A Taste of Reality

When I started Tuesdays with Jordan at the end of my freshman year, I intended to create a place to house the memories I’d make over the remainder of my college experience. I felt that I had grown so much in my first year away from home that I was bound to develop exponentially over the next few years. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but I’ve always felt that the power of words can create an infinite number of pictures. I wanted to be sure that as the photos lightened and memories faded, the sentiment of my life’s critical moments weren’t lost.

Over the past few months, I haven’t written once. That was something else I promised myself; Tuesdays with Jordan wouldn’t become another assignment or chore. When I felt like writing, I’d write. When I didn’t, I wouldn’t. This summer, it was partly that I didn’t feel like it, and partly that I didn’t have the time.

When I say I didn’t have time, I know that’s not entirely true. I didn’t have any fewer minutes this summer than I’ve had during any other period of my life; there’s always 24 hours per day, 1,440 minutes, 86,400 seconds. But this summer has been different from any other time in my life because I truly got a glimpse of what it’s like to be in the “real world.” And the pace of the real world is FAST.

Being immersed into post-grad life this summer has provided me with more awareness than I’ve gathered in 16 years of school. Through these past ten weeks, I have been given a glimpse into what life will be like after college.

I’ve always been someone who is eager for the next phase of life. In eighth grade, I fantasized about walking the halls of the high school across the street, taking fascinating classes like Contemporary Issues and A.P. Spanish instead of the dull middle school subjects of Social Studies and Algebra. The next year, I set my heart on Vanderbilt and spent the following four years dreaming about being a college student in the South, where I’d live within the enchanted walls of a dorm room, spend Friday afternoons playing Frisbee on a perfectly manicured lawn, and write an internationally acclaimed book in my free time. Once my freshman year at Vanderbilt began and the reality of college set in, I started browsing the pages of the Vanderbilt Global Education Office website, wondering whether in two years I’d be passing the Eiffel tower on my way to class or taking a gondola through the streets of Venice to dinner each night. Quickly, I found that Barcelona would be my city of choice with the opportunity to become immersed in a vibrant culture in a place where wine was supposedly cheaper than water. And before I knew it, I was exiting the BWI airport last December, home from four months abroad in Barcelona, realizing I was halfway through my junior year and therefore closer to college graduation than I was to high school graduation. Naturally, I started thinking about my next step: post-grad life.

As spring turned to summer and my internship commenced, the reality of post-grad life set in. Within weeks I realized that just like school doesn’t end when the professor walks out of the lecture hall, work doesn’t conclude at 5:00pm. While I was no longer worried about grades and professors, I was now preoccupied with bi-weekly performance reports and bosses. And instead of living in a building that houses all of my best friends, I was now in a city with just a handful of acquaintances. And when I’d stop and think about the fact that I only have one year left of school and forty years left of work, I was suddenly not so desperate to grow up. For the first time in my life, I was anxious for what’s next.

This summer has been incredible. I experienced all of the exciting parts of growing up from living in a bustling city to taking a train to work to being challenged in a job that I enjoyed. As I slid on my cropped pants and buttoned my business casual blouses each morning, I felt like a girlboss in every sense of the phrase. I wore my Deloitte badge like an Olympic medal, giving me access to the building that housed the most intelligent, innovative people I have ever met. I spent Friday evening happy hours chatting with colleagues ten and twenty years my senior, feeling like I fit in just right.

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I also found that you’re never too old to make new friends. From a relatively randomly selected roommate to a fellow Vanderbilt intern who I’d never spoken to at school, this summer brought me incredible friendships that wouldn’t have emerged back in Nashville thanks to the tightly knit circles already formed on campus.

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On weekends, I explored the streets of Atlanta like a true new city dweller, finding favorite restaurants in my neighborhood (Babalu) and establishing the best places to take friends when they visited (Ponce City Market). I acted like a tourist on Saturday mornings by hiking Stone Mountain and playing kickball in Piedmont Park, followed by visiting the famous Coke Museum and Georgia Aquarium on Sunday afternoons. I sipped drinks by the pool of my building, chasing the sun as it hid behind the walls of the towering surrounding apartment complexes, and sang karaoke to celebrate my 21st birthday in the basement of a crowded Atlanta bar.

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I am so thankful for this summer for so many reasons. For pushing me outside of my comfort zone, for challenging my preconceived notion of the charm of post-grad life. For bringing me new friends, and for filling my camera roll with new memories. But most of all, I’m grateful for the summer that made me want to live in the moment. Although I’m in no way dreading life after college, I’m no longer in a hurry to finish up. My taste of reality this summer will push me to savor each moment of senior year and to seize every opportunity. I will no longer be the girl who is wishing days away, but the one who is hanging on to the last minute of each experience.

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And when senior year comes to an end, I hope that I’ll realize that the next chapter won’t be so bad. However, it will be different, and that’s okay.

xoxo,
jordan

Double Dutching

Last week, I embarked on my 5th trip across the pond and landed in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport for the 5th time (so maybe this is quintuple dutching, not double dutching). Although visiting Knut is no easy task, the travel process has definitely gotten easier as I have gotten more used to it. I have finally figured out the key to falling asleep on the plane (purposeful pre-trip sleep deprivation) and to getting a decent meal on that long flight (packing lunch/dinner at home and rejecting the plane food). Although this trip did include a fun weekend in France, I spent the majority of my time in the Netherlands. Each time I visit Knut in Rotterdam, we do much of the same everyday activities, but we have recently been making an effort to do something different. Since this visit took place in spring – also know as the prime time for Dutch tulip season – we took a day trip to Keukenhof, the famous Dutch tulip garden.

Keukenhof

For those visiting the Netherlands during springtime, I would definitely consider stopping by this sea of colorful flowers. However, if you’re looking for an eventful activity, this probably isn’t the place. Visiting Keukenhof consists of walking through a slow, relaxing environment. We essentially spent our afternoon there chatting, while also stopping to snap a few photos. I wouldn’t say it was anything extraordinary, but I’m really happy that we made the trip out there because tulips are such a typical part of the Netherlands and I was finally able to see what all the hype is about.

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Delft

After Knut spent the morning working and I went on my classic run around Kralingse Plas, we took another day trip to Delft. Delft is the home city to that classic Dutch blue and white painted pottery, Delftware. In Delft, we grabbed lunch and then enjoyed walking through the narrow, quiet streets. Although much smaller than the Dutch capital, Delft has its own quaint cobblestone streets and charming canals. We didn’t do anything particularly exciting in Delft, but it was nice to see another city in the Netherlands. One of my favorite parts about travel is wandering through streets with no agenda, and Delft gave us the opportunity to do just that. We were a little lost and not rushed in the slightest, giving us the chance to just talk and explore with no clear objective in sight. As this trip took place between final exams and the upcoming start of my summer internship, it was the perfect escape from time and schedules.

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Amsterdam

Knut studies in Rotterdam, however Amsterdam is just a quick 1-hour train ride away. Therefore, we’ve always made a day trip (or two) to the Dutch capital when I visit. For some reason, each time I visit Amsterdam, I like it even more. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that I now have other European cities to compare it to or just that the city is growing on me, but it has really become one of my favorite cities in the world. I absolutely love the Dutch bike culture, which is blindingly apparent in Amsterdam with potentially more bikes than people in sight at any moment. Furthermore, the cobblestone streets and canal houses make some of the most picturesque city streets that I have ever seen. In fact, the city looks more like an oversized town because there aren’t skyscrapers taking over the sky nor cars polluting the streets. As a total foodie, I also appreciate the unique, trendy restaurants and cafes that have popped up in the city. Knut and I had lunch at the now Facebook-famous The Avocado Show, where every dish includes the trendy green super food. Knut got The Bun Burger, which is exactly what it sounds like: a burger in which the bun is a full avocado. I opted for something a bit more typical, getting the CAT Sandwich, which is a pieced of toast topped with sliced Chicken (C), Avocado (A), and Truffle (T). As I have seen The Avocado Show appear in countless social media posts, I was debatably more excited for the restaurant than actually visiting the city. That being said, wandering through Amsterdam was absolutely perfect as it was sunny and uncharacteristically 81 degrees.

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We finished the day by meeting up with some of Knut’s friends who were barbequing and swimming at Kralingse Plas (along with what seemed like every other person in Rotterdam), and then inviting everyone over to Knut’s apartment to hangout on his rooftop porch.

Rotterdam

Thus far, I have talked about doing something in just about every place we went except for the place that Knut lives: Rotterdam. Although it may not sound like it, we did spend the majority of the time in Rotterdam, it was just mostly spent on eating meals, running around the lake, and doing work, therefore most of our time in Rotterdam is not as exciting to read about as our day trips. However, we did spend the last day of my visit doing some fun Rotterdam things.

You may have heard about the High Line in New York City, which Knut and I visited in July of 2015. It’s essentially an old above ground railroad track that has been converted into an elevated linear park. I had once read in an airplane magazine that Rotterdam also had one, but none of Knut’s friends seemed to know about it. Despite the “warning signs”, we set out to explore Hofbogen (Rotterdam’s version of the High Line). Unfortunately, there was not much to see. Between the peeling yellow paint of the walkway and the short distance of the path, it was not exactly something that I would recommend seeing. That being said, we did pass some cool street art and I was able to check out an area that I had been interested in seeing for over a year. Luckily, I had a back-up plan and we hopped on the train toward Fenix Food District.

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Home cooked meal

The Fenix Food District was something I found on Rotterdam’s tourism website and proved to be quite cool. It’s an old warehouse converted into an indoor area with different cafes, a brewery, a cheese shop, a bookshop, and other unique stores. After getting coffee and cookies at Jordy’s Bakery, we headed to the outdoor patio and enjoyed our afternoon snack amongst a crowd of Rotterdam professionals who were winding down with a beer after work.

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Although it may sound strange, the 20-hour trip involved in visiting Knut has become quite normal for me. I don’t love sitting in airports and on airplanes for so long, but as I said in my last post, I am so thankful for the opportunity this relationship has given me to see the world. This upcoming semester, Knut will be studying abroad at the University of Michigan; therefore my European travels will be slowing down. With one year left before I start living in the “real world”, I am hoping to make the most of student life and see more U.S. cities. As much as I love seeing different countries and cultures, I recognize that the U.S. is one of the most diverse nations in the world and has so many interesting places to offer and people to see. Some top cities on my list include Charleston, San Francisco, and Chicago. Let me know if you have any tips about what to do in those cities, or tips on other U.S. cities to see! For now, I’ve got less than 2 weeks left until I leave for Atlanta, so I will be spending my time laying by the pool, catching up with high school friends, and reading as many books as humanly possible before I get busy with work.

xoxo,

jmd

nothing but nice

As this trip marks my fifth visit to Rotterdam, I’m really starting to feel quite familiar with the city. I have a favorite place, which doubles as my running route, Kralingse Plas (the lake next to Knut’s apartment), I have friends to chat with when we attend RSM (Rotterdam School of Management) house parties, and I have my own “OV” – the Dutch public transport card. Rotterdam has definitely grown on me in the past 2 years, and although it’s not as exciting as Amsterdam, it definitely has a charm that is unmatched to the Dutch capital. During this trip, I’ve been able to enjoy some of my favorite parts about visiting Knut at school, which include running around Kralingse Plas, enjoying the annual home cooked meal curated by Melvin, Thomas, and Joep (during each of my visits, these three boys have made the point to cook an increasingly more elaborate dinner for Knut and me), and attending a typical RSM house party (where I’m able to chat with Knut’s friends). Experiencing the social life of a European school – especially one with an international program – lends such an interesting perspective about how other university students across the world have fun. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s always so refreshing to hang out with a group that includes such a blend of cultures as his primary group of friends come from the Netherlands, Germany, Singapore, Spain, Hungary, Poland, and South Korea.

As for what I’ve been up to, whenever I visit Knut in May, we tend to take a quick “holiday” to a Mediterranean destination. Last year, we chose the Amalfi Coast, and this year we chose the French Riviera (partly based on its attractiveness and partly based on the cheap airfare from Amsterdam to Nice. Speaking of airfare, that’s such an important travel tip. Airfare tends to make up the bulk of travel expenses, so if you’re not dead set on a specific city, searching around isn’t a bad idea – that way you can splurge on important things, like endless gelato.)

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Castle Hill // Nice, France

We took an evening flight, so our first “day” in Nice was quite quick. We landed, checked into our fabulous Airbnb in Old Town, and set out for dinner in our neighborhood. Old Town, or Vieille Ville, is the most charming part of Nice with colorful buildings and local sandwich and gelato shops on every corner. It breathes an Italian air, making it feel much more like Naples than Paris (in my opinion).

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Old Town Market // Nice, France

The next morning, we woke up and Knut ran to the store and made omelettes for us in our Airbnb while I snuck in a quick Kayla workout in the tiny living room. You might think it’s strange that I’d think to workout on vacation, but I genuinely enjoy it. I definitely inherited my dad’s love of fitness, and I was happy to fit in a quick strength workout before setting out on a day of walking around Nice. Plus, there’s something about keeping to my routine while I travel that eases any travel jitters. Finishing my workout with a homemade omelette made me feel like we were a true French couple gearing up for a typical Sunday morning in Nice.

After grabbing a coffee to-go, we made our way to the Old Town food and flower market. Here, we walked through the promenade and enjoyed the colorful background of fruits and flowers. We continued to wander through the streets during the morning, and then climbed the endless stairs to Castle Hill where we took in some breathtaking views of the Mediterranean city. Post climbing, we grabbed a sandwich and salad to-go and headed to the beach to get some sun. After realizing that our afternoon boat tour was canceled, we spent the rest of the day exploring the city. We grabbed an afternoon coffee and then went back to the apartment to get ready for our evening. Our Airbnb hosts kindly left us a bottle of rosé (don’t worry, the drinking age is 18 here), so we went down to the beach and had a pre-dinner drink. We then proceeded to have dinner at Olive&Artichaut, where I reserved us a table weeks ago, and enjoyed an absolutely delicious meal. After dinner, we treated ourselves to gelato from the famous Fenocchio and then headed home.

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As Nice is small enough to explore in a day, we spent our second full day in the French Riviera visiting Monaco. To be honest, I liked Nice much better than this boujee city. Monaco was just as obnoxiously wealthy as I had heard with expensive cars zooming by and castle-like mansions around every bend. The city is preparing for the Grand Prix, so the construction around the winding roads was a bit of a bummer. We spent our day walking through Monte Carlo and seeing all of the typical sights, as well as enjoying a great lunch along Larvotto Beach. Later, we took the train back to Nice, repeated our wine on the beach pre-dinner hour, and then headed to another neighborhood in Nice for a fantastic last dinner. La Femme du Boulanger (“the baker’s wife”) specializes in fancy bruschetta dishes that include produce chosen daily from the Old Town market. Our meals were exceptionally fresh and the chocolate mousse that we topped it off with was delectable. It was both of our favorite nights by far.

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Monaco

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Larvotto Beach, Monaco

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Today, our last day, we took things a bit slower. After waking up and checking out of our Airbnb, we headed to the beach for a day in the sun. We picked up a sandwich and salad to-go for lunch again and enjoyed them on the beach before making our way back to the port for our boat tour (this time not canceled).

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The hour-long boat tour gave us a nice view of the city from the sea and was a perfect end to our trip. We finished the day with a classic afternoon coffee and then made our way to the airport.

As I’m writing this from Knut’s Rotterdam apartment with tanned skin and a slightly sunburnt scalp, I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to travel and tell these stories. Although I’m only seeing small slices of the world and I know I’m no expert in other countries or cultures, I think there’s a lot to learn through visiting different places. Over the past 2 years, travel has gone from something that I yearned for to something that I actually practice. My parents have supported my trips (especially when I studied abroad), but I’ve also saved up (and spent) much of my own money in order to see Knut as often as I do. My point is that whatever you’re hoping to do, do it! I never thought I’d be someone who visits Amsterdam (an 18 hour trip) more than New York City (a mere 5 hour drive from my house), but alas here I am. Catch me next week for my adventures in the Netherlands featuring Rotterdam, Keukenhof, Delft, and Amsterdam. Bonjour!

xoxo,
jmd

cheers!

And so my sixteenth year of school is over. To think that I’ve spent the majority of my life in school and now only have one year left is quite insane. I’m starting to become a real human and it’s both exciting and scary. Although I’ve officially put dorm room living and shower shoe wearing behind me, I’ve still got one summer left as a “kid” before entering the big, bad real world. Or maybe I’ve already entered it? But not really. I can’t even legally drink or rent a car in the U.S., so I still feel young. But I also own a business wardrobe and I signed the lease to an apartment, and that’s some real big girl stuff. This is such a weird age. Anyway, I don’t really want to think about this too much.

Back to summer. It’s summer!! The first days of summer break have forever been such an exciting time. That freeing feeling of tossing out folders, 5 star notebooks, and dull pencils with the worn away erasers could never get old. Whether it’s 2nd grade end-of-year ice cream parties or junior year in college late night dorm room chats, that last day of school brings that distinct sense of relief mixed with energy. As discussions of summer camps while licking popsicles have turned into conversations about internships while sipping on sangria (although not for me, the seemingly sole 20-year-old junior in college), that summer sensation remains the same.

Throughout childhood, summer always brought the opportunity to stock up on new books, perfect my underwater handstand, and make new friends while braiding hair within the musty cabins of my beloved Camp Wright. This summer, I’ll still engage in my bookworm tendencies (I’m currently tearing through the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series), but I’ve also committed myself to brushing up on the Spanish that I haven’t practiced since December and I’ve planned a move back to Atlanta for a new internship that will undoubtedly bring lasting personal and professional growth and relationships. The setting and the events of summer have changed, but the sentiment remains the same. Summer exudes a sense of possibility as it urges us to relax, but also to explore, learn, and grow.

This summer will bring some of the most memorable times of my life. It will be a mixture of “firsts” and “lasts” as I enter my final year as a student, so there’s all the more reason to make my last summer before I’m a full-grown adult human worthwhile. Here’s to a summer filled with a trip to Europe (which begins today as I am writing from the international wing of the Newark airport), the beginning of a potential career path, my 21st birthday, new friends, and so much more. Cheers to summer vacation!

xoxo,
jmd

three years, four walls

Written Monday, April 24th: Last Day of Undergraduate Classes at Vanderbilt University 

“Happy last day of classes of junior year!!!”

As I’m scrambling to pack my laptop in my backpack, while reciting General Logic definitions in my head and listening to the combined sound of the most basic, on-sale, average-coffee-making Keurig chugging away and my faulty printer spewing papers out across the floor of my single dorm room, my wrist vibrates and I see the most simple of messages slide across my new Apple Watch screen (it was a prize; I know, you’re probably thinking that you never win prizes – neither do I. But alas, here I am sporting the slightly obnoxious, but oh-so-sleek piece of technology).

How is it the last day of classes? I feel like just last week I was lugging my life into this 10×12 box-of-a-room. And yet, today marks the end of my junior year classes. Four months have disappeared without me even noticing. The end of junior year feels different. There’s something somber about realizing that these next 10 days will include my last moments padding across the moldy Towers II bathrooms in zebra-striped shower shoes and these days will mark my final times filling my water bottle in the communal hall water fountain while attempting to avoid the inevitable stray noodle stuck in the drain (I am eternally perplexed by whoever thinks the water fountain is the place to dispose of day-old Chinese takeout).

Next year, I’ll be living off-campus (as in across the street) in a “grown-up” apartment with my two best friends who I met on my freshman year hall. We’ll have our own bedrooms, our own kitchen, and thankfully, our own bathroom (there isn’t a single part of me that thinks I will miss hall bathrooms). I’ll be completing my Capstone Internship at a wealth management firm during the fall semester, waking up before 8:00am to pack my lunch, dress in business casual, and drive to work like a proper adult. I won’t have a normal class schedule during that fall semester, and I won’t be living on campus. As excited as I am to leave dorm room living behind, a part of me will miss how distinctively college it feels to enter the depths of Towers II at midnight, making a late-night run to Munchie Mart, or what it’s like to lose sleep because the person in the dorm room next to me is blaring music until 1:00am. I’ll miss my morning breakfast of microwaved eggs and the simplicity of my tiny collection of kitchen utensils (one bowl, one plate, one mug, 2 forks, 2 knives, 2 spoons). On the other hand, I won’t miss washing my clothes in the shared laundry room, nor will I reminisce about the neon-red lights from the Chili’s across the street that leaks into my room after the sky turns black.

But at the same time, I met my closest college friends on my first dorm room hall. I’ve spent countless late nights sitting on the floors of my friends’ dorm rooms, laughing for hours about nothing particularly amusing, and I’ve gotten ready for years of date parties and group dinners under the shine of the distinctive fluorescence that comes with dorm room lighting. I’ve written papers and applied for internships from my small dorm room desk, I’ve completed countless Kayla Itsines ab workouts on a yoga mat spread across those vinyl dorm room floors, and I’ve spent a number of pre-tailgate Saturday mornings dancing and belting out the lyrics of Keith Urban and One Direction songs in the various dorm rooms of my college friends.

There’s just something quintessentially college about a dorm room. For three years, I have complained that my friends at other schools have had nicer living arrangements than us Vanderbilt students, for many never even lived in a typical no-frills dorm room (with no sink, bathroom, kitchen, common room etc.). But as I look back, I wouldn’t change my dorm room living for the world. Despite the fact that some of these buildings haven’t been updated in seven decades, they have character (though that sometimes comes in the form of moldy showers and ill-functioning heating systems).

As this weekend closed the last tailgates of the year, I thought about how it was probably my last time celebrating any event within the tight space of a college dorm. It won’t be so easy to see all of my friends next year when I’m working 8:30am-5:00pm and we’re not all living in the same building, but then again, we’re all graduating in a year and it definitely won’t be so simple when we’re scattered across the map. Moving out of a dorm is a stepping stone to a bigger move that will come in just twelve months.

Although I’m definitely not ready to think about that large-scale change quite yet, I hope that as I experience this mini-move, I make every possible effort to treasure each moment that I have left on this campus and in this city. With twelve months left as a college student, I must remember to appreciate the simplicity that college life has to offer (even in the upgraded space of my new apartment). As I pass through the next years and the many years after, I hope to never forget the laughs, the tears, the hugs, the dance moves, and most importantly, the friendships made over the past three years within the four walls of my Vanderbilt dorm rooms.

xoxo,
jordan

balance.

The end of my experience abroad was met with a month of incessant activity back in the U.S. The first morning I woke up in my bed at home, it was Christmas Eve. That was followed by several days of holiday events, and then a ten-day visit from Knut. I followed Knut’s departure with a 13-hour drive to Nashville where I moved myself in, and then began the long days of sorority recruitment. Before I knew it, classes had started and I was back to the usual busyness of university life with meetings every other day and more pages to read than I physically thought possible.

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Despite the intensity of being back at Vanderbilt, I can honestly say that I missed it. Before I came back, I was worried that returning from Barcelona would leave me resenting my usual life. I had heard stories of “reverse culture shock” and dreaded the same happening to me. I just could not fathom how I could go back to school when I had just lived another life for the past four months. Although I have never been much of a homebody, I think I may have missed my normal life to some extent. Barcelona was absolutely amazing – it will probably still be the best semester of my college experience. However, in some ways, it is not even possible to count it as college. Life in Barcelona is so different than at Vanderbilt. The fact that my classes were not even in English already separates it from my conception of what school is (mostly because I had only ever learned in English up until that point). Further, jet-setting across the continent every weekend made it feel like some charmed, surreal life that was not my own (mostly because that isn’t at all what my life is usually like).

Nonetheless, I am back, and I am genuinely happy to be here. When I look at the pictures of other students abroad in Barcelona, I’m not jealous. I simply think to myself that they are temporarily visiting my city. Because it’s true, right? I was there first. In some ways, I feel like a freshman again because each time I do something classically Vanderbilt, I am filled with excitement. Whether it’s going to Desano’s with my pledge class or grabbing dinner at Kissam’s gourmet dining hall, being back reminds me of how grateful I am to attend such an energizing school in such an exciting city. On the other hand, returning to school as a junior gives me a sense of confidence that only comes with being an upperclassman.

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Yet another friend turns 21! Too bad I am months behind everyone 😥

With that being said, I can already see myself falling into the Vanderbilt trap of over commitment. Within days of coming back, I rejoined my Dance Marathon committee, began an executive position in my sorority, secured a twice-weekly babysitting job, and inquired about joining Vanderbilt’s new Women in Business organization. After doing so, one of my friends told me that she had recently quit an incredibly prestigious organization that she had been a part of because she realized that it no longer interested her and she was not giving it the attention it deserved. Her declaration made me pause. Too many times, Vanderbilt students – myself included – feel the need to schedule every minute of their lives in order to achieve maximum efficiency and to promote an image of involvement and accomplishment to the public. The problem is that by proving ourselves to the world, we spread ourselves too thin. The ironic thing is that sometimes, we aren’t even doing it to prove ourselves to others, but rather to ourselves.

As I continue through these last three semesters of college, I am hoping to be more selective in what I say “yes” to. Right now, I think I have identified the three organizations that I want to continue being a part of until graduation, with varying degrees of involvement in each. Sophomore year was by far the most scheduled and stressful year of my life. It resulted in the biggest accomplishments of my college career, but sometimes at the expense of my own sanity. Going to Spain was the perfect break I needed to recharge and eliminate some of the unnecessary self-inflicted stress that I had put on myself. Living in a more laid back culture where an emphasis on relationships sometimes outshines a focus on credentials, I learned much about the importance of balance in my life.

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Although it may seem cliché, I think that’s what I am aiming for the theme of this year to be: balance. My hardworking, competitive spirit is not going anywhere, but neither should my loquacious, extroverted personality. At this point, I have less than two years to make my time at Vanderbilt matter; therefore I cannot attempt to do it all without sacrificing that essential social aspect of college. Here’s to hoping for an equally productive 2017 with significantly less unnecessary stress!

♡jmd

hasta la vista

*Written on December 23*

And so, here we are. 122 days later, and I am back in the U.S. I’m currently sitting in the Newark International Airport for the next five hours, which gives me the perfect opportunity to sit down and think about these past four months.

On August 23rd, I took the first of what adds up to 30 flights this semester. I set off for the first of 9 countries that I’d travel to and the first of 12 trips I’d be lucky enough to go on. I left my little town with the dream of seeing the world and I did just that. Today, December 23rd, I have landed in the US with a bittersweet feeling that naturally comes with returning home and leaving a beloved place.

This semester, I have learned so much about my country, Spain, travel, and myself. I have seen the U.S. through the eyes of many different cultures and I have viewed those same nations through my own American perspective. I have become vastly more independent and I have discovered small aspects of myself that I didn’t realize before. Some people return from abroad claiming they feel like a new person and that they realized something life changing about themselves when removed from their comfortable environments for a few months. Personally, I don’t think I’ve gathered any drastic insights about myself, but I certainly think living in a new country for four months has taught me a few lessons and has left a few lasting marks on my personality and character.

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Oslo, Norway // August 2016

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Rotterdam, the Netherlands // August 2016

What I learned about my country

Beginning with what I have learned about the US, I think the most important lesson comes in the realization that there is a world outside of the United States that functions differently from the U.S., but just fine. After living outside of the U.S. for four months, I have realized that I can survive just fine without 24/7 air conditioning, a drying machine, American brands, and all of the other things I am accustomed to in the U.S. In fact, I now see how wasteful Americans – including myself – can be. Will I start turning off the air conditioning when I leave the house and start recycling every piece of plastic, paper, and glass? Probably not. But I do think living outside of the U.S. has given me a new appreciation for the environment and I hope to develop increasingly more environmentally conscious habits as I continue living in the U.S. and potentially even abroad in the future.

Something else I have learned is that although the U.S. can seem uninteresting compared to other countries, that’s just because it’s where I live. Life in Barcelona is exciting, but the day-to-day activities are honestly not any different from what they would be if I lived in any major U.S. city. Where we live never seems as interesting as other places because it’s what we are accustomed to. Due to my extremely obvious American accent, I was asked many times where I am from and just about every time I received responses such as “Wow, that’s so cool! I have always wanted to go to the U.S.” After traveling for 4 months and being exposed to so many different cultures, I have really come to appreciate the U.S. and everything that seemed so “boring” a few months ago.

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Munich, Germany // September 2016

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Barcelona, Spain // September 2016

What I learned about Spain

Before moving to Barcelona, I honestly didn’t realize that Spain’s different regions were as different as the North, South, East, and West regions of the U.S. In fact, they are arguably even more different because different languages are spoken in the different regions. I was expecting to hear Castilian Spanish – what we think of as Spanish – everywhere I went, but Catalan is by far the dominant language in Catalonia’s capital city of Barcelona. Additionally, Catalonia isn’t nearly as conservative and traditional as the other parts of Spain, which I really didn’t know until living in Spain with a Catalan roommate. It was such an amazing life experience to live in another country and really become a part of the city by living in an apartment with a Catalan roommate, learning through Spain’s public university system, and experiencing the night life and cuisine while speaking another language.

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Mallorca, Spain // September 2016

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Figueres, Spain // October 2016

What I learned about travel

I have always loved airports and that feeling of endless possibility that comes with being in a building in which there’s the opportunity to reach every corner of the world. However, I have never travelled as much as I have in the past 4 months. After hopping across Europe just about every weekend, I have found a greater appreciation for travel and for the purpose of it. I am thrilled that I was able to go on 12 trips to 9 different countries in the past 4 months. I saw so many cities and made memories that I am sure to never forget. However, what I really noticed is that the cities are different in their historical buildings and significances, but the itineraries we follow when exploring these new places are largely the same. We take pictures with iconic sights, observe exquisite architecture, and enjoy delicious local cuisine. Some cities I’ll go back to, others I don’t know that I’ll ever see again. But honestly, in most cases, it’s not the city that matters. What really matters when I travel is whom I am with. I was lucky enough to be with some of my absolute best friends as we travelled all throughout Europe. In 10, 20, and 30 years, it’s going to be so great to be able to look back on this time of my life and be able to share it with friends that I know I’ll still have for decades to come.

Travel is exciting, but if you make it about checking destinations off a list, the magic can be lost. There were many cities I didn’t get enough time in, but at least I have the memories with my friends to keep those cities clear in my memory forever. What’s even better is if you get the chance to meet locals and actually experience the city in an authentic way. Last weekend, I returned to Knut’s home in Norway, and once again it was one of the best trips. I attended a 3.5 hour rendition of Singing in the Rain in Norwegian with his family, and although I understood very few words, I felt like I was really getting to see a genuine part of Norwegian culture that I never would have had I gone to Oslo without a Norwegian. Although seeing Oslo was not new to me, I enjoyed that trip more than some of the trips to new cities because I got such an authentic cultural experience.

Finally, I learned that travel isn’t always pretty. I have had trains cancelled, too many flights delayed to count, and many other travel complications. What it’s taught me is that there are situations that are completely out of my control and that panicking is the least helpful way to cope. Does this mean I don’t panic? Not exactly. But I am more aware of the fact that things won’t always go as planned and that it all works out in the end. I have also learned to really appreciate being home in the comfort of my own bed much more.

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Lisbon, Portugal // October 2016

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Rotterdam, the Netherlands // October 2016

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Barcelona, Spain // October 2016

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Seville, Spain // November 2016

What I learned about myself

As I said previously, I haven’t experienced any great revelations about myself in the past few months, but I have been able to see my own strengths and weaknesses a bit more clearly. I have learned that I am a lot more independent than I thought I was, and I’m also largely low maintenance when it comes to travel. However, the Spanish culture has really exposed my perfectionist attitude. In Spain, life moves at half the pace I am used to and I am told “traquilo” (calm down) about 100 times per day (along with most of the other American students). The lack of urgency for most things really does drive me crazy. However, I notice that that’s not exactly a good thing. Throughout my time in Spain, I have come to appreciate the Spanish way of relaxing and spending time with people over books/working. Although I don’t think I could adopt such a lax lifestyle, I really value it.

Finally, taking five courses in Spanish and spending an entire semester learning in a different language, I have really seen myself stretch my comprehension skills much further than I ever thought that I could. I remember the first day of my 20th century Spanish literature class when I felt like I did not understand a word. Four months later, I was reading a 300+ page books in Spanish and writing four page essays in class. I eventually realized that I’d never succeed if I dwelled on every complicated conjugation and every individual word, so I tried to just sit back and understand what I could. Learning in Spanish and successfully completing the semester was one of the most valuable parts of my experience because I was able to see my confidence and my execution of the Spanish language grow in such a short amount of time. Although my speaking still isn’t great, my understanding, reading, and writing have definitely advanced significantly. Leaving Barcelona, I really feel as if I can now communicate with an entirely additional population of people thanks to just about mastering a second language.

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Prague, Czech Republic // November 2016

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Budapest, Hungary // November 2016

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London, England // December 2016

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Paris, France // December 2016

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Tranby, Norway // December 2016

Ultimately, this past semester has been everything I expected and more. I was able to live and learn in a new culture, travel the world, and make so many incredible friends. To anyone contemplating studying abroad, my advice is to do it. This is truly the only time in your life that you’ll have the chance to travel the world without the pressure of real-life responsibilities weighing you down. Thank you to every person who made this experience so wonderful, especially my parents who made it possible. There is nothing else you could’ve given me that compares to the thrilling adventure of these past four months. Here’s to the end of one of the best chapters of my life. Although this one was great, I’m sure there are so many more great ones to come. As Carla told us the night before we left, home isn’t just where you’re from, but also every place you’ve loved and been loved by. I know I loved Barcelona and I sure feel like it loved me.

Hasta la vista,

♡jmd