Connectedness

A few years ago, my ex asked me who I’m closest with: friends from home, friends from school, or friends from abroad.  I never answered him, but I’ve since thought of that question on occasion, and I have come to the conclusion that I’m not more or less close to each of the groups; the levels of friendship and connection are just so different.  These people are part of significant phases of my life, and perhaps each group knows me in a different way than the others.

My friends from home have known me since I was ten years old, and they have, no doubt, seen me grow the most.  These people have watched me change, and vice versa.  There’s something about growing up constantly surrounded by the same friends, seeing slow evolutions in each other, and sharing experiences that shape us both as individuals and as a system.  All of this transforming brought us to a level of friendship that can only be achieved with time.  And all of this time has brought us ups and downs that only continue to bring us closer.  They are my cornerstone, the building blocks of who I am, the very core of where my growth began, and one of the main ingredients to my happiness.  My friends from home are the ones I am glad to always have.  No matter how far down the road, I know I will have them to come home to.

It was hard to imagine who my college friends would be and what role they would play in my life until I found them.  Turns out, they’re some of the best friends to have around.  College friends get to know you in incredible ways–at house parties and bars, hungover in dorms, during all-nighters at the library, and every other second in between.  These are friends who live with you–sometimes literally–and get to see who you are while you’re in the process of finding yourself and potentially, who you’re going to be for the rest of your life.  They are there to watch you overcome the most difficult challenges you will ever face, and if you’re lucky, they’ll be right next to you every step of the way, making the same exact horrible decisions.  I have formed unbreakable bonds with my college friends, and with them I’ve learned how little time can affect friendship.  They are my support networks and secret-outlets, my squad, and the bottom line is that they get to know me better than most people ever do.

Sigh.  Sevilla friends.  These are people with whom I have created an entirely new bubble of friendship.  They are there, living in the stories that I will be telling for the rest of my life.  These friendships formed exceptionally fast, and I think that might be the reason for our extremely high comfort levels with each other.  Suddenly I found myself in a foreign country with just a suitcase and this group of people to hold on to.  And I did.  We all did.  Fortunately I don’t think we will ever let go.  What we’ve been through were some of the best moments of our lives, and that is not something to be taken lightly. We’ve seen the world, pushed through borders and boundaries, and fell in love with the same city together. Through all of this, and in less than half a year, what we did was more than travel. We left parts of ourselves with each other, in all corners of the world, and if that doesn’t bond you for life then I’m not sure what does.

Since this question was posed to me, I entered a new phase in my life which has brought yet another incredible group of people into my life: my Seoul friends. The last three years in South Korea have been life life life, and I couldn’t be more grateful for all my experiences here. I’ve grown part of different communities–teachers, foreigners, local yogis and runners–who have welcomed me and helped me to see the life I’ve built in this country. I hold close the group of friends I made within the first few days of arriving, and I think that through meeting them I became solid in who I already was. We all got to know each other exactly as we were and as we still are, and I have nothing but gratitude for the fact that we loved each other through flaws and mistakes.

Most recently I’ve been thinking about the running and yoga families I’ve come to know and love here in Seoul the last two years. When I first walked into Zen Yoga studio, and first went to an open run for Crewghost, I never thought it would become a completely engrained and habitual attendance. Now I go to my yoga studio 5-8 times and to a crew run at least once or twice, both per week. Spending as much time sharing a mutual passion with a group of people for hours at a time brings you together without even trying–certainly regardless of language. These two communities have brought me joy and support, and a family to back me in the goals that no one else can understand.

As I come to realize that I have just five short months left before a new adventure, I’ve been thinking a lot about who I’ve spent my years with. And as I get ready to leave this group of friends to visit the others, all I can feel is gratitude. To have so much love from around the world. To know that I can turn to so many to receive all kinds of needs. To understand that I can be a different version of myself and still be loved for it. To find that I am open and lucky enough to be able to connect with so many souls. And to recognize that with time, I am changing for the better. How do I know all this? Because each time I come back to all of the people I love, no matter how long it’s been or how far I’ve gone, I never doubt that the love and connection and friendship remain.

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Let’s Go

When I told people that I wanted to move to South Korea and teach English, I got the sense that they thought it was a joke, or maybe my own version of an escape from “the real world,” or that I would be in danger. I don’t know if any of those opinions could ever be fully right or wrong, but I do know this: my experiences in the last few years have showed me more of “the real world” than any three years in an office could. It showed me through relationships and friendships, new practices and challenges, and a distance from what I’ve always known.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that people don’t learn from working in an office for three years. And I don’t think that traveling or moving to South Korea will make you smarter or better, because it might not. But it did all of that and so much more for me. Believe it or not, I once got into an argument with a friend about my passion for travel, and I am grateful for that argument every day because it opened my eyes to just how different two minds can be, and that that’s perfectly okay.

After almost three years of living in a totally different culture than what I’ve known for my entire life, I can say with confidence that my mind has never been more open and my heart more full. I find myself loving what I do each day, in all aspects of my day…or at least trying to. I’m realizing that it’s not until you look back at who you used to be that it seems possible to change so much; that you don’t know how much one place can change you until you get there. And I’m discovering that people really are each their own.

I don’t think people who travel are better than people who don’t. And I don’t think that just because you’ve visited 50 countries, you’re smart, or cultured, or rich, or happy. I also don’t think that because you’re rich you’re spoiled, or that people with college degrees are smarter than people without them. I could never assume anything about a person because they travel, or because they don’t.

There is only one thing to know: it is of utmost importance that we support each other in our decisions. That is what makes people feel good. And that is what will bring us together no matter where in the world we are.

Words of Wander Wisdom

I wrote the following words on a bus in Costa Rica three months ago. At the time, I was addressing aspiring travelers and readers of our #WanderOurWorld series. Looking back, I think I was writing it for myself.

As I settle into this new life in South Korea, I am taking my own advice to heart. I hope you do too.

Advice For The Road

Fill yourself with gratitude. Let it in and let it out. And only put out into this world what you would want to let in. Look around. Look everywhere, and look often. Look in dark places—sometimes that’s where you find the light you need. Remember what surrounds you. Keep it as long as you can. Listen to the stories from those who you encounter, and share yours in return.

Feel the sunshine, the cold, the warmth, and feel the pain and life and beauty around you. Feel yourself change. Feel your heart grow. Expect to be lost at times. Stay humble. Keep in touch. Write. Write. Write. Write all the time. Later on, thank yourself for taking the time to write. Watch the sun rise and set as many times as you can. Pretend you’ll be in this moment forever.

Never compare your travels to those of someone else. Know that your path is yours only. Challenge yourself. Walk the paths you stumble upon. Smile at strangers, laugh at yourself, and take comfort in companionship. Take comfort in independence. Take comfort in being uncomfortable. Believe that you will one day meet again those you’ve already met. Do not burn bridges just because you have crossed them.

Take what you have learned and teach it to others. Embrace your sense of belonging each time it comes alive. Feel home when you’re not. Feel distance when you’re close. Feel fear and excitement and hunger for life in every single moment. Learn. Be a sponge. Try everything. Remember that things are only things, and that is all they will ever be. Open your eyes to the meaning of variety. Believe that reality and dreams can be one and the same.

Ask yourself why you travel.

Remind yourself why you travel.

Spread your courage and share your bravery.

Learn from yourself.

Don’t rush.

Accept the grandiosity of the world, and explore as much of it as your feet will allow.

Go in any and all directions.

Go beyond.

Go away.

Go back.

Go anywhere.

Go everywhere.

Keep going.

And going.

And going.

A weekend of talking, traveling, and theorizing…

This past weekend I went to a Study Abroad Returnee conference in Boston, and it was just what I needed.

On the entire 3 1/2-hour drive up to Boston from NY with my friend Kerianne (fellow API Peer Mentor), we did not listen to a single song.  We talked literally the entire time and had so much much more to say by the end of the drive.

What’s crazy about our friendship is that we have actually only met in person one other time–in Austin during internship training.  From this one friendship and this one weekend trip we took together, I have learned more than I ever expected to.  We are the same in many ways and yet the life she has led is worlds different from mine.  Having her as a friend is helpful in the sense that I can learn so much from her, and so much with her.

What did I learn this weekend?

A new definition of “home”

At the conference, we participated in a session titled “The Only Constant In Life Is Change”.  Study abroad alumni talked about how the study abroad experience changed them, and what their experience meant in many contexts.  There were so many thoughts that I related to, like the feeling upon returning home that everything had changed in me as a person, but nothing had changed in the place where I left.

The definition of “home” came up, and one particular answer really opened my eyes.

“Home is a place where you grow.  And you can reach a point where you are done growing.”

The student who said that is going back to live in her host country, Spain, after graduation in May.  She feels as though she did not do all of the growing that she needed to in her short time there.  It’s really incredible to have heard what her perception and definition of “home” was because I had never thought of it in that sense before.  I have always known that home is not one single place, and that it has to do with the people around us, but I never thought about why or how exactly my role made a place “home”.

Even while we are all always growing, we can grow in different ways 

In the same discussion at the conference, a student opened up and said that when she got home, she felt like nothing had changed except for her.  Everyone was worried about the same old things, and it was as if no one had anything new to share while she had hours and hours of stories to tell.

We talked about how, unfortunately, experiences separate us from people–whether the experiences are travel or not.  Students often come home from studying abroad with a newfound sense and perspective on life and what it means to be alive.  Just like people who like animals tend to befriend other people who like animals, and people who like computers tend to befriend other people who like computers, people who travel tend to gravitate toward fellow travelers.

Growing apart from people can happen for an infinite number of reasons, but study abroad students know that this happens especially when one begins to have different life experiences from others.  The passion that we travel-addicts have is undeniably contagious.  We are relentless when it comes to seeing the world and passing the passion on, but of all people I think travelers are the most accepting and the most open.  I think we recognize that although there are differences between each of us–travel experience, likes/dislikes, interests, backgrounds–there is nothing that should keep two people from getting along.

We must maintain a sense of adventure in all environments

To help us cope with this falsity that home is boring and slow, or that life abroad is better, someone at the conference told us that there is adventure all around us, no matter where we are, whether we are somewhere new or familiar.

I grew up right outside of New York City and I still have yet to go to the top of the Empire State Building, or see the Statue of Liberty.  Why is that?  There are millions of people who have seen more of this city than I have…and I’ve been here for more than half of my life.

Thinking about this gave me a much needed wake-up call.  I think I need to be a tourist in my own city, every day.  I’m sure there’s a cafe, bookstore, museum, etc. close by, where I could do a little growing and a lot of learning.

Keeping a sense of adventure in the place where you are is just as important as finding a new sense of adventure in the place where you want to be.  Kerianne told me about her travel writing class, and how the professor always says,

“You don’t have to get on a plane to travel.”

I think we (as a society) need to reevaluate what travel means, and look at it in a new way.  Traveling means “making a journey”.  That could be done without moving an inch.  Our senses and our minds (and our technology!) can take us anywhere, and maybe traveling is more about the feeling we get when we discover new places and learn new things.  Maybe it’s more about the concept of newness, and less about the place we go physically.  Knowing that I can do it through my senses, I can be more grateful for travel and adventure–whether it be a physical journey near or far, or a completely imagined adventure.

I was driving in the car with my mom, and outside our window were mountains behind the river, and a sunset behind the mountains.  She said, “You know, I always look at flights to Switzerland and think about what the scenery looks like, but look–it’s just as beautiful right here.”

I’m on the way to finding what makes me happy

It is mind blowing how constantly ecstatic I feel whenever I’m doing anything related to international education/study abroad. The stories, the people, the constant learning,  and the genuine interest I have encountered in this field are unlike any other. I am fully aware of lucky I am to have had the opportunity to go abroad and not only to have caught the travel bug, but to have also had the international education open mindset instilled in me at such a young age.

There are certain subjects and fields which I have entertained to be where my future career might lie, but I think I’m discovering that I don’t need to think about it so much.  I believe that humans, sometimes subconsciously, drift toward the direction of their passions.

In the beginning, I didn’t know how much international education would influence me or mean to me.  I became a Peer Mentor with API because I wanted to tell people about my study abroad experience.  At the time, I don’t think I even realized how much my time abroad changed me.  It continues to change me for the better every single day, and I think my undying interest in this field has fueled that.

Maybe the way to be happy and stay happy is simply to share the things that make us glad to be alive.  That seems like a ridiculously obvious statement, but every day I see and hear people talking so negatively about how they spend their time.

It feels like most people do things that make them unhappy because they think in the end, they will be rewarded.  But there is no guarantee of that at all, so I am making it a point to consciously move toward happiness by doing things that make me happy–every step of the way.  And I am well on my way.

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I Am Not Scared

In about five months I will be graduating college and entering the so-called “real” world.  Unlike many (dare I say most?) soon-to-be college grads out there, I am not afraid.  And I’ll tell you why.

What is there to be afraid of?

That’s why.

The world has been real since the day I was born, and I have been living in it just fine.  There’s really no reason to be scared.  It feels like everyone is freaking out about graduating because everyone else is freaking out about graduating.  This spiral effect of learning fear from each other is not okay.

So what if we actually change the course of this entire process and stop being scared and influencing others to be scared too?  Well…then graduation would be a lot easier on everyone.  There would be so much less pressure and so much more embracing of the moments.  There would be more inspiration.  Less paralyzing, long-term thoughts.  More excitement.  Less fear.  I think that’s what we need.

If you don’t know what you are afraid of, you can’t be afraid.  Post-graduation does not mean the end of your life.  In fact, it means the beginning.  It signifies this HUGE accomplishment and the many more to come.  Sure, nostalgia will come and visit a little more often, but that’s not so bad when you have beautiful memories to look back on right?

RIGHT.

My pledge on this January 14th of the year 2014 is to not be scared.  I will enjoy these last few months, as if the end of my college career is not right around the corner of April and May.  And I will accept that whatever plans I have or don’t have, and wherever I am or am not, after graduation, it does not have to be permanent.  Change will always be around the corner of tomorrow and the next day…so let go of expectations, and embrace to the beauty of not knowing instead.

Life will be real whether or not you haven’t entered the “real” world.

An excerpt from my journal…

This comes from a journal entry I wrote on the airplane home at the end of my semester abroad.  It hurts so much to read.  But it’s incredible that none of my feelings have changed.

“Our last night was surreal.  I just never realized how close we all got.  We kept moving locations as we tried to say our final goodbyes, but then we just ended up staying for another few hours.  By 6 am we said goodbye to Melissa and Ben.  We were all crying.  When Meliss got in that cab and we waved her off, it really got me.

After spending all of these days together and being thrown into this city, we weren’t forced to become so close, but we chose to be. And that’s the beauty of this whole experience.  That, and how lucky we all are to have found each other.

Ben and I always get into deep conversations, and that last night we talked about how much this experience meant to us, and how much it will mean for the rest of our lives.  We just couldn’t believe that the last few months were real at all.  I think we were all at a loss for words saying goodbye.

On the walk home we stopped at a bench on the bridge and cried some more.  It just killed me to see everyone so emotional, but it meant the world because it showed me how impactful this journey was, not just for me but for everyone involved.  We are nothing but a family, and that makes me feel better about the goodbyes.

I know I’ll never have another adventure like this one.  I’ll have adventures, no doubt.  But they won’t be when I’m 21 and a junior in college.  They won’t be for four months in Sevilla, with these same people.  That’s why I can appreciate this so much.  Because it is literally once in a lifetime, and I could not be more grateful.

As I sit here 11,280 m in the air on an airplane on the way back to America, with a new perspective in mind and a new home in my heart, I’m beginning to see what this semester wanted to show me and to teach me.

Life is about people.  I’ve been saying this for years, and every day I come to believe it some more.  I wouldn’t be the same person that I was five months ago if I hadn’t encountered these people.  Good, genuine people like Steph and Ben and Elena and Marc and Mercedes, and all of the happy strangers I’ve met along the way.  Then there’s all of the people I met who I know will be better people with people like Steph and Ben and Elena and Marc and Mercedes in their lives.

I learned that traveling is what you make of it.  My brother, after just ten days abroad, is ready to go home.  And me, after five months of living here, just cried my eyes out to this stranger on the plane because I wish I could live in those moments forever.  I’m not ready to go home because I made and found myself another home.

But I do realize that there are moments in life that are inevitable.  Like goodbyes.  They’re heartbreakers, but I suppose they are necessary.  And to say goodbye to Sevilla is unfathomable to me, because I will be back someday.  I know it won’t be the same, but I will love it just the same because my memories will never change.

I will always look back on that city with a happy heart.  I will always be glad to share that city with anyone and everyone.  I’ve heard that going home will be hard not because I’ll miss Sevilla and my time abroad, but because no one will understand what I have just been through.  No, that’s not dramatic.  It’s not dramatic because it was my life for five months.  And I’ve decided that it is so special and so sacred to me that I want to keep it that way.

Everyone will ask me how it was and ask me maybe for a story or two, but after a few minutes they’ll have moved on to the present.  And it will be harsh and hurtful that no one cares, but I’ve already accepted that.  I’ve decided that by keeping this adventure mine and with the people I’ve shared it with, I will love it more.  Because everyone who doesn’t know can listen to a story for ten minutes but those who I shared this time with will be there to listen to me for a lifetime.

So with that I leave a little piece of me with all of these people and in all of the new places I visited, particularly Sevilla.  No me ha dejado.  NO8DO, para siempre.  It’s gonna feel damn good the next time I step foot in that city.”

How to waste your time

DOnt worry be happy - Do You have a problem in life - Yes - Can you do something about it - NO - yes - Then Why worryThink too much about your problems, and not enough about the solutions.

Never say how you feel.  Hold it in until you explode and feel better, then start building it up again.

Be too proud or ignorant to apologize or come to compromise in a situation you want fixed.

Always have a frown on your face.  Waste it even more by not allowing yourself be happy.

Be and think negatively.  Waste your time by not feeling good.

Do something you hate.  Just wake up every day and do things you don’t enjoy.

Worry about all of the things in the world that are out of your control.

Blame yourself for something that had nothing to do with you.

If you are guilty of any, or worse, ALL, of the above, I’m gonna guess that you don’t want to be happy.

That’s a shame.  And I don’t know about you , but all I ever want to do is be happy.  And I think that time spent being anything else but what you want to be is wasted time.  Looking around lately I’ve found that a lot of people are wasting time, including myself sometimes.

Last weekend the BF and I got in a fight that wasn’t really a fight–one of those I-thought-you-were-mad-at-me/No-I-thought-you-were-mad-at-me fights. Stupid, we know. And we’re working on it by realizing together that negative time and energy is a big, big mistake.  Why go a few hours being upset or mad when you could release all of that bad energy by way of words or some type of expression–therefore ridding yourself of it–for just a few relieving minutes?

Well the answer is: you shouldn’t.  Why?  Because it will, without a doubt, be a complete waste of your time. I promise.  Take it from us.  We had a perfectly beautiful Saturday spent walking around Philadelphia, wading in public fountains, tossing the football around, and drinking mojitos.

 

Then whatever happened happened and it led to 3 or 4 hours of confusion, silence, and a spritz of awkward atmosphere.  AKA waste of time.  We could’ve fixed it in 10 minutes but instead we went hours thinking something was wrong.  And guess what?  Nothing was wrong!  So haha, the joke’s on us.  And what I learned from all of this is that I would love to never waste a precious minute like that ever again.  As far as I’m concerned, Philly is the city of not just brotherly love, but of all love.  And we can keep it that way.

This past Wednesday, I had dinner with my sister-in-law.  I talked a lot about the yoga/meditation and green things I do in attempt to make a social and environmental difference, and she couldn’t get enough of it.  When I talked about a stress management class I took last year and all the habits I gained from it, it’s like she discovered a whole new world of beautiful possibilities that never crossed her mind before.  “You inspired me,” she told me.  And nothing feels better than hearing those words.

After our dinner, I just kept thinking about unhappy people.  My sister-in-law isn’t unhappy, but a lot of people are.  They’re stressed and sad and hate the way their lives turned out.  To me, that’s totally unacceptable.  Unacceptable AND a waste of time.  If that’s not telling you that it’s time to make a change, then you are doing something very wrong.

Wanna know the best thing about all of the worrying, the stressing, the anger, the sadness, and the madness?  No one is forcing you to be a part of it.  You are doing it to yourself.  And life is so that you can control it.  If you hate what you’re doing…get ready for some good advice here…STOP DOING IT.  That’s probably what will get you one step closer to spending your time wisely.

Nike, baby.  Just do it. ✓

Oh, and HAPPY FRIDAY!

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