Taking a leap of faith and ready to explore new opportunities outside the minute city of Kearney, Nebraska, I somewhat called home for the past four years, I submitted my resignation letter to the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Unexpectedly, the new head of my office asked me to continue to work remotely until I decide concretely what to do next, which I accepted following prayers with my close ones. Prior to this transition, I planned to briefly travel overseas in hopes of refreshing my mind and not stress myself over work and the future while away and, after looking into many options, decided on Prague, the Czech Republic; many of my friends have studied here and my mother has told me a couple of times about the beauty of the city.

Of course, knowing my travel style and with only three-and-a-half days to explore, I knew physically this would be the furthest thing from vacation, which proved to be true. From July 9 to 12, 2019, according to my Health app, I covered 31 miles on foot and climbed an equivalent of 196 floors. Starting day one in the afternoon due to the flight schedule and focusing on figuring out the transportation system, I had time for the Prague Astronomical Clock and Charles Bridge, both of which included going up to the top of the towers, and a one-hour boat tour with Prague Boats, which I barely made on sprinting nearly two miles due to constantly getting lost. I began the second day with the full admission to the Prague Castle, not realizing the multitude of buildings within that would require me to spend six hours there alone; these comprised the Old Royal Palace, the Story of Prague Castle, Basilica of St. George, Golden Lane, St. Vitus Cathedral, and Rosenburg Palace. I paid separately to ascend the seemingly endless stairs to the pinnacle of the Great South Tower, part of the St. Vitus Cathedral, which I recommend only to people in shape. Following, I hiked up to the Petrin Lookout Tower on the other side and climbed to the top of the monument, where I could capture a breathtaking panorama of the city.

Breathtaking panorama of Prague from the top of the Petrin Lookout Tower

For day three, I booked the all-day Bohemian and Saxon Switzerland Tour with Cayman Travel, the unquestionable highlight of my trip. This tour consisted of only four people, including me and the tour guide, which allowed us to build a closer relationship while inhaling the gorgeous Creation of God from both the German and Czech Republic sides. Being able to answer questions about the Bible and talk about the love of Jesus on our ride back to the starting point wins my most grateful memory; if God used that moment to plant the seed of faith in these individuals, my purpose of this journey is fulfilled. I spent the last full day visiting The Celts exhibition, part of the National Museum, the Dancing House, including drinking hot chocolate on the top floor, the Church of St. Cyril and Methodius and its crypt, and the Infant Jesus of Prague and then shopping.

American Airlines’ randomly and without a legitimate reason canceling my first flight from Prague to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, only hours before scheduled departure spiraled into the most frustrating and inconvenient flying experience I have ever dealt with, forcing me to argue with perhaps the rudest ticketing agent I have encountered, toss out some of my valuables, miss one flight and be stuck in Chicago, Illinois, overnight, miss church, and contact tens of agents of multiple airlines to retrieve my bag they lost. Nevertheless, I would rather focus on the positive. I was pleasantly surprised to realize I have set foot in nineteen countries since the summer of 2013, and I patiently wait in excitement to see God’s purpose of showing me so much of the world. I thank Jesus for allowing me another one of these indelible journeys and safely bringing me back home.

Hola, Spain!

With my green card in hand and freedom to leave the United States and return without an issue, I decided to travel to Europe for the first time in almost two years, this time Spain, from December 18 to 23, 2018; I chose Spain because the sun sets too early for my liking in December in all the other European countries I considered. By the grace of God, I located a bundle deal on Expedia impossible to pass up, one KLM and the rest Delta flights and a four-star hotel for five nights for only $1,085.06. Though I considered adding Portugal for a day to the trip, my hotel being in Madrid would have lost me over half a day simply going to Portugal and coming back, which felt foolish for my already limited time to adventure. Instead, I focused solely on Spain, covering Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, and Seville in these five full days.

Many travelers prefer otherwise, but I, especially when only journeying for a few days, prioritize seeing as many tourist attractions as I can and move about at a pace with which many would not be able to keep up. I checked off the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, Royal Palace of Madrid, Almudena Cathedral, Plaza Mayor, Museo del Prado, San Jeronimo el Real, Buen Retiro Park and its art gallery, Palacio de Cristal, and San Anton Market in Madrid, Toledo Cathedral in Toledo, Alcazar of Segovia and Segovia Cathedral in Segovia, and Seville Cathedral, Alcazar of Seville, Torre del Oro, and Plaza de Espana in Seville. (This list does not include the meticulous city tour of Toledo and Segovia led by Amigo Tours, Madrid in the Spanish Civil War tour with an Airbnb hostess, and Torre del Oro cruise tour in Seville.)

I appreciate history and find it awe-inspiring I can easily spot objects hundreds and thousands of years old anywhere in Europe, unlike in America where anything several decades old qualifies as monumental. The ornateness and immensity of gothic cathedrals mesmerize me but at the same time make me wonder, “How can anyone worship God here without being distracted by the extravagant setting and never-ending tourists?” As expected, I struggled substantially with the normalcy of public smoking in Europe. I, practically allergic to cigarette smoke, despise the sheer ignorance and selfishness of smoking in public and could not bear observing hawkers smoking as they sold their handmade materials and artworks, a mother smoking in her infant’s face, and a young woman even smoking in the garden of the Alcazar of Seville, to whom I said, “You know you’re not supposed to smoke here,” but I doubt she understood or even heard me. Linguistically, I was humbled. I have traveled to more countries than I can count off the top of my head, and not once had I experienced prior to this trip an overwhelming majority of natives speaking to me in their mother tongue, in spite of their knowing I speak English and zero Spanish. Up to this point, I had assumed I could survive anywhere in the world as long as I spoke English, but here I thought, “Maybe I should have learned several useful phrases in Spanish.”

Traveling expands horizons and perspectives on the diversity of the world, one of the main reasons I enjoy doing so whenever I have the chance; I do not view traveling as solely vacation but also education. Physically, my traveling could never be categorized as vacation; according to my health app, unsurprisingly, I walked (and occasionally ran) more than 51 miles and climbed 124 floors in these five days. I am grateful to Jesus for granting me yet another opportunity to explore a gorgeous unfamiliar historic territory and soak up His beautiful Creation.

Positive Ending, Positive Beginning

Times Square!

With my green-card process, 16 years in the making, reaching the final stages, my lawyer and his assistant advised against my leaving the United States until my travel document is approved; therefore, I had to postpone my original plan to travel to Europe for a second consecutive December and closed out 2017 exploring New York City, New York, and Atlanta, Georgia, with family and friends. I find traveling an efficient way to free myself from the stresses of my lonely and unhealthy environment, living in the present of freedom. This decision also encouraged me to reflect on the past 365 days of roller-coaster rides.

Holiday markets

I try not to focus on the negative so that I do not blur out all the blessings I have been gifted with in 2017. Most memorably by a mile, I finally accomplished my ultimate athletic dream of covering the 100-mile distance, the pinnacle of ultrarunning, (plus two) in April. When I think about how long and consistently I and my close ones prayed for this former fantasy, the hundreds of dreams I had on competing and finishing, all the free time I sacrificed for training (even on business trips), and of course race days and what I had to endure to complete this ambitious goal, this once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment from over half a year ago still feels fresh and surreal.

The Starry Night at MoMA!

Central Park in the evening

One dishonest individual who made my life and the lives of my close colleagues miserable for years and really should have been imprisoned was finally removed from our workplace after bizarrely slow two years of investigation. I felt relieved, more than happy, to observe justice semi-served; however, now, I feel slightly embarrassed that I as a Christian never even attempted to go out of my way to love this enemy and severely disliked him as a person rather than hating Satan in him. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matthew 5:46-47)

A few days prior to my end-of-the-year domestic vacation, I received joyful news my Employment Authorization Document for the green card was approved, implying I should receive my green card soon and will finally feel and be free in America, where I grew up since 2001.

How could I, mere mortal, comprehend the plans of my Creator? However, confident my Father watches over me and only provides me with the best for me, I cannot wait to experience what the Author of my life has in store for me in 2018.

Different Side of the World

After recruiting students from Nepal and India for the University of Nebraska at Kearney for over a year, I finally traveled on business to these two destinations for the first time ever from August 22 to 25, 2017, before flying into Korea to wrap up my trip. A colleague who has explored India for a month almost a decade ago informed me on the economic and social difference between the country and the places to which I am accustomed, that I would experience an underdeveloped country. I had assumed Nepal would be similar to India due to the two countries’ physical proximity.

Waiting for my Uber by the Delhi Airport, I sweated profusely as if in the sauna due to the humidity level at what I assume to be nearly 100%. I had believed drivers in South Korea to be the absolute worst in every sense of the word until I heard honking every second and saw zero drivers sticking to their lanes and every driver impatiently cutting. The original Uber driver who was connected to me canceled after making me wait twenty minutes, and the replaced driver was immediately stopped by the police for “not wearing a uniform,” or a formal attire; the latter driver was allowed to proceed after paying a fine of Indian rupee’s equivalent of just over $1. Line simply does not exist in India. As I waited to ask about my boarding ticket to Chandigarh at the Delhi Airport, one clumsy man cut me as if I had become invisible, and I asked, “Are you with these two?” pointing at the pair of men next to him. I then said, “I am in line,” at which the cutter looked confused and to which a tourist from a different country said, “That doesn’t exist here.” A couple more individuals cut me seconds following, and I had to almost push others away for my turn. As I presented my boarding pass to Kathmandu to a security officer and he examined it, a man behind me reached for the officer over my right arm with his own boarding pass. Each time I went through security, a group of Indians tried to cut and/or stayed so close to me I could feel their bodies touching me. However, just like honking, cutting is deeply ingrained and the norm in Indian culture that no resident considers that to be rude. I cannot even attempt to count how many times I instinctively said in frustration and disbelief, “Excuse me.”

In Kathmandu, I noticed drivers did not honk as much, as doing so “is illegal in Nepal”; nevertheless, their hazardously cutting and staying out of their lanes felt similar to India. Each time I opened my eyes and looked straight, they were struck by dust and I had trouble opening my eyes.

My first time in India and Nepal, I felt I was observing the Republic of Korea of 50 years ago. The majority of buildings in Chandigarh remained under construction to the point I wonder where the city will be in two or three years. I could see why entrepreneurial-minded individuals say India, especially with its immense population of 1.345 billion, offers many business opportunities. Rather than complaining about the discomfort as I might sound like I am in this post, I was humbled and realized how much God has blessed Korea, the United States, and virtually every nation in which I had ever set foot.

The World’s Happiest

Over the summer of 2016, I booked a round-trip flight ticket to Copenhagen, Denmark, flying out of Denver, Colorado, on Christmas Eve, arriving on Christmas, and returning the eve of New Year’s Eve. What more refreshing way to reflect on another victorious and grateful year than a familiar solo adventure to the happiest country in the world? With in mind my peaceful and faith-strengthening experience in the world’s second-happiest country in Iceland, coincidentally formerly part of Denmark, I prayed that to be the case again at the conclusion of 2016, especially as this year has been the furthest thing from easy.

Landing in Scandinavia on Christmas, I prioritized finding a church to worship Jesus and remember His birth into the world. With the support of a bright young Danish girl on my plane from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, to Copenhagen, I conveniently located the Church of Our Saviour near the Copenhagen Airport just prior to the 10:30 AM Danish service. I do not speak the language, but I could feel what the female pastor was speaking of based on some of the biblical words I could make out. Due to the time of year, I did not spot too many tourists as I normally do when I travel and somewhat struggled with fulfilling one significant goal: befriending fellow visitors from all around the world. I should have anticipated this bearing in mind the sun rose around 8:00 AM and began setting close to 3:00 PM and generally families choose to be with one another for the holidays. I was pleasantly surprised by the climate; I had been warned multiple times by my close ones to make sure to pack heavy winter clothes, but both Denmark and Sweden felt tens of degrees warmer than Nebraska, where I work, and I even oftentimes sweated in my legitimate winter jacket.

Regardless of my detailed itinerary, I for the most part moved about spontaneously with hopes of seeing as many tourist attractions as time allowed and checked almost all activities I had researched. In five days, I covered virtually every popular indoor and outdoor site in Copenhagen and Malmö, Sweden; I visited Malmö mainly so that I could say I have set foot in Sweden. These locations include, in chronological order, the Church of Our Saviour, Tivoli Gardens, Amalienborg Palace, the Little Mermaid, the National Gallery of Denmark, various local sights on the culinary and sightseeing tour, Rosenborg Castle, the Knotted Gun, the Sankt Petri Church, Moderna Museet Malmö, Malmöhus Castle, Turning Torso, the National Museum of Denmark, Christiansborg Palace, and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Walking to and in the majority of these destinations and considering how my body felt after each day, I am confident I traveled between 30 and 40 miles on foot; however, I refused to slow down because my time was limited. The immense smoking culture made the walk quite painful because I had trouble breathing for as long as I remained outside; seven or eight out of ten people in public held cigarettes in their hands, causing me to frequently instinctively grunt. In Malmö Central Station, although fully prepared for such ordeal, I managed to get my round-trip train ticket pickpocketed. Understandably I was initially frustrated but then began to appreciate not losing my passport, wallet, or iPhone instead; the thief stole the one possession I could afford to relinquish. As my father told me over the phone that evening, “It was an important yet inexpensive lesson.”

Each night in my minute hotel room with a bathroom where the toilet and shower without a tub or glass face a foot across each other and my knees almost touched the wall when sitting on the toilet, I thought of how privileged my life has been. I for the first time while traveling even felt lonely in that clogged environment. I shared this room observation with the friendly and intelligent tour guide of the culinary and sightseeing tour, and she replied, “That is actually very common in Denmark because a lot of old buildings were renovated” and reminded me I cannot fairly compare the typical room size of Denmark to that of the US, again providing me with a reason to thank my comfortable and spoiled life.

My first of three flights back from Copenhagen to Denver on December 30 was canceled due to fog, and I spent a large portion of my final evening in Scandinavia seeking an ideal alternative. Once I did, my new first flight out of Denmark arrived in Washington, DC, thirty minutes later than scheduled, and with my bag being one of the last to come out of the baggage claim, I had no choice but to sprint over a mile to barely make the final flight to Denver. Here, I felt thankful for all the running I have done in the past half a decade, as I of early 2012 may not have been able to pull this off.

2016 has been a year of constant ups and downs, but I always try to remember how much God has blessed my life and hundreds of millions of people in this world would long for my worst possible day. This lone journey to Western Europe helped me once again realize how fortunate I am with a compassionate Jesus-following family, good health, a stable full-time job, and the ability to eat whatever and travel wherever whenever I desire. I cannot wait to witness what my Father has in store for me in 2017.

Thanksgiving Every Day

The morning of Thanksgiving 2016, I participated in the Wild Turkey Chase 13.1 in Pickrell, 40 miles south of Lincoln even most Nebraskans have never heard of. Before Nebraska became unbearably cold for me to even consider running another race in the state until winter has passed, I felt a desire to squeeze in one more in spite of having completed a technical trail half marathon only a few weeks ago. The Wild Turkey Chase 13.1 took place on an entirely flat trail, boosting my confidence in no part of the race should I struggle; however, I did slightly worry I may have been recently overrunning for my legs’ liking. In light of Thanksgiving, I spent much of running in the wilderness reflecting on my privileged life and giving thanks to my Father. Due to the freezing and windy weather, my iPhone acted up and shut down towards the end of the course, forcing me to run the final 2.5 miles without music, which I am not accustomed to; nevertheless, I refused to complain but rather tried to maintain the grateful mindset. I finished in 2:02:48, not my best but irrelevant because I did not take part for the purpose of setting a new personal record.

Badlands National Park!

Badlands National Park!

Early next morning, only hours following feasting on several rounds of turkey, stuffing, mashed and sweet potatoes, apple and chocolate pies, ice cream, and apple cider and sparkling water, I finally drove to South Dakota after repeatedly saying I would for an entire year. Each time I thought about going, I realized South Dakota to be quite a distance away for a neighboring state of where I work. In one day, I spent ten hours in the car from Kearney, driving to Badlands National Park, to Mount Rushmore, and then back towards Badlands to my hotel; I originally planned to divide visiting these two monumental tourist attractions into two days until I found out about the one-hour time difference between western South Dakota and Nebraska. I spontaneously climbed brutally steep trails at Badlands, which had me giggling internally as I had just run a half marathon and my body was probably saying to me, “What do you think you’re doing?”

Locate my shadow!

Locate my shadow!

Mount Rushmore!

Mount Rushmore!

I had never imagined the drive up to South Dakota through western Nebraska to be so full of awe-inspiring nature and unending hills. Seeing hardly any cars or buildings on various lengthy routes, I felt bored at times, but watching more of His beautiful creations only encouraged me to be thankful and pray passionately, my main motivation to visit South Dakota. In the past four days of driving close to 1,300 miles since leaving work for Thanksgiving break, I four times came verging on car accidents due to careless and reckless drivers on the road, which reinforced the God of angel armies always shields me. Perhaps I should not be surprised, but my body finally caught up and told me in a more direct way to rest by giving me a cold and severe right shoulder-ache the day I returned to Kearney. Regardless, I appreciate the nature-driven lone time I shared with my Father in Heaven and wish to maintain the thanksgiving mentality every day.

Takk, Ice(less)land!

Since receiving my bachelor’s degree roughly thirteen months ago, I have been consistently seeking H-1B visa sponsorship to legally work in the United States while interning, volunteering, and running long-distance races. I have applied for hundreds of jobs and even to a graduate program to no avail. Highly goal-oriented but without a full-time job and on the verge of being forced out of America, I felt depressed like a helpless child with no purpose in life. I needed to put myself in an environment where praising God could come more easily; thus, I searched for a nature-driven destination to travel for a few days. After juggling with several options, with the help of an amazing vacation package deal, I landed on Iceland. I researched and discovered renting a car to be the only realistic method of transportation, as metro stations appeared to be available only in Central Reykjavik. I figured I would be encountering wondrous landscapes and planned to soak up the greatness of God to bring a ray of hope into my job situation.

Once I arrived at the Keflavik International Airport and picked up my miniscule car, I headed to the Blue Lagoon, only fifteen minutes away. The sceneries of the highway with almost no man-made object were breathtaking, and I became elated and relieved from the stresses of the real world. Upon reaching the Blue Lagoon, one of the world’s top twenty-five wonders, I ran into a college friend who currently works and studies at Emory University. We looked at each other and, after a brief pause, realized the accuracy of the banal expression “small world.” She had begun her honeymoon with her husband, whom I met last year with her at a gala event. As much as I love hot baths, I seldom stay in hot water for over ten minutes, but I did not even think about exiting the geothermal hot springs for three hours. Befriending and chatting with numerous strangers and employees inside may have played a role. I drove to the National Museum of Iceland in Central Reykjavik following, expectedly getting lost around the area for a couple of hours and even coming close to a car accident because of a driver’s lack of focus on the road. Though many exhibits were closing soon for the day, most museums in Iceland required less than an hour to be carefully examined due to their teeny buildings. I stopped by exhibitions of the Northern Lights and settlement history featuring wax figures, the Sun Voyager, and Hallgrimskirkja, the nation’s largest church, prior to returning to my efficient three-star Icelandic Health Hotel back in Keflavik. I can safely say I got lost over a hundred times on day one.

The next day kicked off with a whale-watching tour, my most anticipated and desired event. However, the tour shaped into the worst nightmare of the trip. Based on how the Elding website promoted the event, I expected to be surrounded by various kinds of wild whales, but I only saw a few from miles away and vomited five times due to seasickness. The nausea lasted for days. After waiting out the symptoms in my car for twenty minutes, I entered the Vikin Maritime Museum next to the harbor, succeeded by the National Gallery of Iceland that for whatever reason displayed a painting of a North Korean soldier and the infamous Icelandic Phallological Museum that garnered hundreds of penises from different creatures. I will refrain from describing the latter. When I returned to my hotel, I registered for the Golden Circle all-day tour online for day three. With the help of a tour guide, I quickly grasped the history and culture of Iceland, in addition to witnessing some of the most beautiful sights I have been exposed to even on the Internet. The tour consisted of walking around Iceland’s largest lake, Thingvallavatn, most powerful waterfall, Gullfoss, splendid Geysir, monumental Sumartonleikar i Skalholtskirkju, and the country’s primary and the world’s third-largest power plant, Hellisheidi Power Station. I met a fellow amiable and bright lone traveler from Russia, and we shared a large portion of the tour. Standing a foot behind the continuous spouting of Geysir marks the most awe-inspiring memory of this travel, as I could be wonderstruck by God’s creativity and perfection. Rather than heading back to my hotel immediately after the tour, I moved to the top of Perlan for an opportunity to pray to my Father looking at His astonishing creation. I had never felt so peaceful since my college graduation, and I had no doubt He brought me to this majestic place.

I woke up the next morning under the weather, so I slept in and took this final full day lightly. I drove to the Viking World Museum near my hotel to start the day, followed by a three-course meal at Apotek in Reykjavik. I ate (minke) whale for the first time, and, despite its smooth texture and high quality of taste, I felt guilty consuming my favorite animal; nonetheless, I could not let that prevent me from experiencing one of Iceland’s most popular delicacies. After shopping for gifts and absorbing more arts and settlement history from the Sculpture Museum and Reykjavik 871±2, I went on the Taste the Saga tour at Olgerdin. Not much of a drinker, I only signed up to visit the brewery, but the bridge that connects to the factory broke down and the group instead drank diverse beers only available in Iceland while learning about the country’s alcohol backstory all night (though always bright in the summer).

Despite losing my apartment key, countlessly getting lost without a GPS, throwing up on the ship, and catching a minor cold, I cannot think of any of my previous travel experience that comes even remotely close to how much I enjoyed this lone trip to Iceland. The Keflavik International Airport made me check in my luggage and assured my bag would fly directly to Atlanta. I was taken to the back of customs for additional questions about my visa status during my layover at the John F. Kennedy International Airport, and on my way out through the baggage claim, I just happened to walk towards my luggage, standing by a sign. Had I taken a different route, I would have lost my bag due to the misinformation from Iceland. I had more to thank God even after leaving Europe. With the support of benevolent Icelanders, this voyage put me in an exponentially brighter mood, and I would do it a thousand times over. I understand why the World Happiness Report ranked Iceland the second-happiest country in the world earlier this year. Takk, Ice(less)land!