Tag Archives: life

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

 

It Was The Best Of Times

14 Nov

Hello, dear readers! Sorry I haven’t written to you in a while, but let me say I have been pretty busy. And no, not busy laying on a couch healing from my dog bite watching my 385th episode of Maury or getting rejected by yet ANOTHER dream job in the final round or body-shaming myself to tears…but busy being happy.

Nice to have a little change, huh?

The root of this happiness is, unsurprisingly, the root of my happiness for over 8 months. The person who I ever-so-romantically approached in the Chapeau Rouge Bar while double-fisting a Gin & Tonic AND Rum & Coke (French Bachelor party men are quite generous!). The boy whose very first exchange with me was:

“Um, do you speak English?”

“Yeah”

“Okay, you’re sitting on my coat.”

My amazing Czech boyfriend, Filip! 🙂

Fifi is the best ever

Although we did not have the dreamiest first meeting, Filip & I hung out a few more times, then began dating in February when I was still living in Prague. I know all relationships are like this at first, but we soon became inseparable. I can only characterize it like this: ya know those first few ‘honeymoon months’ where you laugh at everything, hang out 24/7 & are just completely infatuated? Well, my ENTIRE relationship has felt like this. I’m serious. Even when our honeymoon stage was well over.

This is a boy who has seen me at my absolute WORST: panicking about my crazy boss in Prague, comforting me when I was in the fetal position sobbing about not getting my dream job, & feeding me with his last few dollars when I was dead broke in another country. He even honest-to-God almost flew to USA for a weekend to sit with me in the hospital after my dog bite. Plus he 100% loves me for the quirky, crazy, opinionated, strong woman that I am. We are not luck, we are chemistry. We are compromise & hard work.

Honestly, I was pretty nervous in June when my days left in Prague were numbered. I was worried about the future of our relationship. Here I was, having found the hands down best boyfriend of my six years in the dating world, & now I was going to have to move 3,000+ miles away from him for an indefinite amount of time. Scary.

But we planned Filip’s trip to USA & promised to Skype regularly. I’m not going to lie, a long distance relationship is in no way fun. You miss each other a lot & you miss the little things, things like holding someone’s hand, watching movies together or going out to eat. But then again that’s just the price you pay for this lifestyle. However, Skype & daily message updates are the key to staying in tact. It made me feel like we were still on the same page. 

And after over 4 months of Skype & daily messages, Christmas finally came, Filip came to visit me in America.

fifiandme

(4 months & 1 week apart will make you appreciate your boyfriend 100x more)

I think one of the best things about Filip’s visit was the huge sigh of relief that came along with him: nothing had changed. We were still best friends, laughing at weird Youtube videos, trying strange food combinations & completely crazy about each other like we were in Prague. Our relationship had survived the test of distance & time; now I felt like we were even closer. 

During Filip’s 3 week visit (thank YOU, CZ for your long paid vaycays!) I made sure we stayed busy. Shopping, parties, pumpkin carving, a mock Thanksgiving dinner, & trips to Boston, New York & my beloved college, Roger Williams. We even went trick-or-treating on Halloween in costume since he had never done it before! As Mama G would say, Filip certainly had some F-U-N! And you know what, dear readers? It was about damn time that I did too.

This summer (after returning back home from a summer working with the MEPIs & Japanese girls) was not really the most ideal situation. But when Filip came to visit I was able to laugh harder than I had in forever & it felt great. It really was like I was complete again. It was a nice change of pace.

It was sad to see him go, but I plan on visiting him in Prague next February. It will be our 1 year anniversary! And this time at the airport when we said goodbye, something was different. There were no tears or feelings of uncertainty, it felt like we knew exactly where we stood & these next months apart would be much easier than last time.

Plus, little did I know, my usually awful (& in the past months straight up terrible) luck was about to do a complete 180.

ef

(This building officially opened like LAST WEEK)

Since before my dog bite I had been desperately & quite aggressively trying to find a job. Unfortunately I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do. I liked helping people, I was quite good at talking to people…& oh ya, here’s the kicker, I wanted to travel for free. I started my attack plan with colleges first, thinking working on a cute, well-manicured campus like Rog would prevent me from wanting to kill myself every day. I applied to every school in New England basically & got nothing. I decided to think more outside the box…& it hit me. I remembered while working with the Japanese girls my awesome supervisor, Christine, had praised my skills & said I would do wonderful at a tour company. I took the idea & ran with it.

Well, ran as far as you can with a heavy limp because this was around the time I was attacked by that stupid dog. The bad part was that I was basically immobile for almost a month, not even being able to attend an interview had I scheduled one. The good news was that all this free time allowed me to dig into Christine’s broad suggestion of ‘tour company’. I scoured the internet & eventually stumbled across EF Tours.

The name sounded familiar, then I realized it was the company I had traveled with my very first time abroad to Paris & London in high school! The trip that inspired me to study abroad in college, which gave me the courage to move to Prague. Through a series of ripple effect events this company had basically changed my life. My passion for travel was discovered on my trip with EF Tours.

sillycaro

(This stoic moment in France brought to you by EF Tours)

This was cool! But I mean that was like almost 7 years ago! Surely, EF is some boring little company with cubicles & draining customer service telephone jobs right? Wrong, wrong, WRONG. EF Tours is this huge awesome Swedish company with 5 international headquarters, one of them just happening to be in Boston! Oh my God, is this a sign? Destiny? It must be because for your first year of work you get THREE WEEKS of paid vacation & FOUR for the second year (take THAT, Czech Republic!). More than that the Boston office is that awesome building in the photo above that was designed to have breath-taking panoramic views of the city, sits right at the majestic Charles River & was just built like a month ago! I actually trembled browsing the website–I belonged at EF.

I ended up applying to two positions & heard back from both, however, interviews were delayed due to my immobility issue. As the weeks went by I found myself making it to the first, then second, then third round for an extremely competitive sales position at the company. When Filip was here I made sure to always keep my phone near, jumping every time I received an e-mail, cursing every time it was a Groupon promo. After 3 whole days after the company said they would contact me with their final decision I mustered up every ounce of courage & called them. The phone call was about 2 minutes long & by the end Filip saw me at my worst again because I was sobbing in the fetal position. It wasn’t fair. I was crushed.

Crushed for an entire day, then I got angry, then I got motivated. I applied to three other jobs with travel agencies trying to shake off the immense sense of hurt I felt.

stonehill

(Stonehill: I am forever haunted by ‘what could have been’)

Sidenote: so not sure if you have noticed by reading my posts, but I can get pretty dramatic at times (I mean I DID do plays all through high school…). I also love a good metaphor & some personification. A prime example of this would be my college search. After almost a year of hunting, I applied to 5 different schools but all that mattered were the top 2, Stonehill College & Roger Williams University. Now, from my posts you may think I was a die hard RWU Hawk from day 1, but that’s not true. Nope, fall semester senior year I was 100% infatuated with Stonehill. I was obsessed with the school. I stalked the website, forced my mom to take me to 2 open houses, I even shadowed a class. I loved that school. So much that I opted for the ‘Early Action’ application option which meant applying to the school earlier than required in order to find out if I was accepted earlier than others.

I did the same thing for my RWU application because I loved that school as well, but not as much as I loved Stonehill. I can remember waiting every day for that letter. Running to my mailbox like a mad woman. Finally, it came, & the envelope was tiny. Inside my worst fears were realized. I was ‘deferred’ which meant I was not accepted with the first group so my application was put with the rest & I would have to wait until spring to find out if I was accepted.

To anyone else this would have been sucky but not completely awful–but not to me. It was over. This was personal. A few days later I received not just a giant envelope but a personal phone call from RWU accepting me into their university. & My mind was made up. Stonehill, if you didn’t want me now, then I don’t want you ever. (Stonehill did eventually try to ‘win me back’ by calling me up with a bouquet of apology flowers in the form of a theatre scholarship/scouting opportunity when they accepted me in April…too late, I was already Rog’s girl!)

rog

(In the end, Rog was obviously the right choice)

My point with this tangent? I take things like rejection quite personal. If you don’t want me, I don’t want you & I will never want you & we’re done! So, EF, sorry, but we’re THROUGH.

But then I realized I was 23-years-old & this was a company that was just trying to run a business, not some guy who lead me on. Plus, I really did want EF. So bad. So, I got back on that horse. I went right back on the ‘careers’ section of the website & started from square one. Why? Because I knew I belonged there & I was not going to give up or let something like pride get in the way. I applied to one more position while holding my breath.

Fast-forward to the next week & Filip is getting ready to leave but I can’t be completely sad because I’m too busy being excited about the travel agency company that is rapidly on the fast track to hiring me. Within a few days I had completed a phone interview & online business test, by the time they’re background checking me, I know things look good. Then, out of the blue, fate steps in: EF wants an in-person interview…the same day as my final in-store-assessment interview with the travel company! Taaaalk about adrenalin!

I walked in to two buildings on Monday & was then somehow miraculously offered two of my dream jobs on Tuesday. And you know exactly which one I accepted. I did more than get back on the horse after I fell off. I knocked on every single door I could, & then, when one was opened only to be slammed in my face–I broke that mother f**ker down. 

EF-Tours

It is a strange, strange thing looking at your life through hindsight. To look back & try to remember the pain of the setbacks, the sting of countless defeat, the endless waiting for something to finally happen. And then suddenly, that day comes & you are on the top again.

4 months & 1 day has shrunk down to nothing…only for it to start a new countdown all over again until the next big reunion. And waiting at the top of that damn roller coaster for as long as I did seems like nothing, because now I am finally moving & the ride as the newest regional manager for EF High School Exchange Year has finally begun.

JG 🙂

The Final Curtain Call

6 Jun

So as my adventures in Prague come to a close, I have been experiencing more emotions than ever before. I still can’t believe I only have about 5 days left in this wonderful place.

I can remember getting on the plane at Logan Airport in Boston on July 30, 2013. Dragging my 2 giant suitcases behind me & slinging my 2 overstuffed carry-ons over my shoulders. I hoped I had everything I needed, but there comes a time at those moments when you realize it’s too late to turn back & if I really did forget something I would just have to deal. I said goodbye to my family & my pets & my room & my house. It was so weird, not knowing the next time I would be back there. I mean, I had a rough idea:

-Fly to Prague

-Get my TEFL Certification throughout the month of August at TEFL Worldwide Prague

-Find a job/apartment/new friends/new life immediately after 

-Stay for 1 year & then come back home

There’s a saying that goes “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” And while there were certainly a few curve balls that were thrown at me along the way, mostly everything went according to plan. 

And now, here I am, with 5 days left, living out of my suitcases at Gillian & Filip’s houses, trying to take everything in. Trying to formulate goodbyes that I swear are not permanent but then again, you never know. I am down to my last $10, have quit my job & moved out of my apartment. It’s the final curtain call.

And everyone is asking me, “Oh you must be SO EXCITED to go back!” but for a long time, I didn’t know how I felt. & Still don’t.

I feel stuck. I feel afraid. I feel worried. I am stressed out about undergoing another culture shock. Where things are completely different. Where doors always have to be locked, prices are ridiculous, & everyone around me may not like the new Jessi. 

I have changed so much throughout this experience. I am more open-minded, I am more introverted & have learned to listen a little more than I speak. This is such a stretch for a girl who would never shut up & always craved human companionship to now be able to travel alone & at times go hours without speaking. 

This change is not a bad thing. I just had to adapt to my new climate. 

And now I am scared to have to adapt again to the climate of USA, where people panic over not having a wifi signal & are going to talk behind my back about my weight or long distance relationship. How upsetting. 

One of the most freeing things for me during all this was having a crappy pay-as-you-go phone & getting my iPod stolen in November. Why? Because I was disconnected. Instead of scrolling through newsfeeds over dinner I actually made eye contact with the person sitting across from me. Instead of instagramming all my food, I actually ate & savored it. Instead of Google Maps, I read real maps & if I got a little lost, asked real people. It was refreshing. 

And now, after all the progress I have made & all the lessons I’ve learned over here in Prague I am terrified of reverting back to the way I was. Because then this would have all been such a complete waste of time. It would have just been like the vacation/escape from responsibilities some assumed it was.

Oh, & then there’s that huge elephant in the room everyone interrogates me about next: where will you work? 

Hey, guess what, I have no idea! And I am not worried about it at all. 

It is unfortunate how much your job is a form of social status. It must be, because it’s something we are all either ashamed of or bragging about these days. Personally, I think work ethic & happiness is more important. Yeah happiness won’t pay the bills & blah, blah, blah…but I just paid my bills for the past 10 months while being relatively happy over here, so what’s your point?

Chill everyone, I will find a job. Happiness though, I am a little more worried about finding that.

Image(Above: One of my favorites in the cemetery)

While in Paris, since it was my 4th visit & favorite city, I wanted to just basically chill & explore some things that I had never seen before. Somehow I had never been to Pere Lachaise. Pere Lachaise is the largest cemetery in Paris & a tourist attraction because of some of the famous people who are buried there. Musicians like Jim Morrison, singers like Edith Piaf & writers like Oscar Wilde all rest in Pere Lachaise. 

Since Zach was off exploring the Louvre, I basically had this huge window of time to explore Pere Lachaise alone on my second to last day in Paris. And I’m so glad I did. It sounds odd to say but wandering aimlessly around a giant cemetery for a few hours is eerily therapeutic. I walked right in, not even bothering to grab a map, I just didn’t care. I wasn’t there to go take a few quick selfies with the graves of people who had never affected me. I was there to find something else.

Having been to a few cemeteries near my hometown, I can honestly say that Pere Lachaise is magnificent & unlike any place I’d ever been before. The graves were not just simple headstones but intricate tombs, old stone supulchres & breathe-taking murals. I walked alone, away from the tourists. Trees shrouded the cemetery in eerie shadows even though it was a fairly sunny day & the only sound were the birds chirping high above. I was in a trance.

Image

I scanned the hundreds of graves reading the names of the families buried there. The tombs were lined in little winding paths that lead you deeper into the cemetery. I came across sculptures of famous deceased play-writes, actors & writers who I had never heard of. I felt a power & energy coming from Pere Lachaise. It was indescribable. All those lives intertwined, some recently departed & others long forgotten.

And this was the thing that shook me the most.

Some tombs were carefully preserved. Clean, manicured & covered with flowers, plaques & other offerings. But others were mossy & crumbling, either from age or lack of preservation. It made me so sad. Who were these people buried here? Did anyone care about them? What were their stories? Unfortunately, no one would ever know, because now the only object dedicated to this soul’s existence was rotting away just like the skeleton buried deep below.

I was so humbled.

Image

I really respected how most of the plaques, statues or monuments dedicated to the deceased were in no way joyous. They were honest. Death is painful, death is sad, but death is inevitable. Most of the marble plaques etched in French read things along the lines of “Farewell, Mama” or “Until we shall meet again”. My favorite was, morbidly enough, sculptures of grim reapers hovering above. A fearful creature, but in fact, one that will catch up to all of us eventually.

But why do we fear death? Personally I think it’s because we will not make enough of an impact in the world before we go. That way, just like the old warning in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, we will be buried at an empty funeral & our name or legacy will go right along with us.

But as sad as I was seeing the crumbling old no-name graves, I was amazed by the very preserved ones. 

Although it was true that most of these graves were of those whose deaths were much more recent, some were really not. Some spanned generations. Men & women who passed away decades ago who still had brightly colored fresh flowers resting on top of their tombs. & These names were ones I had never heard of before. 

I wondered why at first but then I realized it’s because even if they possibly died too soon, their time on the Earth made enough of an impact that it was not only not forgotten, passed down. Parents told their children & their children told their grandchildren. The story lived on until it because a legacy & this is a rare occasion when one experiences life after death. 

& Who knows, maybe some of these mossy overgrown tombs were once great people too. They just reached a generation where their light could no longer shine & it was distinguished. From ashes to ashes & dust to dust, is what they say after all.

Image

During my solo walk around Pere Lachaise while contemplating all this meaning of life, I realized just how lost I felt with my own life at the moment. I had no permanent address & was unsure about my future. I felt like my heart was about to be stretched across to two places. I was about to reunite with the people I have always loved, but in order to do that I had to leave behind all the new people I have since fallen in love with. It’s a tough feeling. 

So it was there, that I asked for a sign. For an indication of where to turn & what to do.

Immediately, a ray of sunlight poked through the trees & illuminated a single grave. I walked over to it & saw it was one of the cutest couples I have ever seen. They were born just a year apart & died a year apart too. Portraits from their youth were presented right above their dates. I instantly felt tears welling up in my eyes. This was it.

The answer was love.

This couple was born around the same time & probably got married at a young age (just like my own grandparents). They survived decades of wars, changes & hardships. But they survived them together. And then, when the woman died in 1997 at the ripe age of 89, her husband soon followed one year after. He could have gone due to complications the body experiences at this age, but I honestly believe it was because of a broken heart. 

How do you go on living without someone who has been your other half for so long? Someone who you grew up with & survived with for so many years. Most of these couples couldn’t. I soon noticed a pattern of most of the couples who were buried side-by-side in Pere Lachaise–they all died within 3 years of each other. Say what you want about medical complications, but like in The Notebook I think it was divine intervention. True love is eternal. 

Since coming to Prague, I thought I knew true love with another. I thought it was fairly one dimensional & something that would eventually fade. I was skeptical & logical & always felt I would just grow out of the other person. 

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But then I met Filip.

I have never experienced emotions so powerful with someone else. And as foolish as anyone may think I sound for feeling this way about someone I have been with since January, then please, tell me about your own love story? Are you settling, sometimes unhappy & think in the back of your head you could probably do better? Sorry, dear readers, but that isn’t true love. 

True love is my grandparents celebrating their 54th wedding anniversary & still holding hands & acting like teenagers. True love is all these beautiful couples in Pere Lachaise buried next to each other to be together for all eternity. 

And regardless of who knows what will happen, I feel like I have found something so real right now. Something that time or distance cannot alter. It was destiny. Because I am a huge believer in fate & when the universe sends you someone who makes you feel like I feel right now it’s a sin to just throw that all away. 

Before I left for Prague my mom joked that I could go on one condition:

“When you fall in love with a Czech boy, you have to promise me you will come back home.”

I laughed because I always thought Europeans were players & I just wanted to be single & enjoy the experience.

But isn’t it funny how life works out?

So now, Mom, here I am, I am head over heels in love, but I am getting on a plane in 5 days to come back to you. We will do the long-distance thing for 4 months & then Filip will come visit me in USA. But who knows about afterwards. 

They say that, “Home is where the heart is”, & my heart/home is about to be in 2 locations. But planes will always exist & I will always be welcome back…

…& You would always be willing to read Czech It Out Blog Pt 2, right? 😉

-JG 

 

Six Months Strong

1 Feb

Well I did it. I made it more than halfway. Today officially marks 6 months living in Prague, Czech Republic. 

I can remember July 31, 2013 like it was yesterday. It was a sunny & warm summer day. The kind of day you wait forever for in New England. It was the perfect day for the biggest adventure of my life.

 I lugged two giant suitcases & two overstuffed carry-ons to the car. I double-checked my passport, plane tickets, license & money. I sent out a mass text to all my friends, telling them to keep in contact with me on Facebook since my Blackberry would not be making the trip with me. I took one last look at my room, gave Misty, my dog, one more pat & Lexie Pearl, my cat, one last hug. They lingered nearby, sensing a change. 

I gave Adam & Sean, my little brothers, big hugs, knowing that the next time I’d see them they would tower over my 5’5″ frame even more. Then Mama G & I were off to go pick up Grammy & Grampy. I didn’t talk much on the drive. What do you say during times like that? My mom told me to get a good look around Sutton because it would be a long time before I was there again. I knew she was right. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to afford a trip home for the holidays, so I tried to take it all in. I tried to commit it all to memory. The place I had lived for the past 22 years of my life. How much would it change while I was gone?

We picked up Grammy & Grampy then headed to the airport. Traffic was a breeze & soon we were at Logan Airport in Boston. I can remember being in Boston weeks before to go on a booze cruise with my best friend, Courtney. As the boat sailed into the harbor, airplanes were visible overhead. It was a bittersweet feeling. I knew that the next time I would be in Boston would be to leave. I would be one of the nervous passengers buckled in tightly in a tiny speck flying overhead. Well, that day had finally come.

I had spent the night before wide awake. I memorized my travel plan: five hour flight from Boston to Iceland, one hour layover, three hour flight from Iceland to Sweden, five hour layover, one hour flight from Sweden to Prague. It made me exhausted just thinking about it. I promised myself I would sleep on the plane, but I knew that was a lie. I knew I would have way too many thoughts running through my mind. I knew I would be exhausted & feel gross but I just couldn’t do it.

We parked the car in a drop-off parking space at the airport. This was it. How do you say goodbye to three of the most important people in your life? What if something happens to them while you’re gone? What if something changes? Was I selfish for leaving? But then they re-assured me, with tears in their eyes, that this adventure was more than necessary it was inevitable. Some people are comfortable living all their life in one place–not me. I knew a day like this would come & I knew it was something I had to do.

I gave Mama G & Grammy the biggest hugs while Grampy unloaded my suitcases & helped me wheel them inside the airport. We brought them inside & tried to stall. I tried to think of anything to say. At moments like this you want to say something profound & meaningful. You want to stay strong & hold it together. You want to say something that will fill your absence until you meet again. But no words come to mind. No grand farewell speeches take place. Because 5 minute airport drop-off parking exists. 

Mama G beeped the horn, signaling our time was up & the car had to be moved. We were rushed. I looked at my Grampy, my favorite person in the world, my hero, my role model, the man I used to write every single paper about when I was little who still warmed my heart like no one else in the world. How do you say goodbye to someone like that? You don’t. So we didn’t. He told me to have a safe trip & e-mail as soon as possible. I promised I would. Then I walked towards check-in. I turned around & saw him wiping away tears as he got in the backseat of the car. They drove out of view. & I was officially alone in the world.

I checked in, praying my massive suitcases wouldn’t exceed the weight limit. They narrowly missed. I walked towards my gate & killed time in an airplane coffee shop while I waited. And thought. I was so excited. I was so sad. I was so nervous. I was so ready. So ready to adventure out into the unknown again. There’s a certain rush you get from being out of your comfort zone. I was just hoping I could handle it.

My flights were fine, I got off in Iceland & immediately found my gate. Soon it was time to head to Stockholm, Sweden. I was overwhelmed upon landing. Never have I felt so average. Everyone around me was blonde. I am not joking. I actually played a game sitting at an airport cafe of counting every brunette I saw. Once I got over the shock of the herds of blonde/tall/beautiful people, I realized Sweden had its own currency & didn’t accept USD or CZK, the two currencies I had. I also realized Sweden doesn’t have free wifi. I hit my first wall on the trip. I was starving thanks to not being fed on my planes & was frustrated I couldn’t message my mom telling her I got this far. I felt so alone. Some random exhausted American sitting alone at a table, weighed down by two bulging carry-ons, hungry & nervous surrounded by seas of families & couples & friends chattering away in Swedish. This is traveling. 

Then my first miracle happened. I heard English. My ears perked up immediately, & I thought I was hallucinating. I instantly turned in all directions determined to find the source of my mother tongue. I found it in two boys around my age sitting a few tables away. I immediately approached them. 

“Um, sorry, but are you guys speaking English?”

“Yeah, we are.”

“OH MY GOD! THANK GOD!”

Instant friends. I told them about my hunger & internet connection problems. They bought me a snack at the cafe & let me use the internet on their computer. Destiny. Another theme I have learned from traveling–at times you feel so incredibly lonely & alone, like no cares about you in the world…but then there are those times when something crazy happens & you feel so at home. The kindness of strangers is real, dear readers. My new friends helped me pass the layover time, talking to me about everything from fashion to politics for 3 whole hours. Then they were on their way to Switzerland & I was alone again.

I found my final gate & sat down hoping the last 2 hours of waiting would fly by. I tried to rest my eyes for a little while. Suddenly, I heard a voice ask:

“I’m sorry, but are you Jessi?”

Once again I thought the jet lag was forcing me to hallucinate. But no, it was a fellow member of my TEFL group, Courtney! We were somehow on the same final flight to Prague! A big believer in fate, I felt this was a sign. I felt like everything was telling me that I was doing the right thing & more than that it would be okay. 

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Fast-forward to six months later & it has been okay. I realized I love my life here. It is not a luxurious life of endless partying, spending & wild nights (although there have been QUITE a few) but I am not miserable either. I am so content & for me content = happiness. I have my routine. I have learned to find pleasure in simple things like quite tram rides home, watching rambunctious dogs fetch in the neighborhood square, & my wonderful students draw me awesome pictures. 

This is my life now.

The past six months have been full of meeting new friends, then visiting & being visited by old friends. Exploring my new city & re-visiting my favorite places in my old city. Feeling homesick that I couldn’t spend my favorite holiday at home with family, but instead spending Christmas & feeling so at home with a new temporary family. Not to mention turning 23 in my ultimate happy place! There have been the obstacles of bills & visa problems & work drama but then there is that constant triumph of walking to Old Town Square or gazing out across the Vltava River to the castle & thinking I live here. 

Every day, every week, every month is so unexpected. I look at how much I’ve been through since arriving here August 1, 2013. How much I’ve changed. & Then I think about the 5ish or so months lying ahead. They both excite & terrify me. What lies just ahead? I really cannot sum up my time here. But it has been one HECK of an experience!

Six months is a long time. Half a year. And I’m still alive.

Here’s to the next few months 🙂

-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