Studying Abroad Taught Me How To Live

Studying Abroad Taught Me How To Live

I read a quote once. It was written by an unknown author and it said, "Life is meant for living...not just existing."

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Before I left for my two and a half month-long study abroad in England in September, I didn't know what it meant to truly live. For as long as I could remember, I had just been going through the motions, day by day, doing what I had to do to be considered "successful" by my peers. And that's the thing - I didn't care how I felt or if what I was doing was making me happy; I was more concerned about getting the approval from people whose opinions really shouldn't have mattered.

Everyone thought I was crazy for studying abroad in a foreign country without knowing anyone. It wasn't professor-led and I didn't know any other students from my university doing the program, so on September 28, 2018, I boarded my first international flight and embarked on the adventure of a lifetime.

It was about a nine-hour flight including my layover in Iceland, and by the time I arrived in Manchester (a little over an hour from my university), I was exhausted but excited to see where I would be living and who I would be living with.

Prior to moving to England, I imagined it being another version of America, only with better accents. I was wrong; it was better.

England is very similar to America but it's also vastly different. There wasn't a language barrier like I would have experienced if I were studying abroad in Italy for a semester, per se, but their vocabulary is broader and their slang words are different. Besides that, the food was different and I nearly got hit by a car every time I crossed the street because they drive on the left side of the road. I could go on and go about how much of a culture shock it was for me, but then again, it wasn't really a culture shock at all because it felt like home almost immediately.

For the first 18 years of my life, until I moved away to college (which wasn't far from home at all so it really didn't make a difference), I lived in the same town and grew up with the same people. I went to a diverse high school and a university with a large population of international students, but I never realized how sheltered I was until I started my study abroad at Lancaster University.

I lived in a co-ed flat with about 30 other people. We occupied an entire floor and shared two kitchens and guys shared a toilet (in England, bathrooms are called toilets; no, 20 guys didn't actually share one toilet) and showers and girls shared a toilet and showers. Besides the fact that I had never lived with guys, I had also never lived with people from so many different countries. I lived with people from nine different countries including my own: the United States, England, Wales, India, Romania, Hong Kong, Lithuania, Bulgaria, and Mexico. I absolutely loved my flat and my flatmates. They played such a huge role in my study abroad experience and they are one of the main reasons why I loved living in England so much. I met the most genuine and welcoming people in England and every day I was there, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world to be surrounded by so amazing people.

When people ask me how my study abroad was, I can easily sum it up in just eight words: "It was the best experience of my life." I wish I knew a better way to describe it and explain just how amazing it was, but those eight words are the best I can come up with most of the time because the entire experience left me speechless; it was just that, the best experience of my life.

I had wanted to travel my entire life, and I'm not just talking another state or even the Caribbean, which I had done multiple times; I wanted to travel overseas and see another part of the world and experience another culture. I'll admit, living in England wasn't as much of a culture shock as I would have experienced in another country, but it was different and I had to adjust and adapt.

I did a lot of research before leaving for England and learned that a lot of people who travel to another country for a long period of time never try and adjust and adapt to the way of life in that particular country; they're so set in their upbringing and ways of life that it's difficult, which at times it was and I missed certain things about America, but I dove in head first and I believe that's also why I had such an amazing experience.

It's funny, because in the beginning, quite often I would say "football" when talking about soccer and "secondary school" when talking about high school, among other things. When I did that, people would often respond with things like, "Oh, you mean soccer" or "Oh, you mean high school." And they were right, but I was trying to adjust to their language and their slang words because I was in their country. The exciting part about studying abroad is getting to experience another culture and feel like you're a part of it. There were quite a few times where I would do things, say things or eat things that were familiar to me because I missed certain things about America - like the time I spent $8 on a box of Lucky Charms because I missed sugary, unhealthy cereal - but for the most part, I adapted to life in England and I absolutely loved it.

Studying abroad taught me how to live because it taught me that there is so much more to life than just working and going to school, two things I had done for years. Studying abroad taught me that I am capable of literally anything I set my mind to and that I am more independent and brave than I ever gave myself credit for. I conquered the streets of Paris, France alone during the Diesel riots (despite the fact that I barely speak a word of French), I took a seven-hour train ride to Plymouth, England, stayed in a hostel by myself and ventured around the city by myself, I tried new foods and learned new words, I fell in love with British fashion, I said "yes" to things that I would have been too afraid to do or try back in the states, I asked a lot of questions and learned a lot about British culture, I spent less time stressing-out about things that didn't matter and spent loads of time traveling and having fun (I got some studying in, not to worry) and I did everything I've ever wanted to do and then some.

During my two and a half month-long study abroad in England, I traveled to five countries and eighteen cities. Traveling and being an international student taught me the true meaning of independence, patience, faith and living life to the fullest. In those moments where I was alone and things weren't going my way (like getting stranded in the streets of Paris, France twice), I didn't freak out or start assuming the worst, I absorbed every moment and just figured it out (or in my case, I bought a crêpe and watched the Eiffel Tower for an hour and a half while I waited for the riots to simmer down and the metro trains to start running again). While you can't plan for the unexpected in any situation, YOU get to decide how to handle the situation.

I miss England terribly, but I miss all of the genuine, amazing people I met even more. For the first time in such a long time, I felt accepted and I felt this unexplainable joy. I met "my people" and I had to leave them which was so difficult, but my entire study abroad changed my life and my mindset and for that, I am forever grateful. I'm not sure when I'll be able to visit England again, but I'll be back eventually. That's a promise.

To the place that welcomed me with open arms and truly became my home, thank you for everything, but most importantly, thank you for teaching me how to live - not just exist, but truly live. To the people who welcomed me with open arms, made me feel so loved and accepted and became my family, thank you for making me feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

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12 Struggles Only Portuguese Girls Can Relate To

It's like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" but Portuguese edition.
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As mentioned before in my "8 Ways You Know You're Portuguese" article, I'm 100% European Portuguese. Which means that if you're reading this, you're probably somehow related to me (see #5). You know these 12 things to be true if you grew up in a Portuguese household:

1. You're pressured to marry a Pork Chop.

A Pork Chop is a Portuguese person. The older generation feels that this term is derogatory, but Portuguese Americans self identify as 'Pork Chops.' Some families will probably disown you if you don't marry a Portuguese guy, but I lucked out and my family is pretty open minded. Let me put it this way, if you're not married by the time you're 28, your grandma and your mother are going to take you to the Portuguese club to find a nice Pork Chop to settle down with. You may not be forced into a Portuguese marriage, but it's highly preferred that you marry within the culture.

2. You're always too fat, even if you're skinny.

Portuguese people are a feminist's worst nightmare. They will body shame the hell out of you and feel no remorse. You could lose 20 pounds and look/feel amazing and a Portuguese person will still say "well, you could stand to lose a few more pounds."

3. You must remember your Portuguese classes that you took when you were five years old.

It is a crime against humanity to a Portuguese person if you don't at least understand the language. If you can speak it, read it, and understand it, you've automatically earned yourself the "golden child" title. Every time I move to a different state, my Grandma's only warning is "don't forget your Portuguese," because someone's got to carry on the culture.

4. Am I white? Mixed? Hispanic? Unclear.

I grew up thinking I was some kind of Latina just because the Portuguese language is so similar to Spanish. You probably feel comfortable in Hispanic communities because of your Portuguese background. I eventually realized that I'm white, but I still get told that I look racially ambiguous. Whenever someone asks what nationality I am, I give them three guesses. It's rare that people ever guess Portuguese, but upon finding out that I am, I suddenly become "exotic."

5. You have 55 first cousins.

This is not an exaggeration. My dad actually has 50 first cousins. I have 13, but I have way more cousins in Portugal that I've either never met, or I've met them, but wouldn't be able to pick them out of a line up. If you go to Portugal and visit all of your relatives, the faces and names start to blur together and it's safe to call every man "Joao" and every woman "Maria" or "Ana Maria" and they'll be delighted that you remembered their names.

6. You have to make sure you don't marry your own cousin.

Portugal is such a small country that if you meet a fellow Pork Chop in America, chances are, you're somehow related or your families are friends. I suggest drawing an extensive family tree before shacking up with a Pork Chop.

7. Somebody is always praying for you.

Portuguese people are devoutly Catholic, so it doesn't matter if you're temporarily down on your luck or a self made millionaire, you have a tia (an aunt) that you probably only see when someone in the family passes away, who prays on the rosary every night for you.

8. You must have a name that can be pronounced in Portuguese.

There are two criteria for naming a Portuguese baby: is it the name of a saint, and can it be pronounced in Portuguese? If your uncle twice removed that you see every six years when you go to Portugal can't say your baby's name, you need to pick a new one. Names like "Riley" and "Jackson" won't get Grandma's approval.

9. You're considered adventurous if you move out of your parents house before you're married.

It's rare that Portuguese women don't live with their mothers until they find a spouse, and even once they do get married, it's not uncommon for their mother to move in with her daughter and her (hopefully Portuguese) husband.

10. You've been given something with Our Lady of Fatima on it.

Fatima is Portugal's claim to fame. It's the city in Portugal where three kids claimed they saw the Virgin Mary in 1917 and it's now a popular, religious tourist destination. Your grandma has probably given you something with the Blessed Mary on it to put in your car or in your bedroom so that you stay '#blessed' all the time.

11. You're not allowed to be a vegetarian.

Portuguese people are fishermen and their specialty is codfish, so it's nearly impossible to maintain a vegetarian diet in a Portuguese household. You can be pescatarian though!

12. You have to warn people before you introduce them to your family.

Have you ever seen "My Big Fat Greek Wedding?" That's what it's like to bring a non-Portuguese boyfriend to a Portuguese family gathering. Good luck.

Cover Image Credit: CDMPHY / Flickr

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6 Reasons Traveling Is Good For Your Mind, Body, And Soul

Wherever you go, go with all your heart.

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Have you ever traveled to a new destination and felt your mood instantly improve? Are you like me and feel happiest when you're on vacation? This is because traveling is a way for you to renew your soul and step out of your comfort zone. It keeps you happy and allows you to experience new things.

Visiting new destinations can open your mind to experiences you didn't even know were possible. You can meet new people, fall in love, try new foods, and see remarkable sites all while traveling. There are no limits to the places you can visit, and the things you can see. Currently, I am on a mini weekend trip to Arizona, and being here has opened my eyes and made me realize how impactful traveling really is on your mind, body, and soul. Traveling should be something you do as often as possible and whenever you get the chance. Here's why:

1. Traveling makes your heart happy 

Traveling is something that most people enjoy. It keeps the heart young and childlike. Traveling brings people joy because they get to experience new things that they love with the people they love.

2. It teaches you to embrace every moment 

Traveling can be unpredictable, especially because you are experiencing new things. Although it can be challenging, we learn best from these unpredictable moments. When we travel we learn to embrace every situation that is thrown at us.

3. Traveling relieves stress and improves mental health 

Traveling reduces stress and allows you to relax. More often than not, you take off work when you go on vacation and you focus on renewing your self. You get away from all the crazy things going on in your life, and you can just relax and focus on your own happiness.

4. It broadens your horizons 

Traveling lets you branch out and experience different cultures. You can try new foods, new activities, and meet all different types of people. You learn diversity, and you learn respect for other people and their culture's. Traveling helps you learn other perspectives around the world and lets your mind think in ways it never has before.

5. It keeps you healthy 

Traveling actually plays a big part in your physical health as well. During vacations, you often walk a lot to destinations and participate in calorie burning activities like hiking and swimming. Activities like these are often why you still are able to get your workout in while on vacation.

6. Traveling reminds you what is important 

Most importantly, traveling reminds you of the important things in life. We live day by day forgetting that every moment is remarkable. Sometimes, we get stuck in the same old boring routine and take for granted the life we have been given. Traveling reminds us that memories are valuable and that our lives should be cherished.

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