snowflakes to seashells

becoming a floridian

the first move made by a hometown girl

I had twenty-one Christmases in Massachusetts. Each Christmas featured hot beverages and frigid air. The northeastern coastal climate breeds hardworking, rough Americans whose hearts are rarely warmed by anything… beside a celebratory occasion (usually reason to drink). The ‘holiday season’ as it is known nowadays is the excuse for families to pack all of their personalities into one heated house, slaving over a hot stove, bargaining for time to hold the newborn members of the family, rotating in a ‘musical chairs’ type fashion for who will get to sit next on the comfy love-seat. Christmas, for my family, meant making the trek to the host’s house for that year in layers upon layers of wool and cotton, in full preparation to kiss forty faces, having memorized our newest story to share with the group, ready to hear what new jobs, relationships, hobbies and trips each of our loved ones had taken or would soon.

This year was very different.

Instead of the usual hustle and bustle of Christmas with a tasteful holiday dress buried underneath the cold sweat of winter, I came to Florida to spend my vacation with my boyfriend Joey in Jacksonville, the holiday itself with my father and stepmother in Orlando. I decorated the tree with Joey and his mother, instead of the usual hassling of my poor mother as she slaves over an eight-foot tree every year, the eventual assistance offered after some well-placed jokes at her expense. I ate a turkey, a second full turkey after Turkey Day had come and gone, with stuffing, cranberry sauce, all of that delicious regret-infused food, instead of the usual brisket with mashed potatoes and homemade apple pie for dessert back home. I spent Christmas Eve and Day with a foreign family who was staying with my father, of Canadian and Chinese descent (quite a bunch), who I broke bread with, shared a roof, and to whom I sacrificed the remote in their week with us, instead of the usual cuddling session with my mother and sister, our full bellies inducing sleep, with a loud, tearful, hilarious opening of presents as we wake up the earliest of any day in the year with the anticipation of opening gifts.

Everything was “instead of,” new and completely uncharted territory. The first Christmas where I couldn’t kiss my Grammy; where my mother wasn’t there to tell me that I am her pride and my sister her joy. The first Christmas where I woke up late, non expectant of presents, uncertain if there would be waffles and syrup downstairs. It was the first Christmas where I realized I was an adult, and that eventually, things were bound to change. Different doesn’t mean negative or sad, it just means you’re apart from what is familiar, comfortable, and habitual.

And that feeling brings me to now: I am a Floridian.

I finished my four years at Merrimack College with Magna Cum Laude, a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing and Literature, and an official member of Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society. I parted with my Merrimack family May 17th, had a wonderfully colorful and delicious going-away/grad party with my close friends and loved ones, and the very next day I made a twenty-two hour drive with my partner and Daisy, my Puggle, down to Jax. Many much regretted fast food meals later, we arrived the 19th, droopy eyed and craving memory foam.

Where did this decision come from, and how did I have the junk to make it?

Here was the plan: Graduate School. Have Joey move up to Boston. Find a job in the literary world. And make some room in my condominium for the two of us, plus the puppy.

Well, if you graduated, are going to graduate, or are so far from graduation that you can’t fathom the truth, here it is: There is no plan. There shouldn’t be. There are outlines, and I know this as a writer, but execution is far from creation. It takes a very special kind of person to perfectly align, pursue, and land exactly what they desire the first try. And it wasn’t that I didn’t have the capacity, grades, or drive to do graduate school; there was more want and need toward continuing my education than not. I applied, waited, and had a revelation: I needed a change of scenery for longer than a month or two; I needed to experience a new atmosphere, like I did when I studied abroad, so I could discover more about myself as a human as well as a writer.

That is exactly what I am doing here in the sunshine state. Discovering, relaxing, saving and dreaming. Most importantly, missing my village back home; the people who breathe life into me when I lose sense of direction and wonder in my pursuits.

The harsh winter played a part. Historical and brutal, I checked out of Boston mentally. There was this feeling of looming stress, even on a warm day when the pleasant springtime smells reemerged I felt removed. I had everything working for me up north; a boyfriend more than willing to relocate, a mother and sister who have always been there rooting me on, Shai, my best friend, who I would explore with and talk endlessly. She’s the kind of friend that you can be silent in the car with without feeling like there’s something to say.

It was all ideal, but I wanted to expand. Not get away. travel

It’s the itch for seeing and experiencing different ways of life. It may feel like a simple thing, living in the heat and sweetness of the south, but it is a world away. There’s a culture shock of sorts I’ve experienced thus far in my transition, one I didn’t going to England. Believe it or not. No, I fit right in when I went to England, but Florida feels like a different galaxy completely. Slower, well-mannered, courteous and freckled. The air is heavy with humidity, the sand is finer and light, the presence of people is weightless, as if people walk with less here. And an important thing I was reminded of is that I didn’t leave behind anything in Boston that was intangible; my struggles, my memories, my responsibilities are all here with me. It is just the environment that has changed, an environment I hope that will shape me and inspire me to continue on my journey to discovering Belle Athena.

the proper kind of love

don’t let the worry of losing someone prevent you from making beneficial choices

England. That is the short answer. Better yet, anywhere that has invaded your dreams. Have you ever imagined a landscape, or a structure, and some other life flourished into your senses? And then, once you are grabbed out of it, an urge to pick up and go overcoming you?

“What about money? What about my friends and family? What about my relationship?”

All valid questions. Traveling seems like the most impossible thing when books, tuition, daily expenses, and a reasonably up-to-date wardrobe is asphyxiating your cash-flow. If mom and dad are willing, the most easy sell is study-abroad. Because, let’s face it, the glamour of backpacking and hostels has a reasonable shade of danger and risk to it, especially if you are young and inexperienced.

So, how is Study-Abroad an option? Well, first of all, consider scholarships (plan ahead on that one), look to family members and close friends to donate to your cause of academic & soul enrichment, and maybe, to show some vigor and responsibility, GET A PART-TIME JOB! I know, I know. You’re busy. You’re overloaded and overwhelmed. That’s where thinking ahead is the most vital aspect of planning a trip abroad. If you know you want to travel the world, start putting some dough in that piggy bank, cut down on some of the fluffy parts of your budget, and ask your International Programs advisor what your options are! Most likely there will be a scholarship opportunity or financial aid that could cover a part of the cost. Often, your scholarships for tuition and aid are applicable to a program sponsored through your school.

Still not convinced?

Here’s a kicker: You earn academic credit towards your degree. Unless there are some complications with a program you choose outside of your school’s realm, you are most likely going to have transferrable credit earned. That can mean two things: 1) You can graduate EARLIER, or 2) Your Study-Abroad institution could measure out to be cheaper cost-per-credit than your full-time institution. How do I know this? I experienced it for myself. Not only did I spend half the cost on Study-Abroad for the SAME amount of credits, but I did it in a month over the summer! It saved me money my senior year, and I had the experience of a lifetime (for a multitude of reasons you will soon discover!).

“But, even if I can gather the cost, what about leaving my friends and family for “X” amount of time?”

Okay. This one is hard. Every person is different. I’ll explain from my perspective and experience where you can find some much-needed comfort in this separation anxiety and culture shock… Let’s be real: If summer camp wasn’t your thing, leaving home in the morning made you want to vomit your insides, or you just don’t like living with others, strangers in particular, then you are in a bath of uncertainty. I’m one of those people. I’m not “anti-social,” but just socially awkward. I’m an observer, and I like to be able to have space. I’m always thinking, reflecting, and getting lost in other mindscapes. I don’t even know when someone is speaking to me half the time. And the chain of events, the bouncing back and forth about whether or not I should sign up, and the final signature where my hand was vibrating in anxiety, were all the universe pushing me towards a better version of myself. It sounds corny, but it is beyond anyone’s comprehension until experienced!

So, why am I selling this? Well, study-abroad changed my life for the better. I was able to remove myself from what was familiar, a drastic change I abhorred until the second day in England, and grow roots in another place completely foreign to me. I had researched, fantasized, and glorified England, and I was not disappointed! I believe whole-heartedly that it is an experience that every person, student or otherwise, should find the means to explore. The path to achieving the financial and emotional foundation isn’t necessarily a breeze, and at times, the new purse, new car, or take-out over home-cooked food, may seem more immediately gratifying. There is an immeasurable mass of wisdom, thrill and self-discovery, that goes along with traveling. Plus, you make friends, forge bonds, and develop true connections with people socially and professionally. The networking aspect alone is enough to convince a lover of all things practical.

Before I set you free to go look into programs and destinations that appeal to you, let me cover one last obstacle. I did not forget about the significant other you may be worried about leaving. And whether that relationship is longterm, solid, and heading to the altar, or brand new, exciting, and far from the place of feasible separation, I understand all too well. I believed that my relationship would withstand such distance because the relationship had exceeded three years. We had our arguments, fears, and eventual collapse over the idea after I followed through with my trip to England. And I am not advising you to test unsteady ground, but if you are being drawn away from home, a nonpermanent transition, you should pursue that dream! Don’t let the worry of losing someone prevent you from making beneficial choices. That does not just apply to travel, but to everything! Be brave, and hold your head up high if you receive the text, from thousands of miles away, that the relationship has ended. You may even find yourself better and stronger in your relationship than when you departed. You get to see what someone will do to love you, make you happy, and see you thrive in a far-off place. Because then, and only then, can you return to that place together, with all of your knowledge, to explore the things you missed, having traded in your academic spectacles for romantic frames.