Why So Controversial?

When I was a kid, I loved spending time with my friends. I would beg to go to their house, spend the day, and later I would end the day asking my parents to let me stay for a couple more hours. If I couldn’t see them in person, we would talk on the phone for hours. Sometimes, we would talk until every phone in the house was dead, and we had no other option except to hang up.

As we grew older, we got busy and we developed into the people we are today. I have lost contact with many of my friends, but I have also been fortunate enough to be able to stay in contact with some of my closest ones since childhood. I have also met new people along the way that became good pals of mine. However, as much as I love all of my friends, I find that I’ve become more introverted. Despite enjoying their company, I could no longer spend so much time hanging out with others. After a few hours, I was finding myself tired and needing to relax.

Things have changed since childhood. We went from talking about TV shows and crushes to talking about politics and the latest scandal on the news. To be honest, I am not into talking about controversial topics. When I hang out with a friend, especially one that I have not seen in a year, I prefer to catch up or reminisce. Unfortunately, controversial topics tend to creep into our conversation.

Talking about politics is important. We can’t just ignore them altogether, but there is a time and a place for that discussion. Sometimes we need to leave our opinions at the door for the sake of friendship, if two people can’t have a mature discussion. We live in a world where people unfriend each other on social media, even after years of friendship, just because someone does not agree with their views. Anymore, I go on Facebook and see people trying to change each other, as opposed to pictures of their pet or their food (which I would rather see). I have even had this experience when visiting friends. If I haven’t seen you in over a year, the first thing I want to hear about is you. I care about you and your life. I want to know how your family is doing, if you have picked up any new hobbies, and what you have been learning. I don’t want to know what you think of Donald Trump’s latest tweet, not right now.

What happened to just hanging out and enjoying the company of another person? Why don’t we just sit, put our phones down, and talk?

Create moments where you will think of childhood, and you will want to sit and talk for hours and hours.

The Danger of “Good Enough”

The language-learning community likes to talk about the downfalls of being a perfectionist. When learning a language, making mistakes is inevitable, whether you like it or not. Learners can choose to learn from those mistakes, and sometimes even get a good laugh from them, or they can shy away from meeting new people and never reach their goal of becoming conversational in the language that they are learning because they are afraid of making mistakes when speaking or writing in that language.

The same goes for life. We aim for perfection and are constantly looking to better ourselves through inspirational talks on YouTube, self-help books, and reassuring blog posts. We know that we are not perfect, and we never will be perfect; at least not in this life.

Some people have accepted that fact, which is okay. If we strive for perfection then we will fail.  However, we should not settle for who we are right now. There is always something about us that we can be working on, while striving to be the best version of ourselves. The moment we settle and say that we are “good enough”, we make the conscious decision to stop growing. It is important to see the need for constant growth in our lives, because if we aren’t growing, then we are dying.

What kind of person were you in high school? How did you treat others? Would you want to go back to being that person? Look at your life in the past year. Would you want to be the same person you were even a year ago, making the same mistakes?

No matter how great you may think you are, or how much improvement you feel like you have been making, you still have a long way to go, and so do I. Look at it as motivation to continue on the path that you started, or even change your direction completely. Either way, don’t strive for “perfect” and never settle for “good enough.” Aim for “even better than yesterday.”

Live Without Regrets

My dad has used the line: Live your life in such a way that you will have no regrets at the end. The reason he says that is because at the age of 10, he lost his father to a sudden heart attack, at age 11 he lost his home and every earthly possession to a major flood, and at the age of 12 his favorite baseball player was killed in a tragic airplane accident. He learned early on that things don’t last and that you never know what tomorrow will bring. He said that if you want to do something, do it; if you want to say something, say it. You don’t want to get to the end of your life and say, “I wish I would have…” or “I wish I wouldn’t have…”

I just finished my senior year of college. With that comes a flood of questions, but there is one that I have been dwelling on, even before I graduated: How do you feel? 

Just like any other life-changing situation I’ve gone through, I felt and am feeling a lot of things. However, not one of them is regret. I made sure to make the most of my time at Gettysburg during my four years there. I did almost everything and visited every restaurant that I wanted to, leaving me satisfied. Most of all, I made memories that I will never forget.

This past school year, my introverted side took over more than ever and I know that part of that was due to reverse culture shock. During the two semesters, I constantly battled with wanting to have alone time because of being drained from work, but also wanting to make sure that I was spending time with those who were special to me before potentially never seeing any of them again.

Despite having the mentality of wanting to spend time with others, there were times where saying “no” was necessary for the sake of being able to rest. There were also times where I needed to put my work aside for an hour, after working on it for many hours, to spend time with my friends. In the end, I wasn’t left wishing that I had spent more time with people. Life is all about balance and balance prevents regret.

So how do I feel after all is said and done? I am still swimming in a sea of feelings, but making the most of my time at school has helped me feel ready to move on overall. No matter what stage of life you are in, if you just finished high school, just finished college, or if you are finishing a completely different chapter of life, make the most of it because you never know what will come next.

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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.