one way ticket

The countdown is officially on for the next adventure, and boy can I tell you this is a big one. To catch you up on the latest, in the last couple months I taught a beginners Italian class and my Italian fidanzato came and visited for a couple of weeks in May! (Google it my English-speakers).

Unfortunately, the infamously unpredictable Midwest weather proved once and for all that it’s never truly Spring in Ohio. Happy travels to the United States! Oh and don’t forget to bring a winter coat and scarf in May, you’ll need those. Both of us under-dressed for a Cleveland Indian’s baseball game at least I can say that I succeeded in portraying the real American experience: suffering as a sports spectator and leaving in the 5th inning.

The day he (let’s just call him Iv for now) left me to fly back to Italy, I cried the involuntary and powerful tears of raw emotion–not because I wouldn’t ever see him again but because the thought of not seeing him in the next hour and for three long months after was unbearable. We hugged and I remember he said this is not the last hug but it is the last goodbye, the last sacrifice. That same sad day I also said goodbye to my sister and my childhood home. My sister would be back from China about a month and a half later, I already had plans to see Iv again in a little over three months and since my parents have moved to North Carolina, I will most likely never see that little green house in Toledo again. Now I’m anxiously counting down the days and starting another farewell tour. I’m busier than ever trying to spend as much time with the precious people in my life even though I know it will never be enough.

The funny thing about goodbyes is that we tend to grasp at the thoughts and hopes of happy reunions and refuse to feel the weight of the gap of when we may or may not see each other next. We distract ourselves from feeling what is happening because it is too devastating. I don’t think this changes with more experience as I have already had my fair share of goodbyes in my young life; it is a coping mechanism we all need for survival. For the first time, I’m giving myself permission to experience these feelings without trying to control them. Let me tell you this method has me in a messy soup of my swirling thoughts and crying more often than I ever have before. I know I have a one-way ticket to Rome and I know I have a hug and a kiss waiting for me there and that’s honestly about all I know for sure at this point. I am going to keep writing about it and I’m going to keep living it and feeling it. Scary as it is, in about a month I’m packing up my material life in my purple suitcase and while I think I have a pretty good idea, where we end up is still TBD.

repeats: on going back to places you’ve already been…

In less than a week, I’ll be back in Italy again for what will be my third trip…so far.

At the risk of sounding like a major snob, I have to confess I had mixed feelings initially about booking this trip. Really am I spending that kind of money to go back to someplace I’ve already been before multiple times?! Aside from strong personal reasons for taking this trip, I was still heavily influenced by an overwhelming urge to always prioritize going to new places over the repeats.

Maybe my obsession with the unfamiliar is rooted in fear of disappointment. Even if at the end of a trip to a new place I conclude that everything about it was unpleasant, at the least I can say that I went someplace I’d never been before and therefore it was valuable– if only for the novelty.

Instead, when traveling back to destinations that were once magically new and exciting to us, there is the quiet, underlying fear that this novelty will quickly fade. There is the fear that maybe this place you’ve idealized in your head really isn’t all that you thought it was and you may even become bored or disappointed.

After you’ve mastered the tripadvisor and lonely planet lists of must-see / must-do travel itineraries, where does that leave you? Is that what we’ve reduced traveling to? Once we’ve marched the tourist trail of tears are we forever done with that destination??!

It has been my experience so far that return trips are much harder than the first time around, but with that risk comes real reward. You have to work a little bit harder to stay interested. Yet, you take comfort in the familiarity of the same guy making your cappuccino that made it 3 years ago in the same bar. You take pride in being able to navigate the streets confidently and give directions to other lost first-timers. You are able to look deeper and see the subtle changes of a city still dynamic even though upon first glance it appears to be permanently preserved in history. You reconnect with your old community and reminisce about old times and you have the unique pleasure of showing friends and visitors your favorite spots. Little by little, you learn to better avoid the cultural faux pas and there is a satisfying sense of mastery. You get a little bit braver and start to explore past the old boundaries of your comfort zone and wander places you’ve never been before.

A lot like in modern day relationships, we’re constantly seeking the quick upgrade in our travels. New = better. I’m not at all saying let’s stop going new places–let’s just try not to always overlook the repeats in favor of new destinations. I still want to discover new destinations, but also treasure the ones I’ve already loved before.

My fascination with the new and unseen is something I’m not sure I’ll ever surpass, and that’s just fine by me. The risk of return is one I decided I’m taking because a new adventure is certainly out there just waiting for me. Italy, ci vediamo presto.

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Reflections on 2015

What a year!

I turned 26 this year, so that’s wild! Another year older, another year over. When I think about new years, I like to think about future old lady Christine. What stories will she gather in the next year to tell when she’s all wrinkly and deaf and her crazy curly hair has all turned grey?

Some things I’m asking myself:

How did this year change me? What did I do that was good? What did I do that I wish I had done better? Did I surround myself with good people this year? How can I be better to the people in my life in 2016?

Some things I’ve learned:

Live and forgive yourself for not always getting it right the first try. Life took SO many unexpected turns this year. It’s important to stop, breathe, and remind yourself to not take it all so personally. I’ve also reflected a lot on the fact that location is arbitrary, but people are fundamental. You could be stuck in what some people consider the shittiest city in the world, but if you’re there with the people you love most, what more could you ask for?

Some things I’ve done:

I got to help teach some amazing bilingual kids how to read in English! I took off abroad again and spent one wild night in Istanbul before making my way back to my beloved Italy. Siena welcomed me back with boatloads of pasta and the formidable Tuscan sun. I spent my summer days playing princess dolls and volleyball with a sweet six year old and her pals at the park and then spent my weekends touring Italy on trains and scooter bikes. I took some real risks and moved from Toledo to Siena to Columbus and as unsettling as it is to look at my bank account, I don’t regret one single moment.

Some things I’m grateful for:

I got to live with my parents again and can I just tell you how amazing they are? Generosity and love runs deep in that little green house. I’m celebrating the addition of so many new people that I care about that I met in 2015. What were we doing with our lives before we met?! I’m also wildly grateful for all of the old friends that I had the opportunity to reconnect with. You all know who you are and man did we have some seriously bad ass rendezvous! Along the way, my travels brought me to New York, Cincinnati, Canada, Turkey, Italy, Chicago, and finally back to Columbus, Ohio. My people: no matter where in the world we meet again–I’m so thankful for you and I can’t wait to see you all and hug you to pieces.

Some things I’m doing:

I’m donating 15 things for 2015. It’s time to get rid of things I don’t need and bring the focus to quality instead of quantity. I’m working on being more present in the moment- even in the moments I’m by myself. I’m so often looking ahead to the next trip, the next day off, the next lunch break, the next big thing, that I’m missing the now. Paydays and holidays are great but I need to remember that Mondays are gifts too.

To me, the passion of this crazy life is absolutely worth it. I have some inklings about what I want for 2016, some I’m proud to proclaim and others I’d like to keep private. (Spoiler alert: I’ve already got a trip planned to go back to Italy in February!) I have no idea what will or will not materialize, but the possibility of it all is intoxicating. Keep on dreaming, my sweet people.

One thing is for sure, this life is so brief and it is passing by so very quickly! I’m 26 now and I’m still enjoying the heck out of my days and I don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. Bring it on 2016, bring.it.on.

 

everybody has a different path

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the in-between periods of life. A lot of people around my age are going through times of major transition from new marriages to starting families. Others are moving to new cities, starting new jobs or graduate programs and are really making noticeably adult-sized moves in the game of life.

I just want to say: I am so damn happy for all of my friends! We all have such an interesting variety going on right now and I could not appreciate it more. It’s funny how when we’re kids, our development and milestones are measured under such rigid terms and the range of what is considered “normal” is so much more restrictive. We were able to look around and say, yeah I know my ABC’s just like all of my school buddies, cool. Without even realizing it, we found so much comfort in knowing exactly where we ranked among classmates and other kids our age.

Now, instead, as adults, there is SUCH diversity in what it looks like to be successful and “on-track” with our peers. Really, after a certain age, the parameters start to widen and there is no set formula for measuring success. Now that I’m on the last half of my 20s, I’m finally realizing the nuances of what that can mean.

I recently found an old draft for a blog post I never published in which I spent a whole lot of energy basically tearing apart the idea of going straight to graduate school right out of undergraduate. Now that 2 formative years have passed, I recognize easily that my scathing attacks on the concept of graduate school were my attempts to fortify my situation at that time. I could explain it away by saying we were just so vulnerable teaching in Korea, there was so much we had to learn and absorb and just deal with without the support of vetted friends and family. However, who isn’t vulnerable in their first job out of college? Who doesn’t feel susceptible to criticism of your life choices, especially in your 20s?

Now I’m glad I never published that draft because I’ve thankfully grown past that sort of child-like tendency to put down others in defense of myself. No, I don’t have all my shit together, but really, who does?! We are all fighting similar battles this decade coming into our own as the adults we will be for the rest of our lives and it’s both scary and exhilarating all at the same time. All of a sudden, the consequences of our choices have such gravity; each new relationship brings with it the possibility of permanence, each new city might very well become home base.

I’m so proud of the wonderful humans I get to be surrounded by, what gems you all are. Instead of seeing the apparent gaps in our successes, I’ll choose to see inspiration. We all are on such different life paths and that is a beautiful thing. No, I’m certainly not buying houses or getting married or having babies just yet and maybe I never will. I’m loving the surprise of how the years are unfolding in ways I never imagined. 2015 alone has been an incredible adventure in some unexpected ways. So far I’ve worked in a coffee shop and a book store, I’ve tutored the coolest bilingual kids I’ll ever meet. Then I spent the summer back in Italy living with and becoming a part of a family while falling in love with life all over again on the back of a scooter. I have way less money in my bank account than I should at 25 years old but I’ve never felt so rich.

I make big plans and I fail big. I’ve changed what I say I’m doing next all the freaking time. This year I planned on moving to Shanghai to teach English and then going to graduate school at the University of Manchester and neither of those things happened. Things really change and that is good; I exist on my own terms. I’ve learned to see changes in plans as power. I never know how things will work out but I am more thrilled knowing that the surprise will be better than I imagined.

“I go to seek a great perhaps” François Rabelais

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who we are

This one goes out to all my travel pals -even if we only know each other from that one night in that hostel, know that wherever you are in the world, I think you’re an incredible human. Keep seeing more of this great planet and keep making friends and loving life and if we get the chance to see each other again sometime somewhere, the first round is on me!

WE are travelers.

We are seekers of the lost, the found, and the less traveled paths.

We are greedy.

We ask the impossible of the world and we don’t apologize.

We are wise.

We have seen the sun set and the moon rise on all sides of the planet and we have marveled at the stars lighting up both the northern and southern skies.

We are flexible.

We speak every language and no language fluently.

We are independent.

We aren’t afraid to be entirely alone in the world because we have made friends everywhere we’ve ever been.

We are hilarious.

We have stories you wouldn’t believe and we LIVE to tell them.

We are limitless.

We live in the future and the past, surviving on world clocks and connecting to loved ones via missed notifications during the night.

We are dirty.

Soap is a luxury and food safety is a working theory.

We are cheaters.

We manipulate the system as much as possible so that work is play and life is a grand adventure.

We are tired.

We sleep for survival on trains, buses, platforms, floors, bunkbeds and benches.

We are hungry.

We will eat just about anything from anywhere, especially if it’s cheap or free.

We are daring.

We will do the undoable and post about it on Instagram just as soon as we get wifi.

We are festive.

We celebrate, dance, laugh, sing, shout, and drink like no one else.

We are hopelessly discontented.

We live for the high of new experiences in new places and we are never quite satisfied.

We are lovers.

We are alive and drunk on the possibilities of this fleeting moment.

We are together.

We don’t fear strangers and we can connect with almost everyone.

We are transient.

We rarely stay in the same place long and we like it that way.

We are ourselves.

We are different and the same with everyone we encounter.

We are human.

We eat, laugh, cry, and love.

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A few days in….

At the beginning, I had booked hostels in both Chicago and Istanbul and had been planning on staying in both cities by myself. But as kindness would have it, I was able to connect with an old friend from elementary school and a friend of a friend in Istanbul and cancel both bookings.

While there is a wild sort of beauty in exploring a city completely on your own, an equally beautiful counterpart is exploring a city with a local. In the hands of a local, you no longer have to communicate via your fine-tuned pantomiming skills. It gets exhausting always playing the part of uniformed tourist, never knowing if you have fully succeeded at doing anything exactly right. The more you travel, the more friends and connections you make and as an act of good will (and as a secret investment in hopes of reciprocation) you host and hope to one day be hosted. It’s a wonderful thing; I like sleeping in overpriced bunk beds with 20 snoring roommates about as much as the next person.

To the outsider, this gift of friendship that we give and take so readily may seem flippant. Surely, a true friend is someone who lives life beside you and is someone you can count on at any hour of the day. WELL sure but in my experience, travel forces an expansion of this definition. A friend can be someone who shares their oranges with you in the train station when they see you are distressed and alone, or someone who helps you even though they insist they don’t speak any English, or someone who lets you stay in their home and accompanies you, if only for the night. Friends don’t have to be similar to you in any way other than attitude: you can speak different languages and eat different foods and live in different cities and practice different religions.

A taxi driver in Chicago this past week told my friend and I, “People here are not so different. Whether rich or poor, headache is same headache.”

I’m living now in an old city that I have lived in before, but in most ways I feel like a completely different person than I was a little over 2 years ago when I studied here. Living with a new family, my heart is once again opened and stretched. The girl I am looking after teaches me these things daily, she hugged me the moment we met. She greets me in the morning and wants to play with me and introduces me to everyone she encounters during the day. Kids just get some things. Without pretense, I’m going to try and look at Siena with new eyes and search deeper cause I know there is more to find.

Not for lack of love: Goodbye Ohio

This chapter of my life in my home state of Ohio has reached the point where I know my departure is due. How long have I been back in the States now? In some ways, I have grown to feel even more out of place here than I felt back in Asia. I don’t say that to diminish the lovely times I’ve had with my family and old friends—those times are the hugs and laughs that I hold in my soul for the long times I know I’ll be without the comfort of a familiar face or voice. I’ve also been fortunate enough to meet some hidden gems in my hometown which further proves my theory: spectacular humans exist anywhere you are willing to look for them!

The truth is that it’s harder to know who I am in my hometown than it is abroad. In the most foreign of places, I am neatly defined against the boundaries of everything exotic surrounding me. Abroad, I know who I am because I know exactly what I’m not.

When will the dust settle? Will I ever let it? I fear the more I keep moving about this planet, the less likely it is that I’ll ever be content to stay in one spot for very long. I’m aware of the great privilege that is my unhinged life. I hear it all the time, “travel while you’re young, do it now before you have husbands and kids.”

And as exciting as trotting this globe really is, the feeling of not belonging anywhere still lurks in the background of my thoughts. There is a quote that says, “We travel to find where we truly belong”, but I don’t believe that is altogether true. I don’t know that I want to belong to any one place right now. I treasure my freedom with unchecked ferocity, but at the same time, I can admit that it would be nice to be able to share my adventures with someone someday.

As I set off again with another set of goodbyes and see you laters, know that my leaving is not for a lack of love for my people or my place. Our Ohio license plate says “the heart of it all” and I have to remember that my time here in the great Midwest played a huge part in making me who I am, and for that it will always hold a piece of my heart.

My passion for travel has brought me to some extraordinary people and places around this globe. My only hope is that the adventures continue; I hope to keep exploring simply because I have yet to be disappointed.

maya angelou

The New “American Dream” ?

“Let’s drink to the pursuit of the new American dream—getting the f***out of America,” Thomas B. Kohnstamm from his book Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?

Woosh. Anybody who has known me for more than 5 minutes knows how much I dream about getting out of N.Amer, but that statement is as harsh as a brain-bleed of a hangover that just won’t quit 17 hours later. If you’ve been there, you know….

Call America what you will, and while my precious freedom of speech compels me to write, I’m not trying to get into any bipartisan political arguments. Let’s think about this: If America is a nation of dreamers, what is the American dream? Is there some sort of communal American Dream that we can all claim? I don’t know about you, but the circle skirt + white picket fence -dream isn’t really doing it for me these days.

I have the privilege of owning one of the most powerful passports in the world—meaning that ironically, being an American gives me the highest potential to go places other than America. I like that potential. That power is one of my most precious freedoms and I treasure it.

In spite of all of that powerful, positive potential, Americans are often highly criticized for being some of the most obnoxious of all world travelers. I actually think that besides being criticized for wars you didn’t start, one of the worst thing to hear is, “wow, I’ve never met another American traveling before. Most Americans don’t even have passports, right?” ….Just so sad.

Just as there are many diverse reasons that inspire people to travel abroad, there are many equally legitimate reasons that people in the US choose stay home.

I think it’s time we take the stigma out of both options and explore how we can bridge the gap. 

One of the greatest freedoms Americans enjoy is the freedom to live how we please. While I personally value international travel as a way to experience other cultures, I equally value the choice that someone else might make never to leave the borders of their own state. Everyone is different. Let us never conflate the fact that someone is different with the belief that they are wrong.

RESPECT OTHERS…..Wherever you go in the world you will have differences with the people you encounter that may seem insurmountable. These can range in degree from differing views on fundamental human rights such as hygiene and safety, to broader issues of politics and religion, to the simplest question of how much money is reasonable to pay for a gelato. Regardless, I can promise you that there is one thing you can do to improve a sour situation. Respect others. As much as you may believe otherwise, different people and different places aren’t stupid and wrong and crazy, they’re just different. Tell yourself this, choose to respect them the best way you can and move forward.

If you are thinking I’m crazy and saying to yourself, “no way, that is naïve and overly tolerant. You are completely wrong and I will never change my mind” –I can assure you I have thought and said something along the same lines before. But, it is my experience that digging in your heels and refusing to see the humanity in the beautifully, imperfect human(s) that you disagree with will get you nowhere and will cause you to miss out on a lot.

maya angelou

I can’t tell you what is or should be the “real American dream”. My dream is that more Americans could practice respecting others—be they native people of a foreign country, your neighbors, coworkers, or people from your community—and truly try and make friends with those people who are the most different from you. Look for the beauty, choose to see the charm.

Keep on Dreaming

So 2015 is well on it’s way, January is almost over. Can you believe it? Maybe you had some ideas and goals at the beginning of the month that seem impossible today. Maybe you worked hard for something and it didn’t happen for you. I know things for me seem wildly different today than they did just a few weeks ago. A lot of things haven’t been working out the way I thought I wanted them to.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve applied to so many jobs thinking “I would be perfect for that” and I came close to getting an internship in Berlin only to get passed over for a native speaker of Italian, which for all my hard work, was extremely frustrating. I have had more than a few setbacks and a lot of times I feel really trapped in circumstances I don’t prefer.

Winter can be hard. To be honest, I haven’t felt very inspired lately and I don’t feel like I have anything much worth saying. But, for whatever it’s worth, I tell myself to keep going. Like every other year before it, this January will end and so will winter. There are great things to be grateful for and great things to look forward to.

I try to keep the majority of my blog posts as positive as possible, but honestly my mental state doesn’t always fit in with the highlight reel of my social media postable moments. I just turned 25, I’m living with my parents trying to save money, and all in all, my life isn’t so glamorous right now. This quarter-life crisis is killing me!

I’m learning to be patient and to be humbled by my experiences. Most days, I spend my free time with this adorable, farting Golden Retriever. It’s not ideal, but it’s not everything either. I have friends around the world and I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s. But sometimes, it’s really hard to be 25 and look around and feel like every else has got it more together than you and to feel like you’re living in utter uncertainty.

Like my wonderful friends, I’m working hard towards some goals I have for the future and for the long-term. I’m looking forward, and I know great things are still to come. I’ll keep trying for things and I’ll keep failing and then I’ll try some more. I’ll keep loving people and I’ll be disappointed and have more heartbreak and then I’ll love again. I’ll keep dreaming because I’d rather have dreams that don’t come true than to never dream at all.

The Expat Experience (in 5 minutes or less)

Expatriation is a lot of things- it’s not all playtime with elephants and spicy street foods. Sometimes it’s getting slapped and scolded by a Korean grandma while naked, drunk, and afraid in the tub of a jjimjilbang (traditional bathhouse) at 4 in the morning. Sometimes, it’s roasting a disjointed turkey in toaster ovens for Thanksgiving. Sometimes it’s feeling alone on a level that’s deeper than lonely–like there’s no place in the world you truly belong. It’s not always love at first sight at the DMZ, but when it is, it’s sure to be at least as interesting as passing out while making out in the street.

If you’ve ever wondered how it really feels to be an expat, but were put off by my previous wordy and seemingly interminable posts- watch this clip. In less than 3 and a half minutes, I guarantee you will have a more profound understanding of the expat experience.

p.s. Thanks Lost Laowai for a great article reminding me of the culture shock I’ve been through and am about to experience again!