“I feel like” and other passive things we say to avoid defining ourselves, and why we’re afraid to do so.

I just had a short but mind peaking conversation with a trusted friend of mine who sent me an article titled, “Stop Saying I Feel Like” about how our culture has begun to use this phrase instead of other more defining words such as, “I think.”

This is interesting to me because, as someone who has many thoughts and emotions along with a strong desire to express them, I’ve always been an advocate for sharing what’s inside my head, and saying so accurately. I think it’s important to express yourself. Or, maybe, what I very likely would’ve said to you if we were having a face to face conversation, “I feel like it’s important to express yourself.” Why wouldn’t I have said “I think it’s important to express yourself”? I have no idea. Let’s dive in.

I think we can all agree there is no wrong way to say how one feels, emotion is subjective. All our feelings and opinions are valid, therefore saying “I feel” is an easy cop-out because it directly dodges the opposition. It allows you to slip out of an argument because it’s your subjective opinions and feelings, that’s all they are, and they can change at any moment.

But why don’t we want to state our thoughts and opinions with confidence? Why do we doubt ourselves? We know how we feel inside, and it’s likely we think our internal thoughts with much more conviction than we outwardly express. Why is it so difficult to commit to voicing a hard-edged observation?

And also, who cares if we’re wrong?

I’ve recently been doing a lot of soul searching. I’ve endured a 10 day meditation retreat, twice, in the past year, luckily for me I’ve had the time and been able to devote it to these periods of practice- I’m aware taking 10 days out of life is not a luxury many can afford- and from this, educating myself on the ego has become a huge theme in my life lately, and I’ve come to realize how much my own ego has been causing me enormous pain and suffering.

I also realize how much many peoples’ egos likely cause them suffering as well.

I believe, with conviction, (watch me currently working on this problem of mine! In this very blog post!) much of this “I feel like” bullshit is born out of fear of being wrong. And why do we care if we’re wrong? I’m not sure. So feel free to keep reading as I keep typing to see what I come up with!

Life is full of lessons, many of which are learned from making mistakes or enduring a bumpier road that in retrospect we realize was the harder choice, but a choice that has bettered us nonetheless. How wise, clever, open-minded, curious or grateful would we be if all our choices lead down smooth roads? Not very.

So many times I’ve looked back and thought something extremely epic and profound like “Holy shit that was fucking tough. But I’m glad it went the way it did.”

I’m apparently brave enough to travel Asia alone and live in a country that doesn’t even use romanic letters, but I’m afraid to express my thoughts with confidence for fear of defining myself, just in case I change my mind. In case I’m wrong. About myself.

Why is that so hard, and why does that scare me so much?

We live in a world where we get to display who we are, or maybe more accurately, who we want others to believe we are, via Facebook photos and Twitter posts.

We have the privilege to parade ourselves however we want to the public, but with all this oversharing comes an enormous burden, the more we share the more we think about what we share and how it’s perceived by our audience. And along with this I believe comes a swelling of the ego.

As if we don’t overthink enough, we now have this opportunity that no longer feels like a privilege, but a burden, we have the chance to share the right thoughts, right views and opinions, ones that we hope will be agreed with because we want to feel validated. “Like me!” We don’t want our ego scratched at or torn down. I think we’re afraid to be wrong.

So why can’t we just say what we actually think without saying it’s how we feel? Sure it’s how we feel but it’s also our hard-wired thoughts and opinions from which we likely will not deviate.

So just say it goddammit!

Where’s the fun in agreeing with people all the time? Some of my most meaningful and thought-provoking conversations have been with people I have nothing in common with and whose opinions I starkly oppose.

Last week I caught up with my old roommate from Spain over Skype and we were crying-laughing remembering this conversation her, I, and our third roommate Scott shared while sitting at our kitchen table after school one day. We were talking about the welfare of our planet, in particularly the continent of Africa and how an enormous percentage of it’s people are living in poverty. Scott told us, with distinct confidence and conviction, that Africa is the world’s “bleeding wound” (yes that is a quote- you don’t forget a statement like that!) and there is no other way for the world to survive but to amputate. To literally cut it off because there is no other remedy if the world is to survive. Jenna and I were, and still are, so appalled by the extreme blatancy and ridiculousness of this opinion that we still laugh about it, two and a half years later. I’m honestly still not sure he really believes in that statement, but he said it and allowed us to think he thinks it regardless. Nonetheless it’s a valid thought, it may be wrong, it may even be right (for the record I don’t believe that!) But regardless of it’s validity it’s an interesting opinion that brought us much passionate discussion, and even some ab-clenching, teary-cheek, belly laughs. What I commend in Scott’s statement, shocking and offensive as it may be, was his delivery. The absence of fear about his thoughts being wrong, and complete and utter lack of ego.

So in conclusion, I’m going to start trying to express how I feel without the “feel” so much, and worry less about verbally stepping on others’ toes or worry about being wrong. Because even if I am, so what?

If anyone is interested, here is the article that sparked this conversation: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/01/opinion/sunday/stop-saying-i-feel-like.html?_r=0

To Korea, it’s been a privilege.

I hardly wrote at all this year, which is something I regret. I love to write, but as I was lost trying to navigate the dismal fog of the winter blues my love for written expression fell to the wayside. Once my sunny disposition made it’s recovery my life had become so filled with joy that along with the last of Korea’s snow my need to share melted away. It was one of the hardest and best years of my life. Winter nearly broke me, I felt defeated, like I’d lost my luster. Doggedly determined to make myself love Seoul, I forced my dragging feet through Spanish practice, salsa lessons and soccer games. Eventually the sun came out, my friendships at work grew stronger, and I joined the Rovers women’s soccer team, and with those three things I welcomed the beginning of the second best year of my life. 

11889426_10101702872526907_3269584457713915571_n I am living proof that you can get through the darkest of ruts, turn it around, and transform it into something so incredible that gratitude could never thank the universe enough. I feel eternally indebted to the incredible people who’ve enriched my life, it’s been a privilege to share my life with them this year. You have opened my world.

I’ve never felt such an immense sense of happiness and gratitude. The caliber of people who have become my friends is humbling. There are not enough words to sum up the love that I feel for this entire experience, and the people I’ve come to know. I’m overwhelmed.

After already saying “goodbye” the night before, feeling the need to squeeze out the very last of my days, a few of my coworkers and I met for lunch at our favorite spot. When we were finished eating, through the last of our bantering chit chat, I felt the tears bubbling up again. In Spain I felt ready to leave, like my time had come, however this day, so badly, I didn’t want say goodbye. Sweet Miranda was particularly difficult. I wiped tears away the entire way home. Not wanting to break the dynamic duo Jon helped me drink the last of my wine and kept me company as I rolled my clothes and packed up the last of my belongings. 

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B U S A N

I feel super fortunate that I’ve met a lot of women in Korea who inspire the fuck out of me, they really make me want to be better. They make me excited, bouyant over my path. I almost feel like now I’m ruined, where do I go from here, how can I possibly top this, after Korea how can life get any better?

I’ve always struggled with the idea that I’m going against the grain. I genuinely don’t know what I’m doing with my life, there is no manual to living abroad. However I do know that I love what I’m doing, my difficult situations force me to adapt, expand, and understand. My life stretches my mind daily, so I keep going. The women I’ve met here have given me the confidence to trust that my path is righteous. They’ve shown me what it is to follow your arrow with conviction, to trust your journey and embrace the hardships, they’ve shown me that it’s okay to not follow the common path in life, you can forge your own, and that’s okay.

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Jeju Island, with two people who turned into two of my greatest friends.

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Hannah can fly!!

I’m leaving these people who I’ve formed these beautiful, complex bonds with in a country I’ll probably never live in again. We’ll never all live in the same city, work together or hang out regularly ever again. And while that’s a sad thought, I am so happy that it happened. I know we’ll still stay in touch and check in on each other’s lives, and possibly meet again one day. And for me that’s enough. I’ll make new friends and we’ll all move on and grow to love our new places. But in this moment, I feel like a small child being torn away from what it loves most. I don’t want to make new friends. I want these remarkably evolved, loving souls with whom I’ve had some of the richest relationships. Like I said before, it’s been a privilege.

To everyone in Korea, it has been an honor, thank you for sharing your lives with me.

Thank you for pushing me, for being there when I needed you, for always making me laugh, for challenging my perspective, for inspiring me to keep moving forward, and most of all lifting me up when I needed it, appreciating and loving me for who I am and giving me the confidence to keep doing what I love.

It’s so hard to say goodbye, but such is the nature of the beast in doing what we do.

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And what may be the craziest part about this whole things is that I’ll actually get to see some of these people again, how crazy is that?! Friends from all corners of the world, people that I least expected to become such great friends with have turned into irreplaceable components of my life, people that have opened parts of my mind that I never explored.

And helped me recognize parts of myself that I never knew existed. And I know that I’ll see them again someday and reconnect in other unlikely parts of the world.

I remember when I first went to Spain I’d planned for a year vacation from “real life” and fully intended to return after my year was up. I used to think you couldn’t do life like this, that people who live life abroad for longer than a year were irresponsible or unrealistic. Now I see how small those thoughts were.

I feel like I’ve lived and learned more in the past two and a half years than I have in my entire lifetime, and I would be stupid to trade it for anything.

I know now that life is to be enjoyed, savored and lived with love.

I am forever changed for the better, and I will cherish these memories till the end of my days.

Life is beautiful, and I am so glad that I can see it.

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My ever-wise birthday buddy Carl! Still teaching me about life 1000s of miles away.

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With sweet Sophia, Jeremy (who is going to marry Sophia), and little Mason, who 99% of the time is ALWAYS is a happy mood!

So-called “finding myself,” losing it, and making my way back again

The thought of picking up your life and moving to a foreign country can sound idealistic. It’s something many people have probably daydreamed about at some point yet rarely considered with any serious thought. Understandably so, it’s extremely difficult to leave a life behind. Because few have lived the experience themselves, it’s easy to believe these grand adventures one embarks on are where you find a greater sense self, and return feeling renewed and enlightened.  Well I’m here to give it to you straight.

Sometimes you don’t immediately find a greater sense of self at all. Sometimes you get somewhere and it’s hard and you find yourself exhausted just trying to stay motivated.

This has been one of the most doubt-ridden years of my life. Following a cushy first two months in Korea, after a close friend said goodbye when she boarded a plane for home, I suddenly felt alone in this huge city. I had made a handful of good friends but nothing near that close bond that brought enormous comfort in the beginning.

The month following I felt inconsolably lost. I was frustrated knowing this was not my usual nature and was clueless as to how to gain it back. I didn’t feel like myself and it was as if I was losing who I was as a person. I was going through the motions but void of my natural vigor and cheer.

I even saw a therapist. They have English speaking ones here in Seoul because of the large foreign community. I felt like my circumstances were not enough to make me feel the way I did. Why was this happening? I wanted to fix myself. I had to force myself to go because it was so expensive, but after a few sessions I stopped, because gradually my dismal fog began to lift, so I felt I could hopefully turn this around on my own.

I didn’t even feel compelled to write about my dreary times when I was in the midst of it. I’ve since felt much better, though not 100%, but during those months it all felt sort of bland and insignificant.

While sharing all this I worry that I’ll offend some of the close friends I’ve made here, people that I’ve come to cherish my friendships with and have shared in the joyous memories I’ve made in Korea. (Yes I have had some fun and met wonderful people!)

Since I began sharing my journey when I first moved away I have always felt a strong compulsion to report nothing short of the truth, no matter how ugly it is. Looking back I’m so glad that I shared how much of a culture shock it was for me living in my village in Spain, because I quickly grew to love every bit of it, so it was remarkable to see how something seemingly impossible can trasnform into the best thing that ever happened to you.

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Some of that fun I was talking about… 😉

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I’d rather be brutally honest than create some beautiful lie to save face or foster envy. I’ll always be an open book.

So last year you might as well say that I discovered the meaning of life. That’s how good I felt, and I decided I never wanted to let it go. Then comes Korea.

I know that some of my friends back home are like, wow she’s really going for her dreams, she must be so happy and satisfied, joyous for life. Well, I’m not. I live a pretty regular life, it’s like I moved to a giant koreatown in the US except I can’t go home. You can’t just move somewhere else and expect to recreate your past lives in a new city, it doesn’t work that way.

Seoul is, hmm… How can I spin this so you won’t think less of me, or peg me as ungrateful, and frame this period of my life as what it should be, an ultimately beautiful experience? Um. I can’t. Seoul is, meh, whatever. I don’t love it. I could leave it. And I hate the weather. Just ask me about the winter. Well I don’t think I saw sun for 3 straight months. It’s April and I’m beginning to think spring here is a myth. Once the sun finally emerged I felt an instant lift in my spirits again. “Yesss,” I thought to myself. “Another step towards normal me.”

I recently spoke to this same close friend of mine who is now also going through a similar experience of self doubt and questioning. It came about that maybe you can’t have it all two years in a row, maybe we’re asking the universe for too much. We asked ourselves: is it possible we fancy ourselves more worthy than we are? Are our aspirations simply unattainable? Are we trying to push our happiness thresholds to a point that we haven’t yet earned or doesn’t even exist? Possible, yes. Do I believe this, no!

I don’t think there’s one person in this world who doesn’t deserve it all. Everyone deserves to be happy. Life is to be enjoyed, to be used up whole-heartedly, and rung out to it’s frayed, dry ends.

I refuse to settle for the notion that there are periods when life cruises in a perpetual spiritless and lackluster state. There is light to be found, dammit, and I just have to find it. I am aware this sounds self-important but this is the attitude to which I subscribe. I have times when I stumble and think, maybe I suck after all. Nevertheless, I dust my negative thoughts off and get back on that spirited horse. Judge my considerable amount of self-worth as you may.

I’ve realized, more so as I’m writing this out, that you can’t just consciously hold on to this perfect state of being forever. Life waxes and wanes. There’s this quote that’s always stuck with me, and after just looking it up I can now tell you that it’s from Vanilla Sky, Brian tells David,

“Without the bitter, baby, the sweet ain’t as sweet. The sweet is never as sweet without the sour. And I know sour, which allows me to appreciate the sweet.”

I’ve always thought that I feel more than most people, when I’m happy I’m really happy, and I think it’s because I’ve experienced deep pain. We need the trying times so that joyous ones feel that much sweeter. It’s the natural balance. (So really, now that I’m thinking about it, after such a wonderful year, I should’ve seen all this coming!) I thought I’d found the trick to a good life so I sought to never let it go, and through this experience it’s occurred to me that, that peaceful place in my mind, is not something that’s found and to be kept, it’s a forever kind of journey… So it’s okay, I know I’ll get it back.

I have to say while I do have moments of self-doubt and uncertainty, where I want to hop a plane and go hug my mommy, I still occasionally have some polar opposite ones as well, moments of clarity, knowing that I’m still doing what I want to be doing, (not what I think I “should” be doing) and pursuing my love for foreign cultures, travel, and personal exploration.

I’m living for myself, which is something I’m not even sure I grasped the concept of before I left California. I’m sure I would have still grown in other ways had I stayed, but it’s a different challenge out here. It might sound strange but I love the small struggles of living in a foreign country, it’s fun and satisfying. I am more secure in who I am and more certain about the kind of life I want to live than I’ve ever been. Despite my ups and downs, I still feel closer to the kind of person I want to be than I did when I left.

At the end of the day I was brave enough to try. And that alone is success enough for me.

(Here’s some more fun pictures from my winter break… and yes, for times like these- and even for the fact that living in Seoul has allowed me greater advantage to travel Asia I am immensely grateful. And of course for all my learning experiences in Seoul as well, my fortune and opportunities because I am living here are not lost on me. I am still at the end of the day extremely humbled by my circumstances and thankful for everything that has helped me get here.)

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Keep on keepin’ on that road!

Leaving home, heading to Korea

I’m on the plane to Korea and I know this is going to sound really contrived and ridiculous, but I can’t help but smile to myself in contentment, thinking, this is exactly where I want to be. I’m not 100% sure it’s where I’m supposed to be, but I think this is it. My passion, I’ve realized the past year, is people, our cultures, how they intertwine, how people communicate in different places, how they cook, live, everything. I love knowing people. I love how their differences makes me laugh, how they excite me, intrigue me, and make me want to know more.

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I grew so attached to my friends and family at home this summer. And I was only home for 2 months, almost exactly. After I shared a tearful goodbye (on my mother’s part) after being dropped off at the airport (not that I won’t miss her, just really excited) I checked in and went to find my old roommate from Spain, Scott. He’s going to Korea too and we happened to be leaving at the same time. And he asked if I was nervous or anything and I was like, no! I’m not at all I’m actually really excited!

After I landed my job in Seoul I was pretty terrified for about a week, I’m not gonna lie. But after my nerves subsided and it donned on me that I’m just doing pretty much the same thing I did last year all over again, just in a new country, and that I’ve done this before and I can do it again. And I calmed down. And once I calmed down I got really excited.

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I have to say, as I’m sitting here, totally content with myself, with my ‘I wouldn’t trade my place with anyone in the world’ feeling, it makes me think about how many people have told me how proud and envious they are of me. Which is funny because I don’t see myself as any better or different than I was before, just living in a different spot in the world. While these situations have bettered me absolutely, which is seriously the best gift I could ever ask for, I’ve become more calm, more content, and just all around happier, I stress less, I care about the things that really matter more, I don’t freak as easily over the things I cannot change, I still feel the same.

But, I’m really freaking lucky. Yes I made this happen, but still, I’m lucky. Like I was saying before, people are like, ‘we’re so proud of you, living the dream! I wish I could do or would have done what you’re doing!’ I always have this sort of detached reaction, like what their saying doesn’t quite pertain to me, but this other, more adventurous, person, who I know is me, but… I just don’t feel like it’s me their envious of,  because, it’s just me. Same as before.

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I know this makes no sense. I just feel like I didn’t really chose this life, it kind of chose me. I think it was something I needed to fully grow, and I just so happened to have found this secret portal to this beautiful life, and also just happened to have been in the perfect situation to take that jump.

Yes it was something I’ve always wanted to do, it was something that had been quietly nagging at me for years. I always wanted to move away, to experience something different and quench my curiosities. Ever since I decided to stay local to go to college. I’d always wished I’d gone away. Now I’m going farther than I ever thought possible.

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I still always think that I have Audrey to thank for all of this. My old roommate in Huntington Beach, one of the kindest souls I have ever known and still one of the best friends I’ve ever had. I don’t think either of us would have moved to Spain without the other, we were so scared, and now it’s led to me doing even more. I always look back and think, thank god for Auds. So, Audrey Jean 🙂 if you’re reading this, I know I’ve already told you, but, thank you.

Home.

I didn’t particularly want to go home. I was the happiest I’d ever been in Spain. I was afraid if I left I would lose this new self that I’d grown into. I had never felt so content, peaceful and satisfied. I surprised, even impressed, myself that I could live so simply. I loved little Garrucha, and more importantly, I loved the person I’d become there.

So I knew coming home could be a difficult transition. And it’s been filled with a lot of ups and downs. One day I’ll be so over the moon stupid happy that I’m home with my family and friends, the next I’ll feel like a wandering lost soul that doesn’t belong.

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“Help me I’m poor!”

And don’t get me wrong, I’m so happy to be home and see all these incredible people that I’ve been blessed to have in my life, people that I’ve missed for 8 months, but it’s a jolt.

(bare with me, I promise the last half of this entry is better)

I’m desperately trying to hold on to my Spain self, yet trying to fit back in here at the same time.

Home doesn’t really feel like home anymore. (I cringe thinking of my mother reading this, and hope my words don’t hurt her feelings. I of course love her and my family very dearly. And of course southern California will always be “home” to me.) But I crave my sense of freedom and independence that Spain brought. To me, that was my new home.

So while I’ve been filling my time with lots of long awaited catch-up time with friends that have been so lovely, I’ve also being keeping busy with things that I know don’t matter in the long run, going out, drinking more often that I normally would, shopping, boys, and other distractions that I know are ultimately not high on my priority list, but they keep me from losing my mind so far.

I know I’ll adjust. But right now, I feel adrift.

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There was a breezy happiness that filled my days in Spain. Life was simple. My town was tiny. I mean, I had like, 4 friends. But it was enough. Coming home to all the relentless stimulation is a little exhausting, people do so much here all the time. And all that is great, I enjoy all that stuff… but sometimes it’s nice to just sit, chat, do nothing, and enjoy it.

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Or ya know, just sleep in 🙂

As I’m writing this entry even, I have nothing to do, not immediately at least, but there’s a long list of things I could be doing that gives me just that itch of anxiety. In my head, there is always something more productive I could be doing in California. In Spain, that anxiety was nonexistent.

In Spain I couldn’t hide from who I was. And once I recognized who I was inside, it became easier to try to accept and change who I was and wanted to be. I’m still working on it.

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I knew that it would be hard to continue my “off the beaten path” path, but fuck, sometimes it’s tough to stick to your guns.

I sent in all my paperwork to South Korea today (I’m really going!! Eek!) and I went to my Dad’s house to print and copy some stuff, and when he asked me how I was doing I just broke down in tears. I’m not complaining, I know I don’t have real problems, I know I’m crazy lucky and I’m really excited about my new adventure, but I also freaking scared. I’m going to ASIA. (AHHH!) And now that I have my job lined up, in my head I’m like, “Wait, I didn’t want to leave so soon. There’s still people I want to spend time with here.”

I know that the scared feeling will pass. This is how I felt before I left for Spain, so it’s familiar. I’m aware that I’ll probably be depressed the first month or so in Korea because it will be harder than Spain. Then I’m sure I’ll love it. If I were going back to Spain I’d be kicking back, cool as a cucumber. I’ve done Spain. Spain and I are homies now. It’s familiar and comfortable. Korea is all foreign, it’s a language I never dabbled in in high school, and it’s people I look nothing like.

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I’ll stand out and it’ll feel like the anomaly, because I will be. But that’s what I wanted, I wanted to push myself.

Sometimes I think about, why I am doing this? I know I once wanted this with all my whole being. But now that I’m home and realizing I have to leave so much sooner than I had anticipated, sight of my goal is becoming foggy. I worry, am I only doing this because I’ve finally found something I’m good at? Something that people admire me for? Does that intangible approval from others give me a sense of accomplishment that ultimately will not fulfill me?

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And then I strain to remember the times in Spain when I had no care for what others thought, when I was so happy and away from everything, away from media and stimulation, and knew, knew in my heart of hearts, that Korea was what I wanted. I’ve always been interested in things I know little about. Asia is different. That appeals to me. It would be easier, more exciting for everyone else if I went back to Spain, like I’ve said, Europe is cooler, and give everyone who said they wanted to visit and never did another change to go. Or move to Italy, my other back up plan. Not many people are stoked that I’m going to Korea. This is clearly my own choice.

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And then I also think, am I doing Korea because I feel like I have nothing else to be proud of besides traveling and working abroad? Am I choosing hard, off the grid choices because I want to keep succeeding in the seemingly only thing career-wise that makes me special? Is that narcissistic of me to even have these thoughts? Why do I deserve to feel special? Do I want to do this only so that I can prove to myself that I can, so that I can build my confidence in a most extreme way? By throwing myself into a completely foreign ocean and letting myself flounder until I learn to swim?

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Friends often tell me that I’m brave, but I’m really not. I’m just chasing this thing that makes me feel alive. What would be brave of me is to go back to school, hunker down, and study my ass off. I’m interested in so many things! Because I know I’m smart enough, I’m just not sure I’m self-disciplined enough to pull it off. School was hard for me. And it was hard for me to finish. I don’t want to go back and fail at it. I also don’t want to go back to school then graduate just to decide I want to move abroad again, and then be ball-and-chained to my student loans and unable to leave again.

And then between all this I have moments of happiness and excitement and I can’t wait to be free again! Small moments, sandwiched between the self-doubt, barely squeezing through.

the bod.

At the tail end of Spain I’m the heaviest I’ve been in over a year. I’ve always been a proponent of trying new foods and living for the moment. So because of my yolo diet I’ve gained about 10 lbs. And you know what? I’m not that mad about it.

At home I probably would’ve tried to hide it, but here I don’t mind, and nobody else seems to either. I’ve gained what I like to call, my Spanish curves. And who doesn’t love a solid woman.

But you know what the worst part is? I worry a little bit about the reaction I’ll get from people when I go back home… I’m worried that I’ll slowly lose my new-found security once I return to California. The land of the skinny and pretty, and everyone is obsessed with being young. I guess I’d prefer to be a little more toned, but since living in Spain for the first time in my life….

I don’t feel like I need to be smaller.

I mean, how can you resist!?

You’re in Rome, and there’s pasta, I mean, how can you resist!?

And when you live in a society where thin and waif-like are considered beautiful, I’d say that’s a pretty big feat.

I’m home now, adding, deleting, editing this post that I began writing months ago in my old home in Garrucha. And as I’m writing it, as much as I’d love to say that I’m not influenced by the media’s standards anymore, I am. I can already feel the influence of being home in Southern California pulling, nagging at me, ‘be skinnier, exercise more, etc etc’… And to be honest it’s a struggle to maintain my mental ground. But I’m trying because I know it’s for my best my mental health, and I’m aware.

I’ve lived in a foreign country, traveled new lands, and seen places so beautiful that I’ve actually been rendered speechless, and I’m really proud of these things because I’ve learned so much in the process. Because of my capable healthy body I have been able to live this out. Because of my haggard, sometimes dirty, and tan-lined feet I was able to do these things. I used to think my feet were, ya know whatever. Nothing to be proud of, but now I think they’re sort of beautiful, they’ve did me well and they’ve walked a lot of places, which I think is really cool. I actually like my sandal tan lines, because each time I notice them I’m reminded of my last trip, to Madrid where they started showing, before I moved home. I went solo (My second solo trip! Yes, go me!) and I couldn’t have been happier or more at peace in my life than those last 5 days. I met wonderful people who made me laugh and shared my curiosity for the world, and I feel in love with a beautiful city that was full of life. One day I spent so long in the Prado museum that my feet couldn’t take it anymore, I had to go sit outside and give them a break. But they took me there, and I’m glad for it.

I’ve been enjoying life these past 8 months living life in a beautiful setting. My eyes have never felt more open, more aware of what a lush, boundless place our Earth is, and full of endless curiosities waiting to be discovered.

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So, thank you body, for being the vehicle to do things I’ve only ever imagined.

I noticed that when I started embracing my grown self it helped that I was removed from the whole skinny-is-better thing. When you’re away from the overt media stimulation it suddenly becomes easy to forget about size and focus on things that really matter. Like maybe just going for a run for the endorphins it gives you. Sheesh, what a novel idea! When you don’t have super models parading down a runway on TV in their underwear, or tabloids with unrealistic ideals of what the female body should look like plastered on magazine covers, it helps.

It helps a lot.

watching the sunrise in Alicante, laughing our butts off :)

watching the sunrise in Alicante, laughing our butts off over who knows what 🙂

Living in a small town with two insanely intelligent roommates also helped a lot, and was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I’ve never had such interesting conversations on such a regular basis.

Who knew thinking was so entertaining!?

We’re each very different people, but we had a few key things in common. Respect for one another, and a killer sense of humor.

My one roommate in particular and I have had some really great conversations about women, human rights, sexuality, and what it means to be a women and equal and liberated in today’s world. With her wealth of knowledge about feminism, and my attitude toward sexual and female liberation comes these really thought-provoking conversations about progressive gender norms, the lines that are drawn for us, and even the lines we draw for ourselves.

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It’s funny how much we’re all afraid of change. I was scared before my move abroad that Spain would change me. I’d grown to like who I was and was proud of what I’d accomplished in life.

College was a long road for me, I’ve always loved to learn, but school has never been my strong suit. I stuck with it because I knew how important it was, and I knew I couldn’t quit if I wanted to live with myself. Eventually I graduated with a degree in a major that I’m passionate about. Afterwards I went on to corporate life and did well, granted I didn’t love working behind a desk, but I felt valued, enjoyed working hard and the rewarding feeling it gave me, and even grew to love the comfortable  that my 9 to 5 routine provided. I suddenly realized that I could do this, I could do the adult thing. I could take care of myself, have the nice, normal amenities everyone else has and be totally independent. I felt was keeping up with everyone, I had the life thing down and it felt very satisfying. I was really happy. For a girl my age I honestly felt like I had it all.

But there was always that one thing inside me that desired an alternative path… Cue Spain.

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When I arrived in Garrucha, I was terrified. I had just given up everything I had worked so hard for to feel like a scared little fish out of water in my new surroundings. I was really depressed for my first two weeks, I remember thinking, “so this is how people go crazy.” I suddenly had empathy for people who went nuts. I felt I could relate to Amanda Bynes and Britney Spears’ mental breakdowns. Wtf!

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My point is that living in Spain really put things in perspective for me. I learned that looking the part doesn’t make you happy, having more of anything doesn’t make you happy. Having a bigger wardrobe, a boyfriend, better make-up, prettier hair, or being skinnier will not make you happy. I’ve lived this out. I know this for certain.

I was the fattest and happiest in my middle-of-nowhere-town than I had ever been in my entire life.

I made less money, had fewer friends, less clothes, less shoes, got less haircuts, sure as hell didn’t get my nails done, and rarely bought things I didn’t need. Besides eating out. Something I could only enjoy in the fleeting moment. I couldn’t bring that home, but I felt that was something I could afford.

What that gave me was moments of happiness, trying new foods, enjoying conversation with friends, a reason to explore new places in town, things that add to my personal well-being.

Anyways, living in Garrucha was the best thing that ever happened to me. And that may sound dramatic but I mean it whole-heartedly. Because of Garrucha and everything that came along with it I’ve never felt more comfortable in my own skin. I grew to love myself makeup free. I don’t blow dry my hair with percision anymore. Nowadays I even embrace my natural waves. And I used to wish to God I had long straight hair, now I actually like my weird, medium length curls.

I also used to wear makeup every single day because I felt like I had to compete with everyone else.

(Oh and how perfect that I quoted this in my last post, “Girls are raised to see themselves as competitors, not for jobs or accomplishments…” -Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie…. I’m aware this is not true for everyone, but I would say its a standard cultural norm in the United States.)

I used to feel pressure to be pretty and skinny because I thought that’s how you get a boyfriend which is how you get proposed to so you can get married and that’s obviously the goal here because that’s what everyone else seems to think is the key to happiness! And now I know, that’s not true!

It feels so liberating!

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Sure, I liked who I was before. But now when I look back, I’m like, thank goodness I DID change! Not that I was incredibly stupid or a bad person before, or that I’m sooo amazing now either. But wow, what a difference a year in Spain makes. A little change can do you good!!

I don’t want to be what everyone thinks I should be. I want to be who I want to be. Because that’s more important than anything… And in my opinion, a few curves is a sign of a life well lived.

“Sometimes I have to remind myself I don’t have to do what everyone else is doing.”

Right before I moved abroad people suddenly began making it abundantly clear how excited they were for me to find a dude. In Europe. Because, you know, that’s why I’m going.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard, ohhh you’re going to fall in love!

Which, okay, cool, thanks, I’m glad you want that for me… but someone tell me…

So why is it that when a man sets off to travel we praise his bravery, independence and sense of adventure, but when a woman leaves to live in Europe we romanticize how she’ll be swept off her feet? Sure, she’s also brave, independent and adventurous, but it’s celebrated less.

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What gives!?

Don’t get me wrong, falling in love is an amazing thing! I am in no way running away from that. I love to be in love! I day dream, I’m human. But what does bother me is that the first and most exciting thing that comes to mind in a woman’s travels is romance. Sure I love the attention of a smart, funny man, believe me, I do! But isn’t it okay to want other things for myself too? And maybe even more?

I love this quote by Dr. Seuss. I know, I know, it’s from a kid’s book, but it’s really relevant! I don’t want to sit in one place forever. I’m aware that living in one location your whole life is a-okay, there is nothing wrong with that at all. But knowing that my way of life back home is not the only way of life, and with my innately curious nature that seems to be inherent to my being, I desire to experience cultural avenues different than that I was born into.

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A friend of mine recently got me listening to Beyonce’s new album (Yeaaah Bey!) and I was blown away by an excerpt Beyonce included in one of her songs from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech titled “We Should All Be Feminists.” I identified with it. A lot. And don’t misunderstand me. I’m not some overly bitter female picketing for women’s rights all the time, but it’s still a thing. And I’m aware of it. Anyways, this is what she says:

“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls: You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise, you will threaten the man. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now, marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage
and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors, not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”

Before I moved to Spain I struggled a lot with the idea of marriage as this huge life goal that I needed to start working towards. I was 27 years old, I had better get a move on! Not because my parents told me that, and not even because I particularly wanted to be married with kids anytime soon, but because that was the ideal I was continuously exposed to.

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You always hear, I don’t know from where, but from somewhere, that women begin dreaming of their wedding day since they’re little girls.

And then there was little me, dreaming of being the next Harriet the spy and building a treehouse in my backyard. Haha. Needless to say, it’s conflicting.

There have been times that I’ve thought, “maybe everyone else knows something that I don’t.” Maybe getting married is the obvious, clear path to a happy life, and maybe I should get on board. Before I moved I had a good job (albeit one that I hated), hilarious friends, a great family, played on a softball team, jogged almost daily, grocery shopped in my yoga pants at Trader Joe’s, and ate healthy. Doing what I thought I “should” be doing.

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It wasn’t until I did something outside the normal path that I regained awareness of what I’ve always wanted. Culture, travel, variety, exposure to realms outside my own. Being in Spain, away from so much influence, has reminded me that marriage is not my #1 goal in my life. And I don’t think it ever has been. My parents never told me I should be married by a certain age, and never ask when I think I’ll start popping out kids. And I thank my lucky stars for being born to such accepting humans. Sure I want to be in love some day, have children, and provide a happy life for them full of opportunity, but I want other things too.

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And also, just because I don’t have marriage on a pedestal that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy dressing feminine, doing my hair, or feeling pretty. That’s just not all I am about. And I don’t believe that’s all other girls are about either.

I want to learn about the world, to know people different from me on a deeper level, not just by observing and passing through on vacation, but by loving, engaging, asking questions and hearing their thoughts, opinions and beliefs. Opinions and beliefs that maybe I hadn’t thought of before, and possibly don’t even agree with, but are worth hearing nonetheless.

So despite the fact that I haven’t found someone to romance me, (at least not long term- don’t worry, I’ve had my fun!) or zip thru Rome with on a Vespa scooter, this has been the happiest year of my life, and I have found a lot of other very useful things!

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Like self-confidence when traveling alone to foreign countries. My ability in speaking another language. Self-contentment. Packing tips (I know everyone says it and no one listens, but less really is more!) Independence. Peace. New ideas. New ways of looking at life. New faucets of my identify, even. (I didn’t even know I was a feminist until my roommate explained to me what the word feminist meant! Ha! How sad is that!?) Things that I believe are really valuable in leading a happy life.

Things that I don’t know I would have found in a significant other.

And now, whenever I do fall in love next, I’ll be all the more prepared.


Londontown!!

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I have always wanted to do a solo trip and now was my chance! I even had two people tell me, “Oh wow london for the long weekend I want to go with you!” And I flat out told them, “No.”  They can’t come. This is MY solo trip and I’m going it alone! However, I was very tempted to let them join me. I mean, all by myself?? What was I going to do all day? Who would I talk to? Who would I eat and drink with? Well, I wasn’t sure. But I’ve always heard traveling alone is a fantastically  liberating experience and it must be done at some point in your life. And I was hell bent on checking that off my to-do list.

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Last minute a friend of mine offered to set me up with a friend of theirs in London that I could stay with for a few days so that I wouldn’t have to stay in a hostel the entire time. While I do love hostels, they’re cheap, fun, and would’ve actually preferred to stay in one the entire time, London is freaking expensive. Even the hostels, so I thought this would be a great idea to save some money. 2 nights with a buddy, 2 nights in a hostel. How financially responsible of me! WRONG. I thought it’d be fun staying with someone who lives in the city that can show me around a bit, plus I’ll save like $100! A buck is a buck right?! Well, I wish I could go back and pay that 100 bones right now. This person was so annoying and clingy I wanted to bash my head threw a wall. I had established, or so I had thought, how I wanted to spend my time. I would appreciate a little tour guiding but primarily plan on flying solo. Well, lesson learned. And that is, despite that fact that I do enjoy a large portion of the population, some people do bother me. A LOT. Especially know-it-alls who do not, in fact, know much at all. So! Next time, stay in a hostel. Luckily, despite this bump in the road, I was in London, LONDONTOWN!! (Yew sahnd lack yuh from LUN-DUN!! 100 points for whoever gets that reference!) And I was off like Mary Tyler Moore in Central Park, except I was in London, and loving it!

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I have to admit first of all though, I definitely made some mistakes on my first solo trip. I thought I had planned out as much as I could, wrong again. Your to-do list can be a million miles long, mine might have as well have been, but it’ll do you no good unless you figure out which things are near which, well ahead of time, and group them together. (DUH. Face-palm.) Not having a proper map of where all these places were the first few days (since I didn’t stay in a hostel right off) was a huge fail. I went back and forth across the city more times than I’d like to admit hunting down spots I was dead-set on seeing. Another fail was when I ended up taking the tube back to Heathrow on the way back. My flight was so early in the morning that the tube didn’t run early enough to catch my flight in time, so I had to take it the night before, but because it was so late at night, when it came to cash out my oystercard (subway pass that you put $ on to use it) the kiosk thing was already close by the time I arrived to the airport! So I wasn’t even able to get my surplus money back! Lesson learned, splurge for the shuttle and don’t sleep in the airport. Or if you’re going to be that stingy maybe you should pick a cheaper city. (You think!?) London is not the place for saving a buck.

Trafalgar square!

Trafalgar square!

But despite all my fails, I had an incredible time. There is SO MUCH to do and see in London, it’s impossible to fit it all into 4 days. If I stayed for two weeks I still would have wanted to stay longer. What I did see of it though was beautiful and enchanting. The different neighborhoods, the shops, the bars, the food, the markets, the sites. Even the tube was really fun to people watch in. I think I got an abnormal amount of satisfaction coasting along alone in the tube, headphones in, observing the average day commuters.

Borrough Market is full of all different types FOOD! Of course I had to try something I’ve never had before and opted for a kangaroo burger. Yep, kangaroo. And yes I do think they’re cute and cuddly and am all about saving animals, but, I’m all about eating them too. I am the dominate species, therefore, I shall eat you. Haha. IMG_8743

Some of my faves from Camden Lock, Portobello, and Borrough Markets…

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Although, while I fell in love with many parts of London, my travel heart was surprisingly stolen by Trafalgar Square. I know everyone says it’s so touristy, blah blah blah, I know that, and they’re usually right, typically I don’t like the super touristy spots. Because I feel like a cheesy tourist. But I loved it. I thought it was beautiful. Plus there’s this one street at the foot of the square that when you look beyond the foreground you can see Big Ben peaking above the busy streets. It was the first time I’d seen it in person and it felt really special. I actually stood there for a moment and smiled to myself. (I know, I’m a dork.) I took a picture of it while I was standing on a island in the middle of the street, it’s sort of a weird intersection, and it’s my favorite picture from the trip. (It’s also the very first photo I included in this post) I guess because in it you can see the buildings on either side, all the traffic, cabs, buses, a theatre marquis, the quintessential red phone booth, people walking on the sidewalks. It’s perfect!

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Something else that may have swayed Trafalgar as my favorite spot, is that my new favorite museum of all time, The National Gallery, is perched atop it, like the crown jewel it is. Claude, Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Monet, Boticelli, so many incredible artists and really notable pieces are on display here. (Don’t be fooled, I don’t have this good of a memory, I looked all these names up just now because I forget everything!)

And these aren’t even all the ones I loved. There was this one piece by Georges Seurat, and the whole picture is made of little tiny dots. It’s a technique called “stipple.” The painting is of children cooling off next to the Seine river in Paris. It’s mindbending how a person can create something so enormous and beautiful, and makes you sit and stare for awhile. It really captures you. I took my time here, and it was well spent.

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After wandering this grandiosity of a museum, sitting in the middle of Trafalgar square, in one of the most important, coolest cities on the planet, I felt humbled, excited, and inspired. To see places like this, it just ignites your desire to see more of the world. It’s like, “Look how amazing this place is! What else is out there?”

Hyde Park <3

Hyde Park ❤

So now that I’ve talked about a few of my favorite places, I want to talk about some one of my favorite nights.

I met someone in Italy over the holidays who I didn’t get to spend much time with, it was New Year’s Eve, in Rome, and our friends were going separate ways. So we exchanged contact info and kept in touch. Being that he lives in London we met up and went out with his friends in the city. Which sounds average, but being able to step into another group of friends, who live in London, was pretty cool. Usually when you’re traveling you meet odds and ends of people and you sort of wind up forming your own group, so this was a nice departure from that. At home I’m usually the one inviting people to join my crew, being that I had lived there my whole life. So even though it was a little intimidating at first, it was nice being the newcomer. We met his friends in a bar that looked like maybe a barn from back in the day that had been renovated into a dark pub, with low wooden ceilings and old brass fixtures. Super British!

After a few beers we went out to eat in Coven Garden. I remember distinctly a certain moment. Sitting there, everyone chatting easily, leaning back feeling relaxed in my seat, and being so pleasantly surprised how easy everything felt. Their friends laughing casually over various conversations, and lazily holding hands, smiling and talking, with my friend sitting across from me. Just feeling peaceful, really. It kind of reminded me of being home with my own friends. Hanging around, taking our time, cracking up over stupid jokes and things that we tease each other over from years ago.

Before we all said goodnight everyone went to kiss each other goodbye. Some of them, being originally from Italy, went to “dos beso” us all. Well, in Spain, we start on the left. And apparently, as I’ve learned, Italians start on the right! So, I almost kissed like 3 people. Luckily they had a good sense of humor about it!

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My second favorite night was the first night in my hostel. I was so ready to rock out after days of running around, sight seeing, getting lost, and being annoyed with my host, I was ready to go! I made a few friends when I arrived in my room and we decided to check out a Jack the Ripper night tour. Creepy, and so up my alley! So on the walk to meet the tour group of course it starts pouring rain. It was raining so hard that we said screw the tour, lets go get some drinks, round up a fun group at the hostel and hit the pubs! This couldn’t have been a better hostel to meet people. If you ever go to London, do yourself a favor and stay at the Walrus. You’ll be glad you did. The downstairs is full of ottomans and couches made for people to lounge around and mingle in. We met some other girls who lived outside prague and they taught us all a few funny phrases in Czech before we tubed it to Camdentown to find a fun spot for drinks. We hopped around a bit before stumbling into a pub jam-packed with people, the music loud, and the beer-a-flowin’. We probably took one too many shots but we had a ball making new friends and dancing the night away!

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Traveling solo was good for me in so many ways. Not only do I know that I can do it, survive, and be responsible for myself (and if you know who I am, you know that I forget things all the time, and have a bad habit of letting myself be pretty absent-minded when I know that someone else will pick up the slack where I leave off). And even better, that I even have a pretty good time alone. I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Which was pretty liberating. I could wander the museums for as long as I pleased. I went to the British Museum and explored the Asian history section for an hour. I never would have been able to stay that long with anyone but myself. I could just stay in peace. I started talking to this old guy who was gawking over the same intricately built white pot I was gawking over. The pot was made of tiny individual clay leaves, it was beautiful. Small connections like that are what make the days a little extra special when traveling solo.

And while I’m raving on here how great it is to be alone, I have to say there were still moments when I was like, “Dang, I kind of wish I had a buddy for this.” So I have some quirks to work out. But that’s okay. Like staying in a hostel alone, for example, before I got there, I was a little nervous! I had never had to make friends while traveling alone before. While I had enjoyed my time spent with company at this point, I still wanted to go out and have a proper London pub night without someone intending to look after me. I adore my Rome friend and maybe I’ll see him again some day, but there’s a large part of me that really enjoys flying solo. No pun intended. And it’s not that I’m trying to mingle with every hot British guy (then again… I’m not NOT trying to either :P). But I can’t help it, I’m a free spirit, and I don’t like commitment (heck, I’ve been trying to book a flight home for the past two weeks and I just can’t do it! Round trip or not to round trip? How long should I stay after my course is through? What if I want to travel on the way back and fly somewhere else first?). I enjoy the freedom of roaming on my own.

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So while yes, sometimes I’d get nervous, frustrated when lost, and wish I had someone to sit and have a long lunch with at times, I enjoyed the solo moments more than I wished I had a constant companion. Enough to absolutely do it again. And I plan on it. I’ve heard this so many times and it’s so true. You meet so many fantastic people when you’re alone, people that you may not have had the opportunity to otherwise. It’s really, really fun!

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Photo cred: Adele Kohoutova – Vochi picho – “eyes bitch” xo

London left a dent in my heart and I hope that one day I’ll return. I’m sure I’ll still endure a few fails along the way but that’s okay, makes for some good stories and dully noted lessons. After all what good is traveling if you don’t learn a thing or two along the way?

Some Euro adventure and a little write-it-out-therapy for me

Well everybody you were right. I did fall in love in Europe, with the streets of Rome!

Well everybody you were right. I did fall in love in Europe, with the streets of Rome!

I’ve been having trouble lately getting all my thoughts into a cohesive, nicely readable blog post. I have so many of them swimming around in my head that it’s difficult to funnel my words down one trajectory. I’d really like to tell you about my holiday trip. But it’s hard! So, I decided to just give up that notion and write what comes! Bare with me here, it’s going to be a scatterbrained ride.

You can probably guess where this was taken ;)

You can probably guess where this was taken 😉

So first of all, let me just say that I’m sure this isn’t the first time you’ve been told Europe’s incredible, blah blah blah, I know, you’ve heard it. Don’t you hate when people get all superior on you, “You haven’t traveled Europe?? Oh my gawwwddd you haaaave to go!” And you just want to tell them to shove it? I get it. I used to be one of those people. People can get really stuck up with it comes to traveling. It’s like everyone thinks it’s this elite club and everyone loves to one-up each other about how many countries they’ve been to (and since when did travel become about quantity anyways? So NOT the point!), how far off the grid they’ve been and that whole thing, but that’s a whole nother subject, so let’s not get started on that. So, anyways, I know how douchey I’m about to sound right now, so I apologize in advance. Have you ever started a book and after the first page you’re hooked? You have to know more? It’s like when people say, the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. The more I saw the more I wanted to see.

Obviously I’ve been really wanting to post something about my trip. (Dur, ya think!!? It’s only been like 3 months!) Before we set out on our adventure I was still undecided about whether I’d be coming home to the States at the end of the school year. But during those two weeks somewhere along the way those tentative plans fell the wayside. When I returned to Garrucha my attitude had completely changed, hence my now non-existent plans to move home for an indefinite period for a very long time. At least for another year. Maybe two. I know, that’s a heavy statement to make. That must’ve been quite a trip! Well, yes, it was! It was life changing for me.

I read a quote once that says, “traveling is only glamorous in retrospect” and I totally understand that now. Looking back at the photos I feel nostalgic, they make me so happy! All the good times, all the cool unexpected spots. Even looking back on moments of intense frustration now make me laugh. Throwing out your hair spray that you forgot to put in your checked bag. When you arrive in the hostel and think, “Ew.” Or when you’re lost in a new city, and want to cry, because you know that you’re wasting precious time when you could be eating food you’ve never tasted or seeing things you’ve never seen. Oh time, you never have enough.

But then there’s those amazing times that make it all worth it. Dancing with new friends you’ve made in a pub, cheers-ing and spilling your beers, laughing hysterically as you’re twirled around, feeling like a true Gaelic. Seeing a Christmas market for the first time, eyes wide with disbelief that something in real life could look and feels so storybook-esque. Celebrating the new year in a new city with new friends, and it somehow already feeling like you’ve known each other for years. Watching the fireworks light up the Roman sky over the littered plaza, people everywhere. It’s amazing how travel really brings people together, you’re all in the same boat after all, chasing the same goal.

NYE in Roma and bragging rights for life

NYE in Roma and bragging rights for life

It was truly one of the most eye opening experiences of my life. The people, the food, the sites, the silent in-betweens where you catch yourself smiling for no apparent reason besides the simple fact that you’ve just become aware exactly how far this journey has taken you, literally and figuratively, and how lucky you are to be where you’re at. SO LUCKY. And also maybe a little hard work. And whatever I say will never do it justice. So instead of sharing a play-by-play half-assed boring essay about my travels I’ve decided to keep the majority of my memories to myself and share some of my favorite pictures and feelings instead. Because I’ll never be able to say everything exactly the way I want to.

One of my happiest days, NYE, Roma.

One of my happiest days, NYE, Roma.

It’s like trying to describe being in love. Not matter how you describe it nobody will ever get it the way you do. It’s too great and intangible to constrain to words. Not only were the adventures we had worth talking and laughing about for days but they changed me for the better.

The Irish 'hood

The Irish ‘hood

When I went to Dublin I fell in love, I actually thought, how can I move here? How can I make this happen?? I distinctly remember a moment in the airport in Dublin, we were about to fly to Berlin for Christmas, and thinking, I have to come back. I need more time. I have never met so many happy people stuffed into one pretty space in my life. EVERYONE is so happy! And everything is beautiful! I wanted to wrap myself up in the warm memories I made. I couldn’t get enough and I didn’t want to leave.

If I knew I could've gone to college here I'd have tried a lot harder!

If I knew I could’ve gone to college here I’d have tried a lot harder!

And then I went to Rome, and I fell in love even harder. Within hours of arriving I knew I wanted to live there. Every corner I turned I squealed, “Aaaahhoohhmygoddd I’m soooo moving here!” While I was in Italy I bought a keychain, a mint green Vespa scooter, (ha, so original) so that as long as I had the keys to my place I would be reminded daily of my love for Rome. (Which, come to think of it is actually a pretty stupid idea considering I lose so many things regularly, but that’s besides the point) I didn’t want to forget it’s magic.

Just a regular fountain hanging out in Rome that's probably a million years old. NBD.

Just a regular fountain hanging out in Rome that’s probably a million years old. NBD.

Before we left I was already brainstorming in my head different ways I could find a job in precious Roma. “English teacher, private tutor, au pair, bartender, I’ll probably need to learn Italian for that, so factor in language classes…” And once I returned home I immediately began researching jobs in Rome, determined to make it happen, looking up employment agencies, the necessary credentials, anything I could find.

I kept in touch with people I met in Italy and asked their advice. And I emailed a friend of mine who had lived there previously, (Que suerte!) furiously asking her everything and anything that I could think of.

Some of Berlin's beautiful architecture

(Some of Berlin’s beautiful architecture)

Those plans are currently still tentative, but lucky me I have some alternative options that are equalling appealing to think about…

Pearing over the edge, outside the Albertina museum

Pearing over the edge, outside the Albertina museum

Because of Spain my world has expanded tenfold. I can never go back to the person I was before. (Watch out, it’s about to get real deep up in here.) I always knew I wanted a larger lens on life. And not to say that there’s anything wrong with someone who’s happy living in their hometown their whole life, because there’s not. I just needed to leave. A large part of me wishes I could be happy with that, living in one spot with all your loved ones nearby. It seems easier, simpler. And it’s a little ironic I feel this way because I think I’ve lived a less complicated, more simplified life here in Spain, away from everything, than I have ever enjoyed before. Anyways, it just so happened that I craved a different path, and I am lucky to have been in the position to take it.

Ah, will you just look at that!?

Ah, will you just look at that!? Sorrento, Italy

I’m happier with less lately. And in a lot of ways I think that is better.

I used to be afraid that Spain would change me. Before I left, for the most part, I liked who I was. But now I’m so glad that it has. (Ha! Who knew I could get even better??! Haha totally kidding. JK. Calm down. It’s a joke.)

So yes, while I did return home determined to move to Rome, my once set mind has lessened it’s death grip on returning to the motherland. I’m not sure why, I think the only logical reason is that time has passed and it’s been heavily filled thinking about some other equally amazing alternatives for next year. Like possibly teaching in Madrid or South Korea. I’ll be going back to Rome in less than a month (Yeeee!) and I’m really excited to return not only because I get to wander the streets romanticizing about my some-day future and stuff my face full of pasta and gelato again, but also to see if it still has the same effect on me. I planned on making a trip back to be sure it was something I wanted to do. So, we’ll see, I’ll let you know how it goes! But really, who am I kidding I’m sure it’ll be nothing short of amazing. 😉

Austria's Castle grounds, love me some spooky!

Austria’s Castle grounds, love me some spooky!

Anyways, now my heart is pulling me towards South Korea. I know, geez, make up your mind already! I’ve always loved Asian culture, it’s so different than anything I’ve experienced. It’s different than many people have experienced. And I’ve always had pleasant experiences with Asian people. They’ve always been very polite and respectful to me, and have a rich cultural history and strong traditions. Not that Europeans don’t have all this as well, it’s just, again, different. There’s a lot of positive factors in working there besides culture too, like travel opportunities, comfortable lifestyle, financial benefits. This all sounds really boring as I’m rereading it. Haha, sorry if you’re still reading this. But I’ll get into it later. Either way, It’ll be a hard decision.

The breathtaking Teatro di San Carlo in Naples. We saw The Nutcracker here and we both cried. One of those splurges that was worth every penny because I know I'll never get that chance again.

The breathtaking Teatro di San Carlo in Naples. We saw The Nutcracker here, in one of those legit balcony seats with actual chairs that you pull up to the edge to see. Sitting with our chins resting on the ledges the entire time, in awe, I’m also pretty sure we both teared up at some moments. The dancing and the music was so beautiful. One of those splurges that was worth every penny because I know I’ll never get that chance again.

And then there’s part of me that really doesn’t want to leave Spain after only a year. (a YEAR, ha, like it’s not that long, but it really doesn’t seem that long at all, I have 10 more days in March, and once April hits I’ll only have two more months! Waaa!! Don’t make me leave! It’s flown by so fast!) I love Spain! Spain is incredible. The people, their hospitality, the culture, the music, the food, everything. Plus, Andalucia, my autonomous community which spans all of southern Spain is extraordinarily special, it’s probably the most traditionally Spanish area in the country. So I still want more time here. But I’m so impatient that I want to see so much more of the world. Now! I’m also a little afraid that after two years abroad I’ll be tired of the readjustments, and be ready to come home. So I don’t want to regret not spending more time in Spain, or on the other hand not going to Asia when I had the wherewithal to do it.

What if after two years I’m just plain tired??!

I'm sure people have already written books about this place.

I’m sure people have already written books about this place.

And then there’s also a part of me (is this getting so annoying yet or what??) that enjoys having to adjust. (I know, I cried for a week when I got here and now I want to do this again) I’m almost afraid that when I go home and get to speak English all the time again that it’ll be feel too easy! (You mean I don’t have to speak Spanish??) I’m sure it’ll feel really great at first. But I like a challenge. I’ve grown accustomed to having to communicate in Spanish, it’s also kind of fun. Even though I still suck at it, I’m improving slowly. And then maybe I’ll never want to go home. Right now I don’t. At least not for awhile. If I get my TEFL (Teaching English Foreign Language credential) I may be able to find a stable teaching job in a city I love and settle down for a few years. Who says I have to go back permanently at all? Of course I miss my friends and family, but I’ve found that it’s actually possible to make a new life, with technically less and be happy! I have fewer close friends here than I’ve ever had, fewer clothes, fewer plans, everything is less, and what’s really great about having less, is that I feel lighter.

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Something I was telling my roommate the other day, one of the best things about being here, for me, as someone who’s always been so easily influenced, so swayed by what’s better for the group, is that I’m now completely separated from all my old influences. For the first time in my life I don’t care what other people want me to do. And it feels amazing. You want me to come home? Too bad! Haha, joking, but really, I actually don’t care. I love you immensely, with entire my heart and soul, I appreciate all you have done for me, and I still think of you often, but I’m going to go live my life the way I want to live it. Long distance love will have to do.

I have gotten plenty of strange reactions about my interest in South Korea, mostly just, “Why??” And, “How scary!” I’m actually surprising myself with how little I care. My decision is being weighed solely on my own desires, which is a little pathetic how new of a thing this is for me. But hey, better late than never, right?

So many people hyped it up for me that I was afraid Rome couldn't possibly live up to my expectations. But boy, did it ever. Mesmerized.

Till next time Roma. 

To be honest, I think I used to like feeling needed, with it came a sense of security, and that need likely stemming from my own insecurity. But now I don’t have that false security and I’ve grown to love something real and something I can depend on, myself and my freedom. I’ve never felt so free and so happy and content as I do in Spain. It used to scare me a bit, before I had it, that immense freedom, and now I never want to let it go. Instead of just strolling along my path, admiring the view, I am now on my hands and knees pressing my hands deep into the sand, grasping it by the handfuls, curiously feeling and watching the grains file out softly between my fingers, enjoying the sensation.

Perfect setting for a love affair... Ciao bella!

Perfect setting for a love affair… Ciao bella!

Getting sentimental over here… or maybe just mental…

So here I am, sitting on a jam-packed bus to Murcia, as the holidays approach, to meet up with my old roommate from the States, who also happens to be an auxiliar semi-nearby.Tomorrow our winter break begins and we’ll embark on a 16 day vacation going through various awesome places across Europe. This is what I’ve been waiting for, I’ve wanted to travel (and just live in) Europe for so long. But because I’m skipping Christmas and New Years with my friends and family to fulfill this long-awaited goal it comes with a small, bittersweet note. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sad, I’m still glad I’m here. Before coming to Spain, for some reason, I actually didn’t think I’d feel homesick around the holidays. And I’m not. But today I’ve been feeling nostalgic thinking about what’s going on back in Cali without me.

And now I’m smushed on this smelly, hot bus, fighting back tears, trying to keep my eyes on the ceiling so that my tears don’t fall down my cheeks. So that I don’t feel embarrassed if anyone sees me, and so that I don’t make these nice, normal people who just want to get home for the holiday, uncomfortable and feel bad for me.

My dad just texted me, something like, ‘it’s okay to feel homesick, you’ve chosen this life of adventure, living a life that most people will never have the opportunity to choose, and sometimes it comes with an emotional price.’ And probably something else encouraging. Anyways, all that is true. I’m doing this because I love it.

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The juice is worth the squeeze.

Sometimes when tears come it’s not even that I feel sad, per se, it’s just this particular pang that strikes in my gut when I think about the warmth I’m missing at home.

Sometimes it’s just nice to be in the midst of familiar, the love that is my unconventional family. My Uncle Kevin saying, “Hey Hill” when I come into his kitchen, he’s called me Hillary for as long as I can remember, it started as a joke to tease me as a child, and it just stuck. My mom saying, “my little loved one!” when I walk through the door, and the way she smiles at me so big with her squinty eyes when she’s happy to see me, and hugs me tight. My Uncle Steve making jokes about our crazy family. I’ll miss playing the handslap game with my Uncle Michael, catching up with my Aunt Lois and little cousins, grandparents. And my mom and Aunt Val reminiscing about Friday night dinners when they were kids at my great grandma’s house. The Jewish/Greek/Spanish food she would make, boyoos, travados, pastelli’s, lots of rice I think.

And then just holding my Grandma’s hand, her old skin, soft and pliable, showing her years. I miss her hands. We’ve always held hands. Even the sound of her voice is the sweetest, happiest sound. I always love sinking into my Grandma’s couch, and snuggling up next to her. Even at 28 years old, and just talking about whatever. When I was a kid, her and I used to make cookies, chocolate chip of course, god this memory sounds so cliche as I’m typing it, but we really did this! She picked me up from school every wednesday and at least every couple months or so we’d make cookies. It was our thing. She would get out this little wooden stool and put it next to the counter so that I could reach, and I would step up, ready to work. And by “work” I mean stir a little bit and eat all the dough. Some things never change.

I miss my weird friends. I miss doing Amanda’s hair and her always being amazed at how good it looks even though I barely touch it, haha it’s totally in her head that I’m a good hairstylist. Sitting at her parents house sinking into her comfy couch after some sango sushi, watching reality tv and getting way too into it. I miss dancing like an idiot in my kitchen with Grant and Lauren laughing at us before we go out. Going for beach runs on my boardwalk on Sunday mornings, hungover or not. It was the best. And stopping to take pictures on the extra beautiful days. Which was actually pretty often. I miss Ken and Eric calling me Rachy, Ken’s laugh, his stories, the way Eric’s tongue sticks out a little when he laughs, haha it’s great. And hugs, I miss hugs. Megane Pickle and Jimmy Montanez give the best hugs ever. If I could give them an award I would. I can’t think of anything more comforting. Maybe just talking to Jimmy after a long night, or even before it’s begun, and just know that I am being understood. That I can say anything and he just gets it. I miss Gracie and laughing so hard that I’m either screaming or completely silent because I’m laughing so, damn, hard. You know that part in bridesmaids when Kristen Wiig is giving her speech at the engagement party and talks about communicating with just a look? We actually do that.

I miss walking into my Dad’s office and hearing “Hey RB”, or showing up at home at my mom’s house unannounced and always hearing, “Oh my loved one!’ And then her saying something about not to let the cats out. Haha I know, random. I had it pretty damn good at home. I knew it then, but I didn’t REALLY know it. I remember thinking, I know I’m lucky, and I feel lucky, but I need to really feel it more I think. While I love Spain and I wouldn’t trade this experience for literally anything in the world (I honestly can’t think of anything I would trade it for. Even love. Maybe. I’m not sure. I think that because I have experienced this now, I will be a better partner in life, better when I am in love whenever that happens. I always wanted to see more first, collect more experiences, and have them on my own.) it really gives you perspective. I’m sure being anywhere really far away from home in a town that is drastically different than where you grown up will do that to you. Anyways, despite the fact that sometimes life here can be difficult at times, and sometimes feels as regular as it did back home, I can do things here I would never have access to at home. Like meeting new people and experiencing their culture, learning a new language, taking horseback riding lessons for half the price, learning to dance flamenco, and traveling all over this part of the world. Not to rub it in, but, I am SO glad that I get to do this.