When home isn’t ‘home’ anymore

There’s a proverb I recently read that states, “Change is the breath of life.” I don’t necessarily like cheesy quotes, but there is some truth in this. There comes a period in life when the only thing constant is change. There is no backwards, only forwards. 

As a twenty-something (I really hate that term), I’m finding my world shift around me the in the most drastic of ways. I’ve always been the the type to cycle through different interests and passions, but within the past few years, I’ve felt myself stabilize.

Travel. Books. Adventure. These are the things that make me feel most alive. 

When you move across the world, not only do your surroundings change, but so does your mindset. The place where you grew up isn’t home anymore. Yes, your roots are there, but your life is somewhere else. Your feet are planted firmly on the ground, without uncertainty. You have established a life for yourself. There are people that love you in your hometown, but they must understand, it’s time to move forward.

Going back to visit is an odd sensation. People are waiting with eager smiles to hear about life overseas, but you find that even with practice, words won’t do it justice. 

Family members ask, rather urgently, “Do you think you’ll move there? Permanently?” 

The answer of course is yes, but only in time can these sorts of plans be revealed. 

I think my bags have been packed from the day I was born. After seeing so much of the world at a young age, I felt somewhere deep down that I was supposed to be somewhere else. For years, I thought I’d end up somewhere like New York. I didn’t know I’d find love and a home in Dublin, Ireland. Now that I’m there, in that great Somewhere, I feel myself exhale for what feels like the first time in a while. 

I worked hard to be where I am now. I should celebrate once in a while. 

Coming back to your hometown after living abroad is always an adjustment. Your world feels smaller again. Yes, there are the ones that love you unconditionally, but things change. Life doesn’t stop for anyone. At some point, even the ones you loved struck out on their own. It’s your turn, too.

I don’t believe that your twenties are your “selfish years” like that popular Facebook posts asserts. At this age, we care deeply about our loved ones and the places we leave behind. It’s not that we are selfish, it’s that people my age who uproot themselves so wholly and completely want a life that’s their own. 

Personally, I want one that’s not defined by who I was years ago. I want to be the person I was meant to be, even if that means putting distance between the present and the past.

The place you called home for years isn’t home anymore, and that’s okay. You may feel like a stranger in your own bedroom. It’s a sign of life moving forward. Nothing is meant to stay the same. 

One of my favorite quotes from my favorite book reads, “the only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.” Forgive yourself. Forgive others. Let yourself grow, and don’t hold back. 

5 Reasons to Date a Girl Who Travels 

There are many advantages to dating a girl with a serious case of wanderlust. Someone with a free spirit will always keep you on your toes, while they take you by the hand and show you the world. Here are the top five reasons to date a girl who travels. 

She’ll Keep You Guessing

A girl who travels is someone who is always moving and on the lookout for the next adventure. You can never truly read her mind,  because mentally she’s always dreaming of somewhere else. She’ll surprise you with her stories of adventure, and inspire you with her well-thought out plans to see new and faraway lands. Your significant other who travels will be the first in line to try new things, and take you along for the ride. 

She’s independent and strong

A girl who travels is headstrong and confident. She has seen corners of the world, traversed new cities by herself, and is capable of exploring new and exotic locations. She’s not the kind of girl that will be clingy and needy, because she has her sights set on goals. You won’t catch a girl who travels waiting around hopelessly for a call or a text– she can hold her own, but show you her world, too. 

She’ll teach you new things

A girl who travels has seen many sights has so much to share with you. Whether she’s gotten hopelessly lost in Russia, or eaten a every cheese shop in Amsterdam, she’ll have stories that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat. A girl who travels wants to show you the world that she’s so excited about seeing. She can tell you phrases in new languages, and guide you with her impeccable sense of direction in a foreign city. 

She’s not into material things

A girl who travels cares more about memories than things. She knows that life can only be measured in moments. No need to spend money on her or buy her a fancy dinner, time with you is more than enough. 

She’s passionate 

A girl who travels is passionate about more than just travel. A girl who travels has genuine intellectual curiosity and wants to learn new things. Most importantly, she’ll care for you deeply. She will love you fiercely, as she catches both flights and feelings in new places. 

The ever-changing concept of ‘home’ for travelers 

For some, seeing the world is not just an option– it’s a necessity. 

Through the past few years of traveling, I have determined that the concept of home is always transforming. For adventure-seekers like myself, the very definition of home doesn’t necessarily exist. When you’re constantly in motion, you learn to make a home within yourself, the people you meet, and the new places you fall in love with. 

We hear all the time that home is where the heart is. The reality is that I’ve left my heart in so many places in the past few years of studying abroad. I have seen over 15 countries in three years, and would argue that I’ve left a little piece of myself in each one, with some pieces larger than others. Ireland, for example, has served as my stationary constant for the past three years. It is where I fell in love with learning again, as well as the place I became inspired to see as much of the world as I can. I feel most alive, secure, and confident in Ireland. I am prepared to make my return to my favorite place, with plans to stay indefinitely. 

Cliffs of Moher, September 2015

When I studied abroad for the first time three years ago, I was truly a lost soul. I spent my time controlled by my anxiety, obsessing over small details and having difficulty making friends. Making the leap to study abroad in the summer following my freshman year of college took all the courage I’d never know I had within me. This of course led to a second round of study abroad, this time, for a full academic year.

In these transformative times of adventure, I found that each city or country I visited reminded me a little of home. I had the privilege of seeing mothers playing with young children in Portugal, watching families leave places of worship together in Italy, and dancing along the shores of France among families and couples alike. No location is the same of course, but wherever you find yourself most captivated will stay with you, even long after you depart. If you’re lucky, you become a part of this place, even just for a second. 

Sligo, Ireland, November 2015

This changing definition of home is undeniably beautiful, but also terrifying. To those that don’t embark on a nomadic existence, even temporarily, the idea of securing a home within yourself and new lands will sound daunting. Eventually, this becomes second nature. The goodbyes before you depart are no longer scary, they are a part of this life you chose. There will always be strong connections where you leave behind, but your bags have been packed since the day you were born. You know you were never meant to stay in one place. 

An ode to my backpack… (2014-2017)

I am undoubtedly a sentimental person. However, after traveling fourteen countries in under three years, I have been able to count on one constant companion: my LL Bean backpack. 

My parents gave me a new bright blue hiking backpack before embarking on Semester at Sea in June 2014. My backpack made it through my first goodbye with family, before leaving for Europe for three months. My backpack held my beloved stuffed animal close through my first transcontinental flight. It has been with me every step of the way for the past three years.

Hiking Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland, January 2016

If you search through this backpack, despite many washes, you’ll find grains of sand from a beach in Spain from that summer. There’s a mysterious stain near the large pocket, which I am fairly certain came from spilling my reindeer dinner while traveling in Finland. It has survived many countries, washes, and airport security screenings. 

My backpack is the last thing I pack before traveling, but contains the contents that are most important to me: my passport, glasses, and so much more. My passport allows me to stretch my wings, while my glasses allow me to see the world. Before every trip, my mom manages to slip a card in the backpack. This simple act, so sweet and so reassuring, has meant so much to me through years of travel. 

My backpack came with me every single day, after I made the decision to study in Ireland for my junior year of undergrad. I used it to carry the textbooks that made me fall in love with academics, as well as my essentials on various trips around the country. My LL Bean backpack has hiked up mountains with me, and traveled to nations with different languages and dialects. It has withstood both weather and time. 

Naturally, I’ve grown very attached to this backpack, but it is time to start a new chapter. 

I will start graduate school abroad in just four weeks. I will be moving to Ireland, and it’s time to retire my trusty blue backpack. I am grateful for all the times I’ve been able to count on it for support, and look forward to taking my new green one across the pond. It certainly has a lot to live up to. 

5 Books to Inspire Your Wanderlust 

Suffering from summertime wanderlust? Are you in need of a little “staycation?” Here are five books that will take you across the world. You will explore new countries, mountain ranges, and discover a little piece of yourself in each one. Each of these reads, whether fiction or nonfiction, will leave you inspired. 

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

At age twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed embarks on the over 1,000 mile hike across the Pacific Northwest Trail after her mother’s tragic death. Devasted, lost, and reeling from her divorce and loss of her mother, Strayed embarks on a beautiful and heartbreaking journey of self-discovery. Strayed’s writing is full of gorgeous introspection. She states as she ascends a mountain, “I didn’t know where I was going until I got there.” This book will truly break your heart, and then put it back together again. 

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

For anyone looking for a young adult journey through the romantic city of Paris, Perkins has got you covered with the exciting first installment of her travel-themed trilogy. At age sixteen, Anna is sent to boarding school in Paris, much to her chagrin. Through a series of twists and turns, Anna discovers the true meaning of friendship, love, and adventure. Not only is Perkins geographically accurate throughout the novel, she compels emotion from the reader by portraying an accurate picture of the human condition during a period of change.

Just One Day by Gayle Forman 

How much can one day change you as a person? Protagonist Allyson discovers that the answer is an incredible amount. After a summer of cautiously traveling Europe, Allyson spends an exciting day with a Dutch nomad named Willem. After he disappears the next morning, Allyson is devastated, and certainly not the person she was before she met him. After months of soul-searching, Allyson returns to Europe in search of Willem. Along the way, she finds herself. 

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Perhaps the king of travel writing, Bill Bryson decides at middle-age to embark on a hilarious yet tumultuous journey through the Appalachian Trail. Bryson introduces us to fascinating history and ecology, while remarking on the unique characters he meets along the way. In his true fashion, Bryson introduces readers to a new world with entertaining wit and honesty.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Perhaps the most well-known and sought after inspirational travel book, Elizabeth Gilbert’s poignancy and honest reflections of her many adventures will leave you craving more. Her talent for descriptive detail has inspired millions of readers to pursue a life of creativity and adventure. After a bitter divorce and a series of heartbreaks, Gilbert embarks around the world, from Italy to India in order to find herself spiritually. Gilbert’s thought provoking insight and humor will inspire both laughter and tears. 

To first-time study abroad students

Dear first-time study abroad students,

Congratulations. You’ve made the exciting and life-altering decision to travel somewhere new, and see beyond the horizons that you’ve become accustomed to. This is both wonderful and scary, but as someone who has studied abroad for three semesters, let me assure you that you’ll be alright. In fact, you will grow immeasurably because of this choice. 

The months, weeks, and days before your departure will feel long and anxious. You’ll have many questions prior to this new adventure, but at the same time, you know you’re ready to see somewhere new in the world. You’re going to learn a great deal about another culture, and most surprisingly, yourself.

Spend extra time with family before you go, because they will miss you. You may not realize it now, but you’ll be thinking of the ones who love you most in every city you travel to. 

It’s been three years since my first study abroad experience with Semester at Sea. Even now, I am still reflecting daily on the small and large adventures I embarked on during Summer of 2014. There are the obvious ones, like traveling to Europe without parents, and hopping off a plane into Heathrow Airport with an open mind and heart. 

There are the smaller adventures, like my first stroll around a foreign city independently. I associate Stockholm, Sweden with utmost happiness. It was the first time I went on a non-English speaking public transport by myself. I went to all the museums of my choosing, and had ice cream and waffles for lunch. I was on my own, but never lonely. I walked miles into a park called Skansen, and pet some baby reindeer. The Academic Dean of the ship called me “intrepid”, a word I’d never thought I would be associated with. 

Me featuring a baby reindeer in Sweden!

During your time abroad, you will learn to rely on others. Your friends will be there for support, safety, and most of all, joy. Your friends are your fellow navigators, your biggest confidants, not to mention those who will leave a mark on you for life. I haven’t seen some of my Semester at Sea friends since we parted ways in Southhampton, England three years ago. However, I know with certainty that if I called one of them up, in need or just for a laugh, I could count on them.

You will absolutely make new friends, but you will most importantly find a friend within yourself. You may travel on your own, eat out on your own, and explore your new universe unaccompanied. Your senses will grow and heighten. You know to hide your passport in a different pocket than your cash, and your sense of direction will be ever-improving. There is no place for self-doubt in travel. You’ll grow in confidence, happiness, and contentment. Study abroad is transformative, by the very definition of the word.

You’ll find the little memories will add up, years later. I have the greatest joy in reminiscing a beautiful morning in Norway, sailing through the fjords three July’s ago. I’d forgotten my wallet in the coffee shop, as I’d insisted on getting a drink and almost making my cohort late for the ferry. By the time I’d thought to look for it, the kind shop owner had rushed it to the only boat leaving the harbor that morning. I remember the crew on the MV Explorer knowing my name, even though I ate meals alone frequently with a book propped up on the table. Most importantly, I remember falling in love with learning again, and seeing the world genuinely as my campus.

Fjords in Norway

I remember hearing Pharell’s ‘Happy’ at every pre-port session and knowing that’s how I was truly feeling. You’ll remember small details like that, too.

There will be moments you miss out on, but know that every adventure is different. There is no “wrong” way to travel. Invest your time, energy, and money only on what you want to explore and experience. 

Love every second of it, even when you’re missing home. You’ll find yourself looking back, three years later, wondering how sixty-something days could’ve gone by so quickly. 

This is how you prepare to start over

It’s time to shake things up, and you’re starting a new chapter. The rhyme or reason doesn’t matter, but for the first time, you’re about to be truly on your own.

This is how you prepare to turn a new leaf.

Mentally, there’s a checklist. You realize, as you’re sitting down to dinner, that this could be your last Tuesday afternoon in July watching Gilmore Girls with your mom. You think to yourself that last week was possibly your final road trip to see some long-time friends. You know, deep down, that you will perhaps never see some of these people again. Some things aren’t meant to last forever. You’ll find that the important things will continue, long after you depart. 

The word ‘closure’ takes on a whole new meaning. You know there’s some people you won’t see again, at least for a while. Yet, you’re at peace with it. Goodbyes don’t scare you. Ceremonial activities like graduations feel final, and it’s something you’re comfortable with. Your bags have been packed since the day you were born. 

Even though the goodbyes don’t scare you, the ‘hellos’ sometimes do. You’re about to make a name for yourself in a new place. There are new people to meet and do good by. The person you were in the city or continent before isn’t the same as the person who will step off the plane into a new universe. Logically, you know that the timing has never been better to become a new person. Better yet, the timing is where it needs to be in order to become the person you were always supposed to be. 

It’s easy to be scared leaving the world you’ve always known behind. It doesn’t matter how many adventures you’ve had previously, starting again somewhere new is frightening. If you’re fortunate, you have people that believe in you. If you’re even luckier, you believe in yourself. 

Here’s what you do in the mean time:

As cliche as it sounds, you cherish every moment while still looking at what’s to come. You hold onto each hug a little longer, and smile a little brighter. As much as you want to make a mark on somewhere new, leave a stronger mark on wherever you leave behind. 

Three years ago today…

Three years ago today, my “home afloat” (Semester at Sea) docked in Dublin, Ireland. I had my first sighting of what would become my home– the place that I would fall irrevocably in love with. However, I don’t believe in love at first sight. I believe in pathways leading you to where you’re supposed to be. My first journey through Ireland began exactly three years ago.

I’ll admit, when I first saw the dirty port, I wasn’t impressed. It was the only port that Semsester at Sea forbade us from walking on unsupservised, due to the dangerous construction surrounding the ship. Instead, we had buses drop us off around George’s Quay in the city center.

I came into the country on an emotional high from a joyful experience in Scotland. I had just completed a challenging hike around Loch Lomond, despite being admittedly overweight and out of shape. Most importantly, I took my first solo-journey into the city of Glasgow to meet a family friend, giving me my first real sense of confidence that only travel can provide. For the first time in years, I arrived somewhere new feeling accomplished and capable.

A successful hike in Scotland
Ireland was a shock to my system. Dublin felt too industrial. I have Irish heritage, and I thought I’d feel at home right away.

I still read my travel diaries from that summer occasionally. On the first day in Ireland, I wrote, “I don’t feel as though I belong.”

I had signed up to take a field trip to the Cliffs of Moher from Dublin, the day after our arrival. A four hour bus journey to rural County Clare led us to an indescribably cloudy vista. I remember putting my hands out in front of me, and not being able to see them, or the Cliffs. I didn’t do a superb job of hiding my disappointment, as I thumbed through the vibrant postcards in the gift shop that day. I had looked forward to seeing such an iconic landmark, only to be let down and put on another four hour bus back to the city. I returned to the ship in Dublin with a bad attitude, thinking to myself that I’d spend the next day buying souvenirs for family, and I’d be onto Norway.

Cloudy day at the Cliffs of Moher
A tiny spark in me insisted on seeing Trinity College. My cousin studied abroad there, and something told me I needed to see it. It was in the city center, not far from touristy souvenir shops. I thought I’d give myself one more chance to enjoy myself. The sun was setting on a gorgeous summer day, as the tourists started to filter out. I took one look at the school, and knew I was home.

I’ve always been a reader, but never dreamed that loving literature is what would take me across the world. I love my undergrad institution, and I am a proud alumni. However, as a first year, I was still deeply unhappy. I felt isolated and unsure of myself, and didn’t identify with the party culture. I didn’t really know where I saw myself fitting in the school and the world as a whole. The first thought that came to mind while walking into Trinity’s main square is, “Well, it’s time to shake things up.”

No metaphor quite does it justice– the feeling of loving somewhere new, or more specifically, feeling as though you are “welcomed home” somewhere you haven’t been before. I knew, certainly and instantly, that I had to go to Trinity, and it had to be for longer than a semester. Thus, when I returned to the states in August, my first mission was to bother the study abroad office and tell them my new plan. Lucky for me, my ever-supportive parents were on board.

Trinity College Dublin
As mentioned, I struggled in my first year of college. The first real success story I had academically was an English class my second semester, and the grades I earned on Semester at Sea. My grades weren’t where they needed to be to even apply to the school of my dreams. I would like to say that this is a story of perseverance, but mostly, I found the kindness and encouragement of others to get me on that plane to Trinity. I would not be the same person without the help from those professors who believed in me, when I did not quite yet believe in myself.  I remember getting an email from the former director of the program, saying, “You can apply, but I have little faith that you’ll get in.” I guess a little reverse psychology was what I needed to keep persisting, because I received my acceptance letter just a few months later.

I am thankful for each day of that academic year that I got to spend at Trinity College Dublin. Not only did I make new friends, I found my passion: academics. I didn’t have any idea that I wanted to be a professor, or go to graduate school. I didn’t know that reading David Foster Wallace or studying 19th century Irish literature would change my perspective on everything I had learned previously. I had no clue some of my work would be accepted into academic conferences, and that I’d love every second of presenting.

I had no idea I’d fall in love with a person, as well as a place, while I was studying there.

When I returned to Elon University in the fall, I walked around with a heavy heart. A month into the school year, after a celebratory birthday dinner, a professor asked if I was thinking about graduate school. Without thinking, I said yes. The fire in me that invigorated each step while I was abroad seemed to spark yet another change in me– I had future goals. Of course, those goals would lead me back to Ireland. I couldn’t see myself studying anywhere else, other than the place that had changed me so remarkably.

Of course, my first thought was I would need to return to Trinity. It made sense, because I had been happy there. Upon further research, it seemed that UCD would have a program directly aligning with my interests: modern and contemporary literature. The same thought that came to me three years ago reappeared. “Well, it’s time to shake things up.”

I received my acceptance letters from both the programs at Trinity and UCD by January. After visiting UCD, and envisioning myself happy there, but most of all happy in the program, the decision was easy. Trinity will always have my heart, but it’s time to start something new.

All roads have led me back to Ireland. The change in me within the last three years has been drastic. When I seriously traveled for the first time with Semester at Sea, at age 19, I will admit that I began my journey a bit entitled and dramatic. I am grateful and humbled to have seen and engaged with so much of the world at a young age. I just wish that I’d appreciated it more at the time.

I am learning now that it’s never too late to start over. I am looking forward to a new, yet somewhat familiar life in my favorite place. For the past three years, Ireland has been my stationary constant. I am ready for my next big adventure.

Your travel buddies will always be important to you

Even years after you travel, the people you shared the journey with will always have a special impact on your life. When you travel, your buddies become your family and your support system. They are the people you rely on physically and mentally, in order to enjoy a new and exotic location– safely and happily.

Years after my summer traveling Europe, and a full year after studying in Ireland, I count the people who took the trek with me as important people in my life. I know if I truly am in need, I can rely on them, or at the very least reach out. Even if it’s just the occasional text, meeting for coffee, or “catching up” after a long time, I am forever indebted to the memories I shared with people I trekked across the world with. I am lucky enough to have made friends in different cities and countries, and the journey would not be the same without these important friendships.

Sometimes these relationships are short-lived, or they fall apart for reasons that simply can’t be explained. This is no one’s fault. Perhaps a close bond is sometimes just not sustainable for people who only have a physical presence during an adventure of a lifetime. 

Other times, you are lucky, and these people are your closest confidants for life. 

My fondest memories from the last two years include my fall break excursion to Italy, with two girls I shared some of the happiest days of my life with. We are still close, and I have no doubt that if we were all physically together, our laughter and adventuring spirit would be exactly the same. I shared tears and genuine smiles with these girls, and I can say with certainty I’d be a much different person if the two of them hadn’t enjoyed Rome and Venice with me. I can happily reflect on pictures of gondola rides, getting lost, and dinners by the Venetian canals. I count my lucky stars for friends like these- and so many more I’ve met along the way. 

Study abroad friends teach you how to compromise. They teach you to live life to the fullest. They push you out of your comfort zone, and into the person you are genuinely meant to become. I am grateful for those I have traveled with. I am grateful to those I will travel with in the future. Even if we aren’t friends anymore after traveling together, I can say with utmost certainty, you are still valuable to me. 

Semester at Sea… Three Years Later

One of the major caveats of study abroad is once you return, you truly never stop talking about it. Three years after Semester at Sea, I continue to share memories with loved ones, or just about anyone that will listen. 

Three years ago I left the country without my parents (for the first time), and with a buddy who I can confidently call a lifelong friend. Three years ago this summer, I packed what I thought would be appropriate for a trip around Northern Europe (shorts and t-shirts) into a giant suitcase. I put myself and my ever-growing heart on a red-eye to London, and hopped off the plane to what felt like a new world.

I had never been to Europe before. My knowledge about the continent was so slim, I didn’t even know it would be likely to rain in London. More importantly, I didn’t know that the memories I would make on Semester at Sea, would be so impactful nearly three years later.

I was a shell of a person before I started traveling- anxious, obsessive, and afraid. I feared excitement and human connection, I worried both would be taken away all too quickly. This is the reality of who I was before traveling Europe in sixty days.

Of course, not everything came easy. There were days when I thought the comfort of my bed at home, or even the safety of the library on the ship, would be superior to exploring a new city with new faces. Study abroad was what healed me, but I had to work for it. 

Little memories are what I find to be most impactful. I remember the crew members knowing my name, even though I frequently ate breakfast alone with a book and didn’t always engage much. I remember the first time I felt like a new person had “broke through” to me. I had wanted to see a fortress in Finland, and secretly feared going alone. By the time I had voiced my concerns, a crowd of girls with similar interests wanted to go with me. 

I of course loved the sunsets, but they were not my favorite memories. My favorite moments on Semester at Sea were the ones I felt most alive. I think about dancing on a table in Portugal (…after having my first mojito.) I reminisce treading the water in France, or feeling bold and unafraid in Russia, despite being horribly lost. On my worst days today, these are the moments that are giving me extra reasons to smile. 

Semester at Sea taught me to be honest with myself. I knew after traveling, trying new foods and customs, and making new friends, that the change had to come from within. If you asked me today what my favorite place in the world is, I can still say after seeing 16 countries in three years, my favorite place is anywhere. If I haven’t been there yet, it’s on my list.

I believe in an unfolding chain of events, that everything has a consequence. My consequence for Semester at Sea was studying abroad again. This time, I studied in Ireland, for a whole year. My next consequence starts in August– graduate school in Dublin! If I hadn’t done Semester at Sea, I don’t think I would have made it through college. I say this not to be dramatic or extreme, but because the person I was back then needed to see the world and get perspective. 

If I hadn’t done Semester at Sea, I wouldn’t have found Ireland. I wouldn’t have found love. Most importantly, I would not, in any circumstances, have found myself.

I’ll end with a quote… “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”