The National Civil Rights Museum is a must visit when in Memphis, Tennessee. I would even suggest making a special trip to the city to check it out.

My mom lived in Memphis when MLK was murdered.

She was in Jr. High and still tears up when she talks about the palpable loss that permeated the city. The curfews. The division in the aftermath of such hatred. The tanks trailing the sanitation workers. The fear.

She tells me stories of being harassed for playing with black children and what it was like to live in such a divided world. Of course, spending large chunks of her childhood in the segregated south was different for my mother — a white woman.

But if it was bad enough for cry when she talks about it 50 years later, what was it like for the black people on the receiving end of such hatred?

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The National Civil Rights Museum has the answer.

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My Airbnb was literally around the corner from my mother’s childhood home. The journey to the site of the Lorraine Motel took less than 10 minutes.

The facade of the Lorraine has been wonderfully preserved and carefully resembles its appearance on April 4, 1968. Only Dr. King’s and one neighboring room remain, while the rest of the building has been expanded and transformed to guide visitors through the entire struggle for civil rights, from the transatlantic slave trade to Black Lives Matter.

I visited roughly a week after the 2016 presidential election. A campaign filled with divisive and hateful rhetoric that has left many Americans fearful for their rights and safety. I believe that the timing of my visit heavily influenced the somber mood and tangible sadness throughout the museum.

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At the beginning of the exhibits, there is an informative gallery that lays the groundwork for the politics of the slave trade. It ends with the sobering words, “Due to slavery, America became one of the richest countries in the world.” From there, I followed a black elementary school class into a room depicting the inhumane treatment that Africans were forced to endure on their “passage” to America.

Those children asked the questions that only children can:

“What if he has to go to the bathroom?” wondered one, pointing towards the line of statues crammed into the ship’s underbelly.

“Where does he eat?”

“Why are there marks on him?”

“Where’s his mom?”

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The museum also doesn’t shy away from the fact that nearly every early president and other “great” Americans owned slaves and relied on the exploitation of black labor for their own wealth. Viewing the founding fathers as imperfect people who contributed to the freedom of some while remaining complacent in or actively contributing to atrocity might be difficult, but it’s necessary.

The National Civil Rights Museum forces white visitors to do this work.

Thank God.

The museum offers such an intricate look at the federal government’s broken promises during Reconstruction, the legalized horror of Jim Crow, and the continuing frustration of voter suppression, that I found myself taking pictures of display cards and wall mounts to save the information for later.

I was also particularly horrified to see in unflinching detail the terror of the KKK’s reign over the south, a horror many black Americans are still living with today.

As I soaked in the Freedom Riders, Bloody Sunday, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the Memphis Sanitation Strike, the tension in my stomach grew. Suddenly, I rounded a corner and there I was — in Dr. King’s room. The place he spent his last night on earth.

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I’ve been to the Grassy Knoll and the Ford’s Theater, but this was different. There were two middle-aged black women in front of me. They were crying. Not the kind where a small tear rolls down your cheek and you subtly brush it away, but the kind where your throat closes and your shoulders shake and your feel like your heart might crush itself.

They looked to be my mother’s age. They lived through what she did, but on the other side.

For white Americans my age, people who have never experienced structural racial discrimination, it can be so easy to write off the horrors showcased in the National Civil Rights Museum as an unfortunate chunk of our history, rather than something that is very much still happening today.

The KKK, those who upheld Jim Crow, the students who protested integration in public schools — these people were the peers of our grandparents, our parents. Whether or not our families actively participated, we are not removed from this legacy. I was very much aware of this while touring the museum.

Never before had I been so aware of my whiteness. And I’m so glad I got called out on it.

I spent nearly four hours at the National Civil Rights Museum and it gave me a deeper understanding of all the factors that play into institutionalized racism in 2016: the police brutality, housing discrimination, educational inequality, and a white America that can’t seem to let go of its perceived superiority.

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the national civil rights museum loraine motel mlk

A small expert from this passage of Dr. King’s Letter from the Birmingham jail was on display in the museum. It has always, and will always, convict me. I invite you, my fellow “white moderates” to look around at 2016 America and take his words to heart:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

As a white woman, a believer in Jesus Christ, and the descendent of a Confederate general, I have a moral responsibility to create an America different than the one that man fought to protect. I need to listen when it’s time to listen. March when it’s time to march. Vote when it’s time to vote. And pray without ceasing.

To plan your own visit to the National Civil Rights Museum, please click here.

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Wondering how to vote while studying abroad?  The process is called voting absentee it’s easier than you might think!

I voted absentee while in college in both the 2012 and 2014 elections. As long as you follow the steps below, voting while away from home is easy as pie.

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Here’s How to Vote while Studying Abroad:

First things first, you need to register to vote. It only takes like five minutes and you can find the online registration forms here.

how to get an absentee ballot how to vote with studying abroad voting absentee

Up close and personal at the White House

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s everything you need to know about how to vote while studying abroad:

Qualifying for Absentee Voting 

People usually vote absentee because they are

  • College students who study outside of their Congressional District (i.e. abroad or out of state)
  • Expats working abroad.
  • In the military.
  • Unable to get to the polls.
  • Over 65 years old.

Absentee voting by mail is NOT for people who just don’t want to wait in the lines on Election Day. I know it’s the worst, but that’s what early voting is for. Luckily this doesn’t apply to those who wish to vote while studying abroad — as you are literally out of the country.

When is Election Day?

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Capitol Nails

Election Day is the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Because of this, it can be anywhere from November 2nd – November 8th.

Upcoming National American Election Dates:

November 6, 2018

November 3, 2020

November 8, 2022

November 5, 2024

To find out about local elections from your specific Congressional District, click here.

Registering to Vote while Studying Abroad 

To receive your absentee ballot, you’ll need to

  • Visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program website and select your “home” state from the dropdown menu (or your domicile state, if you want to get fancy about it).
  • Make sure you have access to a printer.
  • Download and fill out the Federal Post Card Application.
  • Mail it to your “home” county’s voting office.

You can find the list of addresses on the Federal Voting Assistance website, and please note that I’m saying COUNTY not COUNTRY. Easy mistake, but it could cost you your vote.

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Where everyone else that you elect will work.

Deadlines for Voting while Studying Abroad 

To avoid being complacent in the the most important American elections ever, now that you know about overseas voting, you need to get after it!

Technically, the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot varies by state (and you can find a complete list of voter registration and absentee ballot deadlines here) but the general consensus for voting while studying abroad is

  • you have until the last week of October to request an absentee ballot

and

  • your absentee ballot needs to be received by Election Day, not just postmarked by then.

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I’m obsessed with George Ezra.

My friend Dominique showed me his Budapest video while we were studying in Rome, and he instantly became the soundtrack of my travels. I’ve always associated him with adventure and he’s “been around” for the coolest moments of my life – so seeing him live has been a goal since I first heard his voice.

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George Ezra Houston tweet George Ezra in Houston tweet George Ezra Houston tweet

After a few near misses, we were finally going to be in the same city at the same time.

Only problem: I had no one to go with.

I didn’t think much about going alone for the two months leading up to the concert, but on the day of, I began to seriously consider not going.

It took me about 35 minutes to get to the Houston House of Blues, and I spent the drive alternating between speeding with excitement and slowing down with sickness. My sincerest apologies to anyone on the Katy Freeway last Monday night – you might’ve expected to see a 100-year-old blind lady, but no, it was only a nervous 22-year-old trying her best.

Why was I so nervous? I do stuff alone all the time (yes, I was that loser kid in high school who went to the movies by herself) but maybe concerts of beautiful, blond, British boys who sing like angels were the final frontier.

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George Ezra Houston House of Blues Parking

I timed myself to arrive exactly at eight, so I wouldn’t waste my phone’s battery while I stood around beforehand acting like I was waiting to meet someone.

Protip: if you buy standing room only tickets for a concert, never stand on the side by the entrance.

When I walked in, it was straight into a wall of tall people, but when I finally wiggled my way to the far side, I actually managed to get pretty close.

George Ezra Houston House of Blues

To my surprise, the show began right at eight. CharlotteOC was the opening act. Her music was familiar – but not in the trite sense. Although I’d never heard a single song from her before, as soon as she opened her mouth I felt wrapped up in her voice, like I wanted to listen forever.

Then she was gone, and it was time for George.

Finally.

Bare Necessities thrummed in the background and then there he was, wearing a NASA t-shirt and smiling.

He went right into Cassy O’, my actual fave, but as I sang along, I had to suppress the urge to shriek. The norm at the 1D and Jo Bro concerts I’d been to, everyone at this show seemed really….chill.

As the show went on, it became less and less of a thing that I was there alone. Just like at the movies, even if you go to a concert with people, you don’t really talk to them while it’s happening.

Another plus side of going to concerts alone:

In the jungle of general admission, you only have to look out for yourself. The girls in front of me passed up an opportunity to move closer to the stage because all four of them couldn’t fit, so I slid right up in there.

George Ezra Houston House of Blues George Ezra Houston House of Blues

After the show, I waited 3 ½ hours outside George’s tour bus (it seemed waaaaay less pathetic while it was happening), but alas, he goes to sleep right after his shows to stay healthy. Good on him. Although I was disappointed, I’ll just count it as another near miss and hopefully see him next time.

If you are looking for a cheap night out, definitely pop into the Houston House of Blues.

Eat before you get there, because the food is CRAZY expensive, and if you want to drink I suggest you skip the bar and use these instead.

Do you have any fun concert experiences to share? I’d love to hear them!

I used Affiliate links in this post. This means that if you purchase any products recommended, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. It helps offset the cost of running She’s a Trip. You can read more in my Privacy Policy. 

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Looking for tips on how to ride Amtrak? Traveling by train in America is actually a viable option – this is what you need to know to survive it.

*Suggested listening while learning how to ride Amtrak with ease: “City of New Orleans” –  Arlo Guthrie

European train stations are both architectural wonders and hubs for commuters, locals, and tourists alike. I once met a girl from Belgium whose dad commuted via train weekly to work in Luxembourg. He felt that Belgian schools were better and wanted to keep his family around Brussels. Luckily for him, it didn’t mean he had to compromise his career.

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A train station in Europe

In the good ole’ US of A, the story is different. Many times (especially in smaller cities) train stations are far from downtown and sometimes in areas that most people would otherwise avoid. You could say that in addition to this, the USA is so large that trains are inefficient and antiquated. But I want to challenge that idea!

I’m not saying that taking the train from New York to LA is the absolute best way to travel, but traveling by train in America can be done. Follow these tips and you can survive anything Amtrak throws at you.

Here’s how to ride Amtrak with ease:

Always Be Early.

Since there is no required arrival time and no extensive security line at a train station, you might think you can just waltz in whenever. While officially that may be true, you want to be early if you want your trip to go smoothly.

Early arrival means you can board before the rest of the herd (a perk for those trying to save by traveling in coach) and can get your pick of seats.

This is also helpful since Amtrak cars still only have outlets along the window-side walls. You don’t want to have to awkwardly reach across someone you don’t know to charge your phone.

Book Tickets for Amtrak in Advance.

Many people think of train travel very informally and don’t think they need to book tickets as far in advance as they would for a plane.

Some do get lucky doing this, but a solid money-saving tip is to always book as soon as you can. Amtrak ticket prices skyrocket closer to departure time. Additionally, some special deals (such as AAA discounts for Amtrak) are only good if you book a certain amount of time before your trip.

Pack Lightly.

Very few Amtrak lines have checked baggage options. Additionally, the usually limit passengers’ allowed baggage.

This is for your own good, as it difficult to make it through a busy station – let alone the train itself – if you have too many things to carry.  A good example of how to pack for the train would include a backpack and/or a small rolling suitcase.

Prepare for Delays on Amtrak.

Unfortunately, one of the real truths about Amtrak is that delays are common.

While they are obligated to help you out if you miss a connection because of them, it’s always good to take this into account at the outset so you can try to avoid it as much as possible. Make sure you have enough time between connections (I prefer an hour because it’s not too much, but not too little either) and pack lots of snacks!

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Amtrak-on-Hudson: Mid-Hudson Bridge – Ulster County, NY

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Bonus Tips for How to Ride Amtrak:

  • If a train seems crowded, take the first open seat. If you pass one up, you could end up on the floor.

 

  • If you have to change trains, always charge your electronics at earliest convenience, even if your battery is still pretty full. You never know when the next charging opportunity will be. You can also purchase a portable charger.

 

  • If you have a smartphone or tablet, opt to store your ticket there. iPhones will automatically prompt you to store your ticket in iBooks. This way, you can never misplace your ticket and its one less piece of paper to worry about.

 

  • Pack a sweater or blanket, and wear warm-ish clothes when you travel. I have worn my Patagonia fleece on Amtrak even in the brutal heat and humidity of Washington, DC in August. The AC is freezing after you’ve been sitting in it for a while.

So now you know how to ride Amtrak! Go forth and conquer (and let me know if I missed anything in the comments).

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A newly-minted Mount Holyoke College Alum, Abby is never happier than when she is headed some place new.

This is likely why her dream (and current career goal) is to join the Foreign Service. After studying abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland, she decided that the best kind of weather is a rainy day in the city. A native of northern New York State, she now lives in Washington, DC. 

You can follow her on Twitter here.

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I used Affiliate links in this post. This means that if you purchase any products recommended, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. It helps offset the cost of running She’s a Trip. You can learn more in my Privacy Policy

 

 

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