Say Yes

Though the jet lag was intense, the excitement of being in Florence managed to suppress my initial exhaustion. After my first week at the Villa le Balze, I felt like I had been living here for months. The villa rests in the hills of the quaint and charming town of Fiesole. The beauty of the villa gardens and grounds has yet to grow old, but my favorite aspect of living here is the sweeping view of Florence below. In addition to the picturesque setting, the food at the villa is incredible. Two chefs prepare classic home-style Italian dishes that we enjoy as a group—students and professors—making our weekday lunches one of my favorite parts of the day! Although it seems like the Villa le Balze is a place that one would never want to leave, we never hesitate to venture down the hill into the city. Whether it’s taking a day to explore an outdoor market, or grabbing a panino in between classes, living in Fiesole hasn’t prevented us from frequently visiting Florence. The city seems small at times and is very manageable, yet there are countless things to see and do. I have already been able to visit various attractions ranging from the Gucci Museum to a Salvador Dali exhibit. Additionally, as a group we visited the Scuola del Cuoio, a historic leather school in Florence where we saw artisans hand sew pieces of leather into beautiful purses and other goods. Even though there are so many things to see in Florence, one my favorite things to do is simply stroll along the Arno River and take in the surrounding people, sights, and architecture.

While I have been at the villa for nearly a month, it only took me a week to identify what would become the theme of my semester abroad: saying yes. I quickly learned that I would be sacrificing sleep for adventure, but when in Rome Florence! I realized this by the end of our first week when we decided to take a spur of the moment train to Cinque Terre, a chain of five colorful cities situated on the cliffs of the Italian Riviera. We decided to go an hour and a half before our train left and ended up cramming 18 people into a two bedroom Airbnb. Needless to say, we all bonded very quickly, but the trip couldn’t have been more worth it. We hiked through three of the five cities, had incredible fresh pesto and linguine with clams before ending our day wading in the sea in Monterosso al Mare.

Continuing the theme of “saying yes” came a week later when everyone in our program decided to go to Croatia for the weekend. A twenty-four hour round-trip bus ride through the night? Sure, why not. Scaling a canyon and swimming under a waterfall? Absolutely.

While this theme has cajoled me into spontaneous travels, it has also been present throughout daily life here in Fiesole and Florence. Whether it’s something as simple as trying a new food or opting to join my classmates at the local pub in Fiesole instead of catching up on sleep, if I have taken one thing away from my first month abroad, it is that you should simply say, “yes.”

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A Day in the Life of an SFS-Q student

On Monday I will return from the week-long Eid al-Adha holiday break to dive right into what is now a very familiar daily routine at the School of Foreign Service in Qatar.

I wake up around 8 am, have breakfast, and then catch the shuttle to Georgetown. Unlike main campus, all of Georgetown’s property in Qatar is in a single building. In the morning I either have a philosophy class on the meaning of happiness or a US foreign policy seminar. Taught by a former British journalist, the foreign policy class is especially interesting because I am the only white American male in the class. This has challenged my conventional beliefs about US foreign policy and has opened my eyes to non-American views of American dominance in the world.

I then head to the library to finish some schoolwork before sitting down to lunch. In no time I find a group of friends to sit down and enjoy my meal with. Since the campus is so small, it’s basically impossible to miss a familiar face when I walk through the atrium. The small atmosphere reminds me of high school: since it’s such a hassle to return home via shuttle bus, we hang out and interact on campus in the Georgetown building until our last class. The community here is very tight; I’ve gotten to know a significant amount people very well during a short period of time.

The rest of my classes take place in the afternoon. On Sundays and Tuesdays (yes, you read that right: because Islam’s holy day is on Friday, the work week begins on Sunday) I have Water Resources in World Politics and Nuclear Proliferation, and on Mondays and Wednesdays I have Religion & American Politics. Similar classes can be taken on main campus, but each class here is unique because of the different perspectives students have. For example, in Religion & American Politics, when discussing the rise of the BJP in India, we heard a very thoughtful and personal account from an Indian Christian about the vulnerabilities of religious minorities in her country.

After my 9-5 day on Campus, I either head to dinner or basketball practice, depending on the day. One of my greatest prides of my time here at SFS-Q is that I can now say I’m an official member of the Georgetown basketball team! I won’t be competing in the Verizon Center, but I’ll still have the privilege of wearing a Georgetown basketball uniform. Currently we’re preparing for the fall season in which we compete against the other schools in Education City.

In the evening, I return to the male dorms to finish my homework. Occasionally, I sit down in the common room and interact with the exchange students and freshmen from all of the various schools in Education City. By the time midnight comes around, I’m ready to rest after another fulfilling day in the small desert nation of Qatar.


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Sacrificing a Sheep and Saving a Lizard: Eid al-Adha

I watched my host mama and aunt cook the liver from our howli, or sheep. My aunt gave me a chunk of the liver; I took a small bite and was surprised to like it. I had been nervous to try it but the texture reminds me of tofu and the taste is just a little salty. It is good in a new and different way; I think I would like it more if I didn’t know it was liver.

Today is Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holiday that celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac and God’s generosity in sparing Isaac by giving Abraham a ram to sacrifice instead. All around the world, Muslim families gather together and sacrifice a sheep (goat or cow) to honor God and this story. My family brought home a sheep on Tuesday and it lived in the corner of our tiled living room. This morning I woke up and got ready for the day while my Mama, Baba and brothers went to the mosque for special prayers. When they returned, my aunt, two uncles, and two cousins had joined them.

My uncle showed me the knife he would use to sacrifice the sheep as we enjoyed tea and cookies. The anticipation was building and I think even the howli sensed it. But then it was all over in a matter of minutes. My baba and uncle held the sheep down while my other uncle cut the howli’s jugular vein and it quickly went unconscious, bleeding to death. My mama and cousins stepped in with brooms to push the blood down the drain in the center of our living room. Once the howli was truly dead, the head was removed and it was strung up by its back feet. My uncle then proceeded to skin the animal, tail to neck. This was the part that took the longest but it still was quick and actually bloodless. The organs were then removed; everything besides the liver and some fat was disposed of into the trash outside.

I went to the kitchen to help my aunt prepare the special pita-type bread that we would eat with the meal. As I patted a dough ball flat, one of my uncles came in laughing and asked “are you sure you aren’t Moroccan?” I responded, “No I really am American, I just love to cook.” We laughed and he was impressed by both my skills in the kitchen and my willingness to observe the sacrifice. Throughout the whole morning everyone kept asking if I was okay, and I always responded yes. They were unsure how I would react to watching the sheep die. But I had been preparing myself for several days to witness this. While I am certainly an animal lover, in Morocco I decided to throw myself fully into partaking in this ritual. So I kept my distance from our howli, not naming it or petting it too much. My mama helped me understand that being sacrificed is an honor for the sheep because it is being used to honor God. From this perspective, I realized that Eid is a beautiful ritual to praise and celebrate God, not simply the slaughter of a sheep as one might otherwise conclude. Further, where did I think lamb came from in the US? Obviously someone has to kill and skin the sheep to provide meat to the stores. By sacrificing the sheep ourselves we were just doing away with the middleman – farm to table service at its freshest.

The best part of the day actually came a bit later when as my mama moved a potted plant to mop the floor and a small lizard ran out from behind it. She shrieked and the whole family cowered. My baba attempted to kill it with a broom but I intervened. I picked the lizard up and took it outside to safety. My family was surprised that I wasn’t scared of it, so I explained I had grown up with a family sometimes kept lizards and snakes as pets. They thought I was a bit crazy. I couldn’t help but find the humor in the situation since they had just sacrificed, disemboweled, and cleaned up the blood from a sheep yet me catching a lizard is what had raised eyebrows. All of us have our own traditions, interests, and special talents. I like and will protect lizards and my family is totally at ease with having a sheep carcass hanging in their living room. We may come from very different backgrounds but the important thing is that we respect each other, learn from each other, and find common ground.

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Running to New Horizons

Dublin County is comprised of 921 km2 (355.6 miles2 for those of us that are still adjusting to the metric system!) with 23 postal zones and countless roads. (I attempted to research just how many streets are in the county but had no success.) I am here 91 more days, which equals 2,184 more hours. I’m not a mathematician, but I’d say if I go about my daily routine, there is a 100% chance that I will not cover every square kilometer nor every street in Dublin County. I have, however, found a way to increase the area that I will cover!

I am training for my first ever marathon. My rationale for doing so is multifaceted. My reasons include proving my mental toughness, reveling in the amazingness and strength of the human body, exploring new places, and finding a healthy hobby. I have always had the desire to do a marathon at least once in my life, and as I am embarking on this new adventure of study abroad, I thought, “Why not now?” And if I only intend to run one in my life (assuming I don’t catch the so called “marathon fever”), why not the original marathon that begins in Marathon, Greece? But the focus of this blog is Ireland and not Greece so let me get back on track….

Prior to leaving for study abroad, I was fortunate to have been given advice from those who had studied abroad before me, both fellow Hoyas and friends from home. Two pieces of advice especially stuck. One.) Do not get so preoccupied with traveling to other countries that you miss being a part of the country and city in which you are living. Two.) Explore every chance you get, keeping in mind that exploration has no formal definition. It can be as great as traversing the country to see the Cliffs of Moher or as simple as wandering the aisles of a grocery store that I have not yet visited before. Though, these examples are quite different, their level of exploration is equivocal.

I have heeded these two pieces of advice by vigorously training here in Dublin County. Since this post has been quite numerically heavy, why not add some more. I have run 67.52 miles since arriving in Dublin almost three weeks ago. (My total mileage, including everyday walking and stair climbing is 178.68 miles! Granted that includes some extensive Dublin walking tours and a weekend trip to Paris.) I have challenged myself to never take the same route twice… And doing so has certainly helped me to cover a more vast array of streets! My runs thus far have taken me to the National Botanical Gardens, Glasnevin Cemetery, Dún Laoghaire, and Phoenix Park, just to name a few. Though the destinations I have run to have been absolutely spectacular, the getting there has also been quite enjoyable. There are not words to express the feelings that overcame me when I saw an elderly man hanging an Irish flag from his window or when I took a pit stop into a local shop in North Dublin and found that everyone inside was speaking Irish (the native language which some refer to as Gaelic). By journeying through different neighborhoods, I have been able to appreciate the cultural differences that exist within the city. Additionally, the experience has helped me to make friends. I am always seeking out running buddies who want to partake in an adventure with me. The caliber of conversation with these new friends has been impressive, challenging my point of view and helping me to grow. Plus, they are also helping me to increase my running speed. (Needless to say, everyone I have run with has been much faster than me!)

Though it is still highly improbable that I will hit every street in Dublin County, I know I am on the right track to getting a glimpse of this wonderful city, immersing myself in Irish culture, making new friends, and burning off all those fish ‘n’ chips and Shepard’s pies!

-Emily DeMaio

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Miles to Go: Running in Buenos Aires

Ever since I took up cross country in high school and continued competing with the club team at Georgetown, I have wholeheartedly embraced the life motto: “Why walk when you can run?”.

Perhaps that is why one of the greatest obstacles I have had to face in normalizing my daily routine while abroad these past six weeks, as a dedicated corredora, was figuring out the best running routes. As I began to venture out into BA in search of some scenic streets, I soon discovered that running is the most enjoyable (and endorphin-inducing) way to explore the sights—and character—of a new city.

Sunday morning has quickly become my preferred time to go on longer runs because the typically bustling streets are pleasantly uncrowded and sedate: the majority of shops, restaurants, and cafés are closed for a much-needed day of rest. This makes it easier to weave through the traffic from my house, located in the commercial center, northward towards the Recoleta cemetery (fun fact: this is where Argentine icon Evita is buried).

Contrary to what one might expect, the cemetery is anything but morbid; in fact, on the weekends the mood is quite festive. Saturday and Sunday mornings, a feria, or fair, is set up around the perimeter with vendors selling a plethora of colorful artwork, beautiful leather shoes, and of course, the delicious grilled meats for which Argentina is renowned.


In my attempts to avoid the tempting smells, I join the throngs of sporty porteños running—and rollerblading, which is apparently a very popular form of exercise here—down Avenida del Libertador, one of the major boulevards that cuts through the city.

People of all ages are sprawled out on the grass on both sides of the street, soaking up the springtime sun and sipping mate (the Argentine beverage of choice), enjoying the last lazy hours of the weekend together. This scene is indicative of something my host mother Gabe once told me: to the porteños, there is nothing more valuable than the company of family and friends.

As I make my way past the Bosques de Palermo, which is a series of luscious green parks and plazas, a collection of vibrant and politically-charged graffiti on the side of an overpass catches my eye. (My favorite, written in English, interestingly enough, says “Ladies on Top”—which always inspires me to pick up the pace just a tiny bit more as I run past.)


The artwork, as raw as it is beautiful, certainly conveys powerful and thought-provoking messages to passersby. From criticism of past wars to reminders of the negative impacts of imperialism, the sentiments mirror those of the student-made posters hanging in the hallways of the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) where I am taking my direct enrollment classes.

As I reach the five-mile mark to make the reverse trip back down Libertador, part of me wants to keep on running: there are always copious new routes to be run, neighborhoods to be explored, and city quirks to be discovered. While I know that I will not be able to fully appreciate everything that BA has to offer in five short months, I take comfort in the fact that I still have plenty of miles to go to try and take it all in.

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Sweating Privilege

Since arriving in Cuba (a little over two weeks now), there are a number of things that I’ve had to quickly adapt to. I’ve had to learn to accept cold showers, regular power outages, periods of time without running water, relentless catcalls, not being able to flush toilet paper, and the struggle that is finding even the most basic of vegetables. More or less, I’ve taken it all in stride. Well, that is, all of it except for the sweat. Unfortunately, it’s a much harder aspect of life in Cuba to embrace than the cheery colors and old cars. This is mainly because I have sweat…A LOT. That’s a little TMI, I know, but it’s a reality of my life here and is a constant reminder of my position of privilege in Cuban society.

Let me explain.

Due to the fact that I’ve been sweating buckets walking around the city (averaging 10 miles a day), working out in the “air-conditioned” gym that I joined, or even just sitting here writing this blog post, I’ve been constantly looking to assure myself of the normality of what my body has been doing by examining those I come into contact with for similar signs of perspiration. Luckily, I’ve found that I’m not alone. The other students with me on this program also find themselves sweating profusely despite their best efforts. One guy even carries around a hand towel specifically to wipe his sweat; it’s not fashionable, or particularly attractive, but it is extremely practical (and practicality trumps all else in Cuba). While, for us, sweat is omnipresent and a significant factor in our daily lives, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Cuban sweating as much as we have despite the fact that many wear long pants and shirts with sleeves, not to mention that this is the hottest year since 1951.

My original assumption as to why such a clear difference exists was just that Cubans are used to the heat and humidity, and that they’ve developed the ability to withstand such extreme weather without sweating, like a product of evolution. However, like much else in this world, all is not as it seems. What I have since learned is that, while Cubans may be marginally more used to this weather than we are, the more widely believed reason for the noticeable difference between us and them is that they don’t drink as much water as we do. You may be thinking, “What’s the big deal? So what if they don’t drink as much water?” Well, the reason behind it stems from the rather unique and dire socioeconomic conditions that are present in Cuba at this point in time, as opposed to simply being a matter of thirst. A bottle of water (the only type of water safe to drink here) is simply too expensive for the majority of Cubans to be able to afford, or just isn’t accessible. Already, I have been to several restaurants that cater to the local Cuban population which haven’t even had bottled water for sale. In the U.S., it’s next to impossible to find a restaurant that doesn’t provide water for free, let alone have it available for purchase.

So, what does this mean? Well, it means that, in Cuba, sweat is more than just our body’s mechanism to cool off when we get a little hot; it’s a sign of privilege, and in a country where those with privilege stick out like a sore thumb, it’s a very evident one. Due to Cuba’s double economy (characterized by the use of two currencies, the more valuable of which is specifically for foreigners to use) and the inherent costliness of traveling, the “foreign” in Cuba is synonymous with wealth and, therefore, privilege. In comparison with the native Cuban population, foreigners have access to better goods, fresher food, air conditioning, Wi-Fi, and, of course, clean, bottled water, among a wide variety of other things. As a foreigner in Cuba myself, I’ve been struggling to deal with the prominence and multi-dimensionality of my privilege as it manifests itself in daily life, and my sweat has become a regular reminder of the deeply embedded socioeconomic dynamics at play, which constantly work to divide the privileged from the Cuban.

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My Rebirth into a Moroccan Family

Family is a funny thing. You cannot choose your relatives and instead are thrust in to a group of them at birth. In this way becoming part of a host family might be an even stranger process. As a full-fledged adult, I filled out a brief form about living preferences and food restrictions and then left it up to Fate, or in my case Doha, the SIT homestay coordinator. At least my family in America and I share a lot of DNA meaning I intuitively understand my family’s quirks, like telling really bad jokes. With my Moroccan host family, on the other hand, I share no bloodline nor a common language nor a general set of customs. Until two days ago we were complete strangers but on Thursday at 5pm I was born in to the Ritel family.

Doha, Fate, or whatever God was in charge of sending me to the Ritel, thank you, you certainly knew what you were doing. I feel like part of the family already. I have my mama, Fouzia; baba, Abdellatif; two brothers, Yassine and Chemseddine; a cousin, who is like a brother, Mourad; and my aunt, Jamila.

Any anxiety I had about fitting in or communicating melted away after my first conversation with my mama and aunt. While sharing in the famous Moroccan tradition of mint tea, which tastes like drinking melted mint candy, I told them about my family in America. (Fun Fact the Moroccan word for mint tea sounds like banana tea, it certainly caused some confusion at first.) My mama then said, “You now have two families, one in America and one in Morocco.” The whole family is so patient with my Arabic and my brothers and aunt are especially helpful in translating my Fusha, or formal Arabic, into Darija, or the Moroccan dialect so that everyone understands my questions.

My brothers who are a constant source of entertainment. They range in age from 5 to 16 and are hilarious. At first we did not speak a lot, but now they constantly try to make me laugh or jump out from behind something and scare me, and I know that I have been accepted. Now my favorite word in Darija, is خويا, or brother since it sounds just like “hoya”. The numerous selfies they demand we take and our discussions of Michael Jackson and surfing have cemented my friendship with my “hoyas.”

I am looking forward to starting my human rights seminar on Monday and settling into a routine in Morocco. But until then I will ride bikes and visit the beach with my family simply soaking in and exploring Moroccan life. Living with a host family is such an integral part of study abroad because your host family can teach you as much about the culture, language, and politics as any class.

The sun set behind my house as my aunt and I stood on the terrace hanging laundry to dry. Admiring the view of the old Medina, I realized that four months in this complicated and vibrant country will go by too fast.

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What Have I Gotten Myself Into: The Cuba Edition

Have you ever been cliff diving? You know that feeling you get when you’re about to jump? For those of you who aren’t familiar, it’s an unnerving combination of exhilaration and apprehension that forces you to question the sanity of what you’re about to do. It, also, just so happens to be how I’m currently feeling as I prepare to leap from my metaphorical cliff into the welcoming, but daunting, Cuban waters below.

I find myself wondering why I’m this nervous for something that I’ve been eagerly anticipating from the moment I learned what study abroad was. Then again, with where I’ve chosen to spend the upcoming semester, there is certainly plenty that is intimidating. Not to mention, ambiguity has become somewhat of a theme as I look to the semester ahead because I have no idea what to expect of my life over the next four months. I mean, how do you truly prepare to go live on a Communist Caribbean Island that has been deeply isolated from rest of the world for the last half a century?

Much of what makes me nervous about the semester is relatively run-of-the-mill for any student about to study abroad. For example, I worry about living completely immersed in a society that speaks a language I’m still acquiring and perfecting, not to mention managing to take a full course load taught in that language. It doesn’t help that Cuban Spanish is infamous for being especially hard to understand, even for native Spanish speakers from other countries. Unfortunately for me, Cubans tend to speak really fast and, to add insult to injury, often don’t pronounce the entire word. A million thank you’s to whoever at Georgetown decided that grades from abroad won’t be factored into your GPA.

Mostly though, a lot of what makes me anxious stems from the unique situational differences that I’ll experience in Cuba due to the contrasting ideology and grim economic condition. For one, there is the slightly intimidating fact that, aside from when I’m in my program’s headquarters, I will not have access to the Internet. That means that my iPhone, which is normally an incredible technological wonder that fits all the world’s information in the palm of my hand, will be about as useful as a brick, albeit a very sleek looking brick. I won’t even be able to use it to make a simple phone call. As a result, all social planning has to happen in person and, if someone has to cancel plans last minute, well, I’ll just say that I guess I’ll figure it out by the time an hour has passed and they still haven’t shown up (cue melodramatic gulp here). Can I get three cheers for doing things the old-fashioned way?

Moreover, many of the things we can get in the U.S. from a quick run to the local Target will be conspicuously unavailable there. This extensive list of unobtainable commodities also happens to include money. U.S. issued cards are not accepted in Cuba so, paying with a card or withdrawing cash from an ATM = not possible. Consequently, in addition to my clothes, toiletries, shoes, etc., I’m forced to bring with me all the cash that I’m going to need in order to live for an entire semester, as well as, what seems like, an entire pharmacy, comprising of four months worth of tampons, prescriptions, vitamins, and any/all medicines I could possibly need while there. I imagine the TSA will not be thrilled.

All these things and more considered, and despite the fact that it feels like I’m dwelling in a perpetual state of uncertainty about what I will and what I won’t have access to, the many possibilities that such an experience holds is thrilling and I’m certain that it’s going to be pretty freaking amazing. So, stay tuned!

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The Road Leading Up to My Departure for the Emerald Isle

Scrubs. Check. Stethoscope. Check. Umbrella. Check. Favorite poster. Check. Toothbrush. Check. Teddy bear. Check. There sure are a lot of miscellaneous items that I am stuffing into my suitcase as I prepare for my new journey to Dublin, Ireland. However, the most important items that I will carry don’t fit into my suitcase at all. Some will read this and wonder what important items I had to make the tough decision to leave behind, but this is not what I am referring to. Instead, these important “items” are not only with me, they are inside of me. As I am taking in my last few hours on US soil (and even some in US airspace as I do my final edits aboard my flight!), I am thinking of all the important “items” I will take with me: the love and support of my family and friends, the strong Jesuit values which my Georgetown education has afforded me thus far, an unending curiosity to learn about the world around me, intense excitement to explore my new home (but also a healthy level of nervousness!), and an openness to learning about cultures and traditions that differ from my own.

Now, I am not certain what you pack with you when you travel, but I would safely guess that not too many of you pack scrubs and a stethoscope. Please allow me to explain why I have….

Two and a half years ago, as I was making the difficult decision of which college to attend, the determining factor was whether I would be able to study abroad. Not too many nursing programs in the United States afford students the opportunity to take nursing courses abroad, and of those that do, it is often simply theory courses, without the clinical component. Georgetown University’s School of Nursing and Health Studies (NHS) became my choice because students have the opportunity to apply to study abroad, completing both core theory components of the nursing curriculum as well as clinical hours.

As you may have guessed by now, my major is nursing, but I am also fulfilling the pre-med requirements. This put another hurdle in my dreams of studying abroad (and completing my undergraduate studies in four years). But though this hurdle was indeed sizable, it was not impossible to overcome. I took summer courses the last two years to make my dream a reality. When the work would pile up, and I would dream of being at the beach with friends, my motivation to remain positive and master the material to the best of my ability was the opportunity to not only study abroad but to be immersed in an international health system.

In Dublin, I will be representing the NHS by studying in the School of Nursing, Midwifery, & Health Systems at University College Dublin (UCD). Not only will I be taking academic courses, but I will also have clinical rotations. I will spend 60 hours at St. John of God Hospital for my mental health rotation. Next, I will go to St. Vincent’s University Hospital where I will spend 24 hours in hepatobiliary surgery followed by 36 hours of medical/surgical nursing. I am eager to experience firsthand a healthcare delivery  system that differs from that of the United States, where I have had the opportunity to see the system from multiple points of view: patient, researcher, and student nurse.

Please stay tuned as I embark on this new journey! It is sure to be full of triumphs and pitfalls, unimaginable personal growth, new experiences, dreams of spontaneously cultivating an Irish accent, plenty of sporting events (hopefully spectating and playing!), and of course, some wonderful Irish food!


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Be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

After two years of experiencing college moving days, I like to think that I’m a professional last minute packer. To my parents’ annoyance, I am able to pack a semester’s worth of belongings in one day. But, this often means I have little time for much else. It is for this reason that I find myself writing my pre-departure blog post in the airport waiting lounge surrounded by strangers instead of the quiet and private confines of my bedroom. And it is here, waiting to board my plane to Madrid that I find myself particularly emotional as I think of the journey ahead of me.

Not gonna lie, I cried like a baby as my dad dropped me off at the security checkpoint. I cried so hard that the TSA agents let me in the pre-approved line and didn’t scan my hands for chemical residue. (I still can’t decide if they were taking pity on me or just assumed my tears would wash away any hazardous materials.)

I thought that because I had spent 6 weeks in Barcelona this summer that I was more than prepared to be back in Spain, physically and emotionally. Language barriers? Nonexistent. Travelling by myself? No worries. Sangría y patatas bravas? Claro.I just didn’t have the same concerns this time around. So, you can imagine that the tears were a huge surprise for me…and my father. (Sorry Dad!)

What I realize is that in the chaos of packing, making trips to the bank, and saying goodbye to relatives, I feel like I didn’t have a chance to consider the enormity of what was to come. Study abroad is more than just buying new clothes, improving your language skills, and trying new food. It’s about setting out on a new adventure, embracing sometimes unwanted independence, and, learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable.

Essentially, by choosing to study abroad in Madrid, I have conscientiously made the decision to break down my emotional walls in the most spectacular fashion ever. I’m going to live with a host family in a foreign country. In response, my family tried to come up with ten thousand reasons for me to not live with a host family but rather in a residencia. In addition to my particularly risky accommodations, not only will I be a non-native speaker in a Spanish speaking country, I am going to be the first in my family to ever travel to Europe. So, there’s a whole new set of continental rules and norms to get used to. And did I mention that I’m a woman of color who choose to study in a country that is still not used to different cultures and ethnicities?

So, despite all of the potential for conflict and strife, as I sit here in the airport, I realize that I’m about to do something truly unbelievable. I’m going to leave behind everything that I know and embrace the unknown, the new, the scary, the different. And even though, it is the most terrifying and exciting thing I have ever done in my life, I think it is going to change me for the better. ¡Viva España!

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