Updates from “the real world”

Ciao tutti!

I’ve been absolutely horrible at keeping this blog up, for multiple reasons:

  1. I am now living in a new town with a new apartment with new kitchen utensils.
  2. I finally caved and got an iPhone. Now I get why all you Apple people love them so much.
  3. Grad school takes up the majority of any free time I thought I would have coming into this summer.

While I’ve already gone on an amazing adventure in Colorado with my friends Jess and Alea from my semester in Italy, those days of no commitments or responsibilities are long gone. Now my days consist of getting up at 7 am, going to class for 3-7 hours, coming home, vegging out on Netflix or cleaning or cooking, and then doing homework until I pass out at 11. Not a very exciting life, but it’s a practical one.

*No worries, I’m not going to just blow off that Colorado trip, because it was indeed amazing. But I’m going to save that for another post since it really deserves (and requires) one for itself.

While I’ve had my issues with two of the three classes I’m taking, in general, grad school is a lot simpler than undergrad. There are less things to worry about, like extra-curriculars, subjects that are difficult to wrap my mind around, or annoyances that arise from living on a college campus. But, as Tom could tell you, I do tend to rant about my classes. First of all, they’re way too easy and don’t challenge me at all. I don’t even need to try to get good enough grades, and the content is so common-sense that I question why I’m even in (or how this is even) a Master’s program. Second of all, the discussions are always about topics so obvious that I find it hard to contribute. Well obviously students are motivated by their passions and interests. Why do we need to discuss that for 2 hours?

However, I don’t want to give this program too bad of a rap. All the people in the program are so energetic and excited to be there, and passionate about education that they’re enjoyable to be around. I’ve found some connections with people from Richmond, people in relationships, and people who are really interested in education in an international context. Although I don’t really find my basic foundations of education classes all that relevant, the classes I’m taking for my ESL Dual Endorsement are really engaging. My classmates and I have been able to bond in a special way, since our class is three days a week for seven hours a day. We’ve explored the town together, talked about real life, and are planning weekend trips to take out of town.

This class has addressed learning in a totally different way from my foundations classes. Although it’s specifically focused on learning and teaching a language, it can be applied to everything. We’ve talked about cognitive (thinking) styles, learning styles, and learning strategies, and taken personality tests. As a language major, it was so fascinating to see just how language lessons are structured to encourage all types of learners.

I’ve even learned about myself. I’m much more of a tactile learner than I thought I was, and I’m a field-dependent learner, meaning I need to see the practical applications of concepts to really get engaged. Which maybe explains why I think my other classes are such a drag.

However, we’ve been assigned field placements to observe ESL summer school, and mine starts in July. I’m so excited to be there and using what I’ve learned in my classes to help students better understand and use English.

Now that I’m in week three, and I’ve finally settled into a groove, I have this urge to get involved in the community in some way. Last night, for example, I randomly researched if there were opportunities to volunteer at the local library (which I found were mostly positions for high school students… bummer).  Now that I’m not volunteering in Sunday School every week, or being around kids, something just feels off. I miss it more than I thought I would.

In short, I’m building awesome friendships with people, but my energy is spent from these exhaustingly long, 90 degree days and less-than-exciting classes. I wish there were only one more month of summer, so I could spend time with people but we could also be getting into the real stuff in our classes. I just need to be helping people, either in a classroom or halfway across the world.

Abby

Do you remember?

Ciao!

There’s something about Jack Johnson. Whenever I listen to his music, it takes me back to simpler times.

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Jack Johnson

My older brother was the one who first introduced me to Jack’s beachy style, and it made me feel so cool to be listening to the same music as him. That was in high school, when we were pretty close, he gave me rides to school, and we worked as lifeguards together. Now that he’s in law school, and living in a different state, it’s harder to stay that close. I just remember when he saw how much I adored Jack Johnson’s music, and one year, he gave me the best gift ever and I will never forget it.

I got into my car to drive to school on my birthday and when I turned it on, Jack’s newest album came blasting through my speakers. My brother had gotten it for me and stuck it in my car’s CD player for me to discover. It was such a small thing, but it was one of the sweetest and most thoughtful things he has ever done for me. Later in the summer of that year, we even got to see him play in concert together.

I’m the kind of person who really appreciates simple gifts that show me how much the person cares for me. Even just spending the smallest amount of time together makes me so happy. I’m sentimental to the point of never throwing out birthday cards and I still have ones from elementary school stashed away in my desk. So all in all, I love simple gifts.

Back to Jack Johnson. I feel like a lot of people hate on Jack for how similar his songs are, and how his “chill” style isn’t that interesting. Personally, I like that they all sound a little similar. There’s always the same vein throughout every song, of bringing you back to the beach, to summer, to relaxing.

My family doesn’t vacation often, but when we do, we make the best memories. One summer we headed off to Smith Mountain Lake in western Virginia to stay at our rented lake house for a week. The whole family was there, including our dog Skip, who had an overwhelming fear of water. Needless to say, that trip gave us plenty of hilarious stories of his antics.

Smith Mountain Lake with Skip

Smith Mountain Lake with Skip

I just remember so clearly the drive out to the lake. I think I was in 10th grade at the time, and my new iPod nano came with me everywhere I went. The whole 2 hour drive, I repeatedly listened to Jack Johnson albums. Now whenever I hear his raspy voice, I immediately think of the summer rain clouds travelling alongside us through the peaceful countryside on our way to the lake.

It’s memories like these that make me just wish I could relive those moments and enjoy again those experiences and those relationships just as they were in that moment.

Con amore,

Abby

The beauty of a rainy day

Ciao!

If any of you live in the Richmond area, you would know that after one beautiful sunny day on Sunday, we’ve had consistently grey, cloudy days. Some people hate this kind of weather. I’m not one of those people.

Rainy Drive to Peaks of Otter

Rainy drive to Peaks of Otter

 

When it’s warm and a little muggy, and there’s a light rain, I couldn’t be happier. For some reason my mood almost always correlates with the weather. If it’s bright, sunny, and warm, I’m excited by life and want nothing more than to be outside. When it’s cold, I’m miserable and all I want is to stay snuggled in my warm bed all day. When there’s a spring rain, I’m contemplative. I tend to use this kind of weather as an excuse to turn inward and collect my thoughts. I journal more, think more, plan more, listen to more music, and drink more tea.

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Hummingbird eggs

 

The sudden warmth of spring and rain showers have brought the birds out from hiding. There are nests in every tree and the sound of chirping is constantly in the air. Being near wildlife has always made me feel deep sense of wonder and forget myself. I don’t think I could ever live happily in a treeless place. I grew up with trees in my backyard, and forests surrounding my neighborhood and my schools. Now that the area is getting more developed, we’re starting to lose more and more of our trees, which saddens me.

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Wildflower in Shenandoah

 

When I lived in Perugia, I was astounded by the lack of trees. Obviously we were surrounded by the rolling hills reminiscent of Tuscany, with olive groves and farms reaching as far as the eye can see. But in the city center, where I actually lived, there were no trees to be seen (unless you count the pine trees they put in the piazza at Christmas). This meant that the only birds we came in regular contact with were those rats of the sky… pigeons. I grew to really hate those things and their incessant cooing. Especially the ones that lived next to my apartment window on Via Oberdan.

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Pigeons in Venice

 

I really love springtime. I enjoy all the seasons, but spring is especially exciting. Finally (finally!) the snow is gone. The temperature is always warm and there’s almost daily rain showers. And the wildlife relishes its return from the harsh winter.

Con amore,

Abby

When senioritis strikes

Ciao!

Lots of things have happened since I last blogged and I will attempt to organize them, as always, in a list:

William and Mary

A while ago I wrote a post about how I didn’t get the Fulbright grant. Yes, it was sad. But I knew that God had something better for me, and I was right. Yesterday, I received news from William and Mary. I got in to their Master’s program for Elementary Education! After telling everyone I knew about my news, the reality sunk in. I actually have a plan now. Well, at least for the next year.

I’m going to learn how to be the best elementary school teacher I can be, and then I’m going to be one for real.

W&M

No amount of words can describe how many emotions I feel when I think about that. My earliest memories of playing with my sister were of us playing classroom, and me making tests for her to take on a book I made her read. I’ll admit, I was a pretty controlling little youngster. But those were the kinds of things I enjoyed doing. I enjoyed making lists, writing on whiteboards and chalkboards, reading and talking about books, and showing people all the new things I learned (as I still do today).

Combine that with my love for the girls I mentor on Sunday mornings and the many students I’ve helped tutor, this just seems like the perfect fit for me. Even though I have no idea what will actually happen in my life, or what adventures await me, I’m going to give my all to this next chapter of my life and make the most of it, just like I did in Italy.


Colorado

Speaking of Italy, guess what? You might remember my two wonderful friends Jessica and Alea from my semester in Italy (they’re also on my shoutouts page). The three of us cooked up the most awesome plot in the history of plots. We’re going to spend the ten days after graduation in Colorado!

Making wishes in Rome (Alea, Jess, me)

Making wishes in Rome (Alea, Jess, me)

Yes, that’s right. Not only am I going to be in the the wild, wild west for the first time EVER, but we are having the most ridiculously exciting reunion in the world. I haven’t seen Alea in person since we left Italy in December of 2013, and after our many skype dates, I have realized just how much I miss her smiling face in my life. The three of us have explored so many Italian cities together, like Assisi, Rome, Venice, Florence, and the Amalfi Coast, and I cannot wait for Alea to show us around her town of Boulder and the majestic Rockies.

I could rant about how excited I am about this trip for the rest of this blog post, but I will spare you that.

On our way to Rome: Alea and Jess

The excitement continues!

 

(These last two points are just random thoughts I’ve had lately about school and being a senior. Nothing too exciting.)


The Present

Currently, I’m working on a senior thesis that will be due in April. Of course, by “working on” I actually mean attempting to read pages upon pages of sources, but browsing Buzzfeed and making Spotify playlists instead. But no, I actually am really interested in my topic (Italy’s response to immigration from Northern Africa) and I do want to start the writing process. It’s just time-consuming to sift through so much information for the specifics that I want to base my argument on. My one motivation to do work is the cutest little coffee shop that my friend just showed me the other day in Carytown. There’s Italian maps on the tables, comfy sofas, and a piano you can play if you want. They even serve their coffee in mismatched mugs! She told me it’s the best place to study and do research, so I’ll be going there a lot the next few weeks.

10 Italian Cafe

10 Italian Cafe

One of my professors from last semester apparently really liked the 17-pager I wrote for the majority of my grade, and wanted me to present it at the Arts & Sciences Symposium in April. After much hesitation at the thought of presenting a complex topic in front of a bunch of people, I finally forced myself to do it. And then while I was at it, I decided to sign up to present my thesis too. “Why not?” I thought to myself. “I’m already going to have a presentation practiced for my thesis anyway. It’ll be easy.”

Now I’m kind of regretting that decision to present two papers on migration to Europe for 20-30 minutes each at the symposium. That’s a lot of presenting for an introvert.


The Future

Being a second-semester senior as an undergrad is a lot like being a second-semester senior in high school, but it’s also so different. The amount of senior-itis is definitely the same. The longing for summer is too. But as a senior in high school, you’re focused on what the senior prank will be and what you’ll wear to your senior prom, and then you’re headed off to college. There’s so much time to figure things out. There’s no pressure for the first few years to think about the future.

As a senior in college, thinking about the future becomes one of your  main occupations. What job will I get? What will my significant other and I do when we graduate? Should I go to grad school? There are constantly questions that can’t be answered just yet, and so much pressure to have the ultimate success story, the dream job, and the perfect plan.

Now that I have a plan for my education for the next year, I can relax… but only slightly. I still have to deal with the relationship questions, figure out what job I want to end up with, and learn to continually trust in God with all of this. It’s definitely a tougher situation now than it was four years ago. It’s so hard to be patient and not try to plan every little thing. Trying to plan for things you don’t know yet only leaves you frustrated, anxious, and drained. I’d rather leave it up to God and live every day knowing that he will provide.

Grazie mille per leggere il mio sproloquio!

Con amore,

Abby

New year, new perspectives

Ciao!

Coming into 2015, I’ve already been hit with a lot in only a month. This year is still a big unknown, but at least some plans are being put into place.

First of all, Fulbright is a no-go. Looking back on the end of the summer when I really got into the application process, I can see so clearly how unprepared I was. Italy is one of the most competitive programs, and I should have known that I needed to set the bar a little lower for myself. The problem with me is that when I get my mind set on something, I trick myself into thinking it’s totally possible, even if it really isn’t.

When I found out the news that I didn’t even make it past the first screening, I was tempted to feel sorry for myself. I mean, I did put so much effort into the application and I really believed that I wanted to teach English in Italy for nine months. But, after all those emotions settled about an hour later, I was surprised to find that the underlying thing I was feeling  was relief. It sounds so weird, but it’s true. I don’t think I had fully grasped what I had spent so much time signing up for.

After going through all the classes for my International Studies degree, I went through a kind of identity crisis. I felt like there were these two paradoxical ideas tugging as hard as they could to get me on their side. The one side was the traditional, comfortable side that just wanted to have the white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and a totally stable future. The other was the unconventional,  “I’m going to travel the world and no one’s going to stop me” vagabond side. Throughout college, I was trying to totally disregard the first side, because the “I’m young and this is the time of my life” ideology is literally everywhere on my campus.

After college ended, I thought I would be out travelling all the time and writing a travel blog and being such a cool person with cool pictures and cool stories to tell. I lived that life for a semester and, while it was definitely unforgettable, it took a lot out of me. There’s also something about that lifestyle that feels a little superficial and a little selfish. I don’t want to shirk responsibilities towards my family and friends because I’m travelling and livin’ the dream. I also don’t want to be wanting that kind of lifestyle just so other people can see it and think better of me, just so I maintain a “cool person” image (this then goes into my whole “I’m going to delete my facebook and instagram” rant, and we’re not going to get into that right now).

I used to to make myself belief I was more adventurous than I actually am, and I really think I was doing myself a disservice. Now, I’m not talking about two years ago when I went on that backpacking trip where everyone almost died (note to self: Write a blog about that one soon.). And I’m not even talking about my semester abroad last year. Those were both really good experiences where I went out of my comfort zone and grew so much as a person.

From the backpacking trip where everyone almost died

From the backpacking trip where everyone almost died

I’m talking about the fact that when I used to envision my future, I just saw myself travelling and being super independent. The past few years, whenever I declined to go on a crazy trip, or didn’t have the kind of money needed for that kind of lifestyle, I would get really mad at myself and frustrated with how I wasn’t being who I thought I should be. I think God has made some great people out there that can do that kind of thing, live abroad and travel all the time, and that was what they were meant to do. But the more I pray, the more I realize, I’m not one of those people.

God didn’t make me to be the spontaneous vagabond. He made me to be me and do the things that make my soul happy (not the things I think I should want to do). If that’s just hanging out with my family and reading books and listening to music, then I think that should be okay. If that’s being an elementary school teacher in Virginia instead of in Europe, then that should be okay too. I need to constantly remind myself that God made me to be me, and when I try to live someone else’s life, it’s like I’m telling Him that I’m not satisfied with the way he designed his creation. And it also just results in me feeling discouraged about how my life is going.

Back to my paradox situation though, I think I’ve come to understand that I can have both sides. I can have a stable job and a family, and I can also go on cool trips with them and teach them about the world and get out of my comfort zone every so often. I don’t need to live in a foreign country or jump from place to place to learn new things and get new experiences. I have new experiences and learn new things every single day, if I continue to keep my perspective focused on God and on eternal things.

You don’t have to be looking at a gorgeous view or walking the streets of Paris to have an epiphany or a philosophical thought. Sometimes it’s just a great conversation with someone you love that clears up all your doubts and everything feels sublime after that. Maybe it’s a moment when you’re walking around campus and you just feel really thankful for life and the sunny sky and the trees.

Grazie mille,

Abby

The unexpected journey

Ciao!

My last fall semester of my undergraduate career has finally come to its end, amidst a flurry of hurried paper-writing and studying late into the night. Now that I’m back home with my huge bed with flannel sheets, Christmas decorations everywhere, and the luxury of sitting back with Netflix and a mug of tea, it’s so so tempting to just relax. And maybe I should.

However, the practical side of me (that never seems to shut up) nags me to use this ample amount of down-time to focus on the terrifying unknown that will inevitably happen after graduation in May. A terrifying unknown called “the future.”

Should I go to graduate school? What would I do there? Become a teacher or study Europe some more? Or should I do the adventurous thing, and take a gap year?

My sister, who will be graduating high school as I graduate college, just got into her top choice college early decision, and doesn’t have to worry the rest of her senior year. I, however, look at her with nostalgia, remembering when I took the logical next step to go to college and how simple it was. Now, there is no logical next step. The choice is up to me, and I’m often overwhelmed by crippling indecision.

Using my extra time to think (aka worry) about the future doesn’t really give me much time to relax and enjoy the holidays, but I do my best. It helps when I have this cute face to look at every day…

Minnie

Minnie

It also helps when there are good friends to talk me down and see things in perspective, and people to enjoy good movies with. I’ve been invited to go see the third Hobbit movie tonight, and I told myself it would really do me some good to be out of the house and not thinking about applications and recommendations. The only problem was, I hadn’t seen the first two movies.

*Aside: I apologize to those of you who are not familiar with LotR, because I’m about to geek out on you.

Yesterday and this morning, I watched the first two movies, because I’m on break now and have license to be a lazy, movie-marathon watcher. Whenever I watch Lord of the Rings movies, I’m always amazed by the characters that J.R.R. Tolkien thought up. Just like Frodo in the first trilogy, Bilbo started out as just a Hobbit living in comfort, but got dragged into a huge adventure through Gandalf’s convincing.

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Bilbo Baggins

When I started watching, I was purely just trying to catch up on the story-line so I wouldn’t be asking my friends what was happening every two minutes in the theater. However as the plot thickened, I realized how much I could identify with Bilbo (it helped that Martin Freeman, one of my favorites from Sherlock, was playing the Hobbit). He started out living a comfy life, with plenty of food and other luxuries in his little Hobbit-hole. Soon after he met Gandalf however, his life got turned upside-down as he was pushed into an “unexpected journey” that he knew nothing about.

The thing that I love the most about Bilbo was that no one (except Gandalf) thought that he could do any good or serve any use on the journey. Even he doubted himself. He originally wasn’t even going to go, because he would rather be surrounded by the comforts of home. He told Gandalf, “I just need to sit quietly for a moment” to which Gandalf replies “You’ve been sitting quietly for far too long!”

For some reason, Bilbo decides to go along, despite how terrified he is. At one point, he gets a chance to escape and run back to his home but, through all of their adventures, his perspective had shifted and he decides to continue on with the group. He tells the dwarves, “I often think of Bag End. I miss my books, and my armchair, and my garden. See, that’s where I belong, that’s home. That’s why I came back… ’cause you don’t have one, a home. It was taken from you. But I will help you take it back if I can.”

"That's why I came back."

“That’s why I came back.”

The thing is, life is an unexpected journey, with peril, adventure, and disappointment. But going through conflicts and trials is how people grow and find out what they are truly made of. Sitting in a comfy spot with no need to grow or change is no way to be who you were meant to be. Right now, I’m pretty comfortable where I am, living in my parent’s house and not having to fend for myself as an adult. I have no idea where I will be a year from now, and that scares me a lot. But just like Gandalf saw Bilbo’s potential and pushed him to fulfill his destiny, I know God has created me for a purpose and will give me the courage I need to conquer obstacles while continuing to become the person that He created me to be.

I once wrote a post about my wonderful mother, and how she doesn’t raise any girly girls. I want to rephrase that and say that she has never been one to let us kids whine about our situation and not do something to change it. When I’m complaining about some trivial matter, she helps me to buck up and deal with it myself. With my mom’s no-nonsense voice in the back of my head, I know I can’t sit here griping about my unknown future without taking the initiative to help myself.

Many people have told me that I don’t have to have it all figured out right now. That’s easy enough to say when you aren’t dealing with the ever-encroaching pressure of graduation and the question “What are you going to do after you graduate?” I often tell myself (a million times a day it seems) that I can’t let myself become overwhelmed by it. There are more important and urgent priorities to worry about than my career (or lack of it), like fostering good relationships, caring for others, and helping people in need. Those are the things that really make a difference. Like Gandalf says,

“I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love.

-Gandalf the Grey

Now time to go see the final chapter of this amazing adventure on the big screen.

Arrivederci!

Abby

Christmas blues

Ciao!

Now that I just had to leave my awesome family and adorable puppy after a great Thanksgiving break, I wish I could stay home more than ever.  It’s this time of year when I’m usually whining about wanting to enjoy the Christmas season and not do schoolwork. Tom likes to call it the “Christmas blues” and he swears it has happened each of the three Christmases we’ve known each other.

The Christmas blues are more than just not wanting to finish papers and take final exams. It’s more than just being homesick as well, although that’s certainly part of it. With stressed-out students surrounding me 24/7, it’s not the best atmosphere to relax and enjoy anything.

Everyone who knows me well sees this Christmas-obsessed side of me come out around Thanksgiving time. All I want to do for days on end is snuggle up next to a fire with a glowing Christmas tree beside it, with Christmas movies or music on in the background, and a mug of hot chocolate in hand.

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I couldn’t tell you what it is about Christmas that is just so appealing to me, but I feel like a part of it is the “Christmas spirit” which I like to call love. Whenever it is Christmas-time, it seems like everyone becomes a little bit nicer to each other. It’s like an excuse to be a little more sensitive, more compassionate, and more understanding of others.

The sermon at my church this weekend was about the complexity of love. The pastor who spoke, a very emotionally-driven and sensitive man, explained that our culture has a problem with the word love. We use it to talk about so many different things that really shouldn’t be compared. I say “I love Chipotle” or “I love the Steelers” (which are both true statements) and I also say “I love my family” and “I love Tom.” Obviously the love I have for my family and my boyfriend of two years is greater than my love for huge burritos and the Terrible Towel. But for some reason, we still use the same word to explain our affinity for things and also for loved ones with souls.

This word means so many different things in different contexts and, like my pastor, I wish there were more words to explain emotions and feelings. I really don’t want to put my love for God, my love for my puppy, and my love for chocolate all on the same level by using the same word, but that’s what happens.

When it is Christmas, and we are surrounded by glowing lights and cheesy-but-sweet movie plots, this time of year exudes joy and evokes emotion. For me, I get a warm, deep-down knowing that life is good and love can conquer anything, and I just want to revel in that for a while. It’s a similar deep-down knowing that my family loves me and I love them, and that I love Tom and he loves me, and that God loves me more than all of those people put together and I learn to love Him back every day. It’s this kind of love that I could stake my life on, that makes living worthwhile.

So when I’m stuck having to have a work schedule every day and spending long hours in the library endlessly typing up paper after paper, it kind of kills the mood and discourages my spirit. My soul needs to be surrounded by beauty and music and joy, and needs to be less surrounded by the worry and hurry that is Boatwright library pre-finals week. It’s really tough for me to not just want to call it quits and turn in a makeshift paper instead of pushing through and doing my best work.

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The only thing I can do in my situation to deal with my Christmas blues is to continue having a positive attitude, looking toward Jesus for encouragement (since he is, after all, the reason for the season), and bringing Christmas cheer to as many people as I can.

Wish me luck!

Abby