My 2017 In Review

2017 has been a landmark year for me.

We’ve all seen the Best Nine posts on social media by now, those highlight reels for one’s digital world– but what about for our real lives? The things we’ve accomplished, seen, experienced? That’s what I want to share here, both to keep myself motivated and to share inspiration with others. Tell me in the comments below what you’ve accomplished this year!

First off, for the big achievements!

Graduated University

After countless 8 AMs, essay-writing frenzies, long hours both early and late, I graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelors in International Security, and minors in Chinese Language and Asian Studies. I wasn’t much of a partier nor a sporting-event attendee, and to be honest, I don’t regret the way I spent my time. My college experience was a (sometimes brutally) tough one, but it made finally getting that diploma so much more worth it.

Landed My First Full-Time, Adult-World Job

Before I even walked the stage, I was fortunate enough to already have a job lined up! It helps to have known since age 11 what I wanted my first ‘adult’ job to be, and thus far I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Yes, even the paperwork. (I love paperwork.)

Actual image of me at the office.

**(For the curious people out there, I’m currently an English teacher at a popular education chain throughout China, though I prefer not to disclose its name for privacy reasons.)

Moved to China

I can’t adequately describe what it’s like moving clear across the world. A place where you don’t fluently speak the language, where you know absolutely no one, where the food and the climate are the complete opposite of what you’ve grown up around, and so forth. Scary? Boy, scary doesn’t even begin to cover it.

But. It’s more than just scary.

It’s exciting, it’s validating, it grows your courage and your sense of self. It tests your limits. It brings out both the worst and the best in yourself–then lets you decide which to cultivate. Though I’ve had many a struggle since I’ve been here and essentially no one to lean on, I am thankful to be here, and can’t wait to see who I am at the end of my year abroad.

P.S. I do, however, sincerely miss salsa. And Cool Ranch Doritos.  

Finished the First Draft of my 4th Novel, The Immortal

With my No Angels trilogy wrapped up in 2016, 2017 was high time to begin another tale. I’ve had the idea for The Immortal for many years now, so to have the first draft officially penned is a big milestone. I know it’ll take a while to polish, but I’m enjoying the slower-pace of editing right now, savoring the process, watching the prose develop, and so on. Currently it’s at about 65,000 words, one of my shorter works, but trust me when I say it’s my favorite by far!

 

With the bigger achievements of 2017 out of the way, here are my smaller (though still meaningful) accomplishments:

Made 12 YouTube Videos

I know what you’re thinking. “Okay, and that’s exciting why?” But here’s the thing: I’ve tried for years to gather the courage to post YouTube videos. I’ve probably made over 30 videos that I either never posted or posted-then-deleted, all because I was afraid. Afraid of getting embarrassed, of the quality not being good enough, and of 500 other things. But 2017 was the year I decided to say goodbye to those thoughts, because fear like that brings no value to our lives. You can check out my channel here, if you’re interested.

Improved My Photography and Video-Editing Skills

On some level, I feel like wanting to take beautiful pictures and videos goes hand-in-hand with travel. When’s the last time you saw something beautiful and didn’t want to share it with the world? However, it wasn’t until recently that I purchased a decent camera, and even then I was a complete beginner at how to use it. After enrolling in an online class on the lighting, composition, angles, etc. of photography, I’ve started to see steady improvement. I hope you have too!

Traveled to New Places

Traveling is something I hope to do every year, but that doesn’t mean I should take any of it for granted! I rang in 2017 with the love of my life in Denver, Colorado, and later we endured the heat of Las Vegas for a couple days of buffets, magic shows, and some good ol’ fashioned people-watching. A week and a half before I went to China, we went on one last trip together to our favorite US city, Seattle, Washington.

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From academics to adventure, 2017 has been a success, and I’m excited to see what 2018 has in store–both for me and for you.

Speaking of which, what did you do in 2017? Sit and really think about the lessons you learned, the people you met, and the things you saw, then comment them below.  ♥

 

 

 

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Masterlist of Chinese Language Learning Resources

I’ve studied eight foreign languages, and the one I’ve gotten the farthest with is Mandarin Chinese. I minored in it, figured out what did and didn’t work for me, and have found which language learning resources are truly top-notch. So, here are my recommendations for just that!

***The first time I name a new resource, I will bold it so that you don’t miss out!***

 

TEXTBOOKS

I’ve come across a lot of terrible language textbooks in my studies, but thankfully I’ve found some great ones for learning Mandarin. My favorites are the entire sequence of the Integrated Chinese books, and, once you’re through with those I’d move onto the Princeton Language Study books. Specifically, A Trip to China is the next one I’d recommend! 

 

APPS & WEBSITES

When online, I’dc recommend switching all your sites over to Chinese; Facebook, Youtube, the whole deal. Additionally, join sites like Youku and Weibo to connect with Chinese speakers and learn what’s current!

The biggest recommendation I have however, is to download the Zhongwen: Chinese-English dictionary plugin off the Google store (which is free!) or some other text-to-pinyin plugin. When you hover your cursor over a Chinese character, it will give you both the traditional and simplified characters, pinyin pronunciation, and definition. This helps leaps and bounds in learning new words and understanding what you’re reading.

As for apps, my favorites for studying Mandarin are Decipher, Pleco, Memrise, LearnwithOliver, and Lang-8.

The most basic Chinese language app out there is ever-popular dictionary app of Pleco. Pleco has everything you’d want in a dictionary, from flashcard functionality, to stroke order, to audio, to hand-writing, and so on. This is the number one thing I recommend to Chinese learners of every level.

Decipher is another great app, and very different from others out there. It has daily news articles in Chinese, where you can click on words you don’t understand and add them to flashcard decks, see the HSK ranking (汉语水平考试, essentially a difficulty or proficiency rating) of each article, etc.

Memrise is a convenient app that drills vocabulary and sentence-building, where you can also hear the words spoken for you. This is good for pronunciation, which is very, veryvery important for Chinese since it’s a tonal language. 

LearnWithOliver is a website, not an app, but it’s one of my favorite resources out there. They’ll email you words of the day tailored to your preferred difficulty level, have drills from multiple choice to sentence construction, reading segments, and so forth, and is all-over just a great resource. This is a high-quality and extremely under-rated gem for language learning, Chinese or not.

For practicing your writing, I have yet to find a site better than Lang-8. There you can write journal entries, and native speakers will correct them to sound more natural. Plus, you can make friends and language-practice buddies!

HABITS

You want exposure to Mandarin EVERY. DAY. Wake up and, before you get out of bed, read a light news article in Chinese on your phone. As you’re commuting to work or school, listen to Chinese podcasts or music. Try to make friends and talk to people through WeChat and Lang-8 in your target language. Just make an effort!

The Great Hypnotist movie poster
The Great Hypnotist, a Chinese psychological thriller.

Watching dramas and movies is a great way to learn new vocabulary and colloquialisms; you can go use Netflix and YouTube, but a recent website I’ve discovered is AiQiYi, and it has almost every Chinese show you could ever want on it. (My favorite Chinese movie right now is The Great Hypnotist. It’s on Netflix, so check it out!) Great musical artists to listen to are Fang Da Tong, Zhou Jie Lun, and Qu Wanting, but there are many others as well.  Trying to copy what someone else is saying, whether in a movie or a song, will give you a more natural pronunciation, and also help you to achieve better fluency.

 

I hope these recommendations and tips help you on your language journey! If you’d like to stay up-to-date on my own studies, my move to China, or my other travels, you can subscribe to my mailing list or my YouTube channel, or follow me on my social media accounts via the sidebar. ✨

Until next time! 再见!

 

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Weekend in Las Vegas

From July 7th through the 9th, I was in Las Vegas! It was a weekend trip, put together by my loving boyfriend as a birthday + graduation gift to me. Watch the video above to see the different places we visited (plus all of the mouth-watering food we ate), and below I’ll give you the names and details–plus a few additional photos.

Day 1

We left for Vegas at around 3 in the afternoon, and, with a brief layover in Denver, CO, made it in at around 6PM. (Thank you, time zones!) For this evening, we mostly walked the strip and settled into our hotel, The Monte Carlo, so we could prepare for the excitement of tomorrow!

Highlights: Sleep. 

 

Day 2

When we woke up, Vegas was still sleeping off last night’s hangover, leaving us to take advantage of the relative quietude to see the city! The shopping here was insane, from Gucci to Louis Vuitton to Prada to Tiffany’s, so . . . yeah, I’m going to assume people drop some major cash here. We spent a good portion of the day window-shopping, admiring bizarre artwork, and so forth.

For us though, it’s all about that food life! After going to the Nathan Burton Comedy Magic Show (a great value for the price, and no, I’m not being paid to say that!), we got ready to dine at Prime, a steakhouse within a literal arm’s reach from the Bellagio fountains. I’m not sure if it was the ambience, my handsome date, or what, but let me say this loud and clear: that was the best steak of my life. And I’m from Texas. I know steak.

Sweet lord, this steak left me weak at the knees.

Later on that evening, I gambled for the first time via slot machine just to say I’d done it, and ended up winning $50 bucks! I cashed out immediately, because otherwise, well, that’s how they get ya. Stay smart, kids.

One of the many beautiful sights we saw. This glasswork was located inside the Bellagio hotel.

Highlights: The filet at Prime Steakhouse; the Bellagio fountains; seeing the Chihuly glass ceiling. 

 

Day 3

Poolside view.

We woke up early to go swimming at the Mandalay Bay pools, both their wave pool and their lazy river, to work up a sufficient appetite for the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace. And boy, am I glad we did.

 

One of five plates I ate. (I’m all for that carb life.)

Because oh. My god. That was the most unreal buffet I’d ever been to. Crab legs, ramen, dim sum, red velvet pancakes, french fruit tartlets, and so on. If you’re going to go to a brunch in Vegas, I highly recommend this one. Our flight left relatively soon after, so that was largely our only activity for the day, but it was worth it 100 times over!

Highlights: Bacchanal Buffet.

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All in all, we had an amazing time in Las Vegas, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for a weekend get-away. It was the perfect amount of time, too–in all honesty, I’m not sure what else we would have done if we’d stayed longer.

Have you ever been to Las Vegas? Have you ever gone on any other out-of-state weekend trips? Leave a comment below and tell me about your adventure!

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I’m Moving to China!

As you can tell from the title, I am moving across the globe to China! To the north-eastern city of Changchun, in fact. In this video I cover 4 main things about my upcoming journey: where I’ll be living, how long I’ll be there, what I’ll be doing, and why I’ve decided to go.

Where I Will be Living

I will be living in the medium sized city of Changchun, home to the head of the former Manchukuo puppet state, home of the last emperor, one of China’s famed garden cities, and so forth. Some of the things I’m most excited to see while I’m there are the natural hot springs and the yearly Ice Festival! (Check out the pictures below!)

One of Jilin’s popular hot springs.
The yearly Harbin Ice Festival.

How Long I’ll be There

My contract is for a full 12 months. I should be leaving for China in about mid-September, and thus will return one year from then.

What I’ll be Doing

I will be teaching English! I have such a passion for language and learning, so put those two together and, well, you can see why I’m so excited to go. 😉

Why I’m Going

This one is a longer answer, but I’ll boil it down to this: I love to travel, I want to improve my Chinese by actually immersing myself in the language and culture, this job will help me to get experience and funds for graduate school, and I simply want to. Ever since I was 11 years old, I’ve wanted to pack up and move overseas, and appreciate the culture and history of wherever I wound up. I see so many older folks say “I wish I’d done X, Y, or Z when I was younger”, and yet they never did. I refuse to let that be me.

Yes, it’s kind of scary moving overseas. Especially to a country half way around the world, where you only kinda-sorta understand the language and customs.  But if you never jump, you’ll never know what waits on the other side.

So, I’m jumping.

 

If you’d like to stay up-to-date with my many adventures in and around China, subscribe to my mailing list (in the right-hand sidebar), my YouTube channel, or any of my social media pages at the top!

 

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Productivity Update: June 2017

It’s been some time, hasn’t it? Much has changed since my last update, with exciting new developments and more.

 

I currently have over 60,000 words written for this bad boy! Still pushing along, and I’m hoping to finish at 75,000 by early August. This is easily my favorite work I’ve ever penned, reaching from Alexander’s conquests to China’s Communist Revolution, from lost alchemic rituals to the bonds that thread us all together. I can’t wait to get this in the hands of readers! Obviously I have a great deal of work ahead, but I’m looking forward to it all the same. I’m hoping to be done with my first full edit of The Immortal by the end of 2017.

 

THE-STOLEN-SUN-BANNER

A magazine almost picked this up, but then decided it wasn’t for them. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Either way, I have this piece out on submission at two other places now, and if those fall through, I’ll take a step back to retool it. I mean, I wrote this two and a half years ago! The writing deities might just be saying it’s time to slap a new coat of paint on it, huh?

 

I was supposed to post a video at the end of May, but my old computer died, taking that (entirely edited! ?) video with it. However, I do have a different video that I am working on right now (5 Tips to Stay Sharp over Summer Break), so expect that soon! I’m also going to post videos on writing and language learning on my YouTube channel, so click this link and subscribe!

 

I have officially graduated with my Bachelor’s in International Security and minors in Mandarin Chinese and Asian Studies! And I’m moving! TO CHINA! I’ll be posting more on where I’ll be living, what I’ll be doing there, etc. in the near future, but regardless I am incredibly excited to make my way out into the Big Wide World as a Certified Adult™. In the meantime, I’m trying to get visa documents squared away, working, writing, building up this website, and so forth.

 

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What are you up to during these summer months? Any projects or travels? Leave a comment below! Thanks for stopping by, and until next time!

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How to Actually Accomplish Your New Year’s Resolutions

It’s finally 2017, and, having abandoned them in the past, you may or may not have set your New Year’s Resolutions. Here are my top five tips when setting and attempting to fulfill these ever-elusive goals.

New Year’s Resolutions are a big deal to me. I set about 12 a year, and usually accomplish 80% of those. Not too shabby! In order to come up with worthy goals and actually achieve them, here are my top five tips.

#1: Set Measurable Goals

Say you’re like millions of others and want to lose weight. What does that mean? Do you want to lose ten pounds, or three hundred? This is similar to those goals of people wanting to lose twenty pounds in a week; it’s unrealistic, unsustainable, and sets you up for failure from the get go. Have something you can measure day by day, and can actually track your progress on.

#2: Only Set Resolutions that Are Dependent on You

This is one that everybody falls into the trap of. For example, maybe you want to snag a promotion and make that a New Years Resolution. Now, I’m not one to stop others from aiming high–it’s a wonderful goal–but as far as a resolution, it’s not great. Why? Resolutions are something that you yourself resolve to do. And you’re not the one who ultimately decides if you get that promotion. Your boss does! What you can resolve to do instead is work your absolute hardest, put in good hours, volunteer for additional projects, and so forth.

#3: Break It Down Into Chunks

Part of the reason people don’t commit to big resolutions is because they seem so, well, big. But there are 12 months/52 weeks/365 days in a year. Women can create a person in that amount of time. Surely we can complete a goal of ours in that same window, right?

I like to break my goals down my month and week. For my current novel, THE IMMORTAL, I wanted to complete the first draft this year at about 70,000 words. That translates to about 5,800 words a month, and 1,350 a week. Knowing that, I have a plan of how many words to write a day. From there I simply have to put my butt in the chair and write. I frequently post monthly updates to my blog to keep myself accountable for what I’ve actually done.

#4: Choose Long-Term Interests

Listen, NY Resolutions are for an entire year. As we established above, that’s a lot of time. So if you’ve picked up a fleeting interests in, say, extreme ironing, don’t assume you’ll stay interested in it for the next 12 months.

#5: Don’t Share Your Plans, Share Your Progress

Heard the cliche ‘talk is cheap’? There’s a reason it’s so common. People love to talk about what they’re going to do, but rarely do it. Think of how many people say they’re going to write a book, yet have never sat down to write out a full outline, nonetheless an entire novel.

When we talk about our plans, we often overestimate what (if any) progress we’ve made on them. But if we let our actual progress speak for us, then both ourselves and others will take note.

 

I hope you found these tips helpful, and implement a few of them into your goal setting! What are your New Years Resolutions? Comment below!

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