Home Sweet Home Pt. 2

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There have been multiple occasions where I was asked (usually by a family member) if I could see myself living here forever, and the answer to that shifted from, “Mogoče?” to a firm “Ne.” I love Slovenia and all, it’s a beautiful country with unique cultural quirks and all the old world charm held by pretty much all European countries. And of course, most of my mom’s family lives here. But it’s just not home.

If there’s anything I’ve been surprised by since living here, it’s how I’ve gained a greater appreciation for where I am from. Growing up, and still to this day, I don’t think anything special of my hometown. It’s a boring, middle-upper class, suburban town just 30 minutes northeast of Dallas. It has no charm, no character, no culture (at least not one all that interesting or worth sharing, maybe Friday night football games but that’s about it). And to be honest, when referring to “where I am from,” I’m looking more at Texas and America as a whole. Which to be honest, I never cared much for those two either!

I was quite obsessed with Europe though. All that old world charm, all those old buildings, all that beauty. Texas doesn’t really have any of that. So naturally, I wanted to have what I didn’t, and because I had this picture of Europe in my mind, most of the time I blocked out all the things I liked about Texas. Our highways (up to seven lanes on some of them!), our Mexican food (aka Tex-Mex), our (sometimes unbearably hot) weather, Dallas (especially downtown), church (I miss worship/sermons in English), and the large Christain community in general. When I thought about these aspects of Texas or came into contact with them, I would often think, “Hm, maybe Texas isn’t so bad.”

But no, Europe! I had this fantasy about Europe which isn’t super uncommon for some Americans to have. That it’s this magical place, and to some extent, it is if you are only visiting (including extended stays like mine). But for most, they live and work here, they were born and raised here, so it is nothing special to them. It’s their normal. There are Europeans who have this same dreamy notion about America. But for all of us Americans who live and work here, who were born and raised here, it’s our normal. We view it as nothing special. And I think these fantasies about another country or culture can happen to anybody who isn’t in love with the place they’re from. To anyone who is curious to see how much more exists outside their bubble.

As you may have gathered, I was never all that connected to my homeland. I’ve never been patriotic. I’ve never had, and don’t know that I ever will, the Texas pride that most Texans do (like my brother Alexander). Texans really love Texas. They think it’s the best state in the US and the best place to live in the entire galaxy. And since Texas was a country at one point, some patriotic Texans believe we ought to be one again, I mean we’re TEXAS after all. In terms of US patriotism, I never really cared to root for us in the Olympics (we’re so big and rich anyway I felt like that was the only reason we won so much) and I know for sure I’ll never hold the American mindset of “America is the best country in the world” and think it’s incredibly obnoxious when people say things like this. Nothing wrong with loving one’s country, but as someone who has ties to another, it got a bit old growing up and hearing how another one was better, even if it was the one I lived in.

And this was because I had always felt such a connection to Slovenia. I really liked being part Slovene and enjoyed spending time in Slovenia. I had always dreamed about living there or somewhere else in Europe. The nature in Slovenia is astounding and as I mentioned earlier, it has all the old world charm that America lacks, and that’s hard to beat. But, I have found that it does wear off. As fascinating as it all is and as much as I love experiencing it, I’ve realized it’s just not home for me. And since being here, I’m starting to think maybe I like(d) America more than I thought?

Well, sort of. It’s not really about like and dislike, it’s about the culture I’ve grown up in, and the thought of being in a culture that’s not really my own for the rest of my life sounds hard and even scary. I’m impressed by all the people who are currently pulling it off.

I will say I’m a bit surprised that this place doesn’t feel more like home. Don’t get me wrong, I love being in Slovenia and am very content and not at all sad. I just wouldn’t want to stay forever and know I’ll be ready to go home when the time comes. It’s kind of hard to put it all into words actually. That special connection, that tie, that pull you have to the place you grew up in. I remember discussing basically the topic of this blog post with three of my cousins back in December and had so much trouble explaining my new found feelings for my home country. “It’s just different!” was the phrase I kept repeating when trying to explain why I wouldn’t want to stay in Slovenia forever. It was over Christmas that I realized the place you grew up in holds a piece of your heart in a way that no other place is able to. I would say Slovenia also holds a special place in my heart, but not the way Texas does. That’s not to say it isn’t as deep or meaningful, it’s just not the same.

Overall I’ve come to love and appreciate my home country and state a whole lot more through my few months here so far, and I’ve really been able to see how growing up in Texas has helped shaped me into the person I am today.

 

 

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Wishes

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When I was younger, I sometimes wished that I had grown up in a European country because then I would be able to speak at least two languages since so many Europeans learn a second language at a young age. I would know the language of my home country including English (I’m guessing this is what I would have chosen, and it seems that most young Europeans speak English). And if not English, then at least something else. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m pretty obsessed with the thought of knowing more than one language.

I realize now that having English be my native language isn’t as horrible of a thing as I used to make it out to be. I still like the idea of knowing it as a second language, but it’s helpful knowing it as a first.

I’ve mentioned before how when I was younger I wished my mom was from a more well-known European country like Italy, France, or Germany. When I told friends and classmates and teachers about Slovenia, none of them ever knew where it was. Some had never even heard of it. I once mentioned Slovenia to my eighth grade English teacher and she said, “What’s Slovenia?” This bothered me. Why does my mom have to be from a country that no one knows about? I also thought that if my mom had been from a more well-known country, there would have been more available language learning courses, and I could have started learning from a much younger age.

I don’t feel this way anymore. I like that my mom is from Slovenia. It’s much more unique and it’s fun being able to educate people on this lesser known country.

As you may know by now, pretty much my whole life I’ve been wrapped up in this idea of “if only, if only, if only.”

If only I was bilingual, if only I was a native speaker, if only I was taught from birth, if only I was fluent!” It’s been never-ending.

There are plenty of times when I don’t feel this way. I realize you cannot change the past and there will never be any use in ruminating about it. But my mind likes to latch onto things I cannot change and replay all the possibilities and hypothetical situations of what life would be like if things were different. And this goes for more than just knowing a second language. It’s also true for regrettable past decisions I’ve made as well as the missed opportunities.

This is unhealthy, and I try to not get stuck in a place where I do this. I try to let go of what I cannot change and what’s already happened. I try to focus on the present. It’s not always easy, but when I do this, I always come to this realization: God knows what He’s doing.

I can spend a lot of time wallowing in bitterness about my inabilities to speak a language, but if I did speak this language, would I be where I am today? Would I have met the same people and built the same friendships? Would I be having the experiences that are shaping me into who I am? Would I even be the person I am today? Probably not. These questions also apply for the things in life I’ve regretted doing and regretted not doing.

It’s so easy to look at the what-ifs and the negatives about our situations and choices. But something I’ve learned to do while here is to not only look at the positives of a situation, but to also understand that God can and will use it for something. I don’t know what my future holds, but I know who’s holding it. I don’t quite know what my calling is yet, but I trust that God will lead me in the right direction. Though I’ve made mistakes, I’ve learned an incredible amount from them. I’m often frustrated at my lack of fluency, but I trust that there is a reason God mapped out my life this way. A lot of times I would find comfort in the thought, maybe God just didn’t want me to be bilingual. I don’t know why, but I know that He is good and I trust that He knows best.

It is always such a relief to come to this realization time and time again. I don’t need to worry about my future because God is already at the end of my life. He knows what’s going to happen, and He goes both before and behind me. He reassures me that He will complete the good work He’s begun in me. He reminds me of his steadfast love and faithfulness. He fills my life with good things and I see hints of his grace in each day. I don’t need to question why my life is a certain way or why certain things go the way they do. I know that He is in control. This gives me the freedom to let go and live, and it is a beautiful thing!

 

Skool is Kewl

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Each year when the end of school came round, I would get this weird feeling. I was excited like anyone else, but there was also this mellow tide that would wash over me, putting me in a mood that’s hard to describe.

The reason this always happened to me was because my thought process was this: once a school year is over, an era of my life was over. And I can’t ever get it back. The classes I went to every day, the friends I spent half my day with, the teachers I had, the people I ate lunch with, are now just a piece of my memory. I can never get those moments back. There were always some classes that made the end of school something to look forward to, but there were some that made it hard to think about.

My assumption is that most people don’t think this way at all. Most people look forward to the end of school from the day it starts. My sister is one of these people. But I LOVE school. Ever since my first day of public school in 2006, I have enjoyed going to school.

Why do I write about my love for school? Not sure, it’s just one of those ideas that popped into my head a few weeks ago that I immediately started writing about. Rereading my intro just now has me realizing how fitting it is for where I am right now. I have less than a week left of my first Slovene course, and I’ve had a lot of mixed feelings about learning Slovene and going to my course lately.

One of those feelings is lack of motivation. I go to language school four days a week and it’s usually a good time. But at one point this past week I found myself walking home from the gym thinking about language school and a thought occurred in my mind, “I still have three more months of this!” I felt discouraged. I felt as though I was wasting my time. What am I gonna get out of this? Why am I here? Will these feelings pass?!

Yes. Of course they will. They always do. Another feeling was both the excitement and fear that I have of knowing I’ll be placed in a harder group for the next 2 courses. A few weeks ago this was all I wanted. Now I feel a sense of dread, but I know a push is what I need.

Lastly, I had faint traces of what I described in the second paragraph. These didn’t quite hit me until I went to a dinner party a classmate and his wife hosted for the rest of the class and our two teachers. I thought about how I had one more week with these classmates. The last week we’d all be together. Some of them are continuing while others are moving back to their home countries. What if I never see them again? It’s a bit sad, but that’s life, some people are only in yours for a season.

On a lighter note, I am very grateful to have been placed in Skupina 1 (Group 1). At the beginning of my language course, I was so bothered that I was in such an easy class. I wanted to do more challenging things. I was jealous of my more capable friends and was/still am jealous of their language speaking abilities. How do they speak so well? How do they understand so well? Ugh, I suck. Maybe if I was in Skupina 2 I would be better. But being in Skupina 1 has truly been a blessing. Out of the other four groups, no other had the community that mine did, and that means a whole lot more than the difficulty of a class or what I would have gained from it.

Better speaking and listening abilities will come with time, the time those in higher level groups have already put in. I need not be jealous, but instead remind myself to stop comparing and embrace where I am knowing it’s not a result of lack of effort or a thick skull, but of time. I will (hopefully) get there one day!

Language Barriers

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I wrote this blog over a week or so ago when I was in one of those moods. The one where I’m sad about everything and nothing. I can’t seem to pinpoint what exactly I’m upset about or if it’s even real emotion. Maybe my hormones are just fluctuating or the twilight is getting to me or I’m eating foods that don’t agree with me or my sleep isn’t as quality as it usually is or maybe a combination of everything.

But as I read over this, I found that it still holds true. I wrote the words below on particularly depressed and lonesome evening while I was visiting family in Murska Sobota.

While I wouldn’t say my feelings as of now are full on homesickness, there is definitely the tiniest sprinkle of it in there. I guess it’s the communication I miss. I might be surrounded by family, but our worlds are different. I can’t have any real or in-depth conversations with most family members. Maybe I’m feeling that same feeling I’ve had many times before. The one that is created by a language barrier. No one knows my language well enough and I hardly know theirs. Sometimes the wall between my family and I feels so thick. This wall may have a small window, but no door.

I sit at tables surrounded by people I’m related to but feel like an outsider among them. I feel lonely not because I’m alone, but because my communication with others is limited to basic phrases, broken sentences, and facial expressions. My mom always tells me not to be shy because they are family and I try to remind myself of this, but it will never be easy with the personality I have. My heart and mind are at all times grateful to be in Slovenia. I’m grateful people are willing to take me places and spend time with me. I’m grateful to be with people I usually don’t get to see, but when with them I’m reminded of those lingering bitter feelings I have about not being a native speaker. I can’t seem to shake them off. A small part of me will always carry that “what if,” replaying scenes in my head of the hypothetical.

While I am trying to learn Slovene, I’ve been more discouraged about it lately. There are times when I’m crippled with fear and others where I simply don’t know enough. Other times I just feel like a complete failure. Why do I have so much confidence in some areas but none in others?

Sometimes I wonder if I’m just moping. Are my feelings justified? Am I just being melodramatic? Is it wrong for me to feel this way? Should I brush off these feelings? Should I just ignore them and pretend they don’t exist? After all, I have this wonderful opportunity and am getting to live in Slovenia! It’s not like I’m completely isolated, some of my cousins speak really good English. Am I just being melodramatic?

When I was a younger teenager, being with my dad’s side of the family was something that made me anxious at times because I was afraid of awkwardness. I’m one of the youngest cousins and often didn’t know who to talk to or hang around at family gatherings. I was afraid of not knowing where to sit at lunches and dinners, not having anything to talk about with relatives, or not having anyone to talk to period. I didn’t want to cling to my parents at the age of 16, so sometimes I would just float around awkwardly, waiting for someone to start a conversation. When I’m with a large group of family members here, I also float around awkwardly and wait for someone to start a conversation. I’m not one to initiate conversations unless I’m quite comfortable with someone (so thanks to those who have reached out). But wow! How easy being with my father’s side of the family would be now that I’ve been here for some time. At least with family in Illinois, there are no language barriers.

I still enjoy being with family here. It’s nice to spend time with people I grew up only seeing once every few years. When examining the way I feel about interactions with both sides of my family, I’ve noticed that I care an awful lot about how I’m perceived. I’m so sure that everyone thinks I’m the most awkward human alive as well as pathetically shy. I’m eighteen, they probably think I’m much too old to act this way. I wish I could stop caring so much what other people think. I wish shyness was a quality I didn’t have. I wish it were as simple as “just let go,” but it’s not and will never be. At times it feels like a disease.

Even still, the good trumps the bad. Every night bedtime comes. And with bedtime comes quiet time, and quiet time brings peace. I look forward to this time more than ever. I read my bible and pray and write in my journal and listen to worship music and maybe sing along. I can relax. I feel at ease and at home when spending time with the Creator.

What I ultimately look forward to is being in heaven. I look forward to never again feeling sad or disconnected or lonely or angry or incompetent. I look forward to when fear is a thing of the past. When language barriers no longer exist and I will be with my Savior, Jesus Christ, for all eternity.

 

Change

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I’m typically not one to reflect on a year when it is about to pass because my mind is in a constant state of reflection. A year is a long time and I prefer to reflect on shorter periods of time. Hence this blog and my endless journaling. But 2018 is a year that I can’t help but think back on and say, “Wow!”

I have a little book that asks me a question every single day. I write down the answer and do this over the course of five years so that when I’m all finished I can look back through and see how things have changed, progressed, or evolved. It was given to me as a graduation present. It’s a really cool concept and I’m a little obsessed with it. Yesterday’s question, December 30, was, “What word would you use to characterize this year?”

I was not expecting to be able to answer to question as fast as I did. I could only think of two word phrases and thought for sure it would take me longer than it did to come up with a single word. But then it hit me. CHANGE.  This year has been full of change. Four rather large ones, to be exact.

This was the year I got a boyfriend, something I wasn’t expecting to happen for a long, long time. The year I graduated high school, ending my public school career forever. The year I broke up with said boyfriend, which was hard but much needed. And the year I moved to Slovenia, something I’d been dreaming about since I was fourteen or fifteen.

What a ride it has been! This year definitely earns the award for the most times I’ve ever cried (unless you count the year I was born). This says a lot because I’m not a very emotional person. It takes a lot for me to cry. I used to go months, even years, without shedding a tear. This year was different. Very different. A roller coaster. I’ve been all over the place and have felt many things. I’ve thought long and hard about anything and everything. I’ve been overwhelmed. I’ve been stressed. I’ve been heartbroken. I went through a lot!

But I learned a lot. I learned about 20th century American history and wrote roughly six papers about it in the spring. I started learning Slovene and discovered its grammar really is as hard as my mom always said. I learned how hard times have the power to draw me closer to Jesus. I learned how important obedience is. I learned what peace from the Holy Spirit feels like. I learned a ton about other countries and their cultures and how fun it is to have both international and older friends!

There is always so much to learn. I love learning and look forward to another year of learning and growing. I also look forward to the change 2019 will bring. I’ve always been pretty okay with change. I often look forward to it and feel very ready for it to come. I know most people hate change, but change keeps life interesting! Change is how we learn and grow. Without it we would become stagnant, and that’s no good. We must always keep evolving, learning, growing.

Do I have any new years resolutions? You better believe I don’t. I’ve never been big into new years resolutions. I think they’re silly. We have the freedom to change at any time of the year. You can start eating healthy whenever you want. You can start exercising whenever you want. You can start reading your bible every day whenever you want! It’s all about motivation. If one feels pressured to make a change simply because it’s the new year, it’s just not going to stick. You need a deeper motivation for your change. And that can happen at any time of the year! I know this post took somewhat of a random turn, but I just wanted to encourage anyone who is reading this that you do not have to make a resolution just because it’s a new year. And if you have decided to make one, examine why you made it. Is this something you really want to change, or are you just making resolutions for the fun of it?

As I mentioned earlier, we are always learning, growing, and evolving, so our desire to make changes will flow naturally with this process.

Hard to believe we only have a few hours left of 2018! Or maybe 2019 has already come by the time you are reading this. Either way, I wish you all a happy new year and want to thank you for reading my blog these past few months! Writing this blog is one of my favorite past times and a super fun way for me to give you guys some insight into my experience here. I’m excited for more to come!

Can You Spot the Difference?

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About three months ago when I had been here for a mere three days, I spoke with someone about my move here and they brought up how Slovenia and America are very different. At first I just shrugged my shoulders. I guess? Any two countries are going to be different. But as I thought more about what he said, I realized that I couldn’t think of any similarities between the two countries. Nothing. Nič.

I guess in my mind the two countries were similar because they are both developed, but when I really started thinking about each country and its norms and quirks and everything else that makes a country a country, I realized how vastly different the two are.

For starters, the languages. Obviously. I don’t even need to point that out. And of course there is size. Slovenia is itty bitty. It only takes four hours to drive from one end of the country to other. Drive five hours in Texas, and guess what? You’re still in Texas.

While Slovenia is small, there are many different dialects depending on the region or city you come from. This causes a lot of difference in speech from city to city. It’s pretty crazy. The region my mother is from is called “Prekmurje.” It’s in the very northeastern part of the country, the head of the chicken if you will, and the dialect they speak there is so different from pure Slovene that Slovenes from other parts of the country cannot understand it. It’s basically its own language. It has a name and everything (Prekmurščina)! Now take the US. It’s pretty big. But do dialects exist? Not at all. Just some accents and a few different words. In Texas we say “y’all” while in the north they say “you guys.” Some Americans say “pop” while others say “soda.” But these are almost negligible.

My theory (that I came up with moments before writing this) has to do with Slovenia having influence from so many other languages. They border Hungary, Croatia, Italy, and Austria. That’s a lot of different languages. And Slovenia is tiny, making it easy for these languages to permeate. In the US, we may border different states, but we all speak English. Also, the majority of US states are much larger than Slovenia. So dialects are somewhat of a foreign concept for us. At least for me. I still don’t quite get them.

The mailmen here ride bikes with compartments attached to the wheels somehow that carry all the mail. Some ride motor bikes as well. I think this is funny but in a cute way. In my hometown, all the mailmen and women drive.

The students here go home every single weekend. Something I find a bit bizarre and would never want to do myself. I mean just think of all the packing and repacking and money spent on bus tickets, and for only a day or two? But as I mentioned earlier, Slovenia is tiny. Making trips across the country isn’t nearly as big of a hassle as it would be in the US. Also not nearly as expensive. Many students study in Ljubljana, which is a very central location for the country, and thus trips home are only two and a half hours at the most. There is also a lot more emphasis on family in Slovenia. In the US, parents basically kick their children out of the house at the age of eighteen. Whether this is said to children or not, it’s still a societal expectation. In Slovenia, it’s a lot more common for kids to live at home past the age of “legal adult.”

Lunch is the big meal. I really like this and have chosen to adopt it. It makes more sense and means no cooking or preparing food in the evening. I always thought dinner was somewhat of a useless meal anyway. Who actually has the time and energy for that? And what do we need that energy for? Going to sleep? Instead I just snack on one thing or another.

In terms of homes, it’s standard to wear slippers, there are no closets (just wardrobes and dressers), and balconies are much more common. In the US, most people go around the house barefoot or in socks or even shoes. Most rooms come with a closet, and sadly balconies are a rarity. They’re typically only found in nicer and more expensive homes (or apartments). Lame.

Slovenia and really just Europe in general are a lot more “green.” They separate their trash into five different bins. FIVE! Trash, paper, plastic, glass, and compost. I love this about Slovenia and wish the US would adopt a similar system. We only have recycling and trash and sadly, this causes a lot more waste within the country. My two Swedish friends told me in Sweden they separate their trash into even more specific categories. The US needs to step up its game.

Something I find amusing about Slovenes (or maybe it’s just my family) is that they are always concerned about whether I’ve had enough to eat. I could tell them I’m full a million and half times and they would still offer me more food. I always end up giving in. I can only say no so many times before I feel rude.

There are many more differences I could list. There are some I cannot think of at the moment that I know in a few days I’ll be like, “Oh yeah! I could have written about that!” So maybe a part 2 will be coming your way? We shall see.

Merry Christmas everyone!

 

 

 

 

Počivati

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Počivati (po-CHEE-va-tee). This means “to rest” in Slovene. Something I do a lot of while I’m here. Perhaps too much… ?

Living in a foreign country is great. There is a lot of beauty and new cultural experiences. I’ve met many new people. There is so much to see, so much to do, and so much to learn. Which sometimes makes me to feel as though I’m not doing enough. Sometimes a thought creeps in the back of my mind, that I’m not taking full advantage. Not soaking up every last drop.

Of course I want to take advantage of what I have while I’m here, but sometimes I feel a pressure to be doing something fun and interesting and cool and exciting every day. When really, this is just unrealistic. The days where I’m inevitably at home for the majority of the day give me a sense of wasted time. Should I make plans? Go enjoy the view of the mountains or the old buildings in the center even though I would prefer to stay home today?

I live here. I’m not a full time tourist. That might be fun, but it would be exhausting, and frankly it’s not the reason I came. Yes I still want to explore and see new things, this was true even when I was in Dallas. This will be true of anywhere I end up. But when you live somewhere, it’s different. You have routines and rituals. These can get boring, even if you love your job or school. Everyone at some point itches to escape the mundane; which is why it’s good to branch out (that’s what weekends and vacations are for). But our reason for living where we do isn’t to go sight seeing every day. We work or we go to school, we spend time with friends, we contribute to society, and we rest.

Sometimes I spend entire days resting. Which is just a euphemism for wasting time. I’m not doing anything super productive. There are maybe two or three things I could be doing, but they’re not urgent or even necessary. There are times when I dislike not doing anything. Other times I realize that it is exactly what my tired and overworked body needs. I was always under a lot of stress because of school (especially the second half of high school) and other various things. I couldn’t help it. I’m a perfectionist and as my doctor once (actually twice) told me, an “intense person.” Because of my body’s tired and overworked state, my health was not at it’s optimal. I’m grateful, and quite privileged, to be able to do this. Not many can simply put their life on hold to live in a foreign country in order to learn a language and provide much needed rest for their body, heart, and mind. And even if they could, do they have family living abroad that could easily accommodate them? Probably not.

Is there such a thing as too much relaxation? Of course (we all know that too much of anything is a bad thing). It’s called being lazy. Or procrastination. I start to get antsy when I reach this point. It’s rare that I do, but it does happen. Still, this is much better than being busy all the time. No one truly likes being busy, but at the same time, it makes the moments of relaxation all the sweeter. Last Saturday was a treat for me because the previous week had been quite busy, and I also had a cold. This past Saturday was instead rather boring because my week was not as involved. I was also in full health.

For the first time in a long time, I have hardly any responsibilities. Nothing looming over me. And my goodness, how nice it has been. Sometimes I miss school. The process of learning, friends and classmates, teachers, and yes, even the homework. I love school. I always have, so at times I’m inclined to long for it. I try not to of course, I know this will all come again in due time, and when it does, I’ll inevitably long for these days.

I try to remind myself that there will probably never be another season in my life where I have this much time to simply relax, rest, and take it easy, whatever that my look like. At least not while this young. I’ve got a whole life full of chaos and hard work and responsibility ahead of me. Which is why I am glad to have taken a year away from it all instead jumping right back in.

So on days like yesterday, where I only come into contact with the lady who checked me in at the gym and the cashier at the grocery store, I remind myself that it’s okay to feel this sense of uselessness. Take this time, and do something with it. Learn something new. Write some more. Do research on a topic that interests you. Keep writing those college essays and applying for scholarships. Practice your vocabulary. Read that book that’s been sitting on your desk. Wash the dishes and fold the laundry. Play some music and sing along. And maybe watch a movie (or 10 Vsauce youtube videos in a row). And remember, you are here for a reason, some ultimate purpose. Whatever it may be.