Blogging Abroad Changed Me.

This is my story. Let’s start at the beginning.


I began blogging at sixteen. I’d come home from a monotonous day at school, get onto Blogger, and pour out my thoughts. Starting with a relatively shallow thought often led to a magician’s knotted ribbon rope of idea after idea, conclusion after conclusion (and even, albeit rarely, epiphany after epiphany.) I could start writing about an ordinary college visit and culminate with a glowing discourse about how the magic of falling leaves was a reminder of our extraordinary existence, a small piece of an unconscious well of big thoughts waiting to be dug up. Blogging helped excavate and organize my jumbled, teenage mind in ways that discussing or writing could not. For a period like adolescence, this tool proved invaluable.

In high school, I trusted a carefully chosen group. They included my closest friends, family members, and a couple of community members. I knew my thoughts were interesting and full of ideas. I would’ve loved for my peers to “read up” on this reserved, brainy redhead. The only issue? Come on, you know this too well: I couldn’t trust them. Recruiting just one unstable ally into my cohort could have disrupted my thankfully uneventful bullying record. My blog’s contents weren’t your daily diaries or unrequited crushes. They were far more risky: a typical post might explore the possibility of hermithood or reveal the extent to which I loathed school but loved education. Being a geek in school is already an obstacle to social stratification. Adding a naive, idealistic dreamer to that public image could have borne devastating consequences. So, although I dearly wanted to engage with my world at large, I decided to can it until it was safe to come out of my philosophical hiding spot.

I continued blogging in college, writing my way through seas of inspiration and troves of questions sparked by class material and peers. My reader base remained the same but my thoughts were developing in form and content.

By the time December 2014 rolled around, I was preparing to study abroad in London for a semester. I realized how beneficial blogging could be for this trip but felt that my hidden blog wasn’t the right setup. I began anew on a different platform and made an effort to inform my family, friends, and even Facebook friends. I solicited feedback and comments from the first post. Having pared down my Facebook friends to a list of folks I’d actually say hello to if passing by, I decided to make this blog a relatively transparent lens into my life abroad. Those who didn’t care wouldn’t keep reading, and at this point, I had no fear about readers manipulating my writing to hurt me (a very teenage issue.)

Having a place to posit my thoughts while in London was essential for growth. I experienced both an increase in respect for my feelings and greater ease in trusting others by giving them access to those feelings. For the first time, I took great joy in laying bare emotions onto a public platform. Some, like my family, knew me very well but learned some of the aspects that don’t often appear in their company such as meme humor and Millennial wit. Others, like my college friends, were also able to adjust their idea of Sophie by reading the thoughts that aren’t the best conversation topics at parties or walks across campus but are critical to my identity. I’m truly humbled that so many took me up on my offer to hear about my life indirectly and therefore indulge my persistent belief that few truly know me (then again, I’m still figuring out who I am too.) The funny thing is that I’ll usually take great interest in other people’s stories but have little patience for telling my own; I get self-conscious and trip over my thoughts, feel uncomfortably vulnerable, or both. Being perceived as narcissistic is one of my worst fears.

Living abroad and writing about it taught me some invaluable lessons. Here is a small sample:

  1. It pays to be vulnerable. Abandoning a bit of my ego did me very well. When I blogged to the blogosphere (my world) that I felt lonely, I received warmth and care. A post bursting with enthusiasm for octopi did not compel my friends to write me off; they embraced me for it. I look at vulnerability as the currency of friendship (or any relationship.) Offering a small, tender piece of information will often put your partner at ease and make them feel comfortable to share their own stories with you. Many “secrets” only have as much power to hurt you as you allow them.
  2. It’s a way to discern who truly cares about you. When I moved to London, the only ways to reach me were via email, my blog, mail, Skype, or my British phone (only used by my parents.) That meant Facebook, Snapchat, texting, calling, and all other forms of social media were out. Family members had no problem reaching me, but to my Millennial friends, I may as well have camped on Mars. No one emails to keep in touch anymore; it’s all school-related now. Hardly any of my friends blog. However, the extent to which some friends worked with my elected way of life astounded me. It really did function as a test of friendship: Some passed with flying colors, and some came up short. I know for certain that those who put in effort to stay in touch will be the ones who stick with me.
  3. It can be an element of self-care. My blog functioned as a place for me to swim around in my delight, curiosity, adventurousness, loneliness, and homesickness (to name just a few feelings) during my five months across the pond. Rereading my words proved that those emotions were real, valuable, and worth exploring. I embraced what I felt and oftentimes surrendered them to the public, willing my readers to respect this gift of trust and myself to recognize them as oftentimes universally felt and therefore shameless to admit. Just as bitter enhances sophisticated cuisine, a meditation on being alone enriched my log and therefore overall experience abroad.

A potential obstacle of a study abroad blog is your desired level of publicity. While I did feel comfortable sharing about 90% of my thoughts with my readers, there was some information that, while memorable, was better kept for fewer eyes. My solution? Creating another private blog. Other easy solutions? Writing in a journal, making a personal video, or documenting it a different way. It’s a bit disappointing to realize that both my blog and scrapbook don’t fully envelop my experience. On the bright side, it would be even more disappointing if they could. The bottom line is that this blog is a valuable resource for remembering a transformative period of my life, complete with stories, reflections, pictures, comments, and the unreplicable catalogue of emotions that appeared daily. I can’t wait to take another trip to 2015’s London years from now, only this time through my 21 year-old perspective. It’ll be a trip like no other.

Dublin + Barcelona: Cuid/Parte 4 / The End

Dear Hozier,

As per your request, I will take you to church. Even though my religion isn’t very churchy at all, I’ll still accompany you… as long as it’s the Sagrada Familia.

This structure is one of the anomalies that refuses to let its essence be captured by any document. The magic is firmly implanted among the tree trunk-like basalt columns, stunning inclusion of geometric patterns found in nature like honeycomb hexagons and snail shell spirals, and overflowing abundance of color that spills through the multitudinous stained glass windows.

You can take a virtual tour here, if you’d like. It’s a fraction as amazing as it is in person, but even so, even its photographic component reeks of wonder. Try it out.

PACKED with detail

PACKED with detail

it's a long way up

it’s a long way up

Another reason I enjoy this building is because it’s so new. Although old things have their own type of beauty, the SF’s pristine basalt columns and very clean interior spoke its its young age. Indeed, even though Gaudi spent something like 16 years living in it and working on it before he was killed by a tram, it’s still being built. Not refurbished- built.

swimming in color

swimming in color

After that “religious experience”, I headed off to Park Guell, another brilliant and fun work of Gaudi. This is where everyone takes the quintessential Barcelona picture; you know, the one with them on the pretty mosaic bench with a nice view in the background?

The park had its special architecture-filled terrace, but most of it was in fact a real tree-filled park.  With some great views of the city. And illegal souvenir sellers, some of whom I, half amused, half saddened, watched flee from the police who tried to pounce on them very unsuccessfully owing to their noisy vespas. (Sorry if that was a run-on. Writing this as I’ve settled in at home on day 2, fighting off jet-lag and reverse culture shock! Haven’t experienced much of that at all, to be honest. But why am I telling you this when you should be living in my Barcelona memories?! Back to the land of Picasso and Columbus!)

Quick nap-and-rally at the hostel, then a trip to the El Born area for some much-anticipated shopping. It’s amazing how loath some tourists are to leave the main drags: Just heading down one side street brought me to a vibrant yarn and clothing shop where I had a private opportunity to view the lovely wares and see the huge loom that created them up close. Without a companion, I was able to step in and out of shops much more quickly and at my own pace, leading me to see more and present myself as a sole traveller open to conversing with the shopkeepers. With a friend, it would’ve been very different. For instance, I walked into a handmade clothing shop with lots of asymmetrical shirts and dresses, a kind owner who humored me with my limping Spanish, and her funny, hysterically sobbing 6 year old son who wanted money but obviously wasn’t receiving any. Then I talked to a man who made purses with felt and introduced myself to his nameless cat.

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I guess I’m leading to the fact that being a solo traveller makes you appear more vulnerable, even if you don’t feel that way, and there are various positive and negative consequences. I personally enjoyed it so much and look forward to visiting foreign countries alone again.

Enjoyed another dinner of tapas (mmm fried calamari!) and patiently refused a date from my very doting waiter. More moments of reflection through journalling at dinner. Wandered to the ocean, satisfied my beachy vibes quota, and retired for an early flight the next day.DSCN1315Then I packed up my life and came back home. Maybe it was the mood-stabilizing power of my pepita-plentiful trail mix, maybe it was the long-term, premature mourning period I’d begun in early May to start nostalgia-izing London before I left, maybe it was just time to go home. But so far it’s been two full days at home and I’m very comfortable. My parents have made my transition very pain-free and the ego boost from posting study abroad pics on Facebook hasn’t hurt (too much, yet, but that’s going to change very soon. I feel it.) I will say that upon landing at JFK, two immediate things I noticed about Americans are that 1) we are the nation that gives its police incredible gun privileges and 2) let no one doubt our obsession with sweatpants.

So yeah, I’m at home now. No more London until who knows when. This blog has reached its final post! I appreciate those who have taken the time to keep me in their life through my writing. Now before I get sappy or say goodbye or anything here’s a few pictures I put on my walls that reminded me of who I was amidst tough periods of self-doubt and difficulty.

While studying/living abroad definitely has its challenges, I encourage everyone to at least consider it both as a college student and as an adult looking to add depth to their life. Count me as another one in the legions of study abroad zealots.

Cheerio!

Fears about Coming Home

I’ve clung to the lyrics of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound”, “My Little Town”, and Adele’s “Hometown Glory”, each time reciting the words with different levels of excitement. And in just over one week, I’ll have changed residences from a massive metropolis to a village whose population is not even 0.07% that of London. Any of the 300 languages commonly spoken in this hubbub will revert to a measly handful, and don’t even get me started about the diversity shift. I know I’m going to be heartbroken.

Another fear I have is related to communication methods. Being an ocean away from everyone has given me quite a clue about who matters and who I can go five months without thinking about, especially with the absence of a daily “news feed”. I can identify who cares enough to write me thoughtful emails or carve out time to Skype. My fear is that I’ll once again be surrounded by people who I now don’t value as much as I used to. Consequently, I’m worried that by letting in some people who apparently don’t positively affect me as much as I’d like, I will change for the worse. Revert, even. I’ve worked hard and sacrificed a bit to construct the mental wellbeing I’ve proudly created over here and the last thing I want to do is let it disappear.

Without Facebook, I’ve grown confident in the roots of my desires to attend fun events and explore new places: I know they’re not borne out of FOMO or competition. This blog has let me share exciting news in longform (versus Facebook’s constrained status or photo options), therefore ensuring more truth and less bias for “likes”. I’ve told everyone that I’m coming back on that stupid site in June, but I think I’m just going to add my new London friends, maybe stay on for a week, and then hurriedly deactivate all summer until college begins again so I can hear about poorly-publicized (but sometimes amazing) events happening on campus that are impossible to hear about without finding them on Facebook (has happened to me. I hate this but I must respect it.)

Lately I’ve grown fond of soaking up information via podcasts while taking long walks. I’m slightly worried that this habit will wane or become less exciting in a place I’ve lived for so long. I’m also very happy with my cooking habit and ability to provide my own pantry and hope that can continue in some form at home.

I’ve grown used to going out with no shame in reference to how I look or act when I’m in public (don’t worry, it’s nothing that terrible- just, for instance, no embarrassment when I trip or wear a not-so-matching outfit.) I worry this will fade because while no one here knows me and the judgment doesn’t bother me, people at home do know me, have known me for many years, and will continue to mold a reputation for years to come. I’m all for expressing yourself and disregarding others’ judgment, but as most of you readers probably know, it’s tricky to escape your hometown’s critical gaze (and sometimes, gossip.) And truth be told, everyone’s so worried about themselves that half the time, when you make a fool of yourself, no one even notices. However, still a concern.

Right now, my life is really awesome. Honestly worried it has to go downhill from here. Of course I’m looking forward to a lot in the states, but I don’t think it’ll even out. We’ll see.

Finally, I have a few aspects of Wesleyan I’m dreading returning to, such as the negative sides of the students and culture. Here, I’ve been able to feel wholesome and encounter virtually zero pressure to do activities involved in “going out”. That’s not to say I haven’t done anything like that here- I have, but with a great bunch of pals and with locations that are actually prone to be fun, versus Wesleyan’s nightlife that mainly consists of disappointing electronic concerts and frat parties. If anyone is reading this and feels confused about why they don’t like going out at college when everyone else seems to love it, heed these words: it gets better. In Prague and London, I had some amazing nights out with friends where alcohol wasn’t necessary for fun (although it did add) and I didn’t have to listen to obnoxious, enviably intelligent students discuss politically correct race issues and complain about anything they could think of in a Northeastern drawl. Maybe I’m just boring but when alcohol is legal for 18+s, it’s totally more fun to center a party around. Wise elders, feel free to chime in.


And now, a brief log of my time with my Uncle Phil and Aunt Debbie who came to visit! We had a wonderful dinner at a French restaurant in Kensington and a subsequent trip to Westminster Abbey, a major site I admit had been virgin territory to mine eyes until recently. Full of important dead people, including my man C-Dar #win.

DSC02500

We are quite cute.

Hadn’t seen them in who knows how many years, and it was so easy to talk with them! Great seeing you two!


And lastly, tomorrow morning I jet-set to Dublin and then Barcelona on Monday!!!! No more finals, just RELAXING and doing vacationy stuff! YAY-O-RAMA!

I feel like dancing now. Gonna bust a move, see you in a week!

(P.S. I probably look like a combination of the following gifs.) Au revoir!

40 Glorious Routines From The 1988 Aerobic Championships

40 Glorious Routines From The 1988 Aerobic Championships

So I roasted a pigeon

Yup.

squab2

Just to be clear- I bought it! Didn’t swipe it off a fountain or anything, don’t worry.

It was not a winner. The recipe I followed undercooked the few meaty parts of it while leaving it with an overcooked-feeling texture. Poor bird: few appreciate it alive, and fewer on a dinner plate.


Just in time for my concluding trip to Ireland and Spain, I wrote an article for an online women’s magazine called She’s Poised about how to balance staying present while documenting a moment. This is a problem that my friends and I are often confronted with when travelling- how many pictures should I take, and how much time should I reserve for purely being in the moment?

What makes this website exceptional is the refreshing way its contributors deliver sophisticated yet relatable information about various topics from dressing for work to finding New York’s best egg cream to celebrating historically monumental women like my homegirl J Child (the video in this post is actually hilarious.) The icing on the cake is the warmth exuded by the articles’ titles: “How We ___” feels like a mother or aunt teaching you as compared to the condescending tone of “How to ___” that’s common elsewhere.

Here’s the link!

Thanks again to Lauren for reaching out and taking me through the process of brainstorming, editing, and finally publishing the post! While it’s pretty common these days for bloggers to make guest appearances on other blogs, it was a personal first and I feel honored.

The website is written by women, for women, which mirrors my beloved RookieMag’s by girls, for girls philosophy. I’d like to think that She’s Poised, BUST magazine, and some other materials will be my media-related stepping stones as I gradually age out of adolescence and wistfully leave behind websites and reading material that thrilled my teenage self a few years ago. I will always love and cheer for Tavi, but RookieMag is pretty much in my past now. Yes, it is sad. And just one of the things that has changed about me since I first embarrassed myself in that British Sainsbury’s and started growing into a different version of myself.

(But seriously, read Tavi’s Editor’s Letter about Forever. While she wrote it while on the cusp of adulthood, another transitional rite of passage, she says much about what I (wish I) could (so eloquently) write about this period of my life coming to an end, appreciating it, mourning it, archiving it, etc.)

Photocapture from Tavi’s genius post “How to Bitchface: Channel your inner Martha Stewart with this crafty DIY.”

My Vassar flatmate left yesterday 😦 Eleven days left…

Lost + Found

Lost: An iPod bursting with constantly updated music.
Found: An iPod dominated by podcasts like RadioLab and Spilled Milk that cuddle my ears on the tube or on long walks around the city.

Lost: Trust in Google Maps’ directions via public transport, which has proven to be woefully inaccurate (mostly for buses.)
Found: Myself, deposited in many unintended locations. But it turned out alright! Which brings me to…

Lost: A nervous heart that beat rapidly upon boarding a bus that would supposedly take me to my destination.
Found: Greater confidence in my ability to ascertain my physical location without a smartphone, usually via one of London’s ubiquitous, helpful street maps. Sometimes, a real live Brit would set aside their reserved nature and help! (Also found: new hand muscles thanks to probably at least 50 lists of handwritten directions!)

Lost: Lots of money. (Maybe not lost… more like spent.)
Found: Lots and lots and lots of experiences. (DUH it was worth it!) I’ve seen quite a few concerts, eaten lots of varied cuisine, and visited a long list of new places. I think food, transport, and travels outside London have been my biggest expenses here.

Lost: It was waning by the end of last semester anyway, but nonetheless, much of the infatuation I once felt with Wes.
Found: Knowledge of what life can be like after college and a growing excitement to pursue that life. Even though mine will probably involve grad school, which is sort of like a continuation of college, it’s another step in the path to move somewhere I choose where I’m supported by a heftier income and therefore possess greater personal freedom. Now that I’ve been exposed to so much, my desires for my future have intensified and grown in number.

And lastly-

Lost: A habit of constantly comparing myself with my peers, usually via Facebook, that too often incurred unhealthy levels of self-doubt (don’t worry, it’s normal, I’m a Millennial.) Also, for that matter, my Facebook account (until June.)
Found: A self that was much more content with my identity and methods of living. The chance to be more self-centered than usual, stemming from my choice of technologically isolating myself from American influences pretty significantly and, well, having a huge new city ready to be discovered at my doorstep… A new type of introspection that came from a much kinder and accepting place than before. I guess it seems obvious now, but this extraction of my virtual persona from a massive judging block surrounded by some very intimidatingly witty and pretty peers (read: unintended competitors) yielded great inner peace. My temporary resignation from Snapchat also facilitated this transition from a state of mind plagued by constant questions of how I could best show off my life to a new mindset where I could live my life according to my wishes, take some pictures for myself and my blog readers, and everyone else would have to make do with stories later on. Honestly, it was an exercise in self-love. Much will change when I return to the states, including social media presence, but I hope I can continue to fend off the tempting gratification that ongoing peer approval infamously provides.


 

As I near the end of “Travels with Charley”, who do I stumble upon but my own Rocinante! (That was Steinbeck’s car that carried them around the US in the book.) Is it a sign??

As I near the end of "Travels with Charley", who do I stumble upon but my own Rocinante! (That was Steinbeck's car that carried them around the US in the book.)

BREAKING NEWS: TEA EDITION

This night marks the first time I’ve ever made myself a real cup of tea with a real tea infuser and loose tea leaves!

IT WAS AMAZING.

TEA BAGS, PACK YOUR BAGS.

And now, let’s celebrate this MOMENTOUS moment with a photo montage! (Only half-joking though…)

HOLD UP, TEA. WHAT’S GOING ON

 

Flatmates Katie and Nicole sponsor this picture.

I’M HOME

spot-on

And finally, the crew who witnessed it all:

❤ Nicole and Katie

 

 

 

Mini-piphany

I finally understand why travel is so crucial for self-discovery! In a way that’s concise and easily put into words!

We are defined by our actions. Having just spoken with my bff and giving advice that I know I’m just as likely to forget as I am to heed (a personal weakness), I know very well that actions speak much louder than words.

Travel is all about acting and reacting. How do you cope with no wifi and a delayed train? Do you sit and grumble for a minute, ten minutes, or until the train finally arrives? Then, what do those choices tell you about yourself? That you like to thoroughly evaluate your situation and let yourself experience those negative emotions, or that you’d rather try to brush them off?

By meeting other people from intensely different backgrounds, what happens when they tell you about how they’re a humanist and believe we should all get bioinic arms immediately? Do you find yourself armed with tens of arguments about why humans are doomed and we’re really no better than animals, and that bionic arms undermine our human condition and are extremely dangerous? Once more, what do these reactions tell you about who you are?

In sum, I realize travel is really all about setting yourself up with lots of situations- strange, challenging, exciting, painful situations- and by finding ways through them, you discover personal characteristics. It’s impossible to simply peer inside yourself and spelunk for a personality trait; you must find something that will provide you with an opportunity to act, then reflect on your performance.

Travel is great for finding the weirdest of the weird as well as the stunning sights that push you to your boundaries and elicit out-of-the-ordinary responses. It truly provides opportunities to figure out how to persevere amidst never-before-experienced situations.

Go studying abroad!