Moved by Moving

Leaving home gets harder and harder every time I do it. And I’m always asked, “Why do you like living abroad?” and “How do you do it?”

After years of thinking about it, I finally found some potential answers, thoughts repeated in my mind if nothing else.

I have developed a deep, deep passion for the world. I’ve had it for years, and I’m guessing I always will. It keeps me going and partly blinds me from the pain that I inevitably feel when I leave. This world just has so much to offer. There are so many people and lessons and activities and views to meet and learn and do and see. The fact that all of this is available and waiting is pretty insane to me and I can’t miss out. Long ago I told myself I would see as much of the world as I could and this goal is never-ending and doesn’t get easier the older I grow, but until that promise no longer serves me, I must go and go and go.

I look around and think to myself that the reason life is so wonderful is because we get to choose. Sure, there are some givens, but at the end of the day I hope we can all recognize that we have the power to change what surrounds, consumes, inspires, angers, and pushes us, simply by making different choices. Sometimes I look at the places I spend most of my time, at the things I own and use, and at the people I share my days with. When I see each of these truly, I am able to trace back to the moment I let them in, and more importantly, the moment I let them stay. Through this consistent practice I’ve come to the understanding that I am allowing what and who surrounds me. When I leave home, I recognize fully that it is my choice, and that there is no one else to thank or blame for what I see when I open my eyes.

I love home. I love coming home and I love being home. I love the place I get to call home, and the people from home that I get to keep in my life regardless of whether I’m physically there or not. I treasure this place so deeply because I only get to have it sometimes. At this point, many places feel like home, and I can’t afford to take that for granted either. But home has always been people for me. It just so happens that a large percentage of the people I love are in the same place, and for that fact alone, I love home.

I crave stories. How else would we learn and grow from each other if we didn’t share them with each other? Most anything we say or exchange in conversation, on social media, through music and film, while people-watching, and when we lie awake at night thinking about our day, is a story. They are being shared in different ways, selectively, and again we can choose and craft them how we want to. Anything that happens to us is one story, and the way we choose to see it once it’s done or tell it when it’s over, are other stories. Every place I go gives me another story to tell, and many to listen to. At any time I can draw from this archive, and I can learn.

I like being uncomfortable. I like placing and finding myself outside of the zone I would describe as “comfortable”. I like the rush of new environments and unfamiliar ground. I like how it feels to know that time is all it takes to adjust to most change and most difficulties. And I know from experience, that when we are uncomfortable, we are growing. It’s easy to stay, but I prefer a little bit of pushing my boundaries if it means expanding my growth as a human through the days I have been given. I don’t like leaving because it’s uncomfortable, I like leaving because of where it gets me. So, here I am again, getting through the uncomfortable changes to find what is waiting for me. And something always is.

Every time I leave home, I cry at the airport while waiting at the gate for boarding. It’s never because I want to stay, but because leaving doesn’t feel as good as arriving. The last few months I spent at home have been everything I’ve dreamt of and more. I am so grateful for all the time I got to share with so many people, all of whom I consider myself lucky to know and connect with. I’m thankful for all the food that I got to eat, and that I am always missing when away. I know that home isn’t everyone’s favorite place, so I know my luck for all that it is, to have been brought to a place that fills me with good love and good memories, each and every time.

 

 

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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.

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 Hard Word To Define

Recently, I visited the place that was my very first home (for ten years) for the first time since 2001. It was a very moving, emotional, and exciting time, and I find it hard to believe that I spent so much time away from there.

Most people don’t take fourteen years to go back home. And while I called New Jersey “home” in the interim, I have always considered the Philippines my real home. What else would you call the place you grew up?

Before leaving the Philippines for the U.S., I think I already became the person I am today through my experiences there. So many of my beliefs and values were formed there, in my first ten years of life. I have held on to the kindness, patience, determination, hard-working attitude, and yearning for simplicity that I think are engrained in Filipinos. Going home did not only allow me to return to my roots, but it also proved to me that much of who I am is because of where I came from. And I am so, so proud of that.

I know that I became a totally different person than I would have if I never moved, but I still feel so deeply connected to my country and the people there. Everything came back so fast. I remember what it was like to shower with a bucket and a water heater, and to look around and see families living in shacks alongside the road. I remember what it’s like to see cockroaches and small lizards everywhere, and even what the local markets smell like. Those feelings and images and smells have never escaped me entirely, but they were nothing more than blurred memories until just a few weeks ago.

In this short amount of time, one thing has become very clear to me about the definition of home: I will never have just one. There’s a Pico Iyer quotes that goes like this: “Home is not just the place where you happen to be born. It’s the place where you become yourself.”

Somehow, I am lucky enough to be able to say that that both parts of that quote describe the same place for me. I am also lucky enough to say that I am who I am thanks to more than just one or two places. In the last few weeks, I’ve learned that I have called many places “home” in my twenty-three years of life, and as a result of that, the very definition of “home” is constantly changing for me.

The home that I was born in is the Philippines, but the home that I grew up in was across the world in New Jersey. The home where I built an entirely new, separate life was in New York where I went to college, and the home that stole my heart was Sevilla. Now, I’m breathing the air in a country that is my current home: South Korea.

With each change of home, I have felt this growth in myself, and each place has made me a better person in its own way. Through constant movement, I am learning more and more about the different corners of our world and the people in it, and it makes me hope that everyone could also have many places to call “home.”

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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Splits

The last couple of months have been nothing short of a dream.

I used to think that traveling was about seeing new places and getting closer to being able to the world as a whole, with my own eyes instead of through pictures and imagination.  And that’s what it used to be to me.  But recently travel has become more about learning than seeing.

Learning about myself by testing my limits–you know, seeing how long I can go without sleep, or how successful I can be at convincing the Aer Lingus agent to get me on the next flight to Dublin after I missed the first one.  I learn something before, during, and after every trip.  Before a trip, I am one person.  And after, I am another.  It’s that simple, because every adventure remains with me somehow and it changes me inevitably.

Just the same, I learn about others by sharing.  Sharing earphones while they play DJ. Sharing clothes when mine are ruined by a spill in my backpack.  Sharing cabs and hostel rooms.  Sharing moments.  Hardships.  Breathtaking views.  Sunsets, walks, train rides.  Even sharing toothbrushes.  Just kidding.  That should never ever happen.  But if it did, we could learn by sharing the journey followed by the memory.

Then there is the learning about the places in the world that bring us together and put us all on the same page of desire.  Because I know we all want more sometimes.

But even further than that, is the learning that we don’t need more sometimes.  There are moments during travel in which I know I could live forever.  Half a mile up a dune in the middle of the Sahara Desert during sunrise, for example.  Or the very first second you step foot on new ground, maybe in a city that you are about to call “home” for five months.  In these moments, with what little I have in hand–a suitcase or a backpack–it feels like just enough to last forever.

And then there were 10

Today begins the ten day countdown to the day I leave for Spain to study abroad for a few months.

It’s an extremely exciting time for me right now.  It feels like a satisfaction-guaranteed type of deal–and I’m willing to bet that it is.  I’m scared and I’m overwhelmed, but I’m more than okay.

I’m making my way around the corner to walk the road where I’ll make my most legendary memories, take some of my most spectacular photographs, write the most detailed journals, and feel most alive.  And beyond all of the good I expect to find, I have to say I’ve also been preparing for what scares me.  Missing home, missing people, missing the familiar.  Failure, disappointment, loneliness, getting lost.  Change is often good, but almost always something to fear in this life.  But regardless, I am sincerely looking forward to what these next few months have to offer me.

My infatuation with travel and meeting new places is in a state of unrest right now, so deep I can feel it in my boones, my blood, my breath.  Heart and mind aside, my body is aching for a new place to be.  My feet want new sidewalks and my eyes need new–or maybe just different–shades of color and sky.  And my hands?  They just want to high five all over the world.

I’m planning on a re-invention of sorts for this trip.  Try new things, be more adventurous (there is always room for more adventure), consume lots of alcohol, form good habits, never sleep, spend all my money, no regrets, etc.  To sum it up, I suppose one could say YOLO…

Sure, roll your eyes at me.

But I’m the one getting ready for the trip of a lifetime.