On Support

On my walk back home from the subway this evening with Asia, (a walk that deserves another blog post itself, stay tuned), there was a short lull in our seemingly never-ending conversation and in that temporary pause between inside jokes and echoing laughter, I realized something. I had only really met Asia five weeks ago and yet we have grown so close and shared so much during this emotional, rewarding, stressful, fun and challenging trip.

This dialogue has taught me many things. One major take away from this trip has been learning just what an amazing support system can do and why I very much need the kind of system this group of 18 individuals has given me. Throughout this post I am going to give a few shoutouts, but truly, every student on this trip has taught me something for which I am forever grateful. I appreciate you all more than you will ever know.

To start, I have learned to believe myself. No, I did not forget to write the word “in” here. I have learned that my truth is my truth and I need to believe it. After Olivia read through a work of mine she told me not to believe that it didn’t hold up and that it could not only stand on its own but should. I started out thinking it was worthy, and when I faltered in that thinking, I needed her reminder to believe in my gut and in my work.

I have also learned to share, hopefully not for the first time as I hope Kindergarten also taught me the basics of that. I don’t mean share as in the sharing of work, credit or praise. I mean share as in sharing my feelings with those I trust and not worry if I am burdening them or dragging them down. My roommate Isabelle can attest to this, as can Asia and most likely Paxtyn (freshmen have to stick together), but I have had talks/cries/rants with them more on this trip than in my entire first year of college and most likely longer than that. In those moments, they encourage me to let it all out, wanting to help not because they have to but because that is what a friendship is all about. In turn, I have done the same with no negative feelings or negative energy surrounding myself afterward, but it’s harder I suppose when it’s you that needs the support. I used to think I was infecting them with my sadness or anger, but now, after much assurance from Isabelle, I know that I am not and we can (and did) all go out an hour later to enjoy the town we have right outside our hotel doors.

I have learned that my work should reflect myself in it and I have to be proud of everything that leaves my workspace and is published on another with my name on it. David, while reporting on the protests of Thessaloniki, reminded me of that, while trying to get each word right on our long story. I have always loved to write and loved it almost as much when I see my name published in bold next to anything I have had a part in working on. A once self-proclaimed “slut for bylines” I have now fully realized just how much my work means to me and don’t just want a byline but want a byline I am proud of having above an article I fully support. While writing a story (yet to be published, stay tuned maybe) in Athens, I was proud of how it read, beginning to end. When I later found out that some of it would be scrapped, and not just in simple edits, I realized how deeply I connect to my work. I was reminded by Asia that loving what one has produced and standing by its quality is to be applauded, no matter the consequence. I am no stranger to edits, but I am also not one to have her voice snuffed out nor produce half-assed work for the world (or anyone who Googles my name) to see. Another thank you goes to Cody for helping me in getting my stories out there and hopefully onto the pages of Google, offering to help me pitch stories to the real world after the trip. (If you decide to move to Minneapolis, HMU for a tour.)

Most of all, I have realized that I am not alone here. I have always had someone to go to dinner with. I have never sat alone on a rooftop bar or at a beach or even in a taxi. More importantly, when I am feeling a certain way, there is always someone who is feeling that way too that I can talk to. When I have had frustrations on this trip there has always been a hotel bed to sit and rant on, everyone exchanging similar tales of grievances or annoyance. When I have good days reporting, Isaac is always there with a bottle of wine and everyone else is there to drink it and celebrate too. We trade stories, complaints, laughter, edits, suggestions and most likely germs too (thanks Brandon + the grads for getting me sick), and I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.

Support is not easily come by in a world (and profession) riddled with rejection and harsh criticism. When you find those people who support you but also don’t sugar coat the truth, cherish them, spend five weeks with them in a high stress environment, and please try and keep them around for as long as you can.

Here’s to the last three days, lets make them count and I’ll (inevitably) see you all on the rooftop bar in a bit.

On Limits

I’m sitting halfway up Mt. Olympus, currently feeling far from godlike.

I had tried to push my limits and decided to hike the mountain, something I used to be able to do with (somewhat) ease. About 3 years ago, I had the worst year of my life, resulting in a paralyzed left leg and now, a very weak and finicky one. You can ask me for the full story later, but long story short, I am limited and I hate it.

I was never the most fit kid, but I have always loved nature and exploring. Growing up at a summer camp in the forests of Wisconsin and having a nature trail in my back yard, falling in love with trees and green was inevitable.

Since my (botched) surgery, my love for nature has frustratingly not diminished. The five-hour hikes have turned into one-hour, harder trails into easy and less beautiful strolls. And today, the four-hour hike to see the Gods of Olympus has turned into a $25 cab ride and a $1.50 beer in a taverna not even Hades would want to be at, the rain putting out his fiery blue hair.

Knowing ones limit is something I still have not come completely to terms with. I am not good at saying no, holding anyone back or turning down a group activity. Coined, “FOMO” or “fear of missing out,” I push my limits, medical and mental, to match those around me, and in this case, it is not such a good thing. While I know no one on this trip would say anything mean about me, the fear of missing a great hike, an inside joke or worse, being the butt of the joke is worse than the ache in my leg.

Ever since the first twitch of my big toe, signaling that I wouldn’t be paralyzed forever, I have pushed myself to embrace everything. I shoved my bandaged foot into my heels for the Homecoming dance, bound my ankle to my calf in order to make it to my first day of school and hiked up and down Masada (in Israel) not once but twice.

On bad days like these, on the side of the road in nowhere-Greece alone and waiting for a cab in the rain, I try and remember how far i’ve come and how many limits I have pushed with a positive outcome. Today was not one of those days…maybe tomorrow.

On Ups and Downs

I have always been afraid of roller coasters. They are high and fast, and as someone who hates bumps in the car that make you lose your stomach for just a split second, I can NOT handle the loop-de-loops.

To parallel to something less random, I also do not like having unstable moods. The “roller coaster of emotions” (trite) expression is almost as uncomfortable as being strapped into the real thing.

These past two weeks have not only had the bumps of a car trip down an unpaved street but the drops and steep climbs of the most insane coasters at Disney.

The trip itself, the friends, food and all-around experiences have been extraordinary.

Here, I am not a lowly freshman, I am up there with the rest and have learned (and possibly taught? Input, guys?) so much from my new friends here, from rising sophomores like myself to 25-year-old graduate students (happy birthday Brandon! How’s 25 feel?). I never knew how good it would feel to be surrounded by such driven yet down to earth people who are all riding this ride with me. While I may be the most terrified, white-knuckling it in the back, I know that everyone else has been there too, now at the front of the ride waiving their hands in the air like it’s no big deal. We were all beginners once and we all get scared sometimes.

From days at the beach where I swam in the Aegean Sea and talked about life over milkshakes to nights that end at 2:30 a.m. in an nondescript bar with a piece of pizza in my hand, ouzo and cigarette smoke in the air and chatting about politics with colleagues turned amazing friends, I am truly living. I could not picture a more amazing trip, and it has only been two of the five weeks.

Then the drop hits. When it does, my stomach filled with milkshakes and laughter slips up into my throat.

This trip has also come with challenges and downfalls, the kind that leave you feeling scared for the next inevitable drop and twist in the tracks that makes me want the ride to stop for a moment to collect myself and then move on.

As a first-year journalism major, I have not yet perfected the skills needed to be on a coaster that only goes up. (can you really perfect it though? Always a small bump, no matter what, I suppose, no matter how old you get.) The “you must be this tall to ride” sign looms over me, and at some points during the trip, I have let that defeat me. After my first story finished up, I was faced with a blank reporters notebook, and worse, a blank mind. Quickly, my brain filled with a whole jumble of ideas for my next article. While I still love most of those ideas, they were shot down almost as fast as I could come up with new ones.

Each time an idea was turned away, the coaster lurched down, sending my head reeling and sinking my heart further into the pit of my stomach. At one point, I wanted to get off.

However, as I am writing this, I would like to inform you all that I am still on my ride, a steady incline in my horizon as I have finally found a story to tell and have the resources to do it and the go-ahead from our faithful conductor (can I call you that, Carlene? It fits the whole theme).

I still hate roller coasters. They are scary, unpredictable and can go down at any second. But I am so thankful that I didn’t give up on this five-week ride, because riding the high of a published story, a great interview and the feeling after an amazing 3 a.m. conversation has been worth the lowest of the lows.

Here’s to the next peak! Stay tuned for my upcoming article and of course, more blog posts.