From Uncertain to Unconquerable

So as a part of a study abroad essay contest, I wrote this to reflect on my experiences. In case you never kept up with my blog that I wrote while abroad, here is a quick reflection essay with tips and advice if you ever decide to take the same plunge!

Fifteen minutes before I had to be at the airport and it looked like I had not begun to pack. Clothes flooded my room as I frantically dug through my bags to see what I could take out to shed off those five extra pounds that pushed my two huge suitcases over the weight limit. After stuffing as much as I could in my carry-ons and bidding goodbye to one of my favorite pairs of shoes that did not make the cut, I marched out the door to and embarked on my journey.

It’s funny to think that tips start before you even leave the house but this is a huge one: Make sure you weigh your bags even before you leave your house. This eliminates problems later at the airport when all you want is the security of sitting at the gate, knowing that you are one step closer to Europe. You can also take the lesson with you overseas. Travelling later on in other countries, you’ll have to remember how to sacrifice not bringing your favorite scarf in order to board the cheap airline that affords you one backpack for your weekend trip to Valencia.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I always knew that I wanted to study abroad. Going on college visits and listening to campus representatives, I carefully weighed their individual programs to make sure where I went would ensure me a good experience. Coming to University of Miami, I saw a wealth of opportunities in countries on every continent so I knew I would be content when it came my time to go! A Spanish major, I knew I wanted to go to a Spanish-speaking country. So Latin America or Europe? I had been to countries in both before and knew they would offer distinct experiences. I eventually chose Spain because of the opportunities to travel affordably to other parts of Europe and because I always have been drawn by it’s rich culture and history.

With city choice next on the agenda, my city-girl mentality took hold and I knew I had to be in the center of the country’s hustling and bustling capital. After an application, interview, and a new passport, I ended up in Madrid, Spain with nothing more than two suitcases and a fluttering heart, anxious to see what was in store.

The experience of a lifetime does not necessarily equate to a fairytale. I hit more than my fair share of road bumps; but through them all, became a more confident and capable individual. In my four months abroad, I learned more about myself than I have in twenty years, all while gaining a new perspective on our diverse world.

It would be selfish to keep this knowledge to myself, so here you go. A guide on “What to do when…” for some events you might encounter while on your own expedition.

What to do when you realize you have no idea where you are

Bags in hand, I exited the airport terminal and it hit me: I am completely on my own with only an address on a piece of paper to guide me. Not educated on how to use the metro, I settled to take a taxi to my new home. The daughter of my host mom greeted me and helped me lug my belongings up to the second floor where I was shown my new room. With ample closet space and my own bathroom, I felt comfortable there but still felt uneasy about the experience. I started to unpack until dinnertime (I still remember my first meal of fish and potatoes fondly…) prepared by my host mom’s housekeeper. My 80-year-old “señora” did not speak any English and, being out of practice, I was apprehensive at first. I learned quickly this would not do and I needed to get over my fear of the language and speak the best I could. Something that set me up well for the rest of the time I was abroad. My living situation was a bit different from most. Not only was it just she, two cats, and I, I also did not have Internet. This was just one of the many things I had to adapt to while abroad and, in the end, the break from technology served me well.

With so much to do, there’s little time to be spent in your room!

What to do to take up time because you don’t have Internet

No Internet? No TV? What do you do then? Madrid is a huge city and there is never a shortage of things going on. Everyday I wanted to get out of the house so would find a new shop to explore, a new coffee spot to try, a museum to go to, or place to relax. My favorite book while abroad was from Time Out. They helped me find cool vintage stores to hole-in-the wall restaurants that I shared with my friends. They covered all the different neighborhoods throughout the city and I carried the book around with me at all times.

There’s so much to see no matter what time of day, don’t be afraid to explore!

What to do when you don’t know where you are

I found the metro to be the best way to get around. Of course, you can get lost but after a few connections, you can get to a familiar spot. I also found madrileños to be some of the nicest people. Very rarely do you go somewhere and not strike up a random conversation whether you are waiting in line to pay for groceries or contemplating a Picasso painting in the Reina Sofia. Almost every city I travelled to from Barcelona to Paris had metro systems as well and our main source of transportation.

What to do when nobody wants to spend money on his or her phones

You’re in Europe and the last thing you want to be spending your money on is your cell phone. All of my friends were on a “pay as you go” system and with one text costing .15 Euros, it can be gone faster than you can say “hasta luego.” So what do you do? Plan in advance and make calls QUICK.

Finally, plenty of time to hang out with friends and take in culture, like soccer!

What to do when you forget how to study

“Studying abroad” is a term to use loosely. Studying in college equals all-nighters in the library, burying your head in books with a Red Bull in hand. “Studying abroad” in Europe is much more than that. It’s about studying the culture, language, environment, and way of life. Professors understand this and thankfully are not there to keep you swamped in schoolwork, but rather, encourage trips and exploration of the city. But you do have those pesky mid-terms and final exams that can interrupt your idyllic state. That’s ok though. Just buckle down, get it out of the way, and think about all your friends at home spending countless hours in the library to ace that Bio exam.

What to do when you need a break

City life can be exhausting. Walking from place to place immersing yourself in the hustle and the bustle of the city is exhilarating but everyone needs to get away. I found that for every big city in Europe, there is an equally big countryside surrounding it. One of my favorite excursions was a camping trip in El Escorial, a small town outside of Madrid. A local student took a group and me up to the top of a mountain providing one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. Looking for something a little bit closer? Parks are everywhere and the upkeep tends to be extraordinary. In Madrid, Parque del Buen Retiro and Parque Oeste stand out and you’ll always find people there relaxing on a nice day.

It’s easy to find an escape away from the city for reflection and relaxation.

What to do when you can’t read the menu

Take in local flavors like paella in Valencia. You won’t be disappointed!

Take in local flavors like paella in Valencia. You won’t be disappointed!

Uh-oh! You get to a restaurant and nothing looks familiar. Even though I am pretty fluent in Spanish, I still found myself questioning what was being offered. Or imagine getting to Paris with a group of five and no one knows French. What do you do? That’s when I usually ask what’s good and order whatever the waiter wants to get me. This led to one of my favorite meals in Lisbon, as well as an extraordinary meal in Sevilla. I have always considered food to be the best reflection of a culture. So step out of your comfort zone and make it a point to try something new! Even if something like bull’s tail sounds disgusting, you just might find it to be your new favorite food.

What to do when you are sleep deprived

Somehow you manage to stay out until the metro is starting up again in the morning and have to be in class in three hours. Thankfully, some café con leche gets you through class but by the end of it, you are exhausted. Well, this is when the Spanish tradition of taking a siesta really pays off! From sleeping to eating, you’ll find that the schedule in Spain is unlike anything you have encountered. My main advice is to embrace the change and you will forget that you knew anything different. The Spanish don’t start their day until about nine, take a long lunch break since it is their biggest meal of the day, take a siesta in the afternoon, and enjoy tapas, dinner, and drinks around ten that will continue well into the night even when there is work the next day.

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Bandeau Blind

Oh, American Apparel. For so long you were solely my go-to place to satisfy the need for a simple V-Neck Tee in that special color. Little did I know that hidden on a rack in the back corner was a special gem which would forever change the way I wear clothes. Ladies and gentleman, presenting the…

BANDEAU BRA!

One of my best friends always obsessed over these but I turned my head. After buying a tank that I thought would look good with one, I decided to take the plunge and pick one out! Naturally, there just happened to be a sale so my intent of purchasing one bandeau turned into three. Never having tried one on and knowing that there was no refunds on undergarments, I had to go with my gut and put my trust in my friend’s judgement.

Now I was worried it would fall. I was worried it would not be comfortable. I was worried it would not look good. But rest assured, it is none of the above but rather a great addition to my wardrobe that will be hard to take off! I encourage all of you to get out and buy one, you will not be disappointed.

BITCH: Babe In Total Control of Herself

So I just finished Kelly Cutrone‘s book If You Have to Cry Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You. I should also say just started because at approximately 9:00am this morning, I cracked the spine on this baby while on the Arc Trainer and was done by sundown! Needless to say it’s a quick read, but unlike other short books, this is worth your money. If you’ve ever watched an episode of The Hills, you know who Kelly is. She’s blunt and honest, never afraid to speak her mind. This is mainly why I wanted to read this book. I thought that she would have some insightful advice on making it to the top, and I found just that and more. There were definitely some things she said that resonated with me more than others. Multiple times throughout the day, I found myself wishing I had a highlighter on hand to grasp onto a good point or two, but since I didn’t, I’m now flipping page by page and letting you in on some of the best advice found in the book.

1. Go balls out on intuition and follow your dreams. Dreams won’t always take you on a straight path to destiny, but they’re usually related to what your soul wants for you. They’ll force you to ask yourself the hard questions, they’ll kick your ass, and most importantly, they’ll turn you on.

2. Create a tribe. Start by identifying people in your community you look up to and then, graciously and with their blessing, use their hard work and experience to your advantage. Pick their brains. And if you don’t see ay of these people around you, do as much travel and research as you can to figure out where they might be waiting for you.

3. Fake it to make it.

4. Sometimes you need to let go of everything you’re clinging to and start over, whether because you’ve outgrown it or because it’s not working anymore or because it was wrong for you in the first place.  It’s not a breakdown, it’s a breakthrough.

5. We’re all hookers in one way or another.

6. Being nice does not always remove obstacles, and in fact it sometimes creates them. You don’t have to say anything you do not mean, and I urge you not to.

7. Be a Warrior not a Worrier. Life is going to kick you in your ass sometimes and there’s no way to avoid that, but if you get up and keep doing what you do, giving your best self each time, you eventually achieve not only success but that great physic coup of detachment.

8. You are the brand: Normal gets you nowhere. Personal branding is about figuring out who you are and what turns you on then monetizing it. Every successful brand has an message, is authentic, focused, and consistent.

9. Give good phone. As a species, we cannot afford to live on e-mail or to save our intimate conversations for late nights and weekends.

10. Be the firs tone in and the last one to leave. Besides, it’s during the late nights at the office that the good stuff really happens.

I feel like this list could go on for awhile but I hope just reading a few key points makes you want to go read the book yourself! Ultimately, her message comes down to listening to yourself  and finding out what it is that you really want to pursue, and fearlessly go after that dream, following your inner voice all along the way. You must be prepared for problems along the way, but with these problems, comes new successes. It’s all apart of this journey we call life.

I’m definitely glad mommy called me up letting me know we had a coupon to Borders so I could grab this book. I suggest all young women get out there and do the same!

Naked No-No

I’ve always been a BIG fan of Naked Juices. From Green Machine to Mighty Mango, I love the blend of the juice drinks and would opt for one over Jamba Juice any day. My affinity for the tangy delights is what spurred me to write this entry when I was more than surprised when I tasted the new Protein Zone Mango flavor and found it hard to swallow.

After finishing up with my run outside, I wanted something to refuel my body and when I spotted these on the shelves, thought they would be the perfect ticket! Packed with protein and other boosts, it seems like a muscle’s prescription to quick recovery. Unfortunately, the taste does NOT make up for the benefits. To put it as simply as possible, I felt like I was drinking chalky mango-flavored Pepto Bismol. With 440 calories a pop, I planned on only drinking half and eating something else with it. Thankfully that’s all I poured in my glass because there is no way I could ever finish a full bottle of this stuff.

Naked, I still love you. I’m just staying far, far away from this product.

So the other day…

I walked into my living room to find my roommates on chat roulette… They initially were going to get on omegle (something they loved last year) but found “one step better” because now you can include video. If you’ve never visited this virtual gem, you basically log on and click play and the stranger hunting commences. Using your camera they can see you and you can see them, audio is up to you. The screen looks something like this:

Let’s just say that they found utter amusement out of it the entire night long. One of my roomies even stayed up for two hours talking to someone who she proclaimed to be the love of her life. I was personally creeped out. Talking to even my best friends on skype makes me a little uncomfortable, less alone complete strangers. Not to mention, you never know what you are going to get and let’s just say inappropriate things definitely go down at any time of day.

Maybe it’s for some people, but I just see it being another outlet that could have very negative consequences. During my trial of the website, I did talk to one fellow who introduced me to a couple cool british bands but after a few minutes of chatting back and forth, I was done.

Has anyone else better on it? I know I’m not planning on revisiting any time soon.

Party in the city where the heat is on!

How did I end up here?

I often find myself wondering how in the world I ended up being a part-time resident in Miami, FL. After all, I’m an Air Force brat born in Little Rock, Arkansas, temporarily displaced in Maryland, all to wind up living in Denver, CO up until college.

Well no matter the rhyme or reason, I’m glad that I found myself in Little Cuba, especially when exciting things roll into town like the Superbowl!

To say there was a ton going on here to celebrate the big game is an understatement. The city has been preparing for MONTHS (if not years) for this event and parties start weeks before. So how does one begin to choose what to do! Between Man vs. Food LIVE, free Rihanna concerts, and celebrity spottings galore, it all can be overwhelming. Almost to the point where you want to stake out in the living room and wait for the storm to pass.

However, knowing that I would regret that later… Thursday morning I woke up at the crack of dawn to get down to the Loews Hotel on Miami Beach to get onto the CBS Early Show! Luckily, I convinced two of my roomies to join me.

Dave Price (the weatherman) from the Early Show!

So most college students don’t get up early to actually watch the Early Show, but being a broadcast journalist, I’m a fan. Funnily enough, this is my third time being in the “audience” for the Early Show. This time was different though since it took place around a pool in Miami and not freezing outside of a studio building in NYC.

Hopefully I'll be on the other side of the production one day!

Sadly… we were back at our house by 9:30am to get to class and unable to enjoy South Beach for the day but it was worth it!

Saturday morning we decided to head down to Sobe for the afternoon. It took about an hour to get down there because of all the Superbowl traffic but eventually we made it, walked several blocks, and arrived at…

The Celebrity Beach Bowl!

It was a gathering of celebrities including Taylor Lautner, Chace Crawford, Ed Westwick, The Wayans Brothers, and a bunch of other random “famous” people all battling it out on the sand. Following was an All-American Reject concert! I could barely remember the songs they sang until they started playing and I suddenly found myself singing to “My Dirty Little Secret” and “Swing Swing.”

After this excitement, we took to the streets where there were SO many people (mostly dressed in Saints gear), drinking and screaming “Who Dat” about every ten seconds.

Somehow we weaved our way through the ruckus and made it back home by dinner.

So we didn’t go crazy like some of my other friends did- partying til 5am in clubs on South Beach with celebrities and rappers the whole week long, but we got our little piece of the action and I’m so happy we didn’t let the crowds scare us away.

I don’t think that I will ever live in Miami after I graduate but for now, I’m definitely going to continue taking advantage of living in a city that attracts famous people and exciting events like this. I realize that soon enough I’ll end up in a small town in the middle of no where reporting, trying to work my way up to where I’m on the field for the Superbowl interviewing the MVP instead of watching it at home.

365 days in a year, 365 photos.

So over winter break, my friends stumbled upon the 365 Project. Basically, you take one photo each day and upload it onto the site. I decided to wait until January 1 to start it and have been going ever since! I made it one of my “Things to embrace in 2010” at the beginning of the year and so far have stuck to it. What makes it great is that it can be anything from veggies on the floor… To you and a friend. You also get an e-mail address so snapping a quick pic and sending it on your phone makes it even easier! The most important part is to snap a picture at any point of your day. Some days it’s a bummer when you forget to grab a pic until 10pm and then it ends up being of your homework (may or may not have happened to me tonight…) but I think all the days when you get a good picture makes up for it!

So there ya go. If you’re looking for a distraction from the homework that second semester brings, head over to 365 project and find me to follow!