Walking 16 Miles Overnight to Prevent Suicide

Posted by Allysa D. | Posted on August 15, 2013

Because of my blogs through Admissions, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention came across my stories and asked if I could chronicle my second experience with the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk. Several weeks ago, my article was featured in their summer newsletter, which can be read here.

To become involved in suicide awareness and prevention, there are many community walks of 3 to 5 miles in the fall that bring together family, friends, colleagues, and supporters of the cause. In fact, there’s one on September 21st near the Canton waterfront in Baltimore. There are also campus walks that occur in the spring, where walks are 3 to 5 miles long at many college and university campuses, including Johns Hopkins. And then there’s the Overnight.

My team: me, Aaron, Suzy, and Hayley.

In 2011, I spent a weekend in Washington, D.C., with my boyfriend. Two years later, on the weekend of June 1, 2013, we returned to Washington, D.C. Not for sightseeing this time, but instead to participate in the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk along with several of our best friends.

Held by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Overnight is a 16–18 mile journey throughout the night that walkers embark upon to raise awareness and funds for research, advocacy, and prevention. Walkers come from all stages of life, from teenagers to grandparents. Many, like me, are survivors of suicide loss. Others battle with suicide, depression, and other mental illnesses. And others, like my boyfriend and best friends, are supporters of the cause.

But all of us share one common goal—to prevent a tragedy from occurring that is far too common. Today, suicide deaths have surpassed deaths from motor vehicle crashes in the United States.

This year, over 2,000 walkers and volunteers raised over $2.6 million.

This year, over 2,000 walkers and volunteers raised over $2.6 million.

My mom was one of the 38,000 people who lose their lives to suicide each year in the U.S. She struggled with severe depression and anxiety in the last year of her life. At that time, I was 19, a freshman at Johns Hopkins University. In the summer of 2011, I stayed in Baltimore and took classes at Hopkins. I hadn’t seen my mom in such a long time and after finally finishing classes and packing everything up, I eagerly made the long drive back home to New Jersey. My mom wasn’t at the door to greet me with her warm and welcoming embrace. That day was August 9, 2011.

My mom.

My mom.

With the support of my family and friends, I decided to go back to school, just two weeks after her death to start my sophomore year of college. The first year was difficult. I struggled with anxiety. I’d cry in public if something reminded me of mom. My heart would hurt terribly if I saw a mother and her child. Holidays were the worst. But my boyfriend and friends stuck with me through thick and thin. Then I started to join more clubs and activities. I began running. I focused on schoolwork as I knew my mom would have wanted. I ended up earning a 4.0 GPA for the semester and have done so every semester since. Then, in June 2012, I traveled to San Francisco to participate in my first Overnight along with my dad, my mom’s sister, and my uncle.

To walk with others who knew what each other have gone through and still go through was incredibly healing. As I wrote in my blog about the San Francisco Overnight, here, greetings were received with hugs. Here, we were a unique community that understood each other’s struggles, grief, confusion, and pain. Through the Overnight, I formed friendships that will last for a lifetime. I met people who also lost their mother, like siblings Jenny and Andrew Nelson, and reunited with them a year later at the next Overnight.

With an original goal of $2,000, our team finished in the top 15 out of 450 teams for the San Francisco Overnight.

With an original goal of $2,000, our team finished in the top 15 out of 450 teams for the San Francisco Overnight.

One of the most vivid memories I have of the San Francisco Overnight was the distribution of the honor beads. Honor beads of varying colors were distributed to the walkers, acknowledging one’s personal connection to the cause. My dad represented the red beads—the loss of a spouse/partner. Another man, Ken (whom I reunited with a year later at the Overnight in D.C.) placed orange beads around his sister’s luminaria, representing the loss of a sibling. White beads represented the loss of a child. Gold: a parent. Purple: a relative/friend. Silver: a soldier. Green: struggled personally. And blue, a supporter of the cause. While it was painful and saddening to watch my dad place his beads around my mom’s luminaria, the group joined hands afterwards, sharing their pain, but also, new strength and hope. Throughout the walk in both San Francisco and D.C., when I saw others wearing gold beads, I felt an instant connection with them.

After experiencing my first Overnight, I truly started to heal.

In D.C. with Jenny and Andrew, founders of Mom Squad, a support group for those who have lost their moms to suicide.

In D.C. with Jenny and Andrew, founders of Mom Squad, a support group for those who have lost their moms to suicide.

Equally precious to me was to walk with my boyfriend and best friends this year in Washington D.C. Aaron, my boyfriend, and Suzy attend Johns Hopkins with me. When my dad and I found my mom, Aaron was the first person I called, while still in shock and tears. He was just about to board his flight back home in California. But two days later, Aaron flew back to the East Coast to be with me. Hayley has been my lifelong best friend. She came right over to the house after I called Aaron and stayed by my side for weeks. To walk with the three of them meant so much to me. To hear Suzy’s cheering voice during the 16.4 mile trek and her raving over the peanut butter sandwiches that the AFSP staff handed out at the rest stops was priceless. To cry with Hayley over the loss of my mom and others’ loved ones was healing. And to walk with Aaron, seeing all the monuments along our walk that we had visited just two years ago, not knowing at the time that we were about to plunge into the unknown, brought back so many emotions. And for Aaron to hold my hand throughout the walk just as he had done over the past three years, was precious.

One of my favorite moments of this year’s Overnight was having the privilege to meet Melissa d’Arabian, television host and author of Ten Dollar Dinners. She too, lost her mom to suicide while in college. When I met her backstage, she welcomed me with a warm hug and we bonded instantly. Like many other walkers, we shared stories about our mothers and our experiences with coping with losing a mom to suicide. Melissa is now a role model to me—she carried on, pursuing her passion of cooking and became a wonderful mother to four girls. With her bubbly personality and sheer determination, Melissa has become a public voice for those who struggle on a daily basis and those who have lost their loved ones to suicide, showing us a ray of light amidst darkness.

Meeting Melissa d’Arabian (second from left), AFSP’s 2013 Lifesavers Award honoree and Overnight keynote speaker.

Meeting Melissa d’Arabian (second from left), AFSP’s 2013 Lifesavers Award honoree and Overnight keynote speaker.

Like Melissa, I will always walk and be a voice for my mom. Hayley wrote a beautiful piece about my mother for our fundraising page and she captured who my mom truly was: a vibrant, beautiful, and loving woman. She was the best cook anyone had encountered, she played the piano beautifully, and most of all, she had the voice of an angel. She was also an incredible mother to my brother and I. I am profoundly deaf and use sign language interpreters at school. When my parents found out that I was deaf, she labored with so much love and determination to teach me sign language, and eventually, how to talk. If it weren’t for her, I would have never ended up where I am today, the only deaf student at Johns Hopkins University.

My mom and I.

My mom and I.

I am often asked how we managed to raise over $25,000 for the two Overnights. It was because of who she was. A vibrant, beautiful, and loving woman. This is why I participate in the Overnight and will continue to do so. I volunteer for AFSP as a field advocate, pushing for change on Capitol Hill. I participate in the fight to prevent suffering individuals from going through the struggle by themselves and to honor my mother by showing the person she was, fighting the stigma that is often attached with suicide. Like Melissa said, “my mom was an extraordinary woman whose end does not define her.”

But I will always struggle with the loss of my mother, my confidante, my best friend. Her birthday will always be forever engrained in my mind, marking a year she missed with us, a year she didn’t get to live her life. I will never forget her death anniversary either. The pain and thoughts she was feeling that day. How I never got to say goodbye. Why it had to happen on the day I was coming home, out of all days…and how I will never know for the rest of my life.

Milestones will never be completely joyous; they will also be bittersweet. My mother just missed my brother’s graduation from college. She will miss mine in a year. She will miss my graduation from graduate school, where I am planning to obtain a Master’s in Public Health and hopefully save lives, all because of her. She will miss my wedding. She will miss becoming a grandmother, something that she had always dreamed of. She will miss my whole life.

Most of all, I will always be someone who has lost a loved one to suicide. A daughter without a mother. But I am not alone.

My mom's luminaria at the D.C. Overnight.

My mom’s luminaria at the D.C. Overnight.

As we completed our walk at 5 a.m., we walked through a very long sidewalk that seemed to never end: we were surrounded by so many flickering luminarias in the dark, each to represent a lost loved one or one’s on-going struggle with suicide. I came across my mom’s luminaria. I stood there, looking down at her smiling photo. I felt a deep loneliness with her no longer here with me. I broke down into tears and sat down next to her, alone, amongst passers-by. After a few moments, I realized, I am not alone. I am surrounded by thousands of others who are all bonded by the same mission: to bring the light out of the darkness. Others have also experienced the grief, confusion, and pain that my family and I went and still go through. Others have also experienced the struggle and suffering that my mom went through. I was not alone.

© Michel duCille/Washington Post

© Michel duCille/Washington Post

I stood up with a new strength. And I turned around, to see Michel duCille, three-time photography recipient of the Pulitzer Prize from the Washington Post. He had captured my moment.



Posted by Allysa D. | Posted on August 1, 2013

San Francisco

Greetings from beautiful, sunny California! I’ve been on vacation for a couple of weeks in San Francisco and the OC. After moving out of two homes in New Jersey and Baltimore as well as working two jobs, this vacation has been incredibly relaxing and much needed! I’ve been working on many great things this summer and I’m excited to see what happens soon. I’ve realized that Hopkins has given me so many incredible opportunities that I will forever be grateful for.

Because of Johns Hopkins, I am fortunate to have three paid jobs on campus. Through these jobs, I’ve received many valuable lessons and experiences that I will forever always be grateful for. Most of all, because of Hopkins, these jobs have given me many connections.

First, I work in Admissions as a student worker. I was fortunate to receive this job the summer of freshman year. Even more so, thanks to Hopkins, I was lucky to still have my job waiting for me after taking a leave from work after the death of my mother. Because of this job, I’ve become very experienced with social media, which has become a very important tool in today’s time. I’ve also been able to pursue my passion of writing though Hopkins Interactive’s blogging platforms. Most of all, because of my blogs, I’ve been able to cope with grief and meet others committed to the same mission of raising suicide awareness. This summer, I have written for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, who learned of my work through my blogs (stay tuned for their press release soon!).

Secondly, I am a teaching assistant for the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Last year, I was one of the TAs for the undergraduate course Environment and Your Health. This year, I will be the head TA. This has been an incredibly rewarding experience. The course includes so many of my passions, from environmental justice to toxicology of chemicals. The material has strengthened my knowledge in public health and environmental science. Being a TA has also taught me how to facilitate difficult situations and work with others better. Working with my professor (who also teaches at the Bloomberg school) has been a great experience. He always manages to put a smile on my face and loves treating us TAs to dinner. He has also provided such valuable advice about my post-grad plans and continues to do so.

Last but not least, I am a Communications intern for the Johns Hopkins Environment, Energy, Sustainability, and Health Institute. Being an intern for E2SHI has been a valuable experience. I learn so much about what’s out there in the field of environmental sustainability as well as current research in related fields at Hopkins, from the Bloomberg School of Public Health to the Whiting School of Engineering. This job, in addition to my TA job, has broadened my horizons and helped me figure out my post-grad plans. I’ve made so many connections that have already benefitted me thus far.

Students at Johns Hopkins have many opportunities to obtain a job, internship, or research through the University. There’s student employment services for current students, which can be found here: http://www.jhu.edu/stujob/. Hopkins also does a Work Study program, which is federally funded. There’s also the career center for current students and alumni: http://www.jhu.edu/careers/. Speaking up for yourself has also helped me enormously. I obtained my jobs through reaching out to people, asking questions, and simply building relationships with others.

In essence, my jobs at Hopkins have been extremely rewarding. I have been very lucky to continue all three jobs into my senior year. The experiences I’ve gained have been priceless and I’m so grateful to Hopkins for providing such opportunities and connections.


Sweet Summertime

Posted by Allysa D. | Posted on June 6, 2013

Summer has finally begun!  Although I moved out of my childhood home of 21 years and said goodbye to my farm last week, summer has been off to a great start.

I celebrated the end of finals at Pete’s Grille and Miss Shirley’s, two amazing breakfast/lunch places in Baltimore:

Fried heaven

Fried heaven

Breakfast of champions

Breakfast of champions – and not to mention that Michael Phelps frequents here!

Then I went home for a week to pack up my stuff and help move out. I was able to enjoy home for one last time.

She's sure excited to have me home again.

She’s sure excited to have me home again.

Bittersweet farewell

A bittersweet farewell

Then, my best friends and boyfriend drove down with me to Washington D.C. to participate in the Overnight walk in honor of my late mother. We raised over $5,000 in just one month and got to meet with Melissa D’Arabian from the Food Network!

Halfway there! We walked 18 miles throughout the night to bring awareness to suicide prevention.

Halfway there! We walked 18 miles throughout the night to bring awareness to suicide prevention.

Oh hey, a tweet from Melissa  D'Arabian!

Oh hey, a tweet from Melissa D’Arabian!

Michel du Cille, 3 time Pulitzer Prize recipient, captured a special moment between my mom's luminary and I.

Michel du Cille, 3 time Pulitzer Prize recipient, captured a special moment between my mom’s luminary and I.

And now, I am back in Baltimore! I’ve had some downtime to enjoy the city (like obsessing over Iggie’s famous pizza) and I will be working for JHU’s Environment, Energy, Sustainability, and Health Institute for the rest of the summer as well as conducting research for my independent study. Stay tuned for more!



It's love!

It’s love!


Favorite Hopkins Memory: Convocation

Posted by Allysa D. | Posted on April 25, 2013

It’s hard to think of one, single favorite memory at Hopkins. I have so many memories that I will always cherish forever in  my heart. But looking back at the past three years, I would have to say that my FIRST favorite memory was Convocation.

Convocation is a huge formal ceremony that officially welcomes the incoming freshman class of Johns Hopkins University. The ceremony takes place during the last evening of Orientation week before classes start. The students wear business casual attire and they are welcomed to the University by President Daniels and the Deans. The President and Deans are in fancy and traditional garb for the ceremony. While the new member class is seated, the President and Deans parade in with the new class’ banner.

JHU_Ruthie and friends before Convocation

Before Convocation, over the summer, there is a contest where the new students of the incoming class can enter ideas for the new class banner. Each year’s selected banner is displayed in the library for the next four years until Commencement. At Commencement, the banner finally leaves, marking the end of the graduating class’ undergraduate career at Hopkins.

Johns Hopkins class of 2013's banner

Johns Hopkins class of 2013’s banner

During Convocation, just being there alongside with my new classmates, I felt so honored and lucky to be able to attend a school like Johns Hopkins. There, I realized that the next four years was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience with so many opportunities and adventures. If it weren’t for Hopkins, I wouldn’t have met all the wonderful people that I have gotten to know as classmates and friends over the years. If it weren’t for Hopkins, I wouldn’t have been able to take amazing classes taught by phenomenal faculty. If it weren’t for Hopkins, I wouldn’t have gotten three different jobs on campus – from TAing for the Bloomberg School to interning for an interdisciplinary environmental institute. If it weren’t for Hopkins, I would have never gotten the sisters I never had through Alpha Phi. If it weren’t for Hopkins, I would have never survived without the support from the school when my mom died. If it weren’t for Hopkins, I would have never met my best friend and boyfriend. And for all those reasons, I am so incredibly grateful to be here. It’s hard to believe, that in just a year, I’ll soon be on Homewood field bidding farewell to the class of 2014 banner.


Core four


The pham

My best friend

My best friend


One More Year

Posted by Allysa D. | Posted on March 28, 2013

Today, I officially received approval for my application to graduate next year in the spring of 2014 as a double major in International Studies and Global Environmental Change and Sustainability! As I left the registrar’s building, I felt an immense amount of achievement and also, relief. To be honest, the past three years have been pretty difficult. Not so much academically, but emotionally.

Sophomore year, I suddenly lost my mom. Instead of taking the semester off, I decided to still stay. I really wanted to continue my studies because I felt that my mom would want me to keep going. During sophomore and junior year, there were many times where I felt like graduating on time wouldn’t be an option. To be honest, I’ve come so close to leaving and taking the semester off. The roughest time was this past semester. My family is finally selling our home; it’s been an experience that I didn’t really expect. It’s not like simply moving to another place. We’re leaving the place that my parents built with their own hands, the childhood home for more than twenty years where my brother and I grew up, and most of all, the physical memories of mom – her flowers, kitchen, and piano.

My advisors were slightly skeptical. They wanted the best for me – whether that would be taking the semester off or staying here at Hopkins. Obviously, I decided to stay. I had gotten the majority of my academic distribution requirements out of the way that I only needed to take a regular load of classes (about 12 – 14 credits/semester) for senior year and best of all, I no longer have any more major-specific requirements. I can take whatever classes I want now for my senior year! But most of all, I decided to stay because of the people.

As the new class of 2017 receives their admission decision tonight from Johns Hopkins, I hope they know how special of a place Hopkins is. Not only students can take amazing classes from world renowned professors across all areas of study, but they can be a part of an extremely diverse and wonderful community. When I graduate next year, it will be almost heartbreaking to not have my mom there to see me finally graduate. It will also be very bittersweet to leave another home again. But most of all, I will miss my Hopkins family.


Having Twins

Posted by Allysa D. | Posted on March 14, 2013

Sending a text to Dad early in the morning saying “I HAVE TWINS!!!” was probably not the best idea. No, I’m not actually having real twins. Welcome to sorority life: where saying that you have twins is totally acceptable and totally understood by your sisters.

In a sorority, new members are paired up with an older sister. This is called the “big-little” system. The older sisters essentially become a mentor for their littles. The matching process is done so well that most bigs and littles end up becoming best friends. Because our new member class was the hugest ever this year (61 new sisters!), some girls took twins.

So, meet my fabulous pair: Lauren and Justine. Justine is a freshman all the way from Europe. In fact, I already knew her before she came to Hopkins. Her family used to live in New Jersey and we went to the exact same elementary school. I was best friends with Justine’s older sister. After they moved in 4th grade, I still visited them over the years. I was absolutely elated when I found out Justine was attending Hopkins and even more happier when I found out she was actually my little! My other little, Lauren, also lives in New Jersey like me. She’s a sophomore, unlike Justine. I already knew about her through mutual friends of ours. When I found out that she loves pickles – bam – I knew she was the one for me. When I got to know both of them more, I knew I had to have them as my littles.

Lauren and I at her first Alpha Phi date party before we were matched up!

Justine and I at the date party!

When I found out that I had both of them as twins, I was on top of the world. My twins fit perfectly in my small family of two – Anne Marie and I. Anne Marie is my big. She adores fashion, chocolate, and wine. Just like my littles. Both of my littles are spunky and sassy, just like me. But not so fast.

The family - my big and my littles!

They had to go through secret week first! Secret week is probably the best week of the year. All the new bigs plan out surprises and gifts for each day of the week. The littles have no clue who you are (well, my littles figured it out that it was me right away…). Bigs often decorate the littles’ rooms, send fraternity pledges to deliver the gifts (and do other crazy stuff), and have the All-Nighters, the campus’ male acapella group, serenade them!

Lauren in her newly decorated room!

I had one of Lauren's best friends deliver her flowers on the last day!

Justine's furry surprise!

Maybe I spoil Justine a bit too much...

Then, on the last day, is Revelation. On Revelation, the bigs hide in boxes and the littles finally lift up the boxes and find out who you are. Revelation could have not gone more perfect. Aside from the fact I nearly suffocated in that box, it was a great time.

Lifting up the box!

So happy!

Second round!


My family and I went to Iggie’s afterwards, which is the best pizza place ever in Baltimore. The pizzas are made with the freshest ingredients and the crust is to die for! We all stayed until closing time and the staff practically had to shoo us out.  We then went frat hopping for the rest of the night!

Dinner at Iggies! Nom

The fam

The next day, my dad came down to visit. He could tell I was absolutely exhausted from my fun night and he finally asked, “So…how is having twins?” Looks like someone gets the sorority lingo now! I never really realized how special having littles are. Having a family is truly the best part of Alpha Phi. I already have such a close relationship with my big and I’m so excited to share my family with two very special littles!



Home in Alpha Phi

Posted by Allysa D. | Posted on February 15, 2013

The past two weeks have been an absolute blur. We just had sorority recruitment for the four Panhellenic sororities on campus. My sorority, Alpha Phi, welcomed 61 beautiful new members!

The new member class!!!

We want you!

Looking back, rushing and joining Alpha Phi was truly one of the best decisions I have ever made here at Hopkins. When I rushed, I wanted to join a sorority for the usual reasons – lifelong friendships, networking opportunities, the awesome date parties, the shopping trips, the cute t-shirts, and of course, the totes to carry around campus.

But this is actually my first year in Alpha Phi, even though I am currently a junior. I didn’t rush freshman spring because my mom was sick at home. After a rough summer, my mom passed away two weeks before I was about to return to Hopkins for my sophomore fall. I decided not to take the semester off – I believed that I could weather the aftermath with the support of my boyfriend and friends. But I still felt immense loneliness from the loss of my mom. I needed some sort of support network.

 Several of my friends, classmates, and roommates were in Alpha Phi. There, I saw the unique sisterhood and I wanted to be a part of it. So I decided to rush sophomore spring.

Anne Marie and I at Woodberry Kitchen!

While I lost my mom, I gained a family through Alpha Phi. Now, I truly feel a part of this sisterhood. Even better, my awesome and beautiful Big, Anne Marie, has truly become my big sister. Even before we got matched up as a Big and Little, she made sure I was okay when I was having a few rough times. Later on, she told me that she  too, lost someone close her sophomore year. We understood each other like no other. I am always able to go to her whenever I feel down or need a shoulder to cry on. I can call her up in the middle of the night, she’ll cook me meals when I’m sick, and we’ll splurge on restaurants and shopping trips together.

Not only do I share that with Anne Marie, but I also have 120 other girls to hang out and do fun things together. I can call up Talia when I’m in an interview outfit crisis and she’ll drive me over to Towson mall. I’ve got my Monday nights booked with my sisters to watch and obsess over the Bachelor. I can spend all night making hundreds of chocolate covered strawberries with Bre and gladly have a horrible stomach ache from eating too much chocolate. Need to vent about my crazy busy admissions job? All I gotta do is hit Ruthie and Tess up. Need advice about my nonexistent major? Diane’s there. And Diane’s little, Jane, has always been my go-to girl for yummy cookies and tea. And I’m always bound to have an Alpha Phi in my classes. We’ve covered each other’s backs and have had countless study dates. The girls in Alpha Phi have been such great friends, listeners, classmates, and most of all, sisters.

Best friends and sisters

During the hardest time of my life, I felt incredibly alone after losing my mother – my confidant, my best friend. But after joining Alpha Phi, after meeting my big Anne Marie and getting to know 120 sisters, I have never felt alone the way I did before. I am home.



Adventures in Asia II

Posted by Allysa D. | Posted on January 19, 2013

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my adventures in Asia – I’m currently staying in Taipei, Taiwan with my boyfriend’s family and our friends. We’re leaving in just a few days to go back to the States. I’m sad to leave, but also excited to go back home and to Baltimore. I won’t deny that I’ve missed my family, friends, and of course American food and my favorite restaurants in Baltimore. In the last couple of weeks here in Taiwan, I’ve learned even more new things about Taiwan and their culture.

1. Noodles. Always more and more noodles!

Spicy beef noodle soup

Thai peanut noodles - another favorite!

2. Dumplings are also another favorite (and mine!). They have a bit of broth inside too. So yummy.


Making the dumplings

3. There are lots of memorials to honor prominent leaders and people. The buildings are so beautiful!

We like being tourists

Chiang Kai-Shek memorial

Changing of the guards at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's memorial (the founder of democratic Taiwan)

4. Bridges. Lots of bridges!

Little bridge

Big bridge!

5. There are also many temples for people to honor their loved ones who have passed away. The temples are so beautiful and intricately designed. There is often incense sticks, so the aroma is also very pleasing. That’s the reason why Chinese people never leave their chopsticks in food because it looks similar to incense sticks, thus symbolizing death.

The exterior of a temple

A temple we stopped along our bike ride

Dragons on dragons

6. Biking is a fun activity to do in Taiwan; you can bike along the coast!

Before our bike ride

7. It’s impossible to find your shoe size in Taiwan if you’re a tall person. Jane and I had absolutely no luck!

See how tall my boyfriend and I are compared to the people?!

8. There are lots of versions of ice cream here. Gelato, Turkish ice cream, jumbo ice cream, shaved ice…

Jane and her jumbo ice cream!

Shaved ice - lime jasmine tea flavored!

9. Paper lanterns are a very special tradition here in Taiwan. People often go up to the mountains and write their wishes and prayers on paper lanterns. The lanterns are then lit up and float up to the sky, so high that you can’t see the little specks of light anymore. This was one of my favorite things to do.

Aaron and his dad about to let go of theirs

Jane and Rich with theirs!

Bye bye

10. The drinking age here in Taiwan is 18. It’s been a super fun month because I turn 21 right when we come back to the States too!

Enjoying freshly pressed orange juice!

Clubbing with my Alpha Phi sisters!

11. Many people get really excited when they see us, because we’re Americans (and blonde!). There have been several times where strangers have asked to take a picture with us!

Our fans

12. Tea time is highly valued in Taiwan. There’s lots of tea houses here, especially up in the mountains. The tea is often served in extremely tiny cups, because it is nice to take your time and enjoy the tea as well as company. People often take 5 or 6 hours sipping on some oolong and jasmine tea.

Tea time!

Sitting on the floor for tea...poor Aaron

Inside the tea house - we had to cross a fish pond on stepping stones!

13. Snake venom shots are popular here. You can take a shot of snake venom, snake blood, and snake gallbladder. I gladly abstained.



And lastly, I’ve had so much fun with my boyfriend and best friends. I’m incredibly lucky to know them and they have made my trip a thousand times more fun and enjoyable. I’m going to miss Taiwan, but I’m especially going to miss the times we’ve all shared together. ‘Til next time!

Dancing in public

A five-year old

Don't fall off!

Often always too big for the average chairs in restaurants!

Fitting is a huge struggle for Aaron

Asian tourist

And again

And again

Grandpa Hsu's a Hopkins fan!



Adventures in Asia I

Posted by Allysa D. | Posted on January 5, 2013

Greetings from Taiwan! Instead of doing intersession at Hopkins, I’ve been staying in Taipei with my boyfriend’s family. I’ll be here for a month and will be back before the spring semester starts. Even though I’ve only been here for just a week or so, I’ve already had incredible adventures. I’ve learned so many new things about a brand new culture. I’ve never been to Asia before, so this trip has been extremely exciting and fascinating. In just a week, I’ve learned that:

  1. The Taiwanese love rice. Expect to have it almost every meal – breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even dessert!

    Rice "burrito" for a snack!

    Rice for breakfast! My favorite is to have rice with a runny egg. Yum.

  2. Even more so, noodles are actually more popular and loved by the people.

    Having noodles for breakfast!

    Pig's feet, soup, and homemade noodles with cabbage

    Beef noodles for dinner. So good.

  3. “Hot pot” is also really common. You basically boil meat, veggies, and bean noodles into boiling broth. It’s my favorite.

    Hot pot!

  4. Like hot pot, you pick out what you want from the pot and put it on your plate. There is often a rolling circle in the middle of the table with lots of different dishes you can pick from.

    Lots of options!

    Us at dinner!

  5. Taiwan is literally the country that never sleeps. The country is most alive at night – flashing neon lights, light decorations everywhere, and most of all – the night markets. At the markets, you can buy all the yummy food you want and do lots of shopping.

    One of the night markets!

    So excited to shop! (And eat)

  6. Spas are really popular. There are even rooms for you to take a nap after you take a hot bath. I’m liking that.
  7. If you drop your chopsticks, it means that someone will buy you dinner in the future.

    Haven't dropped my chopsticks yet! Having an Asian boyfriend who loves to eat gives you lots of practice.

  8. Taipei 101 is the second tallest building in the world! It is called 101 because they want to strive to be more than 100%. The building has a unique shape – it is to reflect stacks of Chinese fortune boxes, to bring good fortune to the people. The building also has the fastest elevator, traveling 17 meters/second.

    Taipei 101 at night

    During the day

    View from the top!

  9. There is a lot of respect for elders. Do what they say. Respect the word.

    Aaron's family, including his dad, uncle, and grandparents (and the cutest little cousins ever)

    With Aaron's grandparents

  10. Mopeds. are. everywhere.


  11. With that being said, the chances of me getting into a car accident if I drove on the hectic streets are 99.9%.
  12. Badminton and basketball are the most popular sports.


  13. There are so many tropical fruits available. To only name a few, papaya, honeydew melon, cantaloupe, guava, passion fruit, Buddha’s head (it’s literally shaped like Bhudda’s head!), apples, dragon fruit, strawberries (the best strawberries on the planet), bananas.

    Fruits galore!

    Buddha's head and dragon fruit

  14. You will find a 7-11 on every corner. Not joking.
  15. McDonald’s is a huge deal and they’re actually kind of luxurious.
  16. New Year’s Eve is a bigger deal than the Chinese New Year. And the people like to do the countdown in English, not Mandarin.

    Taipei 101 with fireworks on New Year's Eve

  17. Christmas is also a big deal. There are always life size Christmas decorations for people to take pictures of. It’s pretty amusing!




  18. The license plates are really simple (nothing on it except numbers/letters) because Taiwan’s an island and there are no touching countries. So the people like to “decorate” their license plates by putting European license plates behind their Taiwanese plates. We’re from “Sweden.”

It’s been a blast and I can’t wait for more adventures. So stay tuned for my next blog!


The End of the Semester

Posted by Allysa D. | Posted on December 21, 2012

Well, the semester has finally come to an end! It has been such a busy semester, possibly the busiest semester I’ve had so far. It was also the most difficult semester academically. I took a few quite challenging classes that weren’t exactly my strengths – such as Statistics. But I feel confident that I did well. My finals went smoothly and although I still have no clue how I did in any of my classes, I’m proud of myself. No matter what the outcome, I’m proud that I was able to tackle my most academically difficult semester thus far.

Suzy's finally back from study abroad!

Sophomore year, especially the fall, was really difficult. Not difficult academically, but emotionally. It was difficult having to cope with losing my mom all the while trying to maintain a decent GPA, be social, do clubs – basically trying to balance everything that comes with college. I didn’t want to take the semester off. I knew my mom wouldn’t want me to and I was determined to take on sophomore year. And it was a success. Not only was I able to finish my sophomore year, I also earned a 4.0 GPA for the year as well as Dean’s List. So, this fall, after everything that has happened in sophomore year, was pretty do-able. Regardless of how academically difficult it was. Sophomore year made me stronger and better. And now, I can finally rewind, and enjoy a well-deserved break.

Congrats to my big for graduating early from JHU!

I’ll be leaving home sweet Homewood tomorrow and driving back home. My family and I will be spending Christmas Eve and Christmas together for the first time since my mom’s passing. I have mixed feelings, but I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to share my family’s Christmas traditions (and cookies) with a new friend – my boyfriend. We’ll also be heading up to the Big Apple to enjoy the tree and pretty lights. Then, on the day after Christmas, we’ll be celebrating Aaron’s 21st and then hopping on 18 hour flight to Taiwan (eek).  I’ll be in Taiwan for an entire month!!! My boyfriend’s immediate family lives in the capitol and we’ll be staying with them. Our best friends are also coming with us, so we are unbelievably excited. I’m ready to enjoy some new culture, yummy Chinese food, and good company with our friends and family.

So by the time I write my next blog post, it will be a new year in a new place. To everyone at JHU and on Hopkins Interactive – have a wonderful, healthy, and safe holiday with your loved ones. Cherish the times you share and hold close the memories to your heart.