Girl Kissing Goat

I never saw Wet Hot American Summer, but from what I understand, it’s about a bunch of camp counselors trying to cram a summer of unfinished business into one final day. 

This is how I feel every time I come back to the United States— I cram as much America in as possible.

Although, instead of “wet” and “hot” referring to hooking up, I’m just wet and hot because North Carolina is so humid in the summers.

Two melting ice cream cones
Oh, the humidity! (Photo by Sharon Tay)

I’ve been in the U.S. for three months already, and it’s been a very American summer. I’m not totally sure what that even means, but my trips here always make me rethink my roots.

Top Ten Ways I’ve “America’ed” This Summer:

Make S’mores

Is there anything more American than a s’more? Unfortunately, due to the rain at my sister’s house in Vermont, her husband couldn’t build a full campfire, but he did fire up his grill so we could indulge. 

Not my best marshmallow work. The biggest hurdle is impatience to eat

Crispy, gooey marshmallows, chocolate bars, and graham crackers. 

This is one of those beloved American childhood traditions that simply doesn’t translate abroad. I don’t know many other nationalities that remember sitting around the campfire as kids telling ghost stories and roasting marshmallows, trying to get them that perfect golden brown.

Plus, my brother-in-law added an exciting new twist: roasting marshmallow peeps. The sugar caramelizes and tastes like creme brûlée.

I swear you can only make this shit up in the U.S.

Shoot Guns

Lebanon summer 2014

This is still on my to-do list, but this is about as American as it gets. I’ve shot guns before (both in the U.S. and in Lebanon) but it’s been years since. I recently reconnected with a childhood friend who promised to take me to his shooting range and try out all his various guns, so this is one for the summer bucket list!

Drive a 1964 Studebaker 

Well, this one was a bit random, but also quite fun! My dad’s side of the family as a thing about Studebakers (I don’t really know…) and when I met up with my eldest cousin in upstate New York, he had recently purchased one! 

While I don’t know much about cars, I find the vintage cars just have a real cool and sexy vibe to them in general and was excited to drive it around my cousin’s drive-in theatre. 

On top of that, visiting a drive-in theatre is another fun and nostalgic American tradition. After seeing Grease, I’ve always had an affinity for them. 

If this particular drive-in looks familiar, it’s because it was the (unexpected) backdrop for Taylor Swift’s “This is me trying” on her Folklore album that she dropped last summer. 

Eat Apple Cider Donuts 

Being from the South, there are certain “Northern” traditions that I’m just not well-aware of; these were one of them. In fact, these donuts were so good, it was one of the few times I’ve ever envied a piece of “Northern” culture.

My God!

These are not your average donut. They are heavier, a bit like little cakes, and flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and apple cider.

My friend Molly took me to a place called “Cider Belly Donuts” near her apartment in Albany. We got there at 10 am and they had already sold out of over half their stock.

Luckily, they still had some interesting flavors— maple cream, cappuccino, French apple, banana (my personal favorite), among others. 

If anyone ever gets up North, please try these. 10/10. I feel like a real American now. 

Five Guys

While we are on the subject of food, one of the few fast food places is Five Guys. (Also, thank God I am not able to get my hands on these burgers on a regular basis). 

The “normal” burger is a double patty. Their large French Fry (only complete if you get the cajun seasoning) was enough to feed three of us. 

I finally tried their milkshake, too. 

This was something like a 3000 calorie meal (the burger alone was 1000) and I absolutely thought I was going to die after eating it. 

The good news is I hear Malaysia has been trying to open one….

Welcome to obesity, Malaysian friends!

Lakeside Tailgating

There is a saying about Florida: “the further north you go the more south it gets.” However, this saying can be largely applied to the East Coast in general. 

I am sometimes shocked at how “Southern” even a place like Vermont can be. The most liberal state of the union, my brother-in-law would have been happy to likewise take me shooting. But instead, he took me lakeside tailgating. 

[For my foreign friends:] Tailgating is when people park their trucks before a big sports event and drink and grill food. The name is because we hang out by the tailgate (back) of the truck. High school games, college games, pro games, tailgating is usually more fun than the game. It’s never been much of my type of thing, but absolutely an American tradition. 

This wasn’t exactly tailgating because there were no trucks, just golf carts and little tables set up like a festival. It was a Saturday night “Camping” in Vermont.

When I think of camping, I think of hiking into the mountains for a night, pitching a tent, eating S’mores, and hoping the coyotes don’t come get me. But, apparently, in Vermont, families will take their RVs (or “campers”) and drive them out to a campground for the summer to spend it on the lake. 

[This is completely new information to me. Do people do this in the South? My sister said she was confused by this, too, when she first moved to Vermont].

They had everything— free alcohol, corn hole, a chocolate fountain, cupcake shots, a live band playing a lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Andy Grammar.

Corhole–another great tradition

Visiting New Cities

This one is still one for the bucket list. I hope I can manage a trip to Nashville, New York City, Chicago, and/or LA before I leave. But for now, I really need to be still and focus on my future plans, my writing, and my health. 

But it looks like I am stuck here a while longer, so let’s see what the future holds!

Using the Library

One absolutely amazing thing about the U.S. is our public library system! Even in a small town like mine, I can get nearly any book I want for free. I’ve been on a reading whizz since I have been back, trying to squeeze in as much reading as possible before I go back to Asia.

The good news is now I will have access to a university library again! And after living libraryless since my days in Chicago, I won’t take it for granted.

Animals and Nature 

Lake Champlain
Lake Champlain, Vermont

Living in a concrete jungle, you start to forget how important nature is to your mental health. My favorite part of each day has been my slow walk from my parents’ house to CrossFit each morning, down backroads, by people’s gardens, or on the town’s riverwalk. It’s so quiet and peaceful and I think it’s going to be the part of my new routine I miss most of all. 

Photo Credit: RGP Pictures

Plus, the animals just seem completely unfazed by humans. There are at least two groundhogs living in my parent’s yard. I’ve seen multiple black snakes on my hikes. Deer move in packs and cross the streets in broad daylight like they own the place. I’ve even seen a fox!

View from my sister’s house. North Hero, VT

The best, however, was when I took the paddleboard out on Lake Champlain at my sister’s lake house and saw my first ever bald eagle out in the wild. 


Friends + Family

I have to end on a somewhat cheesy note (since that is my style), so of course, reconnecting with friends and family has been incredibly important. Especially since some people I haven’t seen in over two years. It’s also great to see people in their own element instead of meeting up while traveling– learning about their communities or getting to flip through my mom’s high school yearbook while drinking whiskey with her childhood friends.

I even got to visit my former thesis advisor from University of Chicago and meet her family!

It’s interesting to meet so many people after the collective trauma of the last year and just be really open with them: how they coped, what anxieties the virus brought out, what new goals or mindsets are coloring their paths forward.

And then you meet some inspiring people, who just love being alive, pandemic or no:

My 95-year-old great aunt jammin’ out is probably one of the biggest highlights of the summer

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  1. Shouldn’t mud bogging be on this list??? Call me a northerner (I am), but I thought that’s what y’all do down there.

    Your great aunt is amazing 🥇

    1. Gwendolyn A Bellinger

      I don’t have a truck for that but that looks so fun!(I’ve never heard it called mud bogging. I think we just call it off roadin’ here). I don’t think my granddad’s hand-me-down 2004 Camery would hold up in the mud, unfortunately.

      My great aunt has more energy than I do! She’s my idol for living life right.

      Visa process is underway so I’ll be able to start planning for Chicago now 😀 Don’t go anywhere

  2. Love how s’mores made your list! Best part of camping for me (only good part).
    Thanks for adding Aunt Patricia’s video!!!!

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