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A Transatlantic Minute

 

I left home almost two weeks ago. The five weeks I spent at home with my friends and family really did feel like it passed by in the blink of an eye, but I’m so grateful to have seen everyone. Even if briefly. My life-bae Sam, who’s always left in charge of talking me down when my pre-travel anxiety kicks in, said to me: “it’s so easy to get comfortable.” How. Freakin. True.

It’s such an obvious statement. I get it. Duh. But it’s so true. I got home, kicked off my shoes, snuggled up to the family dog and ate all the food my mom cooked. I saw all my friends and decorated the Christmas tree and had Chipotle several times and bought a bunch of clothes at all my favorite stores. Stockton is comfortable (existentially. Physically and realistically, probably not that much. If it really gelled with me, I would still be there. But alas.), Stockton is familiar. Stockton is home to my mom, and my high school, and Yummy Sushi Burrito. We’ve got history together. And it’s so easy to get comfortable in the routine of seeing and doing things that are just muscle memory. And I almost got too comfortable! Not that there’s anything wrong with people settling down in Stockton (maybe there is), but that is not what is in my cards. And I know that. But still, getting on my flight out of Central California on January 20 was really rough.

But then I landed in New York City, and everything felt a bit better. Because now I have traveling muscle memory too. And travel—while at times extremely, ridiculously, uncomfortable—is comfortable and familiar to me. My lovely friend Alicia (from my study abroad in Senegal in 2014!) picked me up from the airport and we spent the next two days catching up, seeing our other study-abroad-buddy Arden, drinking a bunch, and we went to a concert. It was great. New York City can be fun to visit when you have good company. I departed from JFK literally as it began snowing and Winter Storm Jonas (unfortunately, little-to-no connection to the Jonas Brothers) descended on the tristate area. What good luck.

After several hours of transit (and several face masks), Dublin welcomed me. I was in the city for a few days. Spent most of my time drinking and being merry. Honestly, not much new to report from that time. And now I am an hour south of Dublin, living at a hostel, volunteering for a free bed. And it’s magical. But I’ll blog about my time here at the end of the month when I really have a feel for it. Until then, I love and miss all my friends at home and everywhere, and hope that everyone’s doing great! I sure am!

 

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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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