University Life Studying Abroad

by Zoe Ezechiels

Mio Matsumoto is a college junior from a school in Tokyo known as Waseda University. She is studying hospitality for a year as an exchange student at Florida State University.

Mio has experienced a very different university life abroad and has grown up in a lot of ways, ranging from learning to juggle school work and a social life, to being completely immersed in a different culture. She has felt the difficulty of getting accustomed to life all by herself but because of the support of her many friends, she was able to have the time of her life and pursue her dream of studying hospitality. The Dedman School of Hospitality at Florida State is one of the best in the nation, and Mio is extremely grateful to be studying there.

University Life Studying Abroad FSU

During her time in the United States, Mio has traveled to New York, California, Alabama, Georgia, and cities within Florida with friends. Because the US is such a large country, there were many opportunities for her to travel and spend time exploring with friends. Even when she felt stressed or worried, Mio is grateful to have a close support group to support her while she is away from her family. Here are her responses to our five questions:

What were your expectations before you left? How have they changed?

“I didn’t have that many expectations; I just wanted to have fun, become independent, and meet new people. Many people have influenced me so far. Even if I have to go back to Japan, the connections I have made in the US will continue, which I think is a great part of having friends in different countries.”

What did you not expect?

“When I lived in New Jersey, there were many Asian people around me. I unintentionally expected the same comfortable environment in Tallahassee.  At FSU, this was not the case. The student body is more diverse than the neighborhood I lived in. Oftentimes, I felt lonely and left out because there weren’t that many other Asian people.

Studying Abroad FSU

However, I met so many amazing people from different cultures and got along with them great, which enabled me to get over my initial hump. Local people taught me cool places to go, eat, and have fun. I decided to study abroad because I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. In the end, it’s turned out great!

Also, the weather: I thought it was never going to get cold or rain, but both happen…! Have your umbrellas ready! In addition, I didn’t expect the campus to be so huge that I have to use the bus to get to my classes. Lastly, even though Tallahassee is a college town, many things were expensive (food, school supplies, etc.), so I had to plan out a budget and stick to it.”

What’s your next step?

mio and friends

“I have a dream of working abroad at an internationally-known hotel or with an international airline. I am able to speak Japanese and English, and at the moment I am also studying Spanish. Although I am a hospitality major, I still need more experience. To achieve my goals, I think getting an internship will serve as a bridge between Japan and somewhere else. This way I can ultimately achieve my dream of working at an international company.”

What advice would you give to a student with the dream to study abroad?

“The culture, how you study, the language, etc. is different from place to place; you can’t expect a study abroad experience to be easy. Being able to speak English is just one of the many, many tips for fitting into university life studying abroad. However, studying abroad is a totally eye-opening experience because you can experience it all — from the good to the bad.

Try new things, travel to new places, and be with the friends you feel comfortable with. Even if you’re alone, take part in activities so you can make friends there! Be courageous during class and raise your hand to state your opinions. Everyone is accepting and they look forward to your ideas from a different, international perspective.”

Talking with Mio was an immense pleasure! Stay tuned for her VLOG on 5 tips on university life studying abroad.

studying abroad Mio Matsumoto


A Day at Notre Dame and the Louvre

cassidy kearney travel tales

By Cassidy Kearney

We had woken up early to beat the crowds. We got onto the crowded subway, joining the Parisians in the rat race. The subway was particularly intimidating. It had one of the fastest closing doors I’d ever seen! Our whole group raced on and off the train in order to stick together. The night we arrived, one member of our group, Jenna, was separated after the doors closed. Luckily, she and her sister knew sign language. Jenna signed to her sister that she’d get off at the next stop and come back through the window of the train!

We definitely avoided a major situation thanks to their quick thinking. After that, however, the rest of us knew that we’d be flat out of luck if we were to be the next one who didn’t make the doors. We all took the subway extremely seriously. I’m sure those two have a travel tale they can tell all their friends about!

Excited to See Notre Dame

We walked a few blocks from the train station. I was incredibly excited to see Notre Dame. It was something that my dad had talked about from his time abroad, as well as something I’ve read about in fiction and nonfiction alike. As we approached Notre Dame, I craned my neck up to look at the gothic cathedral that rose in front of me. My blood raced through my veins as I cracked a smile. It was just as beautiful as I’d heard from my parents’ travels.

france cathedral travel tale abroad
Notre Dame

Expect the Unexpected 

france cathedral travel tales dream abroad

The crowds weren’t as bad as they could have been. Since we were there so early, the sun had enough time to peak through the Parisian clouds. It was warm, and the greens of the shrubberies popped. I saw people dressed as pale, white clowns roaming around, hassling the tourists.

The clowns seemed like an odd addition to the gothic church. When I got close to one, I could see the paint dripping from his face. He reminded me of the costumed people you can find in Times Square, New York: dirty, but more sinister because of the clown makeup. I think I saw more than one reach around into someone’s pocket, only to get pushed or slapped away. I avoided them at all costs. This was one tale I didn’t need to explain to my parents.

The Ultimate Gothic Cathedral

The line to get into the cathedral was not too long. Luckily, Mass wasn’t being held. However, there was an automated voice that spoke to the tourists in several different languages, telling them to be respectful. Unfortunately, pictures and videos were frowned upon (they were allowed). Regardless, it didn’t feel entirely right to me to whip my phone out to observe every detail. Some things are worth just placing into memory, so you can be just as inspired when you return.

inside cathedral travel tales abroad dreams abroad
The inside of Notre Dam

After we exited the church, Nikos took us on a brief tour around the building. When we had circled it, he showed us some lesser-known historical spots of Paris on our way to the Louvre. We also took a quick boat tour of the Seine. Unfortunately, the sun was, once again, clouded over by the dismal rain clouds that had seemed to haunt us since our arrival. As a Floridian, I’m used to heavy, intense, hot showers that are over within twenty minutes. Paris was the exact opposite! There was a constant light drizzle that seeped into my bones, no matter how many layers I was wearing. I couldn’t believe that this was what Parisians thought of summer!

Down into Culture

By the time we made it to the Louvre entrance, we were freezing. Nikos left us ambling around the park above the Louvre while he secured our tickets. Unfortunately, it was so cold and wet, none of us felt like ambling! As we waited for Nikos to return, Dounia and I huddled underneath an archway with street vendors that looked similar to the Arc de Triumph. After my last street vendor incident, I was a little wary of them, but luckily, they seemed to understand that we were simply avoiding the weather.



Nikos returned, and we quickly began our excursion into the Louvre. We passed through a mall-like area that had stores that breathed wealth. Afterward, we took a pitstop in the Louvre’s cafeteria. It was ridiculously expensive! The bathroom cost upwards of four euros, not to mention the price of food! Finally, finally, I was going into the museum that my parents had visited on their own journeys so long ago. I purchased a map simply for the scrapbooking opportunity.

Arc de Triumph ravel tales abroad
Arc de triomphe du Carrousel next to the Louvre

Even Trips Abroad Need Down Time

Dounia and I saw as much of the Louvre as we possibly could have. It was absolutely incredible. There was so much artwork, it was honestly a little overwhelming. I raced past the Mona Lisa, catching a quick side glimpse because of the crowd that stood in the queue in front of it. I think I saw Monet’s Day at the Park, but I can’t be sure. It was not until we reached some of Van Gogh’s paintings on the fifth floor that I finally began to feel some ease.

The fifth floor was filled with famous impressionist and classical paintings that I had previously studied in my art classes. It was exciting to see things that I had learned about. After such a full day, it was nice to calmly meander around the fifth floor, where there were fewer crowds.

Once we had finished, we met the group again at the Louvre’s underground subway station. As we leapt through the subway doors, we talked about going to see the Eiffel Tower. Nikos offered to take us there and guide us back to our hotel room. I could feel exhaustion creeping its way into my bones. Dounia and I decided to spend the afternoon at the Eiffel Tower! Join me next time for my travel tale as I talk about all of our iconic adventures!

Carlos Balbuena: Summer Update from Mexico City

Summer Update

by Carlos Balbuena

summer update balance money market business sunset landscape

There are lots of different kinds of summers. Summer is a break for many, and a time where most people take their vacations. There are some people that are far from home in a rented flat. They’re listening to music and surfing the web while doing some (home)work. They have their browsers opened to an unexplored tab with a new adventure waiting for them. Perhaps it’s a new place they could call home for a few months, while they explore and learn about their new home.

There are some that took this summer to visit their family (“Long time, no see!”). There are people taking their first steps into a new life, moving on to bigger and better places that are in another country or state. There are also those whose days at school have recently finished. They’re not completely out of the rearview mirror of a university and are still getting the hang of it. They’re still trying to figure out how life works when their time as a student has ended and their time as an official unemployed person begins. Maybe they’re in-between jobs or they’re taking some personal time. And then there’s me.

Promotions Aren’t Everything

summer update balance money market business brand promotion suit work

just got promoted. Why? I don’t know, to be quite honest. I recently finished some courses as a way to get more involved in my business, and that was it! I don’t feel like there’s anything different between my old and new job… so far. However, some of my new duties entail having to go see clients and sell them our product.

The company I work for sells software to other companies that make it easier for them to declare their incomes and taxes to the proper authorities. As a philosophy student, I’m really out of my comfort zone! I wouldn’t even be working there if it weren’t for my cousin, who happens to be my boss.

My cousin is eager to start a new business. I guess it’s easy to get bored after doing the same thing for over 20 years, so I guess it’s time for him to make a change. He wants me to run the business eventually and he’s grooming me for it. It’s kinda nice, but it’s also…incarcerating. When I returned from Florida, I knew I wanted to go back to the US sometime. I wanted to try maybe staying for even more time. Maybe I’d try to make a living there. I also want to get to know my own country better. I’ve traveled in ways lots of people wouldn’t dare to try. However, I’m still a newbie when it comes to exploring my own beautiful country.

Finding a Balance

summer update balance market business money brand promotionI want to do all of these things, but I feel that if I were to leave, I would leave a good chance to have a great salary. A great salary would enable traveling and the ability to enjoy certain vain luxuries that every human loves.

Summer for me has been a transition time between school, dreams, and work. I just finished school and now I’m much more involved in my job. I’m also editing a big, big final essay for a different cousin who is about to finish his career. I’ve certainly been busy!

Almost paradoxically, I’m going out a lot more than before. I like to just hang out and walk around town. I’m going to a standup comedy show next week. The (freaking!) Pixies are coming to town next month, and I’m really excited!!! I also bought a violin, though I’m really awful at it. I still have another year of discount prices for my college extracurricular classes. I’m thinking about paying for violin lessons in school since the discount is really good. I want to practice and perfect my English as well, so I would like to keep studying it. All of these needs require figuring out exactly what I want and the path to achieving them. I want to find the proper balance between my job duties and my hobbies and interests.

So, all in all, it has been a summer of transition: a transition between lifestyles. Now, I don’t have to go to school every day because I have no obligatory lessons left. School offers great optional activities, though. So far, it’s going great. I am trying to find a balance in life. We all want that. It’s the ideal thing, isn’t it? 

summer update balance money market school graduation

Immigration Around the World

by Amanda Whitten

In writing this, I can’t pretend that I’m totally unbiased to immigration – but who is? To the best of my ability, I can only give you the facts that I’ve accumulated and pass on the observations that I’ve made. The topic of immigration is a funny one. Not that it’s altogether humorous, really, but it is one of those topics that can really get people riled up on all sides.

Economic Underdogs

immigrant money world travel economic abroad immigrantsIn Oklahoma (where I’m from), a lot of people see immigrants as one of the main causes of any of today’s societal problems. Sometimes, I can even empathize with their frustration. Why would a customer pay a higher rate for a service when they could pay less? For example, a one-man lawn mowing/landscaping service takes twice as much time for more than double the cost compared to hiring several people willing to work for less time at a much lower price? It’s difficult for small business owners to compete with the ultra-hard working competition. Especially when they don’t take breaks and work for very little pay.

What’s interesting is that this same point-of-view is found in other countries, too. When I was in Buenos Aires in 2012, people there complained about the Peruvians that had immigrated, searching for a better life. They said that in sending money out of the country to their family, they (the immigrants) were weakening an already damaged economy.

Everybody Has it Bad

Recently, in Italy and Germany, people express the same concerns about immigrants from Syria. Here in Spain, immigrants are viewed with similar skepticism as you find in other parts of the world. The concerns are the same: they’re taking all the jobs and they’re working for less money, thus undermining citizens, etc. The funny thing is (there’s that word again!), the other day I heard somebody from England complaining about Spaniards! Spain’s economy has had its challenges. Therefore, it’s pretty common for Spaniards to move elsewhere (such as England) after earning their degree at home. They accept work in England for less money, which causes resentment from skilled English citizens.

immigrant walking world travel economic abroad immigrants

Just so we’re clear, I am 100% pro-immigration. People in the United States seem to think that everybody from everywhere wants to live in the US.  This is obviously a very US-centric point-of-view which is certainly incorrect per the examples just mentioned. I’ve found, though, that many who’ve immigrated just go to the closest neighbor with a big economy. They work harder for fewer benefits. They pay taxes into systems that don’t necessarily provide the same benefits to them.

When I first met Esteban, my boyfriend, I asked him what his take on immigration was.  He simply said, “I believe in a free world.” That is something that I can get behind for sure.

Immigration is a Complicated Situation

immigrant tattoo world travel economic abroad immigrants

Now, this brings me to why I wanted to write this piece: the immigration situation in the US. I’ve noticed many people say, “I don’t have a problem with immigrants as long as they just come here legally.”

Like most enduring challenges we face in the US and across the world, the problem is usually much more complex than such a simple solution. It is often a very lengthy process to receive permission to live and work in the US. Often, many immigrants face significant financial hardships or threats to their safety. Therefore, they’re reasonably willing to take the chance to come to the US illegally. 

How do we, as a global society (whether it be Argentina, Europe or the US), show compassion to others in light of the drastic challenges they face? What are some ways we can help people in a place like Syria reach safety while balancing safety for our citizens? How do we best create vibrant economies in order for citizens and immigrants alike to provide for their families and reach their potential as people? Obviously, we, as Americans, Europeans, and South Americans, are falling short of achieving this goal.

Looking Forward at Immigration

I think it would make more sense if it were easier for people to legally immigrate. Refugees don’t actually want to live their lives constantly on the lam. However, refugees from poor economies and dangerous war zones will do what it takes to give themselves and their children a better life. Nearly every single person on the planet would. Unfortunately, sorting through the myriad of challenges is truly daunting.

Regardless, the benefits of immigration have certainly bestowed incredible prosperity to a number of places around the world – London, San Francisco, Miami, Dubai, and Singapore, just to name a few. My life has been made all the richer by loving and forming relationships with immigrants. It’s benefitted me so much so that I’ve become one myself! Learning Spanish and embracing a different way of life has helped open my eyes. It has transformed me. It’s saved me from being the type of person who says, “Just come here legally!”

Going forward, my only wish is to spread the knowledge that I have gained. I hope that I can help others see that this is a much more complex issue than “just coming here legally.” Our processes are slow and time-consuming. These are processes that not everyone can wait for. I just hope that we can be more understanding of the perilous situations that our global citizens could be in.

forward immigration world travel economic abroad immigrants

World Cup Update: Mexico Wins a Football Victory

by Carlos Balbuena

We love football, especially the World Cup. Call it football, soccer, or whatever you want, it doesn’t matter. You’ve just gotta love the sport. And we do, here, in México. The country went nuts when our national team defeated the Germans, who were the reigning World Cup champions. We went crazy because most of us didn’t believe they could win that game – our football victory. But I’ve realized that there’s something about having a more positive ideology than having better football skills.

History Tinges Reality

We are a people who tend to look down, rather than up. Historically, we have been a submitted people. Originally, we were a feared people and great conquerors. Our ancient Aztec ancestors ruled a good part of southwestern North America. Then the Spanish invasion happened. They forced new spiritual beliefs and duties for everyone as if to say, “there you go, everything you’ve believed before is a lie, thank you so much.”


And pretty much everything went downhill, ideologically speaking, from that point. We had viceroys, an inquisition, martyrs, heroes who turned into villains, villains who turned into heroes, and even an Austro-Hungarian emperor for a while. But what comes out of all that is that we became a people who were used to being ruled. We were used to being told what to do and what to expect, to count our losses and move on, and to settle with the little things we were able to keep.

Ideologically, we grew up as a country with these kinds of thoughts. So it is hard for us to believe that mere discipline and effort will make you successful. Our Mexican dream is going to the US and living the so-called American dream. It’s ironic because we are a religious people. However, we don’t have faith in anything other than our religion. So in this pessimistic ambient, our national team went to Russia’s World Cup. We didn’t believe in our team’s football victory.


The Build-Up to the WIN

I watched the game with some friends. Not a single one really believed our team could win a football victory. Some of them were even shocked when I said, “México will win,” I looked at my friends, “ two to one. Two goals from Chucky Lozano and one from Werner.” My suggestion was laughably dismissed as a naive dream. I took another sip of my beer and never lost confidence while I explained my reasons.


It was a late night. Saturday. A friend of mine had let us crash in his house so we could wake up early to watch the game.

Side note: Here, in México, we’re late all the time. It’s disrespectful, to be honest, but it’s something so ubiquitous that we really live with it. “Oh, we have a date at7? I’ll be there at 7:30, maybe even 8:00.” It’s terrible, I know. I just want to point out that I’m not like that! However, as Mexicans, we really are like that.

Back to the story: We decided to crash at my friend’s place to avoid this problem. No one would be able to miss the game because they were late, as always. By the time the match was about to begin, we were all gathered in the living room around the screen. We were nervous and eager to see the game.

We have a phrase in México to describe our national football team: We played like never, we lose like always. The audience gets frustrated every time our team losses, but we never miss a game. When an important match is coming, you can tell. Street after street is deserted. There is not a single person outside a house or a bar, watching the game.

An Unbelievable Football Match

But during this match, that phrase we say all the time didn’t seem to fit. This time, our team played like we have always demanded they should play. We won, which almost never happens! We couldn’t believe it. México was dominating the game! They looked dangerous in the counter-attacks and solid in defense. Germany actually looked confused! I can’t remember any other time I saw a German team member pass behind a ball or change sides just to see if he could pass. I honestly can’t!

They are a winning team, coming from a winning-mentality country. They are famous for discipline and for thorough efforts for perfection. They’re not used to losing a game, much less to be overcome by another team – by México’s team!

At minute 35, in a counter-attack, our most promising player (who is only 22 years old) shoots a fantastic goal that unravels a splendid surprise and an incredible joy throughout our country. I heard shouts from houses nearby, celebrating. My friends and I leaped into the air, jumping and hugging. I know that this reaction can be extrapolated to every corner in México. It was an amazing first half. But we suffered more than enough in the second half.

Mexico-win-world-cup-patchThe Second Half

Another thing that characterizes us Mexicans is the fear of losing what we have. Insecurity is a big deal in most of the country. This, plus what I said earlier should be enough to understand the nervousness we felt throughout the entirety of the second half.

We had the upper hand, but we feared we could lose it. And we almost did. México didn’t take chances and missed a lot of opportunities to increase the distance in the score. We were all incredibly nervous and screamed a lot at the TV. By the time we heard the final whistle, we were relieved. We were really happy as our faces could give away into smiles instead of worry. We had won our football victory!

The moment the match finished, I got a text from my cousin, saying, “let’s go celebrate! We’re going to the Angel.” The Angel of Independence is the place where we gather in the capital. We gather there as a city, as a nation, to celebrate sports triumphs, complain about our government in mass marches, etcetera.

Looking Ahead in the World Cup

Unfortunately, I couldn’t go since I had other important things to do. These were, of course, paused by the importance of this game to me and to my country. There are lots of things going on here. Although we’re about to elect a new president, we are football people. Call it a social distractor or whatever you want, but we love it.

The reactions throughout the entire country were of astonishment and excitement. People are fully behind this team now. Although this is good, I don’t like that we’re only supportive during the good times. That’s another topic for another day, I guess.

Anyway, I hope this little text helps you see a little bit of how we live during a game here, in my country. It was absolute pandemonium in the streets. We are very festive here in México. It’s something we’re famous for! Everywhere we go, we try to be joyful and warm. We have a lot of expectations during this World Cup. If we qualify as first place in our group, there’s a good chance that we won’t face Brazil. Brazil is our main concern before the World Cup. So all in all, everyone is happy. Mexico has at least one football victory on the books. 


Appreciation to My Dad on Father’s Day

A Dad Appreciation Post

by Cassidy Kearney

When I first told my dad that I was writing for a blog, he asked me if I’d written anything about him yet. I could practically hear the mischievous smile plastered on his face over the phone. As soon as he appeared in my “What I Know Now,” he called me up and started bragging, loudly boasting to my mom about how he had was “in a blog, and [she] wasn’t! So, HA!” For Father’s Day, I thought I’d write a whole article just for him. And what better tale could I tell than our most recent adventures of Dad driving in Ireland?


Dad Driving in Ireland

In the summer of 2017, my family and I exhaustedly stumbled off of an airplane into the Dublin International Airport in Ireland. We zombie’d our way to the Enterprise kiosk and rented the biggest car they had. My brother, my sister, and I squished ourselves into the backseat after we shoved our suitcases into the back. As we looked up, we saw Dad getting in on the right side of the car. This was a particularly weird sight because Dad is never on the right side of the car (because he always drives)! We took a moment to look at one another and laugh to ourselves how weird this was. It was time to start our Irish adventure of Dad driving in Ireland.


After a particularly stressful start of navigating out of the airport, we finally made it out to the streets of Dublin. The streets were narrow. We all wanted to press our faces to the glass but being on the wrong side of the road made it almost too terrifying to look out the window. They seemed so close. It seemed so wrong! We quickly forgot about how jetlagged we were due to terror.

User Failure

As we got closer to our hotel, we started circling around the block trying to find a sign. Unfortunately, every street around the hotel was a one-way street. Eventually, my mom got out to walk around and find it. There was nowhere to pull to the side and park, so we decided to keep driving in circles as we waited for her. After the fifteenth loop around the same block, Dad decided to get a little frisky and go up a few more streets. What follows was one of the most stressful events I had ever had in my adult life:

“Hey, lets go see what’s up the next block,” said Dad.

“Sure,” we said.

Dad stopped and attempted to turn the right turn blinker on. Instead, the windshield wipers scraped across the window with a loud “SCRRRRRRRGGGG.” We all leaped into the air and yelled, “AHH!” We started giggling about how badly we had scared ourselves.


He attempted to fix his mistake, which then splashed water and caused more windshield wiping. He fumbled more and we all started cracking up. Nothing made sense in the European car. He threw his hands in the air and waited for it to calm down. Finally, the blinker was located. We turned right onto a one-way street going in the opposite direction. We all screamed for real. Dad ducked into the nearest street he could find. We still didn’t know if we were going the right way. Dad took the fastest way he could to get back to the block he had been circling for over 10 minutes. We collectively agreed that we weren’t ready to get frisky.

Narrow Streets are an UnderstatementIreland-castle-fathers-day-driving-in-Ireland

After exploring Dublin, we headed off on our Irish road trip. For the most part, Dad driving in Ireland wasn’t too bad. My siblings and I fought for the middle seat for the first time in our lives. Being near a window was too stressful. On the left side of the car, it looked like we were going to go careening into a rocky fence at any moment. On the right side of the car, it looked like we were going to go careening into oncoming traffic at any moment. The whole family held its breath with every passing car.

At some point on the journey, we found ourselves on a one-lane winding road to an abandoned castle. There were no speed limits and no way to see if there was a car coming around a nearly 180-degree turn. Every time there was a twist in the road, I could feel my hair turning gray. The journey seemed never-ending. We finally arrived and visited one of the coolest castles we saw on our trip. As far as we know, it didn’t even have a name. There was a trampled “trespassing” sign and a farmer charging people to hold his lamb at the entrance.

Driving in the Irish Countryside

A few days into our trip, we visited Galway. My sister and I picked up a pair of Irish whistles. Since we had started to feel a little more comfortable in the car, we tried to play as quietly as possible. This is extremely difficult to do, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. Note: I had no idea what I was doing. Every blow into my new instrument would send a screeching pitch throughout the car. After about twenty minutes of trying to be quiet, I gave up. My dad never once said anything about my horrific whistle-playing, even as he navigated the Irish highways.


Our next stop after Galway were the Aran Islands, on the island of Inishmore. To get there, we had to leave our car and take a ferry over. But first, we had about four hours to kill. We decided to explore. We headed north and found ourselves driving through a forest speckled with gigantic wind turbines. The scenery changed as we crossed over a few bridges and began to get deeper and deeper into farmer’s territory. We were so deep that we hadn’t seen any sort of store in over an hour. The sheep no longer had fences. The simply roamed where they wanted and hung out next to the road. We had to stop as some sheep crossed to the other side. They were so close to our windows we could almost touch them.

While that was the last exciting adventure of Dad driving in Ireland, it’s a journey that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Driving in Ireland is something I would never want to do. Ever. We are so lucky that Dad put up with driving the whole trip because everyone else would have gone bald from the stress. The day before our flight to leave, he turned around in his seat with that mischievous grin and asked, “Does anyone want to try driving?”

We screamed in unison, “No!

Culture Seeker Abroad

by Leesa Truesdell

I would like to start by saying what a joy it has been getting to know Samantha LoDuca. Sam and I met last August and whenever I asked her to assist in a project, she was always more than willing to help. The year flew by faster than I thought possible. It seems like only yesterday that we were practicing the art of conjugating Spanish verbs in every past tense imaginable. Sam’s goal this year was to immerse herself in culture. Not only has she accomplished what she set out to do, but she has helped others in the process of becoming a culture seeker. In her last blog post, Teaching Private Lessons and Setting Goals, she talked to me about her future. It’s been a pleasure having Sam on the team this year. I look forward to seeing what she will be up to next.

Meet Sam, The Culture Seeker:

In your last post, we talked about your goal to reach out more often to Spanish locals. How are you doing with that?

“Reaching out to the locals? Meaning how to make Spanish friends? It’s going really well, I’m really excited for the summer. Although my American friends will be leaving which makes me very sad, I am planning some trips with my friends from Spain! I’ll be able to improve my Spanish hopefully (fingers crossed).

I didn’t really plan on doing a follow-up to my first article. My plan was to post more articles of advice in order to help people. I wrote it more from the perspective of, after a lot of months or experience here, this is what I’ve learned. In a way, this is more of a wrap up than a working series.”

Did you realize that other auxilars read your post and are going to take your advice on meeting locals?

spanish locals“No, to be honest, I really didn’t realize that others were reading what I was posting and taking it to heart! I’m glad it could help! Sometimes people just need that extra push and I’m thrilled if my article could be that for some people.”

You posted tips about how to meet locals in your blog posts. What have your experiences been?

“Really great! I’m continuing to make lots of new friends and I love it! Honestly, I really haven’t had any negative experiences. I find that I connect really well with a lot of people who live in Madrid whether they are American, Spanish, or International.”

Lets talk about your school experience: how have you been doing with learning more about the exams the kids take at school? What are your feelings now that school is ending?

“I’m a Trinity expert now! Just kidding, but really it’s been an interesting experience, to say the least. There wasn’t anyone at my school experienced in Trinity exam preparations. As auxiliars we had to take the reins and teach ourselves. Then we figured out how to prepare the students.”

Follow up: remind us again what the Trinity exam is and what age takes this exam?

“Trinity exams are exams that students across Spain take each year. This year the grade that took them was third grade. For this age level, it is a 7-10 minute conversational oral exam where the students have to have certain grammatical and conversational abilities.”

trinity exam

Will you be staying next year? How did you make your decision?

“Yes! I decided back in December. I was at an event and someone was talking about doing what you’re passionate about and how that alone makes you happy in life. Although I’m not sure if teaching is necessarily my life’s calling, this experience has made me unbelievably happy. I’ve learned more about myself and I’ve fallen in love with a culture. I’m just not ready to say goodbye to that yet.”

What will going home for the summer be like?

I’m going home for a month to visit family and friends and then will be coming back to Madrid to work the months of August and September before I start working as an auxiliar. I think home will be a reverse culture shock to say the least, but I’m very excited to see so many people I miss and care about!

If you could do one thing different this year, what would it be?

“This sounds strange but honestly nothing. I haven’t regretted or wanted to change a single minute of my time here. If I had to give an answer I’d say I’d watch my stuff more carefully. One of the most difficult things I’ve had to do here is getting a copy of my apartment key made, but even that I think was a really good experience that helped me in the end.”

Continuing To Be The Best

At the beginning, Sam and I sat across from each other during an intense series of Spanish classes. It was during the brutal Madrid summer heat of August, when we focused on a huge range of topics, from the intercambios, to our interview series catch-ups, and all the way to the day she joined our team for the 2016-2017 school year to contribute her own blogs. Sam has become not only a friend but a person I admire for her dedication to continuing to better herself.

Sam made goals for herself this year and each time I met up with her to check-in, she had not only surpassed those goals but she had gotten better and better at balancing her time. She will not have any problems finding balance when she gets back to the states because we know from her first interview that she can work more than 70+ hours a week. Based on her experience in Madrid, she knows what makes her feel most fulfilled as a culture seeker abroad.

Sam has certainly shared many inspiring lessons as a culture seeker with us and her first year abroad has been a journey of self-discovery through authentic cultural immersion. Go SAM! Keep going and please let us know how things are going in the future.

Please stay tuned for Sam’s What We Know Now insight that will be posted later this summer!

Dealing with Uncertainty

by Leesa Truesdell

If you’re brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello.” – Paulo Coelho

Letting go…

I realize that our time in Spain has been rewarding yet challenging. We all set sail on this journey to spend the next year abroad with the hopes of embracing uncertainty at its best. We wanted to open our eyes to a new culture, a new language and a new way of life; while also teaching our students the language we know and love most. As I look forward, I see a bright future but I also see a great past for which I am grateful.

Different Stories

We all have different stories as to why we choose the paths we take in life. For those of us right here, right now in Spain, something(s) made us decide to take this journey. For me, my journey to go to Spain took some time to think over; but ultimately, my grandmother impacted my decision. She is very important to me because growing up it was her voice and her tales about the world that came to life in my bedroom before bedtime. My grandmother believed in me and she loved me during times when I didn’t know what love was. She taught me more about the world through her collections of memorabilia in her home than any textbook ever could.

It Is Not Easy to Say ‘Goodbye’

The more I travel for longer periods of time, the more I realize it is not easy to say ‘goodbye’ to loved ones back home. On the flip side, it’s also not easy to say ‘goodbye’ to the new friends that we make in our new destinations. Life is complicated and many times I question whether or not I am doing the right thing when it comes to a particular event or action in my life. I am sure we all do this from time to time. Those little questions come up, and often times we question our decisions. Just this past week, I had one of those moments.

I Will Never Forget

Here’s what happened: my grandma, who I affectionately call Tata, is ill. I had a pain in my heart that made me decide to call her. I picked up my phone and called. For those who are not aware, my grandmother was diagnosed this past year with dementia. The last time I saw her was not the best visit we had together and for anyone who has dealt or is dealing with a loved one who has this terrible disease you probably can understand some of the uncertainty I felt before I left her. ‘Over and over again, I contemplated in my mind, should I go to Spain or should I not go to Spain. What happens if Tata passes away and I am in Spain? These feelings I was feeling were and are still legitimate feelings but they are also feelings that she would not want me to have.’

“Leesa, I want you to be happy.”

One of the last conversations I had with her before she became unrecognizable was one where I could see her smiling and telling me, “Leesa, I want you to be happy.” I think about those 6 words constantly as I persevere through this journey. I think about the last time I saw her and how much she had changed into someone I didn’t know anymore. I realized that she is not even aware that I am traveling or living abroad. And, if I told her she would forget by tomorrow. At the end of the day, I remember what she told me two years ago and it was this: she told me she wanted me to be happy. Also, despite not knowing any of my future plans, she shared some of her happiest memories with me. They all involved destinations of travel.

Tata and me before my trip to Spain (2016
Tata and me before my trip to Spain (2016)

Dealing with Uncertainty, My Connection to Her Will Be Through My Writing

When I think of her each day, I realize that my connection to her will be through my writing. My grandmother is a sincere and thoughtful woman who raised me to be considerate and thoughtful too. I know my journey is a very personal one and dealing with uncertainty abroad will make me grow; I know Tata’s words are the fuel that keeps away the fear in order to embrace the change each day I am here. Therefore, in the weeks ahead, I want to showcase the journey of others and what this experience means to them. We all have a story, and for those who want to share theirs please contact me directly so we can learn about your journey and the experiences about to come.