Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Soundtrack: Of My Summer

Having just arrived in Ireland, it's hard for me to process the adventures I've already had and the strange combination I have of exhilaration and trepidation I have moving forward. So, this week, I'm just going to write about music.

This has been a summer of huge transitions for me, dwelling in the awkward gab between being a student and what comes after being student. Without school work, I listened to a lot less music than normal. But as it always goes, music and place are tied together deeply for me. I know that when I listen to these songs, I'll always remember the person I was in the summer of 2016.

Find it on Spotify: Here // Or Here

God Only Knows- She&Him // This song crept into my playlist the end of the semester. I made me think a lot about my friends that I'd made at Notre Dame and how grateful I was for them in my life. At the same time, it reminded me of my family, who I was also grateful to spend the summer with.
Oh My Love- Layla // This song reminds me a bit of the writing project I worked on during the summer. It also is just sounded cool.
Make This Leap- The Hunts // I loved this song because it was all about transition, something I was getting to know very well over the summer. Just like the previous song, it was tied to the writing project I was working on.
These Waters- Ben Howard // I spend a lot of time at the beach this summer, so this song reminded me a lot of that. It's also about new starts, music, and community- this all tied to my new adventure in Ireland.
Dogs- Damien Rice // This is basically about a girl doing yoga, which resonated with all the yoga I was doing over the summer. It also has an interesting story that the lyrics told, which makes it an intriguing song in general.
Come Undone- Adam Barnes // This song was on of those songs that wasn't particularily about faith, but it had a spiritual message that resonated with me. It makes me think of God's presence in nature, in darkness, in light, and all around us.
Again and Again- Tessa Rose Jackson // This is another song that reminded me of my weekends in northern Michigan. It has a playful, seaside quality and reminds me of summer adventures.
Find Love- Clem Snide // This song is so incredibly beautiful. It's soft and subtle message has become my intention for the next year.
Library Magic- The Head and the Heart // I love everything about this song. Literally every part of it resonates with me in a particular way. Libraries, clear waters, full size beds- this song is everything.
Beginners- Matt Fowler // Here I am at a new part of life, not knowing what comes next or exactly what to do. This song sums up the feeling of newness and acceptance of uncertainty. Also, the threads of La Vie En Rose in the background of it only endears it to me even more.

Bonus Track: J'aime les oiseaux- Yann Perreau // This song doesn't fit the aesthetics of this playlist, but it isn't a complete description of my summer without it. This bizarre French song came on French radio this summer and it's been making me giggle ever since. For those who don't speak French, it's basically about a guy who hates lots of things, but loves birds.


Hopefully I'll have more articulate reflections to share next week. But till then, enjoy the music has been inspiring me as of late.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Where I Want To Go

Last summer, I stood on Dun Laoghaire pier with my life long best friend Katie. She had come to visit during my last week in Ireland. The Irish flag was billowing over us. The smell of salt in the air, 99s from Teddys were in our hands. I didn't want to leave.

"I feel like I'm finally living the life I've always dreamed about," I admitted, "I don't want to go back. I just want to stay here."

"Then don't," Katie encouraged, "Find a way to get back to Ireland. Don't think of it as leaving. Think of it as visiting America before coming back to live here."

Katie's words stayed in my mind for a long time after that. They stayed in my mind as I headed back to America, to Notre Dame, to classes, papers, and exams. They stayed in my mind as I filled out applications for graduate programs in teaching on the state side, trying to ignore the desire I had for more adventures abroad. They stayed in my head as I decided to throw in two wildcard applications- one to teach in France, one to do House of Brigid in Ireland.

At an interview, I was asked, "We see you've also applied for programs abroad. Would you take those?"

"I don't know," I replied. It seemed a far away idea that I'd end up in Europe again. My parents definitely wanted me to pick a more stable option. After all, a graduate teaching program had my plan, my dream for so long. I couldn't imagine anything else- a life where I chose adventure, a life where I had the choice to do so. I comforted myself by telling myself I'd go back abroad once I had a masters, once I was more financially stable. A bit of me feared that if I kept putting my dreams off, they'd never happen.

It's hard to tell you how chaotic my Spring Break was. The first half of it was spent on choir tour, spending each day in a different city. I was filled with sickening anxiety as I awaited emails notifying me of my status for the programs I applied to, in particular the ACE program that I'd dreamt of doing for so long.

The only solace in this week was my favorite musician, Roo Panes, had just released a new album. For the last year I've been obsessed with his music. His thoughtful lyrics and peaceful melody had helped me a lot in the past. On this album in particular, there was a song called "Where I Want To Go." The refrain was simply, "Your love takes me where I want to go." I listened to this song over and over the whole week. It became my mantra, my prayer. It reminded me that God had a plan for me. I wasn't alone in this. God knew my heart more deeply than I did and Gods love would lead me where I wanted to go.

So when I found myself wait listed for ACE and a few other programs, but a spot opened up for me in Ireland the next day, I saw God's hand in it so clearly. Ireland was the place I'd spent most of year dreaming about returning to. God's love had taken me where I wanted to go.

So here I am, six months later in Chicago O'Hare airport about to embark on the journey of a lifetime. Just this first week I'll be living in an abbey, singing with new friends, and exploring the Western side of the country. I'm not sure what comes next after that but I know I'm going where I want to go.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Travel Tips: Told in Travel Disasters

Next week at this time, I’ll be flying to Ireland. I already can’t wait, but till then I’m packing and preparing to go. This has made me reflect on the things I’ve learned from traveling in the past. Each and every very trip I’ve taken has been wonderful and I’m immensely grateful. At the same time, I have quite a few traveling disasters under my belt. These have made for great stories, but were pretty frustrating and stressful at the time. I’m all for turning everything into learning experiences, so here are some things I’ve learned from my travel disasters.

Tip #1: Your packing is only as good as your luggage

Last May, I was flying from my semester in Paris to my internship in Dublin. This meant cleaning my Paris room that I’d been living in for the last 5 months. Since I had so many things to take with me, I decided to buy an extra duffle bag to transport my stuff in. I was so excited when I found a 12 euro duffle at a store called “Pas Cher” (English: Not Expensive). I stuffed it full of mugs, blankets, books, and sweaters that I wanted to take with me. I was less thrilled when said duffle bag’s zippers fell off when I left for the cab. And even less thrilled when it completely fell apart in the airport. Fun fact, if your duffle bag falls apart, you are given a trash bag and a roll of duct tape. This is perhaps not the best way to make a first impression to your intern group. Moral of the story, be savvy and pennywise while traveling, but don’t skimp on luggage.

Photo Credit: O'Connell House
(Not pictured: My trashbag filled with my belongings)
Tip #2: Make time for sleep before travel

On the same relocation from Paris to Dublin, I also made another crucial error.  Around 6PM the night before my flight, I left with my friends to go grab dinner and recreate the walk we took our first night in Paris (from our dorm to the Eiffel Tower and back). We only did half the walk, as we reached the Eiffel Tower we realized it was already 10PM (our original walk took us till 2 in the morning). When I got back, it was nearly 11PM. I had packed all my clothes earlier in the day, but left all the rest of my stuff to pack when I got back. Turns out, it took several hours to pack up the rest of my stuff. Since my flight took off at 7AM, I was planning on checking out at 4AM. At 3AM, I had to make the decision between a pre-travel shower or an hour of sleep. I picked the sleep, which meant when I arrived in Dublin I was both exhausted and smelly. Moral of the story, don’t procrastinate packing, don’t forget to sleep.

Tip #3: Don’t over-caffeinate and fly

When I was heading to Greece from Munich last year, I got to my flight a little early and decided to grab a cappuccino. The barista gave me a massive drink, but I drank it all anyway. When I got to my layover in Vienna, I was shaking and nauseous. I decided the only solution was chug a water bottle. This meant a lot of bathroom breaks on my Vienna to Greece flight where I had a window seat. PSA, it’s awkward if you try to crawl over the sleeping lady next to you, who you don’t want to bother, and then she wakes up. Moral of the story, just don’t mix travel and massive cappuccinos.

Tip #4: Just don’t use train ticket kiosks

I can recount many a crisis I had because of train ticket kiosks. I missed two trains from Paris to Reims because of them. I had a near disaster in London, when my dad booked my EuroStar ticket to be picked up at a kiosk using the credit card it was booked with- but that credit card was in America with my dad. All of these situations were resolved eventually and I made it to all my destinations eventually, but it sure would have been a lot of easier without those dang kiosks. Moral of the story, ticket kiosks complicate your life, just deal with train tickets from in person vendors.

Tip #5: Don’t judge an AirBNB by its cover

I love AirBnB. I love getting to see into life in the city by renting an apartment, plus I enjoy the extra privacy and the affordability. So when my friends and I headed to Belgium last summer, we booked an AirBnB without a second thought. We picked out one that was cute, affordable, and not far from central Brussels. It also had no reviews, but we didn’t mind. That meant it was new right? That was till we got there and realized we had no running water or wifi. Let’s just say, it was a bonding weekend for us. On the plus side we got our money back- so free housing in Belgium, right? Moral of the story, read the reviews for your AirBnB (and if there aren’t reviews, find a different one).

Tip #6: Location is everything

I was pretty pumped when one of my friend’s had a discount for a hotel and invited me along to join in on a trip to Cannes during Film Festival. However, we were both less than thrilled when we discovered that we’d booked a hotel in “La Cannette.” We had thought it would be slightly out of the center of town, but it was actually a suburb that was an hour walk up a hill. During the hot, summer heat and with our backpacks, this wasn’t a happy trek to make. Moral of the story, lodging locations make a huge difference. Before you book a hotel, do a quick Google maps check to determine how long the walk will be from where you are planning to stay to the places you are hoping to visit.

Tip #7: Be Prepared for Anything

Last year when I showed up in Paris, due to an administrative error on Notre Dame’s part, we were told that we had no place to stay. Cue panicking. A few months later, I was trying to take a bus to London and my printer would only print out my bus ticket in a teeny tiny size. Cue more panicking. A few months after that, I went to mass at the Vatican for Easter Sunday on a sunny morning that turned into freezing rain. What? Anything can happen when you travel and the longer you traveling, the weirder things will happen. Learning to roll with the punches will help you be graceful about your upsets. It’s all a great chance to grow as a problem solver. Moral of the story, anything could happen- just go with it.

I have lots more travel tips based on my successes instead of failures, which I’ll share in due time, but I must admit that my travel disasters make better stories. I am without a doubt that new year abroad will bring even more stories and tips based on my misadventures. Bring it on!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Studying French (or On Doing Hard Things)

"It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default." - JK Rowling 

A few months ago, I sat in the audience of Washington Hall at the Romance Language Awards ceremony. I was one of three people in the French section not getting a French honors cord. I watched my friends give beautiful speeches about how they truly fell in love in French and how much enjoyed reading the prose of French authors. These speeches were gorgeous and I admired my friends for writing so gracefully. They made me yearn for their passion for the language, their delight in French literature, the wonder they found in philosophy. Yet, I couldn’t stop thinking about how they didn’t seem to line up with my experience of French at all.

(Which is probably why no asked me to write a speech).

My speech would probably have been about crying. Because as a French major, I cried a lot. I cried the first time in my academic career that I saw a C on my report card. I cried the first time I failed a paper. I cried when my professor posted our grades publicly for a whole semester (like why would someone even do this I don’t know?), and mine was always the lowest. I cried when I got waitlisted for study abroad. I cried when I got accepted finally, but then a professor told me that I probably wasn’t good enough to go (I did anyway). It seemed French was always knocking me down, leaving me stressed, confused, and wondering if I would ever be good enough.

I could write a speech about the weekends I gave up to edit papers over and over again. I could write about the time a horrible French class left me paranoid and terrified and made me stop enjoying anything French related for a year after. I could tell you about all the times when I told myself, “Today, I’m going to quit. After this class, I’m going to the Romance Language office to drop my French major.”

But each time I did, something crossed my path to stop me. Somehow no matter how much I wanted to quit, something called me back. Till registration my senior year, I had to truly decide. I was 4 classes away from finishing. I knew I could finish the French major, or I could take more English and Education classes that interested me. In the end, it was my desire to teach that helped me say yes. I knew that a lot of schools were hiring French teachers and I wanted to be more hirable than just an English teacher. So, I did the hard thing, I signed up for classes that would let me get a Supplemental Major in French.

There is a general consensus, in America, but at Notre Dame in particular- to shy away from thing you aren’t naturally good at. If you are struggling with a class, you drop it. If you aren’t cutting it in your major, you switch to something else. We like to keep up façades that we are successful at everything, while secretly wondering if we are the only ones who struggle. Following the things that give you all As, makes easy to keep up the façade that you are competent, smart, and put together. But you lose out on the real lessons that come with education.

Through my struggle with French, I learned a lot. I figured out to utilize resources. I found websites that would help point out grammatical errors, which helped me start to self-diagnose the common errors I was making. I bought books in French and English, reading things twice so that I could feel competent and confident about the text before class discussions. I learned to ask for help- from professors, classmates, and even friends back in France. At the end of my senior year, I got an A- on a French paper, a job offer to teach in Nice, France (which I had to decline because I already accepted the offer in Ireland), and a minuscule shout out in a French professor's retirement speech. I honestly had never been more proud of myself.

If you can afford it, study what you love. I will never argue against that. But if what you love, or what tugs at your imagination, or what sparks your excitement, is hard for you, stand tall in the face of failure. Study things that challenge you, that humble you, that make you cry. Study things that aren’t pretty or easy for you. Study things that let you inherit a growth mindset, instead of fixed one. Hard things teach to keep trying, to lead lives where anything is learnable.

In the meantime, we need to look at our education system and see where we can find more space for exploration, discovery, and risk taking. So that way, students don’t have to sacrifice diving into subjects that are interested in, that they want to explore, for having a GPA (and in some worlds this means a shot at medical/dental/grad schools). We need to foster teachers and professors who see students for more than grammatical structures on the paper, but partners in learning, and students who are truly trying their very best to succeed. We need to see how, in even places of higher education, we can make learning more like play- were we can take risks and try new things- without fear of failure, or more importantly, in acceptance and the ability to move beyond it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Month in Review: July

July has been a lazy month for me. Long, slow days- just like summer should be. I know I'll be leaving for a year soon so I've been cherishing this wonderful month with family and friends. It's times like this that help you see every moment as a little adventure.

1    Week on the Lake- One of my favorite parts of July was spending a full week at my family’s cottage in Port Sanilac. We took a few day trips while we were there- to Port Austin and to Frankenmuth. We also hosted a few guests who came and joined up for afternoons at our cottage. It was really fun to share this special place with others.

2   Detroit Adventures- Living close to Detroit means that there are always new things to discover right nearby. I love popping into the city, whether that means getting lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, volunteering at Earth Works urban garden, or spending a Saturday morning in Eastern Market.

3   Ann Arbor Escapes- Each summer, me and my two lifetime BFFs (we call ourselves the Golden Trio because we are that level perfect) have a weekend in Ann Arbor together. This summer, we hung out at the Ann Arbor Art Fair, ate Chicago-style pizza, bar crawled, got brunch, and discovered the wave field.

4   Babysitting Fun- My sister babysits twice a week, and well, lately it seems like I’ve become the second babysitter. Playing tennis, library visits, morning swims, movie afternoons, and even games of Barbies with my 7-year-old BFF makes my life brighter.

5   Concert and Cursed Child- I ended my month with one crazy Saturday night. My sister offered me an extra ticket to the Nick Jonas & Demi Lovato concert. While it wasn’t something I’d normally go to, it was a great show and I really enjoyed it. Afterwards, we went to the midnight release for the new Harry Potter Book- which I read in one afternoon (review coming soon).

Less a month now till my Ireland adventures begin! I'm so excited for what next month's review might bring.