Studying Abroad Changed My Life (Which Makes Me Just like Everyone Else)

For many people studying abroad is a formative experience, but for me it changed everything. It altered the way I looked at travel, my place in the world and my ability to express myself. It also introduced me to some of my favorite people.

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Some of my favorite people from my time in Scotland.

Before I spent the semester in Scotland during my junior year of college I knew that I wanted to travel and see the world but in a very hypothetical way. I didn’t know what it meant or how to do it. Visiting a country where you didn’t speak the language seemed ridiculous. Going somewhere by myself was out of the question. Now there are very few places I wouldn’t consider going. Most of those places are countries in civil war. I have confidence in my ability to navigate a train system (except in Berlin, that place is so confusing) or mime what I need at a store.

Studying abroad taught me to be an American. When I was in Scotland, Bush was in office and everyone felt entitled to tell me what they thought of America and our President. I had to learn to have pride in my country as well as humility. No pretending to be Canadian. My country has its embarrassments and its triumphs. Doesn’t yours? I mean, Hello British Empire! Just saying…

A picture from our first reunion in South Carolina, a year after study abroad.

A picture from our first reunion in South Carolina, a year after study abroad.

Growing up my family had spent a lot of time discussing where our ancestors had come from and we described ourselves as English, Scottish and Irish. We listened to Celtic music and I loved watching Irish dance. But being in all of those countries taught me that I am only an American. That is the culture that shaped me. I can be interested in my lineage and learn about the history of my ancestors but me? Little ol’ me? I’m an American mutt like so many others. I could no longer try to claim the cultures of others.

Studying abroad in college was the first time I didn’t know a soul. No one else from my home college went with me. I didn’t know anyone. Typically a shy person I was determined not to waste this time. I introduced myself. I made friends. I spoke up in class. I said what I thought. It was new to me and yet it came easily. When I went back home to Asheville, my new roommates called me “no nonsense”. The way I interacted with my friends had been forever altered. It was difficult, in some ways, to maintain friendships with people I knew from before. I gravitated towards people who had also spent semesters away from Asheville or towards people who didn’t know me before. New people didn’t have expectations. I could present my new self without confusion or questions.

A partial reunion in Australia in 2010.

A partial reunion in Australia in 2010.

The friendships I made in Scotland are still some of the most important ones to me. Thank goodness for Skype and Facebook. I do not get to speak with them as often I would like but I think of them often. This year I’ve been lucky to have two of them visit me in Wilmington- not an easy place to get to for a Canadian and an Australian.

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Many times I meet people who have changed their lives or career paths because of their study abroad experience. I met one just this week. I can honestly say, I completely understand.

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Seeking Misadventure: 48 Hours in Charleston

Some trips require a lot of planning. You create a specific itinerary where you wake up at 6 am promptly each day and end the day with blisters and tears. Some trips you just throw a bag in the car (forgetting your swim suit) and hope for the best. This was definitely the latter.

Tyler and I rarely have days off together, so when he announced he had the WHOLE weekend off earlier this month we jumped at the opportunity to go somewhere together. I had been to Charleston before but each trip was brief and it had been a long time. When I was twelve or so I drove down with my dad in his car with a broken radio and a broken air conditioner. That’s genuinely all I remember of that trip. Another time I brought my study abroad friends from Australia and Canada to Charleston to visit another friend. That trip is a little clearer in my mind and yet I was shocked walking around downtown.

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Why does everything look like a movie set?!  Charleston is a remarkably beautiful city. Every building, every home is incredible. I can’t imagine what it must take to maintain one of those idyllic homes (I believe the answer is money).

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Normally I resist spending any time in the hotel, visiting restaurants in touristy areas, etc but it really wasn’t that kind of trip. We got in pretty late on Friday night and after walking around lost for a while we split some bar apps at TBonz. It’s a chain, but it’s local and their draft selection was fantastic. I drank a Coast HopArt which is delicious and dangerous (two beers might have been a mistake). Luckily we retired to the hotel immediately afterward.

A friend had gotten us an affordable rate at the Belmond Charleston Place which couldn’t be more perfectly located. The proximity to the open air markets, King St and the battery was ideal. We definitely felt like we were living a life of luxury (a king bed and cable does that for us pretty easily) and spent a good bit of time hiding from the gloomy weather on Saturday watching cooking shows and Law & Order: SVU.

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Despite that we also did a lot of walking around and getting lost in the little alleyways and eating some amazing sandwiches. I somehow stumbled across Brown Dog Deli on Yelp and insisted this was the place to go. Its restaurant was bustling when we arrived with the sort of quaint and quirky décor you’d expect to see in Asheville. We sat in the small patio garden and treated ourselves to a South Carolina brew, Westbrook IPA (yum!) and insanely delicious sandwiches. I had a pulled pork sandwich with cheddar, fig jam and apples. Tyler had a sort of French dip with cheese on orange rosemary bread. The smell of the bread alone had me drooling.

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It was a great way to spend the day before having dinner with some of Tyler’s friends from Virginia. I wish I had gotten some photos of them but we were too busy goofing off.

Sunday I had arranged for Tyler to play golf with his friends from VA who lives outside of Charleston while I got a massage. We stopped at kitchen 208 beforehand for a quick brunch. Tasty! My breakfast sandwich had candied bacon. Need I say more?

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While golf was being played I was relaxing in the hotel spa pretending I’m made of money. If you know me, you know I’m insanely cheap but sometimes…I get pretty indulgent. Totally worth it. Afterwards I wandered up and down King Street. Much of King Street is shut down to vehicles on Sunday to make way for pop-up restaurants and musicians. On my short walk I saw some amazing break dancers, listened to a woman with an incredible voice play banjo, ate “salted peanut butter ice cream with chocolate flecks” (re: indulgent), and visited the most wonderful book shop.

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The ice cream was truly delicious but at $5 for a small scoop (it’s more than enough) it’s definitely a treat and not a place to visit regularly.

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I visited Blue Bicycle Books at a dear friend’s recommendation and was very impressed. While not a particularly large shop, it had an excellent selection of fiction and non-fiction. When sections are labeled things like “Books on Books” they make it easy to find what you’re looking for. While I was browsing the store clerk was being visited by a group of her friends, all probably seniors in high school. They were loud and energetically talking about books they loved and art they’ve seen. It wasn’t really an ideal level of noise for a book store but it also made me pretty happy to see.

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Our trip wasn’t nearly long enough to do all I would have liked, but with Charleston only being about a three hour drive I hope to go again soon!

Inspiration Needed?

Need to feel excited about your life? About the world? Need to energize your sense of adventure? There’s that sense that anything is possible, like today is the start of everything and you can take the world by storm. Do you know it? Most of the time it alludes us, but for me the best way to experience it is to travel somewhere new. To get lost in a crowd of a park square or forget the time looking at an old cathedral. To climb a new mountain or see a new coastline. Leave the every day, the routine, the rut behind.

But how often do we really get to do all these things?! In the meantime, I turn towards my favorite movies and books. I haven’t brainstormed enough of the books yet, so today I’ll just share with you the movies that make me want to seek out the unknown. It might be the panoramic landscape shots, the tastes of a new culture or just the theme of being a stranger in a strange land that makes these films top on my list. Let me know what you think! What are your favorites?

 

Don’t you want to see the world now?

 

 

 

Are You Domesticated?

I recently turned 26. This neither feels like a particularly young or old age. I am young enough to have no real responsibilities or obligations. I am old enough to have my Facebook newsfeed be flooded with pictures of weddings, engagement announcements, baby photos, updates on pregnancies and the list goes on. I am equally fascinated and repelled by these. Did Cat really marry that boy from West?  Is Abby really pregnant? Is everyone pregnant? Is that where we are now- the age of life where everyone is… domestic?

Part of me is horrified by this. How can everyone be ready to settle down? While I realize that my lifelong idea that adventure ends with marriage is a little extreme, there are some adventures or experiences that can only be had when you’re flying solo. It’s a lot harder to pick up and go with someone else to consider. There are so many places I still want to go. So much of the world left unseen. There is this feeling in my chest, a tightness that I associate with the feeling of being trapped. Furniture makes me feel trapped. I hate owning any. My job makes me feel trapped. I go there five whole days a week (can you imagine?!). And even having a boyfriend means that I am limited in my explorations. I can’t exactly take off, life packed into a bag, for unlimited amounts of time and expect someone to wait behind.

But then, I feel the other side. This side is a new development. It’s something I feared would take over in my life eventually. It’s the need to nest. I want to garden. I want window boxes on a little bright colored cottage. Inside the house are pictures of all my favorite people, places and things. In the fridge are delicious treats. From the oven comes the smell of fresh bread baking. And everything is mine. At home, I wear only my underwear. My messes are always mine. And maybe, if he’s lucky, the boy comes over or lives with me. We fill the house with laughter and music can always be heard from our open windows. Even  though he doesn’t want to, he dances in the kitchen with me. I love to dance in the kitchen.

How do people do this? Balance the need to explore the unknown with the want to make roots? Am I the only one who feels this tug of war?