The Day of Love and Friendship

It has been said that “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” We see what others have on Facebook and we long for the same things. As we get caught up in thinking about what we don’t have, we never stop to think that maybe someone might be looking at our life that way. Have you ever thought that you could have something that everyone else wants? Instead of looking at other people’s lawns, we should work on watering our grass, taking care of what we have. Do you have a close relationship with your sibling? A grandparent? A parent? A pet? Do you have a group of friends that are there to support you, or even a best friend that you know you can trust with everything? Some people don’t have any of that. However, if there is one thing I know, there is always something to be thankful for, no matter how small.

Many people have strong feelings about today. It can be seen in the many ways that people refer to it: Singles Awareness Day, Valentine’s Day, GALentine’s Day, etc. Recently, I was trying to put together a lesson plan that included Valentine’s Day vocabulary in Spanish. When I was researching about the holiday, one interesting phrase that I kept seeing pop up was “El día del amor y la amistad” (Day of Love and Friendship). It made me really think. You can have a significant other and still not do anything for Valentine’s Day. You can be single and still celebrate the day.

When I was younger, my parents would take our family out to a restaurant every year. We celebrated a day of love, but a different kind of love. As I got older, I started celebrating the day with my friends. Currently I am in a relationship, but I have yet to spend the day with my significant other. Two years ago, we weren’t able to celebrate together, so my friends and I put together a delicious potluck dinner in our apartment at school, celebrating a day of friendship. Last year, I was abroad in France while my boyfriend remained in the United States. I couldn’t be with him, and we still talked on Skype, but I went to the movies with two of my good girl friends and then we went out to a restaurant. Both of those days were special days, even if they were not spent in the way that the holiday gets commercialized.

Your special someone does not have to be your significant other. You do not have to have romantic feelings for someone to make today special. If you have a significant other, then great! Celebrate the day with that person and remember to love them every day. If you don’t have a significant other, then spend the day with whoever your special someone is. Celebrate the other kinds of love that exist, and remember to love that person every day as well. Valentine’s Day is a lot like Thanksgiving. We tend to get caught up in life and forget to be thankful and love others daily. Don’t limit love to one day.

Loving Through Language

It started with a love of languages.

After winter break of my freshman year of college, I was at a dinner, talking about what I had done over the break. I sheepishly explained that I had spoken Spanish with my mother and spent much of my time studying French. The boy next to me said that he didn’t think that was nerdy at all and that he would have done the same if he had a relative to speak another language with. That’s when I casually gave the invitation to practice Spanish with me whenever he wanted. It was an invitation I gave out often but never got a response. I wanted a way of being able to keep up with my Spanish while I was away from home.

When I gave the invitation out this time, the results were different. A few nights later, the two of us walked home from watching a movie in a friend’s apartment and that’s when he started conversing in Spanish with me. This lead to a friendship based on speaking the Spanish language. We would share music with each other, talk about what was going on in our lives, and more! Spanish was something special that connected the two of us. There were many people who would wonder what we were saying and get frustrated that they didn’t understand. It was our little secret.

As time went on, we started studying together and became swing dance partners. We grew close and got to know each other well, becoming good friends. We really enjoyed each other’s company. Our sophomore year, we started to date.

Almost two and a half years later, we are still together. We’ve had to endure challenges such as being long distance for a length of time but have made it through. We still speak Spanish frequently, although not as frequently as before. Recently he has started learning Russian and I have started learning Korean. We share what we learn with each other and continue to love through language.

I have read many stories online about couples who have met through language exchange/penpal websites and was always amazed by the connection two people could make through a common interest in a language. I never thought that I would be one of those people, and that I would meet someone on my campus. Have you ever had an experience where you really connected with someone based on a love for languages? Tell your story in the comments below!

Meeting People Abroad

When looking at websites that offered study abroad advice, I noticed that students who had studied overseas were presented with the question: What do you wish you had done that you didn’t do? The answers I read were surprisingly very similar and not at all what I had expected. Students didn’t say that they wished that they had traveled more, or that they wish they would have bought more souvenirs. The biggest regret I had read about was that many students wished that they would have had the courage to talk to people locally and make friends.

Life presents many opportunities to cross paths with others, sometimes in crazy ways. It’s what you choose to do in that moment that will determine what will become of that encounter. Having gone through this myself, here is my advice on where you can meet people:

First I would suggest looking up language exchanges in the area. If there aren’t any, advertise that you would be interested in doing one! I have met plenty of nice and welcoming people from doing language exchanges. At first, it might have been strange because I did not know anyone, but after meeting up a few times, we became friends.

Consider joining a fitness class. The program I attended let American students sign up for fitness classes at the local university. I met a number of people because of taking hip-hop and Zumba classes. The great thing about doing this is that you already have something in common with everyone in the room, a love for the class you signed up for.

Also consider taking a local university class. It may seem intimidating, especially if you are not confident in your language abilities, but you will meet people who are willing to help you. I will admit that this can be scary at first because everyone seems to already have their own group of friends, but just start with something simple like, “Can I see your notes from the other day?” or, “Can I borrow a pen?”

Whether you consider yourself a Christian or not, I would suggest trying to attending a church. Some of the most welcoming people were those that I met from weekly Bible studies and going to church every Sunday. These people were very nice and cared about how my friends and I were doing and how we were adjusting to being away from home. I even met one of my good friends after accidentally locking myself in the bathroom!

After spending an extended amount of time somewhere, you start to form a routine. My friends and I would frequent restaurants and cafes that we enjoyed. In doing that, we became friends with the owners, and even got to talk to other customers at times.

One last thing I would recommend is to pay attention to your surroundings in general. You never know if you will be handed a flyer for an event that you would be interested in or if you will see a poster for something you would be interested in. You can even look up online what is going on in your area to find out more.

The truth is, you can meet people anywhere. Sometimes you will meet them in the grocery store and sometimes you will meet them in your hostel. It is confidence that you will need to be able to form friendships with others. While I cannot give you that confidence, I can tell you where you are likely to meet people. The suggestions that I mentioned come from my personal experience studying in Europe but there are so many other ways to meet people and make friends. If you have traveled before, where have you met people?

Don’t Miss the Moment

So many people are living yesterday or dreaming about tomorrow that they miss the now. They’re thinking about going abroad or when they went abroad. They’re both wonderful things but don’t miss the here and now because what was got you to this moment and what is now will get you to that future moment that you’re dreaming about, so embrace the here and now and live it to its fullest.

Whenever people ask me if I miss being abroad, I tell them that I do, but only a little bit. The joy I receive from spending time with my loved ones and being in a familiar place outweighs that negative feeling of missing the life I lived a year ago. I looked forward to being abroad in anticipation of what was going to be. Now that I’ve done it, I have fantastic memories. However I also have my life at this moment (friends, classes). The life that you live is going on. Remember that the life you’re living now is preparation for what will be. Enjoy the moment, including the painful ones because they are lessons. 

While I was away, I missed home very much. I missed my family, my friends, my school, and especially my significant other. Homesickness is real and I don’t like when people try to make those who feel homesick bad for feeling that way. Despite feeling homesick, I did not let that paralyze me to the point of not having fun and making Skype calls home every day for hours on end. I counted myself as fortunate to be able to travel around Europe and live the dream I had been wanting to live for years. I took advantage of my opportunity. It was worth it and I would never take that experience back. What I normally tell people when they ask me how I feel is, “I was happy in Europe and I am happy at home. I am happy wherever I am.” The last thing I want people to think is that I was unhappy going abroad.

Be happy wherever you are. Live the life you want to live with what you have around you. Count the blessings in your life. If times are tough, remember that they are just lessons for you to learn and without them, you would not be the person you are today. Without the good and bad moments in life, you would not have gotten to this point. Most importantly, do not spend your life wishing away the present moment for something you are excited for in the future. Embrace now. Live now.

Count Your Blessings

About a week ago, many Americans sat around the dinner table with their families and a giant meal, and shared what they were thankful for. Thanksgiving is a holiday that gets observed one day a year but who says that we need to follow the calendar? Whether you are American, Panamanian, French, Polish, or just human, you can and should take a little bit of time out of your day to be thankful for something.

Many have suggested that a good remedy for discouragement and unhappiness is meditating on what we are thankful for. How many times do we hear that advice and actually put it into practice? I have started doing this, making a mental list of the things I am grateful for. I start with what is the most important to me, things I should not take for granted such as:

  • the environment I grew up in
  • the fact I still have all my grandparents and that my parents are still together after 30 years
  • that I can see, hear, walk, run, and do many daily things without a problem

Then, I gradually ease into material things that are still nice, but should not dominate my life such as:

  • going to my dream school
  • being able to travel throughout Europe
  • having a significant other

When you really think about it, you would be surprised how quickly you can form your list and how long it can go. Everyone’s list will be a little bit different, but I encourage you, the readers, to start thinking of a list of things you are thankful for and see how you start to feel after forming a habit out of this.

 

Reverse Culture Shock at School

About a year ago, I got to accomplish my dream of traveling the world. At this point, I would have started part one of my two-part study abroad experience in two different countries. When you are living the dream, it is easy to get wrapped in the present and not worry too much about the future. I knew my friends and family would be waiting for me at home and I thought everything would be the same. I had the feeling that I would not be the only one growing and forming new friendships but I did not expect things to be very different when returning to campus.

I had gone abroad during my junior year of college. By the time I got back, I missed the class above me graduate and a new class of incoming students. This year, I have had to meet two classes of students that I did not know before. I go to a small liberal arts school. I used to know a fair amount of people on campus. After having studied abroad, I came to a campus where I did not know more than half of the students. I knew this was going to be a situation I would run into, but I did not realize how much it was going to hit me. I guess I thought I would come back to the campus that I had left.

Not only have I been adjusting to not seeing many of the people I used to spend time with, but I have been feeling like a real adult instead of a student. Most of my time on campus (when I am not in class) consists of tutoring students in Spanish and French, being an assistant for a First-Year Seminar, and holding weekly office hours. I am really enjoying my time on campus and I am glad to be home, but this has definitely been different from previous years. I am happy that I get to help those who are in the position that I was once in, but it feels strange to be the older one again.

No one prepared me for the reverse culture shock that was going to hit me. I had done my fair share of research before studying abroad, including to prepare myself for culture shock. However, I noticed that not many people had written about reverse culture shock. Maybe it was something I had not noticed because I was not looking for it. This is why I wanted to write about this topic. If you are looking into studying overseas, you are probably going to see many posts about funny stories, what to pack, and travel tips, but you may not see a whole lot on the subject of reverse culture shock. You may not have the same experience as I did. It will vary depending on what school you go to and your personality. This may not be one of my most glamorous posts on study abroad, but I think it is very necessary to give an insight into all aspects of the study abroad experience.

Why Goal Setting Is Important

School is back in session. Many of us are in school right now, from elementary school to college. There are so many different ages of students. Are you in middle school just starting to get the hang of a new building? Are you an adult looking to go back to school because you realized what you want to do? While ages of students can widely range, there is one thing we have in common that none of us can escape: homework. Homework can be very time-consuming and seem unnecessary, but I invite you to try something new: life homework aka goal-setting. Some people are known for being goal-oriented people. Others find goal-setting to lead nowhere except down the Boulevard of Broken Dreams and land of wasted time. As a goal-oriented person, I find that they can really help anyone if you go about making smaller goals that eventually lead to the big ones. Why should you set goals?

You will feel like you accomplished something, even if it is something small. It can be exercising between half an hour to an hour every day for the purpose of living a healthier lifestyle. It can be listening to one podcast a day of the language you are studying. It can be setting aside a certain amount of money each month to save up for a trip. In the end, you will get something done. You won’t be where you were at before.

It will make you feel more motivated. Who doesn’t want to continue what they are doing if it’s working for them? Why stop now? If you are setting the right kind of goals which are small and realistic enough to be attainable, then you should be achieving them. Maybe your end goal is not so realistic, but it’s the small realistic ones that help you reach the monster goal, and it’s the small successes that motivate you to go even further. Look back, but only enough to see how far you’ve come. Let that progress drive you to do even more.

You will feel like you have a sense of purpose. While you should not root your sense of purpose and self-worth in your work and your achievements, goal-setting can help you get started down the path of feeling fulfilled in life. Did you realize you like writing but can never finish a story? Start off small, giving yourself deadlines for each chapter and writing a little bit each day. If this is what you love to do, you will start to get a fulfillment out of accomplishing the steps toward your goal, in this case, a novel.

You should always strive to be better than the person you are right now. We all need work. There is always something to better about ourselves whether it be trying to break your bad habit of procrastination or trying to be kinder to others. If you are an artist, you can be very good but there will always be those who are better than you. Strive to be a better artist and create even more beautiful works. This applies to anyone: athletes, musicians, scholars, makeup artists, dancers, etc.

First you need the push to go out there and do it. I made Nike’s phrase “Just do it” my motto for accomplishing my goals. Arguably, the hardest part of reaching a more long-term goal is to find that motivation, that push, to go out there and get started. Once you start somewhere, you are already on the path to victory.

Goal-setting helped me reach my dream of being bilingual and even beyond that. Check out my YouTube channel for more encouragement and content on language-learning and travel. If you find it helpful and want to know when I upload videos, make sure to subscribe and share!