“Apply to Harvard’s School of Education for your Master’s,” she said, “You can get in.” Words of Encouragement from Strangers, 2017

Last summer, before my flight from Dublin, Ireland, to Porto, Portugal, I met a woman who encouraged me more than most people whom I’ve known for years. I completely forgot about this post, and that I had written it immediately after the encounter, while on the plane. I wanted to share it:

 

May 24, 2017

As I was standing in the priority boarding line for my very first RyanAir flight, a lady asked which line it was and then asked whether I was American. I told her I was; she was too, and we got to talking. From the way she talked, she clearly led an extravagant life, as she mentioned having have lived in multiple places around the world, with houses in not only different states in America, but also all over Europe. Yet, she was taking a RyanAir flight, suggesting that she didn’t need insane luxury. It was impressive.

 

I told her my plan for the future and the fact that I, unlike my siblings, have not accumulated any debt for college and that I am lucky to be able to do what I’m doing right now. As I plan to teach, she encouraged me. “Apply to Harvard’s School of Education for your master’s” she said, “You can get in.” She seemed confident in this and I believed her. “You’re traveling alone in Europe and you’re clearly adventurous. When people are interviewed for jobs or for schools, they don’t want to hear about how you interned for whatever banking company for whoever is important because everyone knows you were just getting coffee. Their program is a year-long or something like that, and you don’t get just a degree – you get a passport.” She basically meant that with that kind of education, I could do whatever I wanted, wherever I wanted. And she was right. And I had never really thought about it. “Put your itinerary on your resume,” she urged.

 

She told me that she had asked a friend who was some high up at some financial company or something of the sort whether or not he would hire someone if they didn’t go to an Ivy League school. The man told her that if they had made it as far as an interview, he would almost rather not hire someone from an Ivy League school. I never heard that perspective before. While nearly everyone else that I know has gone to school in 4 years, racked up debt or had their parents pay, and then carried onto their masters or internships or whatever else, that was never the path for me. I never imagined myself living the traditional 4-year college experience, in part because I didn’t want to live in a dorm but also because I didn’t want to enter the work force with five or six figures of debt. Even the woman’s kids all went to Ivy League schools and she saw the benefit of my living life differently. Of course, Ivy League schools offer their own advantages. But she still had confidence that I could do anything – and I want to do so much. This trip is only 3 months out of my life… and in a year and a half I’ll be done with school. And then I have the entire world at my disposal.

 

She encouraged me. A random woman who knew what I was doing and what I wanted to do and not even my name encouraged me to go farther than anyone else has encouraged me to go before. “If I see you tomorrow in town, come say hi, I’ll buy you a drink, or lunch, or whatever.”

 

And as I’m sitting here, on a 2 hour flight to Porto, Portugal, I realize how strangely comfortable it feels. I thought I would feel so… out of place everywhere I went. I thought I would feel nervous, scared, but I’m not. I feel right in place. Like this is exactly what I am supposed to be doing. I feel normal. I feel more like myself than I ever really could.

 

Being in Ireland, and introducing myself to so many different people, and letting them get to know me slowly yet all at once was so refreshing. There was no pressure. I didn’t feel confined to be any certain person. I guess that’s what it’s like when someone goes to college and meets all new people. I didn’t feel like who I am is too much or too little, or that I had to conceal any part of myself, or explain my past. I never felt judged. I think that had a lot to do with the company I was with, because I met some really amazing people. I am right where I need to be. I feel so lucky and I have never felt like the lucky one in my entire life. I always felt like I was at a disadvantage, always going through too much at one time, always having to overcome something, digging myself into deeper holes. But everything I have been through, the good and the bad, has made me who I am. It has prepared me for this. It has put me right here. And I am lucky. I am grateful. I am content.

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The Slowest Hourglass

I haven’t been the same since I returned from my first and only backpacking trip last year. A sense of uneasiness rests beneath my skin as I live out the mundane days of life at home in Florida. I feel tense, agitated, and often depressed thinking about the world that exists beyond the confines of where I live. Each day I feel more disconnected from who I was and from the people around me.

 

I remember being ready to return home. After all, 3 months by myself in over 40 cities in 90 days is exhausting. I yearned for the comfort of my own bed and the security of having a car, home, and family close by. But after being home for only 16 hours, I remember thinking to myself, “now what?”

 

I find myself still asking that question. I have to finish my degree. That’s the only thing actually keeping me here. I have one semester left, but that doesn’t start until the end of August. I’m living in a daze and not even the beach can cure the way I feel. Stagnant, stuck, unmovable, sinking, drowning, suffocating; all of these feel the same.

 

I’m not the same person when I travel. At home I am distant. I’m introverted. I’m focused on completing my journey in this place. I lack the desire to build connections. When I travel, I am the opposite of each of these. I keep to myself but not nearly as often. I’m social, interested in the people and world around me, and naturally build connections with all of the likeminded people I cross paths with. Nothing has made me question who I really am more than being “home”.

 

Next time will be different. Next time will start in Vietnam. I will move at a slower pace. I can make any city my home for as long as I want. I will be in no rush to move on, no schedule to abide by, and no one to listen to but myself. I will miss home but not in the same way as I did the first time. I will not yearn for a room to myself because if I want one, I will get one and stay there for as long as I want.

 

I am grateful for the life I live here, but I am ready to move beyond it. I feel as though I’m waiting for the sand in an hourglass, each grain falling slowly with each day that passes as I stare off into the sea, immobile and impassive, waiting for my life to start.

I’m ready.

When The Paradox Comes Full Circle

When I was away, I missed home. I longed for the routine of my life as it was the way I left it.

And now that I’m home, I don’t know why I ever wanted to come back in the first place.

I don’t have much here. But I guess before I left the dizzying busy-ness of planning my trip and the excitement that came with it distracted me from all that my life lacked.

I miss waking up everyday with a new place to see. With new people to meet and new friends to make. It was easy, there, everyone was alone. It was easy to start up conversation. To identify fellow Americans or other English speakers who were also traveling. You can meet someone anywhere and end up spending the whole day, weekend, or week with them. I miss having different countries at my fingertips each day.

I had to come back… to finish my degree so I can go back again once I’m finished here. I might not have much but I have to appreciate what I have.

The paradox of missing home when you’re away, and missing everywhere else when you’re home… a vicious cycle of constant yearning. I am restless yet exhausted.

Until next time.

Feelings Since Coming Home

I. Am. Bored. I thought I would enjoy doing nothing and relaxing before school starts, but going from doing so much for three months to doing absolutely nothing is making me go a little insane. I almost wish I could access my course schedules so I could get a head start on reading or something to keep me productively occupied.

 

The funny thing about being home is that nothing has changed except for me. Everything is and was exactly where I left it. My job, my bedroom, the beach, my family, the traffic, it is all the same – only I have changed.

 

I have been home for officially a week and it has taken me just about that amount of time to realize that I actually have changed. I didn’t think I did while I was away. It took coming home to realize how much I had changed while I was away because I didn’t feel the change happening. I think a lot of my restlessness comes from not being used to actually doing nothing except for a few serving shifts every week. Before I left for Europe 3 months ago, I was a full-time student, working, and planning for the trip of a lifetime. I was busy. I haven’t known boredom and doing nothing for a long time, it seems. It’s weird waking up every day, not having to do anything, nothing to explore. Not walking out of a hostel to a new city, surrounded by new people.

 

It’s weird going from travel mode to being at home, no longer a tourist. As a solo traveler, you have to talk to people. Socialize. There’s almost always someone to talk to. Traveling alone definitely brought me out of my shell. But at home, I’ve crawled right back into it. I don’t know many people here. I don’t have many friends who are right here. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. But not having anyone to socialize with definitely contributes to my boredom.

 

Yesterday I was on the beach feeling a little restless. It wasn’t how I wanted to feel in my favorite place. It took me a little while to allow myself to enjoy the nothingness again – to enjoy the way I used to feel when sitting along the shore.

 

Just like while traveling, I have to remind myself to enjoy the present moment. Life moves by fast. Appreciate every moment. Don’t take the time you have where you are for granted because as soon as you leave you’ll long to be there again. Never stop enjoying. Don’t forget how to enjoy what you used to enjoy because it is enjoyment nonetheless. Get out of your head. Pay attention.

Dolce Far Niente 

Being born and raised in New York/New Jersey, I have always lived a fast paced life. I walk fast, I drive fast, I’m impatient as hell, and I feel as though I have always been in a rush. Moving to Florida definitely slowed down my pace a bit, but I still drive too fast and sometimes struggle with taking things slowly. Enjoying the minutes as they pass. Rushing through life. 

This trip has allowed me to slow myself down. To take time during my meals and to truly enjoy myself. I think in American culture, there is so much pressure to do things quickly, especially in the restaurant business, that you don’t even get time to enjoy yourself. I always found it weird when people would order their appetizers and finish them before ordering their main meal, because I always want my food as fast as possible. Granted, I’m usually kind of a hangry bitch, but still. Now I understand. Now I understand because I have learned to take my time, move at a slower pace and enjoy myself. 

I stretched out dinner for 2.5 hours while gazing at the Eiffel Tower from my AirBnb. I sat in the south of France on the Port of Marseille and sipped wine while enjoying every last bite of cheese and bread offered to me. If I have learned anything, enjoying myself is not sitting in bed and watching Netflix – it is enjoying every minute I have, without thinking about the next day or the past. I learned patience.

On this trip, this 90 day, 15 country, 45 city trip, I have learned about myself and what I am capable of. I have become comfortable with who I am and have only been unapologetically myself. I did not tuck myself away like I do a lot of the time. I let everyone I met see me for me. I have met so many people and I am so thankful for all of them, whether we just sat and talked at a bar or ended up meeting again in our journeys, the people I met made my trip what it was. 

Going home, sitting in Heathrow Airport, it feels surreal but I feel calm and ready. It’s hard to believe I am at the end of my road. No more mental strain on where I am off to next. No more planning. Now I can focus on school, and focus on coming back here, and one day making a life for myself here in Europe. 

That is the plan. 

I’ll be back.