Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I'm Thankful for Clarity of Mind

Is it really Thanksgiving already?

It's been two months since I wrote last - a very long, crazy, exciting two months. I guess keeping up with this with everything else on my plate has been a lot harder than I thought (obviously). Maybe that's why I can't really be a "writer" - I always seem to find other things to do instead, i.e. writing my thesis, sleeping, watching Korean dramas, etc.

It's hard to know where to start in all the insanity of this Fall, but I felt compelled to finally write based on a heavy weight that was just lifted off my chest with an e-mail containing less than two paragraphs.

As one could tell from some of my previous posts, after my August trip to Atlanta, my itch to return home or at least move to a city had become a fully fledged emotional rash. Everything in those first weeks back in Washington revolved around my return to Atlanta in December.

But as I became comfortable in my new position as a part-time director of Saint Martin's ESL program, made new friends in both Lacey, Olympia and Seattle, and also had some great West Coast adventures with a few of my best friends on this side of the country - my sureness of moving home being the right decision wavered.

Doubts arose. Could I leave a job I had luckily been given and that, at the age of 26 and with little experience, it might be difficult for me to find or qualify for in a big, competitive city? If I move to Atlanta, what will happen to my passions for rock climbing and skiing - considering these pursuits are more challenging to continue in the South? What will happen to my relationships here in the PNW, my friends on the West Coast - as dramatic as it sounds, how will I get to see them again? What if I'm leaving Washington for the wrong reasons?

Some of these are a bit irrational. Of course moving to be near my family is a great reason. And clearly, I will always find a way to travel and visit my close friends, especially when I remember that they have been spread out all over the world my entire life...

But the job thing. Boy, that one was a doozy.

This is the first time in my life when I have stopped to consider that I might not make it. I may not get a job. The economy is bad. I'm inexperienced and young. Blah blah blah. Normally, my thoughts are more along the lines of - "Whatever happens, I'll make it work!" In fact, one of the greatest compliments I've received (from my good friend Chris) was that in fact, I always do make it work. Nonetheless, these thoughts have been right there below the surface in the last few months.

It's not all bad though. The other reason I've reconsidered moving is that I happen to love Saint Martin's and the people I work with. In fact, I don't know that I've ever so quickly and easily enjoyed the company of my coworkers in any serious job before. I also am excited at the prospect of pursuing program development and administration, particularly in terms of ELL and ESL education at the high school and university level - and this job has been a great initiator for helping me discover that interest.

Back and forth, back and forth. I kept questioning what I should do. And then, a major bomb was dropped on my plans to move home in December.

Sometime in October, around the time I was hoping to receive approval to being conducting the interviews for my thesis, I found out that the school district in which I am going to do my research only reviews proposals three times a year - and the next date was mid December. The same date I planned on leaving Washington. The news, at first, sent me into an emotional frenzy in which I found myself in my mentor's office, crying and babbling about the pros and cons of this new development until I calmed down (she's great for that).

Once I stopped behaving so typically like myself (emotional), I realized that this was the sign I had asked for...

I didn't want to make the decision about whether to ask my bosses at Saint Martin's to consider me for the full-time position as ESL director. I didn't know how to decide, to choose. This development had pretty much helped me realize that, if I was going to have to be here a couple of months longer for research, I might as well give myself the option of staying even longer for a job I loved. Though my immediate reaction did cause some inner concern, I decided I needed to woman up and see what would happen.

I waited until this week to talk to my boss. A strategic maneuver, since last week was the culmination of about two months of serious, nonstop work putting together one of Saint Martin's biggest Fall events, Taste of Culture, of which I was the coordinator. Not only have I done an admirable job (with NO training) directing the ESL program, I also managed - leading an awesome team - to pull off what a lot of people on campus said was the best Taste of Culture yet. I figured, having this behind me, I was more likely to be considered for the full time position.

Still, in the last few weeks, even knowing the job would truly be a great opportunity, I was hesitant. I miss my family. I miss my sister. I miss city life. I also miss the sun - I literally can't remember when the rain began again in Washington, but it has been torrential and unwavering. I still feel in many ways I need to leave Washington for a fresh start in important areas of my life, namely the potential for romantic relationships and the rebuilding of my friendship with Esteban, but the job could be the game changer.

Some days, these thoughts seemed to take precedence over the job thing. Some days, the job was all I cared about. But I had the conversation with my boss anyways.

And today, in less than two paragraphs, he lifted away all my doubts and confusion and helped me see what I want.

They will not make the director position full-time, it will remain a part-time position, whether I want it or they hire someone else. I hadn't even considered that they wouldn't reinstate the director's position as full-time for a non-interim director. They would love me to stay, but as I have told them I will not if it is part-time, then they will advertise to fill the part-time job.


All I feel is relief. Heavenly relief. Clarity of mind. I know, for the first time in months, exactly what I want.

I love this job, but I will just have to figure out a way to work my way up to something similar - or find a new path - starting in Atlanta and ending who knows where (Malibu anyone? South Korea maybe? Back to my first love, Espana?)

So now, I have something huge to be thankful for on Thanksgiving - a long with all the other blessings in my life. Hurrah!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Too legit to quit

My office
My new big girl desk. Very legit.

So, I'm a pretty lucky girl - which is often brought on by being pretty hard working. In fact, I'm a firm believer in making luck by doing/being the best you can be, even when its difficult or other people try to bring you down in some way.

This leads me to the announcement of my new job (of which I already have several - but hey, I can sleep when I'm dead), Interim Coordinator of ESL at Saint Martin's University. Yes, that's right, I am helping to organize and support the ESL program which I just began teaching in this summer (also by a stroke of luck and willingness to apply for a job others might deem as too low status for a grad student). So far, speaking honestly, I don't know a lot about everything that my job entails. But I am working hard, asking lots of questions, and learning day by day - which is so much more my style than a week of training anyways, so its perfect. I've already accepted a chair position for a major event hosted by the office (super fun) and I'm trying to figure out how I can help with the Dragon Boat Festival even if I'm moving later this year (the event is one of the biggest the International office is involved in AND I used to paddle with the dragon boat team that helps put it on, but its held in April...) Basically, its kind of, really amazing and I want to do the best I can and figure out if working in a program like this is somewhere I might be headed in the future.

The designer and models
Bri, Claudia and I at the Girl Power Hour G5 event.
As if that wasn't exciting enough, this past weekend I got my first, major, legitimate modeling gig (through an agency and everything), met some incredible people, and had a blast in Seattle.

On Friday evening, Bri Seeley, an astounding local designer, had me model for Girl Power Hour's G5 event. The event was an anniversary celebration for the orgnaization, of which Bri is a member, and her designs for her fall "Escape" collection were being featured. I would never say no to Bri, not only because she is ridiculously talented and an awesome person to be around, but she is also on her way to national - no international -fame as a designer, so I want to be able to say I modeled for her way back when :)

I love modeling events where I get to meet a lot of other people in the industry, or where I get to talk to people at all, which this was a perfect opportunity for. I spent the entire evening hanging out in one of Bri's most beautiful designs, befriending the gorgeous model Claudia, drinking with Bri and mingling with Seatllites, the likes of which I have not met before. It's not a hard night's work when you spend a few hours being told how gorgeous you look, being asked about your dress and having your photo taken. After-parties are equally fun. But the best part really was getting to spend so much time with Bri and making tons of new friends in Seattle.

Reppin ATL
Matt and I, reppin' ATL.
The rest of the weekend I stayed with Matt, an old friend of my brother's who I haven't seen in years, as well as exploring Seattle, a city I should have probably gotten to know a little bit better before I decided to re-re-locate back to Atlanta.

Oh, and of course, getting casted and modeling for a Goldwell/KMS hair show with one of the best (and funnest) stylists in the country.

No biggie.

And when I say no biggie, I mean, h.o.l.y. c.o.w.

I've never been to a real casting for anything, so "competing" against somewhere around fifty other beautiful women was a nerve-wrecking experience. I tried not to become obsessed with thoughts of being not skinny enough or not experienced enough, and instead tried to focus on being confident in who I was and what I've done. I guess it worked because Simon (the kick ass stylist) picked me - though I think it was just because I made the weirdest face when he was looking in my direction.

The rest of the days working for the show involved me getting beautiful cut and color, getting to know even more models and other awesome people, eating free food (yes they feed us actual food like subs and pizza) and doing the first runway show I've been in since high school.

Hair did
The most awesome hair stylist ever, Simon, and myself.

In between prep and show days I got to check out some yummy resturaunts, bars and clubs with Matt, Dom (a good friend from Oly), Claudia, and other friends I met on Friday.

During all of this I realized some really interesting things about myself and my point of view that I suppose I kind of new, but were definitely newly understood in my mind.

1. I am a city girl. I love the outdoors, I love rock climbing and the beach and camping. But cities make me feel alive. I can be shy, but it gives me as much a thrill to put myself out there meeting new people as it does to lead a 10b. It's not like I've got to say this, but it feels great to dress up and eat delicious food and hop from bar to restaurant to bar and discover new places. I love how cities look, how their streets wind together, the feeling of walking down a street and maybe finding something new. I don't know if a lot of my friends can relate to that, but I love cities as much as I love the outdoors - and living in one again is something I cannot wait for. (No worries Atlanta folk, Seattle hasn't stolen my heart, I'm still headed back South... for a bit at least)

2. Confidence may be the sexiest thing a person can put on. And this is definitely a newer discovery of mine, though I've heard it before. People who know me well also know about my insecurities, of which I have many, and of which I have worked hard on overcoming. In some ways I have been succesful, but failed relationships and certain experiences can be damaging to a girl's self-image, so it has certainly been a struggle.

Models back stage
Talented, smart and sweet ladies back stage.
I don't know if it was Bri's design (without a doubt a major part of it), or getting casted this past Saturday, or meeting new people who seemed to really respond to my personality positively and show true interest in getting to know me, but I have never felt more confident - nor have I ever been responded to in the same way I was this weekend. Random people were coming up to me and comlpimenting me and talking to me as if they couldn't help but do so. Sure, this is pretty darn expected at an event or show where I am modeling, but it was happening in bars and restaurants too. Best of all, women were the most complimentary and I have a whole new list of girlfriends to get to know and to call when I am in Seattle.

Not only did I actually feel confident - not just pretended to be - and therefore feel that people saw me differently, I also felt more generous and accepting of people. I wasn't so nervous that I had to talk constantly or insecure that I had to focus on how I sounded or acted. Because I was able to be myself and feel good about it, I also noticed what a better listener I was. I could actually pay attention to the conversation without needing to check myself or stream on because of nerves. I never realize before how much my insecurities affected my ability to be a good listener, something I am always trying to improve upon.

3. And last but not least, and this one is going to be hard to explain fully, but I learned a bit about the feelings you have when you meet someone. I'm talking about that instinctual, gut feeling that you experience when you are just getting to know someone. Friends, relationships, or otherwise. The answer to questions like, Is this someone I want to know more about? Is this someone I could care about? Is this someone I want in my life? And the discovery of why the answer to any of those questions is yes.

I met a lot of women this weekend whose attitudes, drive and personalities drew me in, inspired me, even if just a little, and who I hope to add to my circle of friends. Maybe it was part of my personal confidence gains, but I have never connected so well with so many women (aside from all of my wonderful girlfriends in Olympia - though that took a year or so) who I sincerely felt interested in becoming closer to, and who seemed to return that desire.

Dom and me
Dom and I out in Seattle, lookin' good and feelin' great!
I also realized the difference between meeting someone of the opposite sex (or same-sex if your interested) you think is really kind and fun, someone you think is really fun and attractive, and someone you actually are interested in pursuing (or hope will pursue you). I, by no means, am interested in the latter in Seattle, but after serial monogomy and previous relationships - I may have finally learned a little about my own heart and mind when it comes to men. What I want and don't want. What is important or not important, and when those things matter. Things like that...

After this weekend of fun, which I earned after a lot of hard work, I feel re-energized, happy and in a way, powerful. I see how blessed I am. I am making things happen for myself. I am enjoying each day to the fullest. I know where I am going, at least in the next six months, but I am flexible and strong enough to take on any callenge or change that time might bring.

Now I'm ready to tackle the next week and a half of craziness before I celebrate submitting my thesis to the review board and head to Los Angeles for more adventure!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

It's time

From time to time, my sister and I take delight in sharing the "freewill astrology" that is published in Atlanta's Creative Loafing or Seattle's Stranger with one another via the stalkbook or text in order to relish how much it seems to resonate with whatever is going on in our lives. We aren't really firm believers/followers/other appropriate term of star charts and the like, but these particular horoscopes tend to (as they are meant to) get us all good and self-reflectin' as if they were written specifically for us.

Last week's was a little bit of a challenge from the author, as follows:

SCORPIO (Oct. 23-Nov. 21): September 16 is the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. So begins 10 days of repentance. Whether or not you're Jewish, Scorpio, you are entering an astrological phase when taking stock of yourself would be a brilliant move. That's why I invite you to try the following self-inventory, borrowed from the Jewish organization Chadeish Yameinu. 1) What would you like to leave behind from the past 12 months? 2) What has prevented you from living up to your highest standards and being your very best self? 3) What would you love to bring with you into the next 12 months? 4) Who served as a teacher for you in the past year? 5) Were you a teacher for anyone? 6) Is there anyone you need to forgive? 7) How will you go about forgiving?

And, lo and behold, my horoscope was right! Never doubt it!

I am indeed entering a phase in my life (perhaps astrologically as well) when taking stock of myself can only help me as I transition into a whole lot of newness. And these questions kind of rock my socks. So much so, that I am going to actually answer them right here in writing (at least most of them)...

(Note: I tried to actually answer these questions on the 16th, but as I am also in the process of completing a phase of my research by Friday, I spent the 16th recovering from a few days of straight sickness and reading/writing research. I'm actually ahead of schedule at this point, so obviously a little distraction in the form of blogging is necessary.)

1. What would you like to leave behind from the past 12 months?

I would like to leave behind the negative emotions that plagued me this past summer. Sadness, anger and regret. For a few months, I was having trouble stepping outside of a little box I had trapped myself in and I couldn't see beyond my own situation. I tried to sound positive for my friends and family, but the truth was the negative emotions were winning, which was most apparent in how tired I was, how little I smiled, how much I blamed others for my often short temper. I had trouble being happy for my friends. I had trouble talking of much else besides my own pain. I know I am a lucky and blessed person, with many things to be happy for, but the truth is I didn't really appreciate those things in the last year.

I would like to let go of blame. I can't stand blame. Blaming others. Blaming myself. A lot of things that made me unhappy have happened in the last year, and sometimes I have felt like they are all my fault, and sometimes I have felt like they were all someone else's fault. The truth is, things that happen between two people or three people can't possibly be any one person's fault. It doesn't make me feel any better to blame someone else for my problems. And I know I am not solely responsible for the relationships in my life, whether they are lovers, friends or family - so wasting my time feeling guilty won't improve anything. I can only do my best, learn from my mistakes and be honest with others about what I need, what hurts me, what I can give and what I want.

2. What has prevented you from living up to your highest standards and being your very best self?

My struggles with alcohol and my struggle with my depression, along with the negative emotions I described above, have been the biggest hindrances to my self improvement. I have worked on both of these issues for a long time, but I have continued to have the same problem again and again, even if they occur months apart. For me that is unacceptable.

I know there is nothing wrong with enjoying a few drinks with friends, or having a glass of wine at dinner, but I also know that I struggle with drinking too much at times, and almost always when I am upset about something. I should know better than to ever take shots - because after years of college partying my body cannot take the alcohol and I will most likely black out, even with just one - and I should never drink if something is bothering me, because my will power is weaker on those occasions and I easily get absorbed into drinking away the feeling. Having to admit that this is one of my challenges is hard, but what is worse is ignoring it and letting it happen. I know that I am mature and strong enough to deal with the things that happen in my life more responsibly than to resort to drinking, and even if it happens only once in a six month period, its just not okay.

As far as my depression is concerned, I think I have dealt with it well, but at the same time, I know that in the back of my mind I still feel shame and fear at times because of it. Mostly, I recognize these feelings when I meet new people in my life, or even sometimes with older friends who I worry may not understand. I have such amazing friends, but my insecurities still prevail at times. I am afraid that as I connect with new people, perhaps in the future, if I have another serious bout with depression, that I will not be accepted if I am not strong enough. I am afraid that I won't ever find a partner who will accept this about me either. I combat this, sometimes I think, by being a bit too in-your-face about it. Even now, writing this, its a bit much. Its as if I am still trying to convince myself that its okay, that I am not insane, that people will accept me and if they don't, who cares about them. I can't decide how to conquer this fear, but I know letting it control me is preventing me from being the best version of myself that I can be.

Finally, the last hindrance has more to do with my ambitions, and that is my work ethic and my tendency to procrastinate. I've actually been consciously working on this since the semester began, but already I can feel myself getting a little lazier each day. In most people's eyes, I think they see me as a hard worker. What bothers me is that I know I could work harder. Instead of leaving things for the last minute and wasting time watching movies (boy do I love netflix) or on facebook/tumblr etc. I could get things done sooner and climb more or workout more or volunteer or help my friends with something. I know everyone needs down time, but I think I take my skills and abilities for granted and rest too often. I want to change that this semester, and do the things I have to do, the best that I can do them, and get them done first before I choose to rest or relax, and then spend that time doing something that will make truly happy, like climbing or reading or writing, and not mindlessness on facebook. (Blogging is okay because its writing... right?)

3. What would you love to bring with you into the next 12 months?

This one is easy, short and sweet. Positivity, confidence and graciousness.

I want to always be smiling. I want to see the good side of everything and I want to make others smile.

I want to feel good about myself, my skills and my talents. I want to know that I am working on those things that need improvement. I want to know that I deserve friendship and love.

I want to be grateful and I want to show it. I want to always be saying thank you. I want my freinds, family and co-workers to know that I am grateful for them. I want to show my body I am grateful for it by being healthy. I want to work hard to show how grateful I am for the opportunities I have received.

4. Who served as a teacher for you in the past year?

I have truly been blessed to have so many teachers in the past year who have really helped me. Real teachers at my university, my students, my friends, my family, even my enemies... but if I had to pick one who has stood out, I would choose... gosh, always its Jessica, my sister.

She works so hard, in her job, in her art, in her relationships. She isn't perfect, but she is definitely honest about who she is and she loves herself for who she is, which I envy. Just recently I think I have learned so much from her about will power and putting yourself out there. From her relationship I have learned about faith and trust, and also about tolerance and stepping into someone else's shoes. From her previous relationship I've learned about forgiveness and friendship. I've learned about myself, the things I need to change, the things I like, the things that I couldn't see before, all through Jessica. I'm inspired by her to write and to create and to be more positive and confident.

I think if I were asked this question every year, I might always have to choose Jessica.

I sure hope so.

5. Were you a teacher for anyone?

Literally? Yes. Otherwise, shouldn't someone else answer this question?

Sometimes I think I wasn't positive enough to be a teacher. But maybe I helped some one learn something a long the way. I will work harder on this in the coming year...

6. Is there anyone you need to forgive?


7. How will you go about forgiving?

A private matter, but I will.

I promise I'll write more fun and less long-winded reflections in the future! I still need to announce about my work (once I figure out my title and more details), and this weekend I have some exciting stuff happening with friends and modeling.

Actually, it all might be long winded (what can I say? I love the sound of my fingers striking the keyboard), but I'll try to make it not so damn serious!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

This is your life, Rachel Caldas

These kids make me a better person :)
Since I left Atlanta for college at 18, whenever I've needed to recharge, reflect and/or make a really, really big decision, I've tended to head home. Home being wherever I can sit and do absolutely nothing with my twin sister and have the best time ever. Home being where I see my little sister and brother and realize I want every move I make to be a move they can look up to. Home being the place where I get to hear my Dad's jokes, rants and wisdom and catalogue them away as words I hope never to forget.

These past few weeks I went looking for time to think, answers to questions and all of the comforts I described exactly where I knew I would find them. At home.

2012 has definitely marked a year of transition for me. I have ended a major relationship that has been the center of my life for several years. With any luck and a lot of hard work, I will be ending my master's program and completing a thesis by this December. I've taken on new jobs and seem to be continuously doing so (today's surprising news will be revealed in a couple of weeks), all as part of what is becoming a brand new and exciting career plan. Even in peripheral things such as my climbing and modeling I've made both major breakthroughs and discoveries about myself.

As the year has been speeding by at an ever quickening pace, I had become overwhelmed by the feeling that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted, scared of falling behind or going backwards, and equally frightened to take a step forward. After a goal that I had worked toward and wanted for so long slip away, I found myself left unsure of who I am all on my own.

My Daddy.These are moments you don't get to be a part of if you don't live at home...
So when this overwhelming, lonely feeling strikes - what do I do? I plan a long ass, inconveniently timed, ridiculous trip home so I can soak up all the comfort and safety that is my Daddy's (yes, Daddy, because I am most definitely a Daddy's girl in the best sense of the expression) and sister's and family's homes.

On this trip, I actually planned very little in comparison to trips past filled with weddings and St. Patrick's day celebrations and cross state road trips. This was partially because I've learned from those previous "vacations" that over planning will lead to more stress and exhaustion than I arrived with. Also, my sister transformed herself into master socialite and hand picked dozens of art, music and other equally awesome stuff for us to try out each and every day in order to better convince me that whatever decisions I would be making during my time at home, it should involve my triumphant return to the dirty dirty.

What ended up happening during my laughter filled and sleep deprived ATL takeover was what my stepmother oh so accurately described as my very own personal series of "This is your life, Rachel Caldas."

Me, in my usual state around Alice, laughing.

From day one I got to see people (aside from family) that marked distinctly significant parts of my life, from high school through my last years of college. Best friends that I don't get to see for years but still laugh with as if no time has passed at all. People I've looked up to who found me and flattered me by taking the time to come out, meet up and have a good time with me. Unexpected connections with people that weren't much more than a moment in my past but somehow have turned into new friends I hope to keep for a long time. And all of these meetings, just like the fifties show, brought with them anecdotes and stories and memories and jokes that I had all but forgotten. But also, and most importantly, a sensation of rediscovering myself as my past self joined with my present self.

My sister took care of me, introducing me to practically everyone she knew in her strange and fascinating, artsy world. If you ever want a guide for a good time in Atlanta, call her, because she knows how to show someone a city in a way that will make you never want to leave. Art openings, dance parties, perfect little cafes and bars, the biggest rock climbing gym in the US, outdoor markets, the greatest time ever just walking down the street. Add a job that really means something (my sister has two in her art and her work with domestic violence survivors) and family and its no wonder my sister has planted her roots in Atlanta.

For me, it took a little more to realize Atlanta is where I want to be. But what was it that convinced me, this time more than any of my other trips?

Maybe I am just moving back for the climbing gym...
I think I finally heard all the self doubt I've stored up after so many unexpected detours in my voice as I talked to my family and friends about what's next. I realized that being scared, that whatever was freezing me up, whether its going backwards or going forwards, fear just doesn't suit me, and its time to just do something and go for it again.

Cause going for it - not standing still - that's my style.

I will be successful and happy and find everything I've ever believed in. Maybe in Atlanta, but even if that's not the case... well, there is still the amazing rock climbing gym and perfect little cafes and the art openings until the next big change.

And of course, there's my family :)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A long winded reflection on how four or five weeks can change your life

Yesterday, I very happily accepted a semester of teaching in my university's ESL program this fall, a result of my success working in their summer exchange program for a short but exciting four weeks. Having been lucky enough to be offered once again the title of adjunct faculty along with two courses this fall, I've been thinking a lot about my time in the summer and what it meant to be working in this program, both for the students and for  myself.

Four weeks isn't much, but it's definitely changed my point of view - and I'm betting the students have been affected as well.

My students at the farewell dinner
Some of my summer students at the farewell dinner doing what they do best - being adorable.
I can guess how important the program was for the students, even if it was such a very short time, because of a few things. First of all, anyone who cries as much as many of my students did at the farewell dinner isn't putting on a show (or they should just quit their day job and get into acting right now so they can start co-starring with beautiful actors like Brad Pitt before he gets too old). It's pretty much assumed studying abroad will build new attachments and emotional experiences, but I am talking about the kind of crying where saying goodbye becomes sobbing and a chain reaction of wails start and pretty soon everyone is sitting in their own salty puddle of tears. And believe me, I am not mocking them. Their sentimentality took me back to my own experience studying abroad in the summer when I was in the exact same position, another reason I can bet this program has affected at least a handful of these students for the rest of their lives.

Anyone who knows me also knows of my love for Spain, in particular Madrid. Some might call it an annoying obsession, and by that I mean most of my college friends have the instinctive urge to scream as soon as they hear mention of anything to do with Spain because for four years I didn't stop talking about it.


I mean, look, I'm still talking about it now.

Most know that my passion began just over six years ago when I set off for a five week summer study abroad program with about sixty students I didn't know, a freshman level of Spanish and a first timer abroad excitement that couldn't be matched. Five weeks, much like this same program I taught in, that many students spent with their American counterparts giving Americans the rep they've earned in most European countries, criticizing the Spaniards for their lack of English, their staring, their horrible service in restaurants, etc. etc.

No judgement or anything, but it wasn't really my style - nor that of the handful of close, life long friends I made on that trip.

Cierra and I
One of my best friends and I - we can't seem to stop having laughter filled adventures, even now :)
Sure my little group partied just like most college aged Americans, or lets face it, foreigners do in a foreign country. But we made it our business to find and befriend Spaniards, to enjoy each moment without complaint or restraint, to make the most of every bit of our study abroad experience - even if that meant we slept less than two hours each night, got lost and missed trains, slept in crazy hostels or on the floors of friends' flats, ate olives and potato chips for dinner, skinny dipped for the heck of it, or walked six hours just to get to our beds. I'm sure that the program was great for everyone else, but for us, it was life changing.

After five weeks in Spain, I discovered my ultimate passion - travel and language. I found myself constantly working towards the same attitude I had during that time, the ability to let the bad just roll off my shoulders- whether it was losing all my luggage or leaving important tickets six hours away on my desk in Madrid. I understood what it meant to find friendships that were mutual, deep and true. Not only did I meet some American girls who have been and will be important in my life forever, but we found Spanish friends that have had a huge impact on us as well - one of us even married a Spaniard!

Hasta siempre.
A day of packing and tears. Hasta siempre.
During my last week in Spain, I was exactly like my students at the farewell dinner this summer. I cried, more than once, not ready to return to my life in the US. And not the pretty graceful kind of one tear rolls down the cheek crying, I mean the what-am-I-gonna-do-without-my-jamon-and-Spanish-loves kind of snotty sobbing. At our goodbye dinner, I read a short piece I wrote about the experience, barely able to get through it as the tears of my friends, American and English, our teachers and the staff kept rolling. I ended with this little bit, something I keep with me at all times:

"This is a toast to the plans that fall through, to embracing the unexpected, to learning there are a million possibilities out there, and to one day, week, or month changing your life. This is a toast to living each moment as your last and to truly good friends you are lucky to have in a foreign country. Here is to Spain."

No time or event or one person has affected me as much as those five weeks, those experiences and those people.

But something I never thought about before, was the people who made it possible. Sure, I thanked my teachers and the staff at that time, giving them hugs and sharing tears, but it never really hit me until now what an impact they had on the success of that program and its affect on me. My teachers there became my friends. They didn't care if I was late, hungover or missed class, except for some minor teasing and a slap on the wrist. We kept them up at all hours of the night and they laughed with us the next morning. My teachers and the staff introduced us to our Spanish friends, took us on tours and gave us starting points for exploring, kept us safe while also telling us which bars would be fun or taking us salsa dancing. Heck, I'm pretty sure one of the guides rigged a photography competition so that I would win the second place prize (not the first), a dinner at a restaurant I had been dieing to go to but couldn't afford.

Man in wheelchair watches breakdancers.
The winning photo. Notice the man in the wheelchair, the element that helped me win with this chance shot.
And now, I've had the chance to be that person (not that I'm rigging competitions or anything). In a program just like the one that changed my life I got to be the teacher this time and not just watch as perhaps a young person's life was changed by their own study abroad experience, but become a part of it. I got to teach English in a stress free fun way that helped students enjoy their time more easily and meet my American (well American, Scottish and Ecuadorian) friends. I got to explore new cities, shop and eat with these enthusiastic and eager students. I got to have girl talk, paddle board, play basketball and rock climb with them - and none of this was because I had to, but because it was fun.

Thinking about it, maybe these students won't feel the exact same way I did about my time in Spain. But the opportunity to teach in an exchange program once again this fall thrills me, because its just another opportunity to help create that experience for these students once again. Knowing this at the beginning, remembering how affecting an exchange program can be, I think I will be an even better ESL teacher as well as a better part of the program, so maybe in six years a student will think back to the most important time of their life and not only remember their crazy adventures and friends, but also remember me.

At the beach.
It's a hard job, but someone's gotta do it. I'll miss these guys, but I'm looking forward to meeting my next group!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Warming up that writing muscle, waking up my brain.

I need a little warming up on this whole blog thing.

It has been a while since I've written anything that wasn't for my graduate program or Red Karaoke that I was willing to let people see. I mean, I did one post in my sibling blog project and I actually made a painting a few weeks ago for my friend's art show (which someone actually bought to my disbelief) but in over 365 days, such limited creative output is just not enough. The writing has just not been happening, though not because I didn't want it to, of course...

People who know me, know that I've enjoyed writing for a very long time. In high school I used to write unfinished comic book scripts, bad poetry, and in those online diaries that slowly were overtaken by the internet sensation that is the blog. In college I wrote more unfinished stories, bad poetry and kept more than one blog project going, whether it was about studying abroad or just life in general. Even after college I kept several blogs, one about my life in Washington and another cleverly titled blog about my fashion passion. But with the onset of my graduate program last summer, a hefty course load of thirteen graduate level classes in ten weeks and an exciting yet relentless year of student teaching led me to set aside writing for fun - at least for the time being.

Now, a little over one year later, the finish line for my Masters in Teaching is near, and I will hopefully be doing enough writing to defend my thesis by December. The thing is, it seems like every day over the last many months I've felt like writing something for myself - whether its about a rock climbing adventure, a debate between my sister and I, something new, exciting or important to me, or some silly fashion thing I happen to love. And though my plate may be very full this fall with classes, research, teaching and volunteering on top of climbing and modeling, I feel like writing is my way to both reflect on all of these things in a really meaningful manner, and one of the few ways I have to express myself that I feel really damn good about.

And let's face it, when you feel really damn good about a particular way of expressing yourself, you should definitely find a way to do more of it.

Even if its miming. Though mimes are scary. But still.

So, I've started up yet another blog project (after carefully saving and deleting my old works). It doesn't really have a theme (well, besides "me") but it will be about all that stuff I've already mentioned (besides miming) - climbing, teaching, learning, debating, fashioning, eating, adventuring, friending - whatever. Though I enjoy a good blog with a specific purpose like many of those you'll find in my link list to the right (great selection of climbing, cooking, soccer, art and more stuffs over there), I'm just too scattered to write about one thing all of the time - which may be why I've never kept up with one of those other blog projects before.

I guess we'll see how it goes this time. Welcome to my little slice of the internet.