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

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