Leesa Truesdell Shares Her Five Year Update After Living Abroad

leesa-truesdell

As August 2021 approaches and the world slowly opens again, I smile about the happy memories leading up to the moments before, during, and while living abroad in Madrid, Spain. After living abroad for a year, I began working and then didn’t stop. Then, the pandemic approached while I was moving to start the next phase of my life in a new city. The world feels different now and might remain this way for quite some time. What we must not forget is that life will always have ups and downs. It is in those moments of uncertainty that we truly understand our character. Our most trying times are sometimes the best, at least for me they are. I’ve thought a lot as my life has changed drastically over these last five years and this is what I would like to highlight.  

How do professionals who want to travel, work, study and/or move abroad handle a change? Here are the first five answers that came to mind after living abroad. There has been one for each year since August of 2016. 

Year One: 2016-2017 

My Arrival — Go With the Flow Because Nothing Feels Normal

I arrived in Spain on a sultry August day. I didn’t expect things to be like the USA. However, I also did not feel equipped to understand how different the culture and lifestyle is from the American way of life. It’s the complete, total opposite. Americans appreciate a more fast-paced way of life and thinking (especially the younger generation). We have three meals a day, generally. The traditional family eats dinner at night. It’s a bigger meal than lunch. In Spain, it felt like everything was “traditional.” Let’s face it, they’re the land that conquered many others. So, in reality, their way of life and thinking is very conventional in a sense. It’s family-driven and lunch is at 2 PM. It’s the largest meal of the day, and don’t forget your siesta. I felt so turned around but eventually managed to accept the things I couldn’t control and embrace them. 

Year Two: 2017-2018 

The Passing of Tata and Life After Living Abroad

The Resilience Abroad series started when I lived in Madrid. While I was grieving about the loss of Tata, I was also reflecting on what she meant to me and how her living memory would never be forgotten. At the time, I was in a foreign place. I didn’t know it back then, but I was living the life I was supposed to. I was grieving abroad and blessed with time to get to know myself better for the latter half of what was to come that year. 

Later that November, I moved back to my college hometown and began work in a field that was new to me. In this role, I worked around the clock either in my mind or physically at work. It was the job where I took home the issues that went unresolved. I thought about them all the time when not working. Hence, around the clock.  I didn’t realize this while it was happening, but not only was I still grieving, I also experienced the opposite again.

Reverse Culture Shock

I was re-learning the American way of life but now it felt more intense because I had just experienced living abroad during my first real experience with death. While I had been resilient, I hadn’t learned about reverse culture shock. It’s real and somehow I was too busy to see the signs. I had put myself in a situation where I ignored signs and tried to move on the best way I knew how. This job enabled me to focus on work at the expense of these larger issues in my life. 

Unfortunately, I focused too much on the new work to understand the complexity of reverse culture shock. I couldn’t explain the reverse of what was happening to me and didn’t know it at the time. Instead, I tried my best to adapt to a new job in a location that was nowhere near what it resembled before I left for Madrid. The experience changed me. Moving back to a city I once knew and outgrew wasn’t a recipe for success. Live and learn. 

Year Three: 2018-2019 

Complacency is Not OK. Speak Up and Do Your Best.

I knew I was trying my best not to downsize the person I had become and the person I wanted to be. Living in the same place again while losing who I was made me feel complacent. One thing I knew for sure was that my core principles and integrity would never be compromised. I was tested on multiple occasions. Sometimes, when you’re given tests in life, you realize later on that passing might not be feasible. If the test is rigged from the beginning and you are answering the questions correctly, then there might be something else going on. 

Pay to play happens frequently in the states. It’s unfortunate. I spoke up about this repeated inadequacy that I was seeing and instead of getting a thank you, I got a no thank you. Sometimes, life doesn’t respond the way we expect when we follow the moral code we’ve had since elementary school. In our formative years, we’re taught “stranger danger,” D.A.R.E., and how to be a good person. The end result was a tough concept for me to wrap my head around. I lead with principle and teach others to be honest and respectful. Speaking up will always be the best decision I ever make, no matter the consequences. 

Year Four: 2019- 2020 

Accept the Things you Cannot Change and Move on as Quickly as Possible. Life is Calling. Pick up the Phone. 

What I’ve learned is that the past is the past and you can’t change it. You can be bitter and resent something that you can’t change or you can move on and perhaps be a positive influence. It’s easier said than done. You get scars, and the record plays over and over in your mind on how you could have fixed it. But, in time, you learn after one full record or two that it’s time to let go and live for now. 

The transition from 2019 to 2020 was a tough year. The pandemic didn’t make it any easier, but Dreams Abroad did. I focused my energy on all of the positive things I saw in the people who made my life better through this effort. This included the last trip I took before the pandemic. This was the most important trip of my life, and the one I kept putting off because I didn’t have the time allotted. This life event was the most meaningful and therapeutic — the one I needed to take the next step in my life. Don’t wait too long — when life is calling — pick up the phone.

Dreams Abroad became the uplifting resource I needed when others were contributing each week. Thank you to those of you who are reading, your articles not only assisted our community, but they spoke to me too. 

Year Five: 2020-2021 

Embrace Change

I moved to Washington, DC, and learned that the program I moved for wasn’t exactly the best fit. Maybe it would have been had the instruction and research been face-to-face but, hey, it’s OK to say no and move onto the next chapter. If what you thought isn’t serving you, move on as quickly as you can. Many of us can say that the pandemic has closed doors and opened new ones. Embrace it. I’ve learned that what will be will be. Sometimes things are within our control and they aren’t. Recognize the two and embrace change. Remember to always keep the go-with-the-flow mindset if at all possible. We’re halfway through 2021 and things are opening up again. We can do this. 

Wrap Up

Dreams Abroad has become something more than just a website. The last five years after living abroad have been a way for me to meet like-minded, talented individuals of all ages, backgrounds, and principled belief systems. Each person that I have interacted with has touched my life. For that, I feel forever grateful. Nothing can ever replace the loss of a loved one. It’s been one of the hardest things in my life. There is no manual on how to handle your situation. 

One thing I know for certain is that working with this tight-knit group has given me new memories. I feel so very blessed to have found the lives of so many fulfilling and achieving their dreams. It makes my heart smile and soul feel more alive than ever before. This is what makes a good day, good. This is why we are still here after all of this time. 

We want to hear from you! If you want to be a part of our team or have a resource to contribute to our website, please contact us.

 

Life After Graduating from Florida State University

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

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

How did you hear about Dreams Abroad?

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

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

FSU graduation fountain

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

Where were you when you first joined?

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

How has your life changed since then?

Zoe Ezechiels and her friend

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

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

What did you learn from your experience of traveling abroad?

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

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

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

Tally Cat Cafe

What have you been doing this year? 

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

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

What are your future plans?

canoeing Graduating from Florida State University

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

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

Life After Graduating from Florida State University

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

by Leesa Truesdell

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 Remarkable Experience Studying Abroad in Tallahassee, FL

by Dalal Boland

So, the day had finally arrived and I will be Studying Abroad in Tallahassee. After overcoming multiple obstacles, from the F1-visa not being issued on time, to me rebooking another ticket because of that, I finally managed to get on that airplane where a subtle feeling of comfort had struck me as it was time for takeoff. After an overall flight of more than 16 hours spent on multiple airplanes, I landed in the beautiful capital of Florida, Tallahassee. Due to the overwhelming feeling of excitement, I immediately went on a tour around campus. My acquaintances and I drove under the hot sun of August witnessing the students’ joy of starting their new college adventure. After that, I rented an apartment where I dropped off my luggage and went grocery shopping to buy a few things. After running all of those errands like getting into an American line for grocery shopping, and opening up an American bank account, it was time to settle into the new place I called home: Tallahassee.

studying at FSU

Making Friends and Learning Culture

When school started, I encountered some hard times making new friends, especially since I appeared to be a closed-off person due to my formal behavior/encounters with others. Because of that, I had the chance of becoming close to my instructors. They had the kindest hearts that made me feel like I have a family away from my home country. Then, with time, I started to get to know my classmates. The type of class activities that my classes were based on encouraged me to open up to people, especially since most of the activities involved group work and discussions. To me, each class was viewed as a tool to establish and bolster my social grounds with the people around me. Moreover, I had the chance to learn more about different cultures and even pick up a few words in Chinese and Turkish, because my classes included people from different parts of the world.

Studying Abroad in Tallahassee Has Come to an End

TallahaseeThe time had passed and the chapter of living in Tallahassee was about to come to an end. Even as I am writing this piece, my heart still remembers the difficulty that it felt saying goodbye to my friend that I cherished so much, Mr. Michael Magro. Even though we keep in touch from time to time sharing posts and pictures about our lives, I miss the days that we spent laughing about certain inside jokes that no one understood but us, and the intense feeling that we shared of having to work for late hours in the library with the purpose of putting together a class project.

Leaving This Beautiful City

Finally, the day was here and it was time to pack and leave. Although I did not spend more than two years living in Tallahassee, the memories that I made are priceless. Yes, I admit that there were days I spent sobbing and crying my eyes out because I was missing my family, yet the purpose of going home with a diploma to make them proud always made me hang in there. I would describe the time I spent in Tallahassee as a remarkable experience. It is true that I had left Tallahassee, yet the beautiful memories and the friendships that I have made will forever stay with me.

Learn more about Dalal studying abroad in Tallahassee, Florida in upcoming posts!