HUGE WAKE UP CALL!

HUGE WAKE UP CALL!
Okay, so I forgot what my priorities were for a second. A week before midterms, I went into panic mode. This meant no make-up, messy hair and no sense of fashion everyday. It was hard for me, I’ve been traveling a lot and I thought that was the only reason why I was here.

Trust me, I got a reality check. The only thing that saved me was the strong study team that I had. We were up until 4 AM every single day and drinking coffee nonstop. It was not easy but I made it, and I think I did pretty good. The classes are not hard but you need to be on top of your things. Or else you’re going to go crazy like me!

The best advice I could give you is to PAY ATTENTION. Most of the classes rely on your exams so don’t miss a class because you might not have your usual slide to make up for it.]

 

THIS IS A SAD PICTURE OF ME AFTER EXAMS! Enjoy!

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“You Alright?” Phraseology and Obama Burgers

I know I said that I felt at home before… but that was before I casually recognized the details of my neighborhood going by from the second story of the bus. That was before I decided not to buy tunafish at Sainsbury’s because I could get it a few pence cheaper at Londi’s. That was before I made friends in class, joined clubs, and realized I could navigate through Bankside in London without a GPS. Now I know the ropes. I know where I can get a nice cheese toastie and latte for under 5 quid. I know to get cheap produce from the local market, and cook it quickly for optimum not-going-badness.

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I really didn’t know what I was talking about before – Home is when you’re familiar with a place. I’m still sometimes lonely, but it always helps to listen to music, explore, meet new friends, take a walk. I’m even a part of a few clubs now! Can’t wait to go out to pub with the Feminist Society!

For anyone feeling stressed out studying abroad, I’ve found it helps to remember that there are free counseling services on campus, and taking advantage of that is just like taking care of any other health problem – no shame! You deserve to take care of yourself. I’m pleased that health care in the UK is so comprehensive! I registered with the National Health Care and the campus health centre, and I was able to get my birth control refilled in under an hour – just a ten-minute doctor’s visit, a walk to a nearby chemist (pharmacist), and the few minutes it took for them to fill out my new prescription. And I got 6 months of it all at once, versus only being able to fill a month at a time at home – I’m so glad they make it easier to do responsible family planning here. The U.S.A. could take a hint, it’s not like it’s a highly addictive or dangerous substance… but anyways. Ahem.

Back to the culture.

It seems to me that the college culture of London’s Kingston suburbs is similar to that in the New Paltz area, but it’s much more diverse demographically. Most of the people I’ve interacted with at school are very liberal, as are my landlords and their my-aged kids. People are very interested to hear my thoughts on the election… a subject I’m not so fond of discussing these days. I just feel really embarrassed about my country, and they seem to agree that there’s good reason.

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…Then again, they did have Brexit over here, and now Scotland might vote on a new referendum to leave Britain. So…. political chats have become quite fun and rowdy amongst my friends.

Safety-wise, Kingston is considered “London’s safest borough!” This is reassuring, as I’ve taken to walking to and from school to keep in shape (an hour of walking each day to keep off those fresh and crispy fish and chips I’ve been eating like all the time). I notice that I feel much safer around the police, perhaps because they don’t carry firearms of any sort – just a billyclub, handcuffs, and I think mayyyyybe a taser? And somehow crime isn’t a problem here… hm. In London proper, I’m a little more cautious – apparently pickpocketing is a real problem there, so I make sure to travel with just my front-facing shoulder-purse (backpacks and designer pursey-bags are much easier to lift from). I haven’t had any trouble so far.

I’ve made friends, and they don’t hate my American accent (or they’re very polite and lying to me)! I learned from my new friend Ryan that if I say “semester,” I will sound super American (they call it a “term”)… there are several other words that seem normal to me, but they get very grinny about. It seems like students here are a lot more used to interacting with foreign students than we are in the United States. There is some fascination (especially regarding politics), but I feel pretty average among other Britons, as well as students from Italy, Israel, France, Greece, Poland, what have you – I feel like there’s nothing too exceptional about being from somewhere else.

One thing I have not gotten used to yet, is that people in London will often greet you with, “You alright?” which of course alarms my American brain, and I think, “Of course I’m alright! Do I look sick? Is something wrong with me?” And I feel like my “Yeah!” is always just the slightest bit defensive. But gradually it’s becoming more at home for me – when I get back to NY, maybe I can alarm my friends by asking them if they’re “alright!”

I’ve managed to see several shows at the Globe – a screening of The Passion of Joan of Arc with live orchestra, Macbeth, and Imogen (a reimagining of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline), all fantastic. There is something uncanny and magical about Shakespeare’s Globe, like it’s an ancient sacred site (even though I know it’s only a reconstruction). The “Groundling” experience (standing in the pit) was very exciting – we got to be very close to the actors, all of us looking up with our ciders and mulled wine. Even though my legs and lower back were a bit sore from standing for two hours, it was well worth the 5 pounds! It inspired me – I’d love to someday work on that stage, if I’m ever given the opportunity. More locally, I saw a heart-wrenching play directed by John Malkovich, The Good Canary, at the Rose Theatre (where I take my Shakespeare class!). Also only 5 pounds, this time for actual seats.

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The biggest singular expense of my trip was seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two at the Palace Theatre. At 300 pounds, this was a huge chunk of my theatre budget for two full-length plays back-to-back. But I had to. It was Harry Potter onstage, and I am a fan of Harry Potter. I did it because I might never have the opportunity again, I was eager to see some theatre magic in a world I loved… and boy, was there some incredible theatre magic. Considering that the script read like bad fan fiction and had way too many holes in its many plots, they did a brilliant job doctoring the awful writing with magnificent movement, music, and illusions. Ultimately, I don’t regret seeing it – just wish it hadn’t costed so much, because it wasn’t quite worth the outrageous price. At least I made an adventure of it, and I got to meet the cast outside afterwards and get a few autographs!

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In short, I’ve learned that most British theatre companies are very supportive of getting young people into theatres – Donmar Warehouse, for instance, has a Young and Free program where anyone under 25 (the age caps for most “youth” promos) can see the show for free. And theatres like the Young and Old Vic offer very cheap student tickets as well! It’s absolutely appalling how much easier it is for me to see professional theater here in London, than in my own state. I wish they would subsidize theatre in the USA… but that might take a long time to implement. They don’t see theatre as that necessary back at home… another thing that makes me like it here more, and less eager to come back.

And England… Oh, your food. People say your food is rubbish – they are just silly gooses. It’s kind of a foodie paradise up in here. There’s so much incredible world food available – Indian, Lebanese, Caribbean, Turkish, Cantonese, Korean, ET! CETERA!

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Your seafood is fresh. Your fish and chips are crispy. For some reason you have Obama Burgers…

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…And Rump Burgers…

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And I have yet to discover what, exactly, is “chip butty.” But I’ve definitely gotten to know the true value of an imperial pint… Thank goodness cider isn’t considered a sissy drink here. Because it is the best thing ever, and there are so many different kinds on this side of the pond… as well as some delightful drafts beers. Also very strange that you can buy a drink at the theatre, and there’s even a bar right on campus next to the library! Guess there just isn’t as much of a binge-drinking culture over here… everyone’s used to it much earlier in their lives. It ain’t no big thang.

Good job, also, with the copious delightful meat pies! There just aren’t a lot of serious meat pies available in the U.S., and I think we’re missing out. Forgive me for singing Sweeney Todd lyrics while I was eating that venison pie that once, I’ll try to control myself next time and be less obnoxious…

…Probably my most satisfying moment, cuisine-wise, was having cider with bangers and mash by the fireside, at a place called “The Albert,” a cozy historic pub in my neighborhood – I have never felt so English in my whole life, or tasted such luscious gravy.
Thanks, Britain. Thanks for being thoroughly entertaining and delicious, and teaching me all your wibbly-wobbly, timey-whimey secrets. I look forward to even more.

 

I guess I am alright after all!

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Food, Public Transportation, and Culture Shock, oh my!

It’s been a little over 3 weeks since I’ve arrived in London, and the biggest difference I’ve noticed is that no one smiles at people in the street. No one. Not even when you make accidental eye contact or run into someone. I’ve probably annoyed a couple people when I break out into that awkward smile, and all they do in return is stare me down. Sorry, I guess?
I’ve gotten used to using the bus system and the tube. I’ve never had to navigate public transportation before, and it’s a lot easier than I had thought it would be. Everything here is clearly mapped out and easy to follow, so I’ve got it down to pat by now.
On another note, I don’t eat red meat or chicken. And a lot of the classic British foods are meat based. So I’ve yet to have a classic Sunday roast, Shepard’s pie, bangers and mash, or anything that’s classically British. However, I have been able to get my hands on a couple servings of fish and chips for only a few pounds. Super cheap, super unhealthy, but so good. I can already tell I’m going to miss it when I go back home.

 

Hope This Helps!

I’ve been in Spain for 21 days and to be honest, I got super comfortable the first week. The people here are so amazing and they definitely know how to fiesta! I’m still getting used to it because leaving your house at 1:20 a.m. is apparently way too early.

Another hard adjustment was dinner time. You know how you normally eat around 5pm? That doesn’t exist here. That’s siesta (nap)time and dinner time is around 9-10pm. It sounds crazy but, now I’ve become so accustomed to it and I’d probably cry if I don’t get my siesta time!

An adjustment that I’ve struggled so hard with since I have arrived in Spain is the fact that tipping is not a thing here. Since I am the type of person who tips a LOT and even over-tips (Does that even exist?) all the time, it has not been easy. I was speaking with my friend from Spain and she said that the maximum that people give is around 10-20¢. Who does that? If you were in New York, people would definitely spit in your food the next time you went. Right? I am constantly tempted to leave at least 1 euro and it is just unheard of. I tried to do this at a bar while it was really busy and the bartender gave me the most confused look EVER. So yeah, don’t tip while you’re in Spain.

Below I am going to put my personal tips on cultural norms in Spain and adjusting to studying abroad:

  1. Don’t tip.
  2. Do not skip siesta.
  3. Do not walk in the biking lane, they will hit you.
  4. It’s okay to talk to a stranger, you might make a friend.
  5. Don’t get freaked out if you see people openly partying in the streets.
  6. It’s okay, you can wear the same outfit… no one cares.
  7. Walk slow, you’re not in the concrete jungle anymore.
  8. I hope you have someone like Alyssa as your partner in crime.
  9. Give your body some time to adjust to the food, I am still trying to.
  10. All you have to say is “I’m from New York.”
  11. Don’t book three trips in one week. You’ll want to die. I almost did.
  12. Ask questions, remember, just like your first-grade teacher told you, “there is no such thing as a stupid question.”
  13. Speak with other internationals, they’re having similar experiences too!
  14. DO NOT EAT OUT EVERYDAY.
  15. Don’t leave your friends and family at home completely out of the loop, they miss you.
  16. When it comes to ordering food at a restaurant, I am bilingual and I don’t understand half of the food options.
  17. Get Sprint, the international service is beyond amazing. Seriously, I had to ask three times to make sure that there will be no international fees.
  18. Well, this is all I have so far and considering it’s only my third week abroad, I’m sure things will change. However, I will keep you guys updated.

P.S. shout out to Alyssa for helping make this list!

 Ta Luego 

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Hola, Desde España!

Where do I even begin? Maybe Granada? Sevilla? The airport? The people? Or our advisors? I don’t know where to start. I fell in love with the views, the culture, the people, the history and everything else that España has to offer.

So, let’s start at the beginning. First, I have to say that saying goodbye was one of the hardest things I had to do in my life. I definitely knew it was going to be the start of something good. But I still cried like a baby. To be honest, I’m crying right now thinking about it. Once I said goodbye, I knew I was going to be okay and that it was time to go on this adventure.

When I finally arrived at Granada, I couldn’t believe how amazing it was! Our advisor, Miguel and professor Luis were waiting for us with a private bus. And, let me tell you, Miguel and Luis instantly became family to me. How is that even possible? How can two people that I’ve never met before feel like home to me? In a matter of three days, they showed me the wonders of Granada and won my heart. These places included the Alhambra, Dobla de Oro, Granada’s Cathedral and more.

I keep wondering, how did I get so lucky with this program? I know some people who were unlucky with their programs, but I feel loved and welcomed by everyone here. In Sevilla’s program you get the best of both worlds–we have our own apartment and amazing human beings like Miguel, guiding us along the way. Also, another cool thing was that we had Christian, our SUNY New Paltz advisor there. Do you know how amazing that was? I felt protected and I still do. I’m excited to be here. I’m excited to start this new chapter of my life.

This is where I belong. I’m ready.


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A Taste of Italy


Three weeks have gone by in the blink of an eye. At the same time, it feels like I have already been here for several months! I have met countless new people from countries all over the world, I’ve gone on three trips, and I have eaten a scary amount of carbs. Luckily, I am averaging seven miles a day à piedi (on foot).

The food is as good as I had hoped it would be, if not better. Every day I must restrain myself from stopping into one of the many gelatterias I pass during my travels. One of my favorite things to have here is “un cappuccino”. During my first two weeks here, I was enrolled in an intensive two-week Italian language course in a part of Milan called Buonarroti. On the first day of class, my roommate and I got off at the wrong metro stop, which just happened to bring me to one of my favorite spots, Cremeria Buonarroti. For the past two weeks I woke up early almost every morning just so I could stop here for my “cappucco e brioche”. The man who works there quickly began to recognize me and knew my order after just a few days. Each morning I was greeted by a warm and welcoming smile, putting me in a good mood for the rest of the day.

When I first moved into my apartment here, I tried to keep an open mind. It certainly was not what I expected but I tried to make the most of if for the first few days. Eventually my roommates and I agreed that it was a bit too far from campus as well as the other international students. After speaking with our housing service, we were moved into a new apartment! We were all quite pleased with our new accommodation. It is about a thirty minute commute via la metropolitanà and is located off of the stop “C’a Granda” on the lilac metro line. We immediately settled in and felt right at home. Until next time….arrivederci!

Home Is Where My Eyes Are – And I Can See Better Here

England is more home than home… but also way more exciting, and slightly scary. And I haven’t even been to London center yet.
On a side note, I had my first crumpet today… here it is:

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I know I’m technically in the honeymoon phase right now, but even though I didn’t understand the way the roads worked, or often what people were saying (in my language, mind you), I felt a strong affinity with the United Kingdom as soon as I got there. I hardly felt that I had traveled any distance at all, or that I had only gotten closer to home.

Part of this could be because American culture is just everywhere. I think my sense of American Exceptionalism was bruised by seeing Coca Cola advertised on the sides of all the buses, as well as Doritos, McDonalds, and even KFC for sale in most chain stores. It seems that old Rammstein song is very true: “We are living in Amerika – Coca Cola, Wonderbra.” This Kingston is more like my old haunt of Kingston NY than I would like to admit – it was a wake-up call to realize how much the American market has taken over.

…But then again, there are delightful things that are different about it. Generally speaking, everything’s older. The houses are all in better condition, cozier, made of sturdy brick or old stone and mortar. and there’s more densely packed history here than there even was in Kingston or my home of Hurley NY, two primary destinations for old stone houses in my state.

Things are also smaller and cuter almost all the time here! The streetlights are on little poles! The radiators are paper-thin compared to those in the US, the toilets, sinks, and bike lanes are all smaller, and all the cars on the road are itty-bitty compared to the hunkering American monsters that eat up our roads. I love the sight of so many Mini Coopers pooting by. I love the red public telephone boxes on each street. The only thing I’ve really noticed that are bigger here, are the double decker buses, and the imperial pints you can order at the pub, as long as you’re over 18. Fun note – I have already been carded twice so far, something I’m not complaining about since I’m 25 and have been legally able to drink for four years in the States. So go me!

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There are foxes everywhere, and in our area of London there are way more parakeets than you’d think there’d be! This is due to a classic film shoot decades ago, where a small number of ‘keets were released into the wild, after which they multiplied ravenously. The Thames is inhabited by a million billion swans, and there’s also an expansive park nearby with deer and badgers and other creatures, which makes me feel more at home coming from a rural community.

 

Public transportation here is both more comprehensive and more irritating – You can catch a bus from wherever you are (or close by), and bus fare is paid with just one nuzzle of the oyster card on the panel, but you’d best plan up to a full hour ahead even if you’re just heading across town – because these buses are often late. At least in this suburb of London. I have yet to try the subway, but the double decker buses are very exciting to ride because of all the “humps” (crosswalks) they have to go over, and how fast the drivers drive (apparently they do not need to have a special license to drive them!). It’s like being on a very large, ungainly land speedboat.

Brits seem more conscientious of the environment, and also not. For instance, at Sainsbury’s and most chain grocery stores, they charge 20 pence per plastic bag (these are pretty durable for re-use) at the checkout. But as my boyfriend (also studying abroad through the same program) and I walked down his suburban street, we noticed a small, ransacked heap of garbage (most likely towed by a fox) laying on a lawn for two days, and no one picked it up. It reminded me strongly of my homeland.

Some prankster back home told me that all of the stores in the UK sold only health-food, and as such I would never find an American equivalent of a health-food store. I’ve found that Sainsbury’s is much like any Walmart or Shoprite, with mostly non-organic food and a few organic products with jumped-up prices. And I went to my first health-food store today, and they were not nearly as comprehensive as the one back in Kingston NY. So there – America is not the only “unhealthy” place in the world!

In the United Kingdom, I noticed, value judgements are placed on things in the most official manners in order to control the public. For instance, this sign illustrates the deep scorn reserved only for pigeons, making sure you know exactly what to think of them:

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I quite like the pigeons myself. But I haven’t had a sandwich stolen by one yet.

Some things they have here that (for the most part) they don’t have in the Upstate New York:
-Lemon Curd at an affordable price
-Of course the Double Decker Buses
-A Million Accents
-Super Cheap Playstation Games (Dennis got Arkham Asylum for 4 quid!)
-Fresh Fish and Seafood
-Subsidized Theatre (CHEAP TICKETS, especially for “Youths,” 25 and under! My dream!)
-Wine, Beer, and Spirits for sale in the grocery store!
-Many more options for different kinds of Asian, Carribean, African and South American Cuisine
-Calling Hookah “Shisha” (I almost accidentally ordered this at a Lebanese restaurant, thinking because of the fruity “flavours” that Shisha was a drink)
-1 pound and 2 pound coins (I can pay for a cup of tea with just one coin! So cool.)
-Lots of women openly and shamelessly wearing hijabs! It seems to me like they are very unselfconscious compared to American women wearing the same thing, – I may be wrong, but there’s much less of a stigma here. Makes sense, since even London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is Muslim, and there’s no Donald over here)
-So many mysteries – like what, exactly, is “Chip Butty?”
-And WAFFLEMEISTER (…just …waffles. everywhere, with sweet and savory amazing things on them)

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I think for me, the easiest thing to get used to was the currency. Lucky to arrive in the wake of Brexit, when the Pound is not so strong against the Dollar, I’ve just been adding .30 to each pound I spend and I understand how much it really costs to live here. With proper budgeting and affordable rent, it’s manageable, though this first week I have both invested and splurged. I will definitely have to cut back and cook at home more. Also, I was amazed and delighted to find that there are FREE CASH WITHDRAWAL MACHINES, which I just don’t understand why in America we have to pay to get our own money, and here I just stick my American bank card in, and it withdraws and converts my money into pounds at no extra cost (except perhaps a few cents of a bank fee). What is life!!! Here is more evidence of splurging, when Dennis and I bought “Snogs” (frozen yogurt) and proceeded to… well, you know. Eat frozen yogurt next to each other in front of EVERYONE.
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Oh yes – lodgings. My lodgings situation had to change last-minute (AAAAAAAA) due to “unforeseen circumstances,” so I was assigned new lodgings that became available five days after I had booked tickets to arrive (AAAAAAAAA), thus I had to stay at a B&B for five days before I moved in – a strain on my budget. Luckily for me, Dennis’ landlady, Meow (yes, that’s her name, and it’s wonderful like her), was incredibly kind and offered to put me up for a few days until Dennis’ roommate moved in (Ahhhhhhhh…) and so I had free lodgings for three days, then two days of the totally charming B&B (first time I used skeleton keys in a practical sense!), and now I’ve finally moved into my new room (Yusssss!!!!!).

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I feel that I really lucked out. I absolutely love where I get to live, my landlords are friendly and accommodating, and my neighborhood is rife with foliage. Nearby is a game park full of deer, and I woke up this morning to the clip clopping of hooves from horses that live right down my street. Not only is it beautiful, but they have a lovely dog and four chickens! So I will never be short of animals to talk to!

 

To top it all off, I’ve included a picture of me, my boyfriend, and our friend Hannah (or as we jokingly call ourselves, Harry, Ron, and Hermione… okay, so that’s just what I call us, but never mind). All of us come from the SUNY New Paltz theatre department. I feel like we’re lucky to have each other to bounce off of whenever a hiccup comes along the road (and there have been a few). So far we’ve hung out a lot, but I think we’re all eager to branch out soon and make other friends as well at the university. Classes don’t start for over two weeks, and I am super eager to see what classes are like in the UK!

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If I learned anything from this first crazy week, it’s this: Do not freak out. Everything’s okay. Things will seem totally up the wall. You will most likely worry about things. Stress is normal, you’ll get used to this brave new world. Sooner than you think, you’ll start looking the “right” way before you cross the street. And if you are in a situation where you’re not sure what’s next, don’t worry, because there are many kind people in the world who are willing and happy to help you. You are less of a burden than you think. You will come out okay. I’m stunned by the kindness of people I’ve countered in my first few days, and I have confidence that once classes start, I will make so many more friends and never, ever, ever want to leave this incredible place.

One thought – I wonder if, when we experience and see the world in a slightly different shape, we stop taking for granted an existence that is not so different than our own? Suddenly, we become aware of what we have ignored for most of our lives? Could it be that only by seeing the world “slant,” as Emily Dickinson would put it, do we appreciate the poetry of life and look closer at things that are, deep down, very familiar to us? What if humans, even in their delicious differences, are actually just different colors emanating from the same ray of light?

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The Honeymoon Phase

I’ve been in London for exactly 3 days, and I’m in love. I found a friend who I’ve stuck by since we suffered through a 6 hour delay in our flight out of JFK to Heathrow.
I’ve seen a bit of campus, explored Kingston and walked along the Thames, and had a ‘cheeky Nando’s’ for lunch. I went to walk around central London yesterday–if you ever happen to be in Camden market, make sure to get fish and chips from Poppies. Absolutely amazing.
I just got back from a day trip to Brighton, and I haven’t even thought about being homesick until now. My laptop is about to die, and I don’t have a converter for the charger just yet, so this is it. (There goes my Netflix plans for the night.)

T-6 days ’til departure

So, I leave for London in 5 days. I’ve never been out of the country on my own before, so I’m a little scared. Mostly I’m excited. London is #1 on my list of places to visit; it’s surreal to realize that I’m going to live there for 3 months. I’ve said my goodbyes to my friends in New Paltz, I have all of my paper work mostly in order. Now all I have to do is wait for the day to come.

Home

I’ve been home for over a month, but it doesn’t feel like home. My body has gone straight into a routine but my mind has been lagging, still figuring out where I belong now. I’ve been traveling a lot, and working on moving into a new house; this has made my ‘home’ more fragmented. I’m still figuring out where I want to be and it’s made my transition a bit uneasy.

Being back in the U.S is definitely bittersweet; I’ve missed my friends and family but I crave Melbourne. Everyday I have a little reminder of my life back in Australia, the friends I made there, the places I was memorized by. Looking back on my trip it doesn’t feel like a dream, it feels very, very real. The constant reminders I get bring me back to a good place, full of amazing memories. Though, my stomach can’t handle American portions now-I even think a venti coffee from Starbucks is absurd! I wish I could be there still, but I’m not and that’s okay. I came back with a change in my mindset, and a craving to travel more, and I’ve been able to continue that.