La Despedida // The Farewell

At 5am, the tears began flowing.

I tried to hide my emotion in the dark backseat of the taxi as I peered out the window for one final goodbye to the city I loved so much. It felt wrong leaving like this, like running away in the dark of night– unsatisfying in my inability to have a proper goodbye. I just wanted one more Sevillan sunrise, one more chance to see the light glisten off the cathedral or feel the bustle of the streets as they come to life each morning. Instead, my flight was soaring into the sky before the sun even rose.

And just like that, my study abroad experience comes to a close. The most exciting months of my life screeched to a halt in a flurry of final exams, packing, sightseeing and saying goodbye. Above anything else, a sense of melancholy permeated my last week as I ground my heels into the cobblestones to avoid the inevitable that was approaching far too quickly.

How could it be over already? Didn’t I just arrive, bright-eyed and unsuspecting, gazing at the Plaza de España with amazement for the first time? Or have I been here forever, knowingly navigating that confusing web of streets in the place that now feels like home? The two conflicting sentiments interweave somehow– an excited wonder at each new day, tinted with a familiarity that wraps over it all like a warm blanket.

The internal conflict continued with every thought of leaving. I would be heartless to say I wasn’t looking forward to coming home; of course, I was excited to see my friends and family again, and I couldn’t imagine not being home for Christmas. Warm thoughts of family traditions and holiday celebrations were the silver linings that made me excited to return.

But a large part of me also dreaded leaving. I feel unsatisfied by my glimpse of Sevilla; 3 months was but a blink, enough to whet my appetite but leaving me hungry for more. Enough to fall in love and leave with an ache in my chest and a lump in my throat for the city, the people and the life that had become home the past few months.

Some people will talk about how difficult study abroad is. This is true; there are moments of discomfort, of such exhaustion (physical and mental) and overstimulation that you’re left wanting nothing more than an American meal and your own bed and a hug from your mom. But such is life, and anything more perfect wouldn’t be realistic.

Like anything in life, this experience is entirely what you make it. You can spend your time missing home and the comforts you’ve always known, or you can shed the weight of your own expectations and open yourself up to amazing possibilities you’ve never imagined. You can get happily lost in a foreign culture and maybe even end up finding yourself.

At least that’s how it happened for me.

A friend put it best when he said being in Sevilla is like a dream. Every day, a new adventure– even if that’s just taking a different route to class and discovering a new point of view or having a conversation in Spanish with a stranger. Sevilla was a place of learning and growth; I came in search of a part of me I felt I had lost– the me that was before college and stress and illness overcame me. I leave now with a heart that is somehow both lighter and heavier– lighter because there, amidst cobblestone calles and under the brilliant Sevillan sun, I found her, the me I had lost. Heavier still because I had to leave, and from this dream, I must awaken.

One semester was not enough for me– three months, just a tease. I have tasted the sweet Andalusian life, and a part of me will forever remain there.

And one day, I know, I will go back to retrieve it.

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The Things We Leave Behind

Among my many character flaws quirks, I am impossibly forgetful. But you probably already knew that. Come to think of it, I also have pretty bad luck when it comes to leaving things on public transportation. (RIP to my favorite aviator sunglasses that fell down the subway track this summer, and don’t even remind me of the Peruvian chocolate taxi incident of 2016…)

So it should come as no surprise that the inevitable happened: I lost something that can’t be replaced. Monetarily speaking, it wasn’t too harsh of a blow, but this item held infinitely more value to me than its price tag.

As I write this, my travel journal is probably riding through Eastern Europe somewhere on a Hungarian charter bus. In the disorder of collecting my things upon arrival in Budapest a few weeks ago, I seemed to have left that tiny treasure in the back pocket of my bus seat.

From the outside, my journal doesn’t look like much. It’s white with gold flowers, clearly cheap because I bought it at Wal-Mart the day before I left for Spain in a last-minute decision to dedicate a book solely to this chapter of my life. Its modest exterior does not reveal the treasured thoughts it contains. To anyone who finds this journal, it’s nothing more than the silly (hopefully entertaining) ramblings of a study abroad student. But to me, it is some of my best days yet, some of the most memorable experiences of my life: the details of all the exciting new things I’ve experienced and reflections of all my growth and learning. It is a part of me, not to be dramatic or anything.


But my journal isn’t the only thing I am leaving behind in Europe. (And I’m not talking about my missing earring either, or all of the old shoes I will most likely not be able to fit in my suitcase, ugh).

The truth is, I am leaving behind a lot. There are pieces of me now in so many different locations, parts of myself that I’ve left in the places that have changed me. There are things that I’ve shed in order to make space for the new– misconceptions and false expectations that dissolved as my worldview grew; traits and tendencies that have shifted as my lifestyle adapted to a new culture; truths I thought I knew but discovered were never really true at all.

That’s how it goes when we travel. Sometimes we leave behind the old junk in order to make room for all the new things we collect along the way. We shed the weight of the past as we journey, because in life– like in airplanes–there’s no room for extra baggage.

The best part, though, is that the things we lose are never really lost at all. The places that have inspired me will always be there, and my memories will live on even as the world around them changes with the times. And I can only hope the places that have changed me have felt my small impact, too, even for a brief moment.

Maybe someone out there found my journal and decided it was worth a read. Maybe they got a kick out of it; maybe they laughed or cried right along with it as they read, like I did at times as I wrote. Maybe they needed to find it and maybe I needed to lose it.

Or maybe I really just need to learn to not be so forgetful…

Morocco: A Whole New World

I spent my Halloween getting spooked in a different way this year. In Fez’s oldest market, the Medina, a decapitated camel’s head hung precariously close to my own as a strange form of welcome to Morocco.

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Rainy Medina Streets (no decapitated camels in frame– you’re welcome)

I averted my eyes, but to no avail, encountering grotesque sights at every turn. The smell was overpowering, heightened by the dampness of the day, muddy rainwater seeping into my shoes as we made our way through the Medina’s endless passageways. The narrow “streets” were lined with everything imaginable: handcrafted goods, argan oil and spices; electronics and toys; toiletries and medications. Raw meat and animal parts sat drying in the air on one side, while sweet pastries and fresh dates displayed temptation on the other. The overstimulation sent my brain into a frenzy as I tried to process this strange assortment of sights (and did I mention smells?) I was experiencing all at once.

With my head down to avoid sight of the butchers’ torture chambers, we weaved through this market of horrors. Inside the shops, it was a completely different story. We were met by jovial Moroccans in every store, welcoming and eager to show off their goods. In the carpet store, we were treated to a spectacule by a natural-born salesman that made his pitch so fun we almost forgot we were being sold to. Here’s a little-known fact: Moroccans have salesman skills running through their veins. I am not usually so easily persuaded, but there I was spending nearly $50 on argan oil and contemplating a $200 rug for my future home, if that tells you anything.

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Moroccan carpet store and quite possibly the best salesman I have ever met.

 

Though I painted the Medina in a harsh (but entirely accurate) light, it wasn’t all a bad experience. As soon as we stepped into the little shops where people display the goods to which they devote their whole lives, my mind was changed. Each carpet that someone labored over for months to get the intricate design just right is a work of art; each hand-painted bowl or piece of silver jewelry became instantly prettier once we knew the work that went into it, and the passion with which they sell their pieces makes up for their pushiness.

Who would have thought that shopping could ever be a cultural experience? But in the Medina, this was a way to understand the ancient traditions, to connect over goods that carried months or years of labor, heart and soul. And though we certainly looked out of place, a giant group of white American tourists with our backpacks and cameras in the middle of this place, somehow in the shops, the differences between us felt smaller, the distance just a little less great.

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Ceramist working on tiles in the ceramic factory

In the leather store, one of the shop owners asked me, “Why is it you wanted to come to my country?” There was pride but also distinct curiosity in his question.

“Well, I am studying in Spain and this is one of the trips offered…” I started. But as I responded, I knew this wasn’t the real answer. “I wanted to experience another culture that was different from my own. And I’ve heard a lot about Morocco, but I wanted to see it for myself,” I finally answered.

“Well, what you hear is not all true,” he told me sadly, downcast eyes with painful shame for the way Muslims are often portrayed. “Here we welcome you. We are happy you are here. We wish you peace… We want peace.”

His statement was raw, and it broke my heart. For a moment he wasn’t a shopkeeper trying to sell me a leather jacket; we were just two people from worlds apart forging a connection. A Christian and a Muslim, each sharing blessings in our own ways– he taught me “Salam-Aleikum,” a greeting of peace, and smiled as I butchered the pronunciation.

Ultimately, this is why I travel (or reason #4520, honestly). For me, it’s not just about seeing new cities and checking places off my bucket list; it’s about diving into a culture– even one so foreign from my own. I can’t pretend my afternoon in the Medina was, by any means, sufficient to say I now understand the Moroccan culture. But I can say I learned more from walking through those narrow alleyways and talking with shop owners than my touristy Instagram photos ever let on. And in doing so, it felt a little like I was bridging that seemingly unbridgeable gap between us.

We shared smiles and stories and mint tea, and it felt as if we could be long-lost friends. Not Moroccans and Americans or Muslims and Christians–just people. On foreign soil but under the same sun, finding that our similarities spoke louder than our differences.

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Our Moroccan guide leading us through a much more colorful quarter of the Medina after the rain let up.

 

Arabian Nights

My first night in the desert, I realized I’ve never truly seen the stars before.

Away from the lights of our little camp, the uninterrupted night sky was a blanket of black, pierced by shimmering stars like pinpoints of Heaven breaking through.

I felt the air escape my lungs as I leaned back into the cool sand. Side by side, my travel companion and I fell silent. We both wore the intensity of the view, the vastness of our surroundings. Surreal barely scratches the surface.

I thought back to my grade school knowledge of astronomy and remembered learning that the light we see from stars has to travel for years to reach our eyes. The stars we view tonight could very well be burned out by now and we’d never even know it.

The thought of the immeasurable distance between myself and the stars made me feel very small. The expansive sky was light-years away, yet I could feel it’s celestial presence on my skin like a blanket. The milky way’s faint streak of light cut across the night like a ripple, casting an eerie feeling of being both a viewer and a participant of this great big, unstoppable universe.

There, on the cool dune, I felt nothing more than a grain of sand myself. Yet despite my minisculity, I had the distinct feeling of being seen and known. Like even in the darkness in the middle of the most unlikely place, God was looking down on me at that exact moment. Instead of feeling exposed, a sense of peace washed over me, a comfortable sensation of being truly known. A conversation with God without saying a word.

I wasn’t the only one feeling spiritual. My stargazing companion’s voice, low and quiet, broke the silence reminding me of her presence.
“It’s just so amazing…” she began, with a tone that hinted she had more to say.
“I just keep thinking about the verse about God’s love, that it’s greater than the stars in the sky…”

I nodded silently beside her, even though she couldn’t see. There was an unspoken communication there, the heaviness of His glorious creation weighing on our hearts yet somehow freeing them, too.

I ran my fingertips over the cool sand, conjuring up my own image of another famous parable as I felt the innumerable grains of sand slip through my hands.

Each one an earthly reflection of the stars above. Each one a reminder of God’s immeasurable love.

“He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name.”
Psalm 147:4

Roman Holiday

In Rome, Meg and I learned that traveling is not always glamorous. In fact, it is rarely so.

The whole week, I’d never had so much fun and simultaneously felt so physically wretched. Don’t get me wrong– as any traveler would tell you, it was all 100% worth it. No sleep, different eating habits, stress, sun and living in constant motion are the name of the game, but they can wreak havoc on your body.

So by our last day together, Meg’s and my Italian adventure was taking its toll on us. Waking up at 4am to drag our over-stuffed suitcases through the cobblestone streets to the train station didn’t help the situation, nor did the tight time schedule we placed ourselves under in the first place. I am a firm believer that days shouldn’t start in the middle of the night, but when you only have a few hours to see a city like Rome, sacrifices must be made.

I am by no means a travel expert. But if I could give one piece of advice, it would be to not try to see Rome on less than 4 hours of sleep. Doing so just might lead you to a 9am meltdown outside of a Vodafone store, an accidental nap next to the Trevi fountain and a hysterical fit of giggles on the Spanish Steps. You’re also going to look awful for every single one of the touristy pictures you’ve been so meticulously planning out in your head for months, and there’s only so much a travel compact and lip balm can really do for you.

20180915_105411Traveling is not all picture-perfect, take it from me. But those very real moments in Rome are some of my favorite memories from the trip. Delirious and drunk off house wine, sunshine and sleeplessness, I think we could both feel the memory that was being made at that very instant. Maybe this wasn’t what we imagined it would be. Maybe we were too overwhelmed to fully appreciate the place we were in. Or maybe Rome was better this way, unguarded and real. Imperfect, overcrowded and beautiful.

By some miracle, we made it back to our Airbnb that night for a much-needed siesta. Later, we found ourselves better rested and sitting on another set of steps in front of a quietly impressive church. With a bottle of red wine we bought in Chianti, we toasted to our journey together and the separate adventures we were about to begin. There was an indescribable sense of contentment; the lights of the church and the sounds of the fountain and kids playing on the piazza felt like a scene captured from a movie.

Moments like these aren’t the ones you travel for, not the reason you get on a plane and take a trip to Italy, walk for days, lose sleep and spend too much money. But they are the moments you remember years later, the ones conjured up when you hear Roma or taste a specific type of red wine or the air feels a certain way and there’s a smell or a sound that brings it back randomly. They are the moments for which you don’t have an Instagram-worthy photo or a ticket as a souvenir, but the ones your head replays again and again like a favorite song.

Maybe we were still just delirious that night—not by exhaustion or wine but from the experiences and memories our brains hadn’t begun to process yet. All I know is that I will forever remember a lot from this short trip, but our little evening in Roma under the pizza pie moon on the steps of the piazza will forever be the memory lost in time that I will recall when I think of Italy.

And now for your enjoyment, the progression of our delirium throughout Rome… 

The Flavor of Florence

Italy, oh Italy. Where do I begin?

Was it everything I’ve dreamed of? Yes, and no. My week in Italy, while amazing, was just a taste. A tease. The mouth-watering aperitivo to a filling main course that has yet to come. Because, of course, I will be back. One week was hardly enough to satisfy my hunger for the country that has occupied my dreams for years, but for now, it will do.

I didn’t ride a vespa through the streets of Rome and I still only know about 10 words in Italian (almost all of them food words), but my visit to the land of pasta and vino did not disappoint. With my best friend by my side, I experienced the dolce vita in Florence, Italy’s beautifully historic cultural birthplace, and Rome, the modern metropolis buzzing with energy. We got a literal taste of Tuscany with a tour through Chianti, sampling the prides of the region—wine, oil and vinegar—against a pale gray sky and the sweeping hills lined with vineyards. We embraced the local culture (as much as two American girls who don’t speak a lick of Italian really can), ate delicious food, swam in the Mediterranean, made new international friends and learned from the locals.

We began in Florence, the city of Galileo and Brunellesci and DaVinci. So much of the Italian culture was born here, amidst the cobblestone streets and stone buildings, and that history is tangible, even now. The capitol of the Renaissance that shook the world with its advances in science and art has never lost that awe-inspiring quality. From the top of the Giotto bell tower, the view of the city (and the 400+ steps to the top) left us breathless. Below, the copper-colored city felt like ours for just a moment—like we could reach out and grab the brick bell tower in our fists, as if every little terrazza garden could be our own. And in the center of the whole impressive grid sits the pride and joy of Florence: the Duomo.

Duomo

If you’ve never seen the Duomo before, the best way to experience it for the first time is to stumble upon it accidentally. This may not seem possible for such a massive architectural landmark. But, somehow, the magic of Florence allows for one to be walking towards it, obliviously eating their gelato, and be astonished by its grandeur at the turn of a corner where the Duomo sits illuminated by the midday sun.

At least, that’s how it happened for Meg and me. Running on less than a few hours of sleep, we were determined not to miss a second of our Italian adventure, so we walked off our Italian snacks with a self-guided tour of the city. The hot sun and our fatigue made for a surreal first impression of Florence. As we sat on oak barrels outside of a little wine counter sipping cheap glasses of vino della casa and watching the flow of people and vespas pass by, I realized for the first time this was not just fantasy anymore—this was real life. With the vino and the sun warming me, I felt a dreamlike contentment. Like déjà vu, the blurring of dream and reality into one.

I always knew I’d make it to Italy eventually. The frustration of every failed attempt and bursting of my inflated hopes was carried away in the Tuscan breeze once I finally arrived. With Meg by my side, I knew now why I had to wait, could see as clearly as the Duomo in the distance how God carefully scripted this part of my story.

Italy was everything I have dreamed of and more because I got to experience it all with my best friend. Even instances of fatigue, grumpiness, confusion and hunger were memories in the making. Minor outbursts of stress quickly turned to laughter between the two of us, knowing we’d still be laughing at these memories for years to come.

 

Next stop: Rome! Click here to read the next post.

 

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The Trip That Started it All

I still don’t know if I can honestly claim to be a traveler. What really distinguishes a traveler from someone who just travels anyway? If you ask me, I don’t go to new places nearly enough to consider myself a true nomad, but the term is relative– if you ask my family, I move around quite plenty. This passion I have always had for seeing the world is only getting stronger as I get older and find new opportunities to live out my dreams one location at a time. But if I had to put a finger on the spark that started the fire, I’d have to say that it all began in Philadelphia.

At 15, I had my first taste of independence when I was sent to Philadelphia/Valley Forge for a student leadership retreat– the all-expense-paid reward for winning an AMVETS essay contest. My mom still curses herself for allowing me to respond to the letter that came early that summer, inviting me to attend a student conference called Freedom’s Foundation. Ironic, considering this inconsequential little trip was, in a way, the foundation of my own freedom, giving me a taste of independence I didn’t know I was craving.

Admittedly, the leadership conference was a bore– a weekend of governmental nonsense, mock politics that got way too heated in a room full of fifteen-year-olds and endless speeches given by long-winded ex-secretaries of something-or-other. (I never was very politically inclined.)

Regardless, I had a blast. Philadelphia was beautiful and historic, I met new friends from across the country and, best of all, I had gained a sense of self-reliance at having successfully navigated airports (with a connection!), flight delays and dorm living all on my own. At just 15, I felt something awaken in me, and though I couldn’t identify it then, a new world beyond the tiny one I had always known was beginning to open up.

And it all began in Philadelphia.


So what made me think about this particular glorified class field trip back in high school? Well, as I write this, I am just a few days away from the biggest experience of my life thus far; I will be studying abroad in Seville, Spain for the next few months, something I have been dreaming of and planning almost since that day I returned from Philly. But in all of my preparations and looking ahead, something shook loose the memory of an eager high school sophomore on a solo trip to Philadelphia, and I am only realizing now just how far I’ve come since those days.

I’ve always considered my adventurous spirit to be an intrinsic part of me, like my brown eyes, curly hair or June birthday– a fact of life over which I have little control. But while I’d like to think I was born with a restlessness coursing through my blood, perhaps this isn’t the case. Truthfully, I blame my Papa Joe. From an early age, my head was filled with tales of my family’s far-off homeland– the treacherous Alpine peaks and romantic cobblestone towns, crystal-clear beaches and the best cannoli on earth. My grandfather’s hometown reminiscings became my biggest aspirations and sparked a fire deep in my soul to see the world beyond the one I had always known. Each memory recalled over Sunday family dinners only fueled the flames.

And so began my love affair with this big, wide, beautiful world. First, it was Italy, but I quickly broadened my scope, adding Australia, Greece, New York and Bali to my endlessly growing travel bucket list recorded in colorful ink on cutesy notebooks almost as soon as I learned to write. Elementary school projects often included made-up stories set in Italian landscapes and featuring characters with the names of Lucia, Paolo and Francesca. In second grade, I wrote a St. Patrick’s Day story about an Italian leprechaun who faced discrimination for not being Irish (tackling ethnic prejudice and cultural tolerance at age 8– I couldn’t make this kind of thing up now if I tried).

“Yes, I think I’d be quite happy to marry an Italian man with a vespa and move to Italy forever,” I can remember stating matter-of-factly to my aunt once, talking excitedly over the phone from my Hello Kitty-themed bedroom. I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old at the time, and I had never, for the record, even visited the place I was so casually declaring my future home. I was as delusional about romance as I was about travel, it would seem.

As I got older, my worldly inclinations only grew; I started taking Spanish classes  (Italian wasn’t offered), and what began as nothing more than a graduation requirement turned into a passion. It wasn’t until senior year that I finally put the pieces together, and Spanish became both a plausible future career avenue and my ticket to what I wanted to do most: study abroad.

If you know me well, you know that impatience is as much a part of me as my wanderlust, so at 19 years old, I found myself turning my dreams into reality on a plane headed to a place that had only popped up on my radar a few months before. Peru probably seemed random from the girl who spoke only of Italy for the past 18 years, but the land of Andean mountains and the home of the Incas stole my heart instantly. I felt called to go, and just like Philly, my story was defined by another most unlikely place.

Some people view travel as an escape from reality. They go far and wide to avoid their problems, gain new perspective or simply forget, for a while, in the face of beautiful new surroundings. But for me, travel is not an escape– it is my reality, a re-centering of my restless soul. It is only when I am moving that I feel at home; only in the rush that I feel a sense of calm.

In less than a week, I will jump back into the fire, feel the rush of a new world to explore. When people ask me if I am nervous, it’s hard to put a finger on my exact emotions. It isn’t nerves, though I feel a certain jittery anxiousness as before any big trip; no, what I feel is more like relief. The chance to spend a few months doing what I love most, the thought of all the newness that is there waiting for me to discover, the hopes of incredible people, places and memories– it fills me with a sense of elation that surpasses fear. The adrenaline for the unknown quiets my trepidation for it.

As of now, I am 3 days away from take-off. My first stop is, of course, Italy! Stay tuned for touristy pics, tales of Tuscany and all the Italian food!

Follow all of my travels here, on my blog, which I am hoping to force myself to update more frequently this semester (no promises).

 

My Summer in the City: A Recap

The morning in June when my parents dropped me off at the airport, I wasn’t sure which of us was the most nervous. My stomach was in knots and my mom was on the verge of tears as we hugged and parted ways in front of PIT security. “You’ll do great,” she told me, her voice catching.

That day feels like yesterday, and as I write this now from my bedroom back home, I can hardly believe my summer in the city has come and gone so quickly. Now that I am home, it’s time to do some unpacking (literally and figuratively).

Working and staying in NYC for the past 10 weeks has provided me with enough stories to fill a book, but in living my most exciting life, I often did not leave much time for reflection. So this is my belated attempt at recapping my summer internship experience in the Big Apple. The last few months have taught me more about myself and the world than I knew was possible in such little time, and only now am I beginning to fully understand the ways this experience has changed me.

To have the opportunity to sharpen my PR skills from some of the best in the industry at Ketchum was, quite literally, a dream come true. The first day that I sat in the conference room of their Midtown Manhattan headquarters, surrounded by students/graduates of Cornell, Villanova and Georgetown, I could hardly believe I was truly there. My mind kept flashing back to the day I submitted my application and that thin strand of hope that told me maybe, just maybe, I would get it. I knew it was a long-shot then, but just a few months later, there I was.

That same excitement from the first day never wore off for me. It is not an exaggeration when I say that working at Ketchum was never boring– between the high-speed agency pace, helpful team members, diverse projects and a welcoming workplace culture, this fellowship brought to life all that I learned in the classroom and reminded me why I chose PR in the first place. After this summer, I am more certain than ever that I am in the right career field, and my love for this strategic, creative, ever-changing world of Public Relations only grew.

When I wasn’t working, I meticulously attempted to utilize every spare moment of my time exploring New York City– doing all the things I never had time for during previous weekend visits. In 10 weeks, I explored Brooklyn; drank rose on rooftops; took a walk through Central Park; belted out karaoke in a crowded dive bar; attended an improv comedy show and a musical; ate dim sum in Chinatown; shopped on 5th Avenue; took cliche Gossip Girl pictures on the steps of the MET; did yoga in Times Square; discovered a hidden club underneath a taco stand; soaked up the sun on a beach in Connecticut; ate the best cannoli in NYC from THE Cannoli “King”; saw a concert on the rooftop of Pier 17 on the 4th of July; visited Coney Island and so much more.

Even so, I didn’t do everything on my endless list. As soon as one item was checked off, I continued to discover more amazing experiences to be had in that diverse and exciting city. My goal this summer was to get to know NYC like a local and catch a celebrity sighting of Taylor Swift, but the more time I spent there, I began to realize that this was a foolish ambition. It is impossible to ever really know NYC; the city is as complex as an individual, each street having its own unique personality and diverse culture.

But the real reason this city holds such a special place in my heart is the underlying connection I have always felt to it. We are soul sisters, me and Manhattan– restless and never satisfied, forever moving forward, changing, growing. The beauty of NYC is that it is a city in constant motion.

Some can’t understand why I love New York City so much. Even now, it’s difficult to put into words. For some, the bright lights can be blinding, the hustle, exhausting and the anonymity, downright lonely. But for better or worse, this place awakens me. Even I began to feel familiar with the city and its unique little neuroses, there was always something new waiting around the corner to excite me.

It was by no means easy to live there. To say it was an adjustment from my quiet little life back home would be an understatement. But for every struggle I overcame, for every battle with luck that I didn’t win, my satisfaction grew in knowing that I could overcome this on my own with a little resilience, some gumption and a whole lot of grace.

And as they say, if I could make it there….

Accidental Yogi

This past Thursday was the longest day of the year and the official beginning of summer. Two years ago on the Summer Solstice, I was feeling the reverberation of tribal drums beating a rhythm through the Plaza de Armas in Cusco during the annual Inti Raymi Festival of the Sun god. This year, I found myself celebrating the day a bit more calmly, moving through yoga poses in the middle of Times Square as part of International Yoga Day.

This contrast made me smile to myself as the instructor guided hundreds of crazy yoga fanatics (myself included) through movements that encouraged us to breathe deeply and open our hearts– typical yogi gibberish. But right there, in the bustling center of New York City, that’s exactly what I did. I could feel nothing but gratitude for every step of the journey that brought me here, to this moment– doing something I love in the heart of the city that stole mine so many years ago. A moment of meditation in the middle of all the madness.

Irony at its finest.

It sounds crazy that I had to go to the busiest place in Manhattan to find serenity, but that’s exactly how it happened. The clamor of voices and street noise all became a distant hum in the background of a new tune playing out in my head– one of quiet breathing and the steady beating of my heart. Skyscrapers framed the blue, cloudless sky above. Tourists lurked around, taking photos, and I didn’t even care that I was part of their spectacle.

Let them take a picture, I thought. I hope they capture how calm I am right now. 

The digital billboards scrolled on overhead, screaming silently for attention with their flashing lights and bold letters. In the middle of all the noise, I found an inner quietness my soul had been craving.

Life has been hectic since I stepped off the plane at JFK. Actually, scratch that– life has been hectic for about as long as I can remember now. But especially so here. The city that never sleeps is also the city that never breathes, it seems. Days fly by as quickly as the subway trains, both in their full-steam-ahead cycles of repeated routines. From the first alarm of the morning to my last few breaths as I drift off to sleep at night, my time here is consumed by a fire of emails, spreadsheets, meetings and coffee. Lots of coffee.

This city is wired. It’s exciting and invigorating and overwhelming and stressful all at the same time. As I get more established in my new (temporary) home, the more I adopt this accelerated lifestyle. This caffeinated culture of impatience only fuels my own (sometimes dangerous) tendencies, and lately it has taken more effort than ever before to find my usual sense of bubbliness. This frantic pace doesn’t often allow for slow moments of reflection, so I’m learning to make my own.

I don’t know if I am a true yogi yet. I’m only fairly good at best– if one can even be good at yoga. But this practice has taught me one thing: no matter how hectic the world around me can be, it’s always possible to find a sense of peace.

And if I could manage to find stillness in the middle of Times Square, I think I should be able to find it anywhere.

Transitions

There’s no such thing as an easy goodbye.

Even when it’s just for a little while, it’s tough to hug someone you love and know it will be some time before you’re face to face again. I have had several goodbyes in the last few weeks, and my heart is heavy. While it’s all exciting when you and/or your friends move on– to graduate, study abroad and embark on new adventures– these transitions don’t come without their drawbacks, too. As excited as I am about my own summer ahead, it’s the parting part that leaves a knot in my stomach.

For the next 10 weeks, I am separating myself from my support system, my closest friends and loving family. I did this to myself, of course, and I expect no sympathy. But I’d be remiss not to mention the not-so-pretty truth behind pursuing your dreams. This experience of a lifetime doesn’t come without a sacrifice. Of course, I am excited for the summer ahead, but I am torn between the promise of everything to come and the longing for all that I am leaving behind.

But that’s growing up, I suppose. It’s glamorous and messy all at once. It’s moving on and looking back. It’s equal parts hope and nostalgia. Things change. People grow and move. Life is is constant motion. But we cannot stand still as time surges forward. As fun as it is to reminisce, things can’t stay the same forever. Instead, those memories I cherish have shaped me into who I am and they drive me towards who I will become.

In some ways, this summer feels like my coming of age– like the pilot episode of my feature debut. This is just the beginning of the life I’ve always wanted to create for myself. For so long, living in NYC has been the ultimate dream for me. Yesterday, it became my reality. I am humbled by this opportunity I get to live out my dream and I cannot pretend this was all a result of my efforts. Don’t get me wrong, I put a lot of effort into this, but even my hard work alone could not so perfectly orchestrate this whole thing the way it has come together.

So I will give glory where it is due: to God who has blessed me with my wildest dream. And knowing that, I will approach this summer fully surrendered and eager to be used for His purposes. I will rely on Him to bring peace, wisdom and guidance for my every step. This is just one stop in the journey that is life, and I intend to make the most of every last moment.