Discover: Montgomery County, Maryland

Growing up in the heart of suburbia, I never appreciated my hometown as much as I do today. But once I looked past the surplus of grocery stores, banks and chain restaurants, I was able to uncover the hidden gems of Montgomery County, Maryland.

It may seem strange to consider my “hometown” a county, but I never allowed the boundaries of the city listed on my address [Brookeville] to confine me. Brookeville is one of many towns included in Montgomery County. It may not have much to offer other than beautiful houses and the fact that it was the capital of the United States for one day during the War of 1812, but it is where my childhood home resides. A piece of my heart will always belong to it.

Like most teenagers, my friends and I were always on the hunt for things to do. The easy answer was to take the metro into Washington D.C., however, some of my favorite memories come from our adventures closer to home. Here are my top four spots in “MoCo.”

Favorite place to eat: Sister’s Sandwiches & Such

Eating healthy, fresh food outside of my own kitchen sometimes seems impossible. That all changed in June 2010 when two local sisters opened Sister’s Sandwiches & Such in a historic building known as Higgens Tavern. The building, located in Olney, Maryland, was once a trading post built in the 1820s. Now, the two-story house that could not look more out of place in front of a modern shopping center, holds mouth watering soups, salads, sandwiches and cookies along with locally-made crafts for sale. The petite yellow house creates a warm, homey environment and allows for seating inside and outside. On a warm, sunny day I take my delicious salad [Vinny’s salad to be specific] overflowing with diced gouda cheese, candied pecans, Granny Smith apples and a scoop of chicken salad onto the porch or front patio. Nothing gives summertime vibes better than enjoying a fresh salad outside with friends or family.

Favorite place to get some fresh air: Great Falls

From first glance, I may not look like the outdoorsy type. Yes, I own hiking boots! Yes, half of my wardrobe is athletic wear [some of it is Lululemon sorry, not sorry]! I may not love bugs, but I am a girl who loves an adventure. I have found that surrounding myself in nature is the best way to clear my head. There are many good hiking trails in Maryland that draw me along with many locals and tourists outside. Great Falls Park is located along the Potomac River and holds my favorite trails, known as the Billy Goat Trails. The views of the rapids and various waterfalls surrounded by greenery never get old. From rock-hopping to tiptoeing through the mud, the well-marked trails hold many exciting twists and turns. No matter the occasion, I always leave with sweat on my brow and a smile on my face.

Favorite sweet spot: Jimmie Cone

I pride myself on enjoying the little things in life, so when my sweet tooth calls I do not ignore it. Most days, I can satisfy it with fruit or a Kind bar, but sometimes it requires the real deal. By this I mean ice cream from my favorite local ice-cream parlor. Located in Damascus and Mt. Airy, Maryland, Jimmie Cone is a highly visited soft serve ice-cream shop. With its outdoor seating, it has become a summer bucket list destination for many Maryland locals since 1962. Every summer I make the trip for a classic vanilla with rainbow jimmies on a cake cone. Their menu holds many other appealing options like snowballs and sundaes that look so tempting to try. The real question is, what will I get this year?

Favorite yoga studio: The Spring Yoga & Natural Health Center

I grew up on sports like gymnastics and dance. While I believe yoga is beneficial for everyone, I can see why it was especially easy for me to incorporate the practice into my life. The Spring Yoga & Natural Health Center is a short five-minute drive from my house and offers endless wellness practices. They have something for everybody, but aerial yoga is what caught my attention. The class size is small and the instructors are so kind and helpful. We went through various poses that included hanging upside down, standing on the hammock, laying in the hammock and using the hammock for support during different stretches. The idea to sign-up started as just a fun thing to do with a friend, but we both left with the intention of going back. If you are ever in town and need to get your body moving, then these classes are a simple online signup away!

Exploring Feminism in a Machismo Culture

During my time in Costa Rica I had the privilege to take a gender and sustainability class. As a biology major, I have not had the opportunity to explore the topic of gender, let alone its impact on the environment. Feminism is not a new word to me, but the meaning behind the word has never been clear. Feminism on a basic level is defined by google as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of equality of the sexes.” This I understood, but the concept becomes more complex as each person redefines it on a personal level.

Ironically enough, my feminist views had only been defined after having spent a semester in Costa Rica’s machismo culture [Dictionary.com defines this culture as one that praises an exaggerated sense of manliness, power and the right to dominate]. That culture, where frequent cat calls occur on the streets and women experience restricted independence along with constant negative attention, only fueled my sense of #GRLPWR.

During class and on International Women’s day we explored topics such as: women’s rights, the gender pay gap, gender roles, women in politics, the feminism of poverty, women and the environment, women and violence and so much more. The one topic that caught my attention the most was women and violence.

Domestic violence and femicide, two topics that are rarely talked about outside of women’s gender and sexuality studies classrooms, are still prevalent issues in Latin America and across the globe. In a group project, for my class in San Jose, I studied the case of Maria Trinidad Matus, a 25-year-old Mexican singer who was a victim of femicide in 2018. She was attacked on a beach in Costa Rica for being a woman and the public immediately resorted to victim blaming. Traveling alone in Costa Rica made Maria a target, so what does that say about me? I came to Costa Rica alone, just like Maria, and just because I am a woman, this increases my likelihood of being placed in harm’s way. This story did not stop me from traveling all over Costa Rica on the weekends or going out in San Jose during the week, but it did make me more cautious. What I learned in class adjusted my mindset outside of the classroom too.

IMG_6544My friends and I had two major rules during our stay in Costa Rica. First, never go anywhere alone! The buddy system is always key, especially in a foreign country. Second, Uber everywhere in the city! Walking past sunset was a big no no in San Jose. With that being said, I never felt unsafe in Costa Rica, but I was not naive to what was going on around me. Even walking to the gym, men would stick their heads out the window of their cars, reverse to watch me walk by and even shout at me. One day, my friend and I fell asleep on the beach in Uvita and woke up to a man taking pictures of us. Boys would form circles around my friends and I while we danced at night clubs. The stories never end and every woman has similar stories of her own.

This is not something women should have to get used to, but they do..

Instead of allowing this type of environment to force me to retreat into my safety shell, I learned to be comfortable in my own skin. My girls and I had to stick together and watch each other’s backs. We refused to give in to our fears and stay in the shadows to avoid attention. We set out to live freely and explore Costa Rica and that is exactly what we did.

My mindset did not start out this way, no matter how hard I tried. Just having a male in

 our group made me feel safer. I hated giving in to that societal view of power. Eventually, I learned not to look at men and women through society’s eyes. My #girlgang 

was full of inspirational women that showed me how strong I am. I stopped comparing myself to other women, keeping my mouth shut in fear of rejection and ma

king myself small for the benefit of others. The confidence I gained from feeling the power of feminism in Costa Rica will be something I carry with pride for the rest of my life. All people deserve to feel empowered and supported, what empowers you?

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Finding Family in a Foreign Country

As I hopped on a plane to my magical study abroad destination all alone, I could feel my stomach drop. This was it. What seemed like a fantasy was now about to be my reality. I never put much thought into studying abroad. I always knew I would go and I did not really care where. I made the decision on a whim, like most decisions I make, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Needless to say, I tend to fall out of my comfort zone often. After my long journey, I arrived at my Mama Tica’s [my host family’s] house. With a yappy dog at her feet and speaking solely in Spanish, she welcomed me to Costa Rica with open arms. I never wanted a host family, because I doubted my ability to adapt. Little did I know that my Mama Tica would be a highlight of my experience in Costa Rica. 

As soon as I stepped foot in the house, she called down my new roommates. Matching the names I was told weeks prior to the faces now before me was peculiar. None of them matched the image I had created in my head. It was like watching a movie after reading the book. I was taken back but not disappointed. Without hesitation we went on our first adventure all together to a street festival in my new home, San Jose. That night I knew those girls would not be strangers to me for long.IMG_6417

I shared a room with the stranger that ended up being my twin. Unlike in “The Parent Trap,” we did not share looks or parents, but we were born on the exact same day. Even though we are both gemini, we were a perfect pair for balancing each other out. She was in a constant state of high energy, which opposes my calm nature. We got to know each other very well in the close quarters we shared. The room next door to ours also hosted two girls that were quite different from each other. It is shocking to see four girls from different states, cultures, and backgrounds come together and get along as well as we did. It must have been Mama Tica’s delicious cooking that brought us all together. Sobremesa is a spanish tradition of relaxing and enjoying conversation at the table after a meal. We started and ended everyday by making this tradition our own. It was not long before we became family.

Those girls were always a constant part of my stay in Costa Rica. We had many other roommates from all over the world come in and out of Mama Tica’s home during my time there. I traveled all over Costa Rica rushing to bus stations every weekend, buying tickets and staying at hostels or airbnbs that were most likely booked that day. Everything was planned last minute and sometimes we even had to lay on the bus floor, but every destination was worth it. These experiences I shared with people I barely knew and that will be what keeps us connected forever.IMG_6419

The strangers I met in Costa Rica are far from strangers now. We laughed, we cried, we fought and we made up. Like all relationships, ours were far from perfect, but I would not trade them for the world. Each person that was part of my study abroad experience is crucial to my story. My roommates became my sisters and my “temporary” friends became people I would never want to be without. And if they are reading this, wherever they are, don’t be strangers! 😉

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