Sixteen Highlights From My 2016

Every internet post and meme I’ve seen has said how 2016 was such an awful year. And yes, a lot of terrible things did happen in the world this year. But, looking back, my 2016 also had a lot of good come out of it. I had the opportunity to travel to some incredible places, and at one point I was on three different continents in one week. I made new friends and strengthened friendships with old ones, and I greatly developed my skills as a journalist.

Here are 16 highlights from my year:

1. Visiting NYC and seeing our cousin on Broadway

My 2016 had an exciting start with my mom and I making a last-minute trip to NYC in January when we found out our cousin Robert was going to be playing a part in Finding Neverland for a limited time. The show was amazing, and it was so fun knowing someone in it. Afterward, Robert gave us a backstage tour! While in New York, we also saw Something Rotten and Matilda, as well as visited MoMA and the Met.

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Us on the Broadway stage with our cousins Robert (center) and Jeremy (right) after the show!

2. Experiencing True/False for the first time

After living in Columbia for 20 years, I’m unsure as to why I’d never been to the True/False Film Festival before, but I hadn’t. My friend Sarah had a press pass so we were able to get tickets to several films, and the others we queued for. My favorite film we saw was Sonita, which was about an Afghani refugee girl who raps about social issues. After the movie, the real Sonita came out on the stage and performed for the audience. Sarah and I even ran into Sonita on the street after we saw the film!

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Sonita performing a rap after the film

3. Interning in Melbourne

Perhaps the biggest highlight of my 2016 was my six-week internship in Melbourne, Australia. Not only did I have a great experience working at my internship and creating things to add to my portfolio, but I also grew a lot as a person having to manage living in a new city. I made new friends with the other interns, saw the Great Ocean Road, had the best mochas and hot chocolates of my life and got up close and personal with kangaroos and wallabies.

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Me and some of the other interns in the famous Hosier Lane

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My kangaroo friend ❤

4. Weekend trip to Tasmania

Three intern friends and I took a long weekend and traveled to the island of Tasmania, which was only a 30-minute flight from Melbourne. We rented a car and had a cute (but, surprisingly, very spacious) Airbnb. Our Tasmanian adventure included: driving up to the top of a mountain, walking through a rainforest, going on a ghost tour of an old penitentiary, roadtripping to Freycinet National Park, walking on secluded beaches during gorgeous sunsets and eating delicious desserts. Tasmania definitely earned a spot on my list of favorite places.

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On the drive up Mount Wellington in Hobart, Tasmania

5. Visiting Sydney

The last weekend trip I did was with three friends to Sydney. Even though our Airbnb situation ended up being kind of a disaster (we now fondly refer to it as “The Ratchet Aribnb”), we had a great few days in the city. We got hella lost our first day trying to walk to the Opera House — the streets of Sydney are curved instead of a grid, which made it extremely confusing for us — but we eventually made it and boy, even though it was my second time to Sydney, seeing the Sydney Opera House up close still blew me away. We also visited the Art Gallery of New South Wales, walked through the Royal Botanic Gardens, ambled along Bondi Beach and took in stunning views of the city from high up in one of the towers next to the Harbour Bridge.

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Ajaee, Marissa, Lucas, Me

6. Spending time with family

Mom and I went to Cleveland over spring break to visit my grandpa. We also came to Cleveland for the beginning of winter break this December like we do every year. Sadly, one of my great-aunts passed away while we were there, and the day we were supposed to have a family party we had a funeral. However, the light in this situation is that I got to spend time with cousins I rarely see and connected with some fascinating distant relatives I’d never met before. This year showed me the importance of spending time with family whenever you can, because you never know when a “goodbye” will be your last.

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Me and grandpa

7. Trip to Scotland…

Five days after returning home from Australia my mom and I left for Europe. My mom had a conference in Glasgow, Scotland, and we also visited Edinburgh. Scotland was never a destination that was high on my list of places to visit, but it was really incredible. I visited the university Hogwarts was based on, saw the cafe in which J.K. Rowling actually wrote Harry Potter, cruised Loch Ness, visited a gorgeous Victorian cemetery, admired some beautiful old castles and churches and heard some great music at my mom’s conference.

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University of Glasgow, what Hogwarts was based on

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Scottish Highlands

8. …and Iceland

After Scotland we spent five days in Iceland — somewhere that was high on my list of places to visit. Iceland did not disappoint. We stayed in Reykjavik (the northernmost capital of the world, btw) and it found it to be a charmingly modern and quaint city, not at all hustling and bustling like other capital cities we’ve visited. We took two different day tours. One was of the Golden Circle, in which we saw lava fields, geysers and waterfalls. The second day tour, and my favorite, was to Iceland’s south coast. The drive was gorgeous and we saw more waterfalls, a black beach, puffins and glaciers.

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Reykjavik

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Mom and me at Skogafoss Waterfall in southern Iceland

9. Seeing Queen Bey in concert

In September my friend/roommate Haley and I drove to St. Louis to see Beyoncé in her Formation World Tour. We’d bought our tickets over the summer and I’d excitedly anticipated the concert for months. The concert was unforgettable and I kept saying to Haley that I couldn’t believe we were actually seeing Beyoncé in person. She was actually there up on that stage. And when she started singing “Halo” at the end, man, just Beyoncé.

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Me and Haley and Queen Bey

10. Voting in my first presidential election

Okay, we all know how this event tragically ended. But it was still a highlight of my year. I was very excited to cast my ballot in my first presidential election, especially one of this magnitude.

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Voter #300

11. Halloween costumes and making BuzzFeed

My roommates and I dressed up as “The Many Faces of Johnny Depp” for Halloween 2015. I submitted a pic of us to BuzzFeed and we actually made it into one of the site’s posts (number 9)! This year for Halloween 2016 we continued the group costume theme and went as Batman and his villains.

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Catwoman, the Joker, Batman, Poison Ivy

 

12. Continuing volunteering as a tutor for second grade

I’ve been involved with the organization A Way With Words and Numbers since my freshman year. In 2016 I continued and was in a second grade classroom. I love the eagerness, sweetness and innocence of the second graders and it’s so much fun getting to know them and helping them learn. It’s so heartwarming to walk into the classroom and have a chorus of second graders go, “Can I go with Miss Rayna today? Please can I go?” ❤

13. Successfully completing J4804

J4804 Convergence Reporting is notoriously one of the hardest classes in the entire Mizzou J-School. This fall semester was my toughest, busiest and most stressful semester of my college career thus far, and all due to 4804. I was terrified coming into this class because of it’s reputation. However, 4804 ended up being the most valuable class I’ve taken in college thus far. Yes, it was difficult and there were tough moments — like when two teammates and I got stranded on the side of I-70 with a flat tire on our first team story — but I learned so much and improved my skills by 1,000 times. I traveled to Waverly, Missouri, the state capitol, and met tons of fascinating sources. I got better at talking to strangers, working with teammates and learned that, if the amount of effort is mutual, I love collaborating with like-minded people. I am quite proud of the the work I did in 4804 and even had a radio story air on KBIA!

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The State Trooper who helped us change my flat tire

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Recording my voiceover in the KBIA studio!

14. Keeping up this blog

As part of J4804, we got extra credit if we kept a blog with weekly posts about a certain topic. I chose “travel” as my topic and enjoyed having to write about it every week. I like keeping a blog, but I’ve found that if  I don’t have an actual reason to keep it up, I find it hard to motivate myself to do so. My favorite blog post I did in 2016 was this one in which I compared my grandparents’ 40-year-old travel photos to pictures from my own travels. In the journalism class I’m taking this coming semester we also get extra credit if we have a blog, so looks like I’ll be able to keep this up (at least for another semester).

15. Late-night jam sessions with my best friend

I was lucky enough to be able to go through 4804 with one of my best friends, Sarah. We suffered together and triumphed together. After long 10+ hour deadline days at the j-school, I’d often go over to Sarah’s apartment where we’d unwind by having mini jam sessions. (Basically just playing guitar and trying to figure out harmonies to Jonas Brothers’ songs.) Can’t wait till we’re roommies next fall so this can be a more regular occurence.

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We were probably singing Hamilton

16. Turning 21

I turned the big 2-1 last week on December 23. We went out to lunch and I ordered my first legal drink and proudly got carded. Can’t wait to get a new non-vertical drivers license!

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All in all, 2016 was a pretty good year for me. Hopefully 2017 will be even better, and much better for this country and the world. Starting with a trip back to NYC in a few weeks, and hopefully another internship adventure this summer, 2017, I have high hopes for you!

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See ya, 2016!

 

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The Danger of Anticipation

One of my favorite parts of travel is the anticipation. The weeks, months and sometimes even years before the trip actually occurs that are filled with Googling images of the destination, researching all the exciting activities you’ll do while you’re there and envisioning yourself at those famous sights you’d only seen before in pictures.

Planning upcoming trips and basking in the glow of the anticipation definitely do make me happy, but I try hard to not let my eagerness overwhelm me. Because nothing is worse in travel than disappointment — when that amazing moment you’d been waiting for falls short of your expectations. Sure, cognitive dissonance might kick in and soften the blow a little, but deep down you know it wasn’t what you wanted it to be.

I first went paragliding in July 2015. I had been wanting to do it for several years. The original plan was for me to go paragliding as an early birthday present during our trip to Brazil in 2014. However, when we got to Rio, my mom quickly found out from our hotel’s concierge that the paragliding/hang gliding scene in the city was rather sketchy (there had been several accidental deaths earlier that year.) So that was a hard “no” from my mom. This just left me yearning to do it even more. When I found out we were going to New Zealand the next summer in 2015, I knew this could be my chance. Thankfully, my mom agreed, which left me to imagine this flight over and over again in my head for the next several months.

When the day finally came for me to jump off Coronet Peak, I was beyond excited. But I was also nervous that the actual experience of paragliding wouldn’t live up to the scenario I’d imagined of so many times in my head. I wanted so desperately for this experience to be perfect.

I am happy to report that my paragliding ride met and exceeded my expectations. I could spend years imagining what it would feel like to soar 5,000 feet in the air, or imagining how tiny the houses and streams below would look, but nothing could compare to the real thing — how I felt like a bird taking flight for the first time when my tandem instructor and I ran off the side of the snow-covered mountain and seamlessly transitioned into the open sky, or just how quiet and peaceful it was to slowly glide over the trees and mountains. The experience wasn’t perfect (I underestimated how cold it would be at 9 a.m. on a New Zealand winter morning and my fingers nearly froze under the thin gloves I was wearing), but it still went above and beyond even my most elaborate dreams.

Although there have certainly been times in which I’ve been disappointed while traveling (*cough cough* Paris *cough cough*), I am so glad to say that my first time paragliding was not one of them —  I say “first time” because I can’t wait to do it again.

Check out the video I made using the GoPro footage from my flight:

 

 

My 2015 in Pictures

This year was a pretty big one for me — it was full of traveling, learning more about myself, becoming a better journalist, and so much more! I’ve pulled together some photos that I feel best represent the major and important places, people, events and experiences that impacted me in 2015.

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I kicked off 2015 on New Year’s Day in Orlando, Florida, with Marching Mizzou at the Citrus Bowl. It was such a fun experience to play and perform at a bowl game — and even better that Mizzou won!

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My mom and I spent a few more days in Orlando after Marching Mizzou left. One of the things we did was go on a boat tour of a bog in which we saw several alligators — this is the first of what turned out to be many animal & me photos from this year!

 

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We celebrated my mom’s birthday at EPCOT, and I also felt the magic at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

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My friends and I celebrated our first college snow day with a spontaneous midnight adventure out to the Quad and Peace Park.

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My last semester of freshman year I continued to report and anchor for MUTV 23 News, the campus television station. My friend (and partner in crime) Sarah and I went on many different packages together, including the Earth Day package in which we found ourselves at one point in the middle of a circle of chanting hippies.

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My freshman roommate Sydney took me home to her house in St. Louis for a fun weekend and showed me around the town, including the St. Louis Art Museum.

IMG_2207I spent my spring break in New York City and, despite it being freezing cold the entire time we were there, I loved being back in the city. My mom and I saw two Broadway shows (Book of Mormon and Kinky Boots), went out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, explored the Met, and visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum. One of my best friends from high school goes to Columbia University so I spent a lovely day with her. She showed me around Columbia and took me down to Brooklyn where I checked  something off my bucket list — crossing the Brooklyn Bridge! She also took me to a delicious Korean BBQ restaurant.

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A highlight of the New York trip was waking up at 5:30 in the morning and waiting outside in freezing temperatures on the plaza of the Today Show. Since we got there early, we got prime spots right in the front and were even on TV for a few seconds here and there. However, the best part was getting to meet and briefly talk to the anchors Matt Lauer, Carson Daly and Al Roker. They were all so nice and seemed genuinely happy to greet us fans and take pictures.

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I moved out of room 606 in Mark Twain Residence Hall after a great year with my roommate and suitemates. I couldn’t have asked for better people to share a room and bathroom with for nine months and it truly felt like we were a little family.

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Sydney and I drove down to visit our friend and suitemate Haley at her house in Harrison, Arkansas. We explored nature and Branson and went on golf cart escapades.

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A seemingly minor, but actually quite significant, thing that happened in 2015 was that I purchased a DSLR camera. I’ve gotten more into photography and have learned more about it in my multimedia journalism class. I also went on several photography outings with friends, such as this one with my high school besties 🙂

IMG_2938I was asked to play piano for a local community theater production of the musical Lucky Stiff. What was supposed to be a 3-person combo pit ended up being just me for the entire musical, but I loved it. One thing I had really missed about high school was playing piano for musicals, so I was very excited to be back at it again. The cast and crew of the show were so welcoming and made my two months rehearsing and performing so much fun. I’ll admit it was a lot of time and effort, the music wasn’t easy to learn, and it was hard work being the sole person in the pit for 12 performances, but it was incredibly rewarding and I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

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Definitely the highlight of 2015 for me was the trip my mom and I took to Australia and New Zealand in July. My mom didn’t have a conference this summer so we were able to spend the entire  three weeks doing whatever we wanted. I checked off my 6th continent with an amazing time in Cairns and Sydney, Australia, and my animal-selfie theme continued with koalas and kangaroos.

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My first snorkeling experience was in the Great Barrier Reef and it was surreal to see all the colorful coral and marine wildlife up close and personal, especially since my favorite Pixar film is Finding Nemo!

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We took a tour of the Sydney Opera House and learned all about the fascinating history of how such an architectural feat came to be, and the initial controversy surrounding it. I was lucky to get to see my first professional opera in the Sydney Opera House — La Traviata.

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I fell in love with the magical mountains and blue lakes of Queenstown, New Zealand, and this adventurous-yet-quaint town quickly became my all time favorite place in the world. (And also, this photo is my favorite photo from 2015, even though I didn’t take it — thanks, mom!)

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We took a cruise through the fjords of Milford Sound in New Zealand, saw waterfalls, seals resting on rocks, and had wild dolphins swim alongside our boat. We also had a crazy small-world experience when we discovered that a couple on our tour boat was also from Columbia, Missouri, and that the woman was the chair of the Strat Comm department in the J-School!

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I had been dreaming about going paragliding for a few years and finally got to do so in Queenstown. It began with a terrifying climb around the side of a mountain peak with only a mere rope to hold on to, but ended being one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Running and jumping off the side of a 5,000 foot mountain and soaring peacefully like a bird above the snowy landscape of New Zealand culminated into 20 minutes I’ll never forget.

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We visited the city of Rotorua on New Zealand’s north island and, as you can see, my animal encounters continued. Rotorua is famous for its many geothermal pools and geysers, which unfortunately has led to the entire city reeking of sulfur, a stench that is suddenly and shockingly noticeable when flying in by airplane (but you sort of get used to it after a day or so.) Mom and I went to a traditional Maori center and feasted on lunches that were cooked by the steam from a geothermal hot spring.

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Our trip ended in Auckland, New Zealand, the city of boats (Auckland’s boat-ownership ratio is one of the highest in the world!) I loved the cultural diversity of this cosmopolitan city, as well as the gigantic and delicious cinnamon rolls I had for breakfast at the deli next to our hotel.

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My roommate Miranda and I had bought tickets to see Taylor Swift’s 1989 world tour way back in February, so we could barely contain our excitement when the day finally came in late-September. The concert was unbelievable and completely spectacular. From the insane back up dancers to the sets to the costumes to the light-up bracelets everyone was given, it was such a great night. Miranda and I sang along and danced to every single song!

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For Halloween 2015 two of my roommates and I and our friend Wendy wanted to do an epic group costume for Deja Vu’s annual Halloween costume contest. After finding inspiration from Pinterest, we decided on going as “The Many Faces of Johnny Depp.” We each picked a famous Johnny Depp character and, as you can see, went all out. Every time I look at this picture, I am still so impressed with us. I was Willy Wonka, Miranda was the Mad Hatter, Haley went as Jack Sparrow, and Wendy was Sweeney Todd. We crushed the costume contest, easily winning first place in the group category and scored $200! Next year will be hard to beat.

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Fall semester 2015 at Mizzou was monumental and non-stop with major events and protests. I wrote an entire blog post  about some of the events that transpired and my thoughts and opinions on it all. I was surprised but moved to see that the post was shared by people on Facebook and was viewed thousands of times. I ended up taking several photos from the moments after Tim Wolfe resigned as System President, in part because of an assignment for my J2150 multimedia class. Throughout the semester, despite it being a lot of work and, to be frank, a pain in the butt sometimes, I loved J2150. It pushed me to be my best and improve my journalistic photo, video, and audio storytelling skills. The class also taught me that multimedia is something I want to do with my life. I also took Cross-Cultural journalism this semester, which ended up being incredibly serendipitous with all of the racial protests and journalistic controversies that occurred in November.

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Photo credit: my friend Sarah

 

 

Several other things worth noting happened in 2015: I got my first real and paying job (and I actually enjoy it!), I continued in my second semester of volunteer tutoring at an elementary school, I applied for my journalism interest area (Convergence Television Reporting), I moved into my first apartment, and I put my teenage years behind me as I entered a new decade of life on my 20th birthday.

 

 

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Photo credit: my friend Sarah

 

 

Writing this post, I feel like so much happened in 2015, especially travel-wise. However, right now it looks like 2016 will be even busier and will be filled with even more travel adventures — the first one being a return to New York City in just a few weeks! Also on the calendar is a trip to Scotland and Iceland this summer, and possibly somewhere else in the States over spring break. It’s safe to say that I am so excited for the year to come and for the new photos and memories I’ll be making! And to everyone in my life — whether it be family, friends, roommates, professors, or that sweet woman at the Mark who always chatted with me in the grill line while she made me cheeseburgers– thanks for making 2015 such a memorable one.