Dear friends,

This is not a promo for the long-legged water bird, much as I have always loved them. This is an announcement of sorts: a few months ago I took this story, “Herons” to the second meeting of a Writer’s Group some friends and I formed. They were very kind to it, and in September, I sent it in to a flash fiction publication, Every Day Fiction.

About two weeks ago, EDF e-mailed me saying they’d decided to accept it, and it would run later this month. The editor, also, was exceedingly kind in her feedback, and mentioned she’d accepted the piece despite its being magical realism, a genre less popular with some of the site’s key readers. Confident in her confidence, I opted not to make changes to the piece as it had been submitted.

And friends, that day is today! “Herons”, unchanged, is my first fiction publication outside of university lit mags, and today you can read it on the digital front page of http://www.everydayfiction.com/!

And while you do? I will be busily crafting more blog posts, hopefully with photos, about Galicia, since I’m home for Christmas break and have been remiss these past few furiously busy months.

With love,

Heron Girl


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Hi all! It’s been awhile since last I blogged.

Suffice it to say that I had a lovely time with My Personal Francophone in the Netherlands, and then a summer full of family and friend time and spent teaching theatre at an Arlington nonprof. Rarely have I been so busy in the summer–especially considering that everything on the list of 19-plus things to do actually got done before I left for Spain.

That’s right–I’m in Spain. Pontevedra, Galicia, to be exact. I’ll be starting school on Wednesday, in the tiny town of Catoira (population: about 3400, not to mention some ancient fortifications and an annual Viking festival in August). Pontevedra is pretty close to Catoira by train—there aren’t really apartments in Catoira, it turns out. I also picked up some extra babysitting/tutoring work in Pontevedra, and might be doing some substituting and giving additional classes as well. In all honesty, I am surprised to find that it will more likely be a case of actually having to turn down work rather than seek it–a happy, and undeserved, conundrum.

Pontevedra is actually smaller than Venlo, which I visited in June. Population 80,000, it sits on one of the Rias Baixas, the Lower Bays, in Galicia, and is the capital of the eponymous region. It is, simply put, small but charming. Palm trees, oranges, the absolute biggest southern magnolia I’ve ever seen, tucked into rolling green hills that slope down to the river. Cafes, gardens, old stone houses and a round shrine for the pilgrims passing through on the Camino de Santiago–a portion of which I could follow, after all, if I wanted to go from here to Santiago de Compostela. Pics to follow–theoretically to be added to this entry if I can figure out how to get them off my phone.

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Tapas Ho!

I should have posted before, since there’s a kind of poetic justice to this, but better late than never.

In my previous post I mentioned I’d applied to teach English in Spain as an Auxiliar de Conversacion. As of May 23, 2014–I’ve been assigned to a post in Galicia!

I don’t know much about Galicia at all; it’s north of Portugal, on the Atlantic, and they speak gallego as well as Spanish. Upon receiving my assignment I went, almost immediately, to the library to look up some information. Galicia is, or so my research revealed, one of the cheapest regions of Spain to live in (and on my salary that’s going to be a good thing). It’s also one of the regions with a strong Celtic flavor to the culture, since they settled there a long time ago. There’s Compostela, home of the famous pilgrimage site, and Á Coruña, the biggest city in the region, and Vigo, home to what many consider to be some of the best Roman ruins…the nature of the program is such that at this point I only know I’m teaching in that region; I don’t know which city.

I actually really hope it’s Á Coruña; I would feel like a cheater if I lived in Compostela without having walked the Camino de Santiago to get there, and Vigo is an inland city. I’ve never lived on the coast before, even a cold Atlantic coast as this one is likely to be.

I’ll know more when I return from visiting My Personal Francophone in Venlo (more on that to come as well) and get my letter from the Galician regional government detailing the school and the age of my students. It’s my hope to work with older children, preferably in high school–the last six months, spent teaching preschool (3 turning 4), have not been kind to me.

I do know that this probably means that even I, the pescatarian, will be eating an occasional piece of chorizo with my tapas…

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Woman Plans, God Laughs (So Woman Makes Alternate Plan)

As most of my (assuredly few) readers know, I’ve been home from Belgium since the end of August of last year. Not by design, mind you, or rather, not by MY design, but by the design of the Almighty Belgian Government of Awful.The story of my failed employment goes something like this:

In June I interviewed for a translation job at a small Belgian company. They were thrilled, since they’d never had an English translator before. In August they reviewed my translation test and offered me a job. At the end of August, I went home, even though my student visa didn’t expire until October, because the airline told me I would have to buy a new ticket if I didn’t use my original one within 12 months, and also because I hadn’t BEEN home since January.

In October, and only after repeated attempts at untangling the Belgian legal system on my part and on the part of the company, they told me they just didn’t think it would be possible to get me a work visa. The reason why is something like this:

Belgium has a list of professions for which there are a shortage of qualified workers. These professions include engineers and secondary school teachers, among others. “Translator” (vertaler/traducteur) is not on that list. As a foreigner trying to work at a Belgian company, you can only get a job if the job in question belongs to one of those professions, AND the company has already tried unsuccessfully to find qualified people living in Belgium, AND the king has had a beer after work, AND it’s a day not ending in “y”.

Which seems, IMHO, like something the company should have found out before offering me a job. If they had done so, I’d’ve accepted the project management internship I was offered by a different company before I even interviewed with the other one, even though it wasn’t an ideal position, just to have something in my field that paid enough to live on and allowed me to stay in Belgium.

Anyway, I’m still doing some freelance work for them and for the translation technologies company I worked for over the summer, which I enjoy very much, and freelancing as a writer and editor on a site I’ve been using since 2012 (if you’re ever on Fiverr, I’m word_girl23), but it’s not enough to pay the bills, so, in December, when I was offered a job as an Assistant Teacher at a local Catholic preschool, I took it.

They’re cute kids. I teach them Spanish once a week–this week’s theme is Trains. In fact, since the Belgian job didn’t work out, I’m thinking of teaching English in Spain next school year, and just finished my application to the Auxiliares Program.

The Auxiliares Program is a cooperative between the Spanish government and US/Canadian governments wherein North Americans can live and teach English or French in Spain for a year. I learned about it through a friend of mine who’s in the middle of her second year teaching in Madrid, and loving it.

Popular opinion is rather divided regarding the program, and research suggests people either love it


Or hate it


Or, as you can see from the above, both.

The first time I ever taught English was in Salamanca, at the Colegio Maria Auxiliadora, that semester I met My Personal Francophone, and I loved it. I loved how excited the kids were about learning a new language and asking all kinds of questions about life in America. I loved being able to share my culture with them, and use a skill I didn’t know I had. If I am accepted into this program, I will be a very lucky Schtroumphette indeed (assuming I don’t find some loophole or American company to get me back to Magical Fantasy Land of course, but then, in Flemish and French, no days end in “Y”. So woman plans, God laughs, woman makes alternate plan…).

Anyway, this is just to say that I am alive and well, and still applying for jobs abroad…and also, My Personal Francophone is (finally) coming to visit on Wednesday! Please pray that the weather stays good for his flight–my family is looking forward to spending some quality time with him, as well, and I need my waffles and chocolate fix (and, you know, a date night or two). Please pray for us, and for me, that somehow I’ll be able to realize my dream of going back to Europe.


Here’s a picture of my old apartment in Antwerp. Drafty and creaky though it was, I’m feeling nostalgic, so, for old times’ sake…

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My 23rd Birthday (Or Why My Personal Francophone is AWESOME <3)

I feel old these days…living overseas and financially supporting yourself through school will do that to you, especially when you turn 23 two days before your final Master’s evaluations. It’s not the calendar age that matters, it’s the sum total of your experience, and since I’ve been supporting myself on my savings, which are worth less in Euros, paying bills, living on my own, learning a new language, finishing a Master’s and a horrible internship for said Master’s, applying for jobs, and balancing job applications with my summer job, I find myself checking for missing teeth and gray hairs… 😉

But that’s not why I’m posting. Before I let you feast on my glut of vacation photos, I am dedicating this post to my 23rd birthday in June, also known as How Awesome is My Personal Francophone Day. Because he might have the annoying habit of liking to quote Charlie Sheen a little too much, and might think Barney from “How I Met” is the coolest character (it’s clearly Robin! Duh! Or maybe Marvin.), but when it comes down to it, he’s amazing.He took my first birthday away from home ever and made it cool instead of lonely (due credit must also be given to my family for singing to me on Skype and blowing out the candle on a cupcake):

This is an AWESOME bar in Antwerp which sells jenever, a uniquely Belgian ancestor of gin. It's dangerously delicious. We went here after midnight on my birthday (after a cocktail...).

This is an AWESOME bar in Antwerp which sells jenever, a uniquely Belgian ancestor of gin. It’s dangerously delicious.


These are our second jenevers. Mine is the purple one (violet), his is Flemish Flemish Flemish (a long and complicated name neither of us remembers).


This was my birthday breakfast! He even cooked! Croissant sandwiches with scrambled egg and cheese! Also waffles and cookies and chocolate…and roses! ❤ The beer and cheese were for lunch.


My very own Leonidas Basket. He’s like the Birthday Bunny.


The bar staff took this one. And I LOVE Belgium…both of those jenevers are different KINDS of speculoos flavor.


So pretty!


We had a coffee at one of our favorite cafes, the Shilling. Guess cooking tires him…


This is why we like the Shilling. It’s like a library.


Then we went to the Stadspark (City Park) in Antwerp for some Flemish beer and Wallonian cheese (I know, the politicians would be having conniptions!). I highly recommend the Grimbergen beer and Chimay cheese combination, as well as the park.


Silly swan, can’t you see there’s food RIGHT BEHIND YOU?


One of the first ladybugs I saw here. We had a lovely time at the park.


And here is my birthday cake at the Italian restaurant he took me to for dinner! I didn’t know Belgium had the birthday restaurant thing too.


This one is pretty shaky but I think you get the idea.

Also this was my birthday present the weekend after (like he didn't spoil me enough on the actual day... :) )

On my birthday, he told me there was also a surprise coming in July…this was it!



IMG_9155 IMG_9157





My very favorite vegetarian dinosaur. Thanks ND for a great birthday present–readers, how will I top it at HIS 24th birthday (haha, he’s older than me!)? Ideas?


We finished seeing the dinosaurs and then, inexplicably, we saw the panini machine. Which means the T-Rex didn't need to eat my Triceratops after all :(

We finished seeing the dinosaurs and then, inexplicably, we saw the panini machine. Which means the T-Rex didn’t need to eat my Triceratops after all 😦 (Photo omitted for obvious graphic and sadness reasons.) STILL AN AWESOME PRESENT. ❤


See what I mean? I am very lucky indeed. Thanks, ND, for a wonderful time. You nerd. ❤

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Adventures Summer 2013

July was quite the month: I passed my postgrad Master’s cum laude, started a summer job in Ghent (about 45 minutes away from Antwerp by train) as a technical writer and editor at a translation technologies company one of my professors works for…and visited three countries!

This was my month more or less:

July 2: Monschaeur, Germany

July 7-13: Madrid and Salamanca, Spain

July 15-24: Work in Ghent (though lucky me, I get to telecommute a few days a week! My job is awesome.)

July 24-27: Warsaw, Poland

July 29-31: Work in Ghent, concluding with a lovely after-work dinner and drinks with My Personal Francophone (though both the places we originally wanted to go are temporarily closed for vacation after the conclusion of the 10-day annual Gentse Feesten–Ghent Party–on Monday at noon. Which explains the drunk man I saw rambling down the street on Monday at 9 A.M., yelling something in Flemish about women.)

I’m going to post select photos from my trips on this blog, since Facebook won’t let me, and some of my friends and family don’t indulge anyway. I’m very lucky to have been able to travel so much, and hope you enjoy sharing a little of it with me!

To get you started, here is a picture of me blowing out the candle on my birthday cake which My Personal Francophone spoiled me with (among so many other things--he made my birthday awesome. <3) Tiramisu!

To get you started, here is a picture of me blowing out the candle on my birthday cake which My Personal Francophone spoiled me with (among so many other things–he made my birthday awesome. <3) Tiramisu!


Filed under Belgium 2012-2013

Open Letter to Obama Regarding Drone Use Against American Citizens Abroad (Please Share)

Dear President Obama,

My name is Emily. I have a family I love very much, love to write, just finished a postgraduate Master’s in translation, am a fan of the Nationals. And I currently keep up with family, team, and literary culture from approximately 4000 miles away. I am one of millions of American citizens living abroad.

I was born and raised on the East Coast, but I have been living in Antwerp, Belgium for almost a year now. And I miss the United States almost every day. But lately, I’ve been forced to consider that the United States I’ve been missing these past months—the democratic nation of freedom, equality, democracy, and justice, the country I love and would die to serve and protect—might not exist anymore.

Why? Because the government, and in particular the executive branch, have acted in secret. It’s true, that’s nothing new. Governments worldwide have always, and probably will always, act without the knowledge or consent of the people they serve, in defense of those people and for the protection of their liberties. But this time, it’s gone too far. This time, government is not acting to protect and serve Americans and defend their rights as citizens. This time, you are acting to take those rights away.

In undergrad, I was one of those laughed-at liberal arts majors, but I’ve learned a few things in the course of my B.A. One of those things is that under the Fourteenth Amendment,”… No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

While Section 1 of the Amendment doesn’t state that those same obligations apply to the federal government, Section 5 makes it clear that “The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.” If Congress has the power to enforce those provisions, doesn’t that mean that Congress also has the obligation to abide by them in its own dealings?

In February, I was angered by the declaration that the government has the authority to carry out targeted drone strikes against American citizens abroad. For obvious reasons, I was frightened, too. And now, in July, I am baffled by the lack of response from my fellow Americans.

Having been away from the US, I can’t hope to answer for or explain the general domestic apathy toward the declaration, or towards the use of surveillance drones on American soil. But I hope that I at least can try to speak for Americans abroad, Democrat, Republican, or independent like me, when I say that this decision, from the man who is supposed to represent this country that I love, who is supposed to speak for us, act for us, defend our liberties as well as our physical nation, horrifies me to my very core.

“Trust us?” Please do not insult the intelligence of your own countrymen. Any American who’s been through the fourth grade knows that the United States was created out of a lack of trust for government, because of an abuse of power and a lack of representation. And that our system of checks and balances is designed to ensure that that abuse of power and lack of representation stay where they belong: in our national memory. To ensure that government is truly “for the people”, not the people for the government. So I am not sorry to say, I don’t trust the government, because it is clearly not acting for Americans like me.

Again, I love this country. I love the United States for her innovation and creativity, for her unflinching bravery in the face of evil, for her commitment to justice, to freedom, to democracy. I am proud to be an American, and would never give that up, no matter how long I remain on foreign soil.

What you are doing is wrong. It stifles those values, those liberties and rights which protect us as Americans, and which make our country the unique, ever-growing nation that she is. Where it doesn’t stifle them, it twists them, turning that amazing creative energy and innovation, which could have been used for good, into a force for oppression, fear, and hatred.

I’d like to close with two questions which clarify my stance on this, and highlight my feeling of not being represented by your administration, and particularly, by you. I hope all Americans will contemplate these questions, because it’s never too late for change.

  1. Does being resident abroad somehow negate a citizen’s Constitutional rights? In other words, should I be afraid that my other rights will be taken away too, simply because I do not reside on U.S. soil? To put it even more clearly: am I less American than you?
  2. Drones are unmanned aircraft. Let me say it again: drones are unmanned machines. And machines, as we all know very well in our own lives, often make mistakes. They can’t reason like humans can. There may be human operators on the other end, but the intelligence they have won’t always be perfect, and drones will make mistakes. As an American living abroad, what would you say to me if you made a mistake? Worse, what would you say to my family?

Thank you for reading. I hope that these questions will give rise to some serious reconsideration, and to some positive change, discussion, and dialogue.


Emily K. Iekel


James Madison University Class of 2012

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven Class of 2013

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Filed under Belgium 2012-2013, US/Belgium 2011-2012