2018: The Year the Road Diverged

At the end of 2017, I wrote a reflection post after looking back on the whole year in an attempt to sum up the year into one neat, damaged, package. For the conclusion of 2018, I will attempt to do the same thing. 

2018 has been quite the year. I started the year in Clinton, NJ, celebrating the new year with my close friend Katie and her quirky family. We ate dinner at nearly 11 p.m. and watched the ball drop. In the morning, we ate Jersey bagels and I headed back to NEPA. That New Year’s Eve had been so different from any other I experienced, and looking back it was a sign of all the new and wonderful experiences that were to come.

The new year also meant studying hard for the GRE. I spent hours every day studying. I had a study plan that I followed diligently, using the various expensive study materials I had splurged on in order to really nail the $300 pre-graduate school test. By May, I felt ready to take the test. Sadly, or maybe not so sadly, I received similar scores to the first time I took the test, only showing significant improvement in the one section I did not study for. These test results were crushing. Nearly every school I was looking at to pursue my PhD had high score requirements and acceptance rates under 10%. 

It was there that the path diverged. I had a choice: I could continue to live unhappily in Northeast Pennsylvania or I could make a drastic change. I loved working as an admissions counselor. Traveling was amazing and I got travel to so many places I had never been before. I even reconnected with someone from high school when I was in Arlington. We still talk to this day. 

But as much as I loved my job, I hated my life when I left work. I was lonely. My friends had graduated and moved on. The area didn’t really have much to offer me in the way of things I find fulfilling and enjoyable. I wanted to live in a city, but I didn’t know how to make that dream a reality.

So after talking with my friend about the challenges I was facing, she encouraged me to look into teaching English abroad. I had considered teaching abroad as a back-up plan if I didn’t get into graduate school, but this was the first time I had considered it as a precursor to graduate school. Even today, I could tell you exactly which table I was sitting at in the Wilkes-Barre Starbucks when I submitted my applications to recruiters to get a job in Korea.

With taking a new job also came saying goodbye to my old job. And my old life. I spent nearly two months having one last lunch, one last drink, and one last trivia night with friends across Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Most of the time, it didn’t even feel real. And when it did, it’s because the tears streaming down my face were a reminder that everything was going to change.

Between the New Year and the GRE, I also made a major change in my life. I left my job with Kay Jewelers after four years of seasonal and full-time employment. The stresses of working for a company whose values did not align with my own were too draining, and I dreaded going into work to the point that I avoided the mall even when I wasn’t working. Despite the fact that the income I earned at Kay was helpful to me, the toxicity of the job was wearing me down in detrimental ways. So I left Kay and found other ways to make ends meet.

Finally, 2018 was the year I traveled. In 2018 alone, I visited three new states: Georgia, Michigan, and Vermont. I also went back to Boston and visited Ithaca for the first time. I spent time in New York City when I was getting my Visa and saw parts of the city I hadn’t seen before. I even went to Canada on a spontaneous road trip with my best friend. All of that happened before I got to Korea, where I traveled even more. And I’ll be ending my year the same way I started it: with travel. 

Overall, 2018 is the year I truly came into my own. I started to live a life that reflected the things I love and the things I value. I took a giant leap of faith, and haven’t looked back. And I’ll continue looking forward to all the amazing things to come in 2019.

Advertisement

Beauty in the Green Mountains

Vermont is hands down one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Everything about my time in Vermont was breathtaking. The air was fresh, the hikes were incredible, and the small town of Bennington was vibrant.

I visited Vermont back in June with my friend Lindsey, another avid hiker and childhood friend. Knowing that our lives were taking us in drastically different directions, we decided we needed a weekend getaway, and both of us really wanted to visit Vermont. Both of us knew that the Green Mountains were perfect for a walk in the woods, and both of us desperately needed one. We headed out on the road for our four hour road trip, arriving in Vermont around dinnertime on a Friday. The night was spent exploring the small town of Bennington, particularly the local brewery. They had a wide variety of craft brews, my favorite of which was named the Nor’beaster. After a winter full of Nor’easters, it only felt right to try that beer.

Southern Vermont in early June is perfect for hiking. The temperatures are mild and the mud season is mostly over, making for optimal hiking conditions. Saturday we spent the day in the mountains. The Bald Mountain trail was near our hotel, and had promising online reviews. So we ascended, tackling the different challenges that came about on the trail, which would suddenly turn from a gradual incline to a steep mountainside. Once we found an acceptable overlook, we slung up our hammocks and enjoyed the view.

When we came back down the mountain, we spent the rest of the day exploring other sights nearby, including the gift shops in town, the covered bridges hidden in the back roads of Bennington, and North Bennington, a town nearby. Sunday would also encompass exploring, this time in the form of another hike from Lake Paran to the home of American poet Robert Frost. This hike was much simpler than the one Saturday, and we enjoyed views of the lake, wildflower fields, and and lush green forests Robert Frost once enjoyed. We wrapped up our trip by visiting the Bennington BattleMonument, which offered stunning views of Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York.

Life in Vermont seemed simple and quiet, which is the kind of life I enjoy for a few days, but never longterm. My retreat to the woods was refreshing, and needed after a few high stress weeks. What made the trip even better was the friend I got to share the journey with.

 

 

A Day on the Farm

Back in July, I had the opportunity to visit my friend Blyss in Ithaca, New York where she is doing summer research with the Boyce Thompson Institute and Cornell University. Knowing I didn’t have much time left to spend with her, I took the short road trip for the weekend and had an amazing time.

IMG_0077

Blyss is one of my absolute best friends. She’s is cool, compassionate, and has a deep concern for the environment and living things, which is the thing that really forged out best friend bond. So when I visited her, it was only natural that we would journey to the local farm animal sanctuary a few towns over. Originally, we had planned to go hiking and swimming at Watkins Glen, but a few quick Google searches told us that there was also a sanctuary in that area, which is something we had wanted to do together for quite some time.

Farm Sanctuary encompasses 271 acres and is home to over 500 farm animals, all rescued from a life of pain and suffering. Most days, you can take a tour of the farm, led by one of their guides. The tour includes seeing cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and goats, all of which have their own unique personalities.

 

Even though it was a scorching hot day, Blyss and I loved every moment we spent on the farm. The animals brightened my day, and reminded me of all the reasons I decided to stop consuming meat and animal products. Even on the days it seems hard, the days I am craving cheese like you would not believe, and on the days I go to a restaurant and the only thing I can eat are french fries, it is worth it. Like people, animals can experience a wide range of emotions– but when they are living in the conditions prevalent in agribusiness, these beautiful creatures feel limited emotions– fear, anxiety, apprehension, and pain. By spending an afternoon with these animals, I was reassured that all the challenges of eating vegan are beyond worth it.

Oh, Canada

These past few weeks have been a whirlwind– of change, emotion, and packing. I think my best friend Hannah could tell that I was beginning to feel overwhelmed by how rapidly my life was moving and decided it was time for me to take a break. So when she texted me asking if I wanted to take a long weekend trip to Canada, I immediately said yes. I had never been to Canada, not even Niagara Falls, and I was itching to visit this northern country before I travel across the world.

 

Our trip was pretty impulsive. We made the plans two days before we were slated to leave. We didn’t have hotels, we didn’t research what to do in Toronto, the city where we would be staying, and we didn’t have a set plan on when we would leave for Toronto and when we would head home, but that was okay. Amidst all the change taking place in my life, this impulsive, unplanned trip seemed completely sane. Besides, how hard could it be to find an affordable hotel for the day of in the middle of Toronto? (Very hard, the answer is very hard.)

Hannah and I left for Canada around 5:45 a.m. Our bags were packed and our bikes were strapped to the back of her car, ready to go. After a few rest stops and some bike mishaps along with way, we made it to Niagara Falls. It was one of the most beautiful things I have seen. The rush of the crystal blue water was both calming and alluring. Even in the blistering heat, I couldn’t help but smile.

 

Around 4:30, we decided it was time to book a hotel. We called every hostel listed in the city of Toronto, but all were booked; the prices of hotels were far outside of my budget. We were almost resigned to sleeping in the park, letting the mosquitos take us. But then, we found something else: a university residence hall turned hotel for the summer with hostel prices and available rooms right in downtown.

My weekend in Toronto may have been short, but I experienced so much in the two days I spent there. Not only did I experience Toronto nightlife, but I spent a day at the beach, ate at an Indian Food Festival, rode my bike throughout downtown and the financial district, visited Graffiti Alley, ate one of the most delicious vegan meals I have ever had, and met some pretty amazing people.

 

 

All these experiences offset any mishaps that we faced, like the Uber driver who almost refused to pick us up and then scolded me for slamming his car door, or the creepy middle-aged dudes who tried to pick us up at the bar. Or, worst of all, the sunburn I got from laying on a beach for hours.

There really is nothing like traveling to new places: experiencing the culture, interacting with the people, and taking in all the life around you. Spontaneous traveling is worth it, as long as you are traveling with someone who enjoys taking life as it comes, and who is open to trying new things. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend one of my last weekends in the United States any other way than seeing more of what this great big world has to offer.

A Northern Girl Goes Down to Georgia

The summer after my junior year of college, I navigated an airport alone for my first time. I boarded an international flight alone. I got to know the woman sitting next to me and I slept. After all, it was an overnight flight. I was heading to Ireland, a place I had never been before, to spend nine days with a group of fifty strangers who all shared the same wanderlust I felt inside. On my first day in Ireland, I met my roommates. Two girls from Minnesota, a girl from Mississippi, and two girls from Georgia. And we all went from strangers, to close friends in the duration of the trip. We all swore we’d see each other again, we made a snapchat group, we had a group text, but as always, those relationships are hard to keep alive, especially when considering the distance. But while we didn’t speak nearly as much, we all knew that when it came down to it, we had all shared a wonderful experience that connected us. And I used that connection to quell the longing inside of me to travel somewhere new.

Using the Hopper App, I found a roundtrip flight to Atlanta, Georgia for $145. Yes, a roundtrip flight for $145. I was amazed. I immediately texted my former Ireland roommates and planned a trip to the South. I booked my hotel using some of my Hilton Honors Points, courtesy of my job and long fall travel season, looked up parking prices at the Philadelphia airport, and packed my very small personal bag full of just enough clothing for the weekend and a hairbrush. In that moment, I was incredibly grateful that my job taught me how to pack just the essentials.

Flying down in January, I expected that I’d be getting a break from the cold weather in Northeast Pennsylvania. And while the temperatures were warmer than NEPA, the Saturday I spent in Atlanta was only just above freezing. That did not stop me from having an amazing weekend. Here are some of the highlights of my trip:

  • Eating at Cafe Sunflower, the fanciest vegan restaurant I have ever been to.
  • Getting vegan donuts in Atlanta.
  • Playing spoons with strangers.
  • Home-cooked vegan meals.
  • Experiencing church in the South. Let me tell you, it was no Catholic mass.
  • Sliding down the concrete slide in Downtown Macon.
  • Spending time outdoors, without snow on the ground.
  • Eating southern-style comfort foods, veganized of course.
  • Drinking Guinness like we were in Ireland again.

As you can tell, I did a LOT of eating on this trip. It’s not every day I have so many vegan options available to me that I don’t create in my own kitchen. My four days in Georgia really were an amazing experience. And I am so grateful I got the chance to spend some time with my long-distance friends.