Puerto Rico Trip: 2020 A Memorable Year

Writer and Dreams Abroad founder Leesa Truesdell during her Puerto Rico tripLeesa Truesdell’s beloved grandma, Tata, is a continuing influence on her travels, inspiring her to fall in love with adventures abroad from an early age. While teaching English in Madrid, Tata passed away. Since then, Leesa has developed in ways her grandmother would be proud of. After taking an emotion-packed trip to Puerto Rico in December 2019, Leesa was able to honor her grandmother’s memory. Now, at the close of 2020, she takes time to remember the one and only Tata and all that she learned from her.

2020: A Memorable Year

It’s 2020. When I wrote my last piece about Tata, I did not realize how much would change and how fast it would happen. This year has been tough for all of us. It is times like these when we must remember to tell people what they mean to us often, live with conviction and purpose, and remember that every person you meet has a story, so listen. Listen up and listen hard. 

Last year, I was in Puerto Rico. Letting go has never been easy for me, nor has saying goodbye. When I returned from Spain, I worked and did not stop working. It is almost as if I did not give myself a chance to fully let go of the sadness that would creep up every time I heard a song or was reminded of her. I realized I needed to take a break from overdrive and go back to the place where all of my traveling began. So that is exactly what I did.

Feelings on Arrival

When I landed, I didn’t feel the usual buzz of anticipation when you get off and exit the aircraft. This was probably because I knew this trip had a purpose external to my personal destiny. I was there for Christmas Eve (my grandma’s favorite holiday) but also, to let go. For much of my adult life, “letting go” meant backing away from being right in a conversation. Or, letting family members have the last cookie at a holiday party.

This trip just had that feeling… yeah. It could have been a subconscious all-in-your-head feeling. But, I still did not feel that that let-me-jump-for-the-luggage-carousel-to-find-my-bag-so-I-could-explore vibe. This had a different feeling altogether. However, it was up to me as to how I chose to live in the moment. Since Tata no longer was there for me to tell her how much I loved her, it was time to set her free. After her passing in 2017, it was about time.

As I drove to the other side of the island, memories of her stories and Puerto Rico flashbacks bounced into my mind. Years of listening to her stories filled my heart. They came out right when I needed them most. It was as if those memories armed me with what I was about to encounter next. 

She would talk about Puerto Rico and her sisters over and over again. In the end, I felt like I was the adult and loving grandparent she had been to me for thirty years prior to that moment. These moments made me realize how much people have to tell if you listen.”

— Leesa Truesdell

A photo of Leesa and her grand mother, Tata. Leesa reflected on her grandmother's life and the messages she carries with her today during her Puerto Rico trip

Why Am I Really Here

When Tata passed while I was in Madrid, my father had a small portion of her ashes encased into a ceramic heart. The purpose of this heart was so that I could have her with me at all times. Truth be told, she had been in my heart since the moment she took her last breath. Although we were separated and on two different continents, I knew when she passed. Time stood still. 

So, while the sentiment was thoughtful and sweet, Tata needed to return home. She had been locked in a tiny heart for years. This was not how she would have wanted to have been remembered. I believe with conviction that she needed to be set free. She lived her life traveling the world, yet was not afforded the opportunity to go home one more time before she passed. 

She talked about Mayagüez many times over the years — as long as I knew her, which was my entire life. But, she never returned. Puerto Rico was not calling during her life until the end. That was why it was my responsibility, down to me and nobody else, to release her and to let her go. Over the years, I heard her stories and when dementia set in, she spoke of the island even more. I listened. I listened hard.

Leesa looking at a picture on a camera while at the beach in early 2020 during her Puerto Rico trip

Ashes to Ashes

The location and personal ceremony I had with Tata one last time before she physically left my hands and rejoined the earth was an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life… I will never be able to put it into words. I had so many things I wanted to tell her. And, so I did. I let go. We let go together. 

William Parrish : It’s hard to let go, isn’t it?
Joe Black : Yes it is, Bill.
William Parrish : What can I tell you? That’s life.”

Quote: Meet Joe Black

Life and Legacy Beyond 2020

What things are you doing or working towards now that are helping to shape the legacy you want to leave? How are you moving past 2020?

I ask each of you to join us as we begin our life and legacy chapter of Dreams Abroad. We want to make this a space where parents, students, teachers, doctors, executives, healthcare professionals, military service members, police officers, and more can come to speak about their lives. Our goal is to not leave our loved ones behind. We want you to share a note, a phone call, or an online greeting to let them know that you care. Please join our team as we reach out with information about how you can help us stay connected.

Discovering Resilience: Month Three Part Two

Discovering Resilience
This photo is one of my favorite memories from traveling because after this trip across the Strait of Gibraltar, I began to practice living and being present in each moment.

This soul-searching series showcases my grieving process over the course of the most harrowing and heartbreaking six months of my life. It offers a window into how I worked through the processes of loss and resiliency after the passing of my beloved grandmother. Perhaps it will be of benefit to you if you are struggling to cope with a similar situation.

Travel With Heart

I took two trips in March: one to London and the other to Bordeaux in France. Both trips were special and added meaning to my overall journey abroad. They also marked a very important part of my grieving process and in discovering resilience. 

After I took these trips, I knew my grandmother’s memory would not only live on in my recollections but also, remain within my soul. Tata enjoyed traveling too. Both she and my grandfather traveled their entire adult lives, which I heard stories of as a child. It was her travel tales that came to life in my mind that added fuel to my own dreams abroad.

When I began my solo travels in 2013, Tata was not able to accompany me. The first trip I took was to Puerto Rico to see where my grandparents were born and lived. Since that adventure, I traveled to many different places in South America. Ultimately, I decided to move to Madrid to teach abroad. I chose the Spanish capital so that I could find out more about the culture and history of this Iberian country. After all, my ancestors were from Mallorca!

Exploring Apart From Tata

There were moments during my travels where I felt like Tata and I were bonding spiritually. Although she was not physically with me, I felt her with me in my heart. Over time, I realized what traveling meant to her. 

I began to enjoy travel and I got good at it. I picked up the vibes of foreign places and I understood how to interact with locals on their terms. Traveling became (and still is) my favorite pastime. With each place I went, she was there with me, even though her dementia was getting worse and worse.

After I moved to Madrid, the divide between us was no longer distance, but life and death. I truly believe I have honored her by leading a life of exploration of both the world and myself. Below I talk about the special places and the feelings that I had while grieving hard. Despite my grief, I felt inspired with each new memory I made when visiting new places.

Blue October in London!

 

Pray for the ones I wish I could erase
Cause we are who we are and we’ll be who we’ll be
Live for the moment and the mystery of everybody owns a scar
To show us how we got this far
Cause we are who we are and we’ll be who we’ll be
Don’t ever think you’ll take away the fight in me

– lyric from “I Want It” by Blue October

An Ode to Tata

London was a significant part of my grieving process because of its many unforgettable moments. I went to a Blue October concert with a very special friend. The event felt so raw and cathartic. Each time I heard the violin coupled with the lyrics to the songs I knew by heart, it took me to a calm and peaceful place. When I listen to the LP, I still feel like I am standing in London at the concert. Very few performances have ever been that powerful in my life, and have ever resonated with so much emotion.

Lighting a Candle for Tata

On that same trip, Emma and I did some sightseeing. We went to Shakespeare’s Globe for a performance of Othello. It was an unforgettable moment in time. Emma made the wonderful recommendation to light a candle at Westminster Abbey. I remembered Tata by lighting a candle in her honor and found solace in my own special way in an amazing place. Since that day, I am so thankful that Emma made the suggestion. I had never realized that lighting a candle could be so meaningful. My healing process actually began the day I lit that candle in the Abbey.

What stood out the most to me inside this amazing church was not only the architecture, but also, the amazing people who were laid to rest there. Some of the most renowned people from English history like kings, warriors, and scientists rest there. They are people who left their mark on England and the world. I felt reverence as I passed through Westminster. I felt truly amazed by the incredible history. Westminster Abbey, the beautiful church where I began my personal letting-go and healing process. At the time and over the course of my stay abroad, I didn’t realize that’s where discovering resilience began.

A March Miracle

St. Croixe

The second holiday weekend in March, I traveled with Morgan to Bordeaux. This trip became even more important in my grieving process. By this time, I had suppressed a lot of feelings. I felt as if I would explode at any moment. I struggled with feelings of grief, not receiving enough sleep, and the constant challenge of dealing with cultural and language barriers.

The last day in Bordeaux, I took the day to explore the streets. The beautiful springtime in Bordeaux finds itself as the perfect time for adventuring! I stumbled upon a beautiful church in St. Peter’s Square: the Église Sainte-Croix de Bordeaux. The experience inside this church felt life-changing for a number of reasons. While I sat on a bench, I listened to the hymns that floated from some unknown location in the church. The hymns made the experience even more magical.

As I sat, I let go of all the stress and bottled-up nerves. It felt like something inside me finally turned on. Then, all of a sudden, all of the emotions that I bottled up came out. Again, I didn’t realize at the time that this was a huge stepping stone in my grieving process. I would only realize it months later. But, that day in the church, something struck me with a moment of clarity that shook me to my core. It began a moment of serious self-realization and trusting myself in order to understand what I needed to make these feelings of intense sadness go away.

I usually schedule my trips meticulously. On this day, at this time, I hadn’t. I had stumbled upon this place — it found me. After that moment, my grief became a whole lot easier to process. My walls came down.

A Lesson Learned

A guard at Kensington Palace let Emma and me take photos in this chair. We felt so special!

The lesson I learned from month three was that I needed to let my walls come down. I barricaded myself inside my own mental fortress after returning from the States in January. Since then, I’d created sensitivities to the Spanish culture that had never been there before. Even one of my friends noticed a change in me. She didn’t know anything about what I felt because of the walls I built around me for protection after the death of my grandmother.

The months after her death felt extremely difficult. I didn’t leave my house for the first ten days after she died. If I did, it was to go to work. I was closed off to friends, to learning the language, to meeting new people, to trying new things, and most importantly, to living my life in Madrid. If you know someone who just lost a loved one, go easy on them. You never know what they might be feeling that is making them behave a certain way. If they matter to you, talk to them; if they don’t want to talk, listen to them.

Building The Essential Checklist

Here are some helpful tips that I developed as I dealt with the grieving process abroad:

  1. Go out and talk to friends and coworkers. Try to remain as normal as you can and maintain a routine as much as possible. You don’t have to talk to people about your grief, but it does help to go out and make new memories while you are trying to let the pain subside.
  2. Cry when it hurts, but don’t let it consume you. Suppressing feelings is not a normal thing to do. It only results in delayed, and sometimes worse, outcomes.
  3. Seek professional counseling if you feel like you can’t keep your normal routine and things aren’t getting better.
  4. Try not to internalize your sadness. Write to your family and friends back home or write to a stranger. Maybe talking to someone you don’t know well will help you relieve some of the suppressed feelings you experience.
  5. Find a hobby and find a way to focus on making it as meaningful as you can while you are abroad.
  6. Listen to feedback from friends and family. Be aware of what they say. Note whether or not you need to adjust your lifestyle choices. Discovering resilience begins once you understand your behavior and its effects, and how you should adjust in order to be able to recover from grief to become your better self.
  7. ENCOURAGE people in your life to try their best. Teachers: get to know your students’ needs. Most importantly, get to know your students before telling them they CAN’T do something. This type of behavior causes learner anxiety and self-doubt.

My next article will show a progression of my journey through the grief and loss of my beloved grandmother. During the month of April, I went on a trip to Italy and began to find peace of mind and in my heart. Join me on my adventure back in time through one of Europe’s most beautiful countries.

Thank you for reading and being a part of the Dreams Abroad family!

Resilience Abroad: Month Three

This soul-searching series showcases my grieving process over the course of the most harrowing and heartbreaking six months of my life. It offers a window into how I worked through the processes of loss and resiliency after the passing of my beloved grandmother. Perhaps it will be of benefit to you if you are struggling to cope with a similar situation.

Tidal Wave 

Leesa Truesdell

As I mentioned in the last article, the waves kept coming and almost engulfed me. I felt like a surfer on the north shore trying to ride huge waves with a ragged, water-logged surfboard. It wasn’t until the third month after my grandmother passed that I realized what was happening. 

I had a friend point out how I had reacted about something. Shortly after this interaction, a tsunami of grief hit and it came crashing down harder than anything I had experienced before. My insides felt like they were on fire but really it was my nerves. 

I was angry. Why? I don’t really know. It is not as if it was happening all the time. The anger came in spurts and occurred for reasons that I can’t even explain. It would start with little things and then, the little things escalated into bigger things. Then, I just simply stopped caring. One of the most important persons in my life was gone, and I couldn’t process it. Period.

At this stage, my work was the only area of my life that was consistent each day.  It was the highlight of my day and, looking back, some of my best memories in Madrid were made at my workspace. I looked at each day in the classroom as my opportunity to channel my inner Tata, which gave me the strength that I needed to move past the sadness and return to the path to feeling semi-normal again.

A New Normal

I couldn’t talk about Tata or what I was feeling in my heart because it was too painful to bring up memories while I was so far from home. Instead, I built intricate walls for protection. I didn’t realize the walls were as strong and high as they were until they caused problems in my social life. 

I lost two friends because of my behavior and realized at that point that I needed to make a change. A bit thereafter, my social life started to come back to a state of normalcy. I began to open up more and the walls slowly came tumbling down.

mareez reyes quote

Month Three: Walls

“I guess it’s like a voice inside my heart; reminding me that there is nothing to fear in the things that I am afraid of.” Tove Lo

Day after day, I walked the streets of Madrid and rode the Metro listening to music on my way to work. I was going through my days trying to work through my loss. The more I walked, the more the music meant to me. 

There was one specific song on Tove Lo’s album in March that really touched my soul one morning on the Metro. It’s called Imaginary Friend, and the quote above is from that track. The song makes you think she has an imaginary friend that she calls on when she is going through a hard time. However, at the end of the track you realize there is much more to the story. This was an important insight for me, understanding that things go beyond the surface. It was a useful lesson that helped me through this time.

Tove Lo: Imaginary Friend

March was difficult in the beginning but it got better. I was on the path to building resilience. My personal life suffered because I was suppressing grief. My friends didn’t know how it was affecting me because my walls were so high. I was not as thoughtful as I could have been about how I handled certain exchanges between us. 

One of my close friends was strong enough to point out how I was reacting to certain things, and pretty much from that point on, I was more aware of things like my deliberate avoidance of using the Spanish language or becoming negative about certain things in life (that I am usually not negative about). Looking back, it was her good-natured spirit that made me alert to what was happening. I became aware of my actions and myself; I realized that I needed to make changes. Shortly thereafter, I signed up for private lessons with a Spanish conversation tutor, Enrique, who quickly became a firm friend.

There Is No Can’t In Resilience Abroad

Enrique and I

During my grief process abroad, I had a tipping point. Before the death of my grandmother, I signed up for Spanish classes at a private academy upon returning from my winter vacation. After a few lessons and the week after my grandma’s death in January, the instructor approached me after class and asked me in Spanish if I would consider moving down a level. With tears in my eyes, I turned to her and said: “Lo siento, eres muy mal profe.” 

I walked out of the academy feeling a bolt of pain in my heart that I think also contributed to the disconnect and soon detachment that I started to feel with the language. But this taught me a valuable lesson which I still draw upon as a teacher. It is so important to get to know your students and their needs.

The instructor did not realize that I was one week out from the recent death of my grandmother. It was so hard to try to make it to class, let alone try to communicate in a foreign language. I tried my best and in the end, it all worked out because I met Enrique. I realized in my first few sessions with Enrique that the previous teacher had caused me to doubt myself and subconsciously I was stalling with words that I had never had trouble with before. 

However, this was an important lesson learned for my self-growth and most importantly, my growth as a foreign and second-language teacher. I mention this part of my journey in month three because this tipping point added to my self-doubt, frustration, and anger. When the tsunami hit, there were many outside factors that contributed to the anger and frustration that I felt while living abroad. I just didn’t know why at the time.

if it doesnt open its not your door

Lesson Learned

If a student is struggling, find out more. Don’t assume it’s their proficiency level right away. Most important, don’t tell them they can’t. Many times we are so quick to doubt or blame others for their shortcomings. ENCOURAGE your students to try their best! Look beyond the surface.

Building The Essential Checklist

Here are some helpful tips that I developed as I dealt with the grieving process abroad

  1. Go out and talk to friends and coworkers etc. Try to retain as normal a routine as possible. You don’t have to share your grief, but it does help to make new memories to help the pain subside.
  2. Cry when it hurts, but don’t let it consume you. Suppressing feelings is not natural. It only results in delayed, and sometimes counterproductive, outcomes.
  3. Seek professional counseling if you feel like you can’t follow your everyday routine and you’re finding that things aren’t getting better.
  4. Avoid internalizing your sadness. Write to your family and friends back home or even to a stranger. Maybe talking to someone you don’t know as well as someone you do will help you release some of the hidden feelings you are experiencing.
  5. Take up a new hobby and find a way to focus on making it as meaningful as you can while you are abroad.
  6. Listen to feedback from friends and family. Be aware of what they say and note whether or not you need to adjust your lifestyle choices. Resilience abroad begins once you understand your behavior and its effects, and how you should adapt to be able to recover from grief in order to become your better self.

March was an incredibly complex month which is why I have broken this piece into two parts. Check out part two for more details.

students abroad

teaching abroad

by Leesa Truesdell

 

Grieving While Teaching Abroad: Month Two

This soul-searching series showcases my grieving process over the course of the most harrowing and heartbreaking six months of my life. It offers a window into how I worked through the processes of loss and resiliency after the passing of my beloved grandmother. Perhaps it will be of benefit to you if you are struggling to cope with a similar situation.

Music In My Heart & Soul

Music In My Heart & SoulDuring the month of February, I found myself listening to the music of Prinze George, Blue October, and Bastille practically nonstop. I attended Bastille’s concert in Madrid at the beginning of the month with a close friend and the performance, especially the virtuoso keyboard playing, entered my heart and soothed me. I felt alive and it seemed OK if I flashed a smile and showed that I was happy. When living abroad, it’s important to have a hobby that you can feel connected to both physically and emotionally. Some of those hobbies could be traveling, dancing, food or wine tasting, music, sports, studying the native language, attending live performances at the theatre (the list could go on forever…).

How I Honored My Grandmother 

I honored my grandmother in different ways and it also helped me very much. While I didn’t realize it at the time, by honoring her, I was simultaneously, although slowly, letting go of the pain. For me, each trip I took, each church I entered and each song I listened to made me feel slightly better. My grandmother had a lifelong love for music and she passed that on to me. During my childhood, she would sing to me before I fell asleep and, ever since those lullabies have long passed into cherished memories, music has filled my heart and remained in my soul.

Month Two: Curbed

“Angels walk among us. Chasin’ evil from us.” – Prinze George

you'll never find peace of mind until you listen to your heart

What Day Is It?

The time after she passed was probably the most disjointed in terms of how I coped while grieving abroad. I didn’t have a specific strategy; I just woke up each day hoping that it would feel different from the last. Some days were different, some felt like my normal routine had returned, whereas others felt so unreal.

For example, one day I was walking down the street, listening to my usual tunes, and I glanced up at a bus. A mother with a baby was getting up on the bus at the curb and she lost control of the stroller. Before I knew it, I had the baby pushed back up on the platform of the bus. It was an immediate reaction. I just moved across the sidewalk toward the bus. 

Had I not moved, the baby would have fallen face-first from the bus onto the ground while strapped into the stroller. The strangest part was that I didn’t utter a single word. I was still in my “numb” phase of mourning where I rejected much of the Spanish language. So, I didn’t talk but just acted. After averting tragedy, there were elderly Spanish women making a fuss about the baby, but I had swooped in and in an instant, picked it up and just kept walking.  It was only after I got home that I actually realized what had happened and writing this is this first time I have even acknowledged it.  Looking back, I really was suppressing a lot of what I was feeling.

Missing What You Can’t Explain While Grieving Abroad

February was cold as winter bit hard and I stayed indoors a lot, which led to internalized emotions. Little by little, I was suppressing my feelings of grief and the daily stresses of being abroad. I wasn’t talking to anyone about them because I didn’t want to be a burden. Making and maintaining friendships while abroad is tough in general. The friends that I did make didn’t know me well enough to understand who my grandmother was to me and how important she was in my life so it was hard to talk about what I was feeling.

Every day that passed, I felt soreness in my heart. It seemed as if a piece of my childhood was gone. Talking to new friends about my childhood and having to explain that in great depth was too much for me. So I tucked it inside for a warmer day.

At A Glance…

Looking back, I realize that this month was supposed to happen this way while I grieved abroad. It was a process that made me mentally stronger but also made me realize that, although I am capable of doing just about anything on my own, I should have been more open about sharing my grief and sadness. The direct result of suppressing those feelings was anger and frustration. If I had shared more about what was happening, perhaps there would not have been the unfortunate miscommunication with friends that happened the following month.

Building The Essential Checklist

Leesa Truesdell Grieving Abroad

Here are some helpful tips that I developed as I dealt with the grieving process abroad:

  1. Go out and talk to friends and coworkers and try to retain as normal as a routine as possible. (You don’t have to talk to them about your grief but it does help to go out and make new memories while you are trying to let the pain subside.)
  2. Cry when it hurts but don’t let grieving abroad consume you. Suppressing feelings is not a normal thing to do. It only results in delayed and sometimes worse outcomes.
  3. Seek professional counseling if you feel like you can’t carry on with your normal routine and things aren’t getting better.
  4. Try not to internalize your sadness. Write to your family and friends back home if that helps or write to a stranger. Maybe talking to someone you don’t know as well as someone you do know will help you get out of some of the sad feelings you are experiencing.
  5. Pick a hobby and find a way to focus on making that as memorable as you can while you are grieving abroad.

My next article will show where I traveled and explored after the death of my beloved grandmother. Thank you for reading and being a part of the Dreams Abroad family!

Grieving Abroad butterfly

by Leesa Truesdell

 

Grieving Far From Home: Month One

I would like to start off by saying that not all people grieve the same way and that this article is a reflection of how I coped with my feelings of loss while I lived abroad. I am in no way discrediting any other methods of grief management. Rather, I am sharing my method of healing as a way to provide insight for those who might one day be living abroad and feel similar. Some people might feel that returning to their home country is the best option and others may not have that option. Everyone is different and there is no right or wrong way to mourn. Time takes its course and it’s up to us to keep that person’s memory alive in our heart.

Grieving Abroad

This soul-searching series showcases my grieving process over the course of the most harrowing and heartbreaking six months of my life. It offers a window into how I worked through the processes of loss and resiliency after the passing of my beloved grandmother. Perhaps it will be of benefit to you if you are struggling to cope with a similar situation.

Month One: Numb

The very worst part about pain is that the minute you think you’ve past it, it starts all over again.” – Meredith Grey

Grieving Abroad: For the Love of Music

The first month after my beloved grandmother, Tata, passed was probably the most difficult that I had while abroad. It was one of the hardest times in my adult life to date. The night she passed away I received a call from my father. Leading up to that call, I received updates by the hour from family members with her. I finally received “the text,” the one that said “…she passed away.” It was the one you never want to get. I remember feeling as if everything suddenly went still.

After I got it, I paused and mumbled “no.” Looking back, there was an eerie stillness because it was as if I felt her leave the earth. It felt as if our souls touched one more time. I have never experienced death or grief like this in the States or abroad. Maybe it was better for me that I was away… or maybe it wasn’t. It all felt so surreal.

Leading up to that text, I didn’t believe anyone in my family who told me that she was that ill. It was because I didn’t WANT to believe that she was that ill. I had just seen her about two weeks before for Christmas Eve. She was singing and smiling. All I could think was, “no, not Tata.” I couldn’t process what was happening. During the first month, I felt numb to everything. In a sense, I walked through each day, simply going through the motions. It was all I could do to press on.

Music Is The Answer

What helped that first month after my grandma died was forcing myself to go out and, interestingly, listening to music. Music was my way of escape. Now, it’s how I remember her. Sometimes we may not know what to do until we take the first step. For me, my first step was meeting a friend at a musical we had planned on months before my grandmother’s death. At that moment, all I needed was to see a friend and feel a hug.

It had been ten days since I had real human contact. I had talked on the phone and seen colleagues at work a few days after her passing. But, there was nothing like seeing a close friend, and hearing a very familiar American-themed musical that I grew up knowing and loving. My soul felt better after the show. I slowly became able to start accepting and not denying her passing.

Building the Essential Checklist

Here are some helpful tips that I developed as I dealt with the grieving process abroad:

  1. Go out and talk to friends, coworkers, and even acquaintances. Try to maintain as normal of a daily/weekly routine as possible. You don’t have to talk to them about your grief, but it does help to go out and make new memories while you are trying to let the pain subside.
  2. Cry when it hurts, but don’t let it consume you. Don’t suppress your feelings. It only results in delayed and sometimes worse outcomes. Cry when you need to. Let out the sadness you feel, it’s normal. However, sadness should not stop you from seeing friends or going to work.
  3. Seek professional help or counseling if you feel like you can’t do your normal routine and things aren’t getting better after more than a few weeks.

by Leesa Truesdell

Valuable Lessons I Learned

by Leesa Truesdell

leesa truesdell paris fashion week travel tales

It’s been a while since my last post, where I spoke about one of my very first pieces: Embracing Uncertainty. Uncertainty means “indefinite or not clearly defined.” When we describe life events fraught with uncertainty such as living abroad, time is a theme that pops up frequently. You have the beginning months where everything seems so new and you feel like a tourist, then, you begin work and establish a sense of routine. Then, seemingly suddenly, the year is about to end! For our time here in Spain, it’s almost the end, and, again, the uncertainty is rearing back up saying, “I am back. Hello, life. What’s next?” I realize that as I get older this type of lifestyle, one that embraces uncertainty, is one that makes me feel like I am growing and learning and not feeling stagnant or misplaced.

“Time has a wonderful way of showing us what really matters.” – Margaret Peters

With each day that passes, I grow as a person. With each opportunity that arises, I try to push myself outside of my comfort zone, working towards that growth. My time abroad has shown me that I don’t know myself as well as I thought. Time spent challenging myself has been the reason for my personal growth. I consider time, even though it’s technically free, to be priceless.

About Me and Who I Am

I started this journey looking for more answers about who I am; I wanted to know as much as I could about Spain because my ancestors were from Mallorca. On my first day at work, I made a presentation to my students called “About Me” in which I spoke about my life, my friends, my country, and most importantly my family. Not too long ago, I was talking to my class and I held up a photo of my grandmother, whom I affectionately called Tata. I told my students the reason why I came to Spain, and why I teach. Time moves on so quickly and life can change in a heartbeat. And, in my case it did.

Looking back, I never imagined that I would not be able to see my grandmother again. Those first days in front of my classes were the beginning of my life in Spain inspired by Tata. It’s been a journey that I will always appreciate because I know that she wanted me to be happy, as she told me in our last happy conversations together. As time moves on, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about her sweet smile or soft voice. I started to teach English because of her. Her life inspired me. Each day I walk into a class, I carry her with me in my heart. She may not be with us any longer but her story lives on through my work.

Leesa and her grandmother Lessons
Leesa and her grandmother

Valuable Lessons in Resilience Abroad

Spain has taught me some valuable lessons, and one of the most important lessons I have learned so far is that you don’t know what tomorrow might bring. I know that I would not have learned the lessons I needed to had I not come to Spain. My soul opened up and my heart has once again embraced another culture that has embraced me back. I am very grateful to have this opportunity.

I felt extremely blessed to have been able to see Tata one more time before she passed. Remember to tell those people in your life how much they mean to you regularly. If they do something to upset you, it’s ok to be upset. Just remember that at the end of the day, time is all we truly have. There are a set number of days on our calendar that we will be here. Live your life, be well, let go, and carry on.

‘Cause you never think that the last time is the last time. You think there will be more. You think you have forever, but you don’t.” – Dr. Meredith Grey

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.