Life After Graduating from Florida State University

Tally Cat Cafe after graduatingZoe Ezechiels was born in Norway and grew up in Sarasota, Florida. She thrives in an environment that is filled with diversity and challenge. She studied abroad in an exchange program in South Korea for a year. Recently, she graduated from Florida State University with a BA in both Media Communications and in Theatre. 

Zoe is a writer and video editor at Dreams Abroad and currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida. She is also working as a freelance copywriter, part-time barista, and a preschool photographer. Zoe plans to move to Oregon in the new year to continue working as an onsite photographer. Read on as Zoe shares what she has been doing after graduating from Florida State University!

How did you hear about Dreams Abroad?

“I heard about Dreams Abroad in the most random, roundabout way. During my senior fall semester, I took a class about media and the environment. In that class of about 120 people, I only knew two classmates. One happened to be a good friend who I have worked within student theater (among other projects, like a Jonas Brothers Sing-a-long musical). If you haven’t read Grace Perrotta’s article about her Ireland travels, take a minute of your time to check it out. 

It was Grace that told me about Dreams Abroad. We were sharing exchange student tales (she about Ireland, me about South Korea) and We Study naturally fell into the conversation. Before I was overseeing the We Study section, the beautiful Marina was at its helm. She had contacted Grace to do an article originally. And because I had also studied abroad, Grace acted as the liaison between Dreams Abroad and me.”

FSU graduation fountain

Now, I’ve been working with Dreams Abroad in various roles for about a year. First, I began as a writer and video editor then I moved on to working with the We Study program. Currently, I work as a writer and editor again in order to focus more on my journey and travel after graduating from Florida State. We’ll see where the future takes me with Dreams Abroad.” 

Where were you when you first joined?

“I was finishing my final year of university when I first joined Dreams Abroad. I was experiencing major senioritis at FSU as a dual degree student. Specifically, I was in my Media and the Environment classroom, not paying attention to the video that the professor was playing, when I first sent the email to Dreams Abroad.”

How has your life changed since then?

Zoe Ezechiels and her friend

“I graduated from Florida State University with two bachelor’s for one thing. Immediately after joining Dreams Abroad, I got really high grades in that Media and the Environment class. I did really well in my final two semesters of school (by nuking my social life, if I’m being honest). I made a lot of amazing friends and had people leave my life. Fortunately, I got to spend an amazing spring break in Portland, Oregon (where I fell in love — with the city). I grew a lot and have reached new levels of self-love. 

Directly from Dreams Abroad, I learned that my writing has value and I have a strong voice. I have become more confident in my skills (though I still have a long way to go). Overall, the glow up has been real.”

What did you learn from your experience of traveling abroad?

“Oh, where do I even start with this. I think I’d need an entire article for every time that I’ve been abroad. But, if I could cut to the essentials, I would have to boil it down to two main things. 

The first and most important thing is that I know that I’ve always got my own back. This means that I will never give up on myself. No matter how suicidal or depressed I get (medicated and blessed), I will still fight for my own life. Being cold and alone in the dead of the Korean winter taught me that I am my own ride or die. 

The second thing I learned is that wandering is your best bet. This is literal and metaphysical. Getting “lost” isn’t as bad as you think it is. As long as you’re careful and really aware of the time or place where you’re wandering, you have nothing to worry about. Metaphysically speaking, wandering in your mind is wonderful. Questioning everything, getting lost, and going deeper all sound terrifying but it’s super refreshing.” 

Tally Cat Cafe

What have you been doing this year? 

“I’ve been on that hustle. Since the beginning of this year, I have taken various work positions. I’ve been doing Dreams Abroad and copywriting since the beginning. Around March, I began to work at Tally Cat Cafe as a barista. I can make a mean cat-tuccino now. Over the summer, I took the last two of my classes to graduate in August. While I was doing that, I worked with FSU Special Programs as a Peer Mentor. I got to work with wonderful students from Macau, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, and Japan. 

Since graduating, the Special Programs job ended and I started working with LifeTouch as a preschool photographer. The job allows me to get my kid-fix without being 24/7 responsible for my own. It also has awesome travel perks (I’m writing this from a cafe in Gainesville — LifeTouch provided me the resources to be able to photoshoot over 200 preschoolers during a period of three days in a place two hours away from home).”

What are your future plans?

canoeing Graduating from Florida State University

“That’s still up in the air at the moment. I plan to move to Oregon with the coming new year, which is the only for-sure thing I know. Hopefully, LifeTouch will be gracious enough to allow me to switch districts (since I’d like to continue working for them). I also hope to work with editorials, magazines, and publications in order to continue cultivating my writing. 

Eventually, I want to go to graduate school but first I’m focusing on gaining experience and saving money for now.” 

Life After Graduating from Florida State University

Zoe has been a stellar member of the Dreams Abroad family and we look forward to working with her as long as she is able. We cannot wait to see what her future holds after graduating from Florida State. She also will be working on our upcoming annual holiday video this year. It’s an exciting project for our members and a time for our team to be featured together. Please be sure to check it out — you won’t want to miss out on her video making skills!”

by Leesa Truesdell

Working Diligently Towards the Future

walking around townLeesa Truesdell is a hard-working entrepreneur and the founder of Dreams Abroad. She has worked diligently to get this website off the ground after her grandmother passed. Leesa finds inspiration from her time teaching abroad in Madrid, Spain. She loves to connect with friends (both old and new) over everyday travel woes and triumphs. This passion developed into the community that is the backbone of Dreams Abroad. From a small handful of expats to a collection of beautiful contributors that continues to grow every day, Dreams Abroad has expanded beyond any expectations Leesa had.

Now, Leesa manages Dreams Abroad while also maintaining a full-time job at Florida State University in the International Student and Scholar Office. She has exciting personal and professional plans scheduled for the rest of the year and is excited to share her updates with the Dreams Abroad family!

What have you been up to since moving back to the United States?

“When I moved back to the U.S., I moved to Tallahassee and began working with international students at Florida State University. I assist students with questions on how to maintain their immigration status while studying on their F-1 visa. I also provide assistance on campus by acting as a liaison for our international students and their academic departments. If departments have questions, oftentimes they call our office.”

eating dinner abroad future

What is your best Dreams Abroad memory?

“I have many memories that I would call favorites. The initial start-up phases in Madrid are some of my most special memories. One of my fondest memories was the day a friend and I sat at my laptop and started thinking of website names right after my grandma passed away. At the time, I was grieving but I was also using the grief to be proactive. Starting the Dreams Abroad website helped in many ways. I have many special moments and times abroad with forever friends who will always be part of Dreams Abroad.”

fondest memories

What are your future plans?

“I tend to live from moment to moment. Right now, I am planning to continue to live and work in Tallahassee. Dreams Abroad will continue to grow to its full potential. Meanwhile, I would really like to live abroad again one day in the future. We will see where it takes me.”

What would you say to someone interested in traveling abroad to teach, work, study, or just to travel ?

Center for Intensive English Studies

“I waited a long time to travel abroad mainly because I was afraid of the unknown. Furthermore, I was tied to family and did not want to leave my grandma in her later years of life. I took a chance leaving and have realized that even though she passed while I was living abroad, the way in which things happened, happened. I saw my Tata for the last time on Christmas Eve — her favorite day of the year. She was playing the piano and smiling and the music was bouncing from wall to wall. I remember her that way — a very good way.

Take the chance, feel the fear, and let your heart guide you. Keep going and try not to second guess your decision. Be the best version of yourself that you can be because you only have one life to live.”

A Look Ahead at the Future

Leesa will begin a new chapter of her life this summer working at the Center for Intensive English Studies (CIES) as an immigration advisor and instructor. She is really excited for the future and getting back into teaching since it is something that she has always been passionate about. Leesa has been building the Dreams Abroad community since the start and wants it to continue to grow and flourish in an organic way. Stay tuned for more from Leesa!

by Dreams Abroad

Switching Gears from Teacher to Student While Abroad

I’m a couple of months into my third year living abroad in Madrid, Spain, but a lot has changed in my life. When I moved to Madrid in the summer of 2016, I had no idea how much I would love it or how long I would stay. I had planned to teach English here for a year and take it from there. Now, over two years later, I find myself switching gears. I’m still back in the classroom, but now I’m the student instead of the teacher.

student abroad madrid spain
Early days in Madrid, August 2016


My decision to study the Spanish language in an intensive program for one year stemmed from my professional goals, a desire to make a fuller life in Spain possible, and my love for the language. By the end of my next summer living abroad, I hope to be C1 level certified. I’m getting a lot out of my program so far and enjoying my new life here in Madrid. Now that I’ve been back for a while, I’ve reflected on the biggest shifts in my life since I started studying again and stopped teaching.

Where Does the Time Go?

The first is, obviously, how I’m spending my time. I’ve been out of school for a couple of years, so getting back into the rhythm of studying took a bit of effort. I have classes every day of the week, homework many nights, and tests every Monday, so I have to stay focused to do well.

The park by my apartment, which I’ve been visiting more often this year

The next big shift is where I spend my time. I spent the last two years teaching English in a primary school in the mountains north of Madrid. For me, that meant that I could engage the city where I lived when I wasn’t working. That also meant that throughout the week I got to spend some time close to nature as well. Now, I attend a language academic in the heart of Madrid. Much more of my time is spent in the city. One of the most surprising aspects of this transition is how much I have missed time away from the hustle and bustle of Spain’s most populous city. So now, I make an effort to get out of town and back to nature when I have the time.

The third big change I’ve experienced is spending so much less time with children. I have taken a small nannying job where I speak English for a few hours a week. Although I really enjoy that time, it’s very different from spending every day with young students. I miss my kids and the energy they brought into my life.

Breaking Away From Speaking English

A rather obvious transition is that I’m less engaged with English and more engaged with Spanish. I am learning how to express my views better in Spanish and how to communicate thoughts on more complicated themes. This makes a life in Spain, or even just a life full of Spanish, a much more realizable dream.

And, finally, I’ve had to transition away from teaching and towards studying emotionally as well. Teaching here gave me a sense of purpose that was more palpable. I felt I made a difference in the lives of my students each and every day. I know that studying Spanish in this way will have a huge impact on my life in the long run. Unfortunately, seeing and feeling those changes every day is harder. It has also been a challenge to take a big step back from working so that I can focus on reaching my language goals. I know that I want to have a fulfilling career, and improving my Spanish is a key part of getting to that future. But I’m also looking forward to getting back into the workforce in a fuller way as well.

The Catedral de Santa María la Real de la Almudena

After Spending Two Years Living Abroad in Madrid

Choosing to study Spanish this year was easy. After spending two years in Madrid, I wanted to develop a much better level of Spanish. I also wanted to develop the ability to engage in more nuanced conversations. Doing so will help me reach my goals in a big picture sense, and I’ve already improved so much in the short time I’ve been studying. Although going from teaching to studying has shifted my life in many ways, I’m grateful for the opportunity to pursue new goals and dreams this year and see where they will take me next.

by Emma Schultz

Teaching Abroad in Madrid, Spain

by Ellen Hietsch

Meeting Alex my first week in Madrid set the stage for an exciting year. After missing the last metro of the night, we navigated back to our hotel together, only breaking from the conversation in order to sing songs we’d realized we both like. I knew quickly he was someone I’d want to be friends with.

Having fallen in love with traveling in college, Alex decided to give living abroad a shot. He decided to teach English in Spain. His outgoing personality was a natural fit both at the primary school where he works and while getting to know Madrid. Alex and my experiences at our respective schools have been quite different, but our similar passion for Madrid has strengthened our friendship. Curious about his thoughts heading into his second year of teaching, I decided to ask Alex some questions about his teach abroad experience. These are his answers.

Why did you choose to come to Spain and/or Europe?

“In the spring of 2012, I left the United States for the first time and visited Barcelona for a week-long vacation. This experience greatly broadened my worldview. Experiences like seeing the Sagrada Familia church, getting lost in the ungridded streets, drinking beer legally for the first time, snoozing next to the splendid sounds of park fountains, and yes, falling in love with a girl made me realize, for the first time, that there are so many incredible things to see in this world and so many different ways to live life.

Traveling immediately became my passion. I wanted to learn about the world and the countries in it by experiencing life in those places. After this trip, I went to Paris, Florence, Venice, Rome, Napoli, Dublin, London, Edinburgh, and Prague. I enjoyed being in these places, but while there, I never felt that same revitalizing feeling of novelty and excitement that I felt in Barcelona. I suppose my return to teach abroad in Spain has to do with recapturing that sensational feeling.”

barcelona sunset teach abroad alex warhall

Why did you choose to teach abroad?

“My decision to teach abroad was rooted in my love for traveling. I had visited many European cities on vacation, but I had never studied or lived abroad before. I wanted to take my passion for travel to the next level and live overseas. Teaching English in Madrid provided me with the opportunity to create a life in a foreign city with a job that sounded fun and rewarding.”

Have you ever taught before? If not, what were you doing before you decided to move abroad?  

alex warhall friend traveling teacher overseas“I have never taught in a classroom setting before. When I was a teenager, however, I spent five consecutive summers in my home state of Connecticut teaching children (ages five to fourteen) how to canoe and kayak. From this experience, I was confident that I would enjoy working with younger kids in a classroom because I liked their natural energy and curiosity. Right before moving abroad, I was working as a pharmaceutical copywriter for an advertising agency in New York City.”

What did you think teaching in Spain would be like? Where are you teaching?

“I thought teaching English as a second language in Spain would be challenging, but also rewarding. Even before I went to Spain, I found that it wasn’t always easy to communicate with adults, even though we both spoke the same language! Therefore, I surmised it would be even more challenging to communicate with primary school students whose mother tongue is different than mine. I also thought it would require enthusiasm. Young children tend to have approximately thirteen solar-orbits worth of natural, unrepressed energy (fact, not verified). It is my experience that matching their energy is an effective way to keep their attention.

I am currently teaching at a primary school in a small town outside of Madrid called Perales Del Rio. I work with most of the grades at the school, from second to sixth, and it has been verified that these primary school students do indeed have thirteen solar-orbits worth of natural, unrepressed energy, on a daily basis.”

spain architecture church cathedral teach alex warhall

What assumptions or expectations did you have before you came here?

“My mother once told me, “Never assume anything because it makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me.’” This motherly wisdom has always been a guiding principle in my life. This is especially so during those times when I have embarked on new journeys. I honestly had no assumptions or expectations before moving to teach abroad in Madrid. This helped me keep an open mind to the novelties of the city and its culture.”

What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?

“My perception of Madrid is that it has so much to offer everyone. Also, the locals are very helpful and friendly. With these two perceptions in mind, I would say that Madrid is an inclusive city, at least in my experience. If you want to relax, you can enjoy one of the many parks here. Personally, I liked sauntering through Parque Retiro or running through Parque Oeste. If you want to go out, you can stay out until the time when you normally wake up. And that’s still probably too early for a Madrileño. Typically, when I am out late and the metro lines have closed, I take shelter at San Gines — the 24-hour service chocolatería — until the metros reopen. You can do these things all while making friends with the Madrileños.”

What are your goals while you are here?

teach abroad goals tips blog

I have many goals, but the main ones are not to make too much of a fool of myself while I try to learn Spanish, make friends along the way, and explore as much of Spain as I can.

What has been the most difficult since you arrived?

“The most difficult thing about my teach abroad experience has been staying committed to the process of learning Spanish. This particular difficulty is odd because the Spanish language is everywhere. It permeates the air. Yet, there are also many native English speakers living in Madrid. So much so, I often find myself spending more time with other English-speakers. Because I spend my time either teaching English or hanging out with my American friends, learning Spanish has been a challenge. I know that this isn’t the best way to improve my Spanish skills. To help, I take a weekly Spanish class (with my American friends, of course) and try to participate in intercambio events. But hey, poco a poco, right?”

What has been the best experience?

“This is a tough question because it seems like every day I find something new about my teach abroad experience that I appreciate greatly. Some days, I can make someone laugh using my limited Spanish skills. Whenever I get something right enough for my joke to come through, I swell with pride. Other days, I travel to a distant area of Spain and maybe take a dip in a thermal bath. Their thermal baths make me marvel at just how many “hidden” gems Spain has waiting to be discovered.

alex warhall mountains traveling blog goals madrid

There are some days I simply go for a walk in a park and I’m overtaken by equanimity. Other days a co-worker will ask me about the English language and why we say certain things. This forces me to think about my own language and ultimately say, “Hmmm. English makes no sense.”

How do you feel about your integration into the Spanish culture so far?

“From a physical perspective, I look the part of a Spanish twenty-something: I pierced my nose, grew my hair out, and bought tighter fitting clothing. I look so Spanish that I am often asked questions about where things are: “¿Dónde está la jháf kudhígkh slwöøocnhf?” My answer, in butchered Spanish, is, “Sorry. Could you repeat that slowly? My Spanish is very limited.” From a linguistic standpoint, my integration needs more work. Seriously though, poco a poco.”

never stop learning teach abroad traveling

Wrap Up

Having spent the weeks leading up to my first year in Madrid fairly anxious, I admire Alex’s open-mindedness about his teach abroad experience. His ability to dive into new experiences with a smile and no assumptions has led to a fulfilling life abroad that will only continue to develop in the year to come. Check back in the months to come for more updates from Alex!

cityscape spain madrid teach abroad


A Day at Notre Dame and the Louvre

cassidy kearney travel tales

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!

Getting Back Abroad

After a year in Madrid full of surprises, twists, and turns, Ellen Hietsch is back in the US for the summer. We checked in with her to see what she has been up to these past few months. Her adventures include a West Coast job, moving out of her childhood home, and applying for a student visa during what we like to call “Visa Application Season.” Read on to learn more about her adventures and her next steps.

Where in the world are you this summer?

Berkeley California San Francisco Skyline summer update travel abroad
Exploring Berkeley

I have been all over the place! First, I arrived at my childhood home in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. A cabin fire had broken out on my plane home and I subsequently had a canceled flight. Once I made it back, I was home for three weeks before leaving for Berkeley, California, where I’m currently writing this. After my time in Berkeley, I will return to Carlisle at the beginning of August. Once again not for long. My family is moving to upstate New York (like… 30 minutes from the Canadian border upstate New York) in the middle of August. This is also where I’ll be until I return to Madrid. It sounds chaotic, but I honestly prefer it this way. After a year constantly on the move in Madrid, the last thing I want is to be sitting around in one place for three months

Are you working or studying this summer?

In Berkeley, I am working as an RA for Summerfuel College Admissions Prep program. There are students from all over the world. When I’m in Carlisle, I’m going to be busy with my family’s move, a whole lot of networking, and (the always dreaded) Visa Application Season.

Why did you choose to work in Berkeley this summer?

Originally, I had been interested in working for Summerfuel’s Barcelona program, but it was full by the time I was aware of the opportunity. I chose Berkeley instead because I had never been to California before, but it always fascinated me! If I stay in the US for my master’s, I would love to get it on the West Coast. Summerfuel has been great for getting me to think about opportunities that may exist there. Part of my job involves supervising participants on college tours around the Bay Area. I’ve found a few campuses that have piqued my interest.

Does what you’re doing now with Summerfuel fall in line with your main interests for your career?

Yes – I want a career in international education! Summerfuel has been interesting because I have gotten to explore it from the side of foreign students coming to the US for the first time.

Are you applying the skills you developed while abroad in Spain to this job?

The San Francisco skyline

Definitely. After working with students in a Spanish secondary school, the 19 teenage girls on my floor seem like nothing. The patience I developed while working as a language assistant has also been vital. It’s helpful in that it helps me pause to think about cultural differences that could exist between the students and me. It also helps in simply not blowing up if they won’t stop talking during our floor meetings. I also consider my own experiences of being nervous while away from the US, and am sure to check in with the girls to make sure they’re doing okay.

Are you planning to go abroad again?

After some unexpected scares at the end of my first year in Madrid, I can finally say YES (well, given that Visa Application Season goes well, but I feel confident)! I will be attending a Spanish language school program in Madrid for the year, in hopes of leaping towards fluency. In the meantime, I will get 20 work hours a week on my student visa. I am applying for part-time work in international education and doing private English lessons in the meantime. This will keep me floating until I find something more permanent.

Getting Back Abroad

After speaking with Ellen about her summer plans, transitions, and the steps she’s taking to get back abroad, it’s clearer to me than ever that the roller coaster that is living abroad prepares you so well for anything in life. After you’ve been through the day-to-day stress of life in another country and experienced unexpected hurdles there, they always seem easier to tackle back home. Living abroad has a way of showing you that you are more capable than you’d ever imagined. That’s something you can take with you anywhere.

by Emma Schultz

Berkeley California San Francisco Skyline summer update travel abroad


Another Year, Another Summer: Back to Texas

I feel like I blinked and the 2017-2018 academic year was over. It feels like just yesterday I was returning to Spain for my second year of teaching English as a foreign language in a small town north of Madrid. With another year of wonderful experiences, exciting travel, new discoveries, and fond memories under my belt, I’m off to Texas again for a summer at home.

On a field trip with my students in my first month of teaching.

The summer transition is an interesting one. Last year, reverse culture shock slapped me right in the face. I’m not sure we fully realize all the changes we’ve undergone until we return to a place we’ve been away from for awhile. That’s what going home was for me – the realization that I had changed, coupled with the realization that home didn’t feel quite the way I had expected it to.

Having these realizations is important, but it can be a difficult experience. From my time at home last summer, I know that the way for me to tackle it best is to fill my summer with meaningful projects and experiences. Putting my time, energy, and passion into things helps me readjust anywhere, anytime. Here’s how I’ll be doing it this time around:

1) Focus on the Future

While I’m home, I’ll also have my eye on the horizon. Next year, I’ll be returning to Spain to study Spanish and complete some internship work in the field of international education, and there is plenty to prep for that. I’ll also continue researching graduate school programs and planning visits accordingly.

2) Remember to Stay Present, Too

Focusing on the future doesn’t mean trying to live there. While I’m prepping for my next steps, I’ll also stay connected to the here and now by spending time with friends from home, my family, and the places I’ll be during the summer. After all, my time at home is pretty limited these days, and I want to enjoy it.

The view from home in Texas.

3) Give Yourself Some Structure

As appealing as a fully relaxed summer at home might sound, I know I’d get about a week in and go stir crazy. I know that, especially for me, structure is really important. I need to have something to put time and energy into consistently. This is why I’ll be working in my small town’s Visitor’s Center for the second summer in a row. My projects are always different and there is always something to do – a perfect fit to help me transition back to being at home.

4) Make Some Exciting Plans

Life abroad is a whirlwind – I travel much more than I would otherwise. Because most things are unfamiliar, I have new experiences more often. One of the challenges of moving home for a summer is that most things are familiar. There is so much comfort in that, but it can also feel like a huge drop-off from what I’m used to. Last summer, I was glad I saved a little time and money to travel. I’m looking forward to a couple of small trips this summer, too. It helps keep things dynamic.

5) Use the Time to Reflect

Going home is a great opportunity to reflect on your past year. What were your biggest accomplishments? How did you grow? What do you want to change moving forward? Returning to your roots gives you the chance to answer these questions and more. Take that insight into whatever your next steps might be. It’s always been easier for me to process things like this from a distance.

However you’ll be spending your summer and whatever changes you might be making in your life moving forward, summer is a great time for transition and change. I’m looking forward to spending my upcoming weeks in Texas and enjoying a bit of home before I go back to Spain for year three!



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!

The Next Chapter: Life After Spain


“Cada uno escribe su destino con sus actos y no tienes que dejar que los demás te lo escriban .”  -Spanish Proverb

I have been taking notes and making edits to this post for the past seven months. It is hard to believe that back when I was just getting settled into my second Spanish apartment I was already thinking about what to do once I leave. Alas, it is what must be done.

There was so much to consider once I decided to leave Spain and not stay another year. I decided to break the problem down based on my five-year goals and the best course to achieve those goals. Now that I have lived abroad and traveled to many countries, I know I definitely want a career where I have the option of traveling. There are so many routes to being a “digital nomad” or someone who works remotely. It allows them the freedom to live anywhere in the world as long as they have an Internet connection.


Realize What’s Important To You


With this in mind, I have ruled out some options that might work for others, but for myself, aren’t the priority. These last two years have helped me realize that as much as I miss my family and friends, I can always get in touch with them wherever I am. I can always stay close to them whenever I’m working in the USA, too. I also realized that I do love living in a vibrant city. As much of an annoyance as it is to always be surrounded by thousands of people, it is outweighed by the closeness of everything and how easy it is to connect with others.

After much consideration, I have decided to return to the USA for no more than a couple of years until I can develop my skills as a web developer. I want to be able to financially support myself without having to work at an office. I will be living near family and friends so I will have the support I need to focus on my goals.

Change Can Be Difficult

This is all to say that it is still hard to stay in the present and focus on the fact that I am still in Madrid. I’m really sad about the notion that I’ll be leaving everything around me: Spanish friends, my students, my co-teachers, my morning commute, the cafe I get lunch from a couple times a week. They will all be a memory very shortly.

am still taking Spanish lessons (with what seems like little progress) and it still feels as if it is all a waste. I am also studying web development for several hours a day to prepare for my mid- and long-term goals. However, I’ve decided to focus on the aspects of living in Spain that I thoroughly enjoy in order to make the most of my time. This means more cañas (beers) and walks around the city for the time being!

Looking to the Future, Life After Spain

Now that I have a plan on enjoying what’s left of my time in Spain, I’ve decided to spend only an hour or two every few weeks on the actual logistics of returning to the USA. The first thing to always consider is my budget. As much as I love my life in Spain, it comes at the expense of my bank account (quite literally!). As an auxiliar I make enough to live in Madrid, but certainly not enough to hit the ground running back in California. Thankfully, I have friends that are willing to help me until I get on my feet. For most people who are moving back home, staying with family for a few months is common. It’s a good way to re-acclimate to living in USA.

As my time in Madrid comes to a close, I think of the times I’ve turned a random corner in Madrid and just had to stop and look at the beauty ahead. It does stir a mix of emotions, but I now have a plan to focus on the steps I can take after I leave Spain. This frees up mental space to live in the present and understand that life is a journey. I have made amazing connections here in Spain, whether it be with my coworkers, students, friends or the culture as a whole. My goal when I came to Spain was to figure out what mattered to me most and to not be afraid to pursue those dreams even in the face of adversity. When I look at my time in Spain from that perspective, I have achieved my goal. It’s time for the next chapter.


by Justin Hughes-Coleman