Thursday, June 26, 2014

Lessons from Summer #2

So after that first, hard but growing summer came my second college summer.
This was essentially the complete opposite.

Instead of being responsible for the well-being of ten girls each week, I was only responsible for myself.
Instead of eating rushed meals, keeping a strict schedule, and packing in hours of work and exhaustion, I held all my time captive, able to spend and use it at my leisure and for my pleasure. Instead of crisscrossing the beautiful campground I had become familiar with over the past decade, I was experiencing brand new footfalls, exploring a brand new place.

Yes, living and studying in Spain during the summer of 2013 was one of the best decisions of my life.
There were hard moments too, though, and lots of growth. I was homesick a few different days, most especially when the heat was oppressive and there was no AC to be found, or when I had so much to say but frustratingly was unable to express myself fully.

I became the craziest version of myself. I learned to relax and "go-with-the-flow" as well as being open to trying new things and saying yes more often than no. It was an exhilarating feeling. I felt like I had control of my life and decisions in a way never given to me before.
I also learned how to live and converse in a foreign language (duh, the reason for going), how to make friends in a completely new place, how to stay out late and get up early, how to navigate a city solo, how to be confident in myself.

I understand that every summer can't be like that summer, but damn do I miss it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Lessons from Summer #1

My three college summers could not be more drastically different. They each carry a unique location, group of people, purpose, and collection of feelings and reactions.

After finishing my freshman year I headed off to the camp I'd grown up loving, only this time as a full-fledged counselor. I felt like a big deal, and was ready (I thought) for my dream job. And in some aspects, it was great. Living in Western Michigan was beautiful, I was able to be outside the entire time, I swam in lakes, tubed behind boats, shot bow and arrow, and participated in a variety of fun activities daily that most people only experience a few times a year.
But it was an incredibly hard summer. I didn't fit in with the other counselors as I would have hoped, often opting for much needed quiet time instead of laughing at goofy jokes and trying to force friendships that felt too manufactured, since we had all only known each other for a few exhausting weeks. The kids in my cabins each week were a lot of work, needing my constant attention for every physical, emotional, and social dilemma. Sometimes this was rewarding; often it was overwhelming and draining. Additionally, there were bugs everywhere, mundane food, cramped showers, sweaty afternoons, and everything camp.

I learned to set realistic expectations. I learned that my life is so much more than my selfish desires and immediate needs. I learned that working with children and youth is not my life calling. I learned that I didn't need to be friends with everybody, but I did need to be kind, sympathetic, and helpful to all around me. I learned that I loved the state of Michigan more than I had realized. I learned to be responsible, for many people beside myself. I learned how to bring Christ to where these kids were in their own personal lives. I learned to be the adult.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

On to the Next Adventure

I never intended to make this a "travel blog." I never even intended to travel this much. While it would be a complete lie to say I would be perfectly content to just stay in this corner of Ohio and read about the great big world, which actually does occur in copious amounts for my major of choice, I also realize that I am a college kid, on a college budget. And sometimes I wonder if it's selfish to want to go everywhere. After all, I'm only 20, who do I think I am?
Except I love it. I love seeing new places, doing new things, learning about the world. I love that even though a trip may last only a few days, the memories (and pictures!) last much longer.

Within the past year, I've been privileged to travel, both internationally and domestically. Spring Break 2013 was Venice, Florida. One weekend in April I got to see Cincinnati. Summer 2013, of course, was the life-changing summer of Spain. In August I toured Washington DC. I trekked to Indianapolis numerous times. There have been drives out to Iowa. Christmas Break 2013 ended in an unforgettable retreat in Chicago. Looking forward, I will be spending a week in New York City for the national conference of Model United Nations. But first? I'll be headed, in exactly 11 days, down south to... El Salvador!

I haven't even left yet, and this trip is already challenging me. But I'm also brimming with anticipation.
The last minute decision to leave the country for spring break, the vagueness of the details, and never having been south of the border all combine to leave me with virtually no idea what I'm in for. But I am headed there with some of my closest friends, an experienced traveler to this region, and a laid-back, come-what-may attitude. Also, it helps that last week the temperatures there were literally 100 degrees warmer than the temperatures here.

Oh, and I am beyond thrilled that I once again get to employ my Spanish language ability! Though I'm a bit rusty since August, it will feel so good to be back in that environment again, and I'm hoping I can improve immensely in a short time.

Here's to Spring Break 2014!

Monday, November 25, 2013


It's been months on months of absence from this corner of the internet. Months of change, doubt, laughter, learning, and growth.

Obviously, I'm now stateside. Leaving Spain was hard. There was definitely a level of reverse-culture shock higher than anticipated. Three days after returning to the states, which was a 50+ hour process due to being unexpectedly stranded in Portugal (probably some of the scariest hours of my life, as I had no clue how I was ever going to get back to the US. And I spent the night in Amsterdam by myself), I found myself in the Capital of this great nation. I have never felt more patriotic. Going from being overseas for 10 weeks to then touring the great monuments and relearning the history of the USA for the first time since young childhood was an exhilarating whirlwind during which I often sporadically burst into song. Specifically, the national anthem. The weirdest adjustment of all was being in a city where I could understand everything that was being said. I kept overhearing people's conversations and understanding, without having to put conscious effort into comprehension. I cannot even articulate how strange it was to hear English everywhere around me, all the time.

However, that was all months ago. Since then, my life has been a complete blur, consisting of:
- Academia. I added a Linguistics major, have been taking tough, upper-level classes that are still just fascinating to me, and recently joined the Model UN team.
- Student Government. Being a part of SGA has been one of the toughest and most rewarding experiences in college and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Being able to work in this environment, with the most amazing team of people, continually inspires me.
- Relationships. Some of strengthened, some have weakened. Some have appeared, some have disappeared. The people I'm privileged to call my best friends are some of the greatest people I've ever known. They accept me no matter what, challenge me, laugh with me, cry with me. I thank God everyday for everyone He has so graciously placed in my life.
- Learning. Not just academically, but also more about how small I am and how big the world is. I'm learning to question the reasons and methods of things I've longtime held as right. There is so much happening beyond what I can see and experience, and whether it's in regards to things political, spiritual, academic, or anything else, I strive to be more knowledge and open-minded.
- Activity. I've been to numerous sporting events. I've run hundreds of miles, in the woods, on the streets, in new neighborhoods, and on old routes. I've memorized the drive to Indianapolis. I've broken rules. I've won an intramural soccer championship. I've served on multiple councils. I've helped execute events. I've been going at full speed ahead.

And, of course, I love showcasing the moments not able to be adequately put into words with a variety of pictures. Here is just a sample of Fall 2013:

Friday, August 2, 2013

(From a week ago- after a slight computer error!)

Well here I am, sitting within a week of leaving this beautiful, beautiful country. Moment of silence please.
I have not been so faithful posting, for which I apologize, but I've just been too busy soaking everything in!

If June was a month of acclimating myself to Spain and everything Spanish, then July has been a month not-so-much Spanish, but European. Confused? Allow me to explain.
In June, I lived with one other girl from my American University and our two host parents. I made a lot of Spanish friends, learned the language by leaps and bounds, and explored the customs of Spain as much as possible. Come July, I have become much more comfortable with the language, already have Spanish friends, and really feel like I'm living here. And due to my situations this month, the focus shifted to a broader, international experience. Which I love!
This month I've had a beautiful flatmate from Belgium, and another beautiful flatmate from Swizterland. Also, another girl from my university took the place of the previous one. So if you're doing the math, that adds up to two Spanish host parents with four 19-year-old girls. It's been SO fun! So I have spent many nights and weekends hanging out with them and the students from their language schools here in Valencia, where the common language is English and I always meet such a wide variety of people. The other night, we were sitting in a circle on the beach and I counted 12 countries present! All of sudden I know kids from every corner of Europe, including Czech Republic, Hungary, Russia, Poland, Turkey, Germany, Italy, France, UK, The Netherlands, and many more. I'm absolutely enamored by all the different cultures and backgrounds, but also the common bonds that everybody shares. And it floors me by how proficient everyone is in English, as it is everyone's second language (excepting me, the Australian, and the Brit, of course). This month has been great in reaffirming the international social science is the exact right major for me!

Besides meeting other students from all over the world, I've also been able to spend time with Spaniards this month, which really does wonders for my language ability. When I look back to my first week, I can't help but laugh. Then I was excited if I could hold a five minute conversation with my host parents. Now I can almost find a way to express anything I want to, though sometimes I still need the help of my lovely roommate Amanda. And when we watch the news everyday during la comida (lunch), I can understand so much more, provided that I put the energy of focusing in.

Now I have less than a week left here, and even though there are a few things I'm very excited to return to in the States (most especially AC!!), after having lived here 10 weeks, it is going to be immensely hard to say goodbye. But before that comes, I'm going to make the most of every moment I have left here!

Now it's time to go to the pool, as 90 degrees with no air conditioning and very little airflow can be a little insufferable. Also, I'd like to apologize for any incoherency that is all over this post - I'm not used to writing so much in

Friday, July 12, 2013

Yes, I'm still alive (for now)

Last Tuesday marked week number 6. WEEK NUMBER 6! I can't believe I've been here that long - there I some days that I still just can't stop grinning ear to ear. I absolutely love Spanish life.

Since we last met, I've had the privilege of traveling to Barcelona for a few days! Accompanied by five other excited girls, I embarked one Sunday afternoon, not quite sure what to expect, but ready for whatever was headed my way. After a beautiful coastal train ride (how European), we arrived at the hostel, which was one of my favorite aspects of the trip. Equipped with a communal kitchen, a large and open living area (complete with books in various languages, games, and a guitar), a garden (and hammock!), and several large dorms, the hostel was a wonderful place to relax after a couple long days, and also meet people from all over the world! I was able to talk with people from Canada, Australia, Portugal, South Africa, Argentina, and Uruguay! We spent a couple days taking walking tours, gazing in awe at the architectural gems scattered all over the city, not understanding any Catalan (a language completely separate from Spanish), thoroughly enjoying hostel life, and doing LOTS of people-watching. I achieved my goal of not getting pick-pocketed! All-in-all, it was a great few days of traveling to a different part of Spain, but it was also nice to come "home" to Valencia, where I know my way around, can communicate with the people, and can breathe easy with fewer tourists thronging up and down the streets!

Experiencing Spanish culture is best done with Spaniards. I've been able to make friends through my host parents, who have friends with kids my age that graciously take me around the city and refrain from laughing too hard at my attempts to keep up with Spanish. I've also been loving my church here in Valencia, which reminds me so much of my Baptist church back in the States. I just love singing the familiar songs, sporadic times of prayer, partaking of communion, listening to the message... all in Spanish! It's so cool how the same God is worshiped all across the globe. And finally, I just love meeting people through friends, on the streets, through my institute or any random connections. Speaking with Spaniards and learning to see life through their eyes has been my favorite aspect of living here!

There's so much more I could fill this post with, but seeing as how I am literally melting in the 90 degree heat everyday (with no air conditioning... I'm seriously questioning how much more of this I can stand), I need to sign off before I completely pass out!

Friday, June 28, 2013


Sunday marks the halfway point of my summer here. What is life?!

While that is a rhetorical question I like to often throw out in situations of disbelief, I could probably easily answer myself with a list of adjectives including things like chocolate-y, relaxing, and beautiful.

Have you been anxiously beside yourself wondering what my days look like? Well, probably not. But I'll tell you anyway.
The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of:
-morning classes, which are at times challenging yet I really enjoy
-afternoons spent at the beach, which involved lots of tanning, lots of girl talk, playing volleyball with people from all over the world (German people can be quite strange...), and some hardcore people-watching
-aimlessly wandering grocery stores, which can be both educational and dangerous to my waistline
-McDonald's, because believe it or not, that is my Spanish hangout. You can't go wrong with 1Euro espresso with ice cream, free wifi, and air conditioning!
-making Spanish friends, which is actually my favorite thing to do here. The people are so kind and so patient with my limited language ability!
-running in El Rio, which is absolutely GREAT and I'm going to miss so much when I return to the States (at some point in the far, far distant future)
-eating the amazing food my host family prepares us. From blood sausage (yeah, you can read that one again) to seafood to soups to quiche to tortilla de patata, I've had the privilege of tasting quite the array of Spanish foods!

And now, of course, I'll show you a glimpse of these past few weeks in pictures.