each experience is much more nuanced and complex than a bullet point can express, so stay tuned for my melodramatic storytelling in the coming months.

In the meantime, however, here's this well-postponed review: 


Aesthetics--5/5: This is definitely CaseApp's strong point; designs are ultra-hip, ranging from dainty leaf patterns to artsy watercolor. The customization option also has several trendy sticker options, such as block quotes and pineapples.

Delivery--5/5: I received the cases within a week with standard RoyalMail delivery. They came in an envelope, but well-protected in bubble wrap.

Quality--3.5/5: The cases are not for those who frequently drop their devices (aka me). My usual ipad mini case (pictured below), is thicker and has cushioned several falls. These cases offer some protection, but are definitely flimsier and are more for the look. 

Selection--3/5: I would've liked to see different styles of cases, rather than the standard snap-on. For instance, my current case as a magnetic cover that can be folded back into a stand, which is integral for me (for my youtube core workout videos haha). Sticky9, for instance, offers personalized covers like that, but not an actual case. It would be the perfect combo of practical and stylish to combine the two! Otherwise, more protective but still aesthetically-pleasing options would also be a good idea. 


Overall impression:
Pros-
  • sleek premade designs
  • free, quick standard delivery to country of site (there are UK and US sites, for instance)
  • custom design true to online simulator
  • custom cases equal price to premade designs
  • can overlay personalization to premade designs
Cons-
  • rather pricey--each case ranges from $30-40 (or £19 upwards; my cases were £25 each)
  • not incredibly sturdy
  • site design feels somewhat primitive



If you have questions about my experience with CaseApp, don't hesistate to ask!

If life allows, I'll be back soon for my typical rambling. I also have a couple final announcements:
  • I'm planning to launch another site soon, and will share details in a future post! It's still in the works, but it will involve contributors around the world.
  • The illustrator for said site-in-works is interning at Refigural, a digital quarterly of up-and-coming artists, which will be releasing its first print edition next month--you can get more details at their kickstarter page. The pocket issue costs $24, can be shipped anywhere in the world, and will feature work from Logan Jackson, Parker Day, Étienne Saint-Denis, Jesse James Johnson and interviews with The Tan Mom, Rock of Love's Heather Chadwell, Soul Legend Gloria Ann Taylor, and other exclusive content. 

Until next time!

Cheers,
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