I spent this last weekend in Austin, Texas attending Peer Mentor training at API (Academic Programs International), and it was probably my favorite weekend this summer–there was simply no better way to end it.
The weekend was good for three simple reasons: the people, the city, and the inspiration.
How often do you get to meet someone who walked the Camino de Santiago–from France to the west coast of Spain–in 40 days? Someone who volunteered with sea turtles on the coast of Italy and with elephants in Thailand? Someone who came home to the U.S. after living in Madrid for one year, only to face a life-changing tragedy? I’m gonna guess not very often.
Well, this past weekend, I met a handful of young people who are the authors of some unbelievable life stories and experiences. My fellow Peer Mentors are confident, hard-working, diverse, and well…perfect. Every conversation I had with each of them was moving, and each one forced me to think harder about the ways that I could be better and live my life with purpose. And I think that’s how every conversation should be.
People should encourage and motivate each other, regardless of their differences or disagreements. I’ve found that great differences between people can lead to more challenging connections, but also better understandings of one another.
Along with the impressive lineup of Peer Mentors, was the API staff. They are the people who changed mine and many others’ lives by caring so much. They recognize the fact that all people deserve good, positive things–one of those things being a study abroad experience. They do everything they can to make it happen, and the best part is: they want to, and they love to. I can honestly say that I have never felt so loved by a group of people who hardly even know me. Dare I say, that kind of love feels just as good as the love I receive from the people who’ve known me since birth.
In addition to my new API family, were the strangers I met. They were all so kind, friendly, helpful, and my favorite, happy. We met a woman at the hotel room while we were waiting in the lobby and she saw us adoring her kids from far away and she came over, introduced them, and asked us about what we were doing, and she was so excited to be reminded of her time abroad in Chile. And that was the best feeling–reminding someone of their international education.
Texans are happy people. And I like that.
Let me just say. I want Austin to be kept weird for ever and for always. It’s a great city and I can’t imagine a better word than “weird” to describe it. On our first day we separated into teams and did a scavenger hunt around the city and despite the 100 degree weather, it was a great way to get to know the city. The Capitol is really pretty and an awesome thing to see at the end of Congress St. On top of the Capitol there are six flags, one of each of the countries that have had some rule over the state of Texas. The phrase “Six Flags Over Texas” is what they use to describe this, and FUN FACT that’s where the theme park Six Flags got its name. You’re welcome.
Further down Congress St. there are fun stores, candy/chocolate shops, outdoor jewelry markets, thrift stores, and most importantly, cowboy boot stores. It’s such a great, happy atmosphere! And in case you are wondering, yes I did have an ice cream cone in this city as well.
And I am SO sad that I didn’t know he was in the city at the same time I was. I’ve been a big Shwayze fan forEVER and it would have been awesome to see him there but I guess this just means I have to go back to Austin next time he’s in town…
The nightlife in Austin is a college student’s dream. 6ixth Street (literally the street) is closed down because there are just hundreds of people bar hopping and getting weird. There’s just no room for cars at night. It was rowdy enough as it was–I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like during the school year with thousands of students living in the city.
It’s also a city for very active people. There are trails along the rivers for biking, walking, and running, and there’s paddle boarding, kayaking, river tubing etc. It’s refreshing to see so many active people no matter what time of day or week it is.
And finally, what is a whole new delicious world in Austin (and Texas in general) is the FOOD. #OhEmGee the FOOD. WHERE DO I BEGIN?
Well, I hate to get you excited and take it back but I’m going to do it anyway because I’ll be posting a (Sense)Story Perception blog about food in Austin very soon. So. I’m sorry about that. Kind of.
If there is anything I came home with from this trip, it is a giant super-size burst of LIFE. This sleepless weekend inspired me to come back home (or go anywhere and everywhere in the world…) and tell everyone I meet for the rest of my life that they need to go abroad and study or work or volunteer, or just GO. Sitting in that conference room every day and listening to each other speak about travels and adventures made my travel bug bite unbearably itchy. And that is my favorite feeling. I hope to hold on to it every single day.
I guess inspiration and travel go hand in hand. Just as quickly as you go somewhere, you return–in the same way that inspiration comes and goes. And in another sense, itchy travel bug bites are actually the inspiration inside all of us, waiting to be passed on to someone else. There is gold in everyone (you can all thank Brittany Boehr for that piece of wisdom) and it is our job to find it. Why? Because, well, we can.
This weekend went by a little too fast. But then again, so does life. Thank you to everyone at API and all of the PMs for believing in me and each other, and for inspiring me to be better.
“The only magic I still believe in is love.”