How Do You Fall Asleep?

You know that moment when you realize that something you’ve done your entire life isn’t as “normal” as you thought?

For example, this morning my sisters and I were discussing various sleep woes. One sister mentioned that she had a bad habit of staying on her phone til she was dead-tired. Another sister said that she plans her next day as she falls into dreamland.

Wait, you guys don’t tell yourselves stories? I thought everyone did that! 

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Since I was about 6 years old, I always had a story to work out in my head as I lay my head on the pillow. As soon as the light turns out, no matter where I am, be it in an airplane, couch, or my own cozy bed, I begin to plot some imagined scene. I usually fall asleep before the scene ends.

Because I fall asleep quickly, I often spend months reimagining the same scene each night, with only slight variations. If I finish a story or get bored of it, I start something new.

The stories I fall sleep to don’t often make it into my daytime writing. I like to keep them in my head because that way they remain an alternate world I can fall into every night. Everything in that universe is completely within my control.

I think it started when my older brother told me he could control his dreams. I had a lot of nightmares as a kid, so I was pretty keen to learn my brother’s trick. I started planning the dreams I wanted to have before I fell asleep, hoping it would change my actual dreams. It didn’t, but the habit stuck.

So basically, you tell yourself bedtime stories? 

Yeah, pretty much.

It isn’t as productive as planning the next day’s activities, but it is a relaxing way to decompress. It saves me from cringing at the mistakes of my day or dreading the tasks of the morrow.

Now I am curious, how do you fall asleep? What do you think about in the moments before The Sandman takes you? 

 

Thoughts From Deep in The Heart of Texas

Ah, love a good road trip.

This has been no exception.

I earned my driver’s license two days before the trip started and have found that I really love driving. Which is surprising, considering that one time I turned down a police officer who asked me to drive illegally before I had a license… but that’s a story for another day.

Today we found Texas. My little sister couldn’t believe that we entered Texas on day two.

“Isn’t Texas like halfway?!?” she exclaimed. 

“Yup, Texas is 1/4 of the way there, 1/2 of the way there and 3/4ths of the way there, so hang on”. 

Course, sis and I have already had our share of adventures. From impromptu guitar busking in Georgia…

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…to singing parking lot duets at the top of our lungs in Alabama.

And then there are the lazy periods in between rest area jump rope breaks.

I’ve been studying real estate to prepare for my February class (so excited to jump head-long into a new career!) and my mom and I are listening to a lecture series on Winston Churchill.

In between the learning, singing, and driving, there is still too much time to think. The lull of the car on bumpy roads against a backdrop of fastly changing scenery offers a perfect environment for reflection.

An Unexpected Goodbye

Dearest MissAdventure Readers,

At the end of 2016 I found myself facing some pretty tough decisions.

As you know, I was scheduled to spend Christmas Recess in Germany. I did get to Stuttgart for a week and had a lovely time. However, less than halfway into my time there I ended up traveling home to the US unexpectedly. Now it looks like I will be staying here in The States indefinitely.

Yes, that means I am dropping out of university. And yes, in a sense it means that my adventure in Wales is over for good.

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I loved everything about living and studying in Wales. I am going to miss my British friends and professors dearly. I learned much from studying in another country, and even more from just living there.

I am extremely thankful for the opportunity I had to live abroad for a year and a half. I consider my time in Wales to be one of the most glorious chapters in my life thus far. It ended sooner than I expected, but that does not in any way detract from what it was while it lasted.

I am still unclear where life will take me in the coming months. I know this much:

I may be helping my brother’s family move across the country (road trip anyone?).

I will be spending lots of time with my younger siblings, homeschooling them and making up for the time lost while abroad.

I have a few serious writing projects to pursue.

I’ve got an epic reading list to devour.

I may attend the local community college and/or take online MOOC classes.

I will probably pursue my life-long dream of becoming a real-estate broker.

So you can see, there are a whole lot of uncertainties. Thus, this blog will have to evolve quite a bit. I understand that if you started following me because you were curious about studying abroad, our journey together may be coming to an end. That’s fine! Thanks for joining me!

However, if you’ve enjoyed following the mishaps and stupid mistakes that make up my life, I welcome you to stay on for the ride.

I don’t know where I am going. I cannot promise international travel; in fact, I don’t expect any. Still, I’ve got a feeling that there are a lot more exciting turns of a new kind on the horizon. I am ready to embrace them as they come. And I am sure that the adventure is only beginning.

Sincerely,

Susanna

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Five Surprising Cultural Differences I Wasn’t Expecting when I moved to the United Kingdom

Good morning lovelies! It is almost time for me to head back across the pond! As I get ready for my flight, it has been fun to reflect upon some of my favorite lil misadventures of last year. This post was originally written for CampusSociety, a new social media platform that connects uni students according to their interests, universities, courses, etc. Seriously folks, it’s my new favorite website. I spend a lot of time on there : )

 I decided to write about the cultural differences I wasn’t expecting… told in the form of embarrassing stories because seriously folks, would you expect anything better from me? Without further ado: 

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Living in the UK has been an incredible adventure for me. I’ve loved almost every minute, but there were quite a few surprising cultural differences that I’ve found challenging to deal with. Of course, YouTube and google searches had me prepared to deal with word-choice differences, the obsession with tea and biscuits (which I quickly adopted), and other well-known cultural bits and bobs. However, there were a few surprising (and frankly hilarious) encounters that I never could have expected.

Allow me to embarrass myself:

  1. The Volume Factor

I am used to talking above the crowd in public spaces. It seems  natural to me, that if at a restaurant or public event everyone is talking around you, you have to talk above the din for your friends to hear you, right? Wrong.

My first social event in the UK was a real shock. Instead of talking above the humdrum of the room, each group of students talked beneath it. Did they expect me to know how to read lips? Because I physically could not hear/understand most of what they were saying!

The first few months of school consisted of a whole lot of smiling and ‘uhuhing’ without really having any idea what people were talking about. You know the funny thing though? I’ve gotten used to it! I can hear people now (or maybe I have subconsciously learned to read lips, which would be even cooler). And when I go back to America to visit, the noise levels in restaurants and other public spaces really annoy me.

  1. Normalised Levels of Enthusiasm

I love, absolutely love, cooking. However, for the first few months of my study abroad in the United Kingdom, I was convinced that everyone else hated my food. I’d make a meal or a dessert and my friends would thank me with a simple: ‘that was nice’.

I’m used to my family exclaiming at almost everything I make: ‘‘This Broccoli is cooked PERFECTLY!’ and ‘This is probably the best pasta I have EVER HAD in my ENTIRE LIFE!’.

A few months into study abroad I met a new friend who told me that she had heard that I was a good cook. I couldn’t believe it! I genuinely thought that the lack of over-the-top enthusiasm meant that everyone hated my cooking!

Eventually I learned  ‘that was nice’ actually means ‘that was nice’. It is a true compliment, not a polite way of saying that you want to vomit.

  1. Pens > Pencils

Right before a lecture one day my friend turned to me and asked:

‘Susanna… why do you always use a pencil? It is kinda awkward.’

I was shocked. How was a pencil in anyway superior to a pen? My friend went on to explain that in primary school, only little children work with pencils. Eventually, when students handwriting is good enough, they are awarded their first pen.

The girl on the other side of me piped into the conversation: ‘Yeah, it is kinda a big deal. We don’t use pencils after that.’

One glance around the room and I quickly realized that I was the only student in the entire lecture hall using a pencil for my notes. But…but… I love my mechanical pencils!  

  1. Where is the Obsession with the Royal Family?

You know what is funny? When I arrived in Cardiff I figured out pretty quickly that Americans ( teenage American girls) may be significantly more obsessed with the royal family and the Union Jack than the average Brit. In fact, I think that I saw more Union Jack t-shirts, backpacks, iPhone cases, baseball caps, and wall posters in the U.S. than I have seen in the UK. And I must admit I’ve had to work to temper my enthusiastic squeals over every tidbit of William & Kate news.

Now, I am sure there must be Royal Family fans around in the UK. Maybe they are just harder to find… taking into account both of the things I’ve already talked about (normalised levels of enthusiasm and quieter voices in public), I could see how that would be.

  1. Fashion And Style

One of the most obvious outward things I noticed upon arriving in Wales was the sense of fashion was so different than what I was used to. I loved the thick scarves and chunky heels that girls wore. I loved the fact that even when it was raining, everyone still managed to look super stylish. It wasn’t long before I was feeling supremely underdressed and unstylish.

Why? Well, for one thing, the average British guy is way more fashionable than I am, and it makes me uncomfortable. In the US, I normally don’t feel that I have to compete with guys for fashion points. Don’t get me wrong, the US has plenty of fashion conscious men. However, it often seems as if the average guy walking around campus pulled on the first t-shirt he found in his drawer that morning, plus his lucky basketball shorts. In the UK, guys seem to dress more intentionally.

Secondly, students dress up for class! I always looked forward to university as the time of life when it is generally acceptable to go to school in your pajamas. I was surprised to find that in the UK students look put-together, just for attending lectures! Even wearing shorts or activewear is uncommon (unless you are on an team). I’m trying to get used to it and I do genuinely appreciate the effort takes in looking nice before going out in public, but I have to admit I miss the dream of wearing my comfiest of comfy clothes in public.

So there you have it, a few of the things that surprised me when I arrived in the UK. Of course, those points have led to more than a few embarrassing moments. However, I like to dream that by the time I graduate I’ll be an elegantly dressed, softly speaking, pen wielding student with grace and class. Here’s to hoping!  

A Confession and My Pursuit of Creativity…

Can I start this out with a confession? I love adventure, I love turning embarrassing moments into funny stories, I love reading big books and eating watermelon. I love Russian literature, piano solos and guacamole. What do I NOT like? Being artsy. 

I am not an artsy person. 

It is one of my biggest insecurities. Arts and crafts have been my nemesis since grade school. And yet… I want to cartoon, I want to draw, I want to create. Words are powerful but being able to format them nicely and add appropriate illustrations give them a needed extra sparkle and poomf.

For the past few years, I’ve been on a determined journey to improve my artistic abilities.

Even from the stick-figure days, I’ve always drawn people with their hands behind their backs because I never had the confidence to try drawing hands:

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A few years ago I upgraded. No, I didn’t learn to draw hands. Instead, I learned how to draw cartoon ducks! I’ve been at it ever since:

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Okay, so obviously my artsy skills need work. I am on a journey to improve them this year and I want you to come along! My biggest artistic project will be my travel journal. I’ve been keeping regular journals since I was nine years old. So naturally, I thought I knew something about journaling. Then I saw Pinterest worthy photos of travel journals that made my jaw drop:

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via The Berry
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Via BwrnPaperBag
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via Tumblr
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via Tumblr

The journal from my first year abroad consist of scattered emotional rants about how happy my life was and/or how desperately I missed my family. I’m glad I have them, but, being completely honest, they’re a bit drab.

So even after over ten years of journaling I’ve got a lot to learn. But I’m not discouraged.  I’ve got a brain and (even better!) a Pinterest board full of ideas. I am making time in my schedule for cartooning practice, sketching, and journaling. And I really want you to come along for this journey!

Over the next few months, I will share photos and (hopefully) progress of my creative pursuits on this blog. 

Also, check back later this week for my blog post on the lessons I have learned about journaling over the years and why I think journaling is an essential part of any study abroad or long-term travel experience.

For now, please leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below. Any tips, ideas, or thoughts you have on journaling and sketching would be much appreciated.

How do you pursue creativity? What are your creative goals for this year? 

Casually Ran Into A Sherlock Filming (And Other Reasons Why I Love my Life in Wales)

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Okay guys, so hold off. Living in the UK does not mean having tea with the queen at 4pm or just in general being posh. Life here is normal. Fun, yes. Full of special adventures if you take the time to look for them, yes. But still just normal, like life can be on any other part of this wonderful earth we live on. It is not a fairytale. That being said… the area where I live is used for filming both Dr. Who and Sherlock. So sometimes funny little things happen…

It is cool to think back to old episodes and think “hey, that is the optometry building!”. Or, “hey that museum is the one near my house!”. In fact, they often use my university’s buildings as film locations.

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Last week I trotted up to an office in the student union to hand in a tax form. I was greeted by two huge security men standing in front of a hallway crowded with boxes, fancy looking cameras, and people with badges and headsets.

“Excuse me, is the JobShop still open?”

For an answer, the security man waved a ginormous hand towards a door on the opposite wall.

“Quiet for a take!” a small but muscular lady wearing a headset proclaimed. “Quiet for a take!”.

As I marched towards the JobShop, I noted one of my course mates sitting excitedly on the couch (hopping up and down just a little).

“Rosie!” I whispered.”What is going on?”

“They are filming Sherlock down there! I’ve been here two hours. We are hoping to see the actors when they get out on lunch break.”

I found myself a spot on the couch and pulled out some seminar reading. Although I’m not  a superfan of the show, I have some friends who would really really appreciate an autograph. I figured it was the least I could do. An actress sat down next to me and we had a nice chat. She was telling me how she really wanted to be a comedian, but this job paid the bills. She said she had just been chatting with Benedict Cumberbatch (said he was a nice guy) and that they were due for lunch break soon, so if I stuck around I might catch a glimpse of him.

Eventually, Martin Freeman came out. I realized I had nothing. Not a pen, not a piece of paper, not even a scrap of cardboard on which to ask for an autograph. Go me. So I did the next best thing… took a horribly blurry photo.
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Much later Cumberbatch (AKA Sherlock)  walked quickly past the small adoring group of students that had gathered to await him. I was standing back looking up towards the ceiling waiting for some super tall guy to march past in sunglasses. By the time I realized that he had come, he was already gone.

Seriously guys, he is probably my height at most. Perhaps even half an inch shorter than me. I looked it up later, the internet claims he is five eleven. And that is the tragic story of how I missed taking a picture of Sherlock Holmes because I was expecting him to be tall. 

Honestly, the best part was not seeing Freeman or Cumberbatch. The best part was chatting with the lesser known actress. She sat down next to me while I was studying and we had a nice conversation about females who want to make a living with creative projects.  Her story was inspiring and she was so very kind. She seemed to care about me and my story too. She encouraged me to keep writing my book.

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So you see guys, while my friends were sitting for hours waiting in reverence for an actor who ended up brushing them by without even a second glance, I got to have a meaningful conversation with a less famous actress who gave me good advice and inspired me to keep pursuing my dreams. Unfortunately, I don’t yet have a moral for this story or a punch line. Just another funny part of life in Wales.

 

The Strangest Ways Homesickiness Has Popped Up So Far

I think my trip back to see my family just reminded me of how much I love them. When I got back I immediately fell into my first major fight with homesickness. Since then homesickness has been popping up more frequently. I’ve talked to a few study abroad veterans who say that there is usually a “what-in-the-world-am-I-doing-here-and-why-am-I-not-with-the-family-I-love” stage at around the 3-month mark, which is exactly where I am. So I am encouraged that this is normal and will pass.

In the meantime, it has been kinda funny to see the strange ways that homesickness manifests itself.

For one thing, I called my mommy on FaceTime at two o’clock in the morning last week just because I wanted to make sure she still existed there on the other side of the ocean.

For another thing, I’ve had the strangest urge to whistle the theme song to Disney’s Davy Crocket film every time I am walking in public. Please don’t ask.

And last but not least, I went to a coffee shop last week, fell in love with it completely and then adopted it as my new sanctuary and then pretended that I was the owner’s daughter (but shhh, the owners don’t know that part).

 

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So yeah, I found this coffee shop. It is not fancy or  hipster-hangouty like most of the awesome cafes around my uni. It has something more. The dear Welsh couple who run it are my new inspirations. The wife putzes about, making coffees and chit chatting away with anyone who seps through the door. The husband is much quieter, mozzying about sweeping floors and cleaning messes all while softly whistling to the tunes playing on the radio. Sometimes they call to each other in their thick Welsh accents.

“Love! Will you check the kettle?” The first time I went there I stayed the entire afternoon. I ordered a cup of sweet potato soup and a baguette. The sweet potato soup was one of the blandest things I’ve ever eaten. I mean it was plainer than plain sweet potatoes (how is that even possible?).

I parked myself on their couch and spread out all my study materials. I felt so comfortable that I took my shoes up and snuggled, using my jacket as a blanket. Once in a while I’d take a break from exploring 12th century Italy and Mongolia to watch students running in the rain through the cafe’s front window. I stayed til closing time.  The husband let me into the back of the kitchen to use the staff bathroom before I left. I can’t wait to go back. I love finding new sanctuaries. 

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When I got home I realised that I had left one of my flashcards for communication class behind. Of all the flashcards I made, guess which one I left? The one about “taboo language”. All my plans of this sweet Welsh couple adopting me went sour when I realised that  I left behind a notecard covered in the very  worst of expletives.

Wow, Susanna. You certainly played that one off well didn’t you?

UPDATE: I found my questionably moral study card hidden at the bottom of my backpack nd thus returned to my fav new coffee shot today with a clean conscience  : )

Coming HOME to Wales for the First Time

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My family moved quite a few times when I was a kido. I distinctly remember that every time we moved I immediately began to look forward to our next vacation or extended time out of the house. Why? Because I knew that the true test of a new house becoming a home was the homecoming. Time and time again I would hate a house, feeling out of place and uncomfortable inside it. And then after a long trip or unexpected vacation we would return to our new place, usually late at night, wearied from the journey, ready to hop into bed. As our car pulled into the driveway a thrilling relief would flood over me: I was home.

So it is, homecomings are the test of homes. I had a lovely time in America. Of course, it whizzed by faster than imaginable. By the end of it I was tired of all the busy and ready to get back to ‘normal life’ in Cardiff (Did you see that? NORMAL LIFE and Cardiff in the same sentence!).

As my coach approached the city I shivered with a surge of excitement. My fingers shook. Would Cardiff pass the test? Would it feel like home when I returned?

The bus dropped me off in a part of town I’d never been to before, but after asking someone where the Royal Music College was, I knew exactly where I was. I took a short cut through my favourite park and soon found myself (and my big purple suitcase) on the streets surrounding my university. It felt pretty special, walking home all on my own, knowing exactly where I was going. I mean guys listen, I didn’t just know the way, I knew three ways back to my house and had to mentally calculate which one was the most direct with the least amount of pulling my ginormous purple suitcase up and down stairs and/or over train tracks.

As I took a shortcut through the alleyway around the bioscience building, I remembered all the sweet bible studies I enjoyed in that building last semester. As I passed the Costa Coffee I remembered tea and coffee dates with friends.

Across the train tracks I found myself in the student accommodation district. Despite the fact that my hands were raw and blistering from pushing my overweight suitcase over the uneven sidewalks,  I couldn’t stop grinning. I was back on my daily route to school and it felt so natural. I’m back in Cardiff a few weeks before school starts, so the houses were abandoned. The strange silence on the streets made the perfect backdrop for my memories to dance about.

My road is not primarily student housing, so as I turned onto it the street reawakens. Cars, busses, pedestrians, cyclists… all the usual subjects rushed past. And then there was me and my big purple suitcase, standing in the middle of it all, drinking it in.

As I approached my own home, I noted warm lights glowing in every window except my room at the very tipity top. I am not disappointed. I am home.

So my advice to you is this: if you ever move to a new place, unpack your bags, organise your life, and then (as soon as possible) take a journey. Go far away. Have adventures. And then when you find that you are utterly exhausted, return to your new dwelling. That, in my experience, is the surest way of realising that your new house is a home.

I may have fallen in love during my layover

I fell in love during my layover

with Iceland.

I booked an airplane flight on a budget airline called Iceland air. Which meant I had a nine hour layover in Iceland. When I first got off my plane I was tired and a bit nervous. I’ve felt rather insecure since the beginning of this trip when I realized that I’d moved across the ocean while forgetting my wallet at home, but that is a story for another time.

Eventually though, I decided to just march right past my fears and take the opportunity to see a bit of Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. I’m so glad I did:

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It was not quite as cold as you might expect because warm water flowing from the Gulf of Mexico flows to the edge of Iceland. While I was there it was just about sweater weather, my favorite temperature!

Iceland is called the land of fire and ice for a good reason. Glaciers and ice caps cover 11% of the country. On the other hand, there are over 100 volcanoes on the island.

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And let’s face it. You know it must be a photogenic country because even I took nice pictures of it.

Hello, my name is the world’s worst travel photographer. Hey, nice to meet you. 
Because Iceland is located on a fault line between two tectonic plates, Iceland has lots of geothermal activity. Geothermal energy is so cheap that even some sidewalks are heated in the winter time!

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Being a thick 6 ft tall with blonde hair and blue eyes, It was pretty easy for me to blend in with the locals. Most of the people here look about the same as me. That is because Iceland was settled by Vikings in 800 AD and not too many people have moved here since. Some say it is the most isolated gene pool on earth. That is why scientists come to Iceland to study genetic diseases and other health issues.

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Despite the fact I fit in quite nicely (people often tried to start conversations with me in Icelandic), the lack of diversity made me feel a bit uncomfortable. I am from America, which is quite a melting pot. EVERYBODY LOOKED SO SIMILAR IN ICELAND. I kept walking down different streets thinking I was seeing the same old man walking behind me. Eventually I realized that at the turn of each corner, the same old man was wearing different clothes. He really wasn’t the same old man at all.

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Iceland is the world’s oldest remaining democracy. In 930 they established a parliament that is still running today. Iceland was taken over and ruled by Denmark for 500 years, but in the 1940s they regained their independence. The country is run by a president who is elected every four years just like ours. However, their elections aren’t quite as competitive. In the last election there was only one guy running for president (the guy who was already president), so he automatically won.

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I spent the day exploring their gorgeous capital on foot. I didn’t do much. Mostly just walked around, got lost on purpose, stopped in cafes and coffee shops, walked by the harbor, and made sure to eat one of their world famous hot dogs.

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It was the most relaxing day out I could have possible imagined. Iceland is a sanctuary.

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Here are some more fun facts from my Iceland adventures so far:

  • There are more sheep than people on Iceland! 300,000 people and over 400,000 sheep!
  • The flag of Iceland is red, white, and blue to represent the three main elements of their country, volcano lava, ice, and the surrounding ocean.
  • Iceland’s favorite game is handball, which is kind of like soccer except that you can use your hands.
  • Another favorite Icelandic hobby is knitting. Boys and girls are taught to knit in school.
  • 99% of Icelanders can read. They also have more authors/writers per a capita than any other place on earth. 10% of Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime.
  • According to the global peace index, Iceland is the most peaceful country on earth.

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When Pursuing A Dream Means Losing A Dream

A few months ago one of my favorite bloggers, Bailey, posted about how nobody can have it all. Her words kinda pretty much smacked me in the face, and I still haven’t recovered: “saying yes to one thing means saying no to something else”.

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As a wee one, I could fire up my imagination and enjoy the life of a diplomat, cowgirl, marine biologist, and that-eccentric-lady-with-blue-hair-who-lives-in-a-upside-down-cottage all in one day! When I ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, I can almost always follow their answer with “oh yeah, I used to want to be that too!” Because seriously, what didn’t I dream of doing?

Now that I am 19, it is time to actually start taking steps toward my dreams. There is nothing more exciting than doing things that you imagined as a kid! However, moving in the direction of one dream means leaving many other dreams in the dust. That’s rough, but we can’t just stay stuck in our imaginations for the rest of our lives. If  we are too scared to step away from one of our dreams in the direction of another, we will never go anywhere.

So today I have decided to step in the direction of moving to Wales (16 MORE DAYS!). I plan on studying history at Cardiff Uni, writing books, and seeing bits of the world.

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I am choosing to go to college instead of starting a cupcake truck business in New York City or running away and finding work on a farm in the middle of nowhere (as I may or may not have previously dreamed of doing).

I am choosing Wales instead of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

I am choosing to study history (with the goal of teaching middle school) instead of studying astrophysics and becoming a space weatherman.

There is nothing more exciting than seeing your childhood dreams coming to life, even if it means burying a few of your best intentions inside of nostalgic memories. And who knows, as poet T.S. Elliot said, life is very long. Perhaps some dreams that I am putting aside now will be resurrected later on. I mean, I still haven’t completely given up on the idea of raising hedgehogs in a castle by the sea.