Oh The Places You’ll Go

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

Dr. Seuss

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So here it is, the blog post that I’ve long dreaded to write. The blog post that would mean I had returned from Spain and left my year long adventure behind me. I spent 9 months living in the beautiful island of Mallorca and traveling all over Europe. I met friends that quickly turned into family and I fully embraced myself in a culture different to my own.

A year ago, to this exact day I received my placement in the Balearic Islands. I knew very little about these islands but after immense research I fell in love. I started prepping everything possible for my new experience but with all my excitement I felt a tingling sense of anxiety.

As many of you know I struggled immensely in the beginning of 2017. A broken heart, a broken wrist, a car accident and a stolen wallet all led for a recipe of depression and a lack of will to enjoy life. I wasn’t sure who I was anymore and the pain of all these events kept me up at night almost the entire month of March. It wasn’t until I was online and saw a “TEFL” advertisement pop up on my computer that I started thinking. Why did I feel so empty? I knew I wasn’t a sad person but I was constantly irritable, avoiding friends and family and wanting to sit at home and watch TV every moment I clocked out of work.

The first step was hard. “Get a TEFL” I thought, am I really ready to go abroad with this mindset? Even as sad as I felt my gut told me, be like nike and JUST DO IT. I applied with International TEFL Academy and started looking into countries. I was asking around trying to find anyone else who had done something similar until I hear about the Auxiliares de Conversacion program in Spain. It was April 12th, application was due April 18th. Alright, sure. I ran around and got all the necessary documents and turned them in.

I read more about the program and the ability to live abroad on a visa seemed to be a difficult thing to do with other countries so this seemed like a good choice. Slowly I got admitted, accepted, placed in the islands and finally placed at my schools. Although I was still petrified at the thought of going abroad something just felt so completely right to me. My heart went from feeling so empty to having a glimpse of excitement and happiness return.

With every annoying process (other aux’s I’m sure you know what I mean) my mood kept changing. I was no longer fixating on the problems I had before but now my sole focus was to get myself abroad and save money to do so. I picked up shifts, I avoided eating out, I tried everything I could to spare a dime. I purchased my ticket for September 25th.

I didn’t know what to expect, I’ve been abroad before (and at 16) but I had a host family, orientations and assistance from regional directors if any issues arose. This time I was going in blind, completely alone with only an apartment secured from some other auxilaires I met on facebook.

I’d rewrite exactly how great the year was but luckily that’s what all my other blog posts are for. Now I want to focus on the return. After the travels with my dad we returned to Palma for 2 days before my final goodbyes. I met up with some friends to see Steve Aoki and enjoy time with them.

When it finally came time to board my flight to New York I started to feel the whole year come in the form of tears cascading down my face. The year wasn’t just a way for me to go and travel Europe, the year was for me to reinvent myself. All the travels only helped me really understand who I really was and helped me get back to the person I knew I could be. All the friends I met gave me insight into their lives and helped me learn so much throughout the year. The late night talks, the trips to Magaluf, the brunches/lunches/dinners, the movie nights that turned into mornings and the tears that turned into laughter. I can’t put into words how much each of you affected my life and how grateful I am to finally feel like the person I knew I was. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, the most confident, the most able to stand up for myself and what I believe in, the one willing to lend a helping hand to anyone who needs one and most importantly completely and totally in love with myself.

Now I’ve returned home and the reverse culture shock sure has set in. I’m waking up at 6:30, saying Hola to uber drivers and giving .25 cent coins thinking their .50 cent coins to confused cashiers. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. To say I would love to go back is an understatement but I realized it wasn’t Spain that changed me, it was all the incredible people I met.

I’ve now got a life ahead of me and many options of where I’d like to go. Will it be working in Dallas? Crossing the country and moving to Florida? Trying to go abroad again in Asia? Saving up and paying off all my debts while living at home? I’ve got no idea what lies ahead, but the journey… is always worth it.

“As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”

-Anthony Bourdain 

Letters to my friends:

 Kim: We met by complete chance but I’m beginning to think that it was meant to be. You taught me to not care what anyone else thinks and to simply live my life without worries. You were my travel buddy and always willing to do anything at a moments notice. You helped me learn that it’s okay if people don’t like me or disagree with me because I have so many other people that do love me. You encouraged me to put myself out there and forget about my past. You opened up to me even when I know it’s a difficult thing for you to do. You helped me trust again and taught me that NO MAN but a good man deserves to have me. You’re going to do incredible things in Miami, I’m so proud of all you’ve accomplished and I know our paths will cross again.

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       Sarah: My spiritual mentor, you understood me when I started rambling on about buddha or other weird things. We always got so deep in conversation that the time just completely flew by. You related to me when I wanted to talk about music festivals and EDM. We stayed up late talking about life and other matters and I knew no matter what you wouldn’t judge me. You were always so willing to help calm me down when I got anxious (even with silly things like a bug bite). You have a spirit to go and continue teaching english and although I’ve never seen you teach I can tell you’re going to impact so many people’s lives. Your charisma and love to help others will always take you so far in life and I can’t wait to see where life takes you. (I don’t know how we don’t have a photo of just to two of us but us playing with this dog summarizes our relationship)

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       Madison: You are one of the most wholesome humans I’ve ever met. You seek out the best in everyone and you always want to make sure that people feel included and loved. Your zest for life will take you around the world and will always keep you humble. Your ability to just live in the moment taught me that I just need to slow down, and that it’s okay to just focus on the here and now. You also taught me to love, because your ability to care for others showed me that we can still be kind to those who might not deserve it. I know whatever you do next in life you will do it with a pure heart. I hope that somehow, someday we will be able to start our Thailand adventures. But like a 14 year old writing in a yearbook “don’t ever change”.

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       Kevin: My first friend from the program I’m surprised with all the people I encountered on facebook our friendship actually stuck. Your extremely positive view on life and yourself made me realize that confidence looks great on everyone. You were an ear when I needed to vent. You kept me sane with your copious amounts of back rubs and time spent just watching movies or getting down on the dance floor. You complimented me when I wasn’t feeling great and always had nothing but supporting things to say. Whether you become a substitute teacher or a ski instructor in the mountains of Colorado, you’re gonna do great.

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… because of all of you my heart is full again.

“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill
(Just because you didn’t get a shout out does not mean you didn’t impact my life. I can only cry through writing so many of these)

 

Island Hopping: From The Balearics to The Canaries

We hadn’t even been back in Palma for 2 weeks before we were packing up to head out on another adventure. This time though, to a place a little bit warmer than the alps of Switzerland. The beautiful Canary Islands! Specifically the island of Gran Canaria.

This was one of the longer trips to take since the Canaries are a little over 3 hours from Barcelona by plane. One wouldn’t even think of them as Spanish islands since they are 62 miles from Morocco at the closest point. I didn’t know what to really expect or how different they might be from Mallorca but I sure was excited to sit (and eventually burn) in that 70 degree sunshine.

While flying over, I kept peering through the window on our three hour journey to see various little islands that seemed too small to be inhabited. Then as the sun began to set a larger island appeared. From above, Gran Canaria looked like the middle was strictly filled with mountains and all the population lived along the coast.

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We stayed at a nice hostel in Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria. Lucky for us our 8 bed room only had one other person in it during the stay. First time I’ve stayed in a hostel and actually gotten good sleep! Our plans were simple, two days of beach and relaxation and one to either hike or explore another part of the island.

After a well needed rest we ventured for the beach of and some breakfast at a cute little cafe called “The Couple”. It filled us up perfectly to then spend the rest of the day lounging. We were at a beach called “Playa de Las Canteras”. The weather was perfect once the clouds cleared and the beaches were filled with tourists and locals. It was significantly cleaner than Palma beach… probably because the weather was nicer so more people are drawn to the beach. We spent the entire day there and our poor skin paid for it. A sunburn from my head to my waist made me realize I wasn’t as invincible as I thought to the sunny rays. After resting a bit and getting ready to hit the town we soon realized we were one of very few out and about. Maybe we didn’t know where the “hot” spots were or maybe it was just too early but Las Palmas resembled a ghost town. Our second failed attempt at going out at night landed us right back in the hostel, ready for another day of relaxation.

Rather similar to the first day, we started our day again at “The Couple”, even after living abroad for a few months I still can’t give up my stereotypical American breakfast. Unfortunately this day wasn’t as beautiful as the first and clouds blocked the sun intermittently throughout the day. Even with the few moments of cold breezes it was still a beautiful day at the beach. Forgetting how much the sun can take energy from you we went back to the hostel early and with the help of Glovo, didn’t have to leave until the next morning.

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The last day, having spent quite a long time sitting and relaxing we decided to rent a car and drive the island. Our goal was to go all around the coast and into the mountains to a popular hiking spot called “Roque Nublo”. We started at the Las Palmas Airport and made our way to Maspalomas, a widely recommended spot. Little did we know there were the Maspalomas Dunes, which made us feel as if we made a quick journey to Egypt. The beach though, was too far to walk to through all the sand but hey we got some great pics!

Next up was a town called Puerto Rico and no, I’m not talking about the country. It was even more touristy than Las Palmas with populated beaches, hotels on cliffs overlooking the ocean and a large shopping center that resembled Coney Island. We made a quick trip to Subway and an even shorter trip to the ocean.

After, we started to make our way up and BOY was it an interesting drive to get to the top of the mountains. This was my first time driving in Europe and there were no markings on the roads to differentiate between cars coming and going. Add in some expert cyclists to the mix and you’ve knocked quite a few years off of my life due to all the anxiety. The roads were windy but the view was stunning. As we climbed our way up the mountain the temperature began to drop. In Puerto Rico it was around 22 celsius (about 71 degrees) and by the time we got to the top of Roque Nublo it was a mere 7 celsius (44 degrees)! The sunshine turned into dark clouds and heavy fog making my heart race even faster than those cyclists on the road.

We finally began to make our way back down to the coast into a town called Agaete. It’s crazy to think we saw a majority of the island in our 7 hours on the road. We took our final pictures knowing that we had a flight to catch.

The Canaries resembled parts of Mallorca but had it’s own style and unique way of life. It felt quite a bit more touristy than Palma but then again tourist season hasn’t started here yet. Now that I’ve visited one, I surely added the others to my bucket list! Hopefully next time though I won’t forget the sunscreen!

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In just a few more days we will begin our spring break travels. To Milan, Athens, Sofia and Amsterdam we go! Until next time.

 

To Switzerland, France, Italy and Back Again.

Ever since I had studied abroad at 16 I dreamed of going skiing in the Swiss alps. The dream was finally going to come true when we purchased our tickets to fly into Geneva, Switzerland and drive to Zermatt. Unfortunately, Zermatt is not exactly priced for teachers in Spain so we decided to venture into the beautiful town of Aosta, Italy.

Our trip had quite an interesting start to it. We arrived at the airport as we normally do for our 8:30 am flight, only to find out it had been delayed due to weather until 12:30 pm. After a few hours of waiting and way too many trips to the customer service desk our flight was eventually cancelled. We opted to take the hotel and free transportation option from EasyJet even though we are all residents here… Upon arriving at our hotel we found out that not only was it a highly ranked hotel but it was all-inclusive. Our food for the entire day was free and an open bar was simply 15 euros. It turned the whole cancellation ordeal around quite fast.

The next morning, we were able to take our 8:30 am rescheduled flight and after circling the air for quite some time (as the airport was still closed) we landed with a small delay around 12:30pm. We picked up the rental cars, grabbed some snacks and we were well on our way to the beautiful alps. The drive was even more stunning than one could imagine, huge mountains covered with snow and small towns lit up brightly at night. It felt strange to arrive in Switzerland and then drive to France to finally end up in Italy.  The 25 degree temperature was quite different to the 65 degrees that we left in Palma. After our long travel day we were all tired and went right to bed so we could begin our first day of skiing.

(Outside our Airbnb, and our new little pupper friend)

We woke up early and ready to ski/snowboard. I was pretty excited as it had been about a year since the last time I skied. Once we arrived to Pila Ski Resort I quickly saw why so many people adored the alps. With each ski lift we took the view got even more beautiful. We were a group with a mixture of skiers, snowboarders, beginners and intermediate so it was fun to see everyone try a totally new sport.

Our Airbnb was situated about 15 minutes from the slopes which made it easy to access. The town however, was 30 minutes down the mountain so we spent most of our time skiing, or warming up in the cabin. It was a cute spot with no wifi or reception which made a cell phone free trip. We made small dinners and large breakfast’s to help us stay fueled for our long days on the mountain. We did get to try a small bit of Italian food for lunch which brought me back to 16 eating loads of pasta and other carbs.

Due to the cancellation, half of our group was departing on Monday and the rest on Tuesday. In order to get the first half back to their flight on time we needed to drive them back to the Geneva airport, which allowed us even more time to see the beautiful alps. It also included a brief trip to the UN! Something I wanted to see after knowing we were flying into Geneva. After a late return into Aosta we got ready for a good night’s rest to enjoy our final day of exploring.

Our last day we had planned to go visit Zermatt but we weren’t quite prepared for distance to get there and it was extremely cloudy which wouldn’t allow us to see the Matterhorn. We decided to keep exploring through different towns on our way back to the airport. We stopped in Cervinia, Italy and Charmonix, France before arriving back in Geneva. In Cervinia we got some pretty great Italian pizza (unfortunately no pictures to prove it). In Charmonix it was a cute little French ski town with a million foreigners (again, apparently I got tired of taking photos). We tried taking our time getting back to Geneva knowing that our bed for the night was the oh-so-comfortable airport seats. Through all the travel and disruptions we certainly learned what to do for next time and I’m already wanting to plan another ski trip!

 

Poland: A Beautiful Country With a Harsh Past

Poland had forever been one of those places that I’ve learned about in school. I had studied the nazi takeover and the concentration camps since I was in middle school. We even went on a class field trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. When I made the decision to come to Spain I started to look at what countries I would be interested in visiting. Although everything I had studied in school pointed to a deteriorated country I still had the urge to see it for myself.

My roommate Kyra and I decided to spend 3 nights in Poland. Our original plan had changed a few times (thanks Ryanair for an earlier flight!) We ended up settling on spending the first day in Krakow, second day touring the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and finishing our trip in Warsaw.

Krakow:

Probably one of the most impressive European cities I have seen thus far. What I didn’t expect was the incredible amount of influence of American and British brands. I think there was a Costa Coffee/KFC or McDonalds on just about every block! We only had about an hour in Warsaw before catching our train to Krakow so we did get to try the polish McDonalds. Now Im convinced it’s better just about EVERYWHERE but the US.

One we arrived in Krakow we checked into our adorable hostel and were lucky enough to have our own room! Something you really appreciate as a twenty-something  traveler. We asked the receptionist for some dinner recommendations and she sent us to a local polish eatery called Polakowski. Now currently the Zloty is 3.34 to the USD so our dinner costed around 50 zloty. Little did we know this was ONLY $12 total for the two of us in USD for an incredible meal. After we wandered around the Rynek Glowny square we stumbled upon a small bar called “Ukracpra Pub”. Some stairs headed into an underground bar with a big sign that said “KARAOKE” It seemed to be filled with half locals and half traveling brits. Confident singers would step up and could sing in either Polish or English. We had a few drinks ranging from beer to various cocktails, all which maybe costed us $14 for 6 drinks….. I love Poland prices. After getting our nice buzz we decided to head back for a long day ahead.

Our second night in Krakow (after returning from Auschwitz) we went a very popular polish restaurant to get our fix of perogis and apple pie. Mind you all the food you see was a total of $28 (for the two of us so $16 a person) 10/10 WOULD GO HERE AGAIN, everyone go try it it’s called Czarna Kaczka or “The Black Duck”. GO GO GO

Auschwitz-Birkenau:

In September of 1939 Nazi-Germany invaded Poland in the midst of WW2. Over 6 million Polish people perished during the occupation, many who were Jewish. During this occupation millions of Jews from all over Europe were being sent into ghettos, unable to communicate with the outside world. The Nazi’s shortly realized that they could no longer hold the Jews in ghettos due to their inability to “hold their own keep”. This is when “The Final Solution” was then talked about to put an end to all European Jews. Auschwitz Concentration Camp was the largest camp holding over 1.5 million men, women and children. Some of the most famous writers to come from the holocaust were trapped behind the doors of Auschwitz. Anne Frank, Primo Levi and Ellie Wiesel were just a few that I studied extensively in school. Absolutely no amount of studying or reading about the holocaust prepares you when you walk under the infamous sign that reads “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” which translates to “work sets you free.” A significant portion of Birkenau II had been destroyed due to nazi cover up but much of Auschwitz 1 remained. It’s hard to write down exactly what emotions I felt while walking through the camps. The part that got to me the most was how cold it was inside the blocks. How scary it must have been at night without a single light outside. How we were able to walk in and walk out with no problem, but that wasn’t the case for so many people who didn’t deserve to be victim to such a terribly inhumane action. I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around how so many people could inflict pain simply by listening and following the ideals of one awful human being.

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” 

-Ellie Wiesel 

Warsaw: 

We booked ourselves on a train back to Warsaw to arrive around 1:30 pm giving us plenty of time to explore the city before our early morning flight. On the train reservation we made there was a note that said our tickets did not come with guaranteed seats. Little did we know that there was no cafe car on the train so these “seats” were basically in the corridor between the reserved seats and the exit of the train. It made for an interesting 3 hour ride. Once finally exiting the train we were right in the middle of a very modern looking Warsaw. It was filled with skyscrapers, malls and boujie restaurants. We had about a 45 minute walk from there to our hostel but a viscous craving for sushi stopped us about midway. We went to this sushi restaurant found on Trip Advisor and although it was a bit pricer than other Polish food it certainly satisfied our craving. After, we continued through Warsaw Old Town which is still filled with Christmas decor and markets. Once arriving to our hostel we needed a quick nap before heading back on the town. We wandered through Warsaw Old Town which is astronomically different than the city center. We stopped to try some mulled wine and I even got a paczki which I found out later is commonly served on Fat Thursday. To continue with our fantastic eats in Poland we ate dinner at a commonly known Polish restaurant called Zapiecek. We both tried traditional kielbasa with onions and sauerkraut. Determined to stay out considering it was only 8 pm we were in search for a local pub. What we found though, was Warsaw Old Town is not the area known for its nightlife. A few beers later and knowledge of an early morning flight had us in bed earlier than I’d like to admit.

Poland was like nothing I had ever expected. It was such an unfamiliar territory to me and something that was always portrayed so poorly that I almost got on that plane with a touch of fear. Little did I know that the book I chose to read on the flight would convey my emotions perfectly…

“That was the irony of travel. The bigger the distance between you and the familiar grew, the smaller and safer and friendlier the world felt.” 
-Kim Dinan 

Do I even MISS the US?

Since it’s been an adequate amount of time that I have been outside of the US I figured it is always fun to reflect on things I miss and don’t miss, enjoy!

Things I miss about the US

1.My dog/friends/family (of course)

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2. Dryers 

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3.Driving– Alright, mainly because I bought a lovely new car before I even applied to this program and sometimes I wish I could have brought it over with me!

4.Access to every version of baking goods (learned that this Thanksgiving while trying to hunt down ingredients)

5.Having a 40 hour week week (I KNOW) this one sounds crazy, but there’s something about working 12 hours a week with a private lesson here and there that can start to make you feel a little lazy and quite useless. Then again, maybe that’s the American in me?

6. Smiling Spanish people don’t smile at you, not in a rude way but they value a smile to be more personal. I just like smiling at people though and after you’ve lived in smile-friendly Eugene it’s hard not to.

7. Medicine Getting over the counter drugs is quite different in Spain that it is in the US. In the US you walk into any grocery store and can buy dayquil, allergy medicine, sleep aids in almost 100 different brands each. In Spain, you ask a pharmacist for almost anything and they give you one MAYBE two options. Then again, maybe that’s why the US has a drug problem??

Typical Looking Spanish Pharmacy

Things I do NOT miss about the US

1.Donald Trump 

2. Expensive wine I could have 17 euros in my account and STILL have enough to buy a round trip ticket to Barcelona, two bottles of wine and go out with my roomates for tapas with the money left over.

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3. Lack of public transportation (I know this is only true for some places)

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4. Expensive flights– okay let me break this down for you. So in order to travel from SoCal to Eugene for school I would usually spend around $200 dollars for a 2 hour flight. We’re currently looking up ideas for traveling over spring break and I can go from Palma -> Milan -> Athens -> Sofia -> Amsterdam -> Palma for ONLY 154. CRAZY RIGHT

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5.Tipping people- The way Spanish people view jobs is quite different from the US. Bus driver? Waitress? Store clerk? There all decently paid jobs and no one cares even if you’re working while living at home till you hit 30. If you’re in the US and go on a date with a store clerk living with his parents you look for the nearest exit.

6.The fast-paced lifestyle- Which might seem like an interesting one after stating that I miss my 40 hour work week. Spaniards know how to take vacations and know how to relax after a long week or a long day. In Spanish culture many times the friends and families will override the workplace. Even with an early morning I see many Spanish people out on weekdays enjoying tapas with friends.

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Well there ya have it! Every so often I miss something rather materialistic or silly like today when we returned from London all we wanted was some campbells canned soup!

It’s the little things. 🙂