Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Minds and Prejudice

TODAY it has been one month since I left Madrid and even typing that out it still doesn't seem like that should be correct.  Time stops here in Kendall, Wisconsin.  It's like the minute you cross the state border line you move into this twilight zone where nothing changes and the days blur together so much so that you can't remember if you've been here for a few hours or 30 years.

That being said, being back home has been pretty nice so far.  I spent my first week in California visiting Kelsey, and Erin came out too, so we had a nice little sister's vacation.  I definitely felt the pangs of culture shock jumping so quickly from Madrid to the hustle-bustle lifestyle of Los Angeles.  The tall buildings, the need to drive everywhere, and the overall immensity of the city itself had me feeling overwhelmed and suffocated.  I just wanted everything to be slower, easier, smaller.  We spent 2 days in San Francisco, which was beautiful, but I only wished that I wasn't suffering from USA shell shock so that I could have maybe enjoyed it a little bit more.  The highlight was definitely being in town the weekend after the Supreme Court repealed Prop 8 and said bye-bye to DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) and we sat on the San Fran courthouse steps as couple after couple went inside to celebrate their love and get married.

After getting back to Wisconsin, there was absolutely no need to wish for slower, easier, or smaller. I definitely knew I wasn't in L.A. or Madrid anymore while I was waiting for my baggage at the Madison airport and a group of people started to form around a girl about my age who had a cat on a leash.  There were 'Ohhhs' 'Aaahhs' 'How'd it get so small!?!' and one old man even dug out his digital camera so he could get a video.  Then of course they all started a conversation and became best friends after.  And that, folks, is how you know you've arrived to the Midwest.  You can also tell by the never-ending green rolling hills and corn fields and trees surrounding you on all sides.  And the humidity.

I've always loved the view out our kitchen window
Drake enjoying the tranquility of his country life

Being away from home always makes me feel more appreciative of the things I have taken for granted, like how absolutely beautiful it is here in the summertime, or how calm small town life is (and it's not so bad for a short period of time), or how happy and free I feel when I'm reunited with my best friends, or how much I enjoy hanging out with my parents and sister.

But I've also realized that small town mentalities are something that I have the hardest time readjusting to.  I have been so lucky in my short lifetime to have been exposed to lots of different kinds of people from many different places and to have seen all that I have.  I don't think this makes me better than anyone or smarter, but it's clear after just a few conversations I've been involved in with people now that I've been back home that my mind is much more open.  My biggest struggle is knowing when it's appropriate to just keep my thoughts to myself or when it's better to say "No, this is wrong, and here are some things I've experienced that can show you why.." For the most part I say nothing because I recognize when a conversation can be a discussion and when it turns into pounding your head against a brick wall.  In the end it just solidifies my desire to see even more and to live a life free of prejudice and judgment.  

Saturday, June 22, 2013

People, Places, and Things. But Mostly People.

As I sit here this morning trying to find the right words to accurately begin and end this post, I can barely believe I've officially finished my first extended stay abroad.  It's been exactly a year since I was offered my "job" teaching English in Spain, and 10 months since I moved here.  I have just two more days before I get on a plane and head back to the states for the summer, and I know how important it is for me personally to get my reflections on the last year of my life down in writing before the magic of the first year abroad vanishes into the comfort of being home again.

There are almost too many things I want to write about today.  School, travelling, culture shock, friends, food, transportation, weather, all the negative, and all the positive.  But as I look back on the last 10 months of my life, one thing stands out to me no matter where I was or what I was doing:


I am and forever will be a people person, so naturally this is a huge part of how I experience life.  We as humans have such an incredible ability to impact other humans in ways we mostly will never realize because something insignificant to one person can mean the world to another.  It sounds cliché (don't worry that fact is not lost on me) but it's still true nonetheless.  People shape our views of culture.  They change our feelings either positively or negatively about an entire country.  How many times have you said, or heard from another person, "Well I have friends from *insert any state or country* and they are all *insert generalizing phrase*"?  We all do this and we always will, and while of course it's dangerous to generalize and stereotype, this fact should help us all remember that we are individuals but we still represent a whole.  It's always my goal, knowing how many erroneous (but, yes, sometimes true) stereotypes exist about Americans, that wherever I go I try to change at least one person's mind about what Americans are like.  If I succeed in doing that, I can go home feeling accomplished.

But anyway, I am getting away from myself a bit. People.  My interactions with people here in Spain in my first couple of months were what made me so negative about the new life I was living, while they were exactly the thing that made me fall in love with Dublin the minute I got into my taxi from the airport.  Yes, when you make friends with people, that always changes your mind, but the split second conversations you have with a cashier at the grocery store or a person you ask for directions on the street can have just as much of an impact on your impression of the society as your close friends will.  This was something I started to learn really quickly, and it made me reflect on what it's like at home too (something that usually happens when you travel) and I began to feel more and more proud of being from the Midwest and the fact that we are generally such nice people. Specifically for the fact that even if we are having a bad day, you will rarely encounter someone in a store or on the street who won't smile and say hello to you.

This brings me to another thing that I learned this year to a larger extent than I ever have in the past, and that is the striking differences between people in my own home country.  Most people who know me, know that I've spent most of my twenties making friends with people from different parts of the world.  I left college with just as many foreign friends as American, and I even kept in touch with more of the people who lived halfway across the world than the ones who lived on the next block.  So when I came to Spain that was my expectation: avoid Americans, make all best friends with Spaniards and inevitably all other foreigners in Madrid.  But to my surprise, I spent a majority of my time with other Americans.  Anyone else would probably feel bad about this, but considering my track record, this is somewhat of an accomplishment.  I met people who ACTUALLY lived in New York, hadn't just visited for a band or choir trip or summer vacation.  Someone who ACTUALLY lived and worked in Washington D.C. and hadn't just gone there for the Safety Patrol trip in 5th grade.  A Harvard grad who was ACTUALLY not a stuck-up, hoity-toity asshole.  As we spent more and more of our time together and became close friends, it was amazing to me just how different our lives were.  And the same for them when I would describe growing up on a farm in rural Wisconsin and most times didn't understand how that would be weird to anyone else since almost everyone I know from home grew up on a farm or at least nearby one.  In a lot of ways I am most grateful for this experience because it was something I never expected to gain out of living outside of the U.S.

As I prepare to leave for the summer, I can't help feeling a push and pull of contrasting emotions.  Knowing I'm coming back again for another school year makes me feel like there's nothing really to feel sad about because I will be back again in a couple of months.  At the same time, I've been watching as all the people I've grown close to in the last 10 months leave one by one and go back to their lives in the United States, Canada, Germany, England, Norway... and knowing that I will come back next year to just one or two people I met this year makes me incredibly sad.  Yes, the city will be the same and all the restaurants, clubs, and cafes I love will be here, but when you take the people out of the place, the place becomes different.  I would be lying to myself if I said it will be easy to meet new people here when many of the things we will do together will be overshadowed by my memories of doing the exact same things with people who are gone.  Picnics in Retiro, people watching in Sol, Bar hopping in Malasaña.  There will be chances to experience new things with the new people I meet too, and that is exciting, but there will always be a special place in my heart for the people I met my first year here. Because as I've come to learn, 

It's not where you are, it's who you're with.   


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Puente of Couches

Ever heard of the website  If you are a twenty-something who has lived or traveled abroad, probably you have.  It's gained a lot of popularity in the last 2-3 years or so and is far more fancy now than it was when I first joined in 2009.  For the rest of you, here is a blurb from their website to give you an idea:
When I first heard about it, I thought it was an amazing idea. It spoke to me.  I started fantasizing about all the crazy, cool, and kooky people I could meet.  Maybe some hippies in Amsterdam.  Wise and seasoned travelers in Budapest.  Some fellow expats in Berlin.  Sitting cross-legged on a bean bag sipping tea with my host(s), strolling around a city and getting the low-down inside scoop from a local, sharing stories, travel experiences, and insightful epiphanies about the world and all its mysterious glory.   Yeah, actually I did a lot of fantasizing about hippies. 

So after 3.5 years of being a Couchsurfing member, I finally did my first couch stay in Barcelona, accompanied by my friend Meagan, during our 5 day weekend.  Let's just was interesting. Santiago was his name, but he went by "Santi".  He kindly met us at the metro nearest his apartment and the minute I laid eyes on him I knew we were in for an awkward weekend.  On his CS profile, it says that he is 32.  Maybe he is.  Or maybe he's been 32 for the last 8 years. ¿Quién sabe?  But, as Aaliyah told us, 'age ain't nothin but a number'.  This guy could be cool! After all, his profile said he was a DJ and he had as many reviews as I did from people who had stayed with him and they were all positive.  Unfortunately, a cloud of awkward pauses and forced conversation fell over us the minute we began the walk from the metro to his apartment. 

Me: Hi! Great! Thanks so much for letting us stay!

Santi: *Stares**Smiles**Reveals to us his brace-face*         

Me:  Cool.. So...Do you speak English? 

Santi: *Awkward laugh* Yes.  A leettle beet.

Meagan: Are you from Barcelona? 

Santi: Yes.


He made us a salad for dinner when we got to his apartment and showed us the two separate bedrooms that we could stay in (we chose to sleep together in the room with the bigger bed).  Over our dinner salad, he brought out a large manila folder full of brochures and maps, and he had even printed out a packet of discounts to various sights throughout the city.  We appreciated the gesture, especially after we figured out that he didn't have any suggestions of his own. 

Meagan: So where are some great places to eat? What's your favorite spot?
Santi: Hmmmmm....umm...hmmm.. *looks at a brochure of restaurants*..I don't know.. I don't go out much.

You kind of have to question someone in their "30's" who has lived in Barcelona their whole life and has not one single suggestion for a restaurant to check out or special place that might not be on a tourist map but is well worth the visit.  So after not being able to stand the stifling dinner conversation any longer, we retired for the night to rest for a full day on Thursday. 

On Thursday we spent the whole day out. We waited in line for the Sagrada Familia (Oh yeaa bein' a tourist!), walked to and through Park Güell, searched high and low for a worthy Kebap stop, shopped, photo-oped, and dropped.  By 8pm we were exhausted, but unfortunately the downfall of not staying at a hostel was that we couldn't go back to the apartment until Santi got back from work at 8:30... So when he texted saying he would be later than he thought, we weren't really sure what to do with ourselves.  
After watching an Asian family play soccer in a plaza on rollerblades, we finally decided to go back to the apartment and wait out the pending arrival of Santi over a drink at a nearby bar. 
By the time he returned from work and we were back in the apartment, it was almost 10pm.  Meagan and I had thought about going out that night, but Santi kept referring to things in "we"s... 
'Yes there is this club we can go to...' 
'Yes I wanted us to go to this place...' 
'WE can go to this area...' 
Being new to the Couchsurfing thing, we weren't really sure if that was the exchange for staying for free or not. Did we have to hang out with this guy?  What's the nicest way to say no or play the foreign card without him giving me a bad review?  In the end, it worked in our favor that we had been out ALL FREAKING DAY and we had no energy to party and bullshit anyway. 

On Friday we hit the beach.  I felt a little guilty since I think the same moment I was getting sunburnt, people back home were swiping snow off their cars.  In May.  I'm so sorry everyone.  I'm not much of a beach bum since I get bored so easily but I managed to entertain myself enough to stay sane while Meagan napped. Watched some German guys work out. Finished reading The Bell Jar.  Drank a gin and tonic.  Marveled at the speedos and topless tanners.  It wasn't so bad.  At 7pm we reluctantly returned to the apartment where our dear friend SANTI was waiting.  And we walked in to a full on party baby.  Well...okay there were no people.  But the apartment was bumpin.  "Oh yeah, I'm recording a session.." Santi said oh-so-nonchalantly.  He is a "SOULFUL" DJ, after all.  It was our last night so we had decided that this awkward 'we' going out situation was going to be a little hard to avoid this time, but if we had to do it, might as well do it when we were leaving the next morning.  We kindly made the plans, masking our hesitation with smiles and by "enthusiastically" writing down addresses (I can teach you, if you're curious how that works). 

At 1am we arrived to the designated spot. "Dime Barcelona".  It looked like a hotel.  I'm talking top-notch, refined, the place you stay when your parents are paying.  If your parents are The Hiltons.  It was set-up like a fine dining restaurant, and we looked around and at each other unsure if we were at the right place. The hostess at the door looked at us and hesitated before asking slowly...
"Hii...What are you looking for?"
I looked at my phone GPS, back at Meagan, and then back at the hostess with this look that said 'please tell me we are wrong'
"...Dime...Barcelona...?" I responded.
Our hostess looked on us with a sad, pitiful look, paused and asked:
"Are you here...for the "soulful" party..??"
We said without a hint of excitement or conviction: "*sigh* Yes."
Her look told it all.  We knew then and there we weren't any place we would ever have freely chosen to go.  She stepped aside and told us to go downstairs.

Once downstairs, it took a millisecond to gauge that the average age of the clientele in this club was about 50.  We quickly ran to the bathroom.  It was a really nice bathroom.  There was an attendant, surely laughing to herself at these two girls who must be someone's grandchildren trying to figure out how the faucet works.  The sinks were all fancy like from the future or maybe from one of those mansions they used to show on MTV Cribs.  At least I got to see that.  Anyway, Santi found us and said "Oh great you're here! Follow me..".... and led us straight... To. The. Dance. Floor.  In that moment I stopped and looked back at Meagan, telling her with my eyes "WHAT?!?... HE WANTS US TO DANCE WITH HIM?!"... We both stopped on the edge of the disco inferno and when he turned around and saw that we hadn't followed him seemed bewildered. Ho! But whatever could be the matter here?  Luckily I was sunburned, so I feigned this painful look and put my hand on the back of my leg and gestured "Ohh the sunburn! I'm in so much pain! I can't dance"
So Santi sauntered into the crowd, got his groove on to the 'soulful' tunes, while Meagan and I sat on a lounge chair in stunned silence at the situation we found ourselves in.  After 20 minutes, though, Santi came back and, after failing to get me to dance again (I mean.. what?), asked if we wanted to leave. Yes. Yes please yes.

Leaving on Saturday morning was a sigh of relief.  I have heard from a lot of friends great stories about their Couchsurfing experiences, so I am still positive about it and will definitely give it another try.  And Santi really was a nice man.  Just maybe not a good fit for two chicas in their mid-twenties.  Maybe better for him to host divorcées or soulful aficionados. 
Better luck next time.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Anti-Tourism: Dublin

I've recently discovered that I am a terrible tourist.  Not in the typical way, such as giving snide comments when people don't speak American, or being absolutely guffawed when there isn't a Starbucks I can get my coffee on at every corner, or complaining that my food is just simply too strange and, quite frankly, shit. No no.  I mean that I make plans to go somewhere (and by make plans I mean search Ryanair for the current cheapest flight, review my Facebook friends list to see if I have any friend living in current cheap destination, and book) and stop all thinking processes about the destination until I have to pack.  Then, I arrive and my friend will say "So what do you want to do?" And I stare blankly and the realization hits me... "Oh yeah...There are touristy things to see when you're a tourist, aren't there?"  

But am I a terrible tourist or a really excellent tourist?  Am I lazy or am I actually adventurous?  Do I take the paths bent in the undergrowth or the ones less traveled by?

See, I went to Dublin about a month ago and it was one of my favorite trips so far, yet the single and only 'tourist' spot my friend Andrea and I hit was the Guinness storehouse. (A really awesome brewery, by the way, if you are into breweries or just in general love Guinness [which I don't]).  Apart from a few hours we spent in Howth, I basically saw nothing but pubs, inns, plates of food, and the inside of her awesome host family's home. 

                                 Proof of said tourist experience

In Howth, eating the market goods
The gorgeous views of Howth

What made it so great is that I spent the weekend living more like a local rather than with my face stuffed inside a map just trying to get from attraction to attraction to snap a few photos and get on to the next thing before it got too dark or too cold.  We spent our first and last nights at The Raheny Inn, a "kip" as the Irish say (or at least the Irish in Kilbarrack), and that is where I first realized that the Mexicans were having a run for their money as my favorite people in the world.  I'm head over heels for the Irish.  They're crude, they're honest, they're open, they keep me laughing and they just seem to know how to have a great time.  The minute we came into the pub, every old man bellied up to the bar was keen on finding out who Andrea's new friend was, where I was coming from, and how many pints I wanted. Well, to be fair they didn't really ask how many pints I wanted, they just kept right on ordering in your stereotypical Irish fashion.  We chummed up with the bartenders who Andrea was already acquainted with and made fast friends by the end of the night.  

Andrea and I with her host dad, John.
I felt completely in my element the minute I stepped foot into Andrea's host family's place.  Her host dad immediately started giving me a hard time, her host mom had made an amazing chicken curry dinner for us, and we wasted no time getting down to the pub for a drink.  The whole weekend was glorious; not having to worry about who would mean mug me if I said the F word, no qualms about saying whatever ludicrous thing came to mind, and definitely not caring about striking up conversations with strangers which proves to be a lot more difficult and awkward here in España.  When Sunday came I absolutely did not want to return to Spain and the Spanish, but my wallet and my liver were both saying "Honey, it's time" and the wonderful Éire weekend came to a sad end.  

In conclusion, I am the anti-tourist. I would much rather spend a few days like a local than a few days running myself ragged just to say I saw something that millions of other people have seen too and I think that's the best kind of tourist one can strive to be. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Rachel Perry Takes Europe by Storm

It has been a crazy, fun-filled 3 weeks and of course I'd like to share just how much fun I've been having, which my now ailing body can attest to, with you all my lovely readers. All 2 of you. Or however few of you exist.

I can't believe it happened, but my best friend and former roommate Rachel Perry made it out of the US for the first time and crossed the big ocean blue to visit me here in Spain. And boy did we make the most of it. Let me give you a quick summation of her 12 day trip so you get an idea just how little rest there is for the wicked.

Day 1 - 7am flight arrival and 7 hour nap (to get over jetlag) for Rachel to Bar hopping and drinking in the street on St. Paddy's Day
Day 2 - Full day tour of Madrid
Day 3 - 7am out the door to go to school for the day
Day 4 - 7am out the door to catch a flight to Rome
Day 5 - Full day tour of Rome + a crazy night of partying in our hostel
Day 6 - Full day tour of Rome + Sadness and disappointment at not getting to the Colosseum before it closed
Day 7 - 7am out the door to catch a flight back to Madrid + naps and back out for a night on the town
Day 8 - Rest, Romantic dinner for two at 'The Secret Garden' cafe, late night last minute trip planning
Day 9 - 5 hour bus ride to Granada, Spain
Day 10 - Full day tour of Granada + Flamenco show and dinner
Day 11 - 2 hour bus ride to Cordoba, Spain + Full day tour of Cordoba
Day 12 - 5 hour bus ride back to Madrid + Last night out
Day 13 - 8am Back to the airport we go to say our goodbyes :(

We shared some great laughs (as we always do), Rachel took enough pictures on her Samsung Galaxy to fill an entire galaxy, I fell in love with Spain again just a little bit, and we didn't waste a single minute. I loved Italy and would advise anyone who thinks you can see Rome in 2 days to understand that you CANNOT. We thought we could do it and... well, we were wrong.
One thing I always tell myself I need to work on is asking for help. I can be really stubborn and when I travel I have a hard time stopping and saying 'you know what let's just ask someone'. I am completely self-aware on this fact, and as much as I hate it it's been really hard to change. That's when it's great to travel with people like Rachel. She was always willing to stop and ask people how to get to the nearest landmark, street, restaurant, or bus stop even though she doesn't speak any Spanish or Italian.
Traveling with her also helped me to like Spain again. Showing someone a place they have never been before always opens your eyes to something you may have been overlooking. When we went to Granada I had this feeling like I was seeing it for the first time too (even though I had already been there before) and during the Flamenco show I found myself thinking how beautiful Spanish culture is.  Of course, then I went back to school the following week and was reminded quickly all the shit I hate about Spanish culture...But what can you do?

Here are some photo highlights of our trip:

Outside St. Peter's Prison Museum. A very...strange..experience

Rachel with her delish Italian pizza
And me with this amazing pasta

Trevi Fountain - Where dreams come true

Met some British Army soldiers in our hostel...Yes that is a hand check

Enjoying views of lovely Granada

Melt in your mouth dessert

Our last day in Cordoba. We had no money left so we sort of snuck into this place...Woops!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Give Sorrow Words

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.” 
― Macbeth

It has taken me a long time to get around to writing in my blog again.  There's no rule that says you have to write about the bad times as much as the good, but in this case I don't feel that I could go on writing about anything else until I got this one out of my system.  It's just taken me a while to muster up the courage and motivation. 

On February 15th, my grandpa passed away.  I was away on a weekend trip with my friend Meagan when my mom got the news to me.  As soon as I got back to Madrid late Sunday night/early Monday morning, we booked a flight (an incredibly and surprisingly cheap last minute flight), I unpacked and then repacked my bags, slept for 4 hours, got up in the morning and headed right back to the airport.  One of the longest flights I have ever experienced. 

My grandpa was an incredible person.  He was a man of few words, but that usually just meant that when he had something to say it was worth listening to.  He loved to tell stories and he loved to hear them told.  He was full of funny witticisms. Don't hang with the crows or you're gonna get shot.  He loved basketball and he hated when people missed their freethrows. A freethrow is the easiest shot in basketball: You've got 10 seconds to do it, it's the same distance every time, and no one is guarding you. He always seemed to be thinking about something so simple, yet very puzzling, and waited until the right moment to ask his curiosities out loud. Why do they make a lid for the toilet seat if you just keep it up all the time anyway?  He did what he loved and worked hard every day of his life, up until his disease didn't allow him to anymore. 
As hard as the wake and funeral and everything after and in between were during that week, it was also filled with light hearted moments, laughter, and happiness amidst the sorrow.  Never has my heart felt so torn in two totally different directions: Incomparable sadness for having to say goodbye to this person I made myself believe could live forever vs.  Giddy joy to be home with my family and for the great stories and memories we shared about my grandpa amongst ourselves and with friends.

Although I had a lot of things I wanted to write about in this post, I think it is best to leave it short and sweet.  I don't know how long it will take me to come to terms with the fact that when I get home this summer, my grandpa won't be sitting in his rocking chair by the window reading the Sunday paper.  But, as they say, time heals everything.  Eventually I will be consoled by these memories rather than put to tears.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Bad Karma

Writing this post from my friend's iPad that she so generously lent me for the time being. Why? Well my computer was stolen on Tuesday night.  I don't really want to go through the whole story again but in a very short summation - I was at dinner with some friends when we were about to pay and I reached down to realize that my purse/computer bag was gone. Wallet, computer, all my school things, materials for my private lessons that I do on Tuesdays, medicine, water bottle, tampons (VERY IMPORTANT!), well basically I carried my life with me in that bag.  I was in such shock (still am somewhat) that I couldn't even cry. Eventually I did, of course, but I think overall I handled the situation better than I would have ever expected.

A couple things I've learned from this and my unfortunate mishap with deleting all my photos (which now doesn't even matter) are:
1) My awful habit of procrastination has got to change. I bought an external hard drive in the summer because of my fear that my computer was on the verge of death. Slowly I attempted to back things up (subsequently deleting all my pictures at one point) but without any sense of urgency. I kept telling myself I'd get to it later. So because of that, I lost almost everything on my computer - resumes, transcripts, college work, 9,000+ songs on my iTunes, personal writings and notes, etc etc etc.
2) My attachment and obsession with my laptop was crippling, I knew it, but never had any reason to really evaluate it. But now, the feeling I have thinking about the fact that I no longer have my laptop is a conflicting combination of confusion, depression, and relief. I've become so accustomed to having such easy access to Internet and endless time wasting (and of course the ability to do important work-related things as well) that I feel totally lost now not knowing what to do with myself. Bored. Yeah it's only been one day maybe I am being dramatic but that's what I feel when I think about going home after work.  However, now I can also see the chance to do a lot of things without having my computer as a constant distraction - looking at the bright side. I can finish my book, I have no excuse not to start working out again, I can be more productive overall (within a certain means. Some things can't be done for work without a computer it's just the way it is now)

So overall, I'm about to get more creative. I hope. I always said that I didn't know what I would do without my computer...but I guess now I'm about to find out.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Out with the Old, In with the New

Street art posters in Berlin. Fitting?

While this is coming almost a month behind schedule, I don't think it's ever too late to reflect on the year past.  I want to say my proper goodbyes to 2012, a great year full of successes and milestones, but not without its disappointments and trials.

When I look back on myself a year ago, I can see how much I've grown.  I was starting my last semester of college, terrified beyond belief of what was going to come next, mentally freaking out as roommates and friends got "real, grown-up" jobs or made concrete plans for the future.  Planning for the future is not really one of my fortes, in fact it might be among my top most hated things to do, but now I realize that it's something I will never escape and graduating from college only made it that much more prominent in my life.  Moving to Spain helped me see that even if it freaks me out, no matter what happens it will all be for the best and the only wrong move is making no move at all.

Remembering my academic, college year of 2012 already makes me nostalgic and 2013 is barely out of the womb.  It was a true year of living in the moment, realizing that many of the things that had become routine and common place in my life would never be the same again after May.  I built better friendships with people who had always been close to me, let others fall to the wayside, and lost some completely.  Being someone who makes friends easily, it sometimes has seemed that losing friends isn't that big of a deal, but I think 2012 helped me see just how much I carry my friends in my heart, even those who never really were great friends to me in all our years or months together.  I want to get better at letting go, and that can apply as much to a lost friendship as it can to anything else in life.
I understand now that the years to come are going to be filled with as many or more goodbyes as hellos, and that what really matters is how we help each other to grow during the time we have together or realize what we had in the time we spend apart.

My biggest story of 2012 after graduation was my move to Spain.  I still can't believe I am living here sometimes, and other times it seems like the most normal thing anyone could ever do.  I'm learning so much about myself, sometimes I don't even realize I didn't know it before.  Before the Christmas holiday, I was feeling frustrated and questioning why I came here, worrying about money, and thinking maybe this was the wrong choice.  It might appear to people that I live this amazing life because I am in Spain, but living abroad is hard even for the most open people.  I've been more homesick than ever before in my life, had more culture shock than during any of my other travels, and truly had some nasty feelings about Spanish people and Spanish culture.    After 2.5 weeks of vacation, and a one week trip to Berlin, I returned to Madrid with a clearer mind and more open heart.  I feel more like myself for the first time since moving here.  I don't know how, why or when it happened, but I just feel ready to make the best of the next 6 months and not take any more time for granted.  I guess the best awakenings happen while we are still asleep.

Here's to 2013.