It's Valentine's Day today, and if the special filters on social media and an overwhelming amount of posts by my friends featuring their significant others hadn't reminded me, I might not have remembered. It isn't a hallmark holiday here, and as far as I can tell, it doesn't involve middle-of-the-night serenades like I woke up to in Ecuador in 2014. I can only hope that Germany celebrates just enough for all of my favorite chocolates to go on sale tomorrow (haha), but I guess I'll find out in the morning.
Everyone I know has their own "sob story" from the dark days of high school, and I am no exception. I had my moments in college too, in which I doubted myself so much that I panicked and became useless. I still have dark days, and I fall victim to imposter syndrome quite often, even though I recognize that rabbit hole and theoretically know how to pull myself out of it.
If you're unfamiliar with imposter syndrome, here's a short excerpt from a Forbes article that sums it up in a few sentences:
The term impostor syndrome, coined in 1978, is described as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” Basically, when you feel inadequate despite evident success. (Like who am I to write this article?) Ouch. Sound familiar?
I identify myself as a high achiever who never thinks I've done enough – and for me, this doesn't just go into the work category. Growing up, I didn't have a television and so I am still catching up on movies that I missed growing up, and television shows whose seasons never seem to end (for example, last year I finally caught up on Grey's Anatomy and am now watching season 14 in "real time" thanks to Amazon Prime). For my last two years of undergrad, I lived with two wonderful humans who when we moved into our house, made a list of all of the kids/older Disney movies they thought I needed to see (in part to get their references, that apparently weren't as obscure as I initially thought). But enough about the details of some of my insecurity... let's move on.
As someone who has already had a multitude of incredible opportunities that most people my age have not had, I also feel whatever the opposite of the impostor syndrome is – perhaps overachievement? I feel guilty talking about "that one time in Senegal" (or what have you), and part of my life now is accepting that I shouldn't feel bad about this. I have worked my ass off to get to where I am, as any of my former supervisors will probably tell you. But this post is not about me and my insecurities, but rather learning to overcome some of them.
This challenge, my 23-part challenge that I often get a bit behind on because everything else has to come first, was designed to help me become more comfortable in my own skin. Now, almost nine months (!!!) in, I can say that I think it is working. Or at least, is on its way to working. I've learned a lot about myself in the last nine-ish months since turning 23, and I've continued to learn to embrace my foibles and faults with as much love as I embrace the rest of myself.
So in honor of St. Valentine, I'm urging you all to not only love the people around you, but to love yourselves a little more this year. (And definitely take advantage of those candy sales tomorrow, if they exist where you live.)
Apparently it comes as a surprise to many people that I've always wanted tattoos.
Perhaps this surprise stems from the fact that I really don't like needles, that I have a ridiculously low pain tolerance, or that I was raised in a household that is pretty vehemently anti-tattoo (though coming around... I hope). Frankly, it comes as a surprise to me that my desire to be inked is a surprise to other people, but just to set it out there, loud and clear: I love my tattoos.
To this millennial, tattoos are a form of self-expression. They don't define me as a troubled delinquent, and having them doesn't mean that I can't be a powerhouse in whichever field of work I enter into, whether that ends up being in government or in the private sector, as a flight attendant or working in retail. Having tattoos doesn't define anything except for what a person considers to be aesthetically pleasing and/or has meaning to them, personally. Will my arms get flabby and distort the images someday? Probably. But now I have a very specific motivation to stay in shape and keep my arms toned (not why I have tattoos, but a perk for sure).
As of this writing, I have four tattoos. In order of their first appearance on my arm: a wave, a mountain range, a sunflower with a mandala as the center, and geometric shapes ending in a triangle below the wave. Challenge #16 was to complete my quarter sleeve before I left the US in August...well clearly, I'm a bit late. I have worked with three different artists with drastically different styles, had these tattoos done in three different cities (and two different countries), and could not be happier with the current result. But better late than never.
The thing about tattoos that seems to be normalized for my generation but not quite for my parents' and grandparents' generation is that the art on my body is not random, and is not something I expect to dislike in a few years. Tattoos cost a lot – both in terms of time and money. I consciously saved for several months to get the most recent additions to my arm, and even so I thought very, very hard about what I wanted and why. Now, I'm sure not everyone does this. But these permanent images on my body are reminders for me of how I feel about life and the world in a given moment in time, and even if this was the only reason, it would be reason enough for me.
On Christmas morning, I woke up very early, like a child who is overexcited to go downstairs and see what Santa left under the tree, and left my apartment by 7am to go to the airport. For the first time in a while though, I wasn't going to the airport to jet off to yet another fabulous city. I was going to meet my mom and sister, who were coming to visit me on their first-ever European adventure.
In my excitement mixed with paranoia that my train would be late and my family would arrive before me, I ended up at the Leipzig/Halle Airport way early, which meant I had time to spend €7 on a tiny breakfast from Marché. And then their flight from Frankfurt was delayed an hour, and I had time to read about 40 pages of a book. All in all, not a bad way to spend a morning, especially when it ends with a happy family reunion.
About a month ago, I wrote A Note on Friendship, in which I gushed about some of the wonderful humans in my life – the family I got to choose. The time that I've spent in Germany is as long as I've ever spent away from my family, and I sort of forgot how nice it was to have them around (in the name of transparency though, I was very much ready to have my space and my schedule back when it came time for them to leave... then cried at the airport when I had to say goodbye). My family is loud, sometimes overbearing, often dramatic, and occasionally judgmental. My sister and I argue almost more than we get along, but at the end of the day, I wouldn't want to change anything about either one of us. I think my mother and I get along better when we're not living together, but having her in my daily life for a little while was really nice.
So cheers to my family – the friends you don't get to choose.
p.s. If you think this was short, just wait for the next few weeks, in which I will probably not be posting (again, sorry). I'm full speed ahead with the end of the semester here in Germany, and already don't know if I'll have time to sleep for the next month.
...especially if you live in Germany.
What I am referring to, of course, is the wonderful season of the Weinachtsmarkt, the Christkindlmarkt, the Christmas Market, for which tourists flock from the far corners of the globe and ex-pats such as myself get a little too excited about drinking Glühwein and forget to give the mugs back in return for Pfand (ok, I might have kept a few on purpose). Gifts can be overpriced and the warmth of strangers pressing against you in a crowd is not the most comfortable feeling in the world, but the magic of the Weinachtsmarkt is undeniable.
(Or maybe I'm less of a local than I like to think I am, now four months into my life in Germany. Has it really been that long already?!)
I've been to a lot of Christmas Markets this winter – three in Leipzig (vegan, Connewitz, and the series of mini-markets that spread out across the city center), two in Munich, and two in Dresden – and every time I walk away with another Weinachtsmark mug for my rapidly growing collection, I can't help but be thankful for where I am and what I'm doing in the given moments.
The Christmas holiday is a BIG DEAL in my family, which is part of the reason why my mother and sister are about to get on a series of planes to meet me in Leipzig tomorrow morning. I will miss going up to visit my grandparents, as I missed at Thanksgiving as well, but I am beyond elated to introduce two of the most important people in my family to my adopted city. I can't believe that four months has already gone by. When I lived in Ecuador, the months seemed to drag on – not that I wasn't enjoying myself (I loved living with my family in Cuenca!)... but it's different.
Anyway, I just wanted to say Merry Christmas/Frohe Weinachten/Feliz Navidad to all of the people who have somehow stumbled upon this blog. I hope you can spend your holiday season with friends or family or loved ones or pets or alone if that's what you want to do – just as long as you are happy and enjoying your time, anything goes.
Happy holidays, friends, and have a wonderful new year. And now for some more pictures of the various Weinachtsmarkts I visited over the last month...
CAPTION INFO (L-R)
1. Homemade truffles at the Leipzig Vegan Weinachtsmarkt
2. The line (mob?) for vegan Currywurst and Glühwein at the Leipzig Vegan Weinachtsmarkt
3. A delicious waffle at the Leipzig Vegan Weinachtsmarkt
4. Inside the Connewitz Weinachtsmarkt
5. Outside the Connewitz Weinachtsmarkt
6. Daytime at the Dresdner Striezelmarkt
7. Orange hot cocoa at the Dresdner Striezelmarkt (worth every euro!)
8. A vendor at the Dresdner Striezelmarkt
9. The Dresdner Striezelmarkt from above (pro tip: pay 50 cents to use the bathroom at the library across the street, then make your way upstairs to the 3rd floor for this view)
10. Scenes from the Munich Christkindlmarkt in Marienplatz
11. Tasty treats at the Munich Christkindlmarkt in Marienplatz
12. One of many stands for warm beverages at one of the Christmas Markets in Munich
13. A "pyramide" at one of the Christmas Markets in Munich
14. The pyramide with feuerzangenbowle near the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig (aka "fire tongs punch," a less dry but more alcoholic version of glühwein that I actually prefer to the regular stuff even though it costs more... pro tip, get it here)
15. A carousel between Marktplatz and the Nikolaikirche market in Leipzig
16. Scenes from the Leipziger Weinachtsmarkt
17. Scenes from the Leipziger Weinachtsmarkt
18. Lebkuchen (gingerbread) at the Leipziger Weinachtsmarkt – one of my favorite Christmas goodies
I forgot how much I love the Spanish language.
When I was a sophomore in college, I decided on (mostly) a whim to study abroad in Ecuador for a semester. Within a few months of hastily submitting an application for the trip and for all relevant university scholarships, I was off on my first long-term international adventure. I barely knew the people I was traveling with and definitely was nowhere near as advanced at the language as I thought I was, but by the end of my four months living in Cuenca, I not only had some of the world's best friends, but a solid grasp of a second language.
About a month ago, I spent a week in southern Spain. What began as a trip to visit my friend Lindsey and to see a country I had always been told I needed to visit ended with me rethinking some of my more recent life decisions and wondering if I should have given other opportunities a try. Over the course of a week, I seriously brushed up on my Spanish and once again was in a country in which I could understand most of what was said without too much trouble; I got accustomed to tapas and tinto de verano for lunch (why doesn't this exist in Germany?); and I started to envision myself living in Córdoba or Sevilla. I felt comfortable with the pace of life and was able to navigate winding little streets much better than I had been when I arrived in Ecuador (which has much of the same). I remembered how much I loved the idea of a siesta, even if I didn't always take one, and I remembered how much I loved the language that had got me started traveling in the first place. Spanish has been part of my identity for so long now that it was almost weird to switch back to English and German when I landed back in Berlin and had to catch a train back to Leipzig. I spent my time at the airport in Sevilla wondering what my life could have been like had I decided to teach English in Spain for a year, or if I had joined the Peace Corps in Peru, or if I had gone back to Ecuador to get my TEFL certification, or had I gone to grad school somewhere else. I spent the morning in a daze (in part thanks to the 6am flight I had to be awake for), considering options and wondering if I had made the right choices in my life.
(Spoiler alert: as soon as I landed back in Berlin at the end of this trip, I knew I had made the right decision. Phew. But I would be lying if I said it wasn't touch and go for a few days.)
During my week in Spain, I visited three cities in Andalucía: Córdoba, Sevilla, and Granada. There were aspects of each city that I loved, and aspects that I didn't. Though so many people told me that Granada was their favorite city in Spain, I can't say that I share that sentiment. Granada was beautiful and La Alhambra was so amazing... but I just didn't feel super comfortable there. I loved both Córdoba and Sevilla much more, and between these two cities, I cannot pick a favorite. All I can say now is that I will definitely be back sometime... but also that I'm definitely in the right place in Germany.
Though I saw so many amazing sights and tried a lot of delicious tapas on this trip, what stuck with me the most from this trip is how much I miss speaking Spanish in my day-to-day life. I moved to Ecuador just about four years ago, but even once I got back I had plenty of opportunities to interact with friends in the language (in and out of class). It felt so natural to let the words roll off my tongue, and so comforting to have near-flawless, complex interactions with strangers on the street or in stores. Perhaps this stems from the fact that my quest to attain fluency in Spanish (not there yet) led me to so many other opportunities, or perhaps it's because the grammar comes so much easier to me than German grammar does... regardless, I'm so glad I went on this trip, and I'm so glad I came back home.
It doesn't feel weird to refer to Germany as home. When I first moved to Leipzig in August, "home" usually referred to the U.S. Sometimes when I'm talking to friends and family in the States, they'll ask "so when are you coming back home?" – of course, I know they mean the U.S. But I usually say something along the lines of: "I am home now, here in Germany. I'm not sure when I'll be stateside again, but I'll let you know."
*Cue heart simultaneous heart attacks from many of these people*
It's no secret that my move here was meant to be more permanent than not – anyone who has listened to me talk about my new, German life knows that I spent all of the miles I had been accruing over the last few years to buy my one-way plane ticket here. According to the new-ish stickers in my passport, I'm legally allowed to be in Germany as a temporary resident with student status (and ability to work part-time, finally!) until November 2018. At that point, I will need to renew my residence permit and jump through a series of bureaucratic hoops (assuming of course that I have a job lined up in the Fatherland before then, which is one of my top priorities for early-to-mid-2018, besides finishing my thesis). But this is all for later...
For now, I'm just working on moving forward day by day. My mom and sister are arriving in one week (Christmas Day!) and I'm so excited to show them around Leipzig. I hope that they will love and appreciate Germany as much as I do. I haven't spoken much Spanish since I got back to Germany (I am trying to learn German, after all), but it's really nice to know that, at least to an extent, that part of me is still in here, slightly rusty, but ready to come out at a moment's notice.
Long time no blog – I've been sticking to my challenges and trying to navigate the ups and downs of graduate school, but just haven't had a chance to sit down and write. This is [was] weekend 4/4 of travel (first to Zingst, then to Stuttgart, then to Kraków, now to Spain), and frankly I'm exhausted. My recovery time wasn't recovery, just more work. This being said, I'm so grateful to have had so many recent opportunities to travel, and so excited to be sitting in the Berlin Schönefeld airport, drafting this post and waiting for my plane to Spain... which brings me to today's topic: friendship.
(Sidenote: I started writing this a couple weeks ago. I've been back in Leipzig for about two weeks now, spent one of those being sick and the other running around with another friend who came here to visit me!)
I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have friends who live around the world. It's as simple as that. I've hosted students in Ohio whom I have then visited in their home countries; I have met people during my studies and other travels abroad who are some of the closest friends I have; I have friends from classes who I didn't expect to connect with again but who I've found in random corners of the world; I can oftentimes find a couch to crash on in said corners of the world (in exchange for mine, of course). This isn't the first time I've talked about my friends on this blog – my inaugural post was about some of my oldest friends, the "Gethsemane Girls;" I've written about multiple decades of friendship with my friend Colin; and the ups and downs of traveling, including a cameo of my friend Bethany, who thankfully is on the mend. I'm currently [when I first wrote this, I was] en route to visit my friend Lindsey who lives in Córdoba, and runs a kick-ass blog (click here) in her spare time. I have plans to see my friend Nina about once a month while we're living only about a 5 hour train ride from each other. [The friend who I just put on a train to go back to Stuttgart after spending three days in Leipzig with me. I really should have finished this post when I started it, haha. Now back to the present, aka December 7.]
If there's anything I've learned from moving abroad (and believe me, this is just the tip of the iceberg!), it's that it takes an ocean to realize who your true friends are. The people you travel with may be these friends, or the people who will be awake at weird hours to Skype in the middle of the night. There are people who I didn't think were going to be part of my life once I moved, but that I'm now wishing I had spent more time with when we lived in the same city; there are people who I was very close with who I have barely spoken to since I left the U.S. more than three months (!!!) ago.
I am super excited to show my cousin Bethany (different Bethany from the aforementioned one) and her friend Kayla around my no-longer-so-new home next week, and then to welcome my sister and mom to Leipzig on Christmas Day... but while I love my family dearly, friends are the family you get to choose. I would never have caught up on a childhood of missing movies/tv shows without my former roomies, Kelly and Cassie. I never would have gone on a semi-last-minute trip to Chicago if I didn't have a Nina to explore and stay in a mildly-sketchy AirBnb with. My classical music knowledge would have been limited and very strings-biased had I not spent so much time with my friend Mark (not to mention, I wouldn't have had a close place to live when I interned in Cincinnati a few summers ago without his apartment to sublease). I would not be as close to reaching my sarcastic and awkward potential as I am without the guidance of my friend Ray. I would feel a little worse about missing Thanksgiving (and next spring, Easter) had my friend David not been more than happy to become part of my family (not kidding... they refer to him as "Cousin David"). I wouldn't have as fun a photo adventure pal here in Leipzig had my friend Christine and I not bonded over our mutual camera-nerdiness. I would be way less fashionable had my friend Katie responded to my every text, Snapchat and WhatsApp message regarding whether or not I should wear/buy X item. I wouldn't be as comfortable with changing my mind and pivoting my career had my friend Paola not assured me that I am not the only one, and that I can do anything I set my mind to. I probably would have exploded in frustration and confusion by now had my friend Ayleen not been here to explain how to survive grad school and to be the big sister that I never had. I wouldn't know anything about sportsball without my friend Brad (not that I know that much, but his friendship is what matters here). I wouldn't have a pseudo-brother slash sometimes-fake-husband if Eli (Hiller) and I hadn't worked for the HSJW together or been neighbors my junior year. I could go on and on, but I need to get back to working on my thesis and these are the first people who popped into my head this morning.
I would not be the person I am without all of these amazing people in my life to inspire me, who are not at all obligated to love me (though I hope my family genuinely likes me too), and who frustrate me on a daily basis. So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving/giving thanks around the holidays, since that's when I originally meant to post this, thank you all for being part of my life.
I'll be the first to admit: time management isn't always my strongest skill. I always get the job done, and probably about 95% of the time, it happens on time. I can be relied on to complete tasks, and complete them well. But sometimes, there's a little bit of a delay.
Then there are the little things that take a backseat: like this blog. That I challenged myself to do. That is about me and my life. That should be the easiest thing ever to keep up with. But that I pushed to the wayside to make room for the work I needed to complete and the new places I wanted to experience.
You see, I've been very busy. It isn't just four weekends straight of travel (more about this later), an impending thesis proposal deadline that I've already stretched by two extra days for improvement (definitely necessary), keeping up with six classes that are starting to look toward the final stretch of the semester (classes end in February, but with five final papers to write + thesis + my contemporary history project I have to start in January, the finish line is rapidly approaching), and my internship with the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs' Public Diplomacy Department (say that five times fast, or just call it EUR/PD for short) for which I've been finishing up a major project and will be leading online trainings in early 2018... the Christmas Market here in Leipzig officially opened a couple days ago, and I've been more in the mood for Glühwein and Christmas blockbusters than doing work.
(If you're reading this, anyone from the Scripps JSchool faculty, I have also been working on my thesis proposal/living in the archives and staining my fingers with newsprint. But you can't blame a girl for enjoying some cheesy Christmas movies and Glühwein... it's December in Germany.)
Taking a break is a good thing. Though travel is exhilarating and life-changing and fun, it is also exhausting (see this post for more evidence). Traveling is usually my break from life; these days, life seems to be my break from travel. I am buckling down to focus more on school and my internship (the reason why I live in Germany right now), welcome a few friends and family to Leipzig in the coming weeks, and re-starting the trend of weekly/bi-weekly blogging I was doing so well with until my crazy adventures started. I'm utterly exhausted from the last month (which culminated with me spending a week being sick as soon as I got back from Spain), but now that I'm feeling better and have had a few days to rest, I'm ready to hit the ground running again.
So, coming soon (in no particular order):
I have finally started school here in my no-longer-so-new city, Leipzig, which means that the last month and a half or so of "adjustment time" that felt like an extended vacation is over. I'm back in the swing of academia, reading hundreds of pages of articles per week and trying to sound smart when I write a response about a topic that I may or may not have zero interest in (if you've talked to me about my course schedule, you know which course this is)...and on the other hand, getting overly excited about what I'm learning in other classes and enjoying my homework (ah, the real Kate is back).
However, all of this work aka the reason I'm living in Germany right now is making me long for the days of constant travel. My next few weekends are full of travel – much of which will involve me putting my money where my mouth is when I say "I can sleep anywhere," thanks to overnight busses and trains (I do have to make it back for class, after all). I'm excited to continue seeing the world, and by this time next month, will have been to two more countries... not that I'm counting. One of these trips is actually for school – my environmental communication class is traveling to Zingst, a small German city on the Baltic Sea, for a 5-day academic retreat.
(And yes mom, I will be bringing my homework on the other trips and will not fall behind in school, I promise.)
For now, though, I'm looking back on the trips I've been on since arriving in Europe in August. In a previous post I wrote about the Travel Blues and shared a few photos from my whirlwind adventure to Italy, Latvia, and Estonia. Here now are three adventures you may not have heard about (unless you follow me on Instagram... but these are different pictures): day trips to Meißen, Erfurt, and Dresden. I traveled to Meißen and Erfurt for the interDaF language course I took when I arrived in Germany, and bought last minute bus tickets to Dresden with friends in my program the night before we spent a day wandering around one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to. In order, by row, Meißen, Erfurt, and Dresden.
As promised, part 2 of my 23 new books booklist. It's a bit shorter this time around, as I've only been able to read sporadically between finishing my internship, packing up and selling/donating most of what I own, moving to Germany (!!!) and starting my semester, and starting preliminary research for my thesis in the last couple months. But here we go...
As before, though these links are from Amazon, I don't get any money from them. However, if you do decide to purchase these books (or anything else) on Amazon, please use Amazon Smile so that part of your purchase will go to a charity of your choice!
The Alice Network (Kate Quinn)
I found The Alice Network on the shelf of a Half Price Books in Houston, Texas. I arrived a day early for my internship, and after wandering around Rice University's campus in the sweltering heat for longer than my then-not-accustomed-to-so-much-humidity body could take, I stopped at the bookstore on my way back to my hostel because, well, I find it hard to walk past a bookstore without at least taking a look. This book wasn't a hard read, though it took me a while to actually finish thanks to an almost-immediate lack of free time, but was an interesting one. The Alice Network tells to parallel stories: that of Charlie St. Clair's journey to find her cousin, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the second world war, and that of Eve Gardiner, who very reluctantly joins Charlie on her quest and ultimately ends up seeking her own revenge en route.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette? (Maria Semple)
When in Rome... scour the hostel bookshelves for anything in English. I was pleasantly surprised to find this book, which I had only previously seen in a few friends' Instagram stories and whose cover intrigued me, on the shelf of the Orsa Maggiore Hostel for Women Only. Where'd You Go, Bernadette? is a comedic novel about a runaway architect told through the eyes of her daughter, 15-year-old Bee Branch, and a series of documents hinting at Bernadette's state of mind and current location. While ultimately this book is not necessarily something I'd read again, I was amused and constantly interested in how the plot twisted as the story continued.
The Pilgrimage (Paul Coelho)
After reading The Alchemist and loving it enough to include on my first booklist, I was very excited when my friend found this on the shelf of the Generator Hostel in Berlin Mitte. As someone who has "hike El Camino" on my bucket list and has read many a book about peoples' experiences with El Camino de Santiago, I was really looking forward to this tale. However, I have to say, I was not anywhere near as blown away with The Pilgrimage as I was with The Alchemist, or with any other pilgrimage-related books I have read. I found this novel to be a little too surreal and was frankly rather glad when I closed it for the last time. This being said, it wasn't the worst book I've read and perhaps I will give it another try someday. (If you want to chime in with what I'm missing and why I'm crazy for not loving this novel, be my guest.)
The Invisible Man (H.G. Wells)
The first time the thought of reading The Invisible Man went through my head was when I read The Book Thief in 7th grade. One of the novels that Liesel Meminger steals is The Invisible Man. I hadn't thought of this recently, until I was browsing the shelves of the Universität Leipzig library, hoping that something in English would catch my eye. Admittedly, I was not immediately drawn to the story. Not because of the far-fetched-ness of a man becoming invisible, but because I didn't feel particularly attached to the story or characters. In my efforts at procrastination, however, I finished the book within a few hours and admittedly did like it in the end (or perhaps it just felt good to read something non-academic for once). The novel is about a scientist who, in his research on optics, manages to turn himself invisible but is unable to reverse this change. In discovering that the disadvantages of being invisible seem to outweigh the advantages of being visible, essentially goes on a violent rampage that doesn't end well.
My parents are always concerned about my safety, especially when traveling, and rightly so. They care about my well-being, and part of that well-being includes not being kidnapped or found dead in a ditch somewhere on the other side of the world (or, frankly, in my hometown). Safety while traveling, especially for a young woman who is frequently doing said traveling alone, is no joke. The fact that I am automatically a target because I am a woman is absurd on so many levels, just like the fact that children sitting in a classroom or friends at a movie release or people out for a night on the town or soccer fans at a game or people on holiday in a romantic city sometimes end up being targets.
I have only felt truly unsafe a handful of times in my life, and the vast majority of those times have actually been in the United States and some even in my hometown. There have been moments in my travels in which I get a sinking feeling that I probably shouldn't be in this part of town, or that I'll get trapped on a mountain overnight with no cell service and no idea how to get back to the city and my family because I took the bus in the wrong direction, or that I may walk slightly faster than my friends around a corner and not see the two men who probably would have grabbed me had a gaggle of loud Americans not come around the corner 15 seconds later... but even those experiences were never enough to shake me to my core. Being catcalled as I walked to school every morning in Ecuador didn't make me feel unsafe, but it did make me angry. And that's what I feel right now. Angry.
I've never been to Las Vegas, nor has it ever been on my bucket list of places to go. Just like the people who were harmed (at this writing, 58 were also killed) by a gunman at a music festival, I also don't have any desire to be shot or within range of someone using humans for target practice. My heart goes out to the families affected by this atrocious act of violence... just like it went out to the victims and their families of the Pulse nightclub shooting, those of the 2015 Paris Attacks, etc., etc.
(The fact that I can use "etc." here absolutely horrifies me.)
But it isn't just these attacks – of foreign and domestic terror – that make me angry. I am honestly infuriated by people who ask me if where I'm going will be safe. The first time I traveled to Africa (Namibia in 2015), my family was extremely concerned about my safety, moreso than they were when I up and moved to Ecuador in 2014 at age 19. Would I have walked alone in some areas of Windhoek or Cuenca at night? Absolutely not. But would I walk alone at night all over Columbus, Ohio? Not a chance. I understand the sentiment, I really do. I appreciate the fact that my family and friends want me to be safe (let's face it – anyone who has seen me dart across a street probably has their doubts about my judgement to begin with)... but many of these overt displays of concern for my safety, predominantly when I'm traveling in certain parts of the world, need to stop. This is stereotyping, masked by surface-level concern.
Is where I'm going safe? I assume, yeah. Probably. I'm going there, and I wouldn't be if I didn't expect to make it back alive and unscathed. But I don't know, and it shouldn't matter because everywhere in the world is vulnerable, including my own country. (Especially my own country.)
You can't assume that one act of horror results in a country being an utterly dangerous place. Yes, there are parts of the world I'm not planning to go to at the moment because it isn't the best idea. Yes, there are places that, if required, I would probably categorize as unsafe, at least for me and at least for the time being. But that doesn't mean that they always were or always will be. People shouldn't be unwilling to cross borders and have new experiences and meet new people and grow as humans because of fear. There are extremists, but the name implies the one thing people seem to forget: extreme. Not normal. (Though gun violence at this point seems normal to me... which is also terrible, but not the point.) There are people who go to great lengths to cause harm and terror, for a variety of reasons. I'm not justifying any of them – I'm just saying that to associate a group of people (geographically related or not) with extremism undermines the identity of the rest of the people who live there/are similar to this group. And for us to make this judgement call, without knowing people and without having experienced some of these places, is not okay. And I admit – I have made snap judgements like this too, and I am not proud of it in the slightest.
This may be an unpopular opinion, and I get that. I know that my family and friends who ask these questions only want to protect me and make sure I know what I'm getting myself into. But the fact of the matter is, the places that they've been most concerned about are the places in which I have met some of the most kind, wonderful, and genuinely caring people on the planet.
Safety can be determined by a neighborhood, by a situation, by changing weather patterns, or by our own actions. What matters is that we make good decisions about how we live our lives, experience new things, visit new places, and see what the world has to offer.
Just my thoughts for today.