Tag Archives: friendship

Never Stop Exploring

2 Apr

Welcome back, dear readers!

So as you know I started this blog before my big move to Prague. It was 2013 & I was nearing my university graduation & had no idea what I wanted to do.

So in the single most important act I have ever done–I bought a one-way ticket & moved to a faraway land all alone for a year of ups & downs.

Fast-forward 3 years later to today, where I can honestly say that I am in such a happy place. While I am now living a lot closer to home, I still have made a point to surround myself with as much travel opportunities as possible.

Whether with family, friends, or solo, I made a pact to myself when I moved back to the U.S.: never stop exploring no matter what. 

No matter what others say & no matter what the news says–just keep going.

Even if you have to save up entire paychecks for plane tickets, take painfully long yet affordable budget buses cross country, or sleep on someone’s lumpy couch for a couple of nights.

It will absolutely always be worth it.

And it always has been.

But sadly while the past few years have been comprised of some of my best vacations abroad, they have also consisted of some of the most tragic world events.

Every day tells of another bombing or shooting or death toll; innocent lives are drastically being wiped out by evil.

It’s unexplainable, it’s incomprehensible…it’s terrifying.

So why would I still want to travel?

Why would I put myself at risk to be another statistic

Well, that’s simple: because travel has always given me so much.

It has given me global perspectives: shattering ethnocentric ideas, expanding cultural knowledge & fully allowing me to experience being “the other”.

(Quite noticeably the only Westerners in Hong Kong’s remote Ngong Ping village, Grampy & I just went with the flow) 

It has given me self confidence: learning to navigate new cities, new languages & unfamiliar customs all on my own.

(Living in a city with minimal English-speaking, I learned the Czech language basics fast. Especially when it came to pivo!)

It has given me my dream job, uniting students & families from all over the world to form life-lasting bonds.

(Wonderful exchange students my company brought to the U.S. & are currently living with volunteer host families)

And of COURSE it has given me all my wonderful friendships with so many extraordinary human beings.

(My Japanese “sisters” in Tokyo)

(My host mother & host brother, Simon, in Paris)

(My TEFL “family” in Prague)

(My friend Meaghan & I spending Xmas 2013 with the family of my French friend, Apolline!)

When I say travel is my passion–I mean it.

And when you are fully invested in a passion, you will let nothing else stand in its way.

And I won’t.

Think about it: some people have “risky” passions like extreme sports. Yes, there is possible danger, however, with proper education & precaution, the dangers minimize drastically.

The same way you wouldn’t get behind the wheel of a race car without proper training, I would never travel to a foreign city without doing proper research.

Of course, any true traveler knows preparation is key. Making sure maps, currency conversions, accommodations & plans are finalized before moving forward. & A heightened sense of common sense can go a long way.

“Traveling smart” has saved me more than a few times abroad. Whether it be using my intuition about bad situations or being prepared should plans go wrong–this is my first rule of going anywhere.

(Though considered a “Second World Country”, Thailand had some of the nicest locals I’ve ever met)

As prepared as I am, every time I announce a new trip abroad, I am still always met by a response of worry & concern.

While sometimes it can seem understandable, I am still so sick of justifying my travels to people who know nothing about the destinations I’m going to.

To people who allow a heightened sense of media-induced paranoia cloud their logic. Reading exaggerated headlines & watching sensationalized videos that teach them that every thing outside their front door is a war zone.

& I’m sorry, but I refuse to buy into this mindset.

Don’t you understand? That is what terrorists want. They want us afraid & divided. They want us hateful & unable to continue our daily routines. They want us to scapegoat & point fingers.

Well, I don’t know about you, dear readers, but there’s no way I will let them succeed.

I will never stop exploring, asking questions & looking for answers.

I refuse to close my mind. I will not stigmatize 1.6 billion people for the horrendous actions of few. I will not panic about going to a city near Brussels when my own city has already had several shootings in 2016. I will not listen to politicians who use racism to further a disgusting agenda of hate. & I will never use blanket statements like “they” or “them” when discussing large groups of people.

(MEPI friends from various countries in the Middle East/North Africa!)

Because every human is different, & I refuse to believe that everyone is inherently bad…& travel keeps re-enforcing this for me. 

I have met with Hurricane Katrina survivors in New Orleans who have an indescribable sense of faith in the wake of so much tragedy.

(Service trip with my High School to New Orleans in 2008)

I have had strangers in Budapest, Prague & Vienna (who spoke zero English) literally take me by the hand to steer me in the right direction when I was lost & afraid & alone.

 

(I only found my way around Austria & Hungary thanks to the kindness of strangers!)

I have had wonderful experiences in Tokyo, Istanbul & Paris that would not have been half as special if it was not for the overwhelming hospitality of local friends.

(Mike is from Chicago but he was the best tour guide in Istanbul! Thanks, brother!)

& I have met extraordinary human beings in every single city I’ve been who have shared delicious meals, informative pub debates, & deep insight into their beautiful cultures with me, an outsider.

(Like my Japanese sisters, I am also very close with the group of Brazilian students we befriended who were studying at my university in 2014)

So next week I will venture back to Europe alone. I will FINALLY be reunited with the cooler older sister I never had, Gillian, in her new home, The Hague. Then travel by myself to Amsterdam & Copenhagen.

And I have not an ounce of fear.

Because I will do what I always do. I will pack all my travel supplies: my maps, my converters & my clothing layers. I will print out all my itineraries, my plane reservations, & my hostel addresses.

& I will be aware of my surroundings.

Not a panicked hyper-awareness, but not a foolish lack of awareness–just simply aware.

Like I always am when I’m in a new city.

And I will be fine.

I mean, I get to explore two brand new cities! I will see the wold-famous Keukenhof Tulip Gardens & the beautiful seaside Nyhavn canal & get to have some much needed pub talk with one of my best friends!

(See you soon, Gillian!)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over these past few years, dear readers, it is that you cannot allow anything to dictate your happiness. 

No job, no lover, & absolutely no fear.

You must continue to venture on, to explore the unknown even when it can be terrifying. Because you never know what wonderful experiences or people may be waiting just around the corner.

Happy travels!

JG 🙂

 

 

 

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Quarter Life Crisis

28 Dec

Today (December 27th, 2015) is my 25th birthday.

For some reason, it’s an important number to me, one of the milestones. But not like 18 where you’re considered an ‘adult’ or 21 where you can finally legally drink (in the U.S.A.), no, turning 25 is a much different feeling.

First off, I have officially lived a quarter of a century! 

That is insane when you think about it. WHAT an accomplishment. 1/4th of my life (if I tentatively live a full ‘life’ a.k.a. 100) is already over.

Kind of sad.

A bit more scary if you consider how many people are living to be an entire century old. Not too many.

Therefore, I have even less time. 

A lot of people have mixed feelings about turning 25 years old, mostly apprehension.

Why?

Personally I think that it’s an age where you’re a full blown adult & not even you can deny it anymore. 

College has come & gone. The world of work has been (somewhat?) mastered & responsibility is in full effect.

So why is this number so scary?

Because it’s an age where society kind of really expects you to have it together by now.

…& not everyone does.

Now, dear readers, you know that I am all about forming your own path in life. I believe in chasing crazy dreams, relocating, & ignoring societal pressures.

But as much as I have tried to do that in the past 25 years, it all circled back. 

I am right where younger me envisioned myself to be at age 25: college degree, nice apartment in the city, cool job.

But the thing that I could have never predicted were the beautiful, treacherous twists & turns of life that would get me here. 

The dull plateau that would abruptly turn into a vertical ascent, with a tedious incline followed by a few painful drops…which somehow slowly turned into this content happy place.

The number 25 does not scare me, because I cannot see myself anywhere else in life right now.

I am truly where I am meant to be; which is something I have not always felt & will most definitely not always feel.

But for right now, on my 25th birthday, it’s nice.

I’ve spent a majority of these years working my butt off in school, striving for the best grades possible & now even though my classroom days are long gone–I still thrive on learning new things.

I was lucky at age 16 to discover my true passion: travel. A passion that I have turned from just a hobby into a incredibly fulfilling career. 

While they have come & gone, I have always surrounded myself with great people. Though you outgrow those who no longer contribute positively to your life–I feel like now I have a pretty tight knit crew.

Family is the #1 but my international network of friends is one of my greatest accomplishments so far. I love you guys, thank you so much for helping me through all the various stages of these 25 years.

Then there were all the ADVENTURES! 13 countries visited, schools in 3 states, 5 sports played over the course of 15 years, 6 different addresses, 3 years working on television. I have been caving, parasailing & swam with dolphins. I filmed an international commercial that’s still on French television. I have had conversations with celebrities at movie premieres. I have written a 32 page thesis about Lasik Eye Surgery (& got an A). I have lived in 3 countries. I speak (roughly) 6 languages. I have volunteered with Habitat for Humanity 3 times. The show Family Guy may or may not have parodied me in an episode. I have been to 2 European Fashion Week shows. I used to competitively horse back ride. I have a blog that officially has over 9,000 views from all around the world.

It certainly has been one HELL of a ride!

So yes, some people have a ‘quarter life crisis’ but for me, 25 is just another number. I am living the life that works best for me & I absolutely cannot wait to see what lies ahead next!

Thanks for being a part of this year, dear readers, & here’s to many more!

Cheers 🙂

JG

 

Pour Some Out For My Homies

17 May

Update: I AM FREE.

After one of the most bizarre weeks ever with my (ex) boss displaying some of the oddest behavior (lurking around my classroom in the dark, crazy bi-polar personality changes, ‘forgetting’ to pay me until 4 days after pay day…), I made it. Barely though. I had my school keys already taken off the main key ring, had tossed all my un-used worksheets into the scrap paper pile & was just finishing up my final class when she decided to twist the knife deeper & completely devoid any shred of guilt I felt about quitting. 

We had literally 2 minutes left of class, & I told the students to start cleaning up. Post quitting celebratory drinks with Gillian & Filip at our favorite pub were already arranged & I could not GTFO of there fast enough. When all of a sudden, this woman comes into my room.

“Hi, I am looking for Jessica.”

“Uh, yeah, that’s me.”

“My daughter has a private lesson with you right now.”

Um what.

See this is what I am talking about, this is why I despise my boss so much. She is so damn inconsiderate. She NEVER mentioned this lesson, never asked if I was free for the lesson, NEVER EVEN BROUGHT IT UP. Yet she made this poor woman & her daughter drive all the way across the city in rush hour traffic. 

“Um, I had no idea about this lesson, I’m sorry, I have plans, I can’t do it.”

Suddenly, what do you know, my phone is ringing & it’s my boss telling me she has a problem & forgot to tell me & begs me just to sit & talk to this little girl for 10 minutes just to see what level she is. And reluctantly, I agree.

But I am so glad I did.

This girl was adorable, smart & way too advanced in the English language to be wasting her time at such a horrible school that only wanted her money. Talking to her for those 10minutes made me realize, while I was estactic about quitting my teaching job, I was really going to miss teaching. So I wanted to write a post to give some special shout outs to some of the little ones who have changed me over these past 9 months.

Kamila, 4,

One of the most well-behaved Montessori children I have ever encountered. I am not sure if you are aware of the Montessori teaching style but it mostly results in unruly children who don’t understand the concept of sharing or being directed by a superior. But Kamila did. She always chattered away in long sentences in Czech to me, like I understood any of it, to which I always responded with an excited “Wow! Okay!” That always made her smile. 

Veronika, 5,

Another great Montessori kid who would always greet me with a huge hug when I would pick up her class downstairs. She loved to make little art projects & always wore the same pink dress over her clothes. She is one of the kids who, from early on, instinctively always went to hold my hand as we were walking up the stairs to our classroom.

Filip, 2, 

My youngest student, but also one of the most improved. I would have an hour long one-on-one class with him because every other child who attempted to enter the class was not as mature and often left crying & screaming. ‘Fifi’ as he called himself blew my mind every week when he would greet me at the start of class saying ‘Monkeys jump, monkeys jump!’ (Referring to the 10 Little Monkeys Song) He was like a sponge, repeating EVERYTHING I said & actually remembering & understanding. He would tackle me & hug me & his favorite sentence by the end of the year became: “Fifi is crazy! But Jessica is crazy too!”

Prokop & Elias, 5,

These two extremely hyper blonde best friends originally did an observation class in one my most calmest classes. The results were awful. The tackled each other & Prokop “Rocky” left crying with a bumped head. I was weary when my boss created a special class with only these two boys, but it worked out great. I mirrored their energy & after every snack time for 10 minutes they would chase me around the room pretending to be Iron Man or Spiderman. Their final class with me consisted of me painting their faces like transformers. 

THE BEST CLASS: Vivi, 5, Luisa, 5, Diana, 5, Lauren, 4, Sophia, 5, Hermina, 3.

I loved coming to this class every week & simply referred to them as ‘my girls’. They were not only all extremely smart but they all loved me & listened to me. They would all come in with homework completed, follow directions & give me big hugs when they left. They loved to point at me & say I was various items they had for snack that day. They thought it was hilarious. My biggest victory as a teacher came around March when all the girls (even little Hermina who is basically a baby my boss stuffed in the class because her mom already paid) said their first sentence. Going over family vocab & I said: “Me, I have 2 brothers, do you have a brother?” They all went around the room responding USING THE CORRECT PLURALIZATION “I have 1 brother”, “I have 2 brothers” “I have no brothers” I have never been so proud.

Pata, 8,

The mature & smart older sister of little Honza, a boy who was too unruly to be in class, Pata was very responsible. She always did her homework correctly & just loved to learn English. She would often ask for copies of worksheets we did to practice further at home & impressed me with her improvement each class.

Eliska, 8,

Sweet & shy, Eliska was also one of the strongest in her class. She would always come in with her long brown hair in 2 braids & would wear cute little skirts. She also loved to learn English, but was also an amazing artist. Many of the homework assignments I asked her to do are still hanging on my wall & will continue to in USA just because she is that talented. 

Andrea, 4,

This little spit fire who began the class shy & quiet certainly came out of her shell. She is the one who would joke at snack time that her water bottle was actually filled with alcohol. She especially thought it was hilarious to sneak up and take the pillow I sit on at circle time. I will miss her for her wonderful personality & her cute little metallic rhinestone outfits she would rock each class. 

Danny, 4,

Another one who began extremely shy but soon found his place. Danny is the little boy who was so excited about the weekend he accidentally peed his pants. He was so adorable & fit in perfectly with his class. His mom, who was a sweetheart, would always whisper to him at snack time in Czech to offer me a piece of the chocolate he was eating. That’s one way to definitely get on my good side!

Ivan, 5, 

One of my all-time favorites, I can remember Ivan all the way back from the open house in September when I played board games with him & his little mini-me brother, Boris. His family soon became one of my favorites as well, with his mom always asking me about me & gifting me with an amazing (expensive!) box of chocolates on Christmas. Ivan loved spiderman & dinosaurs & we just completely formed a bond. He would always sit next to me at snack time & even when he got a little fresh mid-way through the year, all I had to do was give him a look. He was one of the few kids who felt bad about misbehaving because he knew it upset me. I will miss him very much & will always save the slightly lopsided self-portrait he drew for me.

Dori, 8, & Tobi, 6,

A sister & brother with SO MUCH energy. Whenever my 3 hour Friday class was quiet you knew it was because these two were absent. But as much as Dori would get upset & cry sometimes or Tobi would throw a temper tantrum & hit another student, they were such sweet children. Dori loved to act like a big sister to all the other kids in the class & Tobi was OBSESSED with playing Plants Vs. Zombies on my computer. Their mother is blind & they would always come & go from class linking arms with her on both sides. Even when Gillian was still teaching at the school, she loved these two, & when she quit they were the only 2 kids who asked about her. Dori would give me a big hug & kiss on the cheek when she would leave & Tobi would always want to hug me & sit on my lap while we watched videos (all completely normal/allowed student-teacher behavior here). Often if I was leaving the school the same time they were we would walk to the tram together & they would hold my hands. These children genuinely loved me & their parents said they would not be able to sleep on Thursdays because they were so excited for English class.

See, I really do love my students & some of them I will never forget. As much as I completely dreaded coming to work somedays because of my crazy boss or unpredictable parents, my students made it all worth it. They made me laugh & smile. I would chase them around the room, we would have tickle fights & then they would amaze me & make me so proud with their English. 

When I quit I wanted to make sure that the parents knew that.

It is unfortunate that my working situation was so awful–but I wanted the parents to know that I wasn’t leaving because of their children. So I sent out an e-mail to all the parents from my school e-mail address saying what a pleasure it was teaching their children. I wished them all luck on their future with the English language & said how proud I was of all of them. And its true. I can remember from all my years as a student some of the great teachers that I had. They inspired me & I will never forget them.

& I just hope that at least one of those kids remembers that blonde American teacher from some weird place called ‘Massachusetts’ who loved to draw horses & sing about monkeys.

🙂

-JG 

Culturally Shocked

13 Oct

Well this past week certainly has been one for the books. There were so many emotional ups & downs. My job has been testing my sanity daily with misbehaving children & unimpressed Czech parents snitching on me. Customs refuses to send me anything my mom mails me: including medication & winter coats. My apartment is certainly the fixer-upper, which my ‘landlord’ refuses to do anything about. My personal life has also been thrown all out of wack due to some awful unpredictable conflict. But, I try my hardest to be an optimist. Because it’s like that commercial says ‘A bad day in Florida is a good day anywhere else’ well, the same is true for Prague.

And you know what trying times teach you? Do you know why life kicks you down so many times? Why, it’s to notice all the people who are there to catch you. It’s to realize who is there to offer an outstretched hand to help you back on your feet again.

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 I have felt so many emotions this week: fear, incompetence, guilt, uncertainty & sadness. But as I sit here & type this on a Sunday morning at 10:30am…the sun is shining through my curtain-less window. That week is over & I’m still here. Tomorrow is a brand new week & I’m going to be fine. But I do want to take the time to acknowledge all the people who helped me get through to this point:

My Parents:

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Mom & Dad, having an impromtu Skype session with you on Friday was just what I needed. Sure, I have so many great new faces here in Prague with me but I missed the old ones. If I were to move home tomorrow it would strictly be to see my family. That’s who I miss the most. It’s bizarre to think that we won’t be reunited until late June. But I’m a sucker for metaphors & what’s more perfect than showing you my new home before returning back to my old one? 

Grampy:

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Nothing puts a smile on my face more than seeing I got a new e-mail from the world’s greatest pen pal. I love you more than anyone in the world, Grampy. You are my hero. Your e-mails always have the right amount of humor as you tell me you & Grammy’s daily rituals like going to Barnes & Nobles, the hairdresser & Longhorn’s for lunch. I miss that familiar routine & spending time with you. No matter what you say or do, you always cheer me up my ‘recycled teenager’.

Friends From Home: or more specifically Courtney & Meaghan 

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 Thank you both so much for your comforting words & encouraging pep talks this week. You are two of my closest friends to the point where I feel like we’re sisters. I know that if you were here you would take to the streets & hunt down the person who hurt me. Even though we’re so far away, know that I still miss you guys all the time. I am not sure when the next time is that I will see either of you, but I know that when I do it will be like nothing changed. That’s the thing about true friendship: time & distance can never affect it. Thank you girls, I love you both ❤

New Friends: Brandi, Kristin, Kathryn, Rebekah 

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Brandi- Thank you for literally taking me into your apartment like a sad lost puppy off the street. Thank you for making me breakfast for dinner & gorging Chinese food with me & making me laugh. Thank you for all the advice you gave me & telling me that first I had to appreciate myself. I really needed that. I owe you forever, girl.

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Kristin- Thank you for forever being the most awesome wing girl. Thank you for giving me one extra hug when I needed it. Thank you for going out with me on a rainy miserable night because I needed to laugh & just wanted to dance (even if you got elbowed in the face all night). I am so lucky to live so close to you Rebekah & Karen. It’s nice to know when I need to escape the world I have this loving safe haven so close up the street.

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Kathryn- Thank you for forever being the greatest roomie, even though we don’t live together anymore. I have thought of you as a comforting mother figure ever since I was crying to you about money problems back in July. Thank you for checking in on me. I don’t get to see you these days nearly as much as I would like to but I just wanted you to know that I really do appreciate you.

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Rebekah- Sorry you had to get caught in the crossfires of my crazy life, but thank you for making me feel so much better. I only tell super personal things to people who I know will handle the situation properly instead of making me feel guilty about myself. Thank you for telling me not to blame myself. I really needed to hear that.

Coolest Assistant Boss Ever: GillianImage

You are officially the cooler older sister who I never had but always wanted. Thank you for giving me the life advice that is halfway between my mom’s lecturing words & my friends’s empathetic sentiments. I owe you big time. I would not have gotten through this week if it weren’t for you. & I mean that. I would be an unsure emotional wreck. Thank you for always knowing that Mexican food & beer is the cure for all.

And most importantly (vainly?) of all: myself

I have been learning that in times of trial, you really truly only can rely on yourself. Life is going to throw you a ton of curveballs, my dear readers, & you are the only one who mainly decides how to handle them. Sure, crying, binge-eating & all day Flavor of Love marathons may suffice for a while…but sooner or later you need to stand up, brush yourself off & deal with it. This is still something I’m struggling with from time to time, but I just think of what Mama G always says:

“God always gives us the gift of a new day.”

& Whether you’re religious or not, this is still true. Because tomorrow is going to come whether you’re ready or not, so tell me–how are you going to handle it?

-JG