Tag Archives: United States

Comprehending Reverse Culture Shock

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Those curious to study and work abroad are always threatened by the thought of reverse culture shock, but often wonder if it is real or if it will really happen to them. With one study abroad experience under my belt, I thought that reverse culture shock wouldn’t happen to me after being in Paris. What I realized, though, is that I was in Paris for almost twice as long as I was in Spain, and my graduate school and adult realities now are much different than my previous realities in the comfortable space of undergrad.

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Source: http://www.lumesse.com

With a week gone by since I have arrived back to the United States, I have noticed reverse culture shock in both subtle and big ways. First of all, I experienced a physiological adjustment, with little to no sleep the night before my flight home, too much food during my flight, and the threat of a cold and cough after traveling near others who were sick. It took me almost five days to catch up on sleep and feel normal again. Fortunately, I am now physically feeling back in the Eastern time zone, but facing other adjustments in the transition process from student in study abroad mode, to student in vacation mode, to soon-to-be intern mode.

Another observation is that all my senses were heightened. I would “jump” with surprise when I heard English in France, and upon returning to the United States, I felt that jumping sensation repeatedly until I realized that English is normal again. The sound of candy wrappers on the airplane seemed to bother me and I have never noticed that before. My sense of smell was much more present, as I noticed how fresh the air was in my hometown of Rochester, Michigan after living in polluted city air in Paris. My sense of taste was heightened as I came to appreciate the diversity of my diet in the United States again, rather than the routine cereal, sandwich, and pasta that I had everyday with my host family in Paris. My eyes were very observant that I am now in a familiar environment again, rather than being surrounded by historical wonders, the constant fear of getting lost, and the constant desire to explore and learn about the world. I also felt a need to hug all of my relatives and friends more than usual, after being distanced from them and only being able to send a Facebook or WhatsApp message.

Building on the need for hugs and human touch again, I have noticed a difference in my relationships with loved ones. After four months of limited communication and light-hearted conversation, focusing mainly on my adventures, reality seemed to smack me in the face that my loved ones are facing challenges and they are not in this little safe bubble that I warmly remember as home. While home is warm and safe, there are the same challenges and changes as anywhere else in the world. After four months in explorer mode, I have now returned to daughter, sister, girlfriend, and friend modes, which bring me much joy but also bring hardship that is easy to forget as an explorer. The hardship has made it more difficult to get along, likely because of the pent-up energy of missing each other combined with the fact that I now live a 12-hour drive away from home for graduate school. My goal is to apply the life lessons about being a better person that I have gained from my study abroad experience, in order to merge my two worlds of exploration and relationships.

On a more positive note, I have realized that I have much to be grateful for in the United States, with a loving family, supportive friends, a safe home, a nice car, a great education, and exciting opportunities to advance in my career. During this study abroad experience more than my first one, I have realized that I am very grateful to be American, and have become more aware of the many benefits that the United States provides for its citizens. Leaving home for a while has provided me with more gratitude when I am home, cherishing special moments with loved ones and doing my best to avoid conflict in our limited time together. With another language and greater understanding of world issues from my international classmates in Paris, I have a wealth of knowledge that I wouldn’t have gained had I not studied and lived in Paris. This worldly wisdom will help me as I enter the world of international business and interact with diverse people from around the world.

Going forward, I am reminding myself everyday to be patient with the transition process. I am sharing photos and stories with family and friends to combine my two worlds of being abroad and being home. I am finding comfort in nature, with seasons and sunsets reminding me that there are some parts of life that are constant and foreseeable. And finally, going abroad and returning home again reteaches me the importance of living with an inspirNational mindset, where I find joy in learning from new cultures, seeking new opportunities, and having an open mind to the world around me.

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What Makes the Fall Season So Special in the United States?

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Meeting people from around the world, I have noticed that they are often surprised by how much Americans love the fall season. To many people (at least in the northern hemisphere), fall means the end of summer and the beginning of winter. In the United States, fall is arguably the best season of the year. Why?

1. Throughout the fall season, tree leaves change colors for some of the most beautiful natural views of the year. Along with the brightly colored trees, the air is crisp and sweet, making it very inviting for you to go outside and explore.

Source: Picstar

Source: Picstar

2. Fall flavors are warm and comforting. In the United States, you will find pumpkin-flavored everything. Pumpkin pie is typically a family favorite, but you will find pumpkin-flavored coffee, pastries, and more! Apple flavor is also popular. The flavors of Thanksgiving are some of the most memorable, including turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, and sweet potatoes.

Source: bpkwesthartford.com

Source: bpkwesthartford.com

3. Fall activities bring your family and friends together. Apple picking is a great way to get outside with your loved ones and pick apples that you can eat right off the tree or use in recipes, such as apple crisp or apple pie. Common in the Midwest and Northeastern United States is visiting cider mills, which serve fresh apple cider, homemade donuts and pastries. They also often have farm animals and outdoor activities for you to enjoy while eating your treats. Carving pumpkins is another fall favorite, as you can make a jack-o-lantern to decorate your porch and you can bake the pumpkin seeds for a nice snack!

My favorite cider mill in my hometown, Rochester, Michigan!

My favorite cider mill in my hometown, Rochester, Michigan!

4. Halloween (October 31 every year) provides the perfect opportunity to disguise yourself as your favorite character or silly costume that is guaranteed to make your loved ones laugh. Along with wearing costumes, you can eat your favorite candies with little remorse, visit haunted houses, experience hayrides, and go to Halloween parties. Children also have the opportunity to go trick-or-treating, where they visit their neighbors and ask for candy while dressed up in adorable costumes.

One of my favorite personal pumpkin carvings!

One of my favorite Halloween pumpkin carvings!

5. American football, played in the fall, has more spirit than any other sport in the United States. You will see football spirit at all levels, from middle and high school to college to professional football. Americans enjoy tailgating before football games, which involves eating barbeque food, drinking beer, playing games such as cornhole, and cheering for your favorite team. The spirit exists every weekend and has created tremendous rivalries across the United States. I have had an interesting experience with football having moved throughout the Midwest and now to the Southern United States – my loyalties have shifted, but I will always root for my alma mater (University of Michigan) first!

University of Michigan Football Stadium - holds the largest crowd (over 114,000 people) in the United States!

University of Michigan Football Stadium – holds the largest crowd (over 114,000 people) in the United States!

I hope this gives you a taste of all the special qualities of fall in the United States. Just writing about it makes me grateful that fall is here. I would be grateful to hear why fall is (or is not) your favorite season and how it compares to other seasons throughout the world!

Why Visit Charlotte, North Carolina

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Charlotte, North Carolina has been mentioned a lot lately in “best of” rankings throughout the United States:

  • No. 3 Top Moving Destinations, January 2015 United Van Lines of all states
  • No. 1 Most Entrepreneurial Cities, December 2014 Global Trade Magazine of 50 cities
  • No. 2 Fastest-Growing Big Cities in the U.S., December. 2014 U.S. Census Bureau of 34 cities
  • No. 2 Best Cities for Recent College Graduates, April 2014 Apartments.com of 100 cities with highest apartment availability
  • No. 4 Most Affordable Destinations for 2015, December 2014 Priceline.com of 15 cities
  • No. 9 Best Cities to Start a Career, May 2014 Wallethub.com of 150 largest U.S. cities

Earlier this month, I decided to see for myself what all the hype is about! Even in my short day long trip, I was impressed with how modern Charlotte was, with city parks, sustainable transportation options, great restaurants, and fun nightlife.

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Below are some highlights of “must-sees” and “must-dos” when you plan your next trip to Charlotte, North Carolina:

The Epicentre: What an amazing idea! It’s like a mall, but includes all entertainment options you could ask for in an open air space (restaurants, a bowling alley, piano bar, country bar, rooftop dance floor, and more!). I most enjoyed dancing to my favorite songs from the 90’s at the Howl at the Moon Piano bar and today’s hits at the 210 rooftop bar.

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Fine Dining with a VIew: Experience all of Charlotte from the sky with spectacular views and delicious cuisine at Bentley’s on 27. I had a surprise dinner date here and was taken aback by the Charlotte sunset and cityscape, incredible French onion soup and goat cheese salad, French wines, and beautiful old-fashioned candles!

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Run through the City Parks: When I first arrived to the city, I knew I had limited time and wanted to explore the surroundings. Running is a perfect way to do just that! I ran through the center city and the local parks, including Independence Park (one of Charlotte’s original city parks from 1904) and Arequipa Park (has a decorative fountain and beautiful mature trees). Charlotte strikes a nice balance between a modern city and nature preservation, with several trees and greenscapes scattered throughout the city. As a nature lover who also likes to be in the center of a city, I really appreciated the combination! The parks advertised several city events, which made me excited to go back and visit.

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The Brewery Scene: Charlotte has several popular breweries, including NoDa Brewing Company, Birdsong Brewing Company, Heist Brewery, Growlers Pourhouse, and Salud Beer Shop. It also has one of the best beer gardens in America (VBGB), with a giant sized chess and Connect 4 and a frost rail to keep your beer cold. I enjoyed sampling some of the beers, including the very unique (and spicy!) Birdsong Jalapeno IPA at the Ri Ra Irish Pub. Charlotte’s tourism website has a whole beer city itinerary designed for you!

Nascar Hall of Fame: Feeling the need for speed? Charlotte is famous for its speed racing heritage. The Nascar Hall of Fame is one of the world’s most interactive and high-tech halls of fame in the world with four floors of 31 cars and close to 1,000 artifacts. In my quick trip, I was not able to visit this, but would love to go back and visit one day, especially with my Motor City roots!

Source: charlottesgotalot.com

Source: charlottesgotalot.com

I had a wonderful time in Charlotte and now understand why it is one of the hotspots in the U.S. I look forward to going back in the near future! If you have any other recommendations for a visit to Charlotte, please add them in the comments below!

Respecting the Significance of Cinco de Mayo

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Happy Cinco de Mayo!

As many people in Mexico, the U.S. (including me), and throughout the world celebrate the holiday, it is important to remember its significance to Mexico.

Source: HLNTV

Source: HLNTV

I have read several articles about Cinco de Mayo and appropriate ways to acknowledge its symbolism. One of the most insightful articles I read was by Raul A. Reyes, an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors. Below I have captured his article, On Cinco de Mayo, celebrate, don’t stereotype, on CNN:

“Time to pass the margarita pitcher? For most Americans, Cinco de Mayo calls to mind tequila shots, mariachi music, and special promotions at Mexican restaurants. The Fifth of May usually means that it’s time for a mid-week fiesta.

Not so fast. It’s worth knowing more about Cinco de Mayo, our homegrown holiday. We should at least recall its true meaning and context. With Cinco de Mayo, the U.S. has gone straight to commercialization with little thought to its original significance.

That’s a shame, because Cinco de Mayo is a seminal date in Mexican history. It is a holiday that deserves respect, and it can even be seen as a metaphor for the Hispanic experience.

Contrary to popular assumption, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. Mexican Independence Day is September 16 — and dates back to 1810, more than 50 years before the first Cinco de Mayo.

Cinco de Mayo marks the date of a Mexican military victory over France — not Spain. On May 5, 1862, several hundred Mexican soldiers defeated a much larger contingent of the French army in the Battle of Puebla. France had sent troops to Mexico after the country suspended payments on foreign debts. Although Mexico ultimately lost this war (and the French did not withdraw until several years later), the Battle of Puebla was a huge morale booster for Mexicans.

It was a David-vs.-Goliath situation, as the French army was then considered one of the best in the world. If only more Americans knew this! For if Americans love anything, it’s come-from-behind victories.

It also might surprise people that Cinco de Mayo is more of a big deal in the U.S. than Mexico. Though the date is a holiday in Mexico, it is celebrated mostly in Puebla, the site of the 1862 battle. In the U.S., the observance of Cinco de Mayo is thought to have originated among Mexican laborers in the in the mid-1800s as a celebration of national pride.

A century later, Mexican-American activists in the 1960s claimed it as a symbol of ethnic identity. Then corporations discovered Cinco de Mayo as a way to market to Latino consumers, and the holiday went mainstream. So here is a celebration that began among lowly immigrant workers that has now been recognized by Madison Avenue and Wall Street. It’s a process that mirrors the assimilation of Latinos into the fabric of society.

Cinco de Mayo is an imported celebration that has now become as American as the Fourth of July. How amazing is that?

Unfortunately, the American celebration of Cinco de Mayo often results in a parade of stereotypes. Last year alone: An MSNBC morning show apologized for a misguided segment that featured a producer shaking a maraca and doing a shot of tequila; an ABC News anchor apologized for wearing a sombrero and adopting an accent on what she called “Cinco de Drinko”; a Seattle radio station drew anger from local Hispanics after sponsoring a festival that encouraged people to “come dressed in the celebratory attire of festive Mexico”; and at a North Carolina college, some students took offense at Cinco de Mayo being observed with students donning sombreros and chocolate “mustaches.”

The sad thing about all these incidents is that the parties involved probably had a good impulse to mark Cinco de Mayo. Yet they showed poor judgment in how they did it.

There’s nothing wrong with celebrating Cinco de Mayo at a local bar or restaurant. I just hope people remember that there is more to it than Corona happy hours. Cinco de Mayo remains a meaningful date in Mexico and a point of pride for Mexican-Americans as well. Besides, we can never go wrong by showing a bit of cultural sensitivity. Just consider how it would strike us if we saw another country marking the Battle of Gettysburg with binge drinking and Uncle Sam hats.

This Cinco de Mayo, let’s ditch the sombreros, fake accents, and mustaches. Instead let’s honor the shared heritage of Mexico and the U.S. with joy and without stereotypes.

In fact, I’ll drink to that.”

As many North Americans and others throughout the world consider celebrating Cinco de Mayo, we should remember to celebrate respectfully, honoring the Mexican heritage that it represents.

Best Historic Homes to Visit in the United States

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Over the past few months, I have had the great opportunity to visit some of the most significant and beautiful historic homes in the United States. Why visit historic homes? You will be able to learn the history and charm of some of the most famous leaders in the United States, have a closer look at their personal lives, and get a taste of the first class lifestyle and elegance throughout history. Several sources highlight the best historic homes, such as Fodor’s Travel and Traditional Home. While I have not traveled to all of them, below I have described four of my favorite historic homes in the United States:

  1. Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina: America’s largest home, the 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate was built in 1895 by George Vanderbilt. My first reaction upon arriving to estate was how fresh the air was. The estate resides in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with beautiful natural scenery and the cleanest air I have ever felt. It is self-sustaining, with a farm, winery, hotel and entertainment. George Vanderbilt lived there with his wife until 1914 when he passed away, and then his children resided in the home. The home is elegantly decorated with a French influence and has some of the largest and most majestic fireplaces I have ever seen. As a sustainability consultant, I was interested to learn that the estate was awarded in 2012 for environmental stewardship, including a new solar array and tree projection project.11018881_10153134709934524_821918120597568214_n
  2. Mount Vernon, Virginia: According to the interactive website, Mount Vernon “offers a glimpse into 18th-century plantation life through beautiful gardens and grounds, intriguing museum exhibits, and immersive programs honoring George Washington’s life and legacy.” I toured the home while attending a public policy business course in Washington D.C. I was impressed by the beautiful gardens and scenery surrounding George Washington’s home. I also appreciated the handouts of Martha Washington’s favorite recipes, some of which I brought home with me (that reminds me, I still need to cook them :))!535337_10150940593654524_1589505112_n
  3. Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens in Akron, Ohio: As I described in my post, Favorite Ways to Spend Fall in Cleveland, the Stan Hywet Hall was the home of F.A. Sieberling, who created The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in 1898. The home was built between 1912-1915 and was one of the finest examples of the American Country Estate Movement. It includes five historic buildings and eight historic gardens on 70 acres. Learn more about the history of the Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens here. I enjoyed the several gardens and yard games – it would have been a lot of fun to grow up with so many outdoor activities and free land to explore!10653848_10152756415664524_6848450162640339_n
  4. Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California: According to the website, William Randolph Hearst built the “estate on his ranchland overlooking the village of San Simeon in 1919. He called the estate “La Cuesta Encantada” – Spanish for The Enchanted Hill. By 1947, the hilltop complex included a twin-towered main building, three sumptuous guesthouses, and 127 acres of terraced gardens, fountains, and pools.” Given the significance of the Hearst family in journalism, I was interested to see the Gothic Study, where Hearst would preview newspapers every night before printing them the following morning. I also enjoyed the Spanish influence in the home decor given my Spanish language and culture studies.

    Source: hearstcastle.org

    Source: hearstcastle.org

Visiting these estates reminds me of how much more engaging and rewarding it is to learn history through site seeing rather than reading a school textbook. If I ever have the opportunity to teach, my goal will be to encourage hands-on learning, allowing students to actually visit the locations we discuss in class. I look forward to traveling to the remaining famous estates throughout the United States in my lifelong pursuit to learn about the world.

Top 5 Places to Visit on the East Coast of the United States

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Check out my latest contribution to One World 365!

Since the beginning of the New World, the East Coast of the United States has been a symbol of immigration and the formation of a new nation, “the land of the free.” The East Coast has historical charm, representing the European heritage that founded the United States. The entire coast has exciting and interesting cities and landscapes that tourists should visit. Below I have outlined the top 5 cities to visit throughout the East Coast:
  • Boston, Massachusetts: As one of the oldest cities in the United States, Boston is known for several significant events in the American Revolution, such as the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party. Walk the famous Freedom Trail, shop along Newbury Street, and go on a ghost tour! Learning about historical figures during a ghost tour was one of my favorite and most memorable experiences in Boston.
Boston Ghost Tour

Boston Ghost Tour

  • New York City, New York: The most well-known city in the United States, New York City is where immigration into the United States began. The hustle and bustle, bright lights, and endless activities make NYC known as a city that never sleeps. It is the home of Wall Street, the Statue of Liberty, Freedom Tower, Broadway, and Central Park, among other staple names in tourism.
View from Wall Street apartment in NYC

View from Wall Street apartment in NYC

  • Washington, District of Columbia: As the capital of the United States, you will learn about the origins of the separation of power in the government. With tours of government buildings, historical monuments, and Smithsonian museums (free admission!), you will have the opportunity to learn a lot about United States history.
View from the U.S. Capitol Building on a private tour from a Congressman's office

View from the U.S. Capitol Building on a private tour from a Congressman’s office

  • Charleston, South Carolina: Known as the Holy City and one of the most hospitable places in the United States, Charleston is the epitome of Southern United States charm and historical architecture. Make a point to visit the Charleston City Market to try pralines and purchase baskets and trinkets that bring you back in time. Take a stroll on Rainbow Road and Battery Park. Try fresh seafood and visit the beaches throughout the year (I went to Folly Beach in January!). I wrote about my trip to Charleston, South Carolina in 24 Hours.
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  • West Palm Beach, Florida: With sunny skies and beautiful weather throughout the year, visit West Palm Beach and the surrounding coastal islands throughout the year. You will find beautiful beaches along the Atlantic Ocean, luxurious golf courses, and great shopping opportunities. For the past several years, I have frequently visited Jensen Beach, Florida, which is relatively close to West Palm Beach. Jensen Beach is known for its annual pineapple festival, delicious seafood, boating, fishing, and watching sea turtles during nesting season.
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At Conchy Joe’s, one of my favorite seafood restaurants in Jensen Beach, FL

I hope you have the opportunity to travel to these exciting destinations on the East Coast. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me in the comment section below, on my inspirNational Facebook page or on Twitter @brittanyvb.

Why More People Should Visit the Midwest in the United States

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What is the Midwest? “There’s no place like home” is one of the most famous expressions from Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz who resided in Kansas, one of the states in the Midwest. The Midwest is one of four regions in the United States, including 12 states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

View of Lake Michigan from Traverse City, Michigan

View of Lake Michigan from Traverse City, Michigan

Most known for its farmland, family-oriented nature, and football spirit, the Midwest has great charm, unlike any other place in the world. Why should you visit the Midwest?

  • For those of you who are learning to speak English, the Midwest is the home of the traditional American accent. News broadcasters in the United States are generally trained to have accents like Midwesterners. You will gain great exposure to the American accent as you are completing your English studies and traveling through the states in the Midwest.
  • Drive through the origin of the automobile assembly line (Ford Motor Company) and the Motor City (name based on the large automotive influence) in Detroit, Michigan. You can learn more about Detroit’s automotive heritage at the Greenfield Village Henry Ford Museum. Your ears will be delighted to hear favorite tunes from the past, as Detroit is also known as Motown for being the home of Motown Records, with famous musicians such as Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Diana Ross & The Supremes, the Jackson 5, and Marvin Gaye.
  • Swim in the largest source of freshwater in the world, the five Great Lakes! Surrounding Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Illinois, the great lakes host several fun beach towns. Given my Michigan roots, I am biased towards the beautiful beaches of Lake Michigan, particularly in western and Northern Michigan. As a new Clevelander, I have also become fond of Lake Erie, and especially the Cedar Point amusement park, which has some of the tallest and fastest roller coasters in the world.
  • Satisfy your sweet tooth in the Cherry Capital of the world in Traverse City, Michigan. Also climb and explore the Sleeping Bear Dunes, which were recently called “The Most Beautiful Place in America” by ABC News. The lakeside soil also caters to beautiful wineries, comparable to Napa Valley, California in scenery with sweeter flavors. While you are there, go back in time with a visit Mackinac Island, a charming island with bicycles and horse carriages replacing automobiles, delicious fudge, and nineteenth century history including forts from the War in 1812.
  • Rock and roll throughout Cleveland, Ohio, the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Cleveland is experiencing a revolution, with young professionals (like me) moving downtown to explore the diverse restaurants, trendy bars, and breweries. Cleveland is the home of Great Lakes Brewery and offers free brewery tours.
  • Stroll through the Windy City of Chicago, Illinois, which is known for much more than its strong wind. Great shopping, restaurants, and site seeing make it one of the best cities to visit in the United States. Some highlights include the reflective bean in Millennium Park, Navy Pier, and the Magnificent Mile.
  • Shop in one of the world’s largest shopping malls at Mall of America in Minnesota. While you are there, make sure to stop in Minneapolis, which is considered a global economic city. Minneapolis is famous for its seven miles of glass-enclosed skyways, perfect for walking around in the winter.
  • Try cheese in Wisconsin, the largest cheese producer in the United States, making over 600 cheese varieties.
  • Wonder why American children get excited that they can spell Mississippi? Besides that it is a long word to spell, the name is significant for the Mississippi River, which is the chief river of the largest drainage system in North America. It rises in Northern Minnesota and passes through 31 states and 2 Canadian provinces. You can learn more about the river’s significance at the National Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque, Iowa.
  • Explore the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, which was named after President Theodore Roosevelt. According to the National Park Website:

“When Theodore Roosevelt came to Dakota Territory to hunt bison in 1883, he was a skinny, young, spectacled dude from New York. He could not have imagined how his adventure in this remote and unfamiliar place would forever alter the course of the nation. The rugged landscape and strenuous life that TR experienced here would help shape a conservation policy that we still benefit from today.”

  • Learn American history at one of the nation’s most famous memorials: Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota. As the memorial website says:

“Symbolizing the ideals of freedom and democracy, it is a tribute to four presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln and their invaluable contributions to the United States.”

  • Cheer loud at a Big Ten college football game (originally rooted in the Midwest) for a taste of American football. The nation’s first college football league was founded in 1895 in the Midwest, first known as the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives, and later called the Big Ten Conference. I cannot give this recommendation without a shout out to my alma mater and a member of the Big Ten Conference, the University of Michigan. GO BLUE!

If you have any questions about visiting the Midwest, feel free reach out to me in the comment section below, on Facebook or Twitter (@brittanyvb). I have proudly lived in the Midwest for my entire life and traveling the world has made me proud to call the Midwest my home.

Also view this post on One World 365.