The Time has Come (the Walrus said)

I’ve been in graduate school for a little over a month now – wow how time flies! It’s been a blast and a curse all at the same time. It’s been so fulfilling and also left me questioning my decisions. And while it’s not overly challenging, it is incredibly time consuming. Here’s what an average week looks like for me:

8 hours of class

10 hours of research for a professor

1 book to read (usually hitting around 300 pages)

12 articles to read

1 paper

Once I start my job at the National Archives (hello, government shutdown?!), I’ll add 20 hours a week of work there to my list. And so, I believe it is time to end this blog. I cannot give it the attention it deserves and so let it fall by the wayside. The memories will remain forever, even after cyberspace decides to eliminate these posts.

It has been an incredibly journey and one I’m so happy to have shared with you all! May you all have as fulfilling a time exploring the world and your lives as I did (and do) my own.

Peace and bests,

Ann

Shades of Terrifying

Happy first anniversary my dear blog and readers! Soon it will be the one-year mark from when I first stepped off the train in Aberystwyth to begin a new life. A new life where the sea met friends met history scholarship met the best moments of my life.

Grad school is described by many a person as “terrifying” and the “hardest thing they’ve ever done.” Maybe that’s true. I’m only in my second week of classes and I’ve got a pretty good handle on everything so it isn’t terrifying yet. It isn’t even particularly hard yet. I keep waiting for another shoe to drop. Sure, I’m busy. But I’m not so busy I’m changing my sleep routines or really giving anything up.

It makes me think of all the things that people find terrifying that I’ve done. I’ve moved to a new country  – twice; I’ve travelled alone; I’ve walked alone in a town at 1 am; I’ve climbed a mountain; I’ve lived with complete strangers; I’ve tried haggis, rabbit and octopus.

With the exception of one new country move, all of these experiences have happened in the past year. And I can only think of one that was remotely close to terrifying: walking alone in a town at 1 am. That one happened over my trip to Malta when I was walking from Paceville to St. Julian’s through some (abandoned) sketchy-back roads back to the hostel.

Did moving to Aberystwyth make me more brave? Ha, I doubt it. What I think living in Aberystwyth taught me was there are shades of terrifying. Terrifying can be trying that exotic food that you have no idea what it is. Terrifying can be travelling alone. Terrifying can even be facing a long-time fear like failure. But there are shades, or levels. Some things I will never want to try because they would scare all of the life out of me (skydiving is an example) and others, like living with complete strangers, I just see as a new adventure.

So grad school is just a new adventure. It’s not terrifying. At least, not yet. 🙂

Becoming an Adult

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For someone who has had the mind of an adult and the maturity of an adult since practically the age of five, growing up has presented me with some major shocks. I am realizing that growing up and being an adult have many different facets.

So what adulthood have I just entered? The “live alone” realm. I have always lived in university or family/friends accommodations up until I moved into July. Now, while I do have a roommate, I am on my own. I am in charge of making sure rent gets paid, there are groceries in my fridge, the bathroom gets cleaned or the screen door gets fixed. I’ve done some of these things before – the groceries, the bathroom and the screen door. But others are completely new and this “live alone” realm has one of the biggest aspects of adulthood: money.

I am on a tight budget this semester until I find a job. I have to budget rent for a two-bedroom in the DC Metro area, getting around and all that entails, feeding myself, keeping the apartment in shape and graduate school. It’s a shocking realization when you can’t make your full credit card payment for the first time. When you are waiting for the Federal government to process your loans so you know you’ll have enough money to cover utilities and rent. (Note: I am not completely broke and I have an amazing support system in place if things go terribly wrong.) 

That kind of tight budget, even if I have a back-up plan and a support system, involves a different kind of thinking. Things that I wouldn’t think about normally (juice, going to a movie, a few shirts), become conscious. I weigh the benefits of getting a newspaper subscription in terms of coupon pay-outs. I think about whether it is better to use said coupon or go generic. I tell myself that I’ll read that magazine at the library because I shouldn’t be frivolous and spend the $7 for it on the stand. 

Today, I went to the grocery store and used my reusable bags for the 5 cents per bag discount I get. I came home and split the package of chicken breasts into freezer bags for perfect portions. I thought about where I was going to buy gas and whether I should take the bus to the metro station on Tuesday and save myself about $3 for parking. And that’s when it hit me – I am an adult. I’ve got rent, a car, a newspaper subscription and coupons clipped. I think this financial, live-alone part of becoming an adult is the most scary part of all of this.

For everyone else, what was the most scary part of becoming an adult?

Believe in This Moment

Since I moved in on the 27th, life has given me a few huge curveballs. My flat wasn’t what I was expecting, moving cost more and my savings weren’t accessible until much later in August … needless to say, it was a lot to handle.

Yet, I was confident it would all work out- I had interviewed for a great job and felt confident I would get it and money issues would be gone. Wishful thinking. On Thursday morning I got the email that I had been rejected from the position.

That’s when reality hit. I was going to have to take out loans. I was going to have to put saving for a Europe trip on hold. I was going to have to be incredibly careful about my spending habits. I felt like somehow everything had failed. Luckily my sister and then later, my parents were there to say, “It’s scary now, but you’ll make it.”

They left today and I felt so so alone. There was a necklace I saw on Pinterest that gave me pause: “Believe in this moment.” And it became a motto throughout the day. Maybe yes, the money will be tight and until I get a job, scary. But if I can believe that this moment, this now will be great and I can get through it, I think I can win the war.

Until later!

I’ll Try to Fix You: The Fixer vs. The Helper

The old saying goes, “There are two types of people in the world…” and you fill it in with your own version. For me, that saying changes to “There are two types of people in the world: those who fix and those who help.”

I consider myself a fixer – I want to make things right. And when I can’t, sometimes I get angry. My SpeeEch coach’s husband had a second bout of cancer a few years back. I was so mad that I couldn’t fix it, that I baked three pans of homemade brownies as if that atoned my failure to cure cancer. (Yes, I’m mental. What else is new?)

But as I grow older, I realize that there is a big, big difference between being a helper and a fixer. A fixer doesn’t want to hear the whole problem or what the person is thinking – they just want to fix it. When I was getting over being suicidal, I had a former friend say, “I’m a fixer. And I’ll do anything just to make sure that doesn’t happen again.” While sweet, that wasn’t the answer I wanted or needed. I didn’t need a fixer. I needed a helper.

A helper listens. And they don’t want to come up with the answer, they want you to. This infuriated me when my parents, my advisor, my friends, wouldn’t say “Ann, do this.” Instead, they would say, “Here’s all the information I can give you. I can help you talk it out. But you need to decide.” In the end, I’m happy they did, because I make the best decisions for me, and no one else.

A helper is the best kind of friend there is. Sure, they don’t want to see you struggle or hurt, but they also know sometimes it is necessary to struggle, to hurt, in order to solve the problem. Helpers often ask guiding questions to help you realize just what you need to do. With one of my helper friends, he helped me to realize what I needed, more than anything, was to get away from a toxic friendship in order to return to happiness.

Are you a helper? A fixer? Some combination of both? What style do you prefer in your friends?

Until later!

And If You Close Your Eyes

They say the dead never leave us. That’s a little morbid and doesn’t quite apply here, so I’m going to change it to, “Our friends and our experiences never leave us.” Sounds happier doesn’t it? I like happy.

It’s true in so many ways, too, that our friends never leave us. I’ve been back in the States for 6 weeks now (when will I stop counting?) and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of my time in Aber. I can close my eyes and imagine Gorka in the kitchen, singing badly to Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” as he cooks Spanish tortilla. I can close my eyes and feel the wind blowing Maxim and I into buildings on the Prom. I can see Saskia breaking a can opener and scissors just trying to get into a can of corn. I see Michael and Heather playing pool and eating chips with bacon on top out of sand castle buckets at the Inn on the Pier.

I see so many things if I stop and think of my time in Aber. I think about travelling, about friendships, love, learning and just… experiences. Sometimes they almost knock me over as I remember. Other times, I’ll be sitting, listening to a conversation when something reminds me of my year there and I’ll start giggling. For example, my flatmates and I were going out for a night on the town – it was Saskia’s birthday and my going-away party all at the same time. I had a bottle of water and was taking a sip when Martin laughed at me – I apparently stick my tongue in the mouth of the bottle before taking a sip. (Probably because I didn’t want to get water all down my shirt.) So fast forward a few weeks and I’m at home, driving Mom and she takes a sip of a water bottle. …And sticks her tongue in before taking a sip. Giggles ensued and I couldn’t, for the life of me, explain why it was so funny.

I have been thinking a lot about my three years in Maryland and if I’m making the right decision. I know I am. I know that if I returned to Aber, things would not be the same. I wouldn’t have my flat. I wouldn’t have MUN as it’s dying (or already dead) and there would be a pressure for me to get a job straight out of that one year Master’s. The decision to attend Maryland was made when I was upset at someone and didn’t want to ever see them again. The decision was made because I thought I would never truly fit in in the UK and it wouldn’t be a good idea to have a UK-Library certified Master’s instead of a US-Library associated Master’s. And I know, while the upset at the person thing, was a stupid reason. I really did make the right decision.

I’ve been coming to peace with the fact I won’t see many of my friends from Aber for another few years, if ever again. But they haven’t left me. Facebook and Skype are amazing, beautiful things. I have weekly Skype dates with Michael and Heather and go on Michael’s radio show to find out what’s going on in Aberystwyth and across Wales. And I’ve started sending letters. Because who doesn’t love mail?

I haven’t decided what program I’m going to do my PhD in – if I’m staying at Maryland or going to an entirely new school. And I’ve been thinking, maybe going to the UK is an option. But I also know that I will make the best decision for me, for my career and for my life. My friends are a huge part of that, but I’ve got time to decide. And if our friends and those memories never leave me, they can sustain me throughout the few years between visits. 🙂

Boredom

This post has been long overdue. I’ve been home for over three weeks now and not much has happened. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I’ve gone crossed two states off my “haven’t been to” list – Georgia and Florida. I’ve sat in the car for a ridiculous amount of time (around 44 hours in a span of less than a week). I’ve seen our new home in Winter Haven and I’ve gotten a couple appointments out of the way.

But in the scheme of things, it feels like I haven’t done much. The boredom has also set in. Yes, I grew up in Eldridge, but I don’t have friends my own age here. My closest friends here are two family friends – one who is a business teacher at the high school and another who is the History Day advisor. It’s not because people moved away. It’s because I moved away. Eldridge is one of those places where you are friends with people from your kindergarten class. And since high school wasn’t a wonderful experience (whose is?), I come home to see a few teachers, see my family and go to my favorite restaurants.

This didn’t use to bother me. Yes, I got bored. And yet, there was always something for me to do for Mom or I usually took a class at Scott to keep me occupied. This summer, however, I have returned from Aberystwyth more of an extrovert. I crave people’s company – and different people’s company. I miss being able to pop in to a friend’s house in Aber on a few minutes notice and just chat over a cup of tea.

There’s not much for me to do here in Eldridge. I can pack up the house, I can sort and clean. But that’s about it. My time is spent doing that or being with my family. I’ve been home for a little over three weeks and I’m already going insane with boredom. I need a huge project. And I need people to visit me!

Until later, hugs for all!

Well, I’m Going to be an Optimist about This

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Winter Haven, Florida – one of the many new changes I’ll have this summer

I am back in the U.S., back in Iowa and back to warm weather (it’s 80 or 27-28 Celsius here). My suitcase is emptied and I am starting to unpack. My laundry is getting done and the letters have been read. 

So what do I feel? 100% overwhelmed. I landed into a completely different world. And one that, for the next four months is going to be a whirlwind. I’m travelling a lot, yes. But it’s not the travelling that is the whirlwind. My Dad is retiring and so my parents are moving to Florida. I’m starting graduate school in September (moving in August), my sister is graduating from graduate school and I moved back from Wales.

It’s a lot of change and many that I’m not ready for. Today, I was unpacking and I just started crying. I’ve left my family in Wales, not knowing when I will see some of them again. I’ve left my undergraduate education. I’m leaving my hometown of (though divided) 14 years. I’m moving to a town I have never even visited and then to a huge suburb of Washington D.C. It’s a lot for a girl to handle.

But there are a few things my friends told me before I left Wales. 1) They are always with me. 2) Don’t lose myself back in the U.S. – find a way to balance who I was in Wales with how I should be/am in the U.S. 3) Do something fun and crazy as often as I can and 4) They love me and I am “lovely” and will go far.

So, to quote Bastille’s song “Pompeii” I’m going to be an optimist about this. Because this is the next journey for me. Even if the beginning is really sad and overwhelming.

290,880 Minutes

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A bit blurry, but a picture with two of the best people I know – Heather and Michael

 

290,880 minutes, 202 days – a fairly good estimate of the time I’ve spent in Aberystwyth. Chronologically, this amount of time excludes a few long trips (back to the US at Christmas, Malta, Spain) and also excludes subtracting some shorter trips. The real total is probably closer to 180 days – 6 months. And yet, no matter how you measure it – in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks or months, it goes by quickly.

What have I done in those 290,880 minutes? Oh, let me count the ways! Here are a few highlights:

  • Travelled – Glasgow, Edinburgh, Hamilton, York, London, Cardiff, Hay-on-Wye, Malta, Oxford, Barcelona, Toledo, Segovia, Madrid
  • Had my first beach bonfire and taught quite a few Brits what a s’more is (it doesn’t help they don’t have graham crackers)
  • Met people who are now family
  • Loved and lost (I lost Nana in November of 2012, leaving me now grandmother-less)
  • Lived with five other people, including 3 guys
  • Finished a dissertation, weighing in at 50 pages all inclusive
  • Finished my undergraduate degree
  • Volunteered at a National Library
  • Learned a few words of Welsh as well as a good smattering of British slang like bossy boots or cheeky monkey
  • Learned to love English breakfast tea (milk and sugar please!)

And that’s just a sampling. The list… it could go on as long as I’ve been here in Aberystwyth. I don’t want to make this a really long post for the simple reason it makes me sad. I’m leaving Aber permanently in about two days. I know I’ll be back to see many of my UK friends (and to Europe to see my flatmates) at some point, for weddings and what have you, but for now, it’s permanent.

Those 290,880 minutes have been the best of my life. I have learned so much about life, love, friendship, going after what you want, waiting and what makes a person good. I’ve redefined myself and I am so, so proud of myself for doing so. I think Aberystwyth has turned me into a person I never thought I would be, but always wanted to be. 

So now, as I spent my last two days in Aberystwyth, I will cherish them all. I will not just miss the people (though that is a major thing) but I will miss who I am at this moment. I will miss the journey I’ve gone on to be who I am. I will miss reminders of that journey as I walk around Aberystwyth or the University.

That’s it for now. I’m going to go cherish some more minutes!

 

Lessons Learned from Travelling Europe

I had thought about writing separate posts for the different cities or for food, culture, etc. But I kept coming back to the idea of lessons. So yes, I am ending my trip to Spain in Barcelona having been to Barcelona, Madrid, Segovia and Toledo. Yes, I have some beautiful photos to prove it. Yes, the weather is gorgeous and I am a little more tan than I was. But that´s not the important part.

I have travelled a lot this year. I’ve gone to London twice (three if we count being in the city to change trains), York, Edinburgh twice, Glasgow, Cardiff, the entirety of Malta, Oxford and now Spain. And while each place was a little different, there were some common themes.

1) Listen to reviews for the hostels. I ignored one in Oxford and ended up at a horrible hostel. Listened to ones in Malta, Madrid and Barcelona and ended up with fabulous hostels.

2) Jaywalk. Seriously. In Barcelona on the main streets are divided into three parts and unless you have a superhuman ability to power-walk around strollers, dogs, lost people, etc., you won’t make it across the street. All the locals do it (it’s legal in most of Europe) so when they walk, walk with them. 

3) Go off the main streets for good, cheap food. And ask the hostel receptionist where to eat. Usually they have several suggestions. We did that in Edinburgh and discovered a gem. I used my flatmate´s suggestions in Madrid and didn’t eat badly at all.

4) Buses are confusing, Metros generally not and nothing beats walking. Not only to see things but for the exercise.

5) But… don’t be afraid to spend the extra money to take the bus/metro/tram. I did that instead of walking back up Las Ramblas, saving myself maybe half an hour and only costing 2 Euro. Definitely worth it!

6) One day during your trip, just sit in a park, away from everything. Read, write, sleep, whatever. It´s a good way to recharge your batteries, both physically and your camera batteries as well. It’s also a good chance to rest your feet!

7) If you’re staying with hostels (and I can’t recommend it highly enough), bring earplugs, flip flops and a good, friendly attitude. The first two are for noisy roommates and showers only cleaned once a day. The third is for getting to know people! I have gotten to know some pretty cool and diverse people from talking with the people in the same room as me. 

8) Don’t be afraid to travel alone! Sometimes, travelling alone can actually be the most relaxing way to go because you define the schedule, no one else.