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.

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.