Usually, when someone begins the process of looking into studying abroad and researching all of the different programs and countries, one of the first thoughts that come to mind is, “well, I’m not sure I feel comfortable traveling to and living in a foreign country alone.” That’s actually completely normal and makes a lot of sense considering that the unknown can be very frightening.
If you talk to anyone who has studied abroad alone, they will tell you that it was one of the best experiences of their lives because they were able to meet new people, make new friends, and form lifelong connections from all over the globe. I encourage you to go alone, to test your limits and learn about who you are while exploring a whole new world full of independence and adventures.
However, if you feel more comfortable knowing that you have a familiar face by your side, or if you and your best friend have been planning to go abroad together since you were kids, then by all means, do it! I studied abroad with AIFS during the summer of 2013 with my two very best friends, and it’s been the greatest experience we’ve had together. Nevertheless, there are still some dos and don’ts that I recommend in order to get the most out of your time abroad.
DO: Embrace the touristy and cliché together
Let’s be honest here, we all see the artsy pictures on Pinterest of a pair of friends candidly laughing next to the Eiffel Tower or pretending to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Ask someone to take your picture and don’t be afraid to look silly because I promise you that memory will be worth it. Take a million photos. Sightsee. Try new foods. And do it all together! You’ll gain so many great new inside jokes and stories that will only strengthen your friendship! Did my best friends and I all hang outside of a classic London photo booth and make telephone shapes with our fingers? You bet we did!
DON’T: Miss out on what you want to do
A great aspect of studying abroad is that you’re inevitably going to meet other Americans on your trip, as well as the locals where you’re living. If there is something that you’ve been dying to do, but the friend(s) you came with aren’t interested, do not sacrifice it. Make a new friend who shares that interest and go together! In fact, it’s sometimes easy to miss out on meeting new people if you’re constantly in your tight-knit circle, so I encourage you to make plans with different people, and encourage the friends you came with to do the same. It’s okay to leave the group and explore new things. Make a list before you leave of the things that you don’t want to miss out on, and hold yourself to that. One of my best friends went on the Harry Potter Studio Tour with a few of the other girls in our photography class and she’ll tell you that it was one of her favorite things she did in London. Which then leads me to my next point.
DO: Explore on your own
You’re in a foreign country, you may not speak the native language, and you aren’t familiar with the area, so obviously use caution and common sense when exploring independently, but don’t miss the chance to do so. Sometimes it’s nice to be alone with your own thoughts instead of constantly doing things with the same people. I attended the Aston Martin Centennial Celebration car show in Kensington Gardens alone and had so much fun. No one was interested in going with me, but I knew I didn’t want to pass it up, so I went anyway. You’re a college student, you’re young, and you’re figuring your life out. Why not do it in a beautiful foreign land? Grab some coffee, take a stroll, find a bench with a nice view, and journal your thoughts. You’ll be amazed at how you see things differently in solidarity.
DON’T: Let your friends define your experience
Ultimately, this is a once in a lifetime experience and something that is so much more meaningful than the fact that you’re traveling with your besties. Don’t forget to really take in your surroundings and the culture. Define your time there independently from the way that your friends define it. Challenge yourself to discover new things and to change your outlook on the world. Your friends are going back with you to the States, but your time abroad is limited, so don’t leave with regrets.
Has anyone ever thought about how our society begins to celebrate the holidays earlier and earlier every single year? I know I’m not the only one out there who thinks it’s absolutely absurd. As a retail worker, beginning signs of the impending “busiest time of the year” do not evoke feelings of joy or generosity. To be honest, it’s quite the opposite. On November 1st, the mall in which I work set up a giant Christmas tree outside of my store, as well as wreaths and lights hanging from the ceiling throughout the interior of the building. I’m sorry, people, but the first of November is way to earlier for holiday cheer.
So, as someone who ponders the motives of why humans do the things they do, I began to wonder what it is that possesses Christmas to begin weeks before Thanksgiving is even over. And this is what I’ve concluded – as a society, we have nothing else to look forward to.
Think about that for a second. It’s been stigmatized since your very first holiday season that this is “the most wonderful time of the year”. Growing up, Christmas has always meant spending time with family and receiving the exact gifts you asked for from Santa. Twinkling lights and the smell of pine conjure up warm, fuzzy feelings. It’s inevitable.
But what about the rest of the year? Work, school, taxes, responsibilities, and deadlines fill our lives. War, hate, crime, death, violence, and worry is all around. For some reason beyond explanation, Christmas seems to put all of those other things on the backburner. The whole point of the holidays is to spread Christmas cheer, show loved ones that you care, and put a smile on other people’s faces. We make ourselves believe that everything is better during this time of the year.
Then why not make Christmas come a little bit early, right? We all could use a bit more joy in our lives. It would be nice to have something to look forward to aside from mortgages and student loans. So, we set up a tree, we start playing Christmas music, and we begin our shopping because it somehow makes our hearts a little happier than they are the rest of the year. Instead of one month of holiday prep, how about two? Clearly, Thanksgiving is irrelevant compared to Christmas so we’ll just bypass the Indian and pilgrim celebration and invite back the fat man in a red suit.
As a society, we’ve let ourselves become so unhappy. Our world is full of negativity and strife that brings us down daily. We can’t turn on the television or read the news without something saddening our souls. So we love Christmas.
Although I do not personally fall into the category of Santa hat wearing, cookie baking, gift wrapping, “I LOVE CHRISTMAS” type of person (I’m actually more of a Grinch…sorry), I understand where everyone is coming from with the whole early holiday thing. It’s an internal and innate desire for compassion and joyfulness that most people think can only exist during the last few weeks of every year. And I think that it’s really sad that we forget how to extend that generosity and liveliness into the new year and beyond.
When did you start playing music?
"I started playing music when I was very young. I was always banging on a trash can, blowing through a toilet paper roll, and strumming on my father’s banjo. I guess you could consider this the start of my interest in music. The first instrument I ever had was the recorder in elementary school. Then, I moved on to the tuba in middle school, and guitar in high school. I guess the musical talent and interest has always been there, but it wasn’t until high school I really found my “sound.”"
Which instruments do you play?
"To be honest, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t playing some sort of instrument. Sure, I played the recorder, tuba , and guitar, but I have always loved the piano. I found that performing on a piano made it easier to pick up other instruments such as guitar, bass, drums, and viola. But I always loved playing the piano above all the others. It is a great visual tool to learn the structure of music."
Who are your musical influences or all-time favorite artists?
"I really enjoy orchestral movie scores. Hans Zimmer is a great composer. You may have heard his work in Pirates of the Caribbean. That piece is still one of my favorites. Of course, there is John Williams. His music is filled with emotion and beautifully performed. His Star Wars piece is one of the most recognizable compositions in the world. Another artist I am influenced by is Trent Reznor. His work is wonderfully performed and has a very unique sound to it. He is the main talent behind Nine Inch Nails."
Describe your song writing and recording process
"All of my songs usually start from just playing around on a piano for hours. When I play a little melody I like, I will play it again and again until it is in my head. From there, I decide if it would make a good baseline or melody. Then, I add some chords that will accentuate the melody. Once I have this I will record this part over and over. This way I can play the recording back and come up with other parts to accompany it. I always make this analogy to describe my song writing and recording process. It is like making a soup. You start with your bass line or melody (chicken stock). Then, you add chicken (chords), salt (strings), pepper (percussion), and any extra seasoning (any other instruments you want). As for the technical part, I just use an instrument mic to record my instruments. Then, mix it on a TASCAM DP – 02 to get the levels right."
"If the listener feels nothing at all, then I didn’t really do anything except make some noise."
What do you hope people feel when listening to your music?
"It is strange and beautiful how music works. What one person would feel when listening to “Apollo”, for example, may not be the same feeling someone else has. My hope is that my music invokes some sort of feeling, regardless of what it is. If the listener feels nothing at all, then I didn’t really do anything except make some noise. I think that is why we hear a song on the radio and think back to a time or place. For example, a song comes on the radio during a summer road trip. Years later you hear it and are instantly thinking about the fun time you had on that trip. Music is very powerful in that way, and if my music can be that catalyst to fond memories or even not so fond memories, then I would be happy."
Explain your sound in 5 words
"Positive, Fun, Unique, Clean, Pop"
What influences your music?
"I write music as a way to escape. Unlike the “real world”, I have ultimate power over the music I write. It can turn out exactly how I want it to turn out. I have total freedom. I can create this little music world. Full of whatever I can imagine. That feeling is what influences me, and draws me back to the piano time and time again. I would love to say that tragedy, or love influence me, but I can’t. Once I create my little “world”, it is then, that I connect it to tragedy, love or an event."
Where can we find your music?
"You can find my debut album, “Castlemill” on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Spotify, and pretty much anywhere digital music is sold. You can also follow me on Twitter and on Instagram @thecastlemill. Here you can get some behind the scenes content and listen to unreleased tracks in progress. You could also find Castlemill on Facebook."
What are your long-term music goals?
"Well, that is a great question. I would hate to say I don’t have a long term goal for my music, but I don’t have a long term goal for my music. This is all a labor of love for me. I love writing and recording music. I love branding and promoting. I guess I would like to find a way to perform my music on a stage. It would be great to perform in front of an audience. For now, I am currently working on my second album: “Wildlife” If you want a little sneak peak just follow me on twitter. "
"I want to thank everyone who has supported me with my Castlemill project. Thank you, Bianca. You have done so much to help me with Castlemill, including this blog. It really means a lot to me. Stay positive, live happy. Oh, and have fun!!"
Just another post that I wrote many moons ago.
Man, it's fun to come across these old documents saved on my computer.
Why. I am supposed to be in control of everything. I’m supposed to have my entire life together. No mess. No chaos. Just control. Why is it that at these wee hours of the night, sitting alone in this dark and motionless room, thunder rumbling outside, that I think? I let my mind wander and it’s terrible. A wandering mind creates illusions and steals contentment. A wandering mind needs to be tied back down as soon as one realizes its escaped. But it isn’t that easy. Once imagination takes flight, the only thing there is to do is wait for it to run out of fuel. After a few hours or so, eyes will get heavy and, by the morning, those wild fantasies created in my head will be nothing but sleep lost and mangled dreams.
Lightning illuminates the room, a brief flash back into reality. A surge into your existence. Existence in a world where there is no order, and no matter how hard you try, you will never accomplish true control. Just udder chaos.
Sometimes I go throughout my day, writing a novel in my mind. Thinking of ways to phrase the occurrences in my life. Dreaming up scenes and chapters and the perfect ending. People think I’m crazy. They think I’m just afraid. But that’s not true. I’m not scared. I’m the opposite. I want to face the world. Alone. I want to see things that few ever see. I want to do things that others never could imagine. I want to travel. I want to write. I want to take pictures. And I want to be happy. Just me. Alone.
Sometimes I wish that I am that fashionable, quirky girl who sits in the corner cafe, scribbling in her journal, and drinking tea. But I don’t like tea. And I don’t sit in cafes. And I’m definitely not stylish. So that girl is sort of like my alter ego. My dream me. A character in my stories that I control. A way to have complete say in her life. In my life. With endless possibilities and boundless ideas. She is who I want to be.
And today, that girl is planning her next trip. She’s in a coffee shop, and her biggest decision at the moment is which country to see next. She scans through the photographs she took on her last adventure. Moments captures. Beauty emanating. She wishes others could see them. Recognize them as beautiful. She writes in her notebook, although she hates her handwriting. She wishes it was more girly. Cursive. More like a love note rather than words jotted down. Words that make sentences and sentences that make paragraphs that sometimes are so scatter-brained, they don’t even make sense to her. But she likes to write.
She gets up to refill her cup and returns to a note left on her table.
"Ireland. It’s gorgeous."
Mental illness is hard to explain when someone doesn’t understand how you feel. If they’ve never experienced it themselves, they will never comprehend the extent to which mental illness hurts. Depression and anxiety are two disorders that seem impossible to put into words. Descriptions that include the words sadness, worrying, or fear just don’t seem to cut it. It might be silly, but this is how I explain it.
I came across this post saved on my computer.
I wrote this before I ever started a blog, so I figured I'd share it now.
Without warning or notice a baby elephant shows up at your front door one day. At first you’re confused. Where did it come from? What’s the reason? Why me? Without knowing what else to do, you acknowledge that he’s there because he’s new and exotic. He’s a living creature so of course you tend to him with food and water, sometimes not even realizing that you’re slipping left overs to him under the table. After a few days, you get used to him being around but you’re still completely uncertain as to what he’s doing here. After a few weeks, he isn’t new and exotic anymore. He’s taking up room, preventing you from going out, and is quite frankly, a bit messy.
One day you wake up in the morning and he’s already at your bed side, staring at you and begging to be given attention. Notice me! Don’t leave me! That’s enough. You can’t stand it anymore so you take him outside and beg him to leave. You push him away but he won’t move, after all, he’s bigger and stronger than you. You’ve let him live in your house for enough time that he now calls it home and wanting him to leave only makes him want to stay more.
Months go by and he’s gotten bigger. He’s almost full grown and follows you around everywhere. He’s attached himself to you and won’t leave your side. Obviously you can’t go to the store or to a restaurant with an elephant. And how are you supposed to explain him to your friends? So you stay home where you’re comfortable and safe. The elephant has gotten so large that he can almost fill a room, making it difficult to move, so instead you lay in bed most of the time, and like a loyal pet, he lays with you.
The longer he sticks around, the bigger and stronger he becomes, and the weaker you start to feel. Taking care of an elephant is hard, so you’re exhausted and helpless. You miss being able to have fun, but the elephant is a part of your life now and you’re used to him being around. You’re chained down by this massive animal who has no intent of leaving. He’s suffocating you. You wish that he never showed up at your door and you’re angry that you’re the one this has happened to. Why me, elephant? Why did you show up to ruin my life? It’ll be easier to ignore him, you think. Maybe if I pretend he isn’t there, he’ll give up and leave. But how do you ignore an elephant? He is omni-present. Elephants have great memories and they never forget, so he’ll always remind you of your past, and they live for a long time, so you can also expect that he’ll be there for your future.
So you adopt him. He’s a part of you know. "Hi, I’m so-and-so and this is my elephant. We’re a package deal so if you can’t deal with him, you can’t deal with me. He takes some getting used to but I promise he’s friendly. Sometimes he won’t want me to see you and sometimes I’ll convince him to stay home but he’ll show up and ruin our plans anyway. If you want to get to know me, you’ll have to get to know my elephant. I’ll try to hide him from you, but he’ll inevitably be seen. I know he’ll probably scare you and you’ll get tired of him being around. I'm sorry."
This is life with an elephant.
Click this link to read on AIFS' blog!
Prince George Alexander Louis, Son of Prince William and Duchess Catherine, was born on the twenty-second of July, summer of 2013, and at the time of his birth, I was casually chatting with a group of Australian cricket players outside of Kensington Palace in London, England.
When my two best friends and I decided to study abroad in London through AIFS, we didn’t plan around the upcoming birth of the United Kingdom’s newest prince, however, it ended up being one of our greatest memories and cultural learning experiences. At that point, we had already been in London for two weeks and were aware of Kate Middleton’s due date. Actually, I was constantly updated every morning by my best friend who has an obsession with William and Kate and the entire Royal Family. First thing every day, even before the proper amount of coffee, she was inspecting the online news to check the status of the pregnancy, but with the conclusion of our time abroad around the corner, we were beginning to think we’d miss it completely.
So on July 22nd, we decided to stroll through Kensington Park after dinner and enjoy one of our last nights being charmed by the beauty of London. We took a break on a bench to watch a cricket game, because after all, cricket is a foreign and strange sport to us Americans and fascinated us. Long story short, a few of the lovely Aussie fellows decided to give us some company and we stuck around to hear their stories and exchange ours. One of the boys checked his phone during our conversation and casually stated that Kate had her baby. Cue emotional freak out by my crazed best friend. She began running, skipping, and leaping around, shouting that the prince was born and crying tears of joy. This is where our cultural confusion first began. As we were celebrating, we were also informing some of the passer byers who were walking by, and to our surprise, nobody cared.
Most of the responses we got in return of the good news were lackadaisical and apathetic one-word answers or blank expressions. We assumed that the British would be elated at the birth of their newest prince! That clearly was not the case because even the next day, it still was not a huge deal. Of course, at the request of my friend, we went to the convenience store and stocked up on all of the newspapers and magazines headlining the birth. I think that all of the other tourists in Kensington had that same idea that morning. We choose to buy those newspapers as souvenirs and historical keepsakes, while the locals were buying for the weather forecast or the story on page three.
Per tradition, the golden easel was placed outside of Buckingham Palace with the birth announcement on it, signed by the royal doctors, and of course, we went to see it. Once again, tourists filled the outside gates of the Palace and were lining up just to get a peek. Guards were ushering the crowds and only allowing for a quick picture and then you had to be on your way. In addition, it has also historically been the case that the name of the new royal baby is not released to the public for a few days to a few weeks, but lucky for us, Prince George’s name was announced while we were still in the country.
After bike riding through the gardens, we stopped at Kensington Palace to see why people were crowding the gates. Turned out, someone spelled out George’s name in boxes of baby powder on the grass. We spoke to a British woman that evening and asked her why the locals didn’t seem to be as excited as the tourists. She explained that it just isn’t a huge deal to them and compared it to our reactions to the President and his family, which made a lot of sense.
This really exemplified cultural variations in the public and media response to a pop culture event like such. Friends and family back in the states were being bombarded by the news and it remained a vital part of the media for a few days. But regardless of resident reactions, it still remains one of the highlights of my study abroad experience and I can certainly say that businesses and souvenir shops made a good deal of money off tourists and their infatuations with the Royal family. July 22nd was just another day for most of the British, while I will always remember being right next to Kensington Palace when I received the news of Prince George’s birth.
Now Will and Kate are expecting their second child, and my friends and I want to find a way back to London for round two of royal baby celebrations.
I've been working at the same place for 2 years and 9 months (but what actually feels like way too long) and, at this point, most of my coworkers are aware of my anxiety and panic attacks. Fortunately, in the past I've either been able to hide my panic attacks or call out of work on the days I felt anxious in order to avoid the dreaded attack. Also, the holidays are coming up, which means seasonal hires. Fresh faces and new friends who aren't aware of my issue and that I can totally catch off guard with my craziness.
So, about a week ago, I arrived at work for my closing shift and was immediately overcome with a sense of doom that was triggered by who knows what. I recognized the pounding heartbeat and shortness of breath and immediately went to the bathroom to try to calm myself down. My shift was starting in five minutes, and I began to become jittery and dizzy and it felt like a million fire ant were crawling over my arms and chest. One thing I've learned from these past few years with an anxiety disorder, is that panic attacks just need to run their course. There's no stopping it once it starts and you'll feel a heck of a lot better once it's over. So I told my manager on duty that I was in the midst of an anxiety attack and needed a few minutes. All I wanted to do was run out of the building but I was so light-headed and dizzy that I just sat down in the break room. Cue multiple awkward encounters with coworkers who just don't understand panic attacks...
1. "Um, I don't know what to say right now." - At this point, I do not even try to hide my mental state from people anymore. So obviously when my coworkers walked into the break room and saw me hyperventilating and shaking, they asked my what was wrong. "Oh I'm just having a panic attack, no biggie!", I'd blurt out. Then the looks. The confusion. The awkwardness. I actually had a coworker look at me in horror and say that he had no idea what to say, then turned around and walked out. I mean, sorry that I scared you away, but even if you could have, you probably wouldn't have said anything helpful anyway.
2. "Oh, shoot, okay, well, um, sorry!" - This one was actually pretty hilarious and if I wasn't trying to convince myself that I wasn't having a heart attack at the time, I probably would have laughed in his face. This particular coworker actually freaked out and stuttered and walked in a circle before turning back around and going right out the door. It was like I told him that I was about to grow another head or like he walked in on me changing or something. He couldn't leave quick enough, and to be honest, I don't think I saw him again for the rest of the night.
3. "Here! Drink water! Do you want some chocolate? Where's your water bottle? You just need to eat something. I'll get you whatever you want!!" - I swear, do not tell me what to do in a situation like this. Do not tell me to eat and do not tell me to drink. Food is the last thing on someone's mind when their parasympathetic nervous system is focusing on fight or flight. And plus, chocolate would only make it worse considering it has caffeine in it! And no, I'm not dizzy because I'm dehydrated. I appreciate your concern and I know that you think you're helping but you really, really aren't and I'm going to need you to leave. You can't water me like a withering plant and expect that my panic would just cease.
4. "Well what happened to start it? Everything is okay and there's nothing bad to worry about." - If anything should be taught to people about mental illness/anxiety/panic attacks it should be that telling someone that they do not have anything to worry about is the absolute worst thing you could say. Panic is a psychological response that tricks your body into thinking you're in danger, even when you aren't. In the midst of a panic attack, I could believe that the ceiling is about to cave in on me and 100% believe it and you telling me that it won't isn't going to change my mind. After the fact, I'll realize how insane it was for me to think that, but in that moment, I will be fully convinced. And most of the time, I have no idea what causes me to spiral out of control after being completely normal two minutes earlier. So, kind coworker, asking me that is only going to frustrate me more and cause me to feel even more crazy because I cannot explain why I'm acting the way I'm acting.
5. ***silence*** - Yes, thank you, please do not speak. Sit down next to me. Do not touch me. Just be there so I don't feel alone. Do not crowd me. One person at a time. If I do die, at least someone will be there with me. Do not offer me anything or tell me what to think. Sit there until I calm myself down enough to look at you and crack a joke or start a conversation. Let me babble to you about my fire ants or how I need to feel my pulse to remind myself that I am indeed not dying. Laugh when I laugh. Finally, someone got it right that day. Thank you for being a friend and loving me when I'm crazy and when I'm not. Sometimes it's best not to try to fix things, but to just accept them.
I guess the main lesson I learned that day is, next time, don't have a panic attack in the break room, where all of my coworkers are constantly walking in and out of. Sorry for freaking every body out.
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