A story of life abroad after COVID.

I am writing this at a desk in southern Minnesota. The world is in the middle of a pandemic. Flights are grounded. In six months, I will move to Seoul, South Korea with Minerva Schools. Then Hyderabad. Then Berlin. Then Buenos Aires. Then London. Then finally, Taipei.

Stories will be written — vast, grand, historical stories — about how the world responded to COVID-19 and what we could have done better. They will critique our government lockdowns, our mask restrictions, our vaccine rollouts. …


Migration — as opposed to ‘travel’ — is already on the rise.

As I write about international travel, I fear that I’ve painted a broad brush stroke where there shouldn’t be one.

Stanley Fish claims that all language is constructed by our communities — essentially, we can use the same words and still not convey our meaning. “Cold” to a Minnesotan means something different to a Texan, and vice versa. It’s the same with “travel.”

I traveled out of free choice because I was curious about the world and, (by living in hostels, doing work-exchanges, finding $200.00 housing), I was able to do it.

Yet the world is filled with forced travel…


I’ve fluctuated back and forth how to feel about my country: specifically, how to feel about being an American abroad. I used to take it as a compliment when people mistook me for being Russian (once in an airport, at least until I started talking) or mostly, German (I am Minnesotan).

  1. At a food court on Koh Samui, I met a Chinese woman on a business trip. She’d sat down and started a conversation while I twirled rice noodles — and unsettlingly soon, we found common ground: the almost-universal dislike of our countries abroad.
  2. The Chinese woman laughed. Here’s what…


Why it’s good to make our brains uncomfortable

What’s up with culture shock?

  1. Adults think they know how the world works. We develop our “rules” for reality from years of trial and error. I think of it as a process where we stumble forward, curious, questioning how the world operates — and then, once we reach a close enough estimate of what the rules are, we set them into stone.
  2. As a young woman, I didn’t travel. I lived in a small, 15,000-person town along the Mississippi River in the rural Midwest. My grandparents lived there. My parents lived there. …

Tiny thoughts on cosmopolitanism + the pandemic

I come from a tiny town (Red Wing, Minnesota) and I’ve lived in/spent time in some big cities (Seattle, San Francisco, Dakar, Vancouver, Puerto Vallarta). I’ve tried to grapple with the urban-rural divide during COVID-19:

  1. Big cities report 90% of COVID cases.
  2. When I lived in San Francisco this fall, I heard ambulance sirens every afternoon. Reminders of the pandemic — and how many people were dying — surrounded me. Now that I’ve moved back to a tiny Midwestern town, I barely notice that we’re in a pandemic at all. …

Why do we change when we live in a new place?

Before I moved away from my tiny hometown, my mother’s friend Neela said: Travel will change your life. After four years, I’m trying to decide: did it? Did travel really make me a different individual?

  • A cool paper I just read hypothesized that travel behavior is significantly influenced by our preconceptions of a place and the actual experience of a place, but in RELATION TO OURSELVES.

Here are some interesting points:

  1. There’s this psychological idea called self-congruity: basically, how well your idea of yourself matches up with what you know about a foreign place. (i.e. You imagine yourself in three…


Some quick thoughts on voting and international equity.

Americans were upset when we discovered that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. But we’ve been doing that to other countries for years — in Chile (1811), Japan and China(1854), Puerto Rico and the Philippines (1898), Nicaragua (1909), and Haiti (1915–1934).

Maybe the U.S. should have some foreign intervention:

  1. A researcher named Dov Levin studied what electoral interventions did to election results and determined that the U.S. played a role in 81 foreign elections between 1946 and 2000 (Levin, 2016). Most of the time, this intervention flipped the outcome of the election.
  2. The U.S. carries an outsize influence in global…

What’s reported around the world — not just in the U.S.

The way the United States reports news — by outlets from the New York Times to the Nation — is bubble-wrapped. (I.e. we only relate global events to Americans if said events impact our country.) North Korea is more likely to hit our front page than any rising African nation: Senegal, Morocco, Nigeria; China is talked about not as a global superpower, but as our leading trade opponent, and Mexico = illegal border immigration. Some alternatives:

  1. Southeast Asia Globe. In-depth coverage of everything from the Myanmar coup to political tension between Taiwan and China. They divide their topics into four…

A 2-part theory.

After foraging as hunter-gatherers, humans upgraded to agricultural communities, where we raised families, ate corn, and lived a spectacular existence — in one place. I grew up in a small Minnesotan river town for the first eighteen years of my life, then left to live in Senegal, now move around the world every three to four months. And I’m struggling with “home” as a concept:

The Old Definition. Home is “the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.” This, for me, is Red Wing. …


Solo renting a flat.

In the spring of 2019, I rented a little red-roofed apartment on Koh Samui from a local Thai lady. I’d been living and working at an English-speaking co-living space, so when I moved out, I was quite alone. Looking back, here’s what realizations that experience left behind:

  1. Time got weird. With no real commitments besides writing intermittent tech articles for German and Indian companies, it felt like each week I stayed, time stretched longer. I’d take long, hot walks at 1 pm, fall asleep until 7, stay up past midnight: in short, live at random intervals. Embrace it sometimes. But…

Elise Leise

Writer @ The Minerva Quest, HuffPost, MinnPost, and Global Citizen Year

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