Tag Archives: love

Learning To Be Alone

24 Apr

Hello, dear readers!

Well, believe it or not, I have just come back from yet ANOTHER awesome trip! This time to the Netherlands to visit my friend, the infamous Gillian, then off to Denmark for some solo travel. I just wanted it to be simple & relaxing, which it totally was!

However, upon announcing this trip I was faced with the same questions I always get when I travel alone: Why are you going by yourself? Won’t you be lonely? Don’t you want to share this with somebody else?

And I can completely understand where these questions are coming from because I, myself, used to ask them. 

While studying abroad I would meet people in hostels who had been traveling alone for MONTHS & it blew my mind! I asked them the same line of questions & their answers made no sense to me.

It wasn’t until I was literally forced to partake in solo travel that I learned just how incredible it can be.

(Statue selfie during my first solo travel trip to Vienna!)

I was living in Prague & applying for my Czech working visa. In order to get the visa I had to travel to the Czech embassy in another country. The company scheduling the appointment let me know that my appointment was in Vienna, Austria for the following Wednesday at 9:00am.

Since it was a work day & very last minute, none of my friends would be able to join me. I panicked. Would I get lost?! Would I be safe?! Not to mention Mama G was freaking out.

It was then that I realized I would just have to plan, prepare & book the ticket!

The travel & navigation went off without a hitch, my hostel was cute & the appointment went well. Afterwards I had a few hours to explore before my bus back to Prague, so I decided to venture to Schonbrunn Palace.

I spent the next couple hours walking around the palace’s massive gardens alone in a state of awe. It was almost meditative. And I realized how relaxed I was on my own exploring a new place. I wasn’t scared & I definitely wasn’t lonely. It was at that moment that I was completely sold on the idea of solo travel!

(Having a stranger take a photo of me in the “I” from the “IAmsterdam” sign!)

It’s not surprising that I would enjoy solo travel because I have always thought of myself as an extremely extroverted introvert. I equally enjoy the company of others & being alone. It’s a balance & something I have learned to grow into.

And I think we all kinda are.

When you are young you value quantity. The more friends you have, the better. Popularity can only be calculated in numbers & the larger your friend group is, the more people sitting at your lunch table, or asking you to hang out, the more you feel valued.

But as you grow you learn to instead appreciate quality. 

Your friend circle may decrease a bit when you realize who actually has your back. And suddenly the number doesn’t have to be so high.

It’s the same with romantic relationships.You eventually realize that a quality relationship is the most important type of relationship.

This is part of maturing & learning to be more comfortable in your own skin–which is exactly what solo travel helps one do as well!

Because the more I travel alone, the more I realize how much I enjoy it. Of course I like adventuring with loved ones, but seeing a city on your own is something that is so liberating.

Not only do you have absolute freedom to plan your own itinerary, but you can literally be anyone you want to be. You can be a social butterfly making as many new friends as possible or you can be a pensive loner, opting instead to venture to landmarks by yourself.

Plus, in a way, solo travel can sometimes put extroverts completely out of their comfort zone.

Instead of having long conversations with others, or relying on someone else to plan activities…you are forced to experience things all on your own. You also have time to reflect on any emotions or things you have mentally been running from; it’s quite therapeutic!

(Solo travel in Budapest allowed me to meet so many cool new friends!)

On my solo trip to the Netherlands & Denmark I did so many things alone that I would be too afraid to do alone here in the U.S. Like go to a restaurant alone, go to a park alone, even go to an amusement park alone!

And guess what? I still had so much fun even though I was by myself.

I wondered why don’t I ever do things like this alone at home? Because I’m worried about being judged by others, or concerned about looking like I have no friends?

That’s so dumb. 

So I have been actively trying to do more things on my own, & not just when I’m on vacation.

I, of course, am always down to do things with friends. But for too long I have avoided activities, events, parties, opportunities simply because I didn’t have a companion to accompany me. 

And I missed out on SO much!

So now I have no problem buying one museum ticket, one concert ticket, or one theater ticket. And you know what, dear readers? I don’t just use the protective shield of my phone to make it look like I was blown off, but I am actually enjoying the experience. 

There was a specific moment on my trip where I realized just how important this lesson was.

It was my last day of vacation & I decided to go to Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen a.k.a. the 2nd oldest amusement park IN THE WORLD. It was a once in a lifetime experience.

I originally planned to just walk around the park, but decided at the last moment to buy an unlimited rider pass for the attractions. It was a bit awkward at first, being alone surrounded by children & families.

But I love amusement park rides & I hate missing out so I rode every single ride. I laughed until I had tears in my eyes & smiled until my face hurt.

I got to cut all the lines since I was a single rider & even sat in the front row of the park’s insane roller coaster! Of course it would have been nice to share the experience with someone else, but I didn’t HAVE anyone else so I just went for it!

(Single rider selfie in Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen!)

Solo travel has taught me so much about myself & all that I’m capable of. It has helped me become more introspective & so self aware. And you know what, dear readers? I realized just how truly independent I am. And this lesson transcends more than traveling, it actually says a lot about my relationships with others.

For example: I have officially been single for a while & it used to be hard. I was lonely & craving human companionship. I went back to my grade-school “quantity” fixated self instead of caring about quality. The result was a few people who just weren’t good matches that I was using to fill a void.

Now I have become much more content with my single self & trust that things will work out how they’re supposed to.

And you know what? I don’t even feel “alone” because I’m really not. I am surrounded by so much beauty in the form of loved ones, a fantastic job & new adventures that are always on the horizon! And I am happy with that. 

(The elderly couple who took this photo told me I was so “brave”, I told them I just wanted to see Copenhagen!)

They say you must learn to love yourself before you can love others & I truly believe this. I also think you don’t need to be dependent on someone else for your own happiness. So consider this: how many wonderful things have you missed out on or postponed because of others?

How many times have you said “maybe next year”, “maybe someday”, “maybe when I find someone”?

Do yourself a favor & don’t let that happen anymore.

Stop waiting for your friends to save up to join you on a trip, & stop waiting to find a significant other to take all these dream vacations with. Because “maybe next year” could go on for a long time & soon, before you know it, you’ll be looking back on a life full of regrets.

If you learn to be comfortable with the idea of being alone & solo travel, I promise that life will gift you with so many new friends, memories & adventures waiting around every corner.

You just have to be willing to book that ticket.

JG 🙂

 

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 🙂

 

 

 

Toujours

14 Nov

I am just so in shock right now.

I am hurt, sad, angry, but most of all I am mourning. It doesn’t feel real, it feels like a terrible nightmare that an Atlantic ocean’s distance could allow me to ignore. Because I’m here in Boston, & it’s sunny & I have to start getting ready for work soon, like any other day. But I can’t pretend it didn’t happen–because it did. It’s all over the news, it’s all over the internet, it’s all over social media. And my heart keeps breaking over & over again.

Paris, I have no words, only tears for you right now.

If you have been following my blog for a while, you will have noticed that I have a bit of an “obsession” with the city. Yes, while I love to speak French, own anything Eiffel Tower related & reminisce about that enchanting place–this obsession is much deeper. It’s love. Love I actually cannot describe because I have never felt it before. Love for a place, a technically inanimate object, but for me, I am always able to personify.

Love that is built around experience & atmosphere.An atmosphere that you will never be able to understand unless you’ve been there too.

(First visit: a school trip in 2007 with EF Tours, which is actually the company I currently work for!)

It’s funny, because people always have such polarized opinions about the city. They truly either love it or hate it. They either come back saying the French are rude, the streets are dirty, & they just don’t understand what all the fuss is about or they come back feeling exactly like me. 

Personally, I believe that there are only two types of people: those who love Paris & those who haven’t fallen in love with her yet. 

Like in most literature, Paris has been referred to in feminine pronouns, which is something I have always believed myself. She is undeniably beautiful, but at the same time, she has a sense of pride & sharp wit that can take some time to warm up to.

Parisians themselves, can be a bit like this. They can be “rude” or “rash” but I have always really admired them; they’re proud. They don’t suck up or kiss ass & defend themselves when they’re right. On top of this their culture is centered around so much passion. Passion for good food, passion for quality clothing, passion for fine perfumes, passion for love-making. They truly believe in quality over quantity. This is something I feel can be lost in my own culture at times. Indulgence is for the rich & presentation is not always important. In Paris, I feel that these are things that can be available to anyone. 

Of course, I only realized these things after experiencing some culture shock.

(Second ‘visit’: Spring semester 2012 I studied abroad in Paris)

I have been learning French since I was 8-years-old & after my first trip abroad to the city it was clear where I wanted to go when the time came to study abroad. People asked me, why don’t you go somewhere else? And I considered that, of course, but at the same time, in 2007, I had only gotten a mere taste of Parisian culture, I wanted more.

Paris has a funny way of seducing you like that.

Of course after a few months of the initial “honey moon stage” of culture shock wore off, we were soon at each other’s throats.
“Why doesn’t anyone smile?”

Why do people stare at me all the time/why am I the only blonde here?”

“Why do people glare at me when I speak on the metro?”

“Why do shop employees follow me around in stores?”

“Why do they just let their kids do WHATEVER they want?!”

“Why do people want to debate politics with me?! & Attack me for being American?”

“Why do men feel it’s okay to grab my butt casually on the streets?”

“Why is customer service so obviously NOT a thing here?”

“Why do the Scammers near Eiffel/Sacre Coeur always target me?”

“Does my host mom hate me?! She keeps scolding me!”

Oh yes, this love story was definitely not perfect. There were so many ups & downs & I felt a lot of disconnect. Luckily with 3 of my 5 classes being completely en Francais & my host mom speaking virtually no English, my French was rapidly improving.

*Pro tip: in Paris (& also MANY other cities) simply just attempting the language will get you a drastically different experience*

Parisians are proud, they love their language & culture, they also have to deal with being the TOP tourist destination in the world. Millions of demanding, rude, loud, dirty tourists who sometimes have no respect to their culture or language visit them in droves year round. So if someone has been rude to you on your trip to Paris, please think about what it might have been that you were doing. 

(Third visit: In 2013 there was no other place I would rather celebrate my 23rd birthday. I was living in Prague at this point)

Another great class I was taking while studying abroad was an Anthropology class that compared French & American culture. Soon class by class, each of my previously culture shock questions were slowly answered. I learned to distance myself from my American perspective & instead tried to understand things from a French viewpoint. It’s not easy to do but it certainly helps when you have an awesome host brother & friends to explain along the way.

And slowly but surely, my generalizations turned into understanding & acceptance. 

And this is truly only something that could happen after spending a significant amount of time in another country & also being actively open to walking in someone else’s shoes. It’s not easy, it’s not always comfortable, it maybe feels strange, but I promise at the end you realize just how much we all have in common.

Which is hard because Americans & Parisians are so different, maybe even opposites. Which CAN lead to miscommunication & disagreements. The best analogy I heard in my class in regards to how Americans & the French generally form relationships:

Americans: like a peach, soft & easy to confide with. Makes vague future plans (oh we should totally hang out!) & asks how you’re doing (Good! And you?), but has a hard, hard pit for a core. Very difficult to get in the inner circle of trust.

French (& a lot of other European countries I’ve noticed): like a coconut, hard shell & tough to approach at times (How’s it going? Everything is shit, piss off!). But once you get past the shell, the center is soft & not mention extremely loyal. Every time I travel, I have been amazed again & again of the hospitality of my international friends–even if they’re not my ‘best’ friends! They feed me, let me stay with them, etc. …American friends on the other hand, not exactly the same.

(Fourth visit: stopping by my old school 2 years later in 2014)

Once I got to really know Paris past all the infatuation, it truly did become a deep love. A love that was so strong that it actually began to cloud future relationships.

Upon moving to Prague, I actually really didn’t like it for the first few months. It wasn’t what I expected. Most people had no style, cuisine was so much different & a fun night out was not in some swanky cafe but in a smokey pub. & It wasn’t even Prague’s fault! It’s just that deep down I knew I felt like this because Prague wasn’t Paris. 

I even wrote a post on here “breaking up” with Paris because I felt that it was making me so miserable in Prague. It was like an unhealthy relationship with an ex that was ruining it for me with all future romances.

It sounds cute how I’m wording this but I am 100% serious. This is truly how I felt about this city. So much that when I was beyond broke living in Prague, with limited opportunities for travel, I chose to visit Paris not once but twice. I literally could NOT stay away!

It’s because I don’t just love the city & everything about it–I love who I am when I am there.

I have a level of confidence & courage that I don’t feel anywhere else. I feel comfortable with my body, my directness & sass–things that I don’t always feel at home. I feel a bit invincible.

An example of this would be while studying abroad whenever me & my friends would go out, guys would make a beeline for me (it’s the hair) & I would ask them to buy me a shot (guys don’t even really do that in France!), they would agree & then I would say Non, est pour mes filles aussi (No, & for my girls too). The guy would give me a bit of a wide eyed look, glance at my friends Meaghan & Sam & nod.

Like WHO did I even think I was?!

I am a whole other person in that city, & Paris, it’s all your fault.

(Fifth visit: It was my mom’s second time in the city, but on 10/8/2015, during our Euro Trip, I purposely made us have a 23hr layover here)

Paris has shaped me as a person, & is ingrained in my character. My room is decorated in all mementos & I have literally made a point to travel there once the past four years in a row. And every time I’m there, the feeling comes back. The nostalgia & familiarity of the streets, the beautiful phonetics of the language rolling off my tongue, the scowls & groans on a late metro, the beautiful well-dressed men walking the streets, the delicious food nourishing my palette & I feel home. 

It’s a different home than Prague, a different home then Boston & a different home than my original town of Sutton. But it is definitely a home. 

It is the toughest act to follow, the day dream that is always in my head, the city that strengthened my bond with some of my best friends. Paris is the city where I first found myself & to that I have a fierce loyalty. A loyalty that will always have me sharply defend the stereotypes & plan lengthy itineraries for anyone wishing to travel there.

There is a French word that has always resonated with me: toujours. It means “always” or “every time”. It conveys an idea of permanency; something that never changes.

It’s a difficult & scary concept for me to understand, because I feel I am always changing & have especially changed the most after being in Prague. The idea of staying in one place, making long term binding plans, makes me nervous because after you fly away once, you never want to clip your wings. I have no idea where I will be in 10 years, 5 years, even 1. And I feel foolish or trapped when I’m forced to predict such things. 

Especially with love.

I know that someday I would like to be married, but the fear of permanency makes me apprehensive. But then I realize, I already am in a permanent state of love…with Paris.

And that’s what gives me hope, I say “Paris, je t’aime toujours” (Paris, I love you always) & I know down into the core of my heart that I always will feel this way. And if I can ever hope to find someone else who I feel this type of love for–then they are the one. 

Today I mourn for those lost, those affected & those who love the city just like me. But Paris is proud & Paris is strong. Je suis une americaine, mais aujourd’hui je suis une parisienne. Nous sommes tous parisians.

& I will never stop thinking of you ❤

JG

It’s Never Too Late…

19 Oct

Hello, dear readers! I’m back again to normalcy after a bit of jet-setting, only this time, I wasn’t alone! No, my adventures overseas were accompanied by a very special person–my mom (or as I like to call her, “Mama G“)! Yes, we spent 11 glorious days frolicking around Europe having the BEST time!

As you know, travel is my favorite thing; I love to explore, try new things, meet new people & have life-changing experiences! And while some people think of travel as simply a hobby, I can honestly say that travel is much more than that–travel is my passion. 

Ever since I got on my very first airplane at age 7 to go to Aruba, I was hooked. I loved that feeling in your stomach, comparable to a high speed roller coaster ascent, of the take off; when objects outside the window quickly get smaller & smaller until you pierce the horizon & coast above the clouds. It makes me giggle like a maniac because I am in my element. I am truly happiest at 30,000 feet.

(Although I was also quite happy re-visiting my Prague pub & drinking my beloved Kozel Cerny. Only thing missing: Gillian)

But my love for travel does not stop at flight; no, boats, trains, subways & even buses make me quite happy! I’m serious, I love a good metro system. I guess it’s just the idea of a mini bout of travel paired with some awesome people watching opportunities that makes me content.

As much as I love getting to my destination I always really like being there. In my 24 years of life I have been lucky enough to travel to 13 awesome countries/islands! But for me, this is not enough–I need to see the world.

My mom was a lot like me when she was younger, only she explored the various islands of the Caribbean like I have Europe. She took cruises & went to beaches & just had a great single life. Then she got married. And had kids. And it stopped.

Not going to lie, this is my absolute worst fear right now. To have my wings clipped by pressing responsibility; to lose my curiosity & sense of adventure because of a family.

Luckily for me though, my mom was the one who first gave me these wings.

She fought every ounce of her normally helicopter parent-like tendencies & allowed me to travel when I was 16 to Paris & London on a school trip. Then she allowed me to spend a semester studying in Paris. Then she (very hesitantly) allowed me to move to Prague for a year on my own.

While I love my mom & my family, this love is not enough to keep me forever in one place. But I realized that wherever I traveled to she really was always with me. I thought of her when I saw the beautiful gardens of Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, I made a note to someday show her the picturesque canals of Amsterdam & I really, really, really wanted her to see my new second home, Prague.

Upon returning back home I vowed to someday show her the beauty of Europe, the beauty that I had become so familiar with & grown to love so much. But I didn’t get a chance until this year when fate stepped in & allowed me to share my passion with loved ones forever. 

I knew the first person due for a dream vacation was Mama G. I mean not only has she always been there for me, but she was especially there during this whole dog bite fiasco, so I figured she should be the first to experience the positive effects of a terrible experience.

So I had to plan a special trip, just us two ❤

(We flew on a total of 8 planes in 11 days. Luckily we had our neck pillows, which we wore backwards because that’s 100x comfier) 

Fast-forward through months & months of endless flight planning & accommodation hunting (which I complain about but secretly LOVE to do), I was ready to give her a surprise of a lifetime. I hid various clues over the house & my mom spent her birthday crying tears of joy & disbelief because she would no longer have to live vicariously through anyone anymore.

Soon the day arrived: our trip. We headed to the airport; I had our passports, credit cards, emergency cash, currency converter, camera, basic to intermediate level knowledge of 4 languages, & screenshots of all directions…& my mom had a smile. A smile that did not leave her mouth for the following 11 days & one that I hope doesn’t soon leave her now.

(Mama G approves of the view of our room in Croatia)

We ventured to Dubrovnik, Croatia, & tried black squid ink risotto then swam in the cobalt blue Adriatic Sea (in October!). Then headed up to Prague so I could FINALLY introduce her to my second home (which she loved) for dark beer, strange Czech cuisine, meet ups with friends Brandi & Petr & a fish pedicure (which she didn’t love so much). Then we had a 23 hour layover in my absolute favorite city ever, Paris (I honestly cannot help myself, if I’m in Europe, it’s my guilty pleasure) & slept over in the apartment of my French host brother Simon, who Mama G had never gotten the chance to meet before! We also had lunch with Apolline, (the adorable French girl who allowed me to spend Xmas 2013 with her family since I was too broke to fly home)! Then we concluded the trip in Florence, Italy, aka: Tuscany aka: my mom’s ultimate dream destination! Here we ate our weight in carbs, climbed up the duomo, & had a 4 course gourmet meal in a countryside villa!

(Touching this statue means that she will be back to Prague someday!)

I ended the trip sick as a dog, exhausted & in so much physical pain curled up in the fetal position on a 7 hour flight home. But deep down I was so happy. The trip was SUCH a success & I feel like I gave my mom a new perspective of life–that being that it’s not over for her yet. 

There is a saying she always says: “It is never too late to be what you might have been…” & I feel like this was the motto of her trip.

(This is actually her SECOND visit to Paris! Her & Grampy briefly visited in 2012 when I studied abroad)

Me, I have seen it all before & I will see it again. I have that ambition, that drive, that passion. But I wanted her to know that she can too. She can go anywhere in the world & cross many more items off her bucket list. Anyone can, dear readers. Adventure is literally waiting around every single corner. I believe you just need to be open to it; you need to believe it still can exist for you. 

(‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ is one of Mama G’s fav movies. & Here she is, quite literally, under the Tuscan Sun)

So thus, I have vowed that my future travels will be adventure for me, of course, but also for someone else. Each year I will bring a lucky loved one to a bucket list destination & design a trip just for them. Because for me, dear readers, I know that feeling. The feeling of disbelief when you literally cannot believe you are living out a dream; so what better gift then sharing that experience with someone else?

Up next: Asia, Spring 2016. 

My amazing, youthful, hilarious, loving Grampy has a birthday February. He has always wanted to go to Hong Kong. So guess where he found out this past weekend he will be soon traveling to? We’re also heading to Japan & Thailand along the way!

It will be his 78th birthday & he will finally get to cross off his bucket list dream destination. See, it really is never too late to be what you might have been.

JG 🙂

We’re Just One Big Family

16 Aug

Greetings, dear readers! Another little hiatus from blogging, but it’s such an exciting & special time for my work/personal life right now!

As you may know, I work at an awesome company called EF: Education First in the High School Exchange Year program. To basically give you the quick run down: we work with students ages 15-18 from 13 different countries in Europe & Asia who are coming over to the U.S. to study for a year. We match these students with volunteer host families based on compatibility, hobbies & interests. And we do this all by a summer deadline. Cue me having zero beach days so far & having worked 13 days in a row at one point.

Oh yes, summer is a rough time in the office. But it all paid off. We actually matched all 2,600 students with host families THREE WEEKS before the deadline. This has NEVER been done before by any company! Aka: EF is kinda the biggest (& best) exchange program you could work with 😉

Now that the students are matched the office can exhale for a bit. We met our goal & the excitement is over. But in my opinion, the best part is happening right now! The students are arriving! 

I started working at EF November 2014, which was fun but I didn’t feel too connected to the students or host families. They had been matched for a while & most families were all settled in. But NOW things feel so much different!

After months & months of calling new host families, answering their nervous questions, building their excitement & actually being the one to help them choose their student, I feel so connected to my work. I’m very big on human interactions & perspective & to think that I was the one who had a big hand in creating a new family is so so special!

(My Parisian host family who took a chance on hosting me, Spring 2012)

Because this hits so close to home for me. In college I studied abroad for a semester in Paris, lived with a French host family & had such a great time. My French improved so much & my host brother Simon & I have an incredible bond. (I am actually going to see him this fall when my mom & I head to Europe & she will meet him for the first time ever. So cute!)

Something else you should know about why I’m so happy right now is because my work life is fully intersecting with my personal life in the best way possible! A few months after I started my job, I was working to recruit international exchange coordinators, or IECs as well call them. These people are truly the backbone of our program since they are our field staff, working in their own communities to help us find wonderful host families for students.

I was telling my mom about the position & how great our IECs were & long story short, soon she decided to become one! I worked closely with her over the year hanging posters, setting up booths, & making phones calls. After about a million “no’s” she finally got her first interested host family. Then another, then another, then another! Now there are seven wonderful students who will be under my mom’s supervision for this upcoming school year! They will be living with host families that my mom found & the students are applicants I personally hand-picked after hearing the details of each family! Needless to say, we make a pretty good team!

(Airport arrivals are the absolute cutest thing ever!)

Now I cannot WAIT to meet Gary from Spain, Loredana from Italy, Tzu-Chi “Jessica” from Taiwan, David from Germany, Karlota from Spain, Philine from Germany & David from Spain!

I am so excited to mentor them over the year as if they were my own brothers & sisters. I look forward to seeing how much their English improves & how close they get with their host families. It will be amazing to watch how much their lives change this year. I also cannot wait to see how great this is for the communities since all these students are going to be in towns with very little diversity. They are going to meet people who only read about their countries in newspapers, so any new friendships truly are a form of international diplomacy.

I have said it a million times but travel is the most important thing you could ever do. You see things you never imagined, you try new things you otherwise never would have, & you meet people who you will never forget. Plus I can say from personal experience that travel takes you on a journey long after you’ve arrived back home. It’s a catalyst for more adventures & learning so much about who you are. 

The same goes with study abroad. Sure, host families may feel weird having a ‘stranger’ come to their house at first & the students have all these new cultural differences to adjust to, but once that’s aside we see just how much everyone has in common. How these teenagers coming from strange & distant lands really are just like the ones in your own town.

(Gary & my little brother, Sean, having bro time, bonding over food & sports)

Last night Gary from Spain was the first to arrive. Due to some bad weather, his flight was delayed for several hours. His dad, all the way in Madrid, called my home & spoke to my own dad who assured that Gary was in safe hands. Later when he finally arrived, my family welcomed him with open arms. Even though he is only staying for the weekend until his own host family comes back from vacation, my family just gained a brand new son, brother & friend. 

The other six students will be arriving in the upcoming weeks & I am so excited for them. They may be young but who knows where this experience will take them, what inspiration it will instill in them, or who they will be molded into in the future.

Maybe if they’re lucky they will grow up to work their absolute dream job of helping future nervous exchange students meet anxious host families, smiling fondly on their own time abroad 🙂

JG ❤

p.s. watch this & get ready to cry https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IW-haWMEe4

p.p.s. interested in hosting an exchange student of your own? click here! http://www.efexchangeyear.org/

Life Lessons Abroad: Euro Trip 2015

11 Apr

I’m back! Sorry it took me so long to post about my trip abroad, dear readers, I have been so busy but now here, on this slightly-sorta-not-really hungover Saturday afternoon I finally have time to tell you alllll about it. Are you ready?

First of all, let me say it was in no way a ‘typical vacation’. Typical vacations are relaxing & relatively slow-paced, right? Mine was a non-stop adventure that tested my emotional AND physical limits! I laughed harder & cried longer on those 10 days of traveling more so than I have in months. Whoa, right? I mean you knew it just wouldn’t be a normal trip because,

Jessi + alcohol + old friends + new friends + tax refunds + cheap countries + ex-boyfriend + ex-city + caves = one crazy time!

But being me, I must take a poetic look at my time abroad, & while I would love to just write a travel blog post listing all the things I did, what is more important for you to know is what each experience taught me. Because each of the 3 countries I visited were so different, & they each presented a different life lesson. 

First Stop–>Turkey. Life Lesson: Female/Human Rights Abroad

(Above: Mike & I at the Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey)

Every time I book a trip I always strive to be a thrifty traveler. I would rather have long layovers in a plane, or rough it in a hostel so I can save money for spending during the trip. Turkish Airways has some of the lowest prices of any airline, & I totally recommend them! Cheap prices, EXCELLENT food, comfy seats, & a ton of free swag! However, one of the knocks of Turkish Airways are their infamous long layovers. Typically midway through arriving/departing your destination. These layovers can range from 5 (the WORST) to 23 hours, mine was 17.

For me, long layovers are fun because it’s like a free pass to explore a new city. I had a 22hour layover last year in Dublin, Ireland, when I was moving home from Prague. It was a blast! I got a good night’s sleep, a hot shower & a meal (and an AWESOME night at the pub) in between a long traveling journey! This is a traveling tip I recommend, if you’re up for it.

Anyway, I was excited for my 17 hours in Istanbul, Turkey, because thanks to my global network of friendships, I know someone living there who is basically my brother from another mother. I met Mike when we both got our TEFLs in Prague. Now he has been living & working in Istanbul for almost 2 years. During my long layover he was gracious enough to not only let me sleep on his couch, but actually be my tour guide! He’s the best! We explored the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia & Old Town area. Then we chowed down on an AMAZING dinner.

(Above: Turkish food is delicious! I got the kebab sampler aka: beef, chicken & lamb with veggies, yogurt sauce, rice & that thing on top is ‘Turkish pizza’)

I was really excited about visiting Istanbul. It was the most ‘exotic’ place I have ever traveled & I knew things would be very different. And I was so right. First of all, let me say, this is my opinion based on the few areas I unbiasedly saw in a short amount of time, but what I did see was kind of disappointing. First of all, I didn’t realize how MASSIVE the city is (nearly twice the population of NYC?! NYC pop. = 8.4mill, Istanbul pop. = 14.2 mill!) this would explain how filthy it is. Trash was all over the place, stray dogs & cats roamed freely rummaging through it & the Romany population is overwhelming.

It’s no secret that the Romany people (or “gypsies” according to the ethnic slur) are all over Europe. They swindle, steal & scam; a troublesome minority that a clueless tourist is sure to attract. While I am always sympathetic yet cautious towards Romany people when I travel, in Istanbul the population was so overwhelming it really affected me. I heard that Turkish Romany, like in parts of India, will frequently maim their children in order to get more money/sympathy from tourists (remember Slumdog Millionaire?). It’s a sick & sad practice. During my time in Istanbul, maimed children were everywhere & it broke my heart. So much so that I actually let my walls down & gave them money.

There comes a time when you realize that regardless of what the Romany child/homeless person will use your money for, they are still a person. They are just as human as you are. In Istanbul the most touching moment of this realization was when Mike & I were getting on the tram & there were two boys by the station. They were not begging, they were not pick-pocketing, they were both sitting down, barefoot & shirtless (it was about 50 degrees out & the sun was setting), covering themselves with a single jacket. They chattered away in their language. To me, I saw my two younger brothers.

So I walked over & gave them each the same amount of money (no clue how much it was but Mike said it was enough for them to buy some candy or chips), & their eyes completely lit up. They both smiled widely & thanked me in Turkish to which I replied, “In English, we say ‘thank you’” & I made them each repeat me (once a teacher, always a teacher!), afterwards they said “bye-bye!” to me & as I walked away I could hear the excited tones in their voice, the same tone you would get when your grandparent slipped you $5 when you were 6 years old.

(Above: Just nomming on some corn on the cob outside a giant mosque, sticking out like a sore thumb!)

While this exchange was one of my favorite moments in Istanbul, I have to admit there were a few other things that happened which changed my mood. Most memorably, Mike & I were walking around the shops of Old Town, browsing the beautiful souvenirs (in the broad daylight), when I was discretely harassed.

Let me be clear: I know I stick out in Europe. I have blonde hair, blue eyes & am not stick-thin like everyone else. In Italy I get hissed at, in Paris I get fondled walking on the street & sitting on the metro & in other countries I have been on the receiving end of awful comments from men who are extremely aggressive.

This used to really scare me. It made me nervous & worried & to this day I avoid the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris. However, since moving back to Boston I have become a strong feminist. I have confronted my cat-callers & stood up for myself. But while I was in Istanbul I sank right back into my terrified little shell. 

Maybe it’s because you think you’re safe in certain areas, you think you’re okay in the daylight, you think at the very least no one will try anything when your male friend is right next to you. But this wasn’t the case in Istanbul. Because I was walking alongside Mike in a crowded tourist area at 4:00pm & I feel somebody smack my butt. At first I was shocked & thought maybe someone just bumped into me because it was so crowded. But then it happened again followed by laughter. I immediately spun around to confront my assaulter & there was 4 of them. Four boys my age.

I wanted to throw something at them, I wanted to violently attacked them, but I didn’t do anything. I glared & turned around & they continued snickering in the opposite direction. What do you do in a situation like this? And from then on, my trip changed. I was nervous when it got darker & was constantly looking over my shoulder. The damage was done. 

The next day, at 6:00am, I take the metro 4 stops to the airport alone. Men watch me struggle with my luggage like I am a circus creature. They do not just stare at me on the subway, they leer at me. They see I am uncomfortable about being watched (something they seem to find funny) & still refuse to turn away. People on escalators ahead of me actually turn around to watch me. I wanted to scream out at them to f**k off, but I am honestly nervous of what will happen as a result.

Every woman I come across (most in hijab & fully shrouded in black) cling close to their husbands & keep their eyes to the ground. I left Istanbul with a bad taste in my month, & while I love you, Mike, & I had fun, I can honestly say I don’t think I’ll be back :/

Second Stop–> Czech Republic. Life Lesson: Fact is Stronger Than Nostalgia 

Next I flew to Prague. And this was THE FIRST time I have been back since I moved back home last June. It has almost been one year that I have been away from my old city & I had no idea how much I missed it. It’s always such a strange feeling to be back in a place with so many memories. Some people have come & gone, some things have changed, but overall nothing really has. My neighborhood (Jiriho Z Podebrad for lifeee) was still the same, Charles Bridge was still packed with tourists, the same people were still working at Gillian & I’s favorite pub, Svichkova was just as delicious as I remembered & all my friends were still just as awesome as when I left.

(Above: The Jiriho z Podebrad neighborhood is not traditionally beautiful, but the distinct church & perfectly hideous Zizkov TV Tower were wonderful landmarks in my old Prague neighborhood)

I’m not going to lie, I was pretty nervous about coming back to Prague. I just had such mixed feelings, mostly because this was the first time I would be re-united with the city, my friends who still resided there & the ex-love of my life, Filip. As you may remember, Filip & I ended our relationship back in December when the long distance became too much with our hectic schedules. It was a break-up technically, but I guess for me it was just pressing pause on things until we could re-unite. Sure, I tried to move on with other people, but the effort was so half-hearted & I always found myself hoping we could somehow get back together. Filip’s sent me very mixed signals prior to my trip, but promised to host me.

He picked me up at the airport & everything was like old times again. It was just as I had hoped. We got lunch & I was reunited with the delicious Svichkova & finally drank my beloved Kozel Cerny! But something felt off. Talking to Filip more & more, I realized just how different he was. Long painful story short, after more discussion I realized my greatest fear: we were not at all on the same page & he was completely over me. It was done, officially over & there was no more hope 😦

I know you probably have no sympathy for me, because it’s like, ‘Well you did break up, Jessi, of course he will move on’, but let me just say, this was the greatest relationship of my life. This person was not only my best friend & greatest love they helped me survive. They were my biggest support system through so much when I was so alone & the relationship ended simply because of distance. Sometimes I wish something dramatic would have happened, I wish someone cheated or lied or backstabbed so I could just dismiss it & hate him forever. But it ended with me still so in love with him. And even though you know circumstances are impossible, it still hurts so much to watch someone you’re still in love with move on from you. It hurts to think about them being with someone new. It hurts to feel them forget you. 

It also hurts to travel 3,000 miles to be reunited face-to-face for the first time in 4 months in a city where everything reminds you of them only for them to pat you on the back as you sob, saying ‘Don’t worry, you’ll find someone else’.

Yeah, it hurts like hell. But it was also something I really needed. Because that little sliver of hope locked deep within my heart was holding me back. It was making me closed off to anyone new, it was keeping me in one place. And now that it’s shattered–I am free. I can actually move on to new things. 

I realize this now, but in the moment, between the jet lag & dehydration, it was all too much for me to handle.

I knew I needed to get out of there. 

I thanked Filip for his offer to host me, but there was no way I could stay with him that week, I needed some distance in order to maintain sanity. So, like Prague always has, it continued to shelter & protect me with the help of two of my closest friends.

I met Brandi when I got my TEFL in Prague, but even before we arrived I knew we were one of the same. Weeks leading up to the course we excitedly messaged on Facebook from different coastlines of the country about the life-changing experience. Brandi is from Seattle & is one hell of a strong woman. During her time in Prague she began a new life, now living with her awesome boyfriend Honza (who I drunkenly introduced her to one night 😉 ) & even flew her two cats to Prague to live with her. Brandi has always been a great shoulder to cry on. She’s compassionate & nurturing, & even though she’s only a few years older than me, she served as a second mother to me in Prague. 

She was the first person I messaged after my fight with Filip. I stood in a nearby cafe to steal fuzzy wifi pleading with her to let me spend the night while bawling my eyes out. And like a true friend for life she said to come right over. I quickly packed an overnight bag (too shaken up to take all my luggage) & commuted 40mins across the city to her apartment.

(Brandi & I during a way too wild TEFL party in August 2013…)

(…And just last week. I love this girl for life!)

I ended up spending the whole 5 days I was in Prague sleeping on her comfy couch, cuddling her two cats & having much needed girl time. The thing I love about Brandi so much is how nurturing she is. Instead of lecturing me, she listened as I fell apart for the next two days & cried actual gallons of tears. It is exactly what I needed & Brandi, I can never thank you enough for always being & continuing to be such a good friend to me. Love you, girl!

As for Filip & I, we were able to end it on decent terms. After I had a good cry, I realized this was the closure I needed. Everyone hopes to be friends after a break-up, but it’s not always easy, especially when it’s with someone who you were never actually friends with. We met at a bar, spent the weekend together & I promptly fell in love. But I do not look back on things with any sort of ill-will, he was there for me when I needed him in my life & now it’s time to move on.

After I was done going through this emotional roller coaster, I realized that this was my vacation. And I wasn’t about to spend it moping around, dammit! So the next day I had some ME time. I walked around the city all day, visiting landmarks, exploring new streets, buying souvenirs & just being so happy to be alive. So invigorated in the moment & environment. It was great!

That day Brandi & I took a day trip to Kutna Hora, a village about 1 hour outside of the city. For someone who lived in Prague for almost a full year, it’s embarrassing how little ‘tourist things’ I’ve done. One of those things being visiting Kutna Hora’s infamous bone church!

(Above: The eerie Bone Church in Kutna Hora is about 1 hour outside of Prague. Made with 40,000 skeletons it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site)

Although the church took us a whole 10 minutes to explore, Brandi & I had a great time hanging out in a nearby pub. Pub life is one of the biggest things I miss about Prague. I can’t explain it to you if you don’t understand it, because it doesn’t sound that great. You sit in a no-frills restaurant, drowning in second-hand smoke, sipping massive beers, eating super filling food as people/dogs/babies/children sit around you. And it’s awesome. Pubs are a big part of Czech culture & I have yet to find something to mirror this in the U.S. A place where I can drink 5+ extremely cheap beers without judgement, & have philosophical or political discussions speaking at normal Jessi volume (aka: LOUD). Please let me know if something like this exists in Boston, okay?

The next day I spent some more time walking around the city exploring, but the best part of the day was my reunion with the one & only Gillian!

If you have been following this blog for a while then you understand the awesomeness that is Gillian Bradford. She is this cool punk rock Californian who used to be my assistant boss (for a short period of time) at that hell hole of a school I used to work at in Prague. She was the one who lectured me about life & served as an unwavering source of support. I could always count on Gillian to give it to me straight but at the same time always have my back. She truly is the cooler older sister I never had. 

Meeting up with Gillian was so much more exciting because we were going to be meeting up at OUR PUB.

Originally when I started working at Keytone Preschool I obviously had no idea wtf I was doing. My boss was insane & provided no guidance or support for me. One day Gillian (who just happened to live the next street over from me) asked to meet me at this nearby pub for a “work meeting”. The meeting was her warning me to step it up or I would get fired. In actuality my boss was just insane because I’m a great teacher & Gillian & I promptly got drunk discussing her insanity. And a beautiful friendship was born. 

(Above: Gillian models our ‘receipt’ in the our pub. All those tallies are our beers. Needless to say, it was a good night)

During my time in Prague, even after Gillian epically told our boss off & quit her job, we still remained very close. We still had weekly ‘work meetings’ at the same pub & those were probably some of my best memories of living in the city. Gillian is smart, fearless & has lived all over the world. Gillian is the woman I want to become. And she has mentored me through all my life obstacles & is one of the main reasons I grew so much during my time abroad.

So it was so wonderful to be reunited! Like most of our adventures, we say it will be ‘an early night’, which is code for I won’t get home until 3am. Obviously this happened & in the course of the THREE pubs/bars we visited that night, we had so many adventures. Multiple acquaintances, a ton of dogs in the pub, one non-stop/strip club/slot machine venue, one gay club piano bar & a few new friends. I had the hangover of my life the next day, but this night spent with Gillian was emotionally healing. From Filip, from personal obstacles, from all the disconnect I have felt since moving back home, I feel so much better.

Thank you, Gillian! You are, & continue to be, one of the most fantastic people I have ever met in my life.

And so Prague ended on a high note! Even though it started pretty low, I left the city realizing just how much I absolutely love it there. Upon leaving last summer, everyone asked me why. At that time I felt like I had my fill of Prague & the Czech attitude & the impossible job situation, but now I feel like I could very easily move back someday. I went through all the growing pains & am now in a great place with the city where I know how life works there & if I spoke more Czech feel like I have a real shot at happiness. So who knows what the future holds  😉

Third Stop —> Budapest. Life Lesson: Being Alone Is Not So Bad

The next day, after saying all my good-byes to Prague & vowing to return soon, I hopped on an 8 hour bus ride to Budapest alone. Yes, EIGHT hours. Like I left at 10:30am & arrived at 6:30pm. This may sound draining or daunting, but for me it wasn’t so bad!

First off, buses are always cheaper than planes or trains, like significantly cheaper. So yes, I could have taken a $200 1 hour flight or a $100 4 hour train ride, but instead I took a $30 8 hour bus ride. But I was prepared, I booked Student Agency! They are the best bus line in all of Europe. I have taken their competitor Eurolines in the past ( 10 hours from Paris to Amsterdam with NO BATHROOM) & will never go back. Student Agency hooks you up, not only do you get a bathroom, you get a tv screen in the seat in front of you, & a complimentary newspaper/beverage (aka: the BEST hot chocolate!). Plus you get a break midway to stretch your legs. So honestly my journey wasn’t that bad!

I was journeying down to Budapest because I had heard great things about the city. Hungary may not be on anyone’s initial dream destination list, but it’s cheap, has great architecture & yes, fantastic food. I was headed alone only because my friend Alex, who is currently teaching in Barcelona, wasn’t able to come with me last minute. While I was sad that she couldn’t go, & apprehensive about spending Easter alone, I wasn’t too worried.

Because solo travel is awesome.

To some this sounds crazy. I can remember when I was studying abroad, I would meet people in my hostel who had been traveling alone for months. “But aren’t you lonely?!” I asked, “Don’t you want someone to share these memories with!?” But it wasn’t until I was forced to travel by myself that I found these answers.

You are never alone in the world. 

When in Prague I had to take a solo 24 hour trip to Vienna in order to apply for my visa. I was a bit nervous about going alone, & of course my mom was straight up panicking, but I had a great time! The beauty of solo travel is you have the most flexible schedule. You can literally do whatever you want! And from past experiences with stressful overwhelming travel companions, I can honestly say having the freedom to choose is liberating. 

(Above: Fall 2013, my solo trip to Vienna lead me to the beautiful Schonbrunn Palace, which was 10 mins from where I got my visa!)

I booked a hostel with great reviews, knowing that I am a social person & would meet new friends. And then after visiting the consulate, I spent the rest of my time in Austria walking around the mesmerizing Schonbrunn Palace Gardens taking it all in! Short but sweet!

I knew my time in Budapest would be similar, I just had to prepare. I booked 3 nights at the Home Plus Hostel, which has very high reviews on the always trusty HostelWorld.com, & then knew I had to plan another unique excursion to distract me from any loneliness I might feel on Easter. I consulted the wonderful Trip Advisor (I know, PR plugs left & right, but I’m being legit here), for a different sort of adventure then just visiting tourist sights or seeing the bathhouses.

I came across Caving Under Budapest which was a very different kind of city tour to say the least. From reading the reviews I gathered that for just $40, I could spend 2.5 hours exploring the underground caves with a guide & a small spelunking team. I am not an adrenaline junkie by any means but this was one of those once in a lifetime travel moments so I apprehensively booked the tour!

My time in Budapest was so fun. My hostel was perfect & I met SO MANY NEW FRIENDS on their pub crawl (although Prague Pub Crawl is obviously better, but hey, I’m biased). I tried new foods, explored the picturesque Buda Castle, Chain Bridge & Hungarian Parliament Building areas & my Easter dinner consisted of a traditional 3-course Hungarian meal for only $9.

(Above: Windy selfies at the Hungarian Parliament building!)

(Above: Buda Castle is a total CAN’T-MISS)

While I was enjoying my time in Budapest, I was a little nervous about my upcoming caving adventure. I had scheduled it for my last full day in Europe, hoping it would serve as a sort of grand finale for the trip. The day of I was so worried! I couldn’t eat anything & was this close to backing out. I found one of the downsides of solo travel: when you sign up for things alone, you are the only one motivating yourself to follow-through with them! That day I wished I had a friend who was relying on me to accompany them in the caves, but nope, it was all me.

And the reasons why I was freaking out so much was not the typical ones. I was not worried about my safety, was not questioning my claustrophobia, no, I was panicking about caving so much because I was 100% convinced I would get stuck. I was worried I was too big, my hips were too wide & I was not athletic enough to complete the tour. And it sounds absolutely ridiculous now typing it out & admitting it. I knew people who completed the caving experience but they were petite & athletic & for them it was a challenge. 

One of the things my super adventurous 76-year-old-going-on-16 Grampy always says is, “If someone else can do it, so can I!” While my rationale is not as positive, I did have to fully consider the fact that I had already told everyone I was going to do this, yes, so it would be embarrassing if I chickened out, but more so I would be totally letting myself down & would regret passing on a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

So, after this mini soul searching pep talk, I grabbed my things & was off.

(Above: More terrified than I look, but there was no turning back now!)

I arrived at the meeting spot where we were greeted by our caving tour guide. He was a cheerful awesome Hungarian man. He took us on two different buses until we were in the outskirts of the city. We were divided into 3 groups of 10 & suited up in our jumpsuits & helmets. I began to relax & pictured how much fun I would be having. 

Soon we were in the caves, for a split second it’s overwhelming. You realize it’s pitch black & you’re trapped inside, but then you just have to breathe & keep going. At the beginning of the tour you climb down this rickety metal ladder about 30 feet into the mouth of the cave. At that moment there is truly no turning back. For the next 2.5 hours I got the workout of my life. We climbed over rocks, slid down tunnels, army crawled underneath rocks & then in the toughest spots shimmied through crevices. It was exhausting. Even though it’s chilly because you’re so far underground, you are sweating like maniac. Your elbows & knees & legs get bruised. You hit your head numerous times & are covered in dirt (good thing for the caving gear!).

After each set of obstacles our guide would give us a breather & tell us some history about the caves. It was fascinating. He was funny & so positive, he really helped motivate me through the whole thing. There were a few times where the words “I can’t” escaped my lips. They were met by an extended hand from my guide, a push upwards from a fellow caver behind me & kind words of encouragement from the others. This was more than a tour, it was a bonding experience. 

(Above: Headed straight down in a tight tunnel)

(Above: Taking a breather with our guide while the rest of group completes the climb)

I am not going to lie, there was one time during this experience when that viscous little voice returned. It was during the tightest descent in the whole tour. We went one-by-one down the tunnel, our guide telling us to lay sideways & use both legs & arms to propel our bodies. It started fine, but then the space got tighter & tighter & soon my wide ‘child-bearing’ hips were completely stuck. And the voice whispered to me that this was it, I was stuck, I was too fat to do this & I was holding the group back.

But before I could be affected, my guide came to the rescue. In the calmest, most cheerful voice imaginable, he silenced the cruel words & instructed me to wiggle my hips & use my hands to push off while he literally grabbed my legs & pulled me through. And in an instant it was over. I had made it through the most challenging part of the cave. I could have hugged him. Because overcoming that simple obstacle was a massive victory for my self-esteem. The rest of the trek was easy & soon it was over.

Afterwards I was sweaty, dusty & staving. Me & some fellow cavers ventured back into the city for dinner. We found an awesome restaurant & spent the next few hours laughing & sharing stories.

(Above: New friends from all corners of the world share a great meal together. This is why I travel!)

There was a couple from England & 3 friends from Singapore. Since we had all survived the caves, it was like we were already old friends! This was the perfect last night of my vacation because it was a culmination of why I travel! The couple will hopefully visit me in Boston this summer, too!

So there you have it, dear readers! I told you, it was one heck of an adventure, right? I feel like it was just what I needed. I found closure, re-connected with old friends, visited old places & some new ones & made so many great new friends who I will hopefully have future adventures with! Thank you to everyone reading this who made my trip so special! Please know that you are always welcome to come visit me!

And while it may seem like my adventures are over for now, you know that the CzechItOut Blog will still live on! I am a world citizen with insatiable wanderlust & I am already planning my next trip!

So until then, stay tuned for all the exciting things that lie ahead! 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 🙂