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!

Figuring myself out

So I planned to have other posts done by today but that didn’t happen, so sorry if you were confused by the change in scheduling. Gosh, I sound like an administrative bureaucrat… sorry!

A roundup of odds and ends and personal revelations (not too personal, don’t worry. But on that note if you’re interested in mainly my travel logs, this post may not apply to you very much. See what you think):

Eggs in Britain are very different than in the states. For lunch a few days ago, I fried two and the yolks were neon orange. Yes, neon! And they were much, much tastier than their American counterparts.

Sophie-cles moments:

sophiecles

I’m becoming increasingly reluctant to spew words for the sake of limiting silence. Similarly, I’d rather stand alone while waiting for class than engage in some shallow, worthless conversation about deadlines. When you get me rolling on a juicy topic of course I’ll unlock my verbal gates, but if we’re riding on a bus and it’s been a long day and my mind is blank, I may not speak much. Some perceive this as me having a conversation with myself, and they are often right. Call it whatever you like: internal dialogue, zoning out, daydreaming… happens a lot in my head. If something like this happens when I’m around you, you should probably take it as a compliment that I feel comfortable enough to sit with silence because I don’t feel pressure to forcibly make memories. In sum, I side with Gandhi when he stated, “Speak only if it improves upon the silence.”

I’ve noticed that I’m also reluctant to engage in high-intensity conversations that require deep knowledge of a subject and the sufficient arrogance/stick-your-neck-outedness to defend your views. Happens a lot when males talk about sports, for instance. I’d rather refrain and know myself than be provoked to convince others of my views.


Thoughts inspired by today’s Geographies of Nature class on Technonatures:

Let me start by stating that throughout the past 50 hours, I’ve gotten 9 hours of sleep (the Venice trip started at 1 am Wed morning and I got back this morning at 2 am.) This morning, I zombiely (new word, heads up Merriam-Webster) drank a latte and trudged to the aforementioned class. You’d probably think this story goes on and on in a tired tone but this is where is miraculously breaks that trend: today’s class was so inspiring (as most are) that I’m motivated enough to skip a nap and BLOG instead. That’s true inspiration, people! Also a warning that my grammar may be affected by lack of sleep/coherence.

So yesterday on the Venice trip, I met a chemistry major who spiritedly talked and joked with me about loving biology and chemistry and reading science textbooks to fall asleep (not because they are boring but because they are interesting enough to read during free time. I don’t identify as much with that as he did but do to an extent.) In the middle of a post-security checkpoint corridor leading to the food court at 5:20 am, I felt energized and extremely receptive to passionate philosophical thought. That shocked me. And then today in class, when we discussed OncoMouse, a strain of mice highly probable to get cancer so we can experiment on it, and the basis of fear in governing our scientific experimentation boundaries, I felt like flying. (My latte could’ve also affected this.) But what I mean to conclude with is that I’ve realized that there’s hardly anything that makes me as happy as being provided with infinitely pithy discussion topics. That’s not the entire package, but there you have it: a way to my heart. Publicized and analyzed online. Good golly. I’m keeping it though. Why not express what lights you up?

This is who I am (for the moment)

(Before I start, I’ll preface this by saying that it has little (or possibly all) to do with studying abroad and that it may not be the right place for a post like this but I’m doing it anyway. YOBASAO (you only blog about studying abroad once.))


It was around middle school when I began a long and soul-searching traipse along the “who am I?” avenue. I think that before those years, I was satisfied with my self- and peer-appointed labels that included “spunky” and “smart”. I could continue with mentions of middle school hierarchies and fashion fads but let’s not discuss middle school any further.

In addition to trying to keep myself up-to-date with who I am, I’ve also perpetually led a parallel quest to keep everyone else  who might care up-to-date. Long story short, I think that looking back at adolescence, some of my choices reflect this necessity to correctly convey my personality. Psychoanalysts (such as one in my head) might say this arose from occasions in childhood when I was incorrectly judged or labelled- the most common offender that I was “quiet”. Ugh, it irks me just to think about how often this word was carelessly splattered all over me! But back to those adolescent choices: I’m talking about clothes that had to extremely clearly reflect parts of myself, such as shirts with jokes I’d laugh at on them or plastered with music I felt a strong connection to (Beatles, Wicked…) I’m talking about how (I think) that a reason I was so attached to Facebook was because it allowed me to transmit phrases I actually stood by to anyone who looked at my posts, versus the answers I’d share in school, formulated with the knowledge that when I spoke it, at least 20 of my peers might be listening and if I made a mistake, they’d all hear it. Painting my Facebook personality let me inform those 20 kids that I did have charisma not easily heard in classroom answers to questions about tenements and skeletal systems. From early on, I’ve felt that there have been untrue reputations of myself floating around in, most often, the minds of my classmates. And since those days began, I’ve felt the need to rectify those ideas of who Sophie was.

[Before we go on further, let me say that I fully understand that while I was so busy focused on myself, possibly a fraction of my worries were actually picked up by others. In other words, the majority of all this chaos could’ve been limited to my own mind. As they say, don’t worry so much about embarrassing yourself because everyone else is too busy focusing on themselves to notice.]

I feel so self-centered right now, and that’s because I’m writing a post that’s basically 100% about me. So I’m sorry if you’ve gotten to this point and have waning interest in reading any more about this girl’s musings about teenage psychology. Feel free to leave! But I’m gonna keep on analyzing. As I was saying-

Whenever I unearth a new iota of who I might be, I’m desperate to inform others lest they maintain an untrue description of my character. That’s why I’m going to type the sentences following this one.

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m abroad or am on the verge of turning 21 or what, but I have some news of who I might be.

Thanks to the fortnight of transition and orientation at this new school, I may have orienteered myself (SEE WHAT I DID THERE? 😉 ) closer to unlocking or recognizing who I am (!)

Thanks to a recent examination of the Myers-Briggs test (thanks Elior!) and lots of reflection on how I’ve made friends at QM, here’s what I have to report:

I’m both introverted and extroverted, almost equally, but with the former slightly outweighing the latter. When I’m around many outgoing people, I often recede from conversation, preferring to talk with someone one-on-one or with a group of less loud people.

It’s hard for me to be anything but thorough with things like friendships and travelling. With friendships, you’ll find that it might take me a while to start opening up, but that’s because I’m feeling out what our chemistry is and am slowly beginning to anchor myself to this new commitment. When I make a friend, I intend to nurture the heck out of that friendship to keep it happy and prosperous for a long time. When I went to college, it was really hard to think about leaving my home friends behind (because I still liked them and put so many years of work into our relationships), and so, I’ve stayed in touch with at least five of those friends. In sum: I’m a k-selected species that invests in the long-term and values stability. With travelling, let’s just say I’ve scoured every site about inexpensive things to do in London because I don’t want to miss any of it. I can certainly be spontaneous, but I find peace in planning out trips so that I can be as efficient as possible about spending money and time in a foreign and/or special place. When it comes to things like these (sorry, cleaning my room isn’t on the list), thorough is my middle name.

I think that’s enough for now. Better to read about me in chunks than for me to bare my soul all at once. Probably.

P.S. I’ve dreamed about letting posts like this fly freely on the internet where I can economize my words (reach the most people.) I’m still not sure if this was a good idea or not. But it’s done and I hope that if you’ve made it this far, you’ll respect my vulnerability and maybe even share some of your own.