You’ve got my love to lean on darling, all the days

Before I left for South Korea three years ago, my older sister told me that she’s a little bit sad that I’ll miss some important “growing up” moments in my niece’s (her daughter’s) life in this next year that I’ll be in South Korea. Well, I’ve been here for three years and it really pains me that I’ve missed out on my nieces’ and nephew’s youths. What if they have their first kiss? What if they get bullied and don’t know who to turn to? What if they get in a fight with their parents and want to talk to me about it? All these what-ifs went through my mind, so I started writing letters to my eldest niece. I put them in a box, and I hope that when the time comes, she’ll pass it on to my other nieces and nephew, and that it will be helpful to them while I’m gone.

This was one of the letters:

To my little one,

There is so much that I want to teach you and tell you and learn from you. I hate to be absent for any part of your beautiful life, but while I’m away, I hope you remember some of what I’ve already tried to teach you.

Be patient and kind, to everyone, always. Including yourself.

Do not believe in luck. Believe in gratitude. Feel it all the time.

Treat every human being as exactly that: a human being. Show respect to everyone, even your enemies, and do not tolerate being disrespected.

Your feelings are YOURS and there is never a need to explain why you feel them.

When you learn something, don’t forget it. Intelligence is extremely attractive and invaluable.

Never, ever, ever, ever assume. Never assume that someone ignored you, or that someone is mad at you, or that something was your fault. Because anything can happen at any time, and we are not always aware of everything at once. Don’t disregard coincidence.

In confrontations and arguments, express only how you feel. Do not tell people what they did, but tell them how they made you feel.

Living well is the best revenge. Don’t believe in revenge.

Work hard. (Be lazy, but only sometimes.)

I once sat next to an old German man on a train and he asked me what my dream is. I told him that I want to travel, and he told me about how he moved to the U.S. from Germany as a young boy with nothing. He went to school, became a doctor, and now he teaches at a university in New York. He offered me this advice: “Keep a positive attitude. Don’t compromise your dreams and something will come and open up your universe. You younger generations need more confidence. Just know that us older generations believe in you. Let the universe come to you—invite it.”

Too much of anything can turn into a bad thing. The keys to happiness at its finest are balance and moderation.

Tell your parents goodnight before you go to bed. Tell the people you care about that you care about them. People need to be reminded of that.

Not everything lasts forever, and that’s okay. Look back and remember the goodness of all things, and be grateful for having it.

Ask yourself questions all the time. It is important to be able to answer to yourself, and be true to yourself.

The earth is a precious place, and you are just a visitor. Treat it well. Save as much life, energy, waste, and water as you can. Nothing is unlimited.

An excerpt from one of my favorite articles: “We have these brief lives, and our only real choice is how we will fill them. Your attention is precious. Don’t squander it. Don’t throw it away. Don’t let companies and products steal it from you. Don’t let advertisers trick you into lusting after things you don’t need. Don’t let the media convince you to covet the lives of celebrities. Own your attention — it’s all you really have.”

Stories are gifts that we give to each other. They can be happy, or sad, or scary. They are real, and they are meaningful. Remember as many of them as you can, especially the magical ones. Hold onto them and don’t forget that they can be very, very real.

“You are responsible for the energy you put into this world.”

Travel opens your eyes and your mind to both realities and dreams. Always keep going.

Try not to raise your voice, and try to always smile. Try new things often.

Know that the world we live in is a big one. There are millions of different souls and perspectives out there. You should never feel alone.

Power comes in many forms. Music, stories, writing, expression, art, thought, knowledge. Power is from within. Use yours—you have so many!

Self-discipline and patience are very necessary strengths. Learn them as early as you can.

Avoid any and all feelings of jealousy. Never wish to be anyone else.

Never burn bridges because you never know when you might need to cross them again.

And most importantly, never doubt that you are loved.

Love always,

Auntie

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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.

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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grATTITUDE

There are 321 days until my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. BUT I think we should start celebrating early.  By early I mean every single day.

I never understood why there was only one day a year on which people give thanks.  Every Thanksgiving (don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Thanksgiving) people reflect on their blessings, give thanks to their loved ones, post lengthy Facebook statuses, etc.  I wish that we did these things every day (except maybe not the Facebook statuses).

Why not start celebrating Thanksgiving every day?  Not necessarily with a huge turkey dinner and friends and family around the dinner table, but maybe with a minute or two of reflection on what you appreciate about each day.

This year, I started keeping a gratitude journal.  Every day, I write down 3 things I am grateful for, plus a short blog entry about a positive experience I had within the last 24 hours.  At night when I go to bed I sit down for a few minutes and one page in my small journal, and it’s starting to become my favorite part of the day.  When we build these habits of looking for the positives in our day, the result is grATTITUDE.

Grattitude is a permanent attitude that we, as individuals, can develop by choosing to celebrate Thanksgiving every day instead of once a year.

Being thankful is a lifestyle and an attitude, not a a once-a-year celebration.  We owe it to ourselves, and sometimes each other, to express our thanks.  So join me and give thanks every single day.  Be happy to be alive.  Tell people that they matter to you.  And highlight the positives you encounter throughout your day.

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.”

Reeeeewind…

I thiiiiink that this might be a very lengthy post…but I always say that and then get tired of typing and stop after 5 minutes.  So I’m sorry in advance if that happens.

WELL.  It’s been an extremely busy crazy awesome happy two weeks since I have posted.

First and foremost, I discovered this super adorbs Twitter account called Doctor Pug (@DoctorPug).
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Like come on, isn’t that the cutiest thing ever?!  It makes me so happy and I would love to hang out with the pug or person who tweets as Dr. Pug.

ALSO.  I discovered a show on Animal Planet called “Too Cute: Fluffy Puppy Party”.  I never watch TV but I was stuck on the couch for a Too Cute marathon for a whole day.  Thanks, Animal Planet.

Okay, now that that’s out of my system.

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I moved into my house at school with the best roomiez a girl could ask for!!  They love bacon, are happy, laugh a lot, like drinking beer and wine, enjoy Taco Tuesday and Sunday family dinners, and most importantly they tolerate my weirdness and loud music.  It felt like home the second I walked in, and it makes me giddy inside when I go to sleep that I’m surrounded by a lot of love and happiness.

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Pictured above is Wiener and Banana (the best duo you will ever know) in their prime; having beer and playing video games within the first few hours of reuniting after 9 months apart.

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For the last three years I have been a Hofstra Welcome Week Leader, and this year was no different.  I absolutely adored the group of students that were assigned to me.  As I sat them in a circle I introduced myself and watched them to do the same, it took me back to 2010 when I was in their shoes.  I looked at all of them and found that the last three years of college have changed me incredibly.  I mean, the age difference between an 18 year old and a 21 year old is not very big, but the life experience that college has introduced to me is sort of mind blowing in retrospect.

It was a very nostalgic Welcome Week.  It kind of hurts to be a senior while participating and working on events and programs planned for freshmen.  And sometimes I think I have more school pride than a normal person should.

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But at least I got to lead a trip to Radio City Music Hall (and I didn’t lose any students!) for a stage door tour.  We met a rockette and also got private tours of the halls and stages at Lincoln Center.  Incredible!

During Welcome Week, I was also asked to speak at a study abroad panel for new students interested in studying abroad, and I had what I like to call the “study abroad glow” happening for at least a week after those two study abroad sessions.  There is nothing I love more than answering questions about Spain, study abroad, API, or my time abroad.

It’s been a weird thing adjusting back into life at school and not in Spain.  It’s crazy to understand if you’ve never been through something similar to study abroad because it seems a little overdramatic when I talk about the transition home, but it’s so real and so difficult.  I remember reading about reverse culture shock and blah blah blah before leaving for Spain, and I kind of skimmed through that material, but now it’s hitting me that it really exists, and it’s not easy.

I love life at home and here at school, but the love I have for my life in Sevilla is of another kind.  And I think that’s okay.

Throwback Tuesday:

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I have a feeling this semester will be tough in several ways but I’m ready for it.

Your future job might not even exist yet

Today I read a quote that said your future job might not even exist yet.  And it made me feel so much better about the post-graduation pressure that I’m already unsuccessfully avoiding.

I’m majoring in media and minoring in sociology–two things that will probably never go away.  So I should be set, right?  Wrong.  I am still at a total loss and confusion.

But here’s the bright side: Internet years are even faster than dog years.  Things mature and get old quickly out here on the interweb,  so I’m not worried.  Something incredible could happen in the next few months, and BAM–just like the #royalbaby, my dream job is born.  I mean, Facebook is TEN years old and it has well over one billion users around the world–that kind of success doesn’t come often in human years.  So for that reason, the speed of Internet years is comforting to me.

Humans years, on the other hand…I sort of wish that they moved a little slower.  “One more year! What are you going to do after graduation?” said everyone ever.  I’m sick of replying with different versions of what is basically I HAVE NO IDEA.  This is going to sound a little too cliche and beauty pageant-esque but I so honestly just want…to be happy.  It’s not about the paycheck for me.  I care more about how I feel, if I’m happy every day, and if I get to be surrounded by people I care about, doing something that I want to be doing.

I mean, I’m pretty broke now but I’m as happy as I could be.  And if it stays that way, I think I’ll survive.  Life has always been about people for me.  I say it all the time.  So as long as I am not alone, as long as I can wake up with a smile on, whatever I’m doing for the rest of that day doesn’t matter–I’ll take it.

So.

Dear Future Self,

Everything will be okay.  Your future job might not even exist yet.

Hakuna matata.  Just enjoy your life.

Current Self