Meet Songhoy Blues, Monumental Malian Musicians

Dreams Abroad has a global reach. We have an audience, collaborators, and writers based all around the world, with a goal to cover each continent in glorious, technicolor detail. As we go about our working day, we listen to a developing soundtrack of artists both established and emerging. One previous happy discovery was Songhoy Blues, and we were delighted to set up an interview with bass player Oumar Touré.

Before proceeding to the Q and A, we want to give you a bit of backstory. Oumar is a founding member of Songhoy Blues. He’s also, along with bandmates, a refugee within his homeland. Oumar was forced to flee northern Mali after it was captured by jihadists. One of the first acts the new rulers made illegal was the making of music. Thankfully, Touré and future bandmates escaped to the more culturally tolerant south of the country.

You were born out of a civil war but your music sounds joyous. How difficult is it to stay positive through dark times?

It’s certainly difficult. Despite the challenges, we have to find the right balance between taking our music further afield to reach audiences who are not necessarily in the same situation as us, and denouncing the crisis that our country is going through. This is why we have remained very joyful in our music — but very rebellious in our lyrics!

Landscape With Trees And Cliffs Of Dogon Country In MaliWhat influence did producer Matt Sweeney and mixer Daniel Schlett have on your sound?”

Matt and Daniel are gentlemen who have a great knowledge of music, with Matt especially having a lot of experience with African music. So having these guys with us in the studio brings only good things — not only in the sound choice but also in the whole arrangement of the album. 

The sound effects that Matt offers in each song are so valuable and have contributed a lot to build that rock influence in our style of playing. 

If there is one thing Matt excels at, it is that he always lets us play. Then he tells us  “you go back and play with more anger, rage.” The result is much better. Daniel’s touches are also in the same vein. They have brought a good dose of electro-rock sound to our music while maintaining its African flavour.

And Damon Albarn on your career?

Damon and the Africa Express project were the triggers for Songhoy Blues to start our careers. Not many talents in Africa get this kind of opportunity. It helped us find our very first manager Marc Antoine and our label Transgressive. But since then, the adventure continues. We are starting to fly on our own despite the fact that the route is not easy.

You recently debuted on Stephen Colbert’s show. How do you explain the increasingly universal popularity of the band?”

We are lucky to have a dynamic team that works every day to make things happen – good management and record labels who believe in us. However, we ourselves work hard to continue to push what we are doing and who we can speak to with our music. That’s what makes more and more echoes.

Songhoy Blues in white posing on some rocks.

How did the Peace Through Music collaboration come about?”

We are mutual fans — Playing for Change and Songhoy Blues. They have a school here in Mali and do a lot of amazing work, unifying people around the world through music. It was an honor to be asked to contribute to a version of one of our favorite songs by one of our favorite guys in music — Bob Marley! 

The video was very beautiful and the message is so important right now. It was great to have some connectivity with other musicians and with people around the world. We love to tour and play so much but obviously haven’t been able to for nearly two years now. We also filmed a performance of our song Barre for them in an old schoolyard in Bamako, Mali’s capital.

What does Get Up Stand Up mean to you?

Get Up Stand Up for us definitely speaks to the role of the artist, but also of citizens who have a responsibility to participate in the events of their environment. An artist must therefore and above all speak about the problems of their country. They must see the problems of living beings where they are. And if these problems are ones such as basic human rights (to which Bob alludes), then one must be even more committed.

Songhoy Blues performs on a stage

By the time of his death, Bob Marley felt more African than Caribbean. How much are you motivated by pointing out Mother Africa’s influence on American Blues music?

If at the time of his death, Bob Marley felt more African than Caribbean, this is a great recognition of the African continent. The continent has had a dark past in contemporary history. And I think it’s actions like that that give Africa back its dignity. We believe that the legacy of African music on American Blues can be a great opportunity for us to reach more people in the USA and even elsewhere because of the similarities that still exist between the two musics.

To what extent does your message get diluted if your audience doesn’t understand what you are singing?”

Our songs have been well received all over the world since the creation of the group. However, the understanding of our message has still not been fully realized because of the language barrier. This can be frustrating, especially as we need to share the dire situation of our people with the whole world. We are becoming more and more aware of this reality, and are working on it! So we have already started to take some measures like translating the texts of the videos and singing in other international languages. Further measures will follow.

One of the most iconic cultural British TV moments was the filming of the Bhundu Boys visiting Ireland and jamming with Gaelic musicians. How much do you see music as crossing boundaries?”

Music has never followed the logic of artificial boundaries that people have set for it or themselves. We’ve been listening to The Beatles since we were kids — and today Songhoy Blues is listened to in Australia.

A settlement in Mali

To what extent was your album named Optimisme a reaction to the pandemic?”

Our definition of optimism on this third album is a double reaction. Firstly, to give a glimmer of hope to Malians living in a crisis that is only getting worse. We wanted to bring joy to their hearts at this level. Secondly, we wanted to send positive energy regarding the great crises of the moment -— the world health situation, the current wars — to say that Songhoy Blues believes in a better tomorrow. We invite our fans to cultivate more love and freedom and to celebrate the importance of life.

Most countries have a north-south divide. You’re a northern exile living in the south of Mali. How do the two parts of the country differ?

They differ drastically. The north of Mali, where we come from, is like a town from the Middle Ages. There are no roads, schools, health centers, or security. This kind of place makes the population flee and creates a feeling of rebellion, especially with the religious extremism that threatens the north. On the other hand, the south is more stable. It has more infrastructure and more musical opportunities for the group.

View Of Bamako And The Niger River In Mali

Some of the most memorable London concerts from the Noughties were The Strokes (who ran out of songs) playing Brixton Academy for the first time and Yeah Yeah Yeahs at David Bowie’s Meltdown. How much has their indie-rock permeated your sound?

We’re in the Internet age nowadays and we have access to many different types of music. There are bound to be effects and sounds used by these big bands that appeal to us. It will inevitably influence the way we make music. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are an especially good example since our first album was produced by Nick Zinner!

Three members of the band share a surname in Touré but none of you are related. You are all, however, Songhai. What does it mean to be Songhai to you?”

We are proud to belong to the Songhoy ethnic group. It was the largest medieval empire in Africa south of the Sahara. We draw a rich history of music from it, along with the superb languages. But beyond that, being Songhoy also allows us to talk about this once very cosmopolitan land that has developed a sense of state. And this heritage today is poorly known by all Malians. This is why we define ourselves as “the Songhoy of Mali.”

Blue electric guitar in a dark room

What has been your most memorable festival experience and why?”

Everyone in this band likely has their own unique memorable event, but for me, playing the Pyramid Stage in June 2015 at Glastonbury remains a day I will never forget. It was my first time playing in front of a crowd. Most of the time on stage I was observing the audience. It was only during the last two songs that I realized I was actually playing in the band’s show.

Songhoy Blues with guitar in front of building

Final thoughts on music making a difference

We get that music is entertainment. However, we are aware that some musicians are more rooted in their home country than others. The likes of Amadou & Mariam, Salif Keita, and Tinariwen have helped to put Mali on the (musical) map. Songhoy Blues want to keep this landlocked West Africa country there.

Songhoy Blues are rebels with a cause. They want to get their message across. But they do it in the most emotive way by featuring guitar licks Jimi Hendrix himself would have been proud of. Songhoy Blues pack some punch both on stage and in the recording studio.

If this interview has grabbed your attention, mosey on over to our VLOGS where some inspiring individuals state their cases.

Life in Medellin, Colombia During Lockdown

In June 2020, Lamon and I were in our own separate spaces lounging a responsible six feet apart as he told me about his latest single Spotlight and finca life in Envigado, Colombia. Well, fast forward to September and Lamon has more to share. After the release of his latest single, he has been busy again working on a new track that he’s excited to promote. I also found out that not only does he have a background in teaching but he is an entrepreneur. He and his four business partners make up a company called Primeros Cinco. During lockdown, he’s been working on some promising opportunities using Medellin, Colombia as his home base. 

The last time we spoke, Lamon had me in tears with his Lamonda story. I needed a good laugh and, oh, how we laughed. I hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time. If you’ve lived abroad or speak more than one language — it’s a story you will find funny too. 

Our recent catch-up call was more about — how are you? What’s going on down there? Are you ok? Most of us are feeling the same way at this point. It’s been six months of living with cabin fever and well, we’re just not feeling like ourselves. Let’s face it, the world is fighting a pandemic and we are all trying to survive and manage. Lamon, well, he’s making music and chillin’. Find out how he is doing with the most recent update from his apartment in Medellin, Colombia: 

Where have you been living? Tell us about your living situation in Medellin, Colombia.

The last time we spoke, I was staying at a finca in Envigado. It was great during the first two months of the lockdown. Now, I’m back in my apartment in Medellin, Colombia, which has its pros and cons. During my stay at the finca, I didn’t see anyone for two months with the exception of the staff and chef. Every day, I was able to exercise outdoors and enjoy fresh air and nature. Here in Medellin, I see more people. Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of exercising outside or going on nature walks; that’s been a difficult adjustment.

A picture of Lamon wearing a mask and large headphones in Medellin, Colombia

What have you been doing to keep yourself occupied? Work? Exploring? Exercise?

I’m a strong believer that there is always opportunity in chaos. Since the start of the lockdown, I’ve focused a lot on mind development. Every day I read for 30 minutes when I wake up. Following that, I exercise. Right now, I’m committing a lot of time to flexibility and mobility workouts. I signed up for Portuguese classes via italki and released a new song called Kiz Kiz, which is available on all digital platforms.

Do you interact with friends or are you not allowed?

I speak with my friends/business partners often via Google Meet; we still have a number of businesses to manage and are working on new projects. Because we are on complete lockdown, it’s somewhat difficult to catch up with each other in person. We are allowed to go out once a week for groceries, banking, and other necessary errands, which can easily take up your entire day. Trying to visit friends on those days is difficult.

What is the COVID-19 situation like in Medellin, Colombia?

I’m always amazed as to how the situation is being handled here versus the States. For example, every two weeks we receive a notice informing us which days we are allowed to go out. The system is based on the last number of your local ID/passport. For example, if the last number of your local ID/passport is 6, officials will inform you that you can leave your home on Wednesday. 

Going to the supermarket or mall in Medellin is like checking in at the airport. When you arrive at a supermarket or mall, they first take your temperature to see if you have a fever; before you’re allowed to enter, you must disinfect your shoes and hands. Then, your ID is checked to determine if you have permission to be outside that day. If you have approval, your ID is then registered. Upon exiting, you must register once more that you are leaving the premises.

A picture of Lamon wearing a face shield and mask in Medellin, Colombia.

What has helped you stay optimistic about the situation?

With the exception of not being able to perform at night and clubs being closed, nothing has really changed. My daily routine and life have stayed the same. I work from home and have a home base. During the day, I work out and always have used exercise to stay positive. This keeps me focused and helps me stay optimistic about my life’s goals.

Do you have any news on when you can come home?

Medellin, Colombia is home (hahaha). At the moment, I don’t have any plans of traveling to the US. From what I’ve seen on the news and conversations with friends and family, it’s best to camp out here for a while. The reason being is to stay healthy. I feel safer in Medellin than I do stateside.  

Are there options to come back to the USA now? I have heard that repatriation flights can be extremely expensive from South America. Is this true?

Two months ago, humanitarian flights were expensive. However, I believe the prices have stabilized a bit. According to recent news, domestic flights will reopen in September and international flights will reopen in November. We’ll have to see what happens, but I’m in no rush to travel.

A picture of Lamon in Medellin, Colombia

How are the locals in Medellin, Colombia coping with COVID-19?

For the most part, locals are doing their best to cope with the situation and the majority are following protocol. Of course, there are certain neighborhoods that are not complying with all of the protocols, but that’s to be expected. I haven’t heard of any locals not wanting to wear face masks or protesting, which has been rather common in the US.

How has your family dealt with this situation?

My mom lives in Georgia. She tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized for three months; including three weeks in a coma. Naturally, my family had a difficult time dealing with the situation. Fortunately, she was able to pull through and is in recovery.

Lamon's mom, a coronavirus survivor.

Can you share any memorable situations? 

To help people deal with home confinement, sometimes the local police and/or local musicians have gone to different neighborhoods/apartment buildings and played music outside. Julio plays for an hour and a half. Check out the video at the end to see one of these performers. 

How has living in Medellin, Colombia changed any future plans that you might have?

The situation has presented some new business opportunities that I’ll be happy to share with you once we launch. 

Each time I speak with Lamon, I feel more and more excited to see where his journey will take him. I feel this same sense with many of our contributors. Nonetheless, with Lamon, I feel like he is about to take off. I met Lamon in 2015 and saw a man who was incredibly dedicated to working hard in his classroom. Today, I see a man with even more of a vision and a dream. Let’s see where Lamon will take us next.

By Leesa Truesdell

An American Experience While Studying Abroad

Carlos Balbuena is 29 years old and was born in Mexico City. I had the pleasure of teaching him English while he was studying at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, Florida. Carlos was a quiet student who was eager and curious. I remember when I took a group of students to Barnes and Noble. Carlos was the student who had picked out at least six books that he wanted to buy. The first week he arrived, he spent half of his spending money on books for leisure time. He has a very well-read mind and is very inquisitive — this is what makes his writing so unique.

student group

What sparked your dream to study abroad?

“Definitely pop culture and literature. I grew up watching movies and seeing all those places, landmarks, and people traveling. I read my father’s city travel guides all the time. By the time I was an adolescent, studying abroad was something I was really looking forward to. Then I began to read literature – specifically Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. That was pretty much the final bump that led me to actually pursue studying abroad and do it.”

student abroad

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

“I wasn’t sure what to expect. Everything I thought came from pop culture, books, and my imagination. I wanted to have a great experience, so in order to do that, I knew I had to leave any expectations behind and just enjoy things as they would occur. I needed to be receptive and open to everything in order to get a real grasp of what life is like in the US.

As I grew older, my perceptions of the US changed. I was a little scared of being targeted in some way. In general, us Mexicans hold a (wrong) opinion about the average American, so we are constantly defending ourselves. I think this works both ways, as Americans generally have a wrong opinion about us as well. Yes, radical people exist, but they exist despite their nationality or political affiliation. It’s human nature at its worst and it could happen anywhere or anytime.

The important thing is that there are always more good people than bad ones. In the end, I’m really happy I went because every single person I met in the US was amazing to me. Oftentimes, I hear loose comments on what Americans are like. I hope I left a good impression on the people I met in America so they feel the same way I do when they hear a loose comment about Mexicans.”

What did you not expect?

“I didn’t expect to talk to so many people. I was able to look back and be very glad that I went, and I actually miss it all the time. Talking to lots of people, especially as an introvert, was a huge success for me. It was also a warm and welcome surprise to be complimented on my English. It made me realize that I was going in the right direction.

interview abroad

I wasn’t expecting to end in bad terms with my fellow Mexican travel companions, though. I guess it’s ironic that I got along pretty well with the locals but not with most of my countrywomen.”

What’s your next step?

“It’s been a very hard year for me, guys. Everything that could have gone wrong is going wrong. So, in all honesty, I’m not sure what my next step is. This year, to me, is about getting the hang of things as they are now. Recently, I had a difficult loss in my family. Right now, it’s all about taking care of things. I want to travel again, soon, but now isn’t the right time. I would like to live someplace else but I’ve become aware that it may take a little bit longer than I thought it would originally. Ultimately, it’s still what I want to do with my life. I’ll just have to be patient.”

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to study abroad?

“Surf the Internet: search for local scholarship programs and see if you fit the requirements. If not, then work to fit them. Study and improve your notes, then apply again. If you have an interest in a specific country or a city, soak yourself in it. Watch YouTube video blogs about it, listen to local music, read books related in any possible way to it, and study the local language. Don’t let fear grip you. It will be hard, but it would be harder to look back with regret for not trying.”

florida agricultural and mechanical university

Good Memories of an American Experience While Studying Abroad

Carlos made friends while in the US, which is arguably one of the most important parts of studying abroad. He made an everlasting impression on many of the people he interacted with in Tallahassee and I am so glad I had the pleasure of teaching him. I was able to catch up with Carlos this past April in Mexico City while visiting on a vacation. I met Carlos before my grandma passed away and since then, I have moved to Madrid and have moved back. While living in Madrid, I experienced the greatest loss of my life… my grandma passed while I was abroad.

My own grief has taught me that the way to let someone know you care about them is to tell them. When we met, Carlos was experiencing grief and I could sense that it was very painful. I want our readers and Carlos to know that the memory of our loved ones who pass never fades. The pain gets better with time and life sorts itself out. Hang onto the good memories and let go of the bad ones. Carlos, life is full of opportunity and for you — it’s just begun.

The American experience studying abroad not only provides education but also introduces you to new cultures. Many students who leave to study abroad are leaving their home for the first time. Dreams Abroad has created a Facebook community for travelers, students, and educators to share their passions and stories.

by Leesa Truesdell

 

A Few of My Favorite Things 2018

Christmas Holiday Traditions

I can remember a few of my favorite things when I was when I was a young girl. I always thought of Christmas as the time when my Tata would cook her infamous bacalao fritters and paella. My grandmother’s favorite holiday pastime was to sit around the piano and play music for all. Tata loved to entertain and spread holiday cheer that would bounce from wall to wall. Christmas was her favorite holiday for many reasons. She always cooked her signature dishes from Puerto Rico and loved to be with her family. Tata adored her family, sharing gifts, and spreading holiday magic with all of us.

favorite things 2018 my family

Last year I asked the Dreams Abroad team to share some of their favorite things. It turned out to be a great post because each person had such a different response. This is what we all had to say: HERE

A Few of My Favorite Things 2018

This year will be the second Christmas and New Years since she passed, and for some reason, it hit me harder this year. I spent a good amount of time writing my resilience abroad pieces and haven’t really reflected too much on the passing of time. I also haven’t reflected on my emotions of her passing since I completed the series. Perhaps, the combination of working hard, not reflecting, and not traveling outside the US as much this year could all be reasons why her being gone this year hit me hard and fast. I knew toward the end of our time together how precious it was. When she had her memory and life was good, we made the most of our time together. These are the times I remember and cherish deeply.

traveling abroadIt took me thirty years to get to Puerto Rico to visit her hometown. She spoke about this town for all of my life and now, I can’t stop traveling. She is with me always in my heart and through my actions. My Tata taught me to be considerate, thoughtful, and strong.

Take Each Day as it Comes

“‘Cause you never think the last time’s going to be the last time- you think there will be more. You think you have forever but you don’t.” A quote that I always try to keep in the back of my mind to remind me how precious each friendship and each moment of each day truly is.

Tata always shared her love for travel. If not for her, I wouldn’t have been introduced to the wonders of the world and the joys of travel as I know it today. Remember to tell all the people in your life how much they mean to you because you just don’t know what tomorrow brings. So, make today awesome and share your love.

With that, here are a few of my favorite quotes and travel memories from this past year:

“Life is all about how you handle plan B” – Anonymous

quote grateful heart

” If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it. Nobody said it would be easy, they just promised it would be worth it.” – Grey’s Anatomy

My Big Brother

My favorite memory from spring 2018 was being able to spend time with my big brother and go to our first concert together in a while. We went to see Blue October perform in Orlando, Florida. We met the band before the show and it was epic! I had seen them play in London in 2017 and wanted my brother to see them live. A definite favorite!

brad & leesa truesdell traveling

blue october orlando florida

My Trip to San Francisco

My favorite memory from summer 2018 was my trip to San Francisco when I linked up with my best friend Luis. Whenever we have an adventure planned — we adventure! This trip was too short, but then again, I always feel like our trips are too short. We have way too much fun! Fourth of July in California with Luis was certainly not like the first Fourth of July that we spent together (see my Travel Tale about Medellin) but it is a favorite memory of 2018 for sure.

fourth of july best friend luis

Castle in Burgundy, France

My favorite memory from fall 2018 was walking through a castle in Burgundy, France. Although I had many wonderful memories from Paris, taking the train to Dijon and driving to Burgundy in the fall was absolutely magnificent. The castle was built in the 1500s and reminded me of the castle from Beauty and the Beast. It was undoubtedly breathtaking. I felt timeless. The gardens had fresh flowers in every color and the roses were beautiful.

smelling rose in garden

“Take time to smell the roses” – Leesa Truesdell, a lesson learned from Burgundy, France

Birthday in Madrid

Another favorite memory of 2018 is the dinner I shared on my birthday with some of my Dreams Abroad family. Despite how close we’ve come from working together, it was the first time some of them had met. This marked the third year I spent my birthday in Madrid, and it was certainly such a special way to celebrate.

madrid trip abroad for birthday

Stay tuned for more articles from me and the rest of the Dreams Abroad team in 2019! We always look forward to sharing more with you. Thank you for being a part of our community.

Happy New Year,

Leesa

by Leesa Truesdell

Resilient and Empowered: Month Six

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.

To read the previous article in this series, please go here.

The sixth part of Resilience Abroad is an unfiltered version of what worked and what didn’t – I’ve looked back at my first article and had time to think about what I could have done differently, which may be a piece for a different time. For this article, I’ve decided to share excerpts from previous pieces in this series that I found most useful. I also included things that I found helpful in managing loss and things that were not as helpful as I look back.

Leesa and Tata

What helped after my grandma died was forcing myself to go out and, interestingly, listening to music. Music was my way of escape and now remembrance.” – Leesa Truesdell

All of the music I quoted in this series directly relates to my writing. I listened to all these songs during that month. The song that I had listened to every day during my commute on the Metro was Record Year by Eric Church – it was about a break-up. However, the lyrics of the song didn’t cause that comfortable and soothing feeling on my way to school. The rhythm and the melody itself comforted me. 

I also loved the song’s wordplay, specifically its double use of the word “record” in Record Year. This song remains a firm favorite as I still listen to it. Looking back, it made me feel linked to home somehow. I listened to the entire album, Mr. Misunderstood, at least once a week. It was comfortable and soothed my soul.

If you find yourself listening to a song over and over again, ask yourself why. Since I started writing about my musical preferences, I have become more aware of my musical selections and habits. Typically, I am more prone to hitting repeat on a new song and listening to it over and over. However, that was not the case with Eric Church’s album while I was in Madrid. I also listened to other songs that I downloaded onto my iPod. I won’t ever begin to fully understand why I chose those specific songs, other than that they made me feel comfortable and reminded me of home.

Resilient Challenges and Goals

Music Is the Answer
Inside the Royal Palace of Madrid.

Before moving to Spain, I wanted to continue to challenge myself by setting goals to expand my comfort zone. Although I might have listened to comforting music, I still met those goals. I felt completely displaced in a new country and culture. That was my logic in all of the uncertainty: my anchor was, and will always be, music. Having music to ground me gave me some much-needed support.

I went to Spain to build on skills that I learned earning my master’s degree from Florida State University. I wanted to accomplish lifelong goals that I knew I would regret not completing. The older I become, the more ambitious I feel and the more I realize the value of my time. Tata’s death has been a good reminder of the limits of time. It showed me that we are here to live, impact things when we can, and inspire others. Most of all, however, it showed me that we should always stay true to ourselves and the rest will work itself out.

My year in Spain gave me the confidence to travel wherever I wanted when I wanted. Most importantly, it made me feel more empowered to travel. ” – Leesa Truesdell

I’ve always been one of those people who searched for answers and looked for meaning in life probably more than I should have. Having worked in many different environments, and with many different people, I feel blessed to say that I am proud of the work I have accomplished. I continue to search for more meaning because at the end of the day, that’s what fuels my ambition. 

That being said, it doesn’t mean life’s curveballs haven’t been difficult for me, because they have been. However, it has been those difficult times that have forced me to recover more quickly each time. Resilience was the key to overcoming rejection, failure, and (my most recent experience) the loss of my beloved grandmother. Each time I have felt those negative feelings, I have used determination and resilience to refuel my ambition.

Goals Accomplished ✔

Before I left for my one-year journey in Spain, I created some goals that I wanted to achieve while abroad. I was fortunate enough to have accomplished all of them. Below is the exact list from my journal excerpt that I had written before I left for Spain.

  1. Become a better writer.
  2. Get more classroom experience as a teacher.
  3. Start my own website with a team (background: I’ve always wanted to be on a team where I knew I belonged!)
  4. Improve my Spanish language skills.
  5. Take a solo trip to a different country while living abroad.
These students taught me and I taught them. This was one of the most memorable experiences in my life so far.

Some of these I have accomplished more fully than others, and some I will continue to work on for the rest of my life. I will always try to practice my Spanish – but, for me, writing has always been on the top of my list. Why? Well, that’s a story for another time. 

Let’s just say for now that Dreams Abroad and its mission isn’t just about being a resource of writers– it’s so much more than that. I dedicated this site to my Tata and others who lost loved ones while overseas. But, it’s also a site about encouraging a team of young professionals to follow their own path, whatever that path may be. It’s a site about establishing an online community that empowers global professionals to achieve their dreams by sharing their own experiences so that others can learn, question, learn again, and hopefully, achieve their own goals.

Dreams of Writing

Writing wasn’t one of my stronger skills, and I still work on it every day. Part of the reason why I started writing to Tata, to begin with, was to practice my writing. However, if you don’t start somewhere, you won’t go anywhere. 

I’ve had a dream and writing was part of that dream since I was young, and it didn’t exactly go as planned. For the longest time, I blocked that dream because I was told I couldn’t do it – that I wasn’t up to the standards. Part of what made me abandon this goal was during a timed writing test. I was disheartened that I didn’t make the extremely high score I needed at the time. However, the lesson I learned during my early twenties is that what we think we want at the time is not exactly what we need. Feeling heartbroken about my fate, I chose a different path. Looking back, the dream that I thought I wanted would not have been the right fit for me.

Self-discovery is a beautiful thing when one takes the time to truly identify who they really are – flaws, mistakes, and imperfections included. But, before I get to the next number on my list, I want to thank every person who has been with me on this journey from graduate school at FSU, through my journey in Madrid, to now, back in the States.

Music Is the Answer
My first day back at work in the United States. Life is good.

Support Is Essential

I lost a very special person in my life, and at first, it felt like the pain was never going to go away. That might have been because I had written my way through the grief. As I’ve said, we all grieve differently. My point is that I couldn’t have healed the way I have without the support of my family, friends, and colleagues from then to now. 

So, thank you so much for believing in me and, most of all, for being so supportive of Dreams Abroad. We’ve come a long way and we have only just begun! For those of you who feel like I did during that difficult time, and who have just recently lost someone (especially those living abroad), please don’t think you are alone. What you are feeling is valid, so please share your feelings in a way you feel most comfortable.

Please take the time (if you haven’t already) to make your own set of goals – some that have deadlines and some that will last a lifetime.

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 try to remain as normal, following a routine. You don’t have to talk about your grief, but it helps 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 follow 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 as well as someone you do know will help you get out some of the suppressed feelings you are experiencing.
  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 and whether or not you need to adjust your lifestyle choices. Resilience begins once you understand your behavior and its effects, and how you should adjust to being able to recover from grief in order to become your better self.
  7. ENCOURAGE people in your life to try their best. Teachers, get to know your students’ needs, and 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.
  8. Take time to mourn and reflect the way you feel in order to start healing. Make plans ahead of time during a holiday break to enjoy yourself by doing something fun. Do the things you need in order to find peace within.
  9. Whatever you might be feeling on the inside – reflect and let it guide you. Let it propel you toward accomplishing whatever it is that you went abroad to do in the first place. Acceptance comes over time but doing your job is important. Keep that in mind and try to move forward.
  10. Find a song or album that makes you feel comfortable. Find an album that, if you knew you were going to be tested on some of your hardest days, you could listen to and it would make things feel ok.
Resilient students
My 7th period theatre class. They made my time in Madrid and my life in Spain all the more memorable. We had fun!

 

Resilient abroad teaching
Segundo Bachillerato enjoyed learning and practicing English. We had fun each week! This was a great group that I know will achieve their dreams!

 

by Leesa Truesdell

Acceptance, Resilience, and Happiness: Month Five

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.

To read the previous article in this series, please go here.

And all the worlds within you, and all the places you go.” – Bush, All The Worlds Within You

Graduation Day
Graduation Day

After traveling to Italy for spring break, I listened to Bush’s new album and the lyrics in this song spoke exactly to how I felt at that time. It was one of the first times I really felt that music is the answer. The grieving process (albeit, so difficult at the time) transformed me into someone I should have been all along. We all learn from our experiences – well, I do – and what I’ve learned most is that nothing lasts forever. So, whatever you treasure the most in life, whether it’s a relationship or a person, tell that person or show them.

I did a very good job of this with my Tata throughout her life, but I know I probably could have done more: like sending her an extra card or two over the years to let her know how much I missed her. My mom gave me some things when I was ready after her death. The things that my mom gave to me made me realize how much she had treasured the little things. She kept toys and objects since I had been a small child – bathtub toys, Cabbage Patch dolls, books that she knew were my favorite, just to name a few. Also, there was a card from years back that I had sent to brighten her spirits.

Remember the Positives

I knew her so well, that when we would speak on the phone, I knew when she was happy or sad. The slightest tone change in her soft Puerto Rican (boricua) accented voice would give it away. I remember sending her the card that is now one of the most precious keepsakes that I have from her.

Although we spoke regularly, every so often I would send her a card. I wanted to let her know how much she meant to me. I knew in the back of my mind how much she loved receiving them. She loved walking down to her mailbox and getting the mail each day. In my mind, as I wrote each card, I pictured the smile on her face as she hurried to open it. With each day that passes, I miss the hell out of her. The one thing I miss the most is her voice. I carry it in my heart and use it to do the good things that she would have wanted me to do.

Music Is The Answer to Acceptance

Verse 1, listed below, explains the part of the person I should have been all along (Who I try to be today!). Verse 2 talks about having the world within you and the places you go. Having just returned from Italy and experienced the many insightful things I did, this really hit me hard. Traveling has always been my method of learning. For some reason, this song, at this time in my life, really spoke to me. For me, music is the answer in coping with loss.

The first time I heard this song, I finally felt a sense of acceptance toward what had happened. I’ll never forget the morning my finger clicked my iPod on the Metro on my way to work. It was as if everything around me stood still. These words echoed through my ears and straight down into my heart. I smiled and then hit rewind. This series could easily be titled Music Is the Answer and this, right here – this Metro experience – this is why. Music changes people’s lives in ways that cannot be described, although I have tried.

 [Verse 1]
The longest night is over
The longest day has just begun
I turn myself in someone
I should’ve been all along
But these trials are here to mold us
We are how we reply

[Chorus]
And all the worlds within you
And all the places that you go
All the love that’s inside you
All the scars and the lows
All the worlds
All the worlds

Check One, Check Two to Acceptance

When I got back from Italy, my job began a hurried phase. It was the final and third trimester of the Spanish school year, and I was teaching the English department’s theater class. Things got intense because I was not used to the schedule or timeline of when students took exams. Therefore, our lead students in the school play ended up missing some of the practices during the last couple of weeks, due to exams and studying. (I will never understand the student studying mentality in Spain).

the backdrop for the play month 5

Senior-level students graduated in mid-May before we performed our play, so I had to become creative. All of these schedule irregularities threw me for a loop when I got back, but I was able to work around them. We had to work together to make sure that we got costumes for each character and that character lines were rehearsed at home for students who were missing practice.

The Graduates

A proud moment of month five happened when all of the schedule irregularities concluded, and my students pulled together to attend rehearsals to practice and do what they needed in order to make our two back-to-back performances successful. In addition, I was able to see the oldest students in the group, and my Segundo Bachillerato classes, graduate during month five. I hadn’t been to a high-school graduation since my own. Tata went to my high school and undergraduate graduations, so this moment was extra special for me because I felt like in some very small way that I helped these Segundo Bachillerato students succeed before their graduation.

Graduation

When I looked back at seminal moments in my life and thought of my students over the course of their year, I realized that I was experiencing my own circle-of-life moment. Music is the answer to everything – even graduations. One of the highlights in my own life was my high-school graduation, and all the life-changing events that came afterward (college, friends, internships, firsts of all kinds…). I’m sure in another ten years I will look back and think the same as I read this article. I listen, even now, to Bush’s song and think about the trials that shape us in life and how scared, yet happy I felt at graduation. Now I realize that was only the beginning of what was to come. My students at graduation might have felt a similar feeling.

last day of class before their graduation resiliency
One of my Segundo Bachillerato classes on their last day of class before their graduation.

Good & Bad Moments

All the while, I was feeling my own sense of fear, a new fear that I never knew I had. The night Tata passed, at that moment, I realized I feared the finality of death. How I would never see her again, how I would never be able to speak to her again. This was not a question of my own mortality, but rather the fact that I would not be able to live with her into the future. However, the one thing living in my 30s has taught me is the realization that life comes full circle. My experience abroad changed me in a way that made me appreciate EVERYTHING life brings — the good and bad moments and everything in between.

play backdrop madrid

I wasn’t prepared to lose Tata while living in Madrid. However, during this challenge, I found an inner strength and acceptance that I never knew I had. Month five turned out to be one of the happiest experiences in my life. Everyone at the school worked so hard to perform our play. I created lifelong memories with these students, which I will cherish until I grow old and can’t remember them anymore. I realized life has its special moments, and it is in those moments that we must hold on to that joy, sadness, or whatever feeling is driving us at the time. For it is in these most memorable moments, good and bad, that shape who we are and ultimately how we perceive ourselves and treat others.

My theatre class and I at the end of both performances. One of the happiest moments of my life abroad!

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 try to retain as normal 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 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 follow your everyday 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 as well as someone you do know will help you release some of the suppressed feelings you are experiencing.
  5. Start 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 begins once you understand your behavior and its effects, and how you should adjust to being able to recover from grief in order to become your better self.
  7. ENCOURAGE people in your life to try their best. Teachers, get to know your students’ needs, and most important, get to know your students before telling them they CAN’T do something. This type of behavior causes learner anxiety and self-doubt.
  8. Take time to mourn and reflect the way you feel in order to start healing. Make plans ahead of time during a holiday break to enjoy yourself by doing something fun. Do the things you need in order to find peace within.
  9. Whatever you might be feeling on the inside – reflect and let it guide you to acceptance. Let it propel you toward accomplishing whatever it is that you went abroad to do. Acceptance comes over time but doing your job is important. Keep that in mind and try to move forward.

Read the final article in the series here.

bethe silver lining resiliency

by Leesa Truesdell

A Few of Our Favorite Things: Dreams Abroad 2017

A Few of Our Favorite Things

by Leesa Truesdell

It’s no secret that I adored my grandmother and her passion for playing music over the years. I didn’t realize how much she had inspired me until I came up with the idea for this post. I have listened to, “A Few of My Favorite Things” many, many times growing up over the holidays. Tata loved Tony Bennett’s version. The song always reminded me of Christmas and the holidays. We listened to songs and Christmas carols from her record collection throughout the entire holiday season.

Those lyrics remind me of the days with Tata, but are also perfect nowadays for the Dreams Abroad team. It provides a superb way of saying thank you while also remembering the woman who made such a difference in my life. She is always within in my heart and with that, I give you just a few of our favorite things from this year:

Emma Schultz

“The views of Madrid are spectacular and the sunset reminds me of home – so I get the best of both worlds when I watch it.”

– Emma Schultz, an expat from Texas

Bibi Baktiar

“One of my favorite things to do is stuff my face with good food and surround myself with even better company!” – Bibi Baktiar, an expat from Georgia

Dalal Boland

 

“My favorite thing to do is wander around in Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Florida. I love taking pictures and eating their delicious chocolate ice-cream from the Plaza ice-cream parlor!”

– Dalal Boland, an expat from Kuwait

Leesa Truesdell

 

“My favorite thing to do is sit in the window seat and travel to a new place. I love exploring and window seats!”

–  Leesa Truesdell, an expat from Florida

Justin Hughes-Coleman

“My favorite thing about living in Madrid is being able to make new friends over (a very) long night!”

– Justin Hughes-Coleman, an expat from California

Amanda Whitten

 

“My favorite thing about living in Madrid is finding out more about myself when I thought I already knew who I was. I thought I was living my life before, however, now I see that it was just preparing me for this.”

– Amanda (Squirrel) Whitten, an expat from Oklahoma

Michelle Nicchi

Albert Einstein once said, “The person who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The person who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever seen before.” That being said, my favorite thing to do is endlessly travel. Undoubtedly, I believe that the most beautiful places in the world are lesser known.”

–  Michelle Nicchi, an expat from Arizona

Stephanie Best

“My favorite thing to do is try coffee from around the world. One of the reasons that I love Miami is the Cuban coffee and that it’s socially acceptable to take a cafecito break any time of day.”

– Stephanie Best, an expat from Florida

Cassidy Kearney

“My favorite thing I did in Europe was on the Aran Islands, Ireland. I sat inside the island’s only restaurant and watched the waves and the horses go by as I sipped on Irish Breakfast tea.”

– Cassidy Kearney, a world traveler from Florida

 

Carlos Balbuena

“The smell of something delicious cooking

The sound of leaves beneath my feet

The lovely smile of my girlfriend

The warmth of my dogs when I go to sleep

The quiet tranquility of being in my room on my computer

The sound of Radiohead through the stereo

The morning light coming through my window, petting dogs and cats and all animals I see

Seeing children playing in the street

Hanging out with my friends

Talking to my girlfriend

Seeing my girlfriend sleep when I wake up

Watching TV series

Smoking in my rooftop with the stars above me

Reading a book in my bed

Writing in the middle of the night

Going shopping with my girlfriend

Cooking for my girlfriend

Talking about A Song of Ice and Fire, or Game of Thrones if they haven’t read the books

People acknowledging when I did a “good job”

These are a few of my favorite things

– Carlos Balbuena, an expat from Mexico

 

 

Thank you for reading and we will be back next year!

The Dreams Abroad Crew

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