My Biggest Inspiration: María Dolores González

by Carlos Balbuena

Carlos-Balbuena María Dolores GonzálezMy name is Carlos Balbuena González. I’m from México City and I want you to meet my mom: María Dolores González Aguilar. She was the most amazing person I’ve ever met and I had the privilege of having her as a mother. Being her son is the best thing that ever happened to me because of what she taught me.

Importance of Family

My mother taught me the importance of family and the value of sacrifice. She was an incredibly hard-working person. When her mother died, she cared for her father, who had Alzheimer’s. It was a challenging task and she did everything and even a little bit more for him. I admire her dearly because, at the same time she was taking care of him, she was also able to manage a business, take care of the house, and take care of me and our three dogs. She did everything to provide and educate us. She did it all for her family. 

My mother always encouraged me to be myself and this taught me to be my authentic self. Maria Dolores Gonzalez was not a regular mom. She always talked to me upfront about everything and she always inspired me to pursue my dreams. I vividly remember her saying that I should study something that made me happy rather than something profitable. She constantly encouraged me to do the things that I liked rather than the things I dreaded. She taught me I must be myself and never try to shape myself to be likable. My mom shaped my world and my vision of it. 

She Always Listened

Carlos Balbuena and mother

She taught me that you don’t need someone’s validation or a title to prove your worth. Mom was everyone’s person to go to when they felt sad or they needed advice. She always listened to you without judging, and her advice was always pure gold. My mom was really smart and she could’ve done anything she wanted. Unfortunately, my grand-dad had the notion that women should not study since they were just going to be supported by a husband. She had to quit school soon after high school. Nonetheless, she excelled in all the jobs she had and became a fundamental part of them. When she died, the company where we worked together went down and it’s now sinking. She was the only one who was able to properly manage the business.

 

Besides being incredibly smart, she was also an incredibly giving person. My mom always worried about everyone else instead of herself. As we say here in México, she was the kind of person who would take the bread out of her mouth to give it to you. She died on February 19th of 2019. With her passing my world turned upside down. 

I’m very sad about her passing, but I’m really happy that I was able to meet her. There’s no day I don’t think about her. I carry a few her ashes near my chest in a necklace. Whenever the day gets too rough or I’m feeling down, I grab my necklace and think about what would she say or the advice she would give to me to make me feel better, and then, the pain fades away. 

 

María Dolores González Is My Inspiration

María Dolores González is not here anymore, but she’s still my biggest inspiration to move forward. I want to make her proud going forward and I know for sure she felt proud of me before she passed. She said it sometimes, but I want to succeed in life so I can be exactly what she wanted me to be: a good, decent, loving person, who is independent and self-sufficient. She shapes and will shape my world.

My mother knew I loved her with all my heart because we used to tell each other “I love you” often. So please, you can never be short on the “I love you’s.” If you love someone, let them know how much they mean to you. If you live with your mom, go to her room and give her a big hug for me. If you live by yourself, call your mom. It’s a good time to say to her that you love her and that you’re grateful for everything she’s done for you.

María Dolores González 2

 

Remembering the Woman with a Heart of Gold: Micaela Colon

Micaela Colon

Pleased to make your acquaintance. My name is Leesa Truesdell and I am from Coral Springs, Florida. As I get older, I realize that life means more. What do I mean by “more?” Well, it means three little things which add up to a large sum: tell people what they mean to you often, live with purpose and do what you can often, and finally, remember that every person you meet has a story, so listen carefully as they might only tell you once.

Micaela Colon: The woman with the best laugh, softest smile, and a heart of gold. 

I have made my fair share of mistakes over the course of my life. Nonetheless, it is these mistakes that have made me who I am. It sounds cliché, but let me explain. My grandmother, my beloved Tata, is no longer alive to write about how she would want to be remembered. However, I have a soul full of love and a mind full of memories that still feel so raw and real. Micaela Colon passed on January 11, 2017. Yet, I can still hear her voice and see her smile. Those are the memories that will never fade and are tucked in my heart forever. 

The love my grandmother showed me as a child was the kind of love a child could only dream of. I can still see the red swing that I would run and jump on when she took me to the park by her house. We went to the arcade for hours over the summer. One of my fondest memories is going to the cinema with her and sharing popcorn. We used to go to the cinema a few times a summer. Two movies that remind me of her are Chances Are and Xanadu. Tata enjoyed a movie with a good soundtrack. She played the piano and was passionate about a variety of music.

playing piano with my grandmother

Be Mindful

I am telling you about my memories that live on in my mind because as she got older, I remembered her love and I never forgot her. When I got older and was able to drive, I took her out to lunch. Eventually, when I was in college, I called her on all of her birthdays. When we went to lunch, she usually ordered the soup of the day and a half-sandwich combo at Rob’s Bageland near her house. It was one of her favorite places. After she passed, I remembered the things that I did with her as a child and as an adult when it was my turn to care for her. There was no eradication of the sadness but it helped me through it. 

Let me emphasize this — tell people what they mean to you while they are in your life. They will never forget it and neither will you. When I got home from Madrid and saw my mom for the first time after Tata had passed, she handed me a box with things from my grandma. In the box were cards that I had mailed her over the years. She kept all of them. At the time, I did not realize how much a card meant to her, but clearly, it meant everything and more.

Embrace Being Abroad

My grandparents traveled across the world throughout their lives because my grandfather was an aeronautical engineer. His job meant that he needed to live in different countries for years at a time. My grandparents embraced this part of their lives. They did what they wanted and they lived with purpose. They adapted to environments that did not accept them and taught in places that embraced them with open arms. For example, my grandmother taught English in Kinshasa, Africa in the 1970s while my grandfather made friends at work. He attended Rumble in the Jungle. This is something I was not aware of until my late twenties.

Take Time

What Tata wanted most during the older years of her life after Papa passed was attention. Our roles reversed and towards the last few years of her life, I found myself sitting and listening to her about her childhood in Puerto Rico. When her dementia started to progress, she kept her long-term memory and continued to recall her childhood in Puerto Rico. She just couldn’t remember what she had just eaten. It was important for me to sit and just listen to her during these stages of her life. Unfortunately, with Lewy body dementia, the person knows what is happening to them while it is happening.

Shared Moments

I felt at times helpless that she would fail to remember I was there because her short-term memory would not last. 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. Some might not want to share, but those that do might need a friend or, in my case, their granddaughter, to sit and listen to the same story over and over again. As I look back, it only took a few minutes here and there, but collectively these minutes are some of the best moments I have ever spent.

Remembering Micaela Colon

The legacy Tata left me changed my life. It has made me a more mindful person. I tell people what they mean to me more often, I live with purpose, and listen to others regularly. When I got back from Madrid, I became an international student advisor and my sole role was to listen during this job. I also started Dreams Abroad to help others achieve their goals in life. No matter what I am doing in this life, I am always remembering her and using the love she gave me as a guide in my day-to-day actions. Micaela Colon is sincerely missed and never to be forgotten. 

Her legacy lives on through Dreams Abroad and its impact.

by Leesa Truesdell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

St. Augustine, Florida: an Excursion to Remember

What is a memory? A series of intertwined images revolving around in an electricity typhoon? The main pillar of (cognitive) knowledge? Echoes of a distant time resonating through your thoughts? Without it we could not remember how to get to work or how to dress; without it, we could not be who we are, because we could not remember our past. We would not be able to know that karma is almost scientific: every action has a reaction. Or maybe it is all of this and more, all at once.

Today I find myself remembering a lot of things. The thing is, when you vividly remember something, it is almost as if you could taste it. Do you know that feeling? Have you ever missed something you barely knew? I miss how I felt when I was in St. Augustine, Florida.

Let us be clear, before every memory lies a thin veil of uncertainty. This doesn’t necessarily make memories unreliable but this is a subtle warning that everything might be or might be not as you thought it was. Remembering is a cognitive process related to imagination. It’s impossible to have any control over the human imagination. Nonetheless, this process only embellishes our memories. I had nothing but a good time in St. Augustine. As I look back on my time there, I sense the sweet taste endemic of those great, indelible, fierce memories that stand tall in the fight against oblivion. Those memories are the thing known as the time of your life.

bridge of lions xcursion

My First Impression of St. Augustine

The first thing I noticed was the architecture. I felt like I was home. This part of the US was “inhabited” by the Spaniards initially, and it’s noticeable in the architecture. The characteristic Spanish architecture is exactly the kind of architecture I would see in my own country. Regardless of its origins, it’s a themed town I would say.

It looks like it stepped out of the 16th century or so, you know? It recalls a time back to when the Atlantic was swarmed with all kinds of greedy Jack Sparrow types and the American continent was still a dream and a new opportunity — a ripe, juicy fruit for everyone and anyone to take. I even saw some pirates while I was there, actually. We were near the fort, Castillo de San Marcos, so that’s what probably sparked my imagination. Water was everywhere you looked, with the Matanzas River spilling into the ocean. A cool breeze swept through the harbor, swirling around the peaceful boats bobbing beneath the bridge. I was fascinated, honestly. This was the kind of place I love to visit.

castillo de san marcos st augustine

Seeing the City on Foot

By foot is the only way to truly see this city. We parked and got going without direction, just putting one foot in front of the other, as they will. There were lots of stores. Each shop and restaurant has a unique décor that’s coherent with the idea of the town. We saw all kinds of stuff: amazing souvenirs, clothes, toys, board games, and jewelry. You name it, it was there. A single tour of just one street took us more than half an hour. It was impossible not to stop at every single store display to stare at something. We got lost from the group once or twice because everyone was interested in something different, of course.

All in all, we had a great time just walking around. The main attraction is the Castillo de San Marcos. Castillo de San Marcos, known simply as “the Fort” by locals, is the crowned jewel of St. Augustine. It’s a great construction whose rich history is embedded into the fabric of St. Augustine itself. Speaking of great buildings: we all agreed that the city’s university almost looked like it was straight out of Hogwarts. And it really was! Flagler College sits across from the Lightner Museum, which I found out sometime later.

Florida historic

After a while, it was time to get a room. We still had some time to find a fairly priced accommodation before nighttime. After only a little bit of looking, we rented a room in a tiny, cozy hotel just beyond the bridge. The price was fair and the location was pretty decent, seeing how close we were to downtown.

St. Augustine at Night

We couldn’t leave without visiting the St. Augustine beach. Even though we went at night, there were still lots of people. There was a pier off the beach with lots of stores and food. Even though it was so dark you couldn’t see the people on the beach, the pier was alive with light. Nonetheless, we went down to the beach to swim for a little bit. Even though it might have been unwise, we stayed close to the beach.

 

I even made friends with a couple while we were at the beach. They were in their 50s and were foreigners in America, just like me. We talked a lot before he invited me for a beer. I introduced my friends when they got out of the ocean. It had been a really nice day, but after a while, it got pretty late. The beach started to run empty and we decided it was time to call it a night and went back to the car. By that time, we were experts in cleaning sand off of our shoes and feet without getting the rental car dirty. We rinsed off with the showers on the beach before returning to the hotel to get ready for the rest of the evening.

The night is where the real magic happens. The town has an eerie, mystical vibe to it. It’s only accentuated by the dark. One of the more popular things to do there is to take a haunted tour of the lighthouse. It’s said that it’s really actually haunted, but that can’t be on the tour, surely.

St. Augustine is Incredibly Charming

I really loved the journey to and from the hotel. Everything was shiny and beautiful. Even though we had a really good time, we had to go the next day. I remember how beautiful it was that night in the hotel because the moon was huge. I felt it right above me and the hotel. I’ve always had a tendency to go to sleep late, so I snuck outside to see the stars. I had a wonderful night chilling outside while my friends slept.

There are no possible words that could give St. Augustine justice. It is an incredibly charming little city. I would love to live there. I can’t wait to return someday.

Check out Carlos’s last post about his experience while studying abroad.

Castillo de San Marcos Fort st augustine

 

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

 

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