How Not to Study Abroad

Originally posted on Alise's Writing:

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(^^the first/best time that I was in Paris)

In the fall of 2012, I studied abroad in Paris. I loved traveling in Europe but, to be honest, I didn’t really like the program that I was in. If you are looking to study abroad, learn from my mistakes on what not to do!

1. Know the climate of the place in which you will be living.

I sort of didn’t realize that Paris is really cold and cloudy in the fall… I had been there once before at the end of September, and the weather was sunny and perfect. However, living there in October and November was basically like living in Seattle, and we all know how I feel about that. To summarize, I’m physically incapable of dressing properly for cold weather, and the grey days punctuated by 4:30 PM sunsets were not so fun. I wish that I would have…

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Tapas

Perhaps it’s the recent Republican takeover of the United States Congress. Perhaps it’s the fact that my Spanish boyfriend is moving to Tokyo soon due to visa expiration and a job opportunity*. Whatever it may be, as I sit here eating my tomato soup, I have a deep longing to Move Out Tha Country.

But wait- shouldn’t I work on operation Move Out My Mama’s House first?

Can I work on both simultaneously?

Here is my current statistical information: I dropped out of university with one year to go. I am a few hours away from completing my 200-hour yoga teacher training, and today I had a really great second interview for a yoga teaching position. I work part-time at a minimum wage job.

I love, more than anything in life, dancing and performing spoken word poetry.

I can carry on a “deep” conversation in French and speak extremely broken, present-tense Spanish.

I’m a little bit all over the place.

In yoga teacher training, we learned the importance of slowing down, of appreciating the present moment, and of living through the “boring” moments of life with passion and vigor (the name of the latter concept in Sanskrit is funnily also a Spanish word: tapas). That means vacuuming with a lust for life. Appreciating the present moment also encompasses letting go of over-thinking, worrying, and overly planning for life. I am for sure one who struggles with overly planning for life. If we are always planning ahead then one day we will just die having never really enjoyed life. It is in this regard that maybe I shouldn’t be so focused on the end goal of leaving and should have fun in and appreciate my current life.

However, they say that Moving Out Tha Country requires a plan. On all of these travel blogs in which the authors describe their ability to afford going abroad, they tend to emphasize having a clear-cut goal, working like a madwoman or man, and living like a pauper for X amount of months; for example: I want to backpack around Southeast Asia for 9 months. I will work 60 hours a week. I will significantly cut back on my social life and eat as cheaply as possible. I will stop pampering myself. I will put away X amount of dollars per month so that I will be able to leave by X date. They say that this saving-up lifestyle is pretty miserable but ultimately worth it once abroad.

In yoga, though, one also learns the importance of ahimsa, or kindness and compassion to both others and oneself. Therefore severely denying oneself in order to save money is, in my opinion, not very indicative of kindness to oneself. How can I be a yoga instructor, telling other people to relax and eat healthy, enjoy life and not work oneself to death, all the while metaphorically (and probably literally) starving myself? Additionally, many travel bloggers talk of moving back home to save money on rent before the big trip. I am saving so much on rent but am ultimately denying myself my own sanity by living at home.

I have all these schemas in mind: go back to school in Fall 2015 (when admissions at my nearest university are next open) and study abroad in Southern France for Spring 2016 (back when I was at university, I was majoring in English and minoring in French); save up for a TEFL course in Barcelona and find a job teaching English there (Spain is one country that doesn’t require a Bachelor’s degree in order to obtain an English teaching job) (I also have some issues with the morality of teaching English abroad, but that’s a whole other essay. I could probably also get over these issues if teaching English really does provide such an easy and fantastic means of living abroad.); try to find a job working at a yoga retreat in a beautiful, exotic location; see if I can find a regular yoga teaching job in a city abroad (Barcelona? Maybe that’s where I belong, as it’s the city that keeps coming to mind); save up (or don’t save up) with no real goal in mind and see where the wind blows me. Maybe Spirit will guide me to the country of my subconscious dreams at the right timing.

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^Some girl doing yoga on the beach in Barcelona

*Trust me, I’ve already been through the whole thought process of “Maybe I should move to Tokyo to be with him,” or “Maybe one day our paths will reunite in Spain,” or “Maybe he’ll get a green card and come back to America and then I should stay here,” or, “I’m not going to make a life decision based on a guy,” or, “Life decisions based on a guy are beautiful.”

My brain, man.

New York City

I was feeling like kind of a lame-o because it’s been about a year and a half since I’ve left the country (gasp!), but then I remembered the Dalai Lama’s quote, “Every year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” I realized that someplace new is any new place- not just out of the country! In 2013, I went to Miami for the first time and didn’t even think to blog about it. Now, I just got back from seeing New York City for the first time- in fact, I had never even been on the East Coast before (well, except Miami, but that doesn’t count)! I had quite the marvelous time in New York and figured that I would share it with you all today.

I arrived in the wee hours of Friday morning, having taken an overnight flight on which I did not sleep. Like the boss at public transportation that I am, I figured out how to take the subway (I also kept calling it the metro, whoops) without a GPS all the way to my friend Kelly’s place- the girl who so kindly let me stay with her. I ascended out of the station into Greenwich Village and gasped in awe and excitement at my surroundings: brick buildings taller than any that exist in Los Angeles lining the street all the way down the horizon as far as the eye can see, cute shopping, early morning commuters getting their coffees on their way to work, the crispness of the morning enlivening the city with excitement for the day. I felt like this was the New York that people fall in love with.

After meeting up with my friend at her place and taking a much needed, long nap, I explored the area around Union Square and Washington Square park. It was quite the sensory overload to take in so many people in the streets- especially since everyone was so fashionable. I was seriously considering taking photos of each person whom I thought was wearing a cute outfit and starting a fashion blog based on it.

Me at Union Square:
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Anyhow, once Kelly was done with work for the day, we set off to the Neue Museum- a small, modern art gallery near Central Park that is free on the first Friday of each month. However, everyone else in the city had the same idea as us, and the line was impossibly long. Instead, we decided to hit up a restaurant/bar called Lillie’s that someone had recommended to me. After googling it and having a drink there, I realized that we were at the wrong Lillie’s. We finally went to the right one afterward- it was an adorable, Victorian style establishment filled to the brim with people. I was falling asleep in my Mac ‘n’ Cheese, however, so we decided to call it a night early.

The wrong Lilly’s:
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The right Lillie’s!:
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The next day, we had brunch at a cute hippie café- and also the skinniest café in existence- called Mud. It was packed, and maybe two people could stand comfortably side-by-side in it. However, the outside patio where we ate was cute and garden-esque.
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Later that day, I had the highlight of my trip: I met up with my friend David! You may recall that I met David, a guy from New York, at my hostel in Barcelona when I was traveling in Europe. My gosh, this is my favorite story to tell. Okay, so Barcelona was the last place that I went to before I came home, and it was also David’s last stop on his backpacking trip around the continent. We just so happened to be leaving Europe on the same day. Conveniently, we decided to ride to the airport together. We then realized that we were on the same flight! The flight was Barcelona to New York and then to LAX, and we were on the first leg of the trip together. How weird is that?! Our flight also happened to be empty, so we were able to sit next to each other and bond. He told me to hit him up if I ever came to New York. So, I did!

David and his wonderful girlfriend, Alexa, actually live in Pennsylvania now, and they so kindly drove up two hours just to see Kelly and me! They took us to get food and drinks and drove us around the city. Later that night we all went to a biergarten. I just felt like life was so beautiful- I mean, how often do you meet someone in Barcelona, end up on the same flight home as them, and then see them in New York again a year and a half later?

David, Alexa, and me eating waffles with gingerbread ice cream om nom nom:
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The next day, Kelly and I made the trek over to Brooklyn for the Smorgasburg flea market! I feel like, lately, I hear perhaps more about Brooklyn in the media than Manhattan; on the one hand, I listen to 90s rappers such as Mos Def, Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z who discuss the gang banging and drug dealing happening on Brooklyn’s rough streets. However, in the indie world, Brooklyn has now seemingly become the hipster’s paradise in the last several years. Many claim that this resulted from starving artists being unable to afford living in Manhattan; others bemoan of gentrification (one of my favorite Urban Dictionary definitions is that of gentrification: “when a bunch of white people move to the ghetto and open up a bunch of cupcake shops“). Anyhow, I didn’t see much of Brooklyn, but from what I did see was that part of it wasn’t so nice and part of it was. I didn’t see that many record stores or organic, fair-trade coffee shops, but maybe I was in the wrong neighborhood. The flea market ended up being a bunch of food vendors patronized by well-dressed people with an amazing view of Manhattan:

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Kelly’s coconut:
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That night, we saw a Broadway play! It was called Motown: The Musical, and it was wonderful. It told the story of Motown Records and was filled with music by Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder… it was awesome. Afterward, we had some New York pizza (I think in New York they just call it pizza) at a place called Joe’s that apparently is frequented by celebrities. We saw a photo on the wall of Lenny Kravitz, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Bradley Cooper all eating there. Who knew the three of them were friends?

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The next morning was my final day in the city! I went out for breakfast with my cousin Megan who lives in New York and whom I hadn’t seen in years. It was so wonderful to be able to reunite since we aren’t able to see each other often enough!

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And finally, the last thing that I managed to squeeze in before my flight home was going to the Museum of Modern Art. My gosh, I could have spent days there, but I only had about an hour. I was able to see “The Starry freaking Night” by van Gogh as well as “The Persistence of Memory” by Dalí and some of Monet’s “Water Lilies”. I was starstruck.

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Then I went home, and I was sad. I fell in love with New York and felt like there was so much that I wasn’t able to see. As David said, “A lot of people who travel here just end up moving here.” If the climate weren’t so awful I could totally live there; I just can’t handle winters that dip below 60 degrees, ya dig? Yet, I loved how there were seemingly endless things to do, places to see, and people to meet. New York always has something happening somewhere, and I think it’s impossible to get bored there. It felt like the most European city that I have visited thus far in America, what with its metro- I mean subway!-, arts, theater, cafés, well-dressed and interesting people, nightlife, and so on. Ugh.

A Year Later

Holy shit. One year ago today, my mommy and daddy dropped me off at LAX, and I ended up in Istanbul. Well, I landed in Paris and had 20 minutes to go through security and sprint to my connecting flight, somehow accomplished that task, and then landed in Istanbul. I’m also 98% sure that I saw Harry Styles from One Direction at LAX.

Anyhow, I remember feeling weirdly disconnected from the whole experience. Any other time that I have been at the airport, about to embark on an exciting trip to a new, exotic place, I had felt, well, excited; this time, though, it just felt hazy and surreal.

I had spent the past several months of my life feeling hazy and surreal.

My weekdays were spent studying literature- an endeavor that was increasingly becoming more pointless in my eyes- that were punctuated by weekends of underage getting-as-drunk-as-possible at house parties or, when I was “dragged” to them, frat parties. I spiced things up by salsa dancing and serial dating.

I was afraid of being alone; my growing distaste for alcohol was trumpeted by my fear of being alone on a Friday night while all my friends went out to parties. I always, always had to have a guy in my life- even if he only treated me well half of the time; even if he was an ex-boy whom I chose to forgive; even if, deep down, I knew we were wrong for each other. Having someone, even if that someone didn’t make me feel like a Goddess, seemed better than having no one.

Here I was, twenty years young, releasing my own power to be at the whim of others’. My parents, peers, and society at large were telling me that I had to be in school because that’s what you’re supposed to do and if you take time off you’ll never go back- even though I was growing more and more discontent. I was releasing control over my own actions every time that I drank way more than my lanky frame could handle, all in the name of wanting to fit in with my friends. I released control of my self-esteem to the mercy of flaky, hormonal college boys.

This didn’t all cease the moment that I saw minarets intermingling with trendy shopping in Istanbul.

Everyone who read my travel blog and saw my pictures marveled at how much fun I was having and how adventurous I was being. It honestly was very fun, but in the name of not wanting to reveal my personal business to all my Facebook friends, my mom’s entire email list, and some random people on the Internet who found my blog somehow, I hid the difficult stuff. Sure, I would reveal getting sick of being in hostels or finding Athens to be uninteresting and not pretty, but I wouldn’t reveal learning unpleasant things about my personality or having one of the worst days of my life.

More so than being “fun,” traveling was both difficult and important for me, with those two concepts inseparably intwined.

I learned that traveling with a friend sucks.

I have a pretty calm, “go-along-get-along” type of personality. This can be great for traveling, given traveling’s knack for throwing unpredicted events your way. It’s not great, though, when you let your friend make all of the decisions, and you end up disappointed that you didn’t see something that you wanted to see, that you spent more money than you wanted to, that you hung out in the hostel bar more times than you wanted to, etc. In traveling, and in life, I learned that I need to speak up. And travel alone.

Because I also learned that I LOVE traveling alone, and that I am independent and resourceful enough to do so. I can do what I want, when I want. I can easily meet people in a hostel or via Couch Surfing; I can hang out/sightsee with them if I want, and if there’s something that I want to see but they don’t, or vice versa, I do my own thing without worrying about abandoning someone.

I learned that getting very drunk in foreign countries is not a good idea. I also learned that it’s possible to have a couple of drinks or, gasp, no drinks, and still have a very fun night out.

I learned that taking back ex-boys is never, ever, a good idea, particularly right before you leave the country.

I learned how spoiled I was. It had to take me missing a train from Nice to Paris- which wasn’t the first train that I had missed- and subsequently getting very, very mad at myself to learn this. I learned just how entitled I felt, how expendable money seemed to me, and how little responsibility I truly had for myself.

I learned that learning doesn’t always come from a textbook or a classroom lecture.

And I learned all of this the hard way.

It’s now one year later- a lifetime later. I look back at that twenty-year-old girl, and I see someone very young and not in control of her own self. The past year, both from traveling and from other life circumstances, has forced me to grow up- not just, “Oh, I’ve been thinking about this and that, and I think it’s time for me to start acting differently in regards to it.” It’s more like growing up has been shoved into my face, and I’ve been forced to eat it. So here I am, a human still evolving, yet a human who is so much stronger and finally feeling in touch with inner power.

Traveling is like life sped up, amplified, and looked at with a magnifying glass.

 

La Fin! L’extrem! El Extremo!

It’s been over 6 weeks since I’ve returned from Europe, but I decided that I might as well properly conclude my blog. I left off in Barcelona, at which I had a couple of remaining days…

After a very long night of partying, I leisurely slept in and then proceeded to go to Park Güell with DeeDee, my Texan friend, Rachel, my Santa Barbaran friend, and Rory, my Scottish friend! Park Güell was created by Gaudi, who, as you may know, was known for his outrageous architectural style; basically, he created a lot of weird shit. Anyway, after getting lost and walking uphill for dayz, we arrived at this gorgeous, funky park overlooking the city and the Mediterranean Sea! It was spectacular.

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(Rory, DeeDee, Rachel, and me)

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After hanging out there for awhile, the four of us went to eat at… Subway… then we went back to the hostel for a siesta.

That night, we ate a most delicious meal in our wonderful hostel with all of the other guests. Later on, a giant group of us went out, but my two Australian friends, Lenny and Tom, and I somehow got separated from them at a bar. We thus didn’t know which club they were going to and ended up having to call it a night early. Hungry, we found some late-night kebab to eat, and then something very, very scary happened as we were walking back to the hostel: a man ran up to Tom and tried to mug him. I had never before experienced something like that and didn’t know what to do. Tom struggled with the guy, and Lenny somehow talked him out of taking anything from Tom or hurting him. We’re pretty sure that the guy had a knife, though. After convincing him that none of us had anything valuable, he eventually gave up and left. It was really scary, but thank God that everyone, especially Tom, was okay!

The next day, having recovered from the previous night’s episode, a group of us- Tom, Lenny, their friend Roman, DeeDee, her friend Austin, and I- all went out to sightsee. We walked up to this hill that had an amazing view of the entire city, and then proceeded on to the Olympic Stadium!

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(The view, with the Sagrada Famiglia)

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(Tebow-ing at Olympic Stadium with, from left to right, Austin, DeeDee, Roman, and me)

Then we took this ski lift/glass tube thingy up to an ancient fort. The ride up was really cool and had stunning views, as did the fort! It was right above the Sea and so, so beautiful! The sun was shining on the bright blue water, which expanded forever…

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(Pimpin’ ain’t easy… with Roman, Austin, Tom, myself, and Lenny)

DSC01528 (The view from the ride)

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Afterward, me and the boys went out for some paella and sangria, and it was SO BOMB. I do actually regret not taking a picture of it, but we were at a restaurant with no English speakers in this very vibrant part of the city, and god damn was it good! If you don’t know, paella is a giant plate of seafood atop delicious rice, and it’s meant to be shared with multiple people. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Finally, we went back to our hostel for, of course, a siesta. Then, as it was my last night in Barcelona- and in Europe altogether- I went out dancing with a giant group of people from our hostel. It was really fun and a wonderful way to go out with a bang. However, as my flight was pretty early the next morning, I literally came back, took a 45 minute nap, and then finished up packing and went to the airport. I was so exhausted and very sad to be leaving Barcelona. I totally fell in love with this city- the people, the sunshine, the beach, the food, the laid-back yet vibrant feel, the streets, the art, everything- and could have stayed there forever. Yet, coincidentally enough, a guy from my hostel named David just so happened to be on my same flight! I was flying to New York and then LAX, and as he was from New York he was on the first leg of my flight. We thus went to the airport together and, upon boarding the plane and seeing how empty it was, sat next to each other! David had been backpacking around Europe for the past several months, and how funny that we would both end our journeys on the exact same day on the exact same flight. Anyway, we bonded on our flight home, and it was so wonderful to meet an awesome new friend as a way to officially end my trip.

Being on that flight home was bittersweet in every sense of the word and very weird. I think I’ll make another blog post in which I elaborate on this further and reflect upon life after being abroad. Stay tuned… =)

My New Favorite City

To end my European adventure with a bang, I decided to have my very last stop be Barcelona!! I had heard tons of great things about this city, so my expectations were quite high to say the least. I arrived at night to a hostel that some friends had recommended to me, Hostel One Paralelo. Valerio, the hot Italian guy working the front desk, greeted me and immediately fed me some pasta for dinner. I would soon realize what an amazing hostel this was. It had a very social environment, making it really easy to meet interesting and fun people, and one of the staff members cooked an amazing dinner for EVERYONE IN THE ENTIRE HOSTEL EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. Thus, after eating my fantastic pasta, I met some people in the common area and went out to a bar with them- two Americans, one Scottish guy, and a Mexican girl who worked for the hostel.

The following day, I decided for the first time in my entire trip to take a walking tour with my hostel. Everyone in the tour group was American, and I would soon find out that the hostel was filled with Americans! It was so weird! Anyway, the tour was actually a cool way to get to know some people and see the city- we went to some churches, a giant food market, and different places that the film Vicky Christina Barcelona was filmed, such as a café by a modern art museum and a square with a church and a big fountain.

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Nearby that was a bar where Hemingway hung out back in the day!

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We also saw really cool street art and drank from a fountain that, according to legend, guarantees our return to Barcelona <3.

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At the end of the tour, we went to a bustling little lunch spot in which one must stand whilst eating. We ate fantastic sandwiches and drank pink champagne!

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We then walked on a promenade near a palm tree-lined harbor on our way back to the hostel. Filled with sunshine (Barcelona was a l’il chilly but very sunny the whole time- in December), it reminded me a lot of Long Beach. One we got back to the hostel, it was siesta time, which I love. I just love the schedule of life in Barcelona (and throughout Spain for that matter). The Spanish come home from work around 2 PM for a siesta (a nap) and subsequently have lunch around 3 or 4 PM. Then they go back to work and don’t eat dinner until at least 9 PM. Then, if the night calls for partying, they leave to go out the bars and clubs at midnight and don’t come home until the sunrise. Everything is just delayed and relaxed, yet they still go out and do fun things. I found the city of Barcelona itself to mirror this- it has a very vibrant energy to it yet is laid back at the same time. It think that’s why I loved it so much.

That night, after eating one of my hostel’s famous dinners with all of the other guests, I went on a ghost tour with the hostel for lack of anything better to do by myself. It was pretty lame because we basically saw everything we had seen earlier that day yet with a creepy story attached to it. When it was over, we all went to a bar and then a really fun club! Unfortunately for the three Aussies who had just flown in that day and were soundly asleep in our room, my two new American friends and I came home very late and, in vain, tried to be quiet. DeeDee and Austin (the Americans from Texas) and I couldn’t stop talking to each other and giggling, even though we kept shushing each other and saying that we needed to go to bed. We got to know the Aussies a little better (Roman, Tom, and Lenny), and they eventually forgave us for keeping everyone awake until 6 AM…

And that was only the first 36 hours!

Because Sevilla is Better in Photos than Words

This is almost a month late, but I’ve been preoccupied with adjusting to life in America… anyhow, I spent my final week in Europe in Spain! My first stop was Sevilla, which is this adorable, quintessentially Spanish city in the South. For my first night, I took myself out to dinner and had some of the best food in the world.DSC01405

Later on, after walking around a little (and getting lost because Sevilla’s narrow streets wind a lot and change names while you’re still walking on them), I met some people in my hostel and played drinking games with them. We stayed up super late, and I knew it was time to go to bed when I started passionately debating with this Canadian guy about the Israeli-Palestine conflict…

The following day, I walked all over the city. It is so beautiful! Most of the streets are just narrow alleyways, and the architecture is super Spanish and colorful, with monuments dating back to Muslim rule thrown in there.

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I went to the Real Alcázar, which was a governmental palace from the time of Muslim rule. It was massive and had such gorgeous architecture.

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Later on that afternoon, I had a blast from the past when I met up with my old friend from middle school, Nicole! I hadn’t seen her in quite awhile, so to reunite in Spain of all places was pretty crazy (she is studying abroad in Sevilla). She took me to a delicious pastry shop and then a cute coffee shop, where we were able to catch up on each other’s lives.

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Eventually, Nicole and I walked to the river, and then she had to leave for work. I was able to see the sunset there! Image

Later that night, I went out to a delicious tapas bar with two Australian guys from my hostel. I decided after that to just stay in because I had such a long day of sightseeing.DSC01458

The next day, I had to leave to take a 6 hour train to Barcelona!