Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Top Ten Takeaways.

London.  A city of diversity.  An inspiration to people around the world.  A hub for street markets, fashion bloggers, and eager young adults wanting to experience life.  A place that not only fulfills dreams, but creates them.  A city that challenges the way you view life and strengthens your values.  London, most importantly, has become my home.

To be honest, I'm different.  I feel like at this stage in anyone's life there are constant changes that make the mold for the rest of their lives.  Fortunately, I'm happy with my choices.  I remember telling my mom before I left that I knew I wouldn't be the same person coming back who left.  That scared me.  I knew that living by myself in a huge city that I had never visited would present itself with challenges, but I just needed to do it.  Month by month, I've learned some things along the way.  I've learned not to stop walking in the middle of the street because you saw something that you loved, and I've learned what it takes to be a friend when it's convenient and when it's not.

After a lot of thought, I have decided to share my top ten takeaways from studying abroad.  Enjoy!

Top 10 Takeaways:

1.  Be 100% yourself.
     For quite some time I've felt the need to fit in.  Whether it's being a part of the right crowd or dressing like all of my friends, I've felt the pressure to change myself.  To be honest, I feel like I haven't been myself in quite some time.  I changed my mind on what was important to me and even who I felt I needed to impress.
     Being in London gave me a new outlook on my own life.  After seeing diversity in the strongest form, I quickly realized how it was okay to be different.  It was okay to have different views, dress differently, and speak differently.  And suddenly, I felt like me.  Owning who I was led me to make friends with people who were incredibly different than me.  It led me to three of my very close friends (this is for you guys Kaitlyn, Leah, and Jodie) who not only challenged my values, but respected them.  Studying abroad helped me "find myself" and ultimately helped me see that being me is the only way to be 100% happy with myself.

2.  It's okay to be lost.
     If you asked me what I am going to do with my Mathematics major right now, I would tell you I have no clue.  I would say something that probably pertains to business, but that would be a rough estimate.  Today, I'm okay with that.  A year ago, I would have freaked out.  Studying abroad has certainly showed me that everything isn't written in stone.  Sometimes there are bumps along the way to your final destination, sometimes you have no clue where you are, and sometimes being lost leads you to the best things.
     Being in London for five months was not on my original college plan.  I didn't even plan to study abroad at all!  I would consider this my "lost" part of life.  The months where I am just living instead of thinking.  Without it though, I wouldn't have seen the world, made awesome friends, got a new perspective of life, and made choices for myself.  The point I'm trying to make is that even though things might not be part of your plan, doesn't mean it's not part of the plan for your life.

3.  Rely on someone other than yourself.
     The first thought I had when I said goodbye to my family at the O'hare airport was that I was alone and independent.  As scary as it was, I had no other choice than to make decisions for myself and rely on myself.  As the days passed, I quickly realized that I wasn't just alone, I was lonely.  That feeling was haunting and kind of new for me.  Day by day I found myself relying on my parents a whole lot more, calling them every day, and relying on God.
     Truth is, I talked to my mom more when I was in another country than I did when I was at school.  I learned how to be independent, but also how to allow myself to rely on someone other than myself.  Relying on God also became a daily occurrence for me.  If I was having a bad day, I brought it to the one who was always there.  My problems simply vanished, I didn't have to worry anymore, and a giant weight was lifted from me.

4.  True friends are hard to come by.     
     To be honest, I wasn't really looking for a big group of friends in London.  I had every intention of meeting some people to travel with, hang out with, and let the friendships kind of fizzle out when I got back to the states.  What I didn't know was that I was going to meet some pretty awesome girls in my program and in my classes.  I am so happy that I had the opportunity to meet so many new friends and believe that they are lifelong friendships.
     Along with new friendships made, I learned who my true friends were back home.  This was probably the hardest lesson I learned.  People who I thought would always be there kind of vanished, some friends who I thought weren't very close to me really cared, and some of my best friends really proved themselves.  I know this is definitely a two way street, so I'm not quick to judge.  However, let me just say that relationships require effort.  On top of effort, a six hour time difference and being thousands of miles away did not help.  Let me just give a shout out to all of my friends who asked me how I was doing, skyped me, sent me mail, and who showed me what true friendship is.

5.  Pack light.    
     I am the best at overpacking.  If I was going to a desert, I would somehow convince myself to bring my Hunters just in case.  I'm ridiculous.  What's even more ridiculous is how much I brought with me to study abroad.  Two packed suitcases, one overweight suitcase (by twenty pounds), a full backpack, and a carry on is what I brought.  That was too much!  Just because everything fits, doesn't mean you should bring it.  I brought my whole closet, stuffed my clothes in space bags, and that was my first fault.  Everything might have fit, but it sure wasn't below the weight limit.  Trip by trip I learned to re-wear clothes, mix and match, and deal with it.

6.  Life isn't meant to be lived in one place. 
     Growing up my parents took me on big family vacations.  Whether it was a long road trip through the West or relaxing in Florida, I learned quickly that this world was big.  When I brought up the thought of studying abroad to my parents, they thought I was kidding.  Sure I love to travel, but living across the ocean was a lot different.  Nevertheless, I took a huge leap and found myself in London.  As I began to travel more, visit different countries solely on weekends, and devote my time to embracing change, I realized just how big this world is.
     Trip by trip, I saw a different group of people.  The British, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Scottish, Irish are all European, but they are all so different.  Seeing the different ways of living, eating different food, and hearing different languages revealed to me how much I don't know.  The more I traveled, the more I understood how little I know.  Studying abroad allowed me to live in different countries, see different things, and learn a whole lot about people and myself.  Living became an exciting adventure, a way of thinking, and an idea to strive towards.

7.  Where sneakers for your own good.
     My whole life I've had a phobia of fashion faux paus.  The "Your going to wear that skirt with those?" question always popped in my head when I wore sneakers with a skirt.  Maybe it's the way people wear sneakers in Europe or maybe it's just me who changed my mind, but I've come to love them.  I specifically started to love them when I could barely walk on my Spring break trip, and my new possession of New Balance shoes became my life saver.  Cobble stoned streets + Converse = 1 limping Janae.  The moral of the story:  wear the sneakers.  Embrace the comfortable padding, enjoy walking like a normal person, and work it.  That's all.

8.  Put down the phone.
     Wifi is great.  Cell phone service is great.  Communication is also pretty great.  However, experience is a little bit greater.  While in London, I bought a monthly cell phone plan.  The plan wasn't good, I got little to no service, and I often asked myself why I kept renewing the plan every month.  I probably spent more time complaining about the service than using it.  Being disconnected was kind of a gift though.  Instead of worrying about catching up on new IG posts, reading statuses that I could probably care less about, and worrying about how many likes I got on a photo, I was able to experience some incredible things.
     Our lives are surrounded by technology.  We tweet, update, post photos, and blog about our lives.  I think it's awesome how connected we can be without being near each other.  Along with that level of communication I feel like we forget to actually live in the moment.  Being disconnected from 24/7 service allowed me to experience what was going on around me and truly live.  So next time you are watching the fireworks, boating with your friends, or making s'mores by a campfire, put down your phone, enjoy the moment, and let someone else take a bad quality photo of your experience.

9.  Experience is worth more than a pair of new shoes.  
     I've been asked a lot of questions since I've been back, but the one that keeps coming up is what I bought in London and what I brought back.  Any of my friends will tell you that I love shopping.  Sales at J.Crew are my worst downfall, and I'm a sucker for Kate Spade.  London is known for amazing shopping, upcoming trends, and for being very expensive.  Instead of buying a lot of material items though, I opted for plane tickets.  Instead of unpacking a new wardrobe, I looked through my photos.  And instead of having a new top that will go out of style in a few years, I have memories that will last a lifetime.  I've learned to value life experiences over material items, and I've learned the importance of saying no to a new handbag and yes to a twenty pound flight.

10.  It's okay to be single, and it's okay to be selfish.   
     I used to hate telling people I was single.  I hated saying, "yep, still single" at every family event, I hated being told that the right person will come at the perfect time, and I hated lying through my teeth  when I told people that I was content with it.  Truth is, I'm a girl.  Of course I want a happily ever after, someone to tell me I'm beautiful, and hold my hand when I've had a rough day.  These past few months though have taught me something very important about being single.  I'm not going to get on that high horse of saying how magical and freeing it is to live your life and worry about yourself for a change, but it actually is pretty magical and freeing.
     I've come to realize that I'm only nineteen.  I have the rest of my life to find that special someone, and I've fallen in love with creating myself first.  Focusing on being myself, figuring out who I am, and figuring out who I want to be has been the most rewarding part about being alone in London.  For those of you who have already found your other half, I am so happy for you!  However, for myself, I've come to realize that I am content at this stage in my life single or not.    

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sun Kissed by the Grecian Sun.

Hello again from London!  These past few weeks have been insane, and it makes me sad knowing I didn't have time to share what was going on.  They have been filled with A LOT of studying and exams, which was then topped off with a Greece holiday to start out the Summer.  Talk about a great way to start the Summer, right?  I got back last Friday, and I have so much to share from this trip!  At the same time, I'm actually kind of sad that my last trip is now over, and I go home in just a few days!  ONLY THREE DAYS.  I'm just as surprised as you, and it crept up on me so quickly.  As sad as I am to go back home, I can't wait to be back with friends and family to tell them everything!

Athens Day 1:
So let me start with the few amazing days in Greece.  To begin the trip, I had to wake up at 2am so I could catch my flight at 6am.  Thank you Ryan air for giving me cheap flights, but I'm so done with these dreadfully early and late flights.  I couldn't really sleep on the flight, but I got a frappe when I landed so that gave me some energy!  The first day in Athens was just so much fun.  To begin, we were really hungry so I ordered my first real Greek salad.  So delicious!  After lunch, we explored the city a bit and just took it all in.  My friends and I found this awesome giant rock that provided us with the most amazing view of the city!  After exploring, we decided to get dinner at a local restaurant by a nearby market.  I got traditional pork souvlaki with pita bread, tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki.  Best meal I had the whole time I was in Greece.  The rest of the nights was spent relaxing at the airbnb and hanging out.

Athens Day 2:
The second day I was in Greece was my favorite.  We got up earlier and caught a ferry to the nearby island of Aegina.  My friend Leah is Greek, and she asked her family that lives in Greece what islands would be good to visit for a day.  We ended up choosing this cute little island, and we were not disappointed.  The ferry took only an hour, where we transported to an island surrounded by water that looked like glass and a tropical paradise.  When we arrived, we got lunch right away where I shared domathes (vine wrapped rice), saganki (fried cheese), and of course a Greek salad with my friend Jodie.  SO GOOD.  Domathes sounded a little interesting to me, but it was so good!  Greek food is my new favorite, and the good thing is that it's healthy for you... Well most of it!

After lunch we decided to walk by the shore and just enjoy the beautiful day!  Literally every five minutes we found a new picture spot, but we couldn't help ourselves.  The whole island is beyond beautiful!  We just enjoyed the sea breeze, I enjoyed getting a nice tan, and the next part was my favorite.  I thought I would bring my bathing suit just in case, so I decided to go swimming.  The water wasn't super warm, but it was the Mediterranean Sea, I was there, therefore I went swimming.  The only bad part about it was dodging all of the sea urchins, but I just doggy paddled over them!  I can't get over this day.  After swimming, we explored the town a bit and got dinner.  Not too long after dinner, we caught the last ferry and got back to Athens.  I love Aegina.

Athens Day 3:
After such a great day in Greece the day before, I knew it would be hard to beat.  Thankfully, we saved a lot of fun things to do for our last day which made it equally as fun!  To begin the day, we slept in.  Thank the Lord.  The day began going to the Parthenon Museum.  We all got in for free since we are "EU" students.  Win.  We looked around a bit, then we had lunch there.  I got saganaki.  That's it.  Just fried feta cheese, and it was delicious.  After lunch, we ventured up to the Parthenon and something amazing happened.  We got in for free again!  Thank you Europe!  The Parthenon was amazing.  Literally the huge hill that it sits atop is just full of ancient ruins.  It kind of reminded me of Rome for that aspect, but it was just so cool to see the things I have only heard about.  After the Parthenon, we just walked around Athens and enjoyed the city.  We might have been harassed by men trying to sell us bracelets, but we didn't let that affect our time there.  The rest of the night was spent getting a delicious gyro and watching the sunset.  Greece has my heart.


Ending this trip was bittersweet.  I knew it meant that this was the last time I would travel to a "different" country for awhile, I knew that it meant my study abroad experience was fast approaching the end, and I knew that I definitely learned a lot since my first trip.  Traveling the world has always been a thing I have wanted to do.  Whether it was Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants that made me want to go to Greece or the Lizzie McGuire movie that made me want to go to Rome, all of my dreams came true during these five months.  Oh and the second to last picture was a total joke.  We tried to be models, but clearly I'm not cut out for it. Ha!

I know I haven't mentioned it enough how much I couldn't have done ANY of this without my parents.  They funded me, encouraged me when I needed it, and in a way gave me all of these experiences.  So shout out to the best parents a girl could ask for and making me the luckiest girl in the world.  I hope everyone has a chance to travel to Greece some point in their lifetime.  My life is forever changed by experiencing new cultures, meeting awesome friends, and choosing to push myself and travel.

My next post should be very soon considering I'm almost done with it, so stay tuned!  

Monday, May 4, 2015

Florence is For Me.

The more I think about my Spring Break trip, the more I want to be back.  Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love London.  There is just something about Italy though that just captured my heart.  The second stop on my trip happened to be Florence.  Florence is known for it's amazing art, it's beautiful clay colored buildings, and well it's gelato.  

When I arrived in Florence, the number one thing on my mind was shopping.  Unlike my normal shopping trips, I was on the hunt for comfortable tennis shoes.  I mentioned before how I made the decision not to bring mine.  THAT was an awful decision, and it eventually led me to limp everywhere thanks to my torn up feet.  After about a good half hour walk, I finally found an athletic store.  Sadly, the shoes I liked weren't in my size.  Literally a minute later I found another athletic store, and that is where I bought my new and overpriced pair of New Balance sneakers.  Hey, at least they were cute.  Once my feet were happy, I was happy.  

The itinerary for the first day included running out of breath going up the bell tower at the Il Grande Museo del Duomo, running out of breath going up to the Piazzele Michaelangelo, and running out of breath walking back to my current place of stay.  I honestly don't think the scoops of gelato or the homemade fettuccine alfredo helped, but when in Rome... I mean Florence.  My first impression of Florence was basically that it exceeded my expectations.  A lot of people I know who go to Italy have said that it wasn't as great or the food wasn't as good, but everything (from my point of view) was incredible.  

Day Two:

To be honest I had to look in my journal to see what I did on day two.  I literally wrote down, "Today was really good, really bad, and interesting all within a few hours."  So this is what happened!  In the morning I got up to go to the Acadamia.  Basically the only reason why people go there is to see the statue of David, I mean that's why I went.  For anyone traveling there, book tickets in advance!  I did, which helped me jump the huge line and get in at a scheduled time.  Everyone knows about David, I mean it's this ginormous statue of a naked man.  Beyond the nakedness, it was actually really cool!  I won't be sharing photos of it in case anyone was wondering.  Ha!

After the Acadamia, my friends and I went to Gusta Pizza.  I read about Gusta when I was researching Florence, and I was not disappointed.  The pizza was made to order and just so fresh!  The pillowy crust, the fresh mozzarella, and amazing chunks of parmisean are just a few things I enjoyed.  I'm making myself hungry just thinking about it!  After lunch, we walked to the Pitti Palace and Bobili Gardens.  In the gardens we found somewhere to sit, and we just enjoyed the sun.  Ahh the Tuscan sun.  After that is when the bad part comes to play.  While walking by the river, I noticed my head started to itch.  Next thing you know I have broken out in hives... again.  That pretty much ended my day excluding dinner.  After today, that now made TWO trips to the pharmacy, and it was only the second city.  On the bright side, my hives didn't cover my whole face like last time.  That would've been even worse!

After only two days in Florence, it was time for me to say goodbye.  Even though I only had two days, I saw everything I wanted to!  I even got some time to sit back and just relax too.  If there is one thing I learned in Florence, it's that the Italians know pasta.  I'm pretty sure I had the best pasta in my entire life here no matter what restaurant I chose.  From fresh fettuccine to fresh ravioli, I had my fill of pasta.  Yay for carbs!

Next stop on my trip was lunch in Pisa and then three days in the region of Cinque Terre.  I am SO excited to share what I did in Cinque Terre because that was my favorite part of Italy.  If you've never heard of it before, just wait.  The next post about Spring break should be up within a week!  I'm trying to organize it so I can share my time in London as well.  Thank you all for your sweet comments, and I can't wait to tell you more!