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PS I LOVE YOU IRELAND: A Check Off the Mini Bucket List

I kind of think the idea of bucket lists are simultaneously very overrated and very cool. I think if you want to do or see something, you shouldn’t just toss it onto a list and hope that by the end of your life the universe will align just perfectly to allow you to fulfill that dream. Contrary, I think that if you want something, you should set out to make it happen. I believe in short-term bucket lists. Like, with five year expiration dates. That’s what I am living by right now. And it’s working pretty well, honestly!

Ireland was one of two things on this cycle’s bucket list. (Along with seeing the Northern Lights!) So when the opportunity arose for me to visit for a week, I literally did not even blink before buying a Ryanair flight to Dublin. I planned my whole trip about three days before I left, including public transport and hostels, and it went almost exactly according to plan! Also, every single day that I was there, the weather was amazing. Chilly, but the sun was out the whole time and there was no rain. I realize that this is essentially unheard of, so I feel very lucky to have visited all my dream places with clear views and a light sweater. Here goes!

Saturday, September 26, 2015: Ryanair rocks. If any of you have no idea what Ryanair is, get with the times!! It’s a true budget airline, bouncing all around Europe (and even to Morocco!). Flights can be anywhere from $5 to $50, and there are constantly sales going on on their website. Seriously, Any Americans reading this that really want to travel around Europe but fear that bouncing around the continent is going to be a huge money suck, this is one of the most important tricks I know!!! So, I hopped on a flight from Madrid to Dublin (around $30 bought pretty short notice). Immediately upon arrival to Dublin, I took a direct bus into the city center, and proceeded to walk to my friend’s house. It was quite a ways, but I saw a lot of Dublin in the process! His sister took me and some of her American friends that were visiting on a walking tour of the city later that day, complete with St. Patrick’s Cathedral, O’Connell Street, Christ Church, Bono’s Recording Studio, Trinity College and a bunch more. The Walsh Family is fun fact royalty. I learned more about Dublin in that 2 hour tour than I did about Madrid the first week I lived here! That night I went to a party with Ciaran and passed out at his house at the wee hour of 4am.

Sunday, September 27, 2015: After pushing back my original departure time due to a super fun hangover, I set out for Belfast at about noon. I had intended to have a few hours in Belfast to walk around, see City Hall and the Peace Wall and all that, but I ended up only having about an hour, and spent it finding lunch and an ATM because Northern Ireland is not part of Ireland, it is part of the UK, and therefore uses the Pound instead of the Euro(!!!). I wanted to get to the train station (which was about a 30 minute walk across town from the bus stop where I was dropped off) with a few minutes to spare because this was one of the only parts of my trip I could not book in advance. It turned out to be very easy to both buy the train ticket and find the right train to take, and I made it to Coleraine no problem. From Coleraine, I had to take a bus to Giant’s Causeway (I know, so complicated!). I BARELY caught the last bus out of the day. I had no cash (my bank had frozen my card earlier that day, yaaaay), so after looking really stressed and asking if he wanted 3 Euro and a Madrid transportation pass, the bus driver let me on for free. I took the bus straight to Giant’s Causeway (instead of the city closest to the Causeway) because the hostel that I had booked was literally a 3 minute walk from the entrance to the park. Finn McCool’s B&B was the BEST hostel that I stayed at this week. For one, it’s off season and it was a week night, so NOBODY ELSE was there. Two, it was really decently priced (less than $20), and they had cheap dinner and free breakfast. The view was INCREDIBLE. The wifi was great. I loved it. Seriously. I slept like a baby.

Monday, September 28, 2015: The Giant’s Causeway was magnificent. Not in the diluted, “it was super cool for an hour!” kind of way. Magnificence. I loved it. Pro-tip: you can visit the Causeway for free. That’s not a readily available fact on their website or at the visitor’s center, but it’s true. I chose to pay for a ticket (if bought in advance, like $7) because I wanted to carry the audio guide around with me and teach me about every single inch of the premises and spare no details. Since my hostel was a four second walk from the entrance to the park, I headed over at 8:45 and patiently waited for the doors to open. I was the first guest of the day! I had read somewhere (or cooked it up in that brilliant brain of mine, I literally do not remember which) that it would be best to get there right at the beginning of the day because you don’t have to share your view of the causeway with almost anyone, and getting pictures devoid of 50 tourists is a lot easier. And that rang so, so true. Having the park almost all to myself made it so much more interesting and pleasant and fun for me. The Causeway is a mindfuck. Even with the audio guide explaining all the geological reasoning behind its existence, I still felt like I was walking around with a huge sign above my head reading: “?!!!???!?” I loved it. I will go back again. I loved every inch of it. I took the free bus into the closest town, got authentic traditional fish and chips, and made my way back to the Causeway for one last look. The rest of the day is uninteresting, trains and buses and trains to get back to Dublin and to the hostel I was staying at. An exhausted, happy blur.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015: This was supposed to be the day that I visited Kilkenny. I had booked a bus ticket in advance and everything! I got to the bus stop early. No bus came for a very long time. I looked back to my ticket and started to realize that the bus ride (to and from) would accumulate to more travel time than time spent in Kilkenny itself…And the bus still didn’t come. It was 30 minutes after I was supposed to have departed and still no sign. When a bus finally arrived, it wasn’t even the right one! At that point, I shook hands with fate and said okay then, in Dublin I shall stay today. Ciaran mentioned I should visit Howth, a tiny little town on the outskirts of Dublin. I took the DART (much like the BART, for all my central California friends!) and spent a couple hours walking around there and soaking in the smell of fish in a harbor. It was quaint and quiet and nice. I took the train back to Dublin and wandered around the Temple Bar area for quite some time. I bought a Claddagh ring. Met Ciaran for lunch. Wandered back to my hostel for a nap. And then met a friend of mine that is an au pair in Dublin right now for dinner and drinks!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015: Anyone who knows me at all knows how much I have always loved the Cliffs of Moher. Coming to Ireland for me meant two things: frolicking through an open field with my bae, and visiting the Cliffs. Now, the former could not happen because I am currently as agile and nimble as a 96 year old man with arthritis (next time for sure!). But the latter had to happen. The only tourist-trap bus tour I would EVER take without my mother is the one from Dublin to the Cliffs of Moher. For a student (wink wink), it is only about $40. We left at 7am. I had a great tour guide named Mike. The whole day was full of fun facts about Ireland. We stopped at Obama Plaza (yes, it’s a real place in the middle of nowhere in Ireland), River Shannon, The Burren and a bunch of other really beautiful spots apart from the Cliffs. The Cliffs themselves were unbelievable. The first half, the half that everyone and their mother takes photos of, has a small wall gating it off and making it safe for people of all ages to visit. The other half, though, is a free for all. No gates. No guard rail. You can go right up to the edge of the cliffs and look down. It is an adrenaline rush (and a heart attack!). I loved it. Everything was so green and unmarred and perfect. It was as captivating in real life as it was in photos. The perfect way to spend my last full day in Ireland. That night I met Ciaran for drinks. $2 pints are a godsend.

I flew out of Ireland the next morning. It feels like I hardly saw any of the country at all. And that’s okay, because as of right now, the plan is to find an au pair job in Dublin starting in January! So when I go back I will have plenty of time to see the rest of the country and bother Ciaran more. Score.

Housekeeping: I realize I have yet to blog about Madrid at all… I have been logging a bunch of stuff, I am just waiting to post a chunk of it all together! Soon, I promise. Also, I have an address if anyone would like to send me a letter or anything at all 😉 Let me know! I will be home for about a month for Christmas and New Years and all that! But from the looks of it I won’t be back in the states after that for quiiiiiiite some time… Exciting stuff happening in the next year. Yay yay yay!! I hope you all are doing amazing. Thank you for keeping up on my blogs and checking in on me and all that. I can’t wait to see all of you in a couple months!

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A Hong Kong Minute

Between Hawaii and Taiwan, we did a 2 day stopover in Hong Kong to visit friends who were also counselors at CT last summer. We flew Philippine Airlines (pretty nice airline overall!!), and had a 15 hour layover in Manila. We really wanted to go out and explore Manila, but it was an overnight layover with a really early takeoff the next morning, we were already exhausted, and the re-entry policy for the Manila airport was confusing and inconvenient. So we slept on cots in a strange lounge in a corner of the airport, with no money to our names and heavy eyes. It passed by quick enough, and the flight to Hong Kong was short and sweet.

Flying into Hong Kong and going through customs took no time at all and getting onto the high speed rail to the actual island was seamless and relatively cheap. The train took us most of the way and then we took a taxi to the hostel we had arbitrarily chosen via Air BNB. Our random choosing was lucky, because it was a tiny little hostel with private rooms and a really sweet old lady running the front desk. It was right in the middle of everything, too. We got to the hostel before lunch and our good friend Thomas came and met us early in the afternoon. He took us to the Star Ferry Pier at Tsim Sha Tsui. We just so happened to be there on the one day a year there is a dragon boat festival in the bay there, and we must have caught the tail end of it because we saw a few really interesting sail boats on the water that afternoon!! From there we met Polly and caught a bus to The Peak. The Peak is the highest-most point in Hong Kong, and from the top of the mountain you are able to see the entire skyline and the water. I’m a real sucker for sunsets, so being able to have such a view was quite the privilege. We made our way to dinner and headed back to the hostel for the night.

The next day we walked around a lot, though it was raining that hot, humid rain that I was SO looking forward to in Southeast Asia. We bounced around cafes, an outdoor market and got ice cream. The Hong Kong tourism circuit is known for their t-shirts that bear a close resemblance to the I ♥ NY shirts that are a must in the Big Apple. Hong Kong shirts obviously say “I ♥ HK”, and one can only guess why I would buy 5 of them to force the people I love to wear them… (If I had more room in my suitcase, I would have bought hundreds. I know you all love me.)

That night we went to Din Tai Fung—a Taiwanese dumpling restaurant that EVERYONE IN THE WORLD NEEDS TO TRY. We just couldn’t wait another 24 hours to get to Taiwan and have Din Tai Fung in the country it comes from. Halfway back to the hostel, I realized that our room key had fallen out of my back pocket. And then it started to rain. So we went on a quest for the key in the pouring rain and got soaking wet and a little lost BUT we found it. Score. It was sitting on the side of the road right outside of the restaurant. We were exhausted that night so we showered (watched Scandal) and went to bed.

We may have only spent 2 days in Hong Kong, but it is one of the best countries I have been to so far. Really accessible for non-Chinese speakers, a lot of stuff to do and see, and really good shopping if that’s what you’re into. And if you’re ever in that area, pick up and I ♥ HK shirt. You know you want to.

Aloooooha!

About a week ago, I left Central California for an open-ended journey of work and travel. The first stop on this adventure was Hawaii! I flew in on Thursday night, got lei’d with a homemade treasure from Sam’s mom and sister (thanks Christi and Ella!), and made my way to Kailua, Oahu where there were freshly baked brownies and leftover tacos waiting for me. My heart.

My first full day was spent at Kailua Beach (in Kailua, obviously). This beach was awesome! Much more of a local treasure than a tourist destination, but it is still a beautiful place to waste the day away. The beach is attached to a park, is a great launching place for kayaking to a few different smaller islands, and within swimming distance of Flat Island. I should point out now, though, that the powerful Hawaiian sun punished me on that day a week ago, and I am still paying for it. (Reapply, reapply, reapply sunscreen!) After the beach we made our way to Island Snow, another local oasis. It is a shave ice counter tucked away inside an island supply store. (It’s also Prez Obama’s favorite shave ice on the island, and he would know—he lived here forever!) That night, we babysat three beautiful babies and, let’s just say, earned every penny that we were paid. We were also supplied with Bob’s Pizza—the tastiest pizza in Kailua.

The next day was spent sipping margaritas with Sam’s family, conveyer belt sushi, and Jurassic World. That’s really all I can say about that day! From what I can recall, Jurassic World was very satisfying! Chris Pratt, I love you.

Sunday was our North Shore day. Just saying “the North Shore” makes me feel elusive and like I am pretending to be a seasoned Hawaiian vacation expert. Nonetheless, North Shore is probably one of my favorite parts of Oahu. It’s indescribably beautiful, seriously. And every time you visit it there’s something new to see or do. This time, I revisited Giovanna’s Shrimp Shack—the most famous of shrimp shacks in all of Hawaii! And I must say, it lives up to the hype. As long as you actually enjoy shrimp. Next, we went to a tucked away beach whose name I do not even know where The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’s beach scenes were filmed. YEAH, YOU READ RIGHT. I WALKED ON THE SAME BEACH THAT J-LAW GRACED WITH HER PRESENCE. I almost didn’t want to wash the sand off of me from that experience. Almost. We then made our way to Haleiwa, the little town at the end of the scenic North Shore drive. It’s under a bunch of construction currently in order to make it more accessible since it has such an intense amount of tourism, but ironically, the construction is making it more of a clusterfuck. We were able to go to an ice cream shop called Scoop of Paradise, which is stocked with homemade ice cream in really cool flavors, as well as being a toy store! Two birds one stone!

The next day, we kayaked out to The Mokes. The Mokes are two small (fraternal) twin islands off the shore of Kailua Beach. It takes about 45 minutes to paddle out to them. We were in a 3-person kayak and it was a choppy day out in the water, so it was a rough ride! Once you make it out there, the island that looks like a woman sitting and tilting her head back has a beach that you can dock your kayaks on. A long, long time ago, in a world that looked much different than ours, that island was formed by volcanic eruption. So, when I say that the trek around the rocky island to a hidden cove was a jagged one, you know I mean it! Once we made it to the other side of the island, then came my big-kid-panties moment. After 25 minutes of coaxing from random strangers and friends alike, I faced a big fear of mine and cliff dove for the first time!! It was like ten feet, and really should not have been that difficult for anyone to jump off of, but for me it was a feat! Of course, my most brave moment of the week was accompanied with a bruise on my butt from harsh water impact, but c’est la vie. I did it. That night we were supposed to go to a luau, but it was cancelled due to heavy flooding. We improvised and spent the evening sneaking around the Disney Resort on Oahu.

No trip to Oahu is complete without a trip to Honolulu and Waikiki, right? Personally, not a huge fan of huge metropolis tourist trap areas, but I still can appreciate the people watching that can occur in such a place. We spent a morning walking around and shopping in Waikiki, had lunch at Duke’s (one of the most famous restaurants on Oahu), and tried (stole) a bunch of free samples at Honolulu Cookie Company stores all along the strip. Prot-tip: if you are using a car (like a rental, or you live here, or you’re with someone who lives here) and you’re trying to park in Waikiki, arrive early and park at the Honolulu Zoo! It’s within walking distance of everything (including beaches) and only costs $1/hour.

The next day and a half were a blur, taking people to the airport, picking other people up from the airport, packing and leaving ourselves. We are currently in the Manila Airport in the Philippines for a 15 hour layover. Too exhausted to leave and explore the city. It feels good to be traveling again.

I’m available through Viber, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, and (usually) iMessage. Would love to hear from you guys!!!

Buenos Aires? I Hardly Knew Her!

Last week was my third and final spring break as a university student. A month ago, I was expecting to spend it at home, baking banana bread and watching Netflix with my mom. Which, admittedly, still sounds like an incredible spring break. But when I was presented with the incredible opportunity to visit some of my best friends in Argentina, how could I say no?!

First of all, LAN Airlines is awesome if you’re flying to or within South America. I had the best of luck on all four of my long flights with them in this past week—good seats, quiet neighbors, M&M’s throughout the flight, delicious food and COMPLEMENTARY EARPLUGS AND SLEEPING MASKS. Game changer. LAN knows what a frequent traveler wants. I would recommend them to anyone flying South for sure! I may have to add them to my growing list of frequent flier memberships.

I got to Buenos Aires on Tuesday of last week, greeted by one of those very nice middle aged men with a sign that had my name on it. I felt a bit like a celebrity, but for some reason there were no paparazzi clamoring to get a glimpse of my beautiful, post-20-hours-of-air-travel self. I was greeted by my beautiful bae’s at their apartment (which is really cute, by the way!). There’s a very adorable minute-long video documenting the reunion. 5 stars. That’s when I learned that Robert had made a week-long itinerary for my visit in order to ensure that I would see and do everything I could! I melt. The first night was nice, we went to dinner and I showered and passed out in approximately 3.5 seconds. A good portion of the next day was spent at their school. Their spring break was the week following mine, so they still had midterms going on! After their tests were done that day, they showed me a few of the must-sees in their neighborhood. We walked along the widest road in the world—9 de Julio—and saw the Obelisk monument right in the middle of it. We visited the largest bookstore in the world—El Alteneo—and I must say it was awesome! We briefly stepped inside the mall located in that same part of town; the ceilings were lit up and made of glass and I felt vaguely like a dirty nomad just breathing the same air as those shopping in the upscale stores that populate the mall. That evening was also my first experience with both the bus system of Buenos Aires—which was very efficient and user friendly—and the black market currency exchange, or Cambio as it is fondly called by locals, which Vierra told me before I left the states that it is much easier to exchange USD for the local currency, because the ATM’s have a bunch of hidden fees and government taxes.

The next morning was very similar, the boys had their last couple midterms before their spring break officially began. On the walk home from their school we spotted a box full of very tiny, very talkative kittens outside of a boutique. We cooed over them for several minutes before heading to lunch. That afternoon I saw more of the city. They took me to Plaza de Mayo, which is right in front of Casa Rosada (kind of like Argentina’s version of the White House!). That whole section of town was so grand!! We hopped on a bus with the intent of going straight home but instead, we stumbled across a cultural event happening that was sponsored by the Youth Olympics! There was entertainment and (more importantly) snacks from around the world. I had the best Belgian chocolate-covered bananas ever. Go figure! That night we went to see a ballet! We essentially sat on the ceiling we were so high up in the balconies, but it was just as magical from high up there!! The ballet butts were pleasant. There was also a near-brawl among some old ladies seated below us and a crying baby who apparently didn’t love classical dancing. It was a great night!

The next day consisted of more exploring! First stop was the Recoleta Cemetery. Essentially the cemetery where the richest of the rich have been buried for the last few centuries. The tombs all looked like they cost more than my net worth. It was somber and interesting and took us over an hour to explore only part of it! Next door to that was a beautiful Catholic church and a Starbucks. Hand in hand, am I right? We headed to the city’s Rose Gardens after that, which I must say may have been my favorite spot all week! It was quiet, the weather was nice, and it smelled like (you guessed it!) roses. It’s always an interesting juxtaposition to visit a garden/park inside a metropolitan city. A little slice of paradise inside a concrete jungle. After a long trek back across the city, we ended up at Illegal Burgers. Listen, I am giving them a direct shout out for a few reasons. One, they just opened and everyone should support a new local business. Two, WOW? Literally one of the best burgers I’ve ever had and it was cheaper than a meal at McDonald’s? They even have a BOMB veggie burger option if that’s what you’re into? And three, they have wifi and a Twitter and Facebook. 10/10 would recommend. Literally. If you’re ever in Buenos Aires, it’s a must. That night we went to Plaza Serrano, an adorably decorated neighborhood with a bunch of bars and loud music and fun times! It was nice.

The next day was pretty chill, as we were trying to conserve our energy for that evening. I did get to visit another one of the city’s malls and play my sims game while Vierra got a massage! Saturday night was the big night. The gay pub crawl. It was many many hours of delicious drinks, amazing company, sassy gay bartenders, the Pamela Anderson shot, dancing and drag queens. The perfect last huzzah for my trip. Perfect. There are few words but many pictures.

Sunday we slept in really late, went to the San Telmo market and the boys’ favorite Mexican food joint in the city. Headed home early, ordered dinner in and went to sleep! I left Buenos Aires at 4 this morning. It was brisk and I was sleepy and I always hate saying goodbye to people and places I enjoy. I never feel like I have enough time when I visit new places. I just start to understand a place’s nuances and culture as I leave. I wrote in my journal a few different times this week that if I get the chance to visit Argentina again, I will still have a million things to see and places to visit.

I write this blog as I finish my first week back to classes. Hurray. I had a blast last week. I will always remember it. Not just because Buenos Aires opened her arms to welcome me, but also because my friends are gems and LAN gave me earplugs and a sleeping mask. I don’t think I’ll ever get over that. Best spring break ever. Love you guys. This year’s big trip starts in early June, so I’ll be back on here then.

Cheers to Good Air!

I love you, Taiwan

It’s been quite some time since I have written a post for this blog. I’m sorry! Part of that has to do with how busy I was, working at camp in Wanli and exploring the streets of Taipei. Another reason is that articulating my experiences here is nearly impossible. I’m really going to try, though.

When Sam and I first arrived in Taiwan 9 weeks ago, we were delusional and exhausted. We stepped off the plane and my glasses fogged up from the humidity. We were immediately sweaty, and have been since. We slept in a backpackers hotel and marveled at the communal showers. The next morning we convened with the rest of the camp’s summer staff in the MRT station and headed to camp. After a week of staff training, we dove in to the unknown (except for the returning counselors, without which we would have been lost and confused for much longer).The first two weeks were amazing, I talked a lot about them in my last blog post. But the deeper we got in to the summer, the more magical the experience became. We got better at the job, became closer to our team and learned how to navigate Taipei on the weekends with ease. We even experienced a (very mild and non-dangerous) typhoon. We were evacuated to a local elementary school and spent our time crafting and watching movies. And by the way! Most of my time this summer was spent leading arts and crafts! Hundreds of pirate ships, bracelets, Lego beanbags and Lego shaped soaps were made. Even the most unruly of campers transform into focused artists in the craft room!! I loved every minute of it.

There are a million things to do in Taipei. I had the chance to do a bunch! Some of it was typical tourist attraction type-of-stuff, but some of the best experiences we had occurred when we tagged along with locals to hang out in their favorite spots. We spent some time at a board-game bar called Diagon Alley, found an ice cream parlor where the cones are shaped like half a heart and you’re supposed to buy one with your partner to pledge eternal love (Sam and I obviously did), visited a handful of night markets, went on a huge neon Ferris wheel on Chinese Lovers’ Day, hung out at a bar called Tickle My Fantasy, and ate at Barbie and Lego themed cafés. I’ll shamelessly plug my Instagram and Twitter now, because pictures of all those experiences reside there… *cough* @harleemai *cough*

Beyond the things I have done and seen in the past 9 weeks, this summer has done something for me that transcends even the best night at karaoke. The people I have met and befriended for life, the interactions with children and adults alike who do not think in the same language as me, the small, tacit experiences that not even my journal can capture… These moments have made me a better version of myself. I have a better understanding of the world around me. More so than I have ever felt, I believe in the good in people. I know how to rely on modes of communication beyond words. And in less than 24 hours I will be on the other side of the communication line. Instead of helping my peers work on their English, I’ll be trying my hardest to immerse myself into the French and Wolof language cultures. All of my trips flow together perfectly in that way. I know what both sides of a communicative relationship feels like now. I will be patient, I will be appreciative, and I will be as hardworking as those who surrounded me this summer.

I leave Taiwan inspired and unafraid. I leave Taiwan knowing that someday I will see these people again, which makes my heart less heavy. I leave Taiwan to meet my mom in Paris for my birthday. La vie est belle.

Housekeeping:  I am pretty sure I will have more wifi access from now on! And I have a new address once again so if you’d like it, let me know. I am good at sending postcards and letters!

Talk soon! Love you guys.miss you already!!

Omnigenous in Oahu

Resfeber (n.)

Origin: Swedish

The restless race of the traveler’s heart before the journey begins, when anxiety and anticipation are tangled together

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Greetings from Oahu, Hawaii! I have officially began my six-month escapade around the world. It is such a strange feeling to finally embark after months and months of planning, preparation and anticipation.

I’m in Hawaii with Sam (who will be guest-appearing on this blog within the next couple weeks), and we are so, so pumped to start this trip! One thing we have not been able to stop talking about is an idea that one of our inspirations, Dan Eldon, once said: the journey is the destination. Every step is critical. It’s not just about the end result, it’s about everything in between. Every stop-over, every person we meet, every fleeting emotion. It’s about never becoming desensitized to the beauty that’s all around us. It’s about always being ready to experience something life changing and never turning down an opportunity to get your feet wet. The journey is being constantly in love with where you are, who you are with and what you are doing. It is missing those you’ve left behind, but knowing that they’re always with you. It is finding home in every place you rest your head. It is constantly being out of your element. It is difficult. It is worth it. And it has begun.

P.S. If you’d like to contact me, try a Facebook message or download the texting/calling app called Viber.

For those of you who know who I am (95% of you), hi there. Thanks for stopping by! These next several months are going to be an adventure for all of us, so hold on tight.

For those of you who do not know me directly (or need a refresher), here are the basics:
Name: Harlee
Age: 19 and three quarters and retaining my youth brilliantly
Schooling: my home school is Humboldt State University, this fall I will be at Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar (in Senegal)
Major: International Studies with a concentration in Global Cultural Studies

What in the world are you going to do with a degree like that, Har?: Great question. Literally, anything. Everything. It’s a very versatile and self-driven degree. I’ve had career goals in mind since before I started college, they are extremely hard to articulate. Something regarding social justice, education, or book publishing in developing countries. But how am I to know, really? I have seen so little of the world. I have no idea how I can contribute best. Not yet.  


 

Imagine sitting down with a box full of puzzle pieces, but the box has no image of what you’re supposed to be creating. You open the box and turn it upside down. All the pieces land in a pile that has no rhyme or reason to it. With no guide, the first logical step would be to find all of the corner and edge pieces—together these give dimension to the image you are creating. Even with extra definition, these pieces take time to fit together. And we haven’t even got to the meat of the puzzle yet—the pieces that need to be linked on all four sides! As the puzzle begins to take shape you start to realize that the image is something unfamiliar to you. Not a celebrity or a landscape. It is a barrage of colors—every tint and hue of every color on your spectrum is represented. At some point, the inevitable moment of panic that always accompanies a puzzle arises. It looks as though you only have a few pieces left to configure, but there is only one piece left in your hand. WHAT PIECES ARE YOU MISSING? WHERE HAVE THEY GONE? THERE IS NOTHING ON THE FLOOR AROUND YOU. SERIOUSLY, WHAT HAPPENED? After a brief moment of sheer panic, it’s time to focus. Maybe this is what the puzzle maker had in mind! Maybe this is a test of innovation. Sure, you can put together a puzzle of pieces that were given to you. But what do you do when that’s not enough? Close your eyes. Think about the journey this has been. How close you are to the end. What the very beginning of your journey felt like. Literally. THAT’S IT. You run to the kitchen to grab a pen and scissors. The blank box this puzzle came in is now an empty vessel just waiting to be utilized. Trace the missing pieces from the puzzle onto the cardboard, cut them out, and push them into place. An electrifying display of color has been revealed. This puzzle makes you feel complete. It forces your eyes to move around it constantly; it evokes sadness and happiness and confusion; it is unpredictable but has dimension; and though it is finished, will it ever be complete?


What component of that metaphor am I?  A corner piece? An edge? A middle piece? A Missing piece? An innovative piece? Am I the person solving the puzzle? I have no idea. This trip is going to help me start figuring it out. About a year ago I attended Invisible Children’s Fourth Estate Leadership Summit at UCLA. The mantra of the entire experience was delivered by Jason Russel when he said: “Your life is bigger than your best dream for it.” Now’s my time to start living my dream.

This blog is going to be a window into what I’ve got going on. I’ll be posting as many pictures as I can, as well as text updates like this one! Beyond that, this site is still open for interpretation. Stay with me. Thank you so much for all of the love and support I’ve received so far.

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