Running through airports and other ways I’ve managed to avoid the gym (and blogging) while abroad

Below are a few of the reasons why I’ve waited so long to post since I’ve been abroad.

  1. I got trapped in the bathroom of my flat and am now making a short, comedic film about the experience as a final class project.
  2. I’ve begun to use the word flat. And cheers. And I replace “excuse me” with “sorry” in an uncomfortably Canadian accent.
  3. I spend 30% of my day avoiding getting hit by a double decker bus.
  4. I have not yet found Kate. Or William. Or Harry. Royal or Styles.
  5. EasyJet and the other sketchy budget airlines I’ve been flying will charge you for checked luggage so no laptop on weekend trips. Or near the amount of shoes I wish could come along.
  6. I am interning at Edspace and each day is a new opportunity to nerd out and love education technology. And startups. And free breakfast Thursdays.
  7. Contrary to popular belief, the word “study” isn’t silent in the term “study abroad” therefore homework is a thing and so are midterms.
  8. It takes way too long to cross roads. Even Abbey Road, shockingly.
  9. I spent two weeks recovering from consuming my weight in tapas and sangria in Barcelona.
  10. I am still recovering from Copenhagen.
  11. I spent 47 hours in Paris, 5 of them at Paris Fashion Week. The rest were spent gnawing on a baguette under the Eiffel Tower like the true tourist I am.
  12. I lost too many euros at the casino in Monte-Carlo.
  13. I spend more time planning travel than I do sleeping. But not more time than I spend eating.
  14. I take too long in Tesco because decisions are hard and the wine aisle is fairly long.

Insert where you will a lot of sightseeing, probably too much karaoke (if there’s such a thing), tea, and perfectly spontaneous adventures and you have the last two months or so of my life in London.

As decisions about summer time pass by and plans for next fall begin to unfold, I did want to share just one thing, specifically to anyone who is uncertain or torn between the idea of living and studying somewhere else for however long.

Do it.

It’s terrifying, especially when you do it alone as I have. Your heart will break and your life will change and you will become someone you didn’t really know you could. You will miss home. You will miss your people and your place in the lives of those people. But when you set out for yourself, I mean truly get on a plane and fly thousands of miles away with only the knowledge of a few first names and an address of your flat, you will understand independence. I don’t mean independence in the way you can function free of your parents or like, practice basic survival. I mean independence in the way that you answer to no one other than yourself. You come first. It feels so incredibly selfish to type that but it’s true. Being alone abroad is one of the most autonomous experiences we college students are privy too. Even at our home universities, unknowingly, we answer to our friends, roommates, colleagues, classmates and everyone in between. Without always realizing it, we become who we surround ourselves with.

It doesn’t always hold you back. It sometimes pushes you forward. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by a sorority of women, group of friends and organization of creatives at school that push me forward. But for a semester, for a few short months, I haven’t defined myself by the organizations I am a part of or the people I spend my time with. I am simply, awkwardly, unapologetically, me.

And the beautiful thing is, you don’t end up alone for very long. You meet so many new people. And suddenly you’ll know with great certainty, that wherever life takes you after graduation, you’ll be just fine. And you will thrive.

So if you can, for a few weeks or months, go. Go explore what it means to be you in a different culture and a different context. Pet reindeer in Scotland or attend foreign conferences in a new industry. Do things you’d never do. Be the person you never knew existed. It’s cheesy and I feel like some of this is hanging on a poster somewhere in your school’s study abroad office but it’s the honest truth.

And as for my retellings of happenings abroad, like figuring out how to order the right coffee, my internship, the cute old couple we encountered near Stonehenge, tube ride thoughts, the places in the prints I’ve purchased on weekend travels, and the little pieces of history along the way, stay tuned. I have bigger ideas than a WordPress page.

Cheers,

 

The girl with the basic rib cage tattoo

My nostrils flared at the smell of antiseptic and latex. I swiped to unlock and re lock my phone, over and over again to stare at the picture on my screen. I looked at the girl behind the computer’s hands. I’d never seen black latex gloves before and they were making me awkwardly nervous. Then again, I’d never been in a tattoo shop before, either, and that was definitely making me nervous.

Even though I was an adult, I felt like I was doing something horribly wrong by sitting in the cracked leather chair, watching as a woman I had met only moments before printed out an image that would remain on my body forever. It felt rebellious. It felt risky. It felt crazy. It felt like something my mom was supposed to ground me for. 

What was I doing? I hadn’t woken up on that Tuesday morning and decided that I would get a tattoo. I had thought about it. I had searched and searched for the right one. But for someone who has been described as “the party platter appetizer of indecision”, I knew it would be a long time before I’d pick the perfect one. 

Yet here I was, sweating, shaking and about to be pierced with a needle by a stranger. As the tattoo artist held up the blue inked stencil she’d whipped up, my eyes widened. This was real. 

I’d always known I wanted a rib cage tattoo. The placement of the little picture was never the issue. I pointed to my right side and she placed the stencil on my skin. I then forced the poor girl to remove it, wash my skin and put it somewhere else three times. This took longer than the actual tattooing. 

Finally, I said fuck it, let’s do this. She pricked my skin with the needle, minus the ink, because I’m pretty sure she knew how terrified and uncertain I was. I passed the test because she dipped it in black ink and away she went. 

I let the buzz of the needle drown out the itchy, uncomfortable twing that tattooing gives you. It’s not painful in the classical pain sense. It’s just flat out annoying. I dug my nails into the padded table and listened intently as the artist attempted conversation with me. I think she asked me about Jimmy Kimmel after I said I was a journalism major. In that moment, I had no idea who Jimmy Kimmel even was. 

Keep in mind that this entire time, my bladder was exploding. I think that was more painful than the tattoo needle. I nodded and squeaked acknowledgement to her as she drew on me, as I was incapable of real words. Or obviously recalling an episode of Kimmel. 

Then it was over. Ten minutes. That was all. I hopped up and looked into the mirror and there it was. A small Celtic trinity knot etched into my skin. It was so simple. Delicate, even. 

The artist placed a piece of sticky plastic over the tattoo and I watched it fill with blood. This is normal, she said. I paid her too much money and sat back down on the cracked leather couch. 

What the hell had I just done? 

A Celtic knot symbolizes the interconnectedness of all things. The trinity part represents the three corners of life; the mind, body and spirit.

For me, it’s a symbol I’ve seen since I was a child. For me, it’s my family’s roots. For me, it’s comfortable.

But the idea of a tattoo is not.

For an indecisive free spirit, permanence is not comfortable. It’s terrifying, actually. The act of tattooing is one of the most permanent things there is.

When a husband tattoos his wife’s name on his body somewhere, it’s forever. If and when their marriage ends in divorce, that tattoo is still there. It’ll last longer than their love did.

I will change my hair color. In fact, I already have since then. My style of clothing will change. My job will change. My home will change. My skin will get wrinkly and my eyes will get baggier. But that little mark on the right side of my rib cage will remain.

It might fade a bit but it will never completely disappear. It’s more permanent than anything in my entire life as of now.

It’s my interesting fact during awkward ice breakers. It’s my unbelievable truth in two truths and a lie. It’s my little piece of actualized rebellion. It’s also ridiculously basic.

And that’s where my love affair with rebellion begins and ends.

 

 

Curiosity saved the college student

As children we ask questions. 

What does this mean?

Why is the sky blue?

Where are we going?

Are we there yet?

Why are your legs hairy?

Why aren’t your legs hairy?

Why do people die?

And a slew of other zany and uncomfortable inquiries adults around us gawked at or were annoyed by. We’d get half assed answers or too-complex-for-our-derpy-five-year-old-brains-to-comprehend responses.

But we were asking questions.

We were also making magic. We are the Harry Potter generation, after all.

We had imaginary friends, careers, and ideas. But to us they weren’t imaginary. We believed we were doctors because we had stethoscopes around our necks and we were pop singers because we had a working microphone in our hands.

We built forts and played adventurers. Make-believe was all we believed in.

Now we’re adults (ish) and we are the ones blowing off questions and lacking the desire to formulate answers anymore. We are the ones annoyed with the simple curiosities and wonder we once had as kids.

We stopped building forts. We decorate our dorms and rooms, sure, but it’ll never be quite the same. We aren’t pop singers. We aren’t doctors (well some of us are kudos to you all).

We’re just trying to graduate and get a job. We don’t have time for magic and make-believe.

In her doodled, scribbled and beautiful childhood essay, What It Is, Lynda Barry writes about this very phenomenon.

“One by one most kids I knew quit drawing and never drew again. It left behind too much evidence.”

It wasn’t on purpose. It wasn’t because we wanted to. It’s because curiosity doesn’t live on college campuses the way it did in the forts we built as children.

Walk into any undergraduate lecture hall and no one, save the maybe lone, brave soul, is asking questions let alone drawing. That’s for art majors. They’re the only ones who can draw.

We bubble in scantron answers we’ve memorized because that’s how you maintain a GPA. We write essays we don’t believe in. We do presentations on subjects we don’t care about.

This is necessary to some degree. We learn how to be a functional student in elementary and grammar school by dipping our toes in different subjects, often finding ones we don’t like and have to discuss anyways.

Somewhere along the way, we were told to become smaller to fit inside the box we’d have to check on our college application forms when selecting a major. We saw the people around us doing the same thing. We all got smaller together so no one seemed to.

It’s funny, though. Isn’t this when the world is supposed to be getting bigger and our dreams wilder?

But why are we still doing this at the college level? Why have we not earned the freedom to explore? Didn’t we prove to an admissions council we were already good students? Why are we still being taught how to be students? Why aren’t we teaching and learning our own versions of magic? Why do I have to leave my curiosity at home?

I started asking these questions when curiosity forced me into a major with no barriers or borders. Curiosity writes words on paper and types it into posts like this one because I never quite know where combinations of 26 letters will take me. Curiosity brought me out of my comfort zone. Over and over again and I found magic there. Curiosity saved this college student.

I can’t create in lecture halls. I can’t ask questions in them. I can’t keep my curiosity safe there, either.

All too often, the instructor is talking at us, not with us. They aren’t asking for our thoughts or ideas. They aren’t finding our passions. Sometimes, they aren’t even sharing theirs. But they still call this teaching. 

And we still call it learning.

 

 

When one door closes another one is, well, still closed

Sarah Paulson recently did an interview with GQ magazine on succeeding too early in your career. My initial thought was, don’t worry Ms. Paulson, I’m definitely not.

The bolded interview headers were witty, to the point and entirely too relatable. From “don’t keep calm, but carry on” to “true success is: naps”, Paulson really hits the nail on the head when it comes to navigating this weird idea of success.

Her first point struck a chord with me.

Start Out Disappointed If at All Possible

If my career had turned out like the fantasy I had of what it was going to be, it would never have made me happy. But I couldn’t have known that until it didn’t happen. I found a success that is so much bigger and deeper and better, and it’s because it happened later. If any of what I’m having happen now—the successes—would have happened to me when I was younger, I would have been ruined. Because when you’re young, and things come super easily to you, and you have success right out of the gate, you’re liable to think that’s how it actually works. You start to think you don’t need to be fully prepared or committed to have these things meet you.

I think as a junior in college, I have this wacky notion that everything I touch or write my name on is going to magically spin itself into gold. And it’s just not.

Journalists and writers have consistently planted into my head the idea that I’m going to have to suffer through a lot of no’s and shut downs before someone actually gives me a chance. Not everything I write is going to speak to someone. Not everything I think is going to ignite a flame in someone else.

Writers sometimes have massive egos and are incredibly self centered. We write essays, manuscripts, blog posts (just like this one), etc. hoping that it’ll touch another heart. But at the end of the day, we write for ourselves.

Trying to share this kind work is painstakingly difficult. It’s personal, it’s raw and real. When it is forced against the cold hand of rejection, well, it’s devastating. But we have to share our words. If we don’t, we’re all just losers hiding in dark rooms, listening to George Ezra while eating peanut butter and rewriting the same few paragraphs seven times (at least I am, anyways).

I want to make sense of the next two ish years of college I have left to navigate through. I don’t mean make a plan or have a narrow path I stick to. Instead, I want to brew ideas and watch them erupt into unimaginable opportunities. It’s an obnoxiously vague declaration but what is so beautifully terrifying about being vague is that you never know where it’s going to take you.

I do not measure my success in terms of GPA or how “hard” my class load seems. I measure my current success by the distance I travel outside of “the norm”. College is one big step/trip/fall out of your comfort zone, after all.

I’ve handed out twelve business cards in the last two weeks. Each unique business card handed out has a conversation attached to it. Each missing card from my stack means I swallowed my fear, marched up to someone and engaged in a conversation that was deemed meaningful enough for that person to want my email address.

This school opens an incredible amount of doors for me, but it is still my responsibility to introduce myself and step through them. Sometimes I’m delighted by what’s on the other side. And sometimes, I’m asked to turn around and walk back out while letting it shut behind me.

That’s where I think all of this success shenanigans that everyone talks about is hiding; behind closed doors. And even when one closes and you’re walking away wondering how anyone finds success or pissed that you tripped over the Welcome mat, just remember there’s another one. And another one. And they might not even have dangerous Welcome mats. But they might also be locked sliding glass doors. That you might run into. And break your nose.

 

 

 

Why I Am Still Going Abroad

Fear cannot reduce my wanderlust.

In light of the recent attacks in Paris, Beirut, Kenya, and other beautiful places around the world, I pushed the thought of studying abroad next fall to the back of my mind. Heightened threats have begun to plague airports, delay flights, and require the presence of the FBI and the bomb squad. Malls do not spread the same holiday spirit as they did last year. Increased security in targeted major cities, although necessary, is creating the unsettling feeling that disaster is imminent and life may change at any instant.

I have never feared flying. I have flown over the Atlantic and around the United States but I have never feared my life ending up in the air at the hands of those who wish pain on innocent lives. I was just a little kid when 9/11 took place and until quite recently, never felt the effect that terrorism really does have. I’ve been to Paris. I’ve stood on the Champs Elysees, eaten in its restaurants, traveled down the Seine, and met its people. I’ve learned the French language and studied France’s culture and history. I’ve dreamed of the day that I would get to go back and experience different avenues of its beauty and magic.

In light of the recent attacks in Paris, Beirut, Kenya, and other beautiful places around the world, I pushed the thought of studying abroad next fall to the back of my mind. Heightened threats have begun to plague airports, delay flights, and require the presence of the FBI and the bomb squad. Malls do not spread the same holiday spirit as they did last year. Increased security in targeted major cities, although necessary, is creating the unsettling feeling that disaster is imminent and life may change at any instant.

I have never feared flying. I have flown over the Atlantic and around the United States but I have never feared my life ending up in the air at the hands of those who wish pain on innocent lives. I was just a little kid when 9/11 took place and until quite recently, never felt the effect that terrorism really does have. I’ve been to Paris. I’ve stood on the Champs Elysees, eaten in its restaurants, traveled down the Seine, and met its people. I’ve learned the French language and studied France’s culture and history. I’ve dreamed of the day that I would get to go back and experience different avenues of its beauty and magic.

I came across a quote not too long ago that reads “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world” (Mary Anne Radmacher). It’s true. I am not the same after experiencing other worlds and other cultures. And I’ll probably never be the same again. If I stay in the same place for the rest of my life, I will never know adventure. I will never understand the world I wish to write about. Instead of living in fear, I will be living in regret and I’m not quite sure which is worse. So, despite my worries and my uncertainty, I am still going to study abroad.

I did not know anyone affected by the attacks. But I want to. I want to share their stories and understand what is happening on the other side of the world. If I stay here, I will never have that chance. I refuse to allow fear to dictate my life. Anxiety over things I’ve never even experienced will not keep me stationary. Instead, it will inspire my movement and form the basis for this career I want to pursue. Terrorism wins if we let it rule the course of our lives. I will not surrender my wanderlust to those who desire terror. You shouldn’t, either.

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Home won’t always be your childhood house

And that’s okay.

As I made the three-hour trek back to Iowa City on Monday morning after a long weekend spent with my family, the familiar lyrics of Phillip Phillips’ song Home spewed from my car’s radio. As a freshman, I found the drive back to school to be daunting. Back I go to midterms, homework, papers, a part-time job, and all sorts of responsibilities. Great. I often questioned why I ever chose to go to school so far away from mom hugs, my queen sized bed, and Portillo’s. Why trade all of that in for a lofted bed, a heavy class load, and a dining hall, far-from-Chicagoan pizza?

As time passed at school, I started to understand how incredible the choice I had made really was. The beauty about growing up and going away to college is that you will begin to love people in other places. Those whom you treasure will no longer all live in the same area. Some are at your school, some are in your hometown, and some are scattered around the country and even overseas. This idea has forced me to realize that sometimes living out of a messy duffle bag beats living out of a neat dresser. Home can become a person or many people. It can become a feeling felt in many different places. Don’t be afraid to venture off to find that because home doesn’t only have to be your childhood house.

Now, as I stumble my way through sophomore year, I am beginning to understand that my definition of home is changing. Living off campus has allowed me the freedom to create my own space. There are no authoritative parents or RAs to enforce a curfew or extinguish my love of burning fall scented candles. I am responsible for myself and my own well-being. Everything in my apartment feels comfortable because I put it there. I decide which shelf my K-cups sit on. I decide which blanket I sleep with or if the windows stay open or closed. This tiny little nook is completely tailored to how I want to live.

Sure, my apartment doesn’t have mom hugs and it isn’t down the street from Portillo’s, but I think as college students there comes a time when those things get replaced. I may not have Portillo’s but I have a delicious burrito place less than 5 minutes away. I may not have mom hugs down the hall anymore, but I have extraordinary friends and over 100 sorority sisters who know how to brighten a bad day. I’ve started to replace what I miss most about home with ideas, objects, and people that more than fit the void.

As I continue on through college before finally setting foot into the scary adult world, my versions of home will continue to evolve. I look forward to discovering new places to call home, whether through studying abroad or visiting friends. I will always call the suburbs of Chicago home, but I now can also call Iowa City my home, too. The drive back to school is no longer a gloomy trip; it’s a bittersweet one. Although I may not be going home to my parents or my brother, I am going home to a family, just a different kind of one.

Published Article/ Photo Attributions 

The World Is At Your Feet, Now What?

A love/hate relationship with the term “millennial”.

Being a go-getting, coffee guzzling Millennial comes with high expectations. You are supposed to be simultaneously working successfully towards a degree, balancing a well-rounded social life, procuring internships and job offers, staying healthy, and standing out amongst the hoards of other young people vying for the same life you are. No problem, right?

Wrong. As a member of this exciting 20-something cohort, you can expect to feel ridiculously overwhelmed 97 percent of the time. The other 3 percent is probably being spent napping or banging your head against your computer’s keyboard. You will also probably feel like you aren’t doing enough while you feel like you’re doing way too much. This is so often overlooked in universities and at the intern level. We strain and stress ourselves out every single day to become something we aren’t actually quite sure of yet. How does the med student even know she’ll like being a doctor? How does the astronomy student know that he’ll actually end up discovering anything? How does the journalism student know she’s even any good at writing about the world? They don’t. We have abstract dreams that we tirelessly fight for. Why? Because we’re up so high we can’t see the ground (cue Bethany Joy Lenz lyrics here).

We really do have the world at our feet. As college students, we have unparalleled access to information, opportunities to innovate, and the chance to make the world feel a little smaller thanks to the Internet. Realistically, there are very few limits placed onto our education at this level. The best and worst aspect of this is, we are entirely responsible for if we sink or swim. Yeah we’re independent but we’re also accountable.

So this is my advice to anyone who feels a little lost and a lot overwhelmed: Take a breath and take a step back. You aren’t alone. Are you really trying to do something with these privileges or are you trying to half accomplish everything? If you hope to do it all at once, you will end up doing very little. Pick what you are passionate about and dedicate yourself to those few goals versus trying to conquer them all. Don’t accept every internship that is offered to you. Don’t volunteer for every organization that crops up. Don’t take a million classes at a time. Take summer classes if you need to. Don’t stretch yourself to meet the needs of everyone, stretch only enough to better yourself. Take time out of your week to become re-inspired. Every so often, remind yourself that this age is amazingly adventurous. Trade in the coffee for a shot of tequila. You can only edit a paper so many times—go out tonight. Trade in one alternative spring break mission for a rejuvenating one. Instead of the major complementing elective, take the random thought provoking politics in Harry Potter class. In the midst of working towards your perfect life, don’t forget to live a little.

We are the fast-paced, sleep deprived, ambitious generation. What we do with those descriptors is up to us. What we do with the opportunities we are given is also up to us. The world is an enormous place to have at your feet. It can be absolutely terrifying. Or it can be really, really fun.

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“At least we can say we did it.”: The Festival Myth

I was sitting on a curb near the port-a-potty kingdom at Lollapalooza this year when I overheard a very sunburnt, very tired looking mom say to her daughter, “Well, honey, at least we can say we did it.” I watched as the daughter nodded in agreement while taking a sip out of her special edition Lolla Camelback water bottle. The two were clearly headed for the entrance even though the festivities for the day had only just begun. The sun was kissing the top of the Sears Tower (don’t even try and correct me) and in all honesty, I had spent much of my time on the curb gazing at the Chicago skyline, silently and secretly wishing I was anywhere but where I was.

Don’t get me wrong, Lollapalooza was an interesting experience. I pushed through Kid Cudi’s performance to make it front and center for Sam Smith’s headlining show. I sent my mom pictures of myself covered in an Original Rainbow Cone. I sprinted back through the gates after the storm evacuation on Sunday to catch a solo George Ezra enchant my life with his guitar. I truly did make the most of the festival. However, looking back on my receipts, between the 3-day pass, the train tickets, the warm beer, the pack of flash tattoos, and the credit card swipes for Lolla’s mini Taste of Chicago, I really had dropped some hard earned cash.

So would I do it again?

Nope. As much as I love to people watch, I basically get paid to do it as a lifeguard. Between ninety degree heat, 45 minute lines to refill water bottles, hoards of sweaty, pot smoking frat boys pretending to know music, Perry Stage drowning out every other band, and coming home covered in a layer of dust, dirt, and sweat, I could never again justify paying that much money to essentially torture myself. But this isn’t even my point.

That young teenage girl with her mother probably still posted a picture to Instagram of herself smiling at Lolla. She probably tweeted her love for the bands she saw. But she left at 3 pm with her face burnt, her skin dirty, and her spirits low. And the thing is, you would never see that on her social media accounts. I too am guilty of this. I posted not one, but two pictures of myself #loving Lolla. One of the pictures was actually of me giving my worn feet a break and laying in the shade. But the picture shows me smiling, wearing a flower crown, and sporting typical wannabe free spirited flash tattoos.

It’s hard not to get caught up in the festival myth. You will never see a picture posted of someone not enjoying Lolla. You will never see a Snapchat story like that either. The 24 hour story will show a raging crowd to a song you don’t even know. The Instagram post will be of you, but it won’t really be of you. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat make it really difficult to admit that you aren’t having a spectacular time. But sometimes you aren’t and that’s okay.

So this is for the girl who left Lolla at 3 in the afternoon: I guarantee you aren’t the only one who felt that way. I can also guarantee that you were one of the few to act on that feeling.