Table for One: Solo Parisian Adventures

There’s a few times in my life when I’ve been really afraid of doing something. One of things I feared the most was learning to drive. I hated driving, and I prolonged getting my license until I was nearly 18 (sorry, mom). The other was my fear of studying abroad. Everyone patted me on the back as they said, “have fun in Europe!” like it was no big deal to spend four months of my life away from my family and home. I was freaking out so much about leaving the United States for the first time that fun seemed the least likely emotion I’d experience (shoutout to Akeel and Marlon for dealing with my daily freakouts).

However, at the end of my four months (omg how did time go so quickly?!), I feel like a different person. My fear of the unknown wilds of Europe is no more. My fear of traveling around a place where I don’t speak the language is also gone. What was left in place of that fear was the best trip I have ever taken.

So I went to the most romantic city in the world by myself… hey, I have a lot of self-lovin’ to do. And the best thing I’ve learned from traveling is that you’re never truly alone. I had friends who happened to be in Paris at the same time as me so we spent a gorgeous day together at Versailles and then went into the creepy Catacombs under Paris. Friday I spent the day exploring Paris by myself, seeing everything from les Jardins de Luxembourg to the Eiffel Tower and feasting on a sugary diet of crêpes and macaroons. That’s when I decided to “Treat Yo’Self” in the best Tom Haverford style by booking the 11pm show of Moulin Rouge, including a small bottle of champagne to myself.

Yes, I was that loser drinking by myself, watching women dance shirtless on stage. Oops. But it was a great opportunity to see the namesake of one of my favorite musicals and it meant I wasn’t on the other side of the loser spectrum watching Netflix alone in my hostel bed (definitely the biggest downfall of traveling by yourself as a female– for safety’s sake you can’t really stay out too late). I enjoyed Moulin Rouge so much that I didn’t want the night to end. So I went to an Irish Pub down the street to get another drink (sidenote: Moulin Rouge is in the red light district of Paris. I was out alone in the red light district… double oops.) That’s when I met a group of nice guys and my plans for the rest of my stay in Paris took a different course.  And that’s also what I mean by you’re never truly alone. There’s always the opportunity to meet new people.

Due to the fact that I stayed out so late bar hopping in the red light district, I had a very late start on my Saturday plans. I planned to marathon the museums and get lost in 15th century paintings. What ended up actually happening was I only experienced a fraction of the Louvre, saw the overrated Mona Lisa for the sake of seeing it, and oogled at the couples leaving locks on the Pont des Arts bridge. Then I figured, hey, museums will always be there in Paris. But what I had right then was my youth and a date set with one of the guys I had met the previous night. We covered all of our Parisian clichés as we wined and dined outside at a Parisian cafe not far from Notre Dame. The night was still young, so after dinner we metroed over to the Eiffel Tower to see it lit up at night and hopefully to enjoy a bottle of wine (again, we had the clichés covered). The wine ended up not happening there, but we settled for sharing a bottle at the Washington Poste (shoutout to my home!), a classy little bar right off of the Champs-Elysées. When that bar closed, we went to another, staying out until 4 in the morning just chatting about life.

Sunday morning I got my hungover butt up and out to the airport to fly back to Madrid. No, I didn’t accomplish everything there is to see in Paris during my few days I was there. But I’ll be back. For now, I’m quite happy with my little [not-so] alone trip to Paris.

À tout à l’heure, Paris.

International Feminism

I am a feminist. *lightning strikes in the distance, a faint scream is heard through the rumbles of thunder* The label at this point might be dirty or damaging; but frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. Here’s an interview with comedian Aziz Ansari about feminism.

“If you look up feminist in the dictionary, it just means that men and women have equal rights. But I think the reason people don’t clap is because in our culture now people believe that some woman is going to start yelling at you… like ooh I don’t want that crazy bitch yelling at me! No thank you. But I feel like if you do believe that men and women have equal rights, if someone asks if you’re feminist you have to say yes because that is how words work. You can’t be like ‘Oh I’m a doctor that primarily does diseases of the skin.’ ‘Oh so you’re a dermatologist?’ ‘Oh no that’s way too aggressive of a word oh no not at all.'” – Aziz Ansari

Another one of my favorite comedians, Donald Glover, highlighting the differences between what men and women go through.

       

And Donald Glover’s right on the money. I have some pretty crazy stories of men from all over the world, but usually the long-story-short is that some guy somewhere was creepy. That’s one of the things that has bothered me throughout my travels– no where do I feel completely safe from men.

I guess what has surprised me the most is that before I left for Europe, I held the entire continent on this imaginary pedestal above the United States where everything was perfect and the humans were more– uhh– civilized. I followed Ferguson very closely throughout my fall semester, so I had a very low regard for Americans when it comes to their treatment towards anyone other than a white Christian male (note: both comedians whom I posted about feminism were POC). Now, I could devote an entire post to race (and I probably will), but my point is that if you’re not a white Christian male, meaning even if you’re the second best option of white Christian female, you still don’t warrant equal rights or respect.

I digress. What I mean to say is that I thought European nations would have it right. Reality is: they don’t; they still cat call at you as you walk down the street (“Ayy guapa! Hola guapa! Why don’t you smile, guapa?”) and look at you like you’re a pretty, tantalizing piece of meat dangling before their eyes. So no place in the world (or at least where I’ve traveled) is perfect when it comes to equality between genders. This only reinforces my stern belief that something needs to change and feminism now is more important worldwide than ever. Google has self-driving cars; Amazon has delivery drones; NASA has a rover on Mars– but men still can’t keep it in their pants when a woman walks by.

Albeit, I have learned a few things from women in other countries. Spanish women are loud. Moroccan women are strong. French women are alluring. British women are bold. All these women keep their chins held high and their heels even higher. From what I’ve seen, I think American women are too apologetic. I’ve even had a friend tell me “stop apologizing!” after I apologized for the umpteenth time and of course my response was “oh, sorry!” Women in Europe are confident and it only adds to their beauty.

As I’ve continued to write this post, I’ve been debating toning it back, thinking about who I might offend and who might think I’m some crazy foaming-at-the-mouth feminist. But what the women from all these other countries have taught me is be bold, be proud, and don’t be sorry. Don’t tone yourself back because you don’t see men toning themselves down. And if someone is offended by you acting strong and independent, that’s their own problem.

Here’s a quote from one of my favorite 30 Rock episodes:

Pete: So you’re finishing up everyone’s rewrites by yourself? That’s not right.
Liz: Yes, but at least I know that nobody hates me today.
Pete: You think Jack Donaghy sits up there and worries if people are saying bad things about him?
Liz: It’s different for women.
Pete: I don’t think it is. Sometimes people hate their bosses. Big deal. But you got to stick up for yourself. Because if you don’t, they’ll take advantage of you.

I’ve thrown in this 30 Rock episode for a reason: it summarizes my point nicely. Liz Lemon is worried about being a mean boss after she’s called “the C-word” for reprimanding an employee who misbehaved. She tries to make up for it but it only hurts herself. Pete points out that their male boss doesn’t worry what his employees think; he gets the job done and everyone respects him.

So now I want to take the lessons I’ve learned to the impending corporate world: Speak your mind with grace and power. Don’t let others get away with making you feel like you’re just a pretty object to look at with no real value added to the team. And on top of it all, don’t apologize for your beliefs.

Headaches, Heartbreaks, and Growing Pains

Alright I know I said my next post would be encompassing all the wonderful places I’ve traveled. But a more prominent issue has been dominating my mind…

It sucks to be an adult!

and

surely I’ve hit rock bottom by now.

I’ve never understood this Spongebob episode more in my life than I do now.

There are so many different times in my recent past where I’ve thought, “I’ve done it! I’m an adult! I’ve aged gracefully from childhood!” and before you say it– no, legally purchasing alcohol in America is not my benchmark of adulthood.

The first time was my senior year of high school. I could drive myself to school and to my friends’ houses. I could get ice cream at 10pm if I wanted! Then I was sucked up into the whirlwind that is college. Freshman year opened my eyes to a [nearly] unrestricted world of freedom with a teensy bit of taking care of yourself on your own. I gained yet again more freedom when I moved into an apartment and started cooking for myself. Surely, I thought this is what it meant to be an adult.

But what I’ve realized about adulthood is this:

The more freedom you gain, the more responsibility weighs on your shoulders.

Having a car means not crashing it. Having your own money means not spending it. Having to cook for yourself (anything you want!) means not letting yourself starve (easier said than done when it comes to the pains of grocery shopping and taking the time to cook). Having a job means paying taxes. And flying to another continent to dance in the streets of any country you fancy means making your own phone calls, fighting your own battles, looking cautiously over your own shoulder, filing your own police reports (yes, I’ve done it now), yelling at yourself not to be late for the airport, and all of the above.

In my last post I listed the myriad of things that have gone wrong on my trip abroad. Instead of dwelling on it, I’m going to focus on the victories.

Today, after an entire month since my debit and credit cards were stolen, I’m finally back in business after at least 12 different calls to my bank. I’ve spent at least an hour and a half (based on my Skype calls alone) on the phone arguing my way to fixing the errors in my bank account. Every single employee I spoke to gave me different answers to my problems but at least all remained friendly.

I now understand all those times I heard my mom on the phone discussing bills and policies as I grew up! It’s been extremely frustrating and even terrifying as I wondered if my problems would ever be resolved.

So what have I gained from all of these experiences?

A quote from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt sums it up nicely:

“Life beats you up. You can either curl up in a ball and die or you can stand up and say… you can’t break us!”

I’ve taken a few pages from Kimmy’s book. “You can stand anything for 10 seconds. Then you just start on a new 10 seconds!”

What got me through my 30+ hours in the Rome airport was this mantra right here. I stood in line for seven hours by looking forward to talking to an employee for [sadly] five minutes. I booked a new flight andt I looked forward to eating my next warm meal. Then it was making it through the morning, the security check, and the delay. But breaking everything up into smaller pieces made it go smoother with less frustrated, tired tears gathering in the corners of my eyes.

So to the person who stole my wallet for the second time in my life, thank you for teaching me a course they don’t teach in college: adulthood.

P.S. – yes mom, I know I still need to pay car insurance and my phone bill. I know there’s still more to go!

Better late than never, right?

First, let me summarize the entire study abroad experience in one short video:

I have constantly been fluctuating between asking myself “why didn’t I do this sooner?” to “why did I even do this?” I’ve seen a lot of fantastic relics and ruins in cities all over Europe, but the adventure has come at a price. So far, I’ve dropped my phone in a toilet, had my wallet stolen twice, missed a flight, been denied access to my own bank account, trudged through rain for miles over days, and the crowning jewel of it all: sitting in an airport in Rome for over 24 hours due to an air traffic control strike in France.

That’s where I am at this current moment. I feel like at this point I have been through so much that I need to share it in a longer format than a Facebook post. Yes, I am three months into studying abroad and have less than a month and a half left. I’m aware. But why not start now?

The first month (or so)

My first month in Madrid was terrifying but thrilling. On the flight across the pond, the plane bounced all around as we descended towards England. I anxiously pulled my seatbelt tighter and watched other people’s reactions to assess whether the amount of turbulence we endured was normal, hoping we’d safely hit land before dropping out of the sky. But that flight seemed like an amusement park ride compared to the scariness of navigating Madrid for the first time without speaking the language and without a cell connection. However, after sleeping 18 hours when I finally arrived to my apartment, I was ready to feel out the essentials in my new city: clubbing. One of my new roommates took me under her wing to a club in Madrid and that was when it first hit me “holy crap I’m in Europe!”

The weeks after were filled with speed walking to my university (Google Maps said 17 minute walk… little did we know it had the wrong building and failed to include another 10 minute up hill walk to the correct building), drinking café con leche (coffee with warm milk) to fight jet lag, and nervously feeling out the world of cooking in a European kitchen (yes, I cooked pasta nearly every day for two weeks). But the small thrills of those weeks included finding the two-story grocery store to buy said pasta and eating tapas while drinking sangria until my heart’s content in lieu of forgetting cooking altogether.

Even amidst all the adventure, I still felt terribly homesick. I yearned for my family, friends, and peanut butter. But what turned it all around was getting the taste of traveling to other cities. That will be my next post.