Grief: It means something

Every year it’s hard to see October 30th on the calendar. I used to hate October in general. Last year, it was the 10th anniversary of losing my best friend Corey to suicide. Luckily, I created a small project which you can read about here and I felt very connected to all of those who loved her in planning this surprise.  I also had the opportunity to share her story at my One Wave Fluro Friday in Bondi and it was received with so much compassion and love. That really meant something.

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This year, I am in a brand new town and apartment in England with my wonderful partner. I’m working from home so I will probably spend most of the day on my own working. Luckily, I feel deeply connected to my work- helping others work on their health  mind-body-spirit. Giving women their confidence back. Helping people pay attention to their mental health, self care and internal voice more than ever before.  Every year the emotions I feel today surprise me. I try to let myself feel and work through them however I can. It hurts but I want to make it mean something.

I think of Corey every single day of my life. If you have lost a loved one close to you, I’m sure you understand that this is not an exaggeration. Grief is a roller coaster ride and even 11 years later I am very much still on the ride. But I have leaned into that grief. I have dealt with it in a variety of ways, healthy and unhealthy. Losing Corey was the single greatest catalyst for learning to use my writing as therapy. As a 15 year old, I didn’t know how to cope. I didn’t want to ask for help. I didn’t even really know how to fully express my thoughts and feelings (hell some adults still don’t.) But when I wrote, it made me feel better. When I wrote the pain wasn’t too much to bear. That is why today, I write because it means something.

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Bah, Humbug: How to Cope with Holidays Abroad

This is the part they don’t talk about. Quit your job, travel the world, you will have the best adventures, change your life and find yourself. But what about the hard stuff? Moving across the world can’t always be easy… Missing weddings, holidays, birthdays, and all of the silly days in between is not easy. Sure, you are the one who chose to leave but that doesn’t mean you don’t miss the people who you left behind. It doesn’t mean that half the stories out of your mouth aren’t about your family, this one time in college or the adorable photos you just got of your niece in the Nutcracker. The travel blogs and instagrams you idolize may not show photos of them tearing up in the middle of the street because they just want to go home. Or the feeling when all of your family is together and you are sick in bed. As usual, I am committed to being raw and sharing all parts of my adventures with you, so here is the truth behind never being home for the holidays.

Moving abroad to Thailand and Australia and being able to teach and adventure in both places have been the most rewarding experiences of my life but that is not to say they haven’t had their fair share of lonely moments as well. Yes, you will feel homesick. Yes, you will get sick of being the face on the Facetime screen, so close and yet so far from being involved in all the memories happening at home without you. The holidays make it especially difficult so I wanted to send some encouragement to my fellow expats, travelers, or anyone who can’t make it where they consider “home” this holiday season. This is the most wonderful time of the year, but like all good things, that puts a hell of a lot of pressure on you to feel merry and bright. Here is how I survive the holidays:

Bring traditions with you– If you are far away from home, find a way to decorate and spread a little Christmas or Hanukkah cheer. Watch your favorite Christmas movies, bake your Grandma’s famous recipe and make sure to share it with the people you’ve met or love abroad. Sharing our traditions with others makes them special for a whole new set of people. Luckily, I am a teacher so I always get free reign to teach my students all about American culture and holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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Corey’s Heart

Anniversaries are traditionally special days where we celebrate important events. When the anniversary represents a painful event it sings a much different tune. Regardless, anniversaries make us nostalgic, reflective and in this case sad. But like John Green said, “It hurts because it matters.”

The amount of emotion the wells up in my chest, my heart, my conscious and subconscious brain around this time of year speaks volumes for how incredibly deep of an impact Corey had on the world and everyone who knew her. The amount of people who knew her should be remaining the same, but it seems as if the numbers grow.

The years creep past and suddenly, we have arrived at the ten year anniversary of her death. Ten years. That statement is surreal to me.  I swear that I can still hear her cackling laugh and I can still picture her mannerisms. I can chose what song she would play or which boy she would think was the cutest. Ten years. A decade without her sweet, beautiful, quirky self in this world.  

When I look back at one of the first pieces I wrote and shared publicly, Four Walls, I feel so much pure pain and emotion in my words- it always brings me to tears. I return to it now because sometimes I simply can’t say it better than myself.

“We are all surrounded by a new set of four walls. The walls are all different textures and colors. The wind whipping against the window pane smells different. The walls have different stories, and the rooms have different souls. Across the world, the country, through the state lines and the highways and the driveways, we still stare at our set of four walls.

No matter where we are, that insatiable pain is still there. We wrestle with the same thoughts. We breathe the same deep breaths. The breath you breathe so deep and so long just to know that you are alive. You’re still here.

Apart, we are solid colors, red, blue, white and green. We are strong and vivacious. We make an impact, cause a laugh, contribute to the team and shock others with our brilliance. That’s what we look like up close. We are separate entities that are just fine on their own. But much like the pixels of a television screen, when you look at us from a far…we are one. We come together to make a grander and even more powerful picture.”

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Dear Sydney…

Dear Sydney,

The past week has been overflowing with more reflection than usual for me. If I gave you an hour inside of my brain I assume you would be quite exhausted and possibly terrified. I am celebrating a year of living here in Sydney. I moved to Australia at the end of July 2015 but I went backpacking for two months up the East coast and I landed in Sydney at the end of September 2015, for what I thought was a few weeks. When I moved to Australia it was my intention to live in Melbourne. My teacher besties I met in Thailand moved there and when I visited the fall before I fell in love. I came to Australia not knowing exactly where I would end up, but I had an open mind and an open heart. After a few weeks in the hostel I was running out of money, so I knew it was time to get another job. My job search began and I made the Library of New South Wales my go-to spot. Something about being in a library makes me feel safe and at home.  It was while I was living in this cheap hostel, searching for a job, checking my bank account after every purchase, exploring the city on my own, that I began stressing about the future and if I really made the right decision. I struggled with loneliness and intense anxiety.  I wrote in my blog a year ago how I took myself out to dinner for the first time at a fancy restaurant and forced myself to enjoy my own company, without my phone or any hesitation. It felt weird and uncomfortable but overall, it was liberating.

A year ago I had no idea that at this hostel I would meet the man that I am now in love and happily living with. I had no idea that my passion for health and wellness, helping others, and sharing my journey would turn into such a huge driving force in my career and my life. For all my travelers out there, I know you can understand why traveling makes you so reflective but if you don’t travel much, I would love to explain why. When you travel or live abroad, especially for long periods of time, your life goes into a time warp and months seem like years and days seem like minutes. It feels like you just left home but it also feels as if you have existed in this universe forever. You develop a routine in your new turf because despite the need for freedom and adventure, human beings are all creatures of habits. When you move away from everything you’ve ever known, you are left with yourself. You are left to define yourself, in whatever manner you desire. The people you meet may learn about your past from stories, photographs and Facebook stalking, but a traveler meets everyone at face value, as the person they are today. It’s a beautiful way to approach life and a particularly comforting way to approach people.

The whole concept of the travel bug sounded silly to me at first. It sounded cliche and overused and quite frankly, trite. But a harsh reality you face in this world, is that cliches only construct meaning in your life when they are relevant to you. The travel bug isn’t a creature you want to take lightly. Now that I have lived abroad for 2 out of the last 3 years of my 20’s, I am heavily addicted. I am in love with the way it feels to explore new cities and look at every minute moment as something special and worth remembering. I am in love with the feeling of coming and going because it constantly reminds you how good you have it. When I travel home, I see the same city I grew up in with fresh eyes. All my favorites of home become that much more divine and sacred. Even though I have lived in Sydney for a year now, it still feels fresh and exciting to me. When I got my teaching job, experienced a few weeks of summer in Sydney and met my handsome Englishman, I felt an overwhelming feeling of contentment. I felt satisfied, grounded and “home” in a way that is difficult to verbalize. I asked myself out-loud, and many of my friends, “Why would you ever choose to leave this?”

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QUIT, PACK, OPEN

When I started writing my weekly headspace pieces I had no idea how awesome this weekly release of my thoughts would be. I did know and have proved to myself how hard it is to keep up with your blog even if it is once a week. I see why people do this as an actual career in itself because it’s a lot of work and you truly have to carve out the time for it. I wanted my weekly headspace to be a concrete way for me to write more, even if it wasn’t particularly well designed or crafted pieces. These are my thoughts plain and simple. In this process I have realized that I have A LOT of thoughts in one week. I mean, like, A LOT. Sometimes it’s hard to decide what thoughts to synthesize and what thoughts to dismiss. I talk to hundreds of people on a weekly basis because my business is all about talking to people and connecting with them. It doesn’t matter if it’s people who have known me since childhood or high school or friends that I have connected to through common interests  like fitness and traveling via social media, almost everyone asks me the same question, “Australia? WOW! How is it living there?”

I had my friend and  fellow coach ask me a while ago,  “What is your biggest takeaway  from all your adventures? What have you learned about yourself, other cultures, and the world?”  I realized that I think about this almost every day for one reason or another. I have lived it and I am living it. I have watched my mind expand and my heart break and connected to people from all over the world for about 3 years now. But no one has lived it all with me. Luckily, I have many companions, especially Jackie, who have experienced a huge chunk of it and the bond we share because of it is truly something special.  Through my blog I try to convey what traveling has done for me but I love to pause and reflect for new followers and because I am not sure if I have ever answered that question explicitly, my biggest takeaway from all of my adventures. I am feeling quite nostalgic as my 26th birthday approaches at the beginning of June and  I keep thinking about how different my life was last June. I had high expectations for twenty five but my expectations have been blown out of the water. Because I believed that the best was yet to come… the best came and is still coming.

My biggest takeaway from all of my adventures living abroad in two radically different countries and returning back home to America in between, has been that the world is an absolutely captivating and magical place, if you allow it to be. Being open minded is the key to happiness, success, relationships and quite honestly, life.  I truly believe that for the most part people are their own worst enemies and let their fears hold them back from the life they deserve.

Despite the fact that I was living in a third world country, backpacking through many South East Asian  third world countries, prancing around the fancy beach clubs in Bali, eating traditional meals with locals, paying more for my brunch then I did for my hostel, hiking active volcanoes at sunrise, making friends from every country you could imagine and experiencing something new almost every single day I finally realized how similar we all are. I worry this sounds cliche but that has truly been my personal experience.  Human beings are so similar it is actually quite scary. It’s such a mind blowing experiencing because not only do you see how similar you are but you are forced to perceive the world in a totally new and unique manner.

Despite having similar cores, we do have so many differences in our life experiences, family upbringing, cultures, educations, work experience, travel experience, views on politics, religion, dating, happiness and success. Nothing is more thrilling to me than chatting with friends from Germany, Holland, Vietnam, Indonesia, Italy, England, Wales, France, Canada, you name it,  and learning things you never could find in a  history book or experience in a college lecture hall. Traveling has forced me to be okay with not being in control(which if you know me was a VERY hard lesson for me to learn.) Traveling has forced me to see how taking risks is worth the reward. Traveling has forced me to savor the moments as they pass because you may only have a few nights with these new friends who you feel like you’ve known a lifetime. Traveling has made me realize that you don’t need a lot of money to travel you need a lot of GUTS. You need a lot of resilience. You need the willingness to get out of your OWN way and take some risks. You have to be willing to go to countries you know nothing about. You have to be willing to sleep on overnight buses for 17 hours in Vietnam. You have to be willing to play charades and to point to random food and pray you don’t get food poisoning, or take it like a champ when you do. You have to be open minded in your approach to your traveling or you could circle the whole globe and not change a thing.

I truly don’t believe everyone should quit their job and travel the world. I honestly do believe it is the single best decision I have ever made. Quit.. Pack… Open..Not only did I  find a way to make my career work in two new countries I gained the confidence to follow ANYTHING that tugs on my heart strings. Traveling wasn’t an option for me, it was a calling and a voice that needed to be answered. Wanderlust is not going to Disney World twice a year and on a cruise every five. Wanderlust is sincerely wanting to experience a new culture, a new way of life and a willingness to learn that everything you have ever thought could very well be wrong. Traveling forced me to get in touch with my truest self and make some huge sacrifices along the way. It is a whole different level of commitment when you decide to live abroad and become a permanent adventurer. You no longer are someone who leaves and comes back with cool stories to tell your friends and family. You are someone who leaves. You are someone who has to miss important weddings and special occasions. You have to construct dysfunctional holiday celebrations that show what the true spirit of those holidays actually mean.  You are someone who decides that the desire to see the world is stronger than any other guiding factor.

This is a terrifying inner voice to listen to. But when you do, it shows you why being open minded is so important. I know that all people have their opinions about other people’s life choices and many times people like to judge a path that is different from their own or the norm. I think that the 21st century has developed a whole generation of dreamers, doers, seekers and people who very well might quit their job and travel the world. That scares the HELL out of close minded people. It always has and it always will. But traveling teaches you to focus on the good. You don’t look back and dwell on the moments you missed your ferry, were hungover puking on your ferry, nearly died in traffic in Bangkok, got hit on by men, ladyboys, women, or anything with two legs. You look back and remember the people, the laughs, the views, the kick ass food and booze and experience that you simply can’t just look at photos of you have to EXPERIENCE yourself. I think that is the most special part of traveling. Even in today’s world of Instagram, blogs, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, any other social media site that people use to document their every move on a trip; pictures, videos, words, and blog articles can NEVER replace experiencing it for yourself. It never has and it never will. Every traveler holds those stories in their memory, some to share and some to keep, but no two people will see the same world twice.

You learn more about yourself traveling than any other life experience. You form bonds with your traveling companions that can’t be put into words. You are forced to coexist with people you have never imagined you be in the same room with let alone getting naked in front of and sharing a wall socket for your chargers. When you are traveling you  see humanity in such raw form, the good, the bad and the ugly. So when I try to reflect on my biggest take away from my adventures I have to say that it is so complex but actually pretty simple; being open minded is the key to life. It can be applied to every situation across the boards and it is a lesson I continually use in my classroom, my business, my friendships, my relationship and my life. You can see a big and beautiful world or you can see a world full of pain and darkness. That is totally up to you.

Good and evil have existed since the beginning of time and will continue to exist. Traveling has reminded me to be open to the magic that this universe has to offer. Not just when you feel like it. Not just for a week or a stage in life. Be open to what the world has to offer you and see the magic in everyday life. Don’t ever stop seeing life as an adventure and that mindset will manifest your reality.  Leaving home does not mean that I never look back, I look back all the time. But my eyes have changed, my mind has expanded, my heart has opened.  I take life as it comes and I take people for what they are. I control myself (this is without a pitcher of sangria in my blood) because I know that’s the only thing I can control. I EMBRACE uncertainty because instead of holding myself back or being afraid of it, I am learning to celebrate the fact that I have no clue what’s next. None of us do. The more authentically you open your mind and your heart to the world around you the more the world around you opens. Allow the world to be the magical and captivating place that it is. Get out of your own way. I’m not saying everyone should quit their job to travel the world but DAMN, I am glad that I did. 

Leaving the Land of Smiles

After a bit of a mishap in the flight department (I’ll skip the story due to my own embarrassment) we finally made it to Thailand and back to our favorite island, Ko Phi Phi. It was so strange to be back in Thailand after being in such a westernized culture for two weeks. But even more strange was how NORMAL it felt. It was normal to not understand anything going on around you, for men to be screaming “I LOVEEE YOU”, to see a family of four on the motorbike next to you and to see more 7-11’s on one street than in all of Australia. Since we had such a hard month in Bali and Australia we knew we would need time to kick up our feet and relax in Ko Phi Phi for our last week abroad. Hey, c’mon you can’t hate us for planning the best vacation ever. 😉

Unfortunately the weather in Thailand was not cooperating with us. We were there for 7 nights and we probably had two days of sunshine. Lots of rain and mud puddles which caused us to find recreational activities inside… There isn’t much to do on an island when the weather is bad, especially Ko Phi Phi. We kept ourselves entertained with lots of stories and laughs from our trip, food, and an adult beverage or two. I finally got the chance to meet up with my friend from high school, Fallon who started teaching in Thailand in March. It was so awesome to catch up with her, reminisce on life in Syracuse and bond over our unexplainable desire to find what we need out of life even if that means traveling all over the world to find it. As the rain fell the reality of the end of my journey getting closer and closer washed over me. We didn’t want to talk about moving home because that made it real. I was so excited to see my friends and family, meet my nephew, squeeze my puppy, eat real pizza and finally feel clean but I couldn’t help but hate having to leave behind this place that I have learned to call home.

Thailand is a magical place for many but for me it changed my life in a way I will always revere. Thailand taught me what it means to be myself. That is the most beautiful gift anyone can give you. By no means did I feel “lost” in life before, but Thailand opened my eyes to a world I needed so desperately to see. A world beyond sorority formals and football tailgates. A world where people don’t have shoes on their feet or have to share a small room behind their restaurant with 13 family members. A world full of dreamers, teachers, and travelers; young people who have the same desire to see new horizons as I do. Like I said in an earlier piece, I joined a club I didn’t know existed. There are so many people, so different than I am, who went to different unis, speak different languages, were raised in diverse situations that have the same fire burning inside of them. This fire can not be extinguished or “gotten out of your system”. There is a whole world full of people who want to experience life, other cultures, have heart to hearts at 3 am on cruise ships in Vietnam, explore ancient temples in Cambodia, eat traditional Indonesian food at 6 am with locals and talk to strangers about their lives simply because it matters. I am so grateful for each and every one of you I have met along the way and you have inspired me to continue dreaming, no matter what anyone thinks.

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To my Students <3

What I want you to remember:

1. Always believe in yourself! I believe in you so much.
2. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER! Read and learn as much as you can.
3. “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”
4. Your dreams ONLY work if YOU DO. Always give your personal best.
5. Find something you LOVE to do for your future career.
6. To improve your English= watch English movies, TV shows & listen to music.
7. Don’t be afraid to talk with foreigners! BE CONFIDENT!
8. The most important beauty is the beauty of your heart.
9. Be kind to everyone. You can’t make it through life alone & you never know who needs you.
10. Remember what Kid President said, “BE AWESOME”
11. Get off your phone & appreciate the people & places right in front of you
12. Keep Smiling & Laughing! There is always a way to be positive.

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The Best Ships…

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Today, I am biding farewell to another one of my closest friends who I met at our teaching orientation and preceded to grow into a tight knit friendship with. On our last day of orientation our coordinators from our new school came to pick us up. There were over 200 people spread across two hotels at our CIEE Teach in Thailand orientation. I had the pleasure of meeting tons of awesome friends which I have stayed in contact with via social media and our various meet ups on weekends and holidays. When our van arrived to bring us to Suphanburi, Jackie and I were nervous, excited, and anxious to get to our town. We knew there were other girls placed at our school and apartment building but we hadn’t really gotten to know them at orientation. The two hour van ride from Kanchanaburi to our new home was the perfect, awkward time to get to know each other. The conversation didn’t feel forced but we had to go through the obligatory initial questions, “Where are you from?”, “Where did you go to school?”, “What was your major?”, etc. All of us were eager and excited for this new chapter of our lives to begin! Erin and Kelsey were best friends from childhood and grew up together in South Carolina, Maggie and Kelsey were random college roommates at FSU and ended up becoming best friends, Jackie and I obviously went to WVU together and were each others life line getting through our graduate school program. We all had our own “security” best friend, which made getting to know each other as a group an interesting, but fun adventure.

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March Madness Final Round: America takes Thailand

It was such an awesome feeling returning “home” to Thailand. I really shouldn’t put that in quotes… this has been my home for the past 6 months and a wonderful one at that. It felt so great to be able to speak Thai again (no matter how little I actually speak), use baht, and feel comfortable with my surroundings. Not only was I home in Thailand but 3 short days later five of my closest friends from college were coming to visit me from America! Although I could not contain my excitement I also felt like my body just had been hit by an 18-wheeler. Over a month of backpacking will do that to ya. Luckily, I had two days to go back home to my quiet town of Suphanburi to unpack, do laundry, sleep, exercise and repack just to head right back out the door. Those two detox days were crucial to my survival for the rest of the trip. Not only did I have over two weeks left, I also had to play tour guide for 5 people who had never been to Thailand before! I needed to be on my game!

Waiting for them at the airport was one of the most nerve-racking, exciting sensations I have had in a while, and with all of my experiences lately, that is saying a lot. I knew their flight was delayed but when I got to the airport I had no way of contacting them. The flight board wasn’t updated yet when I got there and was on the opposite side as the arrival gate. Even when they landed their phones wouldn’t work internationally, so I just had to good old fashion wait. I made a little paper sign with an inside joke from college, “Wake up it’s Thailand time to pawty!”.

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March Madness Second Round: Cambodia

I am not sure what I expected when I heard the word Cambodia, but I can honestly say I was shocked when I got there. The first thing I noticed while driving on the bus from Vietnam to the small beach town Sihinoukville, Cambodia, was how dirty the country was. There was literally garbage everywhere. I was trying to keep an open mind, but after 17 hours on a bus, (actually multiple buses with transfers and long waits at shady bus stops) I wasn’t feeling too confident. The surroundings looked very barren and poor. Eventually we got to the last stop on the bus on a random road and got out to grab our backpacks and make our way to the guest house. Literally, we got harassed by 17 tuk-tuk drivers trying desperately to get our business. The tuktuk drivers in Cambodia were so aggressive it shocked me! Finally, we negotiated a fair price with one of the drivers and piled our five battered bodies and 5 giant backpacks into one small tuk-tuk.

We were driving along the road and all of a sudden civilization appeared. There were bars and restaurants, supermarkets, tons of people walking up and down the streets, and of course dozens of tuk-tuk drivers. We checked into Sekal Guesthouse, which has a great location and clean rooms for a decent price (if you looking for a place to stay in Sihanoukville). We dropped off our backpacks, showered and ventured out to find some food. We stumbled upon a place called Mum’s Kitchen; which was a real hole in the wall place right across the street from our guesthouse. The food was incredible. At least one of us ate there, at least once a day for the entire week we stayed. Once we were full, we heard music and decided to wander into the bar next door called Utopia. Chaos ensued from there and we discovered that Sihanoukville may be a small town, but they sure know how to have fun. We spent all night dancing the night away running from beach bar to beach bar on the infamous Serendipity Beach.

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