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.

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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!

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!