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.

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.

Austin? AWESOME

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.

The People
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.

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(This is a screenshot of a video of the API staff saying congratulations to my team for winning the scavenger hunt.  Aren’t they the cutest?)

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.

The City
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.

ALSO, there’s a famous graffiti’d wall that says “i love you so much”.  Unfortunately, I had no idea that was in Austin!  I follow Shwayze on Instagram, and he posted this picture the other day:

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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.

The Inspiration
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.”

Top 5 most spontaneous things I’ve ever done

  1. Bought tickets to Chicago.  Early in the summer, my friend and I wanted to plan a trip to San Francisco for the fall.  And then I remembered that I’m a broke college student who can’t afford that.  So one day I got an e-mail from SmarterTravel and they had flights from NY to Chicago for $160.  My friend was in Russia at the time, so we Facebook messaged back and forth and within 24 hours booked our flights.  Sooooo Chi-Town here we come!
  2. Got a tattoo.  One night I caught a ride with my friend from Hofstra into NYC because she was meeting a friend there and I was going to see my friend’s concert.  We were stuck in traffic and having a serious life talk slash bonding moment, and somehow the subject of tattoos came up.  One thing led to another and we decided to ditch our plans and go to St. Marks and get tattoos…matching tattoos.  Now we are forever branded with the words “Wanderlust in reverie” in each others’ handwriting.  The best part of this story is that the tattoo artist asked us if we were a lesbian couple or just friends.4a42151e156611e1a87612313804ec91_7
    These are the many versions of the phrase written on scraps of paper at Chipotle next door to the tattoo place.
  3. Aimlessly hopped on a random train in Switzerland.  I was traveling in Switzerland with my brother earlier this summer and we had Swiss Passes, which basically allow unlimited travel using the rail, bus, and boat systems in the country.  We were in Zurich and it was a rainy day, so we hopped on the first train we could catch and we ended up in Berne, where had an entirely separate adventure.
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  4. Pretended I had an interview with Tyler Hilton.  This story makes me feel a lot cooler than I actually am.  Our senior year of high school, my girlfriends and I made plans to go see Tyler Hilton in concert at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park.  During high school, I went to concerts all the time and had interviews with a lot of entertainment acts because I wrote for an online music site.  As an interviewer or press member, I usually got free tickets to shows, and I had a pending interview with Tyler Hilton at this particular show, so I never bought a ticket.  As (bad)luck would have it, I didn’t get the interview, it was the day before the concert, and–of course–it was sold out.  But I wasn’t going to miss a concert and night down the shore with my girlfriends, so I went with no ticket but with a plan.
    I went up to the will call window and told them that I was on Tyler Hilton’s guest list and handed them my license.  She said, “Oh it doesn’t look like you’re here.  Let me get the manager.”  Tyler Hilton’s manager comes out and asks me what the problem is.  I didn’t plan for these words to come out of my mouth, but I said, “Well I have an interview with Tyler but my name’s not on the guest list.”  And he said, “Oh did you confirm with Mary?  She always forgets to update the list.  I’m so sorry about that!  Follow me backstage.”  Despite my confusion, I breathed a sigh of total and complete relief and followed him backstage while my friends followed me with their eyes and looked at me like I was nuts.  The manager led me right into Tyler Hilton’s dressing room and I completely improvised the interview, and proceeded to freak the F out when we were escorted back into the crowd.  I suppose this is the influence that The Buried Life had on me.
  5. Took a trip to Portugal.  At the end of my semester abroad, I was at the DiscoverExcursions office for the last time as an intern, and one of the trip guides asked me if I was coming to Lagos that weekend.  I said no because I already went a few weeks before, and he said, “Why not?  It’s free.”  PAUSE.  Rewind.  Repeat.  I think he said the words “free” and “trip” in the same sentence…  And we all know that the word FREE can persuade almost any study abroad student to do pretty much anything.  So before I knew it I was running home packing a backpack for the weekend for Lagos round 2.  The catch phrase for that trip is “You Only Lagos Once”.  Ironically, I Lagos’d twice and with no regrets.9600b446b27d11e2a95722000a9f09e9_7

 

Things I’ve done right in college so far

1.  Studied Abroad
No doubt about it–my favorite semester.  Studying abroad made me a happier, more cultured, independent student.  I don’t understand why such a small percent of students study abroad.  According to this article on Chronicle.com: only about 38% studied abroad during the summer, and 13% studied abroad for eight weeks or less during the academic year.  Fewer than 4% of students spent the entire academic year abroad.

Studying abroad is life-changing, and it’s something I will always advocate.  It is not an opportunity that any student should ever pass up.

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2.  Volunteered
Volunteering on and off campus is rewarding and eye-opening.  My volunteer trips have introduced me to some really great, generous, happy people.  The opportunities also open doors; last year I volunteered for the Commission on Presidential Debates leading up to and during the second 2012 Presidential Debate hosted at Hofstra University, and  I got to meet and spend time with the producer of the debates, meet important politicians, and see what it’s like behind the scenes during preparation for such a historic national event.  Volunteering is 100% positive for every party involved, and it puts some good energy back into the vicious cycle of a world that is focused on making millions and slaving their lives away just to buy things that only last a year or two. /endrant

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3.  Found a mentor
As a sophomore, I had a professor who took interest in my writing and asked me to share my papers for her to potentially use in her next textbook.  She also proposed that I work with her on my senior research project and thesis.  Two years later, we are still in touch, I still take her classes, ask her for career/academic advice, and this year we will be working on my thesis together.  My professor turned into my mentor, advisor, and I hope she’s ready to deal with my inevitable freak-outs when the time comes to graduate and enter the real world.

4.  Befriended people with the same major
Having friends in all of my classes, being familiar with all of the faces, attending events together, helping each other with schedules, professors, always being updated on missed meetings or classes, etc.  It just makes everything easier.

5.  Befriended people with different majors
I’m a mass media major involved in a medical club–doesn’t seem logical does it?  But because my good friend is pre-med, and the club needed a PR chair, I found myself loving the organization and learning about things that I would hate to take a class on.  I’m more involved on campus and with a great variety of interests.

6.  Befriended the ladies at Omelette Pan
I mean, they give me extra cheese and extra bacon.  I would consider that having the honor of calling the OP ladies my friends, is nothing but a great life accomplishment.

7.  Befriended international students
I’ve traveled to Norway and Amsterdam to visit local friends who I met at Hofstra, and I know I have a place to stay if I ever go to Norway, Amsterdam, Paris, London, Brazil, Russia, Australia or New Zealand.  More than just having places around the world to visit, these friends are unique and there are so many worldly things to learn from them.  Oh, and might I mention that maybe (just maybe) befriending international students will lead to meeting a perfect boyfriend.

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8.  Became a Pride Guide
I couldn’t be more proud to be proud of my school, and being a pride guide is how I exercise bragging rights about my school.  I’m able to meet prospective students and encourage them to come to Hofstra.  I have a network of student leaders and fellow pride guides, and I have only positive things to say about my school.

9.  Had an assigned random roommate
Freshman year was a year of firsts, including living with a stranger.  Roommates are one of the biggest stress factors for freshmen, and it was no different for me.  But it turns out I had the best roommate ever, and we got along swimmingly.  We were totally opposite and perfectly the same in just the right areas, and living with her was one of my favorite things about freshman year.

10.  Worked an on campus job
Even with an on campus job, I remained a stereotypical broke college student, BUT at least I was a little less broke than I would have been without it.  Working for a department on campus also allowed me to work on my time management skills, learn more about my school and how it functions, add to my resume, and meet higher-ups, directors, and upperclass students, and make new friends–all while receiving a steady paycheck.

11.  Loved the dorms
I never understood the students who hated dorms.  They’re a place to live, sleep, party, make lifelong friends, and enjoy college.  Where else could my floormates and I have shaving creamed our buddy when he passed out after a long night of drinking?  And where else could we have had a sleepover in the hallway with nothing but a bag of Cheetos?  Probably not many places.  So take advantage of college dorms; love them, and have fun.  Because it will house some of your favorite memories, and once you leave them, you will find yourself missing the atmosphere.

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12.  Made a fool of myself
I once threw up in a pizza box before we could eat the pizza.  Sometimes, that’s what college is for.

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PLAYLIST — Rock’n’roll Corralones-style

This one is a tribute to one of THE coolest, hippiest, happiest places I have ever been in my life.  Rest In Peace, Corralones.

When I was in Spain last semester, we discovered this gem with the help of some local Spaniards.  It’s a long way from the barrio I lived in, but the long walks or bike rides were always worth it.  To get there, we would start from a big open square called Alameda.  From there, we had to ask directions from locals because the streets get small and the alcohol starts to kick in…

To get into Corralones is a little sketchy but that’s what made it so unique.  One second you’ll find yourself walking down small silent streets and the next you’re on an adventure with some happy new friends on an adventure to get to this hidden forbidden garden of chaos.

Walk through a dark tunnel where you can see the lights of Corralones at the end, and suddenly you’re on a level of hippy happy that you have never been before.  There are small garage-slash-shack separated areas, each with a different theme.  Live bands with naked lead singers playing the tambourine (yeah, I witnessed that one with my own eyes), bongo rooms, Nutella sandwich menus, African music and dance, euro beers, mojito stands, and orange burgers (don’t ask)–I’m telling you, you won’t find another place like this one.

If you’re not downstairs taking shots with strangers and dancing the night away, you could opt to go up some wide sketchy staircases to find the rooftop area where there are calmer bars, beach chairs, and guys who look like Bob Marley.

One of the best nights of my five months abroad was without a doubt my first night at Corralones.  Unbelievably and incredibly unforgettable.  One of Sevilla‘s best kept secrets for sure.

When I left to come back to the States, it was shut down and we Americanos were devastated.  But their Facebook page activity is still going strong so I’m hoping that Corralones still comes alive at night.  Or should I say early morning.

Click here to listen to my Corralones themed playlist and pretend you’re there.  Cause I do it a little too often.

Here’s me in a shopping cart.  Why?  Who knows?

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And for more info on Corralones:
Stripped Back Travel
Los Corralones Facebook Page
I Know A Little Place In Seville

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Seven years and counting

Holy wow. Since 2006, every July 10th I think about life a little harder and it comes a little more into perspective. It’s the day I lost a good friend and the day the world lost a great person.

As we, the Westwood High School class of 2010, become rising college seniors, I know that Kevin Frazza is always in the back of our minds. Through everything that’s happened in the last seven years, Kevin has been there. It’s just not easy to forget being 14 years old and finding out one summer morning that your friend was murdered by his own father.

From our first day as freshmen in high school, when we first found out what it was like to be a class without him, to our last day as seniors in high school, when it hurt too much to be a class without him, he was there. All the way to our first day as freshmen at our separate colleges, and through every hardship and good day in between, Kevin was there, with each of us. Often I think about Duke University’s class of 2014 and imagine how much spirit and life Kevin could have brought to it. It breaks my heart a little, so I try not to think so hard about the possibilities and how they were taken away from him too soon.

Typically, college juniors study abroad for some time, and a few of us did; we traveled the world and experienced new cultures–something that I have no doubt Kevin would have done. Before I left to go abroad, his mom dropped a card in my mailbox with a picture of Kevin to take on my travels. He’s been everywhere now, and I feel lucky to have been there with him, but one of the most remarkable stories I can tell is about something that happened this winter, right before I left for that trip.

Someone a grade below me, who went to my high school and knew Kevin, was studying abroad in Cameroon, Africa. After lunch one day, I came home and saw a Facebook post he wrote while in Africa.

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How mind-blowing is it that six years after that shirt was created and distributed to only a handful–certainly less than 100–people from Northern New Jersey, it was found at a small market on another continent at the other end of the world? If there was a better word than mind-blowing, it would be exactly that.

It’s the little, completely unexpected reminders like this one that I love so much about life…and death.

Death is defined by someone being gone, passed away, dead. But in reality, in life, as long as someone is remembered, he or she is never gone. That’s who Kevin Frazza is, not was. He is never gone, but always remembered. He has done so much in the world by only being in it for 13 years and he has done so much for the people he knew, like me. He changed lives. And I can guarantee that anyone who was affected by his passing will be thinking about him today, on the 7th anniversary of his murder.

And isn’t that what everyone wants in life? To leave something behind and be remembered? To change something, or someone? Well, it just so happens that Kevin did all of the above. Because for the rest of our lives, Kevin will remind us how lucky we are to be here. The best thing is that, even when he was still here, that’s what he did. He was THE happiest 13-year-old kid I knew. All he wanted to do was make people laugh and smile. That’s what he was best at. It breaks my heart that the thought of him makes me more sad than it does happy. But at the end of the day I never forget how blessed I am to have known him.

Kevin puts life in perspective for me. He reminds me that life is not always fair even to those who deserve it. Rest in peace, Kev. You are among the brightest stars in my sky, even when it’s cloudy.

A 201 toast to the one and only, Kevin Frazza.

Life is a pizza pie

This past weekend, I met up with some friends in New York City where we had a mini Sevilla reunion.  I was so impatient and excited on the train ride into the city I found myself smiling while looking out the window, and all the way until I reached Herald Square, where I found them.  Initially I figured that everyone who passed me thought I was crazy, and then I remembered I was in New York City, and everyone is crazy.

When I saw them sitting in the sun in the middle of Broadway, my heart leaped and at that moment I knew my smile wouldn’t be going away for a while.  We spent the day reminiscing about the time we spent together while abroad, and we also spent it making new memories.

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Study abroad friendships are like no other.  And when I say no other, I mean no other.  These relationships form extremely fast and you learn whether or not you are able to trust a person very quickly.  They form so fast that withdrawal is often a symptom after separation.  Take for example a certain someone (No, not me.  But this is a true story.) who booked a one way flight to a certain somewhere across the country to visit a certain friend from abroad–and we’ve only been home for a month.

Hours of traveling and finding adventure together make it so that everyone’s life story is told at one point in the semester.  I know all about my abroad friends’ past and present relationships, friendships, families, school-life, and home-life.  I know about their schools, what they want in the future, who their celebrity crushes are, etc. etc.  With time, I get to know for myself what their comfort zones are, and breaking out of ours together is one of the best things about being abroad friends.  We grew, and continue to grow together, and towards each other.  From the first awkward introductions we had at orientation to the depressing goodbyes and sobs we shared on our last night together, it has been quite the ride.

If I were to tell the honest truth, sometimes I feel closer to my friends from Sevilla than I do to some of the friends I’ve had since I was ten.  The things a friendship goes through in Sevilla (abroad in general) are magical, and I couldn’t be happier to have these people in my life.

Spending 5 months in Spain, in a new unfamiliar city, with people who began as strangers has had a big impact on me.  It showed me just how quickly you can let someone in.  There were plenty unbelievable love stories about students who fell in love with locals; students who ended up changing their flight to stay longer, and locals who came to visit their significant others Stateside.  It’s incredible.  Until January 27th, I had no idea of the existence of these people who I now talk to on the daily–people who I couldn’t imagine my life without.  I’m so lucky.  To think that just a few months ago our paths had not yet crossed seems almost impossible.

   

Why impossible?  Well, impossible because the last few months would have been completely different.  Who knows if I would have been this happy if it weren’t for the people who gave me the reasons to be?  Once I got on the bus to the airport at the end of the semester, I knew that no one would know what I meant if I said “Ah-Pee”.  No one would accept the excuse “Sorry I’m on Spanish time” if I was late.  No one outside of our group would understand my craving for a jarra of tinto, or a Cruzcampo.  No one would know much of any of the things I wanted to talk about.

Someone I know who studied abroad warned me about coming home.  They said, “Just be prepared for no one to really care about your stories.”  Um…ouch?  That was a little rude.  It stung.  And the sting lasted for a while, because it happened.  People asked what my craziest story was or what my favorite part about being abroad was.  But no one listened or wanted to listen to the simple things that made my semester beautiful.

They didn’t ask how many sunsets I watched in how many countries, and what songs we listened to during those sunsets (Love Like A Sunset Part II by Phoenix just by the way…).  They didn’t wonder what Tuesday nights were like at Alfalfa.  They didn’t have questions about my friends and what they were like.  And they definitely didn’t think that I had a favorite tree in Sevilla that I cared so deeply about.  They just didn’t inquire about any of those things.

Then one day I realized.  It was our little slice of life together that I’m really okay with no one else knowing about.  You know what they say.  Lo que pasa en Sevilla, se queda en Sevilla.

 
 

Summer for grown-ups

Summer isn’t summer anymore.

Well, maybe it is.  Summer is always summer I suppose…but it’s not the same now.

I remember my first summer in America.  I was 9 years old, and we went to Disney World.  I got Mickey and Minnie’s autographs, met my favorite Disney Princesses, rode teacups and roller-coasters that I was tall enough for, and I was not in the least bit concerned about wasting time or money.

This summer, right when it began, I went to Disney World again.  This time, I was 21 years old, and my eldest niece was 9.  I remember the day she was born, and suddenly there we were at the happiest place on earth, where I too made memories as a 9-year-old.  It was mind-blowing to say the very least.  I didn’t know time could be so fast.

Instead of buying endless rounds of cotton candy and souvenirs, I opted for eating the kids’ leftovers and buying a single postcard.  And instead of needing to hold someone’s hand while walking around the parks, I was the one whose hands were clutched tightly by one or all three of my nieces.  Instead of waiting in line for the Disney Princesses, I wanted to wait in line for the Disney Princes… I mean, Gaston and Prince Eric were kind of nice to look at.  Ten years from now my family will be at Disney again, and I bet my nieces will have moved on to the Princes too.

Our day at Magic Kingdom this year turned out to be a magically bittersweet day for me.  We watched the fireworks over Cinderella’s castle (only the most iconic symbol for Disney World there is) and I cried the entire show and then some.  I stood in a crowd of thousands, with my youngest niece in my arms, my entire family around us, and a real-life fairytale ending in front of my eyes.

My eyes were waterfalls for a number of reasons.  I wasn’t 9 years old anymore.  I just came back from Sevilla, Spain, where I spent the last 5 months gallivanting with new friends and living my dream of doing nothing but traveling, writing, jumping off cliffs, spending time in the sun, and meeting people from every walk of life.  I’m almost two years into my twenties.  I’m an aunt.  I’m entering my senior year of college.  I’m finding the version of myself that I want to be.  I’m looking into what will be my career and full-time job.  It felt like the culmination of my life as a girl and the beginning of life as a woman.  And it hit me like a firework.  It’s time to grow up.

And so began the beginning of summers for grown-ups.

I’m working in New York City and also from home.  My weekdays consist of work and routines instead of sitting by the pool with my friends like we did back in the summer for kids.  No more trips to theme parks or concerts or beaches.  Every weekend is packed with plans because that’s the only time anyone has time.  My alarm goes off at 6:30 am–something I thought was unthinkable in the summertime.

It kind of hurts and feels weird and makes me tired, and nothing’s worse than associating those negative things with Summer.  But I will not let change get the best of me for there is always happy hour, weekend trips and adventures, backyard BBQs, bonfires, and always always always a way to have too much fun.

Summer is for grown-ups too.