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2 Month Mark!


Hey Blog!

Wow I truly can’t believe it has been two months already, time is going by really fast and while I can definitely feel it, it is still shocking to think I have already completed a third of this trip! I am still really grateful for the opportunity to be in Egypt, and I am so happy to report that I finally feel like my Arabic dialect is becoming more authentically Egyptian rather than clearly an American who is speaking Arabic :).

These last two weeks have been amazing in terms of the work we are doing with Bless.  I had the phenomenal opportunity to meet his Holiness Pope Tawadros the 2nd during our donor meeting where Bless was showcasing all of the work the nonprofit has accomplished this past year and shared the plans for the coming year with the donors. It was a really cool experience where I got to see how to learn just how much impact the organization has on the local communities. In addition to the donors meeting, I was able to help work on a proposal to help eliminate female mutilation which was such fulfilling work.

I have been enjoying the experience of finding new restaurants and areas of Egypt to explore. I recently explored an area called the zamalek with some new friends and tried a  restaurant that sold Salmon on the Nile which was delicious with a great view.

It’s also been really amazing to be in the streets of Egypt, grab a cup of mango from a local vendor and  visit a local church to see the expression of the Coptic faith so beautifully powerful and learn about the historical significance. I really love the moving stories of the people who died for their faith in Egypt as they make sure not to let them die in memory and honor them by telling their stories to visitors to inspire their own faith. It is a impactful and amazing tradition that I have gained much from.

Some observations that I have noticed while being in Egypt are that the people are extremely observant, they are friendly and welcoming and many are willing to help out strangers.

I also recently learned how to bargain which is a huge part of the culture here and is aiding me in integrating more and quite fun to do  as it feels like a small win when the bargain goes my way. I enjoy the feeling of blending in with the people around me and trying to truly live as a native which is becoming easier and more enjoyable as the familiarity settles in.

Some recent life updates:

#1 I got a haircut in Egypt that feels really different and exciting that I am really happy with.

#2 I got Christmas nails that are making me feel festive and remind me of home a little as thanksgiving wasn’t really a thing over here and I wanted to still be in the spirits.

That’s all for now blog,

Until next time,

Nardien Sadik

Cairo, Egypt


Welcoming Winter in Thailand

More about accompanying client to UNHCR:

When the day of the accompaniment arrived, I left early in the morning to account for Bangkok traffic. I brought everything I’d need with me including my accompaniment notebook, Muji pens I picked up specifically for this interview, my passport to show UNHCR, etc. Once I arrived at the UN, I saw the signature flags raised outside the building. I walked around to get to the UNHCR section/office, which was quite discreet, with a huge United Nations ESCAP sign, then a smaller sign below indicating the entrance for UNHCR. There’s a complaint & suggestion box, as well as a mailbox for submissions outside the entrance. My client arrived shortly after I did. The security officer checked our documents, then let us into the building, where they confiscated our electronic devices. From there, we waited until the client was called back for the first instance refugee status determination interview.

UN building

sign for UNHCR office

kitty who kept me company on my lunch break

Some sections of the interview include the introduction, biodata checking, asking why the asylum-seeker left their country of origin/why they cannot go back, and follow-up questions. Some clients will require a follow-up interview, particularly if there are a lot of incidents or details to their claim. After all FI RSD interviews have been conducted, then the client will receive the notification of decision letter from UNHCR i.e., whether or not they will be granted refugee status.

This is an incredible opportunity and experience, as I am able to support the client and also see firsthand how UNHCR is conducting the RSD interviews.

I am witnessing more and more the impact that AAT has on the outcome of clients’ cases with UNHCR. For example, I’ve seen AAT flag certain cases to UNHCR to help speed up a step in the RSD process (like registration), especially if the client has been waiting a long time, and then the client(s) will subsequently be registered or receive the update. It is important for refugees in Thailand to have the UNHCR card (received after registration) in order to receive increased access to services like healthcare.

Stages in the RSD process for asylum-seekers:

Although I touched on these stages previously, some of my earlier posts got deleted due to technical errors, so I thought I’d include this information again here for further clarity.

  • Submit registration request
  • Registration interview
  • First instance interview(s)
  • RSD result
  • 30 days to appeal (if rejected)
    • Might have an appeal interview
    • Case is either accepted or rejected (again)
  •  Can submit request to reopen case (if case has been rejected on appeal)

NSM event:

Last week, I attended an event titled, “Thailand’s New National Screening Mechanism and the Future of Refugee Protection,” with panelists, Patrick Phongsathorn, senior advocacy specialist at Fortify Rights, and Prima Sukmanop, legal officer at Asylum Access Thailand and representative, Coalition for the Rights of Refugees and Stateless Persons (CRSP). The event was moderated by Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director and Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) board member. Representatives from UNHCR and the Thai government were invited, but did not participate in the event.

For a bit of background about the event, in 2019, then-prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha signed off on a “National Screening Mechanism” to change how Thailand deals with the challenges of protecting asylum-seekers and refugees. The Royal Thai Police and Ministry of Interior are to run the arrangement, screen applicants, and determine who will be a protected person and legally allowed to stay in Thailand. Those denied will face deportation. The system began in late September 2023, but there are many unanswered questions, and there has not been a rush of applicants.

Discussions from the event touched upon key principles under NSM, how the NSM regulation has been interpreted and implemented in parallel with Thai immigration and criminal procedure laws, as well as practical limitations relating to the processes. According to Prima, concerns were raised about “[h]ow the existing legal framework still criminalizes irregular migration by requiring NSM applicants to be prosecuted for immigration charges before they are eligible to apply for protection from refoulement.”

Below are notes and takeaways from the panelists:

Patrick Phongsathorn –

  • The principle of non-refoulement – certain groups will automatically be screened out of the national mechanism. Refugees in nine camps along borders, migrant workers, and individuals considered to be a threat to national security will be automatically screened out, and they won’t be allowed to appeal.
  • Applicants will be subject to criminal record and background checks. One of the biggest source countries for Thailand is Myanmar, so a political record check or criminal check raises red flags.
  • There will be no automatic screening of refugees who are subject to deportation. Refugees have to know about the system and have help navigating it.
  • Access to public services – NSM guarantees access to healthcare and education for people granted protected person status, but will need to see how that’s implemented in reality.

Prima Sukmanop –

  • NSM is not a national asylum system. The reasoning lies behind the legal mechanisms currently available in Thailand.
  • NSM offers protection against refoulement, but it doesn’t fully recognize the right to seek asylum. The Immigration Act still exists alongside NSM. People interested in going through NSM would first have to be prosecuted under immigration law (perhaps done through an arrest), go through the court process and be penalized/fined, then transferred to immigration authorities and custody. At the point of deportation custody, then NSM would intervene.
  • NSM only aims to screen urban refugees already charged with illegal entry or overstay.
  • Camp refugees are managed by the Ministry of Interior and are already subject to their own specific system, therefore they are not eligible for NSM.
    • Limited mechanism
  • NSM is not a durable solution because it doesn’t provide a pathway to livelihood or status, although it does provide education and healthcare.
  • If applicants are given protected person status, they will be granted an identity card that will be valid for five years, but the question is what happens after those five years are up.
    Lack of resources – the interpretations will be to Thai. Since there are not as many people in Thailand in this context who speak Thai, there’s a possibility that there could be two different interpreters e.g., applicant’s language to Thai and English to Thai. This leaves more room for misunderstanding.

NSM event

Cooler weather:

It’s starting to feel like Thailand’s “winter,”  with temperatures of low 70s in the mornings, then reaching the high 80s/90 during the day. I’ve been loving this cooler weather! Since I arrived in Thailand during the hottest time, 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit feels like a breath of fresh air to me.

Lumpini Park

monitor lizard at the park

and... the many cats of Sena Nikhom (my neighborhood), featuring Steven’s twin

Becoming a Cairo Local

Hello again!

The past two weeks have been eventful! As usual, I need some sort of structure/list to help break it down, so here we go:

Updates about being a Cairo local:
For the past two weeks, I’ve been slowly transitioning into finally feeling somewhat like a local. After weeks of experimenting with different modes of transportation, I now feel the most comfortable riding the underground metro and even switching between metro lines.

Inside the metro, the names of the stations/ stops are written in both English and Arabic

A mural inside the metro station portraying influential Egyptian people: two of whom are Coptic Saints

A mural inside the Abbassya metro station: portraying the word Abbassya in the Coptic Language and showing a couple of the area’s landmarks

I’ve also started to get in the groove of things: I set up a routine for myself, and I familiarize myself with the areas I am going so that I can feel oriented whenever I go out. I’ve even been asked for directions a couple of times!! (Granted, I was only able to help once, but it’s a satisfying feeling all the same).

Update about work:
I have befriended some of my colleagues, and a couple of them even invited me out after work last week. Meanwhile, the others give me weekly recommendations of must-visit places in Cairo. I am surrounded by kind colleagues, and I feel extremely blessed to have met them. As for the actual work aspect: learning so much about what the NGO does and hearing Arabic 24/7 was very unexpectedly overwhelming in the beginning, but thankfully I’ve gone from the “observing and asking questions” stage to the “trying, being assigned a couple of tasks, and getting feedback” stage. This past week, I had to analyze and create charts portraying BLESS’ most prominent services for a partner meeting coming up later this month. I had the opportunity to work in a team and present my progress in small team meetings along the way. This was such a valuable work experience that I had yet to gain until then, but I’m fortunate to have such a supportive team helping me through it.

Update about my cat phobia:
The last two weeks started out being a bit rocky, with a major phobia freak-out. In short, I now absolutely have to double-check that there’s indoor seating before I go to any cafe. I think it’s calmed down a bit since then. All is good; I know that progress isn’t always linear.

Cool experiences I’ve had so far:
Egypt is full of history as it is full of life. I’ve explored that side of Egypt a little more these past couple of weeks as I visited a few ancient Coptic Orthodox churches. It also turned out that one of my childhood friends spent her summer in Egypt, and thankfully, I found out that she was still here just in time before she left. We got to reconnect and visit the pyramids together. Catching up with my childhood friend that I hadn’t seen in a few years while visiting one of the Seven Wonders of the World wasn’t on my bingo card for 2023, but it was definitely a pleasant surprise.

A cavern, inside one of the churches I visited, where the Holy family stayed for three months

I am gradually acclimating to everything, so I am currently in the perfect balance of feeling like a local but not too much so that I can still recognize the magical feeling of living in this city.

I can’t believe I’ve been here for one month already. Keep praying for me so that I can get the most out of this journey!

I’ll write again soon,

Ilaria Youssef

Susu na!

It’s been business as usual the past few weeks. On October 31st, I celebrated Halloween by going to Jodd Fairs night market where they had Halloween decorations, food, face paint, and costumes. I was surprised that there were more Halloween events happening in the city than I was expecting. Even though it didn’t feel like Halloween weather-wise, it was still nice to get together with friends and celebrate. It was a day full of smiles and zero scares.

Halloween in Bangkok

The next week, we had the day off work on Friday, November 1st for wellness day. A few coworker friends and I went to a cafe where we read and enjoyed the backyard bbq they were cooking up. It was a beautiful space and appears to have been a family’s home before it was converted to a cafe. There’s an outdoor sitting area with flowers and fairy flights, plus an indoor dining area, central cafe with baked goods and nooks to sit in, plus a very quiet upstairs area with lots of natural light. The cafe holds events frequently, including their weekend bbqs, workshops, and their daily paint & plant sessions (paint pots and plant, 2 in 1). After that, my coworker friend and I jetted off on his bike to a kpop dance class across town. We learned the dance to B.O.M.B by TREASURE, but it was taught in Thai, so I did my best to follow along. After the class, my friend taught me to count from 1-10 in Thai and quizzed me on the way home, asking me about different numbers on the road signs. It’d be a good road trip game, and it made learning Thai feel more fun than your average class!

cafe all day

AAT updates:

We have two new VLAs (same position as me) at work on the RSD team, which will expand the team’s capacity. Although it will take time to train the new VLAs and get them up to speed, they have great experience with research and screening/interviewing clients. It’s also nice to have other VLAs on the team with me because I’ve been the only RSD volunteer for a few months since our summer intern and another VLA departed.

The upcoming weeks will be quite busy and challenging at work, especially as I’ll have a heavy caseload, many of which are new processes to me. I am in the midst of conducting country of origin research on the treatment of women in Somalia (particularly FGM), working on an appeal submission, completing my first full screenings, and also my first accompaniment. For the appeal submission, the steps include reading through the client’s file and testimony, scheduling another interview with the client, interviewing the client, and then starting the appeal submission from there. Possible reasons for appeal include: incorrect facts, problems with procedures or process at first instance, new information relevant to the refugee claim, other reasons, or if there’s any additional documents or evidence the asylum-seeker would like to submit in support of their case.

Also, although I’ve completed pre-screenings part 1 and 2, this week I will be conducting full screenings wherein I ask the clients detailed questions about why they left their country of origin. After that, I will write up my analysis to my supervisor, and he will make the final decision on whether or not to represent the client.

This week, I will also be accompanying a client to their first instance RSD interview with UNHCR. AAT provides accompaniment to clients who are from groups who are typically unfairly rejected from UNHCR or who present vulnerabilities. The legal advisor is not able to intervene during the interview; the legal advisor’s role is to transcribe the interview, which can take the entire day. This is to support the client and also presents the possibility that AAT can submit post-interview submission (PIS) for the client if there are any errors or anything that did not go well during the interview. Due to current UNHCR Thailand policy, I will be unable to type the interview. Therefore, I will need to handwrite the entire interview, then spend the next day converting it from my handwritten entries to text.

As we say at work when it gets hectic like this, susu! This is a Thai phrase, which means ‘fight! Don’t give up.’ This is a phrase of encouragement, which can be used in many different contexts, for example if you’re eating with friends and still have lots of leftover food to eat, or if you have lots of work to do. It’s similar to the Japanese phrase, ‘ganbatte’ ((がんばって), which means ‘do your best,’ or phrases in English like, ‘you got this! You can do this.’

I’ll keep you all updated on the new work developments and the accompaniment in my next post. Thanks for following along!

P.S. Monsoon season is over, so we’re heading into the dry and cool(er) months. I actually kind of miss the daily rain from before :/

more kitties! spirit house kitty

spot the hidden cat

pad see ew, my favorite

my sweet friend made balushai for me (a Bangladeshi dessert).. soo yummy

A very eventful first month.

As I write this it is currently Halloween which isn’t really a thing in Egypt but it felt right to acknowledge. Blog! Egypt is a beautiful country and honestly it feels like the time has flown by. I have enjoyed getting into the rhythm of things and finding a routine for myself. I mistakenly thought the weather would be much colder than it actually is in Egypt right now, currently it still feels like fall and I am severely underprepared as I stuffed my suitcase with sweaters upon sweaters, but I managed to take a belmont shirt which thankfully has saved me on many occasions in this weather. I also got the amazing opportunity to visit a beautiful  Coptic Orthodox Church and I have loved getting to experience the liturgy in mostly arabic and coptic as opposed to English, Arabic, and Coptic. It is hard to put into words how special it is to finally connect with this part of my identity and make it my own but that doesn’t mean I haven’t tried! I’ve been writing a lot of poetry making sure to process everything going on and really let it sink in that I am in Egypt. The entire thing has felt a little surreal even 3 weeks in but I am slowly grasping that this is reality for a while and I am loving it.

Part of accepting reality is acknowledging that Egypt has a border with Gaza and that there is so much happening a mere country over. My thoughts often go to how I can support those affected in this time during my freetime seeing as I am so close geographically, and I care. I find myself praying for peace.

Another really cool aspect of this experience thus far is learning how to be self sufficient. The other day I was making nescafe, a common Egyptian drink and I learned how to light the stove top which uses gas with a match. While it doesn’t seem like a huge deal the fact that I sat there and figured it out felt extremely satisfying afterwards when I finally produced the desired coffee and it definitely tasted even better.

To speak about the internship experience so far, its been really cool to meet my bosses Safinaz and Ghada, they are both incredibly humble people who volunteer their free time to Bless in order to an their home country a better place.  So far I know there is a huge event on Nov. 27th that requires the majority of Ilaria and I’s  attention, and I have been trying to learn as quickly as possible in order to switch gears. I wanted to see if there is a way to support the Gaza humanitarian relief that Egypt is doing currently for the civilians affected by the war and am still ironing out the details so hopefully I will be able to update the blog about that soon!

In more personal news I get my LSAT score back tomorrow which is my last step before submitting applications. I hope the best and will update the blog as decisions come in!

Thats all for now blog,

Nardien Sadik

Cairo, Egypt

Two Weeks In

Welcome back!

I’ve been in Egypt for a couple of weeks now, and it has already been the experience of a lifetime.

I’m not sure how to begin recounting or processing my journey over these past two weeks, so I’ll put it into a list of things I’ve noticed so far:

  1. Cairo is such a lively city!

In the first week, I was incredibly overstimulated every time I stepped out of the apartment, to the extent that I had to come home and immediately take a nap. The streets always seem to be bustling, and cars are everywhere! Where a car fits, there it shall be. The Egyptian people seem to have black belts in driving, but they also have their own unspoken rules when it comes to roads. For example, the lines on the roads, indicating lanes, are merely a suggestion that is quite often ignored. During rush hour, you can simply stick a finger outside of the car window, and you’d probably be touching another car (although I wouldn’t recommend trying this at home/street). As for the car horn, it seems as though there’s either a secret language behind each beep that I’m unable to decipher yet, or they just enjoy honking the horn for fun.

Crossing the street, on the other hand, should be an Olympic sport. There are pedestrians walking between cars on any given street. I have mastered crossing the smaller streets so far; wish me luck so I can level up.

Additionally, Cairo might be in competition with NYC for the title of “the city that never sleeps.” I can always hear cars beeping and people talking on the street from my bedroom window, even in the middle of the night.

  1. There are animals everywhere.

Mainly stray cats and dogs. (Small update on my phobia: I can walk past a cat in the street, but I can’t seem to sit down to eat in the open air while a cat is roaming around the table. I’m counting it all as progress, though:) However, I’ve also witnessed 2 small chickens walking around in a small side street, heard a rooster crow, and seen some goats. All the animals seem to coexist with each other, the humans, and the cars. I even saw a couple of stray dogs, on separate occasions, look both ways before crossing the street.

  1. Egyptians seem to be genuinely kind people.

From the first day at the BLESS office, all the employees showed me so much compassion and gave me a warm welcome. Many of them even offered me advice, tolerated my capacity to come up with endless questions, and were patient when my Arabic fell a little short. I am already gaining valuable insight into the nonprofit world, and I am excited to be volunteering in an organization that serves so many communities in Egypt.

  1. Egyptian food is glorious.

I have yet to taste one thing that hasn’t been mind-blowingly delicious. From sweets to snacks, to breakfast and dinners, it’s all unmatched.

Overall, Egypt is an absolute dream and I couldn’t be happier to be here. I’ve found myself in the habit of taking several pictures throughout the day, most of which are random, but they’re my way of admiring Cairo’s beauty. Enjoy a photo dump at the end of the blog.

Please keep me in your prayers, and I’ll write to you soon!

Until then,

Ilaria Youssef

A typical Egyptian breakfast

Street view of the Cairo Tower

Statue of Saad Zaghloul in downtown Cairo

Spotting turtles and baby sharks

I can’t believe it’s already mid-October and that I’ve been in Bangkok for a little over four months now! It’s gone by fast and below are some reflections about my time in Bangkok so far:

I’m blessed to be surrounded by kind, supportive colleagues and friends who have made me feel at home here.

Magical Bangkok elements:

  • cats everywhere!
  • heavy rain during monsoon season leads to dreamy sunsets
  • meeting interesting people from all walks of life
  • very spiritual place

Things that are tough about Bangkok:

  • streets weren’t designed for walking (and it’s too hot for walking to really be all that enjoyable here)
  • pollution
  • plastic waste
  • heat
  • the noise

Fall is my absolute favorite season, and I’ve really been missing the changing seasons/cooler weather, especially after hearing my friends back home talk about it. Even though Halloween isn’t really celebrated here (except by foreigners), I’m still trying to get into the Halloween spirit by hosting a sugar cookie decorating party with friends next week. 

Koh Tao:

Here’s one major thing that really helped me forget about my missing fall blues – 

Since it was a holiday on Monday, we got Monday off work, and I decided to head to Koh Tao to visit some friends who are staying there. I left early Saturday morning, taking the bus and then the ferry, which took around 9 hours. When I got to my Airbnb, which consists of huts/villas as well as individual rooms throughout the premise, there were two cats cuddling on the check in counter. For the first night in Koh Tao, we got dinner sitting right by the beach. The sunsets in Koh Tao are absolutely amazing. And, there’s cats and dogs everywhere on the island! When I got back to my Airbnb after dinner, there was an adorable orange cat sitting in front of my room door. 

The highlight of the trip was snorkeling, where we saw turtles and baby sharks. We went snorkeling at five points: Koh Nangyuan, Ao Muang, Ao Hin Wong, Shark Bay, and Ao Luek. Koh in Thai means ‘island,’ and Koh Tao is known as Turtle Island. I was so excited to see the wildlife, especially because I love sharks. I’ve been wanting to take a scuba diving course to get certified and am feeling even more inspired after this trip. A new friend I met on the island who is really into scuba says that she’s seen all kinds of underwater animals, like whale sharks and blacktip reef sharks. The water at Koh Tao is so beautiful and blue. Also, the air here felt better than in Bangkok. I’m continuously so grateful for the experiences I’m able to have here, like this weekend getaway. And, I’m lucky to be living in a place where a trip to the beach is just a bus ride and ferry away!

check-in kitty


The weekend before Koh Tao, I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), which contains works from traditional and contemporary Thai and international artists. I love abstract art, so my favorite floor was probably the third floor, which was all about the art of fantastic imagination from artists such as Sompop Budtarad and Chuang Mulpinit. MOCA has many great pieces, and it’s also a very calming place, not too busy or crowded, which really contributes to the experience. I enjoyed this museum more than when I went to Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) for this reason; there were so many people at BACC, and it was quite hectic.

Pictures of some of my favorite pieces below:

cultural significance of flowers in Thai society

First Update of the Month!

Hello blog!

I am so happy to share that I safely arrived in Cairo, Egypt on the 11th at 1 am.  Although it hasn’t been that many days on paper, it feels like a lifetime has passed since I was packing for Egypt. So far I have had the first few days to unpack and settle in before the volunteer work starts, and have taken the opportunity to explore the city and learn how to get around the streets near the place i’ll be sleeping  for the next 6 months.

The area that I am in is very lively, and as it turns out there is always something going on. The car horns beep constantly as they drive through the relatively narrow street next to the apartment, and its taken some adjusting but I really love how alive the city feels. I tried a new shawarma place the 2nd night as I didn’t yet have groceries and it was fantastic. Something kind of shocking was the power went out while I was eating with Ilaria and although it wasn’t scary it was just unexpected as it turns out this happens regularly by the government in order to cut down on energy bills. I found it sad that this was happening to these small business owners but was quickly cheered up by their contagious positivity. In addition to eating I was able to take a walk around the neighborhood and saw that many of the nearby streets functioned as a sort of farmers market/ street vendor hub with each blanket or small store selling one type of thing. I was again really struck by how different it was, but also excited that the culture I was looking forward to being immersed in is already proving to be extremely accessible.

I am happy to say that I was also able to check seeing the pyramids and riding a camel off of the bucket list on the first night. It was an entirely unique experience to Egypt and definitely something every visitor of Cairo needs to experience at least once. It was interesting to me seeing how the vendors reacted to my attempted arabic while still very much looking like a native, it was as if they were confused if I was a tourist or simply didn’t speak very fluent Arabic but lived in Egypt. As it turns out, they were trying to decipher my country of origin to determine if I was to be given the Egyptian native pricing or the tourist price. It was definitely fun trying to blend in and relieving to get to settle into the country before starting all of the amazing volunteer work after the weekend ends! I am most excited to finally get to work on the service project I designed and see it through. It is starting to feel very real that I am no longer in Nashville, and I am ready to embrace it full heartedly.

I’ve attached 2 pictures, 1 with my name on a store sign which was just really neat to find and unexpected, and the other from my Pyramids visit that just really screamed, “Welcome to Egypt” to me so I felt compelled to include it.

That’s all for now blog,

Until next time

Nardien Sadik 🙂

Cairo, Egypt

Pink era 2.0

I had a bit of a hair crisis over the weekend! I’ve been wanting to dye my hair pink again and a coworker recommended a salon here. However, my hair turned out more reddish brown, and I was hoping for a true pink. I thought the cut/color might grow on me, but the next day, I woke up and realized it’s really not the color I was envisioning. I decided to go back to the salon the next day for a color correction. I asked them to lighten the color, and even though it’s still not exactly what I was wanting, it does look more pink to me now. And, the good thing is that since it’s just hair, the color will fade over time. So, I’m on a new hair journey and trying to work with this hair for now. 

the new hair! still getting used to it – it’s an adjustment

A lot of my weekend was consumed by being at the hair salon, but other than that, I also spent our office wellness day reading with a coworker friend at a cute cafe here. The cafe is pretty close to my apartment, just two stops away, and it has a view of the iconic elephant building. I loved the minimalist decor, and it wasn’t very crowded, so we got a lot of reading done. Cafe culture is pretty big here, and the cafes are designed in a way where people could spend all day there.


view of the elephant building

On Sunday, a friend and I went to Ari, which is a neighborhood home to a great selection of cafes and restaurants along its quiet tree-lined streets. We went to several niche shops, starting our day off with lunch at Ong Tong, which has won Michelin awards. My friend and I both got khao soi, which is a delicious and traditional Thai food; northern Thai curry noodles. The soup was so thick and creamy, something that curry lovers will definitely want to try. It was on the spicy side for me, but not my friend lol. I forgot to say ‘mai pet lui,’ no spicy. After this, we went to a few vintage shops, including Hide, which is a select shop where they collect different Thai designer brands. The clothes there were out of my price range, but still fun to look at and get a sense of unique/quirky Thai fashion. We also passed by Darq, a specialty chocolate bar, and decided to stop in. The owner is really passionate and dedicated to the chocolate bar business. He urged us to get Kamphaeng Phet and Vietnam, which are two versions of their iced chocolate drink. It was super rich and some of the best iced chocolate I’ve had here.

iced chocolate

Work updates:

The RSD team is working on piloting a new screening process, which is designed to increase efficiency and save time. Previously, clients would be screened by a legal advisor for us to learn more about their claim and see what sort of assistance we can provide the client. Those full screenings were quite lengthy and could take several hours at a time.

The new screening process consists of a pre-screening part 1 and part 2. In part 1, basic demographics are collected, as well as identifying any vulnerabilities the client might present. In part 2, this is for the legal advisor to understand why the client had to leave their country of origin and why they cannot go back. Then, if it is a case we might be able to assist with, we will schedule the client for a full screening which is to understand their claim in-depth, including dates, locations, etc. Although it’s still early on, it does seem like this new pre-screening process will save the RSD team time. For example, with one client that we spoke to, it became clear that the client’s issue was about a land claim matter, but it didn’t fall under the grounds of the refugee convention. Due to this, less time was spent overall than would’ve been spent on this one client in the previous method. Given the team’s limited resources and time constraints, this is very important.

another beautiful bkk sunset in my neighborhood

reading on my balcony

Steven being a loaf

night market near my neighborhood that I love to go to, Jodd Fairs


T-6 Days!

Welcome to my humble blog!

I hope you enjoy my scattered thoughts as I venture into and process this new chapter ahead of me. 

A quick recap of my life lately: my summer has been eventful and the perfect send off before Cairo. I got to reconnect with old friends, meet new ones, and make memories that will last me a lifetime. At the beginning of summer, I finally became a United States citizen! I also got to go to my very first county fair. I partook in the “barbenhimer” craze and tried mochi for the first time (definitely would recommend). In addition, I visited a farm and satisfied my slight obsession with cows, as well as unlocked new obsessions with many other animals!

Checking “hug a cow” off my bucket list

Meeting a beautiful rooster at the farm

I leave for Egypt in six days, and I am overflowing with emotions. I have been preparing for this move all summer so I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed as the travel date approaches. But alas, I still feel like there are a million little things left to do. As I am packing, my mom and I have an ongoing bet to see whether I will run out of space or weight in luggage first. Wish me luck that we both lose and neither occurs.

I had heard that the streets in Egypt are populated with stray cats. So, in preparation, I made it a point this summer to overcome my phobia of cats. Although my fear is not fully eradicated yet, thanks to Gracie, my friend’s cat, I can now be in the same room as a feline without running away screaming.

Taking baby steps in conquering my fears as I give Gracie a snack

As excited as I am to embark on this new adventure, I am becoming increasingly aware of the fact that I will not get to see my loved ones for half a year! I have been trying to cherish every moment with my friends and family over the last couple of months. A little fact about me is that this is by far the longest I will have ever gone without my family. I know that a slight homesickness will be an inevitable part of my journey, but I find comfort in the fact that my days will be filled with numerous new experiences that I can share with them.

On the other hand, I can’t wait to indulge in Egyptian food, experience what it’s like to work in a non-profit office, make new friends, meet family members I haven’t seen in years, and witness Egypt’s true beauty. I am also curious to see whether I will experience any culture shocks or if the transition will be seamless.

Amidst the chaos of getting ready to move, I find myself thinking about how surreal all of this feels. Around this time last year, Nardien, a fellow Belmont alumna, introduced me to Lumos, and we were researching which country we wanted to volunteer in. And now our dreams are coming true, and I couldn’t be more thankful to have her by my side through it all.

My next blog will be from Egypt, God willing. It doesn’t seem quite real yet as I am typing this. However, please send prayers my way. 

Until next time,

Ilaria Youssef